The 2010 Colorado Trail Race began at 6:30 AM on August 2nd. Coming into this event I felt 100% ready. Being a rookie at this style of racing, I did have my work cut out for me. With lots of rain in the weeks leading up to the event.....and rain planned for the entire race week.....it was looking that the 'hard' men and women would do well this time around.
Pre-race report with Jeff Higham.
The gun went off and we rolled out to the course. With roughly 40 racers in the field, I hit the singletrack in 5th or 6th place. Off the front was last years 2nd place finisher, Doug Johnson. Right behind me was rookie Jesses Jakomait, who I knew was a strong endurance rider. A few riders back further was Ethan Passant and Dave Harris.....both of who I knew were fully able and willing to light this course on fire.
I was not in a hurry. The race is long and tough. It is all about going through the motion and keeping the pedal strokes light and snappy.
After about 2 hours of riding solo...I was joined by Ethan Passant. We would ride together through some of the burn area before catching up to Jesse and Doug. Our pace was steady. Both of us in our easiest pedaling gear.
As a group of 4, we all went through the motions to get to Bailey for refuel. The pace was brisk and quick...but the effort level was about a 3 on a scale of 1-10. Before Bailey the course jumped onto a dirt road. Here I let the group go...as the effort going up some of the steep dirt roads was harder than I wanted to go. I had no plan to 'red line' at all in the first few days.
When I arrived in Bailey, Ethan and Jesses were coming out of the Conoco Gas Station with food in hand. Myself and Doug then ran inside and stocked up on enough food to get to Leadville. By the time I got out of the store, Ethan and Jesse were gone. Doug and I filled our packs. I would leave town solo....and never see Doug again the rest of the race.
Leaving Bailey, I kept my pace chill and I pushed up to Kenosha Pass on HWY 285. Near the summit, the first of many Gore-Tex session would begin. The skies got dark and opened up with a steady rain leaving the Colorado Trail very wet and sloppy.
While wet and sloppy, the riding was still good. As folks say, there is no such thing as bad weather....just bad equipment. My GoLite pants and MontBell jacket kept me dry all event.
Up on top of Georgia Pass....the worst was yet to come. The descent down off the pass was sketchy. Every rock and root was looking to grab tires and take you down. I took it easy as to not risk hurting me or my equipment. When I got to the bottom, the skies opened up with all their power as I also stopped to filter water. Heavy rain, lightning and thunder would follow me all the way to the Gold Hill Trailhead. In the process, I would have 3 close calls with lightning......super sketchy!
I pushed up the trail to get into the tree near the Peaks Trail outside Breckenridge to set up camp for the first night. While raining, I set up camp to find nearly all my gear inside my Ergon BC2 pack and in my seat bag damp and a little wet. I slept for about 1 hour before I got fed up with the conditions. I figured if I wasn't going to sleep I would push over the Ten Mile Range to Copper Mountain. The climb was steep and very slow. I think it took 4.5 hours to get over the mountain range. By the time I got to Copper Mountain it was 2 AM. The rain had stopped so I pulled out the sleeping bag and crawled into it with my rain gear on to keep me dry. I slept until about 4 AM.....when I was woke up my a slowing passing Jefe Branham. I quickly packed up and tracked him down. We passed a few words....and then I continued my climb over Searle and Kokomo Pass.
I wanted to get over these climbs as soon as possible as I didn't want to get caught in any storms. Riding solo all the way to Leadville, I stopped to get more food to get me to Buena Vista. While in Leadville I called Yuki to see how far ahead Jess and Ethan were. He told me they were just on the outside edge of Leadville. And behind me about 5-10 miles was Jefe and Dave Harris. With 1st and 2nd place so close, I quickly left town to head to Buena Vista.
The route from Leadville to BV was very smooth for me. The terrain was tame and the hike-a-bike low. Racing on about 3 hours of sleep, I felt good and strong. Although not raining, my gear was still wet including my socks and shoes. The aspen trees where insane!
The final bit of trail had big views before dropping down to HWY 24 to head south to Buena Vista.
In Buena Vista, there was work to do. This was the last 'easy' supply point until Silverton....some 200 miles away. When I pulled into town I saw Jesse. We rode together as we looked for the best food options. First stop for me was the City Market. It was a major fail, as they didn't have what I wanted. Option 2 was the 7-Eleven across the street. Here I loaded up with nearly 7,000 calories for 2 days of riding with no re-supply. Items purchased included Honey Buns, beef jerky, cashews, Almond Joy bars, Red Bull shots, Hostess Fruit Pies, etc, etc, etc. Jesse then came into the 7-Eleven. While he was heading in, I was heading out.
While heading out of Buena Vista, I stopped for a quick hamburger with bacon. Warm food never tasted so good! While waiting like 5 minutes for it to be made, Jesse passed by on his way to continue the race. I was not worried. I got my burger....and ate it as I pedaled up Cottonwood Pass to the Colorado Trail.
Once again, we were riding into the belly of the beast. I was told in Buena Vista by the photographer that took the image of me above that Ethan was not that far ahead of us. He was most likely getting the full force of this rain in the image. As I got closer, it began to sprinkle. I pulled out the rain gear only to have it never do more than sprinkle. Got to love Colorado weather!
I arrived at the Colorado Trail for the ride down to Chalk Creek and HWY 50. I knew this trail very well from previous races and training. From the rain seen in the image above, the trail was super sloppy with mud and horse poop. NASTY! I rode and pushed my bike over the varied terrain following 2 foot prints and 2 sets of tires. I also stopped to filter water on this section.
The trail did get better once outside of the rain area. It wasn't until Chalk Cheek that the skies and wind let loose one final time for the evening. I was still seeing the foot and tire tracks as the night pushed on.
The trail in this section is a great ride at night if you are familiar with it. If not, it can be tough. While riding, I passed a sleeping Jesse off the trail. Now with Ethan in front of me, I kept riding. Right before HWY 50, I pulled out my bivy and slept for about 20 minutes right smack in the middle of the trail at the crest of a small climb. After a brief snooze, I began the climb up Fooses Creek to the Crest Trail. At the end of the road climb to the Fooses Creek singletrack, I passed a sleeping Ethan at around 4 AM. He looked at me....then went back to sleep.....which I did not know until some 15 hours later. I though for sure he would pack up and come after me.
The climb up Fooses creek is stupid! Steep, washed out, rocky and rooty. It took forever, and it took its toll on my feet and heels. With wet shoes and wet socks, I starting to get huge blisters on my heels.
The Fooses Creek climb puts you on top of the very popular Crest Trail. I was happy to be up on top and the riding now points downhill and the trail is fun and flowy.
Well, that was not the case. With the recent heavy rains, a lot of the Crest Trail was washed out and sketchy loose. Also, lots of mud and moto-bike damage.
The Colorado Trail at this point was getting rough. Lots of slow riding and long pushing. Was also running into a few hikers as well. Other than my feet hurting a bit from the Fooses Creek hike...I was in good spirits and had good legs.
Next up was 2 sections (Sections 16 and 17) that would give me hell. I knew this event was tough....but I was not expecting these 2 sections of the later parts of Marshall Mesa and the entire Sargents Mesa to be so demanding. The amount of pushing was nuts.
These 2 sections sat at 11,000 for the duration. Big hikes and pushes were followed by rip'n drops. While the terrain would be rideable on any other day, fatigue and the saving of energy required hiking. At the end of section 16 I had to stop to check my feet out as they began to hurt and swell up inside my shoes. I sat the better part of an hour. I used the time to clean and dress the quarter size blister on the backs of my heals. During the time, I also chat'd with some hikers. As I sat, there was still no sign of Jesse or Ethan. I still held 1st place.
Sargents Mesa was next. This section is what would ruin my race. This section is 20 miles long. It took me nearly 8+ hours to complete because of all the walking and bike pushing. The blisters on my heels at this point where now opened up under the band-aid and duct tape that covered each of them. Each step was a shooting pain. I did everything to try to lessen the pain. I cross stepped up the mountain.....I walked backwards.....I even side stepped. The last resort was I grabbed out the small Leatherman tool and sliced open the heel of the shoe to remove the pressure spots. While this helped a bit....it was still painful to walk. I was able to ride...but the trail was not rider-friendly at all while going uphill.
At the end of Section 17, there was a Trail Angle. Trail Angles are random people that set up shelters at remote Colorado Trail trailheads and offer free drinks and food to passing thru travelers. I sat here for an hour drinking a soda, eating some food, licking my wounds, and getting ready for the next section. As I packed up, Ethan dropped out of the woods. He stocked up on food and we chatted.
He was telling me about how he had no power in his legs and that is feet were giving him a hard time as well. His feet looked like hell! We decided to ride the next section together to better the situation of having the company of each other.
The next section was a welcome relief with gentle grades and smooth dirt and paved roads. There was one steep pitch that required us to dismount and push. I lost contact with Ethan....the pain was too much on my feet. I told him to go on...I was going to bivy. Under clear skies I set up my sleeping gear for about a 1 hour nap. I slept in a damp sleeping bag in my rain gear once again. I woke up feeling fresh. I pushed on hoping to pass a sleeping Ethan on course.
With the next hike-a-bike came my last resort. I couldn't deal with it anymore. I sat for about 15 minutes with a small pocket knife to remove the exact spots I was getting the rubbing and pressure. It was a "too much too late"....the damage had been done on the previous section of the Colorado Trail. With exposed blisters cover in bandages, I was dealing with bruising and swelling as well. While my legs felt good, each pedal stoke and foot step resulted in sharp pain.
I continued on at a easy pace. Riding on a dirt roads through Cochetopa Hills, I was getting sleepy and seeing things due to the trails/roads that required not much focus. Ha! Image that after only about 4 hours of sleep during the last 3 days. With lots of racing ahead, I slept off the road under clear skies for 2 hours. I got back on the bike and pedaled about 3 more hours dealing with some nagging foot pain. I knew what was to come in this race...and the terrain was very remote. It now entered my head that I would have a lot of difficulty in surviving the rest of the race. Near Los Pinos Pass at about 6 AM I spent the better part of 1 hour playing over the pros and cons of continuing on in the event. I swallowed my pride....turned around...and began the ride backwards on course to get to Gunnison, CO. I decided that with the extreme nature of the terrain coming up for the next 2 days, it would not be a wise move on my part to endanger myself or become a 'search and rescue' victim.
On the way back to Gunnison, I ran into a slowly moving Jesse. He looked trashed.....pale face....droopy eyes....not too sharp with Q and A. We talked for about a minute. He mentioned to me the trouble in his race diet....and not sure what to be eating. With a few good luck words we split ways and I spun to Gunnison, where I was picked up by a team friend about 30 miles from town....he saw me on the SPOT tracker and decided to come get me. THANK YOU!
While the decision to stop was hard to make after 3+ days of racing....it was the smart move. As I type this I have dealt with swollen feet, tingly toes, and some numb spots since I stopped racing. On the plus side, it is getting slowly better. While this years CTR was not a total success....it really was. I proved to myself and the other riders that I am a contender for 2011. Yes, I do plan to race again in 2011.
Few random thoughts...
- This is the hardest thing I have done on a bike.
- I had no equipment issues.
- Felt best while riding at 10,000+ ft.
- Never ride your bike on Section 17 of the Colorado Trail....EVER!!
- If you ever plan to attempt this race....prepare to push your bike....A LOT!
- Lighter is not always better.
- Everything in this race is further away than you think it is. What you think will take you 2 hours to cover....will in fact take you 8.
- Sleep is over rated.
- I have a new found love for Almond Joy candy bars.
- I never once had sore arms, lower back or neck muscles.
- I have ridden/raced a bike in a lot of great places. This is the BEST thing I have done on a bike to date!
- If you are thinking about doing this event in 2011...think about it....then think about it some more....and then some more.
- I have a great friend and support system!