Back when I was a fledgling road racer, Margell Abel, who was coaching the CU women's team at the time, gave us some racing advice: Never look back. You can't control what's happening behind you, so you might as well focus on what's ahead of you. This advice had been distilled through the years into one of my favorite mantras: Control what you can control. Let the rest be.
When I lined up for the CTR on Monday morning, I wasn't nervous in the slightest. I knew that I could tear my derailler off in the first mile, I could crash a break a bone, I could get sick, I could get hit by a semi on 285, I could get stranded by storms, but since I couldn't control any of that, I didn't worry. I had controlled for all the variables I could and the rest was just going to be a game of dice. The bike was solid, the body was solid, the mind was solid. After 51 weeks of thinking about the race, it was go time.
The first day was scorching hot. 120 oz of water in the first 3.5 hours. But the trails were fun, and unlike last year, I didn't have to stop every 15 minutes to adjust something on my bike. It was all about smooth and steady, and hopefully fast, trying to tip the variables that would allow a crossing of above-treeline Georgia in the afternoon in my direction. The weather held and once down in Breck, I knew I'd make my Day 1 goal of Copper mountain, 113 miles into the trail.
It got dark quickly and I quickly turned euphoric at being over 12,000 feet at midnight with the lights of Breckenridge on one side, the lights of Copper on the other, and the lights of Frisco behind me. I slept on the playground in Copper that night, hoping security wouldn't see me or get upset. Turns out, squishy material intended to reduce injuries in playing children makes for an excellent sleeping surface. Plus, having a bathroom nearby makes morning maintenance (bathroom break, brush teeth, fill water, wash chamois, chamois cream, sunscreen, change sunglass lenses) much more civilized.
The miles of Searle and Kokomo Passes went quickly. The alpine was beautiful and with the clear skies of morning and the stress of thinking about storms non-existent, I enjoyed the section that I had remembered as terribly difficult from last year. Leadville by noon and I was quickly headed towards Halfmoon creek campground to get back on the trail. The weather did not promising.
Still, maybe it was karma, maybe it was just good ol' fashioned luck, maybe it was payback for last year, but the storm stayed ahead of me. I rode hero dirt, constantly waiting to get hit by the wrath of the dark clouds ahead of me, but the rain never came. At least not until I finished what may be the best section of trail on the whole route and was within 45 minutes of Beuna Vista. People in front of me have stories of being pounded by rain, people behind me got soaked. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
I dawdled away 2 hours in the BV grocery store. I spent $127 on food. I ate a bowl of fruit, a tub of hummus, chips, two containers of yogurt, a banana, and some nut clusters. Then I put the rest on my bike, much to the amazement of the small crowd that had come to spectate the miracle of packing food on a bike.
Then it was back on the trail for another section that I had dreaded in my pre-ride in my head. Kep had mentioned the 'heinous climb' at the beginning of the section, and I can see how in daylight, the push could have been frustrating, but with a light drizzle of rain and the quiet of night, I was more than content to push my bike up the rocky and steep trail. Trees and ferns sparkled under the mist and the long march reminded me of riding my first Vapor Trail 125 where a beautiful rain had created magical conditions and hero dirt riding. Eventually, the trail leveled out and while the section of trail is a hoot to ride, I was plenty ready for it to be over when I finally popped out on the road to Princeton Hot Spring at 1 am.
I slept inside a newly constructed shack and while the floor was faux-cement, they'd left a broken down cardboard box inside. I don't think I'll ever be that happy to sleep on a cardboard box again.
Morning brought another round of civilized morning maintenance at the lodge at Princeton Hot Springs before a hike-a-bike with John and Max and then miles upon miles of glorious trails that eventually ended at the Silver Creek descent off of the Crest. The trail didn't end here, but the glory did. It was the start of Sargents Mesa.
I tried every mind control technique out there Yoga chants, taking lots of pictures, singing, imagining the snacks that I could have at the end at Trail Angel Apple's camp. Everything failed at at 12:45 after finally reaching the trail junction to Baldy Lake indicating another 9 miles to the end, I pulled my bivy out in exasperation, stuffed some food down, and stopped for the night. Not 45 minutes later, Zach rolls by, singing at the top of his lungs. Then came the ghosts, flying through the trees, bringing in spooky clouds, making the trees creak. I laid there for approximately 0.2 seconds before panicking, loading my gear, and continuing, determined not to stop until I reached the safely of Apple's camp. It was 3:30 in the morning when I finally made it.
The next day was not pretty. All I wanted to do was hang out with Apple and lounge in his camp chairs. A combination of a lack of sleep, being too exhausted to partake in my usual recovery rituals, and a 3-hour ride of panic where I'd forgone food and water (you would too if you were being chased by ghosts) had left me feeling sub-par. But, I had a day of dirt roads in front of me, so as long as I could continue the ritual of putting food down every 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of nausea combined with two sips of water every five minutes, I could make forward progress. It wasn't fast progress, but it was progress.
It only took 12 hours for my stomach to turn back on but when I reached the top of Spring Creek Pass to discuss the next section with Jarral who'd caught me on the climb, I was ravenous. I've never been that happy to be that hungry in my life.
Jarrel started first onto the open tundra, trail marked only by cairns and very often non-existant. I could never pick out his track through the short grass and flowers by looking for it directly, but if I turned my head to the side, my periferal vision could pick up the slight variations in the shadows. I was busy enjoying the dry-lightning storms all around when I hit the final set of trees before the long ascent up to Coneys, the high point of the trail. It was 11:45, decision time. Push through and bivy up high in the open, or sleep in the trees and wake up early.
I opted for the latter and was treated to an amazing sunrise at 13,000 feet. Sometimes it pays to be patient. I had been dreading the Coney/Cataract segments since they had hurt me so badly last year. Pass after pass of high-alpine trail had crushed my spirit just a year prior. Maybe I knew what was coming, maybe I wasn't stressed about impending storms, maybe I had just remembered wrong, but the trail was beautiful, much of it rideable, and the route was absolutely spectacular. How I hadn't enjoyed the section the last year baffled me as I rolled along field after field of wildflowers.
Jarrel caught me again, after sleeping 3 additional hours, descending 3,000 feet into Silverton. We found ourselves a lovely little cafe with breakfast burritos, americanos, smoothies and breakfast sandwiches. Who knew that $27 could buy so much happiness? Armed with a bacon, egg, and cheese english muffin, I headed up Molas, armed with the knowledge that Cat was not far behind, and if I knew anything about Cat, it was that she wasn't going to sleep between Silverton and Durango, which meant that it was going to be a long night out for me. 6 hours until darkness, 80 miles till the end.
I honestly don't remember much of this section of trail. I remember the light slowly fading, I remember Jarrel passing me yet again right after I had decked it and gone swimming in a creek and was moping about the situation, I remember passing him again as he camped in the trees thinking that if he over slept his alarm, I may beat him into Durango, but it wasn't likely. I remember falling off the edge of the trail and spending 5 minutes hoisting myself and my bike back up and then scolding myself for not paying attention. I remember giving up at 4:30 in the morning, curling up in my bivy between the roots of a huge tree, and passing out cold. I woke up 1:30 later with stiff knees from being bent, a sore mouth (which was a common theme for people throughout the race) and shivering. I got up and walked. 5 minutes later I saw a beautiful bivy site. Sleep deprived panic will make you sleep in strange places.
Jarrel passed me 30 minutes later just shy of where I'd spent my last night last year. We hiked Indian Ridge at sunrise. The beauty, just like last year, was breathtaking. I got what was going to be my last wave of euphoria as I crested the final hump of the ridge looking down at Kennebeck Pass, the marker for the final 21 miles of singletrack.
The final three hours were miserable. I have no pictures. While downhill, it was rough and my body and wrists were beat to the point where I thought my fork was blown out. It wasn't. I spent the entire last climb listing all the reasons why this race was stupid and I'd never do anything like it again. I limped down the final descent in a daze only to find Jarrel and his family waiting at the finish. They quickly shoved a beer that Zach had left into my hand, made me sit in the chair, and let me eat all their canteloupe.
Within 10 minutes, I was back to life. We conned Carvers into giving us a free beer for finishing the entire trail. I bought a set of clothes and flipflops to lounge in and for the next 12 hours, I got to be a bluedot stalker following Chris and his crew along Indian Ridge and down into Durango. Had I not slept through the alarm I had set to go meet them, I would have intercepted them at the trailhead, but apparently my subconcious had decided to sleep instead.
5 days, 5 hours, and 30 minutes. After last year, I was certain I could go faster than my 6 day, 5 hour, 30 minute finish. This year, I'm not so sure. I was blessed with nearly perfect weather, a completely functional bike, and no major biomechanical breakdowns. I can microanalyze things I could have done better, but even without a stomach breakdown on Day 4, or the rain that sent me running for cover, I'm not convinced I could have broken the 5 day barrier.
Maybe I could next year, but I think I have some different fish to fry.
A ride like this on the CTR doesn't happen alone and I want to talk about the people who have provided endless support for my silliness, but I'm tired and still in the state where I fell asleep in the dentist chair yesterday, so I think I'll have to save that for a later day.