Friday, August 12, 2011

Colorado Trail Race - Words and Pictures

My deep dreamless slumber is suddenly pierced by the eternally annoying sound of an alarm. Slowly my left eye opens as I wipe the crusties away to reveal a world just as I had left it a scant 90 minutes earlier; dark, cold, and wet.  It smells horrible inside my bivy as 5 cumulative days of sweat and dirt make for one nasty body odor cocktail. It’s 1:30 AM and it’s time to move.  I shove some food past my bloody and cracked lips as I sit up in the bumpy field of wildflowers at 11,500 feet that made up my bedroom.  One last day, only 65 miles left, go time.  As I quickly pack up, I start to shiver in the cold thin air, all the more reason to get moving. I start to slowly trudge and eventually work my way up to pedaling through the darkness upwards, always upwards.

Rewind a few days and a few hundred miles to the Indian Creek trailhead outside of Denver where something like 70 nervous souls are wandering around waiting for 6:30 AM to arrive so that days, weeks, or in some peoples case, months of planning can be put to use as we slowly make our way to Durango under our own power and with no outside support. Soon enough we’re off and the pre-race anxiety of what we remembered or should of packed fades away. All we have to do now is pedal, eat, and sleep when our bodies make us.  Ah, the easy life.

On the first day the name of the game is SLOW and STEADY.  Anticipation and fresh legs are hard to ignore but why torch yourself trying to clear a tricky switchback 5 miles into a 500 mile race?  More than a few times I had people floor it past me as I dismounted early or hiked slowly over rocks.  The XC run pass? Whatever floats your boat I guess? When your exertion level stays low and your mind is clear it’s quite amazing how fast the miles can disappear under steadily turning tires.  

By mid afternoon I was nearing Kenosha Pass.  Yeah, there was some rain, but that’s part of the game.  In no time, I was descending down into Breckenridge on familiar terrain joined my Brother who I would ride back and forth with until the finish.  He had gears and I only had one so we would often leap frog back and forth as the terrain suited our individual strengths. 

We hit the Gold Hill Trailhead right before dusk and started the long hike up and over to Copper Mountain.  Just after treeline, we stopped for a quick break to shovel some food down and also to cool off a bit as to not get too overheated up high. This section of trail is quite spectacular under the starts and even after ~18 hours on the move we were both feeling great. I however crashed 3 times on the descent to Copper as my lights were not quite powerful enough as my eyes thought they were.  About 2 AM we found a flat spot of ground near Copper Mountain and laid down for a quick 3 hours of shut eye. Day 1 in the books.

5 AM came quickly and within 15 minutes we were starting the ride up to Searl Pass.  In 2009, the second day was by far the hardest physically and mentally for me so I was expecting the same this time around. However, to my surprise, I felt great and made quick work of both Searl and Kokomo Passes.  

The weather up high was textbook perfect and nearly dead calm, so by early afternoon we were in Leadville for a quick resupply. However, we both knew that if we pushed it we could make BV before the stores closed for the night, so we boogied right out of town. Miles under the tires.  After Twin Lakes (which has to be the best descent of the whole CT) it started to rain on us. 

Not a quick blast of a thunderstorm, but a constant leaky faucet kind of rain. Some clay briefly stopped our wheels from turning but just as it got dark we popped out on the detour into BV. After a brief stop under the awning of a dilapidated shanty to put on some more layers we started towards BV.  

After an hour of spinning madly on my 32X22 I got to BV at 9:40 PM. 20 frantic minutes and $88 dollars later I had ~15,000 calories to my name.  We found a picnic shelter in town to organize our food and hopefully hide from the rain.  The sky looked as if it was going to rain steadily for a few hours so we made the conservative call to sleep under the shelter and hopefully get some gear dried as opposed to riding in the drizzle.

3 AM comes dang quickly when sleeping on a concrete slab and after a few unsuccessful attempts at shoving some food down my gullet I headed up towards Cottonwood Pass.  As the darkness lifted we made our way through some damp singletrack and eventually into Princeton Hot Springs.  500 calories of ice cream later I started the hike-a-bike out of Princeton where I broke my granny ring with Scott 2 years prior. No issues this year as I stopped to check all my bolts out of suspicion.   

As the afternoon rolled on we made our way past the slopes of Mt Princeton, Mt. Tabauache, and Mt. Shavano and eventually to the mouth of Fooses Creek. "Only 9 miles to the crest" I said. Well, 4 hours of pushing, dragging, and cursing later we finally made it there and quickly made our way down to Marshall Pass for a brief dinner stop.  As darkness came we pushed on hoping to make it as far as we could before hitting the sack.

About 11:30 Stephen hit the wall hard and basically fell off his bike into a pile of rocks, instantly calling it home for the night. 20+ hours on the move ain’t easy.  Not wanting to spend the night so high I pushed on as a thick fog rolled in, the wind picked up, and a light rain started to fall. Descending at night with minimal lights in dense fog that’s blowing sideways while trees all around are creaking and groaning in high winds is a pretty freaky mind trip.  Despite all the stimuli, my eyes started to shut about 1:30 AM and I hit the hay at Tank 7 creek in the rain.

 I awoke to the faintest light permeating the trees. "Crap, I slept through my alarm" were my first thoughts. Up and packed in a blur as I filtered water for the day ahead. Riding through open range meadows at dawn in the fog was a treat and there are some amazing views up there. Sergeants Mesa took longer than I remembered but as just as the note taped to my handlebar constantly reminded me, “It WILL Pass”, and by late morning I was sitting with Apple at his tent drinking a cold Coke. Not wanting to waste too much time before the long road detour I took off and rode the next few miles dodging some more rain before hitting the detour proper.

About 10 miles in, I stopped to filter water and once again Stephen caught me. As we started to roll out, a storm blew in. Again, playing the conservative card, we hid under a trailer for a while before upgrading to a farm shed along the road. 

After a couple hundred calories had been shoved down the gullet we were off and moving again. The detour came and went and we hit Slumgullion Pass just as our eyes were closing.

Again, 4 AM came all too soon and we headed off on the highest and most continuously exposed sections of the entire route. After some pre-dawn hike a bike we were up on Coneys and loving life. The scenery was definitely feeding us energy as we made quick work of the first section. Even on my SS I was able to ride most of the trail with the exception of some steeper hike-a-bikes up hear 13K. Thin air be damned, this was livin’ large!

As the afternoon wore on we did our best to get through Cataract semi-fast but hiking up one fall line, only to descend the same on the far side and then repeat got a tad old. Yeah, the views were amazing but at that point in time, a sandwich in Silverton sounded more amazing.

We pulled into Silverton a tad before 6 PM wondering where all the food we bought in BV had gone.  A 30 min pit stop later and I was back on the road headed towards Molas Pass.

As darkness fell, Stephen caught up to me about halfway to Rolling Pass. We had thoughts of pushing through the night with no sleep but as we slogged on it became obvious that just was not possible. I’d like to say that night riding with a couple hundred miles in your legs is this beautiful flow filled ride up and over dark and silent passes and through quiet woods with only the stars to guide you, but it’s not. You walk a ton, you  trip, you fall, you fall off your bike, and you ride like a 3 year old.  It ain’t pretty and we schwacked our way up to a meadow around 12k before turning in for a 90 min nap.

This brings me back to where I started: 65 miles away from a shower and warm food. The last day took way longer that we both wanted but after 400+ miles my mind was the consistency of pudding so as slow as the hours seemed to tick by in the moment they actually passed fairly quickly.

At 8:08 PM we rolled into the Junction Creek Trailhead, 5 Days, 13 hours, and 28 minutes after we started. We had covered ~480 miles and ~70,000 feet of climbing and descending. Not a bad summer vacation in my book.

Sure I could talk about the hunger pains, shivering in the pre-dawn glow, being soaked to the bone, riding with one eye open, hallucinations, bears, trench foot, blisters, numb hands, numb feet, sunburn, bleeding gums, crashes, coughing fits, throwing up bad food, or falling asleep while walking, but they are all just part of the race. More importantly, the reality is that all those memories are quickly fading and are being replaced by stoke from 5.5 days of near constant movement through some beautiful country often with my brother. Selective memory at it’s best. Which is why, I’ll most likely be back for more.  However, for now there‘s ice cream in my freezer that needs some attention. 

A huge congratulations to anybody who finishes this monster, especially those I ran into on course: Ez and Chris, Shawn, Cat, John, other John, Jordan, and everybody else who I bumped into.   Also, a huge conrgrats to Stephen for absolutely killing it on his first ultra. You sir are a first class badass.


FixieDave said...


chris said...

nice ride, great photos!

Matt said...


Ji!! said...

Love, love, love your writing...Oh and by the way, my current favorite CTR picture is the bivvy of you (or maybe it is your bro, not sure) under the trailer. Millions of words conveyed in that image. Badass finish. Mad respect for your speed!

ScottM said...

Great stuff Carney. Glad you took the time/effort to snap some good pics. You got some nice ones that really capture the CTR. That's the best start line pic I've seen -- really shows how many people are into this crazy thing!

Congrats on the killer time and redemption from '09. You earned it.

Unknown said...

Awesome Carney! You've got a great way of getting us right there next to you (sans suffering, bears no sleep, etc.) and that's a good read!

Awesome job man! And to Steve-o too.

Dave Harris said...

Wow, such an awesome ride you put down! Huge congrats Carney. You & your bro killed it. Somehow you captured the gamut in pictures too. Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

Cat said...

Hey Carney, I read this last week and loved it! Great ride and great writeup. I just want to say that I love your strength, perspective, solidarity with your bro and your writing. It was great seeing you out there! I especially love, "You walk a ton, you trip, you fall, you fall off your bike, and you ride like a 3 year old". I can honestly say I know exactly how you felt; so funny, I laughed out loud. Such a great read. Congrats!

Kiki said...

Congrats on such an epic adventure and thanks for sharing.

mmelley said...

awesome pics, stellar riding, great riding...amazing job all around!

Ayasha Kieth said...

What a great rides for you guys, I love the photos, the scene, and the strength you exert. awesome...

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chij gurung said...

Congrats on such an epic adventure and thanks for sharing

Base Camp Trekking said...

Really great rides perfect images i like it thanks for sharing