July 23, 2017

Colorado Trail Race '17 - Wet 'n Wild Edition

I set up my tent as quickly as possible in the steady rain about a mile beyond Marshall Pass. I tossed in my gear, hoping it would be 'kind of' dry for my 7th night out in the mountains of Colorado. I had just rolled past Marshall Pass Rd, an easy bailout from my soggy misery down to Poncha Springs or Salida, yet my bike refused to turn right. I convinced myself to keep going, after all, I wanted to check out the Fooses Creek downhill and I could still bail out of the Colorado Trail Race when I crossed US50. That was my plan. Survive another cold, wet, shivering night in my soggy tent, then eject from this mess. I had hope. It would end soon enough.

CTR Prelude:

The Colorado Trail Race, CTR, is one of the big three in self-supported bikepacking races. (The other two being the Arizona Trail Race & Tour Divide) The CTR alternates direction each year and this year it would run from Durango to Denver along the Colorado Trail with the exception of five Wilderness detours. Federal law prohibits possession of mechanized transport in Federally designated Wilderness areas. The total route is around 535 miles with some 70,000' of elevation gain. The route averages over 10,000' in elevation along its course. Denver, traditionally thought of as an elevated city, was the low point of the ride. Yikes. The trail reaches an apex at Coney Summit of 13,271' during a 20 mile stint where the trail doesn't drop below 12,000'. If that wasn't enough, there aren't many resupply options along the way. Silverton is the first chance to pick up food, but that's 80 miles into the ride and can have limited selection & hours for riders near the back - that's where I tend to be. The next resupply is some 180+ miles away at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. I had planned on skipping Silverton and started the ride with 5+ days of food. Based on my AZTR750 experience, I was hoping to complete the CTR around 8 days.
Handy checklist for my co-workers.
The route with checkpoints & resupplies marked.
My profile cuesheet for quick reference. *Available in poster/sticker/mug form here.
My buddy, Jason, was also doing the race and we coordinated to meet in Littleton, CO at a bike shop called Pedal of Littleton. The owner, Andy, just so happened to be a childhood friend from my days back in Allentown, PA. Andy also happened to know Jason, who had purchased a bike or two from him a few years ago. It really is a small world. To top it off, another childhood friend, Travis, who was a classmate of Andy's in PA also lives in the area!!

All my stuff was loaded and I departed the desert heat Thursday afternoon bound for Flagstaff where I'd pick up another buddy, Dana, who was also doing the race. Dana and I had a great time driving the rest of the way to Durango that evening. He had some tense moments getting last minute gear together with a fancy tent still unaccounted for. His last hope for it would be the post office in Durango.
The Durango-Silverton Railroad rumbles past the USPS where Dana was without a tent. Plan B: Bivy
On Friday I left Durango and planned a short ride over in Del Norte, CO. I ended up doing a CW loop on the Pronghorn trail. It was a nice mix of techy singletrack, steady climbs and fast descents. It was just what I needed to take my mind off the CTR.
Rocky goodness in Del Norte.
Nicely graded climbs.
Big views.
Plenty of switchbacks!!
A wealth of bikepacking knowledge in this trio.

My second stop of the day was in Salida where I'd met up with Scott, Eszter and Aaron for lunch. Aaron was only a week or so removed from the inaugural American Trail Race and it was cool to hear a few stories from him.

I continued onto Littleton, where I met up with Travis for dinner. It's always great to catch up with him. I shot over to our lavish accomodations for the night at Motel 6 where I found Jason and Jennifer all checked in.

On Saturday morning we dropped my car off at Pedal, then drove into Denver to pick up another racer buddy, Brett. He was gunning for the coveted Triple Crown of Bikepacking, completing the Big Three in the same calendar year...on a singlespeed!! This guy is a stud. He didn't get much sleep due to some train travel issues and a late night break in at the house he was staying!! The home was dusted for prints sometime after midnight and yet nothing of his was stolen. He slept a bit on our way back to Durango!!
Locked & loaded for the drive back to Durango!!
Brett departed for a friend's place in Durango while the rest of us shacked up at Audrey & Jack's place once again. A quick Facebook post had a bunch of riders meeting for dinner at a local pub.
A final warm meal for a while.
Back at the casa, I crashed out on the couch and actually grabbed some quality zzz's before the 3am alarm went off. It's GO time.

Day 1: Into the High Country...and rain.

We arrived at Velorution Cycles around 3:40a and things were bustling in the wee darkness. Jason and I made our final adjustments and blended into the pack of eager riders. I tracked down a few friends in the final minutes, Kurt, Brett and finally met Chris Plesko. I missed a few others who I wanted to see, Max, Holt, Will & Craig, but we didn't have enough time before Stefan, the CTR mastermind, began his final pep talk. 4am came and the group set off onto the streets of downtown Durango. A couple miles on paved bikepath led us to Junction Creek Rd. It was here were I began to fall down the pecking order of riders. So much for a relaxed neutral pace to the trailhead, but I figured this would happen. I arrived at the Junction Creek trailhead to find Jason and Brett still hanging out along with a few other riders.
Neutral rollout through Durango.
Jason and I ready to go at the Junction Creek TH. Photo by Jennifer

I wished Brett a final good luck on completing the Triple Crown then Jason and I hit the trail. I didn't see Jason long as his light danced away from me along Junction Creek. A couple more riders went by me and next thing I knew, I was riding solo in the pre-dawn darkness. My ride had begun.

I caught up to a few riders at the bridge spanning Junction Creek and as I peered skyward I could see many LED's already seemingly miles up the mountainside. I've ridden these initial switchbacks before, but on this morning I was already in mid-ride hike-a-bike, HAB, form. The extra weight of the bike and heavy pack were taking a toll early. A few turns later, Stefan, rolls up and asks me how I'm doing. I reply 'Getting worked over!' He was nice enough to assume we'd cross paths later in his ride, but I knew I wouldn't see him again.
Daybreak at Gudy's Rest.
The trail semi-flattened out for a bit and I started to settle into the ride. It was on this section of trail that I met Jim, a 61-year-old fella on a fatbike from Michigan. We'd leapfrog for most of the day. I was slowly grinding uphill when I found another rider, Pat A., on the side of the trail futzing with his chain. He somehow broke the big ring in half on his cassette!! Granny gear destroyed, he opted to head back to Durango, get it fixed and rejoin the race! I wished him luck as I pressed on. I soon crested the poorly named 'High Point', it's the first high point, but that's about it. I was now on new-to-me trail and pointing downhill.

I was enjoying the easy miles when I rounded a corner to find my friend, Amanda, standing in the trail, bloodied and a bit in a daze. She had crashed hard into a tree a few minutes earlier and by the looks of it had a broken nose and was complaining of severe rib pain. Ugh. Another rider, Wayne, joined Jim and I as we got Amanda pointed in the right direction. She was very coherent now, but in some obvious discomfort. Eight miles or so into the CTR and she was done. I felt terrible for her. She'd trained hard for this and was coming off a couple of knee surgeries since last year.
Amanda all patched up.
Bottom of the downhill, crossing Junction Creek once more. *Note: blue sky!!
Wayne getting some HAB practice.
Jim pushing the fatbike.
I looked up from my HAB position to hear 'Hey Schilling!!' Some AZ friends, Amber & Matt enjoying the big downhill.
Looking up at Kennebec Pass.

I stopped for what already seemed like the umpteenth time while HAB'ing up Kennebec for a snack break. I noticed it was almost 1pm and I still hadn't crested the first big climb of the ride. Dang, this is going much slower than anticipated. I surprisingly had 4G coverage here and posted a quick update, then my phone rang. Mom?? What the... She's not computer literate, so she wasn't following Trackleaders and wanted to know when my Colorado ride started? Uh, I'm on the side of a mountain right now!! Gotta go...clouds are building...now it's hailing. Bye.
Wildflowers were a plenty in the high country.
By the time I reached this sign it was 2:15p and a light rain began to fall.

I was now 10 hours into the ride and had covered a whopping 27 miles. Oof. This was gonna hurt. Then I began to hear distant rumbles as I rode down a really nice stretch of singletrack leading to the base of Indian Trail Ridge. This section is notorious for being exposed. It's above treeline with a sharp dropoff to the rider's right, nowhere to hide if Mother Nature decides to unleash her fury.
Sublime singletrack.
I also knew there was a bit of a dry spell for getting water, so I topped off in Cumberland Basin with the headwaters of the La Plata River while the rain intensified. I debated waiting things out here. The rain was steady and cold, but not windy. Wayne, Jim and another rider, Pat - a young guy from Denver all joined me at the filtering pond. We discussed our options and after a few minutes we decided to push on. The skies had been quiet for a while and we could see a group of trees up high for shelter if needed. Pat led the charge with myself not far behind.
Cumberland Basin.
Lots of options up here.
La Plata River headwaters. We couldn't see the lakes from our filtering spot even though we were practically right next to them!!
Some super steep HAB requiring you to lift your bike up ahead and then climb up to it...on wet rocks.
Indian Trail Ridge. Magnificent.
Yep, this IS the trail. Keep pushing.
Now for some steep downhill and then more steep HAB to the left of the snowfield.

Our four person group separated along the ridge, but I felt like I was making good time in spite of all the HAB. It seemed like the descent back into the trees came quickly, but I'm sure it took much longer. The rain kept falling and the trail was now saturated. The muddy downhills felt like riding with greased tires. I was sliding all over the place, but somehow never crashed. Close call or two, but that was it.
Sporting my secret weapon: white & red polka dot shower cap!!
Soggy trail & snowfields.
I recall riding through the trees and taking a sip of water from my pack...empty?!? I guess I had been chugging more water than normal. How ironic, it was raining, the trail practically a river and I was out of water and couldn't use anything around me. The search was on. The next marked water source was up beyond Hotel Draw, but it wasn't looking like I'd get that far today. A few miles later as I switchbacked down the mountainside I spotted a clear rivulet of runoff. Perfect.
Then there were these sections, pig sty, quagmire, slop, goop, you name it, it sucked. The goal? Don't put your foot down!!
Day 1 and the bike is trashed.

I'm normally good to ride until around midnight or 1am during these kinds of events, a solid 18-20 hours. Day 1 put a hurt on me and by 7:30p I was looking for a camping spot. The rain had finally relented, but everything was soaked. I hadn't even made it to the first checkpoint at Blackhawk Pass, heck I didn't even make it to Hotel Draw on the first day. I never even considered such a short outing. I was a bit disappointed in myself, but I needed to stop. I also needed a good night's rest, no alarm for this guy. I invited both Jim and Pat to camp, Pat pushed on a bit, but Jim found a spot nearby. Wayne had been out of sight for hours and was on a bit of a time crunch. I wouldn't see him again.

I set up my tent and began unpacking my gear from my bike. I thought my bikepacking bags were a bit more water resistant than they were. All my stuff was damp & wet. At least it was tolerable and it wasn't too cold out. I ended up sleeping great.

Day 1: 15h 56m - 37.68mi - 8209'

Day 2: Rockslides, Rain, Mud & Fog

I don't know what time I got moving, but it sure as hell wasn't the crack of dawn. Jim marveled a bit at how fast I had all my stuff together as I readied to leave camp. One trick I recalled learning from Eszter a while back was to have everything I would need in the morning within arms reach. I had added water the night before to oatmeal I had in a ziplock for breakfast, but it was bland (forgot sugar packets) and cold, but I ate it. So, breakfast was quick.
Early morning singletrack.
I mostly HAB'd up this vegetation choked hillside, but another rider approaches with relative ease...
It was Pat A, the guy who broke his cassette a day earlier! I rode with him briefly as I couldn't keep pace. This guy rode back to Durango, had his bike fixed and was now already leaving me in the dust. Strong rider.
The sun was shining and I was passing by trails I had only heard about before.

I rolled into familiar territory at Hotel Draw, where we deviated our bikepacking ride a few weeks earlier due to a forest fire. I decided to take a long snack break and dry out some gear.

While I sat and ate, a car drove up and parked next to the trail. It was a blue Subaru with a roof rack. For a moment I thought it may be Jennifer and she tracked me down to say 'Hi'. Nope. Just some day hikers out to bag Blackhawk Peak.

Another rider appeared where the trail & road intersect. A few minutes later she came over to see what I was up to. It was Jenna from Chico, CA and she too was waterlogged from the previous day. We chatted a bit about our rides to this point and how we needed to get our gear dry. We both agreed a warm meal in Silverton sounded like the perfect goal for the day. I soon packed up and began the four mile approach to Blackhawk Pass. I would later learn that Jenna ended up dropping from the race shortly after our meeting due to non-functional front brakes. Bummer.

The first couple of miles towards Blackhawk rode surprisingly well for me. More downhill bits than I recalled and I was thankful for them. At one point I heard a loud rumbling, sounded like thunder, but not quite. As it grew in intensity it sunk in: rockslide!! It had come off the flanks ahead of me, probably only a half mile away. It was cool to hear, yet unnerving at the same time. Just something else I needed to be aware of.
Getting close to the final push up Blackhawk Pass. Rockslide was to the far right somewhere.
Break time at treeline and fresh water pouring from a scree field.
Blackhawk Pass at the dip under the white puffy cloud.
Pass attained!!

I was soaking in the views and saw two bikepackers coming up the pass from the other side. I was also glad to see all of the snowfields melted from our last ride here. The two riders topped out and we talked a bit about the trail. They were doing the Silverton to Durango portion and the second guy was looking pretty worked over. The other Pat, young guy from the first day, was making his push up to the pass. We'd end up riding most of the day together.
Storms-a-brewing back towards Kennebec Pass.
Bikepackers approach and look how green!! No snow!!
Pat pushes up the final bit to the pass.

Pat and I dropped in and really enjoyed the downhill from the pass. The miles flew by until I was greeted by the first patch of snow on the trail. A small snowbank maybe six feet across.
First snow on the trail.
Quickly putting Blackhawk Pass behind us.
Clouds building in front of us.
12,679' Hermosa Peak.
Long, fun downhill into Bolam Pass. Thru-hiker tent by the trail.

It was now mid-afternoon and I was beginning to have doubts about reaching Silverton before close of business...on Day 2!! Both Pat and I were starting to feel the effects from the strenuous day. I stopped for some calories while he pushed on to the next saddle. I was about 7-10 minutes behind him and it made all the difference. While he made it over the small pass I was getting pummeled by hail & rain during a short lived squall.
Hail storm now behind me.
All dry at the saddle.
Every dark cloud begged the question: Are you going to rain on me?
Plenty of creek crossings.
Up & over the San Juan's here.

Pat and I kept leapfrogging each other, either during snack breaks or here, at a water stop along Cascade Creek.

Rolling Mtn. Pass comes into view. It sits at 12,500'.
The wildflowers were exploding near treeline.
Pat gives a 'thumbs up' during the long, slow push to the pass. Menacing clouds close in.

The rain began to fall over the final half mile to the pass. Another rider caught us, a fella who started in Durango that morning, and the three of us cleared the pass together, right at sunset. There was still a little bit of snow to negotiate at the top, nothing crazy, but that also meant lots of runoff from melting snow. The other two quickly disappeared as the rain picked up in intensity and now a blanket of fog swallowed the trail. My lights were almost a hindrance in the fog. Wet, soggy trail wasn't helping matters and I was soon reduced to the shameful mellow grade downhill HAB. I passed by the Engineer Mtn. trail junction and soon the vegetation began to appear. Normally this would mean shelter from the rain, but these bushes offered nothing but more moisture. I was soaked to the core even with my rain gear on. I was so ready to call it a day, but there was nowhere to stop. Keep moving. I sloshed through a large swampy area and swore the first two pine trees I came to would be my campsite for the night.

I rode past the guy who caught us on the HAB, now in full cowboy camp mode - in the rain, next to the trail. I spotted Pat's tent as well, but neither had much shelter from the weather. A few minutes later my two trees appeared and that was it. I hastily set up my tent in the rain, tossed in my gear, put down some calories and called it a night. Or so I thought.

I woke sometime after midnight to take a leak. My heart sank a bit when I shone my headlamp into my tent. There were puddles of water everywhere!! My down sleeping bag was surrounded by water, sopping wet. All my spare clothes could be wrung out. Drenched. I didn't bother putting on shoes, it was still raining, what did it matter. There's something special about crawling back into a wet tent and working yourself back inside a soaking wet sleeping bag. Yet, somehow I fell fast asleep and woke fairly rested the next morning.
Rolling Mtn. Pass at dusk.
Day 2: 14h 29m - 32.08mi - 5873'

Day 3: Silverton

It was a semi-foggy morning, everything either damp or wet. I took a quick look around to see where I ended up camping. There wasn't much real estate, enough for the tent, not much more. There was a long drop off into the cloud shrouded abyss a few feet away. It was now Day 3, I still hadn't reached Silverton. Ugh. Time to re-evaluate my plans & goals for this ride. The highest part of the ride was immediately beyond Silverton and I didn't think it would be a wise decision to head up there with wet gear. I needed to find some laundry facilities. I'd get to town and see what I could find and go from there. My goal of an 8 day or so finish was rapidly slipping away. I just wanted to knock out some big miles.

I gathered up my wet pile of gear and began wringing each item out before stuffing it all on my bike. The sleeping bag was comical. Water poured out of the bottom when I picked it up! Bonus weight!!
Two pine trees & a slice of dirt.
Dreary start to the morning.
Plenty of great trail to remind you why you're out here.
A break in the cloud cover, the day is starting to feel better.

 As I made my way towards the final saddle before the long downhill into Silverton I heard another familiar rumble. It wasn't thunder, rather another rockslide!! This one was off to my left about a half mile away I guessed. Again, it was a reminder to be on guard at all times and know your surroundings.

Denver Pat had caught up to me and we rode together for a bit. He kept going when I stopped for a snack break and it was the last time I saw him. Since he wasn't carrying a SPOT I don't know if he ended up finishing or not. It was the last time I'd ride with anyone doing the race.

I started seeing more day hikers as I neared Little Molas Lake. I was ready to get off the trail for a bit. I desperately needed a recharge. Let's reset this ride.
Another trailhead at long last: Molas Pass.
Little Molas Lake.
Junction with US550 & 7 fast paved downhill miles.

There is a small construction zone currently on US550 just above Silverton where the outside lane is getting rebuilt on a cliff. Perilous work for the construction crew. I was stopped there for a few minutes, then the flagman said he'd give me a head start over the line of traffic. Adios!! Those cars didn't stand a chance, I was gone!

I really didn't need anything foodwise in town, but a fresh chocolate milk sure didn't hurt.

I went to the first RV park I came to and inquired about laundry. They had machines on site, but recommended I wait until after 3pm. It was around noon. Didn't matter to me, the sun was finally shining and I spread all my gear across a picnic table where I'd be camping for the night.
Work your magic, Sun.
I had a bunch of messages on my phone, many from friends wondering how bad the conditions were.
Great. Rain, incoming.
I gathered all my gear from the picnic table and moved into the bathroom which was only a few feet away. It also had an outlet inside, so I took advantage and topped off all my electronics. Did I mention my Sinewave Revolution USB converter wasn't producing a charge from the hub? So, all my electronics that I planned to power via the hub, now had to rely on my cache batteries and any outlets I could find along the way. Good thing my Mary Poppins bag carries all kinds of crap. I debated before the ride about bringing my second, way heavy & typically overkill, cache battery for this ride. Thankfully I had it. I was confident I'd have enough juice to get me to Denver.
Shredmo gets a bath & lubed chain.
One of my best adventuring buds, the Red Rock Chica, RRC, spends a fair amount of time during the summer months around the Silverton area. She was on her way back from a work assignment and we didn't think our paths would cross. I told her before the race, 'I better be long gone from Silverton by Tuesday'. Well, it was Tuesday and I had just arrived to town. She was on her way in from Durango and tracked me down in the early afternoon. We hung out for only a few minutes before she had errands to attend and I needed lunch. Avalanche Brewing was calling my name.
Can't a guy get a little privacy around here?!? Photo by RRC.
The RRC rolled back into camp a few hours later on the moto. She's a certified badass, you know. She seemed to have a slight fluid issue with her bike and within minutes it seemed every dude in the RV park who was on a moto was there to fix the issue. She has quite a talent when it comes to holding court. I was getting a kick out of it and she was getting her bike fixed and giving route advice to guys. It was so good to see a familiar face after the punishing start to the ride. However, I knew I was in for more.
The RRC makes an appearance with her San Juan logo'd KTM. Cool cat.
A second storm passed through as early evening arrived. Once again I moved all my gear into the bathroom then went for dinner. After my meal, I asked the waiter if he had any plastic bags. He brought me 4. Perfect. I now had an extra barrier layer for my gear. Then, Jim stopped by. I hadn't seen him since Monday morning. He was down the street with a few other riders at the hostel.

Back at camp, all my stuff was now dry & electronics good to go. A third round of rain began as I crawled into my tent intent on keeping everything dry through the night.

Day 3: 4h 25m - 14.54mi - 837'

Day 4: Into the High Country

Rise & shine!! I was hoping for clear skies....
The damp, chilly morning kept me in my tent a bit longer than anticipated. I had wanted to be rolling out of town by 7a or even 6a if I was feeling motivated. Instead, I passed through the main drag at 7:50a. The skies were showing signs of breaking up and as I reached the turnoff for Stony Pass the Sun's rays could be seen on the towering peaks above me. It's going to be a good day.
The Alpine Loop is a very popular 4x4 route through the surrounding area. I would see many motos, of all variety, on my climb to Stony Pass.
Almost 2 miles into the climb and I was still pedaling...until I spotted a trail treat!! Someone dropped an unopened bottle of Dasani. Of course it was still cold. Chugged it.
The pitch angled skyward and I switched over to HAB mode. Looking back, I've already come a long way.
Snack break near the halfway point. A short bit of flat riding too.
One by one they just kept coming, yet not one offer to drive me to the top or give me a beer. How rude. I was now in full HAB mode to the pass.

Where rivers are born.
I was a bit excited to reach the pass. The sign at the bottom read: 5 miles to Stony Pass. Uh, it's closer to 6 thank you very much. I ended up riding about 2.5 of the 6 miles. The HAB miles were stacking up rapidly.
Back on the CT. I'd now be above 12,000' for the next 20 miles.

I'd also join the Continental Divide Trail, CDT. It overlaps the CT for about 200 miles.
I ran into a few thru-hikers nearing the end of their treks. The positive energy coming from almost every one of these hikers, not only here, but the entire trail, was one of the main reasons I kept it together. This would be a recurring theme over the next 1 1/2 days. It seemed I'd come in contact with a hiker or two every 10 minutes or so. Kinda cool to see so many people out there getting after it.

I was barely a mile into the CT when another bikepacker approached. He stopped and we found out both of us were doing the race. He was about to scratch after climbing Stony Pass the day before, then getting caught in a storm only to retreat all the way back down to Silverton. He then came up Stony again, but missed the trail and rode way down the dirt rode before realizing his mistake. He found his way back up to the CT where he decided he wouldn't have the time to complete the ride.  What a crappy way to end it. There's no way in hell I would've done Stony twice. Once was more than enough. Yet in spite of all his misfortune, he was in good spirits and looking forward to getting down to Silverton.
Water, water, everywhere!! The CT was the drainage in most cases.
Turn right or you're in for a long uphill retreat.
At least there was one switchback instead of all fall-line trail.
Plenty of dirt road options for the motos too.
Hikers approaching.
The sense of scale was staggering.
It took most of the afternoon, but I finally caught the hiker in front of me!!
A group of thru-hikers pass by on their way to Durango.
This was our turnaround point last September when the RRC was showing me her turf.
I had to snap a selfie here in honor of RRC's self-timer fail!! Haha!
I also noticed that very cairn was a den for Pika, K's favorite little creature.

The miles were slow going, no surprise there, but the views were off the charts. Simply incredible every which way you looked. The weather was holding, but I was keeping my eye on some dark clouds building to the north.
Vague trail in doses.
Blue sky still punching through.
Super-sized cairn!!
Water directly from the source.
The skies becoming more menacing by the minute.
Heading towards yet another saddle.

Jaw dropping, stop in your tracks moments were easy to come by.
Hmmm, those dark clouds are hovering over Coney Summit. Right where I need to go.
Long downhill, complete with cliffside trail overlooking a waterfall.
Cuba Gulch.
I arrived at Cataract Lake late in the afternoon. There were a couple of thru-hikers hanging out, tent set up for the night. I found an area to hang out while I intently watched the darkening storm litter the peaks with a multitude of lightning strikes. Yeah, I'm NOT going up there now. The hiker I had been chasing most of the day arrived and he too was hesitant to proceed. In the end, he decided to camp by the lake with the other hikers. I hung around for the better part of an hour before the storm finally dissipated and the coast appeared clear enough for me to think about getting up & over Coney Summit.
The unnamed lake next to Cataract Lake as I begin to climb away from it.
Up, up, up I go, nearing Carson Saddle.
A few more thru-hikers came by, all targeting Cataract Lake as their camp location for the night. It was going to be a party down there! A few of them mentioned getting hailed on by the storm I had been watching. I neared the bottom of a long glorious downhill when two young hikers and their grandfather came strolling by. They all looked like they had seen a ghost. They excitedly told me how they were up near Coney Summit when all hell broke loose. Pea-sized hail came pouring down on them for an hour!! They also said lightning struck about 20 feet from them. Dang. No thanks. They took refuge in a large tent that some commercial outfitter had rigged up below Upper Carson. They were able to regain their wits before proceeding down the trail. It was a stark reminder to me that I made the right decision to not push on towards that storm.

Of course not five minutes after they continued on, it began to rain. I quickly converted over to rain gear and trudged on towards Upper Carson.
A long downhill dropped me near 12k, a rare 'low point' of the day.

The rain was steady and cold as the daylight began to fade. I still entertained ideas of reaching Coney in the dark as I pushed by the large white commercial tent site. By the time I reached Upper Carson at 12,400' the light was diminishing, the rain was holding steady and now a second, lower layer of clouds was rolling in towards my intended path. I got smart and decided that would be it for the night, but I really didn't want to pitch my tent in the rain. The cloud cover appeared thin and I was surprised it was still raining, so I stood around for a few minutes in hopes it would stop. The rain continued. I started pacing, doing light jumping jacks to keep warm, yet the rain persisted. My bike was leaning against the only vegetation at this altitude and I was about to swing a leg over the saddle and retreat to the large white tent for shelter since it was nestled in the highest grove of trees around. As soon as I did this, the rain stopped.

Camp was set up in a matter of minutes. I also managed to keep my wet rain gear & muddy shoes from mucking up the inside of my tent. I made a recovery drink, downed some calories and crashed out for the night. Things were all of a sudden looking up. I felt good about an early morning push to the high point on route and excited to see it in daylight.
My highest campsite to date at 12,400'. Slept great and stayed dry.
Day 4: 12h 50m - 26.77mi - 6509'

Day 5: Highs & Lows

I woke to a beautiful sight: clear skies!! I was almost dumbfounded at the notion of a possible dry day, but I quickly remembered where I was and I needed to get moving.

A jeep had crested the dirt road in the wee hours of the morning and a hiker took off up the trail. I was standing in the crisp morning air eating a breakfast bar when I noticed a couple of creatures slowly walking up the dirt road about 100 feet from my tent...
Moose!! Momma and her calf stroll by.
Then Bullwinkle joins the party. Again, slowly walking by, glancing my way every few steps. I never did see Rocky, but all three went on their way without incident. It was an awesome sight and only the second time I had ever seen Moose in the wild.
That's not snow in the foreground, leftover piles of hail from the evening storm were becoming more frequent.
Hail covered trail in the shadows.

The morning began with a 900' HAB while surpassing the 13,000' barrier. This was now the highest I'd ever been on a bike and my lungs were feeling it. The trail was steep and unrideable for me. The HAB wasn't much easier as I felt like I was stopping every 7-10 steps to catch my breath. The trail finally relented and I could see the high point sign getting near. I had to ride the final bit just to make myself feel worthy of attaining it.
Top of the CTR!! Those slopes in the distance are covered in hail.
Trends downhill to Denver from here, right?

 A few hikers joined in the Coney Summit mini-celebration. I met the first of many hikers from PA who noted my jersey. It's quite the conversation starter.

It was now 9:30a, a mere 3 hours since I poked my head out of my tent to see nothing but blue sky. As you can see in my pics above, the clouds were building quickly once again.
In spite of the hail, the first part of the trail rode great.
I knew I had one more push to regain 13k. The trail can be seen cutting across the hail field. It was at least 3" deep for a good portion. You know what that means. HAB.
I crested a ridge and this unfolded before my eyes. THIS is why I'm out here.
The trail didn't just switchback down from my perch, it dropped off the face of the Earth!! A lone hiker, the guy who drove the jeep by my campsite early that morning, can be seen in the green, near the bottom of the pic in the center for reference. The trail then arcs to the right heading up between the ridge and the clumps of vegetation.
Looking back UP, this IS the trail.
I caught the hiker near here, then stopped for lunch.
These sections went by much too fast.
The high alpine rocky trail gave way to a soft tread as I re-entered the land of trees.
The lower I went, the muddier the trail. There were many goopy sections to navigate here.
I passed a yurt a few hikers had used the night before, then found myself above treeline once again. Skies were now a constant threat while the trail surface deteriorated.
Ahh, Jarosa Mesa. F.U.

I had been warned about Jarosa Mesa and the level of suckitude it possessed. One can never fully appreciate an incredible trail or one that blows hard until you're actually on it. This was no exception. It wasn't steep, slightly uphill, but loaded with embedded rocks. I may have been able to ride it, but why? So much wasted energy. So, I pushed and tried to keep moving while I hoped the rain held off.

This went on for a while. I'd see a large cairn up ahead and thought I was nearing the crest. Maybe I can ride when it begins to angle downward. What I found was another stretch of rocky, slightly uphill trail leading to another large cairn in the distance. Surely, that is the top. Nope. Nor the next one, or the one after that. I lost count to be honest and my mood was quickly turning sour. I was all by my lonesome out there, no hikers had been by in over an hour. I was getting more frustrated with the situation by each passing minute. I kept trying to tell myself that it would end, but when?? I know I was lobbing a few choice expletives when I finally did crest the dome.

A few hikers finally approached and they asked how my ride was going. I think I said something along the lines of 'Be warned the next couple of miles suck ass.' Their expression seemed unfazed, then it dawned on me, sucks for a bike rider, not so much for a hiker. Anyway, we exchanged some more trail info, then they informed me I was about to encounter a herd of sheep a thousand strong in a few minutes. 'Uh, ok.' I figured they meant maybe a hundred. I was wrong.
A minuscule portion of the herd. Baaaa, baaaa.
 A rancher and his dogs were guiding them down the slope ahead of me. It was quite the ruckus. He was able to keep the trail clear and I passed by easily. I spread the word to the upcoming hikers as I dropped out onto a dirt road.
More slop to ride through as a light rain began to fall.
I knew I was close to Spring Creek Pass and the beginning of a long, 60 mile, Wilderness detour called La Garita.
I initially took refuge from the rain at the trail kiosk.
The wind began to pick up a bit and my stuff was starting to get wet as the kiosk didn't offer a ton of shelter. There was, however, a pit toilet restroom there and only a couple of empty cars parked nearby. I relocated to my dry quarters and spent the better part of the next hour and a half waiting out the storm.
Luxury accommodations.

I was so ready to knock out some fast miles. I wanted a big mile day so bad and here I was standing around waiting for the rain to let up. I didn't want to risk all my gear getting soaked again. In a splash of irony, everything around me was wet and I was low on water. The search was on.
The rain relented and right after I snapped this pic I spotted a small creek across the road. Score!
The first few miles of pavement flew by until I reached the base of the Slumgullion climb. I had heard about this one, but didn't realize it was a paved climb. 4 miles to the summit. The road began to dry out and the rain gear came off as I began to overheat a tad.
Short rest stop.
I had to mix in a few moments of HAB on the pavement. The grade wasn't too bad, but my backside was beginning to show signs of discomfort from the extra weight at the start of the race.
Why does the road continue to climb beyond this sign?? The much anticipated long downhill began 1/4 mile later.
I made the turn onto a well graded & maintained dirt road after burning my brake pads on the paved descent. I didn't take but a pic or two over the next 15 miles or so because it was so much fun to actually go fast!! I clicked off those 15 miles in something like 45 minutes. I started to feel like I was finally making progress towards Denver.
Beautiful country back here.
Incredible canyon to ride through complete with flowing creek on the right.
Entering wide open ranch lands.
To my surprise, the road stayed down in the flat valley the entire way.
Rustic barn at the turnoff for Los Pinos.
The Los Pinos climb is near the halfway point of the La Garita detour.
I was beginning to fade from the long day during this climb. Ride, walk, ride, walk some more. It was a mixed bag, but I kept moving. If I had more energy I would've rode all of it, but I just didn't have it. I noticed dark clouds directly in front of me; a long downhill after cresting Los Pinos awaited. I could see myself riding fast enough to catch the storm. I really didn't want that to happen, so I hatched a plan to finish the climb, then find a camp spot as soon as possible.
5th night out and my first sunset show.
At first glance, this wouldn't seem like a good place to camp. It was perfect!!

I found just enough real estate at the above cattle guard for my tent. It was dry, the cattle guard was well built, read: quiet. I figured the road didn't see much traffic, especially on a weekday and I'm a fairly heavy sleeper.

During the night I did hear one cyclist ride over the cattle guard. I had guessed it may be Jim? I hadn't seen him since Silverton. Some time around 5:30a a truck drove by and that was it for the nightly traffic count. It was a great night of sleep which I really needed. I had hopes for another big mileage day.

Day 5: 13h 25m - 46.29mi - 4843'

Day 6: Cochetopa Hills

Downhill for breakfast. Eat up. It was a cool morning, but again the day looked promising weather-wise. As most mornings had gone, I slept in and didn't get moving until sometime around 7a.
Fast, easy miles got things going.
Signs of civilization were short lived.
I had been riding near water all morning, but held off on filling up as I thought there was a good water source where I rejoined the CT.
Dome Reservoir.

One of many National Forests the route passes through.
The dirt road had leveled off and began a long mellow climb as I passed by Dome Reservoir. I spotted something bright orange on the side of the road up ahead. It was Jim, crashed out from his late night push. I didn't want to disturb him, so I kept rolling.

Soon I was beyond the reservoir and my water was starting to get low as I neared the CT junction. It became clear there was no reliable water source around me and I began second guessing my strategy. I ticked off a few more miles and still nothing. I took a peek to see how much I had left since I was about to enter a notoriously dry section of the CT. Barely 1 liter!! Ugh. I consulted the CT app and it showed a seasonal source about a 1/2 mile beyond my turnoff towards the Wilderness boundary. I had to check it out.

**Side note: It was somewhere around here, roughly 180 miles in, when the 1st place finisher rode into Waterton Canyon!! 5d 5h.
I was in luck. It may not look like much, but it was flowing clear, precious water.
As I filtered my final liter into the bladder three hikers came down the road. They informed me a trail angel was setup barely a mile away!! 'He has donuts, Cokes, Gatorades & fresh water'. What?!? Awesome. I asked if his name was Apple and they confirmed. I had heard about this guy over the years of following the CTR, but wasn't sure where he'd be or if he'd be out on the trail at all.
Apple and his goods.
As I rode up to Apple's camp he immediately offered me a donut. 'It's a bit stale now' he told me. Like I cared. It was his last day and he was packing things up. He asked if I was the last racer and I let him know that Jim would be by shortly. Apparently, Apple drives in from Ohio each year for three weeks and camps here offering refreshments to weary CT/CDT travelers. He's been a staple for so long the CTR headquarters don't mind if we partake. That's nice, but I was snagging a Coke & donut regardless!! I ended up hanging out there for at least a half hour, but soon it was time to get moving. I was now back on the CT and assumed the tough sledding would be upon me.
Pushing up some steep 2-track. Apple's white truck can barely be seen next to the small clump of trees in the center of the photo.
So much green it's overtaking the trail.
I almost forgot about these. 190 miles from Durango, I came across the first gate on the trail. This isn't the AZT. Of course less than 5 miles later I hit the second one. I think there were less than 10 total.
Much of the trail through Segment 18 rode really well.
Vintage trail blaze being consumed by nature.
I was back on the CDT as well. 
The final few miles into CR114 were an absolute blast. Little did I know what lies ahead.

I grabbed a snack at the trailhead and chatted with some section hikers who were getting set to hike back towards Spring Creek Pass. Their shuttle driver handed me a cold Sprite, thanks!! The skies were looking grim as it was now early afternoon.
The initial climb was next to one of the thickest aspen groves I'd ever seen.
There was a small creek tucked in the heavy vegetation and a couple of hikers were filtering water. I noticed a few cattle nearby and could tell the water looked to flow over goopy mud. Not my ideal source. One of the hikers mentioned that he'd be using a double dose of purification tablets!! I had plenty of water so it was a non-issue.
Rio Grande National Forest could use a new sign.
The dirt road climb topped out and I thought to myself how it wasn't too bad. I began to descend...
...and immediately saw my trail turnoff. The climbing ensued and the rain began to fall. 32.5 miles to Marshall Pass. This would be my goal as it would get me through the dreaded Sargents Mesa area.

I rode some, walked some, then walked a bunch more as the steep trail made its way up the mountainside. The rain came and went several times leaving the trail slippery, muddy and generally in poor condition. It would've been hard enough to ride if dry.
A rare look into the valley below.
I changed back into rain gear here and must have put my sunglasses on my feed bag. I later relocated to a drier shelter to wait out the short downpour and noticed my glasses were missing. I found them up the trail with a huge crack across the right lens. Gah!! Thankfully, as bad as it appeared, it really didn't bother me much looking through it. Plus, who needed sunglasses on this dreary day.
Post-ride pic of the break.
It was somewhere in here where thoughts of quitting entered my brain. Why am I out here slogging through this shit?? Day 6 was getting long in the tooth and I was nowhere near the halfway point. Marshall Pass was my way out and it couldn't get there soon enough. I'd then convince myself that I'd regret bailing. This seemed to go on for hours in my head, a constant battle of quit - don't quit. The knee-jerk reaction was to exit the trail ASAP and spend a few days riding with friends on good trail with the sun shining. The other side of the argument spelled it all out: Do I have food/water? Yes. Is my bike working? Yes. Am I hurt? No. Is there a safety concern? No. Then keep pedaling/pushing. It really boiled down to a comfort thing. In other words: HTFU. (See Rule #5 from the link) So, that's what I did.

Damp, wet and muddy were the name of the game. Oh, and HAB.
Hello, friend.
Saw at least 5 camp sites near here.

It was now after 8p, I was spent, but nearing the top of a climb. I figured I could get there and find a place in the trees at the saddle.
Razor Creek wasn't big, but it flowed and filled me up.
I bypassed a couple of really nice camping spots on my way to the saddle. As I neared it, I saw it was a clearing, not forested. Drat. Well, I guess I'll go across the open area and into the next set of trees. Then I noticed the rapidly encroaching dark clouds accompanied with light thunder. Great. I began to double-time my HAB effort as I raced the incoming storm.

I felt the first few drops on my arms as I reached treeline. I quickly found a spot and set up the tent. I think it was my fastest setup of the entire ride. I tossed in everything I'd need for the night & morning and crashed out hard as a steady rain was now falling. It had taken me about 5 hours to go 17 1/2 miles, still some 15 miles until Marshall Pass.

Day 6: 13h 35m - 50.07mi - 5262'

Day 7: Sargents Mesa

I woke sometime after daybreak to the pitter-patter of rain on my tent. Ugh. I was getting tired of being wet and was in no mood to start the day by packing up my gear while it was raining. Screw it. I'm staying right here, inside my tent until it stops. I have plenty of food & water. I'll hang out here all day if I have to. I was not in a pleasant mood.
Good mornin'!!
I think it was my good fortune, but it stopped raining barely 20 minutes after my pity party. I packed up quick and hoped I'd kept my stuff dry-ish.
Water-logged campsite.
I wish I could say I was refreshed after the night's rest, but frankly, I was kind of dreading Sargents Mesa after all the crap I'd just ridden through. How could it be worse?? Gulp. I was surprised that none of the ride reports I had read really mentioned the Cochetopa Hills as sucking. Maybe they're not so bad when dry?? Doubt it.

The HAB continued in earnest and the rideable downhills were mentally taxing in the wet, slippery conditions. Mud puddles and slop seemed to be around every corner, my bike was looking trashed, yet still responded wonderfully.
The cloud cover never seemed thick, it just kept raining.
This would be more the norm for the day.
Oh look, a side trail...and it's smooth. Wonder where it goes...I fought the urge to find out a few times.
The good news?? Hardly any down trees. The CT volunteers are awesome!!
This is a general FU to Segment 17 and the non-stop rain.
Fantastic. After all that, NOW I'm on Sargents Mesa. I need a snack.

It was around 1p when I reached Sargents Mesa. Lunch time as I anxiously wondered what was in store for me. To my surprise, the mesa itself rode fine. The rest of Segment 16 was a mixed bag of good singletrack and soul sucking HAB. The rain came & went a few times during the afternoon and with it numerous changes in clothing layers.

I guess in the end Segment 16 was slightly better than 17 for me. A few more rideable sections, but overall it was very time consuming and exhausting.
A hiker calls it an early night along the mesa.
Tank Seven Creek marked the end of the 'dry section' of trail as far as water sources went.
Ran into a stoner couple from Leadville bikepacking to Silverton here. They skipped some gnarly sections and I couldn't help but wonder why they didn't skip all this!! The guy then offered me a bowl. Uh, no thanks. In hindsight, it would've made the miles more pleasant through here.
Forest lava flow. Why not.
So much flow.
There were some nice bits too. Sure would like to ride this when dry.
Riding between cloud layers. The Sun showed signs of coming out...
A fast downhill into a left-hand turn led into a large mud puddle...almost went for a swim when my front wheel plunged into the muck. Somehow I pulled the front wheel out while landing my right foot on solid ground. I guess I shouldn't assume all these puddles are shallow!!
Creepy looking forest.
The MTB version of cobbles.
This was a particularly long, extremely steep HAB section. I met a thru-biker from Belgium here. He was looking more defeated than myself. He asked about the upcoming trail sections and I had to give it to him straight. He was in for more suffering. He relayed a similar message to me, but did mention how the overall trail was more rideable beyond Marshall Pass. I had been hearing this from almost everyone and couldn't wait.
I think I'll stay to the left.
Is that the Sun trying to peek through??
The word: Quagmire came to mind often.
It was early evening now, the rain had stopped for the moment as I was nearing Marshall Pass. A couple of thru-hikers came along and we began talking about my setup and the CTR. One of the guys had raced it the year before and the other fella was going to do it next year. These guys got me pumped up and the following miles of trail were great as the Sun finally made an appearance.
Stop the presses, the Sun is shining!!

I took advantage of the nice weather break and checked to see if I had cell coverage. 4G!! I sent K a text to let her know I was ok, it had been over 4 days since I last had reception and I figured she was worried about me even though the SPOT dot had been moving. I had to cut it short when I looked down the trail and saw a massive fog front closing in. Here we go again...
It took about two minutes, then I could barely see 15 feet in front of me. I popped out of the fog after a few minutes. Fun trail ensued.

8p. Finally!! Marshall Pass attained and with it, the rain began to fall. Again.
I had been aiming for Marshall Pass the better part of two days to evaluate what I wanted to do. Yet, when I arrived and a light rain ushered out my rain jacket for the umpteenth time, all I could really think about was how far up the trail I could get before dark. I figured I could suck it up for one more day at least, but damn I really wanted to finish this thing.

Like most other days, I was cooked by sundown. Something I'm really not familiar with or liked, to be honest. My body was telling me I needed the rest, so I listened. I found a marginal place to set up camp, in the rain and settled in for the night.

Well, I never really settled in. I couldn't fall asleep or stay asleep when I dozed off. My feet were cold & wet, hands too. The sleeping bag was damp and I intentionally made myself shiver to generate some body heat. This went on the entire night. It was the only night I really wished I had my inflatable pad. My trimmed down silver car visor & one square foot of foam padding for my hip, just weren't cutting it this time. I'm not going to sugar coat it, I was miserable, probably my worst night I've ever had while bikepacking.

Day 7: 12h 5m - 25.45mi - 4403'

Day 8: Fooses, Mt. Princeton & Renewed Spirits

Sometime during the night I crawled out of the tent and looked up: stars!! It was clear and I was excited about the prospect of riding some familiar trail, the famed Monarch Crest, in decent conditions. Perhaps my mind was put at ease a bit and I think I managed a bit of sleep before daybreak. I poked my head out the tent door a few hours later and was disappointed to see overcast skies. So much for a sunny start to the day. Everything was damp, but I convinced myself that once I got moving, I'd warm up and to just deal with being uncomfortable for a bit.

I was still a bit bummed that I only scratched out 25 miles the day before, but my food supply was still good. I was hopeful I'd reach the next resupply point at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs before closing.
After some early HAB, things opened up a bit.
So much for good trail conditions through the forested sections. The Crest has seen better days.
I started to see more riders as I was a bit slow to beat the first shuttle drop of the day. No close calls and everyone I saw was super cool. A few of the riders knew about the CTR and wished me luck.
Finally some nice trail as I neared the Fooses Creek split.
There were at least a dozen riders congregated here when I rode up. One girl didn't see where I came from and asked if I had just ridden up Fooses. 'Hell no!! I'm going down that!!' One guy in the group knew about the race and explained it to the others. The looks on their faces when it started to sink in was priceless. A minute later I started my downhill HAB on upper Fooses. It's steep, loose & rutted for a bit.

Looking back up, you can see the Fooses Creek sign at the saddle.
Water refill station.
A hiker warned me about a bull moose a bit down the trail. I never came across him, but it kept me alert. The upper 1/3 of the trail was steep, but mostly rideable after the initial drop-in. There were some gooey sections of trail due to the constant runoff and seeps mixed in with a few techy bits that required a dismount.
The grade relaxed a bit and flow reigned supreme.

Fooses Creek kept growing the farther down the trail I went.
I had been waiting for this for days: Long flowing singletrack that seemed to go on forever. It was exactly the mental lift I had been seeking.
The clouds began to break up and low & behold the Sun came out!!
Thoughts of bailing at the US50 crossing were now gone. I was amazed how those 4-5 miles of trail changed my entire ride. I dumped out on a fast downhill forest road where I ran into a familiar face. It was Aaron!! He drove over from Salida to check on me. He had a pretty good idea of what I had gone through and wanted to see how I was holding up. I told him there was no way I was going to quit, no matter how long it took. Now, whether or not I actually believed it was still to be determined. I figured if I said it enough, I'd eventually convince myself. Aaron reiterated how much more rideable the remaining part of the route was. I trusted his wisdom and also knew I wasn't done with the punishing stuff either.
A very tired looking rider. (Photo by Aaron W.)
I pointed my bike downhill and out to US50, crossed the road and found a shady spot for lunch. It was getting a bit warm down in the lower elevations. My sun sleeves made an appearance!!
Giant old school blaze at the US50 crossing.

US50 cuts a swath on its way towards Monarch Pass.
After some HAB coming up from US50, the miles began to come easy.
At last, another checkpoint reached: Mt. Shavano TH.
Skies darken, clouds build, it must be afternoon.
The Colorado Trail is so buff.
So many creeks, too many to name.
The rocks reappear for a while as did a brief shower or two.
The CT took turns cutting through aspen groves...

...and pine forests. Still dry too.
Interesting campsite, but I was just passing through.
Made a special stop here. It's the halfway point. A bit sobering when I really thought about it. Over half of the finishers were already done and over half the field had dropped out by now. I was fairly certain I was in trailsweeper position, but that didn't bother me, never has.
Chalk Cliffs come into view as Mt. Princeton is shrouded in clouds.
Have I been on my bike too long or is that a clear cut alien head in the cliffs?? Kinda creepy.
Raging Chalk Creek.
Another trailhead in the books.

I was now entering the resupply zone on the CTR as the next 6 resupplies were between 30 & 50 miles apart. I popped out onto some pavement on my way to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort. I was in need of a shower & hot meal and hoping to grab a room as well. It was Sunday evening, I thought my chances would be ok. Guess what? It started to rain as I rode into the resort.
I rolled up around 6:30p plenty of time to spare before closing.
I inquired about a room at the front desk and was told they were booked solid. 'How about a closet?' Sorry Charlie. 'Any single thru-hikers willing to share a room??' Nada. Drat. Well, at least I'll get a hot meal.

I walked next door to the restaurant: 'Table for one, please.' I was asked if I had a reservation. 'No.' 'We're really busy tonight, it will be a long wait' I was informed. I had no idea this place would be in such high demand. The bar area was mostly empty and I asked about eating there. 'Yes, full menu there!' 'Great, how about an available electrical outlet?' I was in luck again as there was an open outlet next to the table where I was seated. I plugged in my cache batteries then went back outside to check on the bike & rain situation.

There were at least 10 other bikes locked up under the overhang of the entryway, rental fleet. I spread my sleeping bag out over the top of them to dry it out while I ate. The burger & brew really hit the spot, then the host mentioned I could buy a ticket to the hot spring and get a shower too. Perfect.

I went back outside to rearrange the sleeping bag and when I went back to the bar area a lady had come in and I heard her grumbling about someone using the outlet. I told her it was me and I hadn't had electricity in over 4 days, sorry. She found another open socket and she asked what I had been doing. We chatted for only a couple of minutes, I must have mentioned that I had hoped to get a room there, but it was sold out. So, I was off to get a shower, then go find a nearby camping spot.

I was futzing with my phone for a few minutes, when she turned around and said she had been thinking about what I said. She introduced herself as Ann. She told me how she and her husband had been coming to the area for over 30 years and finally bought a place nearby. It was an old miner's cabin about a mile away and they had an empty spare bedroom that I was welcome to use. 'There's no electricity and only an outhouse.' Say what?? Uh, yeah, I'll take your offer. She had just sat down for dinner and had some computer work to do. She said she needed a couple of hours. I had nowhere to go except for the hot spring, shower & quick market run.

Outside in front of the lodge was a large tree that had plenty of room to stand under, it also happened to be the best spot on site for cell coverage according to the host at the restaurant. It also shielded me from the light rain. I called K to tell her about my good fortune, she couldn't believe it and was glad I'd be sleeping in a bed for the night. No sooner had I ended the call when my phone rang. It was Mom again. Really?? I honestly can't recall the last time she called my cell before this ride, it's been a couple of years. She wanted to know if I had finished the ride in Colorado. Uh, no. I told her I was barely half way and how much harder it was than I expected. Then, like most moms, she started off on some tangent topic about the neighbors I've never met!! I had to cut her off. "I can't do this right now, my battery life on the phone is limited!' She got the idea and wished me luck and safe travels over the final half of my journey. 'I'll call you on my drive home and tell you all about it, good night.'

I walked over to the hot spring desk and asked the attendant about any available lost & found swim trunks. Sure enough, they had a whole room full. A few minutes later I was soaking in the glorious hot waters. What a stroke of good fortune. Now this was turning into some kind of adventure. I soaked for a good 30 minutes, showered and changed out some clothes. I felt like a new man.

A short while later we arrived at the cabin. Roof & bed, that's all I needed. It was a really neat place. Wood stove in the small kitchen area of the main room, you could almost hear & see the miners from the 1800's sitting here. Next thing I knew the Sun was beaming through the window.

Day 8: 10h 24m - 34.94mi - 4403'

Day 9: Buena Vista & Twin Lakes

I was up early gathering all my gear together that had been strewn about the room to dry out. It was great to sleep in a bed for a night and not have to worry about getting soaked.
Fantastic view!! Blue sky too!!
The spare room is the add-on behind my bike.
Restroom facilities.
My jacket wasn't the only thing looking puffy!!
On my way back to the route.

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs & Chalk Creek.
14er Mt. Antero (14,275') as I begin a bit of a grinding climb. At least it was paved.
14er Mt. Princeton. (14,196')

What's this?!? Trail magic!! Cold can of Coke & pack of Poptarts. I snagged the Coke for later.
Singletrack waits at the top of the road climb.

For the most part the trail was fun to ride, but there were still plenty of good climbs and steep drainages to navigate. A thru-biker came towards me, he was the only other person I saw on this 17 mile segment. We exchanged tidbits of trail knowledge and I have to admit I was beginning to feel for the riders heading towards Durango.
I could get used to this. Buena Vista is down in that valley.
Another aspen alley.
Cottonwood Creek.
Only a couple more miles to the next Wilderness bypass.

Kinda random.
Those two miles had some work!!
The sign was more impressive than the lake.
Downhill into Buena Vista: Free miles!!
Looks good to me!!

I was chowing down and powering up at the bar. The bartender and a couple of patrons were enthralled with my journey. High fives all around!! It was about 2:30p when I got back on the road. No market stop was needed as I had plenty to reach Leadville & beyond.
Trapped in time.
Mt. Antero & Mt. Princeton.
CO371 was a fantastic dirt road ride following the Arkansas River.

Fast, gentle grade while lunch digested.
Arkansas River.
No garden gnomes here.
Big shoulder on US24 was a nice buffer to the speeding traffic.
It was getting warm and I was beginning to crave something other than water & electrolyte drink. Barely five minutes down the road I spotted a rafting outfit, AVA, on the left. There were a few people milling about and I figured they must have some kind of drink option available.
They didn't have much, but what they had was a winner!! Peach tea & M&M's ice cream bar.
Packrafting anyone??

The unexpected cold treats really lifted my spirits. I only had a little bit of paved riding left before turning onto dirt and back to the CT near Clear Creek Reservoir. I was feeling good and began planning for a late night push.
Cruising along tarmac dirt I notice a trail etched on the side of the mountain to the right. CT? You bet!!
Looking back at Clear Creek Reservoir. The climb wasn't too bad, some riding, some hiking and of course some rain.
Pulling away from the storm through the aspens.
Back on fantastic singletrack leading to Twin Lakes.
Twin Lakes come into view, much bigger than I thought it would be.
The CT rejoins itself here, separating into the Collegiate East & West segments. The bike route uses the east, while most thru-hikers opt for the more remote & scenic west side. I only saw a handful of hikers since the east split back at the top of Fooses Creek. I also had two Wilderness bypasses along the east route.
Well contoured trail around the lake's south shore.
Arkansas River feeder below the dam.
Sunset over Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak at 14,433' (open to bikes too!!)
The early evening light show was sublime, but I was more interested in staying in front of the storm that was bearing down on me. The trail was fast, but I still lost. Once again the rain gear came out and I was drenched for the better part of an hour.
North shore yurt at Twin Lakes.
I sent K a text letting her know I'd be riding late tonight. There was a good sized HAB on my radar and I wanted to get that done. I was now aiming for a camp spot near the Mt. Massive TH setting myself up for an easy road ride into Leadville the next morning.
Heading towards the S. Elbert TH & beyond.
Another in the ever growing list of trailhead signs.

The rain finally relented, but I made the mistake of taking off my rain pants. The trail was so choked with vegetation at a few of the small creek crossings I was getting soaked plowing through the branches. I had to use the bike as a battering ram of sorts on a couple of occasions. I couldn't see where my feet were going and ended up trudging through more mud than I would have liked.

Sometime around 11p I came across a hiker, first person I had seen in hours. We were both looking to camp in the same area. He'd pull away from me during my HAB moments, but after a long downhill I didn't see him again.

I found a place to camp just down the road from the trailhead a little bit after midnight. Cooked yet again, but at least I felt like I covered some ground today and it wasn't all easy riding. Was I finally starting to get in the groove of riding at elevation? I sure hoped so.

Day 9: 15h 57m - 61.57mi - 7523'

Day 10: Kokomo

The next morning I was treated again to blue skies!! Day hikers began filing into the overflow lot I was camped near and a high school cross-country team was busy running up & down the dirt road. I took advantage of the light beams shining through the forest to dry out a few items that were still damp.
Dry camping FTW.
My Charlie Brown sock drying tree.
Leaving Mt. Elbert behind.
A fast start to the day heading into Leadville.

I was pedaling north on CR11 when a bikepacker came towards me. We waved and he crossed over to ask about the trail. I inquired, 'When did you start?' Assuming Denver. He paused and said he'd been riding since early June. From Delaware. The CT was taking much longer than anticipated for him. He was heading to Southern California for school. He was 16. That blew me away. He carried himself like someone in his twenties and definitely had his shit together. For some reason I didn't get his picture. I'm bad about that. He thought he'd take more forest roads instead of trail getting over to Telluride and on to Utah. What were you doing when you were in your 16th summer?
A little contortion gets a good photo. This place was surrounded by telephone lines & power poles!!
Mining history is all around this area.
It felt good to be 'down' in Leadville. I could breathe. I wasn't too wild about the final slightly uphill miles into town on US24, no shoulder to speak of.
Coffee, electrical outlet and the largest sausage/egg/cheese breakfast sandwich I'd ever eaten. And one incredible chocolate chip cookie!! So glad I stopped here.
Rolling through Leadville. I finally needed a bit of resupply here, typical stuff: Fritos, mini donuts, Coke, you know, power foods.
Too bad that truck was parked there and a bit of a centering fail, but: 'Do Something Awesome Today!'
Fueled and re-charged, I was ready tor the next test. Read: 3 high alpine mountain passes.
Out in the great wide open along US24, now with full shoulder!!

Woof!! No camp for you..
I had a bit of a mild bonk on CR19. This gentle dirt road was work. I can't say I was looking forward to getting back on the CT at this moment knowing I had a few passes to get over.
Probably not the wisest sign to use for target shooting.
Back on the CT after the Holy Cross Wilderness bypass.
Topped off on water at the nearby creek, downed some much needed calories, then took off towards Tennessee Pass.
I thought there would be more climbing here.
Take note Arizona Trail, the Colorado Trail has trailside swings. Just sayin'.

Not a race checkpoint, too easy.
Plenty of 10th Mountain Hut info.
The CT doesn't actually cross the road here.
I thought if all went well, I could make it to Copper Mtn. for the night. That would set me up for an early morning jaunt up the Tenmile Range. In my mind that was the last major hurdle that everyone always seems to talk about.

Bombing down a railroad grade from Tennessee Pass.
Good thing I noticed the CT sign pointing to the right, otherwise I would've kept going straght.
From railroad grade to railroad tracks. Naturally.
A short climb led to this overlook.
That led to miles of contoured descending to Camp Hale.
Remnants of Camp Hale military training site.

Badger, badger, badger...

Camp Hale TH, start of the push up to Kokomo Pass.
Four other riders had just wrapped up their downhill run from Kokomo and were sharing tales from the trail while sucking down some beers. I was chilling by the sign downing calories when one of the guys, from PA, asked about my jersey. We talked a bit about PA then he asked where I started that day. I told him 'Over by Mt. Elbert' and all the other guys turned their head at once. I guess that was a big deal. I was a little over 30 miles into my day. The other guys started peppering me with questions about my setup and the race in general. They couldn't believe I was about to take my loaded bike up what they rode down. Seemed normal-ish to me. They offered me a beer, but I didn't think it would sit too well. They took off and I readied myself for the big push.

I really had no idea how long it would take to reach the pass. How much could I ride? It was around 3:00p and honestly, I was just hoping to summit before sunset. Set the bar low ya know.
The trail started out great, so I kept pedaling.
Reminded me of something I'd see if I were bikepacking in Japan.
20' waterfall on Cataract Creek.
Pedaling was over, time to push.

The clouds had been building and now thunder was growing near and more frequent. I didn't see any lightning flashes, but knew I was about to get wet. I put on my rain gear at the first raindrop hit. The rain became steady and I decided to wait it out under a small canopy of trees. Ten days into the ride and I hadn't had a dry day yet, I was done with being wet and worrying about my gear getting soaked. I started to daydream about the sunny, hot, dry, dusty desert trails of AZ. I missed home. I was getting fed up with the constant barrage of mosquitoes and/or flies each time I stopped.

The HAB miles were beginning to take a toll on my feet. The one thing my hiking shoes weren't the greatest at: keeping rocks out. It seemed like every couple of minutes I'd have a rock or sand in my shoe. At first I'd stop & take off my shoes. As the days wore on, it became such a pain that I'd wait until there were ten rocks in my shoe or a pile of sand. This began to aggravate the balls of my feet.

My fingers were getting sore from constantly futzing with the boa lace system and the buckles on my backpack & bike gear.

This particular storm was really hitting me hard mentally. It kept raining and I wanted to be off the trail. I wanted out of Colorado. One more time I talked myself off the ledge and opted to push on up the mountain in the rain. Ten minutes later, the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. Hope was restored.
It took a long time to see where I was actually going. I wasn't sure where the pass was.
Massive mushrooms, my foot for scale.
Every once in a while I could ride for a few hundred feet or so.
Sun shining, alpine flowers showing off and trees thinning.
At long last the pass comes into view. I began a more determined push to get there.
Back towards Camp Hale.
I noticed I was able to hike longer without stopping above treeline. Acclimated a bit I suppose.
Marmots were running around all over, but I never could get a good shot of any.

The Sun was still plenty high in the sky so I knew I'd easily make the pass before sunset. I looked up and could finally see the Kokomo Pass sign about 100 feet ahead. I don't know why, but a wave of emotion came over me at that instant and I broke down, stopped in my tracks, a blubbering fool for a minute. I have never felt so determined in my life, but at that moment I knew I was going to finish. I couldn't believe I hadn't quit because I sure as hell wanted to multiple times. I don't know how to explain it, but when I reached that sign a huge weight had been lifted. The ride wasn't over, there was a long way to go still and Tenmile loomed right in front of me, but I didn't care. I was looking forward to it. All I know, it was a powerful moment, one I'll never forget.

A minute or two later a few hikers crested the ridge ahead of me coming my way. We exchanged summit photos and found out one of the guys was from PA. Go figure.
By far, the highlight of my ride.
Copper Mtn. 11.2 miles. What time is last call?
More hikers approach.
Tenmile Range, tomorrow's challenge.
Not a bad place to be for golden hour.
A two mile traverse to Searle Pass before the long descent into Copper Mtn.

Hooray, rideable trail to Searle. The HAB bits were slowing my race against darkness.

Searle Pass. Eight miles of downhill in front of me.
Fiery mountainside on the upper reaches of the descent.
After some early dismounts & short HAB bits, the trail became a hoot.
Janet's Cabin, part of the 10th Mountain Hut system.
I was really stoked to be knocking off all these downhill miles before dark.

Nearing Copper Mtn.

It was a bit after 9p when I rode under the first ski lift.
I knew Copper Mtn. had limited services & hours, but I was hoping something would still be open after 9p on a Tuesday. I had been craving a real meal and a brew since the top of Kokomo. The trail wound around quite a bit and it wasn't obvious to me where to drop into the resort village at dark. I backtracked a couple of times before finally noticing where to go. The base area was awfully quiet. I asked a guy if anything was open and he replied, 'This isn't Breckenridge or Frisco'. Thanks?? I found a few girls walking around a couple minutes later and asked them. They directed me to the Irish Pub at the far end of the village. As I rolled up I could hear the ruckus inside, this place was hopping!! It was the only establishment open and didn't close until midnight.

I locked up the bike and went in. It was trivia night and the place was filled with 20-something's. A few of them at the bar couldn't help but stare at this dirtbag in tight shorts and cycling jersey who stood out like a sore thumb. I placed my order and asked where an open outlet was. Priorities. There was one upstairs and no one else was up there. Perfect. I made myself at home and enjoyed being alone while the commotion was in full swing downstairs.

Social media had a comment about the last of the racers finishing up. Hold on a minute, I may not be blazin' a path out here, but don't count me out yet!! I made a comment about trailsweeping the route. I'll let you know when the race is over.

I hung out there for a while since I planned on camping nearby so I could get breakfast in the morning. I went out to find a home for the night and it was noticeably cold. Maybe upper 30's? I found an open area a few feet off the CT behind a small propane facility.

Sometime during the night my inflatable pillow sprung a big enough leak that it was rendered useless. Fantastic. I used my spare clothes as a reserve and it worked well enough the final couple of nights.

Day 10: 13h 32m - 47.4mi - 5302'

Day 11: Tenmile

For a change of pace, I was up early, packed and waiting outside a coffee shop at Copper Mtn before they opened at 7a. There were a few clouds this morning and based on how fast I'd seen storms develop while in Colorado, I needed to get up & over the Tenmile Range as fast as I could.
Snowboarding anyone?
Colorado Trail, rated 'easy' for hiking. ;)
One of these days I'll come back to ski here.
Large CT marker I rode by twice the previous night before seeing it.
The propane shed I camped behind.
Singletrack leaving Copper Mtn.
Say it isn't so, paved CT?
It wasn't. I realized my mistake and rode back up the paved bikepath and found a hidden CT sign leading to dirt 'next' to the bikepath. Order was restored.
Boardwalk riding over a marshy area.
The grade of Tenmile sinks in its teeth.
Near the halfway mark and the lone switchback.
I tried riding when I could, but it never lasted too long.
A group of day riders catch up to me quickly. I gave them shit for riding too much!!
The view south along Tenmile.
Copper Mtn. base area, viewed from my perch.
Copper Mtn. pano. Kokomo Pass can be seen to the left of Copper, it's the small bump above treeline.
The trail was rideable here, but a bit farther up, the slope on the left became uncomfortably steep. I'm not sure you would be able to stop yourself if you happened to tumble off trail.
First view of the Breckenridge side of Tenmile.

No worries today.
Such an amazing place to be. It was giving me San Juan flashbacks.
Thunder began to rumble, must get off the ridge!!
Tenmile Crest checkpoint!!
Rain jacket made an appearance as this shower went overhead.
Almost back to treeline.
Conditions worsened back up on the ridge. I met a couple of hikers and bikepackers heading up and warned them to hang out low in the final remaining stands of bushes. There had been some hikers eating a picnic lunch up on the ridge when I passed, not a good place to be during inclement weather.
Towering walls make for a picturesque snack break!!
The start of a long, arm weary descent.
Entering the Breckenridge day ride scene.
Rode through a mile or two of the recent Peak 2 fire scar. The Forest Service had done a tremendous amount of work here to stabilize the area and re-open the trail. 
Forest Service workers replacing a burned foot bridge.
Back on familiar trail. Well, the next 0.5 mile anyway.
I was a bit surprised at how poor the Gold Hill trail conditions were considering its proximity to Breckenridge.
The sucking continued, then when the trail pointed downhill and turned fun, it began to rain. A passing hiker even laughed at me while I put on my rain jacket!! Why I oughta...
Looking north towards the Dillon Reservoir.
Huge piles of dead trees from a burn years ago.
Gold Hill, a tale of two sides. Loose rocks, roots galore, ruts on the uphill, fast, buff & bermed on the down.

I was now at a point where I needed to go a few miles off route into Breckenridge for lunch and a few supplies. (Read: Needed more Fritos).The rain had ceased, but moved over to where I would be headed if I continued on. I gladly rode the paved bikepath to the 7-11. I loaded up on food & drink and plopped down outside next to an outlet.

I had a couple of interesting encounters while there. The first was a guy who needed motor oil for his truck. As he finished up he asked how my descent off Tenmile was. Huh? He then mentioned how he was in the group of day riders that blew by me on the upper approach. They had dropped in to Frisco for lunch. He wished me luck on the rest of my ride and was gone.

The next fella was returning to his Jeep and made a comment about my jersey. No surprise here, he was originally from PA. Not only that, but we grew up not too far from each other. He didn't hang around too long as he was off to a bike race.

Food devoured, electronics topped off again, it was time to go. The storm appeared to have moved well off to the east now. I wanted to get close to the base of Georgia Pass for an early ascent the next morning. This would be my last high alpine summit of the ride. This was the first time I really started thinking about the finish at Waterton Canyon. Could I make it by Friday's sunset? Perhaps, but I needed to knock out some miles right now.
This time the CT really was paved, only for a short bit though.
As tempting as this was, I didn't take a lap.
Back on the CT after the 7-11. The feasting continued, this time the main dish was singletrack with a side of switchback attack.
Not a bad place to call home. The CT was literally only feet from a few homes.
Ruh-roh, another round incoming.
Somehow, those gloomy clouds skirted by without a drop of rain!! I was stunned.
The ominous afternoon gave way to a glorious evening.
My legs were feeling a bit heavy on the climbs. Much HAB followed.
A rare sunset.
Georgia Pass is to the left of Mt. Guyot (13,376')

Day turned to night and the miles continued to go by slowly. I had been aiming for the North Fork of the Swan River for camp, but as I crested the final climb before Georgia Pass I spotted a perfect camping spot. Time to call it a night. I was one ridge over from Keystone Ski Resort, but didn't notice it in the darkness.

I was now positioned 141 miles from Waterton. I had a huge Wilderness bypass coming up and heard the miles were relatively easy through there. If I could knock out a huge day tomorrow, Thurs, I could set myself up for a sunset finish on Friday. That was the plan anyway. I still had to get over a big mountain early in the morning.

Day 11: 13h 50m - 31.38mi - 6004'

Day 12: Georgia Pass, Stage Stop Saloon & Riding Late.

My alarm the following morning was not what I wanted to hear. Loud cracking thunder overhead!! It's not even 7a!! The storm cell appeared to be moving away from me at the moment. Spared for the time being.
Great spot to call home for the night. Complete with 4G LTE!!
My tires had been starting to feel a tad squishy last couple of days. I kept forgetting to top them off until now. I quickly hit the front tire with a few psi, then the rear tire...hmmm. The pump didn't want to move. Valve core felt gummed up. Tried it again, nothing. Then I saw a bit of sealant bubbling out from the base of the valve stem. Crap. By the time I tightened the lock nut the tire was noticeably softer. I tried the pump one more time. Still wasn't working. As a bonus, when I unscrewed the pump fitting from the valve stem, the core pulled out. Pssssshhhh. Now the tire is flat. My pump isn't working on this valve core and I don't have a spare.

Right about this time my anxiety kicked up a notch or two. A couple of thru-hikers came by and the guy saw I was messing with the tire. 'Bike problems?' he asked. 'Yep.' He mentioned that I could go into Breck and get it fixed. I replied, 'I'm not going that way.' I think he could sense my frustration at the self-induced situation and they moved on.

I pulled out the 'ol trusy CO2 cartridge, made a wish and just like that I was back in business. Crisis averted. Time to pack up and hit the trail.
The Sun came out for the initial downhill of the day.
It's hard to see, but you can hear it from over a mile away!! Snow Caps Sled Dogs kennel was howling!! I could see a ton of dogs roaming around the property. I bet it could spook you a bit at night if unaware.
Top off water & calories.
The lower portion of the Georgia Pass climb was chunky, steep and now wet as rain shower #1 moved through.
Good stuff here.
I crossed paths with a thru-hiker who also bikepacked. He was very interested in my setup and was gearing up for a thru-bike attempt next year. We must've chatted for well over 10 minutes. Soon after he went on his way, shower #2 broke out.
Then the hail came.
At last, breaking free from the trees with rideable trail and only a light rain.

I arrived at Georgia Pass almost 4 hours after starting up. All downhill from here, right? Ha. The joke's on me.
Sliding past Mt. Guyot.
Riding into unsettled skies.
Major checkpoint, the last of the alpine tundra.
The rain stopped for the long downhill.
Tattered, but not destroyed, they still did their job. Helped to keep the rocks out of my shoes too.
Miles & miles of blissful downhill trail.
Going up?
Or continuing down? Down please.
Plenty of water crossings.
I was nearing Kenosha Pass, another popular road summit for day rides, I had often heard about this area and was looking forward to riding this section. See what all the hype was about. I'd have to settle for wet trail as system #3 moved in and began a steady, soaking rain.
Rugged when dry, slippery when wet.
Found a bit of refuge under this large tree for a few minutes.
The storm lasted about 20 minutes but left everything water logged.
Theme of the day, dark & sunny skies.
Let's not forget about the HAB, it was still there.
Overlooking a large ranch.
The trail was mostly empty sans a couple of thru-hikers.
Fancy signage at Kenosha Pass. 10,000' felt nice.
6.5 miles until the Tarryall Detour.
I took a late lunch break at the trailhead. A couple of bikepackers came through and they looked a bit beat down. They were well into their second day and I genuinely felt sorry for these two knowing what they were in for. I was feeling good and knew I could make a late night push at least until midnight. I was ready to exit the CT for a bit and crank out some easy miles.

Ok, this may be worth the hype.
Or not. WTF??
I was a bit confused by the trail around Kenosha. I'm curious to know what the 'go to' ride(s) in the area are. I know a popular ride is to shuttle from Kenosha over Georgia Pass and into Breck, but what else is out here? Loops? Perhaps the poor weather skewed my perspective a bit, but for all the good trail there seemed to be an equal amount of crappy stuff.

Here's some more of the good. I was trying to beat the 4th storm of the day.
I lost. Again. I just wanted a dry day. One. So far I was 12 for 12 in getting wet.
I patiently waited it out under a thick canopy.
The Sun greeted my exit of the CT. So long Segment 5.
Start of the Tarryall Detour in soggy, but not sticky conditions.
The dirt began to dry out quickly. There were a few short grunt climbs, but overall it was riding nice. Plenty of people in campers set up along this stretch. I knew the city was growing near.
Hang a left on the pavement and cruise downhill.

I was really looking forward to the final resupply stop on route, the Stage Stop Saloon. The owner, Pat, is a Trackleaders follower of the race over the years and this place has become almost a mandatory stop for the riders. It's 103 miles to Waterton Canyon from here. The next 25 miles or so are paved and mostly downhill in this direction. I was looking to fuel up and make a big push deep into the night.

One thing I didn't realize was how close to the Saloon I was. I thought it was still a few miles away, but you can see it in the photo above on the right. I almost zoomed right by it, but the trucks in the parking lot caught my attention and I wondered what was out here - Stage Stop!!! Lock 'em up.
Hit the brakes, it's time for dinner.
I walked inside where about 15 people or so filled the small bar & billiard area. One fella at the bar turned around and exclaimed, 'Hey, look!! A racer!!' He reached out to shake my hand and asked if I was on day 11. 'No sir, Day 12!!' I remarked with a huge grin. Pat came around and introduced himself and asked what he could whip up for me. I asked for a menu and he said 'Hamburger or pizza?' I'll take a hamburger and a beer, thank you.

I plugged in my batteries for one last charge. Then ordered the pizza too. Pat opened up the general store next door and I did a bit of shopping for the final stretch. He asked what my plans were for the night.When I told him I wanted to finish tomorrow and ride late he gave me a target: Goose Creek CG. He said most people who get there finish the next day. So there it was. I now had a clear goal for the night. Goose Creek was about 42 miles away. I needed to get going.
Stage Stop Saloon owner, Pat.
There may have been some hustling going on.
I was back on the bike and headed down the road a little before 9p. It was now clear and dark, no traffic, just me and my bike.

Passing through the Tarryall Reservoir checkpoint.
The miles were indeed ticking off rapidly. There were a few heart pumping climbs, but nothing too bad. I did blow by the dirt road turnoff mostly because my Garmin is set to switch over to night mode after sunset and the track can be difficult to see without the backlight illuminated. What's an extra mile anyway?

The dirt road was well maintained, crushed granite surface. It wasn't steep but my legs were getting heavy and my backside needed a break from the extended seated pedaling.  I'd walk for ten minutes, then ride a bit, then walk some more just to keep the blood flowing where it needed to be. Of course, this slowed my progress down. The sleep monster came knocking around 1a, but I still had another up & over before reaching Goose Creek.

I summoned everything I had left and went for it. I pushed my bike up the road with my eyes closed, trying not to doze off. The final downhill into the creek kept me awake. I arrived at 2a and found plenty of cars and campers at the campground. I didn't want to disturb anyone or pay for only a few hours rest, so I found a sloped area across the road above the creek. The stars were out, so my tent stayed rolled up. A first for the ride. As soon as I wiggled into my sleeping bag I was out.

Day 12: 17h 10m - 78.1mi - 6982'

Day 13: Trends Downhill, huh?? Waterton Canyon

I was awake by 6a, packed and pedaling away from Goose Creek by 6:30a. 60 miles to go.
Cowboy campsite.
I felt well rested for only getting about 4 hours of sleep. I rode up the first couple of climbs, legs felt raring to go. There were two spikes in the elevation profile before reaching Wellington Lake that I really wanted to put behind me. My hope was to arrive back at the CT by noon.
Well contoured climbing.
The downhills were fast and long, but over so quick.
Not a cloud in the sky. Would this be the dry day?
I started up the first of the two bigger climbs. Both of them were right at my threshold for comfort. I mixed in some walking, stopping often to clear debris from my shoes. The crushed granite surface was constantly lobbing fragments into my shoes. I eventually crested the second climb and couldn't help but wonder how so many people think the final 150 miles into Denver are easy. Bullshit. This section was work.
10:30a, first cloud spotted.

I was making good time now and was climbing yet another hill when I came upon a dad out camping with his two boys. One of the kids came running out to me and handed me a cold bottle of water. I didn't really need it, but why turn it down? The dad invited me to relax for a few minutes in a camp chair. Sure, why not. I hung out for about 10 minutes talking about the ride and how things were going. It must've been interesting enough because the two young boys, ages 6-8, hung around to listen. I thanked them for the cold water and made my way over to Wellington Lake, the last checkpoint before the finish.
I knew nothing about this lake or area.
The Castle towers above Wellington Lake. I also found myself on Stoney Pass Rd., spelled differently than the one outside of Silverton and a bit more rider friendly!!
End of the Lost Creek Wilderness detour, back on the CT at Segment 3.

While I snacked on lunch I was introduced to ultra pesky biting flies. WTF. They wouldn't leave me along and kept biting me through my socks on the side of my ankles. I had to get moving. 40 miles remained. I took a peek at the time: high noon. Right on schedule.
Segment 3 was looking good!!
Bench cut, smooth and plenty of downhill bits.
I started to see more day riders/hikers here. I could tell it was a popular area, but not crowded for an early Friday afternoon.
I had heard of the Buffalo Creek trails, now I could place them. Wouldn't mind coming back to ride the area.
A few of the climbs had me breaking a sweat. Where's that cold rain when I need it??
Segment 3 started to drag on a bit. There was one HAB section that surprised me a bit, but I was ready to hit the next trailhead since a few of the riders I had talked to kept reiterating how fun Segment 2 was. 'It's almost all downhill!!'
It was 3p when I crossed through the trailhead. I was still aiming for a pre-sunset finish, but also knew there was a 1200' HAB at the start of Segment 1.
There was a large equestrian event wrapping up as I left the trailhead. Horses, people, horse trailers were everywhere for a half mile. I was careful to not startle any animals, but wanted to get through there quickly.
Dirt ribbon.
The skies began to darken, threatening a 13th straight day of rain while the trail continued to climb. Where's all this downhill I kept hearing about?
I met up with a couple more bikepackers on their second day of riding towards Durango. They looked a bit tired and were relatively new to bikepacking. They asked where I planned to camp that night. I told them of my sunset finish goal - my camping gear wasn't coming out!! They both seemed really surprised to hear that. They asked where I started that morning, but hadn't heard of Goose Creek. It sounded like they were planning on 30 mile days or something like that. I wished them luck and sped off into the burn area.
The rain began to fall, but never really became serious. I left my rain jacket tucked away. There was one good HAB push, then mercifully the trail relented and angled down.

Narrow twisting singletrack down the side of a mountain. Now this was fun.

S. Platte River signaled the bottom of the downhill and end to Segment 2.
The Mother of the CT, the late Gudy Gaskill.

The finish line was one more big HAB away...sort of.
It was 5:30p and about 17 miles to go. I wanted to be done with the HAB no later than 7p to give myself a shot at a daylight finish. Water was topped off, calories consumed and the push up the mountain began. I recalled something Andy told me when I dropped my car off at his shop, 'Hike with a purpose'. That's what I did. I only stopped for a couple of quick pics, but nothing else. There were even short bits of trail to ride!! Whoa.
I only need to get up there.
I found this to be the exception, not the rule. The trail was in good shape, not overly steep.
Snack break near the top. It was 6:30p.
Cool looking striations in the rock.

I was now over the hump so-to-speak and ready to be done. One last bikepacker made his way towards me. He was out for a two day test run to see how his setup was working. He warned me of a bear sighting about a 1/4 mile down trail. I never saw the bear and was fine with it.
It'll be like this all the way into Waterton, right? Wrong.
There was one more bump approaching on the elevation profile. It appeared to be a lesser grade than the climb I just completed, but that was quickly squelched. Push, push, then push a little more. The trail had become more rocky and I was getting a bit agitated at the slow progress. I pushed over the top and began the final downhill to Waterton. What greeted me was a parting gift from the Colorado Trail which still had its claws in me.
The vegetation grew increasingly thick.
Then a series of chunky off-camber drops. I rode some, walked some. No time for a stupid wreck now.
One of the downhills was littered with loose rock and my brakes barely kept me in check. A few of the switchbacks had rock drops halfway through the turn. It was a series of final tests, the CT never lets up.
Leaves & branches slapping my face as I ducked through this tunnel.
And just like that the trail dumps out onto a wide open gravel road. 6.2 miles to go!!

The CT exit begins at Strontia Dam & Reservoir.
A gradual downhill through Waterton Canyon next to the S. Platte River.
Those 6.2 miles seemed to drag on. The downhill wasn't quite steep enough to simply coast it out. In true CT form it began to sprinkle as I rode the final 20 minutes to the trailhead.

All done!! A bit of daylight to spare.
The trailhead was empty, so a finish selfie will have to do.
Day13: 13h 49m - 60.68mi - 6857'

I made myself comfortable at the trail sign among the flies while I shot Andy a text to come pick me up. I was done riding and didn't feel like finding my way over to my car in the dark.

It was so good to change into clean clothes!! We headed over to a nearby brewery for celebratory suds. Andy was nice enough to let me crash at his place before the long drive home the next day. It was great to catch up with him after all these years. Thanks for the hospitality!!

The big sign. Photo by Andy.

Looks better now.
The next day I swung through Salida and had lunch with Aaron. It was great to share some fresh stories and hear from a local how bad the conditions were this year!
Collegiate Peaks
Salida is a really cool town.

Sums up how I was feeling. Run down.

Final Notes

I knew going in this route was tough, but not until I was actually out on the trail did it really hit me how tough it would be. 63 riders started this thing, 20 finished. That alone speaks volumes. The elevation really took a toll on my progress early on and the poor weather didn't help matters. I've been asked numerous times which race I thought was harder, the AZTR750 or CTR. For many who have done both it seems to be the AZTR750, but for me it was easily the CTR. Better cardio would've helped a ton, but I really didn't put a ton of training time in for this one. I guess I paid for it, but that's ok. It may not have been pretty at times, but in the end I'm proud of myself for not giving up and sticking with it until the end.

As I type this, almost 4 weeks after finishing, I have feeling in all my fingertips again. This recently returned to normal this week. My left foot is back to its pre-CTR numbness, leftover from a ride two years ago.

Would I do it again? Probably not. I really have no desire to repeat a few of those sections. I really don't see the appeal of starting in Denver either. If I were to someday give it another go, it would be from Durango again. To each their own. I'll be more than happy to cherrypick my CT adventures going forward.

Sure, there were many difficult moments for me out there, but the experience was unmatched in the grand scheme. Such a diverse landscape, the highlight clearly being the trail above treeline. We are very fortunate as mountain bikers to be able to experience these regions. The ride window is small up there, make plans to see for yourself.

Hike-a-bike or HAB. I mentioned it often here because it happened often. So much so I sent my final track off to Topofusion HQ for analysis by the head of the HAB Dept. Even Mr. Morris was impressed. Using 2.5 mph as the threshold, my data showed 70 miles of HAB. I still believe it is closer to 75 as I know I was walking a bunch of sections faster than 2.5, but whatevs. I wonder if there's a CTR HAB record?? That's gotta be close.

For the most part, my gear worked well. The biggest issue was the tent. I ended up camping out 11 out of the 12 nights, most ever for me. It's great for bikepacking in AZ or when there are passing showers. It's not meant to be water proof by design and the setup really needs to be perfect for a dry night out if it's raining for hours. I'll be looking for something else for my Tour Divide run.

Clothing choice was key. Most of my items are wool and even though it was often damp, I really wasn't too cold. As an added bonus wool doesn't smell bad after days of use, at least not too bad. :) I only had one shower while out there. My feet were the biggest issue, but they always seem to be cold.
My soles after the ride. Still looking good. My only complaint was the ease of entry for rocks/sand, but a simple gaiter could help solve that problem.

I can't say enough good things about the Katadyn BeFree water filter. It was so easy & quick to use. A special hat-tip to my buddy, Ian, for turning me on to this.

**No crashes the entire way. That was a bit surprising considering all the slippery roots & rocks out there. I did go down once when I clipped my top tube on a dismount!! My rain pants aren't the most flexible.

I'd like to thank a few people for helping me pull this off.

  • Jason & Jennifer for working out the starting shuttle logistics and then hanging around CO for a week after Jason had to pull out. They were only a text away if I ran into trouble early on.
  • Audrey & Jack for hosting us all in Durango prior to the start and on my way to Denver during my drive north.
  • Andy for his hospitality at the end and letting me park my car at your shop for two weeks!
  • Stefan G. for coming up with this grueling challenge
  • Scott M. for getting my SPOT on the map and all the behind the scenes stuff so family & friends could wonder why my dot was moving so slow.
  • Shawn for the rad headtube badge & posting my progress reports at work.
  • Family & friends for the constant encouragement along the way. Thank you!!
  • K for always being supportive of my crazy ideas even if it stresses you out while I'm gone. Love you!!
  • To the RRC & Aaron: thanks for tracking me down during the ride. It was really great to see you both out there. Your encouragement carries a lot of weight and helped me through some low points..
  • To all the thru-hikers and bikepackers I met on their own adventures heading towards Durango, you are all rockstars!! The constant positive energy from the other trail users can't be ignored, it kept me going at times. Thank you.
  • Last, but not least, Apple. A huge thank you from all the trail users you inspire. Donuts, Cokes & Gatorade out in the middle of nowhere can really lift one's spirits. Keep doing what you're doing. Cheers!

Post ride shave to scrub the pores. Complete with raccoon tan lines.
The CTR gets you one of these. I may have to go back and hike the Wilderness segments someday.

I'm a bit of a sign & patch collector, so...
Had to grab one of these too. It felt like most of the rain fell when the two trails overlapped. Hmmm...
I also have a license plate collection as a hobby. This works for a while.
My headtube had been naked, so my coworker Shawn made me some bling.
I forgot to mention, you could've skipped to here for the Cliffs Notes version. Sorry.
I had a bunch of requests to turn my elevation profile cue sheet into a poster. I made one for each direction the race runs, added a purple DRO-DEN version and my 2017 race recap (Be sure to read the description). The image is also available on stickers & mugs. They make a great addition to a bike den either for motivation or reminiscing. If interested, please check out my Redbubble account. Thanks.

DRO-DEN (*There's also a purple 2017 race recap, be sure to read the description)

The image is also available for download as a screensaver via Payhip.

Believe it or not, there are more photos!!

The full album here.

Aaron Johnson's CTR video from 2016 also needs to be shared (again). If you haven't seen this, give it a watch. (Full screen mode!)