Just some thoughts and experiences from a mountain bike endurance racer who likes to ride and race his single speed mountain bike a long long way on remote single track in the mountains and desert.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shawn Gregory’s 2011 Colorado Trail Race CTR on a singlespeed mountain bike 5d15h44m

The 2011 Colorado Trail Race CTR was the toughest bike race I have done.  I finished in 5 days 15 hours and 44 minutes.  I was honored and inspired to be riding to benefit The NEST. http://www.active.com/donate/nest

I would describe it like this: Epic, humbling, painful, tiring, beat-down, exciting, tough, wet, cold, long, adventurous, difficult, mentally-draining, fun, beautiful, a monumental-experience,…

The race started from a full parking lot just outside of Denver where my wife Dani dropped me off.  Since there were over 75 racers they were released in waves.  I lined up right next to Ethan Passant in the first wave which included racers wanting to finish in five days or under.  The trail was immediately technical and the weather was hot and muggy.  Everyone moved along at a steady pace that felt good.  There was lots of steady climbing up to Bailey but it was mostly ridable and my gearing seemed to be working out well.

In Bailey the gas station that was the typical resupply happened to be closed so racers flocked to a small coffee shop for fuel.  They still had some inventory since I was toward the front of the pack but it was obvious there was not going to be enough Gatorade etc. for the rest of the racers.  On the section around Bailey the racers with gears were making better time than me but I was able to keep them somewhat in my sites especially when we got to the Kenosha Pass climb.  I start to make good time up Georgia Pass where I saw Jeff Kerkove at the top who had to pull out because of illness.  Tough luck because he was a major contender.

Descending toward Breckenridge there was four of us riding together (one was Jerry Oliver) when we came up against a dilemma.  There was a sign diverting trail users around a significant portion of the trail due to a logging operation.  We all discussed our options and I think everyone was thinking of how Ethan was not given a “Finished” status due to missing a 3 mile section of the course in 2009 and this was much more significant than that.  Some spectators camped close by informed us that everyone in front of us had gone on the trail and not taken the detour so we pressed forward on the trail.  Not long after this it turned out that Stefan posted a sign for racers to take the detour which was a bummer since I was passed by a bunch of racers.  Apparently there will be some time adjustment made but in addition to the time and mileage difference the effort was significant.  Not to mention the mental aspect of having a good lead on a competitor then finding out they now have a significant lead on you.

I passed through Breckenridge in the dark then climbed over the pass to Copper Mountain which was extremely rocky and primarily a hike-a-bike.  The stars were amazing! There were false summits and once I got to the initial downhill it was still too rocky to ride so it had to be hiked.  I stopped just outside of Copper Mountain early in the morning for just under two hours of sleep.  I diverted into Copper and grabbed a coffee and some pastries then headed up and over the next big climb to Camp Hale.

Luckily the weather had been cooperating so far.  I don’t like to mess around with lighting while exposed above timberline.  I had Jerry in my sites on most of the pass.  Toward the bottom Jerry lost his GPS.  Huge bummer for him!  The trail was marked well but all the diversions around wilderness areas required navigation.  We ran into some people riding the trail who informed us that the leaders were not far in front of us which was encouraging.

When we hit the Holy Cross / Mount Massive Wilderness Detour which went through Leadville it started to rain pretty hard.  In Leadville I went to the Market to stock up on supplies and ate an entire rotisserie chicken which was great.  I would have rather stocked up in BV and not had to carry all the extra food but I wasn’t sure I could make it to BV before the store closed that night. 

Leaving Leadville the rain subsided and the trail was really nice.  I could have used a harder gear on some of these portions to go faster.  The geared guys were making some serious time on me here.  At Twin Lakes it started to rain hard.  After hours of riding in the dumping rain I came to a huge valley just before dark.  It was beautiful, I had to stop and just take it all in.  The clouds were below me but I could still see the lake down below.  Descending, I went in and out of the clouds.  It was spectacular!  At the bottom of the descent the cheeriness was washed away by the torrential downpour that ensued all the way to BV.  The dirt roads were so soggy it impeded my progress and seemed to take much more effort to plow through the muck.  I was watching the time and it was going to be close to get to BV before everything was closed.  Back by Twin Lakes Zach Guy mentioned eating Spaghetti in BV so that was all I could think about on the way there.  As the clock ticked away my Spaghetti meal hopes slipped away.  I rolled into BV with a guy from Montana just before 10pm and nothing appeared to be open.  I spotted a Pizza place with the front door open but they were obviously cleaning up for the night.  I went in anyway just to see if they had anything.  It turned out they had a “mistake pizza” that had been sitting there for the evening and they gave it to us.  Tasted great, thanks guys!

I stopped at the 7-11 and grabbed a couple of supplies and took off out of town right behind Jarral Ryter.  I rode through the night to north of the Princeton Hot springs and stayed right by Jarral.  I set the timer on my watch but woke up late four hours later.  I looked up just in time to see Andrew Carney ride by.  I must have passed him during the night.  I was pissed!  How did I not hear my watch?  It turns out the timer only goes off for about ten seconds then shuts off unlike an alarm.  I quickly ate some grub loaded up and went to chase Andrew down; I estimated he was 30-40 minutes in front of me.  I felt okay on the huge hike-a-bike section but my stomach was a little upset, like I had eaten too much. 

In the afternoon I finally saw Andrew and Steve Carney at the bottom of Fooses trail and went by them.  This was a brutal climb.  I was still feeling pretty good and happy with my progress.  At the top of Fooses I hit the Monarch Crest trail.  The views were spectacular.  I stopped just before Marshall Pass and fixed some dinner.  Afterwards I felt like I ate too much again but pressed on toward Sargents Mesa.  It was dark and the weather was starting to look bad.  There was lighting in the distance.  The trail was really rough.  It was obviously ridden by ATVs and motorcycles which kicked up rocks everywhere so it was technical and slow going with no good lines.  Even the descent was brutal.  Andrew went by me in an effort to get to a water source to bivvy for a bit.  A storm was obviously coming and I decided to stop before I got drenched.  As soon as my tarp was set up it started to rain.  I slept for a couple of hours then packed up and headed to the small creek where Andrew was snoozing and fixed some food.

I then rode ahead.  The trail was very rough and slow going.  Mid-day Andrew and John Fulton passed me just before arriving at the “Trail Magic”.  This was a super nice retired guy who spent the summer hanging out at this remote location providing free sodas, chips, cookies, etc. to Colorado Trail hikers and bikers.  I drank a Coke ate some cookies and a bag of Cheetos then grabbed a Gatorade and hit the road with Steve who quickly pulled away with his gears.

Midday I started the La Garita Wilderness Detour which was a tone of miles.  Shortly after starting this section it started to dump rain.  The route dropped to a lower elevation but I was totally exposed on the dirt road and there was lighting in the distance.  Unknowingly I passed Andrew and Steve who were hanging out in an abandon barn to get out of the rain.  I kept riding.  I probably rode four miles with one eye shut to avoid the pounding rain and hail.  The rain subsided and Andrew and Steve rode by me up the climb over Los Pinos Pass.  After dropping into a canyon on the road my Spot quit working for the second time.  I continued riding in the dark up to Slumgullion pass where I slept for a couple of hours.  I was freezing and woke up several times shivering.  In the early morning I rode to Spring Creek pass and got back on the Colorado Trail.  At dusk I ran into Jerry Oliver again who was bushwhacking to find the trail over Jarosa Mesa.  I was happy to see he was still able to navigate without his GPS.  I stopped and fixed some grub and Jerry surged ahead.

This section to Carson saddle was particularly brutal for me.  The hike-a-bike started to take its toll on my feet.  On one of the largest climbs up to Coney Summit (over 13,000’) I had to stop and tape my foot.  Pushing and carrying the bike up the rocks was really becoming painful.  After cresting the first climb I started to run out of water.  I was sipping it sparingly and looking for water sources but there were not any.  Andrew and Steve passed me just before Carson Saddle.  I stopped several places to investigate possible water sources but there just were not any.  I pressed on and finally found a stream.  While I was getting water Cat Morrison road up.  I knew Cat from the Kokopelli trail race and other endurance races.  Super tough!  I rode closely behind her for a majority of the way through the next section.  I had no food left and between that and my aching feet I was moving slow.

This section through to Stony Pass was the toughest for me.  I kept cresting huge climbs hoping to see Stony pass only to see the trail descend way down into a valley then climb all the way back up another mountain on the opposite side.  This was a mental blow each time.  It must have happened five times.  I was really getting drained and barely moving.  My stomach was aching and my feet were killing me.  I hadn't eaten anything for 14 hours.  Finally I arrived at Stony Pass, on the opposite side of the pass of course!  I climbed up over the pass and did the long descent down to Silverton.  This was the start of the Weminuche Wilderness Detour.

In Silverton I went directly to the Market where I saw Cat.  I drank a Coke, half a naked protein drink and ate a donut.  It was amazing how much better I felt.  Up till Silverton I felt I had all the wrong food so I stocked up on totally different fuel.  I purchased Nutilla and spread it on tortillas, some gu shots, Cinnamon Bears, a premade sandwich and a breakfast sandwich.  I then went to the Silverton Brewery and ordered a hamburger and fries as fast as they could get them.  It showed up quick!  I mowed it down and took off up Molas Pass.

It was amazing how much better I felt.  I was now thinking that I would press through the night without any sleep.  At the top of Molas I got back on the Colorado Trail.  Immediately I noticed a problem with my wrist.  I have had issues in the past because I broke it.  Now I couldn’t believe how bad it suddenly hurt.  I could hardly hold onto the handlebars or squeeze the brakes.  The only cause I could think of was squeezing the brake all the way down Stony Pass had irritated it but it didn’t seem to bother me in Silverton.  I continued riding anyway.  The sleep deprivation was causing me to see things like faces and shapes which for some reason didn’t seem to bother me.  At about ¾ of the way up to Rolling pass I made the decision to stop and rest.  I couldn’t hold onto the handlebar and the lack of sleep was causing me not to steer straight and I felt if I hit a rock wrong I would crash.  I was frozen again shivering the whole time.  I remember wondering how I could possibly be benefiting from it.  I set my watch but didn’t hear my alarm so I ended up oversleeping by a couple of hours.  I was bummed but my wrist did feel slightly better.  I ate the breakfast sandwich which I think had been sitting on the shelf for some time.

I continued over Rolling Pass in the early morning light.  The descent was extremely painful but at least I could hold on now and see where I was going.  My legs actually felt pretty good.  My feet hurt so bad that I needed to ride as much as possible to make it through so I was powering up many of the hills and felt I was making good time.  This was also my home turf and I knew the whole section well.

I was feeling good over Blackhawk but the hike-a-bike sections would suddenly slow me to a crawl and the downhill really hurt but I just slowed down and dealt with the pain.  When I got to the Highline trail the foot pain from the hike-a-bike was excruciating.  I was moving so slow.  The only consolation was this was the last huge climb.  Somewhere above timberline I realized my spot quit working.  I messed with it three different times but nothing worked.  Just after starting the drop down to La Plata canyon John Ross and Joey Ernst passed me.  I knew from riding this section many times that anyone with gears was going to make some tracks on me plus I couldn’t go very fast with my wrist pain.  I stopped at the top of Kennebec to call my wife Dani to let her know when I thought I may finish.  I then descended as fast as my wrist could handle the pain.

Just before Durango there is a climb that is the last “kick in the teeth” before the finish.  I had to hike sections of it and my feet were killing me.  I felt a blister bust open on the back of my foot so I stopped and put a patch on it but it obviously didn’t help so I stuffed a gauze pad between it and my sock and continued on.   It was bleeding but I didn’t care at that point.

The last section I did in the dark.  It seemed to be taking forever.  I was thinking I somehow missed turns but finally I arrived at the end to a cheering crowd (My wife Dani, daughter Ava, Jeff Hemperley, Laura and some others waiting for racers.  Cat was there, John and Joey had pulled in just in front of me as well.  It felt great to be done and see my family again!   

WHAT AN ADVENTURE, AWESOME!  Great job to everyone else in the race!

Please donate to The NEST if you haven't yet at http://www.active.com/donate/nest
The NEST provides a safe, child-friendly environment that eases the emotional trauma experienced by children during the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.
This is a great organization!

My bike performed great.  I used Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires with snakeskin front and rear which were flawless.  The gearing on my Trek 29r was 32x22 which overall I think was the best option.
Big thanks to everyone who supported me!  My wife Dani especially and all the friend and family who were cheering me on throughout the race.  It was very motivating!  Thanks to Kiviok Hight and Lynda Wallenfels for their great training, gear and strategy advice.  Also, big thanks to Jimbo, Pete and Scott at Kokopelli Bike & Board in Cortez Colorado.  You guys rock!
The start, ready to go!
The pain begins
Copper Mountain
Searle Pass
Night riding after BV
Top of Fooses, tough climb
Early morning on Sargents Mesa
Start of the big climb to over 13,000' after Spring Creek Pass.  I though that was a lake but after the sun fully rose it was clouds
The finish, Glad to see my little girl!