A Colorado Tale
"A life lived within your comfort zone is a life not worth living"
January 1st 2016. Time for a new years goal. I had never ridden my bike in Colorado and I had enough air miles to purchase a one way ticket to Denver. I figured that would force me to start planning for a ride I had dreamed of for many years. The Colorado Trail...
June 2017... I figured I had better start training so I planned a bikepacking trip with some amigos to the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The South Sierras actually are not a whole lot different than Colorado...
And there is plenty of technical riding, high elevation, and it even poured rain on us one night...
I broke multiple spokes on the South Sierra trip, and got to ride over 100 miles with 3 emergency fiber fix spokes! I was ready to tackle the CTR!!!
Or was I? Although the South Sierra trip was excellent training, I had only reached 10,000 feet in elevation. That is the AVERAGE elevation of the CT! I live at sea level so I figured I needed one more training ride with serious elevation...
At an elevation of 14,252 ft, White Mountain is the highest peak in California that you can legally ride a bike on. I wasn't bikepacking on this ride but it kicked my ass real hard. White Mountain would help me emensly in Colorado...
July 21st, 2016. My alarm clock was set for 2:30 am and I was in Denver by 10:30. Heather (friend also from Santa Barbara) was super awsome enough to pick me up at the airport. She would be starting with the group 2 days later. We got the 3 liquids I was no allowed to bring on my flight (fuel, sunscreen, and tequila) and by around 1:30 she dropped me off at the start. I was starting a few days before the group. Being self employeed, I didn't want to waste half my weekend not riding. Plus I figured the fastest racers would catch up to me anyways.
The first 3 segments were great. Fun singletrack with some short hiking sections. At the end of segment 2 I saw a forest fire. It didn't look too bad, so I kept moving forward. I made it to somewhere along segment 3 by around 9:30 and slept like a baby...
Day 2. I had heard that the Lost Creeks wilderness detour was hot and sandy but it wasn't bad. Nice fireroads and plenty of flowing creeks along the way. I did hit a 30 min delay due to road work when I reached Tarryall Road. By the time I reached the pub/ bar along the road I was drenched in rain. The pub Owner knew my name when I came in. He likes to track CTR racers on trackleaders.com. Cool guy, but the food at the bar was slim pickings for a vegetarian like me.
By the end of day 2, I made it to a creek along segment 5. There was another bikepacker camped there. Justin from San Diego. We rode on and off together most of the next day.
Day 3. The ripping descent down Georgia Pass gave me some serious stoke. By the end of the day I was feeling good still so I skipped resupply in Breckenridge and headed up the Tenmile range. Tenmile is probably the hardest climb of the entire route and I was happy to do it in the cool temps of night. By 10:30 pm I called it a night about 75% up the mountain. That night I got my first taste of a thunderstorm. I was glad I was camped in the protection of the treeline but the lightning still scared the shit out of me...
Day 4. A slow (but epic) hike up to complete the Tenmile Range and another bomb descent down to Copper Ski Resort. The trail was starting to reveal a noticeable rhythm- hike up and rip down. Repeat. I liked it!
Copper appeared to be full of yuppie children snowboarding in July and I still had food left so I skipped another resupply opportunity.
Sement 8 up to Searle Pass is gorgeous. But the thunder came again. I took cover in some trees but then the storm blew away. I was terrible at judging the weather here and the clouds were playing tricks on my mind.
The clouds and light rain continued to mess with my mind until I made it to Kokomo Pass. The descent down from here was pure mountain biking bliss...
Getting to Leadville wasn't particularly hard but I was pretty beat up and I needed a real meal.
Pizza, beer and a motel room was all had here. Leadville was a much needed re-boot even though staying in a motel room didn't really feel like bikepacking to me. When I do the CT again I think I will bypass Leadville and head straight for Buena Vista.
Day 5. Leadville to Buena Vista was fun riding. The trail near Twin Lakes was a blast. The dirt road along the river was a nice change of pace. When I arrived in BV, I threw away my filty shirt, and picked up my resupply package at the post office, which worked out well. I didn't have to do any grocery shopping in BV.
After a huge mexican lunch in BV I was fueled up by pinto beans and Negro Modelo and headed back up to the trail. No resupply for 200 miles from here so my bike was loaded with food. The riding was pretty straightforward but the climb after Princeton Hot Springs is a bitch. I skipped the Hot Springs. It looked too nice for a filty dirt bag like me. I ran out of water a third of the way into the next segment. When I finally found a campsite I woke up a backpacker and he flashed me with his light. I felt like a jerk for waking him. I decided that next time I would ride into the night I would dry camp to avoid this again.
After passing an eastbound racer, while climbing up Fooses Creek I caught up with 3 young guys from Texas who were touring the CT. Austin, Randy and Jeison.
A lot of CTR racers curse the Sargents Mesa section. It reminded me of some loose moto trails I have ridden in the Los Padres National Forest.
As hard as Sargents was it had some magical sections.
Finally the first group racer had caught up to me. His name was Jefe. Jefe looked like he had partied hard at Coachella for 3 days and then decided it would be a good idea to go ride his bike in the rocky mountains. He seemed to be on auto pilot. Shortly after Jefe passed me I saw this fox at sunset. It was a magical moment.
Day 6, 5 am sunrise.
I passed the Texas guys in the morning like I had done the day before. The last part of Sargents Mesa was nice and flowy😆
At the end of Sargents another racer caught me. Aaron Johnson. I recognized him from the Dixie 200 the summer before. He didn't look as tired as Jefe but he looked pretty spent. He didn't even have a sleeping bag. Aaron said he the Apple trail magic station was right ahead. Apple is a super cool trail wizard who hands out free gatorade and Doritos to hungry thru hikers and CTR riders. A great dude. I was more than happy to accept his support and chug two gatorades and a bag of nutterbutters.
After Apple is another wilderness detour. It felt good to get some easy miles. Aaron was having issues with his wheel and he randomly broke a spoke after Los Pinos pass. Good thing he had an emergency fiber fix spoke!
Day 7. The night before I rode into the night and camped at Spring Pass next to the "no camping" signs. Neil Beltchenko caught up to me at midnight. I knew Neil from our past email chats but I had never actually met him in person. He had left a full day behind the group due to a mechanical, but he was moving at a pace that would end up being record breaking. In contrast to Jefe, Neil looked energized like he was just out for a training ride. He even had time to sleep for over an hour in the bathroom while I ate Pad Thai and drank tequila.
Segments 23 and 24 are the hardest back to back sections of the entire CT. My thin cycling socks by now had caused "swamp foot" and my feet had excruciating pain on the hike a bike sections. It was the hardest day for me of the entire ride. To top off my day, on the way into Silverton the local sheriff pull me over for no tail light! There was one resturant open at 9pm in Silverton and shortly after my Texas friends had caught up. Beer and food never tasted so good!
Day 9 morning. Homeless camping along the Animas river with the young Texas dudes. I ran into Aaron again at the Silverton coffee shop. He had dropped down to Lake City to re-build his broken wheel and he was still in a top 5 position! After buying a 6 pack of fresh white socks at the general store, I was ready for the final push to Durango!
Silverton to Durango is high quality riding. Blackhawk pass seemed pretty tame compared to segments 23 and 24 the day before...
It dawned on me that this trip was actually strarting to come to end end. Should I push on and finish well under 9 days? Hell no! I wanted to stay out on the trail one last night and see one of the most beautiful sections (Indians Ridge) in daylight. I even had one shot of tequila left for my last evening on the trail!
The final day...
Indians Ridge was stunning. Bomb down, hike up, repeat. 2 of the 3 Texas guys were riding with me. Austin had a mechanical issue in Silverton that delayed him by a day. When I made it to the last segment thunder and lightning started to roll in. I took my first fall of the entire trip after getting startled from thunder! I pedaled as fast as I could. It would be just my luck to get struck by lightning with 4 miles remaining!
After 8 days, 23 hours and 59 mins I had finally made it to Durango! Even though I was on my 10th day I had still made it 30 seconds under 9 full 24 hour days! I should have waited for the 2 Texas guys to finish but a cold IPA and my hotel room were calling me. It was fun to finish on a Saturday afternoon. The day hikers and riders were giving me high fives and congratulations. It felt damn good to finish this beast! So would I do it all again? HELL YES! This is the best bikepacking route I have ever done. The riding is such high quality. Anyone who is a mountain biker should have the CT on their bucket list. Heather finished a few days later which meant all 4 riders from California finished! Thanks to Stephan for organizing this amazing and special event and thanks to Toby for putting the GPS file together! Thanks to the Colorado Trail Foundation for all the work they put into maintenance. Everyone who uses this trail should donate and keep this trail going for future generations! THE END
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