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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Here's what I remember, and believe me, it's a little fuzzy.......

Colorado Trail Race
Well wow, what an incredible adventure, both good and bad I had on my quest to race from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail.
The trip started 5 days before the race as I needed to spend a little time at altitude as my altitude training had been curtailed by the massive snow pack we had this year. This meant that the only training I had done at altitude consisted of one weekend riding the Tahoe Rim Trail, and at that I was hiking through some pretty significant snowfields at an altitude that would be over 2000‘ below the AVERAGE for the race!

I made the trip out through Nevada and Utah through northern Colorado to the town of Sedalia, about 25 miles west of Denver where the start would be this year due to some construction at the actual beginning of the CT. The weather on the way out was really wet, the worst in a decade according to the locals, a trend that would continue for the race as well. I spent 3 days at 7,500’ at the race start hoping to acclimate a bit to the 12 and 13,000’ passes I would be seeing. It rained every day I was there, not just your usual thunderstorms, but real rain lasting most of the night.

On Saturday I made the trip out to Denver Airport to pick up my wife Mary and friends Skip and Judy who would be taking my truck up to northern Co. for a weeklong road tour, Mary would then drop off Skip and Judy at the Grand Junction airport and pick me up in Durango upon my finish. The three of them dropped me off at the race start where I would be spending the next two days living in my bike clothes and race setup, not a real pleasant way to spend a couple of days, but better than a Greyhound trip back to Denver to pick up my truck if this plan hadn’t come together.

I had spent quite a bit of time getting my kit in order, but I had not planned for the amount of rain we were getting, everything was soaking wet every morn. and this was going to be a problem. I made the decision to ditch my sleeping bag in favor of a bit more clothes and an emergency foil bivvy. If I was going to be wet I wasn’t going to carry the extra weight of a wet sleeping bag, hell I was only going to be sleeping a couple of hours a day anyway, it was going to suck regardless, might as well drop a couple of pounds. This decision did not sit well with my wife who was sure I was going to die in a thunderstorm at 12,000’, she was almost right…..

The race started bright and early on Mon. morn at 6:30, the Mon start was because of a 15-mile stretch of no shoulder Hwy. that was really scary on a weekend apparently. 40 of us hit the trail in a frenzy of racks and packs with the fastest guys putting it down pretty hard right away, I settled in at about 10th spot as I knew I still had 475 miles to race! There were a bunch of 24-hour race winners, 3 current or former 24 hour national champs as well as 3 former winners of the race. The race started on ST immediately and we were pushing our bikes pretty quickly, a theme that continued for the rest of the race. I had heard early on that you pushed about 10% of the race, 45 miles right, I can do that. Turns out the number is closer to 45 PERCENT for some, that’s almost 200 miles, damn!

The first few sections of the trail rolled out as expected, we hit a low point of 6,700’ at about 10 miles and would spend the rest of the day climbing to 12,000’ and beyond for some. The trail goes through significant Wilderness areas, this means we have to detour off the trail, which generally means losing a crap load of elevation and gaining it back again to rejoin the trail. The race was super humid for the first 6 hours due to all the rain and the sunshine, I went through 400 ozs of water the first day before the rain set in at Bailey.
At Bailey we had to climb 2500’ up to Kenosha Pass, this would be done in a full rainstorm that saw us getting back on trail at about 10,200’. The rain continued 15 miles up to Georgia Pass at 12,000’ with a massive electrical storm, thunder and hail rattling my brain and senses. As I made my way off the pass the rain intensified and soon we were riding down a freezing 6” stream of rocks and boulders. It was here I broke my first der. hanger, total rider error, stuffed it between two rocks and it was gone like that. At this point I was absolutely freezing, I made what was probably a bad decision to try and bivvy for awhile and fix it later. By the time I got the bivvy set up and inside I was soaked to the bone and in full body shivers. I spent the next 8 hours waiting out the rain and spending the absolute worst night of my life with no sleep, massive shivers and no food.

By 4am the rain had stopped and I was on my way to fixing the hanger, I knew at this point that my race was over, I had only covered about 85 miles and rode for 12 hours whereas the leaders had probably gone another 8 hours and covered another 30 miles or so before sleeping a couple of hours. At this point I was out to do the best I could, I passed 3 riders that morn on my way up the Tenmile Range, a 3,500’ hike a bike in 3 miles that was so steep there were times that I didn’t think I would be able to get my bike up it.
The top of TenMile Range was at 12,600’, above treeline and really rideable, the decent off the top was one of the most ridicules things I have ever done, almost 3,000’ down in about 4 miles and some of the steepest riding I have done. At the very bottom of the decent you cross Hwy 91 at Copper Mnt, about 100 yards from the Hwy I picked a long piece of wire which wrapped around the cassette and broke der hanger # 2, the cable and housing and bent the cable stop. I was only a mile from Copper Mnt, a ski resort, so I figured I could get a fix there, two bike shops and two no’s later and I was off for the 15 mile detour down to Frisco. After a bit of pleading with the bike shop in Frisco I was able to get the tech to put off working on the tourists crap bikes and get going on mine. I went next door to dry my gear out at the laundry mat and waited…..

At about 4 pm the tech announced that the bike was ready, I paid the man and looked west, massive thunderstorms over 12,800’ Searle pass made my decision, stay the night in Frisco and hit it early in the morn. This delay assured my race was over, the leaders were way out of reach as I had only ridden 7 hours this day, even though I had been up 36 hours at this point due to the non-existent sleeping/freezing in the rain the night before. I was now in fast tour mode, complete with picture taking and all. At 2 am I was on the road back to Copper Mnt, up and over Seale and Kokomo passes on my way to Leadville. I was so glad I did this part in the day, absolutely some of the finest riding I have ever done. The ride up the canyon at daybreak complete with a sunrise at 12,000’ will be something I’ll never forget, well that and the thunder, lightning and massive rainstorm at 7:30am!

After reaching Leadville (and a huge burrito!) you ride about 30 more miles of trail and then about 20 miles of dirt road along the stunning Arkansas River to Buena Vista and up the 2,500’ climb to Cottonwood Pass. While I was in Buena Vista eating a huge cheeseburger, the news was giving emergency broadcast alerts for flash floods in the county, and specifically the Cottonwood Pass area, a look at the pass confirmed the massive rainstorm. The thunder was shaking the building……

At 5 pm the pass looked to be clearing, so off I went. I got about 3 miles from the trailhead and the rain started, no way was I stopping today so on I rode and pushed towards the next section. Darkness came with no letup in the rain so I just kept riding, walking or whatever I could do until the rain stopped. At about 10,500’ the hail/snow started, pretty eerie in the dark with massive fatigue, I had been riding almost 18 hours at this point. The rain continued till Mt. Princeton where I was met with a sign saying mudslides had covered the roads leading to the next trailhead, I wasn’t about to detour around so I slogged through the 2’ deep mud for about 200’ till I emerged on the other side. As I reached the Chalk Creek Trailhead the rain finally let up and I looked for the closest place to bivy, I had covered 130 miles, 17,000’ of climbing and been riding for almost 21 hours, almost 7 in the rain. I had passed 9 racers today and that had gotten my competitive juices going again.

The next morn was all about bike maintenance. I needed to clean the nasty mud off from dragging it through the mudslide and my brakes were non-existent. I waded knee high into freezing Chalk Creek in my Sidis and washed the bike and my shoes off, replaced both sets of pads and was off by 6:30am.

This next section was a lot of hiking, I traded places with a trail runner and we had a great time talking about the upcoming trail sections as he had done most of them a section at a time. The trail leveled off around Mt. Shavano and I was cruising along when a small pine cone, yeah that’s right, a pine cone, made it’s way into my cassette and broke hanger # 3. As I sat and looked at the mess, I couldn’t help but laugh, I hadn’t broke a hanger in 5 years of riding some really stupid stuff and here I was, 3 gone in less than 40 hours!

I sat with the trail runner and we tried to figure out a way off the trail, his thought was to go down off the trail about 5 miles ahead and make my way to Salida. I set the bike up as a SS, but the only gear I could get to stay was a 22/28, not a particularly fast gear…. I made my way off the trail and down a dirt road I hoped would lead me to Salida, I was off my GPS map at this point so it was all a guess. I made my way to Salida with some help from Mary and Skip on their off day( they sat in front of the hotel computer and tracked my spot and gave me directions from where I was, wonderful technology!). I found a shop in Salida, Mary and Mike from Auburn Bike Works had already called and they got me right in. The mechanic, Anton, looked at the bike and was completely jacked up to try and fix it, he said “give me a couple of hours and lets see what I can do“. A couple of hours later and Anton had cut own a steel Specialized hanger, drilled some holes in it and adjusted my severely bent derailleur. It looked pretty solid and I was excited about the thought of continuing. I decided to make my way back to the trail, 26 miles away, the last 7 being a 3000’ climb!
As I made my way back to the trail the screw that was holding the hanger on backed out and the der. came swinging around, back to Salida I went……
I looked at the hanger and decided that maybe some JB Weld would hold the screw in place, a stop at the ACE hardware and a hotel room later the surgery was complete. The hotel room was pretty bleak, I was pretty bummed out by now and the feeling that the hanger would make it to Durango was fading. I decided that I didn’t want to risk being in the middle of nowhere with another broken hanger, or worse and broken frame and I decided to pull the plug and ride the road 120 miles back to Edwards where Mary would be arriving on Sat. I called the MTBCast phone line and gave them the news, I was done.

The next morn. I awoke to daylight, I hadn’t set the alarm as I was in no hurry to ride with traffic up to Leadville, 75 miles away. I stopped at the local Walmart to get some travel food to get me to Leadville. As I was stomping the Walmart aisles I decided that I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t give the race another shot, I needed to at least try and finish. Forty bucks later and a call to the Wife and I was headed back to the CT. ( Apparently this caused a great deal of stress for Mary as they had scratched me from the race and I was not being tracked, I didn’t know this, but they had no idea where I was. A few frantic e-mails and I was back to being tracked.)

The ride back to the CT went better than expected, it was late in the morn but I was excited enough to be thinking of where I would be camping later that night. I entered the trail where I left per the rules and was off on some really nice trails towards the Monarch Crest. I had looked at the guide
book that morn and was pretty stoked, it looked like this might be one of the easier sections of trail, not a ton of climbing out past Sargents Mesa. What I got when I reached Sargents Mesa was a soul sucking series of straight up, I mean 30 degrees straight up, sections of full on baby heads, followed by the same thing straight down the other side, apparently no one told the trail builders about contour trails. This 50 mile section was absolutely the worst trails I had ever seen, full granny gear trying to make my way on the flats, walking all the ups and a lot of the downs. This went on for 7 hours until dark, I was screaming at the trail by dusk!

All this terrible trail was starting to take its toll on my rigged hanger. The constant jarring meant I had to adjust the hanger every few miles as it would start to ghost shift and more importantly, it was beginning to rub the spokes. The thought of clearing out a bunch of spokes had me really cautious, I knew that the trail in front of me was getting more and more remote, some sections would be more than 40 miles from the nearest town. By 10 pm I had limited out the first 2 gears and was not using the small ring. This meant walking almost every uphill, something I had not planned on as my feet were starting to protest, something about 4 days of wet shoes and socks was not going over well with them! I had finally come to the end of the Sargents Mesa sections of trail, I had been pushing on through this last 25 mile section because it was dry, no water to filter meant I had to get to Hwy 114 and the next water crossing before I could stop for the night.

At Hwy 114 I came to a nice meadow with a small stream running through it. I had passed 8 racers today, been riding for 20 hours at this point and was ready to be done. 111 miles and the toughest trails I had ever ridden were behind me, but the bike had suffered a much greater toll than I had, it would not make the remaining miles to Durango. I was at peace with that, I had tried my best. All told, with all the detours, I rode 472 miles in a little over 5 days and 3 hours, 320 of that on the trail itself. Some of the hardest sections were still to come though, a tough haul for all.

At daybreak I awoke to ice on my bivvy, it was a cold night but I had managed to get a few hours of sleep. Somewhere during the night a couple others had made their way to the meadow, they probably had needed to get water as well. They remained covered in ice as I packed up for the last time and made my way back to Hwy 114. Hwy 114 presented a challenge, I had no idea where I was(I should have put ALL of Co. in the GPS!). I was freezing at this point and really didn’t want to head downhill but that seemed the right direction to go. 40 beautiful miles later I hit Hwy 50 and a sign saying Gunnison was 10 miles down the road, thank God I was near a good sized town. Gunnison rolled out before me and after a nice breakfast I was off to find a nice motel to spend the next couple of days in till Mary could pick me up. A little work on the bike meant it was rideable on flowy non-baby head stuff in the mid and big rings, perfect for the areas we would be in later in the week.

After pulling all my gear off I went out to the local trail system and met up with a couple of locals, turns out they were 1st and 2nd pros at last years 24 hour race there. They proceeded to drag me around on some absolutely beautiful trails and the day unfolded into one of my best days in the saddle. Perhaps it was just the joy of actually RIDING my bike as opposed to pushing it, but it really was a great day.

Mary arrived the next day and we spent the next week riding in Flagstaff and on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, spectacular riding with my wife and some good friends.

All in all it was a great adventure, the toughest thing I have done on a bike by a long ways. There were long stretches of trail that should never see a hiker let alone a bike.

I learned a lot, I know things that will be valuable in the future for doing these kinds of things.

I didn’t finish, I’m O.K. with that.

Despite some rough times I was prepared to continue on even though my original goal was gone.
Will I do it again, those of you who know me well know the answer to that:thumbsup:

Congrats to all who started the race and more importantly, finished! It is certainly the mother of all self supported races.
It was great meeting and talking to those ahead and behind me, it's something I'll never forget.

Thanks for reading!



3,230 Posts
Great stuff!

How did you ever survive the night in THAT motel room?

Great stuff Sean! I'm sorry it didn't go better for you @ CTR, but it's great to read about someone pushing well beyond the boundaries of, oohhh, sanity, from the safety of my laptop. Uhmmm, remind me not to ever go on an over-nighter w/you.

I'm sure you'll bounce back and be amongst the leaders next year - you've got that "unfinished business" thing and all.

3,485 Posts
Congrats on the effort. I followed your progress of the race on the website.

It was a very wet summer in the Rockies.

794 Posts
not sure what to say...

... to your write up and the experience you endured Sean. The run of the mill "wow, epic, gnarly blah blah" doesn't cut it for this. I imagine the experience you gained will be wielded in many other efforts in the future. Amazing job. thank you for sharing and as others have stated it was a pleasure to follow along virtually.

Fart smeller
Tell us what parts you're using.
18,085 Posts

559 Posts
pain, perseverance, determination. 3 dr hangers, I’d have guessed flats but maybe the hike a bike spared you there. Great write up on an epic adventure. Thanks for sharing.
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