Friday, September 08, 2017

Breck Epic: prelude, pre-riding, and Stage 1

Stage 1- Pennsylvania Gulch

Stage 1 POV video from Jeremiah Bishop

With all my prep, planning, and packing now behind me. It was finally time to point the 4runner to the west and haul some ass. Luckily I didn't have a co-rider at this point as I'm not sure where their stuff would have fit.

I packed everything and then some. I tossed the roadie and trainer in as an alternative to spinning around freezing my ass off trying to warm up in the mornings. I even brought out a pair of rollers for my condo mate to use for his warm ups since he would be limited in what he could bring on the plane.

I opted to drive out on Friday thinking it would give me a chance to get there, relax for the evening, get a nice preride in on Saturday and then fill the rest of the day with the whole packet pick-up, condo loading/sorting of the things, grabbing some groceries, and attending the pre-race meeting. My teammate Jason and I took a nice spin up Burro Trail since its close, part of the course, I've ridden it prior, and it's a nice little cross section of what Breck riding is all about. It would also give me a chance to check out my gearing selection of 32x20 which had been recommended by Dicky who has raced this thing more times than I've been to Breck... Definitely go check his recap of the race out as its much more fun than mine.

After the pre-ride I thought I must have just the right gear. It was too heavy in spots, too light in spots, and just right in very few... Ahhh, singlespeeding, always the right gear because its the only gear. In any case, it felt decent, my legs felt decent, and I cleaned the rocky sections that I was anticipating being more difficult so all in all, I felt about as good as I could facing 6 days of the mostly unknown.

In the nightly race meeting they discussed the upcoming day's stage to give us a course overview and some beta on what to expect from the trails. Having poured over a ton of data in prep, I knew this day wasn't a gimme or even a nice gentle easing into the race. No, this was a full on sink or swim toss you in the deep end kind of day to start. I assumed if I could at least survive Stage 1, I'd have a chance to get my legs under me and get on with the rest of the week. Coming into the race, I set two goals for myself. #1 finish all 6 days and get my buckle. #2 don't be the last place singlespeeder.

The day broke early. Too damn early. After a typical fitful night before a big race sleep exacerbated by breathing the overly thin air at 8500' above where I normally reside, it was early. I got up, cleared my head, and started the daily routine of trying to eat, shuttling my drop bags to the race HQ, and then coming back to suit up and get my final few things ready to roll to the start line. Today was a mass start with every racer rolling the first few miles up the pavement staged in loose groups of our riding peers. I was nervous, but still excited to get on with the day. I got in line with Jason and Andy from the shop and snapped a picture to commemorate memorialize the start.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, outdoor

A few words of encouragement from Mike Mac (aka the ringmaster of this circus) and we were rolling along in a sea of high anxiety, knobby tires, and thin mountain air. The slow grind up the pavement was a nice way to stretch the legs and got my head into riding my bike. I dropped into Aspen Alley at the start with a group of 10 or so riders in a small pack. We soon wound our way down a bobsled track of dirt trying not to let our exuberance write checks our handling skills couldn't cash.

Pretty quickly the string of riders started spreading out as we hit the rolling singletrack and we started settling into our own personal grooves. I was feeling good and kept trying to remind myself to throttle back given the long day(s)/week ahead. Some 6 miles into the ride, we hit the first real steep grades and I finally succumbed to walking my bike as we climbed up towards our first foray into 11,000'+ territory. Knowing full well that walking was going to be the name of the game in numerous spots over the course of the race, I was mentally prepped and didn't mind the distraction. It was a bit of a kick in the pants watching the people with cogs the size of roadie front rings grinding their way up the hills and slowly distancing me.

As soon as I could, I hopped back on though determined to catch up to those geared riders wherever I could. I spied another singlespeeder trudging along ahead of me while I was still grinding away. He too was commenting on the people riding their eagle equipped bikes and how pleasant it must be. He spied me though and complimented the single. As it would end up, Corbin and I were similarly matched in overall pace and would spend a fair bit of time riding with or around each other throughout the rest of the week.

Leaving Aid 1,we hooked up for a blast through the fast and twisty section of Baker's Tank relishing the tight by Colorado standard tree placements adjacent to the trail. We had a flatish transfer over to Aid 2 which was a scant 6 miles distant. I knew what was waiting after Aid 2 though as it was the venerable climb up Little French. While only a mile in length, it was much more walking than riding on the single. Once that was slain though, we were treated to the flume trail and some more downhilling before we reached the climbs back into the Lincoln Park/Prospect Hill areas that reignited the climbing for the day.

Somewhere around mile 27 or so, I could feel my stomach beginning to sour and my energy beginning to wane. I'd been pushing solidly all day, but felt like I was doing a good job of not going into the red and keeping up with my nutrition. Something was definitely amiss though as I found myself jumping off the bike to walk at almost any pitch that looked even remotely steep.

My riding compatriots unhitched themselves from me at this point and I limped along at whatever pacing I could manage. The gnarly chunky descents and the steep uphills interspersed with varied singletrack had taken their toll on me. I was running on fumes and still miles from home. As we descended back to French Gulch I knew we had a climb up V3 trail before we got to bomb to the finish line at Carter Park. I should have been able to climb V3 even on the single, yet I found myself trudging slowly along almost every pitch in the trail. My heart was pounding, my legs shaking, and my head was telling me it was time to be done. Once I finally crested the hill and could start descending Barney Flow, I finally got a little relief and some solace in the fact I'd at least survive stage 1.

As I descended into the park, the emotion of going deep and making it through the day started coming out and I had no energy left to suppress it. Crossing the finish line half crying, half gasping, half smiling, I collapsed on the ground next to one of my former teammates that came out to cheer on stage 1 finishers. I was done, cooked, gristle. I managed to find my way over to get my day 1 photo taken and then headed back towards the condo. At that point, I wasn't even sure I had the energy required to get myself and bike back up the stairs once I got there.

I finally made it back and all I could do was lay on my back with my legs in the air, hoping the pain would slowly subside.

My will to live crept back in as an hour or two passed. I got some food, some rest, and cleaned up, but I wasn't sure how I was going to keep this up for 5 more days. My roomie and I slid over to the evening's racer meeting and podium ceremony. We were definitely repping two opposite ends of the spectrum. I was focusing on purely surviving each day while he was focused on the podium. But in the end, we were still just two guys excited to be racing our bikes in the mountains of ColoRADo. As it was I'd end up the day in 11th. At least I was mostly on track with the daily goal times I'd written out a few weeks before the race and had stuck to my desk as a reminder of what I needed to focus on.

Tomorrow has to be better, right?! I mean its the Colorado trail and one of my favorite descents off the top of Westridge.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Epic Dreaming and Prep

I honestly don't remember how long ago I dreamed up this crazy idea. I think it might have been clear back in 2013 when I felt like I was actually on top of my riding and had the world by the ass before things came crashing down around me and I found myself in the rut of not riding, only fun riding, or getting half assed in shape again only to piss it all away in the subsequent months following whatever type of bike event I deemed necessary to have some modicum of fitness to get through. In any case, whatever continual and residual fitness I'd built up over continuous years of racing and training back in 2013 were now wiped away and I'd be starting over.

In 2015 I decided to get a little more serious about this whole Breck Epic 2 year plan. I'd been following the race for years and have had a number of riding trips out to Breck as well as having had one go at the Breck 68 (which was probably a lot bigger race than I should've tried at the time). I figured I could talk at least a few of my fellow partners in crime into volunteering with me for part of a week and thereby stamping our ticket to get into the race the following year. We'd use it as course recon and then be primed to have a better shot at finishing this monster off in 2016.

As it worked out, my powers of persuasion are pretty limited so only Taylor and I volunteered while the rest of the crew joined us later in the week for some fun riding after our work was done. We ran course sweep 3 days and worked an aid station the other day. We met some other amazing volunteers and had a great time. Even if you never plan to race it, I'd wholeheartedly recommend doing some volunteer work for the race if you're so inclined as the people are awesome.

Between the two experiences we got a great cross section of what the race had to offer, the daily logistics, and a nice preview of various stages. I left that week with a renewed spirit for wanting to ride and race my bike. I was in ok riding shape and while I wasn't in top physical shape, I survived the riding we did and vowed to come back stronger and fitter when we actually needed to race. I snapped a couple shots before we left Breck to remind myself I needed to get to work.

As so often occurs, Taylor and I signed on for the race and life happened. Between family health issues and a work project that ate me alive, I deferred my entry to 2017. Through 2016 I made a bit more serious attempt at regaining my bike legs and being more fit in general. About mid May the wheels fell off as work became busy to the point it was all consuming. Once my goal race of Cheq 100 was knocked out mid-June I only logged another 1-2 hours on average per week on the bike the remainder of the year. Plug in many 12+ hour days mostly confined to an office chair stuffing my face with whatever fast food was close at hand and evenings filled with enough beer to make me forget the day enough that I could get up and do it again the next day and it was a recipe for digging myself a deep hole. Thankfully, I kept the camera hidden, but toss on 20-25 lbs of fat on the above pics and you'll have a good idea of what I was fighting.

January 1 I decided I was going to really hit it hard and give myself a fighting chance to finish this race. I figured I needed a challenge to rise to and keep me honest about the work I needed to put in. While I have ridden and raced singlespeed for years around the midwest including a number of single day endurance races on the single, I've always taken gears to Breck. I was at least somewhat confident that if I took gears along, I'd be able to survive the week barring bad luck. Toss singlespeeding on this dumpster fire and honestly, it was a challenge that I didn't know if I could complete. This would be something totally outside of my comfort zone and to the point that it would drive me along on those days when I hated the very idea of jumping on the trainer or going for a ride. It took me quite a while to even sign up for the singlespeed class or to tell any of my friends that I was seriously only taking 1 gear to the race.

I didn't really have the resources to direct towards personalized coaching and have always kind of worked my own plans out anyway, but I knew I needed structure. Having run through a few of their plans in previous years, I decided to get serious about following a progressive training path using Trainer Road as my guide. I figured if I could stick with their base, build, and specialty plans with almost 8 months laying in front of me it would keep me accountable and give the structure I needed to my workouts. As it were, crawling on the trainer at 5 in the morning or 8 at night isn't the most conducive to enjoying life, but it kept family interruptions to a minimum and my training on track. I tried to get some long(ish) outdoor rides in on the weekends or on the occasional evening, but for the most part I poured hours of time and gallons of sweat into the trainer. I spent more hours on the trainer than outside in the run up to Breck.

As winter gave way to spring and summer, I still found myself indoors for the most part. The trainer had become a necessary evil. The downside was missing all the riding with friends, but at the same time, those social riding hours weren't going to haul my still too fat ass over the continental divide multiple times. Luckily, the weight and fat were slowly burning off as the previous 6 months of living in my office ratcheted down to a dull roar for the most part. I could see some glimmers of hope starting to resurface as my fitness levels came back up.

Determined to stay on track, I struggled through my share of issues when it came to training. From influenza putting me off the bike for over a week, to riding a trainer outside our pop-up during vacation, to hitting a hotel recumbent for over an hour, to spinning on the trainer for 3 hours the day after launching 8'+ into a ravine off a bridge, I made it work.

I kept the hammer down as long and hard as I could between the prescribed abuse Trainer Road was dishing out and my own self inflicted ideas of what I thought I needed to do for preparation until finally there just wasn't any time left. I'd done all I could and now it was time to taper into the race and see if it was enough. I worried clear through the start of Stage 1 that everything I'd done to this point would be moot and the mountains of Colorado would take one look at me, chew me up, and spit me out like the piece of gristle I was already feeling like.

100 hours on the bike, 110 hours on the trainer, 18 hours of core and strength, 28 lbs and 7% fat lost over 7.5 months.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


So, my last post was pretty much a killer. I didn't want to come to this space anymore as I'd have to look directly at what I posted. I didn't really come out and say exactly why I posted the eulogy, though I suspect many of you deduced what happened or know me personally and were already aware. My dad passed away unexpectedly on August 28th this year. I won't lie; it has kicked my ass mentally, emotionally, and physically. I don't know that I can do justice with words to say what he meant to me. There are very few people in your life that you honestly can't picture how your life would be without them in it. My dad was one of those people.

Growing up, I'd have nightmares about him dying suddenly and trying to figure out how I'd go on. Its one of those things, you never really tell people. I mean, who likes to admit what really and truly carves out a space in their bank of absolute nightmares. That's why the song I chose to go with his eulogy was so poignant and telling for me. It captured the very essence of what frightened me. For some reason I regularly have felt even as an adult that I'm just pretending not to be a big frightened kid. With dad still alive, it gave me that security that I was indeed going to be ok and it didn't matter as much whether I knew what path I should take as he'd be there to back me up. With him gone, it's like walking out into the dark night and knowing for once that it's really just me and the wild outdoors. And it scares me. Its strange to actually put all this down as its been floating around in my head for years.

Even now, 3 months removed, I have a hard time dealing with the thought of it. Something will hit me and my brain almost refuses to process the fact that I'll never see, hear, or talk to him again. It goes so far that I have a physically sick feeling wash over me. The gal I saw a few weeks after he was gone suggested it might be cathartic to help write this stuff down. I don't know about that, but I do know that I've always turned to writing when stuff is bothering me. Other than this being all for me, I guess maybe I hope that sharing my feelings might one day help one single person to understand that there's a lot of crap, both emotional, and physical that comes right along with losing someone in that inner circle. I've dealt with death of 3 grandparents, co-workers, acquaintances, other relatives, and the like. Nothing comes close to this.

I've been trying really hard to suck it up and put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. I'm trying to move forward with life as close to how it was before all of this happened. Some days it works and some days, not so much. I do seem to be able to string more and more days together as time goes by so I guess there is some truth to time healing all things. I am scared of losing his memories or having them dulled as time goes by. It seems to be such a double edged sword that the pain of losing him has to go hand in hand with allowing yourself to not think about him as well. I know that shortly after it happened, I did what I could to escape those thoughts for at least a few hours at a time. I'm really thankful for my friends that were there to help me pass those hours. Hell, I got this far before getting teary eyed, I guess that's pretty good. Right?

If I had to pinpoint the one thing that is the most likely to cut me to the bone and send me into tears, its thinking of my dad and my girls. Them growing up not having a grandpa and more-so not having him as a grandpa just destroys me. I had 35 years with the man and felt like it wasn't enough. They've barely known him. Knowing how much he loved them, there is so much that they're going to miss. It's falling square on my shoulders to make sure that  they get to know who he was and get to experience those things that he would have loved to share with them.

My girls understand that he's gone and that daddy is really sad, but I wonder when it will sink in that they are actually missing something from their lives. My wife has been a rockstar through this and helping me just to cope as much as she can. I've been bouncing between being nearly inconsolable, to mad, to lost, to just frozen with no direction. Helping my mom trudge through the paperwork and processes required by law hasn't been any treat, but with deadlines attached it keeps me motivated to doing something, anything. Its hard for me to even go to our farm right now. Everything there is dad. Just being down there brings me closer to him, but right now its pain and hurt, not comfort, that feeling closer to him is causing.

One of the things the gal I talked to helped me work out was answering the question of "why". Or maybe not so much answering the question, but helping me focus on finding a point of light in such a dark situation. What we came up with is that dad's passing should help instill that I need to focus more on those things that truly make a difference in my life. When you pare all the bullshit away, it boils down to that I need to be a lot more thankful of my family and friends. I need to cut the crap of making excuses of how various superfluous things make a better life for me, because its not just about me. Its about the people I truly care about and those actions that make our lives together well lived.

In the end, I guess this is me taking another step forward and trying to find that new path. I really want to get back to retelling my Colorado Trail experience and sharing the other things that have fulfilled my life. Maybe I'll even try to put some stories together of my dad and I.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Dad (Everything I do)

Here's the eulogy I wrote and delivered at my dad's funeral. The song led into my reading.

That’s my job.  That’s what I do. Everything I do is because of you, to keep you safe with me.  Dad loved us even if it was hard for him to express that love in words.  It wasn’t until later in my life that I could actually say, “I love you” to him.  Even then, there wasn’t always a direct return.  But those times when it was said and when it was spoken back to me were special beyond words.  Dad loved his family more than we will ever know.

If I had to describe dad in a single word, it would be proud.  He wouldn’t necessarily show pride in his own achievements--it was a pride that showed in how he spoke about his family and his friends. It was rare for my brother and me to directly hear praise from dad but later we’d learn from others how Dad never stopped bragging on our accomplishments.  From us being embarrassed by listening to Dad recite Mikeal’s and my achievements to near strangers to those he’d harangue with stories and pictures of his granddaughters, dad was proud of his family.  In return, I’d hear story after story of his hunting and fishing adventures with friends and neighbors.

I could spend hours describing dad’s vast and varied interests, but that would only be slightly shorter than one of his legendary phone calls.  I always remember looking at my phone, seeing his number and wondering, hoping, I had enough time to listen to whatever was going on in his world.  It never seemed to fail that there wasn’t enough time to talk about everything that was on his mind.  And that’s just the way it was.  Maybe it was for the best that we kept running out of time.  I always knew we could start again and that there would always be something to talk about.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp how dad seemed so simple, but could know so many things.  No matter the questions I had, I could always go to him.  He paid attention, learned, researched, and apparently, never forgot a damn thing.  Dad had a quest for knowledge that we should all learn from. Sharing that acquired knowledge and passing it on was important to dad. He never came right out and said it, but his actions spoke volumes. He didn’t stop his teachings with Mikeal and I, he continued on after we had left to lead our own lives. He’d dole out liberal doses of his knowledge to his farm hands and close friends that spent any amount of time with him.

Whether it be learning and dreaming about fish farming (do you know how many ponds our farm has…), to planning out a cruise to Alaska, or wanting to hot rod an old truck with his son; dad loved to plan out his dreams and stockpile them for when they could become reality. He was never short on plans for the future. I think that’s why it’s so hard to believe he’s gone. How can a man who still had so many big ideas, plans, and dreams leave so suddenly?

Dad was living his biggest dream. Being on the farm with mom was his not only his reality, but his dream turned true. He loved the land and all that came with it. Fishing, hunting, farming, and just being in the country; that’s where dad belonged. Dad’s physical abilities altered how he had to enjoy the farm, but he lived every day to do what he could with what he had. With mom by his side, he wasn’t about to slow down or dwell on the limitations he’d been dealt.

From all the people who knew dad, I think we could fill a book with his one-liners, puns, and crazy stories that he’d concoct. Over the years we’ve heard it all from Put-offs, Sasquatch’s dog, cats with bobcat disguises, zombie possums, or lines about cows being Moo-rooned when the river would flood. Our dad had a joke for every occasion. Seeing his granddaughters roll their eyes whenever one of us busts out with a silly saying or corny joke may end up being dad’s best joke of all.

My brother and I are reflections of dad. The lessons he taught and instilled in us are present in our everyday lives. We’ve each taken parts of him and used those in becoming who we are. With each of our accomplishments, whether big or small, I know dad will still be proud.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 4- and now for something different

For as tired as I was, you'd think I'd fall into a coma as soon as I crawled into my tent. In yet another little cruel twist, I managed to toss and turn most of the night before finally finding 1 position that I could catch a few Z's in. I'm guessing it was a combination of not being used to my air pad and being overtired giving me a 1-2 combo. I've had long days in the saddle cause sleeplessness before, but I was hoping this level of tiredness would play out differently.

The heat broke overnight and we were treated to a calm and slightly cool morning at elevation as we woke, ate, and broke camp. Not in any hurry today with the van nearby, we started tossing out some plans. I proposed we ride the remaining segment 3 of the trail and then return via the fire road the sheriff had pointed out last night. My quick guesstimate put us at 3ish hours of ride time. Shoot, we'd be back at the van in time for lunch. Then we could drive to Breckenridge and still have time to get a nice afternoon ride in there as well. I believe this is when I lost all credibility on my ability to plan rides.

Not giving in to the notion of being completely untrue to our original plans, I suggested we still roll with our full load of gear even though dropping it at the van would have made a considerably lighter load. In hindsight, this was both a blessing and a curse.

We rolled off into the Buffalo Creek area of the trail. Beta from friends who had ridden this area earlier in the year had this pegged as a great section of trail with a lot of flowing trail and not many steep climbs. As we launched headlong into the trail, we were definitely treated with much more flow and fun than the previous day. Our gear didn't seem to be as much a hindrance now that we were able to actually ride the trail versus pushing. We even found some spots to stop and session little pieces of challenging trail.

Check it:

Roll it:

Cool rocks:

Again, we were treated to some spectacular views. And then the bottom dropped out. As we rolled along the trail, the day's weather started to move in on us. We went from a comfortable and sunny upper 60's to overcast and dropping temperatures. As we passed the next fire road at Buffalo Creek, there was a sign pointing to Wellington lake fire road being the next crossing. I suggested we keep going and then turn at that point vaguely remembering that's where we'd be able to turn back and would also be the end of our segment of trail. This particular section hit hard though. It was a nearly continuous grade gaining just over 900' in the next 4.5 miles. The weather continued to deteriorate with the temps dropping further, the wind picking up, and a nice heavy sprinkle starting to work on us. An hour later and we were descending to the fire road in a nice steady rain and pretty much chilled and wet through to the core.

Rain rolling down the hillside:

Back to the fire road, we still had a decent amount of miles to get back to the van. It was late enough now that lunch and waiting out the rain seemed like a good idea. As we all rummaged through our gear to grab jackets and whatever else we could find to keep warm, the hail started coming down. At one point it was enough to start showing up as white patches on the ground, but then it would stop for a bit and restart later. The temperature bottom out at 53 degrees with the rain and hail. Nothing like a 50 degree turn from the day before. We killed an hour hiding under whatever dry patches we could find and hoping the rain would finally slack off a bit. Finally, we decided the rain was a light as it was going to get, so we struck out in what we hoped was the right direction on the fire road.

This is fun, right?

I'd been studying the trailhead map and looking at my garmin trying to ascertain whether we needed to go up the hill or down. I opted for us to go down given that most of the traffic we'd seen came from that direction, it looked to be the right way, and it was down the hill. Well, I screwed that choice. Looking at the map after we got back, about 1/2 mile up the hill was the road we were looking for. By heading down the hill, we added at least a couple miles and probably a bit of climbing as well. We ended up rolling down to Wellington lake and stopping to ask directions at the campground as the road split just after their entrance. We were pointed in the right direction finally, but still weren't completely sure how far we had to go.

Just after we left the lake, we were treated to a fast and fun downhill. Just after we started, who did we run into again, but our friend the sheriff. I believe Taylor was begging him to put him out of his misery once again and we were all laughing at the absurdity of it all. Additionally, we were following a SUV down the hill that we succeeded in making sufficiently nervous enough that he pulled over to let us rip the rest of the downhill. He would later pass us again as the road flattened out, but that didn't stop me from giving chase for a bit until he finally hit the gas leaving me behind.

The rain had turned the fire road to a mixed surface. We'd have hardpack in some areas and alternately hit areas of sand where we'd sponge an inch or two into the surface. We only had 6 miles back to the van, but still had almost 1000' of climbing in between. The climbing on this road definitely broke our spirit for riding any more the rest of the day. Somehow the climbs here seemed nearly as tough and interminable as the singletrack climbing we'd done the day before. Just over 5 hours after we left, we finally made it back to the van.

It was like that:

Once we changed and loaded everything back into the van, we pointed ourselves towards Breckenridge in search of food. During the ride, we all agreed that if we could find cheap lodging for the night, we'd take the opportunity to grab it, get cleaned up, do laundry, and hopefully scrub some of the last two days of riding off of us. In an attempt to redeem myself from the ride decision, I was able to secure some cheap lodging thanks to the wonders of the internet. We hit Backcountry Brewery for burgers the size of your head and a killer view of the mountains.

Mmm, burgers and beer:

Dinner and a view:

Cheap lodging:

Really cheap:

Being back in familiar territory and with a good nights rest laying in wait, we planned out something really challenging for the next day. I'll give you a hint, last time I did this route, I ended up losing a good amount of skin and hiking shoeless back to Breckenridge.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 3- Reality of Day 1

We pointed the van due west towards higher elevations and adventure. The jovial start to the trip slowly wore on with each of us taking a stint at driving and attempting to sleep. I probably got the most sleep at a generous estimate of 3-4 hours, but also had the last leg of driving the wee hours as we headed into a still sleeping Denver at 5 in the morning. We did a quick recon of our parking area before heading off in an attempt to find some solid food that would be our last solid meal for a few days.

Smart phones and google maps ablaze, we took no less than 3 attempts and several miles of scenic detouring only to end up less than a mile from where we started at a Waffle House. Given our road weary yet wired up sense of adventure, we were all ready to get this show on the road as soon as it was light enough to make our grand depart. Back at our generous host parking, we unloaded the van and finalized all our gear placement, checked pressures, emptied bladders, and got ready to roll. Finally, we were off.

The morning was crisp and sunny. but you could feel the heat building quickly. I for one was glad we would be escaping the Denver metro quickly and heading for higher elevations and cooler weather in the surrounding mountains. Not quite having learned our lessons from attempting to find something as simple as a Waffle House, we again turned to technology and Google routing to get us from our parking spot to the trail head at Waterton Canyon. Less than 1/2 mile from the house we found ourselves riding in circles trying to find the non-existent bike trail that would lead us out of our suburban sprawl. Finally we flagged down a lady walking her dog who pointed us to a small sidewalk running between two houses that led us to the main path. Disaster averted, we were on our way!

Lost in suburbia:

Our adventure would begin much sooner than we anticipated. We were routed forwards, backwards, down non-existent trails and finally to a closed private road. We could see where we wanted to go, but not wanting to blatantly cross a gate that was marked No Trespassing, we ended up riding along the railroad right of way paralleling the private road and heading as much in the same general direction of the trail head as we could. As the road veered off, we realized that following the rail line was now taking us away from where we needed to be. We backtracked a short bit to a drainage ditch/dry creek bed that appeared to at least have recently been cleared of all its debris leaving a nice sandy base to ride. After a few minutes though we were greeted with the end of the drainage and an non-passable gorge of rocks and riprap where it dumped into another channel.

Found the bike path to start:

Kyle bushwhacked his way up the edge of the ravine and declared it was at least rideable in the general direction we needed to go. It was also in the direction of some type of high security satellite array installation. It appeared we could skirt around the outside of the razor wired and fenced enclosure to make it to their access road that hopefully made its way back to the highway. Sweet freedom as we got done with blazing our own trail and hit the access road. Wait, what the?! At the end of the access road was another gate with fencing and wire stretching both directions along with call boxes and a video camera. To the left, the fencing ran clear back to the satellite compound and to the right, it died off at the edge of a steep ditch that was the back end of some type of storage business. Having no real choice at this point and not wanting to take our chances with whatever person might be on the other end of the call box, we snuck our way to the right side of the fence balancing along the edge of the ditch and rolling our bikes into the back of the storage lot.

Finally, luck would have it that the next gate was only latched as we hastily made our way through the storage area and onto the exit that would lead us to an actual road. Having given up on smart phone technology, I had turned on my Garmin and was navigating by general sense of direction since I didn't have a route plugged in other than that of our actual CT adventure. 90 minutes and a scant 14 miles later, we finally made our way to the CT trailhead at Waterton Canyon. A quick stop for a few pictures and we rolled onto the wide gravel path/road that comprises the first 6 or so miles of the trail.

Obligatory trailhead shot:

Not long after we started, we rolled past a snake sunning himself mid path. Taking a double look, I noticed it was a nice sized rattlesnake just begging for a picture. There was a stiff headwind coming up the canyon, but the road was relatively flat. I looked at our speed and tried to shake off the idea that I felt like I was working, but still only rolling 10-12 mph on a nice flat gravel path. We were out there for adventure and enjoyment, not trying to blaze the trail as fast as we could. As the sun kept baking us in the canyon, I was eager to get onto the trail proper and into some shade.


As soon as the path ended and transitioned to trail, we immediately started gaining elevation. Also nearly immediately, I punctured my front tire on a sharp rock. Seriously, less than 1/4 mile into the trail and I'm suddenly faced with sealant spewing out of the center of my tread. I quickly rolled it to the bottom and luckily the magic of tublessness worked itself out and sealed up tight without so much as even having to add air. The trail kept heading up in earnest and it wasn't long before we found ourselves digging deep into our lower gears. All in all, the grades and switchbacks weren't overly technical nor steep, but given an extra 30+ pounds of gear weighing down our bikes, the trail took on a life of its own.

Going up:

Even small or relatively simple technical sections became a quick game of seeing who would be able to clear it. Loaded as we were, hike-a-bike became a quick go to option. Of course, then there were sections that really didn't appear to be rideable even if we hadn't been laden with gear.


We kept working our way to the top of this section and were finally rewarded with some great views and an opportunity to point our bikes downhill. By this point, we'd made a few breaks for food and to chat with a couple hikers we'd passed. We also realized our handy all knowing (except for bike routing) trail guide was lazily sitting back in the van. I was doubly glad now that I'd taken the time to put our route into my Garmin as it would be our only source for navigation. We'd still be on our own for determining water sources, elevation gain, and miles between various waypoints along the trail.


From the overlook, we dropped like stones descending to South Platte river where we were more than ready for a lunch stop and water resupply. The balmy weather of the morning had chased us over the ridge and had turned the blast furnace on high as we headed down the hill. Our first major setback happened here. Somewhere on this descent, I overheated my front brake and the lever started going to the bar. I had very little stopping power from the front now and was relying heavily on my rear brake to keep me from flying off into the abyss. Without a good way to scrub speed at will, I had to resort to what felt like a snail's pace down the hill.

Shade and water:

Filtering for the next section:

Having been on the move for closing in on 6 hours, it was time for an extended break. My original lunch plans were to use my Kate's Real Food meal replacement bars with added snack food as my food source. The call was made to instead cook up some Ramen to keep the calorie deficit low and hopefully keep our energy up for the next section of trail. It felt nice to hang out by the river for a while as we cooked and reloaded on water. According to the trail head map, our next source of water would be 14 miles away at a fire station just before we'd enter segment 3. It was looking like a solid uphill push from our current location followed up by some contour riding.

After lunch we headed back out into a HOT afternoon. My hotshot homemade heavy on the dark chocolate trail mix had now turned into chocolate trail soup in a bag. I gave up on eating it at this point as it became too messy to eat without literally stopping and squeezing it out of the bag which in turned smeared it all over the bag before transferring to the rest of the gear. No thanks. We rolled out of our lunch oasis and headed up once more.

The next section of trail was yet another eye opener. I've ridden on a bunch of trail surfaces before, but never on kitty litter. Literally, the trail was very fine crushed red granite with the consistency of non-clumping cat litter. It had a base to it, but you still sunk in and when you needed to make any evasive or technical moves, it was an extra layer of effort to not wash out or spin your tires. The initial climb out of the valley was littered with loose switchbacks that were (for me at least) unrideable meaning we'd alternate riding 100 yards at a shot with hopping off to push the switchback. Ultimately I got tired of that game and just stayed off to trudge and push the bike as we wound our way into a blistering afternoon sun. Kyle would later tell me his Garmin read a high of 103 in this section.

We also managed to ride into a burn area in this section leaving us completely exposed to bake under the clear skies and blistering sun. A good portion of this climb was rideable, but at a decidedly Colorado pace turning over our granny gears. Riding ahead, I could turn back and get some spectacular shots of the moonscape we were traversing.

Kyle and Taylor in miniature:

Hayman burn area moonscape:

As we finally summited this climb, we rolled the undulating terrain in search of any form of shade. The heat combined with the effort was really unravelling us at this point. In an attempt to clear a loose bit of trail, Kyle got an up close and personal introduction to one of the extra spiny and thorny plants lining the side of the trail. Slowly picking his bike off of him and then easing his way out of the bush, we found a large number of spines now embedded everywhere from his hands to his back side. Dire situations call for dire actions, one of us had to remove said spins from places unreachable by Kyle. I won't say who got that lucky job, but my gloves may never be the same again...

Shortly we found a resting spot in a tiny patch of shade. If we were burgers, I think our temp range would have been from charcoal briquette to medium well. At least rolling on we were treated to less severe terrain and some actual flowing trail sections. Still fighting my front brake being gone, I had to lag off the back and couldn't even fully enjoy the speed of the trail. At least we were back off the face of the moon.

Friendlier trails:

We finally made our way to the end of the segement and found the fire station with the water resupply and best of all; shade. Time, mood, mechanicals, and energy levels being what they were, new plans started to formulate. A deputy sherrif was loading up his water as well before heading out on a back country patrol. We talked and joked with him for a bit and he showed us a map with a fire road option to skip the next trail section and how to make it to Bailey if we wanted to stop short and camp. The guy was a great source of help to us and a fellow mountain biker as well.

After he left, we started weighing all our options. We knew pushing on to the original planned mileage wasnt going to happen. Do we ride away from the water source and camp further down the road, do we ride to Bailey, or do we set up camp here and re-assess in the morning? Additionally, what were we going to do with my front brake and the looming descent off Georgia pass that had to happen before we could get to Breckenridge? All good questions.

We started calling people we knew in the area and trying to find out if there were any options with one of them giving us some help. Andy Lueck ended up being our saving grace driving out from Denver with a BB-7 stripped from his fiancee's bike and he brought beer as well! In the meantime, giving our situation and how the first day had treated us, we decided along with camping overnight near the fire station, one of us would ride back with Andy to pick up our van from Denver and then we'd just make decisions on the rest of the trip from there.

Mmm dinner time:

Sleeping accomodations:

Once this was decided, it effectively ended our original plan, but we also now had a whole new experience waiting to unfold as it would all be off script. As we finished the bike repair at the fire station, the sherrif returned from his patrol and bs'ed with us a while longer. He gave us a "free parking" car so we could stash the van overnight at the fire station without fear of getting it towed off. So, after our repairs and beers, it was time to call it a night for Taylor and I while Kyle was elected to go get the van.

Day 1 route
Colorado Trail: 1, Us: 0

Monday, August 05, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 2- An ambitious plan?

Having made all our plans, gathered our "necessities", and weighed down our bikes with a plethora of gear, it was nearly time to hit the road. The week prior to our departure seemed something of a scramble with not only the usual final preparations and running hither and yon gathering items that suddenly become an absolute necessity, but also dealing with a few additional revelations about the trail routing itself.

I'm clueless and smiling:

Being a fan of the Colorado Trail Race, I was following various posts and and stories about their preparations for departure just a couple days before we were to leave. They'd be running south to north this year, the opposite of us, so I knew running into at least some of the front runners, was a good possibility. I ran across some tidbit that mentioned a "southern detour" route. Digging deeper into it, I found that our route had a significant bike route detour around a section of wilderness smack dab in the middle of section 4. As biking and even possession of a bike in national wilderness areas is forbidden (and punishable by a hefty fine), there is a road route around the affected portions of trail. The chatter on the CTR sites was that the normal route using Highway 285 was not really enjoyable due to the traffic volume and lack of shoulder on most of the road while you're climbing for 2 hours solid. The new reroute to the south utilized mostly fire roads and a lower traffic highway, but was also 50 miles longer.

In retrospect, while we had a trail guide for planning, it was an older edition that was missing all of the biking reroute information. Definitely a bit of an oversight on our part. After a fair bit of back and forth, between Kyle, Taylor, and I, and me downloading both versions of the route onto my GPS, we finally decided that the normal 285 route wasn't going to be that bad. We'd just deal with the highway and traffic versus adding 50+ miles each direction to a route that already seemed like it was ambitious. That hiccup being settled, we got down to finalizing our escape plan from town and figuring out some benchmark distances for the ride.

Final routing- 200ish mile roundtrip with 26,000'+ climbing.

Our basic plan was to leave town at 8pm Monday, drive overnight arriving early Tuesday, grab some breakfast, park at a friend's place in Littleton, gear up our bikes, and ride to the trailhead. For the first day, we were shooting for 70 miles on the CT (Colorado Trail) plus the 10-15 miles it was going to take us to ride to the trailhead. Basically, that was the distance on the CTR that would put us at the end of the 285 reroute and back on the CT with water available at that location. Our 2nd day would be much shorter, but a big push over Georgia pass before descending upon Breckenridge. I figured it would be pretty ambitious to hit 70 miles on day 1, but it also gave us a lot of leeway in being able to stop at a shorter distance and still being able to make it up the next day and getting to Breckenridge for a resupply and hopefully a hot meal and shower as well.

We'd camp overnight in/around Breckenridge on night 2 and if we were there early and feeling ambitious, we thought we might be able to catch a short ride sans our gear on some of the more fun trails we're familiar with having ridden numerous times in the area. Day 3 would have us turning tail for home with a familiar route now in front of us and a downward trend towards are riding that would hopefully help with a couple solid days already in our legs. We figured the distance on day 3 would be dictated by how we felt and just how taxing the climb back over Georgia pass would be. After the pass its a pretty solid downhill effort for quite some time as we'd again hit highway 285 back to the end of segment 3 of the CT. From there, we'd hopefully hit a solid but again downward trending day back to the trailhead and then onto our waiting vehicle on Friday. We arranged for a friend's floor to sleep on for Friday night followed up with some local front range riding on Saturday morning before beginning the trudge back to reality.

Something we definitely were thinking about was the somewhat unpredictable mountain weather. All signs pointed to overall decent conditions temperature wise and most likely some rain to deal with. Mid 80's/low 60's in Denver to mid 70's/low 50's in Breckenridge were the temperature ranges. Afternoon rain showers are almost a certainty this time of year in the mountains as well so we were anticipating that we'd find at least one wet day on the trail. For our gear, I think we all were packed anticipating possibly cold and wet weather being a much higher probability than sun and heat. After all, it's summer in Iowa, we're much more acclimated to being hot and sweating than having cold rain pouring down our backs. Little did we know...

Bluebird start: