2013 CTR, dream vacation or sufferfest?

July 21-july 25th might have been the hardest 4 days of my life. Hard to say as the intensity of the pain and suffering of other experiences have faded with time. Even now the mental anguish of the sleep deprivation, the ripping pain in my back, the grating rawness of my chaffed ass, all seems a bit more remote, less severe, less awful. I said after the sleepless push and physical effort of last years Colorado Trail Race, no more, just too hard, too much risk of melt down. But here I was planning to do it again for this year’s race. Push, push as hard as I can, do whatever it takes, sleep as little as possible. Despite it all, the lessons learned, the pain suffered, the toil on my mind and body, I still wanted to win, I still wanted to push the boundaries, test my limits.

Yet this year’s race was different. It was reversed, that meant seeing it all from a different angle, it meant lots of high altitude riding, tons of climbing very little recovery right from the get go. The resupply points were all new, the turns and twists were all reversed. The course also included the Tarryall reroute vs the 285 reroute of the past 4 years, more remote passage, less supply points, more miles, more climbing. Hmmm, this left much to think about and I thought about it a lot. But mostly I focused on wanting to slay the course again, I wanted to get under 4 days again, I wanted to win again. I didn’t do the math, as under 4 days would be 137 miles a day, I figured that out once I had the goal stuck in my head. I didn’t quite figure out that the first day of such mileage would be getting to Spring Creek Pass in 24 hours or less, that starting so hard and fast and high up would destroy the body for the rest of the race. No I just wanted to keep upping the ante…not so easy anymore.

Plus life happens and not always according to plan. I got a bit lost and unfocused the week or so before the race. I was getting twitchy and for sanity sake I did a few rides that were too big and a bit too close, it drained me. I slacked off on stretching enough, eating right 100%. Believe it or not, I was sleeping too little. I didn’t do enough planning, my bike was a creaking mess, my body wasn’t much better. I was broke, bike racing is obsessive, so much fun and frankly a luxury, but is not cheap, neither is eating enough food to keep the engine running.

Still I found myself in downtown Durango, Colorado at 3:45 AM, with a bunch of other nervous, twitchy folks with overloaded bikes. All wondering what the next 550 miles would bring. The glory of sunsets and sunrises, wildflowers and waterfalls, sweet singletrack and self discovery? Or the sad resolve of bone shaking lightening, long lonely cold nights of rain, the reality of broken bikes, broken spirits, degraded and beaten down bodies, cracked and mangled minds? Well at least it was time to find out and wonder no longer….

We all rolled out and up to the Junction Creek Trailhead. I stopped to pee an ended up quite a ways back in the pack for the first ascent. It was a touch frustrating, but fine as I slowly began to pick riders off one by one. Soon enough we drop into Junction again and begin the real big daddy climb of the day. Up to Kenebec Pass and up & over some more to get Indian Trail Ridge behind us. Something like 4,400′ of climbing. But it was going good. Riding with Max Morris, whose attitude is wonderfully infectious, Neil Beltchenko who was cool and resilient in his first CTR and Matt Schiff, who had the capability of doing very well in his 2nd CTR. We all were chasing down the man to beat, Jesse Jakomait and Jerry Oliver, another unknown to me. And chase we did, truly flying along making great time, putting difficult and trying terrain behind us. Getting closer and closer to the first goal of the day, Silverton for the only resupply before Buena Vista, some 210 very hard miles away.

The first day is filled with many a personal up and down for me. My back seizes up pretty early, my stomach bottoms out, I bonk hard going up Blackhawk Pass. I always begin to wonder if I still have IT, if I can still compete in these things, that is how hard the first day always is, hard and in your face. Yet the wildflowers are booming with confidence, the trail beckons and the desire burns. The power to try is there, I am still focused, to be honest I am a bit crazy with my thoughts. I want to blow the race apart tonight and push way past reasonable. Somehow I manage to keep it together, passing bivie spot after bivie spot, pressing on, ignoring the better judgement whispering about inside my head. Falling slowly apart in the high altitude wonderland of sections 23-22, or Cataract and Coney’s. I know this will make the rest of the race harder, but I still feel a need to take on the night. I push and make Spring Creek Pass by sunrise. No sleep for me. I push on, Jesse catches me before Cathedral and we ride up and over Los Pinos, and into the Cotchetopa Hills leap frogging every 20 minutes to 1 hour. We push hard through the Cotchetopa Hills, it is so hard to go fast, it is very hot and sunny, sweat drips in streams from my helmet. I want to be out of here before dark, not for the fact that some say it is haunted, but I want it done, behind me. Somehow we manage to escape, though Jesse is feeling a bit rough and I am so tired I want to sleep under every tree we pass. Still we both push to the bottom of Fosses, stopping within a 1/4 mile of each other. I sleep for 1.5 after 44 hours of riding, pushing, sweating and get up shivering but determined to make a break now or never.

Well I push hard, I ride as much as I can, I hike with a spring in my step. I keep eating, drinking, thinking about streams to dip my bottle, what food I will need and where. I make it to Buena Vista with food to spare and simply drink a couple sodas, get a bag of chips and push on for Leadville. I descend to Twin Lakes feeling just fine. Making the traverse around the lake, I start to unravel. It is low and hot, the sun is beginning to bake my flesh red, cook my brain. Climbing up I run out of water and start to feel like shit, my back tingles electric with pain. I keep pushing and pushing but I am slowing down, riding the highway into Leadville I feel as if I am crawling, my back on fire. Hitting town I hear cheering and greet the folks and find out Jesse is 15 minutes back. This super hard day of suffering and no sleep wasn’t enough. I am beat, my tricks are all played out, used up. I resupply and head out, resigned to holding onto 2nd.

As the sun sets and I push on. the sleep monster rears it’s head and takes me on. I dodge and keep moving, but after subsequent attacks I am done and have to sleep. I roll out the bivie and sleep for 45 minutes on the west side of Kokomo Pass. I wake up shivering head to toe but force myself to push on up the hill. I try to ride but there is no power, there is no juice, my back is still a pile of knots. Somehow I endure and make it up and over to Guller Creek and Copper Mtn, where I pass a bivied Jesse who calls out to me, and he knows it is me. I go a touch further and realize I will not make it over the 10 mile without another nap. So I sleep for another 30 minutes.

I get up and begin the long steep trail up and over to Miner Creek, Highway 9. Soon Jesse joins me, we hike a bike our way making the top just after sunrise. I am now cool with 2nd but haven’t given up on trying my hardest. I manage to keep up with Jesse up out of Tiger Run, and up to Georgia Pass, where the sky finally opens up and rains heavy upon us. Back and forth we trade the lead, trying, always trying to push the speed. We cross Kenosha Pass and begin the Tarryall reroute. It starts with some pretty fun singletrack, then turns to a mish mash of dirt roads going this way and that, getting Jesse lost and me utterly GPS dependent.

The road goes from pavement to an 11 mile construction zone that is soaked from a hard rain. It is soft and even muddy. Still Jesse is cranking hard and I am trying to keep him in sight. I keep counting my food, my calories. Not so sure there is enough. I zoom in and out with my GPS to get a view of the miles to come. I know I can make it in from where we rejoin the CT, but frankly it is so far away, so far. I eat sparingly, I start to take in caffiene. Still I am falling asleep on the bike. A few times I blink only to wake up a second or two later with my front wheel drifting off the road. It scares me awake for a moment, but then I drift off again. Finally I relinquish consciousness for ten minutes, no bivie, helmet, gloves shoes all on, wake up to the alarm and push on forward. The nap gets me to the CT. I am so stoked. I made it.

I ride the first bit of trail like a rock star, flowing along, banking the turns, having a blast. The second section I start to unravel again, I am angry at the short uphill bursts, I am tired of riding, of trying so hard, of reaching for more. I just want to be done. Still I push and push. I cross Buffalo Creek Road and begin riding through the moonscape of the burnt out forest. Again I drift a few corners too close for comfort, the caffeine is not enough, my desire is not enough, my eyes are just not willing to stay open. I lay down, another 10 minute nap I am thinking. Only I fall asleep before I set the alarm and wake up 30 minutes later. So confused, so detached, but still I get on the bike and go. I eat my last gummy worms. I make the South Platte about sunrise and eat my last calories, a GU Roctane. I mash the pedals, I want this, but the legs keep letting go, falling out and I have to keep getting off to walk. Damn my determination, why is it not enough?

This whole time I am sure Jesse is in front, mostly because I can’t believe that I am. Too tired, too sloppy, too wasted. I swear I see his tracks in the softer dirt. I am so stoked for him, he has worked so hard the past few years racing this beast that he deserves to win it. I simply want to be done, to eat real food, to get in a hot shower. I see a group of guys, they announce I am winning, still I am in doubt. I bomb the dirt road, I cross the trailhead/finish line. More guys telling me I won. Really? Not till Jesse comes through later do I truly accept that I was first. Another hard fought CTR win. It is hard to explain my response to winning this. Mostly I feel like it was a challenge that I took on and survived, that I am lucky to be able to do this. Still I feel there is more to learn, more training to do, I truly see this as a starting point, not an end. I also wonder, every time I race, why not have a fun, easy relaxing vacation sometime? Yeah I know fat chance right? Guess I’ll see ya all next year….

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18 thoughts on “2013 CTR, dream vacation or sufferfest?

  1. Great write up Jefe. Your ability to refocus after 520 miles in a ten minute nap is superhuman. I gave that ribbon of magic everything I had and you were simply faster!

    • Gave it everything I had too, really can’t believe you didn’t get the win as you were running a super smart, super smooth race…truly makes the win even more real when someone with your talents gives it all they have, if you keep lining up you will win this beast!

  2. Wow, Jefe – once again your ability and willingness to Push. Inexorably. Forever. just blows me away! It seems like the ’07 and ’09 CTRs (where we spent the last 24+ hours pushing each other hard) were so recent and yet so distant. I can hardly even imagine what a sub-4 would feel like on the CTR, let alone only 4 hours of sleep in 4 days. I think what I am most impressed by is how you have somehow managed to take your game to a completely new level. Not just incremental improvement like most athletes our age (and younger!) manage, but a completely new dimension. I’m sure fitness plays a huge role, and I know you work super hard there, but it seems to me you’ve got the mental stamina in Spades. For you, the impossible does indeed just hurt more.

    Once again, huge congrats on the finish, personal journey, and fantastic race against Jesse. You guys were untouchable this year. Glad to see the recovery is going smoothly and you’re already out and biking again.

    Best,
    Stefan

    • Stefan,
      thanks for the response. I suppose we are the sum of our experiences and after many long multi-day adventures, windows opened up that made me realize I could push much harder. The Tour Divide as one that made me see the CTR in a new light. I truly truly believe that we are all capable of so much more than we realize, hope I can motivate folks to go out and find the potential in themselves. It is all about believing it is possible and driving yourself through whatever gets in the way.
      I will never forget those two years we ended up rallying to the finish together. 07 seems like another world to me, it was just my 2nd bikepacking race and I have learned so so much about life, gear, riding, limits and myself since then. In 09, if not for you I think I would have imploded out there and not gone the distance, I was tired from the AZT and Grand Loop and not living right in between, I was a wreck!
      Honestly I am not so sure fitness has improved that much for me, it is simple preparedness and mental focus that has allowed me to go into the 4 day range with the CTR. It is one reason that I think it can be done even faster by someone with true fitness and the ability to not sleep and go go go. Truly amazed every time I manage to get the the finish before Jesse, or Ethan or anyone else, never thought I would be able to do this!!!
      Thanks for the kind words and the ton of work you put in making this thing happen every year, congrats to you for your beautiful family!
      Jefe

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