Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Checking out a few more uncharted (by me) rail trails and the potential for closing the loop for a Michigan <-> Wiso adventure. Who's ready for some bikepackin'?->
Sunday, September 21, 2014
The Colorado Trail
I don't even know where to begin with this one. It certainly wasn't an obsession in the usual sense, where you drive yourself crazy for months/years in preparation with excessive dreaming and scheming, but more of immediacy pending the start date. As my name lingered long on the depths of the TNGA roster, I set a deadline of about six weeks out to decide my fate. And so it began... A six day, five hundred mile - test my setup and see if and when I and/or my gear starts to fall apart - bikepack training ride. Reading and re-reading the CT guidebook. Plotting out my acclimatization plan. TopoFusioning the track and inter-netting out all the particulars. Doing key workouts from the LW Coaching CTR training plan. Etcetcdittodittohencesoforthandsoon. And per usual, while helpful, the homework was certainly glossed over vs. the on-trail reality. You're guaranteed suffering on the Colorado Trail.
Here's a few notes:
- I didn't set a time limit once on the trail, but previous to the ride I thought 7-10 days to finish. I also didn't make any arrangements for getting back to Denver from Durango, as I feared this might make me more anxious if I fell off 'schedule'. 'Come to ride it and don't worry about how long it takes.' Good advice. Plus, it's easy to get a one way rental in Durango back to Denver.
- If you're not an uber fast, zero sleep, if it's stormin' yer movin' racer type, surely trust your tarp / bivvy system and ability to erect it quickly when you're wet and cold.
- Be prepared for a lot of hiking. Lots of the singletrack is sweet and rideable, but loaded with gear at altitude, you'll be in the red zone and burned into a pile of ashes faster than you think.
- Not starting with the 'Grand Depart' was a good move. I spent the first two days riding alone, which allowed me to not get all 'rabbit fever' chasing or trying to hold on to riders in front of or passing me. Once the racers started coming through, it was nice to chat with them and also find a group that was of similar pace and ride the remaining days together to the finish.
- Altitude is a major factor. I spent ten days in Denver riding around and doing some higher altitude rides to see how I felt and letting my body acclimate. I didn't sleep at altitude though, figuring I would be moving slow enough for it to take two days before I got to 10k'. It's funny to think 'why is this so laborious, it's just a little hill?', then you look at the gps and see you're at 12k'.
- Hot food is a good thing on cool nights and mornings. Don't discount taking a stove and dehydrated meals.
- Good raingear is essential. Dry and warm when it's wet and cold. You should fully expect to get rained/stormed on every day.
- Make sure all your gear is super secure to your bike. My bar bags flopped around a bit causing my bar light to move when hitting rough sections, which was annoying. I crashed twice coming down Kenosha in the dark because of this. Nice smooth fast downhill then presto: an uber gnarly rock garden I couldn't quite assess in time... Also, my Pocket bar bag got a hole worn in it from my front tire when hard hits compressed my fork lowers quite a ways into the crown. I also wore a hole in my frame bag by tossing a tarp stake in w/o putting it in my Tyvek stake bag. The jarringly rough trail caused it to wear through the fabric... This trail has an unforgiving potential to eat gear.
- I replaced my entire drivetrain (rings, chain, cassette), disc brake rotors, brake pads and tires before the ride. Other than brake rub, I incurred no on course mechanicals. Squirt chain lube worked awesome when things got wet and gritty.
- Being a rookie (I'd previously ridden maybe 30 miles of various parts) and coming from sea level, ~700' of elevation, was an interesting challenge for this route. Uber gnarly trails, sections far from resupply and possible variation in weather conditions all mixed with the feeling of breathing through a cocktail straw duct taped to your mouth while your nostrils have been super glued shut.
- Even for day rides on this course, I highly recommend having an active CORSAR card. It's way too easy to crash out in the middle of nowhere and potentially become incapacitated in some way. This helps with defraying the costs (and making it possible with training, equipment and such) for the sar folks to pick your pieces out of the rubble.
So enough babbling, let's get on with it.
Days 1 -> 3 - Waterton Canyon to Frisco
With the weather looking nice the Wednesday before the GD, I'd made the decision to forgo waiting until Sunday and being on the stick for having Scotty drop me off on his way to work Friday morning, 8/8, so as to enjoy the non-monsoonal weekend forecast. I registered on Trackleaders for an ITT and rolled out of the Waterton Canyon TH Friday morning at 8:46 am. Riding the road up towards the actual start of the trail, I kept myself in check as far as keeping the pace waaaay down. Over hill and dale the first three sections were very enjoyable to ride (and hike), super flowy with some good technical sections. The rain of the day came in the Buffalo Creek burn zone. Luckily I escaped the mass of it, but encountered some hikers who got hammered on. After the third section starts the Lost Creek Wilderness detour, a 71-ish mile roadie ride bypassing the wilderness. The end of day one had me reaching the edge of the Hayman Fire area, where I decided to bivvy in the diminishing light so I could easily find a spot to pitch my tarp and have some tree cover.
Up and rolling fairly early (I had set a recurring 6am alarm on my watch), day two had me finishing out the rest of the Lost Creek detour, resuming the trail at section five and encroaching Kenosha Pass. Stopping at the Stagestop Saloon to re-fuel and take a short breather had me rolling out with five cheeseburgers for dinner and into the next day of riding. It pretty much rained off and on all afternoon this day. I had to do two tucks off the side of the road for thunderstorms as well. Again, in the lingering light, I decided to bivy slightly early since I knew the Kenosha Pass area would be swarming with people and I always prefer to camp away from such drivel, if possible.
Day three was another smooth roll getting going and I was finishing out section five at Kenosha Pass in short order, filling water at the campground. This is also the morning that my Garmin (eTrex 30) failed to get satellites when turning on, thus not archiving the track from the previous day. Grr... Probably because I camped in a grove of trees and didn't move to a clearing before turning it on. At Kenosha I also met Kyle Quinn and Dustin Foudray, both doing the CT ITT style. They waited for me up the trail while I filled water and we spent the day riding to Frisco. Today would also start the beginning of the real climbs, traversing section six, the longest at 32 miles. For the first ~115 miles, you're just riding to attain 'cruising altitude' on the CT. :) Luckily, we got hailed and rained on going over Georgia Pass. I tossed my jacket on quickly, pushed to the top and then bombed down the other side to the first good looking set of trees to use for shelter from the hail as I tossed on the rest of my rain gear and continued the rest of the way down. Soon the sun was out and the raingear was again off, a recurring theme throughout the ride. At the base of the second climb were directional signs for the Breck Epic, which was using the trail as part of their course. Wow, were they in for a treat, the trail was pretty gnarly, rising ~1300' in ~3 miles. After the climb, we were finally descending the switchbacks to Hwy-9 and the Gold Hill Trailhead. Under darkening storm imposed skies and cooling air, we rolled the bikepath to the first gas station en route to Frisco where Kyle and Dustin loaded up with fuel to start the push up the Tenmile Range while I bid them adieu, rolled into Frisco and got a room to regroup a bit and prepare for the first real test section of the route.
Day 4 - Frisco to Camp Hale
Today consisted of section seven, almost to the end of section eight, with two big climbs- the first cresting the Ten Mile Range and the second comprised of attaining Searle Pass and rolling high alpine singletrack over to Kokomo Pass before descending to Camp Hale. The hike-a-bike starts right from the trailhead all the way up Tenmile, which tops out at 12,500' between peaks five and six. 4-1/2 hours and 8-1/2 miles later, I finally reached the top. Ouch. But not before declining a hiker's request to alleviate him of an entire large container of baby powder which, due to his overweight pack, he was trying to jettison. I'd read the ugly about this section and it was as they say. After a two hour kick ass bombing descent (and a couple of crashes) into Copper, I rolled into the Conoco for two pizzas and a few misc vittles from the gas station. Here I also met Jeff Zipfel who was doing an ITT on his fat bike. He lamented about not feeling up to snuff the two previous days and was weighing his options of getting a room at the Copper resort for a good meal and some rest. I pushed out under sunny skies and up the gradual climb towards Searle Pass. 3-1/4 hours later, I finally attained Searle. It took another hour to go the about three miles over to Kokomo Pass, all while staying above 11,900'. Wowie. In the waning light, I finally started the descent off the mountain. Crashing twice on the way down, again in the dark - more smooth sailing sections with rock gardens and my sketchy not well attached bar lighting - I bivvy'd in a small grove of trees immediately after exiting the trail into Camp Hale.
Days 5 and 6 - Camp Hale to Buena Vista via Leadville
Days five and six were short days, mostly due to the late afternoon and early evening monsoonal rains that moved in. And maybe, subconsciously, to ensure I was steeled enough for the push to Silverton once leaving Buena Vista.
Day five had me waking up to clear skies and nice temps. Again getting rolling fairly smoothly, I filtered at the creek by the bunkers and started the singletrack climb up to Tennessee Pass, finishing out section eight. Here I initially crossed paths with Phil Wichman, but we wouldn't begin riding together until Cottonwood Pass Road, two days later. After about three miles of section nine starts the Holy Cross and Mt Massive Wilderness areas detour, a 21 mile roadie ride through Leadville. Early afternoon I arrived in town, feeling a bit beat down from the previous day of climbing and descending but also elated that I had made it this far. After procuring a room, I boogied to town to find some dehydrated meals and a double entree burrito / taco lunch with two beers. By 5pm the skies were getting dark and by six it was pouring rain. Before the rain hit, I ventured across the street to the Safeway for yet more food and again ran into Jeff Zipfel and another rider, both who were dropping out and awaiting a ride back to Denver. The CTR is certainly a war of attrition. As darkness set in, I huddled in my room and ordered a High Mountain Pie pizza for another dinner and the next day of riding into Buena Vista.
Rolling out of Leadville under brightening skies, I finished the rest of the detour and began section eleven, which skirts the base of Mt Elbert and around Twin Lakes, crossing the dam ala the Leadville Trail 100. The riding on this section was fast and fun, mainly because it's mostly flatish-downhill and has great flow. The views aren't bad either. This day I also yo-yo'd with three guys from Wisconsin who were touring the route. I couldn't keep up with their XC pace-ish on the climbs but would eventually catch them while they would take a break. At the end of the section, Clear Creek Road signals another roadie detour, this time for 28 miles, bypassing the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area and routing through the town of Buena Vista. Again, under imposing skies and on/off rain, I procured a room to finalize my assessments and fuel up before beginning the highest and most remote sections en route to Silverton. The fried chicken from City Market hit the spot for dinner. At the grocer I also bumped into Cullen Barker, who was stuffing his face and his bags while chatting about being tired but yet still pushing on up the hill and into the imposing storms. I tucked tail back to the room...
Days 7 -> 10 - Buena Vista to Silverton
Day seven consisted of finishing out the climb up Cottonwood Pass Road out of Buena Vista, connecting back up to the trail on section thirteen, cruising through Mount Princeton Hot Springs, riding section fourteen and bivvying just past Fooses Lake beyond Hwy-50, which is the beginning of section fifteen. Today was a game changer, as I would meet up with Phil again as he was coming out of the Cottonwood Hot Springs and we would meet up with Jeff Taylor at the Mt Princeton Hot Springs restaurant. Our trio would ride together for the remaining seven days into Durango. We also would bounce a bit with the guys from Wisconsin, but somewhere in the confusion of the trail, we ascertained they'd made a wrong turn and thus we'd not see them the remainder of the ride. Luckily the rain held out this day and through the night, as we ducked inside the Mt Princeton restaurant for the only small squall that moved through.
Day eight comprised of riding sections fifteen, sixteen and about half seventeen. Starting out with a 3,600' grunt up Fooses, the trail then follows the Continental Divide via Marshall Pass, Sargents Mesa and into the Cochetopa Hills. I'd heard horror stories about Sargents Mesa, however I found it quite pleasant riding. From the Cochetopa Hills all the way to the La Garita Wilderness detour on the other hand... A mind grind of pure torture. With the roughness of the trail, we bivvy'd near Baldy Lake after deciding it would be easier to ride in the daylight vs. the excessive walking in the dark.
Day nine finished out section seventeen, all of eighteen and onto the La Garita Wilderness detour, a 56 mile roadie jaunt, where we ended the day at a campground just downhill from Slumgullion Pass. This day was rather uneventful, sans some occasional moaning about the unending hike-a-bike before the road section, a little bonking, running out of water and some need-to-stretch walking on the roadie climb before hitting the campground. Adding to the fun was the 1800' road climb up and over Los Pinos pass midway through the detour and the realization at the campground that night that we were all running low on food. My hot dinner consisted of a bananas foster dessert with walnuts and pulled pork chunks.
Day ten, arguably some of the toughest sections of the route. Today we would start by finishing the La Garita detour with a short climb to Slumgullion Pass, traverse and climb to Spring Creek Pass and resume the trail at section twenty-two. Ascending to 12,000' via Jarosa Mesa, we would stay above treeline for the majority of the day. Passing the high point of the route, Coney Summit, at 13,271' and dropping down to Carson Saddle, the trail traverses the tundra passing Cataract Lake to Stoney Pass via section twenty-three before hitting the final road detour around the Weminuche Wilderness. The detour, 17 miles long, begins going mostly downhill for 10 miles into Silverton. Initially quite sketchy, I crashed on the rocky dirt road after exiting the trail. Meh. This day tested our mettle, as we were all a bit touchy at the amount of time it took us to roll into Silverton. But that all washed away once we could see the lights in the distance and were finally rolling into town, obtained bedding and procured a multi-entree meal and pint-a-thon at the Montanya bar. I only had two entrees, Jeff and Phil had three!
Days 11 -> 13 - Silverton to Durango
Day eleven, the beginning of the final push. After a late start due to a late (early morning?) finish the night before, we were rolling out of Silverton for an ~7 mile roadie climb towards Molas Pass, where we would resume the trail at section twenty-five. However it took a double breakfast-ish- french toast and coffee at the inn and a $50 tab at the BBQ joint, picking up some freeze dried meals at the outfitter and a restocking at the grocer with more eating out front, to finally get moving. And the consequence of such was that we wouldn't finish section twenty-five. A hailing rain squall had us stopped for a bit of time and as the afternoon set in, so did the come and go showers. Rain gear on, rain gear off. So it goes... After attaining the high point of the section, a 12,500' pass near Rolling Mountain, we bivvy'd under imposing skies as darkness set in. Just after heating up dinner, the rain started again and continued off and on for most of the night.
Day twelve started out wet and cool with fun times slip sliding all over the roots and rocks. Finishing out section twenty-five, we paused at Bolam Pass Road / Celebration Lake, the start of section twenty-six, to filter water and waffle about continuing up to Blackhawk Pass under questionable skies. Just prior we had run into a guide who stated that it 'looked ugly' up towards the pass, but down in the valley there was no way to ascertain the appropriateness of the possibly impending doom. So we rolled out on the assumption of every man for himself until over the pass, at which point we would reconvene once safely over the bump. Luckily, the storm never materialized. Phil reached the peak first with Jeff and I trailing closely behind. After a most delicious picnic at the top, we bombed down off the pass, finishing out the section at Hotel Draw and started section twenty-seven and the climb up to Indian Ridge. It was here that I started to unravel a bit. Not quite sure what tipped the issues, but as we stopped and searched for water along a drier section, I laid down and curled up in a ball on the side of the trail and had a mini pass-out fit for a few minutes while Jeff and Phil descended Big Bend Trail to the creek. My day was essentially mentally over and luckily we didn't go much further before calling it and setting up camp. This was also the point where I was mentally ready to throw in the deathmarch card and burn the candle it to the end. Good thing Phil snapped me out of it and back to reality, as he had pre-rode the ending sections, knew terrain and the amount of pushing that remained. After darkness set in, it pretty much rained all night long and the wind had the foliage dripping wetness well into the next morning.
Day thirteen. Almost there. Another wet awakening with cool temps, necessitating starting out in rain gear. Luckily, it was the a perfect day to be out on the trails! Mixed sun and clouds, not too hot, not too cool and the knowledge that, barring unforeseen circumstances, we'd complete the route. Finishing out section twenty-seven with the traverse of Indian Ridge, we'd begin the final section, twenty-eight, attaining Kennebec Pass and bombing down the remaining 21-ish miles to the end at the Junction Creek TH just outside Durango. Ok, so there's a little 5-ish mile climb in there too, but in head down, hike up mode, it was over in short order.
First, big congrats to Jeff and Phil for throwing down an outstanding effort in completing the route! Thanks to all the people, products and other bits and pieces that synergistic-ally make stuff like this possible, it certainly would be more difficult without your efforts. And especially Scott and Laurie for letting me essentially take over their place in Denver before and after the ride.
In many ways, I'm still overwhelmed at the immensity of this monster. It has certainly hindered my getting this blog out, as it's hard to pare down to the nitty gritty and not write the novel I experienced, waxing poetic on every bump and turn of the trail. It's possible those stories will come out in future blog posts, along with some thoughts on gear I used/tested. So many stories, so little time... And I could use a little break from the excessive binge eating and sleeping that yet lingers a month later.
12 days, 9 hours, 59 mins
568.9 miles *
110,793' ascent *
* Since my track failed to archive day two, these numbers are approximated by slicing and dicing in Toby Gadd's track for my missing day two part.
Sunday, August 03, 2014
CTR Prep - Day 5
Little roadie climb up Mt Evans to acclimate. Finally bagged my first 14'er, albeit the easy way.
Friday, August 01, 2014
CTR Prep - Day 3
Gettin' high and suckin' wind. Come-on red blood cells!
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
So there's this idea of a Big Friggin' Michigan Loop... But like most things, including this blogpost, it's always two steps back, one step forward. Since this was a July 4th weekend ride...