5 epic days racing the Colorado Trail
Special to the Post Independent
Like all the really long races I’ve tried, (the 2700-mile Tour Divide, the Arizona Trail Race and a handful of 100-mile races), the Colorado Trail Race made me feel about as good as a stick of butter that was dropped in the dirt on a hot day, then run over by a coal truck. But I’d do it again.
It was a busy weekend in Carbondale, so I worked a half a day before the race, then my friend Matt and I headed for Durango. During the car ride, he felt some dysentery coming on, likely from some bad water contaminated by cows, and made an emergency roadside stop. He dug a hole on a hillside, relieved himself, then accidently kicked a large flat rock, which tumbled into freshly filled hole and covered him in particulate.
He came running down the hillside, shedding his clothes, and ripped some fresh shorts out of the car.
A lady that was stopped to take pictures of the pass perked up.
“Now boys, keep your clothes on. You just made an old lady’s day.”
Matt got in the car.
“That’s really great,” he said. I held my breath until we made it to Paonia to buy stuff to sanitise the car (baby wipes, lighter fluid, an acetylene torch).
“You’ll be feeling great tomorrow,” I assured him.
Sadly, I was wrong. He couldn’t leave the couch the next morning. Although I felt a lot better than my unfortunate friend, the morning of the still wasn’t great for me.
By the time I had everything squared away the night before, it was 11:30. My friend’s dog slept with me, which was really cute except for the four times he saw something on the street, jumped on me and ran downstairs barking. By the time 3 a.m. rolled around, I’d gotten a solid hour and a half of sleep. Then I rode town to make the 4 a.m start.
I put batteries into my GPS tracker to activate it. Nothing. They must have been duds. I decided to ride without a tracker to Silverton and try to find lithium-ion batteries there. That gas station didn’t have any. I forgot to look in Buena Vista, and Leadville was all alkaline as well. I couldn’t stand to hunt around in Copper. The place was so packed with tourists that after days on the trail it made me want to skewer myself on one of the hooks holding up the Chex Mix.
Somehow I lost track of the days. By the third day, I thought the race clock was on day four. Since I figured I was going way slower than I’d planned, I told myself I’d just do a fast tour and finish in seven days. I slept a long time on the Monarch Crest and imagined that people must have passed me in the night.
I put in a hard effort the next day and made it to Camp Hale early the next morning. I woke up two hours later, rode another full day over Kokomo, Searl and Ten Mile Passes, then boogied over Georgia Pass in the moonlight.
I stopped at the top. Wind blew softly across the tundra, clouds swirled around the moon and the mountains. I lay down, closed my eyes and breathed. A few minutes later I was back up and dropping down the trail fast. I rode through the trees, weaving in and out with my headlight throwing long shadows.
I planned to sleep for an hour and knock out the rest of the trail, but I set my alarm clock to one in the afternoon instead of the morning.
I was up and moving late, at 4 a.m. But maybe I could still finish in under six and a half days. Sun beat down on the Tarryall Detour. It rained, and there was soft, wet sand on the second-to-last segment. Six and a half days came and went. Still 20 miles left. I saw a rider coming the other way, said hello and tried to ask what the trail was like up ahead.
He pointed to his ear buds. “I can’t hear you,” he yelled. Whatever. I’ll just keep going until it stops.
I rode down to the river and purified water. Two and a half hours until sunset. No way I was finishing in the dark. I attacked the last big climb like I was in a cross-country race, descended, then hit the last little climb before the finish. I thought I saw somebody back on a switchback. No, it couldn’t have been. I hadn’t seen anybody all week.
I sprinted down the last bit of trail, lost it in a loose corner and slid on the dirt, stupid, everything ok popped back up and put it in big gear on the road down to the bottom of Waterton Canyon.
A few people hung around, waiting for other finishers.
“Nice work,” somebody said.
“Yeah, glad I got it done in under seven days,” I said.
“We’re on day five.”
“Huh?” I was confused.
“The race clock is five days, 16 hours.”
“Oh, no way,” I said. “That’s rad.” A day faster than I thought.
A rider rolled in and locked up his back tire.
“Who was that on that last descent?” he yelled. I raised my hand. “Montana, you lucky jerk. That was the only flat I had the entire race. I almost had you.” Then two other guys finished. We must have been right around each other the entire time, they were all together, and I had no idea they were there.
I really dug the Colorado Trail. It was everything I love about mountain biking: big scenery, screaming descents and hard, technical riding. It was really neat. I did a few things wrong along the way. But that leaves room to do even better next time.
Montana Miller is a bike mechanic at Aloha Mountain Cyclery in Carbondale. He blogs at http://www.theskrumble.wordspress.com.
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