Colorado Trail Race – Day 5

My First Trail Magic That was Not Ant-Covered

Trail Magic - Photo Credit: Felipe Borja
Trail Magic – Photo Credit: Felipe Borja

The climb up Princeton was uneventful. I crossed paths with a family that was out hiking. The father (presumably) commented, “Impressive work”. “You have no idea”, I thought to myself. I had not ridden the segment of trail from CR 343 to CR 306 (aka Cottonwood Creek) and found that I had to push my bike for most of this 3-mile section of trail. The reward for my toil? Trail Magic!! Beautiful, amazing, Trail Magic. A cooler with Coke and Snickers out in the middle of nowhere!!! Magical!!!

As I rolled into Buena Vista, I had the sense that things were going to be ok. I was going to make it to the finish. I had a good night’s sleep, had a good meal, my bike was going to get fixed, was going to resupply food. “I’ve got this.” I had ridden all the rest of the Colorado Trail between here and Waterton (except 10 Mile) and I knew I could finish.

Resupply at Buena Vista

As I got to Buena Vista, I arrived to find that Boneshaker’s bike shop was open earlier than expected. The guy at the desk was super friendly and asked me how he could help. “There are 3 things I need.”, I said. Except, it took me a good 5 minutes or so to remember even one of those 3 things. Eventually, I did remember. The mechanic could find no fault with my brake pads or shifter. No replacement parts for the CamelBak either, but that’s ok, I was making due with my Platypus bladder. They didn’t know anything about the dynamo hub and couldn’t really help with that. I thanked them for their help anyway and headed off to the supermarket to resupply (and made sure to stock extra batteries now that I would be relying solely on my backup light).

I don’t know what happened, but now my dynamo hub wouldn’t charge my Garmin or provide light for me.

As I headed out of town, I saw Felipe at K’s. I pedaled ahead again, knowing he would catch up.

As I pedaled along 371 to Clear Creek Reservoir and the start of Segment 11, it got pretty hot. I stopped a couple times to jump into the Arkansas River. Then, as I started up Hwy 24, the shifter became increasingly harder to shift, and then, it just stopped shifting. The chain stayed in the hardest gear and wouldn’t shift out. Just that moment, as I was single-speeding it up Hwy 24 and about to turn onto CR 390 (to Clear Creek), Felipe catches up to me. We pedal to the Clear Creek Reservoir and I contemplate making the bike a singlespeed as the shifter is completely blown. I tried to imagine what it would be like using a single gear to get through segment 11 and Halfmoon Creek to Leadville (and perhaps stop at Cycles of Life bike shop for a replacement shifter).  But thats not what I wanted to do.

A Dramatic Revolution

Something happened. Something changed for me.  Prior to this point, I rallied to meet every challenge with gusto. But when I tried to rally to meet this challenge, I simply didn’t want to. Having made it this far, I knew I was capable of finishing. I no longer had anything to prove to myself. There was nothing left to motivate me to keep moving. I was satisfied. I had experienced an amazing journey and felt content to end it right there.

Felipe didn’t want me to quit. In fact, he looked pretty disappointed. But, this race wasn’t about him. It was about me. In fact, my primary motivation for doing this race was to have the opportunity to escape from other people’s demands and expectations of me.

You see, for the last 4 years, I’ve worked as a doctor at a Community Health Center (and I have been a physician now for over 7 years).  Most of my time and energy is spent in caring for the problems and concerns of other people. The majority of the people I see have advanced diseases, complex psychosocial issues, financial issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues etc. I care tremendously for my patients, and because of this, my heart is broken almost every day. I see about 100 patients in my clinic every week. There are moments of joy, but these moments seem so few and far between. This work has taken a tremendous toll on me emotionally.

This race was supposed to be my chance to escape from all these responsibilities and obligations. The thing I desired the most was isolation. I just wanted a purely self-centered experience. CTR seemed like a great opportunity for this. But, on CTR, I found that I was not released from expectations. People were watching my dot, expecting me to finish. Other racers around me were urging me on, expecting me to finish as well.

All I want is to sit here and eat Hot Tamales.  ...and sleep.
All I want is to sit here and eat Hot Tamales. …and sleep.

Sitting there by the reservoir, contemplating these things, something brilliant occurred to me. At this point, the most self-centered thing I could do was quit. I thought about my friends and teammates back home who would see this as a failure.  I worried about not meeting their expectations or letting them down.  Then I thought, “Fuck everyone else’s expectations”.  I had just had one of my most amazing and profound experiences on a mountain bike EVER. I didn’t need anything else from this race.  I’m not breaking a record and I don’t need to finish this race to prove anything to myself.

I found a shady spot under a tree with a cool breeze, made a phone call to my boyfriend to come get me, and started eating away at my fresh supply of fruit gummies and Hot Tamales (mmmm… one of my favorites).  I napped so hard that I awoke in a puddle of my own drool.

Lessons Learned

1- Make sure you, your bike and you’re body are 100% before embarking on a demanding race like this.  My lungs were not 100% and it was risky (and perhaps arrogant/ignorant) to be pushing myself so hard at altitude with my lungs in this condition.

2- If you are prone to altitude induced edema, avoid high sodium foods.  Train more at altitude to acclimate.

3- Live in the moment.  Fully.  Always.

4- Manna is only delicious for 2 days.  After 2 days, any food becomes intolerable.

5- Sometimes, real moments of solitude are needed to balance how much of ourselves we give away.

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Colorado Trail Race – Day 4

Like a Collagen Injection Gone Bad

I awoke around 4am and noticed that my lips and eyelids were very swollen. In fact, my lips were so swollen that they felt kinda numb. As I got moving, the swelling improved some, but my lips stayed kinda numb and the skin was overstretched feeling. Considering that my breathing seemed normal (no sign of HAPE), and I was peeing normally (no sign of kidney failure) I wasn’t too concerned about this. Edema of altitude is pretty common. I probably made it worse by eating a ton of jerky sticks (with sodium) the night before.

“Get in My Belly”

At this point, I’m running low on food. About 2,000 calories to get me to Princeton Hot Springs. I had concocted this amazing food, which I named, “Marie’s Energy Balls”, a perfect balance of good fats, protein and electrolytes. Very calorie dense, about 400 calories each bite. However, at this point, I started calling it “manna”. Although it was perfect nutrition, I could no longer stomach the stuff. Every bite was a negotiation with my digestive system. This was really frustrating because, although I couldn’t get the manna down my throat, I was SO HUNGRY!!! Every little chipmunk or squirrel I saw, I would audibly yell, “Get in my belly”. I started eyeballing a cow at Tank Seven (he wouldn’t notice if I started nibbling on his hind flank, would he?). I found a chunk of Slim Jim on the ground, covered in ants. I ate it. Ants and all (ants are extra protein). It was the only trail magic I would experience until Buena Vista.

Sargents is Major Payne

This was my low point. I was hungry. Nauseated. Stupid squirrels ran away from me when I tried to eat them (and it was too much work to chase after them). And now I had to, literally, drag my bike up the boulder field that is Sargents.

I would look uptrail, visually identify what looked like a potential resting place ~10-20 meters ahead. Wait. Count down from 3, 2, 1… then give a quick anaerobic burst to carry my bike up to that spot. Then, repeat this process at least 20 times. Felipe was behind me. I think I probably knocked rocks loose on top of him. If I did, he didn’t complain. I think he found my antics mildly amusing.

“3, 2, 1… GO!!!!!” -Photo Credit: Felipe Borja
Somewhere between Sargents and Marshalls. – Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas
Climbing, climbing, climbing. – Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas

My Fooses Cooked

After Sargent’s, we made our way to Marshall Pass. It was disappointing to see that, what should’ve been an enjoyable descent, was now a rutted out mess due to ATV usage. We had to walk our bikes off-trail through the trees.

The ride from Marshall Pass to Fooses was spectacular. If you’ve never ridden from Marshall Pass to Hwy 50, put it on your bucket list right now. I finished off the remainder of my manna as we neared the summit of Fooses. 200 calories of GU’s left to get me to BV.

Fooses is an amazing descent, as you go from 11,900 feet elevation to 8,800 feet elevation in 9 miles. My reputation as an amazing descender is well-known throughout the cycling community. I’ll let this photo speak for itself:

Fooses should be called
Fooses should be called “Looses” because of all the steep rock on top. Thats me, on the ground with my bike on top of me. Its much steeper than it looks. – Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas
This is Felipe!  We are about to have a super fun descent right before getting to the top of Fooses!!! What fun and amazing views!!!
Just before an amazing, flowing descent. Amazing views!
Taking in the views and enjoying the amazing weather.

I Wept Over a Hamburger

Felipe stayed at Hwy 50 to make a phone call to his girlfriend. I went ahead without him. He was about to throw away his excess tortillas and cheese (he had 2 bags of tortillas and almost a whole 16 ounces of cheese slices in his saddle bag!!! I can’t even have a saddlebag on my bike because its too small!!!) and he begged me to take some food before he discarded it. I’m not sure how the “Do It Yourself” rules apply in this situation, but I did eat 1 tortilla with 2 cheese slices. “He was going to throw it away anyway”, I rationalized.

As I made my way across Hwy 50 and up the switchbacks, I ate my last bit of food. 0 calories left. I would need to resupply at the Princeton Convenience store that closed at 8pm. I had 2 hours to ride 20 miles. No problem. Except that I had forgotten about the hike-a-bike to Angel of Shavano. Problem. I was so hungry. I cried at the thought of having to go to bed without eating a meal.

As darkness fell, I noticed that my dynamo powered light stopped working. I rechecked my connectors and cables. Everything appeared solid. It must be a loose connection somewhere because the light would flash on briefly when I hit a big bump. No time to figure it out now. Maybe the Boneshakers Bike shop in Buena Vista can help me figure it out tomorrow. I now had a list of 3 things I needed their help with 1) check the shifter, 2) check my dynamo hub light, 3) check my brake pads, 4) replace CamelBak Hydrolock. Ok. I guess that’s 4 things. Whatever.

When I arrived in Princeton Hot Springs, 5-6 hours later (maybe around 9 or 10pm), I cruised around the resort hoping to find discarded food. As I headed over to the convenience store dumpster, I noticed a restaurant in the hotel. Timidly, I asked the bartender if they were still serving food. When he explained that they would serve a full menu until 10pm and only burger and fries after 10pm, I could hardly keep my composure. When he fed me soup and a burger, I literally wept tears of joy. When I could not fit the entire burger in my belly… I wept yet again. The bartender and waitresses must have thought I was a lunatic. One of the waitresses gave me a bag with bread, apples, oranges and a homemade granola bar. She also offered to put my bike in her truck and let me stay in her home where I could have a proper shower and rest. Of course, I declined (although it was tempting).

I found a place to camp just above the springs. The air was cool and calm and lightening in the distance. No rain. Just a peaceful calm breeze. My belly was uncomfortably full. I slept like a baby from around 11pm until 6am.

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Colorado Trail Race – Day 3

Felipe the Angelfish

Sunrise on Jarosa Mesa – Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas

We awoke around 2am and packed up camp and started up to Coney in the dark. We watched the sunrise from Jarosa Mesa. That’s when the guy from Ecuador told me his name was Felipe. That was easy to remember because I had an angelfish in high school that I had named Felipe.

Felipe and I found Jarosa Mesa to have a strange rhythm. It’s hard to tell if it is better to ride or push your bike. The trail is relatively flat, but there are so many large rocks that disrupt your momentum and require a bit of technical skill to ride over. At one point, I fell pretty hard and cracked my carbon chainstay (and bruised my left quad). That’s when I decided that it probably wasn’t worth trying to ride after all.

Pit Toilet as Cuddle Buddy

We descended down to Spring Creek Pass in frigid temps (around 35oF) and stopped to use the restroom and to collect water from the creek. We met a few other CTR racers who had camped there and complained that it was super cold all night. They said that some people even slept in the bathrooms overnight (ewww…gross). After hearing about their miserable night, I felt glad that we had camped at a higher elevation after all. Must’ve been a temperature inversion. Lucky!!!

La Garita Ups and Downs

La Garita – made me want a margarita.. real bad. – Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas

Not much to say about this detour. You get to fly down a paved road (weeeee!), then slogging uphill again (ugh), then after Slumgullion you get to descend almost 3000 feet elevation over 16 miles (weeeee!), then up Pino Pass (ugh), then down again (weeeee!), then you ride along Cochetopa Creek until you reach Segment 18. Eventually you get to descend to Lujan Creek/Hwy 114. While Felipe was descending ahead, I stopped to wash myself up in the creek (weeeee!).

We climbed for a while after Lujan. I kept hoping we might run into Apple out there, but no luck. I was feeling pretty energetic, but Filipe felt he needed rest really bad. So we stopped at Razor Creek, elevation ~11,000 feet at around 8pm and slept until 4am.

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Colorado Trail Race – Day 2

Sleepless in Silverton

After a solid 22 hours of bikepacking, you would think that sleep would come quite easy. However, I lay there for 5 hours wide-awake. I practiced my Yoga Nidra routine and meditated (that’s supposed to be as restorative as sleep). At 6am, I packed up my things and went to the coffee shop for hot breakfast burritos and coffee then resupplied at the grocery store.

Off to Stoney Pass

It’s a dirt road. I should be able to just ride right up it,… right? Wrong. It’s 5 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Oh yeah. And my shifter blew up about 2 miles into the climb. After working on the shifter for about 30 minutes, I was able to get it to stay in the granny gear. I just had to remember not to shift at all. Turns out that I would spend most of the day pushing my bike anyway, so I didn’t really need gears much at all. Later, I was able to get the bike to shift between the 3 easiest gears and this would hopefully work well enough to get me to Buena Vista.

Ewe Are Not Alone

Once I pushed my bike up to the Cataract Ridge, I saw a huge herd of sheep. There were hundreds of them on the mountainside and obstructing the downhill part the trail!! After pushing my bike for over 5 hours, I felt I had earned a good downhill and was worried that the sheep would spoil the fun for me. But, I hopped on the bike, rolled down the hill at top speed and the sheep went running off the trail like Moses parting the Red Sea!!!! It was like sheep bowling!!

Finally made it over Stoney Pass. Spent the day above 13,000, but what amazing views.
So many flowers!!
I see ewe!! And ewe, and ewe, and ewe, and ewe…
Get off the trail! You’re gonna kill my downhill fun!!
No markers out here. Just cairns. And sheep.

Later on, I started yo-yo-ing the trail with some guy who came all the way from Ecuador to ride this crazy race. We were both struggling with the hike-a-bike and high elevation (we spent most of this day above 13,000 feet elevation). We ended up spending the next 4 days together on the trail. I wouldn’t learn his name until later the next day.

Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas
Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas
Photo Credit: Felipe Borjas.  Somewhere on Cataract Ridge.

I struggled with fatigue and was anxious that I needed to sleep before reaching Coney, the highest point on the Colorado Trail. This meant sleeping at 12,300 feet, which would not be good for my lungs. But I didn’t think I could push any further without sleep. The guy from Ecuador tried to push me a bit further. Had I been familiar with the terrain, it probably would’ve been wiser to push a bit further as the climb to Coney was pretty easy, only 1 mile away, and followed by a pretty fun descent.

Ultimately, I just felt too tired to move anymore. I had to set up camp. The guy from Ecuador camped with me because we were benefitting from each other’s company. While setting up camp, my CamelBak hose got caught in my wheel and the Hydrolock from the mouthpiece (the part that keeps the water from just pouring out of the hose) got pulled off and lost in the weeds. Water leaked everywhere with only ½ liter remaining. Thank goodness I had thought to bring a spare bladder with me.

Once we settled into our bivies, I was able to fall asleep quite easily. The weather was warm and the wind was calm. I slept soundly until 2am and it felt GOOD!

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Colorado Trail Race – Day 1

The Start: Velorution Cycles

Photo Credit: Heath Garvey

What an exciting turnout. About 70 other riders met up in the streets of downtown Durango at 4am to start this ride. Stefan gave some very simple rules. I was too nervous to remember verbatim what was said, but I recall something about “do it yourself” and being respectful of the trail and other trail users. We were off! Easy paced prologue to the Junction Creek Trailhead. Almost immediately, my Dynamo powered light went out.   It was too dark to try and sort out what was wrong, so I used my little headlamp for the rest of the morning. A little unnerving to have a technical issue so early, but I would have to worry about it later.

The sun rose and I was able to examine the bike to find that the hub had not been tightened well enough and had rotated, causing the cable to come unplugged from the hub. Easy fix! My mind at ease, I charged ahead. We made our way up Indian Trail Ridge. It was a good thing that I had included a lot of hike-a-bike in my training. Getting over this ridge was hard work, but I was so overtaken with excitement that I hardly felt tired at all.

Taylor Lake
Big Scree Field. I had to hike-a-bike across this.

The High Point of my Trip

By the time I reached Blackhawk Pass, I was so enthusiastic that I noticed my hands were trembling. It was all so amazingly beautiful. I felt overtaken with a sense of adventure and discovery. I think that the other riders around me thought I was delirious (and maybe I was). Regardless, it was an amazing high!

I Found My HAPE Place (Sorry… medical pun. I’m a doctor. Couldn’t resist.)

Things became a bit more challenging as I approached Bolam Pass. I started coughing so hard I felt I was going to vomit or pass out. My breathing changed to fast, shallow respirations. It felt like I couldn’t get enough air. My chest felt tight and wheezy. Strangely, I didn’t feel pain or fear. I felt fatigue. Every single step required tremendous effort. It became dark, and the sky was clear, the moon illuminated the trail well enough that I didn’t need a light for the slog up to Bolam. The peace and calm of the night settled into my mind. I slumped over onto the ground for a moment, thinking that perhaps some rest would calm my breathing. As I lay there, I imagined that I must’ve looked like a fish out of water, gasping for air. I laid there for 10-15 minutes with no improvement in my breathing. My brain was so foggy I didn’t fully understand the seriousness of the situation at all. I merely thought, “It’s probably a bad idea to sleep up here. I probably shouldn’t stop to rest until I descend to a lower elevation in Silverton.”

It wasn’t until 6 days later that I would recognize I was exhibiting symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Perhaps I should’ve given my lungs more time to recover from a recent respiratory infection and asthma exacerbation (I had only finished antibiotics/steroids the week of CTR).

Kaitlyn and a couple of other riders became concerned and stayed by my side as long as they could. Eventually, each one had to stop and I found myself alone. I’m not sure how I made it to Molas Pass, as I felt like I was stumbling aimlessly. I probably should have used the acetazolamide and methylprednisone (altitude sickness medications) in my first aid kit, but I had reasoned with myself that I wouldn’t use these meds unless I was planning to pull out of the race (I mean, c’mon. If you’re sick enough to need these medications, should you really be continuing an ultra endurance race at high altitude???).

After wandering lost around Molas Campground for an unknown amount of time (about 15-20 minutes according to my Strava data), I finally made my way to the Hwy 550 to descend to Leadville. Despite the fact that it was now 1:00am, and 38o F, I decided to descend Molas Pass without putting on any additional layers of clothing. Somehow I believed I wouldn’t get cold after a 4-minute descent, and that there would likely be a warm hotel and shower awaiting me at the bottom. Boy was I delusional. Arriving in Silverton, I was shivering and unable to warm up. I went to every hotel/hostel in town, but everything was closed for the night. I found my way to the park and set up my tarp and bivy down near a tennis court. Luckily I had hand warmers that I could place over my carotids which really helped me to stay warm.

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