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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