Tag Archives: Marie Walsh

White Rim Loop: Unsupported Tikepacking Trip

The Plan: Park camper on Mineral Bottom Road the night before.  Sleep.  Wake up at 4AM.  Get dressed, eat, leave camper by 5AM.  Baby should sleep until her usual time (7 or 8AM) and give us a good 2-3 hours start before having to make frequent stops for baby.  When baby wakes from nap, stop to let her out to play and to switch trailer from Tyson’s bike to my bike.  Stop every 20 miles or so to let baby play and to switch trailer.  Ride to campsite at base of Hardscrabble climb (~80 miles).  Set up camp.  Awake in morning and  finish the last 20 miles (with 2 big climbs) for our second day of riding.  Sounds, simple.  Right?

But, things rarely go according to The Plan.  

White Rim
The view of White Rim from atop the Island In The Sky

The Planning

I went into this thinking it would be just Adalynn and I doing the ride.  I put an invite onto Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join me, but I’m sure everyone thought I was crazy.  100 miles of White Rim Trail  with a baby would seem crazy to most people.  In fact, within hours of reserving the backcountry permits online, I received a call from the National Park ranger.  The ranger sounded genuinely concerned about the itinerary I had just submitted and wanted to confirm that I was 1) bringing a baby, 2) on a bike, 3) without vehicle support, and 4) onto the White Rim Trail in the middle of the desert.  He inquired about my knowledge regarding the ruggedness of the trail, the fitness that would be required and how there was no potable water available along the trail.  He was anxious about my plan to ride 80 miles to reach the campsite in one day (many people do this in 3-5 days with a tour company after all).  I felt guilt for having caused him so much worry, but did my best to reassure him.  I shared my previous experiences, my familiarity with the trail, my prior adventure racing experiences and Tikepacking adventures.  I also let him know that I had a SPOT device available to call for help in case of an emergency.  Despite my best efforts to reassure him, he was inconsolable.

His concern seemed a bit silly to me at the time, but it was not totally unwarranted.  The trail itself is an enormous undertaking.  Like any wild place, the desert can be very unforgiving.  Everything in the desert is hot, dry, sharp and inhospitable.  Initially, even Tyson was hesitant to join Adalynn and I, preferring to ride bikes with his friends planning to be in elsewhere in Moab during the same time.

However, months later, Tyson did finally decide to join us.  Mostly, I’m sure, he did this out of concern that I might just take his daughter off into the desert, forget to give her water and fall off a cliff onto a cactus or something.  Then, with less than a week before the ride, my best friend Teresa (that is, aunt T-Rexa) decided to join us as well (woo-hoo!).  And there you have it.  Our own little family tikepacking trip came together perfectly.

The Journey to White Rim

We decided to take our T@B teardrop camper to Moab with us.  We left Fort Collins as soon as I got out of work on a Thursday evening.  We drove until we got too tired to continue and pulled off at a truck rest area just west of Eagle.  We slept very cozy with the 4 of us in one king-size bed in the camper.

On the Road
View from the back window of our truck.

After a restful night, we journeyed on and made it to Moab by the afternoon.  We parked our rig at the Navajo Rocks trailhead.  Tyson and I took turns riding and then watching Addy.  The area near the parking lot had lots of rocks to climb which kept Addy very entertained and happy.


After our quick rides, we made a stop at the grocery store in town, then headed out to the dispersed camping on the BLM land on Willow Springs Road just north of Moab.

Willow Spring Road
Camping on BLM land north of Moab. Amazing sunset.

We awoke the next morning, detached the camper and took an adventurous drive up near Gemini bridges.  Tyson dropped T-Rexa and I off near the Gold Bar trailhead and we rode our bikes on Gold Bar to Portal Trail (which was a bucket-list item for me).  After our ride, Tyson picked us up at the bottom of Portal and we shuttled him up to Gemini Bridges where he did a similar ride.  Thats when Adalynn, Aunt T-Rexa and I explored Gemini bridges and then played at the Swanny City Park in town.


We turned in early that night and set up the camper just off of Mineral Bottom road.  We set up on BLM land, but tried to stay as close to 313 as we could.  We found a good spot just off the road.  We spent a good deal of time outfitting our bikes with bike bags and loading our gear.  We also spent time disagreeing about how much water to bring.  Tyson wanted to bring way more water than I thought we needed and I was worried about carrying too much excess weight.  I reasoned that we could always fill up from the Green River (70-80 miles into the ride) if we needed to.  Anxiety got the best of me and I conceded to bring the extra water.  We brought a total of 23 liters total for the two of us and the baby, which weighs about 50 pounds (if my math is correct).

The Gear

  • The trailer:  Adalynn, 2 bags of baby toys, trailer bag (food, diapers, sunscreen, repair tools, wet wipes, etc), tent poles (attached to the frame with velcro), Revelate Sweet Roll (attached to back of trailer and containing a Z-Packs sleeping bag) and a 6L Dromedary bag (fits under the seat).  We are estimating the total weight to be about 70 pounds.
  • Tyson’s setup: Ortlieb saddle bag with 2 sleeping pads (a Klymit Static V and a Therm-a-rest NeoAir 3/4 length), a thermal blanket and a SOL Escape Bivy.  On the handlebars, a Topo handlebar bag with our food and eating supplies.  2 Revelate Feedbags with food (Honey Stingers, Jelly Beans etc.).  He carried 2 water bottles on the frame and wore a Camelbak with his rain jacket and 7L of water (a 4L Dromedary bag and a 3L Camelbak bladder).  About 28 pounds (not including the bike frame).
  • My setup: handlebar Sweet Roll bag with our 2-person Ultralight tent, 2 Feedbags (Jelly Beans, LaraBars and Aquamira to treat water), Revelate Gas Tank  (toiletries, inhaler and cell phone), Revelate Frame Bag (2L water, repair tools, tubes etc.) and a Camelbak with 5L water (3L Camelbak bladder and 2L Platypus) and camping clothing.  About 22 pounds (not including the bike frame).
  • T-Rexa’s setup: whatever she usually rides with when she’s out adventuring for overnights.


The White Rim Ride

We woke a little later than intended because I goofed and set my alarm for 4PM instead of 4AM.  Luckily, the baby woke me around 4:30AM.  I cooked up a quick breakfast and we were out the door by 5:30AM.  Tyson was the first to take a turn pulling the trailer.  I kept my eye on Adalynn in her trailer, hoping she would fall back to sleep as I had anticipated.  However, she was too excited about what was going on and there was no way she was falling back to sleep.

Quick gear and baby check before starting Shafer Trail, just in time for the sunrise.

Regardless, she remained in good spirits and we were able to get to Shafer Trail in time to see the sunrise over the canyon we were descending into.  Shafer trail was the the part of the trail that I was most worried about because of its steep downhill grade.  I was glad Tyson agreed to ride this part with her.  He has better bike handling skills and probably takes much less risk than I do ;o).  Shafer Trail is a 5.5 mile, loose gravel, jeep road, with about 1500 ft elevation loss.  We had to stop several times to let the brakes cool down, but these were welcome opportunities to take in the scenic views and snap a few photos.

Shafer Trail
The view from the top of Shafer Trail. Look to the right and you will see the trail zig-zagging down the cliff. Look really close and you might see us with the trailer (we are small dots).
Shafer Trail
Tyson and Adalynn near one of the many exposed ledges along Shafer Trail. Still near the top of the Shafer Trail.
Shafer Trail
T-Rexa and Tyson still near the top of Shafer.
Shafer Trail
The Shafter Trail Road follows the ledge of this canyon (1/3 of the way down from the top of the photo). If you look closely, you can see Tyson and Adalynn’s trailer about to round the corner. You can see the Shafer Trail Road continuing on down in the lower left portion of the photo.
Shafer Trail
Stopping to let the brakes cool. Next to the giant cliff wall, Tyson and the trailer appear very small in the bottom left corner. The trail continues downward in the bottom right portion of the photo.
Shafer Trail
Continuing downward to finish descending Shafer Trail.
Shafer Trail
Finally, completed the descent down Shafer and about to continue on to the White Rim Trail.

After making our way down Shafer and then starting onto the White Rim Trail, our next stop was at the Airport Campsite (about 30 miles into the loop).  Addy still had not slept a wink, but remained cheerful and energetic.  She ran around finding rocks and sticks to bang on the metal walls of the pit toilet.  She liked the loud boom sound it made and spent nearly 30 minutes doing just this.  Then she tried to sit on a cactus (hey, she’s only 20 months old and that just what toddlers do).  While we played and ate, Tyson attached the trailer to my bike and let me pull for the next 40 miles.

Airport Campground
Our stop at Airport Campground.
This baby loves finding rocks, and sticks.
You gotta keep a close eye on her because this baby likes to try and play with cacti. And she is SO FAST!!
Her onsie reads, “HOUSTON. We have a PROBLEM!”. From Betsy who worked at NASA.
Hydration is important.
Adalynn is rehydrating. It is the desert after all.
Selfie fail.
There is an amazing view behind us, but you can’t tell because my phone is pointed toward the ground. Oh well. This is our team!!
Dust settles.
Dust settles as a truck passes us. We did not see many trucks or ATVs out there at all.
Another break
Adalynn is eating blackberries while we are working on switching the trailer.
My Turn
My turn to get to pull the trailer for a little bit.
Views of the Rim along the entire part of this trail.
T-Rexa in her natural environment.

The next portion of this ride travels alongside an exposed cliff edge, is very scenic and relatively flat with the occasional punchy climb.  We were making great time despite making occasional stops for photos and playtime.  We stopped to attach the trailer to Tyson’s bike just before the Murphy’s Hogback climb.  T-Rexa and I charged ahead of Tyson just before the climb and left our bikes trailside at different points along the climb.  We then ran back downhill in time to help provide a little “assistance push” to the trailer while Tyson remained on the bike pedaling and pulling the trailer.  We tried to time it so we were sorta leapfrogging with assistance, but the terrain was too steep and loose and at some point Tyson was off the bike and walking his bike with the trailer attached.  T-Rexa helped Tyson with pushing the trailer up the hill.  Meantime, I collected our bikes from the trailside and, with one bike in each hand, pushed them up the rest of the climb.


As we made our way over the Candlestick climb, I was beginning to look forward to settling into camp.  I figured that we should be reaching our campsite soon because our campsite should be just downhill from Candlestick and just before starting the Hardscrabble climb.  However, as we approached the campsite just before the Hardscrabble climb, it became clear that this was the Potato Bottom Campground, not the Hardscrabble Campground.  I was sorely mistaken and this meant that we would have to climb Hardscrabble and then descend again before reaching our campsite.


Despite this setback, our little team eagerly sprung into action yet again to tackle the Hardscrabble climb.  Tyson was still pulling the trailer and T-Rexa and I motored ahead to provide push-assistance.  Hardscrabble proved to be the most challenging climb due to the soft, powder-like dirt and loose pebbles and steep grades.  All things considered, I cannot believe how far up the hill Tyson was able to make it while still remaining on the bike.  What a machine!!!

The descent to the bottom of Hardscrabble was scary.  It was a fairly steep grade with deep, soft, powder-like sand that made it hard to keep control of the bike.  Tyson handled it well and managed to get the trailer to the Hardscrabble bottom without any issues.

Once we finally reached the Hardscrabble campground, we took stock of our situation.  We only had about 20 miles left.  We were all feeling pretty darn good and Adalynn was still in a great mood and seemed to be having fun.  We had already tackled 3 of the 4 tough climbs.  The final climb was the climb out of the White Rim via Mineral Bottom (a steep 2 mile climb with 1,000 ft elevation gain, followed by a slow gradual 11 mile climb with another 1,000 ft elevation gain).  We decided to go for it.  We dumped our unnecessary 6 liters of water and motored on.

We pedaled another 5 miles alongside the Green River until we finally left National Park land and were officially on BLM land.  We made a stop to let Adalynn out to play.  The sun was starting to set and the temperature was starting to cool.  As we attempted to get Adalynn back into her trailer, she started squealing and squirming in protest.  With 15 miles to go, and limited daylight, we wanted to press on.  It was time to pull out my “ace-in-the-hole”.  I gave Adalynn my cell phone and let her play baby games.  This kept her attention and we were able to continue on without further resistance.

Negotiating with Adalynn
Only 15 miles to go and she does not want to go back into the trailer.  Cell phone to the rescue.

Within a couple of miles, we had reached the start of the Mineral Bottom climb.  We stopped once during the climb to lube dry chains to to let Adalynn play.  She walked uphill a bit, then turned around and went downhill.  She seemed very delighted by the speed she would gain by running downhill and refused to go back uphill on her own.  I repeatedly carried her back uphill so she could run downhill again, which provided much amusement (for me and for Adalynn).  She had so much fun with this that she did not want to return to the trailer.  Cell phone to the rescue again.

With cell phone in hand, Adalynn was again content to let us pedal on.  We continued up the Mineral Bottom climb.  I was able to remain on my bike alongside the trailer and give little tiny pushes once in awhile.  Honestly, I struggled to keep up with Tyson’s pace and wasn’t able to give as many little pushes as I would have wanted.  The 2 mile climb felt like an eternity, but the view was spectacular.  As we crept higher and higher above the White Rim, we had a spectacular view of of the Green River below.  Rays from the setting sun glimmered along its surface of the river as it wound its way through the red-orange canyon walls.  There was a ravine that cut its way down the cliff we were currently ascending.  Within the ravine, there were a couple of crumpled old cars which were so rusty that they blended in with the color scheme of the surrounding landscape.  Supposedly, this is where Thelma and Louise jumped their car off a cliff and I wondered if one of these cars could have belonged to them.

Little Love Nudges
I gave little pushes from my bike as often as I could. I didn’t get to help as much as I wanted to because Tyson was too fast and rode too far ahead of me.

My head stayed lost in this daydream about the rusty cars until we reached the false-flat summit of Mineral Bottom.  The final 11 miles proved to be the most emotionally challenging, especially for Tyson.  This last stretch seemed to take much longer than it should have.  With every mile, Adalynn became more challenging to keep entertained.  We had to stop more often to let her play and to give our legs a break.  During one of these stops, the snap on our trailer cover broke off leaving the cover halfway open.  At this point, Adalynn kept dangling her arms and legs outside the trailer.  She lost interest in the cellphone with less than 5 miles left.  We struggled to keep her entertained.  We sang children’s songs LOUDLY and with as much SILLINESS as we could muster.

What a relief when we finally reached our camper.  I made a quick rice and bean dinner.    Everyone took a quick Wet-Wipe bath while Adalynn played in the camper.  She played for a good hour or so before she passed out from exhaustion (she hadn’t gotten a full night of sleep and had napped less than an hour all day).  She slept so soundly that it was one of the most restful nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.

We awoke the next morning and headed into town for breakfast and a shower at the Moab Rec Center before heading home.  We made a couple stops at playgrounds in Moab, Fruita, and then Silverthorne along the way home just to break up the long drive for everyone.

Stopping for playground breaks in Moab, Fruita and then Silverthorne help break up the long drive home.


Why Was It So Darn Important To Me?

When Tyson and I first rode White Rim in 2015, we met a guy out there on a mountain bike pulling a toddler in a BOB bike trailer.  Seeing that guy really got me thinking about my preconcieved ideas of what being a parent had to be like.  It occurred to me that being a parent can take shape in whatever way you want it to.

As a parent, bikepacking with a baby often feels like a risky undertaking.  Even as I was planning this adventure, my anxiety kept trying to take over my logic.  The anxiety, at times, almost kept me from even trying.  There were moments of serious doubt.  Doubt that I was strong enough to pull this off.  Doubt that I should even try.  Worry.  Worry that I would forget something important.  Worry that I didn’t plan well enough.  Worry that I might mess up and cause injury to myself or, even worse, Adalynn.  What if Adalynn got sunburn, or bug bites, or dehydrated or what if we lost control of the trailer and we crashed!!  I had moments of feeling guilt.  Guilt that maybe I was being selfish.  Guilt that Adalynn might get hurt or be bored.

The anxiety can be paralyzing.  Overcoming this anxiety was, perhaps, the most challenging part of this entire journey.  My anxious thoughts, at times, would keep me up at night.  I think its a “mom-hormone” thing because it is entirely irrational.  Risk is inherent with everything we do.   Some tasks we perform so routinely that we don’t even consider the risk associated with it (e.g.  traveling by car, making poor food choices, overeating, watching TV,  habitually using our smartphones and electronic devices, Facebooking, watching the news).  Conversely, there are some tasks we perform so infrequently that we may overestimate the risk associated with it.

In this family, cycling is just another part of our life.  It has become routine enough that I feel very comfortable with the risk associated with it.  Yet, not routine enough that I feel complacent about it.  Adalynn and I practice riding together for long distances and I feel very comfortable knowing her limitations and my limitations as well.  My riding style has adapted to accommodate her needs.  My riding is no longer about the destination, or meeting some lofty goal.  Its about finding a way to have a meaningful experience with my daughter within a context I can relate to.  It means I have to really pay attention to her and figure out what her needs are.  Even if all we do is to sit and play with rocks and sticks all day, as long as Adalynn is happy and learning, then the goal has been fulfilled.

Reflecting back on the White Rim ride, I felt so blessed to have open-minded and adventurous people in my life to partner with me.   Tyson and T-Rexa were solidly committed to the idea of Tikepacking White Rim with me and having Adalynn be a part of our experience.  There was not a single moment of wavering dedication or support from anyone.   Teresa never showed even a twinge of fatigue.  With every steep hill, she leapt into action like a Tikepacking Superhero.  Tyson was like a machine charging up hills with the most impressive strength and power.  Even though there were brief moments when I could tell he wanted to stop from utter exhaustion, he continued on.  Seeing this, my heart swelled with love knowing the intensity of the physical effort that each of them put into this journey, even if it was only because of how much they knew it meant to me.  Even more, the experience helped me rationalize a lot the anxiety and doubt I have been struggling with.  The experience helped me gain confidence in myself as a parent, and a more realistic understanding of what to expect when adventuring with a Tike.

So… What’s Next?

Well,… glad you asked.

This weekend, we are flying to Bend, OR to help T-Rexa settle into her new home, to visit Mattie and Scott (and Leanor and Amelia) and to (surprise) ride bikes!!

I have 5 days off in mid July and am considering a multi-day Tikepacking trip (details to be determined).  If you would like to join (for part or all of the adventure), Adalynn and I would love to have the company.  Leave a comment below and we’ll put together a plan.  All are welcome, although the experience would be ideal for seasoned tikepacking families or beginner bike packers.

July 28 and 29 is Overland’s Member Ride at Curt Gowdy.  Bring a tent or camper and join us at Curt Gowdy for the weekend.  We may drive up after work (late evening) on July 27.  Let me know if you want us to hold a spot for you (if you are an Overland Member, your campsite is paid for).

August 18 and 19 is Overland’s Member Ride in Crested Butte.  We are bringing our camper and staying from August 18-21.  Let us know if you wanna join.

September 21, 22 and 23 Overland’s Member Ride in Steamboat.  I am considering (maybe) bikepacking from FoCo solo (no tikes involved) and then meeting dad and Adalynn in Steamboat.  I would start after work on September 20th, route TBD, with a plan to be in Steamboat September 22.

October 12, 13 and 14 Overland’s Member Ride in Moab.

Wanna join for any of the above adventures.  Leave a message in the comments below or message me and we’ll make it happen!!

via Facebook

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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CTR Ready (…or at least as ready as I’m gonna be)

Last week has presented with less-than-ideal situations including a respiratory infection, asthma exacerbation, then an annoying cold sore and then discovering I’m allergic to stannous fluoride.

However, after many, many hours of sleep, antibiotics, inhalers, steroids, and a trip to the dentist, I’m finally feeling better.  Not 100%, but feeling pretty darn good.

Bike is ready!  I’m feeling ready! Stoke factor is high!!!

Don’t forget to watch our dots at Trackleaders.com/ctr15!!!!

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