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Katie’s Colorado Trail Race 2021

Sunday morning, I woke up at 3am, ate a super early breakfast, and checked Andrew’s dot. He was already on the trail, almost halfway on his yoyo. I opted to ride one way with the grand depart of the Colorado Trail Race like a normal person this year. I hadn’t ever done a fast one way, and had a goal to complete the trail in less than 7 days.

As I’ve made more friends in the bikepacking community, the start line is a happy reunion before we all take off and may or may not see each other for the next week. The group of about 70 riders took off at 4am, riding through Durango toward the start of the trail. A man came through the door of a bar and yelled, “what is this?!?!” “It’s the Colorado Trail Race!” I was riding a super spinny gear (32×24) on my Chumba Sendero and was off the back after a few blocks. I’m not a fan of the chaos of group starts these days, so it’s where I wanted to be anyways. Justin and Alexandera were back there too, and we could chat and just chill.

I was pumped to start the singletrack and tried my best to move efficiently. The weather called for afternoon thunderstorms, and I was hopeful I could make it over Indian Trail Ridge and back into the trees before the thunder started. Several hours in, I took my first water stop. I took my filter out and tried to separate the dirty water container from the filter- it was totally seized. I hadn’t used it in a while and totally didn’t think to test it before I left. Fortunately I always bring tabs as a backup. I counted how many I had- I would definitely be able to get to Buena Vista, but it would be cutting it close to get all the way to Denver. Hopefully I could get to BV within business hours to buy some more.

Since I started close to last, I had the motivation of picking people off all the way up Kennebec. It was fun to see all the bike and gear choices as I made my way through part of the field. Alexandera caught me not long after Indian Trail Ridge and we caught Leigh not long after that. I’d been looking for Andrew all morning, and he finally came across our little group of 3. We had a brief conversation about how he was hoping to get to Durango for a hotel room and resupply that night. We hugged and sent him off.

I rode near Leigh and Alexandera until that evening. We climbed Black Hawk Pass around 4pm as the thunder started rolling. I was a minute or so behind Alexandera and she waited for me to share the moment. It was amazing being up there with her- a crack of thunder interrupted my thoughts and I said, “this is amazing, but let’s get down now.” Alexandera bombed down the hill- I tried to keep up, but that was the last time I saw her for the rest of the race.

That thunder transitioned to a steady rain in the night. By 8pm there was another thunderstorm and heavy rain. I felt nauseous all day, so I decided to take an early sleep at 10pm. I set my alarm for 2am, planning on 4 hours of rest. I was grateful for my warm and dry shelter and tried to get some sleep as the rain continued and I heard other riders go by in the night. I woke up at 2 with my alarm, not quite ready to get going again, but I was racing, so I went for it. The nausea didn’t resolve during my sleep and I was riding and hiking pretty worthlessly, so by 4am, I was back in the bivy for another 2 hours. I really thought I could swing 4 hours of sleep, but my body was just fighting me too hard. In such a long race, I figured taking the extra 2 hours of rest was worth it when I was struggling to make progress.

The sun came up, and while I was still fighting nausea and lack of appetite, I was feeling more awake and focused. I made it to the top of a pass where it was sunny and windy and took the opportunity to fully dry my sleep kit before continuing the beautiful ride into Silverton. What wasn’t so beautiful was the dark clouds in the direction I was headed. I stopped at the gas station to pick up a few more snacks and try to get some food down. My stomach still wasn’t right and nothing tasted good except for potato chips. I drank a sprite and ate most of a piece of pizza. Some riders were talking about the weather and I asked Kristen if she was going to go for it. She said yes. I figured it takes at least a couple hours for me to get up Stony and above the treeline, so the weather could be completely different by the time I get to where I had to worry about it. A couple minutes after I left the gas station, the downpour started. It rained on and off all the way up Stony, but by the time I got above treeline, it looked clear enough and throughout the climb, I didn’t hear thunder or see lightning. I walked alongside another racer, Perry, during part of the way up Stony. Our conversation made the climb go faster. The rainy weather meant we were dealing with less off road vehicle traffic which was a bonus.I crested the pass and turned onto segment 23. The sound of sheep on the opposite side of the valley along with marmots and pika chirping was so loud it was almost funny. I took in the sounds, the smell of rain, and the views as I soaked up the last bit of sun before it went down for the night. My body and appetite still didn’t feel as good as I hoped, so I opted for another 6 hour night. I found a flat spot at 10pm again. After a couple hours of riders periodically going past, I decided I’d ride later the next day so my sleep wasn’t interrupted by people still riding (some of whom are better than others about not shining their light directly on my tarp). I woke up with an almost full moon lighting up a rock ridge, one of the most beautiful images I saw on the trail.

When my alarm went off, all my stuff was covered in dew. I packed everything up and kept heading toward the high point. I remember running out of water on Jerosa Mesa in 2019, so I double checked the guidebook for my last water stop before Carson Saddle. I passed a creek and thought, “okay, there should be one more,” but that was the last one. I didn’t have a bunch of extra weight on the climb, but I did run out of water before I got to the next source. Lenny caught me and we got to the high point together. It was special being up there with him under a clear sky. Last year we were there together in the rain and clouds. I filled up at the next water source and tried to dump some of the bugs that got into my bladder. I added the water purification tabs but decided if it was possible for me to wait, I would just fill up at Spring Creek Pass, which is much cleaner.After Spring Creek Pass, I started the paved climb up Slumgullion Pass on the La Garita Wilderness detour. This was one of the few times I actually got hot during my ride. I’m sure it was partially because I was waiting for my water tabs to do their thing. After I got to the top of Slumgullion, there was a long, smooth downhill- free miles! I was excited for the break and tried to refuel myself with plenty of food and water while I coasted before starting Los Pinos Pass. I took a nap by Cebolla Creek before I started climbing again. It felt good to get into a rhythm on my spinny singlespeed gear to climb Los Pinos. The rest of the detour was a bit mind numbing- a slight downhill with not a whole lot to look at compared to the last couple days.

I stopped to camp back on the CT route at about midnight, this time for 5 hours. I was trying to wean back off sleep now that the elevation was lower and my appetite was returning. It was the best sleep I had on the trail so far and I knew I needed it to get through Sargents Mesa.

It was cold and quiet when I got up at 5am. Right before sunrise was one of my favorite times to ride. Nobody else was out on the trail yet and it was peaceful. Right around sunrise, I stopped at a creek to fill up. This section is notorious for cattle and I was less than enthused with the water source. Another rider approached as I was putting tabs into my bladder. He told me his water filter broke and he filled up at a nearby creek and didn’t have a way to treat his water- he asked if he could have some tabs. I had barely enough to get to the end, but as I looked at the cow shit all over the ground, I knew I couldn’t tell him no. So I gave him some tabs and solidified the fact that I needed to be in Buena Vista during business hours to buy more.

I was mentally prepared for the slog of Sargents Mesa, but I always struggle to hike efficiently. I just did my best to stay in a positive headspace and keep moving. That afternoon, I took an inventory of my food, knowing I would arrive at Princeton Hot Springs hopefully by the next noon. I had 600 calories left. When I packed my food before the start, I was optimistic that I could finish the route in less than 7 days and if I had been on track, the amount of food I had would’ve been perfect. I knew the next 24 hours would be uncomfortable, but I could make it. I picked a wild strawberry every once in a while to trick my body into thinking I was still eating. Sargents Mesa finally came to an end and I started climbing toward Marshall Pass. Just after I crossed the road at Marshall Pass, thunder, lightning, and hail started. I had been up there with thunder around before and it was unpleasant, so I decided to set up my tarp and take a nap while the storm passed. I took a 2 hour break before it was clear to continue the ascent in the dark.

Descending Fooses in the dark and wet was a bit slow for me. I wanted to get across highway 50 that night and I finally caught back up to Kristen just before the crossing. I considered camping right off 50 to stop at the Monarch Spur RV Park to resupply on food in the morning when they open at 8am, but it would cost me too much time after I had just caught Kristen. I decided to go for it and push to Mount Princeton Hot Springs. It’s easier to ride without food during the night, so I kept going until 2am and woke up at 6am to finish the ride to Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

My body felt surprisingly good for running on such a big calorie deficit. When I finally got to the store, I gorged on 2 pieces of pizza, juice, potato chips, and donuts and bought enough food to get the rest of the way to BV. I was nervous about getting to BV during business hours and bought a mediocre looking water filter before I kept on my way.
I started the climb out of town with a full and happy belly for really the first time of the whole ride. I had plenty of snacks to keep myself fueled and energized all the way to BV. When I arrived at the grocery store in Buena Vista, Karen came to say hi. She was waiting on her stuff to charge. After stuffing my bags with as much food as I could fit, I ate a container of potato salad and a pint of coconut milk ice cream that sloshed around in my stomach on the washboarded gravel road out of town. I rode above the river, passing people camping along the road. I was pretty zenned out until I saw two dogs from a distance sprinting straight at me. They were barking, showing their teeth, and circling me. I was yelling “no” and trying to get the owner to get off his ass. The owner was shouting from a distance and I yelled again, “COME GET YOUR DOGS!!!!” He finally did, acting extremely casual. The adrenaline got me going and I rode off ranting to myself. I stayed on the gas until I saw my friend, Amanda, who was touring the route westbound. We hugged and talked and I rode that high the rest of the night. I got further than I expected, up over the Mt. Elbert section so I wouldn’t have to worry about hiker traffic in the morning. I knew the next day would be big- Kokomo, Searle, and Tenmile all in one day.

The next day, I was dragging on the ride/hike up Kokomo. It was hard to stay motivated as the sky got darker and thunder got louder as I hiked higher. As I approached treeline, the thunder disappeared and the sky looked clear, so I went for it. Once I crested the pass, I could see that the sky was dark on the other side, so I hurried across the exposed section. I had a stupid tip-over crash where I did a summersault, landed on my hip, and scratched up my legs. I screamed in pain- anytime you land on your hip, it pretty much feels like you broke it. At that moment it started hailing and I was still a ways from getting back down into the trees. I put my rain gear over my bloody legs and kept going. “It doesn’t really matter how much it hurts now, I just have to get off this damn mountain.” Right when I got into the trees, the thunder and lightning started. It was another wet and sloppy descent down to Copper. I got there right at 7, when the gas station closed, so I just kept moving along the trail and started the climb up over the Tenmile range. I prerode this section a couple weeks prior since Tenmile had been a low point when I completed the trail in the past. Despite the rain and cold, I was determined to stay positive hiking to the top. I kept going through the cold and wind and rain and when I made it to the top I was ecstatic. It was my emotional high of the whole trip. I stood at the top and yelled, “YES! I FREAKING MADE IT! WOOOOOOO!” It was so beautiful in the dark and the rain all by myself. The descent was frigid but I knew I could camp soon in my dry sleeping bag and puffy. When I found a decent spot, I set my alarm for 6.5 hours because I planned to push through to the end without sleep after that. I knew that was my only shot at maybe catching Karen or Kristen (3rd and 4th women).

When I was packing up in the morning, Andrew passed by. You’d think I’d be happy to see him, and I was, but I was also bummed that he made up so much time on me. We really just said hi and he kept going- it was far from an emotional boost, and our reunion at the end was much happier.It was sunny the next day until about noon when the skies opened up and rained, hailed and thundered. I rode and walked up Georgia Pass through water running down the trail. The temperature dropped and I was cold with all my layers but my puffy on. I only use the down puffy as a last resort and wanted to keep it in my dry bag so I stuffed the front of my jacket with grocery bags for extra insulation. It helped a little, but I was still cold the whole night. Fortunately the thunderstorm cleared before I crested Georgia Pass, but it continued to rain until about midnight. The rain kept turning the backlight of my Garmin on, causing my battery to drain faster than expected. Of course, right before I actually needed navigation for the longest detour of the route. I had my phone as a backup, but that battery was low too. Whoops. I turned my Garmin off until I got to the trailhead where the bike route deviates from the trail. I was able to keep the Garmin alive by using my dynamo when I got onto the gravel road until I got to Stagestop Saloon where I could plug in.

I arrived at Stagestop at 12:30am with no expectations that they’d be open or willing to serve me, but I was hopeful because yet again, I was running short on food. When I arrived, the open sign was still on and Pearl Jam was blaring so loudly I could hear it down the street. “YES!” I hesitantly walked in and the owner Paully welcomed me, offered me food and drinks, and even offered to dry my clothes (though I didn’t take him up on the offer since I figured I’d just immediately be wet again). I drank a coke and ate nachos while I charged my phone and Garmin. I finally left at 2am while the party was still going. I was really blown away by the generosity and service at Stagestop.

After days of singletrack, the highway wilderness detour at night was pretty mind numbing. I took several quick naps on the side of the road when I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I finally got back onto dirt and took one more nap just before sunrise. The sky was still foggy and it rained on and off that morning. It was clear enough to see the sun at about 10am, a huge mood booster. I tried to keep a steady pace despite hot spots on my feet really getting to me. When I was fed up enough, I just cut my shoes all the way across the toes. I already cut holes the day I got the shoes for my super wide feet and the soles were separating, so I knew they were headed straight for the trash when I was done anyways. I was running low on food again and couldn’t remember whether there was a store at Wellington Lake. When I arrived, the kind woman at the office said, “we’ve been waiting for you,” and showed me where I could buy some snacks. That store saved my life…not really, but it did help me get to the end without dragging.
Shortly after the store, it was time to get back on singletrack. Segment 3 is always a blast and I forgot how much fun segment 2 was- probably because this time it wasn’t so hot. I knew the climb from the river starting segment 1 was tough, but I was mentally prepared and my easier gear made for more riding than I remembered. I thought, “people talk about how segment 1 drags on, but this isn’t too bad.” That’s right about when things slowed down with more hiking. I started to get pretty annoyed and crashed on a rock that was slicker than I expected. I took a minute to regroup and remind myself to take it easy (physically and emotionally). I came across a huge tree down on the trail and wrestled my bike over it. A hiker camped nearby asked, “are you okay???” I finally made it to Waterton Canyon Road. I planned to coast and reflect on my ride, but a cop pulled up and told me that the canyon is closed and I needed to get down as soon as possible. He followed me the 6 miles down the road while I spun my legs as fast as I could what I call my “little bitch gear.” It wasn’t fast and things were a little trippy from my sleep deprived night prior.When I was finally down, Andrew was waiting for me at the trailhead sign 7 days, 18 hours, and 19 minutes after I started in Durango. I was so exhausted that I barely remember anything from that night. He had pizzas in the car and he drove me to our friend Scott’s house where I could take a shower and sleep in a bed. (Thanks Scott and Kerry!!!)

I don’t really know why, but this one took me a while to process. Between that post-ultra brain fog and the minor disappointment from missing my time goal, I wasn’t that motivated to write about it right away. I don’t mean to sound like a downer, I really enjoyed my time out there and I’m proud of finishing the trail. Thinking about it later, I realized it was my longest solo bikepacking trip to date, and that’s pretty cool! I told myself I’m probably going to take next year off from the Colorado Trail, but we all know I’ll be back.

Shout out to Kristen (7:10:41, 4th woman) and Karen (7:05:35, 3rd woman) for keeping me motivated to race. Leigh (7:01:03, 2nd woman) because any time I felt sorry for myself, I remembered that Leigh finished the Colorado Trail Race in 2018 with staples in her knee! Alexandera (6:09:05, 1st woman) for being both my inspiration and encourager.

Thanks to Amanda, Lenny, Travis, and the Lenbergs for helping me get to Durango, Cat for housing me in Durango, Scott and Kerry for the safe place to leave our van and for us to recover, and friends and family for the digital encouragement while I was on the trail.

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