Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tales From the Trail; CTR 2010

NO race ever starts for me without a hitch. CTR 2010 starts at the Indian Creek trailhead. Matt and I camp nearby. I get up to go to the parking lot where I think it starts and panic strikes. No one is there. Where are they? The start is 6:30 not 6:00 right? Did I misread something; did they start without me; did they start somewhere else? I ride down the trail following one tire track. They couldn’t have started already. Maybe there is a parking lot down the trail further. No one. I go back up. Crap! What is going on? I stop a car driving by.

“Have you seen a bunch of bikers out here?”

“No bikers” he responds.

I head up the road in the other direction, I see cars. They are there; the nerves settle. I see Dave Harris; I ask him a couple questions about my GPS, totally last minute stuff. He tells me not to worry; “It will be ok”, he says; gives me a hug and says I’ll do great. I say hi to Ethan Passant. We wish each other well. There is a quick briefing with Stefan and we’re off. Matt is still at the campground; he doesn’t know where we start either and now I have no last goodbye with him….I guess I’ll see him in Durango.

My goal the first day is not to blow up, to ride easy, walk the steep stuff and eat and hydrate plenty. On the single speed for the first time I make sure not to ride hills that require too much effort. It is hot and I don’t eat a ton all day. When I get to Bailey I stop to grab some drinks including chocolate milk and hit the road. At Kenosha pass I decide to push through and stop up the trail for dinner. The thunder starts, then the rain then the lightning. Keep going up and over is the plan. Don’t stop, make it to tree line and reassess. I make it to tree line and by then just rain but no lightning. I’m soaking wet and cold: great ingredients for a fast descent. I can’t feel my feet or hands; my neck feels like stabbing knives are going through it. Where will I stop and sleep? Why stop now and just bivy in these cold and wet conditions? Up and over I go. I decide to stop around the North Fork. Earlier I eat mac and cheese and drink coffee. I stop to bivy and am still cold and wet and I don’t want to eat, I feel somewhat nauseous. I hang my food in the tree; get in my bivy cold and wet and try to sleep. Finally when I look at my watch at 3 am I wonder if I have slept at all. I’ve been shivering and awake for 4 hours. I should just get up and go. At 3:30 am I reluctantly climb out still cold and wet, gather everything, put on my wet and cold shoes and leave. A mile or so down the trail it dawns on me that my bag is still in the tree. I go back, I have wasted time. I won’t eat until the sun comes up! This way I can warm up as I eat. I stop at Gold Hill to dry out, eat breakfast and push on. Miner’s Creek hurts; everyone is passing me. How can I move so slowly? I have no energy; I’m nauseous and can’t eat. Descending into Copper I go over my handlebars and land on my hip. I’m ok; luckily I have womanly, cushiony hips. I’m back on my feet but need to fix my bent bar end and my GPS holder is now broken. No more GPS on the bike. It starts to hail and thunder; the trail is tricky and wet and slick. Come on Copper! I eat a warm meal and take a long break. Still a little nauseous but manage to get food down. It is raining, but I can’t wait any longer. I just ride. Up Searle Pass, another long and arduous and slow climb. Why am I so slow? More people pass me or maybe just one. Finally I decide to push on to Leadville, not eating much at all and feeling sicker. If I make it to Leadville I can get a hotel, I promise myself. I don’t know if I can finish this thing. I am going to puke. I know it!, No, I can’t. Don’t do it, I tell myself. Into town and at a hotel by 1 am. IT is taking SO long to get checked in; I need to puke now, please hurry. Finally, I am in bed. No food. Just dry everything out and sleep. Awake at 5:45 A.M., I feel better. I have to keep going. People, friends, family are pulling for me. Plus this is the challenge of the race. I will feel sick, but I’ll also feel good from time to time, and the good times definitely outweigh the bad. Too much time, money and effort have been put into this. I can do it. I just need to eat better, more frequently and smaller amounts, stay on top of it and push through.

By Buena Vista (BV) I feel good, slow riding into town due to single speed. Spent a LONG time in BV, too long, but I have food paranoia and need to make it to Silverton with enough food. I Leave by around 6:30 pm. I start my journey towards MT. Princeton Hot Springs. There is snow on the trail. Is that from tonight? I’ve been riding in the rain, but this is snow. What am I going to do at 13,000 feet if there is snow at 10,000? I keep going…head up Chalk Creek through the road closed sign and into the wet cement mud that sucks me in like quick sand. Ugghh, am I going the right way? This is where I screwed up last year I can’t do it again. Why are there only a few tracks through this mud? I go through it 3 times just to make sure; my GPS is off track, I’m unsure. Finally I become sure. I make it up the trail to a dry camp spot. Before I go to bed I discover hot spots on my heels that need duck tape before I start riding again to prevent blisters. I am also miraculously blessed with the pleasure of my period 4 days early! Of course I get it out here, under these conditions! Why wouldn’t I? Come on body, how do I even have blood to bleed at this point?

My dry night of sleeping turns into sleeping late as my alarm doesn’t work for my 4:00 A.M. wake-up call so I oversleep until 5:45. The ball of my foot and the entire area around my right big toe is swollen and tender. Is it infected? Will THIS cause me to drop out? An annoying appendage problem? No way will I let this keep me from my dream; I’ll suffer as far as humanly possible before I pull the plug because of my stupid foot. I’m passed in the morning by Sean Allen who is by the way passing me for the second time. He says he is now just touring, taking pictures, taking it easy. He must think I’m the slowest person alive, he is still riding up what I think are steep hills, meanwhile I don’t even try. I finally get to Marshall Pass around 5 P.M. after a long afternoon, I run into Zack, we are both riding more tonight, he goes ahead and tells me a bunch of people are dropping out. They are nervous about segments 21 and 22 and the weather. Should I be nervous? Will I be ok up there? I decide I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I have put too much into this to stop. This is mountain bike multi-day racing; this is what it is all about. I have blisters, I have my period, wet gear, clothes, and shoes, maybe not enough food or warm clothes but I know I can do it. The finish is in my head. I know it is tough, this is why I started. I know what to expect, this is why I thought of a thousand reasons why I should quit on my way to Leadville. I know the rewards of finishing this beast, it is why I thought of the 1,001 reasons I should finish after Leadville.

The next day I am off making my way towards Hwy 114 and the beginning of the long detour to Spring Creek Pass. This section is hard, a long ways to where the “trail angel” was last year. I wonder if he will be here this year. My knees are screaming out in pain, I can’t ride. How will I get through the detour? It is all road and road I can ride but not with these knees. I hear from some hikers that the trail angel is there. I’m stoked and motivated. I get there and eat raman noodles. The sodium does me well and I ride through the night to Spring Creek Pass. On my way up to Hwy 149 I stop to look around, up in the sky, no lights, no sounds, just me, the stars and the beauty of it all. The shooting stars are going off, I am in the sky, I am riding through the sky tonight, I am so lucky to be out here! Before the pass I stop at a campground, it is around midnight and I think about sleeping there, I’m exhausted. Either way I have a cold descent to bear on Hwy 149 to the pass so I can do it now or wake up at 4 and do it then. I do it now because I figure it will be easier. I am falling asleep on the descent, I can’t keep my eyes open and I think this is dangerous. I look to the side of the road and wonder where I can crash (go to sleep) but I sing, tap my fingers, click my tongue, breathe deeply and anything else I can think of to stay awake. Finally I make it, awake and alive. I find a picnic table and crawl under it to sleep thinking it will shelter me from the wind and cold, it doesn’t. I have yet another cold night waking to the sound of my shivering body and chattering teeth. I get up and get moving. I’ll eat breakfast later, when the sun comes up.

I start the trek towards Coney Summit and get to the stream where I will get water for the last time before segment 22. What is happening, where is the stream? There is no water. I have 4 oz left in my water bottle. I could freak out but luckily the weather is cool, it might even rain and this time I invite such weather figuring I can catch rain water and drink that. I decide I will take my time in order to conserve energy and thus not need as much water. It is just what I have to do, no need to freak out. With 1.5 miles left of this segment I am desperate for water; I now have a dehydration headache. There is a lake off trail below me that I can see. It doesn’t look that far away. I can make it, I will get water there. I hike down, this doesn’t take long. I drink and drink and fill my bladder and bottles. I hike back up to my bike. This takes a lot longer than going down. I keep going, I have water, I am happy. I find a bag, someone’s first aid kit. It has a ziplock of “drugs” in it. I take the bag with me in hopes to return it to the owner. What are these pills? They look good, perhaps some good pain relievers, maybe some caffeine derivative or something, anything to get me through this. I decide against taking anything, in fear of an adverse reaction. My feet are screaming. I hate this chamois, I still have my period and my food options are becoming limited and my tongue is full of canker sores. Eating is no longer pleasurable, just a necessity, just fueling this body to move forward, move towards what seems like the forever-away finish. My throat has hurt for days and my tongue burns. My heels have new hot spots, I itch everywhere, I can’t breathe and I don’t know why I’m here. I think there is a storm rolling in and I’m around 12,000 feet. I think of my mother. She prays diligently, she is praying for me right now, I know it. I think she may be praying that I don’t die; I think this because I feel I could get hit by lightning. Normally I don’t worry about it but a fear overcomes me. In this moment the sun pops out of the clouds for 30 seconds and then disappears. I know I’ll be ok. I am flushed with tears and the love of my mother overwhelms me. She is with me, she is protecting me. This is what my friend Lynda Wallenfells calls a “white moment”. I push on and do segment 22 and am in Silverton for dinner. With only 5 minutes before the store closes I buy as much as I can grab for my final leg to the finish. This consists of 2 snickers, 2 subs, 2 danishes, 1 gatorade, 1 pack of cashews, 1 ice cream snickers, and 1 bag of Doritos. I eat the sub, some Doritos, Gatorade and snickers. I start the climb up to Molas in the dark and before I know it the rain is coming down again. I’m cold if I stop so I keep moving. I lose my smartwool beanie on the way up, I can’t go back to look for it even if it is only a few feet away. Must go forward not backwards! The thought of sleeping under the crapper on the top of the pass is what keeps me going. I never thought I would be so excited to sleep under the roof of a long drop in my life. Luckily it was closed for cleaning so it didn’t smell. I slept warm and dry that night!

Up at 4 A.M. and rolling by 5. I am going to finish today or I am going to finish without another night of sleeping out in this cold and wet weather. If I finish before tomorrow that will put me in under 7 days and this is my goal, my dream, my vision. It is decided, I will ride all night and I will finish under 7 days. The mist finally clears and the sun starts to break out. I eat breakfast with the sun’s warmth; this has been my game plan every day. I am grumpy this morning, I’m salty about everything. My skin is crawling and I want to rip it off. There is a hair hanging from my head that is rubbing against my arm and I can’t find it but it irritates me. Where is that hair? My filter isn’t working and neither is my patience. Screw it, I’ll drink straight from this creek, everyone else does. I don’t care if I get giardia; I’ll be home soon enough and I can get antibiotics then. I want to make coffee but, my pot is dirty with rice, the rice that makes me sick to think about. The rice is gross and I hate the smell of it. I can’t eat from this pot when it tastes like this terrible rice. I use my cup to heat the water instead for coffee. I drop my lighter into the coffee. Oh my god, is a cup of jo too much to ask for? Ugghhh, why do I feel this way? I’m so close, I can do this, shape up Cat. I’m salty because I feel slow, feel like I wanted to break the women’s record. Why is there ALWAYS someone faster, why can’t I be the fast one? I’m envious, I’m irritated, I just want it to be over. Ok, pull yourself together Cat. I tell myself that I expected these feelings, that I can just feel them and that is all they are, feelings. I move on, I keep going, I want this finish, I can do it and I will do it under 7 days no matter what it takes.

I am surprised by my friend who is out riding (he lives in Rico), I see him several miles before Black Hawk, and he tells me where the other guys are. They are not far ahead. He wishes me well and tells me he wants to see my spot in Junction Creek tonight. “Don’t worry, you will!” As I approach tree line at Indian Trail Ridge the thunder starts. There is no chance in hell that weather is going to keep me from getting over this thing tonight no matter what. I shout out to the storm gods that I won’t have it, I will get up and over this and not get stuck. Thunder and darkness to the right, thunder and darkness to the left, blue sky above me. I win! I make it over and I’m at Kennebec pass before dark. I am tired and am descending the worst I’ve descended the entire race. My skills are off and I keep having close calls. It is getting later and I need to finish, I have to, I won’t sleep out here one more night. I start to push up, I’m climbing again, now I’m just walking. I walk and walk and walk. I can ride this, it isn’t that steep. Get on your bike and ride Cat. I can’t, I’m so tired, I can’t keep my eyes open. I feel sick, like I’m going to throw up. I am out of water and I don’t want to stop and get more. I just want to finish. What if I puke, right here with 15 miles from the finish? Will someone have to come get me; will I have to push the help button on my spot tracker? Oh god, I really think I’m going to vomit. I think I am going to have diarrhea as well. Ok, maybe I can try to go to the bathroom and see if I feel better. I stop for what seems like forever to relieve myself. I feel better and I manage not to puke. I keep pushing. Where am I? Did I make a wrong turn? Can I make a wrong turn up here? I don’t even think there is another trail this high up but where on the trail am I? I have never ridden this in the dark and it’s confusing me. Have I already climbed as high as I’m going to climb? What if I’m lost, how will I find my way out? I will quit, I don’t care even this close, I am just too tired and can’t keep my eyes open. I stop, on the trail, bike on top of me, head resting on my hand, elbow holding me up pushing against the slanted ground along the trail. I close my eyes for 30 seconds, maybe 1 minute. I’m asleep, I wake back up, I get up, I have to finish very soon. How much longer? Why is this so hard this close to the finish? I feel like I will never get there.

As I continue forward not sure of where just forward along this dirt path I feel I am not alone on the trail or the trail is not a trail. The trail becomes a person or an entity, I’m not sure which. It is a she. I am talking to her, talking about her, I can’t describe this. It is she, this is all I know, in my head I refer to it as her, and I talk to her and her to me. Is this hallucinating, can I be committed? Would I rather be committed at this point? I think about this and try to make sense of what I’m doing and saying but I can’t. It is just a feeling I have, I am not alone. I was never alone.

Before I know it I am descending to the final stretch, it is all a blur, and it is all so surreal. I can’t believe I am going to finish. I can’t believe I am almost at the finish. It is 1:45 am and I am less than 1 mile away. I called it; I knew I would finish at 2:00, so did my sister, and later she told me her and her entire household woke up at 2:30 A.M. and she thought of me, my mom woke up as well, eastern time but “it was a sign” she believes. This last section is sketchy and one wrong turn, you are down the cliff into the creek. There is a tree or a root sticking out, I clip it and go cart wheeling off my bike but it is in slow motion. The fall is soft, I am asleep, I do not feel it because I am about to finish and I am happy, euphoric. I still need to be careful and I really shouldn’t be riding, it is dangerous, I am sleeping.

I am at the finish. My dog runs towards me and I screech on my breaks as I almost hit him. Matt takes a picture and I fall to the ground. My dog won’t leave me alone. I stink so bad he wants to roll in me. I am happy Matt is here and he has brought me chocolate milk, fruit, juice, and a rotisserie chicken. I eat and talk and change and 1.5 hours later we leave, find a hotel and sleep. I have finished.

The thousand reasons I came up with to quit this race turned into a thousand and one reasons I should not quit this race. This is an example of the mental trip the CTR takes you on. You have to know your mind and your demons. If you can overcome your demons you can finish this race. I would tell myself before each hard section how hard it was going to be. I would try to remember the worst from last year and prepare myself for it. I would tell myself how bad it was going to hurt and how long it was going to take and I would remind myself that it was possible. I would tell myself that it would be painful but that my mind could get me through it because it is after all just a state of mind. When I would get to the sections I thought were the hardest after this mental preparation, they wouldn’t be so bad anymore, they went by quicker, easier, and I enjoyed them rather than loathing them.

When I got salty, which was often, about the fact that I wasn’t the top female I tried different approaches to settle my feelings. I tried telling myself everything from the fact that she was a pro (I think) to she was on gears to she has been racing/riding longer to this to that. Finally I decided that it is never about the other person. This is a race within you and it is so much more than a race. I could really get philosophical now and come up with a million clich├ęs about what this journey is, was and will be. The bottom line is having another chica out there, ahead of me, suffering, riding fast, sleeping in the cold, rain, and wind was downright inspiring. Knowing that she was out there made me proud, proud of my gender and that is what helped me over my mental hump. The second thing that helped me was knowing that my many friends and family members were watching my spot move across a computer screen. They more or less knew where I was and I could feel their energy radiating through me. I knew no matter what they would be proud of me, finish or no finish. Matt told me before I started that he was already proud of me no matter what; just proud of me for starting. Somehow having everyone with me on such a level kept me going. Everyone tells me that I am an inspiration to them for doing this, but really you were all my inspiration!


JenyJo said...

beautiful ... beautiful you ;-)

thank you so much for sharing so much!


Anvil said...

That is one of the most amazing race reports I've ever read! So much passion & emotion! You ROCK & congrats on your race!!!

Lynda Wallenfels said...

Cat, I loved your race report and a little view inside your head during CTR! Congrats on being the first lady ever to complete CTR twice AND only lady to do it on an SS. Tall accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

cat,what a LOVELy report!!!i know i have told you over and over,but i am soooooo proud of you.You have inspired me to keep fighting thru tough times and keep my eye on the finish line.SERIOUSLY,CONGRATS AGAIN!!cycling is lucky to have you..I am lucky to have you as a friend!XO.cu tmrw:)

Eszter said...

This is a beautiful ride report. I loved knowing that you were out there, proving there were girls tough enough to grit it out until the end, regardless of what nature could throw at us. And she threw a lot.

It was an absolute honor to race with you.


brg said...

wonderful post. even tho i have already heard you tell this story the other night - I was spellbound reading it. I was in tears at the end...

girl - you are amazing!


Dave Harris said...

Cat, I've never read such a race account. So alive, so real, so human so now. I swear I was just right there with you.

Beautifully written, beautifully ridden.

Chris said...

Awesome Cat. Thanks for sharing. You kick aSS!!!

Jeff K said...


Jeff Higham said...

Nice! You are now added to my must read list. Great job on the CTR!

Emily said...

great work! I was so jealous reading your report, wishing i'd been able to finish the race myself. Thanks for such a vivid description of what I missed.
I was honored to line up with three other amazing women racers, and it was so awesome that you and Eszter both had such killer rides! Yeah!!

Ed said...




Anonymous said...

Sensational! Well done Cat what an awesome ride! Your report gives us an insight into how tough it was and also the sheer guts and determination.

To do it all and finish on a SS, RESPECT!

Go girl!


Cat said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you all and appreciate you taking the time to read my report. It truly means so much to me to have all of you in my life. I love our mountain bike community; it's like no other I have ever experienced in my life. You are part of my family!
Eszter-An honor as well indeed. You are an incredibly tough lady. I look forward to future encounters. I hope your game if I ever want a bikepacking companion?!
Emily-You'll get in next year! I'm happy to share anything with you that I can to help you achieve that goal. Remember it is in the heart and as long as you have that you have the finish!

Sarah K said...

Great job Cat! Very inspiring. It's nice to have such a lively narrative to put with the little moving Spot Dot :)

ScottM said...

Superb narrative and race, Cat! I can relate with many of the mental states you described so well. So many questions, and so many answers that beg more questions. I guess we'll just have to keep going out there...

Matt said...

Cat - You rock! So sorry to have missed you, but glad that you ran into El Freako near Rico! Awesome effort, and shoot you are truly one of us crazy SSers now...man I did not know that you had converted!!! Remember when we did KTR a few years back? Wow, Assam is on SS. I'm on SS, You are on SS, and shoot...Jeff was on SS way back then. Some sort of virus must be spreading! Keep in touch - lets try to ride this fall...perhaps we brings the SOs over to Marble sometime in Oct?

Unknown said...

Sending you my riding love my friend. I will always remember the honor of riding in with you on your Zuma win. Congrats on remaining an official badass!!! Beth Selzer (cline)