I’m always amazed at the people who can whip out their race report only hours, or even days after finishing. The combination of my perpetual procrastination and need to ponder life, are my excuses for not posting sooner. Inspiration comes for me on the bike and, after consuming large amounts of dark, yummy, organic, French press coffee. Since I haven’t done much riding this week and the caffeine buzz is short-lived, it’s a matter of catching that small window of creativity when it comes. From experience though, I know writing is cathartic and I am in need of some serious emotional release. Here goes my best shot.
I have such an easier time finding my way on the trail than I do finding my way off the trail. The only things I really think or concern myself with while doing the CTR are time, food, and weather. These are also the only things I find myself talking about when I’m out there. Small talk on the CTR is rare maybe because it wastes precious energy. It takes everything you have just to move forward. Interactions with others involve no pretense or formalities. Sometimes in fact you never even know each other’s names, or you did but forget because you’re too worked to remember. There is little concern with the way you look, smell, or dress. There is no time or means to wash your hands before you eat, you just have to sometimes arrange your activities in the proper order to limit contamination as best you can. Time on the trail, I dare to say, is easy, raw, pure, simple, all the things I cherish most in life. Life off the trail sometimes makes me feel like a captive monkey, longing for her home among the mountains, forests, and wildlife.
There is something so easy about solely focusing of moving forward, and more to say about moving with your bike as if you were one. The first day is the hardest. It takes time to find my rhythm, focus and routine. I know what I have to do and at times that overwhelms me on day one. Nonetheless, the routine of things starts to flow a bit better by the second and third day. The bike on the first day is kind of like a blister. It is hard to walk with your bike without it causing discomfort and soreness, riding the bike feels relatively normal but by the end of the first day my legs and lungs hurt. I noticed by the end of the week, hiking with the bike was natural, easy, and light. Kurt Sandiforth spoke of this flow stating that the bike becomes like an appendage.
Being tired on the bike is very common but falling asleep on my bike was something I had never experienced to the degree of what I experienced this year. The first couple of days I was fine with a little sleep deprivation but little did I know how much it would play a role in my slow and arduous crawl to the finish.
The start of the CTR was back to Waterton Canyon this year, which begins up a long dirt road. I missed the start by a few minutes, as well as the draft up the Canyon, leaving me to endure the head winds without protection. I tend to get wound up and caught up in the energy of all those people, distracting me from my own race, so I wasn’t entirely disappointed in my lone CTR commencement. This year my coach’s instructions to me were to “fly, flow, and find freedom and Zen on your bike”. It’s rare to find someone that speaks my hippy language, but LW is a pretty rare one to say the least. I reminded myself of this often, and used this as my mantra. I took my time this first day knowing that the CTR is never won today but it can very easily be lost. When I finally found my way to the front of the female field, I found my flow, goal number one obtained. I wanted to go for it this year, do a sub-five day CTR and break the female record. I knew where I could and had to cut off time in order to do this. Doing 3 other CTRs offers perfect training for a personal best performance. It enables you to fine tune what I like to call this piece of art. I knew that if I didn’t stop in Bailey or Leadville and carry everything I needed to get to Buena Vista, I could be there before the grocery store closed and on my way to the next section, a huge improvement and jump on my time from last year.
After going through Bailey without stopping, climbing up to Kenosha then Georgia Pass, I braved the hail over West Ridge and by the time I was climbing Gold Hill I was dry again. I continued on through the night and literally fell into Copper at 4:30 a.m., just under 24 hours from the start. I slept for 1.5 hours by the highway, getting a head start on my jaunt over to Leadville. Making it to and through Leadville ahead of schedule from last year and eliminating a stop there, put me 2 hours faster into Buena Vista. I had a half hour to grocery shop. Chris Miller was coming out while I was going in and we smirked at the reminiscent thought of last year’s experience in this same location but 8 hours earlier. I was excited to stock up and be on my way. Fifty dollars and 40 or so minutes later and too much food to eat or know what to do with, I set out towards Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. I knew all of Eszter’s bivy stops from last year and used these as my daily goals to enable a record breaking finish.
I arrived at my destination in the parking lot just below the single track and above Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and made my way into Eszter’s house. She had gotten there somewhere around 2:00 am last year, I was there at 4:30 but figured if I slept less I could be out of there around the same time. The floor was hard and I didn’t have a sleeping pad but I dosed off quickly from exhaustion only to be awoken in no time from the incoming cars. I started to worry about getting out of the house before the Ranch workers came in and when I heard someone walk across the porch I quickly gathered my things in a panic. I exited with my bike in hand and a mess of disorganized gear only to be met by the faces of 5 guys leaning on a fence directly in front of me. I pretended, as I looked directly at them, not to see them and tried to become invisible. It worked and no one said a thing. I spent the next several minutes organizing my gear so that I could get started on the Chalk Creek section, figuring I would stop later down the trail to change and take care of my morning chores.
This was my third day on the CTR and I road with Tim James from South Africa for almost all of it. It was nice to have the company and he is super strong and steady. When we arrived at Fooses Creek we decided to take a long break and soak, eat, and regroup. While sitting down by the creek we saw Chris Miller go by. I yelled out to him a couple of times but he didn’t hear me. Perhaps as a result I hurriedly started to gather my things and prepare to carry on. Tim asked if I wanted to catch him. I really just wanted to chat with him, seeing a friend out there is always a nice way to boost the spirits and energy; Chris is super fun to hang out with too. I didn’t see Chris again until he was topping out above us just before the traverse and then descent to Marshall Pass. I yelled out and waved but unsure if he knew who I was. We got into some weather shortly after this and Tim and I hunkered down in the cabin on Marshall Pass to dry out, warm up, and make some soup.
Carrying on to the next segments toward Sargent’s Mesa, Trail Angel Apple and the detour to Spring Creek Pass, always feels like I’m entering into a great abyss of uncertainty and such anticipation usually feels undesirable at this point in the game. However, having Tim’s company and running into Kurt Sandiforth, Fred Hankinson and Matt Schiff made the evening feel a little less ominous. I still wanted to see Chris, knowing we had similar finish goals, little did I know at the time that Fooses Creek would be the last time until I finished. I decided to ride through the night after a short one hour bivy. I was convinced I had slept almost 3 hours and woke up in a panic. Evidently I was having issues figuring out my watch and it wasn’t until after I set out and heard my alarm sound that I realized precious time was not lost. To ensure that I did not oversleep, I slept only in my emergency bivy. This guaranteed that I would wake up from being so cold, I was spot on with this decision as my convulsing body would rudely awaken me from here on out.
It took me until 9:30 am to get to Trail Angel Apple. On my way up the last annoying section of steep, loose, relentless switchbacks on Sargent’s Mesa, I’m greeted by a familiar face, Zach Guy! He was out riding today and chose one of the worst sections of trail hoping he may find a few CTR riders. He was a sight for sore eyes this painful morning and he helped lift my spirits. Zach was encouraging telling me I was on track for a sub-five day finish and, despite my current state and thoughts of wanting to die a quick and pain free death, I was hopeful I could pull it off. Zach is a CTR friend, the last two years our paths crossed many times during the race and because of this he is a friend for life.
Trail Angel Apple’s camp was busy when I arrived. I planned out strategically what I had to do in order to swiftly move on through, determined not to get held up and waste precious time. Empty your trash, lube chain, apply sunscreen, pee, chamois butter, restock feed bag with food stored in saddle bag, get a soda or Gatorade and some Cheetos, make two Tailwind bottles and go! Almost 45 minutes later I was leaving. Upon arrival there were three guys there, talking, introducing themselves, taking pictures, telling stories. It took me until the end of the race to figure out their story. I was way too confused from sleep deprivation and three different people’s account of their own personal journeys to make any sense of it. I knew they were really nice and kind and encouraging and doing the CTR; the rest didn’t matter, we were all moving in the same direction, different speeds and velocities but one similar goal: Finish the CTR!
Chad Parker, Dan Miller-Lionberg and I apologize for not remembering the third, were the three guys. Chad and Dan took off while their friend had to bail due to a broken bike. Dan and Chad raced by me on Segment 18, staying ahead of me the entire detour. Later Chad said he “made darn sure Dan and I got a solid lead on you”. I felt that most of the guys I ran into out there wanted to stay clear of me, way ahead of me, out of my sight. My fragile spirit started to take offense wondering if they didn’t want to get beat by the “slow girl”; this was my thought process. I really just enjoyed company and was starting to get frustrated that everyone kept running away from me. I honestly could have cared less if I beat them or they beat me, I’m a girl, racing the girls and racing a record and clock, I didn’t care about the boys out there.
Somewhere along the detour, after enduring near crashes from frequent dozing offs while riding, I lost my Spot Tracker. I stopped several times on the side of the road to take naps. I would just lie down on top of my pack; helmet on, to rest my eyes until I felt I could carry on only relapsing minutes later. While dozing off riding this long, dirt, hot and fairly straight road, I would start to dream. My thoughts were irrational; I tried to ride while sleeping. If I could figure out a way to sleep while still moving forward I won’t lose any time. In my mind I would talk to someone and ask them if they could take over and I even asked if they could drive. I would quickly snap out of it and remind myself I was doing the CTR and that I was all alone and on my own; a painful reality at this time. After many stubborn attempts to push through and refuse to sleep, the torture just became too unbearable and I got off my bike, laid it down, and fell into an immediate dream like state. Napping did not necessarily make me feel rested as much as it would just allow me to move forward momentarily without completely falling asleep, at least for a little while.
In my delirium I started to yell out for help. Matt! Matt! Help me Matt! I’m falling asleep and I can’t do this, I need help. Guys, please help me! My intent was to conjure up some good vibes and spirits to lift me from this discouraging state. A couple hours and many naps later, I stopped to filter water and it was then that I noticed my Spot Tracker was missing. I immediately went into panic mode, waking me up and giving me a strange but welcome surge of energy. Crap! Matt is going to freak out and think something happened to me. Everyone is going to wonder if I quit or stopped or got hurt. No one is going to be able to track me. What if I get disqualified? Is it mandatory to have a Spot? What if my progress is questioned? What if I break the record but it doesn’t count because I have no proof? You should stop and make sure your GPS is tracking properly. That’s your proof, your GPS track. You’re ok, make a call. I stopped to check my phone and of course I didn’t have cell service. I saw a photographer, Kevin, he’s taking pictures and I ask him to vouch for me, that he saw me here and at this time. He said “no problem, I’ll do whatever you need”. He mentioned he couldn’t get cell service until Lake City, and I’m going the other way.
Further up the road I stopped a car with Texas plates, at first the driver looked reluctant but thankfully the wives in the back seat were concerned and promised to make a call to Matt. They warn me that I’m riding into a storm and ask where I’m headed. Spring Creek Pass, I tell them. “Is someone picking you up there?” No, I’m in a race, I’m headed to Silverton. “Not tonight? Where are you sleeping?” It goes on like this and I realize they’re not going to get it so I do my best to assure them that I’ll be ok, they are aghast but they promise to call Matt and that’s all I care about. They’ll be at a land line in 30-45 minutes.
After hunkering down in a ditch off the road during a lightning storm and waving off many concerned vehicles as they distressfully searched out their windows for the owner of the lone bike on the road, I make my final ascent toward Spring Creek Pass. Kevin, the photographer told me Chris was about an hour ahead of me. As I watched the fierce bolts of lightning strike as if they had grabbed a hold of some vulnerable and scared creature, I wondered and hoped it was not Chris.
The beginning of Segment 22 was different this year. I was reluctant to start this section. It was cold, dark was approaching fast and I was following tire tracks in snow? Or was this hail? Whatever it was it was wet and cold and uninviting. I didn’t have the legs to ride nor the stamina. I was still bloody tired and I couldn’t muster the strength to straddle my pony, every bone ached, my saddle sores screamed out for relief. Those who have ridden this section may recall the portion of trail that meanders through a fairly flat and in some parts, downhill, wide open mesa-like terrain. It was impossible for me to ride. The little rocks stick out just far enough to force concentration and focus, two things completely gone this evening. Another dismal circumstance of the trail is that every single rock that sticks out offers enough resistance to bounce your butt slightly above your seat only to smack it right back down making it feel as if your are riding bare back naked. It was shear torture. Missing a turn is all I needed to help turn this pathetic attempt of bike handling into a complete shit show. Descending down the wrong path is indeed what I did, and of course it had to be a descent. Adding in any extra climbing to a race that already has over 65,000 feet of elevation gain can quickly turn a tired CTR racer into a psychiatric patient.
When I soon found myself falling asleep as I pushed my bike up the tundra I somehow figured it was a good idea to bivy on top of some freshly fallen hail that had iced over to form a nice, hard, cold bed. I immediately realized it was a poor choice but exhaustion disabled me and I settled into sub-consciousness, knowing that a teeth chattering, full body seizure was not only imminent but would soon serve as my alarm clock. The worst thing about being cold in your bivy is that the only way to get warm is to get out of the bivy and move. The problem with this scenario is that you’re so cold and moving seems like an intolerable task. As every muscle fiber in my body convulsed I reluctantly rose from my slumber. Tonight was one of two times that I actually used my real sleeping bag and bivy, not the emergency ones, and packing in this sub functional state is incredibly inefficient.
I arrived at Carson Saddle sometime just past sunrise. I come across a body, in a bivy, backpack laid out, smack dab in the middle of the trail. I considered my options. Do I go around or step over? I determine that going around requires more effort than lifting my bike up and stepping over. Making as little noise as possible without trying too hard I cautiously stepped over the person lying in the middle of the trail, confident he was breathing and I need not concern myself with his safety. Two seconds later I hear, “Hey, who’s that?” It’s Chad and after our identities are revealed he said “Can I ask you a favor?” I’m reluctant, as the only path I can make sense of right now is the one in front of me and all I know is that I have to continue to move in that direction (I’m pointing towards Silverton), favors are not something I’m in a position to hand out at the moment. What’s up? I carefully chose my words. “Can you tell me where I am?” I am sadistically satisfied at the fact that someone else is may be worse off than I am. “I just need to know how far I am from civilization. I got here last night sometime and I didn’t know my own name. I told myself to go to sleep and that someone would tell me in the morning.” I’m unsure exactly what to tell him as his question, “Where am I?” is different from the “Where am I?” when you’re lost in the city. Here we are on the Colorado Trail and he’s sleeping on it and it’s the only trail around. What does he mean, “Where am I? I conclude, you’re in the middle of Segment 22 and 23, we are about to start the Cataract Ridge section before Silverton. He seemed to like that answer. Do you need anything else? I ask before continuing on. “Yeah, a hug and a hot cup of coffee.” I’m going to go filter water down the trail a ways, I’ll see you there? At this point, I’m the one that needs a hug, my thoughts have turned rotten today and I cannot get out of my negative spiral of thinking.
Chad caught up with me after my water stop and we rallied on together, forward. He needed more answers and asked exactly how far Silverton was. When the answer hurts him as much as it hurts me, he groans at the thought of another 5-6 hours before he can have pizza and beer. “So is it ride-able or is it just more of this bullshit (referring to the current hike-a-bike conditions)?” More of the bullshit, I answer. He thought as much. Encountering like-minded people is one of the things I cherish most about my bike- packing adventures. Chad sheds some light on my state of self pity after I reveal my discouragement concerning my current time and fear of not breaking the record. “Cat, 5 days 5 hours does not define you, you define you.” How does he know what to say? It’s like he’s inside my brain. He dares me to flip the switch in my brain and turn everything negative into positive. He has this ability to laugh and joke and bitch at the same time about the terrain and race without making it seem negative. It’s really hard what we’re doing out here, no doubt about that, and he is suffering but he also loves it. He is truly embracing his pain and here he is from FLORIDA, killing it on the CTR. How can I find that flow?
The truth is I never truly found my Zen this year. I tried with all my heart but I had expectations, like breaking the record and doing a sub-five day CTR. I worked my ass off to try and achieve this goal. Since February I focused so much on this goal that I made sacrifices regarding spending time with friends and family, food choices, abstaining from alcohol and foods like ice cream, pizza and bread. I felt what it would feel like to not just win but beat the record, be number one, finally see what I could do. I was unwilling to let go of my dream. Not yet, I couldn’t. So, in some ways Chad’s words threatened me and scared me. I cannot give up. I have to keep going as fast as I can, I cannot stop, I have to try and break the record. I totally got what he was saying but I knew I would never forgive myself if I let go with over 70 miles to go. I informed him that I was going to be rolling through Silverton fairly quickly, in case he wanted company for pizza and beer. He understood and at some point during this Segment I pulled away, regaining my flow and I felt fairly good when I got into Silverton.
I mailed some unnecessary items back to myself in Durango from the post office. I figured it would be easy enough to find, all I had to do was look for the flag. Turns out every building in Silverton has a flag and every person you ask is a tourist. After a frustration search and many wrong turns I found the post office, entered the double doors and immediately towards the cake. That’s right, cake at the post office. It was all I could do to stop myself from devouring the entire thing; I had just been craving a chocolate cupcake. It was too good to be true. Dirty hands and face, eyes wide, I ask the lady at the counter before I do anything else if I can have a piece. As I’m buying my box and required tape I’m shoving a piece of cake in my mouth. It was awesome!
After a fairly efficient stop at the Silverton grocery store, I made my way, slowly, up Molas Pass. I left Silverton approximately at the same time Eszter left last year. I didn’t think much about this, I was confident I could do it. Sub-five day was out of the question but the record was still in sight. For some reason I was not stressed nor overwhelmed by what I needed to do. One section at a time, bit by bit, you can do this, no problem. I almost think I was too confident. At some point in the early evening I heard a voice, “Cat, I have your Spot”. I turned around and as I stare directly at Fred I ask him who he is, doh, sleep deprivation. Everyone looks different during the day. A hiker gave it to him somewhere, he can’t remember exactly all the details but here it is. I’m ecstatic. Now Matt will know when I’m finishing, and people can witness my final miles and hopefully record breaking finish! Life was good again, I feel good, I have good food, and other people are out here. Fred disappeared as quickly as he appeared and after I hassled to put new batteries in my Spot, Kurt appeared. Kurt and I rode together more or less until about 10:30 pm. His company was nice, we talked, told stories, helped pass the time and more importantly kept each other awake. Maybe we were talking too much because at one point we headed off track and could not determine where or how we lost the trail. After going down a dirt road, back up the dirt road, back down the same dirt road and back up it, we continued back up the trail to find the missed sharp right-hand turn further up. Maybe 20 minutes passed, maybe more.
The next several hours are hard to recall, they are also painful to write about. When I looked down at my watch and read, 10:12 pm, I gasped. Crap, its 10:12 pm. I have to get moving. I had hoped to be on Blackhawk by now or at least by midnight. Minutes after this Kurt confessed to falling asleep, “this is where you lose me Cat, I’m sorry.” No problem, I totally understand. It’s not his job to keep me awake and I have to go and stay focused, I still have a record to break. I panic at the thought of screwing this up and I set off on my way. Minutes later I was falling asleep. I fumed, I can’t believe this is happening to me, I don’t want to stop and sleep. If I stop I risk losing precious time and the record will be lost. After much reluctance and a slow descent down Blackhawk due to the heavy dropping of my eyes, I pull over and begin my ineffective routine of cat naps. After two or three I relent. I need to sleep, this is ridiculous, I can’t ride, I’m falling off my bike, and this is dangerous, sleep Cat, sleep. I bivy on the worst section of ground, it’s uneven, rooty and just plain stupid. But again the poor sleeping conditions ensure a quick awakening.
When I woke up my heart ached. I’ve lost it, I let the record slip away. All these months, all this hard work, all these sacrifices, gone, dream gone, goal gone, I might as well give up bike racing. The weight is unbearable. I drag myself up and go to mount my bike for my final day on the CTR and my delirium disables me once again. Which way was I going? Wait, it has to be this way, this is the direction my bike is pointing. Why can’t I remember? This is crazy, I’m really losing it, I’m totally lost, I don’t know which way I came from. After much consideration I determine without a doubt the way I need to go. Shortly down the trail I come to a corner I recognize and scoff at my stupidity. Are you f*#!ing kidding me? I need to sleep more than I’ve ever needed anything in my life. I feel the repercussion of my choice to limit my sleep this year and I cringe at what is has cost me. I start to wonder why I didn’t plan this better. All this time training and I never once talked to Lynda about what my sleep strategy was. How stupid could I be? I totally blew it, what an idiot!
Sometime around 6:00 a.m. I check my phone and I have cell service. Unsure of whether Matt learned of my Spot retrieval and knowing he would be anticipating my call I reluctantly dialed his number. Hey honey, I just thought I’d call to tell you I won’t be there any time soon. The lump in my throat triples in size and my ability to speak escapes me. “What’s wrong? Cat? Cat? Where are you?” The lump grows. I manage to get out that I’m on Hotel Draw. After realizing that I’m not in any real danger and that I’m ok except for the fact that I’m a complete emotional disaster, he kindly says “It’s ok”. Two words, the only ones I needed and wanted to hear. I haven’t let him down but along this strenuous journey I was able to convince myself that I let everyone down, mostly myself.
On Indian Trail Ridge I glance off to my left and the void below me. I sincerely love my life and don’t want to die however irrational thoughts have a tendency to overcome you when pain is all you think about and feel. If I jumped I could end it in a second. I wonder if it would hurt. Would I pass out before I hit the ground? One jump and this suffering would be over, just like that, it seems so easy. They’re just random thoughts, nothing I would ever act on, just worth mentioning to give those who don’t do this a taste of what it’s like to push yourself to a place you never thought possible.
Coming off Kennebec Pass was a spiritual journey, if spiritual journeys can be made to Hell. I completely, absolutely, without a doubt, CAME UNDONE. I wept, I cried, I whimpered, I melted, I shrunk, I became humbled yet again by the beast. Why does this always happen to me? Why? Why can’t I get a break? It isn’t fair? These words make more sense now. When you’re exhausted and in pain it can be either really hard or surprisingly easy to find clarity. At this moment everything was one big giant blob of fog. As a matter of fact Denver to Durango felt like a blur.
Somewhere on the last section before Junction Creek I found my groove again. NSAIDs helped and knowing the end was so near gave me a calming sense of peace. I finally slapped some sense into myself and pondering my accomplishment. This is a really hard race Cat, look what you’ve just done. I know in my heart I achieved a physical feat and that final descent, despite the numbness and pain in my hands and feet, was a feeling only we finishers can describe. It was nice to be greeted by many familiar faces. Jenn Cioppa, Kelly Behn, Joey Ernst, Chris Miller, Matt Fletcher, all of you are very special people, thank you!
|My friend Chris Miller congratulating me and I him.|
One of the most simple but inspiring quotes I have ever read is written by Jean Driscoll: “It’s risky to dream big and hard work requires sacrifices. The journey towards any goal will stretch you at times but is has the ability to change your perspective on and enjoyment of life in everlasting ways.” Perhaps Chad was right, a time does not define me, but how I get there does. My dear friend Eszter, who has taught me so much over the few short years I’ve known her (also a CTR friend), commented on my race this year saying that I put everything on the line, gave it all I had, and told me how much she respects me for doing so. It’s hard to know what would or wouldn’t have happened if I did it any other way.
We aren’t saving lives out there or ending wars, or finding the solution to world hunger. We are just simply riding our bikes, following our passions, committing to our own personal dreams, and working really hard to accomplish something we believe in. I used to think I did this because I was searching for something but it just dawned on me that I think I’ve found it, I think all of us out there doing these grueling races, pushing our limits, have found it and that is why we keep coming back. And although we aren’t finding the cure for cancer, we are gravitating towards something, finding a commonality amongst each other, and that unspoken energy that exists among us is comforting. It gives me hope in my fellow human being, knowing that when we push ourselves further and further on a physical and mental level, we come to the realization that truly anything is possible. I want to congratulate each and every person that started, finished and did their personal best on the CTR this year. Thank you for committing to a goal, thank you for exploring an amazing part of our country, simply because you can. We inspire people and in a sometimes dismal world that is a special thing, cherish it!
Just Rad, thanks for sharing
Wow ! Inspiring story, loved reading it.
That was so real, way to hang in there. As they say the only way out is through!
A 4th CTR finish in as many years. You define you, and you are one helluva badass!
Nice work and killer suffering out there. Man, you pushed the boat waaaay out there this year. I'm always amazed at how the memories from something like the CTR stick so much better than those from the "off-the-trail" times. Thanks for sharing your ride in all of its gritty intimacy.
Nice work Cat.. Truely inspiring story.. Had some goosebumps at the end..
Record no record, that was one helluva race! Thanks for sharing. By the way, the racer's name you could not remember was Jason Murrell ... the one with the broken frame. He is a good friend of mine. From Tennesse also.
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