Kenny Jones and I have been chasing each other around for years, but usually just a bit too far apart to converse. I've long admired his grit, quiet poise, and downright bike killing abilities. Call it a man crush if you must. Can you blame me?
So after the Park City shindig we cooked up a plan to race the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow on a 4 person SS with Heather and Lynda.
And then Heather stepped it up a notch.
"Let's go as missionaries of the Blue Dome!"
It all spun wildly out of control from there. Name tags were made.
Deseret Industries received visits to acquire the proper kit.
Racing 25 hours in a tie? Really?
As it turned out, everyone received the power of the Blue Dome with open arms and spinning legs. It was such an easy sell at this crowd. I think it was about a 50/50 split between folks that thought we were actual missionaries, and folks that got our little pun - but regardless, all seemed to love it.
The night is long in November - be prepared.
The days were warm which also took special preparation.
Appropriately, Zion was our constant backdrop.
The race was fantastic. The course was perfect: mixed dirt road/singletrack/wash climbs, down the rippin' Jem trail, then a few minutes of techy ledges on Hurricane Rim just to keep you honest. There was a new snack surprise every time I got off the bike in the timing tent. If you missed it this year don't miss it next year! Super fun, good vibe.
Post race meal rocked!
Oh, and we did make great bike race.
Kenny drilled it on his second lap trying to shake a persistent guy from the Idaho team and in the process nailed the fastest SS lap of all time on the course. Lynda drilled her first lap and got both the fastest female SS lap and fastest female overall lap (and only 2 min off Kenny's ripping lap to boot!).
Heather killed it on every lap. I went out after her...she told me she would be doing 1:15 laps and then turned a 1:02...guess who wasn't there in time? Doh! Didn't make that mistake again.
My last lap was nearly my fastest. I was locked an a duel with a geared rider and we were both loving it. It's been a loooooong time since I've had that much fun on a bike.
Lynda rode a lap inches off Greg Martin's wheel. She came in giggling about it, said it was sooo much easier cause it was a windy lap and Greg pushed it all out of the way for her (and also had some very kind things to say about his bike handling). Then Kenny came in off his lap was pissed that some dude wouldn't get off his wheel (it was the same team). LW and I busted into hysterics immediately ;)
In the end the Idaho boys opted to drink beer instead of get wrapped up in a drag race. They appropriately received beer mugs for their prize. Jon from Sabrosa captain'd a strong team for 2nd.
Essentially it's the 311 minus the Sevier and Tushar sections. Using the Lite route as a reference point, it now includes the entire Paunsaugunt segment of the 311. The full Paunsaugunt is a real treat :)
The recommended start is 8 AM Saturday, June 25th at Woods Ranch (same location as last year).
The 311 is going native. It will live on in the memory of all who rode it last year. I don't plan on modifying the route at all - so last year's files are good to go should you have an urge to challenge yourself a bit more.
A couple of Ergon stars stopped by on the way to InterBike. We did our best to show them a good time :) Yuki amazed with his tech skills + bursty power abilities. His move at the end of the vid is the first time I've seen Collarbone hill cleaned, and it was his second time. I didn't have the camera on when he did it the first time.
Jeff had no trouble keeping up despite his crushing of the VT125 the weekend prior...and LW's pace setting which was a bit froggy. New bike love is surrounding her right now! Jeff reveals hidden secrets in the middle of the video.
This video cam stuff is fun, but more geeky and time consuming than power meters! When the ride ends the experience has only just begun...
This decompression is going to take awhile. Generally speaking I have not been interested in racing since Moab last year - how do you top stars and bars? - and have been moving back to basics, what started it all in the first place, using the mountain bike as a vehicle to roam the best parts of planet earth.
CTR was the lone exception. The Dixie 311 was a great training event, and a month in Crested Butte prior to race day was to be the antidote for my apparent weakness at altitude. After last years 6 day scouting mission of CTR I was ready to rumble. I came to race this year.
After a week of reflection post-event, I'm still clueless. The training, nutrition, gear - it was all spot on. The execution, as far as I can tell, was also bang on the money all things considered. A years worth of research on how to handle the altitude, special supplements and acclimatization, putting it all in a training plan to help others (particularly those coming from low elevations) and still, I found hard limitations that sent me bailing for lower terrain. I was acclimatized to altitude and had great power up high. Even Lynda, who doesn't mince words if I screw up, said I did everything right for this one. However, the recovery from the daily grind just didn't happen as normal and full body edema kicked my ass in the most remote part of the route.
That's the short version. Below is the rest of the story.
I took a total of 5 pictures during the event. The first is the most photographed pole in Colorado.
Running multi-playback in Topofusion for this year and last years tracks has me at Georgia pass about an hour faster than last year (starting the playback after the courses merged). The big difference this time? I was acclimatized! Riding the short tundra region to the pass was easy this year, no stress at all. Last year I was walking and wheezing it. Acclimatization in CB had done the job and I felt great.
The weather was a different story. The descent off Georgia featured the storm of the century. More rain than I have ever ridden in, it was a bit unnerving. Wet rocks, roots, flash floods in drainages - and will this new raingear really work? Chainsuck on the super granny (actiontech 20T front ring) was pretty tough to manage in the wet and lube was the only thing to prevent it. It all worked out fine though, and I decided to bivy before the 10 mile hike.
A good 5-6 hours of solid sleep later (in the rain no less! victory, yeah this desert rat can do this!) and I was crawling up 10 mile. I felt great. No need to detour to Copper, I just kept on moving up towards Searle. Last year I cracked hard on Searle, succumbing to the thin air. This year I floated up on a no-chain day. Effortless. Tom Jensen and Eddie Turkalay had camped near the top and were cheering riders on. They told me I was in 4th with Kerkove and Jefe about 90 minutes ahead. That was a surprise to me since I had taken a long bivy on night one, but all the same I was pretty stoked. Even Kokomo was nearly all rideable, just a couple of short pushes. I swear the trail got flattened in the last year...
Leadville to BV was fantastic in the daylight. Tons of flow, great trail, the descent to Twin Lakes was probably my favorite section of the route this year. Killer new trail, supa fast, great views, it had it all. A bit after Twin Lakes I caught up to Jefe and we'd more or less leapfrog and camp/hotel together the next 2 days. As soon as we hit the detour at the end of Segment 11 (clear creek res) ma nature unleashed on us again. After a day of wide open crack it was a real let-down. Both Jefe and I were suddenly uncertain about our willingness to keep this game up, and were for sure going to share a hotel in BV...
Segs 13/14 were brutal last year, this year they were super ridable (with my super granny everything but the nasty hikes were ridable) and plenty of new trail work especially on seg 14 was obvious. The trail was in great shape and what a shock to find flow here! Heading up to the crest, ma nature did her best to dampen spirits at Fooses lake. Some of these storms were pretty darn intense. Outhouses are great places to get the raingear on ;)
It mellowed out for most of the climb, at least until I got to treeline. Once in the open, exposed tundra faced with the insanely steep hike-a-crawl to the crest the storm intensified, lightning and thunder all around. It smelled electric. It was stupid but there was no way I was going to retreat back down fooses. Instead I was filled with adrenaline and charged up that hike that about killed me last year...
2 weeks prior the Crest trail was buff and flowy, in great shape. This time it was deeply rutted and gutted by water and motos, a bad combination. Bummer. I zipped by the lean-to, looked back, and saw bikes with gear on them - better go be sociable! There was my bunkmate Jefe and 2 others waiting out the storm. I had a secret shelter in mind and coaxed Jefe out of his hideout for a fully stormproof shelter complete with wood stove. Jefe had a fire going in minutes! We hung all our wet gear around the fire and tried to sleep until the weather improved.
With no expectations for improving weather for the next 2 days, it was time to go nocturnal. Bivy for a few random hours during storms and otherwise keep it rolling. I'd been front-loading rest intentionally to be able to push with less sleep in the Cataract to Durango sections.
In that cabin on the Crest I'd started to develop a cough. Harbinger of things to come. I hit the inhaler (had my own this year!) and it seemed to help....
Heading out to seg 16 in the wee hours it was really feeling like the race was getting started. The trail was getting difficult, the previous bivy gave but an hour or two of shuteye. It was hard, but it felt good. On a particularly steep and chunky descent I somehow managed to send my junk over the bars. Oops. Nothing seemed out of place, I kept rolling but a tad more cautiously. Jefe always left before I did and I had become accustomed to meeting up with him sometime after he left. So it was no surprise to find him trailside at 3AM. What was surprising was that he was in the midst of a big personal dilemma (otherwise known as a crack), with all the options to bail to gunny nearby his mental demons were running strong. We had a little chat about how and when to bail, and he seemed unwilling to get moving. It was uncomfortable. When riding with others these days, I always wish the best for them, and we'd spent a lot of time together the last 36 hours or so. He just needed an ignition spark. I did my best, and then left him to sort it out.
It wasn't long before I saw him again. I stopped for a short nap and breakfast, and he rolled on by saying "I got my mojo back!" That was the last of him I heard...I was really stoked for him.
That was the middle of Segment 17. Segment 17 is not a crowd favorite to say the least. Many call it soul sucking and even Stefan is not a fan. While it is rather tough on a bike, it has some charms. Like, the best best sunrise of the 2010 CTR! All of Seg 16 was intermittent fog in the dark, and as the sun came up I could see that the cloud level was roughly 10,800', about 500' below the sunrise location. I was surrounded by a sea of floating peaks, glowing in the orange morning light and it was breathtaking.
Apple saved the day once again at Lujan with his trail magic tent, putting racers in easy chairs and handing out food and beverages. He insisted on serving me and would take no donations. Shortly after I arrived at the magic place about 8 thru hikers (that I had passed on the trail) came in and it was suddenly a crowd. CTR never feels as remote as the Dixie 311...
The easy miles of Seg 18 and the La Garita route detour is where my body started to give me some really bad feedback. It came on fast and was merciless. I had reached Lujan nearly 24 hours faster than last year and still felt good...but for whatever reason, after Lujan I started to swell at the extremities, face, and joints. In particular, both of my knees (which had taken some knocks in the fall on Seg 16) were swelling to the point that my kneecaps felt out of place and I was getting shooting pains in both knees. So, from feeling good and rested to nearly unable to pedal in about 4-5 hours. On the approach to Los Pinos pass things went far south and I struggled to move forward at all, and even stopped for an hour or so to see if that would help. It didn't...so I gingerly rolled on until getting to a dispersed campsite on Cebolla creek. I set up camp, making it a bit more comfy than usual (ground contouring + tarp) and took stock of the situation.
At least 9k calories remained in the larder I'd been hauling around Colorado. No lack of calories, that's for sure. Swelling was everywhere though. Removing shoes and socks gave me a start - my feet were balloons, and the two broken pinky toes especially painful. My hands were swollen enough that it was hard to bend my fingers and the Pearl Izumi rain gloves (which BTW are nothing but sponges) were now too tight to wear. My kneecaps were gone in a layer of fluid. Coughing was pretty regular now and not relieved with the inhaler. It was more like an allergic reaction to something as it came on so fast, but it was full body too....these ultra races always have a new twist, but this turned out to be a challenge I had no answer for.
Game over. Thank you for playing. Maybe I could have gutted it out for a 6 day finish, but I had already done that. TBH, finishing was not a goal. A sub 5 day finish was the goal, and looking at my bloated body it was apparent that ship had sailed. I certainly didn't want to be "that guy", the one that hits the 911 SPOT button from Cataract.
So I slept...slept long! 12-13 hours, would have slept more but this damn gray squirrel would have none of it. He was after my 9k calorie larder and wouldn't take no for an answer.
Cebolla creek has loads of wild raspberries next to it. I spent a good hour eating at least a pound of them.
Fresh fruit in the midst of the most remote section of CTR, yum. I was probably stalling the ride out of there - no easy way out of that spot exists. Even to get to Silverton, the easiest bail spot, includes a climb up Slumgullion and Cinnamon passes. A cakewalk compared to the race route, but still full of climbing and not quite so easy with compromised joints and lungs. Near the top of Cinnamon pass some severe breathing issues convinced me the decision to pull the plug was the right call.
There was some wildlife I had never seen in CO before just outside of Silverton. Moose!
And thus ends my CTR obsession. For the past couple of years I've considered it *the* multi-day race. The sad truth is though, in terms of seeking the front of the race - it's a locals event. If you don't live at altitude the deck is more than stacked against you. Looking at race results over the last 4 years of the event tells the story. And, there's more to it than that too. Scott Morris, who lives in Tuscon at the same elevation as I, positively thrived at the highest parts of the course last year. Genetics play a large role in altitude capabilities. Presumably he chose his parents more wisely than I did ;)
I'm all for banging my head against immovable walls, but I do like to change the wall now and then.
1 year ago I started what would be the most difficult ride of my life. There were parts of that ride I was in denial about how hard I was being hit by the altitude, and my determination to continue (in retrospect) is still somewhat suspect.
1 year later I sit here in the Plesko's home, relaxed, and committed to racing CTR. It will be most challenging to overcome remaining muscle memory of last year's ride, but it is a challenge I welcome. I am fresh this time around, the bike has a small ring, the kit is at least 15 lb lighter, and we spent the last month in Crested Butte living at 9,300'. The things within my control I've done my best to prepare for...the rest? Well that's why we do these things ;)
Doubly exciting this time around - the CTR training plan that LW and I wrote has been in use by 6-7 riders in prep for this year's event. It will be fun to meet them at the start and share stories afterwards.
At the end of the day it's all about seeking those brief flashes of intense living. IME being as prepared as possible, and then bumping up against and overcoming new found limitations is a sure way to seek out the white light.
To all the CTR racers, good luck, be safe, and best wishes for some intense living. For everyone else, follow along at trackleaders.com and start scheming for your own ride on the CT!
One real sadistic character must have put that loop together. It is far more challenging than the Grand Loop in many ways. It's a good thing the terrain is so engaging - it really is a gorgeous route.
According to my GPS:
49 hours moving time
Elapsed time 3 days 9 hours 55 minutes
Other random facts:
Starting calories: 9,000
Estimated calories of Harold's place breakfast: 2,500 (bad idea!)
Dave Kirk sightings: 2
Mechanical issues: 0
Number of downed trees hurdled: > 1,000,000
Favorite segment: 5. In my eye it's the jewel of the 311.
Method to draw out sleeping hotel owners: do laps in their parking lot with your lights on.
More creative details as soon as the hands and brain are willing...
It's tough work playing route architect. The previous weekend was snowy in the Tushars, so I had no choice but to go bikepacking for the last 3 days. Tough but it had to be done.
Let's start with the punchline: Both the Dixie 311 and Dixie Lite have seen extensive changes because of lingering snow above 10,500'. Sydney Peaks and Dark Hollow will not be melted out by race day, and even if they were they would still be full of blowdown. So they get the ax. With those 2 trails gone from the route, it didn't make any sense to start in Parowan anymore - the reward for the 4k' jeep road climb was the techy fun of Dark Hollow. Instead, we will start at the Western terminus of the Virgin River Rim trail at Woods Ranch, a few miles East of Cedar City on UT 14. GPS files are linked from the above event web pages.
For the 311, the heavy snows remaining in the Tushars means we won't be doing Skyline trail either. I did find several great trails though! And, a triple bonus up there is that the higher regions are still closed to motor vehicles. I didn't see a single ATV in 3 days of riding but elk and deer were everywhere. More than a few exciting stream crossings should be expected as well.
Another change on the 311: the Spruce trail north of Horse Valley Peak has what is probably the nastiest hike a bike I have ever done. We will be skipping that section of (non) trail!
Go grab those GPX files, have a look, and fire away with any questions. I'm still working on the waypoints/cues and will update here when they are ready.