Neither Cat or I carried a camera so all pics are borrowed from DH.
My big plan for 2012 was to race AZT 750 but my right knee was a road block, it hurt when I pedaled…um that’s a training problem! I spent all winter figuring out what was wrong with my knee trying madly to rehab it instead of training. When AZT rolled around in April my knee still hurt and was still an undiagnosed mystery despite thousands of $$$$ spent on several Drs, physical therapy, an MRI and x-rays. Thousands…uuugh…
Burned out on the medical bills I took a break from the medical establishment but kept on listening to any and all advice sent my way. Thank-you to everybody who shared their stories and knowledge with me. I learned a lot on this journey that will make me a better coach. Maybe that is why I was forced to take it.
I gave up my AZT dream and started doing any movement that didn’t hurt which included running and Crossfit. I joined Crossfit St George. The owners of Crossfit St George are far from gym meatheads but are savvy educated individuals. They told me to do the entirely opposite movements to the physical therapy I had spent thousands of dollars and many hours on over the winter. Cycling legend Bart Gillespie also very kindly looked at my knee and his advice fell in line with Crossfit St George owners. After 2 weeks of cutting out physical therapy and following Bart’s and Crossfit St George’s advice my knee pain diminished then disappeared. My race dreams reappeared and Grand Loop was coming up!!
As I was making my Grand Loop plan and researching the terrain one of my athletes, Cat Morrison, asked if we could fit a Grand Loop race into her training plan. He, he…I replied by telling her it would fit really nicely if she did it with me...and so plan was hatched.
My bike was loaded, car packed and I was on the way out the door to meet Cat for the planned Dewey Bridge start. Just before shutting down my computer I peeked at the Grand Loop thread on bikepacking. Bryan K posted there was a fire and fire closure on the route – whaaaat?? Yikes. Some research and frantic calls revealed this was serious business. It foiled our current plan of starting at Dewey Bridge. Plan B was made and we decided to take a gamble and start the loop just ahead of the fire hoping it would be contained and the area closure lifted by the time we got back around to it some 3 days later. This involved a longer drive for me, last minute logistics changes, scrambling and a late night.
WEDNESDAY: We got on course 10am, Wednesday May 30th where the Paradox Trail segment of the Grand Loop crosses Hwy 141 near Uravan. Pedaling was so easy compared to packing, planning and logistics wrangling. Pedaling felt so good.
We pedaled all day and stopped in a nice sheltered place in the trees at 9,500 feet to bivy. I was stoked the altitude was not bothering me and that the sleeping bag I borrowed was a lot cozier than I had expected. I slept soundly.
THURSDAY: We got a lazy start by bikepack racing standards and it was full daylight when we got rolling. Our first segment was the famed Roubideau section. We were elated to be hitting this notoriously hard section first thing in the morning after a good night sleep. It was as remote, rugged and wild as expected. The trees emitted screeching noises I'm convinced were from monkeys. Cat started counting drainage crossings. There are supposed to be 15. We lost count after 8.
I eagerly anticipated the Potter Creek drainage as I had seen photos and reports of how beautiful this canyon was. It did not disappoint. At the bottom of the drainage were two ranchers working on fences. We cruised passed them without a word from either party. After we snickered at what the ranchers might have said to each other at the sight of 2 gals on bikes riding by. It felt like we cruised through Roubideau fairly easily.
Next up, lots of climbing took us back over 9.6k to the Divide road. Now the altitude was killing me! I had to ask Cat to stop for a break up on the Divide road to gather myself as I was cracking – gah. Once off the Divide road and back under 8k I rallied and we ripped almost 5k of descending down to Whitewater and bivvied at a comfortable 4.7k.
FRIDAY: We got up early and motored over No Mas hill into Grand Junction. At Albertsons we called to see if the fire closure had been lifted. No word but there was a BLM meeting at 1pm to make a decision. It was noon. We hung around Albertsons snacking and cleaning up a bit. Cat was sure we were being mistaken for homeless people as we were sitting outside Albertsons with bare feet, looking very dirty and had bikes with stuff hanging all over them – funny. After the 1pm meeting we were told the fire was 85% contained and there was going to be a multi-agency meeting at 4:30pm to make a decision – hmph…what to do… We packed up and rode to Fruita and waited for the 4:30pm decision. At 4:30pm still no word...Finally, too antcy to stick around, we switched off our phones and went for it. We had a fire detour route planned out if the fire closure was still in place.
By 5:30pm we were back on course and churned out as many of the low elevation Kokopelli Trail miles as we could before we bivvied at 2am. In the Bittercreek section I was motivated and we were motoring. We caught up to 4 guys riding Kokopelli Trail and stopped for a wee chat. One dude said “you girls are moving” and I blurted out loudly “oh yeah” later Cat pointed out that was crack talk – oops - LOL. We motored off and left them behind. Later we stopped to refresh our Tailwind and they passed us again. The last chap mentioned we had bruised some egos – LOL.
We both carried ziplok bags full of Tailwind Sports Drink. I carried about 5,000 calories worth of it. It was refreshing to drink and went down more easily than plain water over the long haul. I didn’t carry any extra electrolyte capsules with me relying on the Tailwind for all my electrolytes. I never cramped or felt dehydrated and am very pleased how that worked out.
Kep's Balls were my other magic fuel for the trip. I had them squished into 800 calorie logs in ziplock bags and gnawed on them continuously. They still tasted like treats to me at the end. Mmmm. They are gluten free and raw and kept my GI very happy.
SATURDAY: We got an early start to try and beat the heat up the Shandies. At Dewey bridge bathrooms a man was curious with our set-up. He was Mesa county search and rescue and told us we wouldn't have any problem getting through as the fire had been contained. Good news.
Despite our early start we were still baked pretty good climbing the Shandies. Cat had her only crack of the trip at the top of the Shandies in the heat and we lay on our backs under a tree for a while. She rallied quickly and absolutely railed the Rose Garden Hill section on her 29er Voodoo FS. I had wheel size envy as I was on my 26er.
Near the top of north Beaver Mesa a rancher on a moto stopped us to tell us not to ride down "his" bikepack trail (still have no clue where that trail is) as he had just sent 100 cows down it and it was closed! He told us that the Buckeye road had been re-opened. Good news again.
Turning left off Kokopelli Trail onto Paradox Trail was so exciting. The ecosystem instantly changed from desert to lush Alpine in yards. I saw a black bear run across the road minutes after the turn. It was like we transported into a new world. Surreal…and then the climbing began. Up, up…and the altitude started to get me. We went down a little and up twice as much then down and up more. At 8,800 feet I had a category 1 crack. It was dark and cold, I had no power and I was falling asleep. I ended up on all fours in the middle of the road in a pathetic groveling state, struggling to open a packet of Via. I didn’t hold back and Cat got to witness the full-on beauty of my crack – LOL. No tears were involved. Earlier I had declared there were to be no tears until the finish. After packet of Via and a 1,000 ft descent I rallied and all was good and happy again.
When we got to Taylor Flat where the fire closure had started it was dark. I saw a barricade lying face down in the grass off to the side of the road and assumed it was moved when the area opened and was waiting to be picked up. It had rained up there most of the day and the ground was wet. We were relieved the area was open and we didn’t have to ride the longer fire detour route we had as a backup plan. We never did see any flames or even embers. It was eerie riding through the burned area in the dark.
Carpenter Ridge to the finish was all downhill. Cat smelled the finish. She motored and I suffered some to keep her within sight, recycling 24 different reasons in my head why I should stop for a break. I kept my mouth shut and we didn’t stop. The last few miles flew by yet took forever. With the Dolores River pumping on our left, surrounded by moonshine bouncing off the tall redrock walls of the river canyon it felt suffery yet serene all at the same time. I alternated between seconds of everything hurts to a euphoric nothing hurts and back again. Smile, grimace, smile. And then we were finished. We did it. First female finishers of Grand Loop. 3 days 11 hours and 33 mins. 360 miles. Self-supported. Giddiness and euphoria was shared. That was so cool. Cat is one badass mountain bike chica.
Thanks Cat for sharing one of the best rides of my life. That loop is truly an epic one in length and beauty.
Cat Morrison and I are doing an ITT on The Grand Loop starting 5am on Wednesday. We hope to ride and finish it together but will be self supported and will finish it out solo if it comes to that!
The Grand Loop is 360 miles linking up Kokopelli Trail, Paradox and Tabeguache. We have elected to start at Dewey Bridge and ride it counter-clockwize. This puts our first resupply some 3 days down the road at Grand Junction. I have packed a lot of food including some bacon Mmmm...
When I did the Grand Loop in '07 it was a completely consuming affair. Everything about it was so new, so foreign, so promising, so freightening...I was green to multi-day self-supported racing (still am, really). Having that first one in the books removed much of the unknown about the event this time.
By far, Grand Loop '09 was all about the internal struggle of multi-day racing. I knew that at the start, yet still got more than I expected in that department!
I had goals and expectations. First and foremost was simply to finish on the SS. The second was to do it faster than I did the first time around and set a new record mark for the route. Little did I know that Jefe would be hitting the route with similar aspirations putting in a record ride on his SS... The more time I spend on a SS the more I realize that, especially for longer events, they can be faster even though they seem to be such a disadvantage at times. Goal #2 was tied in with this theory.
All shiny and new for the start. I got as much on the bike (and not on my back) as possible. This turned out to be a great strategy for the most part as pack weight never turned into a sore back - a concern with all the standing required. As for the gear, I stressed over that a lot...of course...and had pretty much settled on a 33.22 (29er). The day before the start I felt so friggin good I changed and went with a 33.21. The nice thing about leaving the start is you don't have to think about gear choice anymore. Ride, eat, sleep if ya gotta, repeat. Ah, the simple life.
This is the year for everyone to do the "race" on their own terms. Scott and Chad did the route backwards (actually a consistent theme for Scott this year), while others started at various times. I chose to start at Westwater. It was closer to home, it would split the desert section of the KT - and since it was cooler in general an early morning start meant starting without being sleep deprived, something all but Jefe, Jim and Matt took advantage of. The conditions this year were anything but traditional.
I was moving faster this year than in '07 - by a lot most of the time. It's hard to wrap my head around, actually. Cool temps, big wheels, experience, I just don't really know. After the '07 ride I knew it could be done faster cause I stopped a lot to make coffee...but when I was riding I was riding fast, or so I thought. Doing the mulit-rider playback analysis in topofusion with the '07 and '09 files is eye-popping. If it wasn't muddy I was just faster this year.
I tossed on 2.35 rampages front and rear with the idea that going with super low pressure in the rear would maintain traction up sandy climbs. This worked great and I only walked in 2 short steep bits on the shandies, and very little on the way to N Beaver. I hit the Paradox (from Dewey) about 1 hour 50 min faster than in '07! I didn't know at the time, only after the topofusion analysis.
This view from Yellow Jacket on the KT always gets a wow.
What remains of Dewey.
Looking over to the Unc from the Shandies.
You know where this is! Weather started brilliant but quickly deteriorated. Cool temps were great - but came with lots of moisture. It was a mixed bag for sure.
Sure enough, high in the La Sals the storms hit in earnest. Fast riding turned to unrideable muck. So much for that shiny new bike. Suddenly those 2.35 rampages with minimal clearance became a liability. Ugh.
The only way to get through this area was meadow hopping. Lots of boulders and sagebrush to dodge, I look up and OMG there are two cyclists coming towards me doing the same!! No way, it couldn't be...sure enough, Hollywood and Mr. Topofusion were doing the same, looking rather soggy too! It was surreal to be surrounded by my own breathing and thoughts for several hours and then run into a pair doing the same. Chad and I had a moment up there, and I gotta say he looked fresh and froggy. Lookout, this new kid on the block is on the rise!
Working through those meadows took forever. There was one last big nasty muddy climb, more meadow hopping, before things improved. Several hours later I ran into Marshal out on his birthday ride. He seemed unfazed by the weather and fully prepared. In fact I was doing a lot of walking where it looked like he was riding mud. He's got muck super powers ;)
We rode together a little, shared a few tales. Then he says "well looks like no records this year eh?" That was a big blow. It was on my mind, but I wasn't willing to face that. The muck event took a lot out of me, I can't lie, and this was a low point of the ride. Shortly thereafter, I couldn't figure out a turn and lost another 15 minutes - GPS track and all. Meh.
Some time later rolling through the Paradox valley I was becoming aware of some voice inside that was telling me not to be discouraged, some underlying optimism that a good ride was still to be had. The phone at the Bedrock store was out of service - another big blow (hey I ain't single these days!) - but that just served as a launch pad to attack this route with everything. I was starting to feel a little crazy and wanting to get jiggy with it. So, I unleashed my secret weapon: Java juice and m&ms. Stoveless this time, the caffeine fix came from these little packets of heaven. Better than GU hands down! Chasing copious amounts of M&Ms, well that was the kick the turbo needed. Bedrock to Pinto Mesa took all of 6 hours, the hardest section of the Paradox, in the witching hours. It was such a blast. Lot's of hike a bike, at times run a bike - that Java Juice is strong stuff and at times I had to conciously pull in the reigns. 3:40 AM just below Pinto it was time for a couple hours shuteye, the first thus far. I'd been pushing for about 22 hours at this point.
That meant Glencoe Bench for the sunrise! A gorgeous spot, surely made all the better by sleep deprivation and exhaustion. You can barely make out the La Sals in this pic. Yep, this route covers some ground.
Up, up, up. Houser road was pretty tough above 9k on the SS and I did a fair bit of hoofing. Yet, the TF comparison still says faster than '07. I'm tossing all my gears away, they don't do any good anyway!
The prize for the last 60 miles of climbing? Nearly unrideable singletrack - downed trees, snow cover - the upper Tab is simply not ready. I had twinges of guilt riding as it was rideable but muddy, knowing we were not doing the trail any good.
Snow and trees notwithstanding, it didn't take very long. It seemed long...but the file says otherwise. The infamous Roubideaux was next, 16 drainage crossings, much of the ups are hikes, all rubbly, all drop dead gorgeous and teeming with critters of all kinds. I took a nap under a tree during a shower, but other than that it flowed by magically. Much easier than I recalled! The only issue was that my chain was developing a sqeek - my lube escaped from the pack about 120 miles ago, doh!
That is the last pic I snapped. The camera was bugging me and I was hammering. It almost didn't make the trip.
Heading up Love Mesa it looked like I'd hit the top in daylight. Never having seen the view from up there I was motivated to do so, and when it started to look tight I ramped it up some more, and really hammered the final 45 minutes or so. And didn't eat...and just missed the sunset at the top. Dang it. It was cold at the top, and I was pretty much bonked with mostly downhill gravel road for the next few hours. Shit. Same thing that forced me to stop last time.
I put on warm gear I brought specifically for this section, knowing this could happen. I was certainly warm, sweating even, but I was toast. Dominguez was the goal but the few hills before the drop in were killing me. The legs were done, and when that happens on a SS there is only one thing to do. Walk. It was agonizingly slow, I was pissed at how inefficient this was...the eyes couldn't focus right and I was starting to halucinate...and finally about midnight pulled the bivvy out. 6 hours later I was moving again but the damage was done. Too tired to get much of anything down the hatch, I woke still pretty bonked out. A good long while rehydrating and fueling at Dominguez helped but it sure felt like I had slipped into survival mode.
The rest of the day was all about walking as little as possible. I knew it would hurt but would be faster to keep riding. I came this year to go fast and I gave it what was left. Not much, but the Whitewater to LL section was still under 3.5 hours, and the No Mas climb faster than '07 when I swear I flew up that thing.
But wait - there is more! Traditional GL racers are done at the LL trailhead, but since I started in Westwater, I got to ride pavement out to Fruita, interstate to Loma, then 40 ish miles of the Kokopelli that I hadn't yet done. That meant the Salt Creek hike a bike was coming soon. Right about here is when I paused to reconsider the (lack of)wisdom of my start point.
To prepare, I took advantage of the McDonalds passing in Fruita. $10 of garbage down the hatch, I (thought I) was fueled and ready. Trouble is, McDs is nothing like I'd been eating for the last 4 months or so and it tried to escape all the way to WW. Sore tired legs and bad gut notwithstanding, I knew where I was time-wise - roughly 7 hours ahead of record pace - and just had to get'r done. The pressure was off and I fully enjoyed the cruise to WW.
An amazing thing happens when you ride your bike for days on end with minimal sleep. You become one with that machine, the bars, fork, wheels all an extension of your body. Bike handling becomes so extraordinarily crisp it is almost like an out of body experience. I loved the techy singletrack leading to Salt Creek. Anything that didn't require a lot of power, that is ;) There are long sections between Rabbit Valley and Bitter Creek with tons of flow, real ripping double track and those were a blast. The desert was cool this afternoon/evening, and just before WW I actually had to put on my arm warmers. Go figure!
Right as I rolled up to the railroad overpass near WW - the start and finish of my loop - an Amtrak train sped over, full of onlookers, all cheering my finish. At least that's what my addled mind told me. This can be a lonely sport - solo starts, solo finishes - but meeting up with other riders on route and the Amtrak cheering section were certain highlights ;)
The GPS file tells me these times: 2 days, 12 hours 44 min for the traditional (bedrock) route. For the complete loop (inluding the typically untimed section from the Tab TH to Loma) it was 2 days 15 hours 39 min. That's about 6.5 hours faster than the '07 record ride and this year's conditions were questionable at best. And SS - guess what I think about that??
The event this year saw lots of action. There were so many tire tracks out there I couldn't keep them all straight! Monday morning I got online in Fruita and saw that Jefe was about to finish and he was hauling the mail, due to finish well under the previous record. Instead of heading home, I drove back to GJ and the Tab TH to meet him - Cat Morrison and Zack were already there and Jefe was onroute to eating a whole chicken and then some...simply awesome to chat with the 3 of them in the perfect temps of the midday desert. He put in a phenomenal ride, also on a SS! His energy and enthusiasm for the experience was contagious, I swear he did not just finish the GL ;)
As for my recovery...I was completely shelled post event. After finishing I headed straight for Fruita, the super 8 was calling loudly and the WW mosquitoes were way too hungry. The mirror there told the story of my race. I did not see a 44 year old dude I knew 3 days ago, what I saw was an ageless dude with not enough layers to hide a single piece of muscle fiber or vein. Indeed when I got home the tanita told me bodyfat was at 2.4%. It is rising quickly but that pace I don't think was sustainable for much longer. It really makes me think about strategies for longer events like CTR...
I'd be remiss if I didn't show some appreciation here. Mike Curiak has long provided the inspiration to do this sort of event, in fact this exact event. On top of that, he has built bulletproof wheels on which to do them, and even helped me quickly acquire the Lenz Milk Money (which he had a large role in designing) which turned out to be the ideal bike for this difficult route. Scott Morris' Topofusion and bikepacking.net have become enormous contributions to the endurance racing scene. Saving the best for last, Lynda is an inspiration on many levels. One is simply to keep up with the gal, the second is sweet things to daydream about on long suffery climbs. The entire endurance MTB crowd is super group of folks I'm happy to consider as family.
May 29th a group of us will be heading out on a Grand Loopmission. I've done this route before, so to make it more challenging this time around I'll have just one gear. This route is hard enough that success rate is something south of 40% for those that attempt it - and it only appeals to a rather salty crowd. SS finishes? Nada. I don't know if I can do it...and I like that. Makes me feel alive with that tingle in the tummy.
Since I have yet to do an overnight trip with the single - and May 29 is coming quick - the time is now! And, why not dovetail it with some TU splorin'?
I mapped out something that was about 130 miles and looked fairly climb heavy. That should be sufficient. What I got was a bit more than I had imagined tho!
Distance is ~ 15 miles short - a GPS malfunction towards the end of the 2nd day had me losing a big chunk of data. Grrrr....
The start was up Veyo-Shoal creek road. Confusing sign - singletrack road? That's an oxy-moron. Sure looked like double track to my eyes....up the recently burned moonscape, steep climbing - loaded and single, ouch - just what I needed to get a feel for. Oi. I knew there was water aplenty up here but I started with 175 OZ just cause. I really don't want to do much walking in the Shandies so this would be a good test.
The moonscape quickly gave way to incredible greenery! 2 weeks ago the oak brush was still dormant. It is now a glimmering shiny spring green and it covers every peak in this region. The riding continued steadily up, up and up...
Detour from plan #1: like a moth to a lightbulb, I seem to have this fatal attraction with the South Boundary trail. I could not pass up such a *civilized* looking trailhead. Off into the unknown...
And as luck would have it it was mostly rideable! Big views, epic descents on singletrack overgrown with flowers giving way to a descent down a nearly unrideable boulder field. But not quite ;)
That was almost at the Nevada/Utah state line, it is lonely remote country. Water was everywhere. Heading east, Pilot Peak trail escorted me past Flatop, then Ox Valley...and one big hike a bike up to the top of Big Mountain to see this. Farthest horizon line is the Lost Peak area where the above trail was, center of pic is Flatop and Pilot Peak, Ox valley not too far but out of sight. Already a big day, I still had some miles to cover to get where I had planned to camp.
It's flower season as we all know from MC's blog. This is one of my favorites. Most of the time you don't see them until you are nearly on top of them as they grow so low to the ground. Pink carpet, I call them Emma flowers. This particular patch I found amidst a 4 mile hike a bike.
4 miles and 100 oz fluids later brought me here.
Since it is outside the boundary of Pine Valley wilderness I thought I'd give it a go - but once at the lake I was looking for alternatives. And...I found one! A brilliant trail rolled along the top of this range, from lake to lake. The trail was often gone only to reappear. Can you read the sign below? Yea, this place has been forgotten by all but the hardiest of cattle.
Eventually the trail became a ripping singletrack descent, all rideable - flowy even. Fun stuff! I was thinking there must be a way to work this in the TU route. Suddenly the trail ended and this is the sign that greeted me.
Hmph. Some strange management going on here. Apparently equestrians rule the roost here. Oh well, it was an awesome ride nonetheless.
Overnights in rough country on a SS? Seems pretty doable to me! I did a lot of futzing with gear placement and had a batch of velcro straps and zip ties to use. Once the Epic Designs seatbag arrives things will get even better as the front end was too heavy for hike a bikes - and one consequence of a heavy front end when on a SS is a light rear end - bad for traction.
Body, GI, fueling: spot on. Dave V2 is ready. Tick tock till May 29 6pm...
A couple years back I had quite a ride on the Grand Loop. Apparently it didn't cure me of wanting to go back. I wanted to do it last year SS but it didn't work out timing-wise. This year it is still a big question mark but the dreams come still...
It hasn't been done on a SS yet. A few have tried. It's not a friendly route. So what bike would be best for the beast? Suspension front and rear might be nice...since I don't yet have the (much anticipated) WBR Siren Song I cobbled together a beast with some old parts and came up with this:
FS with tensioner. I've had a tensioner fail before so I'm not so sure this is viable for GLR, but it will be fun to play with in the meantime. And yes, that is a wireless disc PT :)
There is no semi-official date anymore for the GLR but there is quite a bit of semi-serious chatter over on bikepacking.net about aligning a time for a "group ITT." The snowpack at the Columbine snotel is just about zero right now, which might lead one to think the upper reaches of the Tab will clear by ~May 15. However...
I think May 22 would be the soonest it *may* be clear, May 29 being the safer bet. Although the snowpack at Columbine has cleared out about the same time as in '07, the snowpack a mere 2 weeks prior was much deeper this year. The Tab is a lot more sheltered and a bit higher than Columbine...so Plesko, there's something to consider.
Thinking of the Grand Loop for '08? Yea, me too. The golden gem of '07 get's my attention for another year. Can you say SS?
Last year I did it not once but twice. Since it was a low snow year I figured I'd bust it out early in mid-May. Wow, that turned out to be a real learning experience - that saga is among these posts: http://2-epic.com/?cat=20.
Snowpack this year is an entirely different beast. Just in case your head has been in the sand...it's BIG. Some facts:
GL has never been done in a high snowpack year
2 weeks prior to race start last year the snow was 10' deep in the shady parts of the Tab singletrack. Been there done that.
Snowpack right now is much deeper than at any point last year.
Springtime weather has a lot to do with how much snow remains at 10k' in late May so it's a waiting game. But, the alarm has been triggered for this GL hopeful.
Here's the visual for last years snowpack near the high point on the Tab:
Same place right now:
It's the blue lines we are concerned with. Getting my drift?
I'll be keeping things flexible come GLR time this year. Hitting the Tab at the 220 mile marker and being unable to continue last spring was one of those things need not repeat. Mid June this year? Time will tell.
The morning of the Grand Loop Race I was relaxing in the lobby of the GJ Super 8, enjoying some "free" raisin bran and reading the paper. I turned to the horoscope section just for fun and found this:
You will have abundant energy the next few days but it's best to pace yourself - you can't do much with a pile of ashes
Let's just say the pre-race vibes were as good as they get. I had a rare day to relax before the start. While that may drive some nutz, that's a luxury I never have, and it set a great tone and mood for the start. MC read it as overconfidence, but in truth I was oh so relaxed, content with the prep I'd done for this monster, and was downright excited to get going.
I'd ridden much of the course already. The Koko obviously has seen my tracks a few times, and 2 weeks prior I'd attempted a solo GL venture only to be turned back by snow at the beginning of the Tabeguache trail. So 2/3 of the course I'd already ridden; I'd generated routes via mapping software to be loaded to my GPS for all of it, knew the profiles and elevations well, had done my homework.
Weight and heat were big concerns. I wanted to minimize heat exposure because in late spring/early summer I'm not adapted to it yet. If there was a way to hit all the big climbs at night or early in the day...and lighter than 2 weeks ago...
Putting these concerns in my pressure cooker lead me to a plan of a fairly aggressive start with minimal food supplies, relying on the Bedrock store for resupply. Then move on to Tab creek for a short bivvy, getting some much needed rest - before making the big push to attain the Uncompaghre plateau in the darkness before the heat set it.
The other key piece of the puzzle was the Roubideau section of the Tabeguache. Difficult routefinding, difficult trail conditions - I had to be through that section before dark set in on Sunday, otherwise I knew I'd end up having a forced bivvy. Beyond that, the plan was to go until I blew. I expected routefinding and trail conditions to be much easier after Roubideau. If I could keep going to the end, great - if not, so be it. Sleepytime is good too.
As it turned out, I stuck darn close to that plan and had very few problems. The big push from Tab creek all the way to the end was a bit over enthusiastic, but I was still able to finish the loop in record time. Here's how it went.
Planning for 3 days self-supported is new to me. I've been on one very steep learning curve since doing the first overnighter back in March. I started the GLR at least 25 lbs lighter than my first overnigher (!). It turns out you don't need slippers, a coffee press, a big coffee mug and who knows what else I was hauling. My equipment was pared down to this (not shown is my sleeping kit that attached to the bars). About 14 lbs before water but including food.
We (all 7 of us) met at the Tageguache trailhead in GJ with MC to head to the official start at the Kokopelli trailhead in Loma. At 6pm, it was fairly warm and arid, but not so much that we didn't chat like schoolgirls for the entire 20 miles. We rolled along at a nice easy pace; Stephan & I compared notes on our "secret" weapons, homebrew LED light systems that threw huge lumens but burned few watts; MC and I chatted about all sorts of stuff - he's a real "idea man" and the more time I spend with him the more I want to; Chris and I chatted about bikes, tires, prep - ya know the geeky stuff.
One gent made the haul from Washington for the race, Dave Kirk.
Dave had the most unique bike setup/gear choice. Everything was on his bike, he didn't even have a pack. That had to be comfy, at least on the rideable parts of the course.
By comparison, Chris had almost nothing on his bike.
MC ambles up the course a few minutes ahead of us so he can snap some shots of us coming through. We are left to make our own start. As we head up the first hill out of the parking lot, I move forward and hear Stephan say something like "well I'm not holding that pace" and that's the last I heard of anyone. Solo time from there on out.
As I came by MC, he said he bet Scott a pint of ice cream I'd take 6 hours off the record and wished me a good ride. Considering he held the record, I found this remarkable and a real testament to his character. It was a great sendoff, and added to my already building mojo by providing a concrete goal to shoot for. I wasn't gonna be responsible for MC losing a bet if I could help it!
Riding to Salt Creek in the daylight was a treat. I'd done this section 5 times this year, each time loaded, each time in the dark. I never really liked it that much. But in the waning light it was a hoot! It only took about 1:45 to hit the top of the hikeabike, and Plesko was close behind. He was looking quite strong. I changed into clear lenses and fired up the deisel.
Everything was flowing like butter, the desert landscape crunching under my wheels at a nice clip. I don't know if there were tailwinds, but it felt like it. A nearly full moon was casting light and shadows all over, the temp was perfect, and damn was it good to be cruising steadily. At the top of the Bitter Creek climb I looked out and saw all the riders lights close together. It let me know this was a race, not a solo TT - and the sensation made it completely different. I realized that with competition present, I was riding considerably faster than 2 weeks previous.
And so the desert section went - quickly. I had a flat spot between WW and Cisco, but the McGraw section started to wake me up and by Yellowjacket I was on fire. The turbo kicked in big time here and I knocked that bit out in 1:05. When I hit Dewey bridge the moonlight was making the white stanchions glow so bright I busted out the biggest cowboy howl I could muster. I was just overwhelmed. Riding across the bridge, somebody was camped on it. A group of sight impaired teens (as I later learned) were camped on the bridge. No wonder they were so confused as I stepped over them and informed them there would be 6 others behind me - this was a race. "Whhhaaaat?" Just past the bridge, somebody comes running my way - it was Lynda, my crack buddy who was camping there. She was on a family rafting trip and wanted to get some shots of the riders coming through. We chatted a bit, I ate a lot, a quick hug and it was off to the shandies.
I had not been looking forward to the Shandies. These steep sections of Entrada Bluffs road are super loose sand with rocks, traction is tough and when loaded it can be really draining. Not tonight. I was making good time, so did all the Shandies in the dark. The sun didn't come up until after Hideout actually. That was perfect timing for a breakfast stop - time to make coffee and have a bagel with hummous - yum! I was stoked to be here so early and was way ahead of schedule. Taking 30-40 minutes for breakfast was just fine. I learned in the solo ride that going sans coffee is suicide for my GI, so I brought lots and lots of the black gold on this trip.
All caffeinated and fed now, the climb up North Beaver mesa went quickly and I began the Paradox trail by10am or so. The goal to do the climbing before the heat of the day so far was on track.
I really love this section of riding. There's a lot of climbing to it, and it hurt me some last time. This time I was mentally prepared and and just cruised along soaking up every view the east side of the La Sals could offer - and that is many. This is a hidden wonderland...
Flowers were everywhere.
It's all gravel road - the surface at least isn't very tough.
Just before dropping to the paradox valley (named so because the Dolores river carves across it, not through it as every other river in the world does in it's canyon) Buckeye res was oh so inviting. I now regret not spending some time going for a dip here. Beauty spot.
The descent down Carpenter ridge is steep! It's a real brake burner and I felt my levers getting closer to the bars.
Headwinds in the Paradox valley, and they were pretty warm. Nonetheless, I hit Bedrock store at 2:18. I was shooting for 4, so I had some time to kill. First things first: get some ice cream, a Frappaccino, and a V8 and put it all down the hatch. That done, I considered the next move. It was in the mid 90s outside and no clouds. If I kept moving I'd be at Tab creek by 5:30 or so - then what? I don't like dry camps, and the next spot beyond tab creek with water is the far side of Glencoe Bench - 4-5 hours when feeling good from tab creek. That just was way more than I wanted to do - and I don't think I could have. It was hot. Plus, I was a bit sleepy...and there was a comfy chair in the Bedrock store...and a swamp cooler...and as it was built in the 1800's it was as if time was standing still - peaceful. I sat in that chair and had a great, cooling nap. The gal in the store didn't say a peep and I thanked her when I woke. She was completely unfazed.
Next, get the supplies to finish the route. Some of that included pop-tarts, but I didn't want the entire box, only 3 of the 4. A group of Prescott college students had drove up, on a boating trip by the looks of their gear. I asked them if they wanted the extra pop tart and one guys eyes really lit up. Sweet tooth in the group, eh? We chatted about what I was doing - they were fascinated. Then, one of them offered me an orange. I'm a real fruit bat and to my dismay there was no fresh fruit at the store - my mouth burst into watering mode. "Hell yea!" As he goes to get the orange, it dawns on me that could be construed as support - strictly against the rules of this event. This was the hardest decision I made the whole race, to tell this guy no thanks I really don't want that orange. Relating that story to MC post trip it turns out it was within the rules to accept it since it wasn't planned...oh well. Next time I'll accept!
In the meantime, it had clouded over a little. Still warm, but the ride through the Dolores canyon to the confluence of the San Miguel was quite pleasant. Intermittent shade from canyon walls made it much cooler. I was in no hurry here since I was only going to Tab creek. Once at the creek at about 7:30, I soaked my legs in the creek a bit before making dinner. The leg soak trick worked well for Lynda & I at TransRockies last year, so what the heck. It sure felt good. I was snoring solidly before the sun went down...
I hate alarm clocks and never use them. I let my body decide when it's time to get up - and it usually tells me it's time darn early. Sun at 12:14 am is precisely when that happened this time. And holy moly did I feel good - no stiffness, soreness, just ready to get chomping on a big day.
Since I was pretty tired arriving at the creek the night before, the first order of business is something I did an awful lot of - filtering water. My filter choice was based on weight more than speed. I think I got those priorities wrong. Oh well. Note the coffee is already made. Seeing a theme here?
I'm embarrassed to say how long it took between waking up and getting rolling, sometimes I just don't know where the time goes. But anyway, there were still many hours of darkness left.
This section of the Paradox is a bit of a bear. It starts out well enough, but quickly turns to one hike a bike after another - both up and down. It is not well marked either, but thanks to my GPS work and previous rides here I made short work of this difficult section. It was interesting to see how many signs there actually are, they show up so much better in the dark under lights!
The rough, sandy, nasty conditions give way to grassy meadows and ponderosa forests on Glencoe Bench, still one of my favorite sections of the Grand Loop. This was the site of breakfast/coffee # 2. Often the trail was only defined by dead dandilions.
2 weeks ago it was much wetter in all the meadows. This time conditions were much, much faster. It was a blast cruising this section this time.
Big views into the upper reaches of Tabeguache creek.
Next is the magical Aspen forests of Hauser road. The road is well graded most of the way, but does get steep towards to the top. At this point I'd been riding, oh maybe 5 hours but was feeling really good. I kept having to check myself: "back it down harris, remember the horoscope - can't do much with ashes!" It started to get really cool as I approached Divide road. Finally, I hit the top at about 10am.
After a quick spin down the Divide road, I'd hit Transfer road and quickly enter the beginning of the Tabeguache trail. This is where I was turned back by deep snow last time - only 2 weeks previous. What would it be like now? There wasn't much snow left on Divide road and that was encouraging. But the real trouble spots were north facing slopes that receive little sunlight. At least I had most of the day to work it out....
As it turns out, the snow was GONE. There were a couple of drifts to go around, and plenty of swampy areas, but it was really all rideable. I was surprised, and relieved.
This was as far as I got last time - there was no exposed dirt AT ALL. Now there is no snow. That was fast.
The singletrack was actually quite tech - lots of roots, steep in spots and demanding. Even with good conditions it wasn't very fast going, and I was beginning to feel human. Just in time, I hit the Roubideau trail proper, a fast, rocky descent of about 1000 feet on two track. This is where conditions really take a turn, and the beginning of what I figure would take a lot of time - must finish before dark.
The Uncomphagre plateau is massive. Now that I've seen it from the Divide road - a dirt road that follows it's spine - and the Tabeguache trail, it's still hard to wrap my head around just how immense this landform is. The Roubideau section drops away from the spine of the plateau and crosses 15 (!) drainages before climbing back up onto the spine. The Tab trail designer is a bit twisted methinks, and I thank him/her for the demensia. It goes something like this: rocket down some steep eroded scary ash hell trail to the bottom of a drainage, cross a creek getting your feet wet, then hike out the other side with said wet feet. A few of the ups are rideable, most are not. From canyon bottoms you have no clue where on earth you are, other than inside your cloistered forest home. In between drainages are mesa tops where the world opens up to massive views and the riding is oh so easy and pleasant.
Typical trail conditions.
The last 3 of these drainages were huge with 15-30 minute hikes out of each. This is Potter canyon, filled with marshes and small lakes, it was absolutely gorgeous. It was tough going but is there a better place on earth to be? Despite my dislike for hike a bikes, there was no complaining coming forth. The pics just don't do this spot justice. It's a real "have to be there" place.
I was a bit unsure what conditions were going to be like after the last drainage crossing. My GPS routing was telling me to turn left where there was no trail or road, and I was loathe to leave the nice track I was currently on. Unsure what to do, I sat down and pulled out some food, something I almost always did when unsure of which way to go. No coffee this time though ;) Then I looked up and saw a Tab trail marker pointing right where my GPS was telling me to go. Well I'll be. The GPS routing work saved the day once a gain. I thought about Fred who didn't have a GPS and how it was going to be so confusing for him at this spot, especially since I had overshot the turn leaving tracks in both directions.
Heading off into the grass, a trail began a 100 feet later. It was faint, slow, bumpy, and prolly my least favorite part of the whole Tab. I was ready for some fast moving roads and this was a slow boat to China. Oh well. Finally, FINALLY, this slow piece of semi-trail mostly grass led to a major dirt road. Just before the intersection there were all sorts of aspen logs tossed across the trail and no trespassing signs - and a Tab trail marker sign. Access issues on the horizon here for sure.
A short while later I came to Cottonwood road. Fast, scenic riding. Oh yea! I had made it through the Roubideau with plenty of light to spare - it was about 5pm. I celebrated the day with a 2 hour nap, dinner, and coffee. A large area of stately ponderosas and the soft pine mat underneath was too inviting to pass up.
It's just amazing how much coffee & a nap can bring me back to life. Cruising the ups and downs of Cottonwood road in the waning light was truly magical. The evening light was filtering through the fresh greeness of apsen trees. John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was doing loops through my conciousness. I know according to most of the reports I've read of folks doing this loop I should have been deep in the pain cave right now, but honestly, euphoria was closer to my state of mind. I almost feel like I should be apologetic. Almost.
Climbing up 25 mesa the ponderosa gave way to spurce/fir as I gained ~ 1,500' towards the high point of 9,600'. It was now dark and almost spooky here - this was new terrain, the first time night riding in unfamiliar terrain this trip. A huge canyon or drop off seemed to loom off to the left and I wished I was there in time to catch that view in the daytime, but the nap was worth it.
Soon I'd be hitting the Divide road, and shortly after that stretch came the Dominguez section. It was all new to me and not knowing where the next water would be I stopped and filtered to capacity. It's a good thing I did this where I did, because there was some climbing afterwards and it was getting cold. I needed the warm up.
Divide road was fast and easy and mostly with tailwinds. It was a rush to descend at 30 mph through deep forests in the dark. Eyes were everywhere, picked up by my homebrew lights. However, it was getting cold. I stopped several times to put on more layers, and before long I was going homeless style - I was wearing everying I had.
Dropping down off the top of the Unc towards Dominguez creek, it's all downhill. And it got MUCH colder. I was beginning to have some difficulty - I couldn't see very well and was shivering. The constant descending offered no relief to the cold.
I was hoping to make it to the finish in one push through the night, but I'd been on the move for roughly 21 hours at this point and it didn't feel at all safe to continue. Time to concede and bivvy.
I was soooo cold. All chammied up, wearing everying I had with me, I crawled into my bag. As always, I put some calories down the hatch before sleeping, but not much this time. I had to get some heat going. Coyotes were howling away all around me, but that didn't keep me from drifting into deep sleep.
I didn't budge until daylight, about 5.5-6 hours later. First thing I did was check the trail for tire tracks - something I always did after bivvying. With no reports coming my way, I had no idea if anyone was close behind. I half expected to see Plesko's tracks - but there were only my own.
Damn was it cold! A water bottle had frozen, my bivvy was covered in ice. This wasn't the expected weather...and meant the extremes of this event were something like upper 20's to mid 90's. As always though, coffee and food snaps me right into action, and after sleeping for what seemed forever, I felt like a million bucks. It's time to knock this thing out. I only had 55-60 miles left to go at this point and ~ 15 hours to do it to best the record pace. Only a catastrophy was going to stop me from ensuring MCs ice cream!
Yesterday at the end of the Roubideau section I left my chain lube somewhere...luckily I had a bit of olive oil with me. It makes good chain lube, FYI!
Clipping into the pedals today was a little different than the day before. I was a bit tight and it took some time to warm up. Fortunately, Dominguez road has some great rolling climbs after crossing the creek. It is wide open sage plains, big views in all directions but the sort that a camera just doesn't catch well. Flowers were off the charts as well. It wasn't long until I was back in the groove, and since this was the last day I was raising the pace some and loving it.
Before I knew it the road was dive-bombing down to Dominguez campground. A real ripper of a descent and the scenery was turning towards red sandstone canyon country. Then it hit me - BAM! I was so choked up. This is when I knew I'd finish strong, that 3 days of hammering away was within my grasp, that I was on the final leg of the most difficult cycling journey I'd ever done. And, that I'd set a new course record in the process. But it wasn't so much these thoughts that triggered it, but the scenery, the sensory overload. Tears began to roll...just as they had done on day 7 at TransRockies last year.
Holy crap Harris, there's people at the campground, pull your shit together man! I hate it when folks interfere with a white moment...
The campground is an awesome oasis, fully equiped with vault toilets. Ah, the good life. After filtering a bunch, rolling up the road a couple hundred yards there's a pipe coming from a spring..doh! I filled another bottle just for good meaure. After a short steep climb out of the canyon, it's on to the Cactus park section.
Cactus park was a blast. There's a slightly descending road, very sandy, that you can just fly down. What a surprise that was, moving 20+ in the sand for miles. In general, the Dominguez road and Cactus park sections have a lot more descending that ascending as you go from 8900 at Divide road to ~ 5000 at Hwy 141. That isn't to say there isn't any climbing, it's still the Tab after all. But nothing too tech or demanding. Cactus park proper was very green and I was pushed by massive tailwinds coming across it. Just before the final descent to 141 is this spot:
An awesome limestone ledge with big views, much like Murphy's on the White Rim. I christen this the Murphy's of the Grand Loop :) I stopped here for 2nd breakfast which consisted of a bagel, almond butter, and cold soup. Odd combo, yes - but after the descent to 141 I was going to be hitting the 9 mile climb "no mas hill" in the heat of the day. Salty soup seemed like the thing to toss down. My options were a bit limited now anyway.
I started up 9 mile at 11:30. At under 5,000 initially, it was hot. At first it is techy singletrack, most of which I found unrideable. This was seriously bumming me out - I didn't know if it was going to be like this all the way or not - but it quickly turned into jeep track with improving conditions. As it turns out, it was mostly a middle ring affair.
This was the homestretch in my mind. Only 22 miles left! Time to drop the hammer, and that I did. I was maching up that hill. It was effortless, I felt weightless, I was grinning ear to ear. And I was sweating like a glass of icewater in the tropics. About an hour from 141 I hit the 6500' mark (the climb goes to 7200), and at the same time got the gurgling sound of an empty camelback bladder. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Things could get real ugly out here all of a sudden. I backed the pace waaay down to conserve that last bottle of water I'd grabbed from the Dominguez pipe.
Now I was a bit ticked at myself. I had totally underestimated how much water I'd need in the final stretch, and what was worse in the heat of hammering that climb I wasn't even paying attention to how fast I was drinking. Worst of all, I had to back it down. That was just not what I was in the mood for right then and there.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, I found water. Manna from heaven? When your mojo is strong, it can sometimes make up for stupid mistakes, but it's best not to count on that...anyway, I was oh so relieved. And hydrated.
The next few miles were quite technical, but more down than up and before I knew it there was my little red truck in the distance. I rolled into the Tabeguache trailhead parking lot at 3:02 PM, for an elapsed time of 2:19:47, completing the hardest, most demanding event to date. The satisfaction of completing this loop is as immense as the Uncompaghre plateau. There are only a few of us that have managed to finish this one out.
That is the end of my ride story, but it isn't the end of the experience. There's a lot more I'd like to say - in time - regarding MC's part in this ride and my continuing "education"; those that have helped me achieve this goal either through direct support or inspiration; a thing or tow about what I know of other rider's rides; and some about the state of ultra racing in general.
But it's high time I get something posted, the hits to this blog have been off the charts lately, so here ya go, thanks for reading, and here's to more adventures!
That's how long the Grand Loop took. Unlike most race finish times, the units are days/hours/minutes. I covered more ground in less time over much, much more difficult terrain than the solo attempt. I was racing full gas from go. It was hard, brutal, beautiful, magical, and required all my reserves. I loved every minute of it.
It's a funny thing, this ultra bag of racing. At the end of the trail there are no crowds or podium girls to shower you with kisses and flowers, just my truck with a broken window, all valuables removed. The hardest part of the entire affair was driving home after the race. After a coupla hours at Mike's place, I was feeling great so hit the road. Big mistake. 20 min later I was asleep at the wheel and had to go right back into ultra race mode - nap when you have to, give'r gas when you can. I didn't get home until sunrise today....and driving the passes without a drivers side window in the night when the bad guys have removed your clothing for you isn't that fun either.
There seemed no end to magic moments in this venture and over the next few days I'll think of how best to put them into words and pictures. For now though, I gotta get my feet back up the wall...it's time for some serious kankle reduction work.