Cat Morrison and I raced the 360 mile Grand Loop route, self-supported in 3 days, 11 hours and 33 mins finishing at 3:39am on Sunday June 2nd to set a joint female ultra record. We are super-stoked!!!
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.