CTR decompression chamber

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.

Georgia Pass

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.


15 replies on “CTR decompression chamber”

  1. Great effort Dave. You are always welcome to come on up to the Wasatch for some elevation livin’. It’s not colorado high, but we make due.

    Next? What IS next in that crack-lovin head of yours?

    BTW, I was day-dreaming about the Dixie Lite the other day. Those 2 days are still dominating my thoughts. I’ve already got a plan to be lighter and faster next year.

  2. Always great to read your writeup Dave. Your first picture really sets the mood out there! Maybe you need to double prong your training and spend a month in a Connecticut mud and slime camp before the high altitude training!

    You’re still one of the best unltraendurance dudes and one tough SOB! Glad I was able to say hi before we rolled out.

  3. Great ride Dave. “And thus ends my CTR obsession.” My schedule has never really made this one available, but it is a race I would love to do.
    I often ask myself when I am going to become that “touring guy” that never races, simply takes pictures and enjoys the countryside more. Perhaps in 1 year, maybe 15 years? Not sure. Perhaps we can “retire” from endurance racing together with Scott Morris several years from now. Fly fishing is in my future. Long, slow rides are in my future too.

    That said, I hope to see you keep breaking records….

  4. You’re a tough guy Dave, you wisely make the tough decisions.

    Overall very well done and you’ve got yet another adventure notched on that battered enduro belt.



  5. Great write-up, DH. Sounds like you are a desert dweller confirmed – rock lizard, not rock marmot. Elevation is such a wild card. Glad you were wise with your life. See ya’ again some day.


  6. Just when you think everything is going well, you get a big slap in the face. Enjoyed the reading, but makes me think twice about doing this one. Racing categories for this one ought to be based on the altitude of your domicile.

  7. Yeah, my parents are awesome, but I don’t think I have any altitude gift, just the benefit of being raised a littler higher than some, maybe,

    Great to read the details, Dave, thanks for the report. You were so ready to kill this thing that I really believe you hit a hard wall with the altitude stuff. I was curious if a month in CB was going to be enough. Too bad it wasn’t, but, on to bigger and better things!

  8. Dave: What is the diagnosis of the edema? I have heard of high altitude pulmonary edema, but never generalized edema. Ideas?

  9. Thanks for sharing the tale. I live about a mile from the start of the CT and have been following this event with great interest for a few years now. Maybe I’ll give it a shot someday. Do you think the swelling could have been linked to an electrolyte imbalance? I’ve had similar symptoms (though not nearly as severe) during some ultrarunning races. Sounds like with the coughing/crashing/etc. there was a lot more going on, but electrolytes could definitely be a contributing factor as well. Good luck in the future and can’t wait to see what’s next!

  10. It’s really impossible to definitively say what caused the edema. Most everything about this event was different from any event I’ve done previously.

    From a nutritional standpoint, I’ve done best being gluten free, but I didn’t stick to that this year. Don Miguel burritos! and other assorted bread items went down the hatch just fine. I did take in a bunch of the trail angel stuff at Lujan which were mostly wheat based crackers and felt like shit afterwards, regretting it.

    I initially drew a logical link between the altitude and edema but that doesn’t mean it exists. In fact, as I was so acclimatized (apparently) it doesn’t really make sense in hindsight. I’m certainly not the first ultra endurance racer to get hit with it!

    At the end of the day I just think I’m a sprinter with a 3 day time limit. 12 hours to 3 days seems to be my perfect timespan ;)

  11. Hey Dave

    Just catching up— followed your spot to the bitter end, was sure it would be your yr. Still a very impressive ride all in all!!

    Anyway I think you might be selling yourself a bit short with regards to altitude and 3 day time limits and such

    Like you said–impossible to say but–electrolyte imbalance from a sudden change in diet = sudden, extensive edema –seems a more likely possibility than altitude or duration cause—Ha, just switch to a junk food diet before the next one– think about it this way–the longer the race the more tactical advantages to junk food

    all just my rambling thoughts/opinion

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