Colorado Trail Race Journal

The Colorado Trail Race is a 539 mile long bikepacking race from Durango to Denver, CO. Each year it switch directions. It is essentially the same trail as what hikers hike except for wilderness areas. Most of the route averages over 10k in elevation! This is my Colorado Trail Race Journal, from my 2017 race.

I recorded this Colorado Trail Race Journal after the race was complete. I was much to tired to even barely set up my tent most nights. The Colorado Trail was the second of three bikepacking races I did in 2017 (the Tour Divide and Arizona Trail Race make up the other two). Together they make up the Bikepacking Triple Crown.

Race Data

538.9 miles

Durango to Denver, CO

July 23rd – 4am to July 30th – 4:56pm

7 days 12 hours 56 minutes

Position:  7th out of 68

Average daily mileage: 71.2 miles

Moving average speed: 5.0 mph

Route average speed: 3.0 mph

Moving Time: 4:12:07

Stopped time:  3:05:42

Day 1

July 23rd

4 am to 8:24 pm (16:24)

51 miles 

Durango to TSC near small stream

First things first, the 4 am start came way too early. I thought the first day on the Tour Divide was hard, this was a whole level higher.

I woke up around 3 am at my friends Michele’s house, which was just a few blocks from the start for the neutral roll out. For some reason I didn’t get to the start early enough to really talk to anyone.

The neutral roll out through town to Junction Creek Trailhead was pretty fast. Despite being strung out, we still hit the first single track with a good size front group.

On a short narrow bridge which was only a few hundred yards onto the dirt, my front tire slipped off the edge. Luckily for me it was at the end and I avoided crashing hard into the banking.

My luck didn’t last for long. I ended up crashing for real this time just up the trail. I didn’t see a rock that was covered by foliage on the side of the trail. I ended up in the ditch on the opposite side of the trail upside down.

Lost my phone briefly and one of Phillip’s bar ends. It took me a few minutes to find it and reinstall it. Without it my race would have been over, as it held my grip on.

After getting myself together I stopped quickly to take a layer off and even more racers went by me. I’m glad I did as the next 20 miles was almost all uphill. I slowly picked off racers as we climbed.

Upon using my filter for the first time I noticed how slow it was. On my second stop to filter, it was really bad and cost me time. 

At the top of the climb, at Kennebec Pass many riders came together. I had lunch with some others and moved northward. As I made my way along Indian Ridge the gaps between riders got bigger. By mid afternoon the rain had started and brought a bunch of us back together.

Once again I left a group of racers to push on alone. The mud was terrible in this section and made forward progress tough. Soon I started the climb up Blackhawk Pass. I pushed Phillip for almost two miles to reach the pass. By now it was getter close to dusk, though you couldn’t tell due to the rain and clouds.

I pushed on until just after nightfall with three other riders and if they hadn’t stopped I was going to keep going. Once I stopped it hit me just how tired I really was. I didn’t even want to use what energy I had left to put up my tent but knew if it started raining again I would regret the discussion.

As I lay in my tent I didn’t even have the energy to eat the sandwich and Snickers bar that was a foot from my face.

Throughout the day the single track and views were amazing! If it wasn’t for the amount of physical effort required to keep moving in the rain and mud at a race pace, I would have enjoyed the experience more.

Day 2

July 24th

3 am to 5:46 pm (14:46)

41.1 miles – 92.1 total miles

TSC near small stream to TSC just north of Stony Pass

Getting up at 3 am was so hard. My head hurt from dehydration and lack of sleep, I was hunger, and so sore!

There were five of us camped together, and I was first on trail. I rode alone with only the staring eyes of deer in the early morning hours as company. Another racer caught me and we rode together some.

I lost control of Phillip and ended up crashing. Lucky for Phillip and I we were in a forest who’s floor was carpeted with moss. The other guy crashed twice allowing me to catch and pass him and never saw him again.

The sun was coming up as I climbed up Rolling Pass. I descended off the pass into a quagmire of snow and mud. Getting to Molas Pass took much longer than I expected. I then wasted a lot of time in Silverton.

While in town I started at the gas station, then sat down for breakfast and went to the grocery store. While at the store Brett from the Tour Divide caught me there.

As I rode out of town alone I realized I forgot to check online how to back flush my filter. I did a short u-turn hoping to gain some cell service and it actually worked. At the next stream I flushed my filter.

Next up was the massive climb to Stony Pass. I rode most of the first half but walked a bunch of the second. Once over the pass I relied on the app on my phone for which way to go and after going three miles downhill, I realized I had gone the wrong way.

On the way back up to the race route I saw the black clouds that were behind me earlier. They descended on me half way up. By the time I got back to the race route I was soaked (even with a rain jacket on). By the time I got on the trail again I was near hypothermic.

The rain turned to sleet and my body started to shake uncontrollable. I didn’t get very far before I realized I had to stop and get my tent up so I can try and get warm. I set up my tent right next to the trail and got in.

I left my wet bibs on hoping they might dry from my body heat but it was pointless, they were too wet. In a half conscious state I heard a few riders go by and I attempted yelled encouragement. Even after two and a half hours in my sleeping bag I wasn’t much warmer and wasn’t moving.

The weather was a mixture of snow and rain, and there was lightening too. Those three miles were a negative but also a positive. I think if I hadn’t missed the turn I would have been higher up when the storm hit, which would me colder temps and more lightening.

Day 3

July 25th

6:20 am to 9:35 pm (15:25)

76.5 miles – 168.6 total miles 

TSC just north of Stony Pass to  RSC just south of Cochetopa Dome

I was so crushed from day 2 that I was very slow to get up.

Everything was still wet and would stay wet for a long time. The first half of the day was brutally hard as I was riding at over 12,000′. There were a lot of HABs and progress was slow.

My hands were so cold from packing my wet gear that for the first few hours I could barely feel them. I came upon 4 hikers packing up, but it turned out one of them was a racer. He got caught in the same storm and didn’t have the proper gear. One of the hikers shared his tent and sleeping bag with him. Later he told me he probably would have died if it wasn’t for the hikers.

A racer caught me shortly after and we caught a few more. One was Will who also stayed at Michele’s before the race. I snacked at the head of the valley where I saw a moose during my CDT thru-hike. When I traverse the valley I saw two moose!

The sun came out while traversing the valley so I took all my gear out to dry it.

After the having the yard sale I packed up and started the long climb to the CTR high point. I knew what it entailed as I had hiked down it on the CDT. It was a major HAB and took forever.

After the high point I got to actually ride and it was wonderful. Riding your bike at 12-13,000′ in meadows with endless views doesn’t get much better. About 5 miles before Spring Creek Pass I had to ride through the middle of a huge sheep herd.

When I got to Spring Creek Pass and hit pavement things sped up, but it also started raining again and lasted for some time. The climb to Co. Rd. 50 and the La Garita Wilderness detour was slow going as I was hurting from the days earlier effort.

I ate lunch a few miles down 50 then the rain started again! I hid under a tree and secretly hoped someone would catch me, and it would give me some motivation. Finally I realized I couldn’t afford to sit under a tree as it was a race. 

I toughened up and just rode on alone. The rain stopped by the time I got to Cathedral, CO. I felt pretty good climbing up Los Pinos Pass. I summited just as it started to get dark. I rode on in the dark for some time. It was all downhill or flat so I couldn’t see a reason to stop yet.

At one point I looked up and noticed I couldn’t see any stars. But I also couldn’t recall if I had seen any to begin with as the weather had been rainy or overcast all day. The something hit my face. I really hoped it was water from a puddle off my front wheel. Another hit me, then the skies opened up. 

I desperately looked for a spot to pull over to set up my tent, but with fences on both sides of the road it took a while. By the time I found a spot I was soaked just like yesterday.

I got in my tent as fast as I could but things still got wet. Not long after I got in a racer went past. I mentally cheered him/her on and feel asleep.

Day 4

July 26th

5:27 am to 8:19 pm (14:52)

59.3 miles – 227.9 total miles

RSC just south of Cochetopa Dome to TRC just south of Marshall Pass

Two nights in a row of going to bed wet was definitely effecting my outlook.

When I woke up I was in a world of fog. Visibility was only about 100′. The air was so saturated I got wet once again, but you could see the sun trying to break through as the morning progressed.

I caught and passed the rider who passed me while I was in my tent last night. He was just getting out of his tent as I rode by. 

Just after seeing him I saw a couple large tents. I was taken back that anyone would drive out to this spot to set up camp. Later I found out it was Apple, the Trail Angel I met outside Lordsburg, NM while on the CDT.

The highlight of the day was reaching the set of switchbacks where in 2015 I met a couple Tour Divide riders while on the CDT. It was now my third time reaching this spot (CDT, Tour Divide and CTR). It felt really good to be here again. It made me realize just how lucky I am to have been able to do the things I’ve done.

I crossed CO 114 and then hit a wall on the single track. The climbs before Sargents Mesa were known to me and I was dragging. I procrastinated making a bunch of phone calls but finally got moving. Sargents wasn’t as bad I as expected but I did walk a lot.

I saw many thru-hikers and also played hopscotch with a large group of motorcycles. They kept stopping and I kept passing them. An older Asian gentleman in the group commented to me that he was thoroughly impressed at my pace and at what I was doing.

The toughest part of the day was the climb after Tank 7. It was so steep I had to walk most of it. Because my hands were above my heart, some of my fingers started to go to sleep. All of my oxygen intake was going else where.

I had planned to camp in the same spot I camped during my CDT thru-hike but when I got there I found it taken. I couldn’t believe it, as it wasn’t an established site. It was just a flat spot off the trail a ways. I did end up camping about 100′ away. Unfortunately my camp spot was bumpy and uncomfortable.

After such a hard day I was really hoping to sleep well.

Day 5

July 27th

6:17 am to 11:35 pm (17:18)

78.3 miles – 306.2 total miles

TRC just south of Marshall Pass to Clear Creek Reservoir

I went to bed too early and got up too late. 

I made it to Marshall Pass and started towards Monarch Crest making good time. I felt much better than previous mornings. This was still a section I had hiked and biked before but never in this direction. I had always gone down what I was going up. 

Before I could drop into Fooses Creek I had to drag Phillip up and over a large snow drift that had survived the Summer. The descent down Fooses Creek Tr. was a lot of fun. It would have been more fun on an unloaded bike.

I came across two sets of hikers. I asked both if they had seen any other racers. Both groups said yes, that they had seen just one. One group said he was super nice and chipper. The second said he had a cycling cap on that said “BMX” on the brim. 

This told me all I needed to know. It was Brett! Chipper and BMX hat could only describe one person. Once I knew it was him I was super motivated to catch him so we could ride together. The second group said I was over an hour behind him. Knowing that hikers can never judge time I put my head down and the chase was on.

When I got to Hwy. 50 I hoping to see Brett in the parking lot before the highway. Upon get there, I didn’t see him. I didn’t give up hope yet. Once to the road I looked both ways and across it for him. He wasn’t to be seen. Then as I started across the road I saw something just up the embankment. It was him, I found him! We would ride the rest of the race together.

Getting to Princeton Hot Springs meant multiple ups and downs on some pretty chopping trail at times. Being with Brett made it go by fast. We shared out stories since we saw each other last in Silverton.  

When we got to the hot springs we hit the small store for a quick snack and relaxed on the grass in the shade. By this point in the day it was really hot. After we went inside to have a sit down lunch. I had ants in my pants and had the urge to get going.

We finished lunch then chilled on the lawn some more. Brett was in a very chill mood. I finally urged him to get going.

The first climb after lunch hurt, even though it was paved for the first bit. We were blessed with some sweet single track and found a cooler with Trail Magic! Our luck ran out as we approached Rainbow Lake, where it started to rain yet again. Luck found us again as we descended out of the rain into Buena Vista and out rode the storm.

In town we ordered a pizza and killed more time. By this point in the day it didn’t feel like we were killing time but more like quality rest. We finished our pizza and resupplied at a gas station.

We left town at twilight and rode almost to midnight. Of course we got wet again from a short rain storm while on Hwy. 24.

We we did decide to stop at Clear Creek Reservoir, finding a spot to fit our tents was tough. We finally found a spot that worked for the both of us just off the trail. We also found our second cooler of the day with Trail Magic. This time there was beer. I didn’t have one but Brett did.

The day was long but I was much happier to be riding with Brett again. I wouldn’t have ridden as long as we did by myself. 

Day 6

July 28th

5:33 am to 11 pm (17:27)

70.7 miles – 376.9 total miles

Clear Creek Reservoir to Cooper Ski Resort

This was probably the best day of the whole race. 

Brett and I enjoyed multiple amazing sections of single track, great views, good food, established new friendships, and found the most unique camp spot of the race.

We had to climb right out of camp, as we had avoided doing it last night. By the top we both agreed it wasn’t that bad of a climb. The descent though was out of this world. We blasted through aspen trees and tall grass. I think it seemed so good because it was fast, smooth and had flow. Most of the descent we had up to this point weren’t so nice.

We snacked just before crossing Hwy. 82 and then started climbing the lower slopes of Mt. Elbert. The riding was great as we cut through tall aspens and conifer forests. We caught Joe and Kristen who we first met yesterday.

I dropped Brett on the long road section into Leadville but waited for him at the edge of town. I stopped at the outfitter to get a new stuff sack. The old one wasn’t staying in my harness and I kept punching it to force it back into place. This worked until I punched it too hard and blew out the taped seam.

Both Brett and I were hungry so we sat down for breakfast at the Golden Burro. In the end it was a long stop but we both really filled up which was good as we needed the calories.

We rode out of town and got caught in a rain storm just as we turned off the pavement. It didn’t last long but we got wet all the same. The single track along the CT/CDT to Tennessee Pass was great to ride. So was the trail leading from the pass to Camp Hail.

After Camp Hail on the big climb to Kokomo Pass we caught Joe and Kristen again. It had starting to rain again so the four of us decided to sit under a large spruce for two hours and have a fire. It was a real bonding experience for us all.

We all summited Kokomo together and quickly headed to Searle Pass as light the was fading. Feeling the need to cover ground after sitting for two hours I was first to the pass.

Joe and Kristen went ahead and when Brett and I finally started down towards Copper Mtn. Ski Resort my generator light wasn’t working. I spun the wheel, and checked the connections nothing seemed to work. Brett asked if it had a switch. I said yes and flipped it back and fourth. After rechecking everything twice I remembered there was a second switch that put the power to charging items or the light. I had hit it with my arm when I rested to wait.

Joe and Kristen camped a short distance off the summit in the trees but Brett and I continued to Copper Mtn. Both Brett and I cursed the trail builders after finally reaching Hwy. 91. The trail next to the base lodge was full on PUDS and after a very long day it was just an ass kicking.

When we got to the base of the climb for Ten Mile it was raining for the third time and we weren’t sure we wanted to tackle it. We debated it and finally decided to seek shelter for while and see if our mood changed.

I had saw a semi-trailer truck trailer next to the paved path we had just ridden. We backtracked to the trailer, which turned out to be a Tough Mudder event trailer. I suggested we take a break under it. After sitting for 30 minutes I was cold, wet and starting to shriver. Neither of us still wanted to tackle the 10 Mile Range climb in the rain or darkness so we slept right under the trailer.

Day 7

July 29th

5:30 am to 1:18 am (19:12)

80.3 miles – 457.2 total miles

Cooper Ski Resort to RSC near Spruce Grove CG

Waking up under the trailer was great, my gear and myself were dry! (except Phillip he was in the rain all night).

We climbed 10 Mile in the rain and were passed by racers of the Breck 100. Upon leaving the safety of the trees the wind pounded us. The wind chill made things very hard and my hands were really hurting.

The visibility was terrible too. Once to the top we didn’t hesitate starting our descent. With numb hands and slick trails the descent was quite spicy. I spooked a pair of moose half way down. Phillip also started making a funny noise.

Up next was West Hill, then up to Georgia Pass. On West Hill we were going against the flow of racers so it was slow going. It was amazing how many racers assumed they had the right of way even though I was going uphill. 

The lower slopes of Georgia Pass were mostly HAB, but beautiful. As we got up a ways we were able to ride our bikes again. This was a really pretty section of trail.

The descent of Georgia Pass was blazing and so much fun. It was dinner time by the time we reached Kenosha Pass. I struggled on the next climb and Brett got ahead of me, but then magically on the next one I felt great.

Darkness fell and so did the rain. We rode in the dark on muddy dirt roads seeing nothing but what our lights showed us. It was mentally tough to keep going at this point in the day, but we knew the warmth of the Stage Stop Saloon awaited us.

Finally we reached pavement and the Stage Stop Saloon. The place was full of locals and we stood out big time. Unfortunately the kitchen was closed but we were able to cook frozen pizzas in the oven in the general store. As our pizzas cooked with used the clothes drier to dry our wet clothes.

Neither of us really wanted to go back out in the rain but finally we motivated enough to throw our legs over our bikes. The rain had let up and we enjoyed a few miles with just a light mist.

After a couple failed attempts to find a descent camp spot we settled for a lumpy camp right next to the road. We were both crushed as today was our longest day of the race.

Day 8

July 30th

5:36 am to 4:56 pm (11:20)

81.7 miles – 538.9 total miles

RSC near Spruce Grove CG to Finish

5:30 came way to fast, but I was excited to be starting my last day of racing. Upon throwing my leg over Phillip I split the crotch of my rain pants. I’m glad this didn’t happen on day 1.

For once we had a downhill to start. I didn’t pedal for 3.4 miles at one point! When we turned off the highway to dirt roads again the route climbed right away. The next 35 miles was either climbing or descending. The early morning fog in the valleys did make the scenery nice to look at.

Brett and I were not making good use of our time during this section. Too many stops and farting around. I think the idea that we were close to be doing gave us a false sense of the race being done.

The result was by 10 am, David, a rider we passed at Cooper Mtn. caught us. Brett turned on the jets and set a blistering pace almost to the end of the Lost Creek Wilderness detour. I had to work hard to keep up. It was brutal and I just wanted to chill. I definitely wasn’t mentally ready for the effort and it took a long time to turn it around.

I knew Brett had the right idea and when we hit single track again I finally was able to embrace the pain cave. The Buffalo Creek area was so much fun despite our insane pace. I finally realized we could see where David was on my phone and found out we had a 10 mile lead on him. We chilled a little but the riding was fun so we kept pushing. 

Brett wanted to finish racing and I agreed. I misjudged our mileage which was a blow to us both. We had at least seven more miles to go than I had thought. Brett crashed twice on the descent to the South Platte River. We got our last water at the river and then I had to prod Brett to get a move on.

We pulled it together and cruised up the last major climb of the route. The downhill off the top was great! Before I knew it I had popped out on the seven mile dirt road to the finish. Brett and I cruised together until the last mile, then I sprinted ahead so I could video Brett finishing.

After everything I went through, I wasn’t as relieved as I thought I would be at the finish.

Final Thoughts

If Tour Divide tested me and set my limits to new heights, the CTR blew the roof off those limits.  The CTR was a completely different kind of beast.

Being wet and getting rained on for all seven days of racing and a total of 70 miles of HAB was just brutal on the body and mind.

So many factors made this race hard: elevation, miles of HAB, weather, solitude and more. 

I was happy with my race and truly enjoyed the experience on a certain level. I moved to Colorado to experience riding single track like this, so in a way, it was a dream come true. I also enjoyed experiencing riding what I had thru-hiked on the CDT. It gave me a different perspective and experience to draw from.

I’m incredibly proud to be 1 of 19 finishers our of 68 people who started. I feel it really speaks to my ability to deal with adverse conditions and my desire to see things through. If you told me on day 1, I would finish in the top 10, I would have told you, you were crazy.

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