Settle in. This day was long and eventful. Looking at my journal scribblings, it’s impossible for me to believe it was one day. But this is how the Colorado Trail was. Time bended and stretched and looped and stopped and disappeared, to the point that it lost meaning altogether. To me it seems like an entire lifetime went by. That’s the only way I can explain the homesickness I can’t quite kick since arriving back in Northfield, Minnesota. Those mountains became my home. Even though they delivered untold pain, I love them.
I awoke at 5 and knew immediately that I did not have adequate cold weather gear for riding so early. But since it takes me so long to get ready in the morning (between packing up, “fueling,” untying my food from a tree, and the like), I figured I would be sufficiently warm when I started just before 7 am. And I was. It helped that the descent started with a hard climb, which raised my heart rate enough to keep me warm. My situation was complicated by the fact that I have Raynaud’s Syndrome. RS involves reduced blood flow to the extremities (a result of blood vessel spasms) in response to cold temperatures. Reduced and increased oxygen flow to the feet and hands causes discolored feet and hands (white, blue, red), and, more importantly, no feeling in the hands and feet (followed by sharp, prickly pain in the hands and feet). This phenomenon makes braking really, really hard. It has not been easy having RS during MN winters, and it was not easy having it all those cold mornings in Colorado (when I was trying to pack all my gear up with hands that did not want to cooperate). I was very thankful that morning that my day started with a climb and not a descent!
At the top of the climb two day mountain bikers alerted me that awesome downhill was to come. At the peak of the climb I was sufficiently out of the trees to call my mom. Like my dad’s relief, her relief was palpable. But I had called early enough to avert any search and rescue attempt! I promised her that I would be down the mountain and in Breck in 90 minutes. The next 10 miles were supposed to be descent.
Even as I write this I wish I could go back in time and change things, but I can’t. Eager to get to Breck, I did not pay sufficient attention to the signs. Like I said, mornings were always rough - nausea and mental fogginess threw me off. Despite the clear signs, I ended up heading down a trail called Blair Witch Trail, which wound itself through a spooky lodgepole forest, the trail littered with scores of felled trees (tree corpses of sorts). Despite borrowing a topo map from a day mountain biker, I had some difficulty getting back on track. After following a trail down into a gulch (the map “said” it would lead back to the CO trail!), I decided to cut my losses and backtrack. So, I hike-a-biked back up out of the gulch and through the creepy Blair Witch Trail. From hereon out I would pay much closer attention to trail signs. As I (sometime later) descended on HWY 9 I confirmed with some hikers that I was going the right way (after feeling convinced that I was riding in circles - I wasn’t!).
Soon I was on the bike path into Breck, chatting with my mom on my iPhone (reception - finally!). I have ridden that bike path before, and it felt so familiar and conjured up memories of my early mountain biking days. I was almost to my favorite cafe - Amazing Grace. I managed to get there just as the rain started. Although the owner, Mona (a mountain bike racer), was in Crested Butte, I learned that she was no longer racing, due to having a toddler (Torry). The last time I rode with her she was pregnant with Torry and worried about giving birth to her first child, as she was in her early 40’s. So, I was really happy to learn that Torry was healthy and happy! I ordered a tofu salad, vegan muffins and vegan cookies, indulging in all three (and saving some). My body had - to my wonderment - transformed into a machine. I could eat 2,000 calories at once, process and expel the food and be starving two hours later. At no time in my life have I experienced such a fast metabolism. The human body is really an amazing and resilient thing, with all sorts of (dormant) abilities. This particular ability was both wonderful and annoying. I enjoy eating (like any mortal), but one tires of being constantly hungry. My strategy was to literally drench my body in calories at every opportunity just to snuff out the searing hunger. The bag of baked goods helped in this regard! The chocolate chip vegan cookies were more like scones than cookies - yum! While there, I may have sold more than one customer on them. But who’s counting?
Yes, my hunger was ferocious and gnawing and all that. But I had other things to do. My first mission was to find a Spot Tracker dealer (given that the satellite phone was largely useless). This mission failed spectacularly. Not one shop in town sold them, much less knew what they were. It dawned on me that Breck is mostly a tourist town catering to rich, out-of-shape southerners. (I think I lost a little respect for Breck in that hour of my search. I was also pretty cranky from the altitude, which I was still adjusting to.)
Finally, I went to my trusted bike shop, Carver’s, to have Dave look at my bike. (My general strategy throughout was to take my bike into a bike shop whenever possible, so as to replace weak parts. Preventative maintenance.) Dave put in some new brake pads for me and cleaned up my creaky chain. I replaced my neoprene, waterproof gloves, too. Dave tried to talk me into taking a fire road detour instead of the official climb on segment 7, and I obstinately refused, despite his warning that it was all hike-a-bike. To take a detour would be cheating. It didn’t feel right, no matter how much I wanted to avoid hike-a-bike. But his warning was great in the sense that it altered my expectations. I knew what to expect - pure agony of miles and miles of hike-a-bike. I knew what I was up against. I could handle it.
But before handling it, I had to stop in at Cuppa Joe. It was bittersweet. My ex (Keith) and I loved that coffee shop, which featured vegan goodies, ornate lates and local art. (Keith had even bought me a Cuppa Joe mug as a birthday gift; it had broken in transit, but he superglued it back together.) It also has an AMAZING view (and dogs are allowed in). What more can one ask for in a coffee shop? Oh, I know! They also offer four different varieties of milk, and I settled on the almond milk for my late. I did feel a little ridiculous ordering a late - a luxury that brightly contrasted with the difficulty of my journey.
And then I was off, preparing myself mentally for what Dave had warned me of. On my way back up the bike path I saw another solo female bikepacker. We almost stopped for each other, but we carried along.
To start with I was able to ride, and that was good. Backpackers and hikers offered words of encouragement, as I maneuvered over steep climbs, felled trees, roots and boulders. But eventually I did have to hike-a-bike for at least a few hours. For me hike-a-bike is slow. I have little legs (I’m only 5’2” tall) and zero upper body strength. But I accepted it, largely because I expected it. It’s amazing how powerful expectations are. I’m sure it would have been so much more difficult, had I not been expecting it. Also, in my downhill mountain biking days I had done a lot of hike-a-bike, so I’m not a complete stranger to it. The really irksome part about it is that your bike beats you up (quite literally). The pedals and chain rings slam into your shins and calves, bruising and scraping and cutting you. Also, my 50+ rig is hard to maneuver up boulders, and often I would try to push it up over something only to have it ricochet back at me, causing me to fall over (bike on top of me). This was, sadly, a very common occurrence, as I lacked the upper body strength to power the bike over rocks. My problem is that I’m allergic to gyms. I don’t like them. I have no interest in spending any time in one. But I suppose that’s no excuse, since I could have worked out my upper body at home.
Finally, after a very long time, I reached the Tenmile Range (a space of a couple miles between two peaks - 12,500 feet high), just in time for a monumental storm. Things got very, very scary … and very, very quickly. This storm was, in some ways, worse than the day 1 storm. The fog prevented me from seeing more than a few feet in front of me, so I wasn’t sure where the lightening was. The thunder was deafening. And the Tenmile Range went on. And on. And on. Also, the trail was technical, requiring hike-a-bike. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would rather NOT be slowly and gingerly maneuvering my 50+ lb bike over GRANITE rocks while lightening crashes down all around me. No, I think I’d rather be back at Cuppa Joe sipping my yuppie late (thank you very much). And it was just me. I was the only poor soul out there. And yes, I felt pretty sorry for myself, especially as I gazed longingly down the mountain at Copper Harbor Resort. I felt so completely and absolutely alone. I’ve never felt that alone. It wasn’t nice. There’s no romanticizing it. Survival mode had completely taken over at this point, so there was no time for tears. I dug deep and found the energy to “hurry” (a relative term in this context) across the Tenmile Range, which seemed to span a full ten miles, though it obviously did not. I thought I might not make it out. The sun was setting, and it was cold. Really cold. And lightening was everywhere. My hands were frozen stiff and not working. I just wanted out. OUT. I wanted to be in that resort town that I could just barely see. It symbolized safety and society.
Finally I hit the descent, which offered only momentarily relief. It was steep - as in, handlebar bag rubbing on the front tire steep. I had to completely lock out my front fork, to prevent full compression. In a word, it was treacherous. But I was eager to get down that damn mountain, so I refused to hike (for the most part). I stayed mounted, dancing through the rock gardens and switchbacks, arching my body at just the right moments and to just the right degree - executing a skill set I’d cultivated for years. There was a comfort in that, and I needed comfort at that moment in bendy time.
That muddy, technical trail finally spit me out onto a highway, which I traversed in order to get to Copper Mountain Resort. CMR is a village of sorts, developed by the same company that developed Whistler. I pedaled around, looking for an inn, but all I could find was ski condo’s. It was at that moment that an older gentleman spotted me and called me in to his building, which did in fact have rooms. He immediately comprehended the situation (I must have looked like a right mess) and negotiated a good room rate for me. He really was an angel. He opened up the bar and had food made for me. He even cleaned my bike! He introduced me to Lindsay, a local mountain biker about my age, who lived in the building. Not only did I get a great night of sleep in that hotel, I had the rare opportunity to chat with the locals about life in Colorado. The relatively recent legalization of marijuana and the ridiculous antics of rich ski tourists were among the topics of conversation, but I was amazed at how Dave, Lindsay, Eric, Dillon, Andreias and others received me. I felt pampered and safe, an incredible contrast to the trauma of the 10 Mile Range. I went to sleep happy, sleeping a full 7 hours. I also managed to launder my clothes and sleeping bag and to take a hot bath. And I was able to call my parents. In short, I was able to physically and mentally recharge.