Disclaimer: I think this write up is going to be a bit different than in years past. Kinda like most of the ride, I feel like I'm just going through the motions. The stuff that truly matters and impacted me didn't happen until the last hours before the trail ended.
Like in years past, we stayed at my friend Scott and Kim's house the night before which is maybe a half a mile from the start at Waterton Canyon. It's super convenient and we appreciate you letting us do so. The morning started at about 4:30 with coffee and a big breakfast and going through last minute things. It is amazing what you can forget at the last minute for something as stressful as this. I know people who have forgotten everything from arm warmers to their credit card. Luckily, I had all my ducks in a row and just needed to throw a leg over the bike and pedal. At 5:30, I did just that. As I left the neighborhood the sun was just starting to come up and it was beautiful so I stopped to take a picture of it.
When I arrived at the trailhead, the riders meeting was going on so I walked over to hear what was being said. The crowd was big but something seemed different this year. It felt more relaxed. Two minutes to the start. I went back over to Heather and the dogs to say one more goodbye and then I got on my bike. Stefan yelled, "Go!" and a small group started making their way out of the parking lot. I gave Heather one last kiss and petted each dog one more time and took off. In years past the group was really tight during the 6 mile neutral start but this year there were riders stretched out as far as you could see. I was watching the South Platte cut its way through the canyon and thinking about all of the trout that I have not caught in the last several years while chasing this trail. I was looking all around that morning. I saw fresh bear scat on the side of the road. Not too much further, I noticed this black bear on the far bank. It was enjoying some berries and I stopped to watch and take a few pictures. This was real.
I started pedaling again and right away had an old friend join me. This is my buddy Kurt. We first met in 2009 on this trail just outside of Breckenridge and rode together until Copper Mountain before he pulled the plug. Kurt's a good guy and I was happy to be riding with someone I knew.
My biggest mistake every time I've tried this race is that I chase riders that are faster than me and don't ride my own race. I was very confident that I could avoid that this year and the test would come right away. Segments 1, 2, and 3 were pretty normal and my pace was the same as it had been all year during training rides so I knew I was doing a good job of riding my race. Just outside of Bailey, the first storms came. Once in a while I would have to take refuge under some trees on the side of 285 but I still made pretty good time up to Kenosha. Kurt and I continued on to Georgia Pass with him on my wheel. As the miles ticked off, I ended up losing Kurt and wouldn't see him the rest of the day. Near the top of Georgia, a nasty storm was brewing and I pushed very hard to get up and over. There was a huge white cooler at the summit filled with soda but with lightning popping off all around me, I just rode on by and wanted to get down in the trees as quickly as possible. It was miserable. I was cold, and soaked and not having that much fun. Eventually I stopped under some trees that offered a dry spot and wondered what to do. The trail was a mess and the rocks and roots were extremely slippery.
It was probably 5 or 6 and I knew I had another 6 to get to highway 9 in Breckenridge. I pushed on. I made it to the highway at about midnight. Never before had I made it that far on day one. I was thrilled to be out there. Really.
At the last minute before the race, I decided to change up my sleeping system. I swapped out bivy's to a heavier Gore Tex model, and got rid of the sleeping bag in favor of an emergency bivy. This would prove to be a huge mistake and I knew it was a gamble that would possibly make sleeping at night impossible and force to me to ride through the nights and sleep during the warmth of day. I did not think this decision would be life threatening. Merely uncomfortable. Because of this, I decided to grab a room in Breck that night. I got in, ate some food, took a hot shower, talked to my wife and went to bed. I remember being extremely emotional. I kept thinking about how selfish this thing had been over the years and all the time it had taken away from Heather. I questioned whether or not I was a good husband. Whether or not she deserved someone better. I just wanted to be home with my wife and dogs. Like always, Heather calmed me down. I Drifted off to sleep feeling intimidated about the big climbs I would face right away in the morning.