The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) is an annual bike race from Denver to Durango along the Colorado Trail, covering 470 miles and and an amazing 65,000′ of elevation gain, with a high point of 13,200′. For the most part, the race is on singletrack, although there are a number of detours around Wilderness areas that are on dirt or paved roads. Course Map:
The rules are fairly simple, you can do anything that anyone else can do. You can mail yourself some things to a post office, and you can buy groceries or a room or anything else- but you can’t eat and sleep at a friend’s house since the other competitors don’t have the same option. You can treat it like a race and forgo sleep, or you can take it a bit more relaxed and sleep every night.
My friend and fellow Crested Butte resident Ethan Passant has completed all four CTR’s, and has won on two of those occasions, including this year. Part of me is masochistic enough to consider attempting this race one of these years, while the other part of me would really like to do the Colorado Trail in semi-luxury, with a support vehicle stocked with plenty of fresh clothing and most importantly, beer. Regardless, I thought I’d give Ethan a call and ask a few questions…
Let’s start off with the bike and gear list… What do you bring? My bike is a Specialized 29er hardtail. I bring all the standard stuff anyone would bring on a longer ride: 2 tubes, a multi-tool, a few chain links, lube and a rag, stuff like that, plus an extra shifter cable. I use a minimalist 3/4 length thermarest and a 35degree down sleeping bag. I carry an emergency foil bivy sack, although I never used it. I don’t want to be too comfortable sleeping, otherwise I’ll just sleep. For water I use a SteriPEN. I use a
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp for most of my lighting needs, plus a handlebar mounted light. It’s not the kind of lighting that lets you ride full speed, but it lets you keep moving. Top and bottom rain gear, a second pair of shorts that I put on halfway through (Last year I tried to go with one pair: saddlesores were an issue), plenty of chamois butter. I should have carried brake pads- I was lucky to find some in Leadville. A lot of the course is hike-a-bike but I still used Sidi’s, and I would again.
How did you carry all this gear? I used a really minimalist pack from CAMP. It has mesh pockets on the side and I was able to carry a lot of trail food there so I could keep riding on the easy terrain. My sleeping bag goes on the handlebars along with another small bag, while the thermarest goes on a seatpost rack. The tubes and a few other things go in a saddle bag.
What did all that weigh? The bike and all the gear was probably around 32lbs. My pack was probably another 15-20lbs when I rolled out of Buena Vista. [The longest stretch between towns is Buena Vista all the way to Silverton, so racers have to really stock up on food in Buena Vista]
How much money do you spend from start to finish? Well, besides all the specialized gear that I bought before the race, I’d say I spent about $300. I spent $87 at the City Market in Buena Vista alone.
The weather was pretty bad this year. What’s it like to keep riding through that? The margin of safety is pretty minimal when it’s like that. You get cold and wet and you need to just keep going or else you’ll just get really really cold. Having a big mechanical or crash when you’re on the edge like that would be disastrous.
What are some of the secrets of your success? I don’t even need a map anymore- that familiarity with route finding is huge. It’s tough to keep your concentration the whole time on what you’re doing- which is riding your bike. Crashing or breaking something when you’ve stopped paying attention can cost the race in a hurry.
What’s your favorite stretch of trail? Probably the stuff around Decker and Buffalo Creek- It’s really good trail that’s all bermed up and flowy, but it’s also near the start so you’re still pretty fresh. Molas Pass all the way to Durango is really good too, but I’m usually so tired by then I’m just trying to finish.
Worst? Sargeants Mesa. [Roughly between Marshall Pass and North Pass CO 114] It feels like you’re going nowhere fast. It’s all grapefruit and baseball sized rocks and you end up walking a lot.
Why do it? The personal challenge. It’s just you and the trail. I think that without the date written down on the calendar, I might not do it- it’s easy to procrastinate otherwise. With the race, you’ve got to just show up and do it. It’s nice to know that there are other people out there, too, so there’s some safety if you knock yourself out or something. Plus the hikers are fun to talk to- they’ll say things like “There are 2 guys ahead of you but you’re looking good, go get ’em!”
Ever thought about doing the Colorado Trail like a normal person? Well, I took 3 months and hiked it years ago. Next year, I might do the race with Dawn [his wife]. You’re supposed to be solo, but I figure if neither of us are competing for the win, it’s not that big a deal.
That’s about it, anyone inspired to do this race next year? The more I think about, the more I realize what an incredible trail the CT is. I’ve ridden sections near Waterton canyon, Buffalo Creek, Kenosha Pass, Summit County, the Arkansas River valley, Monarch Pass, and a lot of the trail from the La Garita wilderness boundary all the way to Junction Creek in Durango, and the only section I don’t like is a few miles just North of Highway 50. It’s amazing how uniformly good the CT is. My favorite section is Cataract Ridge, though it’s kind of hard to choose. Anyone like a different section more?