(Last Updated On: May 10, 2019)
The Crested Butte Pole Pedal Paddle Race (CB3P) was started a handful of years ago. Racers skin 1.9 miles up with 1,845′ elevation gain at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, and then ski back down. Then, they transition to a 23.7 mile road bike between CBMR and Gunnison where they then paddle their boat of choice for 4.7 miles down the Gunnison River.
Since the inception of CB3P, I’ve always thought to myself, “I should really do that race someday.” But, it always happens at a time when I’d rather just be backckountry skiing. And, I was also pretty terrified of the “paddle” portion as I have little river experience. But, after I was finally assured that the river section was indeed not too hard, especially if using a duckie, I decided that this year was the year I needed to do it. I even put it in writing, stating I wanted to do it on my 2019 Bucket List. See, that’s the thing. Sometimes just putting a goal in writing makes me want to achieve it even more.
So, there I found myself at the CB3P pre-race meeting at the Brick Oven on Saturday April 27th, with a crowd of people huddled around Tiffany Simpson, the race coordinator. Imagine putting together a race that involves skiing at the ski area, biking on a public road, and boating down a public river – the permits and red tape involved in all of this must be horrific. But, she’s got it down to a tee. She informed us of the rules and about some small course changes.
But she saved the warning that was to be most heeded for last. “The Gunnison River is running at the highest CFS that we’ve ever had in this race before…. Be careful. No one will be stationed to help you until the whitewater park.” And she continued, “The feature in the whitewater park is especially tricky right now. People are going to swim (laughing). I’ve sent scouts down and they tell me that you have to paddle extra hard to get through it. Now, if you swim, we’ll have people there to help. Listen to what they say.” And then I found myself wondering if doing this race was a good idea. I had been assured that the river portion was easy. But, this did not sound easy. I went to bed anxious, dreaming of whitewater. I hoped that my years of growing up sailing and swimming, and my overall intuition about water, would just get me through this segment.
In the morning, my heart dropped as I took my first gaze out the window. A rain/snow mix was falling from the sky and temperatures were hovering at 36. Skiing in that weather would be more or less okay. But, biking or boating in it sounded like sheer misery. I packed a few more extra clothes and gloves in my transition bags and dressed for the ski segment with an extra layer. I was still fighting a terrible cold, and needed to make sure to stay warm.
I was expecting more people to stay home. Yet, I found myself amazed at all the people who gathered around the starting line of the CB3P in this horrible weather, many even in costume – Crested Buttians don’t need much reason to wear a costume. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’d almost forgot – We mountain people can be downright hard core. And here I was surrounded by the hardest most core of them all.
We placed our skis on the snow and gathered back on the pavement for the Le Mans start.
I mustered a smile. Yes, I was about to skin and ski in a bike helmet. But, a helmet was required on all three sections of the race. Saving time at transitions was key. So, I, along with most other solo racers, decided to start and finish with my bike helmet, eliminating the need to change headgear.
The buzzer sounded at 10 am sharp and we were off.
And the skinning commenced. People passed me on the skin. For all the backcountry skiing I do, I am not a fast skinner. I can just go forever without stopping. I was hoping some of this would work out for me in the end. I held my own, though I certainly got passed. But, I was far from last, and for that I was thankful.
The event photographer snapped this shot of me a good chunk of the way up.
And not much later, I saw her – Stevie Kremer. I call her the fastest woman on earth – because she pretty much is. There she was, pushing and pulling and skiing her way down the slope as fast as she could, ahead of all the boys and everyone else, very much in first place.
And then the down train kept coming, but I was still going up. We skinned until the patrol shack just below High Lift. There, I pulled my skins and threw my jacket on. The “down” is supposed to be the easy part of the race. But the new wet snow made it otherwise. The surface was sticky, wanting to rip my legs apart, and made it difficult to glide when it should have been easy.
When I arrived at the base of the ski area, I was relieved. Even though it was pouring rain, I was looking more forward to biking in that crap weather than skiing in all that slop. I barely changed clothes. I was mostly warm and mostly dry. A change of socks, a shirt, and gloves and I was on my way for the biking section.
As they say, the bike to Gunnison is “downhill”. Well, yeah, true. But, you get your share of winds which make it not-so-downhill. But, I was feeling strong, which surprised me since I had only ridden my bike twice since November. And the 36-degree rain was making me cold. So, I pedaled hard, trying to stay warm, and passed at least 5 riders – none of whom I could even see when I first started out on my bike. My lower back started to ache, so I got up out of the saddle, and pedaled even harder. It wasn’t going to go away until I was done riding. So, I might as well just ride faster.
Frank waved as he passed me on the road in the car. He was moving ahead to grab some photos and greet me at the next transition. He got this photo of our friend Daniel dressed in costume.
And not too much longer he got these of me.
By the time I saw Frank again a few miles down the road, I passed two more riders. Coming in hot into the North Bridge put in for the Gunnison River.
I changed shoes, downed some Honey Stinger Chews, grabbed my borrowed duckie, and into the river I went. Emma and Emma (a team, as opposed to individual competitors like myself) were right behind. Emma had been the only one to pass me on the bike portion, flying by me in her hot pink tights.
I got in the duckie without hesitation, and somehow made it look like I knew what I was doing, even though I’d never even taken a duckie down a stretch of river before.
The river was swelling. The current was fast, and constant paddling was needed to keep the boat on the correct course. I looked behind and smiled at Daniel. He was now cruising by me on a kayak. “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” I yelled, cracking up. “Well, you seem to be doing just fine.” And off he went. I didn’t see him until the finish line.
I looked behind and Emma and Emma were still there. I rested my paddle for a bit to fiddle with something and that was a mistake. The next thing I knew, my paddle was floating just up the river from me. No, no, no! I thought to myself. I can’t do anything without a paddle. So, I frantically splashed around with my hands and arms to slow the boat to let the paddle catch up with me. Success.
But wait, what’s this? A weird current had me, and it was trying to swoop me into a sharp turn in the river on my port side. Paddle harder, paddle harder. The river tried to swoop me to my left, right into a low hanging tree. But, I narrowly escaped. I looked behind, and saw Emma and Emma paddling hard too. They were getting sucked into the same left bank. A turn in the river blocked my view. And then the were gone. I kept looking back. I never saw them again until the end of the race. But, indeed, they did end up getting stuck on that low hanging tree.
The rest of the river was lonely. Except for a few random people on shore, I didn’t see anyone – at least, not until the very end. I was told I’d know when I was coming up on the whitewater park. And that sometime shortly after the first feature I’d have to exit the river to the right and cross the finish line on shore. But, I heard it before I saw it – the roar of the whitewater. And I thought to myself, “Hey, it doesn’t look as bad as I thought.”
Meanwhile, Frank had been there waiting for me, watching scores of people flip their boats on this very same feature. Like this paddle boarder…. about to eat it….
And our friend Alex…. Notice her, her boat, and her paddle, and the kayaker trying to help her….
Frank pretty much thought I was doomed. And I did too – Until I saw the feature that is. Then, I knew I had it…. Ready, set, go!
I didn’t swim. And it was a lot longer paddle than I thought to get to the exit for the finish line. But, I crossed it, still all in one piece, wet as a rat, and still smiling – greeted by a proud husband on the other side.
Somehow, I managed to do alright, despite never having done this race before or having had taken a duckie down a river, or even paddled this section of river before. In fact, I did well enough to earn the top podium spot for the Women’s Solo “Fun” category.
What’s more, I finished 8th out of 13 solo women, and 19th out of 37 total solo competitors – smack in middle, with a respectful time of 3 hours, 27 minute, and 27 seconds.
Would I do the CB3P again? Heck yeah. But, hopefully in better weather 🙂 Then again, what else would I be doing on a rainy/snowy cold day in April? I Might as well join a bunch of other crazy people for a crazy race!