Aaron Johnson | CTR: Day 1

CTR: Day 1

February 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

August 20, 2013

Durango to Silverton

86.5 miles, 16,300' gained, 17 hours

Doing something like CTR isn't a solo effort - as much as it is just me doing the pedaling, there's no way I could have come close to attempting this without help and support from the people in my life – my parents, for giving me a place to stay in Boulder, driving me to Durango and picking me up at the finish, and supporting me throughout this, even though they were worried sick; my girlfriend’s parents for their enthusiastic support and driving me to the airport, and my girlfriend – through all the long months of training, endless fussing about gear and injuries, she encouraged and supported me, even though she couldn’t be there and had to spend a stressful week watching the race unfold from afar.  Thank you all for your love and help!                           

After lots of travel and stress in the days leading up to the race, it was such a relief to finally get to Durango with my dad on that Saturday afternoon! Set up my bike and gear, quick beers and burgers at Carvers, final scramble to pack and figure out how much food to bring, and finally in bed, ready for the 2:30am wakeup.  Sleep did not come easily that night....too amped out of my skin for this race!

The start was mellow, 80 or so bikers pedaling and chatting in the 4am darkness for the first few miles of pavement to the trailhead.  Once we hit dirt, I was dangling off the front group, and not feeling good at all.  I knew it takes me a few hours during these events to adjust to exertion at altitude, but a feeling of dread was growing within me - what the hell have I signed up for? I was laughing at my estimation of a 6 day finish, at my overconfidence at being ready for an event like this.  My loaded bike felt weird, and I had a couple stupid mini-crashes on the first descent – get it together dammit! Oh well - couldn't do anything but keep moving.

After 4 hours of hard climbing and hiking, we finally broke through treeline, and all my doubts and stresses were instantly gone with these views:

This is why I came. To see landscapes like this, breathe this pure air, escape the Bay Area metropolis and insanity.  Not once for the rest of the race did I question why I was there or whether I was prepared.


Finally crested Kennebec Pass at 12,000ft, and my altitude woes had disappeared.  I felt great!  Grabbed water at a stream with a bunch of other racers, and spent the next couple hours hiking/scrambling/sliding/riding along Indian Ridge at 12,000 ft. The scenery was insane, I couldn't believe where we were riding.

I felt like I was making good time, although I still had no expectation of making it to Silverton before the stores closed at 8pm, so I just kept going at what seemed like a fast but comfortable pace.  Cresting Blackhawk Pass in the early afternoon, I looked back and could see Indian Ridge getting hammered by a huge electrical storm....I knew some racers would still be up there and hoped everyone found shelter!

The descent off Blackhawk was crazy fun, the wildflowers exploding everywhere.  It was the first of many moments of a euphoria I'd never felt, caused by a combination of exhaustion and sensory overload - was all this real? At one point, I stood atop a clearing and was surrounded by 14,000 ft. peaks I recognized from climbing them in college - Sneffles, El Diente, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak - and felt at home.

After a brutal, endless hike-a-bike up the final pass of the day, Rolling Pass, it became apparent that I did have a chance to make it to Silverton before 8pm!  Holy crap game on!  After an even more fun descent off Rollins, the final miles of trail before the road to Silverton seemed to last forever, but the late afternoon sun produced the best light of the day, absolutely enchanting.


Quick, high speed bomb down the road to Silverton, and I arrived at 7:57pm! Shit, where's the store?? I ran into Pete Basinger and Ryan Franz at a Conoco right at the edge of town, and they told me it was open till 9, and had plenty of food. Saved!

A whole large pizza was devoured instantly.  Bought $50 worth of crap food from the gas station - candy, beef jerkey, chips, pastries, 10,000 super unhealthy but delicious calories, enough to last me 2 days until Buena Vista. Packed my bags till they were ready to burst, and pedaled a couple miles past the town to find a bivy site.  I was tired, but full and happy, and pleased with my effort for the first day.  Asleep by 10pm, I set my alarm for 2am to start the dreaded climb up Stony Pass.

I had heard how incredible Segments 23 and 22 were supposed to be, but even my high expectations were blown away.  Stefan Griebel caught me as we crested 13,000ft on Cataract Ridge, just as the sun came up. We were both flabbergasted by the surroundings, perfect timing with the sunrise!


Lifted up by the morning light, the riding was effortless despite the altitude.  Despite all the techy ups and downs on Cataract, it was hard to focus on the riding in these settings.  The colors were unlike anything I've seen.  Above treeline riding is truly something special.

Ryan Franz had caught up to us as well.  After a couple spectacular descents, we had the long, steep slog up to the high point of the race, Coney Summit, at 13,300 ft. Stefan rode most of it and he was gone.  We caught Pete Basinger, hiking along steadily. It was almost noon, and the weather was holding – no sign of dark clouds, my biggest fear of the race – lightning is no joke at these elevations.



Ryan and I had a quick lunch break at the top, then bombed down the other side.  Finally some darker clouds were moving in, glad we got over that as early as we did. My pace quickened as I watched the clouds, I wanted to get back below treeline as soon as possible.  The clouds never threatened lightning however.

The last few miles of Segment 22 were awful - Jarosa Mesa, a long, flat, grassy expanse, covered with thousands of sharp, immovable, baby head sized rocks.  You could barely ride at all, and I was out of water, tired, and starting to get pissed off.  Finally it ended, only to be followed by a jarring, super rocky descent.  I was parched.  Luckily I stumbled across a barely trickling stream, and stopped to fill my bladder.  Ryan showed up as I was waiting for my iodine tablets to work, and we chilled at the stream for a bit, recovering from the beating we just took on our hardtails.  Ryan took off before me, as I decided I needed a 20-minute nap.  Woke up feeling refreshed, and bombed down the trail to Spring Creek Pass, the start of a 56 mile detour around the La Garita Wilderness.

The detour started with a few miles on pavement, and I rode past this huge, bizarre asphalt burning operation on the road, spewing huge plumes of noxious smoke into the air that from a distance we thought was a large wildfire.  I tried to hold my breath through it but had to breathe some in and felt sick.

I almost made a HUGE mistake after Slumgullion Pass - I missed the turn onto the dirt road, and kept going down HWY 149 towards Lake City.  It was a fast, steep descent, and I had gone about a mile and a half before I noticed my mistake. Shit! Burned valuable calories I didn't have to spare with my dwindling food rations.

The rest of the detour was actually kind of nice - easy dirt roads through a beautiful, remote valley dotted with farms.  A nice break from the intensity of the Colorado Trail.  I made it to the end of the detour by 9pm and found a comfy campsite right by the road.  Starving, I scarfed down a couple Hostess pastries and some beef jerkey, slightly worried about my food rations for the next day - only about 3500 calories to get me about 90 extremely tough miles to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.  I noticed lots of small desert rodents scurrying about, so I put all my food up high on my bike, and passed out, alarm again set for 2am.


Midnight moon


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