A few weeks ago, I wandered into Rock N Roll Sports with the goal of finally acquiring the last of my gear for the Colorado Trail Race: A lightweight down jacket, a lightweight sleeping bag, and a bivy. I combed through catalogues with Dave Moe until I had the perfect setup. Last weekend, I took it all out for a test run at a little race called the Dixie 200 in Central Utah. The race was 176 miles (shortened due to snow that wouldn't melt in time) and circumnavigated the stunning Bryce Canyon National Park on a mix of dirt roads, pavement, and single track.
Five intrepid souls lined up bright and early on Saturday morning at the Thunder Mountain Trail head not really sure what to expect. Armed with little more than a GPS, two days worth of food, and my newly acquired sleeping gear, I felt slightly less than ready to take on the world. My two goals were to finish, and to finish with a happy stomach.
The first miles flew by with 40 miles of trail and dirt road covered in just over 5 hours. Then came the 'optional' out-and-back to Powell Point, a 25 mile detour climbing up to 10,200 feet. Optional because the race organizer wasn't sure it would be clear of snow, but he did offer a 10 hour 'time bonus' to anyone who made the trek to see the view. In a race like this, the idea of a time bonus is a little bit silly because everyone is out there for the adventure more than the time or finishing place, but I liked the idea of up. After a very trivial, but not short, climb, I arrived at the point having seen first place returning from the point a mere 20 minutes ahead of me. Even with my rabbit in sight, I had to take several moments to take some pictures, chat with Dave Harris the race organizer who had pedaled up to the point to hand apples out, and soak in the beauty before screaming back down the climb.
It was only a matter of another hour of climbing on a dirt road and then a 20 mile descent with a little bit of everything (downed trees, primitive trail, treacherous water crossings, sand, and rocks) before I coasted into Tropic, the little tourist town serving Bryce Canyon and serving as our one resupply point. Lo and behold, I found Aaron Gully there who had been leading the race since we first hit singletrack 10 hours ago. Since I wasn't sure I'd make it to Tropic before stores closed, I had all my food on board so I quickly filled up my bottles, my camelback, stuffed some cashews in my mouth and was off a mere 15 seconds after Aaron left. The race was on.
Things were going swimmingly until nightfall. The trail was slow going, but that was to be expected. The second half of the route was going to be the crux and I felt prepared. Ride until 2 am, sleep for 4 hours, get up and keep moving. That was the plan.
Then I hit the first downed tree in the middle of the road. I hoisted my bike over the massive pile of logs and hoped that it would be the exception rather than the norm. I continued up Crawford Pass encountering log jam after log jam. I crawled over them, under them, around them, through them, covering a mile in just over an hour to get to the top of the pass where I saw car tire tracks, indicating that the road was clear on the other side of the pass. Unfortunately, my little GPS track pointed in another direction, up a trail and through the woods. The first log jam was about 15 feet up the trail.
At 2 am, I looked around. I was on a mountain side surrounded by dead trees littering the ground and the trail. While I still had water, I knew it would go fast if I stopped for the night and had a recovery drink and then food for breakfast. My plan shifted: Move until you get to the reliable water source. Sleep there.
20 miles later, it was 7 am. The sunrise had been beautiful, but even more beautiful was the sound of a stream next to the trail. I quickly downed the water I had been rationing, filled up my bottles and camelback, dropped in some iodine, and laid down to sleep for a few hours in broad daylight. 45 minutes later, 3 helicopters flew overhead waking me from my dreams. Awake, I figured I might as well keep moving.
The next 20 miles was more of the same except with big views. 20 miles in 8 hours. My legs were scratched, my arms were raw, my bike was not happy with being tree-bound for the majority of the time. Yet, I had no map of how to get out easily, so I figured that as long as I kept moving, I'd get to where I was going. I prayed that the long descent off of the plateau was a road and not a tree-clogged singletrack, and for the first time all day, my prayers came true. Dropping 2,000+ feet on a smooth, grated road was the best present I could have wished for.
From there, it was another 20 miles home. Some on single track, some on the Fremont ATV trail, which thankfully was smooth and well maintained. I arrived at the top of Thunder Mountain at 9 pm with only 6 miles of single track to ride. I'd ridden the trail earlier this spring so I knew what to expect, swoopy, fun, and dropping 1,200 feet down to the parking lot. The last mile was the hardest. High speed, straight, I sang to myself to keep alert and awake. Loudly.
I finished in 39 hours and 5 minutes, the only one to finish the entire course. I guess that means I won, but more than anything, it was the reaffirmation that as long as I keep moving, I'll get to where I'm going.