There were many things that I took from my journey through France and Spain last year. Some of these need writing about, if only so that I don’t forget them. Perhaps I’ll get round to that at some point. But one thing that struck me strongly whilst camping in the hills around Calanas on one of the final nights was the urge to explore some of the wide open spaces in the United States. Somehow, in my rapidly increasing years on this planet, I’ve spent very limited time in the U.S., despite the amazing geographical and social diversity that exists there. I’m not sure why this is, although I guess that in recent years it’s been kind of popular to see the U.S. as a globally crushing, car- and consumerism-driven, Western behemoth, somewhat lacking in the history that we are so lucky to have in Europe. Despite U.S. life infiltrating our psyche on a daily basis through t.v., films and the media, it’s never been the place that I’ve really considered visiting very much for travel or holidays.
Whatever the reason, I think I’ve probably been missing out. In recent years, stories and images of epic long distance trails like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, vast expanses of wilderness, and a burgeoning bike culture – in places, at least – has opened my eyes a little.
And so it came about that a few months ago, a friend and I booked flights to Denver, Colorado. I’d read about the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) as being a more brutal, albeit much shorter, companion to the Tour Divide. And that, just like many of these routes, the majority of people who ride them aren’t racers, but take a slower pace, for fun. We found a cool film online about a ten day trip along the trail, and thoughts of miles of singletrack, alpine scenery and wild camping led us to book our flights.
Then we started to talk to, and read accounts written by, people who had ridden the trail, that made me realise that this is of a scale unlike anything I’ve done before. Some of the responses went like this…
Steve Wilkinson wrote (admittedly about the race, which is a very different kettle of fish to touring the route, but it gives an insight to the nature of the trail…):
I think every CTR finisher will tell you, the difficulty of this route can’t be grasped by reading, or even being told about it first‐hand. Distance and ascent data mean little. Only at the end of day‐one can you really begin to understand what’s in store for you. But my attempt to explain goes like this: I’ve climbed Mt. Aconcagua, been up and down Mt. Kilimanjaro in 72 hours, ridden across Australia into a head wind, ridden the Great Divide Race, the Tour Divide, and Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 mile winter race. If someone had asked me to design the hardest mountain bike race in the world, I’d have confidently given it a go. However my submission would have just been laughed at by anyone who had completed the Colorado Trail Race. I would never have been so crazy to think up that.
Christophe Noel commented:
If you’re really fit and motivated, 75 miles per day is doable, but requires not only tremendous fitness, but the learned skill to travel this type of terrain, which is quite challenging. You have to have a decent amount of high mountain savvy to make good use of supplies, daylight, and knowing how to judge when to push on, and when to stop. For those going at a more reasonable speed, I think 45-55 miles per day makes for a nice tempo with a day or two at that 75 number. Some sections are simply really hard and that makes it tough to have an average daily goal. The thing that gets many people are the unexpected challenges that come with such extreme terrain. The endless hike-a-bike has clobbered some rider’s feet, ankles, and knees. The altitude zaps people’s ability to sleep and a host of other unusual variables come into play. It is…hard. No two ways about it.
Bill Wright wrote:
My trip was incredible! Massively physically demanding, beautiful scenery and I met many great people along the trail. While I have competed in a half ironman, a 100 mile mountain bike race and completed numerous one day, 100 mile road rides, this was my first bikepacking experience. I knew it would be physically demanding, but it was well beyond what I anticipated. I had to put in some long days (12-13 hours) to keep my schedule.
Nicholas Carmen (Gypsy by Trade) said this:
Good luck on the CT. You are ready for it from your time in EU, but the ride will still change your life.
We leave on Monday. I think Colorado is going to kick my butt.
There is great information about the route and a host of wonderful photos by Devon Balek on Bikepacking.com (previously Pedaling Nowhere), which advises that the trail can take between 8 and 18 days. I reckon we’re going to need every one of those.
The Trackleaders map for the trail will follow our progress using our Spot GPS tracker. I’ll post some photos via Instagram when wifi, battery life and motivation allow. Other than that, hopefully I’ll be back with a bunch of photos and stories in a few weeks…!