On Monday morning, Stefan dropped me off at the Waterton Canyon TH for my first attempt at the Colorado Trail. The weather forecast looked perfect, my legs seemed stronger than ever, and I was eager to give the CT a go before leaving for a month in the Arctic. Stefan joined me for the first couple hours of climbing, and I enjoyed the company knowing that I'd have a few days of solitude and suffering ahead of me. By 6 hours in, I was in Bailey filling my bags with food from the gas station, and a couple hours later I was at the high point above Kenosha Pass. My legs were feeling great, and I was within 10 minutes of my time goals. The climb up Georgia Pass flew by, and I thoroughly enjoyed the rocky descent off the west side of the pass.
Much to my disappointment, my legs began to hurt on the shorter climbs that followed. I stopped to eat and fill up on water at the next highway crossing before beginning the climb up the Tenmile Range. There was still an hour or so of evening light remaining as I started up what I had heard was a very steep climb. My legs carried me up the lower sections without too much difficulty, but as the route steepened and became rockier, I struggled to find the power to ride much of anything. Hiking became the norm, and somewhere around 10,500', I hit some of the steepest hike-a-bike sections I've ever encountered. And my legs were toast. I could barely push my bike up, and astoundingly, I could barely walk up it without my bike! I stopped and sat for a few minutes, alarmed at the sudden weakness. Earlier in the summer, I had run/hiked this sort of stuff after many hours on the trail. But now my legs were empty.
The rest of the climb was a struggle, and the rideable singletrack above treeline wasn't really rideable for me at 11 pm. I tried a few times, usually not making it very far. At one point, the strong cross wind blew me off the trail and I tumbled down the steep slope below. I sat on the tundra for a few minutes, dejected about how bad I felt and the prospect of 3 more days of suffering of this magnitude. I managed to continue on, though, pushing up the last steep pitches and then hitting the saddle at 12,500'. The lights of Breckenridge twinkled below on one side of the range, Copper Mountain on the other, and Frisco off to the north. It was downright frigid up there, though, so I immediately began to negotiate the steep descent. I think the trail drops something like 2500' in 3.5 miles. It's steep, loose, and after having been in the saddle for 16 hours or more, it was challenging in the dark.
After 115 miles and 16k of climbing, I found a nice soft spot to sleep for a few hours in the cold valley below, but it wasn't good sleep. I awoke at least four times in 3 hours, which never happens in these ultras. I was back on the bike just as it was getting light, but my body was in a sorry state. I still had no power for anything steep, and hiking the bike was a huge challenge, too. I made it to within 500' of Searle Pass, but my legs just had no strength left. I've dealt with some serious fatigue in the legs over the past few years, but nothing like this. Sore legs are one thing, but having legs that simply couldn't get you up a big step onto a rock? That was foreign to me.
Not far above treeline, I threw my bike to the ground and collapsed in the cool shade of a spruce thicket. I ate some more of my gas station food and debated about what to do. I could push on to Leadville, but I wasn't sure I'd have enough food for the slow pace I was going. And if I did that and decided to throw in the towel, it'd be a much longer drive for whoever I convinced to come out and rescue me.
Just then a group of 3 bikepackers emerged from the woods. They had apparently been camped just below, and we chatted for a while. They tried to encourage me to continue on, but by then my mind had settled on bailing. I was rather confident that my legs weren't going to feel any better later in the day, or for the next day, and so I watched the other guys head off toward the pass. After six or eight minutes, they had made solid progress, and I was still sitting in the same spot. So I stood up, flipped my bike around, and headed down. End of adventure.
My legs have simply been through too much in the past few months, and I didn't give them the proper time to recover before striking out on the CT. Another easy week and an additional week of tapering would have probably done the trick, but I didn't have time for that. Fortunately, the CT will be there in September, and next summer, and the summer after that. I'll be back, but after all the success I've had in the ultras I've attempted in the past few years, I'll accept being defeated without being too bitter.