I paused at a trail junction on the ridge to make sure that I wanted to turn left down what I thought was Sunset trail. As I was confirming on my phone's navigation app ... KA-CRACK-BOOM!!!! An earth-shaking explosion occurred about 30 yards to my left. White, electric lightning shot from the tree to the sky with a bright orange fireball at the base.
Four days later, it was about 6pm on Sunday, day one of the CTR. The thunder had been gradually increasing in volume and frequency for the past hour, ever since we'd crested Blackhawk Pass. Katie and the rest of the ladies were somewhere, not far behind me. Alexandera was doing her thing, marching alongside her bike, a few hundred yards ahead. In between Alexandera and I, there were 3 or 4 guys, following the brisk pace she was setting. This small group eventually crested a ridge and gathered in a flat spot beside the trail where we had a nice view of the violent skies to our east. There seemed to be some divergence in the previous consensus of continuing on. I felt the need to share with the small group my experience 4 days earlier with the lightning strike back in Flagstaff. For the past few days I had been researching about lightning and strike victims and I was quite nervous. Alexandera acknowledged the early hour and said there was no sense in camping so soon and carried on in her usual manner. I followed suit. Contrary to the typical, evidence-based logic that I like to abide by, I thought to myself, Safety in numbers?
The storm seemed to be focused on the next ridge over, which happened to be in the direction we were headed, toward Molas Pass. I elected to camp and had a soggy few hours of rest, but sleep proved elusive. This is typical for the first night of a big race. Too much excitement and not enough exhaustion to fall asleep in the dirt.
I know a lot of folks sign up for the CTR looking for solitude. That was never my intention. I'm a social creature and I gain a lot of strength and mental fortitude from being around others. I lined up at the GD, expecting that soon I would have collected a new friend or two. The who of my new friend(s) would be determined by how fast and efficient I was this year.
After leaving Silverton, I spent the next 5 ½ days riding largely by myself. There are a lot of people out on the Colorado Trail this year; mostly thru-hikers and bikepack tourers. I did occasionally have brief conversations with these fine folks, but it usually consisted of chat about superficial topics such as weather and water sources. I didn't get to bare my soul or make any meaningful connections. I was my own companion. I listened to a lot of music and podcasts and I tried my hardest to internally motivate myself. If you had told me beforehand about how much alone time I was about to endure during the 2021 CTR, I would have been anxious and afraid.
The next 20 hours went by fairly fast, likely due to the altered perception of time that transpires during these kind of undertakings. Around 8pm, the sun was fading fast and I was calculating whether or not to drink the can of Red Bull I had been carrying in my hip pack. I thought there were about 20 downhill miles of trail left. (In reality it was more like 40 miles with 3K of climbing mixed in for good measure). I had meant to charge the battery for my headlamp, but somehow had not completed this task. I had accidentally left it on for several hours that morning after sunrise, so I wasn't sure how much charge I had left on the disposable batteries. I went to click the light on and my heart sunk when it refused to ignite. I dug out my emergency headlamp and strapped it around my helmet and turned it on. It emitted the most pathetic glow, that would be useless for riding. Right around this time, Brad came along behind me. In my sleep deprived state, I wasn't sure if he was real or not. Whether hallucinatory or of this world, I was grateful for the company and had fun riding the last 40 miles with a friendly, fellow bikepacker. I may have tricked Brad into pushing through the night when I DRASTICALLY underestimated the length and difficulty of the trail ahead of us. Sorry Brad.
I squinted and rode with extreme caution until it was good and proper dark out, meanwhile trying to charge the battery to my headlamp with my near-dead battery bank. Somehow, miraculously, when I put the rechargeable battery into my light, it turned on and lasted for the next 7 hours.
A short time later, the monsoon decided to unleash its fury and completely drench myself, imaginary Brad and anything else unsensible enough to be out at Buffalo Creek on that dark night. I noticed a pair of eyes glowing out of a small cave in a building-sized pile of boulders. I shined my light directly at the eyes and they stared right back at me in a predatory way. I had seen plenty of deer bedded down in grassy areas, but I couldn't imagine a deer trying to navigate a pile of boulders ... I rode on.
As I started cruising down the road, I was most excited to crawl into the van and give into the sleep that my brain and body were screaming for. The grade of the road was just steep enough that I didn't have to pedal. Without a proper light, it was dark and I felt lulled by the prospect of being done soon. I had frequent lapses in consciousness and each time I worried I might actually fall asleep and crash my bike. I had some battery left on my cell phone, so I blasted music as loud as it would go and held my cell phone up with the flashlight on to illuminate the dark road in front of me. I started to stand up and "dance" in the saddle to keep myself from falling asleep. When I eventually arrived at the trailhead, Matt was hooting and hollering in an empty parking lot where I crawled into the van and quickly collapsed into oblivion.
"Fear does not stop death, its stops life.
Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles, it takes away today's peace."
This morning as I was cleaning my bike and making it ride-worthy again, I noticed the quote etched onto to the chainstay:
"If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try."
I went into the 2021 CTR with a lot of fears. Some that I was aware of and some that I hadn't realized that I was carrying. Looking back, I am pleased with how I dealt with my fears and the growth I experienced while on the trail. I look forward to next year and seeing what the CTR has in mind for me next time.