Following is another sample from my (almost finished!) Colorado Trail Race story. In this excerpt, Ty and I are at the top of Kokomo and Searle passes, well above treeline, trying to make our way into Copper at the end of day 4. Excerpt 1 is here.
By now the violent mood swings I experienced on the Colorado Trail were routine. But that didn’t make them enjoyable. After the sun went down, and the perfect light faded into night, it got cold. We were wet. 12 slippery, rocky, and muddy miles, all downhill, separated us from Copper Mountain. The descent would have been fantastic in broad daylight, and without 17 hours of pedaling behind us. In the cold, wet, dark, with loaded bikes, fatigue gnawing at our brains, it was miserable. When I flicked on my lights, they didn’t turn on.
Ty disappeared into the gloom. I blindly dug fresh batteries out of the bottom of my pack. When those were installed, I flicked the light on again. Nothing. “Damn it!” I tried another set of batteries. Dark still. I started hiking in the dim glow of a back-up light. Ty, by now, must have been sipping hot cocoa at Copper Mountain, wondering where I had gone. I called his name. No reply. I growled in anger. “Hopkins!”
After an hour of blind hiking and slow coasting, I saw the glow of a campfire. “Hopkins?”
“Where have you been?” He was warming by a thru-hiker’s fire, enjoying the warmth. He had been for some time.
“My lights went out.”
“I’ve been here for a long time. I was thinking maybe you got lost.”
“I yelled your name.”
“Oh. That’s what that was.”
I dropped new batteries into my light, when I clicked the button it worked perfectly. I had been putting the batteries in the wrong end. “Idiot.” We left the comfort of the campfire, hoping to find a nearby place to build our own, and sleep away the cold. Every campsite we encountered, and there were only a few, was occupied. So we kept descending until at last, we reached Copper Mountain. Every store was closed. Nobody was out. It was a ghost town. Ty was angry. I had delayed us an hour. We were hungry, wet, and tired. And there was no place to sleep.
It was my turn to talk Ty off the ledge. “Let’s just find some trees, and get in our bags.”
“Anywhere. It’s late. We’ll get an early start. No one will know we were here.”
We followed the marked trail across ski slopes and under chair lifts until we found a thicket of trees that we could disappear into while we slept. That night the temperature dropped into the 30s. We both shivered in our sleeping bags, and waited for dawn.
We had come too far to quit. But the thought of doing so always creeps into being when nights are cold, and bellies are empty. Dropping out at Copper Mountain would have been easy. We were three minutes from I-70. Ty’s wife, Holly, who was awaiting our arrival in Denver, could have picked us up and driven us home. She was just a phone call away. Neither Ty, nor I, mentioned that reality. We didn’t speak at all, in fact.
The next morning we rode to the nearby convenience store where we’d need to get enough food to last us until the finish line, some 150 miles away. We were 45 minutes early to the store. Our moods darkened even more. I reorganized my pack while Ty cleaned his bike. An employee from the store came outside to flip switches behind a closet door.
“Does this mean your open?” Ty asked hopefully.
“Nope. Not until 7.” He was too cheerful to be delivering such vexing news. He seemed to be enjoying our plight. He went inside, and locked the door behind him. We waited silently on the curb.
At exactly 7:00 the lights came on, and the clerk pushed open the door. “Come on in!” I wandered the aisles, looking for anything that looked appealing. After a few minutes, I had a small pile of goodies gathered on the counter. I filled my bottles using the sink. I was ready to leave when I noticed the coffee and donut shop attached to the gas station. “Donuts!”
At that same moment, Cameron and Jeff walked through door. “Ha! You guys are here!” Jeff yelled. As usual, his energy levels were high.
Ty looked confused. “Where did you come from?” he asked. We hadn’t seen Jeff or Cameron since Buena Vista. We were certain that they were long gone.
“We rented a room at Copper.” Jeff explained. “It was too cold and wet to sleep outside last night.”
“Oh, I know.” Ty grumbled.
On the way into Copper, Jeff and Cameron had picked up Ian Altman, a rider that had yo-yo’d with us off and on throughout the race. Ian was from Durango, and was riding his third Colorado Trail Race. We settled into the coffee shop and enjoyed fresh donuts, hot drinks, and something called a sausage roll. I ordered one of those for the road.
The happy rendezvous lifted everyone’s spirits. We left Copper behind, and began the long, steep, and brutal push over Ten Mile. We laughed the entire way up the hike-a-bike climb.
“When mountain lions go to sleep” Cameron said, “they check for Jefe under the bed.”
Jeff took a turn. “Jefe’s tears can cure cancer, too bad he never cries!”
I decided to have a go. “Jefe doesn’t recover from racing the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail recovers from Jefe racing it.”
We laughed too hard for the caliber of the jokes.
And who is Jefe, anyway?
Jefe Branham, from Gunnison, Colorado, is the Colorado Trail Race record holder. In 2012 he finished the entire trail in 3 days, 23 hours. He is the first, and remains the only, rider to finisher under 4 days. During that record breaking ride, he hardly slept at all. As we joked our way up Ten Mile, high above Copper Mountain and the I-70 corridor, Jefe was finishing the 2013 race with a time of 4 days, 4 hours. The route in 2013 was 50 miles longer than it was in 2012.
“Jefe has a grizzly bear carpet in his living room. The bear isn’t dead, it’s just too afraid to move.”
At the top we gazed down, down, down into Breckenridge, where’d we be passing through, (but not close enough for easy resupply) after a long descent, and little more climbing. Beyond the small town more mountains layered the horizon. We’d have to cross those also. We weren’t laughing anymore.