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  1. #1
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    The Grand Loop 2007 (sans Bedrock)

    The Grand Loop 2007 (sans Bedrock)

    2 days, 23 hours, 4 minutes


    Based on my splits from last year, I knew that I would have to finish both the Kokopelli and the Paradox trails, and be starting the aspen-filled Roubideau section of the Tabeguache Trail (240 miles in, but still 120 miles from the finish!) by 01:00 Monday morning if I was to break the seemingly impossible 3 day Grand Loop barrier. Not only was this insanely optimistic, it was also very wrong. The Roubideau section would need to be started much earlier...

    Last year's Grand Loop was my first exposure to multi-day self-supported mountain bike racing, and you could almost say I took it easy. Not that finishing anything the magnitude of the Grand Loop is easy, especially with the temperatures (100 degrees F!) we experienced last year. However, I slept a lot, ate a lot, rested a lot, and generally made a tour out of the whole event. It was absolutely fantastic, and I would highly recommend doing the ride in this style to anyone! The second after I finished, I knew I was going to do it again and do it waaaaay faster. I also knew that I wanted to stick to the true Paradox Trail instead of taking the alternate route through the town of Bedrock. Last year, I saw the trail marker signs pointing the other way as we left the trail and headed to Bedrock, and then again as the true trail rejoined the alternate route up on Spring Mesa. I know how much of a stickler Mike Curiak is for sticking to the designated route, but the draw was just too strong, and I chose to sacrifice being part of the real race so I could do the rerouted Paradox. However, this certainly didn't mean that I wasn't “racing” - far from it! In fact, I specifically wanted to start with the others and race against them for the added motivation I knew it would provide. Finally, having already missed the Moab Rim Ride and the Kokopelli Trail Race this year, I had some seriously pent up racing energy!

    The clock started thick with anticipation at 19:45 Friday night at Kokopelli's Trailhead. To no one's surprise, Dave Harris was off the front and out of sight within a few minutes. We all knew he was by far the strongest rider, and fully expected him to shatter the GLR record by many hours. If he felt any pressure to do just that, he didn't show it a bit as he was relaxed and smiling from the get go. The remaining six of us also strung out once we hit the singletrack of Mary's Loop. Eventually, Chris Plesko and I settled into a similar pace and rode all the way to the Troy Built trail within a minute of each other. Already this year, Chris had smoked both the 100 mile Moab Rim Ride and the 300+ mile TransIowa self-supported races on his singlespeed. And just two weeks earlier, he laid down a 15h21m Kokopelli trail time. Needless to say, I was pysched to be riding this close to him.

    Towards the bottom of the Troy Built trail descent, I glanced down and nearly had a heart attack. My rain jacket, bivy sack, and arm warmers that were strapped to my rear rack were gone! A stream of expletives left my mouth like angry hornets out of a shaken nest. I had just descended several hundred feet, and leaving this gear behind was not an option. I had chosen to go Steve House “night-naked” style, and had brought neither a sleeping bag, nor a pad, intending to ride through the chilly nights, and get some sleep during the daytime when it was warmer out. My rain jacket and ultralight bivy were my only protection from the elements, and continuing without them would be about as smart as swimming in leech infested waters – maybe I could get away with it, but if not... Really, there was no choice to be made. I was only 9-10 miles in, so they couldn't be too far back. I dropped my bike and my pack, and started hoofing it up the hill. To my immense relief, they were only a couple hundred feet back in the middle of a rough rock garden. I strapped 'em on even tighter, and added a retainer loop so this wouldn't happen again.

    Into the darkness and across Salt Creek I rode. I worked hard on the hike-a-bike up to Rabbit Valley road to catch Chris. I would catch a glimpse of him from time to time, but when I eventually got to the road, he was long gone. The fast road out to Rabbit Valley brought a huge smile to my face as my Secret Weapon was working perfectly. Secret Weapon, you say? Fo shizzle! My "home-brew" (as MC calls them) LED light setup: 36+ hours of light on the middle setting, which is good enough for all but the fastest, and gnarliest downhills. 6+ hours on high, for those ultra-high speed moments, and 100s of hours on low, which was more than bright enough for any hike-a-bike. All with the instantaneous flip of a tiny switch right at my fingertips. The Secret Weapon for a “night-naked” strategy, indeed!

    I spun on through the night as the moon rose full and orange. Once I hit the pavement of the Westwater Road, Chris was just ahead, and he spun easy allowing me to catch up so we could chat. We were both feeling in the groove, and he was even alarmed at how fast our pace was. We rode through the night together, eventually arriving at Dewey Bridge at 04:45, where Lynda Wallenfels (Dave Harris' racing teammate) was camping out on a family raft trip, and taking pictures of the racers as they went by. We stretched and chatted briefly, but were very relaxed – especially compared to Lynda who was bouncing around and checking out our gear and snapping pics, and generally just waxing rhapsodic about doing this race next year. Man, and if she does, there are gonna be a lot of guys eating her dust!


    Unlike last year, the miles up to Fisher Valley flew by in the gloriously cool morning air!
    As Chris and I filled our water bottles at a small rivulet across the trail, Fred Wilkinson silently zips up and starts doing the same. We hadn't seen any lights or people behind us since sunset, so Fred had obviously been making some good time over the last few hours.


    By 12:30, we had made it to Fisher Creek. This was over 7 hours faster for me than last year, and Chris and I were elated! However, the length and effort we had put into our ride so far was also starting to sink in. Chris was having a bit of trouble getting calories down, and my legs were aching like a weary Sherpa from carrying too big a load. All I wanted to do was sit and relax, but I forced myself to use this non-pedal time for refilling water bottles and eating my last piece of pizza. Fred came rolling up and joined us in the shade right as I was finishing up repacking. I bid them farewell for now, but assumed that I would see them again. I was planning on riding the rerouted Paradox overnight, and was sure that they would pass me the next day while I napped.


    It turns out they would pass me a lot sooner than that! I got about 10 miles into the Paradox trail, and found myself falling asleep at the wheel, errr, handle bars. My legs and my eyelids were both full of lead – it was time to bivy. At least that's what I thought. In hindsight, I should have taken a quick nap, but instead I hiked off into an invitingly shady oak thicket, rolled out my bivy sack, crawled inside and proceeded to sweat like a bole weevil in a manure pile. I tossed and turned and dozed off and on for about 2 hours before deciding that this was pointless. I just couldn't shut my brain off and I was wasting precious time. I had already heard Fred and Chris roll by, and if I wasn't sleeping, I needed to be moving. Thankfully, my legs were feeling unleaded, so I packed up, and walked back to the road. For a moment, I thought there was a snake hidden in the grass, but fortunately (?!) it turned out to just be the air escaping from a thorn puncture in my front tire. I threw a patch on it, and hit the road.

    The Taylor Flats road seems to roll and climb interminably. Finally, somewhere above 9000' it starts heading downwards, and the miles to Buckeye reservoir passed in a blur. Once on Carpenter Ridge, I cruised through the large triangular intersection where the alternate route to Bedrock leaves the true Paradox trail. All of the other riders were planning on going to Bedrock, but to my surprise, there were tracks staying on the main trail! Oh wait, tracks with the same tread were going in the opposite direction too, and they appeared to be WTB Mutano Raptors. That could only mean 1 thing – poor Fred was off route! He was onsighting the Paradox and Tabeguache trails with no GPS, and I had had similar energy expenditures last year doing the same thing. This year, however, I was armed with detailed notes and would end up spending no more than 1-2 minutes routefinding during the entire loop! This made a tremendous mental difference in my ability to ride hard! One mile later, the tracks were still there. Two miles, three miles, a bit further, and they finally ended where Fred had decided he wasn't going to be descending into Paradox Valley anytime soon.


    This section of the reroute (Red Canyon, Radium trail) was quite enjoyable. Only 1 or 2 long rose-garden-hill-esque hike-a-bikes down, but with great views over Paradox Valley and some really fun riding.




    Just before Hwy. 141, around 20:30, I decided to call it for the night. It was starting to get dark, and the temperatures were moderate, but most importantly, I felt sleepy and thought I would be able to fall asleep quickly. My front tire was getting soft again, so I quickly pulled the patched tube out, checked for thorns, and put a new tube in. During that time, I also ate and drank some dinner and reorganized my gear. I was really getting good at using my stopped time efficiently by multitasking. This gave me great peace of mind, so I set my watch for 00:30, and dozed off quickly under a tree.

    I awoke to my watch alarm with a peacefully cool, soft breeze on my face and millions of twinkling stars overhead. There is something just magical about being in the desert at night that revives the soul and sharpens the mind. The turmoil-filled state of the world seems entirely in another dimension, and it is almost as if you can draw energy out of thin air. Hmmm... Who is John Galt?

    I quickly descended to a bridge, crossed the river, and rode a quick mile of pavement before beginning the climb up to the “Koski Traverse”. At one intersection, an abandoned old bike is turning into a pile of rust. It has a rack and waterbottle, and as I ride by, I wonder if this bike was the remains of a much, much earlier, failed Grand Loop attempt.


    The Koski Traverse is more in character with the rest of the unrideable sections of the Paradox trail. Fresh and unloaded, probably 90-95% of it is rideable, but with 24+ hours in the legs and 20+ lbs of extra weight, that easily drops to 60%. It is similar up-and-down terrain to the Roubideau, with all the ups being hiking. Fortunately, the night is cool and my legs feel good. In an old burned area, the moon silhouettes the stark skeletons of the blackened trees. The magic of the night continues.


    Dawn comes during one of the last hikes, and it is mostly downhill from there to Spring Mesa where the alternate route rejoins the Paradox trail. A few fast miles later I arrive at Tabeguache creek to find Fred taking a water break. Cool! We are both chatty, and the first thing we talk about is his missed turn to Bedrock. Amazingly, he wasn't angry or upset, and just laughed it off. We headed out on the trickiest part of the Paradox, and I hardly had to consult my notes at all as we followed Dave's tracks up to Pinto Mesa with nary a rest longer than 2 minutes. At Pinto Mesa, we break for a well earned lunch, and are thoroughly enjoying each other's company and pacing. We both feel that we're making good time and should be entrenched high on the Uncompahgre Plateau by nightfall.


    About halfway through the Glencoe Bench, I feel my legs preparing to cramp. I've been taking electrolytes and keeping up on water and food, but what they really need is plain ol' rest - pushing them to the point of cramping would only be foolish. So, reluctantly, I let Fred go, and lay down in some pine needles for a pleasant 30 minute snooze. The onset cramping feeling subsides, and I pedal the last bumpy and marshy miles to the Hauser road, then enjoy the smooth graded ascent into the Aspens. The sky overhead gets darker and starts rumbling and spitting rain, but thankfully, never enough to get out the rain jacket. Still, I am getting a bit concerned that I am pushing on too late in the day and it won't be warm enough for me to bivy. My focus is good, and I want to get the Hauser climb done with before sleeping, so I choose to press on.

    After riding the somewhat silly powerline loop, I started the Pool Creek singletrack with the sole intention of finding a good bivy spot and sleeping for as long as I could stay warm. I had only gotten 3 contiguous hours of sleep since Friday morning, and it was 17:30 Sunday evening. I found a nice, soft spot right away, pulled on all of my clothes, crawled in my bivy sack and relaxed. I was almost asleep when I noticed how cold my toes were. Then I started thinking about Dave Harris getting shut down by snow drifts on this next section 2 weeks prior. If my toes were cold now, what would they be like in the middle of the night, soaking wet, after hiking through tons of snow drifts? Once again, I couldn't shut my brain off and sleep would not come. I grew colder and colder, until by 19:30, I knew that if I didn't start moving, I was gonna be in trouble. Not bringing a sleeping bag was making me go faster alright, but not for the reason I anticipated!


    Once pedaling again I warmed up fairly quickly, and was relieved to be able to ride or walk around every last remaining snow drift. At a high point on the Roubideau around 21:30, I could see the lights from Montrose or Delta twinkling in the distance, so I stopped and pulled out my cellphone. I knew that my wife would be worried, and I had told her that I would try to call her here if I could since I would be unable to check in from Bedrock like the others. There was enough service to place a call, so I told her where I was and of my plan to ride through the night and the next day. I was ahead of schedule, and thought that I wouldn't even need to pedal hard to break 3 days - I would just need to pedal! However, that assumption was just as wrong as thinking that I could break 3 days by starting the Roubideau at 01:00!

    Off into the night I went with my handwritten note cards describing the route, and my Secret Weapon blazing the way. Creek after creek after creek. Around 23:30, I rolled stealthily by Fred as he was rolled up in his bivy. Silently, my mind whispered, “The race is ON!” I knew that if he felt fresh, he could possibly catch me the next day. But, he'd not only have to feel fresh, he'd have to make very few route finding errors. From here on out, I was confident that I knew the route better than anyone.

    Sleep deprivation is a curious thing. I haven't experienced a whole lot of it relative to my adventure racing friends, but oddly, it seems to get easier to deal with each time. The curious part is how a 2nd, 3rd, or Nth wind would have me feeling incredibly strong even though I had only slept a few hours in over 2 days. Then, unexpectedly, the sleep monster would bite. Within a minute, its venom would soak in, course through my body, and pull my eyelids shut. It didn't matter if I was riding 3 mph or 30 mph – the only antidote was to stop and close my eyes. And, perhaps the most amazing part, a tiny 10-minute dose of sleep is all it would take to move on to the (N+1)th wind.

    The sleep monster started biting non-stop towards the end of the Roubideau. I'd hike halfway up one of the drainages and nap for 15 minutes while my body was warm, then descend and repeat. By the time I got to Cottonwood road, the temperature had dropped to freezing or below. I could no longer just pedal to stay warm – I had to pedal hard, but I still couldn't outrun the sleep monster. In the coldest predawn temperatures of the race, I found my self shivering, curled-up for warmth, and squatting on my heels in a small depression on the side of the road. I was almost finished with that round of antidote, and sunrise was only a few hours away, but all I wanted to do was light a fire and warm up. My mind stayed strong and made me get back on the bike and keep pedaling. This time, I held the sleep monster off until well after daybreak.

    The Divide road is, perhaps, the most gratifying section of the entire Grand Loop. From there, you can see the expanse of the Paradox Trail, from Glencoe all the way to the La Sals and beyond, laid before you in one giant panorama. I could see Pinto Mesa, Red Canyon, and Taylor Flats giving way to the Northern slope of the La Sals and then down towards the desert. Looking across that broad and vast landscape, and knowing that I had ridden through all of it in such a short span of time was immensely rewarding. A lot of downhill riding lay ahead, and I had certainly earned it. Down to Dominguez CG, and beyond the sand through Cactus Park. I could almost taste the finish as I blasted down the long and bumpy descent past the radio towers. The day was heating up, but the mid to high 80's were a far cry from the heat I had experienced last year, so even though I was feeling hot, I had some perspective to guide me.

    Finally, No Mas Hill. The last segment. While only 22.5 miles long, this segment packs a punch unlike any other of the entire Grand Loop. 4000' of cumulative gain, starting out with a 9-mile, 2500' non-stop semi-technical climb dubbed “No Mas Hill”. After that, there are no flat spots. It is either straight up, or straight down for a rollercoaster of a ride to the finish. Dave's tracks were looking ever and ever fresher, but I could tell that he had finished strong. I'd see his tracks tractoring up the steep sections with zero footprints beside them, and I'd follow suit. My legs were screaming for the last 4 hours. The cramps, banshees from hell pleading to be unleashed, but I kept a tight lid on them, easing up time and time again just before they could break through. I had gone a little too hard, and had to walk the first part of the final slickrock climb to contain the banshees, but once I had the lid sealed again, I stood up and pedaled to the pavement for the fast coast down Little Park road.

    At the top of the last small rise, looking down Widow Maker hill, I finally eased up. A sub 3-day time was in the bag as long as I didn't do anything foolish. Lots of people were out riding, and I tried to smile and be friendly, but I just wanted to be done. It was a surreal feeling to be finishing amidst all these other mountain bikers who had no clue what I had been through for the last 3 days. I must have looked very strange to them, coming down Widow Maker hill with my big pack, many water bottles and bags strapped to my frame.

    I rolled into the Tabeguache parking lot at 18:49 Monday evening. 2 days, 23 hours, and 4 minutes after starting out from Loma. I was elated and jumping for joy inside, but outside I was stinky and filthy, lying in the gravel and getting swarmed by gnats. I didn't care. I had shaved over a day off my time from last year, broken the old course record, and even beaten the 3 day mark while still riding the true Paradox Trail. The sense of accomplishment is still soaking in...
    Last edited by Stefan_G; 06-12-2007 at 12:43 PM.
    The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. -TJ

  2. #2
    Team Cspine
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    Damn you!

    Now I HAVE to do it next year!
    Sorry what?

  3. #3
    .......................
    Reputation: ionsmuse's Avatar
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    Way to push the boat waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out on that one, and superb writing to boot.

    I think you did House proud.

  4. #4
    Grizzly
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    Great ride, great write -up. Congrats on an inspiring finish.
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  5. #5
    feel the Force
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    Excellent!!!!!Bravo!!!!! Very good description of a great ride. Let me know when you're ready to ride again.

  6. #6
    Exactly 1/2 of 2-Epic
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    Stephan - that is beyond awesome. To bust the 3 day mark including the full Paradox ... that is a phenomenal ride. It's hard to imagine doing this beast w/o a sleeping bag. Uber gutsy!

    If we'd have both been on the same route we'd have had a nailbiter at the end!

    Congrats on the record ride and enjoy that recovery. I bet you won't need much though - this is just going to launch you for CTR.
    Dave

    Anything is possible. The impossible just takes longer.

    2 Epic

  7. #7
    Recovering Weight Weenie
    Reputation: Padre's Avatar
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    Great write up!
    (and not even one mention of a saddle sore?) =)

  8. #8
    Scott in Tucson
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    Wow, Stefan. Brilliant ride and writeup.

    I have to admit I was skeptical when you told me your goal of a 3 day race sans Bedrock. I knew it could be done, but I pulled out the route I had drawn and estimated it to have 4000 feet more climbing than the alternate. That's a lot, considering it's only ~38 miles.

    You did it anyway, and pushed the limits the whole time. Your "night naked" style is certainly an unorthodox strategy, but it sure worked out well for you--if you consider speed and ignore your comfort! It's funny, you'd have been more comfortable if it had been closer to normal temperatures (hotter). Strange to read about both you and Dave being so cold up there.

    I really enjoyed reading about your struggles and suffering. You gave a good glimpse of what it was like out there for you. Sounds like you could do it even faster knowing what you do now. Are you going to go "night naked" for the CTR?
    Author of TopoFusion GPS Software. MTB+backpacking = bikepacking.net. Ride Diary.

  9. #9
    Just go ride!
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    Hey guys-

    Thanks for all of the great compliments - I really appreciate them! This one will be fresh in my memory for a long time to come, and it's nice to be able to share it. (And yes, Padre, the saddle sores live on in my memory too. Didn't wanna gross anyone out... )

    Bulletbob, if I can just get one more person to go experience this thing next year, my write-up will have been a success!

    DH, yeah, it woulda been freakin' cool to have a nailbiter at the end! I think you probably had a bit more gas left than me though. This loop completely worked me over this year. I really enjoyed reading your report too, and knowing you were out there in front of me just killing it really helped me to keep going through the lows.

    Scott, thanks for the praise, and I'm psyched I could share some suffering with you, since I know you are one of those crazies who actually enjoys suffering! Your estimate of 4000' extra for the alternate route is probably close, but seems slightly high. I didn't keep track of elevation gains and mileage this year, but I would've guessed around 2500-3000' extra for the Koski Traverse - and ALL of the extra gain occurs during those 10-12 miles! It really wasn't the elevation gain that slowed things down though, it was the friggin' hike-a-bike.

    Hmmm, "night-naked" for the CTR. Considering the lowest elevations of the CTR are around the highest elevations of the GLR, I kinda doubt it. There are a lot more towns though...
    The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. -TJ

  10. #10
    Really I am that slow
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    Thanks for the fire me up!

    Dude way way cool! Killer ride on that route!
    Read my BLOG!

    just a guy who loves bikes and exploring

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