Tuesday, July 5, 2011

One Helluva Hundred Miles: Durango Dirty Century 2011

100 miles and 13000’ of climbing. Colorado Trail Segments 26, 27 and 28. Mud. More mud. Deep, loose, greasy snow drifts partially melted on steep hillsides. Unridable, scree-covered winding switchbacks climbing to 11-12K’. Downed trees blocking the trail. Rocky ridges traversing huge canyons. Determination. Guts. Hardcore. And I loved every second of every minute of all 18 hours.

4:45 AM. Saturday, July 2, 2011. Durango, CO
I woke up to the sound of a southern accent talking loudly on a cell phone coming from the truck parked beside me. I pushed my sleeping bag off my face, checked my phone for the time and smiled. In about an hour, I would be setting off on a 100 mile ride through the San Juan mountains. The ride included the last three segments of the Colorado Trail and I couldn’t wait. I first learned of the Durango Dirty Century back in February when I was reading up on another race in the Southwest Endurance Series. Initially intrigued by the Mt. Sneffels Big Friggin’ Loop, I soon found that the dates conflicted with the Colorado Trail Race. The DDC looked just as epic and challenging, so here I was, waking up under the big Colorado sky, ready to ride for many hours. I had packed my GoLite pack the night before and had everything I needed for this self-supported adventure: water, food, water filter, SPOT, GPS, extra socks (always, always in my pack on any trip), gloves, sunscreen, tubes, hand pump, tire boots, patch kit, repair kit, rain coat, leg warmers and head lamp.
I adamantly decided I was going to finish this ride no matter what. Frustration and disappointment still lingered from the AZT 300 failure and I have not been able to completely forgive myself for the mistakes I made that led to my DNF. So, I set my stubborn mind to finish 100 miles. No bailouts, no lesser B or C routes. The Superfly was logging a hundo today….come hell, high water, flats or torn sidewalls.
I rolled into San Juan Cycles a little before 6AM and met a few of the other crazy people riding the full 100 mile loop. My legs weren’t snappy and fresh like usual. I knew I pushed it too hard during the week and had neglected the needed recovery time from 24 Enchanted, but I was on a mission and hoped my legs would respond accordingly.

Minutes before the start my GPS would not turn on. I had fresh lithium batteries in it and had no idea what was going on. I tried some batteries out of a light from the bike shop, but that wasn’t the problem. I had printed the published route directions and had them with me, but a nice, neat pre-downoaded gpx file of the Colorado Trail segments would have been nice. It was too late to do much, so I settled into the front third of the pack as we set out on pavement for the Upper Hermosa trailhead.

The first part was flat and fast. I heard the whizzzzzzz of singlespeeds all around me and chatted a bit  with Scott, a strong rider I had just met through a mutual friend. Soon the paved climb started and my legs felt sluggish and heavy. The first 10 minutes of anything I do usually feel like hell, so I just pushed through, waiting for 10:05 when my body usually wakes up and starts to perform. Ugh, was not happening. My legs were lead blocks and not happy with this early morning BS I was putting them through. I climbed on, grabbing a wheel and grinding up the hill, making small talk with Sonya and a few others around me. Soon we came to the trailhead and Sonya and I stopped. She had extra, fresh batteries for my GPS. I replaced the old ones and nothing happened. After about 5 minutes of being stopped and trying everything to get it to work, I jumped back on and started the singletrack.

The first bit of singletrack on the Upper Hermosa trail  was a stunning ride full of small climbs and quick descents, finally coming out alongside the creek for the last 5 miles or so. Wildflowers littered the green meadow and the creek roared fast and full. The morning was crisp and cool still and I was riding through scenery one sees on postcards in the mountain town gift shops. I rode with Scott for awhile and then with a physical therapist from Phoenix until we came to the first of two aid stations. Part of racing is meeting new and interesting people from everywhere. No matter how diverse we may be, a certain underlying connection exists with every person I have ran across riding my bike. It could be we are all a little sick in the head for choosing this crazy adventure or we all march to the beat of a slightly different drummer. Whatever the reason, freaks will find each other eventually and thirty of us had congregated this morning to take on this challenge.
The Hermosa Creek trail ended at a river crossing and an aid station that consisted of a few coolers and some food. Hoping caffeine would jolt my body into action, I chugged a can of Coke, grabbed a granola bar and set off on Bolam Pass Rd. After about 3 miles of moderate gravel road climbing, I parted ways with Scott and two other guys and finished the last 6 miles of Bolam Pass. The ‘B’ ride option skipped Segment 26 (Blackhawk Peak) and started at Hotel Draw. Not wanting more than 12 or 13 hours on the bike, the group I was riding with opted for a shorter route.
Bolam Pass Road climbed up steep switchbacks to Celebration Lake. I was still sluggish and slow. My legs burned and were just lethargic. I must admit, I am not used to feeling this type of fatigue. The relationship is always this: My brain asks for power, my quads react. Simple, really, so what the blank was going on today? Altitude? Possibly, but I hesitate to use that as an excuse since it has never been an issue previously. Some dehydration maybe, but most likely overtraining. I wasn’t miserable, just slower than I am used to and that was frustrating.

Once I hit Celebration Lake, I saw a sign for the Colorado Trail pointing to the right. About an hour and a half later, and some stopping to try and fix my GPS, I realized I was on the Colorado Trail, but definitely NOT in a “Durango-ly” direction.  I took the batteries out one more time, put them back in and FINALLY the unit powered on. By this time, I had figured out that  I should have turned left back where the trail intersected Bolam Pass Road and was on my way there. Ahh, what’s an extra 5 or 6 miles? Ha!
The trail climbed for about a mile right off the road through the first of about 30 snow drifts and then became a traverse with a gradual incline.

 I continued on for about 4 or 5 hours climbing, descending, pushing, and carrying my bike over and up big drifts.

My legs felt like hell going up steep hills on the bike. Even off the bike, I could feel an uncharacteristic burn that I refused to let frustrate me. My mind was strong and determined. I was taken aback by the views and was in the middle of my own definition of Eden—riding through the San Juans on a mountain bike. Heh, beats the hell out of mindless small talk, screaming kids, burnt hamburgers and incessant fireworks at the “normal” 4th of July weekend BBQ. J

I saw two people resting at the top of Blackhawk Peak as I was coming up. One was an east coast singlespeeder who was suffering from dehydration and an altitude headache. I descended just behind him and learned he was going to bail out at Hotel Draw. Although I didn't know it at the time, the other person I was about to spend a lot of time with.
I came to Hotel Draw and grabbed a Coke, some melted Gummi Bears and some Hammer Gel and  saw Rebecca who had also stopped at the last aid station. We figured out that while I was riding my “bonus miles” at Celebration Lake, she had passed me. I would spend the next ten hours with her en route back to Durango. Truly an awesome companion and cyclist who was just as determined as I was.
The next ten hours took us up over 13000’ and produced some long, exposed descents both ridable and unridable.

We stopped shortly at Taylor Lake for some water and bombed down to a bridge crossing the Animas River about 14 miles from the end.

It was just getting dark and we put on our lights. We climbed much of the steep ascent immediately following the bridge in the dark to conserve batteries. Night riding is an intoxicating trance for me. Like being in a tunnel of fluid motion, there is nothing quite like the coolness of the night, the serenity of the trail and my tires that seem to hover over the rocks, roots and switchbacks. We descended and climbed. My light began to fail, so I stayed right on Rebecca’s back tire and pirated what light I could.
At midnight, we came to the Junction Trailhead just outside Durango. Cheers, high fives and big smiles preceded our paved road descent back to San Juan Cycles for the finish.
As I look back, I choose not to dwell on the fact my body did not perform. Obviously, I realize I am not bionic and muscles need rest and recovery, but I chose to overlook that fact in the week before and I paid the price physically. Lesson learned.
The big victory here was in my head. Not once did I ever seriously consider bailing out. It was set in my head. 100 miles would be done today regardless of how my legs felt. I took this frustration and the frustration of getting off course and my rear derailleur ceasing to shift in stride. It would not and did not affect me. I accepted the fact that my pace was far slower than I was used to or wanted.
Here, in the mountains of Colorado, three months later, I began to forgive myself for Arizona somewhere around Indian Peak. I finally let go of the insecurities and self-doubt that have somehow clung to me since April. I attribute my ability to finally forgive myself to the mysticism of the mountains, the clarity of looking down from above 13K’ while pedaling a mountain bike and the perseverance it takes to complete 100 hard miles.
I have found where I belong. I know now where I “fit in”and to where I will always return, no matter how far I travel in my constant search for novel and epic. I came from Oregon. I was born in the Blue Mountains on a horse. I currently live in the Front Range. I will see the better part of the world in the next 20 years, but you can bet I will be an old lady living in Ouray with an old black lab and one badass mountain bike still trying to shred some trails. Yah, and most likely still lining up for the start of the 2071 Durango Dirty Century.

More pics from the trail (all photography credit Jeff Kerkove, Sonya Looney and Aaron Kimble)


  1. Great to read about your experience of the day.. beautiful, breath-taking, and yes, every bit worthy of the word "Epic"...

  2. Great stuff. In 2 weeks we're headed out to ride the CT from Silverton to Durango. It'll be interesting to see how much snow melted away between July 2nd and the 23rd. Then again - snow makes the photos that much better.