Tales from the Trails - Teresa Garcia & the Colorado Trail Race 2013

20 August, 2013

I was lucky enough to meet and ride with Teresa Garcia during the Colorado Trail Race a couple weeks ago and were it not for her positive attitude, vivacious personality, and tireless devotion, I'm not sure Brue and I would have made it to the finish line. Well... Brue would have finished for sure either way, me? Not so sure.

The Colorado Trail Race is 562 miles, self-supported, and one single stage stretching from Durango to Denver and aside from some mandatory wilderness area reroutes, it's almost entirely technical singletrack. You cross mountain range after range, feel small and isolated, deal with weather, push laden bikes up slopes of scree and rock debris, and somehow rack up about 80,000 feet of climbing. A lot of the time, you're well above 10,000 feet. It's a beast.

Teresa is not a beast. Well, in stature anyway. She used a womens-specific Osprey pack in the smallest available size and packed with gear, it seemed to engulf her, tower over her back. Perched atop her aluminum RIP 9 with a very no-nonsense build of durable (read reliable but heavier) parts and mud tires, it seemed she had a lot of things physically and proportionally to overcome. And she did. She conquered it all, fended off crazies, dealt with terrible weather, and rode alone. Read on to get an insider perspective on what it means to finish the race and more about Teresa, the coolest person you haven't yet met.

Name: Teresa Garcia

Home Shop and City: Fort Collins Bike Co-op , Fort Collins, Colorado

Favorite WTB or Freedom product, OR, favorite WTB or Freedom related memory:

Weirwolf 2.5s! They are really grippy and great for Front Range riding.

Favorite Ride:

           My favorite ride is “The Don Ride”. It starts in Salida, Colorado, gains Monarch Pass via trails built on old narrow gauge railroad beds, follows the Monarch Crest Trail above treeline, connects to the rocky Silver Creek downhill, hits up the famous Rainbow Trail, crosses Hwy 285, jumps back on the Rainbow Trail / hike a bike through the aspen groves of Methodist Mountain, then follows Bear Creek back to Salida. What a delicious ride!

How did you prepare for the Colorado Trail Race?

In the spring, I did several fun moderate ( 3-6 hours) to long (“The Don Ride”) rides, went on a couple of bikepacking trips in Northern Colorado, and increased the weight on my bike every couple of weeks or so to avoid re-injuring my knee.

It also helped that I toured the Colorado Trail from Denver to Buena Vista last year. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have appreciated how important it is to have solid rain gear in the mountains during the Colorado monsoon.

Teresa cruising perfect Aspen-lined singletrack outside of Twin Lakes, CO in 2012 getting ready for the CTR 2013

In a way, I feel like this is a race for which every single ride I’ve done since moving to Colorado- I moved here from Rhode Island, but am originally from Florida- has helped prepare me. When I first moved here, I was an absolutely terrible climber. Most mountain bike rides in Fort Collins start with some kind of technical climb, and, initially, I would have to dab within the first few minutes. But, I kept going at it, week after week, lots of cursing was involved, and, four years later, completed a ride with over 70,000 feet of pretty technical climbing. You eventually get decent at what you do day after day.

Oh- and I should also mention that I read countless blogs written by previous CTR participants. That helped a lot with my mental preparation.

What were your goals going into the event – did you have a plan on when you wanted to finish, anything you wanted to gain or experience out of the race?

I became obsessed with the Colorado Trail before I knew about the race. I wanted to ride the entire thing and see all of the sights! I eventually found out about and became interested in the race a few months after moving here.

When I finally decided to race, I wanted to finish at a faster than touring pace, while keeping it mostly fun (I knew that hiking my bike wasn’t going to be fun after a while, no matter what). I’m pretty good at lollygagging, and am capable of sleeping 10-12 hours in almost any condition, so, for me, touring pace was about 12-14 days. Initially, I told people I thought I would finish in 7-10 days, which I didn’t achieve, but at least I beat my projected touring pace.

Were you scared or worried about anything in particular heading into the race?

Yes! I was, and still am, absolutely TERRIFIED of lightning. Last year, I was surprised by a terrible lightning storm cruising down from Tennessee Pass, just outside of Leadville. I spent 45 minutes huddled in a ditch, crying, scared to death, after which a brief weather window allowed me to ride 5 minutes down the road, where I found refuge in a creepy, abandoned dude ranch (complete with headless Barbies and rusty mattresses) while the lightning resumed. This year, I DNF’d the Durango Dirty Century because the weather was pretty bad, and I was certain I was going to be caught in a lightning storm on Indian Trail Ridge. So, guess what happened within 8 hours of starting the CTR? You’re so hilarious, nature!

How about during the race, any scary experiences, anything weird at night, anything out of the ordinary – I guess there’s nothing ordinary about this event – so anything odd in general?

Every day. All of the above happened every day I was out there. The scariest/craziest experience was the Indian Trail Ridge incident, so I wrote about it below under the next question. Some other highlights:

The Stony Pass Mystery Machine: The road to Stony Pass is an incredibly steep, remote jeep road about 10 miles northeast of Silverton. By about 10 pm, I had made it within a half mile to the top. At around this time, I was passed by a large black truck with two dogs in the back. As it went around me, I noticed that a passenger was sweeping some kind of powerful flashlight high along the sides of the mountain. Weird. I thought that they might be hunters shining for something, but I didn’t think it was hunting season. They went up over the pass, and disappeared. About half an hour later, as I was close to the top, the truck started back down. Again, they were sweeping a flashlight. I was kind of nervous, because I was alone at this point, and became rather alarmed when the truck stopped right in front of me. Oh man, I thought, I’m going to be run down by some bored hunters. I gingerly started riding past them, when the window rolled down. I was surprised to see a young woman stick her head out of the back cab, and even more surprised when she asked; “Hey, we were wondering if you wanted to smoke a bowl with us”. There are many “Stony Pass” and Colorado jokes that can be inserted here. I told her I had asthma and needed to get to the top, so she shrugged it off and they continued on their way.

Yurt Magic: I had never experimented with sleep deprivation, but ended up blowing through about 36 hours of riding on two naps while trying to hustle through the beautiful but incredibly high and exposed segments 23 and 22 without getting caught in a storm. Along the way, I passed a few hikers who told me about a yurt in section 22 that was run by the Colorado Trail foundation, but still not in the guidebooks or on the radar. As I was cresting Coney Summit, I started to feel kind of sick. I had been nauseous before, but this was worse, and it was getting hard to ingest and retain my food. I was getting really cold, even though it was sunny and mid-afternoon, and it was getting hard to keep my eyes open. I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to the end of segment 22. I needed to crash NOW. I started obsessively looking for the yurt. In what I think was a mixture of delirium and a smudged contact, I started seeing yurts all over the place below the mesa. I would wander off the trail only to figure out it was just shrubs or trees. WHERE IS THE YURT? Finally I got very detailed directions to the yurt from a couple of hikers. I found it, and fell asleep while trying to make myself eat, spoon in hand. During this time, a thru hiker apparently came in to check out the yurt, and left a message scrawled on medical tape ; “ I got a classic picture of you asleep with a spoon in your hand”. I crashed for about 12 hours, was finally able to eat, and that bit of yurt magic allowed me to recover enough to continue somewhat enthusiastically the next day. Thank you CT foundation!

Mount Princeton Hot Springs Cares: I was bonking really, really hard when I got to Mount Princeton Hot Springs. I was very hungry for real food, as this was the first stop in “civilization” since Silverton a few hundred miles ago, and I thought they were going to close before I could get a burger. Luckily, they were open, and I snarffed a giant burger and fries, and bought a ton of snacks at the store. After finishing my burger, I got really, really sleepy. Just getting up to put my snacks on my bike seemed like an impossibly energetically costly chore. I inquired about a room. The folks at the bar were quite friendly, and went to check for me. They said they were full, but that the woman at the desk was calling around. I didn’t want to make a fuss, but I was so tired that I just rolled with it. She came back and said the other cabin sites were full, but that the caretaker said I could stay in his basement. This made me feel a little uneasy, you know, as it sounded like the start of a cliché horror movie. The woman handed me the phone to talk to him, and he said he would charge me $40, after which he exclaimed he was drinking. Uh,oh. I tried to be as nice as possible to him and said that I would think about and hung up the phone, but quickly told the woman that I didn’t feel comfortable and was just going to camp. Suddenly I was surrounded by three or four of the Mount Princeton Hot Springs employees. They were all very worried about me. I think they all thought I was a teenager. I’m pretty sure I told them my age, but I don’t know if they believed me. They all kindly offered me places to stay at their home. I must’ve looked really pathetic. Then, the guy on the phone with the cabins that had been drinking showed up in person. “I wanted to introduce myself”, he said, “everyone knows me, you can trust me”. I was so overwhelmed. I knew they were being very nice and caring, but I just wanted to camp and sleep and be on my way. I started crying. This quickly dispersed everyone. I continued on my way. From the hot springs, you climb up a road that becomes a jeep road before reaching the trail. The road goes to Mount Princeton, and is apparently very popular with the off-road vehicle crowd on Friday nights. As I was getting close to the trail head, one of the trucks started cruising behind me with their brights on. I think I tried to wave them around. Then, blue and red sirens started spinning. “ Are you Teresa Garcia?”. Great. I’m in trouble with the police. The deputy sheriff turned out to be a nice fellow who had been sent to check up on me by the folks at the hot springs. He asked me about my camping gear and plans, and asked if I had phone. Let’s just say he told me I made the right decision by not staying in that individual’s basement. He gave me his card and said to call with any problems. I kept going, and as I neared the trailhead, I saw a man sitting in a jeep with his lights off, right in front of the trail. Great. I really, really, really, just wanted to bivy out and sleep. I got off my bike, and, as I walked closer, noticed there was a woman in the passenger seat. I asked them if everything was okay. “Yes, I’m just watching my private property”. Oh man. I didn’t know where this was going to go. “I thought this was the Colorado Trail”. “Oh yes, it is, but there’s private property on either side for ½ mile”. I quickly said I would respect his property and continue until my GPS said I had gone ½ a mile before camping. We started talking. He seemed to actually be a pretty reasonable guy, I guess some careless campers had started fires on his property, and he was understandably upset about this. I reassured him that I was NOT going to start a fire. He then told me; “Well, we don’t have bear here, so you don’t have to worry about them, but we do have cats. We have cats. Do you know what to do if you see a cat?”. At this point, I didn’t care about mountain lions. “Jokes on them! They would net negative calories eating my scrawny butt”. I was so tired, that after ½ mile I bivyed immediately and managed some kind of sleep on a rocky slope right off the trail.

The Sasquatch of Wellington Lake: Almost everyone got stuck for some amount of time in the construction zone near the Tarryall reservoir. They were blasting the hillside to get material to repave the road, and they only had one lane open, so they were only allowing cars and bikers through with a pilot car every couple of hours. I got there and was informed I’d have to wait a couple of hours for the next pilot car, and that I wasn’t going to be allowed to bike through; I’d have to ride in the pilot car. A little later, fellow CTR participants Will and Brue rolled in to the “Tarryall Penalty Box”; we’d have to figure some way to get all three of us and our bikes in the truck. Lynn, the nice and very enthusiastic woman driving the pilot car, suggested that we pile the three bikes in the back of the truck with the boys, so that they could steady them, and that I would ride in the front with her. I felt kind of bad, because I’m small, and could’ve more easily fit in the truck bed, but I looked like a pathetic, homeless teenager at that point, and I knew it was a lost cause. It turned out to be one of the most entertaining 15 minutes of the entire race. While the boys were getting blasted by the exhaust from heavy construction equipment (much of which was barreling down the road-this was some cowboy construction), Lynn was regaling me with local lore. “My friend got a picture of what might be sasquatch over at Wellington Lake. There’s two of ‘em, in a cave. It’s on his cell phone. I know you can photoshop pictures on a computer, but this is on the phone, and you can’t mess with that”. “Could it be bears?” I asked. “No, because they were about nine feet tall!”. This exchange made my day. We rode by Wellington Lake later that night, and didn’t see any sasquatch, but given our hygiene, I would not have been surprised if someone reported a sighting.  

What was the craziest thing you experienced during the Colorado Trail Race?

The Indian Trail Ridge incident was by far the craziest and scariest. Indian Trail Ridge is an exposed ridge comprised of five or so little summits between Kennebec Pass and Hotel Draw. From what I remember, it’s one of the only places in the Colorado Trail guidebook where they explicitly warn you not to get caught in a lightning storm. So, of course, about 10 of us got caught along various points on the ridge hours after starting the race. It was one of those storms that seemingly built up in minutes. There were some small “builder” clouds over the ridge when we started, and some distant thunder, but it really looked like we had a clear window to make it over. I was stuck between summits two and three with Dax and Jeff when the hail started. We ducked under a stand of squat, sub-alpine fir trees we were lucky enough to be next to when the more intense, painful hail started, and this was followed by flash-bang (extremely close) lightning. I was so scared. I am grateful to have been with Dax and Jeff, though, because they are really goofy and their commentary made the incident somewhat bearable. A little later, it looked like we had a little window, so we continued, but, of course, it wasn’t a real window, there was another cell with more lightning, but at this point I was surging with adrenaline, so I high-tailed it down to the trees near hotel draw (I think if I had a little lightning cloud behind me during the entire race, I could’ve finished in 5 days with destroyed adrenals). There was so much hail that it looked like it had snowed about 3-6 inches in places, and it was hard to ride in a straight line. A fat bike would’ve been fitting here. I was lucky enough to have brought along my ski shell. It kept my torso pretty dry and warm, and I’m sure that I would not have been able to finish this race without it. I also think we were all incredibly lucky to not have been electrocuted!

After that, I was incredibly cautious with the weather. I spent lots of quality time eating cheese sandwiches under various shelters (barns, willows) while suspicious clouds passed by. But, the CTR doesn’t let one of the hook easily, and I got caught in a lightning storm on another exposed ridge in the Buffalo Creek burn area about four hours before the finish. This time I got lucky and flew down the ridge in time to miss the worst of the storm, but I definitely cried the entire way down that ridge, because I thought I was going to be barbequed 15 miles from the end. I get a great big F in meteorology.

You rode this event alone with night riding as a woman – did you have a plan for if anyone messed with you? Were you worried at all about anything like that?

I assumed I was going to be riding alone most of the time, and, as a lone rider in general, I did harbor a fear of being assaulted by people in cars, especially as I got closer to the road detour near civilization. And, I guess as a small woman, there’s always that fear that someone is going to rape you. It sucks to admit, but it’s true. I wasn’t too worried about night riding on the trails – I respect bears and cougars, and treed my food most nights, but know that they mostly leave humans alone. I’ve come across bear while riding near Fort Collins before, and they just run away. As for the whole people in cars thing – I had a knife and my spot with SOS button, for what that’s worth. But, you know, all of the incidents I had this trip, when I got nervous or thought the worst was going to happen with the strangers I ran across, it turned out okay. Most people really are nice, but I still think it’s good to be cautious, and I think the Spot tracker and knife gave me some kind of piece of mind in that regard.

Tell me about your setup. What bike did you ride and what stuff did you take with you?

I rode my Niner R.I.P Nine, with full suspension and gears. I know that some see this as an extravagance, but I loved having full suspension and gears – I definitely was able to ride more of the trail with them and it made riding so much more fun! I had platform pedals – this was a choice based on my knee more than anything. Sure, it made some sections harder to climb, but, honestly, there was so much hike-a-bike on the climbs that I don’t think it made a big difference, and I was able to wear my comfy hiking shoes for those sections. I guess the only big drawback to this was on the Tarryall detour, where being clipped in might have made it easier. I had an MSR AC-bivy, and Marmot synthetic sleeping bag rated to 45. They kept me warm and mostly dry (it poured one night and some seepage happened), and I was really happy with them. The most important gear I had was my raingear – I had an Outdoor Research ski shell and Columbia rain pants. They saved the day. I can’t stress this enough. I had two chamois, one jersey, and wool sleep gear for the trip, and I was able to launder them in B.V. and Leadville. I had an Osprey Mira pack, and homemade feed bag, gas tank, frame bag, and small seat pack. I used a Garmin eTrex 20, and it definitely saved me from many inadvertent and lengthy side trips where the trail was not marked well. For lights, I had two Fenix LD 22s, one on my helmet and one on my bars. They worked great, and it was nice to only have to worry about getting AA batteries for everything except my Spot (AAAs).

Were you happy with your choices? If you could change any of the above, how would you?

I was mostly happy with everything. My only real complaint was with the Osprey Mira hydration bladder. The pack itself was great, and I really appreciate that it’s one of the only bags that fit my torso, but the bladder had problems. The bite valve broke after two days, and it was actually a new one I had just received to replace the original one, which also developed two large tears in it. It’s a bite valve! It’s supposed to survive you biting it! The little red stopper piece started coming out too. I was kind of nervous about it. It was also hard to seal the screw cap when it was really full, and I had a couple of serious leaks with that. I would probably get another bladder and keep the pack. Also, I would bring more dehydrated meals. I definitely didn’t eat enough, especially at night, and I think eating a dehydrated meal, even without a stove, might have given my body more protein and fat to absorb while sleeping so that I wouldn’t bonk so much during the day. Eating more in general is something I would make myself do.

Had you mailed additional supplies out to a post office or did you plan on picking stuff up at towns along the way.

I just planned on picking stuff up along the way. Dealing with the post office seemed like a big hassle.

Had you planned to ride with people, or were you planning to ride entirely solo?

I figured I’d probably start with people, and then be on my own. With a race this long, unless you’re really lucky, it’s hard to find people that will ride exactly your pace. I’ve done a few one day races like the CTR here in Colorado, you know, informal ones without entry fees or a marked course, that go through some epic trails in the mountains, and I’ve always ended up riding alone, so I was used to this idea.

If you rode with people at all for some of the race, any fun stories or riding partners? Don’t worry, I am not looking for recognition here, just prodding.

I was lucky to meet and ride with a handful of awesome people at the beginning and end of the race. In the beginning, I leap-frogged a lot with Dax, Jeff (“Ffej”), Bec, and Mike. They made the epic hike-a-bike of the San Juans more fun , and the Indian Trail Ridge incident bearable. I also was lucky enough to ride/hike section 23 with Brian, who I met at 1 a.m. as I woke up from my nap on a pile of rocks on top of Stony Pass. It was nice to have company for that stretch, and he had a timer so that we would eat every 35 minutes or so. They all eventually dropped me, and I didn’t leap-frog with anyone again until I met the Canadians Hal and Dan near Twin Lakes. They were really inspiring; they are from the flatlands of Manitoba, but were powering through the climbs and elevation, even after suffering a blown free-hub, and -I later learned from Pat on the detour- a bear incident, and they finished! They dropped me too, and I rode alone again until the Tarryall Penalty Box, where I met Will and Brue. They were also pretty funny, and, coincidentally, had met my friends Raf, Claire, and Jason at Subculture Cycles in Salida. Small world! It was SO nice to have people to ride the Tarryall detour with. It was a beautiful detour and all, but at that point, it was really hard to motivate myself to ride 70 miles of soft, energy-sucking dirt road, and the good company helped. I probably would’ve fallen asleep around Wellington Lake (with the sasquatch!) instead of safe in segment three without them. I also randomly met Charyl from the Fort Collins bike co-op at the Half Moon Creek Trail head. She was supporting her boyfriend, who is thru-hiking the Colorado Trail. She gave me some awesome watermelon and olives. Lastly, I want to mention that Pat from the general store in Tarryall and Angel Apple are awesome individuals for being so kind to all of the racers!

Do you plan on doing this event again? If so, any different goals for next time?

I don’t think so, but, you know, everyone says that and they end up doing it again. The race took a big toll on my body – I lost a ton of weight and probably weighed under a 100 lb at the end. I would have to do some serious “eat-erval” practice to teach myself to eat enough while racing. Right now, I really want to try all of the races on the Colorado Endurance Series calendar – they are all informal, free, unmarked races like the CTR, and I love them because you get to ride all of this beautiful alpine singletrack that you would never know existed without participating.

What was your favorite section, why?

I’m a sucker for section 15 and the Monarch Crest, I love that section, it so much fun, even running it backwards and climbing! It was also nice to go down Fooses Creek. I also love Kenosha Pass-segment 6- it seems to go downhill in both directions. The San Juans were so beautiful, but the hike a bike was SO hard, otherwise they would also be favorites.

What’s your favorite memory from the Colorado Trail Race?

This question is too hard to answer; there are so many. Cresting Blackhawk Pass under a full moon, riding over Georgia Pass at dawn, watching storms engulf distant peaks under the alpenglow from the overlooks in section 16, all of the awesome people I met along the way.

Georgia Pass at dawn with Mt. Guyot in the background.

If you could sum up this entire race in just 3 words, what would those words be?

Beautiful but brutal.

Anyone or anything you’d like to thank?

BEN! Ben is my boyfriend and best friend. He made most of my bike bags, and made sure my bike wasn’t going to explode. I want to brag that he also raced, and finished in 5 days, 17 hours, while still sleeping 6 hours a night, and he honestly only rode on the weekends to prepare– during the week he lives in a forest service cabin and hugs trees. He’s so talented, but modest. Also, I want to say, because this assumption annoys me, that I decided to race the CTR way before I met Ben, and didn’t just do it because Ben was doing it.

Lastly I want to thank my labmates and PI at CSU, because they let me take as much time as I needed to finish, even though they were pretty busy (wrangling elephant seals!).

Anything you’d like to plug, courtesy of WTB’s blog?

Hmm, I think I’ll just plug bikepacking. Everyone should try it!




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