Reflections from Alexandera’s 2022 Colorado Trail Race
After a somewhat apocalyptic shiver-bivy at 12,500 feet on Cataract Ridge, I felt overcome with emotion as I was pulling into Silverton. It was seeing Ana with her 1,000-yard stare that reminded me that we’re now forever woven together in the memory of this year’s race. Even though she had camped at Carson Saddle to catch a couple hours of shut-eye, she wandered past my tarp set-up just a few hours before around midnight. I hadn’t been sure if I’d actually slept— but I must have because the once violent sky was now inviting me to come play.
I watched Ana’s light fade into the distance and set out to chase her. I was playing a game; I would wait until the moment I saw her headlight disappear and soon as I saw the last glimpse, I would look at my watch and start timing myself. The first summit, I was 47 minutes behind her light, then 32 minutes, then 24 minutes, until I saw her pushing up to the summit of Stony Pass and finally was just eight minutes behind her. I wasn’t hiking particularly fast, but I came to the conclusion that she must be tired, at least as tired as I was. The cold, wet days of the traverse had worn me down.
0: The cloud of red blinky lights always blinds me at these early morning race starts. I’m sure there’s a good reason to have a blinky on at the start of the race, but it’s not a road where cars are allowed and the flashing red lights drive me nuts. I held back some and let the crowd blast ahead of me. I listen to people’s conversations and there are some wild claims—I don’t want to doubt their ability, but I do. I know that only roughly half of the people who start, will finish. The Colorado Trail Race is hard. The air still feels pleasant, a little crisp from the storms the night before and it’s been a long time since I’d ridden the Colorado Trail in this direction. In fact, the last time I rode out Waterton Canyon, I was chasing Justin. It’s dark to start, and as I began to be able to see the trail, I noticed it having a little more debris on it than in past years. I instantly snag a thick stick in my wheel and it jams between my spokes and rear triangle. One spoke snaps in half, the other strips out and the third one is bent. A nipple works its way into my rim and for the next 520 miles, every wheel revolution bears an annoying ting ting ting. It makes me crazy and I stop to determine a solution. I remembered watching a Danny Mackaskill video where he spent an afternoon trying to destroy a carbon rim and my wheel was still true. So I figured, fuck it. I’ll ride this thing until it doesn’t work. I only brought one replacement spoke with me anyways. I build my race wheels up as medicine wheels, with spokes in yellow, red, black and silver serving as both metaphorical and actual medicine wheels and I trust them to carry me with almost an ignorant faith.
The afternoon comes quickly and the sun rises high in the sky. People are mildly frantic, passing every chance they get, making quick unstable movements and terse small talk all while trying to get ahead.
“Did you know, these little green pumps are made in my hometown?”
At the Goose Creek spigot, I share this little detail with the few people who are chugging water with me. It’s something I have always been proud of — my father spent most of his career working at the Baker’s Manufacturing Foundry in the small town of Evansville, Wisconsin, and that’s where those pumps were cast. I think about how much of his life my father gave to his third-shift career as the millwright at Bakers; I feel gratitude. Liz and I take turns soaking our braids— both of us are hot, overheating hot and we still have 50 more miles to pedal before we reach the Stagestop Saloon. I leave before her, but she quickly catches me on the pavement of the detour. It’s long and slow for a person with 32×22 gearing set up. I pray for clouds, and they finally manifest. I let the rain fall on my bare skin for a few moments before I get too cold and have to bring out my raincoat. It’s a drizzle, a consistent drizzle, and I look at the water beading off of my jacket. I’m proud of the entire bottle of Nikwax I massaged into the fabric before the race. It doesn’t take long, however, before the water is no longer beading off and the jacket is just saturated, cold, and wet; my pride evaporated, nothing stays waterproof. The rain stops soon enough anyways, and I pedal into the night, further than I ever had on night one before sleeping a few miles past Highway 285. I crawled into the wet woods and wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag beneath a tarp.
1: I woke in the dark to see the person camped just across the trail from me taking down their tarp. I laid there, squinty eyed, on my side for a few minutes staring at their silhouette through their tarp. I forgot that we were competing, and for a moment, I watched in admiration. It was the kind of loving look you steal when you turn your head to look over your shoulder before you leave the bedroom. You catch a glimpse of your partner soundly sleeping just before you sneak out to leave for work all day and you feel consumed with love. You tiptoe, as to let them have just a little more peace before they wake to the cruel bustle of reality.
I packed up in the complete darkness— I didn’t want to cause my competitor to have any undue sense of urgency, I just wanted them to have a little more peace before I passed. I waited for the rider to saddle up and slowly walked out to the trail a few minutes after they left. I started toward Georgia Pass, I saw Young Connor’s camp set up and told him “Connor, it’s time to get up!” I didn’t hear a peep and knew he would sleep in. He’s a sleepy boy. I was at the summit of Georgia early in the morning and started descending away from the building clouds above me. I knew today would be the day I got hammered by the rain— it was just a matter of which pass it would be. As I was descending down Georgia, I encountered a woman who was touring and I said “coming up behind you” as I slowed down and she panicked, pulled her front brake lever and I watched her crash sliding out on wet roots and slamming into the ground. I stopped to comfort her, but she was pretty shaken up.
A few miles later I ran into another bike tourist and took a photo with him, and I’d go on to meet a few more hikers that day and snap a couple selfies with them. I’d run into Eddie Clark as he was out shooting photos for the Brek Epic. Finally, hiking up Tenmile, I could see the massive storm building over Georgia just behind me and the sky just ahead of me was growing ever more ominous. I was able to summit with Cameron and we descended together into Copper. We fist bumped as he rode into town and I started towards Searle. The rain began to fall steadily and fully saturated me in a meager 10 minutes. The ground was already starting to puddle and as I hiked up toward treeline, I’d see biker after biker hunkered down to wait out the lightning. I stopped to warm up in my sleeping bag.
Earlier in the day, I met a hiker who told me that they admired my grit and how tough and badass I was, and not too soon after I laid down to shelter from the rain, I saw the same hiker walking up the trail, and we made the briefest of eye contact. I was embarrassed. He was hiking into the rain, the unknown and I was hiding from the hard weather. I packed up my stuff right away, suited up, and chased him up the mountain. I saw his headlamp summit Kokomo and I howled at him hoping he knew that he was the reason I dragged my frozen corpse up that mountain to the summit at 10:00 p.m. It was so cold that riding downhill hurt and I was running with my bike down the pass to stay warm. I camped on crooked ground just below treeline, beneath a soaking wet tarp.
2: I woke to the fifth rider passing me in the darkness and figured I should get my ass moving. But there’s superhuman strength required to take down camp when everything is all wet, including your clothes, and to willingly put those freezing cold, soaking wet clothes back on to descend down a mountain you know will bring you to shivers. I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to put wet socks back on and found myself lollygagging for far too long. It took me almost an hour and a half to get moving. It was part taking down sopping wet gear, part untying all of my lines and the rest warming up my wet gear between my always sweaty thighs. Even though I promised myself I would only wear my puffy at camp, I kept my puffy and my wool base layer pants on for the descent. I felt a tiny bit of loss riding the new machine-built trail on Kokomo and I am not sure why— it’s the purist in me I suppose. By the time I made it to Camp Hale, I saw more cyclists than I had ever seen nestled into the cubbies in the side of the hill. I’ve camped there before, but I had weird dreams and I told myself I wouldn’t camp there again.
As I pedaled toward Leadville, I was really scanning my body and reassessing my plan of action. Katya had made it all the way to Leadville and Ana was about an hour ahead of me. I had been trying to rest up as much as I could before reaching Highway 50 because I knew somewhere around there I would attack and try to take the lead. The Colorado Trail Race has become an important pillar in my life. I was okay admitting it too; I was defending my previous two wins and wanted a third. I decided that I would hit the Leadville gas station and bypass Buena Vista (BV) entirely. I stocked up on all the new things at the gas station— a second pair of gloves, a red and white picnic tablecloth I’d use to replace a lost groundsheet, food (candy bars, chips and meat sticks) and two slices of pizza I ate while packing. I ran into Karin at the gas station who was full of life and positivity. She peeled away from me quickly and I slogged through the rest of the detour with light memories of the bliss of the Mt. Elbert trail section. Once I was reunited with a familiar section trail, I started to feel strong again.
Just a few weeks before I’d toured that same section with Young Connor and Johnny and we met Justin to summit Mount Elbert. I remembered that if I just pushed it a little in that section, redline just a little, I could keep the roller coaster moving and fly through. Fly, I did, and I rolled into BV in the late hours of that afternoon. The rain started to fall lightly as I pulled up to the gear store. I was going to buy another base layer because of how cold I’d been in the rainy evenings.
I’d toured to the start of this year’s race and as we were riding through BV two weeks prior, we stopped at a bar. I decided I would refill my water at the same bar and purchase a half-beer. I chugged my half pint, filled my water, and went to the bathroom to put my contact lenses in. By the time I came out of the pub, it was pouring rain. The beer had warmed my core and I was riding slowly on the highway toward Mount Princeton. I’d had heartbreaking memories of climbing out of BV in the dark, in the heat of the day, but this time, it was cold and wet and I was grateful for the slogging trail. It was so much work to traverse that section that I was able to generate heat and keep warm. Near the end of the trail section, I caught up to Andrew who was also soaking wet. It felt good to know there was another human on the trail with me—I’d wondered if everyone else was waiting out the weather in BV.
Andrew and I rode together for a little while up the hike-a-bike onto the Mount Shavano section of trail. While we chatted, I remembered back to all of the sections of trail I’d shared with him. In fact, it was the Colorado Trail that brought our friendship to us. In 2019, I’d spent five days leapfrogging with him. In the years since, Andrew and Katie have become some of my best friends. They’ve become my teammates and family all while remaining to be my competitors. They’ve rescued me from the finish of some of my most painful races and they’ve been there to watch my love grow with Johnny. They’ve been there in my highs and lows, and as I saw Andrew’s light pitter off in the distance behind me, I shed a few tears; I love him with so much of my heart. Our friendship is invaluable to me. I hold so much respect and admiration for him.
I rode another hour or two and camped near Brown’s Creek Trail. It was an icy cold, soggy sleep and I had an overwhelming sense that Eszter was standing over me. It was a familiar feeling, an eerie feeling; sometimes when I get so sleep deprived, I feel the presence of a human as if I could whisper something to them. Maybe she was protecting me; I spent a lot of time thinking about her when I raced bikes. She may have been the first woman I channeled in these ultra races. She’d carved out a place enough in ultra-racing that I didn’t feel alone out there, despite the overwhelming insecurity I felt at the pointy end of the race. I fell asleep overcome with love; regardless of how cold and wet I was, I was tied to all of the people who were still pressing forward.
3: Putting on soaked, semi-frozen socks is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d hung all of my wet clothes from my tarp’s ridgeline hoping that they would dry out a little. The soggy air and my breath seemingly made them more wet. I slowly packed up my camp and stuffed my cold wet items deep into my sleeping bag while I tried to choke down some food. Both the cold wet air and the altitude was triggering the lung infection I’d overcome just a couple weeks back. A relatively new asthma diagnosis left me feeling lost when dealing with my lungs at high altitudes. I didn’t know how much to use my inhaler; plus when I did use my inhaler, it made me nauseated and made it nearly impossible to eat. Plus, I hated all of my food.
I was still feeling strong, and after packing up camp, I set out for Highway 50. I called into MTBCast; I wish more people would call in. I wanted to let everyone know, I was headed out to get the race started. I rearranged my kit at the bathroom at the bottom of Fooses, flirted a bit with a gang of bike boys at the base of the climb and tried to pedal as much as I could. After a while, I saw Ana hustling up the mountain. She was a fast hike-a-biker. I hadn’t known I was so close to her, and it surprised me. I hung back and filled up my water and started to shove snacks into my face. I drank at least six liters of water while climbing up the mountain and ingested as many calories as I possibly could.
I know she saw me and started to seemingly hike a little faster until I was in voice shot of her at the final push up to Fooses. I shouted “You’re so fucking strong, oh my god.” And she turned to look at me and told me I was strong too. I confessed that I thought this was the toughest hike-a-bike of the whole section and I put my bike on my shoulders as she seemingly floated to the top. We passed a person (we would later find out to be Katya) who was having a fire at the lean-to atop Green’s Creek. The morning had been rainy and foggy, and Ana and I chatted and rode together for several hours. We would tell each other, “let me know if you want to pass”. It was clear that each of us was exhausted, but somehow drawing strength from each other. After riding with her, I realized that the only upper hand I’d had on her was my obsessive knowledge of the trail— because I swear, she’s stronger than me. She was determined. Strong, skilled as a technical rider. She’d pedal away from me on steep climbs and I would catch her on the ripping descents. I was having so much fun riding with another lady that I forgot I had to lose her, that it was a race. It was muddy, it was wet, and I knew the descent that was coming up. I’d been passed by Leigh on this very descent years ago. I’d worked on my descending skills since, and I let my brakes go. It was chunky, a little reckless, but I thought if I sprinted to Tank Seven, filtered water and drank a liter while there, and ran through the rest of Sargents, maybe I could break Ana and spend the end of the race relaxing. I passed a few hikers, a few bikers, and made it out of Sargents by 10 p.m. I pedaled out the detour a few miles before utter exhaustion kicked in and I was walking up road ascents. I figured I should sleep a couple hours before getting to the Los Pinos climb. I needed to regain some energy and wanted to get the climb out of the way before the sun was too high in the sky. I couldn’t let any time get away— I knew that geared bikes had the advantage on the road detours. Sometimes I max out at eight miles an hour and I know some of the geared riders are pedaling 14 miles an hour. It’s not that I am fast, it’s just that I don’t want to get caught. It’s that I believe in my body— which I swear wasn’t always the case.
It was switching to the singlespeed that finally seemed like total acceptance of the body I’ve built. I was complicit in my weight gain. I let the scale get to 300 pounds. I told myself I was ugly, I told myself I was weak, I told myself I was worthless. And once I switched to singlespeed, I had no more excuses. I wanted it or I didn’t. I trained or I didn’t. It didn’t matter what perceived advantages I thought other racers had— I had this bike, this gear, this body and it was a matter of how badly I wanted it. Whatever it was. And that brought me great peace. If Ana was going to beat me, it was because I didn’t want it bad enough. It was because she was stronger than me — I was digging as deep as I could and brought everything I had to this race. And I loved that idea. It was at this point I realized that the race was as much hers as it was mine. As I dug a bed in the pine needles, much like a dog settling in for a nap, I grinned. I’d sleep until I woke up, not setting an alarm, and wandered off to dreamland.
4: I’d slept for two and a half hours before my eyes darted open. I felt refreshed. I’d tried to pull up Trackleaders, but I didn’t have any cell service. I’d wondered if Ana made it out of Sargents. I’d been curious if she passed me while I was sleeping. I sat up to warm air, it was a nice change of scenery. I could see the stars in the sky and felt a mild twinge of elitism while I brushed my teeth. I massaged my legs, my feet, my triceps as I scrubbed the dreams from my gums. I bet other racers aren’t practicing this level of self care. I enjoyed the sloth of my morning this time, I wasn’t being rained on, it was kind of warm and I had lots of easy pedaling miles ahead of me. Plus, it was seemingly going to be sunny! I strapped all three pairs of my wet socks to my handlebars with the hopes that the sun would dry them out. As I pedaled away, the warm air quickly faded to heavy, cold, wet, and ominous. The valleys were full of cold, saturated air, and the fog particles made it impossible for me to see out of my glasses. I quickly grew frustrated and promised myself a break at the Dome Lakes pit toilet. The fog had been so thick, however, that I completely passed the toilet and figured I would just pedal through the rest of the night, anticipating the warmth from the sunrise. It had been a lot of miles of being cold and I was ready to sweat a little bit.
At Spring Creek, I pulled over to enjoy the amenities of a pit toilet and to treat myself with the pair of socks I had been saving for this exact moment. I knew the amount of walking over the next 30 miles to be grandiose, and I wanted to reward my feet with dry, comfy socks. I proclaimed to the two through-hikers next to me that it was “new sock day” and they celebrated with me. A couple traveling in their camper had asked if I wanted a protein bar and I said “no thanks”. The idea of any kind of bar made my stomach churn— if they had asked me if I wanted a coke or a sandwich, I would have definitely said yes. They made it easy for me to not take a hand-out.
I enjoyed an extended break at the pit toilet before I started up toward Coney Summit. As I was approaching the highest point of the Colorado Trail, I ran into a woman hiker. We gabbed a while; I confessed how exhausted I was, but how imperative I thought it was to push the race pace. I generally get passed by hikers in this section, but I said my farewells to the woman, hiked away from her and approached the summit rather quickly. She shouted to me “If I don’t see you again, good luck!” I never did see her again. I descended to Carson Saddle and set out for Cataract Ridge as the sun was setting. The sky had been friendly and I was grateful to have what I thought was the worst of the storms behind me. I was beginning to fall apart.
I was growing more frustrated with hiking my bike. My pedals weren’t staying where I put them and I would slam my shin into them repeatedly. I tried to shoulder my bike and after a 45 minute push walking with my bike on my shoulders, I dropped my bike and extreme fatigue kicked in. I was really struggling to put any food into my body and I was having to puff on my inhaler every three or so hours. My lungs were really starting to feel worked, but my mind was strong. I told my body that I just had a little ways to go and I would rest once we got to Silverton. I passed another hiker and a dog as the sun was setting and he asked how far I was going to get tonight— I told him Silverton. “You’ll never make it, there’s a lake just on the other side here and a really beautiful camp spot nearby.” I tried to explain that I was racing, and I was expecting to make it to Silverton at midnight, per my experience of the traverse from Silverton to Spring Creek Pass historically taking me 12 hours. He still looked at me like I was psychotic and carried on. I too carried on, but walking beside my bike this time. I had almost no energy left to pedal and was uselessly dragging my bike through the mountains. I wanted to sleep. I couldn’t sleep— I knew Ana was right behind me and had made up a half an hour on the detour.
I’d stopped listening to music and heard a rumbling in the sky before I could make out any lightning. I’d pause to try to listen to which way it was coming from. Finally I saw the line of lightning illuminate the sky before me. There was a storm building just over the mountains ahead of me. I got really scared and decided not to climb up the next summit. I thought I should stay low, I should find the lowest spot up here to wait out the storm and maybe I could sleep. I scrambled off course a little, bushwhacking, but the low grounds were flooded from the previous day’s rain. I climbed back up to my bike and found a small cropping of bushes where I set my bike up and began to tie off the corners of my tarp to the tiny bushes around me. The lightning was cracking louder and brighter, and I could see the outline of the violent clouds amass each time the lightning illuminated the sky. I hoped I’d pulled the tarp tight enough. I hoped I’d found a low enough spot. The thunder grew even louder and I felt the ground shake and the electricity in the air building. I recorded a video— I thought I might die up there. I thought I was probably alone up there. I sprinkled asema out beside me in every direction, encircling my body, reminding the Thunderbeings that we’re still here; I’m still here. I prayed. I imagined if Ana could see the storm, she would wait before coming toward the erupting sky.
I felt alone and like I was being punished for trying so hard to win. I cried, I sobbed. I was so tired, and every time I would drift off to sleep, the sky would crack and I would jump as though I was being whipped. It physically hurt, and I just wanted to sleep. I’d rubbed a hole into the center of my tarp from strapping it too closely to my bike’s head tube; water and hail were flowing onto my sleeping bag. I didn’t know what to do— the tape I’d tried to cover the hole with wasn’t working. I’d decided to cover my sleeping bag with my raincoat. It kept falling off, and my sleeping bag was soaked. I put on my wool tights, my rain pants and all of my other clothes before crawling back into my wet sleeping bag and rolling up in the picnic tablecloth I’d bought earlier at the Leadville gas station. I wasn’t dry, but I was warm. The wind picked up and the tarp began to flop up and down, intermittently pouring puddles that pooled on the pitiful cocoon I’d curled up in. At some point, I remember succumbing to the fear and I must have drifted off to sleep. I only woke to a headlamp shining directly on my tarp and the hum of a freewheel passing by me.
I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen asleep. I wasn’t sure if I was dead or alive. I looked up to the sky and I could see the stars. I blinked to gain focus. My eyes were more tired than usual; I’d been changing from glasses to contacts constantly. It’s impossible to see when my glasses are all foggy and speckled from the rain. The storm had seemingly passed. I patted the ground around me to find my glasses. Where did I put my glasses? I couldn’t find them. I was surrounded by piles of hail and a drop of water falling on my face brought me back to reality. I was not dead, I needed to get my shit together. I was supposed to chase Ana. I reached around again to find my glasses. Where did I put them? I found them after my hands wandered all about the ground surrounding me. I tried to wring out as much of my wet gear as I could before stuffing it in various sacks strapped to my bike and set off toward Ana’s glowing light. I wasn’t sure how far behind her I’d fallen, but I was eager to catch her. I began to play the counting game, and before I knew it, I was howling at the sky as I shuffled up towards the top to Stony Pass, celebrating my life and my ability to have a voice. I wondered if Ana thought I was crazy, or if she too, was howling and I just couldn’t hear her.
5: I descended and climbed three wrong routes on my way into Silverton. I remember the old route where we climbed up the pavement before descending into Silverton and I instinctually routed myself that way. I knew it wasn’t right— the route had been changed for a couple of years, but I was so stressed out I didn’t remember the change. I turned around, descended and found my way back to the route.
I’d already wasted a half hour fiddling with the bolts that held my frame bag in place. I’d rattled them loose and my frame bag was jamming between my crank arm and frame. I just wanted to catch Ana. I just wanted to make it to town. I wanted to call into MTBCast, but by the time I had cell service, I didn’t know what I was saying, and no one would understand the depths of my fear— hell I barely did. I don’t really feel fear for my life that often. As I pulled into town, I saw Artec with his camera out and Eszter with hers. Ana was resting her bike up against the coffee shop and looked as exhausted as I was.
I knew we were competitors, but more than anything I wanted to hug her. I wanted to get a hotel room with her and eat ice cream and gossip about what just happened in those mountains. I wanted to tell her how incredibly strong I thought she was and how emotionally vulnerable I was beginning to feel. I could tell that my ego was on the edge of dissolution.
Instead, I rattled off a few stories and said I was headed to the gas station. Ana arrived shortly after me and tethered herself to the outlet. We waited for 15 minutes for the gas station to open before we both wandered in to buy our food. I bought an English muffin sandwich, a burrito, and a biscuit with gravy along with a coffee. I’d been so hungry for real food, but my stomach was not letting me eat food like I wanted to. Everything I put in my mouth made me gag. The gravy was hitting the spot though, and I scooped up every last bit of it with my remaining food items. I ached for calories.
It was an unfamiliar ache. I’ve been addicted to food for as long as I can remember. I’m a glutton, and that truth brings me great shame and it takes all the willpower in my bones to regulate my food intake. I’d teetered at the poles of anorexia and extreme gluttony almost all of my adult life. Constant misfires in my neurochemical highways leave me feeling both numb and lost. I wanted to eat, but I couldn’t. The burrito was too spicy for my ailed tongue and I wrapped it up to eat it on the go. I bought a few more real food items in the gas station with hopes that my appetite would return and said my farewells to Ana. I don’t recall what I told her, but I was ultimately nervous she would catch me.
I started up the highway and stressfully climbed on the road with no shoulder whilst trailers passed me a little too closely. I was grateful for the trail section through the campground even though it was mostly walking for me. By the time I crossed the highway, climbing up to Rolling Pass, the sky was hot and I was above the clouds. I’d taken off my warm layers and donned shorts and a tank top for the first time in a while. It wouldn’t be long until I had to get dressed in full rain gear again. I found myself continuously stopping to adjust an item, to change my clothes, to put yet another pair of contacts in my eyes.
I kept leapfrogging with the Brit on a Bike and I complimented how quickly he was moving through the trail. I’d passed him and decided I needed a nap and lay down beneath a tree to rest for some amount of minutes. I’d set a timer, but woke up long before it went off and decided to get back on the trail. I felt better, my eyes were less heavy and I continued up to the pass.
I don’t remember what ascent I started to lose it on, but as I was climbing I thought about love. I thought about my love for Andrew, and Young Connor. I thought about my love for Ana. And I thought about how much of my spirit I gave to loving them and how the form that love took was digging into the deepest depths of my self and competing against them. I loved every single person out on the race route with me. And I was able to dig to the depths of my spirit to pull out every ounce of strength I had to stay ahead of the people behind me and to chase those ahead of me. And it’s all because Johnny loves me. And I knew when I got to the finish line, no matter how spent and exhausted I was, he would be there to hold me up, to change my clothes and to give me water, to just see me. I found someone who really sees me. I can love everything and everyone else in this world because I found someone who really loves me. I had completely dismantled my ego and existed as a shell of the woman who had started in Waterton Canyon the week before.
For a moment, the outcome of the race mattered less to me, and I just hyperventilated crying, wishing I could just tell everyone how much I loved them and really that it was all Johnny’s fault for loving me so fully. I felt like I could fly. I felt in complete relation to all things and I howled at the sky with the biggest voice I could muster.
I was brought back to reality when a couple asked if I was Alexandera and they told me that they heard I was on pace to set a new woman’s record; they wanted my photo — I said go ahead. But I’m not seeking to break or set records, I’m seeking to be a reflection of you, a reminder that we are always capable of going further despite our perceived shortcomings, of honoring our competitors by giving our whole selves to the race. It’s an invitation to put more intention into every part of our lives. I’ve spent countless hours thinking about Ashley, about Alice, about Eszter, about every woman who raced before me and held a record, in gratitude. They showed me what was possible, and in their shadows, I will forever give my whole self to the trail. It’s sacred, and it’s love.
By the time I made it to the Highline Trail, I was on autopilot. I’d ridden this trail just a few weeks back and remembered it as a quick section of trail before I was to climb over Indian Trail Ridge. It was dark on Indian Trail Ridge, and I was starting to fall apart. I could see the stars above me. I crumpled to the ground with my legs extended in front of me and my head dangling. I felt like I couldn’t move forward. My lungs were spent, I hadn’t eaten in six hours and I wouldn’t eat for another six. I felt completely depleted.
I felt the breeze pick up, and it was as though the tailwind lifted me back to my bike and urged me to keep moving. It felt like a hand, Johnny’s hand, a loving hand bracing my lower back and scooping me up the ascent. My trench foot ached and every step was excruciating. I would take three steps and collapse on my handlebars gasping for breath. I needed sleep. I needed to eat. I got my sleep kit out and slept for 12 minutes. I got back up and back to the grind. Only two more summits before the ascent to Kennebec. As much as my body was fatigued, I felt a great sense of strength in my brain. I rode as much of the technical trail atop Indian Trail Ridge as I could.
I ride bikes better than I do just about anything else, and almost no matter the level of exhaustion I have, I can pedal or I can push. I started to sprint up to Kennebec because I swore I saw Ana’s headlight. Once I made it to the descent, I let my brakes go and rallied. I’d woken up again, and I saw the perfect line through all of the madness. I was the purest version of myself. I was glowing, I was flying, I was free. I was at the center of the Earth and the world was parting at my wheels.
And then the growing waves of darkness began to collapse atop me. I was descending into the depths of the unknown. And all of the light behind me was warped into blackness. All I could see was a tunnel illuminated in front of me. I’d caught my toe on a rock and thought I broke it and could no longer walk correctly. I was limping and I found myself running up the final ascent because I thought Ana was right behind me.
I wondered what I was doing down there with my bike. The trail twisted and turned, and I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way. I wanted to succumb to the fantasy land that was beckoning me, but I’d shake my head, tell myself I was in control and check my Garmin to make sure I was heading the right way. All is good, you’re going forward. And my mind would take the shape of the rocks I was stepping on and before I knew it, the rain began falling from the sky. I was soaked again. All of the foliage became saturated, and my continuously wet feet swelled up with water yet again. I thought, maybe I’m drowning. Maybe this trail will fill up with water. I thought it maybe a good idea to leave the bike behind and find a boat. Then I thought, it’s best I bring it with. It seems like a really dark place to take a bike ride. Something about riding back there, in the depths of Junction Creek, feels ominous, terrifying. I felt susceptible to the darkness, but I knew I was exhausted and hungry and that if I just drank water, I would be okay. I’d been here before, it’s okay to be here again.
6: I was at Gudy’s. And I sighed. I’d be done within an hour. I was trying to finish before 6:00 a.m. I couldn’t pedal up one more hill. And I cried. I was heartbroken because I was ready to be done and the trail climbed and wound along the creek. I just wanted to curl up next to Johnny.
I’d gone to the depths of my spirit, and I was spent.
I finished my fifth Colorado Trail Race effort in 6:02:33. I was the sixth finisher of the race and the first woman to roll across the finish line. I arrived to a small crowd, but Katie and Johnny were there. They were the people I was hoping to see, they were the silhouettes that brought me light in my darkest hour. And when I rolled into the Junction Creek Trailhead, they had those little party blowout favors and it made me cry.
Once, I was talking to Johnny about the beauty of finishing these long races to an empty parking lot, but I always imagined a crowd of people blowing those tiny party favors in celebration of my finish. And this time, they were there, as were several other new friends, cheering and whistling with their party favors. I let the darkness fade away and let myself be surrounded by the light and love that propelled me through my 2022 Colorado Trail Race.
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