Every so often things just don’t go your way, a mechanical, an injury, sometimes even life just gets in the way. On Sunday July, 24, a heap load of bikepackers departed to take on the Colorado Trail. Some were there to race, some just wanted an excuse to ride with others, but in general, it was going to be an exciting time for many on the beautiful Colorado Trail.

I really enjoy bikepack racing, I really enjoy racing in general. There is something about pushing yourself as hard as you can to see what your body can take. I know it’s not for everyone, and I understand it may not pique everyone’s interest. I also enjoy causal bikepacking trips just as much as racing, but 3 maybe 4 times a year I partake in these ultra endurance bikepack races.

This would be my 4th bikepack race of the year after the Fat Pursuit, Arizona Trail Race and the Comstock Epic. I had participated in the Colorado Trail Race two times prior, and had toured the route once back in 2012. My luck on the trail has been pretty good except for a knee injury in 2014 after leaving Silverton, which drastically slowed me down. I finished that year in 4 days and 9 hours. With that, I decided to make a goal for myself. My goal was to beat the 4 day mark. Jesse Jakomait finished riding from Durango to Denver in 3 days, 20 hours and 40 minutes in 2015. I figured his time was too fast for me to achieve, so I made two simple goals this year; stay healthy and break the 4 day barrier. After Stefan did his race director talk we were underway.

I was as ready as I could be for this race, and as the clock hit 6am, it was game time. Unfortunately, the bikepacking gods thought differently. Just as I was hiking out of the South Platte River Canyon at the start of Segment 2 I stumbled on a switchback and dropped my bike. My shifter hit directly on a rock, and the rock easily won. The thumb shifter flew, and my heart basically stopped. I continued to ride while trying to figure out if I could fix the problem, but I knew all to well I could not. I made the tough decision to bail and give it another shot the next day at 6am – 24 hours after the group start.

Day 0

While I had to make the tough decision to quit the race and take on an Individual Time Trial, I know I made the right call. I have never participated in an ITT, nor have I really wanted to, but in this circumstance, I was not going to wait another year or two. Similar to the group start, an ITT allows you to race the route as fast as you can with a running clock. If records are broken they stand, you just can’t win the actual race.

The day started hot and sunny with little rain or cloud relief. I surpassed Segment 2, an obstacle that was slightly haunting me as I’m sure you can understand. I somewhat struggled to stay motivated as the day went on. When I approached Wellington Lake, I remembered the location of a spigot right on route. To my surprise they had shut it off, or relocated it. This was certainly something I should have double checked before I left, but lucky for me, there was a great big lake for the picking. I eventually made it to the Hayman burn zone, where things started to get real.

The Hayman fire burned a total of 138,114 acres and cost nearly 40 million dollars to fight in 2012. It also killed 6 people and destroyed 600 structures.



There has been a huge construction project on Taryall Road for the past few years. From Monday thru Friday you can expect traffic stops anywhere from 1-2 hours. I got stuck in the traffic back in 2013 when I was going eastbound and I had to stop for over an hour. To top it all off, they made us get in the pilot car as they said it was unsafe to cycle the road during that time. This year luck struck as I approached the pilot car around 2:15pm. I asked, “what’s up,” the lady manning traffic said “go ahead, ride your bike, we will catch up to you.” It was perfect, not only did I not waste any time, but I didn’t have to get in the car.

Soon after dealing with the massive construction I made it to the Stage Stop Saloon. A hole-in-the-wall bar 100 miles in that is a crucial stop for most racers. Pat, the co-owner had mentioned that the racers cleaned him out this year, sure enough, he was out of a lot, but there was certainly still plenty to choose from. Pat is a genuine business owner that plays a big part in this self-supported race. Unfortunately, his bar is up for sale.



At this point my legs were tired and my motivation was low, but I finally bypassed the Loss Creek Wilderness, a big milestone for many. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was not racing anyone. I had hardly seen anyone all day as everyone was still ahead of me. As the sun set and I finally crested Georgia Pass where I had the lowest moment of my trip. Races like these give you plenty of ups and downs, luckily for me, I only had to deal with them every so often this year.

My goal for the first day was to get to a similar position I did in 2014. I rode up and over Georgia Pass, up and over the 10 mile range and finally into Copper Mountain before I rested for the night. There is so much difficult riding between Breckenridge and Copper, easily one of the most demanding sections, but it is a section you must complete to continue. It is literally like a wall standing in front of you.



The trail crests between peak 4 and 5 on the 10 mile range at roughly 12,500 feet. It’s windy and desolate up there, but a short and steep descent into Copper would soon ensue. It’s good to get past the two first passes of the race on day one. I knew tomorrow would be a big day on the bike with rugged climbs, more mountain passes, and lots of exposure. The upside? Leadville and Buena Vista. Before I laid down for the night I must have passed 15-20 riders. It felt good to catch back up and it made me look forward to chatting with some racers in the coming days. I slept pretty close to where I did in 2014, but I was still slightly behind my pace.

Day 1

I woke up just before sunrise after a quick nap on Copper Mountain. It was chilly and motivating was a bit difficult. I passed more riders in the morning before the sun actually rose, once it did, I took a bit of time off the side of the trail to enjoy breakfast and the light of day.



The day went smooth, lots of climbing up to Searl and Kokomo and the bone crushing descent into Camp Hale. At this point all that stood in the way between Leadville and I was Tennessee Pass. Once again, I took the Leadville detour which saves on mileage, time, and climbing, not to mention the magnet of a town. I contemplated bypassing Leadville all together as I turned off on the bypass, and once I hit the turn to Halfmoon Creek Road, I decided to stay on route instead of backtracking to the Sunday Discount store. I had plenty of food, and could fill up on water at the Mount Elbert Trailhead. I also knew that I needed to stop in Buena Vista before the big push to Silverton and run plenty of errands there, including getting a new rotor at Boneshaker Cycles, and a burger or some greasy food somehwere. Leadville may have all of that too, I just figured I would make one stop rather than two in order to save precious time.



After taking over a shop stand in Boneshaker for 20 minutes (thanks Devon), then rummaging through the busy City Market, and stopping at Biggies sandwich shop I was off. I had spent roughly 40 minutes in BV, not bad considering what I had to do, but still time spent. The next 40 or so miles are not easy, especially the singletrack after Cottonwood road. Basically from there to Shavano Trailhead it was time to put my head down and pound out miles with minimal stopping. After finally reaching the Shavano Trailhead, I decided sleep would be a good idea. I climbed to the top of the ridge before settling down for another hour or so in the warm air. I saw Garrett up there, we slept roughly 20 yards apart. He was snoring as I woke up and got ready, I was envious of him!


Day 2

I still had plenty of night riding left which is something weird that happens when you only sleep one hour per night. I absolutely love night riding, especially since the days had been warm and sunny.



My morning basically consisted of basking in the beauty of Segment 15, which is Fooses Trail and the Monarch Crest. It was a stunning early morning as many early mornings are on the CT are. While the trail is rough in spots, the climb up to 12,000 feet is not as bad as other climbs.



As the sun rose, I crested the Fooses Trail to the Continental Divide where I startled a couple dozen elk. The sheer beauty of this area is unreal. There are a number of amazing trails including the Crest, Fooses, Greens Creek Trail, Agate Creek Trail and The Rainbow Trail that are fantastic for day rides if you are ever in the area.



All beautiful and good things must come to an end. As the day grew, the sun crept higher and my pedal strokes got me closer to the infamous Sargents Mesa, a grueling section of rocks. If baby heads made their home anywhere along the Colorado Trail, it would be here at Sargents Mesa – as mass quantities of them last for miles.



Not to mention the grueling terrain, the day turned into a scorcher with little cloud cover. There are a few spots to pick up water, but they are not the most appealing as it’s cow grazing country. I would stop every so often during the day to relax, I don’t remember ever being so hot on the CT. There was nothing I could do but embrace it and make sure to not overheat. This is what I would do.



This year I had prepared for the long haul from Buena Vista to Silverton more than in past years, but Apple acts as a lifesaver for many by serving snacks and soda to every Colorado Trail user 24 hours a day 7 days a week during the main thru hike season. After stopping to chat and catch up with Apple, I pushed on through the headwind in Cochetopa Park. The wind wasn’t horrible, but somehow with each turn it would remain at my head. I guess there’s something to be said about wide open wilderness detours.



The rest of the detour went rather quickly, I ended up catching up to some boys from Austin who were touring the route, they actually seemed to be racing me, but when I finally caught up to them, they eased off the pedals. It was a strange situation, but it was nice to chat with them going up Los Pinos Pass. Two years ago my knees were the issue after Silverton, so in attempts to save them and reduce the swelling, I hopped in Cebolla Creek just outside of the Powderhorn Wilderness to let some cold water do its work.

Between that and the cool night air creeping up on me I was feeling good again. I climbed up to Slumgullion Pass, and eventually Spring Creek Pass where I would lay down for the night in a nice, cozy and warm Forest Service Restroom. It was at least 15-20 degrees warmer in there. Talk about awesome. I ended up having my best night sleep that night, I even drooled.

Day 3

Ahhh, the last day… well sorta, but I would not sleep again on route. My total of 3.5 hours of sleep would be all I needed to get to Durango. Many people consider Segments 22 and 23 the highlight of the Colorado Trail, and I would have to agree. The high alpine segments come with stunning views, cool temps, and some scary weather that you will certainly remember if you get stuck in a storm. Lucky for me I ended up doing both segments during the evening and early morning, besides, weather was again on my side for today. It’s a little difficult to ride at 13,000 feet, but oh man does it feel good. It’s a special feeling, one I only feel when I’m on the CT. As the sun rose, I got a glimpse of why these segments are so beautiful.



I found myself doing a lot of hiking towards the morning, which was inevitable after nearly 400 miles over 3 days. After finally reaching the end of Segment 23, I made it to one of my most dreaded downhills, Stony Pass.



In past years my hands couldn’t handle the descent in full, but this year I had no problem. I soon arrived in Silverton at 10:30am. In 2014 I arrived in Silverton at 4:00pm, So that gave me a 6.5 hour lead on my previous time. If I could get through the last 80 miles injury free, I could easily cut the 10 hours off my ride and get in under 3 days, that was the plan and I went with it. To put things in perspective, it almost took me 24 hours from Silverton to Junction Creek in 2014.

After getting past the spot where I got injured, I felt relieved and I pushed on a bit harder, no fault to the ridiculous flies at the time. I quickly checked off milestones – Bolum Pass, Hotel Draw, Orphan Butte, Blackhawk Pass, and finally Indian Trail Ridge. After taking a lengthy time crunching numbers in my head, I knew I had the 3 day barrier in sight, but also realized that Jessee Jakomait’s overall fastest known time was attainable.

So I did what I had to do. I basically ran sections of Indian Trail Ridge when I couldn’t bike it. The trail shrubs were pruned which made for a quick traverse. Before I knew it I was descending into Taylor Lake, and finally Kennebec Pass. After 520 miles, you would think that the last 20 miles would be cake. That has never been the case, and again, Kennebec to Junction Creek threw me for a wild ride – Literally, I crashed a few times, endured the often forgotten 5 mile 1000 foot climb in the middle of the segment, and dealt with endless dusty singletrack. I was not amused, and I seriously thought this section would be the demise of me and my run a Jesse’s record.

As I hit the switchbacks 5 miles out with plenty of time to spare, I knew I had just stamped my name in the history books. I was amazed and surprised, yet relieved that it was over. I knew I put together a perfect run, something that is not very easy on the Colorado Trail, and while I wish I was a part of the race, there are certainly things that happen out there for a reason, and I feel like I made the best of my situation. I’m excited to see what takes place of the course during the next few years on the CT. I assure you this record will be broken, as most are. And yes, I started seeing things as the night grew on.

10 Comments

  1. Wow Neil, congratulations! That’s quite an accomplishment. I kept waiting to hear more about the race on various bikepacking sites, but hadn’t seen anything, so I’m glad you posted. So what’s the next race goal as you look ahead?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Vapor Trail 125 (day race) and Trans North Cali. Then I turn my focus on fat biking, Fat Pursuit and Iditarod Trail Invitational. Thanks for the kind words, Ben!

  2. Congrats. Quite the year, AZTR + CTR. Mad props!

  3. Truly an amazing ride. It blows my mind that you’re at Georgia Pass on Day 1 sunset and then, sleep at Copper. Thanks for sharing.

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      I got further on my ride in 2014, but I certainly pushed it hard that year, and ended up injured. You live and learn. Thanks for the kind words, Tom!

  4. Yeah Neil! its fun to remember these sections from when we toured it and to now see you break the record. you da man.

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      I know, so much fun. That help me a lot the following year, and every year I have race! Let’s do it again soon!

  5. Barry [alias Yogi the ...]

    When you passed me, right after my short nap at Twin Lakes, my brain couldn’t connect the dots – you looked like ‘that Neil’… but ‘that Neil’ started when I did and must be a hundred miles ahead. As soon as you got about a minute ahead of me, I figured it out… too late. Congrat!

  6. You looked like you had rode 50 miles tops when you caught me on spring pass. Out for a training ride. If you ever do tdlp i will need to bust out the tdlp full loop baller route.

  7. Pingback: 2017 Colorado Trail Race News - Bikepacker

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