Where do you call home? I am currently without-home! But, for the past calendar year, I’ve been living in Boulder, CO in the proverbial closet-turned-bedroom training for the summer. Before that, you’d most likely find me in neighboring Denver, CO with brief stints in France for whatever reason I’ve come up with. My friends who live in France are currently pleading me to join them on a fixed-gear bicycle tour in Africa. Also, there is a mysterious art and music project I may or may not be a part of, which will see me touring the west coast soon, so we are indeed, floating about. What brought you from the east coast to Boulder/Denver? School. I attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then transferred over to the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver to complete my Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Painting and Drawing. When in high school, I would visit my brother in Summit County during the summers and work. I sort of fell in love with Colorado early on. So, when it came to apply to college, I made sure to apply to just about everything I could in Colorado. Ironically, I didn’t venture back into the mountains all that much until after college. Were you an artist before your cycling days, or has cycling always been a passion? I got into cycling as an adult, a little bit after I graduated from art school. At that point I was living full-time in an art gallery located in downtown Denver. I switched from car ownership pretty easily, as the locale really suited a bicycle rather than a car. We were literally located a block away from the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium, so parking in the summer was often times impossible, and break-ins in the up-in-coming neighborhood happened regularly. Everything from the front door of the gallery was centrally located. My first adult bike was honestly just something I found at the thrift store for a few bucks that I would tinker and play with. How did art translate to your ultra endurance cycling lifestyle? Just generally living a car-free lifestyle as an artist suited me just fine. It keeps the costs down, which translates to more art supplies, obviously! Art openings are also just more fun to do by bike, as the radius of the locations is small (the art districts), and the stops are frequent. I also lived so close to where all the alleycat races put on by the bike messengers would take place and the critical mass rides. I would usually dress up in costumes for both. Cycling became just another outlet for personal expression. I’ve always been curious on what one can do with something. With the bike, one of those curiosities was distance: I wondered if I could ride from Denver to Boulder – a good 30 miles away. Finding that I could (it wasn’t easy, that first time!), I tried to do it as an out and back trip. It sort of all grew from there. A year after buying my first thrift store bike, I was assembling my own rides, and doing overnighters. I did my first real long distance tour down the Pacific Coast. During the tour, I did an extension of my graduation project along the way, leaving tiny little sculptures all along Highway 1/101, and taking photographs of them. I never really went into art school with the direct intention of being some sort of successful, visual artist – a painter, that shows in a gallery regularly. Rather, I wanted to learn how to think like an artist, and have that sort of perspective inform the way I approach all kinds of projects. To me, everything just becomes an art project: everything has an artist statement attached to it, has some deep, intrinsic meaning to me. I guess I’m just a very emotional person when it comes down to it, so being able to master these emotions is one way I feel I can conquer these ultra-endurance goals of mine. Was the 2011 Tour Divide your first adventure cycling experience? I guess it depends on how you would define, “adventure cycling.” I had already done a few, mostly road tours: the Pacific Coast, New Zealand, France, etc. These all lasted between a month or two. France is its own type of adventure. Since I had no real route I had to follow, I was able to make it all up on the spot. There is also the language barrier to work with. Ultimately though, it’s a very civilized country and you’re not too far away from some sort of help. Although all my gear, except the bike, were lost by the airline upon my arrival, which made things a bit spicy on figuring out where to go from there. Once that was all sorted out, the most fun I had was when I hit up all the famous mountain passes made so by the Tour de France. New Zealand was sort of a crossover tour. The thing to do in New Zealand is go Tramping, so I brought along full backpacking gear with me to take time off the bike and go on multi-day tramps through some of the famous New Zealand tracks. That tour almost ended in disaster, as I found myself marooned on a tiny island in the middle of a raging river for 3 days after taking a wrong turn right before a flash flood hit. I had no shelter, since the three nights of my tramp were supposed to end at huts along the way. I escaped drowning and hyperthermia and was able to escape with only minor infections and nerve damage- fun times! I’ve also done some smaller multi-day tours in Colorado with various success. One of those tours was actually to Mt. Elbert, the highest 14er in the state – and the first 14er I ever summited. It took 4 days in total and ended with me hurting my knee, which took me out of cycling for a few months. I also tried a multi-week tour with the express goal of hitting multiple 14ers, as well as keeping a mostly dirt-route. It was a disaster because I was schlepping a trailer pulled by a Surly Crosscheck with big, meaty (and slow!) Panaracer Fire Cross tires. I was trying to do ridiculous things with this setup on this trip: crossing over 13,000+ foot Argentine Pass, as well as traversing over the Ten Mile Range. The setup was too heavy to even push up the former. It had me making multiple trips up and down the pass ferrying my gear; the latter finished before it started, as I clipped my pedal on a rock, breaking the pedal a few hundred yards into the day’s ride. Probably for the best: the Ten Mile Traverse unloaded is a beast already! A little too ahead of my own gear choices and fitness, really. In 2011 you refused to detour around the snow, how was that experience? What ultimately made you scratch in New Mexico? It was the most amazing experience really. The snow was too deep and soft for really anybody to want to volunteer going into except on foot, so those detours were very quiet and solitary. Pushing a loaded down mountain bike while wearing snowshoes also made it very slow going. Many of the places, like the Flathead Valley of Canada, are just gorgeous and I didn’t mind having the entire place to myself and dreaming of climbing the mountains all around me. I was actually surprised that I was the only one that year that opted to forgo the detours and just go for it. It turned out to be, I think, several hundred miles of the course that was detoured to pavement! I lost entire parts of the route – and we’re talking about full-on *roads* in Wyoming in a few places. At one point I had to turn around and go back a dozen or so miles, find a topo map in the closest town and orientate my way through it all. In New Mexico – just outside of Silver City, the last town you hit before the border and the end of the route, I took a nasty crash on pretty much the last dirt section with any teeth to it. Just hit a rough bump at the bottom of a descent, coming out of the CDT singletrack section. The bike and I sailed a pretty nice jump, but the landing was a bit harsh. I managed to taco my front wheel and tear my shoulder up, landing with too much weight on the front end of things and very much off balance. Certainly was a surprise ending to that odyssey! You came back a year later, finishing in just short of 23 days, the first single speeder. How rewarding was your finish? Did your 2011 experience help? It’s always nice to be able to finish what you started, even if you have to literally start 2,500 miles back on the route, and a full year later – there’s a lot of integrity in that, I think. Going single speed was sort of a necessity for budget purposes, but I’m not a stranger to it – or fixed geared. I think the majority of my races are still alleycats on track bikes! My winter bikes are usually fixed geared as well, and I prefer hitting up the hills on the front range. Seemed perfectly doable to me. Being now a veteran of sorts on the route, rather than a rookie, certainly helped things. I felt that I was moving a lot better than I had the previous year – having the course completely open and mostly snow free sure did help as well! Knowing how to maintain a race pace for weeks on end – getting into the daily routine, understanding how your body reacts to a racing environment – that’s hard to train for and that’s what being a veteran is really all about. Deep down though, I was hoping for a harder fight for single speed victory, and had a few mechanical nightmares that sidelined me and sucked up time. Maybe one day, I’d ride for a more righteous time. I’d love to go for Chris Plesko’s single speed record that hovers around 19 days. When did you get into climbing peaks, and incorporating biking into the mix? Using a bike to ride to things seemed like a pretty obvious thing to do, especially if you don’t have a car! It could have been the trailhead of a mountain, or to the bar, you know? For doing the 14ers, there are various Meet Up groups and forums to work out carpooling for people who want to climb these mountains in Colorado, but it’s hard when you never have a ride to offer and the Meet Up places are usually way out of the way anyways. When I did get a ride and meet up with people, I’d still have to ride 20 miles in the middle of the night to grab it! After a while, it seems just way more convenient to make it a two or three day tour and do it yourself. Certainly some of my other tours helped in making what’s basically a duathlon more the goal for the day: my month-long New Zealand tour, which was all about getting to the various tramping tracks, as well as some of my shorter tours in Colorado to mountains. When racing something like the Tour Divide, there are days when you’d like to do anything else but ride a bike, and its pretty easy to simply look up at the mountains you pass and think what the view up there could look like! When did the “Tour 14er“ idea arise? Briefly describe your motive. One inspiration was the dream to just to simply ride a bike to the 14ers and – in time, ride to all of them – on multiple trips, mind you. But, thinking about it a little more, it dawned on me that it would take literally forever to do them all, as the approach by bike could honestly take days to get to some of the more remote mountains. So I thought maybe it would be best to do them all in one go, in a huge tour and that idea got me very excited. The next problem was timing: the summer season to peak bag, without bringing along gear to deal with snow (crampons, ice axe, snowshoes, etc) is actually pretty short, so you’d have to go fast anyways. So, the heck – why not make it into a race of sorts? Your goal was to beat the Fastest Known Time (FKT) of self-supported summits of all of the Colorado 14ers. Roy Benton set the FKT in 1995 at 37 days and 12 hours. Did you think this was an attainable goal? Absolutely not! Well, I’d waffle about the idea – it was a huge source of anxiety in the months prior to the start. To be quite honest, I had no idea how long this could honestly take. Some of my research showed that more contemporary tours of the 14ers by bike – and there’s only a few recorded, take around 50 days, far longer than Benton’s record. 58 mountains in 37 and a half days is roughly a peak and a half a day – it’s no small task! Even when doing my own tour through it all, I wondered how Benton was able to accomplish all this. I was in Middle School at the time he was tearing things up. I give massive props to that dude, and that ride. How was your experience in the Sangre de Cristo Range, especially around the Crestone area? “Blood of Christ” Mountains man! That name is synonymous with, “No Joke.” Without writing a huge narrative on that range, it sort of set the stage of what I’d experience for the rest of the tour. The Sangres are probably the closest we have in Colorado to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, as they rise directly out of the surrounding valleys, without any foothills, so even approaching them is awe-inspiring. The roads used to get to them – yeah, they may start out as fairly tame 2wd tracks, but quickly move on to rough 4wd and even roads used as testing beds for off-road enthusiasts. Once you start hoofing it on the trail, you’re really in for some technical climbs, as the majority of the summits aren’t walkups, like you’d find in the front range. The Sangres are also home to two of the four great 14er traverses: Crestone Peak to Needle, and Little Bear to Blanca. I started the Crestone traverse at around 11:00am and three 14ers into the day – a little late, and a little tired for sure. The route goes up to a 5.2 grade on pretty good rock, so it’s exceptional and spicy climbing, but you can’t make a mistake – route finding is non-obvious. I topped out on the summit of the Needle at 3:00pm and inevitably met right up with the thunderstorm for the day – the storm clouds were literally buffeting against the crest of the mountain. Now, I actually had never done this traverse before. Truth be told, I hadn’t ever done any of the peaks in the entire range before! So, descending down a complicated class 4 route, in a thunderstorm, with rain and hail and major lightning bolts being thrown around me – well, it’s certainly exciting! I had to wait it out for a bit at the top of 13,000 foot Broken Hand Pass for the lightning danger to get a little lower, before descending any further. This sort of epic day, unbeknownst to me, was going to be sort of par for the course for the entire trip. Every day it seemed, something just incredible would happen to me and I never had a good idea as to what it was going to be. That second great 14er traverse between Little Bear and Blanca was truly even gnarlier. The Lake Como “road” up to the trail started out as basically a mile of track of just baby-head rocks. Just incredible – and then it gets worse from there! It’s completely irrational. Once I made camp around 11,000 feet, I had to attempt to bear-proof my camp and get ready for that afternoon’s thunderstorm, which I could see coming from 25 miles away. That night before I did the traverse was just filled with either the sound of the Lake Como bear wandering around my campsite, or just the thunder billowing and echoing multiple times off of the amphitheaters of the surrounding mountains. One bout of thunder would echo for a good 30 seconds – just absolutely unreal. The climb up Little Bear is no joke. Some say its the hardest standard route on any 14er – and I, of course, approached it in less than ideal conditions. It had hailed at that altitude the night before and was raining that morning too. The crux of the climb, called the Hourglass, was a full-on waterfall at 13,000 feet. All the rock around it was polished from the constant movement of water. I had to avoid the easier rock since, well, it was behind rushing water, and climb to the left of the route on more technical rock. I was all alone, no one was even remotely close by. This is all while wearing trail runners. Once I summited, the traverse over to Blanca starts. I was within a cloud, so visibility may have been a hundred feet. The cloud would lift for a moment during the traverse, and you’d see literally 1500 feet of airy, double exposure, as you’re nimbly making your way a mile and a half on this knife edge ridge line. That traverse featured what I would say was maybe a 40 foot, class 5 down climb around a tower. Not a place to really fool around. But the traverse went despite the conditions and after also summiting Ellingwood Point to make it three for the day. I hiked back to my campsite to find the Lake Como bear had totally devastated my campsite and ate all my food. Nothing to do but lose a few thousand feet back down to the valley floor and find food in town! And of course this is the Lake Como Road – it’s just this rocky, loose thing (where it’s not baby-head city) you can’t even drive on, unless it’s with a heavy modified 4WD vehicle. I got back onto the highway into town, just in time to look back towards the mountains, to see the next wave of thunderstorms engulf the area. Oftentimes, my window that I could climb in was that tight. And just as icing on the cake, the Sangres hold the only private 14er you need to pay for and reserve for a specific date. So, I’m having all these epic days of huge traverses and three 14ers/day or even five 14ers/day, knowing in the back of my mind I needed to get this one mountain, on a specific day. I actually paid for it twice, to give myself just a little more flexibility. I called it, Mount Blown My Budget. What was your most memorable time in the saddle? Being a true duathlon, I spent at least half the time turning the pedals. I almost think people forget that I’m traveling fairly slowly between these trailheads, on a loaded down, heavy mountain bike. The most memorable would have to be getting around the entire San Juan Range. Then trailheads can all be pretty much accessed by taking the Alpine Loop system of ATV tracks. These tracks again are no joke – they’re just beat up old trails used by miners that now see the majority of traffic from ATVs. It’s hard going on a bicycle, as the surface is so loose and these miners were just crazy and didn’t know anything about, “grading” a road, or anything that advanced in engineering. I learned that it was best to tackle them at night, when the motorized traffic was the least, and the temps were nice and cool. I had the full moon illuminating all this open space around me and I would make my way very slowly across these intensely high mountain passes – 12,000, even 13,000 feet high. I’d usually stop for the night just below the pass and bivvy, get up the next morning, finish the pass and lose a good 2,000 feet of elevation before having to recoup another 1,000 feet up to the next trailhead. The alternative to taking these mountain passes directly over to the trailheads was to take the highway, which often times featured no shoulder and 200 foot drop offs. I opted for the ATV roads, for sure. Certainly another side of these epic days – and this is before even starting up the mountain, in earnest! One of the coolest parts of the trip seemed to be re-supplying at some really cool town, share with us your experience in civilization? When I designed the route I wanted to follow, I made sure to do a mini-tour of the mountain towns – especially in the San Juans, where there’s some honest distance and remoteness. Going into a town is fun, but it can be overwhelming, especially since I was coming down out of the mountains, having seen almost no one for at least a day. Going into town meant literally eating as much as possible, so I would normally look for a restaurant that had whatever food I was craving. One of the best stops was Maggies in Ouray, which served me a double half pound hamburger endearingly called the, “420 Burger”. Just greasy and immense, covered in onion rings and french fries; I’ve never had food so fitting for this sort of tour. Ouray is also an ice-climbing destination, so I’m liable to hit that up once the snowflakes start falling. I found myself in Lake City on more than one occasion, the last time I spent a tiny bit of time at the backpacker’s hostel. It was fun to rub elbows with some thru hikers on the Colorado Trail, but too short of a time too, as I needed to do repairs on my equipment and wash some clothes while trying to fit in a shower and couldn’t really partake in any of the fun of loafing around and laughing. Those sort of days are sometimes the hardest, as it’s very easy to get off your race schedule and blow the whole challenge. Leadville is still one of my favorite stops on tour and the location of my last shower of the tour, before finishing off the last 20 or so mountains. They’ve got this restaurant called Quincy’s there and all they serve is either Filet mignon, or Prime Rib. I happened to hit up Leadville on prime rib night – as well as the night of the Leadville Trail 100 race. Being so dirty and so hungry looking, I kept getting asked if I had just won the Leadville Trail 100 myself and if was celebrating! I had to tell them no, that wasn’t me! The actual winner was Rob Krar, who is also known for his wooly beard. I ate my 15 oz prime rib and rode straight through the night to the base of the mountain of the Holy Cross. The next day, I summited that mountain, road back to Leadville, and at midnight was on the top of Mount Sherman underneath a beautiful spread of stars, and a chilling wind. Amazing memories, for sure. Every day man, every day was like that. What is was one piece of gear you used that you would say is your favorite? These sorts of projects are filled with little emergencies and spontaneous decisions, but it can’t be understated how much planning I had to do beforehand to make this happen. I started out as a bit of a curmudgeon when it came to technology, but I’ve changed my tune and instead have embraced it, rather than shunning it. I couldn’t have done this tour without my Garmin Etrex 20. It’s as close to the perfect GPS for bikepacking or thru hiking there is. Takes two AA batteries, cost less than $200 bucks, runs for days. I loaded it up with these incredible topo maps put out by a company called Above The Timber. I knew exactly when I was on the peak of the mountain, or where National Forest began and private property ended (good to know when its time to bivvy for the night!). It was like having super powers. It took my abuse in stride. I’ve had it for a few years now. Definitely was the rock star of my gear list. Another piece of gear that demands some credit is my racing vest I bought from Ultimate Direction. I used this instead of using an MTB-style backpack. It seemed like a weird idea to be honest, and could have backfired in my face – I haven’t really known many bikepackers that use this style of vest in lieu of a backpack before. Turned out to be perfect, as it was way more comfortable to hike and run with, than any backpack I’ve ever had and worked fair enough while on the bike. I would put my food in it, say. I’m surprised other bikepackers haven’t tried one out, and I’d encourage people to do just that. Riding from peak to peak, did you abide by the “Colorado rule” of climbing (on foot) at least 3,000ft to the peak? For the most part, yes – it’s just a fairly automatic thing to do. Trailheads are usually located well below treeline. When designing the rules to this challenge, I did explicitly decide to make the Colorado rule purely optional. There was some good reasoning for this. Historically, the Colorado rule only really makes sense if you’re taking a motor vehicle to the trailhead. Colorado has roads most nearly everywhere; including up, around, and over its mountains – 14ers included. For someone to drive 100 feet to the summit of a 14er, like you can do for Mt. Evans, and claim a summit sounds a bit silly to most. Another more popular record – and when I say, “popular” I mean three people have tried and came short of even finishing in the last 12 years; is to summit all the 14ers, but catch a ride to all the trailheads using a full support team and multiple types of vehicles, depending on the terrain. In this case, the Colorado rule makes enough sense, although still arbitrary, to set a standard of what one needs to do, to complete the challenge. When approaching the trailhead self-powered, like while riding a bike, things are a lot different. Even the most benign 14er with trailheads that don’t fit the Colorado rule become much harder, as even getting to the start of the hike takes some time and effort. Consider Mt. Bierstadt, whose trailhead is at 11,669 feet, about 600 feet above the Colorado Rule for the 14,060 feet summit. When I approached it from the last trailhead I was on Quandary Peak, I had to finish descending 11,542 Hoosier Pass, traverse 11,990 foot Loveland Pass, and then summit 11,669 foot Guanella Pass where the trailhead for Bierstadt is located! That’s over 60 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and we haven’t even started the hike! Since it had been 19 years since anyone really challenged the previous record, I did actually abide really strictly by the Colorado rule for the majority of the peaks I summited, even when I didn’t have to. I wanted to try out the rule, and see if it made sense. What I found was, it really didn’t. What the rule did make me do, is stop riding and usually camp in awkward places, rather than in established campsites. This makes absolutely no sense. When they created the rules, I imagined a dozen or more people trying for this at the same time, like you see on the Tour Divide. I then asked myself: would these rules be sustainable for that number? The Colorado rule just didn’t make the cut. Finally, since there are roads and trails you can ride a bike up to the summit, it still made sense to allow this for a self-powered challenge. I personally hiked from the trailheads to the summit of all the 14ers I summited, but I wanted it to be open for future challengers to make up their own minds on how to complete it. For example, Mt. Elbert, the highest 14er in the state, has a legal for bikes trail to the top! You can imagine the ride down is pretty wild. Talk about brake fade! The roads, like the trails are now a part of the mountain. To say how you need to approach them self-powered is just silly. Tell us a little bit about your rig? The ride I used for this is built around a Surly Ogre frame with consciously middle of the road components. The idea was to not blow my budget, and also have any replacement parts be inexpensive to purchase. I invested a little bit more in the cockpit, the saddle and the pedals. I used a Jones H-Bar for my handlebars, which I think are one of the best choices when it comes to bikepacking on anything except very technical gnar – lots of places to rest your hands and attach accessories and putting your sleep system below the bars feels secure. You can even get into an aero tuck if you so desire. My saddle is a Selle Anatomica, which is one of the most comfortable saddles out there, from day zero of its use. I used a Salsa titanium seatpost, which took the little of the bumps out of the road, and perfect for a full rigid rig. Wheels where DT swiss hubs on Mavic hoops and Maxxis tires – tubeless, of course. My bike’s spec list was put together and everything was assembled by the good people at Salvagetti in Denver, CO who did an incredible job of making this bike happen and this entire trip a reality. I experienced zero mechanical problems, and only spent a few dollars along the way for a few scoops of Stan’s to finish off the trip, and a small bottle of lube I didn’t even need. I sent a chain to myself in Leadville and replaced what I had been running to save my drivetrain from full replacement afterwards, but other than that, every part that started the trip, I ended with. This was pretty lucky, but I also think it shows what happens when you develop a relationship with a local bike shop that knows what they’re doing. The bike was put together by someone I was trusting with my life and they certainly didn’t let me down! Thanks, Salvagetti! Whats next for Justin? I hear there are these volcanoes in Mexico… Actually, I don’t know! I’m still digesting the trip that I just completed, so we’ll see what happens. Part of this project, other than completing it and setting the record, was to develop a sort of guide for others to use when planning their own similar adventure. I would love it if someone else would take on this challenge in whole, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen sooner, or later – there’s just so many different skills to master – it’s a lot harder to just jump into it, as you can almost do, for a race like the Tour Divide. Remember it took 19 years between the last two attempts! So, a guide that would positively promote riding a bike, camping and hiking the 14ers is on the agenda to write this winter. I don’t know if it’s going to live as a website, or a phone app, or a published book – maybe a hybrid, much like the project itself! I’d like this to be something that people could take a week or two off and do – say: the entire Sawatch Range, riding to everything by bike and have a really good time, and a bit more adventure then just getting to everything by car. Riding a bike makes everything seem so much more unreal and wild, it’s the sort of experience I want people to share and enjoy and make their own. Having traveled by bike in many parts of the World, I always come back to Colorado surprised at how amazing things are, right in my own backyard. Colorado should be an absolute A-list destination for people traveling by bike in all sorts of styles.