Whew. This was a tough one. Definitely the most difficult and involved creative project I’ve worked on. Ever since I did my first bikepacking race back in 2013, I knew I wanted to someday make a film about these events. It’s so interesting to me – the amazing beauty of the landscape, the self-reliant nature of the race, the beautiful simplicity of the experience, and I wanted to find a way to share that with people in a manner that would be appealing even to those without any interest in, or knowledge of, these events.

The Colorado Trail Race: A Self-Supported Adventure

I went into the Colorado Trail Race this past summer with the primary goal of racing fast, and a half-baked secondary goal of maybe trying to create this film I’ve had in the back of my head. To be honest, I was much more focused on the racing, and did not put much thought or anything into shooting a film, other than bringing along a GoPro and pulling it out occasionally to capture a nice sunset, or capture my thoughts when I was feeling inspired or downtrodden, or whatever. I had filmed this race before, back in 2013, and wasn’t really interested in just capturing the same GoPro footage that I did back then. Indeed, I recorded a lot less during this race – I focused more on capturing my thoughts during the race, the whole roller-coaster of emotions from general excitement to sleep-deprived despair during the low parts of the race. I didn’t think much of it until after the race, when I saw that maybe I could actually pull off an interesting film, one that focused more on the human aspect of racing these events, rather than just the beauty of the route.

The Colorado Trail Race: A Self-Supported Adventure

The problem was, I had nowhere near enough footage to create a film, and knew I’d have to get back out on the trail and spend many days getting some quality B-roll and race-reenactments. Now that I have a drone, I knew I could get some really cool aerial shots, of both the scenery and myself, by putting the drone on autopilot to follow me as I rode through some of the best parts of the trail. I spent probably an additional 7 or 8 days in the weeks and months after the race traveling to different parts of the course and shooting mostly aerial footage and timelapses, as well as using a really cool new GoPro helmet swivel mount I recently got to get those 360 degree video shots of me riding. These days were mostly filled with frustration, as the weather was often absolutely horrible, especially the several days I spent in Silverton and up on Segment 23. There were days where I’d drive up to Stony Pass in pouring rain and lightning, sit in my car for 6 or 7 hours waiting for the rain to stop, getting only a few short minutes to film during breaks in the weather. (The weather was so bad, I actually rescued a few hypothermic thru-hikers who were in pretty serious trouble!) It was funny that the weather was so perfect and sunny during the race, yet when I tried to go back and film, I got nothing but rain. But through all of that effort (I went back and filmed on Tenmile, Searle Pass, Twin Lakes, Buena Vista, Fooses Creek, Segment 23, Silverton, Molas Pass, and Kennebec Pass), I was able to get enough footage to start putting together a story that finally at least scratched the surface of portraying the grandeur of the Colorado Trail.

The Colorado Trail Race: A Self-Supported Adventure

I wanted to show more of the human side of the race – why people do these events, and how it affects them – so I decided to do some in-person interviews of a couple of the racers. The first obvious choice was Stefan Griebel, the guy who started the race back in 2007 and has kept it alive and flourishing over the many years since. I also wanted to interview Jefe Branham, as someone who not only has set numerous records and won the event several times, but probably has more experience on the trail than maybe anyone else. And finally, the person who has completed the trail faster than any other human, Neil Beltchenko. These three interviews were exactly what I needed to craft an interesting story, and I’m so grateful to them for taking the time to share their thoughts and motivations with me. There are so many other amazing people and interesting personalities – I would have loved to have gotten a female perspective on this event – but I unfortunately did not have enough time or resources to pursue all these people. Maybe food for a future project!

the-colorado-trail-race-a-self-supported-adventure-2

I’m excited with how the film turned out, as I think it comes close to portraying the spirit of these races. Also, in keeping with the race spirit, I set out to create this film with the Do It Yourself ethos – all filming and production was done entirely by myself, without any outside support, financial or otherwise. (Neil Beltchenko did contribute a few videos taken during his race, and my dad, Lewis Johnson, helped film a bit at the race start and when I finished at 2am in Durango. Joe Polk at MTBCast was also nice enough to allow me to use the racer call-ins from the last 4 or 5 years). I am so grateful to those who did help me indirectly – my dad, for driving me to the race start and picking me up in Durango, not just for this race but for the 2013 and 2015 editions, as well as supporting me in the other races I’ve done over the years – and my wife Megan, for her endless patience and encouragement as I spent many days out filming and weeks holed up in front of my computer, agonizing through the painstaking process of sorting through countless hours of footage – her encouragement and feedback kept me going and helped craft the finished product. And everyone else who was in the film or offered feedback – thank you as well. My main goal with all of this is to simply inspire people to strap some bags on a bike and get out there, not necessarily to race but just to spend time in the wilderness and connect with the landscape in the unique way a bicycle enables.the-colorado-trail-race-a-self-supported-adventure-058

19 Comments

  1. Aaron, Thank you so much for putting this video together. This summer is going to be my first year completing the entire CT, and I’ll be doing it twice; once with a friend from Denver, and then once again for the CTR, as long as everything goes according to plan. This video DEFINITELY inspired me to continue training hard, and I look forward to the joys, the pains, the camaraderie, the isolation, and the community portrayed so well through this short film. You did something quite special by putting this together. THANKS.

  2. Pingback: The Colorado Trail Race: A Self-Supported Adventure  | Dispatch Radio

  3. Tom Anderson

    Aaron – absolutely amazing job on the short film. I avoid anything over 8k elevation as I just do not find it fun, but dammit!, you now have me wondering about building up to tackling this race.

    Again, great job, very inspiring.

  4. Tremendous video. Loved it, and it brought back a lot of fond memories from when I rode the trail it with a buddy back in 2012. Keep up the great work!

  5. Wow. This is so fantastic! Really great production!!! This really touched a nerve and makes me so envious. Pure awesomeness.

  6. Fantastic! Very well Done Aaron. Thanks so much for all your time putting this together. It brought back great memories for me and really made me want to go hop right on the bike and hit the CT trail once again!

  7. Johnny Hughes

    Aaron – As someone who has this race on their bucket list, it provided a fantastic view into what I will face going into it for the first time. Thank you for exposing the race as you have done so well.

  8. Fantastic video. Thanks for sharing with us. Regards from Sweden.

  9. Thanks for doing this Aaron! Very very good job and a great peak into the mindset of doing the race. Thanks again!

  10. Great film, Aaron. The video was beautiful and the interviews and call-ins really added a nice human element. It definitely makes me want to get out there and do it again (tour, not race). Also, thanks for the shout-out to the Colorado Trail Foundation – a great organization.

  11. Really an incredible movie! A great sense of the experience. Thanks for sharing! One day….

  12. Awesome film! While watching I had great fun naming and remembering all the segments from both the on foot and on bike perspectives! Brings back great memories and a longing to be back out there.

  13. Brad Mattingly

    Aaron, Super outstanding video. The drone footage up on high alpine sections is simply spectacular. I enjoyed listening to my bro Eric F’s comments. The veteran comments provide insight that will help non riders understand how hard a ride can be and the value of the challenge and experience. I like adventure and am pushing 50, this may be the one for summer 2018. Your work is quite impressive. Excellent job.

  14. Awesome! I bow to you, sir! Took me three attempts to check the box, for the last three ‘even’ year races, to check the box.

  15. Craig Manning

    Beautiful video, just gorgeous. Drones and mountain biking on the CT — a perfect marriage!

  16. Barry Ritchey

    Aaron, The first time I just watched the first minute or two and got interrupted. Now, I’ve gotten to watch it thru two times completely and was blown away. I can’t imagine how the experience could be captured in a better way. As our family sat down last night and watched, it brought tears to my eyes, much to their confusion. A life changing event? Perhaps not for some, but as a goal that took me six years to reach, I’ll never be the same [in a hugely better way]. Currently, I still haven’t completely regained feeling in my right hand. It seems these types of rides cause a nerve issue in my neck/shoulder/arm/hand around the 3rd day. Until [if?] this is resolved, I’ll be doing multi-day ultras vicariously thru people like you. However, I do worry about your a bit. Your bonus drone footage means you intentionally revisited Tenmile again. A sane person would not intentionally HAB Tenmile, unless it was during a race, right?

  17. Aaron, simply put, inspirational. I am hoping to take this challenge on in 2018. Videos like this really get you pumped up!

    Thanks a lot for putting this together!

  18. Payton MacDonald

    Excellent film. I enjoyed all the shots and I especially enjoyed the interviews and the way you framed them. Really first-rate. Congratulations.

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