Five years of dreaming and seven months of training came together as Erin Carroll’s plane touched down at the Denver airport. Friend and fellow Santa Barbara cyclist Heather Rose picked him up. Rose had driven to Colorado carrying her own trail dreams. She’d spent much of her summer acclimatizing, camping, and biking. Now the south coast cyclists stood on the precipice of a challenging adventure, the Colorado Trail Race.
The Colorado race is a unique and highly personal challenge. There is no registration, no entrance fee, no prize money, and no crowd to cheer riders across the finish line. Instead, the course offers over 500 miles of rugged riding between Denver and Durango.
Broken into 28 segments that include 70,000 feet of climbing, lightning storms, and abundant wildlife, the guiding principle is “Do. It. Yourself.” Rose and Carroll each set off alone, logging their progress on the GPS devices carried by all participants. Riders must carry all of their own supplies and may only utilize opportunities that are available to everyone. Any food, water, or equipment needed to continue the ride must be obtained without the help of friends or family.
Craggy, rocky sections of the trail require cyclists to push, drag, lift, and even carry their bikes, along with all of their supplies, for long stretches. Rose, who works as a professor of biology at SBCC, said, “I estimate that I hiked over 100 miles of the race due to the technical and steep nature of the trail.”
The carry sections were made all the more punishing by Carroll’s regrettably thin cycling socks. A particularly challenging day during the 23rd section stood out: “My feet were in a lot of pain from all the hike-a-bike, and I could not get them to dry out. The hiking on this day was excruciatingly painful.”
Because the trail is multi-use, and the race is not an officially sanctioned event, there are many different users crossing paths. Cyclists share the space with, and yield to, backpackers and horses. Despite the conflicting interests, there is generally harmony. “It was all good vibes and friendly ‘hellos’ along the way,” said Carroll, a Carpinteria resident and strong supporter of mixed-use trails. “I never once had an issue with another trail user.”
The race pushed both riders to their limits. “I quit a thousand times a day in my head,” says Rose, “but somehow managed to keep going.” One day she was caught in three separate lightning storms and had to navigate a very difficult section of trail in soaking wet clothing, just as darkness was falling. “This road has many exposed drop-offs, and I was really worried about hypothermia, but I just kept checking in with myself that I was lucid and could squeeze the brake levers with my mostly numb hands. I really focused on positive self talk through this experience.”
Both riders managed to finish and posted impressive times. Rose completed the race in 9 days 10 hours and 19 minutes, Carroll in 8 days 23 hours and 59 minutes. Says Rose, “I am so thankful that I did not quit when things got rough. Knowing that only 50 percent of the field, which includes only a few women, finishes each year helps me realize the magnitude of the undertaking, and I am honored to be a race finisher.”
Rose recalled stunning vistas, watching a wild coyote hunt, and the amazing people she met along the way. Carroll remembers watching a beautiful sunrise on his last morning on the trail. “You never really know when these magical moments are going to happen,” says Carroll, “but they do.”
Each cyclist left Santa Barbara with a dream, and each returned with powerful memories and the great sense of accomplishment that comes from completing the Colorado Trail Race.