GU Brand Ambassador Yuri Hauswald got me an update on how Brian Vaughn is doing at the Colorado Trail Race. He rolled in to Copper Mountain Sunday afternoon around 2:30. This was some 17 sleepless hours after leaving Leadville. Over those same 17 hours, Yuri says it rained the entire time. The upshot here is that Brian, at eight days in was two days past what he thought would be required to finish the event and with more than a full day of riding remaining, has called it a day, so to speak.
Somewhere between Leadville and Searle Pass outside of Copper Mountain, Brian encountered a very steep and rocky ascent that, when combined with rain, was simply to difficult to climb on the bike and turned into a marathon hike-a-bike in the darkness. He caught himself falling asleep on his handlebar even as he pushed his bike uphill. The plan had been to bivvy at some point during the night so that he could recharge some, and while the rain was a nuisance, the real problem he faced was that the terrain was so steep he couldn’t find a suitable (safe) spot on which to lie down. So he kept hiking. No imagine doing that, doing 17 hours, doing a hike in mountain bike shoes, doing it all in rain gear. The mind reels.
A good piece of this story is the coordination that went on behind the scenes just to make sure that Yuri was able to intercept Brian for photos and updates. Brian began calling it their “Spider Senses” after Spider Man. They weren’t far into the event when Yuri arrived in one town only 40 minutes ahead of Brian. At Marshall Pass he pulled up in a parking lot in town and a mere 10 minutes later Brian pulled up to the Honda Element. At Cottonwood Canyon, their arrivals were so close you’d think they had synchronized watches. Because of Yuri’s desire to intercept Brian as often as possible, there were only three nights Yuri was able to secure a motel room for sleep. So he was catching most of his Zs in the back of the rented Element. One morning he woke, saw Brian’s bike next to the Element but had to walk over to a bunch of sage to find him bedded down in his mummy bag. The Spider Senses were more important than city dwellers like me might recognize at first. Yuri reports that once he was more than a few miles outside of town he would lose cell reception, so coordination was the province of maps and right-brained math. At junctions, had he been late, there would have been no real way to tell.
On one occasion, Yuri took a wrong turn off Hwy 114 in the Grand Mesa-Umcompahgre-Gunnison National Forest and got lost, and when your entire presence is predicated on a photo or two, a high-five and a hug, missing even that would feel disastrous.
I need to pause to recognize the winner of this thing, Jefe Branham. Whatever you may think you know about tough, I suspect this guy could redefine it for you. Branham, who lives in Gunnison, Colo., won the thing in a bit more than four days. He covered a whopping 562 miles in 4:04:35, giving him an average of 134 miles covered per day. How’d he do it? By stopping a bit more than two hours per day. That suggests really brief refueling stops, iodine tablets and just an hour of sleep per day. In case you’re wondering, Branham won the event last year and was third in 2011. Adding to the drama of Branham’s performance was Jesse Jakomait’s second-place finish, which came roughly 45 minutes after Branham. The two swapped the lead a few times, making for what would have been a thrilling visual event, if only there’d been video crews strewn all over the Colorado High Country.
Brian said he was surprised by how changeable the trail could be, even within a single mile. It could go from sandy to rocky to every singletrack rider’s dream, that particular form of dirt like pressed brown sugar that is at once reasonably fast but offers traction like bubblegum on a shoe. The overwhelming refrain is that the trail was far more difficult in the riding than expected. Apparently, there were few sections that were what you’d call easy, or at least nontechnical, and it’s fair to imagine that a steady diet of difficult will carry consequences.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to talk with Brian a bit in the next day or two and can bring you some direct quotes. For now, it sounds like he’s focusing on sleep. I don’t know if he permits himself beer, but I’d venture that he’s earned at least one.
Every now and then you encounter the perfect intersection between athlete and event. Consider Eddy Merckx and his seven victories at Milan-San Remo. The guy could climb like a squirrel up a tree; he could descend like a hawk diving at prey and he could sprint like there was a lion behind him. You might say he was made for that race.
Last year when I met Brian Vaughn, the CEO (Chief Endurance Officer) at GU, he stuck me as a fresh expression of the human potential movement. Instead of being some grandfatherly psychologist hunched over a lectern announcing pithy sayings to convince you that you are the only thing standing between you and your greatness, Brian, I could tell, saw things a little differently. He might say it differently, might pitch it differently, but to my eye, he sees athletes and goals and what stands between most athletes and their goals is optimal event nutrition.
He speaks of athletes unlocking their true potential, of setting records, of plumbing new depths within themselves.
And in a world where we value those who “walk the walk,” Brian is all-in. He’s lean like I wish I was, gentle like my stepfather was, and there’s a glint in his eye that tells me he’s got a sense of fun as adaptable as a child’s. I don’t just dig him, I’d like to spend more time with him.
But that won’t happen this week. As I write this, Brian is six hours into the Colorado Trail Race. It’s a mountain bike race. Straightforward, right? It’s a race from Durango to Denver? Straightforward, right? It’s a mountain bike race from Durango to Denver. Crazy, right? The course is—you guessed it—the Colorado Trail.
The event is like RAAM in that when the starter’s pistol went off this morning at 4:00 am in Durango, it was on. But it’s not like RAAM because there’s no crew. There’s also no entry fee, no registration and no support whatsoever. It’s you and your wits. It’s what you bring, what you stop to source and what you leave the trail to buy. All you have to do is ride 485 miles with about 70,000 feet of climbing over roughly 300 miles of it is singletrack. Insane.
Brian’s goal is six days, I’m told. Clearly, he’s not going to do the whole thing on GU—gels or chomps—but what strikes me is that the question is less the what than the how. He can leave the trail and roll into a town for a meal at a restaurant and a hotel room. Or he can eat bark and sleep in a bivy shelter. His call. I don’t know much of his plans, but GU’s brand ambassador, Yuri Hauswald, is going to be shadowing him in an attempt to document some of this crazy adventure. I’m hoping we can get an update or two on how this goes to make for some more reading for you all. Yuri can tell a compelling story; I just don’t know how he will find Brian, or if he will even find him.
And if you’re thinking he’s got this wired, let me share with you a little tidbit from NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny: “I suggested to him maybe he should bring a whole first aid kit.”
Let me be clear. Such an event would be a nightmare for me personally. It doesn’t sound like fun for me. But I’m fascinated by the possibilities for someone who looks at this event and thinks, “Ooh! Fun.!”
Check out the site for the Colorado Trail Race here. Brian might be hard to find; Yuri’s updates (f we get any) less so.