Triple Crown: Gluttons for bikepacking

Forest Baker in the Great Divide Basin during the 2013 Tour Divide.

Forest Baker in the Great Divide Basin during the 2013 Tour Divide.

Next on this year’s roster of bikepacking races is the Colorado Trail Race, a 550-mile race through the Rockies from Durango to Denver. The tough and beautiful trail adventure begins early Sunday morning. We’ll post more about the race this weekend, but today I caught up with two Colorado Trail Race entrants who are both fresh off the Tour Divide — Forest Baker and Eric Foster. Baker and Foster are both gunning for the pinnacle of North American bikepacking — the “Triple Crown.”

Eric Foster at the finish of the Tour Divide in Antelope Wells.

Eric Foster at the finish of the Tour Divide in Antelope Wells.

The Triple Crown is a distinction for those who have finished three tough events in the same year: the 750-mile Arizona Trail Race, the 2,700-mile Tour Divide, and the 550-mile Colorado Trail Race. Baker is a 38-year-old self-described “Clydesdale” who works in the technology industry in Mountain View, California. (Visit Baker’s Web site at this link.) Foster is a 24-year-old from Flagstaff, Arizona who works for the U.S. Geological Survey. (Visit Foster’s blog at this link.) Both offered some insight into their adventures so far — as well as their hopes for the crowning event, the Colorado Trail Race.

HPD: What made you decide to gun for the Triple Crown this year? Was it a difficult commitment to make?

Forest Baker and his wife, Anne Kallus, in Antelope Wells.

Forest Baker and his wife, Anne Kallus, in Antelope Wells.

Baker: In short, blame it on kids. We wanted to start a family, so I knew that my day of being self-absorbed with long bikepacking events and all the training and planning that goes along with it were numbered. I first thought about trying to take just a one-month leave of absence to do the Tour Divide again, but then I felt that I should make the most of this chapter in my life. So, after discussing it with my wife, I got a six-month leave of absence and decided to try and do 5 bikepacking events this summer. Beyond shooting for the Triple Crown, I did an ITT on the Stagecoach 400 in April and I plan on participating in the inaugural California Sierra Trail Race on Labor Day Weekend. Also, my wife loved the idea of living in the mountains north of Mexico City for the first 2 months. It was a great place to train, improve our Spanish, and act like we didn’t have kids yet.

Foster: Well, I had just decided to put off graduate school so I needed something cool to do instead. A week before the Arizona Trail Race started, I decided I would do the Triple Crown. It was an easy decision. The only difficult part about it was getting tons of school work completed prior to leaving for the AZT. So I just pulled a week of all nighters getting my senior projects completed. No matter the commitment, I try to make experiences like these a priority. Life is too short to pass them up.

HPD: What was your bikepacking experience prior to 2013?

Baker: My very first bikepacking event was the Tour Divide in 2010; I finished fifth. I then attempted the Colorado Trail Race in 2011, but bailed out with about a hundred miles left. I ran out of food on a really hard section before Silverton and realized that backtracking to the closest town meant that I wouldn’t finish in time. I had to get back to work. Lastly, in 2012, I completed the AZT 300; I finished 7th. I really came into bikepacking as a bike tourist. I don’t mind spending lots of hours and multiple days in the saddle, but I’d give my mountain biking skills a 7.5 on a good day.

Foster: I started mountain biking in June 2010 and bikepacking in April 2011. I’ve done the AZT 300 twice, the AZT 750 once, as well as few other bikepacking races in Arizona and Utah. I also attempted the Tour Divide in 2012. So by the time I started the Triple Crown. I was pretty dialed.

HPD: What were your results for this year’s AZT and TD?

Eric Foster prepares to cross the Grand Canyon during the Arizona Trail Race.

Eric Foster prepares to cross the Grand Canyon during the Arizona Trail Race.

Baker: I finished the AZT 750 in 4th place: 10:15:30. I finished the TD in 10th place: 18:12:20, but there were three racers in front of me who were drafting throughout the race, so if they get relegated, I’d move to 7th (not that anyone really cares).

Foster: Well most importantly I finished both of them. I was off the bike for eight months prior to the AZT, so it was incredibly difficult. I finished in 10:11:15. I went out too hard the first few days of the Tour Divide, which created some issues for me. Luckily I was able to work through the knee and achilles tendonitis by cutting down my mileage for a week. I finished in 23:11:50.

HPD: Going into the TD, did you have any lingering issues from the AZT that added to the challenge?

Baker: No, I felt that I had recovered from the AZT and was ready for the TD. In fact, I was a little worried about too much time off the bike, so I did a ten-day bike tour in the Sierras. I pulled a heavily-loaded BOB trailer and tried to bag as many passes as I could making my way north from Yosemite.

Foster: I was just undertrained and not fully recovered from the AZT. The AZT destroys every muscle in your body, more so than the TD ever did.

HPD: How about heading into the CTR? There’s not a whole lot of time to recover in there. Do you anticipate any issues you might not otherwise have had if you were going into it fresh?

Forest Baker at the Brush Mountain Lodge in Colorado.

Forest Baker at the Brush Mountain Lodge in Colorado.

Baker: To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do the CTR until this past Wednesday. After finishing the TD, I’ve had pretty bad achilles tendonitis and Pes anserine bursitis in my right leg. I’ve never had these issues before, so I’ve been a little freaked out. I did a 65-mile bike ride on Wednesday and things felt okay, so I decided I should still go for it. We’ll see if they hold up.

Foster: I felt really good after the Tour Divide. My legs feel pretty well recovered considering the short recovery time. My legs might be a little sluggish for the CTR but finishing is the goal. If I have to ride slower that’s okay. One positive is I am extremely fit now, so I might actually feel better for the CTR than I did on the TD and AZT.

HPD: What are your goals for the CTR?

Baker: Really, just finishing would be great. I bailed out in 2011. If I can do it within 7 days, that would be icing on the cake. And, it would be wonderful if I’m nowhere near any lightning strikes.

Foster: To finish and have a great time out there. I think a reasonable finish time for me is six days, its definitely doable. However, if I am feeling well after day one or two I don’t see why I shouldn’t go for a four or five day finish.

HPD: How did this year’s TD experience compare to year(s) prior?

Baker: This year, I spent more time on the bike, slept less, and took shorter breaks. It was still a great adventure/challenge, but I think it is tough to match the impression that your first time down the TD leaves on you. This was my last rodeo — I won’t be back. Also, finding myself competing against people who had “teamed up” was a joykill. Watching them draft off of each other while we fought headwinds and sidewinds really messed with my head.

Foster: It was way more enjoyable this year, definitely a rewarding experience to come back and finish. I had a pretty good run this year, no major injuries, bike worked great with only a few minor mechanicals.

HPD: What was your favorite experience during the TD? Least favorite?

Baker: I had a lot of great experiences during the TD. I can’t say one stands out above the rest. Some that come to mind:

• Hanging wind chimes in a tree near where Dave Blumenthal camped (his last night on earth). (Blumenthal was involved in a fatal collision with a truck near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, during the 2010 Tour Divide.) 

• Seeing Kirsten again at the Brush Mountain Lodge.

• Riding a couple of days with Brian Pal.

• Racing an antelope downhill.

• Doing a group ride to Banff from Calgary with 5 other racers (organized by Craig Stappler) before the start of the Tour Divide.

• Crushing the flats after Whitefish and moving into the top 10.

• Meeting my wife at the finish and then stopping to cheer Markley on as he finished his last 10 miles.

• Seeing Eddy Clark again (photographer)

• Running into Cjell in the Basin.

• Numerous breathtaking sunsets and sunrises.

Least favorite.: Definitely some rough moments out there — like the brutal mud and storms along Bannack Road, pushing until 2:30 a.m. to reach Helena, running out of food and bonking on the way to Silverthorne, and having major achilles pain kick in near Boreas Pass. There were two times when I seriously thought about dropping out. First, the morning I left Breckenridge to climb Boreas pass. My achilles hurt so bad and I couldn’t put much weight on it during downhills. I didn’t think I could finish. Lots of meds, some adjustment to my cleats, and the fact that the pain seemed to diminish after several hours of riding, allowed me to keep going, but I started working through the logistics of getting picked up.

Photo by Forest Baker.

Photo by Forest Baker.

The second time was when I was fighting strong headwinds to reach Del Norte. Two other racers were coming up behind me and I watched as one of the riders tucked in and drafted off of the other rider for a couple of miles until they caught me. Right before they caught me, the rider who was drafting pulled out from behind the other rider and started to ride side-by-side with him. I think he was fully aware of his drafting and didn’t want me to see it. However, I wear one of those geeky mirrors that you attach to your glasses, so I could see everything that happened behind me. That really pissed me off. All of us in the front were pretty focused on racing and being competitive, so seeing someone pulling this crap and then watching them get ahead of me was very frustrating. I’d seen him do this kind of thing before and he seemed to insist on always riding with someone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was drafting for much of the race (as long as no one was around to see). It really got to me. The fun had finally been sucked out of the Tour Divide. I couldn’t enjoy the ride anymore. All I could think about was that the pain and misery I was going through to stay in the top 10 was all for nothing when I was up against “teams” who were drafting. (There was another twosome that was chasing me and, earlier, I watched them paceline into Salida as I was riding out of town.) When I got close to Del Norte, I called my wife. I was ready to quit. If I couldn’t participate in a “fair” race or be able to block it out of my mind and keep it from ruining my mood, it seemed pointless to continue. She calmed me down. I continued, but I just hoped the riders who were drafting would put enough distance on me, so I wouldn’t have to see them again.

Riding through the snow on Fleecer Ridge. Photo by Eric Foster.

Riding through the snow on Fleecer Ridge. Photo by Eric Foster.

Foster: Favorite: Hiking up Grayback Mountain (12,600) next to Indiana Pass, amazing views from up there and riding down Fleecer Ridge in a snowstorm was a blast. I liked it so much I think I’m gonna get a snow bike. Least Favorite: “Rails for Trails” in Idaho. Although a very pretty section with lots of wildlife, it wrecked my achilles to a new level of pain.

HPD: What bike set-up will you be running for the CTR? Is this the same bike as the AZT and/or TD?

Baker: Yes, I’m using the same bike for all of the rides: 2010 Salsa Mamasita. It’s been retrofitted with a Rohloff hub. For the TD, I put a rigid Niner carbon fork. Otherwise, I use a RockShox Reba suspension fork. (Read more about Forest Baker’s bike set-up at this link.)

Foster: Same bike for all three. I thought you had to use the same bike for the triple crown, not sure? My custom Guru Cycles Ti 29er Hardtail.

HPD: How would you say the events compare?

Baker: The AZT is brutal and requires lots of plan B’s. The TD is long and requires patience and discipline. The CTR is a mix of beauty and terror and requires big lungs.

Foster: The Arizona Trail Race is way harder than the Tour Divide, but they both have their unique challenges of course. For example, it is difficult to get into a rhythm on the AZT, but easy on the TD. Plus you have to hike your bike on your back across the world’s biggest canyon. I could give 10 reasons why the AZT is harder but you should come find out for yourself. Forest Baker described the AZT best as “The Abusive Boyfriend”.

In other terms I really enjoyed the Grand Depart, hanging out in Banff for the week leading up to the start and making new friends. The camaraderie is great and that is something I enjoyed about the Tour Divide. Next time I will be doing an ITT though. Its not the same for the AZT, we wish each other luck at the start and blast off. Both events are unique and have qualities I really like which will keep me coming back year after year.

4 thoughts on “Triple Crown: Gluttons for bikepacking

  1. July 19, 2013 at 1:08 am

    dudes are crazy, huge props.

  2. Tim
    July 21, 2013 at 2:05 am

    These guys are amazing athletes…! Standby Hydration Therapy wishes both Forrest & Eric Foster the best of luck on their third & final race before being able to call themselves Triple Crown Riders!!!