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Tips to summiting Colorado's 14ers in a month, from someone who did it

October 11, 2016 Updated: October 11, 2016 at 10:24 pm
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Joe Grant on top of Mt. Democrat recently. Grant rode his bike from his house in Gold Hill to every 14er in the state, climbed each peak and then pedaled home in 32 days. (Photo courtesy of Joe Grant via Instagram)

Life can get crazy when you return from a month on 14,000-foot mountains. But Joe Grant is feeling settled.

"It is a long time to be away," says the Gold Hill ultrarunner, who spent his summer breaking the record for the fastest self-supported trip up and down Colorado's 57 highest peaks. "Getting back to the real world, catching up on work, having just spent a month alone and then kind of being blasted by family, friends, social media and everything. ... It was a bit overwhelming at first."

But he was helped by something he learned on his odyssey that began July 26, and that was to stay calm in stressful times. He had plenty of those as he churned across the state on his mountain bike, reaching trailheads in the middle of rainy nights, attempting to snag some sleep on the ground before another ascent.

He returned to his little town outside Boulder after 31 days, 8 hours and 33 minutes of covering about 1,500 miles and 100,000 feet of climbing. He finished three days faster than Boulder's Justin Simoni, who two years ago completed the Tour de Fourteeners.

Grant, 33, insists he wasn't interested in the record. Sure, the athlete who has been competing in ultramarathons around the world for a decade took speed seriously.

"But mainly," he says, "I really liked the idea of just taking off from my doorstep and essentially exploring my extended backyard."

That's an idea he'd like to promote. And so he offers up some tips:

1. Get your life in order

So as to avoid the hectic real world that awaited Grant upon his return, he suggests doing all you can to get ahead of any business you may have. Once the mission begins, he says, it consumes you.

"It requires a lot of pre-organization outside of the project itself," he says. "It seems obvious, but it's a crucial part before taking off. It helps to go in with a clear head."

2. Prepare your body and path

And then there's the pre-organization for the project itself. Part of this, Grant knows, also seems obvious: Be in shape. This year's Hardrock 100 - Silverton's high-altitude ultra - was his way of training for the Tour de Fourteeners, as was the 750-mile Arizona Trail Race in April.

And then there's figuring out a route. "How do I loop in the most efficient way possible?" he asked himself as he charted a course to and from home.

The private Culebra Peak presents the crux. Grant had a permit to climb the mountain July 30, four days after he scheduled his start. Those were an intense four days, as he used them to scramble up and down the eight peaks between home and Culebra.

He descended and pedaled on to the San Juans, to tag 14 mountains in eight days. In commute, he tried to ride as off-road as possible.

3. Take what you need

Grant wanted to immerse himself in the wild with the GoPro and Sony point-and-shoot he brought along. "I thought it'd be nice to put it out there for the world afterwards," he says.

He didn't carry much else: a running T-shirt and running shorts, a windbreaker; two pairs of socks, one of which stayed dry; flip-flops, which provided dry breaks from his wet pairs of biking shoes and running shoes; gloves; a bitty sleep sack and bag. For water, he filled a filter-attached flask at streams. For food, he got burritos and bars at gas stations.

"Know what you need," Grant suggests. "What works and what comfort pieces aren't gonna be super helpful."

For him, there was no need for a sleeping pad. His comfort came under a tree atop pine needles.

4. Know yourself

"When you're researching stuff online, it's hard to get a good gauge of what you're gonna really encounter," Grant says.

He advises against trusting any labels of "easy" or "hard." For example, it might be hard for someone who's not a serious athlete to charge through the three-peaked Chicago Basin in a single day. "It would make plenty of sense to break it up into two days," says Grant, who decided otherwise.

He recommends simply getting an idea of the terrain and the distance and doing what you can.

5. Take it in

From the start at Culebra, he carried stress with him as he was pelted by rain and hail and delayed by storms. He later got stuck in Alamosa for two days to repair a broken rim on his bike.

"You can fight," he says of unforeseeable circumstances, "or you can just surrender."

It rained as he pedaled to his final target, Longs Peak. He thought to nap when he got to the trailhead at 3 a.m., but then he thought, "Why not?" He summited and watched the sun rise.

For sunset, he was back on his porch at home with his dog, Bella, and neighbor from across the street.

"We had a beer and that was it," Grant says. "I was content."

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