UD Ambassador Justin Simoni, knows how to dream big. Like, really big. At a recent talk at Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden, CO, Simoni (also known as The Long Ranger) shared with a wide-eyed crowd his story of conquering the Tour 14er last summer. The personally inspired mission consisted of biking to and summiting all of the Colorado 14ers (53 of them officially, and a few others tacked on for “fun”) with no crew, no use of a motorized vehicle, and no outside aid.
Simoni would be attempting an FKT on the route too, aiming to dethrone Roy Benton from his 1995 record of 37 days, 12 hours. Even to hit the Benton’s time, Simoni, a skilled mountain biker turned mountain runner, would need to summit 1.5 peaks each day. Not so tough for an endurance athlete, right? Well, on a route where trail heads could be separated by 175 miles of rocky, steep, and unpaved roads, and the athlete is to travel from one to the other in a self-propelled fashion (i.e. on a bike), the task grows more daunting. Also, due to the unsupported nature of this challenge, Simoni would need to carry all of his gear with him for the duration of the trip. From sleeping essentials to summit gear, a hydration pack to a headlamp, Simoni would divvy up the load between a custom-fit bikepacking bag and the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest he’d wear on his back.
When asked about how his inspiration for this trip, Simoni stated “The idea came from a love of riding my bike and seeing where this beautiful machine can take me… For this particular trip I thought, “Let’s bike to all the Colorado 14ers!” I could do them in separate, smaller trips, but it would take literally years to do so. So, going light and fast and linking up everything made sense. I discovered there was already a record, so there was my baseline. Could I come close to that time? Who knew? Let’s find out! And away I went.”
The adventure would be a rigorous one. Looking at the stats, this trip consisted of:
Total Hike Mileage: 387.9 miles (624.265 km)
Total Hike Elevation: 154,727 feet (47,160.8 km)
Total Bike Mileage: 1,609.1 miles (2,589.6 km)
Total Bike Elevation: 151,335 feet (46,126.9 meters)
A virtual flyover of the course helps illustrate its magnitude.
Though Simoni wrote the rules for this Challenge, he didn’t cut any corners to make it easy on himself. As he explains in his blog, the rules were designed to “set up a level playing field for everyone as well as sustainable for future Challengers to engage in. The bottom line is: Do it all yourself and do not look for loopholes in the rules that are outside the pale of “self-supported” and ”self-powered” in order to gain an unfair advantage.”
Among the list of rules, some highlights include:
- All Travel MUST be self-powered.
- Walking/hiking/running/crawling/scrambling/climbing is allowed,
- As is travel using a bicycle, or other strictly self-powered “mechanical” means.
- Skiiing/Glisading/use of gravity is OK .
- Using equipment such as crampons, hiking poles, snowshoes, etc, is OK.
- Muling is not allowed.
- Using permanent aid: fixed ropes/equipment is highly discouraged.
- Support: NO support crews, belay partners, private resupply, private lodging, prearranged support, personal cooks, navigators, strategists, online help, etc.
In regard to the pack he would carry, Simoni knew he needed something that could endure the challenge. The Ultimate Direction PB Vest instantly came to mind. When discussing the PB Vest with Bikepackers Magazine , Simoni states, “I used this instead of using an MTB-style backpack. It seemed like a weird idea to be honest…I haven’t really known many bikepackers that use this style of vest in lieu of a backpack before. Turned out to be perfect, as it was way more comfortable to hike and run with, than any backpack I’ve ever had and worked fair enough while on the bike… I’m surprised other bikepackers haven’t tried one out, and I’d encourage people to do just that.”
With everything packed up, The Long Ranger headed out the door on July 25th, 2014 to embark on his journey. He immediately got to work, riding his loaded-down mountain bike from Golden, CO 100 miles south to Colorado Springs. After summiting his first 14er (Pikes Peak) on the second day of the trip, Simoni continued south to the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Not one for lounging around, he rested just a few hours and then took to the trails, bagging five peaks in one day.
This wasn’t the only time that success would come in one lump sum. In an interview with Sarah Gorecki of The Colorado Mountain Club Press, Simoni lays out the specifics of his top peak-bagging sessions, saying “There were three days when I was able to summit five 14ers (by my count) in a day. Humboldt, Kit Carson, Challenger, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle were done in one day. I also summitted Columbia Point, a high 13er between Kit Carson and Challenger Point on this same day, somewhat by accident!
I also was able to summit Huron, La Plata, Missouri, Belford, and Oxford in one big push, which was somewhat of a surprise as I started my hike at 7:30 AM. All these 14ers can be accessed from Chaffee County Road 390 from three different trailheads. I would hike a group of mountains, then ride my bike to the next trailhead and repeat until I ran out of mountains.
The easiest quintuplet done was Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, and Bross in the Mosquitos, followed by Quandary Peak in the Tenmile Range. Climbing for that day was over before 3:00 PM, and I ended the day at the trailhead for Grays and Torreys. A pretty easy day in the mountains in comparison to the Crestone Group, but I still had to cross the Continental Divide on my bike, twice!”
Throughout the trip, Simoni varied his schedule, sometimes riding through the night and hiking during the day, sometimes choosing the complete opposite, or sometimes rotating continuously between the two activities. The Long Ranger states that roughly half of his time was spent on the saddle, traveling from Point A to Point B.
In his Bikepacker Magazine interview, Simoni explains the challenges of navigating some rough terrain in the San Juan mountain range, particularly on two wheels. He discussed the Alpine Loops system, stating that those tracks “are no joke – they’re just beat up old trails used by miners that now see the majority of traffic from ATVs. It’s hard going on a bicycle, as the surface is so loose and these miners were just crazy and didn’t know anything about, “grading” a road, or anything that advanced in engineering. I learned that it was best to tackle them at night, when the motorized traffic was the least, and the temps were nice and cool. I had the full moon illuminating all this open space around me and I would make my way very slowly across these intensely high mountain passes – 12,000, even 13,000 feet high. I’d usually stop for the night just below the pass and bivvy, get up the next morning, finish the pass and lose a good 2,000 feet of elevation before having to recoup another 1,000 feet up to the next trail head. The alternative to taking these mountain passes directly over to the trail heads was to take the highway, which often times featured no shoulder and 200 foot drop offs. I opted for the ATV roads, for sure.”
When he wasn’t dodging cars and drop offs, Simoni faced other hazards, ranging from threatening weather to aggressive wildlife. Perhaps the most exciting were the days when one danger would roll in after another. Simoni’s experience heading up Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood Point was one filled with bad luck. It started with a bear roaming around his campsite all night, the sound of its lumbering footsteps only muffled by the persistent rumbles of thunder. The hike the following morning began with a mixture of hail and rain and culminated in a severely flooded trail. On top of Little Bear, the clouds continued rolling in, reducing visibility to roughly 100 feet. Simoni then had to descend a 40 foot, class 5 rock climb, also in less than ideal weather. By the time he was off the mountain and ready to relax, he arrived back at his campsite only to find that the infamous bear had returned and devoured all of his food. The only option then was to head into town to gather supplies, a good decision as it allowed the Long Ranger to temporarily escape another round of thunderstorms which were once again raging around his campground.
Despite the physical and mental stress of the trip, Simoni never took a rest day. He’ll say that there were many days when he only rode his bike from one location to another, but often these rides would be well over 100 miles, hardly a rest day by most peoples’ standards!
Finally on August 28, 2014, after 34 days and 12 hours of continuous physical activity, the Long Ranger summited his final 14er, Longs Peak. He’d fought through the summer’s heat, rain, and hail, as well as multiple bear encounters to come out victorious, a new FKT to his name. And later that day, he returned to Golden, CO, on his bike of course, to celebrate his victory– and to show off some other new skills as well.
So what’s Simoni currently up to? He’s reported plans for a Front Range Tour 14er in July followed by a Nolans 14 unsupported attempt later in the summer. When he’s not actively on a multi-day endurance trip, he can most likely be found buzzing around the trails of Boulder, CO, on bike or on foot, preparing for his next great adventure.
For more info on Justin’s outdoor escapades, make sure to check out his blog.
To see what other UD Ambassadors are up to, swing on over to their pages as well!