On July 26, 2016, Joe Grant hopped on his bike and left his home in Gold Hill, Colorado, wearing only running shorts and a T-shirt. He looked like a typical bikepacker out for a weekend camping trip, with just two dry sacks, strapped to his handlebars, carrying the bare essentials: one sleeping bag, two pairs of socks, a fleece pullover, a raincoat, and a bivy sack to sleep in.
But Grant, 33, would be gone for at least a month. His goal was to take on Colorado's classic peak-bagging challenge: hiking the state's tallest 57 summits, which are all higher than 14,000 feet. Grant was also hoping to complete the feat in record time, entirely under his own power, and without support. To get between peaks, he'd come down from a summit, hop back on his REEB hardtail mountain bike, and ride to the next.
"I realize it might sound like a crazy idea to some, but I live at 8,400 feet and spend long days training alone in the mountains, both running and biking, so I'm comfortable there," says Grant, who carried only antiseptic and duct tape for first aid, and a basic tracking device to allow for family and friends to follow his progress online.
Thousands of people have climbed all 57 peaks, and there are several ways to speed the distance between mountains. Many have skied off them all. And there's even a well-known record for the fastest supported completion — last year Denver-based Andrew Hamilton set the record in nine days, 21 hours, and 51 minutes, using a car to shuttle between trailheads. But the Tour de 14ers, as it is called, had been finished in a self-supported speed attempt by foot and bike only once before. In 2014, Justin Simoni did it in 34 days and 12 hours.
"I really connected to Justin's style — by foot, but having the bike to move between peaks while still being fully human-powered," says Grant, a professional ultrarunner.
The biggest challenge is the weather, especially in summer, when afternoon thunderstorms can blow in out of the blue with heavy, dangerous lightning. (Last year, on Colorado's 14,065-foot Mount Bierstadt, eight people were struck simultaneously by a bolt, sending three of them to a hospital.)
Thankfully, the weather mostly held out for Grant, and he set a record of 31 days, eight hours, and 33 minutes — beating the previous one by three days. "I got lucky," he says, referring to the weather. "But there were definitely moments when I had to wait it out at a tree line and then put in a lot of effort very quickly to get on and off the peak safely."
Grant, who has taken part in a number of endurance competitions — including the 750-mile Arizona Trail mountain bike race — climbed up to five peaks each day, biking from 20 to 100 miles in the morning or evening and staying active for 14-hour periods.
On the road, he subsisted mainly on junk food, like Oreo Minis, which provide almost a thousand calories in a large bag. "I had to eat whatever I could get my hands on that was calorie-dense and easy to transport," he says. Frozen gas-station burritos were also a staple throughout the month. "They fit perfectly into my dry sack, and they would thaw out as I rode."
In the end, patience proved to be more important than speed or efficiency. "There were big highs and big lows, but they weren't linear. I could be coming off a big day, where I put in nine hours in the mountains, and somehow feel great. Or I could have an easy day and feel wrecked," he says. "I realized that the key was to be patient and let the body just be."
Colorado's Mightiest Peaks
Total feet of elevation ascended: 100,000+
Height in feet of tallest peak summited, Mount Elbert: 14,440
Miles traveled on foot: 400
Miles traveled by bike: 1,100
Pairs of running shoes used: 2
Bags of Oreos consumed: 20