Chris and Marni Plesko with Tandem on the CTR
(Photo/Chris and Marni Plesko)

Couple Becomes First to Tandem Ride Entire Colorado Trail

Two parents, one trail, one double bike.

Chris and Marni Plesko of Westminster, Colorado, have achieved an uber-impressive bikepacking feat. Last week, they became the first tandem cyclists to tour all 540 miles of the Colorado Trail. They completed the ultra-endurancey Colorado Trail Race (CTR) in just 10 days.

Recently, the athletic parents of two set their sights on a tandem send of Colorado’s longest backcountry bike trail, the Colorado Trail. In an interview with Bikepacking, Chris Plesko indicated that the goal was more or less born in quarantine:

“With us both having to parent and teach throughout the challenging pandemic, our short outside rides and runs were often the only alone time we had together. We began dreaming of an adventure together, and when we realized how much we loved riding tandem, we just decided to give the CTR a shot. We knew it would be incredibly challenging, but that was a big part of the draw.”

“… [Ignore] all the naysayers who call it a divorce bike,” Marni added. “It’s way more doable than it seems and so much fun to ride together.”

We caught up with Chris and Marni to hear how the ride went, and we took a deep dive into their record-setting gear!

Chris and Marni Plesko on the CTR
(Photo/Chris and Marni Plesko)

Riding the Colorado Trail Tandem

To prepare for the 2021 Colorado Trail Race, the Pleskos trained multiple systems. They put hours into long tandem rides, sussed out their technique across all manner of terrain, and lifted weights regularly.

Registered under codename “The Parent Trap,” the couple set off atop their fresh MTB Tandems Fandango bike in the early hours of July 25. Along for the ride? A shared wealth of endurance experience, general familiarity with the route and the CTR, 37 pounds of pure bike, and another 40 pounds of bikepacking gear. (For the Pleskos’ full gear list, scroll down.)

Chris had attempted it four times prior, finishing it once in 2017; the 2021 attempt would be the couple’s first as a team. Over the next 10 days, the Pleskos would negotiate switchbacks, hoist their 75-pound “bear” of a setup over impassable terrain, weather downpours, and endure alpine temps. Reportedly, both riders relished every mile of the journey.

Chris Plesko and Tandem on the CTR
(Photo/Chris and Marni Plesko)

The Colorado Trail

The Colorado Trail is a highly technical bikepacking route that runs from Littleton to Durango and boasts a dizzying 75,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Much of the journey soars 10,000 feet above sea level or more. The route is mostly unpaved singletrack, winding through a wide array of climes and ecosystems.

Bikepacking.com gives the Trail a difficulty rating of 9/10, putting the typical completion time at 13 days. Yup, you read that correctly: The tandem-bound Pleskos beat the average expected time for a solo rider by 2.5 days.

Interview With the Pleskos

GearJunkie Editor in Chief Adam Ruggiero caught up with the Pleskos after their return home from the Colorado Trail.

GearJunkie: The CO Trail is gnarly. When did things get especially hairy or difficult?

Chris & Marni Plesko: It got difficult on the tandem right away. The trail leading out of Durango pretty quickly has some tight switchbacks that the tandem can’t clear. We found ourselves walking nice and early on.

Other than “routine” trail obstacles like tight switchbacks or sketchy water crossings, the first major obstacle requiring an extensive hike-a-bike was on The Sliderock right before Kennebec Pass. From there, shoving the bike up and over the steep, big rocks of Indian Trail Ridge required some teamwork.

And that was just day one … it didn’t really get any easier from there. More than once we were committed to downhills where there was no stopping, and sending it was the only good option. Thankfully, we never crashed in those spots!

About how much hike-a-bike did this require?

C&M: A lot. We often joked that we weren’t really riding the trail on a tandem, but rather taking the tandem for a nice push on the trail. We only had our Apple watches on for 12 hours a day and they still recorded a total of 155 miles of walking over the 10½ days.

We estimate we spent about half of the total time hike-a-biking and probably ¼ of the total distance. Considering that the tandem weighed about 75 pounds loaded, pushing it that much was no minor feat. Our morning runs and hiking training definitely came in handy.

How did you train for this record?

C&M: Consistency was key for us. We are parents of two young boys, so getting out for lots of big days was out of the question. We maintained a consistent pre-work running routine, did some weight lifting in the garage (squats, deadlifts, etc.), and tried to get in 1-2-hour rides as often as possible. We managed a few longer days of training here and there, but mostly relied on the consistency of riding some each day.

A few weeks out from the race, we managed two “binge” weeks with lots of climbing while the kids were at summer camp, which was a nice final boost of our fitness. When we could get the boys to go with us, we also hiked Sanitas in Boulder to start the day, and we even managed a Mount Elbert summit as a family before the race. That one was big for the boys at 13+ miles and 5K feet of elevation gain.

We also camped in Leadville in our van as often as possible, and when we couldn’t get up high, we slept in a Mile High Training altitude tent.

Chris Marni Plesko - Tandem Cycling the CTR
(Photo/Chris and Marni Plesko)

Any mechanical issues along the way? Any wildlife encounters?

C&M: No major mechanical issues on our Fandango at all! It held up like a champ through the various weather and terrain conditions. We put in a new set of brakes in Buena Vista (the rears were basically gone), but otherwise, we escaped without anything breaking or flatting on us despite two crashes! Drew at the bike shop in Buena Vista was awesome in getting everything dialed back in after 300 miles on the trail and a crash.

As far as wildlife encounters, we saw lots of big, fat marmots, a couple of moose outside of Leadville that we slowly backed away from, lots of deer and elk, and lots of glowing eyes creepily watching us in the early morning hours (that we told ourselves were deer).

Can you give us a rundown of your day-to-day nutrition? What was the plan going in, and did you stick with it?

C&M: We brought a good supply of CarboRocket (333 Half Evil — black cherry- and lemon-flavored) because that’s what we typically use in training. We each had two soft flasks in our ultra running vests, and we each used one for CarboRocket and one for water. This really kept us going and consuming calories throughout the race.

Other than that we ate a lot of junk — candy (Snickers, KitKats, and Reese’s peanut butter cups were the winners), nuts, mini donuts, and little gas station pastries. We tried to eat a backpacking meal each night but on the really rainy nights we couldn’t quite pull that off and it definitely left us dragging the next day.

We both managed to eat pretty well after the first couple of days of the race, but Chris still lost almost 15 pounds. If anything, the weather near the end slowed us down and depleted our food reserves so we were rationing calories prior to our off-route detour into Jefferson to resupply.

Does having a partner on the bike ease frustration when things get tough, or can it be even more difficult?

Chris: Having done a bunch of ultras solo before, it was much easier to have someone there during the difficult moments. Sharing the experience with someone else was rewarding during the good parts and comforting during the difficult times.

It was stressful captaining the tandem in challenging terrain, knowing that I was responsible for the safety of us both, but I know Marni has total trust in my technical skills.

Marni: I’ve never had a strong desire to do this race solo. The idea of doing it with Chris was what pushed me to do it. I loved getting to have someone there (RIGHT there) to experience the highs and lows with.

I think we each came through for each other at various times throughout the 10 days, and we absolutely loved the opportunity to get to hang out together for such a long time — which hasn’t happened in the 11 years since our first son was born.

What records/challenges are you eyeing next?

C&M: We would love to tackle more big challenges on the tandem. While we wait for another opportunity to get away for a long expedition, we’d love to go back and do some rides that we’ve done on individual bikes (White Rim, Kokopelli, etc.) and lead up to another big ride like Tour Divide.

We need to balance our desire for adventure with our responsibility to our boys while they’re young, so we’ll see what the near and distant future holds!

Finally, if you had to sum up the whole ride in just a couple of words for someone else about to take it on, what would you say?

C&M: Keep moving forward … TOGETHER.

The Pleskos with their Tandem MTB on the Colorado Trail
(Photo/Chris and Marni Plesko)

Gear List: Chris and Marni Plesko’s CTR Tandem Bike Tour

Riding the Colorado Trail: Learn More

You can check out more photos from the Pleskos’ journey on Chris’ Instagram. For more information about the Colorado Trail, visit the Colorado Trail Foundation.

Or, get a tiny taste of the ultra-endurance bikepacking race with the 2016 documentary, The Colorado Trail Race: A Self-Powered Adventure by Aaron Johnson (and watch a clip below).

Bikepackers Find Peace, Purpose Post-Pandemic in 'Second Wind' Film
Bikepackers Find Peace, Purpose Post-Pandemic in 'Second Wind' Film

'Escape to breath again' is the tagline for this gripping, post-pandemic outdoor adventure film.  Read more…

Danny MacAskill Rides Tandem, and It's Totally Awesome
Danny MacAskill Rides Tandem, and It's Totally Awesome

Ubertalented biker Danny MacAskill gives up control, nervously riding on the back of a tandem bike. It's just as wild as it sounds. Read more…

Jilli Cluff
By

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas, where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.