In case you weren’t intently dot-watching late last week, Chris and Marni Plesko from Westminster, Colorado, became the first-ever team to complete the Colorado Trail Race on a tandem. The two were tracked under the pseudonym “The Parent Trap” while riding a 2021 Fandango 29er from MTB Tandems, and they rolled into Waterton Canyon on Friday, setting a course tandem record of 10 days, 13 hours, and 13 minutes (10d:13h:13m). Read our interview with the pair below.
How many times had you ridden the Colorado Trail before this, and what inspired you to do so on a tandem?
Chris: This was my fifth time attempting the Colorado Trail Race, although with only one prior “official” finish. In 2017, I made it from Durango to Jefferson before injuring my wrist and having to drop, but I came back that fall and finished it up for a season thru-ride at least. Marni had never attempted the full trail before, although she had done a limited number of sections over the years on foot or bike.
As far as our inspiration, I think COVID had a lot to do with it. 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. We could tackle it together instead of Marni dot watching at home.
Did you finish faster or slower than you anticipated?
Marni: Our finish was right about what we expected. Training went as well as we could have hoped, but again with two kids, we only had so many days available to do long rides and our only planned overnight trip got cancelled at the last minute. We relied on the strengths of our relationship and Chris’s vast racing experience for the things we couldn’t practice ahead of time. I think in a perfect run we could get closer to seven days, and we budgeted up to 14 days to get it completed if we needed it. Near the end we were hoping to roll in on day nine but the weather had other ideas and we’re pretty happy with a 10-day first finish.
What was the biggest challenge to riding a tandem on such a technical route?
Chris: Compared to riding a single bike, there were definitely places the tandem couldn’t be ridden, which means extra pushing. It obviously struggles on tight switchbacks, though we did ride plenty of them. It also doesn’t have clearance for larger drops, so if it didn’t roll we had to walk. Once the timing chain is dragging on the terrain we’re at our limit. Finally, it was a bear to lift up over steep rocks, like getting up to Indian Trail Ridge or getting down from the high point. It weighed about 75 lbs when we had a full food load so we were grateful for our weight lifting in training to handle it. We would both push the bike when the trail allowed it, otherwise Marni would carry both packs and I would handle the bike.
How did the new Fandango perform, and is there anything about the kit you’d change in hindsight?
Chris: The Fandango was unbelievably good on the trail. Alex Nutt at MTB Tandems did an outstanding job specing the bike and it showed throughout the race. The NOX rims and Maxxis Rekon 2.6″ tires were flawless. The Magura MT7’s stopped all 350 lbs of our team time and time again throughout endless wet and muddy trails. And coming off riding single speeds for years, the SRAM AXS shifting was phenomenal. It never missed a beat and we had zero issues with shifting throughout the race or even after two crashes. If we changed anything down the line it might be the front suspension or the stem, but frankly the bike did an incredible job and I have zero complaints.
What were the best and most challenging moments that stand out?
Marni: The best moment might have been on the third day, climbing up Stony Pass at dawn and riding segment 23. Chris had only done those segments in the dark and we got lucky with the weather. The skies were clear and the views were incredible. We were able to ride a lot more than we anticipated despite spending most of the day between 12,500 and 13,000 feet. We had set a goal of getting to Spring Creek Pass as a major milestone, which meant we were capable of finishing this beast, and riding such beautiful trails made accomplishing that goal pretty special.
The most challenging moment was climbing Kokomo Pass in a major storm. We pushed hard up the pass and it just kept raining on us harder and harder. We finally called it quits somewhere over 11,000 feet, freezing cold and wet. It took a team effort to get the tent up, get into it without soaking our bags, dry off the best we could, and suffer through a cold, wet night of fitful sleep. We managed to work together, stay calm, and get it done though and keep our adventure rolling the next morning, finishing the climb as the rain continued on and off.
Any words of advice to the next crazy couple thinking about setting out on a big bikepacking trip on a tandem?
Marni: Lift some weights and ignore all the naysayers who call it a divorce bike! It’s way more doable than it seems and so much fun to ride together.
Chris: Put some time into riding the most technical terrain you think you’ll encounter and get used to how different the tandem feels. Many things ride just like a single bike, but the consequences feel very magnified for the captain, especially when you’re both parents. Once you’re used to it, the tandem really climbs and descends a lot better than you might think at first.
Anyone you’d like to thank?
Chris: Oh man, so many people. First we have to thank Marni’s parents, Jim and Jennifer Berry, for not only watching our two boys while we raced but taking them on a trip and spoiling them rotten. We also need to thank Steve Bussey for shuttling our van back from Durango so we could actually transport the bike easily, and Kris and Susannah Warner for lovingly feeding and hosting us before the start. On the bike side of things, Alex Nutt at MTB Tandems helped us build an incredible machine while Joe at JPaks made our dreams come true with the awesome frame bags. Brad at CarboRocket has supported us for years and that lemonade and black cherry Half Evil kept us going throughout the race. Kerry Staite helped us keep the trail lit up with his incredible K-Lite Ultra MTB lights. Jon Davis at Elevated Legs and Matt Formato at Mile High Training Altitude Tents helped us prepare. Finally, Matt McCulley, Fixie Dave Nice, and Kyle Taylor helped out with technical knowledge to help us get the bike running perfect before the start.
If you have any more questions for the Pleskos, join the conversation below. Find more from Chris and Marni’s adventure over on Chris’ Instagram account @pivvay.
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