Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CT - Days 10-12

Day 10
Start 7:00 A.M.
Cuba Gulch - Molas Pass 28.1 myles
9 hours 28 minutes - 3.0 MPH

With less than 30 myles separating me and my family I wanted to make quick work of this day, all the while enjoying the heart of the San Juan's.

I was more than happy to wake up this morning and get going. I don't think Paul had a problem sleeping as I heard his snore over the bugling elks several times. I left both wraps on my shins over night so they didn't balloon up on me... not sure if that was the right thing to do but it seemed to work out.

Paul getting ready to go above Cuba Gulch

Heading back up to the CT we passed our water source and now I wished I had taken a picture to show you this little trickle or better yet trough - animal prints all around. We had to trust the Steripen at this point because we were so high, water was scarce. Like I said before, could have been user error but I'm also not ruling out the device missing one little buggy. Who's to say this was the source of our Giardia but this is certainly a suspect spot. Thank goodness for that 10 day incubation period cause I never would have finished otherwise.

Now onto the rest of Segment 23. I was eager to show Paul the Hard Rock course and get into familiar territory.... come to find out later that the Hard Rock course runs on the old CT. Segment 23 was re-routed a couple of years ago so everything was unfamiliar to me although we were in the same vicinity as the course so the terrain looked the same. I think Paul my even throw his name into the HR lottery next year.

New signage above Maggie Gulch on the new Segment 23

Each day there was a special time for me on the trail (usually early on) when I would reflect on what I was doing and where I was at... today was no different. It was a very calming time in complete silence. And I know this sounds kinda corny but I felt like the trail was accepting me. At any rate, Paul and I were making good time up and down each of the top of the drainage's despite our 15+lb packs. I wanted to keep moving to get to my family early in the day so that I could spend some extra time. Paul wanted to keep moving because he still had to drive home and wanted to do so before dark.

Paul still pulling me along Segment 23

We arrived at Stony Pass and at the time I did not recognize it but the HR course goes right over Stony Pass either to Cunningham or Maggie Gulch, depending upon the direction. Stony Pass is the start of Segment 24 so a little less than 20 myles to go for the day. Segment 24 would be a good test for the ol shins as the last part was a severe downhill to get to the Animas River. But before then we traveled along a high plain (just about 12,000ft) for 10 myles when we finally diverted from the CDT and headed straight down into the Elk Creek drainage. I didn't realize how far down until after two hours and we were still going down.

The drop into Elk Creek

Shins held up fairly well with a few sharp pains here and there but fatigue started to really set in for the first time. I started to get a little loopy as we hit the Animas River, probably due to the fact that Paul and I only had minimal food the night before. We fueled up once we hit the bottom only to be faced with another 2000 ft climb, last one before Molas Pass so I was eager to get over it. Finally we heard engine brakes so we knew Hwy 550 was close. Rounded the last corner where Rick and the Darnold's were there to greet Paul and I. We had made it through the abyss and came out unscathed. Thank you Paul! You were extremely vital in getting me through the crux of my journey.

Paul and I at Molas Pass

As it turns out, my family had not yet arrived. They had fallen victim of a road closure at Wolf Creek and had to turn around and go back through Gunnison - 12 hours to get to Molas Pass. During that time as Paul waited for his truck and I waited for my family, we were treated with burritos from Steam and Steel coffee shop in Silverton. Eric and Lynn had come up to the trailer to say hello and check on my status - thanks guys. Finally the family arrived at 8 P.M. and all is good.

Day 11
Start 5:58 A.M.
Molas Pass - Hotel Draw road 31.8 myles
10 hours 43 minutes - 3.0 MPH

Today is a very special day, not only was my family back but my 10 y.o. son, Jaxon is going to do a segment with me. It doesn't get any better than that!

CT sign at Little Molas lake

My family is back and has recharged my battery. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel with only two days left. Although the morning started a little rocky for me as I took a wrong turn at a junction above little Molas lake. There is a very nice, new parking area at little Molas with good CT signage but I somehow left on the wrong trail and took a right at a junction above little Molas that took me back down - minor detour... I headed back up and onto the hanging cliff area.

Self portrait above South Mineral

I saw several hunters early and they were really surprised to see me, and dare I say a little pist that I scared their trophy bull elk away. More to come on hunters. Rolling along above South Mineral basin where I had been previously while waiting for HR to start, then to a high saddle, and finally down across Cascade Creek.

Cascade Creek

I made my way into Bolam Pass road and as I did I literally broke down. There were signs everywhere! Jaxon's class had all participated in making poster signs for ME. Why it touched me so deeply was that not only were they supporting me but they were supporting Jaxon - it meant a lot.

A few of the posters

Coupled by the fact that I was nearing the end of my journey, I now get to spend time on the trail with my son, so needless to say I was a little emotional. Certainly the highlight of my trip! Jaxon and I had been talking about this 11 mile segment for months and he was pumped to do it. He had already done 16 myles a month before on segment 4 so his confidence was high.

And were off!

And just like before, Jaxon was a chatter box making it easy to have a conversation with him because I just had to answer yes or no - a true professional pacer. We saw some amazing scenery but in addition we saw our first sign of bears. This spooked Jaxon a bit so the conversation seized for awhile and he stayed right on my heels. But as we made our way over Blackhawk Pass he got excited all over again with his sense of accomplishment.

Fresh bear prints

Jaxon and I sitting atop Blackhawk pass (12,000 ft.)

Jaxon knew he was close so we picked up the pace a bit and even ran for a while. About 3 myles from Hotel Draw road, Rick and Hampton (dog) met up with us and walked fast the rest of the way in. Just over 3 hours after I picked Jaxon up we had finished at Hotel Draw road where I was surprised to find my parent's waiting as well. I'm really proud of Jaxon and I hope this is one of those things that he will not only remember forever but will also give him an appreciation for the wilderness.

Day 11 in the books

Day 12 - FINAL DAY!
Start 3:40 A.M.
Hotel Draw road - Junction Creek 42.1 myles
12 hours 6 minutes - 3.5 MPH

There was a lot of excitement in the air but also a sense of sadness as this epic journey draws to a close.

As I settled into bed around 7 P.M., I really couldn't believe I was gonna do it! But I wasn't done yet so I had to re-focus and concentrate one more time. And make no mistakes. I felt like I had just shut my eyes when I was awakened by thunder and lightning. Not just any ol thunder and lightning in the distance but lightning striking right around our trailer. The kind that comes straight down and you see hit the ground with a vengance. I did not dare look at my watch to see what time it was, just don't let my alarm go off right now.

Thank goodness that ferocious band of clouds passed by the time my alarm went off because the first segment I would tackle (27) is on a ridge line, exposed for almost the entire 20 myles. The guidebook even talks of escape routes just in case a storm hits, great!

As Rick and I left the trailer at 3:00 A.M. it was still spooky out with clouds, mist, and wet everywhere. I'll admit it, I was scared. But I knew there was no way around it. It is what it is and I can't change it. What made things even more difficult was the fact that the trail intersects a myriad of old logging roads at least 7 times in the first 8 myles. I wasn't taking any chances of getting lost so I ripped out the pages of this segment in the CT guidebook. I had been reviewing the guidebook every night so I knew it was very good on details. In addition, Rick drove the road and met me at the first 5 road crossings until the road was no longer safe to travel. We parted ways, still 2 hours from light so it was a little unnerving to say the least.

What made matters worse was that the wind was blowing hard on the exposed ridge line making visibility less than the distance to my feet. My headlamp was catching the mist and clouds and nothing else, kinda like your car's headlamp in a fog bank. I literally had my head straight down to pick up the trail and as I did so I ran head first into a big green Army tent! A TENT right on the trail at 4:30 in the morning!! Talk about a scene from the twilight zone. I shook my head and laughed and walked around, not only the tent, but a huge camp for hunters. Ironically, later in the morning Rick had somehow spoken to the campers down at Hermosa Creek where we had camped and the campers inside the tent were a little more spooked than I was. They thought their buddy was sleep walking again.

Finally! The light of day

The trail was soggy and I have every bit of rain gear on hoping for the light of day to come. Finally just after 6, I could see out in front of me again and the storm appeared to be lifting. Just about that time I snapped the photo below of I what I consider the most beautiful section of the CT.

Cape of Good Hope - Segment 27

This was a magical section! Still on the ridge line so no up or down, just meandering single track with lush green undergrowth. If you are ever down in South West Colorado, you need to see this section! It made all the morning turmoil worth it.

Almost to the end of segment 27, I found myself fighting back emotions. I wouldn't let myself go there yet because I still had 20 some odd myles to go, it wasn't over yet and neither was the scenery.

Taylor Lake - almost to the end of 27

I arrived at Kennebec TH and couldn't hold the emotions any longer. It was my time to let it all go and realize I had accomplished what I set out to do. It was even more emotional than my first Hard Rock finish. But just like I've done at Hard Rock, this was a time to celebrate by myself and then when I actually finished I could celebrate with those who made it possible. It was a very special moment sitting on top of Kennebec pass crying while I reflected on this amazing trail... such a baby.

Onto the last segment

Whew! Crying takes a bunch of energy. I'm tired now, drained of emotions heading down to meet my parents at the bottom of Kennebec Pass. I was a little early but I learned from before and gave my dad a two hour window. Sure enough my parent's were there. WITH Pizza! I forget the name of the pizza place in Durango but it was good! They put it on the engine to heat it up so it hit the spot. A couple slices, a Coke, shed all the rain gear, and I was off.

My parent's at the last pit stop

I had about 16 myles to go and I was running good. I actually ran all the way down to Junction Creek crossing, which is about 5 myles, without stopping. I had those end of race endorphins going now but just as quickly as they arrived, they left without warning. I started to become a bit dizzy as I climbed out of Junction Creek so I slowed up and took some calories.

Down, down, down, in and out of valleys until I finally saw a sign for Gudy's rest. I saw a picture of Gudy's rest in the guidebook and couldn't wait to see it in person and take my picture on it. In my mind, that was the end.

Me on Gudy's rest

Now it was time to see the family and celebrate. As I made my way to Junction Creek I heard whistling.... I knew it was Rick making his way up to meet me. Man! I lost it again. I couldn't help it because I knew the time and effort he put into this trip just so I could succeed. I could not have done this without Rick and the success of this epic journey is just as much his as it is mine. But I share the success with all those people who supported me in one way shape or form.

And finally to the end where my wife and family have decorated the finish line at Junction Creek with everything under the sun that says "40". Yes, I am 40 on this day and I have just accomplished the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I will never forget it. But make no mistake about it, I have not changed - only refined.

40?!?! Really??

My family at Junction Creek

Rick and I at Junction Creek

"Your true character is revealed by the clarity of your convictions, the choices you make, and the promises you keep. Hold strongly to your principles and refuse to follow the currents of convenience. What you say and do defines who you are, and who you are... you are forever."

And now onto Carver's for a T-shirt and a Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale. Here's to you - my family and friends - cheers!

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