Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Monday, December 30, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 7 - Timberline to Gold Hill

Patience and perseverance has gotten me through the last 6 days.  With 150 myles to go there is no more patience, it's all out now.  Little did I know this would be the most challenging day yet.

Up before my 3 AM alarm, I didn't get a wink of sleep last night.  Thinking about everything that has transpired and what lay ahead - my mind was racing.  I was exhausted mentally and physically.  But as weird as it may seem, I didn't have to think about what I was doing anymore, everything was automatic.  My shins were holding up (thanks -in part- to the painful ice bath) and the energy from the crew started to grow as we got closer to Denver.

Setting the SPOT
Matt and I loaded up the truck around 3:45 and headed to the Timberline TH just a quarter of mile down the road.  At 3:55 we set off with a full moon as our beacon.  For the next hour and 5 minutes was banked time into day 6.  My original schedule had me starting from Tennessee Pass today so I was still 13 myles behind the plan.  Just like most days, we started off with a climb, this one was 1500 ft over the next 4 myles.  By the time 5 AM came around to officially start day 7, I had only gone 3 myles, meaning I was still 10 myles behind schedule.  It was great having Matt back on the trail with nonstop conversation about this adventure from different perspectives.  When he wasn't with me on the trail, he was helping the crew out with logistics and made the comment "It's much easier being out here on the trail..."  No doubt.  All I had to do was to get from A to B.  The crew had to risk driving with weary minds, organize logistics, and prepare food.

Timberline TH about to begin with Matt Trappe
The sun was starting to come up over the Ten Mile range as we worked our way through Holy Cross Wilderness.  What a beautiful stretch!  Shortly after we exited the wilderness area, we entered the 10th Mountain Division Hut area while crossing a myriad of roads and some very nice bridges.  The amount of work that went into constructing and maintaining the Colorado Trail was -and is- a Herculean effort.  Just before getting to Tennessee Pass, as we crossed over one of these nice bridges, we encountered a couple of overnight backpackers and it was clear they wanted to talk.  I was always reluctant to tell anybody what we were doing but it always came out when they wanted to know where we started....  (sheepishly) "uh... Durango? 7 days ago..."  I knew once it was known, the conversation would be extended and that takes time, time we didn't have.  At any rate, I never wanted to be rude so we stopped and talked to these two -very nice- gentlemen who were doing the entire CT over several summers.  Everyone has a story on the CT, all a little different, but we share something in common: the thirst for beauty, adventure, and solitude.

Holy Cross Wilderness just after sunrise

One of the nice bridges along the way

A little blurry but the two backpackers insisted on taking our picture

Just past 8:30 AM we arrived at Tennessee Pass.  Not particularly fast for the last segment (~3 MPH) but I was happy.  The crew was set up with the same breakfast burritos as Clear Creek from yesterday...  been thinking about those burritos ever since.  I've also been thinking about time.  If I were to stay on pace with the schedule I would now arrive at Waterton Canyon ~8 days 2 hours and some odd minutes.  Thinking to myself "I still have a really good shot of getting under 8 days...."  My thoughts really weren't that clear, it took me the better part of the day to sort that out but I knew I was in the ballpark.  At any rate, I wanted to be quick with the stop while my energy was up and the day was young.  I was pretty sure we'd see Bill Dooper again at TN Pass but he was nowhere to be found.  I later found out that he'd been there around 7:30 AM and had since left because he thought he'd missed us.  Makes sense, 8:30 AM is kinda late for Bill.

Rick greeting me at Tennessee Pass

Down the railroad grade paralleling Hwy 24, we were running side by side on the double track.  It was clear with the chatter that I was buzzing with energy.  I wouldn't call it one of those euphoric running spurts, but we were running and everything else around was a blur.  Double track turned into single track and this trail started curving away from Hwy 24 back to the 10th Mountain Division Huts.  I made a comment that this didn't seem right because we should be making our way back to Hwy 24 and cross over to Camp Hale.  We kept going, the trail kept looping back around, and finally I knew this trail wasn't right.  Matt had his cell phone and looked up our location on Google Maps...  sure enough we were way off.  Matt ran back toward the double track -probably just over a mile- and located where we went wrong.  It was an older CT blaze but clear as day.  I was pissed!  More-so because we had been making good time for the last few myles and all that time was lost - 45 minutes and a couple myles out of our way.  I became silent and processed what had just happened.  At the same time, Matt was good about verbalizing reality "we can't do anything about it. It's over and just need to move forward"  Words of simple wisdom.  It was my own mistake for not paying attention and with Matt's words, I let it go, at least I tried to.

Focused and trying to move forward
The 7th day and a little smile.  All better.

Soon enough, we arrived at the Hwy 24 crossing with a very familiar -and unique- vehicle sitting on the side of the road at a pull out.  No mistaking this green VW Westfalia - it was the Kunz'!  They were on their way to their scheduled event when they decided to turn the bus around and continue on this adventure.  Rob jumped out and said "Do you mind if Sylvia goes with you for the next section?"  I was a little perplexed but Rob put it in perspective "what you are doing here is far more amazing and we want to help you as much as possible".  I was blown away.  Twenty minutes ago I was pissed off and now I felt ashamed.  Even though the anger I felt was towards myself and never let it be known, I felt like that negative energy replaced all of the gratitude I should be feeling towards everyone.  Poof!  It was gone when the Kunz' once again joined the caravan and Sylvia brought her positivity as we made our way to Camp Hale and then further to Copper Mountain.

Through Camp Hale on our way to Kokomo Pass
The CT parallels the road leading through Camp Hale so Rob was able to give us a couple of water stops and "a show" along the way.  I'm still laughing as I type this because it's -obviously- etched in my mind.  I think Sylvia was a little mortified.  He would have been a great cheerleader the way he was jumping around hootin' and a hollerin'.  It helped pass the time through Camp Hale - very boring and flat.  You'd think the pass is no more than a mile away based on the ridge line, but it's actually 5 myles while being hot and exposed.  Rob finally met us at the last possible place before the trail turned uphill for the grunt over Kokomo Pass.  I was a little concerned because my crew was supposed to meet us somewhere in here.  Rob had driven up the road as far as he could and turned around because he said it was nasty and couldn't find them.  Later I found out that they thought they missed us so they made their way to Copper Mountain.  In reality, because of our detour, we hadn't crossed Hwy 24 yet.  The Kunz' saved our bacon there because that stretch is nearly 20 myles from Camp Hale to Copper Mountain.

Four myles and 2500 feet to get to Kokomo pass.  I felt solid on the climb, and if I remember correct, we got to the pass in an hour and 15 minutes (3.2 MPH).  My climbing ability gave me confidence for what lay ahead but once at the pass I felt dizzy and a little out of sorts.  I remember very vividly eating a huge brownie with frosting to cure the dizziness.  Oh man, it tasted sooo good but it hit my gut like a lead weight as we made our way to Searle Pass.  I once again entered a food coma.  At the time I didn't know what was happening because I was dizzy and couldn't stay awake.  I finally sat down on the side of the trail and could not move for about 10 minutes.  I should of stuck to my standards of EFS liquid shot, Justin's nut butter, and Peter Rabbit fruit and veggie liquified packs.   I finally got moving and soon arrived at Searle Pass as the clouds were thickening with lightning and thunder cracking really close.  We stopped to put on the rain gear -quickly- and were on our way down to Copper Mountain.  Within minutes it was pouring and the lighting was striking very, very close - scary stuff.  That was enough to get me out of my food coma and enter into a euphoric running spurt.

Pulling into the Copper Mountain parking lot
I really don't know how fast I was running but I did not feel anything.  I was floating over the rocks like a hovercraft, legs were numb, and lungs felt as big as hot air balloons.  It was now around 4 PM and within cell phone coverage so Matt had been in contact with the crew.  Because we were running low on water my Dad made his way up the trail from Copper Mountain to give some aid.  Not really stopping (just long enough to down a bottle of water) because I didn't want to lose my mojo.  We made our way past Copper Mountain, across Hwy 91, and were greeted by Rick.  I turned into the parking lot where the caravan of cars were circled and only wanted to sit for a little bit because of the nasty looking clouds coming our way.  Just before sitting down both my son's, Myles and Jaxon, came out from behind one of the vehicles and gave me the best hugs I have ever received.  I still get emotional thinking about this moment.  This was the defining moment of this adventure and would give me the momentum to get up over Ten Mile range and finish strong.

Myles greeting me

Most memorable moment of the Colorado Trail
So much for a quick stop, I wanted to stay forever.  These comfortable pit stops were already hard to leave, and now adding my boys to mix, it becomes heart wrenching.  But I know it's still nip and tuck with the time so our conversation shifted to what time I needed to be to Gold Hill and how much further I need to go today.  The crew wanted me to push past Gold Hill another 5 myles with an easy access road, which sounded like a good plan to me.  As I left, now with Rob Kunz and Gavin McKenzie, my boys escorted us out and shortly after parted ways.  I needed music to keep this powerful emotion going over the top of Ten Mile range so I put my headphones back on.  We were climbing really well and as we cleared the trees a couple of guys were coming down so I took out my headphones just in case they said something.  Sure enough, they said something to the effect "you guys going over the top?" followed up by a "well, good luck".  Those nasty lighting and thunder producing clouds that chased us off of Searle Pass earlier were now growing in size and following us along the top of the Ten Mile range.  Uh-oh.  Before we could start our descent down the Breckenridge side, the rain started to come down hard and we were soaked immediately.  I had left all my barrier stuff at Copper because it was already wet and it was hot.  Not only was the rain coming down but lightning was all around us and for a brief moment -very brief- I thought about going back down to the comfort of my family.  We were in trouble with 10 myles to get to Gold Hill.  Our only hope was for the rain to stop and get into the trees.  We hustled the best we could but I was frozen and had no energy.

Atop Ten Mile range right before it started to rain

We made it into the trees, and for the moment, the rain had stopped as we turned on our headlamps.  It didn't last.  Within 10 minutes it started back again and I was still soaked from the first round.  We were in trouble, better yet, I was trouble as I started to shiver.  I needed a miracle and got it from a lone mountain biker who had set up camp and made a fire right next to the trail.  He invited us in to huddle around his fire and I cannot tell you what a flame does to the soul.  We spent 5 or 10 minutes, not totally dry or warm, and were on our way with a little pep in our step.  Before we left I gave that guy some cookies, Justin's almond nut butter, and some other goodies for igniting our soul to which he was ecstatic.

What had happened to our friend - the Sun?
Off and on rain all the way down to Gold Hill but the good thing was that we were at lower elevation so it wasn't as cold.  Although now my headlight was dying and I couldn't keep the pace.  Just about that time Gavin took out one of the brightest spotlights, I mean headlamps, I have ever seen.  This thing lit up the mountain side but also gave me enough energy to make it to Gold Hill.  We saw the lights of Hwy 9 and Breckenridge below so that also helped, but as the trail zig and zagged the lights weren't getting any closer.  The darkness once again was messing with my ability to judge distance - the last 3 myles seemingly took a few hours.  It was very frustrating while being completely soaked.

Finally the lights from our crew vehicles came into view and were once again circled up at Gold Hill.  As soon as they saw our headlamps, they all started honking and cheering.  We had made it!  Once there, people got out to greet us -briefly- as we were whisked away to the warm and dry RV.  I sensed concern as they saw how soaked we were and the ten mile stare in my eyes.  It was 9:45 PM and the rain was coming down in sheets at this point so I did not want to go the additional 5 myles as suggested earlier.  As I scarfed down my food with dry clothes on we quickly discussed the timeline.  If I were to keep going that night I should have arrived at the next access around 12:30 AM and then the North Fork of the Swan River at 3 AM.  I couldn't do it.  My drive and will power were crushed and decided I needed a few hours to get warm and refuel.  We came to the decision that I would be on back on the trail at 2 AM with Rob and hopefully the storm would pass.  I finally got horizontal at 11:30 PM and set my alarm for 1 AM.  The night before I hadn't slept and tonight, if I'm lucky, I'd pass out for an hour.  This would turn out to be the last time I get horizontal in the RV.  A total of 6 days 16 hours and 45 minutes to this point.  A little over 100 myles and 44 hours to break the record.

Myles: 51.8 (380.7)
Time: 17h 50m (118h 9m)
Elevation: 9,867 (73,711)
Myles to go: 105.1

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 6 - N. Cottonwood Crk to Timberline

The strongest steel is forged from the hottest fire.  A quote that defines my mindset as I left North Cottonwood Creek at 4:45 AM with Robert and Harsha.

The crew starting day 6
As day 5 ended I was behind schedule and really thought my bid for an FKT was over.  With a little rest, my tired body and mind were once again rejuvenated.  I was now marching up the first hill with my head down and teeth clinched.  I'll admit, I had some anger pent up for the simple fact that I mentally gave up the day before.  For the entire first segment (18 myles) I was thinking "Get to Clear Creek unphased and pretend the day has just begun from there...".  Before I knew it we were there.  Coupled with great conversations, fantastic views of 3 more 14ers (Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford),  and another spectacular sunrise, 5 hours had gone by in what felt like 5 minutes.  Honestly, Robert and Harsha were chit-chatting away -while I listened in- with the occasional "Scott are you drinking?" And "Let's stop to eat"...  Other than that, I was in automatic mode and was numb to most everything.

Beautiful sunrise

Robert and I at sunrise
Early morning stop 
Cool picture
Numb, meaning that I was now in the moment, not thinking about what was ahead or behind me.  The power of thought propelled my body forward as we descended into Clear Creek.  I've mentioned a lot about food in previous posts, most of which was out of "I can't believe I just ate that...".  It takes a lot of calories to fuel the body -even at a slower pace- and now to add to my arsenal was a new mixture of First Endurance products.  Robert introduced me to Key Lime Pie, which is a combination of EFS Lemon Lime (1 scoop), Vanilla EFS liquid shot (2.5oz), topped off with water in a 20 oz bottle.  Straight away I had my crew make me two bottles and from here on out this would be my goto juice.

Early morning beauty with one of the 14ers in the distance

Poles were awesome for getting over trees
Up to this point, Clear Creek was my favorite crew stop.  The regular crew was there and had since made a stop in Leadville to get some tasty breakfast burritos.  Yum.  Pretty sure Robert and Harsha would agree.  Somewhere along the way, Bill Dooper, who was decked out in his Pearl Izumi shirt, joined the caravan.  Bill greeted me with his standard pat on the back and -ever present- contagious smile.  How can you not be happy around this man?!  I sat down in a chair to visit and get him caught up on everything up to this point.  "Ok!  You're doing great", Bill exclaimed.  Deep down my soul was revitalized with all of this support.  And now coming into more familiar ground, I was determined to give the next 200 myles everything I had.  I could not let these people down.  They are tired -yet flawless- and every time I see them they are happy and unphased.  I need to be strong, just like them.

Enjoying breakfast burritos!

Bill Dooper's contagious smile

Getting ready to leave
I've been married to Nicole for nearly 20 years so I know every look she gives me, good and bad.  As she helps me out the chair I see a very concerned look on her face.  She hugs me then walks me out of the Clear Creek aid station with her arm around me saying (while sobbing) "It's so hard to see you suffer like this".  I guess she knows every look on my face too, I can't hide anything from her.  I am weary but my body is holding up well.  Last time on the CT during day 6 my shins started giving me trouble.  Severe shins splints were extremely painful by the end, taping them every day, and sometimes walking downhill backwards.  Since the second day that Brandon had given me tips about preventing this from happening again, I had practiced landing mid-foot going downhill instead of a heel strike.  So far so good.  My body is the one major item that can put this journey to a screeching halt, so I am thankful.  I tell Nicole as I leave, "I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up for this thing so now I've gotta see it through and push till I can't push anymore".

Leaving Clear Creek

With Nicole

Robert was now switching places with his wife Sylvia.  The three of us (Harsha, Sylvia, and myself) started the short climb out of Clear Creek onto some flatter stuff for the next 10 myles.  I remember this section being very exposed and hotter than normal.  My two bottles of Key Lime Pie might not be enough to get me to Twin Lakes.  Having new people at my side is always refreshing.  I always get a sense of not wanting to let them down by going too slow.  Needless to say, our pace quickens on the flat portions of the trail.  With the good spirits all around, Harsha broke out his music playing device.  Prior to coming out Harsha had promised to learn a couple of songs from my favorite band (Godsmack) and sing out loud to pass the time.  Sully Erna started belting out songs from his album Avalon but Harsha was not singing...  I think he was a little embarrassed because he didn't know Sylvia all that well.  To his credit, he said he tried to learn the songs but could not understand a word of this "angry music"...  I was really looking forward to Harsha serenading me but just didn't happen.  Music is my escape during longs runs and with someone by my side for the entire trip so far, I hadn't put my headphones on yet.   So hearing Sully Erna brought out a bunch of emotion and new energy.  The energy that had slowly been wearing off since leaving Clear Creek was back again as we descended into the South side of Twin Lakes.  This new energy and downward trend towards Twin Lakes helped pick up the pace and before long we were crossing the dam across lower Twin Lakes.

Running the flatter stuff with Sylvia
As we started crossing the dam, Bill Dooper showed up again, this time with Gavin McKenzie.  He made a comment on how fast we had moved over the last 8 myles, around 2 hours.  Not fast by running standards but this far along into the journey, averaging 4 mph on any extended portion of the trail was a moral victory for me.  We didn't chat much because the crew stop was just up the road.  Or so I thought.  For some reason, this section of trail paralleling Hwy 82 is especially long (in my mind).  In reality it's only 3 myles until you cross the road to the Lakeview campground, it just takes forever.  Thank goodness my parents had stopped at the parking lot as we crossed the dam because I was all out of liquids.  I downed a bottle of water, refilled another and set off again.  It was nearly 2 PM when we arrived at the Lakeview campgrounds and I remember feeling a bit groggy and grumpy.  Maybe from the rush of emotion the music gave me, kinda like a sugar rush, and now I was experiencing the crash.   Either way it was a roller coaster of energy all day.  Because of my grumpiness and ahead of schedule, I decided to make this stop fairly quick so that I could knock out the remaining 20+ myles to Timberline (May Queen).

Leaving Lakeview (Twin Lakes) with Harsha
Beautiful aspens

Leaving with Harsha, I decided to put on my headphones for the next segment over to Half Moon road.  I kinda felt bad for not being social but I needed to zone out with my angry music.  The food from the stop didn't put me in any food comas, in fact, it revitalized me immediately. This roller coaster of energy would come and go pretty quick, usually hour long spurts.  The music, familiar flat single track, and the food all came together to create another one of those amazing running spurts I had experienced a couple days ago around Sargent's Mesa.  I was running everything.  Harsha led me out and kept looking back to check on me and each time he did I took it up a notch.  By the time we had reached the final descent leading into Half Moon road we were putting down mid 8 to 9 minute myles.  I was amped up coming into Half Moon/Mt Massive trail head.  I acted like it was race and I needed to get out quick.  Well, for all intents and purposes, this was a race but I was racing a ghost, Paul Pomeroy's ghost.  I downed a Coke (or two), ate more food, refilled my bottles and we were on our way to the Fish Hatchery.

Listening to 'angry' music, blowing my nose and (apparently) wiping my boogers on trees while tripping over rocks.
Mount Massive TH
It's along this stretch that I begin to crunch the numbers, something my crew had been doing for the past couple of days.  I was still behind schedule but making time back and by the end of the day I'd only be 12 myles behind schedule.  The initial schedule would have put me into Waterton canyon at 7 days 21 hours.  Now I was more likely end up 8 days and between 5-10 hours.  But I was still 170 myles from there so I let those thoughts be drowned out by the music.  As long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other I would have a good shot at the FKT.

Just another cool picture
Harsha having a little fun with a selfie
It began to rain as we descended the trail above the Fish Hatchery area.  I put on a jacket and took out my headphones because it wasn't creating a spark for me anymore.  I needed to change it up a bit.  I turned around and Harsha was nowhere to be found.  That concerned me.  Had I been so tuned out that Harsha decided to ditch me?  It was nearly 7 PM and we were losing daylight so it was time to stop and put on lights and warmer clothes.  Harsha caught up while I was chowing down on a Snickers bar and explained that he stopped to call his kids and tell them goodnight.  My heart sank because I hadn't spoken to my kids in a week.  Harsha then dialed my home number and I got hear my kids voices for what seem like an eternity.  I was very emotional talking and, in fact, found myself not saying anything at all because I wanted to hear them talk.  And yet they wanted to know everything I'd been doing.  It was one of those moments on the trail that will be etched in my memory forever.  I remember feeling how special my boys are to me and how they can seemingly take away all my pain with their pure innocence and unconditional love.  Thank you Harsha for creating that special moment for me.

Calling my boys

For the next couple of hours I felt guilty for being out there.  At this point, the only thing I had control over was to get home as quickly as possible.  But as darkness consumed us, so did fatigue.  I had been eating and drinking well all day and had enough calories on me to last a couple days.  Even so, every time I left an aid station, Nicole or Rick would hand an Ensure to whomever was pacing me.  I always refused it and they ended up carrying it.  Well Harsha was persistent, he kept asking so I finally told him he might as well drink it cause I wasn't going to....  It wasn't until it got dark that I all of a sudden wanted the Ensure....  I turned to Harsha to get it and he said, "you told me you didn't want it, so I drank half of it.  You still want it?".  Can you blame him?  I mean, he was carrying that thing for 8+ hours.  It was these little things that agitated me when I had no right.  Obviously this was an emotional day for me and it just showed that the trail was stripping me down to the core.  As previously mentioned, the darkness has a way of making the trail go on forever which further got me agitated. Harsha later told me that he couldn't believe how positive I was all day long.  At one point we started talking about sleep and apparently I said "Yeah sleep would be nice but people who get records make scarifies....  I can't afford to sleep in".  It's amazing that what I was saying was not always what I was thinking.

I kept thinking that Power Line road was just around the next bend and the next...  Some 45 minutes later we arrived at Power Line road and then I knew for sure the Timberline trail head was just a few myles away.  Finally we crossed a bridge that popped us out to the parking lot.  The Kunz', my parents, and Rick were all there to greet Harsha and I.  (Thank you Kunz' for your amazing support the last couple of days.  They are now headed to their intended event...  or so I thought.)  It had been a long emotional day but now I was a little over 150 myles from the finish and the light at the end of the tunnel started to sparkle.

I was quickly whisked away to the RV at a nearby campsite.  Food and Ultragen were ready when I arrived so I quickly put them down the hatch and got horizontal.  Just as I did Rick and my wife told me I had to ice my shins.  The thought of dipping my lower legs into freezing water created a bunch of anxiety and phantom pains shot through my already freezing body.  "NO WAY!" I said.   I couldn't brace myself enough mentally to handle it.  But they wouldn't let it rest so I gave in and bit the bullet.  "HOLY SHIT!" (and probably hundreds of other expletives)  Pins and needles were shooting through my legs as they timed me for what seemed like an hour.  Probably only a minute or so but every second was agonizing.  I hadn't had any problems with my shins up to this point -and wanted to keep it that way- so that's why I finally agreed.  

Finally horizontal around 11:45 but an hour later I was still wide awake.  I was thinking about the finish and every so often I'd find myself getting emotional at the thought.  This FKT was within my reach but it was nip and tuck according to the numbers.  I only had 6 hours of down time while averaging 3 MPH on the trail ahead for the record.  I needed to get back on the trail early and put as much banked time before 5 AM as possible.  And because of all this mental stimulation, I really didn't sleep a wink all night and was up before my 3 AM alarm - laser focused and teeth clinched.  Let's get this done!

Myles: 53.6 (328.9)
Time: 17h (100h 19m)
Elevation: 11,082 (63,844)
Myles to go: 156.9

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 5 - Hwy 50 to N. Cottonwood Crk

Spirits were high knowing today would present fresh faces with fast terrain.

The best night of sleep so far.  I passed out around 10:45 PM and would wake up to my alarm at 3:30 AM.  Each day my intention was to get started at 5 AM but I was always late.  I told Bryon to meet us at Hwy 50 at 5:45 AM because of my zombie-like state last night.  The terrain was more forgiving today; flatter and lower elevation.  So starting later today would not be a problem because I thought I'd be traveling close to 4 MPH for most of the day.  I mistakenly discounted the distance and growing fatigue on my mind and body.

Bryon and I got started at 5:40 AM, and although a bit chilly, it was slated to be a gorgeous day, if not hot.  I'll admit I was a little nervous starting with Bryon, only because I didn't want to disappoint him. He and Meghan Hicks had just been covering the Leadville 100 run and were on their way home so they decided to spend a day with me.  I'll be honest, I felt pressure to perform.  I didn't want anything leaking out that I was painfully slow but rather strong and smiling throughout the day.   I know that's shallow thinking but those thoughts entered my mind early in the day.  Once we saw the sunrise, all shallowness was washed away.  We were treated to an amazing sunrise - orange and red with a layer of soft clouds.  "That is awesome" exclaimed Bryon, as he snapped pictures left and right.  The guy is very talented; he can snap pictures while running backwards (never tripped) and carry on a full conversation.
Amazing sunrise with Bryon Powell
The sunrise gave us a little charge, and right on cue to my morning surge.  Granted, my morning surges were getting pretty pathetic at this point but I looked forward to them nonetheless.  They were usually hallmarked with energetic conversation and positivity of what the day had in store for me.  Thirteen myles into the day we arrived at the first -remote- pit stop.  I was now officially half way home.  No celebrations, just a Coke and a smile.  Oh, and a McGriddle??  Buena Vista was just down the road and I guess at some point I murmured that a McGriddle would be awesome!  I chowed it down and walked away for the next 10 minutes in disbelief.  It was so good but went against every nutrition principle I believed in.  Honestly the last time I had been in McDonald's was the last time I finished the Colorado Trail - 4 years ago.

The Aspens are thick through here
A Coke and a (half) smile

Remote Stop
Rob and Sylvia Kunz will now join Bryon and I for the remaining 7 myles to Chalk Creek.  After I got over my initial shock of downing a McGriddle, I endured a little bit of a food coma for the rest of Segment 14.  Ironically, we are still moving really well because the terrain was flat and forgiving, in addition to the new faces giving me a charge.  We have now left the Aspens and are into the Pinyon pines skirting around the base of Mt Antero.  Mt Antero is one of three 14ers (Shavano and Tabeguache the other two) we have passed in this section so far, so the relief to our left is absolutely spectacular.  I hadn't noticed much of it with my head down but Bryon was still snapping off 3 or 4 pictures per minute while commenting about the beauty.  His comments caused me to be silent for a bit and really reflect on where I was and what I was doing.  Living in Colorado I often take access to wilderness for granted and will only take a step back when someone mentions how lucky we are to live here.  I felt like the luckiest man alive in this moment and really had to choke back my emotions.  Here I am doing this very selfish adventure and I have more than 25 people helping me along the way.  This really hit home as we descended into Chalk Creek with Rob, Silvia, and Bryon out in front, while being greeted by my support crew of more than 5 vehicles and 10 more people.  This is truly amazing.   As much as my fatigued was growing, my crew seemed to reach down deep in my soul and flip a switch of rejuvenation.  Support on and off the trail was vital!

With Rob and Sylvia Kunz.  Taberguache over my left shoulder

With Sylvia Kunz.  Mt Princeton straight ahead.  
 Meghan Hicks has traded places with Bryon for the next 23 myles; he shuttles the Prius and she enjoys beauty.   As we (Rob, Sylvia, and Meghan) leave the comfort of the pit stop I am not looking forward to the asphalt section ahead.  It's getting hot and the gentle downward slope has us running right past Mt Princeton hot springs.  I can't help but think how nice one of those pools would be right now.  The downward slope is now over as we start to climb towards Mt Princeton base.  My legs are sludge and the heat is melting me.  This is painfully slow and feels surprisingly longer than 3 myles of pavement indicated in the Colorado Trail guide book.  To pass the time I ask everyone to name three people they would like to have dinner with and why.  I got the idea from Aric Manning on a FB post and I thought it was interesting as to who and why people were picked.  In this group we had Abe Lincoln, Fidel Castro, MLK, amongst others.  I don't remember the whys but you can imagine.

Segment 13 is deceivingly tough with 5300 ft of climbing in 23 myles.  The first part of the segment is up and over a little rise to South Cottonwood creek, not too difficult, but the second part has a 3000+ climb in 9 myles.  Most of the first part was a blur to me because the upcoming climb was weighing heavy on my mind.  But one conversation about human potential was memorable.  I love to define my own genetic potential, first and foremost, and then see how it compares to others.  FKTs are for defining genetic potential and racing is for comparing it to others.  Rob asked "Do you think the 2 hour barrier in the marathon will be broken in our lifetime?"  I said no.  It will be broken but not in our lifetime.  What is possible?  The mind is the limiting factor.  That's what intrigues me about human potential.  Just when we think we've defined our limits we push a little farther the next time with the right conditions.  Familiarity of that mental aspect of what a limit feels like, makes the difference of going past it or not.  In my case, I did the Colorado Trail 4 years ago and it was the hardest thing I had done in my life.  Once the pain and fatigue were a distant memory I starting preparing for my attempt to break the FKT.  I knew I was capable of something in the 8 day range, but exactly what, I didn't know.  This conversation passed the time -mentally- for the entire 14 mile first part of the segment.  Next thing I know we're dropping into South Cottonwood creek and the crew was once again set up.

Rolling into South Cottonwood creek around 4 PM
My fully loaded breakfast burrito and Ensure are down the hatch and I'm eager to get back on the trail.  It's only a 15 minute stop but daylight is burning.  If I had any hope of making it 60 myles today I gotta go and my crew knows it.  I had been putting off the conversation of cutting the day short since leaving Hwy 114 a couple days ago, but before I leave, Rick and I talk.  They are concerned that there are no crew access points for 18 myles after North Cottonwood Creek (NCC).  I was now concerned.  NCC is only 9 myles away but 3000+ feet stand in the way, which means 3+ hours.  Rick asks me to think about stopping at NCC and get a fresh start early in the morning.  No decision was made, just think about it.  Reflecting on this now, I was starting later and finishing earlier each day as a consequence of sheer exhaustion.  It was just a matter of falling off that razors edge before my entire FKT attempt would be in jeopardy.

Sun is getting low
Once back on the trail now with Matt Trappe and Meghan, we continued the conversation about genetic potential.  I was still buzzing about it from earlier and I noticed our pace picked up once we started talking again.  We crossed South Cottonwood Creek road and began the stiff climb to the pass just below Mt Yale (yet another 14er).  My legs were given a short break today from all the climbing so I was eager to see how they responded.  The good news is that I was climbing really well and got into a nice rhythm.  I didn't want to stop, not even once during the climb, but I could tell my energy flow was waining.  I wanted to get to NCC before sundown so that I could convince my crew to let me trudge on for the final 18 myles to Clear Creek.  Once at the top of the climb we took a food break and something was a little off in me.  I was processing everything just fine in my brain but what was coming out of my mouth was not the same.  I sloughed it off externally but internally I knew this was a "new low".  For the first time on this journey I didn't want to push on into the night.  Was I at the tipping point of my journey?  Could I still get the fastest time on the trail if I stopped at NCC?  Doubt set in.  To get my mind off these thoughts we started talking about predictions on who would win UTMB.  My favorite was Dylan Bowman.  Little did I know he had busted up his ankle and would not start.  

This steep downhill was killing my quads.  My uphill was way faster than this downhill.  In 3 myles we lost 2500 ft of elevation, very similar to the backside of Hope pass.  Coupled with my mental state, I just wanted to be off the trail.  Around 1/2 way down we ran into Harsha Nagaraj, who came out to pace me the following day.  It was another mental spark I needed to make it the remaining 2 myles to NCC.  Harsha has a great (dry) sense of humor -and I usually laugh- but right now I wasn't getting it.  I was barely processing anything rational.  And with all the bitching I was doing about how steep this section was, I only wanted to know how much farther.  We rounded a corner and there was my Dad.  I nearly broke down.  In a sense I wanted him to save me and tell me it's going to be alright.  He said "you're doing great, son.  Almost there."  It was comforting but I was hurting.  

Meeting up with Harsha
Coming down
Final mile of the day
The sun was lost in this narrow canyon as I rolled into the campsite.  No one needed to tell me I was done for the day, I knew it.    We all huddled around in a semi-circle and before Rick could even finish stating the obvious, I cut him off and said "alright, that's it for today.  I'll start around 4 AM to get a head start".  Everyone was just as relieved as I was.  By 9 PM I had been fed and was vertical in the RV -not sleeping- just letting my body calm down.  People were coming by the RV to say hello and check on me.  Bryon and Meghan were now heading back home to Utah, but before they did, Bryon gave me another beer and told me how amazing the (Princton) hot springs were...  The beer made up for the comment.  

I was fine with a belly full of food but I couldn't help but think it was over.  I had only gone 43 myles and I needed to 60 to have any shot at the FKT.  I kept asking if anyone knew if I was still ahead of Paul Pomeroy's splits, but no one knew.  Up to this point I was ahead based on making it past the San Juan's in two days, but in my mind, we were probably even now.  

Before everyone settling in, we made plans to start in the morning around 4:30 AM with Harsha and Rob.  Rob and Sylvia were supposed to be headed to the USA Pro Challenge, in which First Endurance was a sponsor, but they wanted to continue to support me with this journey.  That meant a lot to me.  As much as I was having a pity party for the shortened day, all of this support helped me turn the corner, grit my teeth, and commit to giving it every ounce of my being to get to Waterton Canyon under 8 and 1/2 days.  I was now exploring that realm of redefining my limits.

Myles: 43.2 (275.3)
Time: 14h (83h 19m)
Elevation: 8874 (52,762)
Myles to go: 210.5

Monday, November 11, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 4 - Hwy 114 to Hwy 50

Barring any mechanical breakdown, the body will do twice as much as the mind thinks it will - Peter Bakwin after his double Hardrock.  This quote was on my mind as I settled into bed at Buffalo Creek campground.  The body was holding up but the mind was second guessing.

Even though I had achieved my daily goal of finishing before 11 PM yesterday, we still had to drive a few myles down the road to the campground.  Once there my ritual of eating, icing the shins, and cleaning off began.  My Mom has made some homemade pinto beans so I took my time to enjoy -at least- 5 burritos.  This meant I wouldn't actually lie down until almost 1 AM.  But those two hours of settling in became normal routine.  What I learned is that my body and mind became more settled after a couple of hours and my sleep was much more restful rather than tossing and turning.

Up the next morning at 3:30 AM.  I still had it in my mind that I was going to get ahead of schedule to cut into those final two days.  Still no soreness in the muscles just an overall malaise and each morning it was getting more difficult to tear my back away from my mattress.  I only had 50 myles today, which was the shortest so far, and with plenty of access points after Hwy 50 my thinking was to add 5 to 10 myles.  But one step at a time so I would make that decision later.  For now though, I commenced with my normal breakfast routine: Muesli mixed with fruit and hot tea, got up to date on the previous day behind the scenes events, and out the door by 5:30 AM.

Start of Day 4
Today I would start with Rick Hessek and Matt Trappe.  My father-in-law would drop us off at the TH and we were on our way at 5:45 AM.  Just like we finished last night, it was cold again.  Probably in the low 30s but the forecast for the day was to be in the 60/70 range with blue skies.  We were greeted with a nice little climb along a dirt road for about two myles.  Once at the top we shed some clothing and arrived just in time for light to be spread across the Arkansas Valley - spectacular views!  Those views sparked motivation deep in my soul and I know it had an affect on the other guys because we started chatting about how lucky we were to be out here.

Early Views

First Light

Cool shot
From the top of this climb we are now traversing a ridge line for the next 5 or so myles and it's constant up and down on a rutted out trail.  As with any morning run, my system gets going after about an hour and I have to go in the woods.  Remember those burritos from last night?  Yep, those things were not agreeing with me right now.  As much time as I was spending on the trail, it was inevitable for something not to agree with me.  For the next hour or so I continually stopped to get rid of pretty much everything in my system.  Coupled with not putting (hardly) anything back in, I was running on empty 5 hours into the day.  The one thing I had that I know has agreed with me in previous races was my rocket fuel - EFS liquid shot.  Usually I can catch a bonk before it gets too bad but there's always some downtime.  Over the course of an hour or so I labored along waiting for the EFS LS to get into my system.  With a few stops here and there and a few dizzy episodes, I finally caught my energy again.  But now I was out of wipes....

Not feeling it

Managed a smile despite the way I was feeling

The first time we would see the crew was at Sargent's Mesa - 20 myles from Hwy 114.  Half way there and the trail is just a nasty myriad of baby head rocks. It's flat and wide but rocks everywhere.  I was starting to come out of my fog and do a bit jogging.  I always knew my energy level was coming back because our conversations became longer.  I very vividly remember talking about nutrition and how America is conditioned for convenience, which results in a lot of processed unhealthy food.  Deep thoughts about how we were going to revolutionize the North American diet.  It's a problem that probably won't be fixed anytime soon.  The trail eased up on the rocks and I could sense we were getting close based on time.  Then we passed two thru hikers who said "you must be Fast Eddy"...  they had passed -and been fed by- my crew at Sargent's Mesa and indicated we were only a mile or so away.  That put a little pep in my step.  This was a crew stop that was agreed upon this morning so I was more realistic on a timetable.  Arriving just before noon and although I was now feeling relatively good I needed this break.  Nicole and Rick had laid out a smorgasbord of food.  Just like Snow Mesa, the views up here are expansive and with a blue bird day, it was a great day to be alive.

Nicole, Livvy, and Hampton at Sargent's Mesa

Rick at Sargent's Mesa

The spread

I'm doing my best to smile

The crew at Sargent's Mesa
Around 20 minutes after I arrived, I was back on the trail headed down for the next 4 or 5 myles.  I thought for sure I would have to endure a two hour food coma because of all the food I ate.  But something different happened.  The trail was relatively rock free, a downward trend, and I was on fire.  I was running the best I'd been since leaving Durango.  Matt and Rick will have to attest to this but I bet I was running about 8 minutes per mile (7.5mph), more than double my usual speed.  The faster I ran, the more I wanted to run.  It's hard to explain what came over me but I was motivated to get to Marshall's pass ahead of schedule and send a message to my crew that I was alright.  As I recall, this running spurt lasted for the better part of two hours and with only 7 myles to Marshall pass, I was way ahead for this segment.  Nothing lasts forever and I could tell the wind was falling out of my sail, but nonetheless inspired.  I knew it could happen again as long as I took care of myself.  The euphoric running officially ended at the base of a two mile grunt that greeted on our way to the Continental Divide.

Gotta get to the base of that mountain (Mt Ouray 13,971) to reach Marshall's Pass

Let the euphoric running begin

Up until now I had always climbed better than anything else but this hill I really struggled.  We were nearly at 12,000 ft so maybe that played into my fatigue -maybe not- I just know that my lows were becoming lower.  Not only were lows-lower but they became more sustained.  Once we passed through a gate on the Continental Divide I knew we had less than 4 myles to the Marshall's Pass -and better yet- it was all downhill.  It was just after 4 PM when we hit the final dirt road leading into the pit stop and I noticed I was becoming clumsy.  I had been kicking a bunch of rocks.  Rocks that make you turn around to look for the culprit, saying "what the hell did I just kick?!?".  All the while muscles are seizing up trying to catch the fall.  I wasn't falling just stumbling.  So I told Matt that I wanted him to take pictures of all the rocks I kicked and I would started a Twitter feed with a hash tag of "ShitJaimeKicks".  It never materialized but made light of my frustration.  At this point I needed to laugh -at me- and I needed everyone else to follow suit.

Almost there but running out of steam

From the highest of highs to a new low, I arrived into Marshall pass around 4:45 PM.  I had averaged about 3.75 MPH and just like I wanted, surprised my crew as they were just beginning to get set up.   I needed to sit and relax but in my head it was "tick-tock-tick-tock".   I told my crew I wanted to be in and out -15 minutes max- so that I could get to Hwy 50 by 9PM.  If I could do that then I would make a decision to push another 5-10 myles to get ahead of schedule.  My overall schedule was such that I would finish in 7 days 21 hours and break the record by 15 hrs but I wasn't even half way there so I couldn't think about the end result just yet.

True to my word, my crew had fed me a cheese quesadilla, Ramon noodles, a can of Coke, and refilled my pack in less than 15 minutes.  It was great having my parents there, not to add more people attending to me, but they served as a crew to the crew.  Like I said before, this was a well oiled machine and practically anything I asked for they had.   Rick Hessek would stop at Marshall Pass to get back to work but Matt continued on for the next 14+ myles to Hwy 50.  This next section (15) is one of the prettiest sections as we intersect the Monarch Crest loop (famous biking section).  We climbed up to 12,000 ft along the Continental Divide and then shot down Fooses Creek, which is a small alcove with lots of lush green undergrowth.  Very pleasant and calming environment.

The energy has left me - CDT/CT above Marshall's Pass
At the Fooses creek intersection is where the new West CT segments follow the CDT for the next 80+ myles to Winfield.  The signs are old and not well managed at this point so you have to be paying attention to the maps or know to make that hard right turn.  Matt and I took a little break as I chomped down a Snickers bar and took nips at my EFS flask.  Now I was ready to bolt down the steepest section of the CT -short- but really steep.  We still had decent light dropping into tree line so we could see all the beauty with the lush green undergrowth.  Having said that, the lushness and water attracts animals.  Sure enough we're in the thick of the trees and hear a non-hooved animal break through some bushes and quickly bound up a hillside.  We didn't get to see exactly what it was but by my description with the last bear encounter we're pretty sure it was a bear.  It's interesting that all these years the only bear encounters I have heard about were attacks so I was sure my first encounter would be the same.  I am here to tell you that bears are more afraid of humans than we are of them.

Signage for that right turn
All down to Hwy 50 from here

That little adrenaline jolt, coupled with the fading light, had me running down faster than I had been.  In addition, the twilight hours always gave me a boost mentally that translated into physical for at least an hour.  I had been turning on my light around 8:30 PM every night so I was constantly checking my watch while trying not to stumble on the trail.  Twisting and turning and -on and on- I was sure we could make it to the Fooses Creek TH before dark.  We crossed a very nice bridge which I mistook as the final time we would cross Fooses and the TH was no more than 1/4 mile away...  Once again my mind had me closer than what we actually were.  I could tell Matt was getting antsy as well, maybe because of my comments of "we are almost there..."  I felt a little more at ease when I knew Matt was feeling the same way I was on most nights so I became more vocal with my frustrations to Matt.  Although it didn't solve the problem of getting there any quicker, it released pent up tension I was carrying.  It felt good to vent and accept the fact that every night was going to be the same.  Embrace the night.

Finally at the TH and now I'm sure it's no more than 3 myles to Hwy 50.  It's just after 9 PM and I can't wait to be done.  The thought of going another 10 myles after Hwy 50 was not an option anymore.  Although I was happy about another successful day on schedule, I began to worry about the days ahead.  By the time we met Rick in the truck just short of Hwy 50, I was exhausted both mentally and physically.  I tried to keep my thoughts in the moment rather than look ahead and when I did I was much happier: "I'm half way home....  No mechanical breakdowns...  The iRunfar and First Endurance crews are coming out tomorrow..."  

Zombie like state at Hwy 50 - photo by iRunfar

Matt had gone the distance with me today.  I couldn't have been more proud of him.  He not only had to do his best to motivate me during those final hours but make also sure I was eating and drinking.  All the while filming, take pictures and carrying all the camera gear for 50 myles.  We had a mini celebration with a side hug as we rounded the corner and could see the lights from the crew cars.  I remember getting to the truck and immediately being surrounded by people I couldn't see, only headlamps.  I hugged my wife, stopped my SPOT and was immediately handed a beer from Byron Powell.  A EddyLine Crank Yanker IPA in which he marked up with "Fast" in front of "EddyLine".  My parents and Rob and Sylvia Kunz were also there so I did my best to greet and thank everyone but I know what I was saying was not exactly making sense.  Then I was whisked away to the campground a few myles down the road.  I was really confused as to where we going and made a comment to Rick "aren't we going the wrong way?" to which he replied "Don't worry about it, we've got a spot at an RV park with a hot shower".  I knew full well my crew was taking care of me but for the fact that I was now second guessing that notion caused me great concern.

I was now in the RV, all showered up, ate some sort of salad dish, and then downed my Crank Yanker IPA all by 10 PM.  I had gone 232 myles in 3 days 16 hours and by the time I would start in the morning I was moving into Day 5*.  Motivated!  Mentally I was feeling better and the fact that I could lay down for 3+ hours was going to be the difference tomorrow.  "Stay in the moment and be positive... Stay in the mo..." I kept repeating to myself as I passed out.

Myles: 49.9 (232.1)
Time: 15h 33m (69h 19m)
Elevation: 8826 (43,888)
Myles to go: 253.7

*Time reporting can be confusing.  My anniversary time for one day is 5 AM so even though I report 3 days 16 hours getting into Hwy 50, it's actually day 4 on the trail up until 4:59 AM.  When I start again in the morning, say if it's 6:00 AM then my exact time for reporting will be 4 days 1 hour, however, day 5 on the trail