Colorado Trail Day 4 - Segment 16 Photo by Matt Trappe

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
(totals)


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