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