Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

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
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