Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 3 - Spring Crk to Hwy 114

I must have passed out because the first time I looked at the clock it was 2 AM.

Two hours of solid sleep was good.  Then began the tossing and turning for the next two hours thinking about the day ahead.  So again I waited -wide awake- for my alarm to go off at 4 AM.  Better than the night before so I'll take it.  I stood up out of bed with no soreness and surprisingly feeling good. I slipped into my clothes (which had been laid out next to my fully reloaded pack), applied the body glide, and started heating up water for my tea.  As I wait for my water to boil and the rest of the troops began to move about, the only thoughts that enter my mind are "how fortunate I am to have such a supportive wife and crew."   The night before my wife had taken care of everything I needed so all I had to do was roll out of bed and start moving on the trail.

As became the routine during breakfast, I'd get the download of the events from the day before.  I knew from the planning phases that yesterday would be logistically a challenge.  Getting from one side of the San Juan's to the other is not convenient; it's a minimum of 3 hrs from Molas pass to Spring Crk.  In addition, Rick had to drive the ATV up and down Carson Saddle road twice to shuttle Rick Hessek and Matt Trappe.  In the process of all this, Rick nearly rolled the RV and then drove up and down Carson Saddle road at a breakneck pace.  So I'm told.

Breakfast Burritos!
All I had to do was to get from point A to point B.  As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the real work was done by my crew: driving winding roads to get to predefined checkpoints, shuttling cars for pacers, and restocking (from my perspective) the never ending supply of breakfast burritos.  Naively thinking, they magically appeared at every checkpoint and created a stress-free environment while I sauntered through....  with a hot breakfast burrito in hand, nonetheless.  Just like a pregnant women's cravings, I wanted breakfast burritos.  But because there's only one Mobius cafe in Silverton, Nicole and Rick started making homemade eggs, crispy bacon, and cheese burritos around the clock.  THIS was a well oiled machine at work.

Sunrise on Snow Mesa
Brandon and I hit the trail at 5:59 AM and was welcomed back with a stiff little climb up to Snow Mesa.  Brandon had gone the distance yesterday and I got a sense early he was experiencing the same hyper-aware/chatty state that I'd been accustomed to.  We chatted the next two myles up to the wide open Snow Mesa.  Last time I had gone through here it was nearly midnight and seemed to go on forever.  Now that I could see it in daylight, I can tell you it's a beautiful, expansive mesa with views that go on forever.  The mesa was generally flat, coupled with the morning buzz, we were running pretty good for nearly 4 myles.  So many memories of this section from the last time.  It was the day when Paul Dewitt and I got lost for 3 hours to extend our day to nearly 20 hrs.  And then ran into a lonely sheep herder as the sun was setting, who'd been out there for the better part of 3 months.  He approached us with his huge rifle and 10 mile stare.  After he let us pass through his sheep herd, we mysteriously started talking about Brokeback Mountain.  Creepy.  As Brandon and I passed a sheep herder -almost in the same exact area- with two very protective dogs in the distance, I began to tell him the story about Paul and I.  He laughed as I finished the story and then proceeded to check over his shoulder every so often...

Some running on Snow Mesa

Now that the -flat- Snow Mesa was behind us, we start a jagged up and down journey for the next 7 myles to San Luis Pass.  Except for the initial climb out of Spring Crk, this entire segment (21) is around 12,000 ft., which makes for slower than expected travel.  When I predicted my time to each checkpoint it was done on a very rudimentary elevation profile.  Let's just say it wasn't as smooth as the picture looked.  We can see San Luis Peak (14,014 ft.) in the distance and in between are several drainage's that will occupy us for next couple of hours.  The day started off as being a blue bird day but as we got closer to San Luis Peak, the clouds gathered rather rapidly.  Brandon had contemplated summiting San Luis to do a bit of peak bagging, but by the time we got to the pass it was thunder and lightning so he smiled and quietly shook his head.  The peak is literally one mile off the Colorado Trail, which makes this segment more popular than most in the La Garita wilderness.

The flat stuff is behind us now

The views go on forever up here

The ups and downs ahead

Approaching the saddle below San Luis Peak
Sure enough, as soon as we put on our rain gear it decided to stop.   Off and on again all the way down to Eddiesville TH.  It was nearly 1 PM, and by my judgement, we should be rounding a corner to see a confluence of canyons where Eddiesville TH sits.  The descent down from the saddle near San Luis Peak is a long one.  Much longer than I thought.  The proverbial corner really wasn't a corner at all, it was just a mild curve that made me more frustrated and eager to get to Eddiesville.  I was frustrated because I was late again.  This time by 1 hour.  It was 2:45 PM when we finally arrived at Eddiesville TH with the rain (again).

The long valley ahead to Eddiesville.  See the "corner"?

Eddiesville TH marks the end of Brandon's 80.8 mile journey with me...  for now.  Rick Hessek will now take me to Hwy 114.  But before we leave, my father-in-law and wife want to sit me down and discuss cutting the day short.  They can see that 10 mile stare in my eyes and with my constant late arrivals, they are concerned that I can't keep to the schedule.  They have consulted with two smart guys, Brian Fisher and Nick Pedatella, to crunch the numbers.  The rationale is that if I cut off 8 myles today to end before dark then I could recharge the battery and start before 5 AM (anniversary time to mark a day) to bank those 8 myles on a fresh-er mind and body.   I was not happy with that decision because I was trying to get ahead of schedule to cut into the last two, 70+ mile days.  This would only make those last two days longer.

The conversation*

The crew at Eddiesville TH
I knew this record was tight but now I was living how tight it really was.  As I left Eddiesville TH with Rick H, I thought about what Rick R and my wife were telling me.  They were looking out for my best interest to break the record and didn't want me to falling off that razors edge.  The segment to Saguache Park Road was generally downhill so I knew my speed would pick up, but it didn't, or at least it didn't feel like it.  As became a pattern, I would leave a checkpoint with a belly full of food and then succumb to the food coma for the next 2 hours.  I felt like I was dragging ass, to say the least.  Good thing I had Rick H because he's always good with conversation to keep my spirits high.  He's been running awhile which translates into many running related stories.  "One time I found a dead body...."  Oh boy, that's a freaky story.

Rick Hessek (box) standing next to Rick Robinson

The FS road leading into Saguache Park road*

Rick and I getting close to Saguache Park Road*
The food coma started to lift its grip and the territory became familiar.  Or did it?  Saguache Park Road is where Paul and I did a 6 mile loop and came back to the same point 3 hours later.  I described it in detail to Rick "You see FS road 787-1A and FS road 787-1D intersect here but there's no CT blaze..."  I'm sure Rick was bored but retelling the story gave me a charge due to the lack of CT blazes throughout the myriad of roads.  I'm sure blazes have been put up throughout the years but because it's a popular 4WD road, they probably get taken down quite a bit.  Initially I predicted this 13.7 mile segment would only take us 3 hrs.  By the time we saw Nicole and Matt on the ATV driving towards us, it had been 3.5 hrs and only a tiny bit more before Saguache road.  For me, this was a moral victory. This was to be my evidence to present to the crew to let me continue onto Hwy 114.  I could still move when the terrain was easier.
Livvy greeting me*

Almost ready for the night*
The plethora of supplies at the checkpoints*
I had eaten my breakfast burrito, an Ensure, downed two cans of Coke and put my warmer clothes on before 6:45 PM.  Only one segment (18) and 13.8 myles to Hwy 114.  The crew would check on me again 8 myles short of Hwy 114.  In my mind, if I could get there before dark then I would go all the way to Hwy 114.  Along the way we ran into another thru hiker going to Denver.  He'd gotten lost on the same myriad of roads missing a crucial turn off of Sagauche road that took him all they way to Hwy 114 - the short way.  He was alone and it was apparent he wanted to chat a while.  At the same time it was "tick-tock tick-tock" in my mind.  Through 3 days I had seen no less than a dozen thru hikers.  And you can tell a thru hiker from a one or two day hiker...  they just have that look.  Not all of them wanted to talk, and most of the time, it was just a look we gave each other.  Whether we knew each others story or not, it was a look of respect.

The road ahead to Hwy 114*
Right before sunrise and sunset were my favorite times of the day.  The energy level seemed to soar during those times and the peacefulness in the wilderness just can't be beat.  Rick H and I rounded a corner and out of the trees appeared Cochetopa Pass Road - 8:35 PM and still a little bit of light left.  Nearly 3.9 MPH for that last section.  The RV was pulled off onto a lush grassy area and my parents were just pulling in from Utah.  I didn't ask but I sensed my crew wanted to pull the plug for the day.  Like I said, I didn't ask...  just told them I wanted to be quick with the pit stop so I can get done before 11 PM.  I still don't know if they intended on me stopping for the night or were just prepared if I physically couldn't go anymore.  Either way, I drank another Ensure, ate some cookies, restocked my pack with my Peter Rabbit packets and I was on my way.  On the way out, my Mom and crew walked with me up the road.  My parents being there gave me a much needed boost (and a sense of relief) to get me through the last section of the day.

Rick H and I turned our lights on shortly after leaving the crew.  For the next few myles we'd be traveling on an old logging road, which had a very gentle grade that made for good running.  I say running but it was more of a shuffle at this point.  It was dark the last time I had been through this section so I really don't know (or remember) what lay ahead to Hwy 114.  But as I mentioned before, when it gets dark, the trail just keeps going.  We crested a 500ft climb and started a long switch back descent on the logging road.  Rick kept checking the guide book for clues as to how far we had to go.  I could tell he was getting antsy to finish the day as well.  Finally we crossed a stream, which Rick identified in the guide book as two myles to go.  Once by the stream, it got cold quick.  It was the first time I had to put every ounce of clothing on to keep warm.  Following the stream for a bit, we rounded a corner and saw the occasional car go past on Hwy 114.  It was 10:39 PM when we pulled into the parking lot, trekking the last 7.2 myles in 2 hours.  I was happy because we maintained a 3.5+ mph avg. for the last 14 myles but it had come with a price.  I was tired and my thoughts became disjointed to my mouth.

Myles: 55 (182.2)
Time: 16h 40m (53h 46m)
Elevation: 8611 (35,062)
Myles to go: 303.6

*These photos are taken by a professional photographer, Matt Trappe.  Please be respectful and go to his website to purchase.  Other photos are taken by Brandon Stapanowich, please send a note to me if you reuse his photos.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 2 - Molas Pass to Spring Crk Pass

It's never a good sign when you're waiting for the alarm to go off at 4 AM.

I didn't get settled into my bed until 1:45 AM.  And just like a 100 mile race, the body was giving off way too much heat and the adrenaline still pumping.  Needless to say, I tossed and turned for two hours.  Out of bed, I'm dressed in no time at all and quickly eating breakfast.  As I sat and ate my Muesli and drank my tea, my 5 AM anniversary time to mark a day had come and gone.  I was now one plus day into my adventure and 412 myles to go.

At 6:11 AM I finally set off with Brandon Stapanowich down to the Animas river - a 4 mile, 2200 ft drop.  As would become a theme early in the morning, my body was spry and my mind was sharp.  A hyper-aware/chatty state.  Brandon and I weren't going fast but we ran all the way to the river where we had to stop to shed some clothes and eat some food.  For me, SnackWell creme cookies and my standard concoction of EFS liquid shot diluted in water.   Now starts the toughest part of the day - a 9 mile, 4000 ft climb to heaven - the heart of the mighty San Juan's.

My morning buzz started to wear off just an hour into the climb when total malaise took over my body.  Brandon is a Physical Therapist by trade, which I didn't know until I started to shed some concern about a pain in my right shin.  I had severe shin splints last trip on the CT and for it to be happening this early was a real concern.  Brandon gave me some solid advice that would help save my shins for the majority of the trip, "most likely you're heel striking as you go down hill.  The tendons and muscles on the front of your foot/shin have to contract and stretch way too much, which becomes an over-use injury.  Lean forward and try to strike mid-foot going down hill to reduce the stretching motion".  It worked.  I concentrated on my foot strike on most down hills and eventually stopped thinking about the phantom pain in my shins.

Finally at the top of the world where the views go on forever.  My stomach was unsettled, my energy was low, and the pace slowed quite a bit.  Brandon got his music out and played it for all the marmots to hear, something to take my mind off the monotony.   The first song was a rap entitled "Walk It Out".  Look it up and you'll laugh too.  Pretty soon we were singing along...  pretty easy when there's only 3 words in the song.  Exactly what I needed.  We finally pulled into Stoney Pass around 12:45 PM, almost two hours late.  I felt uneasy for being behind schedule but needed the rest so we took about 20 minutes to eat and refill water bottles.

Brandon and I on top of the world
I started pointed out the trail for Hardrock to Brandon, which told me mentally I was coming back. 20 minutes does wonders for the soul.  We are now headed towards Maggie's Gulch and the memories from Hardrock, a mere 5 weeks ago, flooded my mind.  I'll admit, I was getting a little emotional.  Maybe because the terrain was very familiar?  Maybe because I'm feeling better and to know I can dig out of a hole?  Maybe because I'm approaching 100 myles on the journey and the trail is starting to strip me down?  Probably a combination of all of them.  I've been here before both mentally and physically and know I've got to keep things in check. Shortly after we bisected the Hardrock trail we ran into Jason Halladay, Jeff, and Eric who had left Spring Crk early that morning.   Nice to see some familiar faces out there and stop to chat a bit.

A sign made by Jason, et. al. at Spring Crk, Brandon and I above Maggie's
Up and down ridges, in and out of drainage's, and the ebb and flow of energy is the theme for the day.  It's slow progress, much slower than I anticipated, but this terrain is unforgiving and above 12,000 ft. it takes a toll.  Timing-wise, we are about 3 hrs behind schedule with 8 myles till we reach Carson Saddle.  I start to calculate in my head "at 3 MPH that's still another 3 hours away...  shit!"   Brandon was great the entire time: he asked questions where I only had to answer yes or no, he kept the mood light, and he put things in perspective when it seemed like we would never get there.  Finally we descend into the top of Cataract Gulch where we intersect the Hardrock course once again.  My energy is renewed -again- because I know we're getting close - 2 hrs tops.  Once we climb out of Cataract Gulch our pace quickens and then the Carson Saddle road appears.  We were both running low on water and food but now we can smell the burritos from Mobius cafe.  Matt Trappe, Rick Hessek, and my father in law are all eagerly waiting for us.  We are 3 and 1/2 hours behind schedule but still get to Carson saddle by 6 PM.

Much needed rest at Carson Saddle
Scarfing down a Mobius Cafe burrito at Carson Saddle - Thanks Megan!

Making our way out of Carson Saddle
After a 45 minute break, Rick, Matt, Brandon, and myself start the 17 remaining myles of the day.  What lay ahead was probably the most spectacular scenery of the trail; high alpine tundra, sun was setting through some clouds, air was still, and the temps were in the low 50s.  Amazing.  We finally have to stop, just short of the Yurt (San Juan Solstice aid station), to put on our lights.  Rick had packed a can of Coke, which I gladly sucked down in 2 seconds.  Coke became my "go to" mojo juice. And as much as I hate to admit it, a Snickers bar to boot.  I kept thinking "man!  Those are good but I can hear me getting fat..." To balance things out I ate a packet of my fruits and veggies - Peter Rabbit Organics.  Energy is now up and we start making bets to see if we can make it to Spring Creek before the first finisher of Leadville 100.

Lake San Cristobal in the distance

The sun is setting fast

Even though we were on familiar ground, the horizon was gone in the darkness and the trail -once again- went on forever.  The trail virtually disappeared among a sea of rocks, which caused us to keep looking up to find the CT blazes.  Stumbling over rocks after 16 hrs on my feet became very frustrating...  quietly under my breath I was repeating expletives "eff this and eff that and where the eff is the road..."*  Matt got some cell reception and found out that Ian Sharman had won Leadville in a blazing time with Nick Clark hot on his tail.  Happy for them because they were done but my day would keep going for another hour and 45 minutes.  We finally hit the dirt road which told us that we still had another 3 myles.  Ugh!  We rounded a corner and saw the lights of the RV.  11:41 PM - 53.3 myles in 17 and 1/2 hours.

Slow and go but I was through the San Juan's after two days on the trail.  Right on schedule.  Nicole had cooked up some steak and potatoes and we all went silent as we gorged ourselves.  Brandon would go again with me in the morning to Eddiesville.  My goal was to start everyday at 5 AM but I made the call to start an hour late in the morning.  I was now running the razors edge and I didn't want to fall off.

Myles: 53.3 (127.2) 
Time: 17h 31m (37h 6m)  
Elevation gain: 10,843 (26,451) 
Myles to go: 358.6

*I don't want to come across as being negative or always seem like I'm complaining, I'm just explaining what was going through my head every step of the way.  I certainly didn't let this be known to those who were helping me but if you've ever run an ultra then you know what I'm talking about.  Constantly fighting off the demons and try to remain focused on the task at hand.  I struggled almost every day when the sun went down primarily because I couldn't see where I was going and the end always seemed closer in my mind.