Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

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