Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Colorado Trail Day 8+ - Gold Hill to Waterton Canyon

The line between a dream and reality is completely blurred.  Let the outer body experiences begin.

I must have passed out because I woke up in that -all too familiar- stupor of not knowing where I was and if I had somewhere to be.  Those few minutes were terrifying and exhilarating all wrapped up in one emotion.  When I finally had the sense of where I was, I reached for my phone hoping that I had not overslept....  12:30 AM?!?  Yep, it was one of those 30 minute power naps that somehow revitalizes every fiber of your being.  "This is it!" I mumbled while stretching.  From here all the way to Waterton Canyon will be one continuous push.  No more sleeping, just relentless forward motion (RFM).  I didn't actually get vertical until 1:15 AM but my mind was racing so I could not fall back asleep.  With no sleep from the night before, plus 30 minutes tonight, and nothing planned for the next 39 hours, I was going to need all the help I could get to stay coherent and upright.

Thank goodness Robert Kunz volunteered to leave Gold Hill with me.  It was 2:15 AM and we were on our way to the Middle Fork of Swan River, the first crew stop so I thought.  The storm had passed but it was pretty chilly so I elected to wear tights - Manpris with long socks nonetheless....  At least I was warm and dry.  I had 105.1 myles in 38 hours and 59 minutes to break the record, and according to my smart friends (Nick Pedatella and Brian Fisher), I only had to manage 3 MPH with a total of 4 hours of down time.  But that 4 hours had to be broken up over the next 6 crew points, which gave me a maximum of 40 minutes per stop with no stopping on the trail.  No more sleeping, planning, or thinking,  just RFM!

A little bewildered
Starting to smile @ 3:30 AM.  With Rob Kunz
It was dark and damp but the moon was our beacon once again, which seemed to lift our spirits a bit.  We were talking and keeping a pretty good pace over the first hill and continued to do so with a succession of rollers in the pre-dawn hours.  Four hours in the dark -for once- seemed to pass by in minutes and once nautical twilight arrived, our pace quickened.  We started our descent into the Middle Fork of the Swan River and as I carelessly slapped my right foot down on the trail, I felt a little pop or some sort of tweak.  I stopped to massage it out but as I started up again the uncomfortable pain was all too familiar.  The shin splints I was so carefully avoiding may have reared its ugly head.  Walking on flat terrain didn't hurt, it was when I tried to lift my toe uphill or heel strike on a downhill that it hurt.  With the crew being no more than a mile away I could deal with it at that point.  To top things off, the Mexican food I ate late last night was not agreeing with me, stopping several times to clear out my system.  I've never been one to go fast in the woods so that took some time.  I should have learned my lesson from a few days ago when the same thing happened after eating Mexican food.  But I can't help it, I'm Mexican and I was eating everything that was put in front of me.

We arrived at the Middle Fork of the Swan River, crossing the road and then through the campground, and the crew were nowhere to be found.  We didn't have a map because I knew where we were going and I knew this was the spot to meet.  We had passed a couple of campers and before trudging along to what I thought was Georgia Pass next, Robert went back and asked the campers for a map or at least give us a snapshot of what lay ahead.  According to their map we still had to get to the North Fork of the Swan River before we started the climb to Georgia Pass.  That's when we realized the crew must be waiting at the North Fork and NOT the Middle Fork.  We had wasted at least 15 minutes of that precious 4 hours of downtime on a silly mental mistake of mine.  In my mind, the North and Middle Fork were one in the same.

It was only a couple of myles to the North Fork but with my bum right shin, those myles dragged on waaay too long.  From quite a distance away as we -unknowingly- paralleled the Middle Fork road, Robert and I heard the strangest noises, sounded like a chorus of humming or howling but we couldn't quite make it out.  Good thing Robert turned and acknowledged the noise because I was gonna pretend I didn't hear it...  I certainly didn't want to talk about something that really wasn't there so early in the day.  Finally we saw the source .  Whew!  It was a dog sledding camp with literally hundreds of Alaskan Malamute type dogs standing on their houses howling because it was breakfast time.  That occupied my mind long enough to take us to the waiting crew in no time at all.

Eating while massaging
North Fork of the Swan River.  Not happy and a little concerned with my shin

It was just after 7 AM, which means I was traveling at least 3 MPHs but I still sensed the urgency from the crew as I sat to scarf down my breakfast burrito.  I changed shoes to alleviate some of the pain I was experiencing in my shin, briefly put some ice on it and we were off within 20 minutes.  A little time back into the bank.  Sylvia now joined me to Kenosha pass and just as I wanted, her positive can-do attitude came along for the ride.  She was excited so that got me excited as we started the 5 mile climb up to Georgia Pass.  About midway through the climb we passed a couple of backpackers and from a distance Sylvia tells them "This guy is going to break the record on the Colorado Trail!  Check him out, his name is Scott Jaime".  I don't remember if they responded or not because I was so embarrassed.  A little while later as we approached Georgia Pass we passed another couple and Sylvia -excitingly- blurted out the same thing.  All I could think was "maybe with my Manpris and long socks they didn't think she was serious..."  I knew as we got closer to Kenosha Pass that we'd inevitably see more people so I asked if she not say that, I just didn't know how to respond and with my timeline I didn't have the time to stop and talk.  She obliged as we passed several other people, just giving the customary nod and a "hey".

What I didn't realize was that those episodes were giving me a jolt of energy and as soon as the stimulation disappeared, so did the energy.  Right as we crested Georgia Pass I could not stay awake.  Very similar to when you're falling asleep while driving so you open the windows to let some fresh air in.  Well I was gulping air and breathing deep to help get me out of this trans of falling asleep on my feet.  Finally I couldn't take it anymore so I sat down on a rock, hung my head and shut my eyes for a few minutes.  Once I got up I pounded the EFS liquid shot along with a Snickers bar and stumbled along.  Just as we got to tree-line the nutrition started to translate into energy and it was just like that I entered into a euphoric running spurt.  Albeit, it was downhill but I was running and all around was a blur.  More and more people were coming up and we just sailed on past.  I had done this run from Kenosha to Georgia several times over the summer so the territory was familiar along with my splits.  It was a fun mental game to see how close, or in reality, how far off I was from the summer splits and managed to pass the time really well.  Shortly before crossing Jefferson Lake road I looked up to find a familiar face smiling from ear to ear - it was Todd Gangelhoff!  It was one of those moments when I realized how close I was to home.  When I planned the trip from Durango to Denver I had hoped my friends would come out to run with me.  And they did.  I gave him a hug and quickly continued towards Kenosha Pass.  His plan was to go out as far as he needed to reach us and turn back around to Kenosha where he started.

Six myles left to Kenosha after crossing Jefferson Lake road and it was ridiculously hot in my long sleeve shirt and Manpris.  But as hot as it seemed right now there were still piles of hail on the side of the trail -some a foot deep- that was a good reminder of how miserable we were on top of Tenmile yesterday. According to Todd that storm was just as nasty on the front range.  Finally we arrived at Kenosha just after 1 PM and I was hot and tired.   But after I saw and heard the crowd of people there to support me, it all went away.  I already wear my emotions on my sleeve and now being stripped to the core it was easy to get choked up behind my Smith Optics glasses.  Although I didn't want to expose any of these emotions to anyone because everyone else was tired and stripped to the core so it would only become a sob-fest.  I nearly broke down the last time Nicole broke down at Clear Creek.  I needed to guard against that so as we crossed Hwy 285 I grit my teeth and swallowed my flowing tears.  Once there,  I was quickly shuttled into the RV to change out of those ridiculously hot clothes, ate some food, and on my way within 20 minutes.  I REALLY wanted to stay and talk with people but this timeline was so tight every minute/second counted against me.

Rick and I at Kenosha

Alyssa and I on our way to Long Gulch
So long to the Kunz' as they were really on their way back home now.  What a treat to have them part of this journey.  Now I was leaving Kenosha Pass with Alyssa Wildeboer (who had traveled over from Winter Park with Travis) and Todd Gangelhoff.  The conversation was non-stop -mostly them- while I listened in enjoying the companionship.  Up to this point I had only been alone on the trail for the very first segment of day one.  It's truly astonishing the support everyone has given to me and my crew - so grateful!  Fifteen myles till we see the crew again at Long Gulch, Todd would turn around a few myles in because of an upcoming race (he'd be back later) and I would continue on with Alyssa to Long Gulch.  Surprisingly, my parents and Travis stopped to give us aid at Rock Creek, half way to Long Gulch.  This was against crew instructions because every stop took time... time I didn't have.  I didn't care - what a welcome sight!  It was still hot and exposed so my Dad traveled down the trail a bit and handed off some much needed cold water and an Ensure.  My parents did a lot of behind the scene stuff, i.e. crew the crew, and now make critical stops along the trail.  For the next 8 myles Alyssa was great.  I never once had to respond to a question with more than "yes or no", all the while she kept the conversation interesting and entertaining.  Roughly 4 and 1/2 hours after leaving Kenosha we arrived Long Gulch, right around 5:45 PM.  I was constantly doing the math in my head and got pretty good predicting time I would arrive at the next aid.  I was a little behind on this one but still averaging over 3.25 MPHs so I was banking a little time here and there despite the continued bathroom breaks.

Sort looks like I'm wearing a skirt.  Nope big boy shorts.

Concern as I leave Long Gulch heading into another night
Since leaving Gold Hill I have traveled 48 myles in 15hr and 30mins (3.1mph) -usually a normal day- but I still had 57 to get to Waterton canyon.  I need an extended break but my crew way too efficient.  They had pancakes and potatoes all ready to go when I arrived.  I probably ate too much and would suffer a subsequent food coma but eating bought time, so I feasted.  Within 15 minutes they had me out of the chair and on the way to Wellington Lake road with Rick Hessek.  Rick had gone home for the week to work and came back up with his wife to finish the trail with me.  The impending food coma never came as we crested the top of Long Gulch and for the next 6 myles Rick and I would cruise down a very gentle slope paralleling the Long -open- Gulch.  As I mentioned before, nautical twilight at both ends of the day were my favorite times and with the scenery and mild temps, we had a lot of positive energy flowing.  Just as we arrived at North Fork and entered the trees we stopped to get ready for the night and a bite to eat.

We still had 8 myles to reach Wellington Lake Road and from what I remembered last time I did this section during the day was a short climb then a gradual downhill on a primitive road to the crew.  It was about this time when I started questioning everything and became severely agitated because -once again- the darkness was messing with my ability to judge distance.  I fell once on a slippery boulder section just as the rain started and I could not get up, basically upside down stuck in a rut.  Rick had to pull me out and that incident further fueled my anger.  The road was straight enough that we could see 1/2 mile at times with our lights and every turn would present another straight away.  I began to throw rocks at random trees on the side of the road (which startled Rick as the rock clashed against the trees) to release some of the pent up anger.  I certainly felt relieved once I hurled the rock -grunting- with fury (ahhh).  I kept looking for signs that I'd remember but nothing looked familiar.  Nine o'clock became 10 and there was no end in sight.  Finally we made a turn onto single track that would lead us to the Rock Creek TH.  It must have been almost midnight before we made it to Wellington Lake road. We had traveling 17 myles in ~6 hours which was just below the magic number of 3MPHs.

The crew in Bailey
When the crew saw our lights they started cheering and whistling and the emotion once again overtook me.  Same thing as last time, I wiped away the tears and grit my teeth.  I couldn't see any faces but counted no less than 15 people there.  I still get emotional even as I write this because I'm processing the significance of the support.  Kathy Darnold, whom I met while prepping for Hardrock a few years back, and is currently a camp host with her husband outside of Telluride, had been part of this caravan from the very beginning.  She was there with her brother to show support.  The Wildeboer's were there, along with my parents, Jill Hessek, and good friend Brian Fisher.  This is a remote Forest Service road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night!  I am overwhelmed with this show of support.  Quickly into the RV I sensed more urgency this time because I was little late.  Nicole came in and said "look who came up to run with you...  Brian Fisher"  Nicole knew he would spark motivation in me.  And he did!  I hid my emotions and gave him a hug.  Rick and I ate as quickly as possible, changed the batteries in my headlamp and we were on our way.  But before we left, my Mom came up to give me a hug and she was sobbing.  She knows a son's pain and it didn't help that I was stumbling.  They wanted this suffering to end just as much as I did, but also knew how close I was to breaking the record.

If there was any fun left in this adventure, I wasn't seeing it.   I just wanted it to be over.  The succession of pacers were always a welcome sight but shortly after leaving Wellington Lake Road with Brian and Rick I had to sit down because I couldn't see straight.  Nearly 24 hours on my feet and a belly full of food was too much to handle.  Although each time I sat down it was no longer than 5 minutes and yet so revitalizing.  As we got going again the pace felt slow and methodical but it was all I could do.  The moon had a made a full circle around the earth and came back up to make the night pleasant with mild temps.  The span between Wellington Lake Road and Buffalo Creek is always a long one -mentally- so I prepared my mind not worry about distance, just enjoy the time with Brian and Rick.  In reality, it's only 12 myles but almost feels like the movie "Groundhog Day" where the terrain is identical around every corner and you ask yourself "wasn't I just here..."  Unfortunately this happened several times and ended up being further away than we thought.   Finally we crossed a road (FS 550) and knew Buffalo Creek CG was just a mile up the trail.

It was around 4:30 AM and not a soul was stirring about as we arrived at the parking lot, although it didn't take long for a couple of headlamps to come out and greet us.  I know I was slurring my speech and couldn't really articulate what I wanted, I just wanted to lay down.  I got into the RV and slumped over the table.  For the first time in the RV I didn't care about food, just sleep.  Pumpkin pie, oatmeal, breakfast burritos...  they were all put in front of me and I just didn't have the desire to eat.  I'm not sure how much time went by but I finally came to with Nicole saying "are you alright?", and Rick saying "you gotta eat..."  I may have slurped down some oatmeal and some pumpkin pie but just as my body and mind were getting comfortable, it was time to go.  Maybe 4:45 AM and I was baby stepping down the trail with Brian and Rick.  I basically had to do the next 28 myles in 12 hours to break the record.  By now you all know (if you've been reading) there's a pattern, after a slump/pass out comes a euphoric running spurt...  no different here but these spurts are getting shorter and requiring a lot more focus than I have right now.  I needed the sun or something else to jump start me to the finish, I was losing a sense of reality.

Head down, shuffling towards the Hwy 126 crossing I hear some sort of "YeeHaw and bang-bang" commotion and out from behind me comes two dudes running dressed in Cowboy and Indian outfits.  My headlamp picked up a yellow Speedo with "goodbye" tattooed on the butt and a couple of feathers....  What the hell is going on?!?  It scared me at first and really didn't know what was happening but then Brandon Stapanowich and Harsha Nagaraj turned around...  I had quite a good laugh!   Both of them had been on the trail earlier in the trip and had come back to run in with me.  Here I have 4 friends who put everything else aside for the day to come out and support me.  This was really happening!   In less than 8 hours I'd be finishing the Colorado Trail in record time and this caused me to internalize what it all meant: family, friendship, adventure, memories, limits, community.  Running -in of itself- is a very selfish sport and I have always struggled with the time commitment involved.  But in this long trail/multi-day/FKT adventure I have found a place to make it "not so selfish" by creating these adventures to form bonds and lifelong memories that will forever be etched in all of our minds.  I have found the importance of a loving and supportive family and the meaning of true friendships that will last a lifetime.  It takes a community of like-minded people to pull off one of these adventures and everyone who takes part knows it can't be done without them, which makes the success/completion just as much theirs as it does mine.  I walk away knowing that "WE" did this together and "I" could not have done this alone.

Cowboy and Indian pacers
The spike of emotion was taking it's toll on my energy state, almost as if I'd burn up any and all endorphins I had stored and nothing left to tap into.  Shortly before sunrise I was stumbling forward and remember thinking (third person) "wake up!  you are walking on a trail and if you fall asleep you're gonna fall down and bash your head on a rock"  It was truly an outer body experience and I was not controlling my physical body anymore.  I finally threw my pack down and told the guys I needed to shut my eyes for a few minutes so I found a grassy area and passed out.  I mean passed out -my mouth wide open and heavy breathing within seconds- kind of passed out.  I had gone 80 myles in 27 straight hours with only 30 minutes of sleep the prior two days - I was nutty.  My pacers told me that I literally slept for 5 minutes or so and shot up and said "Let's go".  I don't remember falling asleep but I do remember waking up in a panic not knowing how I'd got there and somehow thinking I wasn't going to get the record.  I started running the best I could, trying to dismiss the pain in my right shin and shrug off my overall malaise.

The music faintly playing in the background is the "walk it out" rap song from Day 2.  Harsha is hilarious!  "I'll just eat Basmati (rice)"  A joke that goes back to Day 5.

Completely passed out

Another view
The sun helped a lot
The sun!
The sun had come up, the trail was a downward trend, and my determination was at an all time high.  I remember the next 10 myles through segment two being playful, sort of a pre-celebratory type of atmosphere.  I was having a sword fight with Harsha with my hiking sticks while he had "war paint" all over his body to make the Indian outfit come to life.  Meanwhile I couldn't help but stare at Brandon's butt...  how could this not be fun and lively!  The one downer was that my shin was a constantly nagging at me and I could tell blood was starting to pool up below my calf sleeves.  At this point, I wanted to go as light as possible so I gave my poles to Harsha and was just carrying my Ultraspire pack with two half filled water bottles.  Earlier in the year Bryce from Ultraspire had sent me the latest version of the Fastpack, and to be quite honest, I haven't said much about how I carried all my calories until now.  The reason is that I didn't feel like I had anything on my back, just forgot about it.  The weight distribution and the big angled pockets allowed for a perfect anatomically correct fitting pack.  Not once during this entire journey did I have any sort of issues with this pack.  I can't wait for this Fastpack (II) to hit the market, I think you'll like it.  At any rate, it was time to go light and get rid of everything (except the pack) for the final segment of the Colorado Trail.


Brian Fisher with the escort

Fighting like Jedi's

Buffalo Creek burnout with Brandon Stapanowich
It was right around 8 AM when we finally crossed the big steel bridge over the South Platte.  Greeted first by my dog (Livvy) as she herded me across the bridge.  I sat down in the chair and had nothing but a big smile on my face and a Coke in my hand.  The record was going to be broken.  But now the question was by how much?  On a good day I could do this segment in less than 2 and 1/2 hours but I had 470 myles on this old body so maybe I'd shoot for double that time.  The South Platte canyon was filled with excitement all the way around; instead of tears of sorrow, they were tears of joy.  I wanted to celebrate too but I quickly changed into my "race kit" (you know, it's kinda like picking a girl up for the prom, you wanna make a good impression),  ate some food, had another Coke and the five of us started on the final segment of the Colorado Trail.  My plan was to run -almost- the entire segment and give this trail everything I had.

Crossing over the South Platte.  Amazed at the sight of my crew
The crew at South Platte

What's not to love about these guys?

Making our way

Coming up on Bear Creek
Noon was my initial goal as we trudged up the 1500 ft climb out of the canyon.  Once we started on the flat contour of the trail, we really picked up the pace.  Even though I couldn't feel my legs I was running with a sort of reckless abandon.  We passed a couple of bikers who were amazed seeing runners this far from Waterton.  One made the comment "man, you guys are hard core running all the way back here".  You have no idea, I thought, as I snickered.  We finally took a break about 11 myles from the end and we all were pretty silent, just taking in some calories and soaking in the day.  My mind was scanning the last 8+ days and could not take in all that had transpired.  I had no more emotion to give and sort of had to remind myself to stop and enjoy it.  Waterton is a very busy place on the weekend so we started to see a succession of mountain bikers, along with a few runners, make there way past.  With the costumes, people started asking what we were doing and I heard Brian tell one guy the story.  People were probably thinking "yeah right...."  I didn't care what anybody thought, I knew the significance of this trip defining what my limits where both mentally and physically.

Start of Waterton Canyon
Taking up the road
Soon enough we were on the final 6 mile stretch along the Waterton canyon road.  The 5 of us spaced out across the road -as if we owned it- and no one really asked any questions.  Just a couple of awkward stares after which I'd take a look around at us and laugh myself.  This was a very surreal moment, one I played it out in mind over a thousand times and none of them could have prepared me for the joy and relief I was feeling.  Last time I finished the trail I cried like a baby on Gudy's rest for a good 20 minutes but this time I just didn't have any more tears.   I had so many of my private little moments over the past 48 hours that all I could do now was smile, look around at all the support and know that this was a moment to be etched in my memory forever.  Alyssa came running up the road to meet us, a little closer Todd was back, and now my Father In Law would run the final mile to the finish. I raised my hands and pumped my first in the air and said "We did it!", as I hugged Rick.  I was running the best I could but realize it was slow because everyone in front of me was walking faster than I was running.   I think Rick finally said "look at all the friends here supporting you".  Pretty amazing.   We turned the final corner where I saw my wife, my boys, my parents, and more friends.  I stopped to hug my wife but she said "come on, let's go".  She was still cracking the whip so continued on with everyone all the way to the official Colorado Trail sign.  Stopped the SPOT, declared my time, and put my hands on my knees.  8 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes and 17 seconds to be exact.  I gave this everything I had and my crew gave everything they had.  Short of my original goal of under 8 days but I have achieved so much more.

The crew during the final mile

Rick and I the final mile
The Crew Chief
Someday this FKT will be lowered, by how much no one really knows, my guess is a few hours.  The record is really tight and does not allow for any errors at this point.  I defined my limits and will be satisfied regardless how long -or short- this records stands.  My hope is that someone will look at this record and say "I can do better".  That's what the human spirit is about, making each other better by pushing limits.  Everyday I hope to make a better version of myself and continually push my own genetic makeup in some way.  We won't be here forever so never look back on your life and say "should have, could have, would have" but rather say "I did that".  Hopefully I've set a good enough example for my boys to know they can achieve anything they set their minds to and live their lives to the fullest.

The escorts

The final steps
A hug from my wife.  Matt with his ever-present camera
The crew

Myles giving me a hug
Jaxon telling how proud he is of me
Look for a film by Matt Trappe this coming Spring.  
Time to rest the feet

Myles: 105.1 (485.8)
Time: 34h 25m (152h 34m trail time)
199 hours 40 minutes and 17 seconds total time
(8 days 7 hours, 40 minutes and 17 seconds)
Elevation: 15,184 (88,895)
Myles to go: ZERO

Total Avg. MPH: 2.43
Avg. moving MPH: 3.18
Total sleep: 14 hours

Segment mileage start/finish time time on feet MPH Elevation gain
Day 1 Jxn Creek to Molas Pass 73.9 5:00 A to 12:35 A 19h 35m 3.77 15,608
Day 2 Molas Pass to Spring Creek Pass 53.3 6:11 A to 11:41 P 17h 31m 3.05 10,843
Day 3 Spring Creek Pass to Hwy 114 55 5:59 A to 10:39 P 16h 40m 3.3 8,611
Day 4 Hwy 114 to US Hwy 50 49.9 5:48 A to 9:21 P 15h 33m 3.21 8,826
Day 5 US Hwy 50 to N. Cottonwood crk 43.2 5:40 A to 7:40 P 14h 0m 3.09 8,874
Day 6 N. Cottonwood crk to Timberline  53.6 4:45 A to 9:45 P 17h 0m 3.15 11,082
Day 7 Timberline Lake to Gold Hill 51.8 3:55 A to 9:45 P 17h 50m 2.9 9,867
Day 8 Gold Hill to Waterton Canyon 105.1 2:15 A to 12:40 P 34h 25m 3.05 15,184
TOTAL 485.8 8d 7h 40m 17s 152h 34m 3.18 88,895

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