Zen On Dirt


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Canyon Creek Drive By

I think the conversation went something like this:

Scott: Schilling and I are planning on riding Canyon Creek on Friday. I think Kara (Schillings saint-like and ever-patient wife) is going to hang out at the Snowblind campground while we ride. Maybe you could go for a run while you wait?’

‘No way,’ I said indigently, ‘I want to ride Canyon Creek too.’

Now I get where Scott was coming from. I was only five days post-Ouray, but more importantly, I hadn’t really been that into riding bikes in the past few weeks.

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Any day spent hanging out with marmots is a good day in my book

I’m not worried, this happens regularly. I get really into running and don’t ride, and then I get really into riding and don’t run. Balance is not a strong point of mine. I’m sure I’ll be back to riding bikes come Moab season this fall.

But this was Canyon Creek we were talking about, only the most amazing ride in Colorado. I mean, it sucks, don’t ride it. I hear Betasso outside of Boulder is riding fantastic right now.  

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Schilling was on a two-week roadtrip that involved driving from Phoenix to the Mah Dah Hey race up in one of the Dakotas, riding as much as possible on the way. He ended up racing and being the last person to finish (an achievement that earned him a massive burrito), and was on his way back to Phoenix, again, riding as much as he possibly could.

He packs an amazing amount of adventuring into a two week period. It borders on even me calling it epic. Inspirational, for sure.

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So we loaded up the Scamp from Gunnison and hauled it up to the Snowblind campground where Schilling and Kara were waiting.

Canyon Creek, in summary, is a few miles of reasonable dirt road, a few miles of gnarly jeep road, a half mile of rideable trail, a mile of hike-a-bike, and then nine miles of some of the best descending the state has to offer. It tops out at 12,600 feet, and ends up being a hair under 20 miles when all is said and done.

If the trail had easier access, everyone would ride it. But really, it’s a fairly decent entrance fee to be able to get to the downhill section.

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It’s a good thing that Schilling and Scott are two of the best hike-a-bikers in the business, and that I was too far behind for them to hear my cursing and complaining. I really thought that trail running would make HAB easier, but I think all it’s done is atrophy my arms even more. I need to dig up a picture from when I was a swimmer and actually had some semblance of upper body strength. That’s long gone now…

But the descending, the descending makes it worth it. Even if I haven’t ridden serious trail in longer than I care to admit and was feeling anything but on my game. Luckily, the top half of the trail is more about riding in an amazing place, and the bottom part of the trail that’s in the trees is some of the most giggle-inducing trail I’ve ever laid tires on.

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We showed up long after we were expected, which was a surprise to exactly no one.

Schilling and Kara headed towards Gunnison to spend a little bit of time in Crested Butte, and Scott and I headed towards a campsite outside of Salida. I had big adventuring plans for the weekend, and we too, were running late for a rendez-vous.

Recovery? Recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.

 


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Recovery and Racing

I pretty much figured that I’d be crippled after the Ouray 50. It was 11 miles longer than my longest run ever, and more than twice the elevation than I’d ever done in a day (and that adventure left me sore for many days). In my head, I cleared my athletic schedule for the week. I figured, best case scenario, I could find some bikepaths to ride to coffee shops while I gimped around with DOMS and whatever other aches and pains I’d created.

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Post-Ouray campsite at Blue Mesa

But something really weird happened. While I was pretty sore the whole day after the race, when we woke up the next morning, 12 hours after finishing, nothing hurt terribly badly. I laid there in the Scamp performing the standard DOMS test of flexing the quads and seeing if there were any muscle fibers there to flex, and everything seemed to engage. I rolled the ankles, lifted the legs, bent the knees, holy shit, did I really get away with this?

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Proper recovery

Upon getting up, my glutes were sore, one hip hurt more than the other, my knees were still tired, my  wrist, which I’d wrenched on saving a fall with my walking sticks, hurt, but all in all, my muscles seemed fine. Maybe all those mountains I’d hiked in the past month had paid off.

Training for life. Training for opportunities that I can’t even fathom until they fall into my lap.

Let there be a lesson there, Ez. Shoot for something completely out of your current reach, and hit something completely different, but completely satisfying.

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Impromptu afternoon ride at Hartmans with Rachel

 

But the whole situation brought up the whole idea of racing again. Not just, Hey, I accidentally signed up for a race in four days, let’s go on an adventure, but more of a Let’s make a goal and actually work towards it and see how fast I can go. 

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All Hartmans rides must end with Becks. Them’s the rules.

Back, many years ago, when I was talking to LWCoaching about mountain bike coaching, I asked her what it would take to go fast at a certain event. Her reply was something along the lines of, ‘Decide you want to do the race 3 days in advance and go do it.’ There was some level of sarcasm in the reply, but also a high level of truth.

The Ouray 50 wasn’t my first foray into Last Minute racing, and it’s definitely served me well in the past.

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Riding into the storm

But I’ve also trained seriously, also with a high level of success.

But I’ve also burnt out spectacularly.

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Rain brings rainbows

Some of the happiest, most flow-inducing times of my life have been when I was racing regularly and training.

Some of the most neurotic/stressful times have been when I was dealing with the expectations of being a racer.

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Bright rainbows!

I love working towards goals that I care about and progressing as an athlete and human being.

I’m not convinced that I need to make any more progression as a racer, on a bike or on foot. It was, in fact, my identity for many, many, many years. And I worked really hard to shed it and move forward as a human who raced only occasionally and mostly because it gave me the chance to hang out with my tribe.

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Go for the pot of gold!

But, the Ouray 50 was fun, and I did reasonably well, and with that comes all of the outside confirmations that I did good. And that, as any current or former racer of any sort can tell you, is a powerful thing, even if it shouldn’t be.

I rode the wave of racing elation for a bit after Ouray, to the point of trying to get the race directors of the Mogollon Monster 100-miler down in Pine, AZ, to make an exception to their qualifying standards to let me in to race in September so that I could try to get a qualifying standard for Hardrock.

They promptly said no, at which point I questioned what I was doing still running in the mountains.

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Training for life. Training for opportunities that I can’t even fathom until they fall into my lap.

And because, most importantly, I like it.


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Ouray 50: Accidental Racing

It was an accident, really, this Ouray 50 trail running race. Prior to Tuesday afternoon, I’d only heard of the race in passing. I might have clicked on the webpage only to see that there were qualifications (i.e. doing some prior race that proved you had some semblance of running ability) that I didn’t meet, and then moved on with life.

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Then Tuesday afternoon, during the work portion of our day, Scott said, ‘Looks like we’re tracking the Ouray 50/100.’

I probably replied something along the lines of, ‘That’s nice.’

‘You should do it,’ Scott continued. I’d been making noise about doing a race in the middle of nowhere Utah earlier, but then decided the logistics were too much. But I definitely had racing on the brain.

I checked Ultrasignup to see when registration closed. ‘Monday,’ I declared, ‘Too late. Bummer. Maybe next year.’

Secretly, I wasn’t too bummed. Just from the front webpage of the race, it looked burly. 20,000+ feet of climbing in 50 miles. Ouch. I hadn’t run more than 20 miles since the Grand Canyon R2R2R, and those 20 miles were three days ago.

I’m not really sure what transpired next, but it involved an email from Scott to Matthew, who’d been the one in contact with the race director about tracking, Matthew talking to the the RD, and then me waking up to a personal invite from the RD, Charles, to come race Ouray, with the closing line of ‘See you soon’.

Oh. Shit.

What had Matthew and Scott done!?

I went for an easy 4.5 mile run from camp to convince myself that my legs were too tired, but they felt surprisingly good, considering the previous days shuttle run, so when I got home, I signed up.

Then I downloaded the route description. ‘Extreme exposure’, ‘steep grades’, ‘scrambling’, ‘loose rocks’, ‘wear gloves’. Last year, one person out of ~20 had finished the 50.

Oh. Shit. What had *I* done?

We loaded up the Scamp the following morning and pointed south, ending up with a nice little spot at the Amphitheater Campground above the impossibly steep town of Ouray. It was the first time we’d paid for camping since the RV park on the North Rim of the Big Ditch when we ran out of power.

The second to last out-and-back of the course went right by our campsite, so we went for an afternoon recon. How steep could these trails really be?

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Steep.

Oh. Shit.

We went down to registration/pre-race feed to see what this was all about. It was just like a bike race. Except there were more beards and short shorts. Not that I’m complaining, I like men with beards in short shorts.

We ended sitting with and talking to a Kiwi Christian, who was on a several month long road trip around the US, working his way west before heading home to New Zealand this winter, and Dan, who was doing the 100-mile version, and his wife, who was going to crew for him and pace him.

‘Hey Scott, you should pace me for the last 10 miles!’ I was worried about the time cut-offs and figured I’d probably be close to them. ‘I’ll probably start it between 5 and 6 am.’ (The time cut off was 6:30am)

He agreed. There was my motivation to make it through the first 40 miles.

The following morning, we went down to see the 100-milers off, and for Scott to make sure that everyone had a tracker in a position that it would actually track. Between work, pre-race puttering, and a little walk to discover that you had to pay money to see the Box Waterfall, the day went by entirely too quickly.

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This is a supported adventure run. No one has any expectations. You just have to go out there and do your best. And not die. Try not to die. No broken bones would be preferable. 

20 minutes before the start, the skies opened up. Rain jackets went on. I’ve never run in a rain jacket because of rain. Scott gave me the sage advice of ‘Just try not to get dropped by the main pack on the road out of town.’ Thanks. 

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Drowned rats. And we hadn’t even started yet.

And we were off. In the pissing rain. Seriously?

The whole pack (that didn’t drop me, for the record, a first since I’m notorious for getting dropped from neutral roll-outs at bike races because I’m busy talking) took a wrong turn right off the bat at a single track that was marked with flags, but wasn’t actually where we were supposed to go. There was a lot of yelling. The masses eventually found the right way, and up we went. I ran with Christian for a little bit until he dropped me, ran with a guy named Jeremy who apparently ran across the country this past summer, until he dropped me, and then it was pretty much me.

We made our way up the first climb as the rain stopped and the sun came out, thankfully, as the dirt was already greasy and a certain someone had never run in mud before, let alone greasy mud. It was an out and back, and after what seemed like a solid bit of climbing, the leaders started coming down. First Melissa, who’s husband I know and had failed to hook up with for running in Moab because I was too intimidated, then another gal, then some guys, another gal, and then the top of the hill. I punched a hole in my race number, took a picture, and headed down. Was I in last?

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No! I passed a handful of girls and guys, counting. I was fourth girl, nine of us had started, I was solidly in mid-pack! Yeah!

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Past the first aid station, down the road, to the base of climb #2. I’d never done a run that involved more than one big climb. Up I went. The trail was impossibly steep, and rocky, and exposed. Everything that the race description had promised. I passed one guy going through a rough patch, I told him it was a good thing that he had 40 more miles to work through it. I never saw him again. I passed another guy struggling up the steepness.

Typical. Four hours in I start catching people. This is just like bike racing. 

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Cresting Hayden Pass was the highlight. The trail followed some beautiful alpine meadows, and just as I started cursing the uneven footing, I looked down to see the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen. I may have squealed out loud.

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Between the vibrant and abundant wild flowers, the mist surrounding the mountains, and the rainbow, I was convinced a unicorn was about to pop out of the rocks. It didn’t, but a deer did, so I just used my imagination.

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Heading down to the aid station on the far side of the pass, I saw Melissa coming up with a boy in tow, then another gal, Patricia who definitely looked like she knew what she was doing, then Christian, another gal, then Mr. Green legs (he had neon green calf sleeves) came bounding away from the aid station as I pulled in. He was hauling ass.

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I filled up water. Ate a half a sandwich. And watermelon! They had watermelon! Then the skies unleashed a torrential downpour. Awesome. I turned around to climb the hill that I’d just come down.

It was a productive hill, as I ended up catching two 100-milers, Mr. Green Legs, and the third place gal. Said gal passed me on the downhill and made me look and feel pretty silly as I stumbled down the trail. I passed Gabe near the bottom of the descent (I didn’t know his name at the time, so I called him One-stick Joe since he only had one trekking pole) and promptly hauled ass down the road. It was still daylight! Maybe I could get up the gnarly section of the next out-and-back in the daylight if I hurried.

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The rain had stopped by the time I made it back to the park where Scott was waiting with my drop bag. I swapped out shirts, put a dry rain jacket in my pack, filled up on water, made sure my light worked, and left. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 24-hour mountain bike racing, it’s the importance of fast pit stops.

And up. This section was the recommended scouting section in the race description due to its excessive steepness and exposure. Plus, the top was Twin Peaks, which had a scramble. It was only 2.5 miles away, could I make it before dark? I popped half a caffeine pill and took off.

Apparently I was moving because I caught Christian halfway up. ‘I thought you weren’t a runner!’ he said.

‘I’m not, but I never said I couldn’t hike! And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t done a whole lot of running in the past 25 miles.’ I hammered, figuring that even if I paid for it later in the race, it would be worth it to see the scramble with some daylight.

It almost worked. I hit the summit just as the final colors were fading from the western sky with just enough light to see that said scramble really wasn’t that bad. I dropped my walking sticks at the base, scurried up, punch a hole in my race number, and scooted down on my butt. I’m glad no one was there to see that. What followed was a descent of one of the steepest trails I’ve ever been on. It hadn’t seemed half bad going up, but down was terrifying. Christian and I’s lights passed part way down, and I knew he’d catch me before the next aid station.

He did. And when he did, he told me that I was a beautiful climber. Smooth and powerful. Considering that no one has ever said anything nice about my running before, I beamed. And then tripped over a root. His light disappeared quickly into the dark.

When it came back, after being at the aid station, I knew that I had a good chance of catching him on the return climb as well. I made a quick turnaround at the aid station and started up in pursuit. As I crested the climb, several miles later, I saw his light just disappearing down the techy descent. Game over.

I got myself safely down to the aid station, seeing Christian heading off just as I got in. This racing thing was fun. Switched out to dry socks. Ate a banana. Filled up water. Time to climb to Chief Ouray mine.

Christian was on his way back by the time I got there, but two others were there punching a race number. Dan and his wife from dinner the night before! He looked wrecked. It was good to see familiar faces at 1am in the middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain.

And down! Scott was waiting at the park ready to go when I got it. It was circa 2:30 am. A far cry from the reasonable  5am I had predicted. Sorry! Fill up on water, eat a banana, time to climb. Let’s go catch the Kiwi!

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I’ve always thought the concept of pacers was sort of silly, coming from self-supported bikepacking racing. But it sure was nice to have Scott along for company. We chatted about the race, about what had happened on FaceBook that day, about my fun micro-race with Christian. I think we can catch him, I insisted. He’ll drop me on the down, but it’d be fun to catch him first. 

When we broke treeline, we saw the sole light of Christian just ahead of us. And just as Pete Basinger had done to me during the AZT 300, he took one look down the mountain, letting his light linger in our direction for a second, and took off. The gap he opened was impressive, he didn’t want to be caught. Flying down as we were still slogging up, he claimed we’d ‘Given him the frights!’ Which I think means that he was afraid we’d catch him, in Kiwi-speak.

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We tagged the final summit, the Bridge of Heaven, just as there was a little sign of light in the eastern sky. And down.

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My legs ached. My knees were pissed. My feet were in surprisingly good shape. We passed One-poled Joe first, the Mr. Green Legs, then two more gals. It got light out, headlamps were turned off.

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It seemed like it took forever to get down to the pavement, a long five miles and 4,500 feet of down, the final mile through nasty talus. Please make it stop. 

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Then pavement. Holy shit. I made it! I gave Scott a hi-five.

Prepared to finish strong, I started jogging along the road, up the ever so slight incline. It didn’t work. Maybe I don’t need to finish strong, and I happily walked the final quarter mile back to the park where Christian, Charles, and a few other race volunteers were waiting.

Well. Shit. That was hard. And awesome.

I really can’t say enough good about the race. I’m not sure if all ultras are like this, but I loved it. I loved being out there all day and all night. I loved the new friends I made. I loved seeing how terrible of a descender I really was. I loved the mud, overgrown trails, and the aid stations. Aid stations are awesome. The volunteers were awesome.

Really, I loved trying something new, and in the end, I’m grateful for whatever conversation occurred between Matthew, Scott, and Charles four days prior that led me to clicking that register button.

And while I still maintain that I’m retired from suffering, I could see signing up for some more running silliness. That was fun.

 


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Antero and Fooses – Running through Summer

We stayed our full 14-day limit at our Twin Peaks campsite. Which was fine, I’d gotten nearly everything that I wanted to do in the area done, with enough left to provide incentive to return in the future.

We’d been a little hesitant to move down valley because of a large forest fire burning south east of Salida. Some mornings, the smoke would come up valley but then clear out by the afternoon, but we could see a heavy haze sitting over the Salida area many days. Still, without a better idea at the time, we headed down to an area known for dispersed camping between Buena Vista and Salida.

Of course, it was just off the Colorado Trail, so I set out for a quick run to check out the new backyard digs. This general section of trail is slightly less enticing for riding (for me), but the running on it is spectacular.

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We woke up to what we’d expected. Smoke. Made for a pretty/creepy sunrise and was seeming to stay just to the east of us. It killed our solar power production as well until it cleared out later in the morning.

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The weather forecast looked reasonable for the afternoon, so after a semi-lazy morning, I headed up the trail. The master plan was to run up Browns Creek, take the Nolan’s 14 route to the top of Tabaguache, head over to Shavano, down the main trail, and back on the Colorado Trail.

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Everything was straighforward to Browns Lake, amazing rock formations lining the narrow valley on all sides. Standing at the far end of the lake, I took one look at the Nolan’s route up and decided, No Thanks. Nolans’s scouting is for friend-adventures.

Luckily, there was a plenty awesome consolation prize of hiking Antero, another 14er, and then heading down Little Browns Creek. I figured it would be an equally amazing day, with a slightly lower fear factor.

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Tab and Shav in the rearview. Someday. 

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The weatherman had said minimal chance of showers for the afternoon, but as I made my way over the jeep roads towards Antero, I started to doubt the forecast. It was good motivation to keep a move on as the clouds built. My late start combined with taking the long way to the peak allowed me to have a 14er summit to myself, on a Saturday. Based on the storms brewing in the distance, the masses were probably smarter than I was. I made haste to get down the scree pile of the top and across the little ridge. Then it was smooth sailing down the road switchbacks.

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In the distance, I saw an orange helmet pop up over the saddle that led to Little Browns. I knew Scott was making noise about wanting to ride the loop (without Antero), but could I have gotten that lucky with the timing?

I hollered and saw him stop in the distance. More than anything, I wanted him to show me the way to Little Browns, as I really didn’t know exactly where I was going.

The figure in the distance started moving again. I hollered again. It stopped.

And stayed. I cut straight down the mountain, beelining to the other end of the valley.

Hi Friend!

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With the clouds building for real and thunder rumbling in the distance, we minimized the chatter and made our way towards tree line.

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How we made it back to camp without getting soaked is beyond me. Trying to chase Scott definitely had me running downhill faster than I would have otherwise, and I closed the 20 mile loop in six hours. It was definitely the hardest day I’d done since the Big Ditch R2R2R back in April.

Tired, we opted for a town day the following day. A town day that involved all of the necessities (laundry, water fill-up, groceries) and of course, a little bike ride in S-Mountain.

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The weatherman had forecasted rain in the mountains. He wasn’t kidding.

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Luckily, the bananabelt-ed-ness of Salida kept us dry and there was even some soaking in the river involved when we got back down.

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Feeling refreshed, I offered to run a Monarch Crest shuttle for Scott. He’d just put together a brand new bike and was itching to try it out for real. Me? I was itching to run, so I had Scott drop me off at the base of Fooses Creek on the Colorado Trail just off Hwy 50. I’d run up, he’d ride down, we’d meet our friend Tom in Salida for lunch.

I knew that some old friends were bikepacking the CT and head camped just a few miles up Fooses the night before, so I was motivated to try to catch them. I thought that if they got a late start, I had the potential to run them down.

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The trail was amazingly runnable, which I guess is no surprise as it’s a good climb on a bike as well. At least until the switchbacks. Then it’s game-off for both riding and proper running.

I reached the top without catching my ghost bikepackers. I’d looked for wet tire tracks at every creek crossing, but never saw any recent signs from them. A thru-hiker eventually told me that they’d seen them pedaling at 7am. Who knew a quartet of 20-something boys could get up and get moving that early.

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Still, it was a great excuse for a faster run up a hill. From there, it was a mellow and mostly downhill five miles back to Monarch Pass where the van was patiently waiting.

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I ended up having to pick Scott up from the end of his ride, and we were still late to a delayed lunch, but it was worth it. It was an absolutely glorious way to spend a morning. My legs were tired, my soul was full.

And I was blissfully ignorant that within 24 hours, I’d find myself signed up for a massive running race just a few days in the future.


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AZ Friends in CO

It was CTR start day (and yes, once again, behind on the blog), which meant two things: Scott would have to work in the morning and that a bunch of friends from all over would descend on Colorado. And since we were camped just a quarter mile off of the CT, we would get to see people, both racers and those driving across the state to pick them up in Durango at the finish.

Luckily for us (and the racers), the monsoons were still refusing to build, so Scott and I headed up to Independence Pass after he made sure that all of the blue and pink dots were smoothly cruising down the map.

Our master plan was to hike up a 13,700 foot peak, guaranteed to be pretty much devoid of people because it wasn’t a 14’er in 14’er Country. Plus, there wasn’t a trail. That’ll deter most.

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The flowers were still going nuts up high.

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It sure is pretty country up there.

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We made a half-hearted attempt to traverse a ridge to make a loop out of our hike, but once the rocks got big and the terrain scrambly, we were more than happy to head towards home. Anyhow, apparently doing a hot-lap on Elbert trashed my legs and I was sore.

Then the friends started showing up. First, Shannon, Jason, and Jennifer swung by our campsite, ready to ride. We opted to take them around Twin Lakes, heading out on the CT and then returning on the CDT.

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Apparently I was feeling exceptionally lazy because the moment we got to a good swimming spot, I insisted we get in for a soak. It’s been too long since I’ve gone lake swimming.

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Somehow, the threatening clouds held off. It had stormed the week before, it was going to storm the week after, but CTR week was turning out to be cloudy and dry-ish. Lucky them!

Then Alexis and the doggies showed up!

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Morning was spent at the lake throwing sticks for the four crazy pups. Well, for three of them while Poof wandered off doing her own thing.

We’d gotten a request for a ride and then an above treeline experience for the day. I knew just what to do. When Shannon, Jennifer, and Jason arrived, we headed up the CT, northbound. Our first stop was to wish Heather Rose good luck as she passed by racing. I knew she was somewhere in the area, but was shocked to see her. She said that the 10-mile Range traverse was hard. Yes, yes it is.

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Then upwards through the aspens. This is maybe one of my favorite sections of trail, anywhere.

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There was some level of griping about the elevation, but definitely more smiles than frowns.

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We picked up a bikepacker, Dave, from the Front Range who was on his way to Leadville. Our casual pace and his matched up and many miles were rolled together.

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After a picnic lunch back at camp, it twas time to get high. Up to Indy Pass. But first, the dogs had to be loaded up.

DSCN2238It’s like herding cats. Except that they’re dogs.

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There really is not much better than being above treeline. Poof had the right idea of laying down in the snow. It’s hard work to run at least 4x as far as your human companions walk.

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Shannon in Magic land.

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Poof in Magic Land.

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It was rare to be able to catch all four dogs in one spot.

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And back down, dogs leading the way.

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Alexis had one more day before she had to head down to Durango to pick up D. All three of us had work to do in the morning, so after the morning stick-throwing party with the pups, we all buckled down with our computers.

Around 2pm, ‘Should we go hike La Plata?’ It was the nearest 14’er, and we figured that given the late hour and middle of the week day, we’d pretty much have the trail to ourselves. Some would frown on impulse 14’er hiking, but the clouds looked fine, and it was less than 10 miles round trip.

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Scott looks really good with dogs. Almost like he was meant to have his own…

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Poof, showing proper resting form.

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Aside from a few people coming down, we really did have an empty trail. Poof and Blanca, the elder stateswomen of the pack, did great, a full 9 years after they first climbed the peak.

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Ellingwood Ridge in the background looked crazy.

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It was finally starting to feel like altitudes over 13k weren’t that bad. Which was pretty awesome. It may also have had something to do with the fact that every patch of snow was an excellent reason to stop and rest.

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The top! One other person was there, which was crazy for a 14’er.

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And back down. We drank Vihno Verde to celebrate. The dogs passed out in various dug out holes around the truck. Humans ate leftover burritos. It was a most excellent impromptu adventurita.

The next morning, Alexis rolled out, as did we. The CTR had passed us by. It was time to move on from our spectacular little spot. But, there were mountains to climb and new trails to explore.


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Mt Elbert, for the confidence of it

I was pretty shambalized after my little outing on Mt Massive. I used to be a fairly to mostly competent mountain traveler. Maybe not so much in the summer time, but damn, in the winter/spring, I’ve climbed and skied some pretty scary lines. Well, scary by my standards. I, for the most part, felt competent in assessing risk, danger, routes, and feeling good about my decisions. I was calm, collected, and rational. And maybe it’s memory painting over the ugly parts, but for the most part, I rarely had breakdowns. Except for near the top of Teocalli in CB one spring morning. I had a breakdown there that I remember very clearly.

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We were in a primo location to watch storms roll in over the Divide.

On Massive, I had a breakdown. Not in the sense that I was stuck and couldn’t function, but my mental state went so far south that there was nothing I could do to rescue it. Here’s the first big goal I’ve had in a long time in the form of scouting and potentially attempting Nolans 14, and all I could do was try not to trip over the rocks on the way down while I held back tears.

Where the hell was the tough and confident Ez I used to know?

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Storms over Twin Lakes

But I also know that tough and confident came from experience. And practice. I didn’t jump straight into Tour Divide, I race on the road for a few years, did some cross, raced some XC mountain bikes, 50 milers, 100 milers, and only then did I jump into bikepacking. I could bikepack not because I was a brave and strong person, but because riding a bike was so second-nature, that I could put my full focus on the other aspects of the task at hand. Managing fueling, managing weather, sleep, and gear.

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Fred. Our camp squirrel.

Hell, picking my way down the rocky trail on Massive, and then sitting on the rock with a bloody knee, made me realize that running, especially in the mountains, is still very much not second nature to me.

Why should it be? I’m new to this.

So I went about taking steps to add to my hour count of mountain running. With something relatively easy and safe, Mt Elbert, the highest point in CO. One of the most frequently climbed mountains in the state.

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I could focus purely on the running (and the view) because there was no way I was going to get lost. There were no route decisions to make. And the weather forecast looked beautiful.

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My and two dozen of my friends at the top of Elbert.

The trail, for the most part, was straightforward, especially above tree line.

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Flowers were off the hook.

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And it was a completely drama-free outing. Run from camp. Hike up the trail. Enjoy a snack at the top. Run down the trail. No bloody knees. No tears. No uncertainty.

I even ran into Anna and Gary who were camped at the top trailhead and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking gin and tonics in the shade of trees while we watched hikers in various levels of distress walk down.

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From there, it was a mere 3 mile run down the road back to camp, where Scott had assumed I’d gone on a big epic run, based on how long I was gone.

‘Nope, just drinking gin and tonics.’

I was still sore the next day. But I wasn’t scared. And that’s the biggest step forward that I can think of.


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San Juan Bikepacking

After Scott and I finished the CDT nearly two years ago, I had zero tolerance for hike-a-bike. Which made riding in Tucson that winter pretty interesting because there are very few rides that you can go on that don’t involve getting off your bike at some point in time to hike up or down a rocky slope. That’s when I took up trail running. It’s like hike-a-bike, except without the burden of the bike!

But I really expected the tolerance for taking my bike for a walk to return, maybe even better than before. Sort of like a muscle, exercise it and it’ll come back stronger. Except that I might have had put my hike-a-bike tolerance into a state of chronic fatigue that it may never recover from.

When Cat invited me down to Durango to go bikepacking for her birthday, I knew there was going to be hike-a-bike involved. It’s the San Juan Mountains. This is Cat, she’s the queen of hike-a-bike.

But, I hadn’t been adventuring with Cat in a long time. The chance to spend three days out in the Wilds with her was going to be worth any amount of hike-a-bike involved.

We did minimal route research, instead, pointing to some squiggly lines on a map that neither of us had been to, and saying we’d figure it out as we went. As far as we were concerned, as long as we got to be outside riding our bikes in good company, all was good.

We started with the long grind up La Plata Canyon to join up with the Colorado Trail at Taylor Lake.

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Cat blends in perfectly with the green grass. 

Two bikepackers going northbound on the CT were up there getting ready to set up camp for the night. I was a little bit jealous, but we pushed on, leaving the CT to go towards Grindstone, or Sharkstooth, or whatever the other trail up there is called.

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The flowers were spectacular, and the San Juans are some of the most impressive mountains in the state. They intimidate the hell out of me.

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We went up and over a giant pile of rock to get into the Bear Creek drainage, which was adorned with waterfalls, fields of flowers, and unicorns.

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And based on the amount of use the trail seemed to have, no other humans had been back there in at least 10 years. A giant valley in the San Juans, all to ourselves. We descended a bit before making camp, careful to stay above the dew line of the creek. I’m starting to learn: Creekside campsites are romantic, but they’re frigging cold. And wet.

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I had it in my head that the descent down Bear Creek the next morning would proceed in a timely and efficient manner. It didn’t. That trail is rocky, techy, and there’s a good bit of of uphill involved too.

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It was well after noon by the time we popped out on the highway. We found a little store at an RV campground that had sodie pops, so we sat in the shade and pondered options. Rico was 10 miles of pavement up the canyon. The dirt version of getting there climbed 4,000 feet on Priest Gulch, a moto trail, and then descended on trail and dirt road. Well, I pondered, I think Cat was pretty convinced that up and over was the correct option for getting there. When it’s a gal’s birthday ride, I don’t argue.

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I just try to push my bike fast enough so that the flies don’t eat me alive.

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To be fair, once we got to the ridge, many hours later, it was spectacular. And there were actually moments of riding bikes.

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And the views. Day-um. Those San Juans.

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We made quick work of the descent, but not quick enough to make the store in Rico. I missed having an actual dinner by 15 minutes, instead feasting on Fritos with salami and cheese, which isn’t really  a half bad alternative. Luckily, stores, cafes, and coffee carts opened up early the next morning, and after three cups of coffee and 2.5 breakfasts, I was ready to go.

We were both pretty worked over from the previous days pushing. It was the hardest single-day I’d had in a while and my feet hurt, my hands hurt, and I was pooped. I guess it’s only fitting – the two of us pushed each other to the limit when we raced against each other on the Colorado Trail half a decade ago, why would we do it any differently now?

Given our overall level of fatigue, we chose a faster way home. Up Scotch Creek, a little bit of CT, then down Corral Creek to Hermosa Creek and back to Durango. When we got onto the CT around noon, I had visions of a late lunch in Durango.

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But this is the San Juans that we’re talking about. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks on the map. I fell apart coming down Corral Creek. Cat fell apart on the five mile pavement pedal into down. We limped into Zia Burritos, exhausted. This bikepacking business is hard!

Cat and I swore that the next time we went out, we’d do something easy. Or at least easier.

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Baby hummingbirds. We accidentally sat down for lunch right next to them. Momma came back to feed them as soon as we moved out of the way. 

Real food tasted delicious. A soft bed felt divine (I’m really not into my new sleeping pad…I may have to find a new one). The chance to catch up with some Durango friends the next morning capped off the trip before I had to point the van back towards Scott and the Scamp. I would have stayed longer, but in grabbing all of his stuff from the van, Scott had left his wallet (I threatened to use his credit card for a hotel room in Telluride if we made it there. He told me to make sure that we got room service).  I was pretty sure that he wasn’t starving yet, but it would probably be a good idea to get home eventually.

After a two year hiatus from Durango, it was good to go back. It may have to happen again later this summer.

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