The turnaround to get back into the Scamp was quick. Scott showed up in Winter Park around noon, by 4pm, we were packed, Scott was napped, and we were on our way towards Leadville. We had an old campsite in mind that was within driving distance of our available daylight. Sure, we could have stayed in WP for the night, but I was so anxious to get moving, I would have none of it.
‘Don’t you think Scott will want to spend a night in a real bed?’ my mom had asked.
‘We have a bed. In the Scamp. And it’s comfortable.’
In my eyes, we really do live a life of luxury.
The downside of our campsite outside of Leadville was that it was freezing cold. 39 in the Scamp when we woke up, so it was probably at least near freezing outside. It also didn’t help that I was excited to get out on an adventure and insisted on getting up before the sun hit our site.
You see, earlier this year, or actually a few years ago, my mind got locked on the idea of Nolan’s 14, a ~100-ish mile route that traverses 14 14’ers from Leadville to Salida. A lot of it off trail, a truly beautiful and rugged route. It’s been a sticky idea in my head for a while now, and I’d figured that this summer would be a good time to start scouting it, especially the off-trail, route finding sections.
‘If you just drop me off at the Fish Hatchery (the start),’ I told Scott, ‘I’ll just do the quick up-and-over Mt Massive (second highest peak in the state) and Mt Elbert (highest peak in the state) and then cruise back to camp.
Delusion is strong in my brain.
Scott ran with me for a few miles on the trail at the bottom, turning around when things got steep, and up I went.
The ‘route’ leaves official trail somewhere just below treeline and I struck off battling bushes, wet grasses, and the demons in my head.
‘You’re off trail, in the mountains, no one really knows where you are,’ Fear said.
‘Scott knows your general area. You’re on a 14’er for heavens sake, this isn’t remote backcountry,’ Reason battled back.
‘These mountains sure are big. What if you trip and break a leg?’ Fear countered.
At this point of time, I should have just put music in to turn off the internal dialogue. It’s been a long time that I’ve played in big mountains, let alone by myself.
The internal dialogue continued as I made my way towards the summit where I was joined by a dozen other people taking the traditional routes up.
I had a quick snack and started down, following the vague GPS track that I had. Now, had I done more than a quick glance over the trip report that I was using for studying, I would have known that the ‘route’ takes trail down to Halfmooon Creek. Easy-peasy. Instead, I found myself bumbling along a trail-less ridge, wondering where the hell the track was going.
Eventually, when the track pointed down a steep and rocky gully, I waved the white flag. I give up, I’m taking the trail down.
‘You don’t have the skills for this, Ez, what were you thinking?’ Self-doubt chimed in.
That was about the time I tripped over a rock and grazed my knee on some quality granite, sending an impressive stream of blood down my leg.
There may or may not have been some tears involved.
‘You sort of suck at this,’ Self-doubt confirmed. ‘You should probably take up something you’re good at. And trail running is not it. Maybe try beer drinking?’
Luckily, I’ve been in this situation to know to at least look up and enjoy the view. And what a view it was!
I made it, slowly, down to Halfmoon Creek where my initial plan was to start heading up Elbert. I looked up at the huge mountain in front of me. I looked down at my bloody knee.
‘Screw it,’ I said, as I pointed down the road. ‘I don’t want to run big mountains alone. This is way more fun with people along.’
For four miles of jogging down the road, I thought about how much more enjoyable mountain travel was with people. I thought about how when I was a bike racer, I only trained alone so that I could do exactly what I needed/wanted to do. I thought about the past where I’d set big and audacious goals and actually put in the work to reach them.
Not my spirit animal
Am I getting soft and lazy? Or is it just that my priorities are changing? Maybe I’m no longer in this endurance sports thing for the physical experience, but for the human connections I can make. I’ve had plenty of character building experiences, I think I’m just at a point where I just want to frolic in the mountains with my friends.
That being said, if anyone wants to come down and scout some Nolan’s with me, I’ll be here for much of the summer.