Zen On Dirt

Time up High

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I’ve been craving time above tree line. I can’t really explain why, but every day that I didn’t get up high, somehow felt wasted to me. The summer season is so short and I felt like I was finally getting strong enough to do big days on foot without paying for it for the following days.

Still, I know enough runners to understand that running is far harder on the body than riding bikes is and that overuse injuries are common and serious in the sport. And as someone who’d been given a second chance with health, I try to be cautious. Or at least not too stupid. So I’ve been working hard on tempering my running efforts and interspersing them with riding days, because riding bikes is fun too.

Scott and I somehow decided that a hike up Missouri Mountain was going to be  great idea on the same day of the Leadville 100 running race. The trailhead shared the same drainage, and thus the same dirt access road as Winfield, the turnaround for the race and a major aid station. The level of aggressive driving on the road was impressive…crews take their job very seriously. Forget safety on the road – we’ve got to get to our runner! I don’t really get crewing for ultras, but that’s just me and my self-supported righteous curmudgeony self.


Anyhow. We survived to the trailhead and headed up the hill, abandoning plans for Missouri in exchange for the Belford/Oxford duo halfway up. We had no real reason, but two mountain peaks is better than one?

We’d pulled the Crack of Noon Club move again and met plenty of people coming down the trail. It does amaze me how few people look at the forecast to see the 0% chance of rain. I guess alpine starts are romantic? Not.  It does make for easy parking for the lazier members of society as people were leaving the parking lot as we were arriving.


Oxford was first. Or was it Belford? I don’t know. It was a pretty summit.

Then down the saddle and over to the next one with big and imposing views of Harvard next door. Harvard is apparently one of the bigger climbs on the Nolan’s route. Getting a good look at it did nothing to convince me otherwise. (Also, if you haven’t heard, Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.com just became the first woman to finish Nolan’s  14, trailhead to trailhead, in under 60 hours. Badass. I’m seriously in awe.)


We cruised the traverse back and spied an option down to Elkford Pass as an alternate way home. It would give us great views of the imposing Missouri East Ridge, which Ted Mahon used on his successful Nolan’s run a few weeks ago (but after we did this hike, I’m so behind!). Scott and I had a good debate on whether Nolan’s runners used it. Scott thought that it would be slower than dropping down, but I suspected that the caliber of mountain person who could finish Nolan’s could probably negotiate the ridge. I am not of that caliber…yet.


From the pass, it was an easy, if long drop back down to the car. Scott had told me he’d be good for 8-10 miles. We clocked the day at just over 12. Not bad.


In my attempt to ride my bike more, but still be above treeline, I convinced Scott to come ride the Alpine Tunnel section of the CDT with me the following day. We’d done it as part of our CDT thru ride, and I remembered it as spectacular.


I also remembered a good bit of hike-a-bike, but I’m working on re-being emotionally okay with hike-a-bike.


We started, again, at the crack of noon. The skies unleashed just as we got to treeline. Win some, lose some? We huddled under a bush eating snacks and watching it hail. The majority of the hike-a-bike was over, there was no way I was going back down.


Lucky for us, the hail let up and the skies allowed us safe passage through the tundra.


The drop down to Tin Cup Pass road was as fun as I remembered, and this time, the store in St. Elmo was open. It’s a weird place.


It’s pretty neat to have the skills and body adaptation to be able to do more than a single sport in the mountains. I’ve always wanted to be an adept mountain traveler, and I feel like my increased fluency in running is adding to my ability to go to amazing places. I’m starting to realize that while I’ll never be the most skilled trail runner, and I’ll never be the most skilled mountain biker, being pretty competent at both can open up a lot of adventure opportunities. And that’s cool.


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