Zen On Dirt

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A Week at the Big Ditch

One of the things that Scott and I try to give special attention to is making sure that we both have a sense of independence. Living in a Scamp and only having one car can sometimes lead to difficult planning when we want to do separate things, so when the opportunity arose for Scott to go bikepacking with Lee in Northern Arizona, I was stoked.

Mostly for my own selfish reasons. A whole week at the Grand Canyon without Scott there to tell me that my sometimes outlandish ideas weren’t reasonable was a tempting prospect. I do dumb things sometimes, and often it’s better to not be told ahead of time that what I’m doing is dumb.

Since we had to drive from the Kanab area down to the South Rim, I decided to engage the Automatic Shuttle opportunity and run a Rim-to-Rim. I mean, Scott had to do the drive regardless, I might as well run it?

So after breakfast at Jacob Lake Lodge, I stuck my thumb out to get a ride for the 40 miles to the North Rim. Ed from Albuquerque picked me up. He was on his way home from the Senior Olympics in St. George where is basketball team got the silver in their age group of 65 – 70! He told me that even though he looked like a slightly overweight person who couldn’t move efficiently, he was the fastest on the team.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Rim2Rim, mostly because I didn’t have to hurry. With R2R2R, there’s always a sense of urgency. One way? No problem, I’ve got all day.


I even had plenty of time to stop by Ribbon Falls, a detour off of the main corridor trails that I’ve never had time to visit. Apparently there’s an Upper Ribbon Falls, and an Upper Upper Ribbon. Investigations for another day…


Definitely spectacular, and not at all what I was expecting. I sort of wish my lens had actually opened the entire way…


Sometimes it’s better to not be in a hurry.


I stopped at Phantom Ranch for the requisite lemonade and wrote some post cards, because time! I had time! Scott was going to meet me on the south rim at some point in the afternoon, but he had a long-ass drive to get around the Canyon.

And then of course I was a complete idiot and hauled ass up S Kaibab because there was some Bro with a group who was clearly trying to catch me after I passed his group on the approach to the bridge. I figured he’d relent eventually and wait for his group…but no. And once I got it into my head that I wasn’t going to let him catch me (he was so loud and obnoxious on the trail when I passed), well, I couldn’t let him pass me. I got to the rim pretty worked over.

(When I woke up sore the next morning, Scott had zero sympathy. I’m an idiot. I know.)

And then I ended up having to wait for over an hour for Scott to show up. Idiot! (Me, not Scott)

Lucky for me, Monday and Tuesdays are my big work days, so I had a chance to sit and recover from my poor life choices.

Wednesday morning I drove Scott and Lee to the Grandview trailhead where they were going to start their bikepack on the AZT. While they futzed, I headed down the Canyon for a lap of the Horseshoe Mesa, mostly because I wanted to spend some time at the Page Spring, which, in my opinion, is one of the most magical water sources in the world.


Hey there Little Buddy

I ended up running into a group of four women at the Cottonwood Spring who were doing the loop in three days. They thought I was a little nuts, I told them that I was a little jealous and would love to spend some nights in the Canyon…I’m just a terrible planner and permits for Canyon camping favor the planners of the world.


I’ve never seen a cactus grow like this. You keep doing you, little prickly pear! I dig it. 

Since I knew the entire loop (Megan and I had done an extended version in the spring where I ended up puking at the top, in front of all of the tourists, it was awesome. So awesome.), I wasn’t too worried about time. I knew where I was going, I knew I had plenty of daylight.


It takes me a little while to get comfortable in the Canyon each trip, so this ~17 mile loop was a good reminder that while it’s important to treat the Ditch with a high level of respect, I am actually strong enough to do long days down in her depths.


Magic spring

I hung out at Page Spring for a while, enjoying the ambiance. I had plenty of time to get out of the Canyon, and to be completely honest, I was a little nervous about it given my previous experience. But, as it turns out, if I’m not chasing Megan around, it’s actually a pleasant climb out of there. No puking was done.

I opted to go big the next day. New Hance trail to Tonto to Grandview. Then hopefully hitch a ride back to where my car would be parked at New Hance.


Leaving the car in the morning, I dutifully hit an OK on the SPOT I was carrying. Scott thought that it would be prudent to leave a time stamp and location whenever I went into the Canyon since I was traveling solo.

When the NP Search and Rescue helicopter came flying overhead 45 minutes afterwards, I had a moment of panic. Did I hit the SOS button instead of OK? I pulled the SPOT out. There’s no way I could have hit SOS, you have to lift the flap to hit it. I definitely hit OK.

I turned the SPOT off and kept heading down. The heli hovered overhead, sweeping up and down the canyon. I could see people inside looking out the open door, looking for something.

Are they looking for me? Did I drag an SOS signal for 45 minutes down the Canyon?

I pulled the SPOT out again. Nope. I definitely hit OK. 

Maybe it misfired. 

The heli continued to circle.

I’m not going to get out of here for another seven hours. What if the authorities have been called, Scott’s called off his bikepacking trip to come back because he thinks something is wrong? What if they called my parents?


I pondered turning around to get back up to the rim quicker, and then realized how silly that would be. I pulled out the SPOT one last time. Nope. It was OK I hit. F-it. 

I kept going down.

(Turns out, I hit OK, not SOS. I have no idea what the heli was looking for. There was nothing that came up on the NPS search and rescue page in the days after.)

Thoroughly unnerved, I headed down to the river. Which had a beautiful beach.


The heli-nervousness had killed a bunch of time so now I was a little worried about getting out a) before dark and b) before everyone went home and couldn’t give me a ride back to my car. So I boogied.


I was really hoping for smooth, fast trail. Much of the Tonto is smooth and fast. This was neither. Doh!

Still, I eventually gained the Tonto Plateau (where things did get somewhat smooth and somewhat fast) and started feeling pretty good about my time. I knew how long it would take me to climb up Grandview from climbing up it the day before, and with a refresher of the trail, I would have been comfortable doing it by headlamp if needed.

I ended up running into the group of four women again at their second campsite of the trip. One of them asked me if I got scared doing stuff solo. I admitted that sometimes I get scared of “bad people”, but that the vast majority of people in the Canyon were good people, so I actually felt a lot safer down on these trails than in many places in the world above the Rim. I can’t decide if that was a commentary on the Magic of the Canyon, or the somewhat sad state of being a woman in the world.

At the top, I sat around the trailhead for a little while talking to people, hoping to get an offer to get me back to my car, but everyone was driving the other direction. It was four miles out of your way people, seriously? I’ll tell you good stories, I promise!

I did eventually get a ride, but it took some doing. It was a young couple from Alabama who were headed down to Tucson. I told them to stop in Sedona and to eat at Seis while they were in Tucson. Picking up dirty runners has perks! Like good advice.

I had to work on Friday so I posted up at the Stage Stop cafe in Tusayan. The people watching there is top notch. And the couch is super comfy. And the internet is passable.

I was still pretty tired the next day, so I went for a straightforward hike down to Dripping Springs. The water of the main spring (not featured here) comes straight out of a fissure in the roof of an alcove and flows at a pretty steady rate.  It’s pretty neat.


But there was a group of boy scouts there and a know-it-all leader who I found incredibly annoying, so I stayed away from the main area. It is a National Park on a Saturday. I know.


I love ravens.

With one more day and limited energy, I chose a route down to some ruins that I’d seen pictures of.


I stopped to chat with a Canyon Wren. Usually they’re elusive little creatures, but this one didn’t seem to mind my presence. 


On the way to the ruins, I got to check out an old route into the Canyon that I’d been eyeing for a while. I have a somewhat strict (and getting stricter) policy of not redoing old things unless they’re truly spectacular, so getting to see a new part of the Canyon was neat.


The ruins were beautiful, tucked up at the base of some rocks, completely hidden from view unless you go poking around.

So many secret things to go find…

The day was still relatively young, and I knew that my climb out of the Canyon wouldn’t take that long, so I made a detour out to Plateau Point by the Indian Gardens campground. It’s one of those places that is a couple miles off route…and never gets the energy dedicated to it because I’m always in the middle of something big.

I’m learning how to slow down.


There was a water fountain on Plateau Point! So much awesome I can’t even put it into words.

After hanging out at the water spigot at Indian Gardens for a while, I decided that it was time to get back to the Rim. I’d be meeting Scott in Flagstaff the following morning, my week of Canyoning was over. And I was a little sad. I’d seen a ton of new stuff, revisited some of my favorites, and done a pretty good job of not completely running myself into the ground.

I could have done much worse.


I gave the mules at pat at the top. Someday, I strive to be like you. Surefooted. Endless endurance. And pretty much not giving a shit if a NPS Search and Rescue copter is flying right over your head for hours on end. 


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Trans Zion

Sometimes I feel that the most valuable thing we have to give these days is our attention. And the most valuable thing that we can receive from another person is their complete attention.

Think about it. When was the last time you were able to be and talk with a person with absolutely no time constraints, nowhere to be, no phone distractions, computer distractions, other people distractions.

Yeah. It’s not something that happens much any more. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the days when people would just hang out with each other for the sake of hanging out. There wasn’t ‘Let’s do lunch’ or ‘Want to meet for a cup of coffee?’ or ‘How about an after work ride?’ or people constantly checking their phones, it was just people hanging out for hours, shooting the shit. But now…Schedules. Busy schedules. Always.

But long runs. Long runs are the perfect vehicle for undivided attention time.

Megan thought that Trans Zion would take us 14 hours. I tried to convince her that we were totally ready to get it done in 12. I mean, 48 miles, the website said that it was 95% runnable. Forget that my fitness was questionable. Megan pointed out that at least she was well rested.

Someday the two of us are going to show up to an adventure that we’re actually prepared for. Until then, we’ll just keep pulling big days out of our asses and laughing about it afterwards.

Scott was nice enough to get up early the morning of the run and drop us off at the east entrance of the park at 0’dark :30. Megan and I had left another car at the Kolob Canyons the afternoon before, so on some level, unless we wanted to have to run a double shuttle, we were committed to getting to the end. It didn’t feel nearly as committing as our Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Big Ditch last spring, but we were both a bit weary of the distance.

I mean, 50 miles is a long way, however you slice or dice it.

But, one foot in front of the other. That’s how you cover distance.


Colors! The entire east section was wooded, entirely unexpected by both of us.

I’ve found that the best way to regulate pace for an all-day effort is to make sure that everything is done at a conversational pace. And the best way to do that is to have conversations.


Coming down Echo Canyon into the main Virgin River canyon. 

What did we talk about? Everything.

And we had time to explore every tangent we went on, because well, and no tangent was too off-topic or silly, we were going to be out there for a long time. There was something very freeing about that…the idea that there really was no other place that either of us needed to be other than than right where we were.


Little slot in Echo Canyon. Since we decidedly weren’t aiming for a FKT, and had pretty much accepted that we most likely were going to finish after dark regardless of what we did, we took time to take pictures and enjoy the landscape. I call it Motivated Photo Pace. 

We ran into hoards of people coming down the final switchbacks of the trail that goes up to Observation Point, one of the more popular trails in the Park. We got a wide range of comments ranging from the snarky ‘I bet you didn’t run UP this’ (Nope, actually we didn’t) to ‘Go girls! So badass!’ National Parks are funny, and we talked about what it would feel like if someone’s only idea of ‘Wilderness’ was what they experienced at a National Park.

On the mile run on the road down to the Grotto, we nearly got run over by two of the three shuttle buses that passed us. Seriously? The road is open ONLY to shuttle buses, you have a clear line of sight, could you PLEASE give us more than 4 inches buffer?

While there were two water opportunities on the eastern section, the Grotto was the first place we stopped to fill up. Tap water that doesn’t need to be filtered is pretty handy.


Looking down on Angels Landing, Megan shows off her poles that went on a nice 50 mile jaunt while staying attached to her pack the whole way.

I dare say we were both feeling pretty good heading up from the main canyon. Megan relayed her story of crushing the Big Horn 50 back in the spring and her various tiers of goals for the race. #1 – Finish with dignity. I liked that one.


They paved the trail. Whatever.

I think the next section of the route was my favorite of the whole run, mostly because it was so unexpected. It was (still is) a whole area of Zion that I had no clue about. Giant mounds of sandstone. Deep canyons. It was beautiful.


And colors. The colors were pretty spectacular too!

I vaguely remember a story about Megan’s kiddo involving poop being told here. There was much laughter to be had all day.


Eventually, after some long, flat, and wooded sections (there were also sections that looked like the grasslands of Africa), we started seeing the red cliffs of the Kolob Canyons in the distance. We skipped one spring that was labeled as 0.3 miles off trail (0.3 miles, ugh, I don’t want to go that far off trail) and hoped real hard that the Wildcat spring was flowing.

It was! And it was a beautiful little alcove of water. How I didn’t get a picture of it is beyond me. The water made me happy. But it also made my pack heavy, and that didn’t make me happy.

At the end of the connector trail, we assessed our ‘time till dark’ and ‘miles to go’ situation. 13 miles, I said. It still felt like we were firmly in the afternoon zone of the day.

‘We can do that in 3 hours!’ I said, ‘That’ll get us done right at dark, that’d be great!’

‘I bet we can do it in under two and half,’ Megan countered. ‘We’re definitely running faster than 20 minute miles.’

Optimism is often a poor life choice near the end of long runs.


The Hop Valley was a complete disaster of a sand pit. I think we were lucky to have eked out anything under 25 minute miles. (For the record, if anyone is reading this with the intention of doing this run, I’ve heard that the sand is heaps better after rain, and if you can get it after a rain when it’s cold enough to freeze, (and you run west to east) it’s like running cement) It was actually pretty funny given our hope just moments prior, but man, that was a rough 6 miles.

So. Much. Sand.

Conversation pretty much stopped except to talk about the sand.

It got dark on us just as we dropped down into La Verkin Creek. A sign there said 6.5 miles to the trailhead. Somehow I’d had it in my head that it was going to be all downhill, but the fact that the car was parked at Lees Pass started me doubting. Passes aren’t really found at the low points of creeks…

Issues to be dealt with later.


Moonrise from camp the following day. 

We got lucky with the timing of our run though, the full moon started peaking over the cliffs soon after it got dark. I could tell we were surrounded by beauty, I just couldn’t see much beyond the silhouettes of the cliffs around us.

Megan rallied. We flew down the trail along the creek, being a little bit jealous of the people who were backpacking and camped for the night. When the trail turned up, we both wondered how we’d both individually managed to miss a thousand foot climb on the profile. Whoops?

We finished dead on 14 hours, which was Megan’s original prediction. Neither of us had had the brains to leave any warm clothes in the car, but Megan had decided the channel the amazing apples that we’d bought at Phantom Ranch on our R2R2R and produced two from the back of the car.

We ate them sitting in the dark parking lot, staring up at the stars, giggling.

How the hell did we just pull that off? Conversation, which had ranged from everything from serious to silly to silence throughout the day, turned to food.

‘Do you think Scott will make us a quesadilla when we get back?’

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When Things Go Downhill

I had a really rough August and September.

Some pretty shitty things happened right before the Ouray 100, and some exceptionally shitty things happened in the days and weeks following it.

Plus I was exhausted and injured.

So to say that I was handling life terribly would be the understatement of the fall. I was sad to the point that I didn’t leave the condo in Winter Park, where we were staying while dealing with aforementioned shittiness, for days. I watched a lot of Project Runway and Pitbulls and Parolees. I was angry to the point where I was convinced that all of humanity was a shitty mess. I was not in a good place.

And my usual self-medication of exercise wasn’t available. My ankle kept me from running, walking was uncomfortable and probably slowing the healing process, and riding bikes was only possible on non-bumpy surfaces.  Which…booooring. Yawn.

But life goes on. It has to. And I was so lucky to have set a date for a Zion Traverse run with Megan later in the fall. If I had any hope of finishing the 50 miles with her, I had to get my shit together. Or at least I had to fake that it was together well enough to get some miles in, which is what I did. Fear-based training. Or something.

We finally clawed our way away from Winter Park and headed to Moab, the place that has never failed to bring joy to my life.


But the desert wasn’t quite ready for us. Down low, it was still hot, too hot for the Scamp, so we headed into the La Sals. Visiting these mountains, which tower over Moab, has always been on my list, but generally if it’s mountain season, we’re in Colorado, not Moab.

But I had to get out of Winter Park, and Colorado in general, I had to put an end to my summer (which is symbolically done by leaving the state) so there we were, in the desert when it was still hot. But as it turns out, the running in the La Sals is top notch, even though a 7 mile jaunt nearly killed me. 50 miles in three weeks…riiiight.

I worked hard to lay as low as possible in Moab. I just didn’t have the energy to see anyone. I didn’t want to ride with anyone. Please, can we just keep any Moab pictures off of social media please?

I may have been forcing myself into resuming “real life”, but I was still firmly on the struggle bus.



Eventually, it was time to start heading towards Zion to meet Megan for the traverse. We gave ourselves the better part of a week to get there, hoping to stop and visit some places that we’d heard about but never visited. First stop was the San Rafael Swell.


There are endless cool canyons to wander around, including the famous Little Wild Horse Canyon, which can be looped with Bell Canyon. From what we’d read, both canyons were almost always dry and pretty straight forward.


So when we started to run into water, we were a little confused. We worked hard to keep feet dry for a while, and then we ran into a pair of guys who were soaked up past their waist. “Sure, if you’re an acrobat, you might be able to get through without getting wet,” they told us.

So much for straightforward.


We were so surprised when the canyon turned into an actual slot. We may have researched to the point of believing there wouldn’t be water, but we hadn’t gone any further than seeing parts of the canyon labeled as “good slots”.

What a beautiful surprise!

Plus, with the waist+ deep water, there were very few people in the upper part of the canyon, which for the most popular canyon in the Swell, was pretty awesome.

The water also made us feel pretty medium-core.

In the afternoon, we headed over to Goblin State Park to see their mountain bike trails (pretty fun) and to check out the Goblins. I’m a sucker for erosion. And for making up stories for the rocks. Like this screaming face.


We continued on south. First to Capitol Reef National Park where we set our eyes on Fern’s Nipple, an semi-off trail scramble. We made it a good ways up, but after a couple of wrong turns, cairns built in incorrect places, and a not good enough understanding of the lay of the land, we bailed back down after exhausting our Scrambling Adrenaline Points, a well that isn’t that deep quite yet.


Plus, the car was parked at the bottom of Grand Gulch, which is in a highly floodable canyon, and we never quite felt good about the weather being stable. We were probably being excessively paranoid after an unexpected storm in Moab had threatened to flood/carry away the Scamp a week earlier. The water was seriously two inches from the bottom of the body, it was a no bueno situation. Whoops?


Finally, it was onto Bryce, our last stop before meeting Megan in Zion. That was when the spark plugs in the van started to fail. First #3. Then #1. Then #2. Turns out, you need spark plugs to go anywhere, so we spent some quality time in the car repair shop in Panguich, which, for being a small Utah town, is…well, they have a nice grocery store, even if it’s closed on Sundays. But the mechanic fixed the car as we sat there, which all things considered, is pretty lucky.

But I was definitely ready for some Megan time. No matter what else is going on in life, Megan Time is Good Time. And I get to see her so rarely now that she picked up and moved up to Bozeman, the time is even more extra special. The thought of not letting her down on the run, which had been two years in the planning, had forced me to get back to some routine that I called life. It had been two months since many things had gone to shit. Hopefully this could be a new beginning.

Plus a day running through Zion. It was going to be great.



Ouray 100: Questionable Life Choices

It’s sort of interesting writing about a race that happened months ago. There’s been a lot of mental processing that’s happened since then.

If I’d written about the Ouray 100 the day afterwards, I would have said that it was brutally hard but wonderful, and a sore ankle was a fair price to pay for it. I would totally sign up for another 100 miler.

If I’d written about it a week afterwards, I would have said that 100-mile races were dumb. Injuries were dumb. I never wanted to go that deep into energy debt again.

If I’d written about it a month afterwards, I would have said that running was dumb and that it was okay that I was injured because I didn’t want to ever run again anyways.

Now? Three months post-race? It was a questionable decision to race from a training/energy use standpoint. Running is awesome and I apparently have no issues with agreeing to do 50 mile runs now just because I can. I most likely won’t sign up for another 100-mile event, but never say never.

I do find it interesting to see what “highlights” have stuck in my brain. Memory is funny. Which I guess is part of the reason I like to write everything down.

The Start

I remember how everyone seemed to be chill and smart as we jogged off the start line, then as soon as we rounded the corner, got out of sight of the start line and started up the first small hill, people took off like bats out of hell. It reminded me of bikepacking races. (Hey guys! We have 2,700 miles to pedal, must we start off at a sprint?) And I may have gotten a little bit caught up in the hype of it. I can also be dumb like that.


Trish and Jay on Camp Bird Road. Taking ourselves very seriously.

The first turnaround hole-punch location was a beautiful lake. I wanted to go swimming. I didn’t. We were racing, right? Otherwise I would have totally gone swimming. There were some people already looking pretty rough coming up the first climb as I was going down it.


What a waste of a swimming opportunity

The climb to the second hole punch was impossibly steep. And the hole punch didn’t want to work. It seemed like I wasted 10 minutes there futzing with it, but I’d bet it was actually less than one.


Top of climb #2. Climb #3 in the background. I love the San Juans.

Storm clouds were starting to build, so the motivation to get up to Fort Peabody, the highpoint of the course just above Imogene Pass wasn’t hard to find. Plus, there was a trio of boys right behind me and I really didn’t want them to catch me. 15 miles in. Racing boys. (I don’t even race boys!) I know. Stupid. Still, I cleared the peak without any thunder or lightening, and I was happy with that. And the guys didn’t catch me.

The Struggle is Real

I struggled over Richmond Pass. It was climb #4 of 14, and my legs were starting to feel worked. Never a good sign. It was just plain old steep. And when you’re less than a third of the way through the climbs, the entire thing seems impossible. The clouds were building, thunder started booming as I cleared the pass and made quick work of the above treeline descent. I also found a runner who descended slower than I did. This has never happened in the history of ever. He said something about cramps. Bah. I still passed someone. On. A. Downhill.


This trail is removed by the trail gnomes once it gets dark. That made for an interesting return trip many hours later. 

Then the rain started. I’m made of sugar and spice. I don’t like the rain and came into the Ironton aid station for the first of three times completely soaked, but warm. On a bike it would have been miserable. +1 for running and heat generation.

And Scott was there! It was one of the highlights of my race because I wasn’t expecting him to be there. Meghan and Randy were also there, and the three of them helped me get my ducks in a row for heading out on an 8-mile loop in the rain. I’ve always scoffed at crews, but da-yum, it was nice to not have to dig through my bag of stuff and figure out what I needed. Instead, I focused on eating mac and cheese with bacon. Mmmmm…bacon.

Seeing them boosted my spirits. So did the thought that the next 8-mile loop, and the same loop run in the opposite direction afterwards, would all be road and no trail. Of course, it wasn’t. There was some quality steep trail in there that I just hadn’t picked up on when perusing the route description. Whoops. Standard Eszter procedure. Some may call it being unprepared. I call it being open to surprises.

It finally stopped raining, which was a huge relief. Of course, all the underbrush on the trail was soaked, so dry I definitely wasn’t when I finished the loop and headed back to Ironton for snacks. Still, sun! And mac and cheese.

My lasting memories of of the second loop out there consist of seeing Jill who was out hiking, running into Abbie and Vale having a dance party at the high-point while going the other direction, having my phone turn off because it was too cold (and therefor stuffing it into my sports bra for the rest of the race, which is actually a pretty good place to carry a phone, it turns out!), and wondering why I didn’t think to bring gloves when I knew it was going to get dark and cold on me. (Because dumb. Pure dumb. My hands got so cold.)

Quesadilla and Cookie Transport

Of course, the rain started again 10 minutes from getting back to the aid station. It was just going to be one of those types of nights. Even though the rain had stopped by the time I was ready to leave, I put my rain pants on just because I could, and on the insistence of the aid station volunteers, took half a quesadilla and two home made cookies with me for the road. (Eating while racing isn’t a strong point, but I did drink several thousand calories worth of HEED. Gross.)

I shoved the cookies and quesadilla in my pocket as soon as I was out of sight.

The climb back up Richmond was uneventful until the guy I was with and I completely lost the trail. GAIA on the phone came out and we wandered the tundra, taking an ‘adventurous’ route until we found flagging again. It was good to get back on “trail” again.

The guy I was running with was from Mississippi (?) and asked if the large babyheads that we were stumbling down in the dark were considered scree or talus. I told him, ‘I don’t know, I call it rocky.’

He must not have been pleased with my snark because he promptly dropped my sorry ass. Downhill is hard! And then I descended into the cloud and the rain started again. At least I had my rain pants on. Middle of the night rain is the best kind of rain. Not. Desert girl here. I don’t do rain.

I had this hope that once back on Camp Bird Road, life would start to feel better than it did on steep scree/talus/rock, but it didn’t. It was still running, and it was still downhill. And at that point in time, I was pretty over both concepts. It was hard to imagine that even with everything I’d already done, I still had the full Ouray 50 course in front of me. And last year, just that had killed me. Oi.

Avery Collins, the men’s winner of the 100 last year was manning the Wanaka/Wanakiki/Wenaski/whatever it’s called aid station. He had hot soup, and the camaraderie of several of us being there made me feel better about life. Plus, the rain had stopped. He plied me with snacks for the next leg. ‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the last aid station.’

I had it in my head that the climb up to the mine, #8 of 14, was somewhat short and easy. I probably thought this because it’s the first climb of the Ouray 50, and last year, I was still feeling pretty good 5 miles into that race. The climb was neither short nor easy. And in the dark, the view from the top sort of a bummer too.

Still, there was hot soup back at the aid station. Plus, I knew that the crux of the whole shebang was the next climb, I just had to get up that. Before leaving the aid station, Avery tried to get me to take some food. ‘It’s a long ways to the next aid station,’ he told me.

‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the Ironton aid station.’ (I actually still had every intention of eating this now squished up mass of calories)



My feet were starting to hurt, something about being wet for most of the past 22 hours, but the climb itself went fairly easily. The descent hurt like hell. I passed another runner who had some choice words about the whole course (but two downhill passes!) and was starting to feel pretty okay about the whole situation.

Plus, the sun came up! I’m a solar powered action figure.

At the aid station, in addition to throwing away the quesadilla and cookies that I’d carred for the past 20 miles, I took some Advil for the feetsies, the first of the race. I was trying to do the 100 miles on no pain killers, but it became abundantly clear that that wasn’t going to happen. The climb was fine, but holy hell, did that descent hurt. Even when I was back on the smooth dirt road with a 4% grade, I couldn’t run. It just hurt to bad.

Going South

But, I was headed back to Fellin Park, the main aid station/start/finish. I’d have new shoes. I’d pick up Kurt as a pacer. And life would be good. Or something.

I limped in just as the 50-milers were starting to get ready to go and pulled off my shoes. My feet hadn’t looked that bad since Colorado Trail Race 2010 when half the field dropped out due to trenchfoot. White. Wrinkled. Gross. Whoops?

I put some lube on, dry socks, and dry shoes, and things felt marginally better. Kurt and I started up Twin Peaks, which is the steepest climb of the whole thing, but my favorite, mostly because you really can’t run any of it. We stopped at the top to admire the view. It was pretty much dark here when I raced the 50, so it was nice to stand there for a second in daylight.


Top of Twin Peaks. Thanks for the photo Kurt!

On the way down, it rained for three minutes and soaked everything. Including my feet and all of the underbrush that would ensure that my feet would stay soaked for another half an hour. Dammit. Almost immediately, the tootsies started to hurt again, but I still had to do the drop down to Silvershield before coming back up and over. There may have been some grumbling. Potentially some cursing. But there were also dinosaur tracks, so that was cool.

Back at Fellin, I swapped shoes and socks again and picked up Danielle as my second pacer from my crew of Motley Mountain Bikers Pretending to be Ultrarunners. Things sort of went pretty downhill on this second to last leg of the race. I was tired. My feet hurt. My stomach wasn’t feeling excessively stoked. Looking back on my speed, I was crawling. Danielle was amazingly patient and agreed that more caffeine would probably be a good idea.

About half a mile from the finish of the leg, something went haywire in my shin. Phantom pain, I told myself. It’ll work itself out. I wasn’t about to call it quits with only 10 miles left. Maybe if the pain had started earlier in the leg, I would have known that it wasn’t just an imagined pain…but so close to the aid station and the transition to the last 10 miles, I had myself fully convinced that I was okay.

Dignity has been Abandoned

Scott and I headed out. Scott didn’t want to do the Bridge of Heaven leg with me again in the dark because he’d done it with me, in the dark, last year during the 50. But because of my timing coming in for the Twin Peaks section and the start of the 50-mile race which he needed to be around for to help with SPOTs, he was stuck with me for the 5,000 foot trudge.

The hallucinations started pretty early on once it got dark. People on the side of the trail. Faces in the trees. I stopped for a 10 minute nap. I trudged some more. I stopped for a second nap. I dragged my sorry ass to the top of the mountain where the wind was whipping and the cold dug deep into my bones. I’d forgotten both a hat and gloves. It was a quick turnaround.

Melbeejoi was already done with the race. Third place wasn’t going to catch me unless I stopped for a long time. I just needed to get the last stupid five miles done.

My friend Megan once described a race goal as ‘Finishing with dignity.’

There was no dignity in my finish. The descent was a disaster. I went off trail several times. I argued with Scott about the number of switchbacks that were left until the finish. I watched as the people racing the 50-miler fly by me like I was standing still…which I was for much of the last two miles.

It was ugly. I’ve had some ugly finishes to races, and this one may have actually topped them all. I was hallucinating. My feet hurt like hell. And my shin and ankle…that was something that I didn’t want to think about right then. And I was tired. So tired.

The pavement did eventually come, and the last quarter mile of pavement dragged on for eons. It was almost comical. I dragged my poles just to make a statement (to whom? The universe?) that I was tired and over it. I’m not sure Scott knew what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me. It was 4am, I’d been awake for nearly 46 hours. Without a pacer, I definitely wouldn’t have gone out on those last 10 miles without a substantial nap. I guess that’s what pacer are for? To keep you safe when thinking (or walking) straight doesn’t really happen without a large amount of effort. Ultraracing is not good for the health.

The finish, being at 4am, was fairly anticlimactic. It did feel good to sit in front of a heater. Jill, who was manning the aid station during the witching hours fed me some food. Charles, the RD, was there. He apparently had spent the entire night either manic and energized or asleep in his chair.

Scott got me back up to the Scamp and in bed just as the first rays of dawn could be seen in the sky. I slept. Many different parts of me hurt when I woke up. But hey, I’d just run/hiked/crawled 100 miles!


So in retrospect, with that whole 20/20 hindsight, would I do it again?

I spent the better part of a month being unable to run or ride because of nasty tendonitis in my ankle and a potential stress fracture in my shin. That sucked pretty bad.


But in the same way that running the Ouray 50 last year opened by horizons to how far I could actually go on foot, finishing the 100 pushed those mental limitations that I impose on myself even further out. And that’s pretty cool.

And memories. I made a lot of memories. I met new people. I got to spend some quality time with Kurt and Danielle as they kept me pointed in the right direction on the trail, and Scott got to see what happens when I get really tired and sleep deprived.

In the end. It was mostly fun. I still giggle when I think about certain parts of it. I can’t think of a better 100 mile event that I’d have rather done. Grass-roots. A little chaotic. Equal payout to men and women. And beautiful. So beautiful.

And now I know why runners are so freakin’ obsessive about their feet. When the feet go south, everything goes south. Lesson learned, thankyouverymuch.

Big thanks to everyone who played in the mountains with me all summer so that I had a chance in hell of finishing this beast and my pacers, Kurt, Danielle, and Scott.

Poor life choices often make for the best stories. Or something like that.

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Never let a taper get in the way of a good adventure

Well, I guess I went and jacked up my ankle during the Ouray 100. I’m self diagnosing it as anterior ankle impingement and/or a stress fracture in my lower shin.  Either way, I haven’t walked more than a mile for two weeks.

But at least I can ride dirt roads? Yay bikes!

Still, it sucks.

I got a lot of ‘I knew you could do it!’ and ‘I never doubted you could do it!’ after finishing Ouray.

But I always knew I could do it (barring serious injury or accident). If there’s something that requires very little motor skill or coordination, just a whole lot of determination and stubbornness, I got that shit. Finishing Ouray wasn’t really the top goal – finishing it without getting hurt was the top goal. That was the goal that I was uncertain about.

Did I reach my goal? Not really looking promising. I’m sort of kicking myself right now. Stupidstupidstupid.

Running does not reward stupid. The pain started with 11 miles left of the race, about a mile left from the second to last segment. At the time, compared to how bad my feet hurt, it didn’t seem that bad, and I wasn’t about to quit with that little to go. I was hoping that it was just a freak little bit of pain.

It wasn’t.

But on the plus side, the two weeks before the race were pretty awesome.

Scott and I headed out for a loop on the backside of Princeton. It was a weekend day, and weekend days take a little creativity to get away from crowds.


The idea was to connect two ridges without actually having to go to the summit of the 14er.


The weather never really looked promising, but while it pounded Antero, we seemed to be in the clear. Still, we stopped to check the radar every once in a while. There was no easy way down from where we were, and we had no intention of getting stormed on.


We definitely lucked out. No doubt about it.


For a weather pattern that was dumping heavy rain on the Scamp daily, it had the courtesy to wait until we were down and back home. Then we watched the rain move in over the ridge that we were just on…

Somewhere in there, I got a new bike! A real purdy Salsa Woodsmoke. It (as is standard with most of my bikes) took a little while to get built up and dialed, but when she was ready, I couldn’t wait to take her out on some trails.


The last time I’d ridden this trail, I’d completely fallen apart. I don’t remember the details of why, but there were tears, there was getting upset with Scott, and there was a lot of bike pushing. Maybe it was the new bike, maybe it was a better state of mind, but this trail is beautiful.


I definitely cleaned some climbs that I remember pushing, and the only time I missed rear suspension was when we were bombing down the jeep road at the end. But I’m pretty sure that the snacks I can fit in the framebag for that bike more than outweigh the disadvantage of not having a squishy rear end.


We discovered the Captain Burger foodcart had moved on from its St Elmo location. Scott was crushed. The potato salad and San Pelligrino from the Princeton Hot Springs store did little to make him feel better.

Throughout all this, the Colorado Trail Race was going on. And somewhere in there, the Hansons showed up to camp with us. I’m generally not big on dot stalking, but Chris Plesko, who at the time was leading the race on his single speed, was nearby, so we all opted to go for a little Colorado Trail ride and see if we could run into him.


He looked…rough. We’d find out later that he hadn’t eaten in 12 hours. Ouch. I’ve done that race twice…don’t think I ever need to do it again.

With the weather looking iffy for the Ark Valley, it was time to move on. Plus, Ouray was in a week and a half, it was time to start making moved in that general direction. We opted for a stopover in Gunnison, because well, we love Gunnison and some of my very favorite people live there.


We were able to coax Rachel out for a mid-day ride at Hartmans. Just an hour and a half, we all remembered that there can be a lot of mountain bike magic made in 90 minutes.


And the sunsets there! I love my mountains, and Gunni is sort of in the mountains, but I do miss the big sunsets of the desert.

I set up an ‘I want to do all the things with all of the people’ day for our first full day in the Valley. It started with laundry. #ScamplifeChores

But then we made our way up valley and met Kurt, who happened to be rolling through town, up at Lake Irwin for a little run. Tapering, I called it. I was tapering.


We went up to Scarps Ridge, stayed on it past the normal mountain bike descent, and cruised up to the high point. I had every intention of coming back down on trail, but Scott was having none of it. And Kurt wasn’t really on my side for a “normal” run. So we went down a different ridge without a trail and looped it around.


It was pretty rad. Most of Scott’s ideas are. Except when they’re not.

We finished with a jump off of the Lake Irwin rock. All runs should finish at a lake.


We had a quick turnaround with a PB&J sandwich and met up with the Hansons for a ride on Snodgrass. It’s such a lovely little trail, and the flowers were still amazing.


I do miss the riding in CB. We would have ridden longer, but I’d set up a camp dinner date back in Gunni, and I was tapering. Right, I was tapering. Uh-huh.

We boogied back down the valley, just making it in time to have Rachel and Jefe come join the Hansons and us for dinner. I made cheesy potatoes, Rach brought a salad from her garden, Jefe brought snacks.

The sky put on an amazing show.


#Scamplife is great for all the adventures and all, but really, it’s nights like these that make it so worth it.

With Ouray six days away, I knew that it was getting to be high time to start resting. But I was in CB, and I’m a firm believer that you should never let a taper get in the way of a good adventure. And Rachel had all day to ride, and Kurt and his friend Kristen wanted to ride, and Scott always wants to ride, and I wasn’t about to miss out on that!

We opted for a very mellow and relaxing 403/401 loop. Okay, that’s a lie. There’s nothing really mellow or relaxing about a single mile of the route, except for maybe the ride out from Gothic.




It ended up being an adventure. Scott got stung by a bee and started getting sausage fingers. Luckily (?), he had to be back in town for internet and work by 2pm, so he was going to have to bail after 403 anyhow…not just on account of his fat fingers. Kristen also had to work, leaving Kurt, Rach, and I to finish 401.


CB locals, and a lot of non-locals poo-poo this trail. I know I sure did. But day-um, it’s fun. No other trail has quite the distance of high-speed, skunk-grass, flower fun. Plus, we rode it really fast because the weather was moving in and we didn’t want to get soaked.

We got soaked. What started as a sprinkle at the Snodgrass trailhead turned into a full-on deluge while we bombed down the highway. When we got back into town, I pulled out my phone to see a text from Scott: You might want to wait a bit, raining cats and dogs in town.


Still, it was nothing that a set of dry clothes and a burrito from Teocalli Tamale couldn’t fix. It was over six hours of riding – seemed like an appropriate place to start a taper for a running race from. It had been three amazing days in Gunnison County and I didn’t regret a single energy point that I’d spent.

If I’d known that I’d spend the two weeks following Ouray on the couch, I’d probably ridden and run more leading up to it, and I definitely wouldn’t have felt quite as bad about delaying my taper to the very end.

I guess, in the end, weeks like this is why I don’t place all my focus on racing. If I had, I would have missed out on entirely too much fun. The Fun Meter definitely would not have been pegged at high. And I would have been slightly bummed going into Ouray, and I’d be even more pissed off at my ankle now.

But it’s okay. Injuries happen. This too, will heal. And as soon as that happens, I’ll make sure the Fun Meter gets pegged once again. And hopefully, I have the brains to never sign up for another 100 mile slog through the mountains. As amazing as it was…

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Mountain biking, mountain running, and mountain adventure FOMO

Earlier this year I was hanging out with Justin Simoni, aka The Long Ranger (if you haven’t been following his Highest Hundred attempt here, you should. He’s 36 peaks into his self-powered, self-supported attempt to ride to and climb the highest 100 peaks in Colorado. It’s the most bad-ass thing going on these days, IMHO.), when he mentioned that when he did his Tour de 14ers, he’d spent the majority of the winter running and felt that his bike riding fitness had suffered.

I, in my head, called bullshit. Running makes you fit. Fitness is fitness. Who cares if it’s on a bike or on foot.

And then I went to go ride Canyon Creek with Kimberly, Nate, and Nick, and I understood the Long Rangers’ laments. I suffered real bad like on the massive climb up to 12,000+ feet. Fitness is great and all, but if you don’t have the muscle to turn the pedals over, it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.


I’ve seen it in the way my pants fit. My quads have shrunk. My ass has grown. It really is two entirely different muscle sets.


The good thing was though, it didn’t matter that I was hurting. It was just a big day up in the mountains with friends. And that’s cool no matter how you feel.


Even Nick breaking his frame clean through couldn’t completely ruin the day. Put a damper on it, sure, but he was able to splint the chainstay with a tire iron and roll very gentle out the final 8 miles. And the moment we got back to the van, the skies unleashed and poured. It was fantastic timing.

But I had learned my lesson. If I wanted to actually continue to ride bikes with any level of grace and joy, I had to actually ride bikes. I know. Duh. I’m a mountain biker dammit!

But Trish and Ryan were back from their workweek in Carbondale, and somehow Trish had gotten infected with Nolan’s fever. So it was pretty easy to convince her to to do a traverse of Princeton, especially since Scott and Ryan agreed to run a shuttle for us. Boys are the best!


We ran into a brown-capped rosy finch near the ridge who was putting on an impressive display of might. I think we might have been near her nest, so we kept going so that she wouldn’t worry too much.


The ridge up from Grouse Creek was a little scramblier that I had expected. I had a moment of ‘I’m skeeerd’, but I made it though. It also reminded me that there was a lot more to Nolan’s than a very long, high-elevation slog. How would this ridge feel after having already gone over three peaks, probably late in the afternoon? I think f-ing terrifying is the correct answer.


I had a variety of tracks to choose from for the descent. One from an unknown human who had completed the Nolan’s line, and one that I had drawn in from various online data. From the top, given that the weather was looking iffy, we opted for the ‘scouted’ line down.


This was a mistake because I’m pretty sure that the track I had belonged to Ted Mahon’s run, and he got stormed off the peak and exited the ridge sooner than he’d wanted it. The descent was horrendous. Trish christened us #TeamFlawlessNavigation.


I couldn’t have been that bad, because when I proposed a traverse of Yale two days later, with the boys available to run our shuttle again (boys are great!), Trish agreed yet again.


I think I lured her in with the promise of plane wreckage from a crash in the 60s (?) on the other side. Ryan started behind us and caught us halfway up.


Scott started ahead of us, but forgot his walking stick in the car, so he went back to get it. We all reconvened at the summit before dropping off our separate directions.


I managed to take us down the wrong ridge about halfway down, and then I got us stuck in a mass of deadfall near the bottom, but we did find the airplane wreckage PLUS the perfect log to cross the creek at the bottom on. #TeamFlawlessNavigation.

The two outings definitely drove home that you could have the most perfect track for Nolan’s, but it isn’t going to do you any good, at least if you want to move at any appreciable speed, if you haven’t scouted the route. Our deadfall debaucle? We were 50 feet from the track, mucking around in the trees. Track was in an open avy chute. We had no idea that those 50 feet would make a difference.

Then add darkness to the mix. Yeah.

Ryan picked us up at North Cottonwood trailhead, and we all headed to the Viking Burger foodcart in BV for lunch, then group laundry at the laudromat, then ice cream. Trish and Ryan know how to do it right.

And their dog Dexter is super cute too.


Unfortunately, they had to go back to make their Fun Tokens in Carbondale. So I went back to reminding myself how to be a mountain biker. We opted for Rainbow Trail. Lots of bang for the buck, and we’d be back in time for our lunch date.


It pretty much kicked my ass. I had to eat all of Scott’s snacks because I’d failed to bring any of my own. Runners might not eat, but mountain bikers definitely do.

Our friend, John Schilling (picture taker) was getting ready to do the Colorado Trail Race and was on his way to drop is car in Denver so that he could go back to Durango for the start. He’d contacted Aaron W for lunch on the way, and we’d gotten ourselves invited to the party.


Aaron was just back from his massive American Trail Race, where, as far as I can tell, had gotten fairly epic’d while having a huge adventure. This guy retraced our steps on the CDT two years after we did it, did it a full month faster, made it look good, and kept touring afterwards. So it sort of made me giggle to hear his stories of getting crushed by a route.

We sent Schilling off to Denver, also about to partake in a huge adventure, and went to go have beers with Janie and Jimmy. Janie was just off of a insanely fast Trans American Bike Race, one that I had closely blue-dot stalked. She also had had a massive adventure.

I wanted to have a massive adventure! All these people were doing big, cool things, I wanted to do big cool things. And I knew (felt?), rationally, that Nolan’s was still too big of a bite to take. But there had to be something.

Ouray? Should I do Ouray?


Playing in the Mountains

Well, I guess I went ahead and did the Ouray 100 this past weekend.

And I’m sort of sitting here wondering where the heck the fitness and motivation came from to pull off 44 hours of wandering through the San Juans, because the last time I checked this blog, I was firmly on the ‘I’m not going to race’ side of life.

So I figured that actually going through the photos from the last month might shed some light onto the evolution of bad ideas. And, you know, I like to at least pretend to keep this little corner of the Internet updated.

First up was Mt Hope with Scott. We stare at this mountain from our Twin Peaks camp incessantly, but it hadn’t quite made it to the top of the priority list until now.


At 70 feet shy of the benchmark of 14,000 feet, the peak doesn’t really get a lot of attention from most people.


Hope Pass is used by the CDT, the CT Collegiate West route, and the Leadville 100 run, but no one actually goes up the mountain to the side of it. Colorado is only as crowded as you let it be…


We had the top to ourselves and opted to head down a different ridge in order to make the route a lollipop instead of an out-and-back. If there’s one person who hates out-and-backs more than me, it’s Scott.


I spent my summit time tracing out the Nolan’s line in my head. ‘You come off of La Plata right there, then up Huron, over to Missouri, Belford, Oxford, I think that’s Harvard over there…’ Sticky ideas. Damn those sticky ideas.

Pretty much as soon as Meghan left the Sawatch, Melissa showed up for the better part of 10 days. She was firmly motivated for a good run at Ouray and was hanging out in the Leadville area for some quality acclimatization and training. We had some fairly crummy weather forecasts to work with, but Melissa is used to getting up early to beat Moab heat, and I guess even I’m willing to set alarm clocks for good adventures.


We opted for a loop on Mt Massive starting from the Fish Hatchery in Leadville.


Baby Ptarmigan!

We talked a lot about Ouray and the benefits of racing, supporting events that have awesome race directors who support gender equality, and committing to goals. But I still had zero intention of doing anything other with my summer other than keeping the Fun Meter pegged at high.


I was finally starting to feel good at altitude, something that I was convinced would never happen again after the rough start to the summer.


After taking a slightly obscure route to the summit, we headed back down the main trail of Massive. I find the people watching hilarious. Some people get upset with crowded trails (and I do too after a while), but in small doses, I’m endlessly amused by the humanity that chooses to try to scale these peaks.

We were reaching our 14-day limit at our campsite (we have a bad habit of getting stuck in the Twin Peaks area), so we packed up the Scamp and headed down valley. The weather looked better down there anyhow. Monsoons were in full swing. T’was the season for alarm clocks.

And if there’s anyone who will commiserate about alarm clocks with me, it’s Trish, so it was pretty great that the time of week had rolled around for her to have some days off and we found ourselves camped together at Browns Creek.


Between Trish, Ryan, Scott, and I, we couldn’t seem to settle on a plan for the next day. Trish was tired, Ryan was indifferent, Scott is scared of high mileage, and I’m not too into going into bad weather if I don’t have to. So we pondered our options for the better part of the afternoon until Melissa and Randy showed up, proposed an option, and we all said yes. Mostly because we were done with deliberating and wanted someone to choose for us.


When we woke up to rain on the Scamp, I may have grumbled some. If I didn’t have people outside waiting on me, I probably would have turned the alarm clock off and gone back to sleep. But that’s why you have running partners, right? Accountability? Or something.

After the appropriate amount of futzing, we were all headed up Browns Creek. The rain had stopped, and the clouds made it look like magic unicorn land.


We kept movement motivated knowing that we’d have to get up and over a 13,000 foot saddle before starting the fast descent into the trees. And it was pretty much supposed to storm all day long. We were getting lucky with our little bit of sun, and we knew it.


It became clear that our crew was made up of people who were much more into routes that involved more walking than running, more adventure than established trails. Which is really great for me, because running is really hard!


How we made it back to the cars without getting rained on is beyond me, but I thought it was pretty rad. Scott was wrecked after 16 miles, I was fairly to mostly tired. These girls are fast!


My little leggies were starting to get pretty toasted after all of the running, but FOMO runs strong with me, and recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.


Birds are great for recovery, because watching them is actually a fun thing to do when the knees ache.

Melissa had to head back for work in Moab soon, so we opted to gamble on yet another questionable weather forecast, one of those that predict rain starting at 9am. One of those forecasts that causes you to be less than deliberate in putting on sunscreen.


We opted for a Columbia/Harvard traverse. I loved the idea because it was a lollipop with a very small stick at the end, covered a chunk of the Nolan’s route, and was two peaks that I hadn’t been on.


Of course the sun came out and I could feel myself getting scorched.


We were warned by multiple groups (of men) coming the other direction that we needed to be very careful because there was a lot of snow to deal with. We thanked them for their beta.

The glissading conditions were great, and I’m pretty sure we made better time on the 1,000 foot drop off of the ridge to avoid the Rabbit Traverse than if there hadn’t been any snow. I need to start skiing again. Snow is fun.


Spirit animal. Likes lounging in the sun in alpine environments and stealing snacks.

The top of Harvard was hilarious, mostly because we heard it long before we saw it. People are funny. (The best advice I was ever given while working in the service industry.) And there were a lot of them.


Down was on well-established trail through a beautiful basin. There’s something to be said for not having to think about navigation, just follow the little ribbon of brown dirt and know that it will lead you straight back to your car.

But what’s the fun in that? After spending a good bit of time on the Nolan’s route in the past two weeks, I was getting excited about the idea of it. It still felt far above my pay grade, but I was getting to see more and more of it. Confidence levels that someday I might be able to pull it off were rising from the single digits into the low teens.

Buy day-um, those mountains are big.