Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hold the SALT

The Loop devised by Matt Kirk and mapped by Brad Kee, both of whom have now completed the trek. Credit and more.

Supposing a picture is worth a thousand words I can tell this story in a little over the equivalent of 4000 words -- one for each of the four full days I spent fast-packing half of the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail (SALT). I closed in on 200 miles connecting the Foothills Trail, Palmetto Trail, Bracken Mountain Trail, Art Loeb Trail, and Mountains to Sea Trail. I stopped as I approached the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies and therefore missed that portion of the SALT as well as the Bartram Trail.

I. Flowing over Appalachian Foothills.
My trek began pleasantly enough -- my ambivalence was washed away by the Chattooga River and my spirit invigorated by the lush flora. I spent the first two days (roughly) rolling along the Foothills Trail. The trail is well marked and maintained, and the water crossings so frequent that I could wait until my bottles completely emptied before worrying about refilling them. I cruised along at a modest trekking pace making only the shortest of stops to get, or get rid of, water. I can see why the trail between Oconee and Table Rock State Parks is a popular thru-hike. I'd love to return and do it with my kids sometime.

Day 1: Flow in the Foothills

II. Goal Driven
Completing the Foothills section did not pose any obstacles, but following the Palmetto Trail into the "missing link" and toward Brevard threw me into a goal-oriented mindset that easily slipped into frustration. I found my way to the Jones Gap Trail in the early evening but was greeted by a thunderstorm as I tried to navigate onto an un-mapped trail above Rainbow Falls. I felt pretty resourceful as I decisively scooped water into my bottles, bushwhacked to a shallow rock ledge and perched precariously to wait out the storm. Meanwhile I filtered the water, cooked and ate dinner, and stayed relatively dry. After the storm passed -- but while it continued raining -- I eventually found my way to Rainbow Falls and made the stout climb to Camp Greeneville as darkness approached. As the light -- and my wits -- dimmed I set camp up high on the power-line cut that I would follow to DuPont State Forest on day 3.

Day 2: Getting more serious traversing the tricky Palmetto Trail.

III. Losing my Grip.
As I got into my tent and casually munched some trail mix while warming back up in my bag, I expected to easily fall asleep. As with all five nights I would spend on the trail, however, I found no rest for my weariness. I tossed and turned, barely sleeping despite relatively plush gear. I packed a CCF pad as well as an inflatable Klymit pad, an inflatable pillow, and a 30F down sleeping bag -- all inside a pretty airy hexamid solplex tent from zpacks. I carried all that because I knew at age 45 I needed more cushion for my bones in order to be able to sleep well.  I had to custom make a waist-pack to be able carry the tent and sleeping bag and maintain mobility to run (or trot really) the flats and downs. Although the kit worked as intended I began to slip into the trap of sleep-deprivation.

On day 3 I made several wrong turns and backtracked multiple times as I second-guessed many decisions. I carried maps and a compass (a lesson I learned from the CT last year) but at times that made matters worse because the map didn't match the ground (at least not at the scale I was experiencing it). To get through the DuPont State Forest, for example, I knew that I had to get on the Cornmill Shoals Trail. I came upon a sign, and I knew I needed to go west, but it wasn't clear which way to proceed from the intersection. I would follow one fork as it meandered away from the intersection in a roughly westerly direction only to find that a half mile later it turned and headed back toward the east. So I would backtrack and follow it in the other direction only to find that the trail also meandered haphazardly that way. I became exasperated (multiple times). My feelings were amplified by my state of mind, and would have troubled me much less had my brain been working better. As quickly as I had sunk into despair, my spirits were lifted when Matt Kirk materialized abruptly in front of me mid-morning. He gave me pizza, pineapple, and tea that I carried along as we trotted through the final couple stretches of DuPont and emerged for a modest road section into Brevard. I was able to cruise into Brevard before noon, with plenty of time to eat Mexican and re-supply at Food Lion. Even so I wandered back and forth on Main Street completely disoriented and unable to make a simple decision.

I left Brevard feeling refueled and energized, and made good time on the bike-smoothed Bracken Mt Trail. The terrain was easy all the way to the Art Loeb, and then changed abruptly. That trail tended to get tougher as I headed North, and culminated with the climb up Pilot Mountain. Fortunately I came upon my intended stopping point more quickly than expected, and had yet another early evening that should have been relaxing and made possible a good rest. I happened upon a group of 4 backpackers staying at the Deep Gap shelter. They were excellent company -- even sharing a brat (and offering beer that I declined) -- but I probably would have made better decisions alone. Although my feet were wet and extremely tender, for example, I didn't get out of my shoes immediately. (They had set up a tent inside the shelter and had occupied the space I would have needed to go shoe-less. Also, my feet reeked -- and not just typical foot odor. More explanation on section IV). Although I noticed they had packed in plenty of alcohol I set up my tent near the shelter. I doubt I would have slept regardless, but I did get mildly frustrated after I laid down to sleep and listened to them carry on into the evening.

Day 3: Big climb up Pilot Mountain late in the day after many bonus miles

Throwback parallel shot from my AT thru-hike in 1998 after a long climb in the Whites.

IV. Why Stop?

Day 4 was supposed to have been the shortest of the trek. I overshot the turnoff from Art Loeb to Mountains To Sea Trail (MST), though, and added 3+ miles. (The trail marker had been taken and the trail was not obvious otherwise). Later, I also overshot a large switchback on the MST that wasn't mapped and therefore went back and forth on that, adding another couple of miles. Although it didn't rain on me, the humidity was once again high and the vegetation along the trail was lush and wet. My feet stayed soaked all day. I began the day dragging from another sleepless night. I don't know that I would have felt like continuing except that Rob French made the trip from Greensboro to run with me for the day. My spirits immediately buoyed when I saw him coming toward me. Rob and I care about similar things, but he has this personable side that I seem to lack. He's just easy to be with. We ran together for about ten hours. Things I would have fretted over had I been alone I was able to manage with him along. He was with me when I overshot the switchback, and it made all the difference. Instead of cussing into the wind I just talked it over with him. And even though he always said (even when I crazily suggested bushwhacking up a creek) that it was my trek and he'd go along with my decision, somehow I made a better decision because I was able to ask him about it first. My energy and pace stayed steady, even as I felt my  grip over my emotions ever-loosening.

What I really like about talking with Rob is he doesn't mind to get right into honest conversation. He admitted, for example, that he showed up in part because he didn't have any good enough reason not to. That pretty well summed up some of my feeling about starting the SALT trek. It was Matt Kirk's idea, after all, and two other guys were supposed to be in as well. I just happened to be the last guy who didn't have a good enough reason to pull out. So maybe I was looking for it. The forty-mile days weren't going to kill me, though. Those seemed to me a reasonable day's work. The tendinitis and swelling on my right foot really wasn't prohibitive either. By the end of day 4, though, the skin on my feet was really getting angry. I knew what was happening because it happened to me once before just over a year ago. My feet stayed wet for over 24 hours during the Cruel Jewel 100 in Georgia and I felt them go raw inside my shoes. When I finally took off my shoes at the end the stench was nauseating. I thought my skin was going to peel off. Now again I was experiencing the first stages of trench foot -- a fungal infection which left untreated can have dire consequences. The infection is quite manageable, of course. All you have to do is stop and keep your feet dry. My feet were painful and the thought of managing them caused me concern.

The truth is, though, I didn't feel forced to stop. I could have managed something. I could have stopped for "air breaks" during the day and rotated the 3 pairs of socks I now had (I started with 2). I could have run into town and bought a light pair of sandals to rotate with my shoes. I could have applied anti-fungal powder several times during the day. I don't know for sure what would have worked, but I know I hadn't yet been debilitated. The inflammation went down enough on night 4 to run again on day 5, so I did. Despite another night of very little and very restless sleep, I easily covered 26 miles before noon. But my feet burned, and I didn't want to deal with them. I didn't want to figure out how to manage. The miles had allowed many other percolating thoughts to surface -- things I cared more about. My kids are finishing school this week and want me to acknowledge their accomplishments (they both have award ceremonies this week). And they want a ride to the Amusement Park. And I want them to know that I love them. And I have responsibilities at work and around the house that I don't have good reasons to expect others (like my wife) to step in and takeover just because I want to show that I can cover a lot of ground in a few days.

So, as everything else got stripped away that is just the truth that I was left with. I felt like stopping.

Day 4: First signs of trench foot. Good enough reason to stop?
I haven't fully sorted out what that means for future endeavors. I feel re-oriented around some of the things I really care about. One of those is completing a book project that I started last spring. I feel I have gained a determination to complete that project in proportion to any diminution of motivation to complete an FKT. I feel strongly enough that I'm re-jiggering some of my well-established habits. That project itself could be grist for a future post. Ask me about my progress and I'll let you know.

V. Other SALT Resources

Trackleaders.com. Cool website for comparing attempts on this and other long trails. Donate here to support.

wnctrailrunner wiki

Matt Kirk's article on Appalachian Voice

Some of the ultralight gear I used:

  • Zpacks solplex tent
  • Zpacks 30F down bag
  • Gossamer gear thinlight CCF pad
  • Klymit Inertia Xlite pad
  • Gossamer gear lt3c trekking poles
  • Salomon Skin Pro 10+3 pack
  • Princeton Tec Apex Pro Headlamp
  • DIY waistpack from recycled nylon hammock

Monday, May 26, 2014

What am I Doing?

The table in the den is piled with snack crackers, dehydrated dinners, a scant pile of clothes, and sundry items scattered for my appraisal. I spent the morning scouring 3 Trails Illustrated maps, marking the route I'll follow starting on Wednesday. I sent a message out to a few friends and family with the link to my Spot share page so they can follow me around the SALT circuit. SALT stands for Southern Appalachian Loop Trail, a 380 mile traverse conceived by Matt Kirk connecting several iconic trails: Mountains to Sea, Art Loeb, Foothills, Bartram, and of course the Appalachian Trail through the Smoky Mountains.

The odd thing is I don't feel very strongly about going. I don't have that manic excitement I can recall when I first decided to thru-hike the AT. That idea came to me in the middle of the night and I stayed wide awake with the revelation that I was going to do this colossal thing. Those days are past. This morning I struggled to pry my eyes open long after the sun began leaking into the bedroom.

After I completed the AT hike in 1998 I met my wife. Gavin was born in 2000. When a guy conceives a child he immediately becomes more risk-averse. I sold my motorcycle that same year. What happens when a guy is old enough to have grandchildren? So much has been gained -- a Life really. Even so, it's hard not to feel the loss as well. I shouldn't, but I mourn what might have been. That must be what lies at the center of a mid-life crisis. At least I don't feel so strongly about it now. Gone too is the verve that marked my younger days.

So what of Explore Fatigue? Why has this blog gone dormant since last summer's failed FKT attempt of the Colorado Trail? Fatigue occurs when zealous striving temporarily drains a person. I barely know fatigue now. In the 10 months since I meekly conceded the FKT attempt I haven't stopped running. I ran Iron Mountain, Stump Jump, Mountain Masochist, Hellgate, and Thunder Rock. I've fast-packed two longish trips, done a few long training weekends, and cued up about 550 miles of fast-packing for the coming two months. But the strongest feelings I've had about running are relatively mild feelings of dread. My joints ache, but I really haven't even had a sore muscle. Even when I ran myself into the wall on back-to-back training runs (to encourage energy storage) I didn't so much feel it as I just noted it -- with faint satisfaction.

Without the compelling conviction to strive for the top, I have to wonder: What AM I doing? I should be painting the house. Or golfing with Gavin. Or scrambling eggs for Catherine and Loren. I think about that not a little bit. And still I hunkered for hours over the sewing machine to fabricate a pack to secure my cuben fiber tent and UL down sleeping bag to my waist. Is it just force of habit? An odd compulsion that no longer requires the sensation of an inner drive?

Here's another possibility: I shouldn't do it. There are many good reasons to stay home, including the state of my mind and body. There are no material enticements for proceeding. If, given these conditions, I do it anyway, what will be proved? Go ahead, you know what I'm talking about -- what is the only thing that really makes it all worth it? What is ultimately valuable in any human endeavor?

If you'd like a link to follow my trek just post a comment with your e-mail. Even if I'm already gone Robin can send you that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Navigation Error Requires Early Exit from Record Attempt

I had heard about the new section of Colorado Trail known as "Collegiate West." It follows the Continental Divide Trail on a spectacular, exposed and steep 80 mile alternative to the "Collegiate East" trail of the original Colorado Trail. I knew that we would need to stay on the original section in order to compare finish times and claim the record. My (mistaken) impression, however, was that the new section of trail wasn't marked as CT yet and that even if it was the split in the trail would be obvious and I would know which branch to follow.

As you know by the title of this post I followed CT markings along the wrong alternative, bypassing my crew and proceeding for miles along a route for which I had no map and no resources. Once I realized my mistake I had no good alternative but to turn around and backtrack to find my crew and end my attempt.

There is much to be said about the 4 1/2 days I spent on this team mission -- and I will soon enough. For now let me say that I'm glad we are all well and left with a potent feeling of unfinished business. A couple more fourteeners before leaving CO may provide some outlet...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Colorado Trail - Days 3 and 4 (Part I)

Day 3, Original Goal:  61 miles; Actual mileage:  45 miles (16 miles behind original plan), Carson Saddle to Eddiesville Trailhead, July 20, 2013

5:30 am When I asked Eric the night before what time he wanted to rise for day 3, he said he didn’t want to set the alarm.  He was bushed from epic day 2, but when 5:30 am around, he and Troy were ready to get up and get moving.

6:25 am  Eric and Troy leave Carson Saddle for what adventures await them today.  Crew access is planned for Highway 149, Spring Creek Pass, 17 miles in, and again at Eddiesville Trailhead, 27 miles further down the trail.  Eric and Troy anticipate they may want to stop at Eddiesville Trailhead, instead of continuing on to Saguache Park Road, 14 miles beyond Eddiesville Trailhead.  With Eric and Troy on their way, Guy and I pack camp and begin heading back down the mountain to meet up with Stephanie who slept in her car the night before, not knowing anything about how Troy and Eric were doing.  Needless to say, she is  glad to see us and to hear that Troy and Eric have pressed on. 

10:45 am Eric and Troy arrive together at Highway 149, Spring Creek Pass.  They take a good break, consuming lots of calories and resting in the shade for a bit.  They are in good spirits.

11:25 am Eric heads out for the next 27 miles to Eddiesville Trailhead.  Troy holds back a bit to finish eating and take a quick nap.  Eric anticipates it will take him 6.5 hours to get to Eddiesville.

11:55 am Troy heads down the trail.  We pack up and head into Lake City to refresh supplies, including gas, chocolate milk for Troy and a sweet find of homemade banana bread, and then head over to the library to update the blog on Day 1 and Day 2 happenings.  After that we’re on the road again for a long drive out winding, narrow Colorado roads to get to our next access point at Eddiesville.

4:00 pm  We arrive at Eddiesville and estimate that the guys will be arriving about 6 pm.  At 5 pm, I head out on the trail thinking that I’ll meet up with them and join them on the trek back into the crew access point.  I hike until 6 pm with no sign of Eric or Troy. This was disconcerting because I was expecting at least Eric to arrive to the trailhead by 6:30 pm.  I wait until 6:20 pm and then start heading back to the trailhead.  On my way back, I see Guy.  I had mentioned to Stephanie and Guy that I thought I would be back in about one hour.  When two hours have passed and I have not yet returned, Guy decides to head out on the trail.  When we meet up, Guy mentions that it is looking more and more likely that Troy and Eric will not want to press on the additional 14 miles to Saguache Park Rd. and we might want to start setting up camp.

7:30 pm Stephanie and I park our chairs with a clear, long view of the trail, straining our eyes to see Troy and Eric coming our way.  At 8:15 pm, we determine we better get the tents set up because it’s looking less and less likely that they will want to push on.

8:30 pm  Eric arrives at camp looking pretty beat.  That section took more out of him than he anticipated.  He said his engine just wasn’t working like he wanted it to.  At some point during the day, he lay down on the trail and took a rest, thinking that Troy might catch up to him.  Eric got into some dry clothes, ate a cheeseburger and stew, took a sponge bath, and got in his sleeping bag.  He expressed concern that he and Troy had dug themselves too deep a hole with day 2 and wondered about their plan for making up the lost 16 miles from today.

9:00 pm Troy arrives into camp looking pretty upbeat.  He said that he had decided he was not going beyond Eddiesville Trailhead and determined to just take his time and enjoy the 27 miles.  He stopped along the way and washed off in a creek.  He’s been having frequent nosebleeds, due to the altitude, I suppose.  Just as he was about to go to sleep, Eric heard Troy arrive into camp.  He asked me to talk with Troy and find out what the plan was for Day 4 so they could determine what time to get up in the morning. Troy ate his dinner and got ready for bed.  Guy has been studying the maps and  was able to tell us that in order to make up for lost mileage today, Eric and Troy should at least try to make it to a point 9 miles before Marshall Pass Trailhead. The only concern about that though is crew access.  We’d have to do another hike in to get to them, carrying all of their supplies and what we’d need for the overnight.  Troy was resistant, saying he wants to be able to access all his gear.  We determine we’ll get up at 5:30 in the morning and make some final decisions about day 4 then.  I make sure Eric’s Garmin data is uploaded to the computer and head to bed about 10:30 pm.

Day 4, Original Goal:  48 miles; Revised Goal (Note: Day 4 still in progress):  55 miles (9 miles behind original plan), Eddiesville Trailhead to point on trail 9 miles before Marshall Pass, July 21, 2013

2:50 am  Eric wakes me and tells me he’s ready to get up and get moving.  He’s been lying there awake for a while and just wants to get on the trail.  I express concern about Troy and the notion of Eric leaving before him.  How would the crew access both of them?  What if Troy doesn’t want to go as far as Eric today?  Eric is focused on the goal of finishing the CT in record time (of course).  He tells me he’ll go talk with Troy.  A few minutes later, here comes Troy raring to go for the day.  Stephanie, Guy, and I help with breakfast and preparations as Troy and Eric set out to begin day 4 in the middle of the night.

3:40 am Eric and Troy head off into the night.

7:00 am Eric arrives at Saguache Rd., 14 miles in for the day.  Troy arrives 5 minutes later.  They both eat an egg and tomato sandwich and other snacks before heading out at 7:25 and 7:35 respectively.

10:50 am Eric arrives at Highway 114, 27 miles in for the day.  Troy arrives at 11 am.  Eric eats, rests, and heads out about 11:15 am, telling Troy he plans to take a rest along the trail somewhere.  Troy eats and rests, but doesn’t eat as much as the crew would like him to.  Eric and Troy can’t afford to get behind on their calories.  Troy is having a low point mentally.  Knowing that he still has 30 miles to go for the day and no crew access can’t help.  Eventually though,  he gets up out of the chair, straps on his pack, and takes the first step.  Guy walks with him the ¼ mile to the trailhead and off he goes.  I think one thing that is disconcerting to Troy is that he is having to depend on us to remember everything he needs for the night since we’ll be having to hike in again to them tonight.  Guy and I will hike in to camp, while Stephanie goes on to Marshall Pass so Eric and Troy will be assured of aid at the 9 mile point tomorrow, Day 5. What else will Day 4 hold for us?  We're heading back out to the mountains to see. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Days 0 - 2 on the Colorado Trail

Colorado Trail – Day 0, July 17, 2013
Eric, Troy, and I are settled in at our camp site at Junction Creek Trailhead.  We arrived here around 2 pm this afternoon after a large grocery shopping trip in preparation for the massive amounts of calories that will be consumed in the coming days.  With Troy’s gu’s, gels, crackers, and other snacks laid out on the table, I figured he was surely assessing food items for the coming days.  Nope.  That was all for tomorrow!  He estimates he needs to consume 300 calories per hour and tomorrow is projected to be a 15 hour day, so 4500 calories in food have been stuffed into his Solomon hydration pack.  Eric marveled at Troy’s pack but after his hour long packing process, a quick double blindfold test revealed that the packs are pretty close to equal in weight.  It’s 7:30 pm now.  Dinner is done, dishes are washed, packs are ready for tomorrow, tents are set up, and maps have been studied.  A good portion of the afternoon was spent reviewing maps, guidebooks, and a Colorado Gazeteer to ascertain crew access points, elevation profiles,  and water availability.  Mike Ambrose and Jamie Solberg should be arriving before too long.  They both had to work today and were driving down from Leadville.  Mike, Eric, and Troy will be starting at 6 am tomorrow morning at the westernmost terminus of the Colorado Trail and traveling 53 or so miles to Bolam Pass.  We’ll be depending on Jamie’s Toyota Tacoma to extract the boys from Bolam Pass tomorrow night.  We’re grateful for Jamie’s help in the coming couple of days since many access points require a 4x4.   Eric and I had quite the adventure yesterday in our trusty 2002 VW Eurovan.  After scouting the night 2 overnight near Carson Pass, we attempted to travel over  Cinnamon Pass to get to Silverton and then head on to Durango to meet up with Troy.  A  large ATV staging area should have been a clue we might be getting in over our heads.  After 45 minutes of a valiant effort to summit the mountain, we were forced to turn back. We then had to drive an additional 3 hours around the mountain to get to Silverton, accompanied by some new jingles  on the underbelly of the van.  The upside of this outing was that we learned this would not be a good crew route on Day 3 and we enjoyed seeing mountain goats bounding along in their natural habitat. 

Day 1, 53 miles, Junction Creek Trailhead to Bolam Pass,  July 19, 2013
6:05 am - Eric, Mike, and Troy began their journey at the westernmost point on the Colorado Trail, Junction Creek Trailhead near Durango.  Jamie Solberg and I were crewing but did not have access to see the guys all day.  We were left to wonder how their first day on the CT was going.  Jamie and I headed on to Bolam Pass to search out a campsite and wait for the runners to come in that night.  After an hour long drive up Hermosa Peak Road, we came to a campsite, still 2 miles below Bolam Pass at 11,350 feet, the end point for the day.  Jamie took her Tacoma on up the mountain while I set up camp.  About 7:30 pm, Jamie arrived with Eric and Mike and then headed back up the mountain to retrieve Troy.  Eric and Mike finished day 1 at 7 pm, with Troy finishing at 8 pm.  Troy was suffering the ill effects of his first day at altitude with intense headache and nausea.  Eric cleaned up, ate, some dinner, prepped his bag for the next day, and settled in.  Everyone was in their tents by about 9:30 pm.  So far, so good.

Day 2, 57 miles, Bolam Pass to Carson Saddle,  July 20, 2013
4:00 am - Camp wakes up and begins preparations for Day 2 on the Colorado Trail.  Jamie heads up the remaining 2 miles to Bolam Pass with the fellows about 4:45 am.
5:10 am - Eric, Mike, and Troy begin their day 2 trek.
9:40 am - Eric and Mike arrive at the parking lot near Little Molas Lake to a great surprise.  David Horton, Allysa Wildeboar, her husband Travis, and friend George are all at the parking area waiting on the arrival of Eric, Troy, and Mike.  Eric couldn't have been more surprised and happy to see Horton.  After some nagging hamstring issues, Mike decided to call it a day and planned to join Jamie en route to the next crew access point 20 miles further down the trail.  Horton recommended we could meet the Eric and Troy at Stony Pass, near Silverton.  We thought that Jamie's Tacoma could make it.
10:10 am - Troy arrives at the Little Molas Lake aid station and is looking strong.  He refuels and heads on his way.  
4 pm - Crew members Stephanie Wissing and Guy Love arrive in Lake City and meet me at the library.  We plan to head out to the Mill Creek Campground to find Jamie and Mike who will be retrieving Eric and Troy off the mountain at Carson Saddle.  
4:45 pm - I receive a phone call from Mike telling me that he and Jamie are still in Silverton.  They had made it to Stony Pass, but had to leave supplies for Eric and Troy and get back down the mountain due to the pouring rain and storms.  They said Silverton was in floodlike conditions.  At this point, Stephanie, Troy, and I have to figure out how we're going to get Eric and Troy off the mountain.  We went to two jeep rental places and even asked someone at a campground if they would want to take us up the mountain.  When those plans fell through, Guy and I decided we'd just have to hike the five miles up the mountain with Eric and Troy's overnight supplies, food, and water ourselves.  Carson Saddle sits at 12,366 feet.
6:45 pm - Guy and I head out to begin our trek up the mountain to Carson Saddle.  I know what Eric and Troy are doing is beyond belief and requires an extreme amount of endurance, but carrying that 30+ pound duffle bag 5 miles up the mountain was no easy task. 
8:45 and 9 pm - Guy arrives and then I arrive at Carson Saddle.  We're wet, cold, and it's nearly dark.  We hurriedly set up the two tents we've brought and get sleeping bags ready.  I stand for a long time searching in the dark for two headlamps coming our way, but eventually get in the tent to warm up.
9:45 pm - I hear Eric talking and am so grateful he and Troy have arrived.  They couldn't have known to expect to see Guy and me at the saddle.  Our plan was for Jamie to pick them up at the saddle and drive them back down the mountain, camp overnight at Mill Creek, and allow Troy some more time to acclimate. Regardless, they were grateful we were there and quickly got out of their wet clothes and into their sleeping bags.  I got some hot food ready which they ate while lying in their bags. If you read Eric's blog regularly you know what a great writer he is.  It will be interesting to read his account of yesterday's epic adventure, but for now, I can just tell you that Eric and Troy both used the word "epic" many times to describe their adventures yesterday.  They suffered for four hours in the rain and cold without adequate clothing. Eric did appreciate his shell he got from Mt. Rogers Outfitters but could have used more clothing.  After some time, Troy was cold and becoming incoherent.  His self assessment was that he was nearly hypothermic.  Eric said they had little choice but to carry on and make it to Carson Saddle.  Carry on they did, but not without having suffered greatly.  We're only 2 days in to this adventure.  What will day 3 hold?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Craziest 15 Days Since I was 15 Years Old

Fifteen days ago I arrived in Frisco Colorado. All I needed was to be at elevation in order to acclimatize. I played a round of disc golf and then settled behind the garage of Mike Ambrose and Ryan Krisch. We barbecued and drank beers. All seemed calm, but something -- reposed like a distant king of beasts -- beckoned from the distance. As Mike rattled off all the routes we might do before embarking on the mission (the potential achievement of a lifetime to set a speed record of the 480 mile Colorado Trail) I pointed over the back fence and said simply: "why don't we go up that?"

Peak 1 pictured from Mike's garage
So began the craziest 15 days since I was 15 years old. Mike and I jogged to the trailhead from his house the next morning and the ascended steadily for almost 2 hours. The climb was steep and technical gaining nearly 4000'. I felt lightheaded once we were over about 12,000'. The mountain peaks at about 12,800'. Once down from the mountain good sense should have dictated that I rest and recover. I recall saying aloud that the next time I would bring my camera and spend the whole day, sauntering lazily, hovering over wildflowers and mountain streams. Ah, but where did my good sense go?

For the next day Mike suggested a more modest sounding trek up the Peaks Trail to the CT and across the pass to Copper Mountain. He said we could easily hop the bus from there back to Frisco. This was indeed a beautiful route, and I got my first taste of the footing on the CT (deceptively runnable). We were inbound into Copper when the outbound bus passed us, waving us off as we tried to flag the driver. Mike said it would be easy to hitch a ride, so we stuck our thumbs out. Twenty minutes later we decided to run the 8 miles of bike trail back. This would have been an easy hour except that it was now midday and the sun blazed down without tree cover or the 9000' of extra atmosphere enjoyed by flatlanders. We got baked.

The Colorado Trail above Copper Mountain
One might have hoped that my lesson was learned. Little did I know that I had stepped into a current that was quickly sweeping me out to deeper water. I was quietly recovering and working on my computer at Mike's when Jamie Solberg happened by and lured me like a Siren to climb Mt. Harvard with Sal, another of Mike's friends. I drove to the relatively remote trailhead past Buena Vista and spent the night in my van. The next day I went over 14,000' for the first time in my life. I'll never be the same.

On the way up Mt. Harvard, my first fourteener

The faint resistance I could muster was no match for Sal's next suggestion: La Plata peak. We spent the night at the trailhead and got another early start lest we get caught again -- as we had descending from Harvard -- by an afternoon thunderstorm.

Sal leading the way up La Plata
Sal, Jamie, and Mike finally returned to a quasi-normal work schedule and I was left to my own devices. I set up camp on Half Moon Road outside of Leadville, finally granted the freedom of solitude. I wasn't aware that my demons were awaiting just such an opportunity. Travelling alone at the foot of Massive mountain I was seized by them. This isn't the place to reveal those struggles, but suffice to say that I feel like, as the Avett Brother's sing: "you may have to drag me from my demons, kicking and screaming...been so long now, I've been with them, don't know where they stop and I begin." [Paul Newman vs. The Demons: The Carpenter]

The struggle, alas, drew me upward twice more: The Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive trailheads are on Half Moon road just miles from my campsite.

The long walk up the 2nd highest peak in the lower 48: Mt. Elbert

The never ending view from Mt. Massive
Thankfully I had a propitious plan for the end of the week. When I first arrived in Frisco Mike helped me make arrangements to get tickets to go to the Avett Brother's concert at Rock Rocks near Denver. We set up a tailgate-style barbecue well before the show started. By the time we got around to filing into the amazing amphitheater there were no good spaces left to occupy. Instead we found ourselves in the far back corner, along with a group of a dozen women enjoying a bachelorette party.

Mike turns as we climb the stairs into the Red Rocks amphitheater

This could have made sense as a birthday celebration except that Sal and Jamie had already convinced me to trek the Tenmile traverse between Frisco and Breckenridge starting at 5am the next morning – the dawn of my actual birthday. After ascending nearly 4000’ up Peak 1 the route goes directly over 9 more peaks as it follows the rocky ridgeline. The trek was absolutely beautiful and we truly had a blast, but it was also very difficult. I am not particularly sure-footed on rock, and I will nearly always favor caution over speed. So I took my time on this technical terrain. By the time I got to Peak 8 my left Achilles was tweaked and my mind wandered from sleep deprivation. In perhaps my first wise decision in nearly two weeks I opted to head down the ski slope from the peak into Breckenridge.

Jamie and Sal right at home on the Tenmile traverse
I took the two days after that easy having already arranged to travel with Jon Harrison to Aspen’s international gem: the Maroon Bells Four Pass loop. This is likely the only route I could have done that would top what I had already seen. I had originally intended to spend summer vacation in Glacier National Park again this summer because that area is so alluring for trail running. The Maroon Bells has a very similar attraction – it has to be one of the world’s greatest natural attractions. Jon is a fantastic running partner: strong, smart, funny, and spontaneous.

Jon climbing toward the second of four passes around the Maroon Bells

Mike, Jon, Sal, and Jamie squeeze every bit of activity they can into the summer months in the high Rockies. The climate, both geographically and socially, pulls the able-bodied outward and upward. I feel completely at home here, sucking every molecule of oxygen out of the air in order to ascend to the highest possible point. So despite my need to rest prior to the speed record attempt, I began looking for a way to invest in Leadville. Jon and Mike need a place to live, and I’d like a base camp for adventures in the coming summers – for me and my kids. I employed a real estate agent and was showed multiple properties.  I drew up a contract to purchase a house – one that the seller has not yet agreed to. I’m afraid I don’t have time to put any more energy into it before the CT trek. That I would come to a place and within 15 days put an offer on a house should provide a clue about the intensity of the experiences I’ve had here. They really only compare to those of childhood -- a childhood I gave up by about the age of 15.

Will I have a place in Leadville?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Getting Ready for the Elevation in CO

After several days of running around and squawking like a kindergartner at recess I have finally settled into an appropriate high elevation encampment on Half Moon Road just outside of Leadville. My Sierra Designs Mondo Condo now occupies a site on the squatter’s camp established by Miles of Leadville Running Company. Mike Ambrose set up his North Face tent between mine and Miles’. They've both headed into Leadville to attend to business this morning. The quiet, in combination with a restful night last night, is allowing me -- for the first time since I made the cross-country trek to Colorado -- to collect my thoughts and begin to ready myself in earnest for the speed record attempt.

Just by being here – I’m at just about 10,000’ elevation – I am gaining the last bit of fitness needed to trek 50 – 60 miles per day on the Colorado Trail. Although the trail climbs and descends about 90,000’, the average elevation is just over 10,000’. Sensitivity to high elevation may differ from person to person, but the physics is simple: oxygen exerts less pressure up here. A person going from low to high elevation has to adjust. I have been most aware of the difference when climbing. I can either put a lot more effort into going my usual pace or I can slow my pace and exert my usual effort.

Fortunately I have not been affected by the adverse symptoms experienced by some who travel to high elevation. I haven’t had headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, etc. Until last night (my fifth night) I did have difficulty sleeping, however. Also I noticed that above 12,000’ I feel lightheaded when climbing quickly. Based on a similar trip I made to Colorado several years ago I know that after just a couple of weeks I will be able to perform at a higher level with the same effort. That is why we are here.

I find myself surrounded by legions of people who go to Colorado to get the benefits of training at elevation and, of course, to play in these spectacular mountains. I can see how people get caught up in recreational pursuits here. I’m parked near the Mt. Elbert trail head and don’t know how long I can resist the pull of this high summit. I met Tony Krupicka yesterday in Leadville. For now he has the great fortune of being perhaps the only person with enough sponsorship support to run full-time in the Colorado mountains. Although tired from his recent incomplete attempt at a speed record of Nolan’s 14 (The 14 summits above 14,000’ in the Sawatch range) Tony was already talking about the next set of summits that he’d like to string together. He told me that running below tree-line -- as I’ll be doing for much of the Colorado Trail -- doesn’t hold much appeal for him. If I was a younger guy I’d have a hard time coming down from above tree-line too.

For now the two big summits I couldn’t resist will have to do. It’s time to rest and think about what will be required to establish a speed record of the Colorado Trail. We will likely be at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Wildfires have already caused closures of multiple sections along the trail. As of this writing there are detours that appear equitable with the standard route. We’ll write more about our decisions as we know more about what the status of the trail will be at the time of our attempt.

In the meantime enjoy the video illustrating my playtime so far in Colorado!