Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Diggin' Deep

As ultra-runners, we often create parallels between the long run and life. There are plenty of metaphors based on how running ultras compares to much of our lives. During these dog days of summer, these "drilling" days of training, I've begun to create those metaphors that keep me going. Those metaphors that come time for the big dance in Leadville, I'll be driven and poised to take on the challenge; the task at hand. This same metaphor, in diggin' deep, has me motivated to more more and run harder then I have in recent months if not more than a year. This same metaphor moves me across the local mesa's with a passion and a determination I haven't felt since more then 2 year ago.

Between 1907 and 1909, twelve mines were in operation in the town of Louisville, CO. The largest was the Acme Mine whose two million tons of coal came from directly below the center of town. It was in 1910-1914 that these same coal miners went on strike based on a dispute over wages, working conditions and hours. A strike so vicious that the miners and guards paid for by fuel companies, got into various altercations where bullets were fired and mines set ablaze.

Today, Much of my running takes place across these now silent mine fields. I run along old rail beds that once hauled coal on tiny mine cars to town for home fueling. Fields where large random humps are still present, some still sprinkled with "black gold", and prairies where the prairie dogs have mined coal themselves from within their tiny burrows. This is the beginning of my metaphor.. to dig deep. It's not just diggin' deep though. It's diggin' deep and puttin' all the chips in your coal cart. The deeper you dig the more chips you carry in the cart. The more chips in the cart the better she'll roll. In english: The harder I work and find strength within, the more gas I'll have in Leadville. The more gas in Leadville, the faster my legs will turn over.

This smiling young man to the left here is my great grandfather. My pap. He was a coal miner back in Hawk Run Pennsylvania.  Back during the same time frame I spoke about unrest in above (1910-1930s). But that's not all. My grandfather himself, the man I've spoke of many times on this blog was a Pennsylvania Coal miner as well. Many of my uncles, as well as my grandfather and great grandfather, were coal miners back in the days when coal was mined by hand and pitch fork. They dug and dug deep. My pap died because of his years of tireless labor in the mines. Black lung, coal dust itself, consumed his lungs and suffocated his last breath. You see, not only am I running across, around and through mines of a distant time and of long ago, coal mining is in my blood. Digging deep and working hard is in my blood. Stubbornness and a resolve and determination to succeed.. is in my blood. When I run across these dormant coal fields day in and day out; I'm thinking about my heritage and the heritage of this area. I'm constantly being reminded of the blood, sweat and tears it takes to become a coal miner... and to be a ultra runner.

This brings us to the Leadville 100. I've decided to run the Silver Rush 50 Miler on July 17th as a training run for the Leadville 100. This series of races was started to help create an economic boom in a mining town gone bust in Colorado's High Rockies. Around Leadville, they mined silver. Ken Chlouber, the races founder and not retired RD was one such of those miners. It all ties together. Whether it's the coal fields of Hawk Run, PA or Louisville/Superior, CO. Or the silver mines of Leadville. Countless men dug deep to get the ore in the cart. They put it all on the line.. and thats what I aim to do over the next 50+ days. Leadville... I'm comin'.
My shoes and my coal statue of pap.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coal to Canyon 50K

With the Leadville 100 just under 2 months away, it's time to kick the training into a higher gear. After a stellar month of training weeks with increasing mileage, intensity and number of days run; everything has been going according to plan. Part of that plan was to run a 50K in the final weeks of June to continue to prepare for the big race. Over the course of June, I bought a map of my area trails and started to run from my apartment in Louisville out to Eldorado Mountain in segments. Breaking each section of trail up into parts and then running them in both directions. My plan for this weekends 50K was to tie all sections together and run an our and back from the old coal fields of Louisville to the grandeur of Eldorado Canyon.

I posted to the local trail runners e-mail list and was happy that someone nibbled on my invite for a long run this weekend. It was a woman named Cheryl. Cheryl ran her first 50k at the North Fork races, she's preparing for her first 50 miler and also the Leadville 100. She's got a wonderful progression going on, not unlike the progression hundreds of other ultra-runners have used on her way to the 100 mile finish. She showed up at my door at 5am and we immediately took off for the trail.

It's so nice to walk out my front door and hop right onto a trail. As we started to head out for Eldorado, the sun was still rising and had yet to crest above the horizon. Just light enough to not need headlamps, we carried on casually. Cheryl and I run about the same pace so it was easy to be comfortable when turning the legs over. Though, we quickly discovered on the hills that my hill climbing stride is still a bit much for those "shorter folks" looking to keep up with me. ;) It was nice to meet someone new who was comfortable enough, not only to simply run together, but to get to know each other more personally. Cheryl has this wonderful, motherly, finesse to her that well... only a mother would have. So talking with her came easy and so did the miles we clicked off together.

As we crossed the dirt road in Superior and onto the Singletree trail, we were treated with a delightful sunrise. The sun was a monster red ball having just risen above the horizon and desperately trying to break free of the morning clouds. As we turned the corner, we watched silently as the Flat Irons turned red from the alpin-glow and the Rocky Mountain Snows in the distance did the same. Breathtaking. As the sun continued to rise and heat the land, the cool valley air turned to clouds as it began to rise and a magnificent morning overcast rose up along the sides of the mountains. I wished I was on top of Bear Peak looking down on the undercast that was. Sunrise in Boulder County had turned out to be this amazing dance of weather phenomenon that one simply could not look away from.
From the Singletree horse and cattle pasture we crossed the next road onto the Marshall Mesa. Here is the home to a few thousand prairie dogs which had yet to wake up in the cool morning air. This was the quietest run I've had across this mesa, without the loud squeaks of the prairie dogs. Along the top of the Mesa is Community Ditch, and after crossing CO-93, we were running along the waters of Community Ditch. It doesn't matter which way you run, it always appears like this stream is flowing uphill. Trippy.
We reached Dowdy Draw and began climbing uphill in earnest despite most of our run having been uphill all ready. Along the first climb I looked down and say the lower section of an elks leg. Hoof and all, I wondered where the hell the rest of him was. As we wound our way around to the top of this mesa, I looked to my left and saw two elk, lying low in the high prairie grasses. I wondered if they were lying or injured, or hiding. Whatever it was, they were silent and I felt like I was looking a a painting. Yet as I turned my head back right, under the new days hot sun, we saw Eldorado Mountain right in front of us, We ran into the trees, finally, and started to wind our ways around the side of the mountain.
Can you spot the elk?
The Fowler Trail is one of the neatest I've ever been on. An old railroad bed, this trail goes along the side of Eldorado Mountain, at times cut right through the stone as it towers above. When you come around the corner an into Eldorado Canyon/Eldorado Springs itself, you can look down on the tiny tiny town below, and up and the towering spires of rock that many a rock climber frequents. It's really humbling to look around in this canyon, helping you almost forcing you to realize how insignificant you are in this huge world. But enough of that as we made it to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail and began our hike uphill.
We talked and joked as we continued to climb up the steepest section of our. We started at around 5200' today and in a matter of a mile we'd top out at about 7200'. We'd run almost entirely uphill to this spot. Along the trail is a small side path that we took to the top of a tiny ridge. The views are stunning and then, I saw a rock outcropping. I hadn't been there yet so, we walked on over and as I climbed up to the top of the rock, I realized by looking below that this was not the place to mess up. It was a harrowing drop to the valley below, certainly at least 100 feet unimpeded by even a tree. Yet in the distance we saw, right before us in natures theatre, The Continental Divide. We sat in silence, our mouths agape, followed by, "WOW!"
After our brief stop we made our way to the highest this trail would allow us. And that is the train tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. We took a few photos of the tunnels up here, the ones the train uses to get through and around the mountain. Cheryl's husband is a conductor so we knew he'd get a kick out of these pics. And then, we turned around and began our long winding descent all the way back to Louisville.
Along the way, we cross the stream on a bridge down around Dowdy Draw. I told Cherly we had to run through the water. Initially she wasn't too keen on the idea but I quickly persuaded her to make the run across. "If you don't do it in the game, don't do it in practice." And vice versa, there are quite a few chilly crossings at Leadville. We need to get used to running with wet feet. As Cheryl's feet touched the water I heard her yelp from the cold. As I turned back, she was smiling from ear to ear and even splashing a bit. With that, we ran home with wet sloshing shoes and huge smiles.
Also found this dung beetle pushing a turd. :)
The 50K run ended up taking us 6:35. Good enough for a 13:11/min mi. pace. I'm extremely happy with how well we did and how comfortable I felt. I still have much work to do to prepare for the beast that is Leadville. I'm determined to cross that finish line this year and gaining redemption. Left Right Repeat.. from here, until then.

SJ

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crazy?

Recently on one of the ultra-running messaging boards I belong to, a newbie ultra-runner posed a question to the entire community, or a statement rather, in regards to the term "Crazy." It goes without saying that when people hear what you like to do "for fun," and you tell them it's running 50 to 100 miles over the course of a day, that their initial response is to call you "crazy." Our fellow runner, the newbie, was wondering how everyone else in our niche community responds to being called crazy so that they might be better able to respond themselves. Now, certainly I've been called crazy and shrink wrapped over he course of the last few years so I couldn't help but to chime in on this conversation. I think the conversation awards some merit to be posted here. Mainly to share with all of you my thoughts on the topic of being crazy, but also to allow others to start a conversation with themselves. The conversation being, "How do I affect people when I call them crazy? Are they crazy? Or am I the crazy one?

I've been called Crazy quite a few times (or some variation of "That's Crazy" "You're Crazy")over the last 6 years. So I started to come up with unique ways to put it into context as a response to the stereo-typers you speak of.

1.) "If by crazy you mean dedicated... then yes, I'm crazy."

2.) "Well... I like to get it out of the way that I'm crazy.. so that I have no where to go but up from here."

Our friend the Newbie Ultra-Runner also said, "Someone asked me if I was trying to run away from personal issues."
So then we go from crazy to tackling this "running from something." Sure... a lot of runners, many of whom have written books... write about their using running as a coping mechanism. For many it truly is. For many more... their running of ultras is their way of coping with something, to the point that now running ultras has become their sickness. This is incredibly dangerous mentally and in turn... their running to cure their personal ailment has now become an ailment itself.

Since I started running Ultras in 2005, I've done so for a variety of reasons. I've run to prove people wrong. I've run to prove myself right. I've run from and into depression. But recently I realized something... You CAN'T run from something. It's impossible... because when you run Ultras... You're forced to strip yourself to the bones and rebuild yourself... instead of running from something... you're forced to deal with it in your own personal way. You run with it, forcing yourself to deal with it until it's done. This could take one run or many but the bottom line is, you're dealing with your demons; hardly running from them in any way shape or form. Running ultra's forces you to look to your very core an discover if you truly do have a soul and where do you dare it to take you.

So are we ultra-runners crazy? I don't think we're any crazier then the employee who gets paid salary to work 40 hours a week and puts in 60 hours a week. Or any crazier then the worker who has 2 weeks vacation at the end of the year that they never use and let slip away. I guess in this world we're all a little crazy in our own sick ways. We're all trying to hide or run from something. But at the end of the day.. it's the ultra-runners who seem to have their shit together the most.. and we're the ones dealing with the issues head first.

Cheers!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Training Days

The Leadville 100 is officially 2 months away. I'm very pleased with how my training has been going as of late, mostly in terms of how many days I've been getting out and the steady increase in my mileage. Currently, the month of June 2011 has been the most progressive and fulfilling month of training I've put in since May 2010 (or maybe more). Though, living at elevation now, I admit that I still have a lot of work to do. Previous on this blog, I've talked about the affects (or lack of affect) of elevation on my ability to run after flying to these elevations from my old residence at sea level. The idea behind it all was that, I show up a mere 48 hours or less before the race at elevation, and run the event before my body ever feels the real effects of the elevation. Playing tricks on your body if you will.

Now that I'm living at 5300 feet and have been here for a month; the tricks are being played on me. My average pace (minute per mile) is about a minute slower then I'm used to. I'm current;y running 9:30-10 minute miles on my local trails. Though I'm finally able to get my legs under me, have my breath and can generally get into a decent running rhythm; I acknowledge that for only the second time in my running career I need to resort back to doing speed work. With two months to Leadville, I have a month and a half or real hard training left. I'm back to an average of 30 miles per week and need to continue to build through the middle of July to get up to 50 mpw.. and eventually a 70+ mile week just 2 weeks before Leadville itself.

My goal is to return to Leadville in better shape then I was in for that race in 2010. Now, this might be easier in that Leadville was my third 100 mile starting line in 2010, just 5 weeks after finishing the Vermont 100 which I ran 3 weeks after Western States. So going into this years race with it being Race #1 of 2011 should certainly help providing I continue with a solid training plan. You may remember that I timed out at Twin Lakes 2 in last years race, more commonly known as the "Grand Slam Graveyard." I ran into the aid station some 15 minutes past the time cut-offs. The time cut-offs in Leadville are the toughest in any 100 mile race I've ever run (13). They are NOT generous, they're challenging. Regardless, it is what it is and I need to continue to train in a way where I can run at an accelerated pace from Start to finish without running the risk of being timed out in 2011. This could be a tougher task this year given the amount of snow still present at elevations above 11,000' (Hope Pass received 3 feet of new snow over the weekend).

After 4 weeks of progressive total miles, of progressive number of days per week run; I hope to continue the trends of ass kicking training. I have the opportunity to train here in Boulder County on terrain, at elevation and at levels I've never trained before in my 7 years of running. The sky is the limit.. literally.. as The Race Across the Sky looms ahead. Left, right repeat.. every damn day.. the start of Leadville isn't on August 20th.. it started months ago.. my eyes are on the finish now. I want that buckle and I want it bad. It's all about redemption with this one. If I perform well, I hope to carry the momentum into Septembers Steamboat 50 and eventually into Octobers yet to be determined run of epic proportions.

Happy trails
SJ

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Snowy West

"Snow condtions in the Bighorns continue to present multiple challenges for our course team. Alternate courses are being explored and prepared for this year's event."

The above message is what can be seen on the website for the Bighorn 100 Mile Ultra. This weekends race also includes a 50 mile and 50K option. All three races, being run out of Dayton, Wyoming; have been re-routed because of the snow conditions across the Rocky Mountains. For those who have Facebook, you can take a tour of the videos on the races Facebook Page. Many videos recently uploaded include videos of the crews attempting to reach the courses many aid stations.

This isn't the only race preparing for snowy conditions. Next weekends Western States 100 is dealing with snowy conditions of their own in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Their website states:

"Snow situation. Currently most of the first 30 miles of the course is still covered by snow. It is very likely that we will use a "snow course" route. The exact route is yet to be determined as the conditions are very dynamic. Crew access may be limited or eliminated at Robinson Flat, Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners. A final decision will be announced about five days prior to the race. There was additional snowfall above 6000 feet during much of the month of May, and the current snow content at Squaw Valley is twice what it was at this point last year."

An e-mail went out to Western States runners this week where they finalized their plans for the snow course. It's hard to imagine there being any more snow at Squaw then the 5' that existed there last year. But I guess with my own experience with the current snow pack in the Rockies, it's hard to be surprised. The new snow course tells the runners that the first 20 miles of this years race will be run almost entirely on the white stuff. Also.. no crews will have access to their runners at Duncan Canyon, Robinson Flat or  Dusty Corners. This means, runners must run without the assistance of a crew for the first 55 miles of the race. All the way to Michigan Bluff with no crew.

This August, Leadville Colorado will play host to a 100 mile race of their own. An e-mail went out to runners back at the beginning of may describing the snow depths at Hope Pass and everything else above 10,000'. The good news is that snowpacks are now limited to elevations above 11,000' though it's still very deep. I don't doubt that even though the snowpack will be much less for this months races across the mountainous west, there'll still be some snow on our climb up and over Hope Pass.

Either way... here are a few pictures of the Colorado Snow that still sits up high. They're repeats to this blog but in the spirit of the post.. I can't resist.



SJ  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Uncomparable

The transition from living in new Hampshire to now living in Colorado has come with a level of ease I hoped for yet never expected. I'm talking about the transition being rather easy of course. Some think of comparisons as Apples to Apples or Apples to Oranges. After 3 weeks in Colorado, I'd like to think of it more as Apples to Lemons. Colorado being the Red Delicious and New Hampshire being a sour lemon.

Pace
Upon arriving in Colorado there were a few things that immediately caught my attention. Things are a different pace out here. People actually take the time to accomplish tasks with a care and pride that you don't get back in New England. In New England, people work to get as much done in their limited time as possible. Care is sacrificed for what they like to call efficiency. Here, the only thing done quickly is driving. Maybe thats because the Interstate Speed Limits are 75 instead of 65. The speed limit about town is 45 instead of 30. People are in quite a hurry around here to get to where they're going but once they get there... it's slow, steady and with a great care that things are accomplished.

Sticker Shock
Gas is $3.59 here in Louisville, CO. Thats 12 cents below the national average. It's $3.79 back in New Hampshire. This is just the beginning of the sticker shock. Banana's are $.59 per lb. here as compared to the Walmart price of $.69 per lb. in NH. Meat is cheaper. Milk is cheaper. Bread is cheaper. In fact.. in NH we lived in a one bedroom one bathroom apartment that totaled about 875 sq. ft. in livable space. Here just outside of Boulder, CO (the more expensive place to live out here) we're paying $100 more then what we paid in rent in NH for a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment with 1025 sq. ft. of livable space. Or how about in my birthday month of October in New Hampshire I'd spend over $200 to register my car, then $50 on state inspection then who knows what lump some of cash to fix the car up to state regulations (usually a few hundred). Here it's $33 to register my car and state inspection is not required.

Weather
Since we left NH they've dealt with tornado warnings and quite a smattered of severe thunderstorms. Temps that have held steady in the mid to upper 80's and all the way into the upper 90's to 100 degree range. Humidity is in the 80-90% levels. Miserable. The current forecast for NH calls for rain over the next 5 of 7 days coming up. In Colorado, it's made it to 90 degrees just twice here in the Valley when humidity levels topped out at 35%. It cools down into the 40's and 50's at night. It's only rained twice and those were passing showers. The sun shines brightly here and in fact.. I couldn't tell you when it'll actually rain here for any extended period of time beyond the half hour variety T-Storm.

Trails
In New Hampshire, I had to drive about 20-30 minutes to get to any descent trails to run on. Those trails were usually associated with an intertwined trail network nestled inside an incredible small state park. Trails were maintained sparingly by a local mountain bike club and were only tended to when they were in dire need of work. Here in Colorado the trails are immaculate and stretch forever. I could run to Canada or Mexico from my front door with only touching pavement to cross roads and highways along the way. I don't need to drive anywhere. Driving 20 minutes to find trails means you're just driving to get a different type of trail or run a different workout. In fact.. if I drove 30 minutes from my front door I'm damn near on top of the Continental Divide. It was aggravating how in NH to get any variety in terms of trails, I'd have to drive an hour or more. I would just run the same 2 or 3 loops over and over and over until I burned out training on them from boredom. Here... I could probably live here for 15 years and never run the same trail more then twice and have yet to see them all.

Runners/Stores
In New Hampshire I had a total of 3 running stores.. each about 35-40 minutes from my apartment. Here, I have 6 stores within 15 minutes of my apartment. There's variety and get this... they all cater to trail runners. They know the importance of actual trail shoes. They carry the equipment I want and need instead of the pretend products they carry just to suffice the trail running few. In New hampshire I belonged to two online e-mailing lists. NEUTRL was the New England Trail Running list.. it had maybe 30 people on it (guess) and they posted something once every 4 months. I also belonged to a group out of York, ME that had a group trail run every Sunday. There was about 20 people on that list. Out here, I belong to the Boulder Trail Runners Group. Everyday I get a digest version of their e-mailing that lists the 4 to 5 runs going out that day at different locations and different times. Some 2000 runners belong to the list, they all contribute and participate. I was lucky to know 4 or so people to run with total in 3 New England States... within driving distance of my location anyway.

One of the first questions people ask you out here is, "Are you native?" Which is them asking you if you are Colorado Born and Raised. Those asking the question typically aren't native themselves. It's quite comical to hear where everyone is from and how they landed here. We all agree though, it's like we saw the light. This place is about as close to heavy as you can get. I feel bad for the New Englanders out there, many of whom have never travelled outside of New England let alone across the Mississippi River. Those who have have typically only been to Vegas. 3 Weeks into my new nest in Colorado.. I don't regret my 2000+ Mile move.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"New Legs.."

After sleeping in a little bit this morning I woke up to an overcast sky here in Louisville. I knew I wanted to run today and my destination was Eldorado Springs. I was still sore from horseback riding yesterday, walking with a bit of a Yosemite Sam looking gait. Regardless of the pain from saddle sores, I laced up my shoes and headed out the front door. I was sluggish to start but feeling confident about my run today. I ran quite a bit this week as compared to the normal and feel like I'm starting to get into a routine. With Leadville creeping up quickly, I have a real sense of urgency to get some miles in and put in some solid training.
My run starts by trotting across the lawn and onto the Coal Creek Paved Bike Path. I take this across a few busy roads and under the Denver-Boulder Expressway and into superior. A short half mile on pavement finds me down on the Coal Creek/Singletree trail heading west. Up ahead in the distance I can see my terminus for the day, it's the canyon between Eldorado Mountain and the Flat Irons (South Boulder Peak). It sticks out pretty prominently, can't miss it and the sun appears to be out on that end of the mesa.
Coal Creek Tr.
Singletree
I put some tunes on on my iphone and let the miles click by under my heals. I run along past old Coal Mining shafts and the red rock left behind from various fires that once burned under ground. After running on the old rail bed, I started taking it to the hills as the mint single track winds it's way around to the dirt road Sarah and I park on to run on Community Ditch. From here, I take the Comunity Dicth trail through the Prairie Dog colony as I watch them run and scurry about, tout their trademark shrills and pay in the late morning sun.

As I make my way towards the West, the Front Range sprawls out in front of me like a canvas. The views here are breathtaking. It's pretty easy to get long runs in when you have this to look at the entire time your legs are moving. As I run with my mouth open, its was hard not to catch a few errant bugs in between my teeth. On Community Ditch I run by Sarah who was running her own loop around Marshall Mesa. We slapped each other five and were poised to meet up at the terminus of my run. At this point I'm running along Coal creek which eerily appears to flow uphill the entire way. Though the jokes on me, as I've finally found a rhythm and got my legs under me for the first time since moving here.. I'm actually running uphill for most of this run (see profile above.)
The hole in the Flatirons to the left is my goal.
After crossing CO-93, I find myself running along a parcel of land that seems a bit more desolate then where I'd run before. I'm just past half way through my run and as I glance across the landscape, I'm wondering where the trail goes. And then I spot some tiny specs moving briskly along the foot of the mesa and I realize it's bikers. I've found the trail and the next 5 miles are laid out in front of me. I dig deep and keep running across the Prairie.


Of course this story wouldn't be complete without some kind of mention of a bowel movement. I had to go in the worst way and as you can see from the photo's above, there really isn't a place to duck and cover. As I hit Dowdy Draw, I notice to the right of me a small brown building. I hoped and prayed it was what I thought it was... and as I ran to it, it was... an outhouse. Praise him!
Newly Renamed - "Sherpa's Shack"
After my brief break I got back to work running mostly uphill along the mesa. I came across a sign that was a mud indicator. They take immaculate care of the trails around here. When it rains they turn to mush and it's evident how sloppy it gets by the tire ruts and foot prints that have dried solid into the clay. (Think... finding a dinosaur print somewhere). I was pleased to see this and of course it's dry as a bone out here.
The real work of todays run came at the end. After Dowdy Draw I was really struggling to motor uphill through Lindsay Open Space. The trails here are perfect yet challenging. As I motored towards Eldorado, I could hear a train. I looked up and saw it circumnavigating around Eldorado Mountain and disappearing through the various tunnels up high. Such a cool thing to see. Soon I was winding my way through the high plateau forest, some of which had been charred by old fires. Plenty to look at and enjoy. I ran past more mountain bikers and even horse back riders. On the last section I started running down an access road. Along the way I was enamored by some of the rock ledge to my left. I noticed that much of the rock had what appeared to be rippled in it and then it hit me. Some 70-80 Million years ago, all of this area was under the water of a huge ocean. What I was looking at... was the remnant of the sea floor. Think about the last time you were at the ocean watching the tide go out. Remember how the sand looks from the rippling water and waves? Thats what I was looking at. It had been petrified by the heat of the earth after the waters receded millions of years ago and left his affect!
Home Stretch

Ripple Rocks
After about 12 miles I began my final descent into the valley down the Fowler Trail. As I started running along the switch backed road I spotted a runner up ahead. A female with pig tails, wearing a Nathan Vest and a pair of Dirty Girls Gaiters. She had to be an Ultra-Runner. I charged to catch up and then spotted Sarah, I slowed down to run the final stretch with her. At the cars, we approached the runner who introduced herself as Katie. She's training for the Leadville Silver Rush 50. She tells us her husband and a friend are wanting to run Leadville next year or the year after. I think, and hope, I just recruited a crew and pacers for this years Leadville 100. Perfect run. Perfect day. New friends... hope to hear from them... life is good in Colorado!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mt. Evans

On Sunday we took a drive up through Eldorado Canyon and headed towards Nederland via a way we hadn't explored yet. Upon reaching Ned, we headed south on the Peak to Peak Highway chomping up some miles of road we'd yet to explore as well. It was much to our surprise when we rounded the bends into the canyon town of Black Hawk. In front of us was a huge building, a hotel in fact, and within a quarter mile it was evident that we'd reached a mini-vegas. Black hawk is a town that seems to have gone through a renaissance where multiple large casino's have been erected and construction plagues the main road through town as they work on building a wrap around thru-way to stave off congestion. It was quite comical to come across this oasis of lights flickering under a hot June sun.

As we made our way into Idaho Springs we inadvertently hopped onto I-70 West and started seeing signs for "Mt. Evans-Open To Top." We had no clue what Mt. Evans was or how high the top was but we dared to venture in that direction to find out. We drove once again through canyon after canyon until the car started climbing higher and higher, eventually sneaking us views of the high rocky peaks all around. We drove past the gorgeous Echo Lake recreation area where it seemed like a few hundred folks had parked along side its shores, enjoying the afternoon sun and trying their luck at casting a line into the crystal waters. On the far end of the lake, we made it to a small visitors center with a sign for the Mount Evans Auto Road.
The Mt. Evans Auto Road is the highest paved road in America. It is also known as America's Highest Auto Road. For $10, we entered the gate and began our climb. We were shocked by the enormity of the krumholz that lined the side of the narrow road. These small alpine trees we knew so well as mini-shrubs in New Hampshire are tall and twisted out here. An impressive sight indeed. The road wastes no time in gaining elevation. It's 15 miles from start to the top. The road, which has no guardrail, twists and turns it's away precariously along the top of many cliffs and alpine meadows. I was terrified and brought new meaning to the term "White Knuckle Ride."
We started winding our way up and into the Arctic Circle.. or what seemed like it. Above 11,000' the world is still very much playing host to winter. Snow fields are HUGE! We managed to snap a few photos on the way up of the cars passing in front of the huge drifts, some of them about 20+ feet in height. The road continued along the top of some pretty precarious cliffs. I won't lie when I tell you I was nearly pooping my pants. Whenever the road narrowed, I drifted my car more towards the upslope side of the road even if it was the wrong side to be on. If a car came form the other direction, I froze stiff in the proper lane and waited for the "safer lane" to open up again. Eventually we reached a parking lot at the base of a gorgeous peak. The lake below it's icy cap was still frozen over and many avalanche trails could be seen. We pulled over and decided to walk around a bit, walking over to a view spot and took some photos of the mountains, many of which are hiding behind the thick cloud of smoke that had drifted north from Arizona's Wild-Fires.
After our "breathtaking" (Literally) break, we drove the rest of the way to the summit. The road got narrower the higher we got, the turns tighter and the air thinner. By the time we reached the summit, we had made it to 14,100' in elevation. We got out of the car to look around. It was 90 degrees down in Denver, it's 40 degrees up here. I'm in shorts and a t-shirt, we hadn't planned on anything today really and this had become a pretty amazing treat. I froze while walking around the parking lot area, the true summit of the peak another 100' above us. The more telling tale is of being out of breath after walking a mere 50 yards on the summit proper.
We turned the car around and began the long roller coaster ride back down the 15 mile auto road. We slowly, and in third gear, made our way back to the bottom. We stopped for a few more pictures along the way. To snap shots of the car along-side the snowdrifts, the marmots that own the place and of course some worthwhile views. For $10, it doesn't get much better, especially if you want to get above 14,000' without walking there. I'm sure we'll return to the Evans Auto Road once the smoke clears and we find more time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HIGHjynx

It's been an interesting week since I wrote about my soul sucking trek up Bear Peak. I starter my internship on Wednesday and it's been full steam ahead ever since. I did manage to get out on Thursday Night for a sunset run along the Coal Creek Path. This paved path travels right by our front door here in Louisville. If I head north on it, it terminates about 1.25 miles from here at it's junction at the middle school on Via Appia (Street Name). To the south, I can take this trail to it's connection with a vast trail network which stretches for unimaginable distances. No seriously.. I can probably run all the way to the continental divide from my front door without having to run much on pavement. It's 28 miles to the divide on trail by the way. ::wink wink:: Anyway, my sunset run afforded me a chance to watch the sun set behind the Flat Irons of Boulder. It was breath taking.
On Friday we had an orientation at work. We started our morning by driving up to Estes Park. We are currently the only guide service permitted to guide in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Roosevelt National Forest. We started our morning with some rock climbing just down the road from the lodge we service. After that fun, we drove up Trail Ridge Road to Rainbow curve which is where the gates had be closed prevented cars from traveling ahead. The road was buried with some 22 feet of snow in placed up until last week. Road crews have been removing snow so they can open the road entirely, and allow it to serve its purpose as a thru-way to Granby. At Rainbow Curve (elevation 10,875') we got out of the van and hopped onto bikes. From here, we rode uphill along trail ridge road. While some of my co-workers rode to the highest point of the road, I topped myself out at Forest Canyon (11,758') Getting up here was quite the chore for me as I sucked wind almost the entire way. After a wonderful break chatting with co-workers and enjoying views of the Continental Divide, we turned around in the 40 degree temps and bombed back down the road at high speeds all the way back to the gate and the van. From here, I drove the van as a sag wagon and followed those who wanted to ride all the way back down to Estes Park. What a thrill!
22' of snow

The Mummy Range

Marmot
Finally, after a Saturday or Disc Golf and BBQing with friends in Boulder. I started my Sunday with a run over on the Marshall Mesa/Community Ditch. The Prairie Dogs are out in full force, screeching their ways around the mesa. These things are fun to watch. Cute little buggers too.
On Wednesday, I'll tell you about my Sunday Drive to the top of Mount Evans, 14,100+ Feet in Elevation. Stay Tuned!