Wednesday, July 6, 2016

June 2016 Miles: Train, Race, Beer (but not necessarily in that order) and getting lost in the Never Summer Mountains

I don't often tweet my daily runs, nor do I accept friend requests on Strava (sorry: it's not you, it's me), but I assure you, I do train. And even though I like to do things under the radar, or on my own terms, I guess I still blog about it from time to time. So here we are.

The big event for June was the North Fork 50, which took place right at the beginning of the month.  This race was huge for me, an even huger deal than I realized when going into it.  I'd never done a race with this much vertical or on trails that were this difficult. I'd also never run 50 miles so slowly, or so near to the back of the pack. It was weird and amazing and even though it was hard, I never panicked and I never threw up.  Even when they were out of Coke at the last aid station (and Coke was all I wanted), I went with the flow, and drank some beer, and finished happy. This race included an entirely different set of things to be proud about, compared to the previous 11 ultras I've done.

After North Fork, I took 3 days off from running and then got back at it. Oh it was hard. Nothing hurt, per se. And although I was tired, it was something deeper than that. Bone marrow level exhaustion. Sleep didn't seem to help it.  And I wasn't particularly sad, but I found myself spiraling into a vortex of post-ultra depression and intense feelings of self-worthlessness.

There was nothing to do but keep running.  The weekend after the race, we took a camping trip to State Forest State Park near Gould, CO (one of our favorite places) in the new RV.
I practiced driving a little bit.
Seriously, I love this place.
Campfires have got to be just about my absolute favorite thing in the whole world.
Rob got Saturday to run (actually he ran a race in Laramie "on the way" to Gould, but that is a whole 'nother story), and I woke up very early on Sunday morning to run.  I had it in my head to try to make it to Clear Lake, which I had attempted once last summer and not been able to find.  But I had a better understanding of the area now and was confident I would make it this time.

Heck yeah, I'm going to Clear Lake.

Do you see that sign? It means that Clear Lake is straight ahead.

I did not make it to Clear Lake.  After running uphill for 5 miles, I was convinced that I had gone past the turn off for Clear Lake trail.  I had thought it would only be about 6 miles from my starting point to Clear Lake, and after the turn off for Clear Lake trail, it was at least 2 more miles to the lake.  If I'd already gone 5 miles and hadn't seen the turn off, then I must have gone past it.  So I turned around and ran downhill, scanning for the turn off.

I never found it.  I got back to the junction with Kelly Lake trail, feeling a bit disgruntled.  I decided to go on Kelly Lake trail for a while, just to see what it was like.  I knew I would not go all the way to Kelly Lake, because it was much farther away.

Kelly Lake Trail.

The first mile or so of Kelly Lake Trail was completely deforested and exposed.  I could see trees up ahead and kept going towards them.  It was nicer running in the forest, but there were tons of downed trees. I mean, really massive trees that you couldn't get over, and you had to divert around them.  It made the going really, really slow.

Eventually, I ran into snow, but it was only on the side of the trail at that elevation (probably somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 feet).


Oh and also there were stream crossings. Some of them were nice enough to have logs.


I decided to turn around when I'd had enough of these downed trees whose width was taller than my height.  I retraced the streams and kept going downhill.  I thought, "Hm, the trail seems different than it did on the way up."  I kept running and noticed some landmarks I definitely had not seen before. I became concerned.

I became really concerned when all of a sudden the trail disappeared and I was knee deep in a swamp.  What on earth had happened? I didn't remember there being multiple trails on the way up.  Just the one trail.  I didn't panic but turned around and retraced my steps back the way I came and made it to the last stream crossing.  I had definitely been here before. Now, to find the correct way down.

Still, there was just the one trail. Nothing else that even looked like a trail.  So I went down it. And again, it disappeared and I ended up knee deep in the swamp.

What was going on?

At this point, I was very glad I had Rob's spot tracker with me.  I pulled it out of my pack and tried to remember how to use it. I found a screen with my tracks on it, and this was extremely helpful.  I could see that I was parallel to the trail I had come up several miles earlier.  But looking out at the landscape, I could not see that trail anywhere. It wouldn't have been apparent to me if I hadn't had the spot tracker.  So I held out the device and just walked through the swamp in the direction of my previous tracks.

I didn't even know that Colorado had swamps, although I assume the deforestation in the area is what caused it. And I also had to assume that there aren't poisonous snakes in Colorado swamps, because otherwise, I would never have had the wherewithal to walk through it.

At last, I got back to the real, actual trail.  HALLELUJAH.  I was saved.

I guess I could have gone back up it to try to investigate what had happened and how I had ended up going the wrong way on the the way down.  But I didn't want to mess with this precarious safety.  I had found the trail, I just needed to hang onto it and not introduce any more risk into the run.

I still have no idea what happened. Whatever it was, was incredibly stupid of me. I am so glad I had the Delorme with me, because without it, I am honestly not sure how I would have found my way back down to the campsite.
Heck yeah, shower and coffee and making it back alive.

This run was crazy and a failure in many ways (i.e., not making it to my Clear Lake, getting lost in the wilderness), but I think it was the exact thing I needed. Alone in the Never Summer Mountains. Finding my way. On some trails that were as technical as hell. And perhaps most importantly, the run was 12.7 miles long. It was just one week after the North Fork 50, and I'd managed to go that far. I know it doesn't sound like much, but often I struggle to do a double digit run after an ultra. Sometimes, it can take me months.  And here I had done it, mission accomplished.

We ended up going back to Gould the following weekend.  Rob and a friend were running a race in Steamboat Springs, and then a bunch of people were meeting at State Forest State Park to camp after that.  Rob was planning on running with a friend to do some course reconnaissance for the Never Summer 100K on Sunday morning.

We got to Gould early Saturday afternoon.  It was probably close to 90 degrees and cloudless at 9,000ft elevation. Heck yeah, heat training. Clear Lake: here I come.


I got to run with a new friend for the first mile or so, and that was great. But then she turned around and I was on my own. 

I had studied the map more carefully and realized that last time I had underestimated the distance to Clear Lake.  So this time at the 5 mile mark, I kept going. At the 5.1 mile mark, I found the trail to Clear Lake.

If only I had kept going for 1/10th of a mile farther last time, I would have seen this sign! 
I thought I was totally golden now that I had actually found the trail to Clear Lake. Nothing would stop me now!! All I had to do was follow it and bam, I'd be there.

But holy hell, Clear Lake Trail was technical. As I attempted to run up it (my pace more of a slow crawl) I wondered why on earth Rob had not told me that this trail was way beyond my capabilities. I calculated the amount of daylight and water I had left. I still thought for sure I would make it.


There had been downed trees and stream crossings on the Kelly Lake Trail the previous weekend, but both of these things seemed to be several orders of magnitude more extreme on the Clear Lake Trail.
Some of the streams were above my knees and were wide enough and rushing so fast it looked like they had honest-to-god rapids. I wondered if it was actually safe to try to cross them without a rope or something. I did my best to cross them as safely as possible (it turned out to be totally fine, I guess), and I also took advantage of the ice cold water to soak my body and cool down.

Eventually I came out to a sight that looked like this:


The mountains were huge, wild, beautiful, and all around me. The trail was a mere suggestion at this point.  A couple of times already, I'd had to guess what was the trail (as opposed to not-trail) after a stream crossing. Each time I eventually came out to something that looked like a trail and kept going.

Once I got to the mountains, I also got to snow (not pictured).  I was now above 10,000 feet. The snow wasn't super difficult to maneuver through, but it was deep.  There was really no way to tell where the trail was, because everything was covered in snow.

I wasn't scared.  But I mean...it was kind of overwhelming or awe inspiring and possibly even brought tears to my eyes to be so far out into the wilderness and all alone.  I had gone 7.25 miles, and I knew Clear Lake couldn't be more than a quarter mile away. Okay, maybe a half a mile. Seriously, probably just beyond the ridge.  Even though I couldn't see the trail, I reasoned, I am in deep snow. I can keep going up, and there is no way I can get lost because I will be able to see my footprints on the way down. I can follow them all the way back until I get to the trail.

I decided just to be safe, I'd see if I could bring up my GPS points on the Garmin and compare that with Rob's good map I'd brought with me. That would verify how close I was to the lake, and what was the most direct route to the lake.  I messed around with the watch and came to a screen with GPS information. I got out the map.  And according to these points, I was... on the other side of this mountain range?! No way. No possible way. I mean, I would have noticed it if I had climbed over the top of a mountain, descended to the other side, and then continued going for several miles.  Something had to be wrong with the map, or the GPS points, or both.

But still. If I actually was where these GPS points indicated, then I was in serious trouble.

I turned around and began to go back down through the snow, making my way to the trail. I needed to get back to the campsite before dark, and before I ran out of water.

There were places where the stream and the trail were one and the same.

I picked my way back through the dodgy stream (i.e., river) crossings, steep spots, and multitudes of gigantic downed trees. At one point, I saw a trail blaze that had a marking of some kind of animal print, and I thought, that's odd...I didn't see that on the way up. Which sort of made sense because I wouldn't have seen that going in the opposite direction. I'm not sure how much time or distance passed, but I saw another of these, and it just started to bother me that there had been no trail blazes visible on the way up, but now here they were on the way down.  Last week's misadventure on Kelly Lake Trail came back to haunt me and I thought, good lord, am I on the right trail?  All the landmarks seemed familiar, so I really had no reason to doubt myself (other than the mysterious trail blazes), but I got out the spot tracker and looked at the screen that showed my path on the way up. Yep, nothing to worry about here. I was heading down the exact same way.

Eventually, I made it back to the intersection with the main trail--less disappointed about my failure to reach Clear Lake than I was amazed that I'd managed to stay upright on this technical-as-hell trail--and I knew it was just 5 relatively smooth downhill miles back to the campsite, Rob and Will, and all our friends.

My water situation wasn't great-- what little water I had left was so hot it was practically boiling. Whenever I took a drink, I made myself hold it in my mouth for as long as possible without swallowing, just to eke out as much hydration as I could from every tiny swallow. With a mile left to go, I let myself finish my meager reserve, and I coasted back to the campground in a fairly severe state of dehydration.

It had taken me 4 hours to cover 15 miles in the Never Summer Mountains, where I had ranged from blisteringly hot to knee deep in snow. I had drank about 65 ounces of fluid (only 20 of these were electrolyte) and consumed no calories aside from the 8 in my Nuun tablet. This had been incredibly stupid. And yet. I had stopped short of being even more stupid by trying to continue to Clear Lake which would have resulted in either getting lost, or running out of water far earlier on the way back down.

Our friends at the campsite practically cheered for me when they saw me come in, and even the gnarliest ultra runners expressed admiration that I'd been out there for so long in such intense heat. Rob's friend handed me a cold beer (it was a saison...4.5% ABV), which was the exact thing I needed at that moment, and I headed to the RV to shower. Rob made pearled cous cous on the stove, and then we roasted vegan hot dogs on the community campfire we'd all built.

I bought vegan hot dogs before we left home but forgot to pack them. When we got to Steamboat Springs for Rob's race on Saturday, I thought, "They'll have vegan hot dogs in Steamboat Springs," and they did. 

Will and some of the other kids and our friends spent the evening running races around the campground.  Then we made S'mores and looked at the stars, and we all stayed up way too late. It was the best night ever.



When we got home the next day, I looked at my data from the run and saw how agonizingly close I'd been to Clear Lake. But still, I can't feel to sad about it. I think I made the right call to turn around. I'd talked with a park ranger on Sunday morning, and I think he said that there had been two groups of hikers already lost on the Clear Lake Trail this season. It didn't sound like anybody had been able to make it all the way to the lake so far. I don't feel as bad, knowing that it is genuinely difficult.  Maybe we'll go back sometime this summer, and I will finally get there.



Before the month of June ended, I got to have one more running adventure when ultraordinary pal @angelmurf and @runhozo74 both came to town! We met up at Horsetooth Mountain trailhead and ran for the beautiful views on Southridge trail. Our time went by so fast. Hope someday soon we can all meet again.



Angela and I wear the same shoes.


I finished up June with 161 miles, which gave me something like 879 for the year so far. I am way above what I was at this point last year, or even the year before. It feels so good not to be fighting injury, for the first time in forever. I'm going to hang onto this for as long as I can.

Thanks for reading.

I still don't like Strava. Honestly I think I'd just prefer an Excel spreadsheet.


His and Hers Altras.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

O MY DEARIE!!!! just like when you were in NIC and Blogged your adventures in the rainforest with the spiders and snakes and WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE!!and as I read them I could barely breathe ! And Yet I knew you made it BECUZ you were writing about it! JUST Still made me weak and drained!!! And very concerned!! Thankful for your fancy techie thingeee that got you safely back to CAMP!!! May you never wander around in a remote place again!!! or at least don't tell me until you are back in civilization!! And safe ! you ARE aware there Are probably BEARS. 😳Mountain LIONS 😳And maybe some WEIRDO living off the grid!!! soooo scary for a mama!!!! Puh leeeze be careful!!! Some TRAILS are better LEFT alone!!!!! Sending hugs and luv. 😘Mama🙋

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