Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Trip 2016: Everything is Ultra (Part 1, Great Sand Dunes)

I had always (and by "always," I mean the 2 years since we've lived in Colorado) wanted to visit Telluride, Silverton, and Ouray.  The photos I'd seen of the area were heartbreakingly beautiful (mountains, wildflowers, waterfalls, streams!), and I suppose most of my dim knowledge of these things came from footage of the Hardrock 100-- the ionic and brutal footrace in the San Juans that takes place every July.  Up until we moved to Colorado though, I'd never known anyone who had actually participated in Hardrock. I mean, it has over 30,000 feet of elevation gain (that's more climbing than Mt. Everest), and you could spend many years applying to get in without ever actually being selected (1500 people seek entry each year, but there are only about 200 slots).

Over the winter, we found out that two of Rob's running friends got in.  Not only that, but several big name runners (including Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost) would be returning to the race.  Cheering on these people gave us the perfect excuse to take a trip to the San Juans in July.  Also: in the meantime, we bought an RV.
In typical Ragfield fashion, we invested almost no time planning the trip.  I attempted to do some light planning, by downloading a course map from the race website, but I soon discovered that there is no publicly available course map.  It's not on the website.  Rob didn't seem concerned, and was like, meh, we'll wing it, but all of this stressed me out immensely.

We left almost a week before the race, with the idea that we'd meander south and west through Colorado and New Mexico in the van before showing up at Silverton.

Our first stop was the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  Yes, these are the tallest sand dunes in North America, and they are right here in Colorado, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Photo by Rob. You can always tell which photos are Rob's, because they are way better than any of mine.

Because we arrived on a Sunday evening, we didn't have too much trouble getting a campsite. There was a trail right by the campground, and Rob said if I wanted to run, I could go ahead and do that while he and Will made dinner.  I jumped at the chance and headed out onto the trail.

At first, it was perfect and beautiful.

But within maybe only a quarter mile or so, the trail became covered with deadfall and bordered a stream. Mosquitoes were rampant.  I had to slow down to maneuver the fallen trees, and the mosquitoes took the opportunity to swarm into my ears and nose and eyes, and to suck my blood from every square inch of exposed skin.  It was so terrible that I turned around and decided there had to be a better way.

I ran towards the dunes for a while and then ended up heading over to a rutted out, sandy jeep road, for a few miles.  Not the best run of my life, but I knew on this trip, I'd have to take what I could get.

Unfortunately, after my run when I attempted to take a shower in the RV, we discovered that the water heater wasn't working, and we couldn't figure out why. Nothing like taking a cold shower as the sun goes down and the temperature drops 30 degrees.  To say that I was annoyed would have been an understatement.

We did our best to look at the stars that night, but the mosquitoes were intent on biting us through our clothes.
Photo by Rob.

Photo by Rob.

The next morning (Monday), Rob left to go run on the Mosca Pass Trail while I helped Will pursue a Junior Ranger badge.  William was highly motivated to do this.

"I know it's not really Jakku, but I'm going to pretend it's Jakku."
Photo by Rob.

Rob returned from his run around lunchtime, and he was pretty enthused.  He seemed to think that I would like the trail, and he told me that if I wanted to, I could go for it.  Cold shower be damned, I knew I had to keep running on this trip whenever I had the chance.  Hot, tired, and hungry, I set out for Mosca Pass.  It was all uphill and rocky.  It was also very windy.  Especially in the places where the trail was narrow and steep, I wondered why on earth Rob would have thought I would even mildly enjoy this.

It definitely felt like I was in the wilderness. Although I did see a couple of other hikers on the trail, there were a few times I got paranoid about bears and clapped my hands and sang a little so I wouldn't surprise one too much if it was out there.

The uphill didn't bother me nearly as much as the rocks, so when the trail got more buffed out in a meadow-looking area, I was much happier.

Still uphill at 9,000ft elevation, but yay for no more rocks to trip over!

When I reached the top of Mosca Pass (at 9,750ft elevation), I felt somewhat victorious because so many of my recent wilderness runs (i.e., those in the Never Summer Mountains) had resulted in me getting lost and not actually making it to my destination.  But here I was, at Mosca Pass.  I paused to survey my surroundings and proceeded to get eaten alive by mosquitoes.  One of them even photobombed the selfie I took.  It was clear that I needed to keep moving.  All that was left for me to do was to turn around and head downhill. 

Mosca means fly in Spanish, but it might as well mean mosquito.
 I did my best to stay upright during the rocky sections and enjoy the view.

 When I made it back to Rob and Will in the camper, I took another brief and miserably cold shower (although since it was 90 degrees out, this shower wasn't nearly as miserable as the day before), and then we all hit the road.

I drove the RV for 19 whole miles on the highway.  This included dodging a gopher, going downhill, negotiating a curve, and making a sudden left turn into a wide gravel area when Will announced he had to go to the bathroom, now.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Thanks for reading.


angelmurf said...

Sounds like you guys had a great time - part of me is jealous of your free spirited adventures, but the bigger part of me is just happy that you and your sweet family are enjoying Colorado life together.

Anonymous said...

WOW!! PICTURES ARE AMAZING!!!! even the hilarious one the mosquito flew thru!!! love traveling along with you as always!!! even if it is only in your blogs!!! You REALLY should throw down BREAD CRUMBS or STICK YELLOW ribbons on the rocks so you find your way back easier!!! SCARY!!! Thanks for,taking us along!! beautiful country for, sure!! luv and hugs mama