|The humble beginnings of a storm that I'll never understand the full magnitude of...|
For months before leaving I poured over records of other attempts. I noticed most attempts failed from problems logistically as opposed to physical destruction of the body. I tried to plan for all variables, to plan for the unknown, to plan for multiple scenarios.
I didn't acclimate, however this wasn't my biggest hurdle.
On the second night I was on the Continental Divide. I was over 13,000'.
In the morning it was hot and the sun beat down on me. Then, after climbing to the continental divide, a strong storm came in and freezing rains and cool breezes tore through my body. I brought more clothes than I usually do on a summer run, but I became hypothermic wearing only a paper thin rain shell. I pressed on as I had no choice. I had about 30 miles left to finish the day where we arranged a 4x4 to pick us up at Carson Saddle.
With about 20 miles left I saw Eric coming back towards me. He had gotten turned around and wasn't sure we were on the correct path because the trail is poorly marked and there are several ambiguous trail junctures. The lighting and sweeping clouds were altering his directional senses. I was certain we were on the right path and knew I had to keep moving to prevent my body from shutting down completely. I didn't deliberate with Eric too long and marched on with my teeth chattering and my muscles violently trembling doing what I had to, to stay alive.
We got to Stony Pass and our crew wasn't there. I didn't wait as stopping caused me to black out momentarily and stumble/fall. I knew that I had to keep moving. It was something like 17 miles to Carson Saddle where our 58 mile day through the San Juan's was supposed to end.
I knew from the get-go that day two would be pivotal. Carson Saddle is where we were supposed to end day two, and there is no normal road to get to Carson Saddle, only a jeep road requiring a lifted 4x4. It was going to be a long 17 miles to get there from Stony Pass. The terrain soars above 13,000' and air is minimal. The winds and freezing rain made it that much more challenging. Hypothermia as well made this a mission that had me dancing with the grim reaper along the Continental Divide. I knew I had to dig deeper and fight to stay alive. Eric reminded me to eat to keep my energy up by eating. I was already hypothermic but I was moving well even with the tremors and shaking. Keeping nutrition flowing meant energy which meant movement which meant staying alive. If my stomach had gone south then I wouldn't have made it off the mountain. I pounded each step and moved as swiftly as possible.
I saw a cabin in a valley and pointed it out to Eric. "Look, Eric, a cabin with a chimney and a fire!". Eric screamed back, "What?!?! Keep Moving! What is your only choice?!"
Apparently Eric didn't see the cabin. He said I was hallucinating. I saw it clear as day. It was right there.
Realizing I must keep moving, I said "F--- It!!! The faster we move, the faster we finish this day! I ran on towards Carson Saddle determined to stay alive and to keep moving forward."
The pain from the cold stinging my bones was agonizing. I screamed loudly many expletives to curse the conditions and the way the frost stung my core. I would stumble frequently. I kept losing my vision and blacking out. I would fall and then awaken. I would plant my trekking pole to stay upright. I couldn't decipher my surroundings. Luckily for me, since Eric had gotten turned around when I became hypothermic, it meant we were together. I couldn't determine where the trail would go often and I would yell, "Where?!". Eric understood my simple one word demands meant to point to the next cairn and I would run to it. I don't think much of superstition or the like, but I was more than thankful to be with Eric in my moment of frailty, fighting with all I had to make it to Carson Saddle under my own power.
Eric kept saying, "This rain has to end! It's Colorado! These afternoon storms don't last this long!" I don't know if he was trying to convince himself or me. Probably both I guess.
Alas, the rains kept coming and the cold grew more bitter by the passing hours as we ran on barren mountaintops at over 13,000'.
We eventually made it to Carson Saddle after the sun had set.
We looked around and saw no truck.
We noticed no other humans.
We marched on up the road.
Eventually we saw safety.
Robin and Guy had hiked in two tents, sleeping bags, and a little food for us. Stephanie stayed alone at the base of the mountain with our other vehicles and gear.
The 4x4 truck couldn't make it up Carson Saddle due to the Weather. Robin and Guy acted by getting us survival gear.
I slept warmly in my Western Mountaineering bag, happy to be alive.
We awoke at Carson Saddle at 5am. The third day was rough as I wasn't able to access any water for the first 20 miles over snow mesa. I hadn't drank much that night either as I was low on water. Without the truck to get us off the mountain we couldn't access our supplies. I struggled with dehydration and fatigue across the Mesa. Sleeping at Carson Saddle that second night meant sleeping at 12,200' which made recovery from the hypothermia and extra energy required just to survive that much harder.
I had to dig deeply to reach Carson Saddle on that second night. The endocrine system had to dump as much adrenaline, testosterone, etc. into my body as it could... Having to knock out our biggest mileage day the following day after fighting to stay alive put me in a hole I never recovered from... After fighting for 2 more days, I was out by day 5 on a 9 day mission. Eric however, began day 5 strong and determined. It was an error in logistics that was his final blow.
I hadn't started the fifth day when Eric followed the wrong Colorado Trail, I threw in my towel trying to finish the fourth day. I had to take a break for at least half a day. Eric was doing well physically up until that point but we were both so close to the realm of 100% capabilities that any blow to the effort was incredibly hard to recover from.
There are two routes around the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. His detour was only about 5 hours, but we were only getting 4 hours of sleep each night. That meant he lost an entire night of sleep to recoup that blow. I had planned on running the remainder with Eric and coming back on Friday night to cover the section I had missed, to at least finish but at that point the blows were too many and the battle was lost even to complete all 486 miles before our planes were scheduled to leave the next weekend. We didn't leave wiggle room outside of the record itself.
We continued our week, touring the Colorado Trail and summiting 14er's each day making the most of our time there.
I suffered mentally and now even a week after returning home it's eating at me a little. I'm not really sure how to convey what happened on that second night or what to make of it all...It's been a hard week to see things clearly.
I will be back to attempt the record again. Unfinished business fills my spirit for now.
Tired. I'm spent and weary, but trying to be positive. I'll recover soon. At some point, I dream of taking Denali on the Colorado Trail just to hike it, over several weeks, and enjoy the beauty it possesses...what a gorgeous trail.
I'm focused on recovery for the next few weeks, to get out of my head. Then I need to talk with my family about my fall race plans. I'm hoping to run North Coast 24 Hour in Sept to qualify for Team USA to represent the country in the 24 hour competition. Then in November I'm running Mountain Masochist followed by Lookout Mountain in December. (Like I said... I need to chat with my family first before any of this is final...)
Many thanks to our awesome crew who allowed this attempt to take place. I value each one of you and will do my best to pay it forward in some way by helping out another the ways in which you've each supported me out there.