Escaping Winter: Part 4 – The build up to Hardrock

Continued from Part 3.

On Monday, after a good nights sleep, we had a hearty breakfast with scrambled eggs, cheese and prosciutto on toast with good coffee. We chatted to another runner who was heading out from Cunningham to see some of the course and we got to meet his trail dog too, she was very lively and seemed to be playing hide and seek.

We headed back to Silverton as we both had massages booked with a lady called Megan. She lives in a place called Lafayette near Boulder and had travelled here to help get runners ready for Hardrock. I was booked in for 10am and Roger headed off to start the laundry, fuel up and get ice for the esky. The massage was great, she worked out some really tough knots in my glutes, calves and quads, it was just what I needed.

Rog took my place on the table and I headed off to wait for the dryer with our laundry. I felt like I was floating. After doing the laundry and enjoying a Blueberry Smoothie I went back to the car to read my book and wait for Roger, I may have also bought a ‘Coloradical’ t-shirt and some bicycle-shaped earrings along the way.

I read my book in the car for a while until Rog came out and then we headed for lunch. We chilled out for most of the day chatting to other runners and headed up to Cunningham Gulch to camp for our last night in the van. We had Cheese Enchilada Ranchero (dehydrated) for dinner and it was actually quite tasty. We also saw the most amazing pink sunset over the hills as we drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday we had a bit of a sleep-in and when we got up we chatted to a group of runners who were doing the ‘soft rock’. Soft rock is when you do the Hardrock course but spread over 3-5 days, so a much slower pace. These guys had decided to do the double which meant they would run the course in one direction then turn around and run it back the other way, that way on their second lap they would get to see the runners during the race too.

Before going to sleep the previous night I had decided that I would run the section from Cunningham Gulch to Silverton, the section I would be pacing for Roger during the race. So I geared up and got myself ready to do the 9 mile (approx. 14km) trail section over Little Giant. The sun was shining and there were hardly any clouds in the sky, it was going to be a good day.

I waved goodbye to Roger and headed over the creek to start the trail. I wasn’t looking forward to having wet feet from the start but my Speedgoats and Injinji socks actually dried up pretty quickly. The first section was a long hike that got steeper and steeper up over Little Giant and I had great views back down towards Cunningham.

 

I kept climbing and it was so nice to be out in the mountains enjoying the sunshine, I didn’t see another soul until I dropped back down in the valley over the other side and saw a couple of ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicle) near an abandoned mine. There were old mines everywhere in this district and most trails were originally formed by the miners and settlers who lived in this area many, many years ago.

The trail went down a long jeep road for quite a distance and their were a few turns and bends that were not marked. Lucky I had borrowed Roger’s Garmin and he had the course loaded into it so I could make sure I didn’t get lost. I also had the ‘Trail Run Project’ App in my phone which also had the course on it, as back up for if the watch didn’t work. Roger had also warned me that there was a sign warning people about a Moose and her babies, they can be quite aggressive, so my strategy was to be loud so that  wouldn’t creep up in them and hopefully they would run away before I got near them. I’ll admit I was a little nervous doing this run by myself and maybe that’s why I ran it quite quickly, but I did relax and enjoy it very much.

It took me just under 3 hours to run this section which meant I arrived in Silverton just in time for lunch. I was quite pleased to have done it in that time because we had estimated about 4+ hours to complete. Maybe I was getting used to the altitude and my climbing was getting better, either way I’ll take it. My foot and knee had both been holding up well too so this made me very happy.

Roger had checked us into the Prospector Motel and I met him as I was walking down the main street towards the Coffee Bear. He was stoked with my time too and so we celebrated with ice cold Frappe’s. I headed for a shower and then we had lunch.

On the way back from lunch we noticed that they had started to put together the start/finish chute with flags and the famous ‘Hardrock’, so we headed over to take a look. I got a few photos and we met a lovely couple from New York, Britney and Ryan, Britney was doing the race for the first time too.

For dinner we went to Handlebars and both had (huge) steaks, the meal also came with soup and fries and the waitress was very impressed that we both finished our plates. And because we weren’t full enough we ducked across the street and finished the day with a Smedleys Ice Cream, delicious!

We walked back to the hotel the long way to burn off some of our meal and got an early night.

Wednesday is when the nerves started to kick in for Roger, as it was the first day of registration and the expo was open for business from midday. Larry, Andy and Roger were all in line to register as soon as it opened, then they had a few questions from the medical team, were given a spot tracker and finally had their photos taken in front of the Hardrock sign.

I got talking to a runner who had done the race before and his crew had made him an awesome t-shirt, check it out.

I spent a lot of time checking out the expo and bought some more clothes, caps and a Limited Edition Hardrock UD hydration pack, you can never have too many packs, am I right?

We all headed for lunch at the Pickel Barrel and Britney and Ryan joined us when they showed up a few minutes later. It was another really good meal. After lunch, Larnie and I went to the ‘Women of Hardrock’ talk that was put on by Trail Sisters and we had an interesting discussion about the difference between Male and Female entrants, prize monies, how to get more women involved and all things running. It was more of an open discussion and anyone could contribute, which was great because we heard a lot of different opinions from all around the world. We also ran into the race director Dale Garland, a lovely gentleman and had a quick chat to him as he ran around getting everything organised.

I walked back to the hotel with Larnie and she was headed for a nap, jet lag was taking its hold and she needed the rest. Roger and I headed to the (long) course briefing held in the school hall, which turned out to be a very detailed, google maps, street view of the entire course. It was run by James who we had met earlier on the course marking days, and it was very informative. Charlie (Head of the course crew) and a few other organisers/runners gave some great tips on the different sections of the trail.

We snuck out when they got to Cunningham as we both knew that section now and we headed for dinner at Golden Block Brewery with a good friend of Roger’s, Vincent from Hoka in Annecy and Jim Walmsley (recent winner and record holder of Western States). We also met Joe Grant as we were walking into the restaurant and chatted to him about his recent Nolan’s 14, plus he gave Rog some great tips on the Hardrock course. The pizza was great and we had a lot of laughs, then headed back to the hotel. Vincent and Jim were headed for a campsite out of town that apparently Jim and his crew stay at every year, their ‘Forest Fortress’.

On Thursday we managed to catch up with Mike Wardian for breakfast, a Hoka athlete who knew Roger well. We had coffee and burritos at our favourite Coffee Bear, and also chatted with Lucy Bartholomew and Anna Frost, both who happened to come past for coffee. Lucy was heading to Ecuador a few days after the race, and then back to Colorado for some running. Frosty had organised a group to do Soft Rock after the race and would also be working at Kroger’s canteen (Virginius Pass A.S.), one of the scariest checkpoints on the Hardrock course. Being surrounded by all these elite, super fast runners was inspiring and makes me want to train smarter and harder myself.

After breakfast we headed to the grocery store with Mike to get the final items for Roger’s drop bags and on the way back we dropped into Mike’s accommodation to meet his wife and kids, however his wife was catching up on some sleep. Instead we got to meet Jeff Browning who was staying in the same house, another elite who I am lucky to have met here on our trip. We chatted about the Tour de France which was on the tv and then ducked back to our hotel to get the drop bags ready.

Just before midday we headed over to hand in the drop bags and attend the runner’s briefing. The school hall was packed with runners and crew and all of the amazing people that help put together such a big event. It was such a surreal experience being there in that hall with so many accomplished runners, some who are known and some who are unknown. It was very inspirational and I left wanting to come back and do this race myself one day. Did I just say that? Shit.

We had dinner with Andy, Larnie and Larry At Natalia’s, most of us had pasta and I also had strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Back at the room Roger and I prepared all of his race gear and nutrition, and Jill arrived just before 8pm too. Jill is our friend from Boulder who we had convinced to come and crew with me, she had crewed for Beat at this race before and has run many ultra marathons herself so it was great to have her onboard.

And now we are off to sleep as the race starts at 6am tomorrow. I’ll be updating facebook with Roger’s progress whenever we have reception, so stay tuned.

Escaping Winter: Part 3 – The Needles, Utah

Continued from Part 2. I decided to make Utah into it’s own blog post because I took so many photos, and because it was such a special trip.

While on the road to Utah we encountered huge storms and there was a grand display of lightning in every direction. Here are some pictures I got with photos and videos of the storm.

As we drove into Utah the rain got heavier and heavier, but by the time we reached the National Forest we had gotten ahead of the storm, and the views were spectacular as we approached our destination.

A friend had recommended The Needles in Canyonland to us, as being slightly closer than Arches National Park but just as spectacular. We got to the Needles Outpost on the edge of the park and a friendly man called Kaleb greeted us and told us we could camp there for the night and use the bathroom/showers. We could see the storm getting closer and closer, so we took him up on the offer as the rain bucketed down.

Roger got the water boiling so we could have our (dehydrated) Rice Burrito Bowl, we added some dried bacon pieces and it was pretty tasty. The storm eventually passed and we were not only lucky enough to see a storm in the desert, but there was a beautiful rainbow that formed just over the rocks behind our campsite. It was magic.

As you can see we took a lot of photos, mostly because the colour of the sky kept changing with every minute that passed, but we both crashed after a long exhausting day.

We woke up early on Sunday to the sound of a thousand frogs who were lapping up the rain and swimming about in the puddles. Rog made delicious eggs on toast and good strong coffee, and I was glad my legs didn’t feel too sore after the race yesterday.

We packed up the camper and headed to Cave Spring Trail where we saw amazing rock formations, elaborate cactus plants and primitive cave paintings.

The next stop was Elephant Hill Trailhead which took us through more impressive rock formations and towards a breathtaking view of The Needles.

As we drove along the road we saw a sign for Pothole Point Trail so we stopped and did the 1km loop, which had some great views but was not as impressive as what we had previously seen.

We also stopped at the Big Spring Canyon Overlook and went for a short hike which gave us some more impressive views of The Needles. There is nothing like this back home and it was such a worthwhile trip.

Eventually we got back in the camper and headed to Monticello for lunch at the Peace Tree Cafe. We stopped at the Needles Outpost to pay for our campground, as their Eftpos machine had stopped working during the storm the evening before, and we met a young man working behind the counter who had a gorgeous dog called Kukido (Cookie Dough).

Then I drove us back to Silverton for dinner at The Pickle Barrel. After our bellies were full we headed up to Cunningham Gulch to camp for the night.

We met Ben and Levi who were also camping near us, Ben had a beautiful big white dog called Gandalf (the White) and we chatted to them both as the night sky rolled in and the temperature dropped. They were Hardrockers coming back for more with good stories and insight on the race, like everyone who is here to run or crew or volunteer again. There were thousands of stars shining down on us as we drifted off to sleep.

Stay tuned for Escaping Winter: Part 4 – The build up to Hardrock

Escaping Winter: Part 2 – Silverton and Kendall Mountain Run

Continued from Part 1.

We landed in Denver and a cab met us at the airport (organised by Roger) and took us to pick up our camper. For the next few weeks we planned to live in a campervan, so we could run/hike as much of the Hardrock course as possible and save time travelling to places etc. because most of the checkpoint/trailhead locations were remote.

We met Ryan from Vango Durango and got the keys for Indigo Montoya (ha ha), sweet wheels.

I used Google to find the closest grocery store and we headed to the City Market in Durango to buy all our food and drink for the next few days. A lady at the store gave us directions to a campground near Molas Lake so we headed there to camp for the night. Roger cooked (dehydrated) Beef Stroganoff and we had some Banana Custard Pudding for dessert. We were both pretty tired but had a restless sleep, I’m not sure if it was because of the altitude (camped at 3,200m) or because of the dehydrated food.

On Sunday morning we woke up to the sounds of a generator from a nearby campervan, it was a huge mobile home. I headed off into the forest to visit the bathroom and Roger cooked porridge and coffee for breakfast.

We packed up the camper and drove to Silverton with the plan to hike up Kendall Mountain (3,982m). We called into the Prospector Hotel and met Andy at the reception desk, he was a funny character in a Blues Brothers T-shirt who had just sold the Hotel and would soon be on his way around the world for a much-needed holiday. After a few laughs we headed down the main street to find some real coffee and a local told us to go to Bear Café. They weren’t wrong, the coffee was great and they had free WIFI, so I could upload some more pictures to Instagram and check on Alana and the doggies back home.

The main street is not very big however there were lots of stores and galleries to explore. We bought some t-shirts and chatted to a photographer and a painter in the local gallery. Our last stop before our run was a native American gallery where we chatted to the owners about the old and new artefacts and jewellery they had in store. The history of both of the owners was fascinating, as well as the items they stocked.

We headed back to the car and got ready for our run up to Kendall Mountain. As we parked near the trailhead we noticed another race was going on and we walked over to find out more. You wouldn’t believe but it was Jamil Coury from Run Steep Get High, we had watched his Hardrock video from 2017 (among others) before leaving and it was great to meet him in person. As we chatted the weather turned foul and even started to hail so we hunkered down under their tent until the hail stopped. As we donned our rain jackets we headed out towards the Mountain and the weather didn’t look like it was going to get any better. I’ve been told that here in the mountains they get a thunderstorm every afternoon without fail, so we were in for a wet one. It was a good chance for Roger to test his gear and for me to try and keep up.

It stayed cloudy and wet for most of the run and a couple of times the lightning made us question whether we should keep going or not. However the clouds parted by the time we got closer to the top.

Roger and I had a lot of fun on this trail and the colours changed so many times with the constant changing weather. Lucky for us the rain stopped as we were approaching the top and the views were amazing when we got there. The spot that we had hiked up to was not actually Kendall Mountain because we had missed a turn (the trails here were not marked) but we were satisfied with what we had done.

It stayed completely dry for all of the run back down the mountain and I took it steady all the way. Roger did some hard downhill efforts as this day was the last chance he had for this before starting to back off a little. We ran into a local man and his dog called ‘Monkey Man’ near the bottom of the mountain and he turned out to be a local hiking, riding guide in the area. His dog was beautiful and loved attention, I was happy to oblige as I was missing my dogs back home.

On the way down we also saw a lot of ATV’s heading up the mountain, they are a small 4 wheel, buggy-style vehicle and there were hundreds of them in this local area. As we walked the last section to the car we ran into a man walking with his wife and dog, he was wearing a Hardrock t-shirt so Roger approached him to say hi. The man’s name was Geoff and he had completed Hardrock 7 times previously, what an achievement.

Back at the van we changed and drove back into town to find a good spot for dinner. We landed at the Eureka Station which looked relatively new, I had Bison Meatloaf and Roger had Bison Lasagna. We shared dishes and I must say that mine was the better choice. During Dinner our good friend Andy Hewat showed up and we had fun catching up on all the latest news and race talk. Andy suggested a place for us to camp in Cunningham, so we could then run part of the course the next day, so after dinner we drove there and camped for the night.

Unfortunately Roger didn’t get much sleep during the night as his blood-sugar levels didn’t want to play nice, so when we were woken early by the sun it was hard to get out of bed (like most Monday’s I guess?). Can you spot the camper van in the photo below?

As I was making breakfast we met some other campers called Gosia and Stan who live about a 1hr drive south of Durango. They had 2 dogs with them, Lunas and Martia, Spanish for Monday and Tuesday, the days they had rescued the dogs off the street. Gosia and I spent a good deal of time showing each other photos of our doggies, she was lots of fun. She dresses her dogs up for special days like Halloween and Valentine’s Day and the photos were fantastic. I’m not sure our dogs would ever sit that still in a costume for a photo.

It turns out that Stan was a runner too, and he was registered for the Kendall Mountain Race that I would be doing next weekend, so we chatted about that while Roger got his gear ready to go for a run.

As Roger took off for his run I kept chatting to the lovely couple and eventually they had to pack up and leave. We exchanged contact details so we could keep in touch and I looked forward to seeing Stan at the race the next weekend.

It was pretty cold so I sat in the campervan and updated my journal of the trip while tidying the van. A cheeky little Marmot came up close to the camper and sat on a rock in the sun.

Not long after Roger came back down the hill we sat down to have some tuna and avocado wraps for lunch. Soon after this Roger was back out the door and onto the trail towards Silverton. The plan was for me to meet him in town for dinner with Andy, and I would also resupply the camper with some food and water for the next few days.

While he was out running I got Petrol (you pay before you fill up here which was a bit weird as you have to guess the amount you want), got ice for the esky and visited the Information centre to find out how we could get more water. The information centre had some great hiking books and they were very helpful. I did some shopping in town and when Roger arrived we had frappes at the Bear Cafe, my chocolate mint flavour was delicious. We met up with Andy who offered us the use of his shower and we jumped at the chance. I felt so good after a nice warm shower, beats Wet Ones ha!

The three of us headed up the road for dinner at Handlebars, I had an Elk burger and Rog had a Buffalo burger, they were both very tasty but I think I liked the Buffalo most.

We said goodbye to Andy and made plans for the next day’s course marking adventure up to Handies Peak, this is the highest peak of the Hardrock Hundred course at 4,284m and would be not only a great hike but a good chance to see how we handled that altitude.

We camped at the bottom of Kendall Mountain, near the 5 day race that was still going on and we hoped nobody would ask us for a camping permit (which we didn’t have).

The alarm went off at 6am on Tuesday and just as I was getting up we heard a tap on the window and a voice saying ‘Do you have a parking permit?’, we didn’t respond and the voice asked the same question again, shit. Turns out it was Andy who had come past to let us know the course marking day had been changed, what a joker. He gave me a heart attack as there was a hefty fine for camping without a permit. He asked if we wanted to travel in the car with him and his friends Larry, Beth and Rachael, and of course we jumped at the chance.

We got up and rushed to get dressed, thankfully we had prepared our packs the night before so they didn’t have to wait too long. We squashed four of us into the back seat and headed towards Grouse Gulch the start of today’s hike/run. On the way we were lucky enough to see two Bull Moose feeding on some bushes next to the road. They were huge, strong and beautiful creatures. What a great way to start the day.

Photo: Roger Hanney

The road was very rocky but Larry’s car made it to the trailhead quite easily. We all geared up and headed up the trail under blue skies. I had been looking forward to this hike up to Handies Peak, I knew it was going to be a good day.

Rog and I ended up ahead of the others and unfortunately Beth was having knee issues (recovering from a recent meniscus tear) so she turned back early. Larry, Andy and Rachael were behind us and we waited for them at the first pass.

Andy got to the pass and we had a quick chat. Rachael was struggling a little so Larry was hanging back with her. Andy told us to go ahead and he would organise a turn around time if they didn’t make it to the peak on time.

The reason we had a turn around time is because every afternoon there were thunderstorms in these mountains – they create their own weather so you have to be prepared. We didn’t want to be up on the peak (or close to it) if there was lightning as it would be too dangerous.

We saw lots of Marmots and Pika again today and another runner told us she had seen Coyote so we kept a sharp eye out hoping to see one of those too.

It was a long, steep hike up to the peak and my pace slowed as it got steeper and steeper. The higher we climbed the more mountains started to reveal themselves around us’ and once we reached the top we felt like we were in another world.

Breathtaking.

Andy joined us a few minutes later and we chatted to a few other hikers. We took loads of photo and spent a long time soaking up the view. It’s hard to describe what we saw and felt, it was magical.

As we were about to head down we saw Larry and Rachael making their way up the peak, so we cheered them on and waited for them to arrive. The turn around time we had organised was midday and it was 11:52am when they reached the peak. Perfect. We took some more photos and then made our way back down the mountain. Andy was a great downhill runner and I took it nice and steady, stopping to take lots more photos. Every time the clouds moved the colours around us changed and I couldn’t help taking more and more photos.

Eventually we could see the car and we hit the last of the switchbacks down to the road.

We chatted with Beth who had been patiently waiting at the car and Andy realised there the rental car actually had another row of seats in the back, which would make the trip back to Silverton much more comfortable.

Once we were all back at the car we headed into town just in time to see the rain start and the storms rolling in. We had timed it perfectly.

We had pizza for dinner with the crew at Golden Block Brewery where we also met Arkansas local Billy Simpson for the first time, and then we walked up the road to have Funnell Cake for dessert.

After we filled our bellies we headed to Cunningham Gulch to camp and get an early night.

On Wednesday the alarm went off at 6am and I visited the pit toilet while Rog got up and ready. I drove us into town and on the way down we saw that the town was covered in a thick fog.

I dropped Roger at Andy’s hotel where Larry was meeting them to drive them to Grant swamp (via Ophir, a very sketchy road apparently). Coffee was on my mind so I went to Coffee Bear and ordered a sausage burrito and large coffee, then headed over to the laundry. While I was doing laundry the owner asked what channel I wanted to watch and I couldn’t think of anything so I just said ‘Maybe some Sports?’. I chatted to the owner some more and after he left I realised he had put the tv on the shopping channel, great (not).

I met Roger when he got back into town and we had frappes at the Bear Cafe. I think we were both feeling exhausted as all we could think about was finding a place to sleep for the night. So we drove up towards Minnie Gulch (past Cunningham Gulch) to set up camp for the night and the road was a bit scary. It was a dirt road and full of rocks, cliff edges. Eventually we turned around because I didn’t think the van would make it over the creek crossing. I doubled back and Roger took a short hike up another side road and found a great place to park the van for the night.

We were both feeling exhausted and crashed early.

A rest day was planned for Thursday so we woke up late and Roger cooked eggs on toast with avocado and we also had coffee. There was nobody around us for miles and I was feeling really good despite the altitude.

Once breakfast was cleaned up and the van repacked we headed to Orvis Hot Springs. This was a good chance for me to see the road to Ouray as I would be driving along it to checkpoints during the race, plus the hot springs would be relaxing. The drive to Ouray was along windy, cliff edge roads where you have to go quite slow due to all the hairpin turns. At one section along the ‘Million Dollar Highway’ it was down to one lane due to a mud slide earlier in the week. We later found out that there had actually been 8 land/mud slides along that section of  road but they had managed to clean most of them up.

The hot springs were another 10mins drive past Ouray and had been recommended to us by Steady, a friend of Roger’s who had worked as a high end bootfitter in Telluride. We parked and checked in to the reception, the lady gave us a tour and advised that in the outside area ‘clothing was optional’. There was no way I was going naked and I hoped that there weren’t too many old, wrinkly men/women lurking around.

We changed and got the indoor pool first, the coolest of the springs. A mother with her two children were playing in the pool (clothed) and we chatted to her about her upcoming move from Boulder to Ouray, she was here checking out schools for her girls before they moved, her husband had been transferred here for work.

After the indoor pool we headed over to the super cold and super hot (44 degrees) springs for some cold/hot treatment. At first I couldn’t get into the water past my knees with either of those springs, but on my second and third attempts I managed to get all the way under up to my neck. The main benefit of the hot/cold treatment was to help inflammation, but it also helps relax your muscles and my skin felt great afterwards too. The last spring we tried was the main pool and 80% of the people were clothed thankfully. The loose gravel pool bottom felt great for tired feet to walk across.

A storm rolled in and we decided to leave and grab some lunch in Ouray. I showered and we headed to The Ouray Brewery for lunch which was another great meal.

After (late) lunch we headed up to try and camp near Governor Basin, which was the starting point for tomorrow’s Course Marking day, however the road got too much for our camper and we ended up heading back to Molas Pass to camp for the night.

On Friday we woke up to the alarm at 6am and as we walked to our respective bathrooms (trees). Roger spotted a Deer and her 2 children, he called me over and i just got to see them before they ran off into the trees across the path. They were beautiful.

Once the camper was packed we headed to pick up Andy from his hotel and meet the group for course marking at Charlie’s house.

 

After a short briefing everyone packed into the cars and we headed for Camp Bird Road. The trip through the mountains was uneventful but the beauty of the mountains stole my heart at every turn.

I dropped Roger and Andy off with the other runners, they would get a lift with another runner in their 4WD as our van would not make it to Governors Basin. I headed into town for breakfast, shopping and some down time. After purchasing some gifts I headed to the hot springs in town, the weather was heating up and they had hot and cold pools at the one in town. The water was lovely and the place was really busy, it was much bigger and fully clothed thankfully (ha ha).

Roger, Andy and the rest of the course marking crew joined me at the hot springs after their run/hike, then we all headed to Mexican for late lunch. I had a good chat over Tacos with Beth, Larry and another lady called Annie, a really friendly bunch of people and such experienced ultra runners.

It was pouring with rain as we left the restaurant and headed back to Silverton over the mountains. I was getting nervous because on Saturday I was doing the Kendall Mountain Run, a 13 mile course from Silverton (9,318ft) to the top of Kendall Mountain (13,066ft) and back down. There is an interesting history to this race and you can read more about it here.

When we got back to Silverton we decided to try and get a room for the night so I could get a good nights sleep before my race. Roger managed to get us a room at The Bent Elbow in the notorious Blair Street and our room was funnily enough called the Bordello.

Across the street an Elvis impersonator was singing on a trailer parked outside the Avalanche Brewery (bought another lid to add to my collection too, see pic below), and the place looked busy so we headed there for dinner after picking up my race pack from the Avon Hotel. The funny line we heard as were leaving after eating was from a smiling father to his young daughter, “Well of course it sounds terrible honey, he’s a man in an Elvis suit singing out of the back of a campervan”.

Then it was back to our comfortable room to chill out and get an early night, and I just have to say it was so nice to have a proper bed and a toilet.

Saturday’s alarm went off at 6:30am and I was feeling very nervous for my race. Thankfully we had plenty of time and only a short walk from the hotel to the start line on the corner of Greene St and 12th St.

I had chosen to wear my Nathan pack with Tailwind in 2 soft flasks in the front and wet weather gear in the back, as I had been told there was 50% chance of rain and I hate being cold. That’s Kendall Mountain in the background of the below photos, piece of cake right?

We walked to the start line and there were lots of people queued up for the portable toilets. Roger walked up to get a coffee and I used the cafe’s bathroom which didn’t have a queue (score!). Beth and Larry found us at the start line and they wished me well. I positioned myself at the back of the runners and eventually we were off and running.

The course went for 2 blocks up the Main Street and then hooked right onto another street that eventually turned into a fire trail that circled its way up Kendall Mountain. I saw Andy at the start of the uphill section and he wished me good luck. The trail up to the peak was rocky, steep and endless, but I made some good friends along the way. There was a married couple Jake and Nicole, Jake was her coach and she was mostly training for triathlon. There was Ned an older man who had run this many times before. And then there was Alice, about my age and it was her first trail race ever. What a tough race to do first!!

I could really feel my breath struggling the whole way up, and had to slow my walking a few times to get my breath back. My calves were feeling tight too, and I tried to rest them by choosing ‘flat spots’ to give them a break every little while. A flat spot is when a rock is sitting at a certain ankle so that when you walk up the trail your foot ends up horizontal when planted, which gives the calves a break from the plantar flexion you’ve been doing mile after mile.

Before I reached the top I ended up alone and with a big gap in front and behind me, it was peaceful and I took in the amazing views around me.

I reached the arch we had hiked to the previous week and then braced myself for the rocky scramble up to the peak. The trail was super steep now and we had to crawl on all fours, slipping and sliding up the rocks. There was a false summit and so we kept on climbing and climbing.

I looked up and saw Jamil Coury (ultra running legend) standing at the summit and asked him for a photo.

There were a few small steps to the top now and as I reached the summit I cheered with excitement. Wahooo!

I had a quick chat to Jamil and his crew and then I was out of there, it was all downhill from here. I scrambled down off the top peak feeling confident and quicker than I expected, passing people along the way. Then I hit the fire trail and a stitch in my left side made running quite painful, so I alternated running and walking for the next few miles trying to get rid of it. Despite slowing down the stitch wouldn’t go away, so I tried to focus on relaxing my body and just running at a slow, steady pace, taking it easy like my coach said. I tried to take my mind off the pain and soak up what was around me, it worked and eventually I was feeling much better. I picked up some speed and started to pass people on my way back down the mountain, it felt great.

To my surprise Roger and Andy had hiked up part of the trail to cheer me on and it was so nice to see them, it really gave me a lift.

Photo: Andy Hewat

My pace got quicker again and I kept picking off people in front of me, while keeping some in reserve for the last run on the flat to the finish at Memorial Park. Where was that park? I had reached the flat now and the park I thought we would finish in was incorrect, I had to run another mile into town. I walked and ran this last section and kept a close eye on the gentleman behind me as I didn’t want him to beat me. As I approached the finish Larry and Beth were cheering me on and others heard them say my name so they started cheering for me too. A gentleman rushed to take my photo as I crossed the finish line underneath the inflatable finish arch, and was handed a mug and food voucher. I had done it!!

I waited for my (new) running friends who weren’t far behind me so that I could cheer them over the line and congratulate them, then I headed back to see Larry and Beth. We all headed over to the finish area for the bbq and to buy some gear at the Run Steep Get High shop. Roger and Andy joined me not long after and we watched others finishing the race. The atmosphere was great and I loved my finishers mug, so much more practical than a medal.

After the race, Roger had a burrito and Andy was kind enough to let me use his shower. Then we jumped in the campervan and headed to the The Needles in Utah. We had decided that this side trip would be a good break from Silverton/Hardrock and a great chance to see some different and amazing landscapes and get an extra dose of oxygen.

Stay tuned for Escaping Winter: Part 3 – The Needles, Utah

Escaping Winter: Part 1 – Boulder, Colorado

On Wednesday 4 July 2018 Roger and I landed in Denver at 1:30pm after roughly 20 hours flying, yet still managed to arrive just two and a half hours after we left. We jumped in an Uber and headed towards Boulder where our friends Jill and Beat were picking us up. They lived ‘up the mountain’ and I wasn’t sure what that meant but they said it involved a dirt road and the Uber driver probably wouldn’t want to drive on that. Our driver was very chatty and told us a lot of information about the area, including the fact that he had been a Pro Downhill skier at the age of 12yrs. After about 45 minutes we were dropped off in Boulder and 2 seconds later our friends drove around the corner to picked us up, great timing.

I first met Jill and Beat at the Tor des Geants race in Italy last year, Beat was running and Jill was going to do some hikes and crewing too. Beat has an amazing ultra running history that puts most of us to shame, and although Jill is a keen runner too she mostly enjoys biking, in particular snow biking. She has finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational (1,000 miles across Alaska), both on foot (350mi) and on bike and she won the Tour Divide (Banff to Mexico).  I could go on more about how badass this couple are but I’m sure it still wouldn’t do them justice.

So we got in the car and they drove us to their home on the mountain in Boulder and before I even stepped in the door I was totally jealous of their humble abode and its surroundings. They had 20+ acres of beautiful land to call their own, trails at their doorstep and views I could stare at for hours on end.

They even had little feeder bottles hung up outside on their balcony for the Hummingbirds and we watched those pretty little birds flying around, they were so fast. The ones with the red necks were the males and they tended to be bossy, only letting certain birds drink from their pots. The females had grey/white on their necks and they were less aggressive, one even landed on my finger to stand while it fed. They were fantastic to watch and I took a thousand photos.

We showered and had delicious burgers that Jill cooked and some yellow watermelon for our Independence Day celebrations. After dinner we all geared up and went for a short hike to the top of Bear Mountain to watch the fireworks. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and there was a lot of storm action close by so we decided to head down out of harm’s way, people had been known to get struck by lightening here before.

On Thursday the alarm went off at 5:45am and we headed up to Roosevelt National Forest. Roger, Beat and Jill were heading out for a 50km run and I was headed for a shorter run/hike up to Mt Audobon (4,032m). The drive to the park took about 45 minutes and we chatted excitedly along the way. The countryside was beautiful and everything I had pictured it to be.

We started the hike together and it was very dry and rocky. We had Pine trees on either side as we started up the switchbacks and I had to stop to get rocks out of my shoes. I should have worn my gaiters because about another 1km up the trail I had rocks in my shoes again. I would have to suck it up.

After about 3km I said goodbye to the crew as I headed up towards my mountain. I was a little sad not to be able to go with them but I had only just recently increased my long run to 25km, so I wasn’t going to risk getting injured again. My coach had told me 40km over the next 2 days was my maximum so I planned to stick with that and not get carried away.

I enjoyed spending time alone on the trails and I’d been given advice on what to do if a bear/mountain lion should cross my path, so I felt pretty confident I would be okay. They had also assured me that despite the signs posted warning of these animals I would not see any of them today.

As I went up past the tree line I spotted a small rabbit-like shape moving ahead of me and it made a squeaky noise. I soon began to see lots of them, ‘What were they?’. I got closer to one of the little guys and I was quick enough to get a photo, he was adorable (he is in the shadows at the bottom of the photos below).

I hiked further up the trail I heard this same noise more and more. ‘Are they Marmots or maybe Beavers?’. I kept moving and eventually saw a larger version of what I thought was the same animal but it was brown/red in colour, it stopped to look at me and ran off. As I hiked I saw them more and more and I managed to get a few photos and videos of them along the way. I learnt later during my trip that they call the Marmots ‘Whistle Pigs’ because of the noise they make.

It turns out the small creature I had first seen was a Pika and they’re usually a lot more timid, so I should feel very lucky to have seen them up close and been able to get a photo. I was also lucky to see a Ptarmigan (silent ‘P’) which had its summer feathers on and he was very well camouflaged.

Just before the summit I ran into a man named John who told me the large animals were Marmot and that I should be careful because they might come over looking for food and try to bite me. Ha, so much for cute! He asked where I was from and we chatted for a while. He told me that he loved Kayak adventures when he was younger and had written a book called ‘Dance on Edge’. He said he was getting too old to kayak now but he loves going to hikes and seeking out mountains.

We wished each other happy travels and I began the boulder dash climb up to the top of Mt Audubon. I was glad I had my poles because the rocks were very uneven and most of them shifted and moved beneath my feet.

For most of this section I had to guess the trail because it wasn’t clearly visible, but you could guess where you needed to go so I just kept climbing up and up. I ran into a group coming back down and they pointed out the path which helped a little. It would be there one minute then gone the next. Imagine a big, big, big pile of rocks and that’s what I was climbing up. Eventually I reached the top and was rewarded with breathtaking views.

As I headed back down the mountain I ran into another large Marmot who seemed to be curious about me too. I managed to get him on video as I walked carefully along the rocks, he was very inquisitive and we had a good chat.

Making my way back down on the rocks was harder than I expected. You couldn’t really use poles because the rocks had jagged edges, nothing was flat. I held my poles horizontally in one hand and made my way down as best I could, sometimes sliding down on my butt. I laughed in my head at the ‘Trail run’ selection I had made on my Garmin watch earlier this morning because this was definitely not a run. Did I mention I was using the new Garmin Fenix 5X Plus? It’s a great watch, very customisable and lots of additional features that would come in handy for the type of terrain we would be hiking/running in the USA. I had literally got the new watch just before leaving Sydney and I have Roger to thank for that.

Back to the trail. The rocks eventually became scarce and the terrain became much more runnable, so I shed a few layers and put my poles in my pack so I could run most of the way back down. Okay, there was some running involved but mostly stopping to chat to other hikers and pat their dogs. I always miss my dogs when I’m away…

After 4hrs and 22mins I had travelled just 13.28km but I’d had a blast. The countryside was beautiful, and I enjoyed getting out and moving the legs again. I napped in the car for about 3hrs, visited the bathroom, read my book (On Trails, Robert Moor) and chatted to hikers while I waited for the rest of the crew to return. They had planned to be gone for about 10 hours from when we started so I had plenty of time to kill.

The crew got back just before 7pm and we headed to Nederland for some dinner. Jill had seen some good reviews on the ‘Ned Heads’ Facebook place for a Thai restaurant so we headed there. For drinks we had the Blue Moon tap beer which came with an orange slice in it and was very refreshing. For dinner Roger and I shared a Chicken Pad Thai and a Curry Mango Chicken, it was delicious and filled our hungry bellies. Back at the house we showered and chatted till late in the evening before I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer.

On Friday we had a sleep in, getting up to leave by 8.30am. We drove to Roosevelt National Forest again and all of us were headed to the South Arapahoe Peak (4,071m) which was roughly a 20km return trip.

The trail was a long uphill slog to the top and Beat was so fast that we only saw him for about the first 3km. Roger, Jill and I stayed at about the same pace the whole way and we chatted to other hikers who were out there enjoying the sunshine too. Many of them had dogs and were from the local area, they were surprised when we said we were from Sydney and this usually started a lengthier conversation which was nice.

We ran into Beat as he was coming back down from the peak and he said he would go down and then come back up to meet us at the top. He warned us of the false summit, a spot where you think you’ve made it but there is actually more climbing to do. For this last section we had to scramble over rocks and climb our way to the top. I didn’t seem to be feeling any of the effects of altitude which was great. Eventually we got to the top and Beat joined us for some lunch and treats. A few Marmots also tried to join us for lunch and were quick to check our spot when we started to move away again for the descent.

We ran into a man carrying his dog in his backpack, it was an unreal sight and the dog looked content, lucky bugger. On the way down we hiked fast and took in some more of the gorgeous views around us.

Eventually we got back to the trailhead and I was very pleased to see the toilets as I had been holding on for too long by this point. It was such a beautiful, memorable trail and it made me fall even more in love with the area.

Once we were all changed and back in the car we headed for Boulder to get dinner at a Vietnamese Restaurant that Beat and Jill frequently visit. We all ended up having the same dish which was a Combination Meat Bun, a dish with noodles and a variety of meat. For dessert we shared two plates of Mango Sticky Rice which was also delicious.

After dinner we headed across the road to visit the Boulder Running Company shop and I felt like I was in Runner Heaven. This shop was better than any running store I had ever seen and had everything for road and trail. I purchased a few shirts, a cap and some Tailwind and the cashier was a guy called Joshua Stevens, who it turns out is a sponsored runner and was also pacing at Hardrock. He gave us his Instagram information and told us to contact him if we needed anything or wanted to catch up during Hardrock. He was such a cool dude and he even gave us a generous discount.

We all jumped in the car and headed to the bus station to pick up Gabi, a friend of Beat’s who was going to be staying with them for a while to train and prepare for her race in August. When we got back to the house we showered, and all stayed up chatting till late again. Time flies when you’re having fun.

On Saturday afternoon we were flying from Denver to Durango so in the morning we went to the REI store in Boulder. Wow. This store is your outdoor adventure person’s dream come true, it had everything from kayaks and tents to running and snow gear. I bought some more clothes and trucker caps, and Roger got some great stuff too including a Katadyn water filter flask which would be great to use during his race if/when he needed to drink from the creeks and streams on course. We dragged ourselves out of the store before we spent too much more money and headed to lunch. We found a great Mexican place and I had a Beef Burrito with Ginger Beer.

We said goodbye to Gabi and jumped in the car with Beat and Jill heading for Denver airport. The day had been heating up and it was now 37.7 degrees outside, thankfully much warmer than Sydney had been this winter.

The trip to the airport was smooth and traffic-free, the highways here are well designed. We said goodbye to our friends and Jill was going to help crew for Roger’s race, so we would see her again in another week which was great. Check-In was relatively easy despite the airline trying to charge us for our baggage which we had already paid for. The line at Customs was long but it moved pretty quickly considering, and before long we were boarding our little 100 seat plane to Durango.

Stay tuned for ‘Escaping Winter Part 2: Silverton’