Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hardroch - Ouray to Telluride

[The title of this post isn't a typo, and I'll tell you why if you're patient :) which if you're still reading these, you must be already!]

So I was in Ouray, but I wasn't really there. I had an aura of "what the hell just happened?" about me, trying to digest the experiences of the previous section that were so different than last year in every way imaginable. No explanations were coming, so I had to try to move on to the next section. But my brain wasn't shifting gears very quickly at that point.

My crew and I had the basics down - drink the Gookinaid and Ensure, change the socks, put a blister block on my left heel where there was a hot spot, trade trash for more Spiz baggies and TP, ask if I wanted any other food. That last one stumped me. I didn't know how to really answer questions, process anything that wasn't in the normal pattern. I did know that I wanted my microspikes for the next section - I wasn't messing around with the Virginius snow fields, even though I knew it would be light out by the time I got there and possibly with soft-ish snow to work with instead of a dreaded ice slope. Beyond that, I wasn't being much help to the crew.

I know they were trying, we all were trying to figure out exactly what I needed to do, what I needed to take. Bob had my drop bag list out and we repeatedly went through it, but I (maybe we all) had the feeling we might be missing something. But it was 3 a.m. and we were ALL sleep deprived.

John seemed to think that I needed to get up and walk out of the aid station. For once I wasn't sure why. If he had offered a nap, I probably would have taken it (but I didn't think of it). The weirdest thought went through my head - do people ever drop out of Hardrock for having tired legs? Because that's the only thing that seemed to be slowing me down at that point, no major problems and hardly any minor ones either. OK then, I guess I should get up and go, that would be the thing to do. Because one thing I do know, I sure can walk up a road. Good thing, because there was a long one of those ahead of me.

It wasn't until several hours later that I finally realized what I should have written on my drop bag list - sunglasses (I'd given them to my crew at Grouse), more sunscreen, fewer lights...

As it was, I had everything I needed to start the next leg at least, including my iPod. John walked me out the aid station exit and asked if I was carrying it. Maybe I would find it useful during the next few miles up a long dirt road? Heck yeah, great idea! That was the best thing he could have said, a glimmer of hope that we might actually have some brain power in action this early in the a.m. :)

After John kicked me out of Ouray, I followed course markers carefully because this was the one section of the course I had never seen and I wasn't sure what to expect except a tunnel. Up a couple turns and onto the Ouray loop trail, then up these giant steps that at least had a hand rope to help pull myself up along. The tunnel was cool but rather anticlimactic. On the other hand, the footbridge way high over the river was awesome and I look forward to going back to actually see where I was sometime in daylight.

I found the dirt road and turned to start walking and walking. Not far up, a couple headlamps came toward me and I think it might have been a runner and a pacer turning around to go back to Ouray? It seemed like they were both women, but they were talking among themselves so I didn't ask questions. I'm pretty sure I didn't dream that. Looking at the results I think it might have been Betsy K.

I started with my podcasts and blew through 3 of them just like that. Dawn came and went. I drank Spiz. I stopped for a bathroom break. I looked at various spots along the side of the road wondering if I was tired enough that they would be comfortable, but the idea of taking off my pack to make a pillow and moving all those rocks around to find a spot that fit my body didn't seem worth the effort. I saw almost no one, but finally a couple racers passed me while I was taking a bathroom break. Everyone was moving pretty slowly. The scenery was gorgeous again. My feet were dry. I sort of knew where I was but not how much further I had to go. There were even occasional mile markers, but I declined to calculate my pace per mile so as not to embarrass myself any further.

OK, time for some comfort music. I listened to the whole Buffy album and I was partway through Dr. Horrible when I finally, finally! made it to the Governor aid station. Phew!

Governor aid station = 24:57 total time, approx 76th place

I sat and had a bit of soda while filling a Spiz baggie, then rummaged through my med kit to see if I was carrying a needle. My right heel felt a bit sore from a nagging blister and I was hoping to poke it to see if I could relieve any pressure. No needle, and I wasn't quite ready to use a race number pin on it yet. Robert came walking up, commenting how it had taken him 3 whole hours to get up here. Hmm, that actually would have been a good split for me. I guess I better get my butt in gear here.

See ya, folks, thanks for being there! I continued up the road, amazed that we were crossing the creek on a bridge, although I knew my foot dryness was short-lived. Yep, further up there was a shallow but very-wide water crossing, and it only took a couple seconds in the snowmelt for my feet to start going numb. Too bad it took longer than a couple seconds to get across that one!

I started listening to Glee! soundtrack music, and that put some rockin' in my step. It was an absolutely beautiful morning! Snow fields, colorful rocks, blue sky, finally some awesome weather even though it was probably temporary. I should probably put my shades on... oops I guess I should have thought of that back in Ouray. Oh well, at least I have my hat brim.

I climbed up switchbacks, saw Robert following a ways back, started crossing snowfields. The snow was soft enough and there were plenty of runners ahead of me making tracks, so it wasn't too challenging, just steep here and there. Then a long path seemingly straight up the snow - and I wasn't even at the three primary pitches to the pass yet.

So I sat down to put on my micro-spikes, just to try them out. Heck, I was carrying them, I might as well be using them. I tested them in the snow steps - magic! Suddenly I could walk all over the snowfields without concern for foot placement. Less energy lost in little foot slides. I'm sold. The only reason not to put them on so soon was that the path continued to alternate between long patches of snow and long patches of dirt and rock, and I wasn't about to sit and take them off/put them on over and over, so I just walked over the dirt and rocks with them on.

I even walked on a bit of ice just to get a feel for my magic footwear, and that seemed to work pretty well too. Finally I got to the real straight-up section and followed tracks up the first steep, snow-covered pitch. My poles helped for balance, although I couldn't ever plant them too hard in snowfields because they tended to sink when I didn't expect it. I had a song going in my ears with the perfect rhythm for a methodical, not-to-fast, march up the mountain ("Gold Digger", of all things), so I played it again after it ended halfway up. Nice!

Another pitch, this one not quite as bad, although my feet were starting to freeze from all the snow exposure. I found a rock to sit on so I could take a breather and kick some snow off my shoes for a moment. I came over the top of the 2nd pitch to see the Krogers Canteen aid station folks perched high above. You folks are crazy to hang out there all night and day! It was quite a sight. I was so very glad to be there to see it. What a fun morning!

I couldn't believe my luck when the song "Keep Holding On" came on - "When it gets cold, and feels like the end, there's no place to go, you know I won't give in" - I just about started crying and laughing at the same time. Then the guys up top were giving me directions about climbing the route next to the rope and stashing my poles in my pack, so I turned off the music to concentrate on the important stuff. But the tune stayed in my mind, what a glorious morning.

I took hold of the rope and pulled - and pulled - until it eventually went taut. That was one dynamic rope (compared to the static ones we use for rappelling and ascending). I tried a wrist-wrap technique that I'd played with the year before in the Utah canyons, and that seemed to be good here too. My magic feet made step after step up toward the notch. How high is this thing, anyway? Almost there? No. But I'll get there eventually. For now, I was back to my "this is surreal" phase, which certainly beats out "this is hard" and "this sucks" and "I need a nap".

Near the top I asked if Roch Horton was there. They pointed me up to the man perched on an even higher rock up above. I pointed at him and yelled, "THANK YOU!" I told him I had been trying to get there for a long time so I could specifically thank him, and that I held him responsible for my getting into the race. Roch was automatically qualified to run, having finished this race 10 (!!) times, but this year he decided to let someone else experience it while he managed one of the aid stations - the most difficult one, at that! If not for his selflessness, I may not have been there. I told him that now I had to finish this race, in honor of him and all the other first time runners. He told me that I would finish, and he sounded so matter-of-fact. What a class act.

At the top they found me a seat, amazingly it was sheltered from the wind and there was room for all these people at once. They handed me some chicken noodle soup and I even tried a pierogi which I didn't even know what that was before. One guy sat with me and we chatted about micro-spikes - I told him that I had hauled these things all the way up the road, I was for damned sure going to use them. Have I mentioned how much they rock? I was glad I didn't have to test them in actual icy conditions on that morning, but I look forward to doing more experimentation. The guy also told me to keep them on through the next basin, then I could take them off for the trip down the other side.

They asked how my night had gone, and I told them that it sucked but I was doing much better now. I didn't realize until later that perhaps THEY had had their own challenges up there. I wonder what they go through during lightning storms? Crazy, I tell you. I did mention that I had 4 climbs that day, one down!, and at least this one was in perfect weather. No promises for later.

Oh yeah... Virginius/Kroger's aid station = 26:57 total time, approx 76th place

Time to go - down a bit of scree (it was probably my imagination, but it seemed like the micro-spikes helped on that too), then around the basin going across a few snowfields. I'm not fond of the section near the end that gets a bit exposed, but I focused on my footing and all was fine. Around the corner, where I sat to remove my new-favorite footwear and watch a couple runners below me. There was a bit of steep-ish downhill and then some cross-country travel with course markers who-knows-where (or why) but I aimed for the dirt road that I knew was part of the course, and soon I was heading downhill toward town.

Back to the music, I hummed and sang and ran my way down the long drop. My knees were still doing OK, just a little sore here and there, so I continued to take it easy down the steep stuff for sure. When the song "No Air" came on, I totally had to laugh. I had almost taken it off my playlist for the race, because really, who wants to be at high altitude listening to a song about it being hard to breathe? Happily, I was heading downhill and breathing just fine, another song with perfect timing! "I walked, I ran, I jumped, I flew...!"

Eventually I could see town - almost there! I smiled at a couple tourists, found a dirt road and then the last little trail down to someone's driveway. I even got to say "Hi" to the owner of said driveway, so that was neat.

Then I was on the steep streets of Telluride - hello civilization! I looked all the way to the other end of the street way down by the creek, thought I could see my friends, and raised my poles. Woo hoo! was the answer! Woo hoo, indeed! Good morning everyone!

My crew had been exploring the area, so I figured I'd include a couple photos of their experiences.

The park near the end of town where the mountains close in:

Hey, if I'd seen this I would have been glad I wasn't on a bike for this race!

Gondola through the aspens:

Welcome to the aid station :)

Telluride aid station = 28:30 total time, approx 76th place

I handed over my pack and told my crew that we were going to dump it all out and start over. We took out all the overnight gear (except the rain jacket that I wasn't parting with) and made a note that I had to get it all back at Governor, they filled the bottles and reloaded me with Spiz baggies, then Kathy sprayed me down with sunscreen. I had already taken off my socks and shoes to let my feet dry, any chance I get at this point.

I mentioned the blister again, because it was actually beginning to slow me down somewhat on the downhills. John didn't have a needle either, but he was game to unpin a corner of my race number. But upon poking the blister with the pin, he didn't get any liquid out, so that was that for the moment.

John attempting to reinstall the pack on my torso, at least I hope that's what this looks like:

Rockin' duckies everywhere!

Bob turning blue after inflating the biggest DUCKIE of them all:

My friends took turns signing it, so sweet and wonderful:

My "pit stop" crew in action:

I think they took a picture every time I went to take a drink - hey it's good to stay hydrated :)

It was a longer stop on purpose, surprisingly less than 20 minutes though. Then it was time to go. Ann was coming with me! Awesome for company! The iPod was officially off the clock.

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