Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hardrock - Grouse to Ouray

When I got into Grouse AS, I asked if we could work from inside the tent to stay dry, but when we headed up there it was obviously packed full of runners and folks helping them. I don't even know now if my crew could have joined me, as last year I was allowed in the tent because I was a pacer. So we went back to our chairs where they lifted the tarp off the stuff, and the rain had pretty much stopped and I had a nice dry place to sit. What a great crew! We got so lucky it never rained on us when I was actually with them, and they did a wonderful job handling the weather while waiting for me. Although I am curious what kind of "hold the tarp over Marcy" setup they might have come up with if pressed!

My husband and friends helped me get more clothes on, including tights and a sock change. Ann brought over hot broth and hot chocolate (both were great, I think hot chocolate won out in the showdown). I got my main lights and standard Spiz refill. I think there were more duckies around, but I couldn't tell for sure in the dark.

Seems like I had an idea of what was to come:

John asked (I could tell slightly tentatively) whether I wanted him to accompany me to Ouray, and when I told him I'd be fine without him, he was like "oh thank goodness". Apparently he was dressed for it, underneath a bazzilion other layers - Kathy joked it would have been the slowest Superman change ever. We had already decided that he would be with me on the final section where I was most concerned about the creek crossings. Anything else was just gravy, so no need to risk his later pacing with a little company tonight.
Ready to go, see y'all in a few hours! John walked me up the road for a bit and I assured him that I knew this section and wasn't worried about being by myself tonight. Then the lights and sounds of the aid station faded... slowly... as I continued walking up the road.

For perhaps 20 or 30 minutes it was a wonderful peaceful nighttime walk, and I thought that John would have really enjoyed it. Then it started raining. OK, so much for that. I put up my hood and continued up the dirt road. There were headlamps way ahead and eventually some started popping up behind me too, but mostly I just tried to see the outlines of the mountains around me to get an idea where we were aiming for.

That completely didn't work, especially since I'd forgotten just how far up the road we had to go before the switchbacks would begin. There was a loud rushing creek, forms of trees and hills, headlamps ahead that I couldn't decipher, etc. This road goes a lot faster when you're fresh and pacing Superman downhill. A couple came past me, with one silent person (I guess it was a guy) and a very chipper lady who was unmistakably a pacer. She said a nice hello as they zoomed past.

Quite a while later, past several intersections (with signs and good course markings) I finally did find the start of the switchbacks. That was the good news. The bad news was that it started hailing. And then there was fog - ?? I had to really focus to figure out where the road was going. It wasn't like I was about to walk off of it, but I felt like a robot that was blindly searching for the right way to go while occasionally coming face-to-face with a wall or a drop-off. Turn right or turn left? I had missed "fog" in my list of "Other things to be concerned about"...

So the hail got a bit worse, now coming from one side or the other depending on which direction the switchback was going. The good news was that the fog finally cleared so I didn't have to grope around for the road location any more. The bad news was that it kept getting colder and colder. Such that my standard jacket, buff, and overmitts were just at the limits of being enough, but any colder and I wouldn't be happy about it.

Finally I felt like I was on the final traverse across the top of the switchbacks and I could just about make out the turn in the road up ahead. The hail died down, that was the good news. The bad news was that the wind was now howling something fierce and I was really starting to get cold. I knew that the only solution was to get to the pass and drop down into the next basin and get out of the wind.

A dip in the road, a big rock - finally some landmarks that I knew! I walked the left edge of the road, determined not to miss the marking that would signify the start of the downhill. There's the parking area up ahead, woo hoo! And there was the marker, leading actually more left than I expected, but whatever it takes to get off this road, I'm in.

A couple headlamps came toward me on the road - the runner with chipper pacer lady had missed the turn, bummer. I started down into the basin and then let them by when they caught up to me. It was actually really nice having them just ahead of me, as all 3 of us worked to watch the marking flags and figure out the puzzle of how to get down this hill. They weren't running away from me, I was doing an OK downhill pace, and it was nice to have a little company for a bit.

The good news is that the wind stopped. The bad news is that the footing got really crappy and stayed that way for a while. In the dark it was hard to avoid the really muddy stuff, so we ended up sloshing around here and there. Occasional snowfields punctuated the mud and muck. Then a couple little creek crossings with dang chilly fast-running water. What a mess. The markings took us way around to the right, which seemed a little odd because I thought we had ascended from the middle of the basin last year, but it wasn't something I dwelt on. I had too many other concerns, most related to moving forward and staying on my now-wet and muddy feet.

Yeah, John would not have appreciated this so much. I told him later that there wasn't much he could have helped with, and there was no sense in 2 of us being miserable instead of just 1.

Eventually some lights appeared and there was Engineer aid station, a welcome break from all this work.

Engineer aid station = 18:10 total time, approx 81st place

I didn't stay too long, just enough to refill a Spiz baggie and I think I got some hot chocolate to drink. There was a nice fire, but the smoke was blowing every which way and I wasn't keen on breathing that for too long. There isn't enough oxygen as it is without smoke getting in the way. The folks there were really nice, except for the guy who was obliged to tell everyone that Bear Creek was running higher/faster than normal about a mile down. OK, he was still nice, but my feelings toward him were not kindly ones at that moment. The odd thing is that I don't even remember crossing Bear Creek last year.

I left the aid station, and when I paused for a bathroom break the same runner/pacer couple caught back up to me. She told me to yell if I had any issues with the creek crossing. I appreciated the thought, and worked to stay with them (they were back to moving well again) until we got to the creek. We found the widest/shallowest spot and climbed down the bank. They crossed together and I followed, and I appreciated again that she looked back to check on me.

Now we were on river left, and I knew this could only mean that we'd have to cross back, so I stayed with them until sure enough, there was a 2nd crossing. Same procedure, just being careful and watching out for each other. I thanked them for keeping an eye on me, and was glad to be done with that.

A little ways along, I really had to clear the pebbles out of my shoes, so I paused while they took off for good. Finally I felt like I could relax a bit, at least until the "trail over the cliff" section coming up later. I wasn't cold, well, my feet would warm up again soon, we were back in the trees, no rain or hail, no crazy mud. I think the moon might even have been out. Oh yeah, the moon was out because I saw it earlier during the hailstorm (and I'm pretty sure I'm not making that up).

So I'm puttering along, running some of the downhill, just minding my own business, when another creek appeared before me. Say what? This wasn't even Bear Creek proper, but a SIDE CREEK pouring down the hillside like a madman. I walked up to it, stared up at the gushing waterfalls to the right, and then turning to look left at the continuation of the waterfalls down to Bear Creek. What in the world is this? And what am I supposed to do with it?

Obviously the two ahead of me had crossed no problem, and I had to believe they didn't think it was crazy dangerous or they might have thought to wait for me (not that they had any responsibility toward me, but the thought might have crossed their minds). There was a flat-ish section where the trail crossed, and a course marking taunting me from the other side. I was mostly concerned about the consequences if I happened to slip and start down the drops - would I be able to hang onto those ice-covered logs? Would anyone know that I was in trouble?

I backed up to think about it, and took a few minutes to drink my next serving of Spiz and ponder. Finally I decided to wait for the next person to show up and we could cross together. So I paced back and forth, checking the creek (yep, still raging), looking back up the trail (no lights yet), back and forth until a light finally appeared.

I asked the very-nice man if he would mind us crossing together, even linking arms if that's OK? He was game, and we stepped into the water. It was a bit deep, but the current wasn't crazy or anything and we had no trouble. We both remarked at about the same time that it looked a lot worse that it was. I heard later that I wasn't the only one given pause by that creek crossing. On the other hand, I wondered at the time whether this older gentleman perhaps looked at me as someone who maybe shouldn't be out here on her own, if she can't cross some little creek.

Ah well, I'm probably making that up anyway. I let the man go on ahead until he stopped for something or other and I got to running some of the downhills. I should have asked his name, as I'd sure like to thank him again for his help.

The trail became more familiar, reaching the spot where folks normally do trail work to reinforce a steep bank. It looks like someone has done an awesome job of reinforcement this time, I was impressed with that section. The trail continued higher above the roaring creek, making its way along with some cuts into the cliff. This is the part where you have to be careful with your foot placements, I don't care how fast or nimble you are. It's a (mostly) wide trail but you don't want to test the edges of it.

This is also one of the first places John took me when I started wondering if I could run Hardrock. Here I was, back in the same place actually running Hardrock. Again, surreal. I had been here before, I had spent a whole day on the side of these cliffs doing trail work, I was plenty awake and moving fine, I could certainly get through this again.

That doesn't mean it wasn't still scary, though.

Another landmark, a little bridge over a side ravine. Hey, that one looks way better too, like they put in a whole new awesome bridge. So many things to report to John about. Focus, climb some rocks, around another corner, another trail work spot. Finally I found the new cut-over trail that we had build last year, and it was still there, yay! A couple less feet of elevation gain, mission accomplished.

Some headlamps appeared behind me and eventually a guy named Mike joined me as we rounded the corner and started down the "broken glass" shale (?)-covered switchbacks above Ouray. Mike remembered me from 2009, so we got to talking a bit. Crossing above the road tunnel (which I have to say is one of the coolest trail ideas), I made a brief pit stop and told Mike to go on ahead.

I saw a guy waiting at the road and mistook him for Doug with the radio on his vest - hi Doug! Oops, it was still Mike. That was the first of many mis-identifications I made the rest of the race. I guess I was getting tired. Yep, definitely getting tired. I didn't make up a Spiz because it seemed we were so close to Ouray.

Except that this trail goes on for frickin-ever (those might have been Mike's words, but I'd like to borrow them please). Steep downhill, back uphill, back downhill right next to where we went uphill (why??), more ups and downs than I can count, and I thought we were just looking at the town lights and now it's completely dark again. The only comfort I had was that the race used to cross this creek that was hauling butt right next to me. That would have really been a challenge.

So we were pretty tired by the time we finally did get to town. Mike checked every intersection looking for course markings, and then we saw folks waiting in the darkness up ahead. It was so good to see my peeps!!

Scott raced (I mean really ran!) on ahead to let everyone know we were coming, and I walked with John and told him he should be really glad he got to drive around that section!

I made it, hip hip Ouray!

Ouray aid station = 21:11 total time, approx 81st place still

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