Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adventure Running and the Art of Denial - Part 2

The one good thing about getting shorted on the previous day's run was fresher legs for the next. And the July 5th run we had planned, while a sight shorter at 15 miles, would still require substantial leg strength. The plan was to run an epic loop plus an out-and-back in the Zirkel Wilderness with elevations ranging from 8400' to 10,700'.

We arrived at the Slavonia Trailhead in the early afternoon. I think we were both a little fatigued from a long 4th of July the day before, but I was looking forward to getting some redemption and running with dry feet for once. The parking lot was full as several groups, dayhiker pairs and soloists were out enjoying the coolish but beautiful mostly sunny day. Also, just breezy enough to keep the bugs at bay, it was a perfect day for a mountain trail run.

We began the climb up Gilpin Lake Trail and I took the lead. The aspens were full-on green and the early season wildflowers were in full bloom. I felt strong immediately, despite a nagging groin pain that would come and go, and worked on keeping a steady pace at first but bumped up the pace as the trail dictated. We passed a group of day hikers first and then, later, a group of backpackers on the way up to Mica Basin Trail, 1.2 miles uphill from the trail head. From here we were going to climb 2.6 miles to 10,400' and check out Mica Lake sitting in an incredible basin in the shadows of Big and Little Agnes. Then, return to Gilpin Lake Trail and run 2.5 miles up to Gilpin Lake and return 6 miles on Gold Creek Lake Trail. A fine tour of North Routt County's alpine lakes, creeks, waterfalls, wild flowers, animals and, of course, epic mountain peaks.

Climbing up Mica Basin Trail, I was blown away by the rugged beauty of the land. I've posted more pictures on my Facebook page. The climb was fairly technical, switchbacking and rocky. Fun to run. Once the we ran into the basin the trail began to flatten out and became easier to run. At about the 2 mile mark up the trail, there was a fun, barefoot-required water crossing.

As we climbed higher into the basin, the view became even more magnanimous as Little Agnes (11,497')and Big Agnes (12,059')peaks revealed themselves as guardians of the region. We took a couple more photos and, starting to get hungry, I looked forward to reaching the lake and eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich I was carrying. I ducked under a fallen tree as the trail worked it's way uphill and a streamlet of water ran down the middle of the single track. I got excited as I figured we were within a half mile of the lake. I looked back down the trail for Katy just in time to see and hear her fall, dazed, into the water running down the middle of the trail just under the fallen tree. She clutched the top of her in pain and I helped her out of the water. Damn. As she ran up the hill, she kept her head down and was wearing a visor which blocked her vision. She had run smack into a broken branch stub and paid for it dearly. Blood ran from the wound and, of course, we stopped there to care for her. She was clearly dazed and dealing with a little shock. I took a bandana I was carrying and soaked it for her to press against the wound and help the blood clot. I ate a little food and encouraged her to eat or drink, if she felt inclined. I didn't want her malnourished since we were now going to have to hike it back down to the trail head.

She was a champ about getting out of there as we hiked back down hill. We took it slow and easy and sat down whenever she needed to. We made it back to the truck and drove back home, brutally denied but undeterred to run again when the wounds have healed.

Between these two runs and my incomplete through-run to Fish Creek Falls trail head a couple weeks ago, I'm learning some hard but important lessons about mountain running and it's hazards. It's easy to imagine some things going wrong on the trail, quite another to deal with them. I think that dealing with these adversities on the trail is a natural part of the activity and that dealing with them is how you grow as a mountain runner. It's your "opportunity to excel." For me, it is interacting with nature and the elements that is the real buzz in trail running. It's Life: you don't know what the trail is going to throw at you but you will have to deal with it when it comes.

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