12K feet, False Summits, Tigers, Weddings, and an Everest Climber. (Catching Up.)

Its been a long time since I have seen internet, so I’ll just go over everything relatively quick and generally in this post since it has been a while since I have had a chance to type up everything.

Illl start the post in Steamboat Springs, CO, on May 23rd. Steamboat is the town you picture Colorado as; larger than most towns, but not a metropolis, and still a feeling of home. It is housed in the middle of the mountains, and has its own ski resort, as well as a sizeable downtown district, with mostly a bunch of sporting goods stores. (surprise! What else would you expect from west Colorado?)

Steamboat sits around 7,000 feet elevation. I went for a run that night into the ski resort, and made my way toward the mountains. The ski resort area was completely deserted in the off season. It was kind of weird to run through dozens of hotels and lodging areas and not see a single person for a few miles. I got to the edge of the mountain and picked a ski lift to follow up, running underneath it. I got to my first peak at about 8,500 feet, and went slightly downhill before starting to the next. The next peak, Thunderhead, was a bit past 9,200 feet. At this time, the sun was setting and everything in town was glowing red. The only evidence of the city from that high up was the streetlights dotting the landscape. With about an hour left until complete dark, I made one last push toward the next peak.

I took a trail out to the next climb, and encountered a large snow base that was still far from melted. Fortunately, I had on my really aggressive Salomon Fellraiser trail shoes and some gaiters. The snow base was about 4 feet, and I would sink about 5 inches to a foot in with each step.  I got there to about 10,100 feet some 30 minutes later. It was a false summit. I thought I would be done climbing, but there was still a whole lot of “up” to the next, and actual summit. The sun had officially set and I was burning the last of my daylight quickly. I took a moment at the top to eat some calories and get out my Black Diamond Storm headlamp. As badly as I wanted to continue on to the top, I decided against it since it was dark and my GPS watch was freshly dead. I clicked on my headlamp and threw 200 lumens out onto the ski slope, reflecting light off the crunchy snow.

I began my run down. Wearing shorts, each step flung snow onto the back of my legs and it felt quite refreshing. It was a neat sensation, having started at about 70 degrees, climbed up into snow, had a temperature drop of about 30 degrees in the mountains at sunset. The snow felt great. I am a Michigander and hate snow usually. But here in Colorado, I think snow actually has a point to it other than to just be cold. That was a random paragraph, I know.

I would slide down the slope as I ran, even with the trail shoes on. I wished I had some crampons or at least some spikes to keep the sliding down, especially on such steep slopes. It was kind of fun though.

I got back to the dirt and realized just how dark it was without light reflecting off the snow. With my GPS watch dead, I felt just a bit lost. I knew I was going in the right direction, and just had to keep decending, but now, all the ski lodges up here looked the same. I began to worry about bear up in the mountains, and would sing out loud to myself, making up random lyrics, hoping to alert any nearby of my presence.

I passed by Thunderhead and knew I was still on the right track. I continued my run down, being alert of the large “ripples” in the dirt on the way down.

I got to the bottom, still in mostly dark except my headlamp. I somehow found the car easily in the town, which looked completely different in the dark.

The next day we wound up in Kremmling, CO. I picked up some fresh Saucony shoes at the post office, which I had previously shipped out there. I got them out for a night run, in the run, on muddy trails. Kremmling is at the base of a large elevated plateau, with lots of trails going up the sides. The dirt is like dried clay, and would stick to my shoes with each step. I got my shoes totally covered in thick mud. I ran along the road for a while to splash in the puddles and clean my shoes off before I returned to the RV.

I took a long hot shower in the bath house of the RV park since I had been in the 48 degree downpour for about an hour.

Rabbit Ear Pass began the next day of running. I ran with Amy, our current runner, for about 10 miles up it, crossing the continental divide at the top. Glassy lakes were able to be seen thousands of feet below us. It was a beautiful sight. The birch trees are a yellow tint color here, and there were also many aspen trees to be seen all over the mountainside. Rabbit Ear topped out at 9,400 feet, having started near 7,000.

Dillon Colorado was our next stop. It reminded me of Steamboat. Dillon is a town near 9,500 feet. There is a large reservoir in the middle of town, with a bike path that goes around it. If I had to guess, the path is about 15 miles round trip. The snow capped mountains surround the town and reflect off the lake. We stayed at a campground that overlooks the lake from the top of a large hill. To our surprise, the campground was very rustic compared to what we are used to so far. (fine with me in a tent, even for extended time. But with 3 people in an RV its not as easy!) The only hookup we had was electric. Water had to be toted if we wanted extra, and the restrooms were pit toilets with no showers. It was snowing when we arrived. It was a very wet snow, and windy. We decided to ditch the RV and drove back in town. Amy is a little bit hooked on starbucks, so we all wound up hanging out in a starbucks for a few hours, getting refills way too often.  I was completely wired after my third coffee. Apparently I can’t drink it like I did during the school year.

The weather cleared up, and we headed back to the RV. I put on my Kinvara TRs and headed into the rockies in a caffeine-induced runners high. At the top of a very technical, rocky mountainside, I spooked up some Elk. I saw a few of them prancing through the coniferous forest, and took off after them. (Ignore that it is probably dangerous. I’d never seen an elk!) I found the path that they probably called their own, and ran along it, gaining elevation as I went. As usual, I ran into snow. I looked at my watch. I was at 10,000 feet again, which is a cool number to me. 5 digits, and it was just my second time being that high in the sky.

I turned around after half an hour of being out there since we were having a guest meet us at the RV that night for dinner. I continued along the elk path again, and quickly found it ending. I knew I had gone off track, but knew if I kept running toward the sunset, I would find the town eventually. I set my watch to backtrack me. I was about a quarter mile off course, but had no issues finding it again.

Back at the RV, I met Adam, the runner from last year who had run my Vegas to Milford segment of the run. He was a tall guy with the gift of story telling. He could tell every story about his/my segment perfectly, with a great sense of humor. We went to the nearby town of Frisco for some pizza that blew my mind. I ate almost an entire 18 inch pie to myself, just a couple of slices shy.  We laughed about our running stories for the majority of dinner, having the whole restaurant to ourselves. Frisco is like one of those old western movie towns, with a modern aspect, combined with a ski town. It was very “homey” looking, and just had a welcoming atmosphere.

The next day began Amy’s toughest day of her segment. She would run 28 miles up Loveland Pass, one of colorados highest roads. Adam, Amy, and I started the day together. Adam was again making everybody laugh with his stories. We intersected Boulder river multiple times. It is a deep (compared to the dried river beds) river with lots of rapids and rocks in it of all shapes and colors. Little lakes lay at the bottom of the mountains again. They were all perfectly flat and similar to looking at a postcard.

At 15 miles into the run, we were at the base of Loveland Pass. Loveland towers above everything else out there, and is covered in snow. Breckenridge is only a few miles away, and Loveland has multiple ski resorts on it. The run quickly turned into a hike, as Amy has to conserve energy for the next week of marathons. We walked about 4mph up the pass. There were many avalanche sites on the mountain, where acres of broken tree stumps made up an entire mountain. Entire broken trees would line the road, stacked a few feet tall. As we ran, more and more avalanche sites appeared. We passed a ski resort. Adam was running shirtless, and Amy and I were in shorts and singlets. People skiied right next to us in the snow. It was such a funny sight! I’d never done anything like it!

A river cut through the snow not far from us. The next corner we took, we were running up a valley with 13,000+ft tall mountains on the other side of it. The snow between and above was un touched and flat as could be, with the exception of a few backcountry ski runs that people had made. We wound up the pass, making lots of switchbacks along the way. A sign that read “backcountry users beware: avalanche clearing using long range weaponry may occur at any time” was on the side of the road. I thought it was pretty cool. You only live once… might as well run though a possible live-fire avalanche area.

The summit was visible from about 2 miles from the top. I grabbed my DSLR from the crew vehicle as we passed, and sprinted ahead to shoot some video and photo of Amy and Adam. Now that I was actually running, I noticed the thin 12,000 ft air taking an effect on me. I got a bit of a headache, and felt like I was slightly suffocating if I ran too hard. I was completely acclimated at the 9,000 level, but 12,000 was much different. It wasn’t bad enough to make me stop; I just kept on pushing forward. Amy passed, and I got some photos as she went. I walked to the summit with her and Adam.

After 8 hours and 45 minutes, we made it to the top. I felt like I could see the whole world at the top. I congratulated amy and Adam on the climb, and we walked toward the crew car. On our way, we passed a few skiers. They said they saw us start at the bottom that day, and were amazed at the long climb we had just made on foot. One of them joked that we probably wanted to ski down now. Amy responded with a “Not me, but Brandon would probably like to!”

I had been dreaming of it all day. Without hesitation, I said “of course!” and the guy gave me his skis and boots. He walked me over to the drop area, and we conversed as we walked. We were both from Michigan, and once lived in the same county. It’s a small world!

I dropped into the mountain on a backcountry area. The snow was thick and wet, and rather slow. I carved in and out of pine trees on the way down, sliding sideways to brake from time to time. A couple of rabbits ran out ahead of me once. I watched the base of the mountain sneak up under me. About 10 minutes later, I had landed at the highway that goes up the pass. The guy who lent me his skis picked me up and drove me back up. I thanked him for allowing some extra adventure into my day, a cool bonus for sure.

Ashley, the founder of MS Run the US met us at the RV that night since she was in town for a few days for an event we would be hosting. Its always good to see her.

The next day we drove into Golden, Colorado just outside of Denver. I met up with my buddy Jon from back home, who now lives here, for a run. He took me to Red Rocks for a 9 mile loop there. I felt like we ran uphill the whole time, and was still short of breath for the run at times. It was very scenic. Jon said it was his favorite trail out in Golden, and I could see why. The red dirt trail brings you high up about the city up multiple switchbacks on a mountain, then drops you right into Red Rocks park. The sun would bounce off the large red stone walls as we carved our way through them. Its hard to really describe what it all looked like, since I haven’t seen many things that beautiful before. Red Rocks is definitely one of the places I will return to someday.

The next (lets see, this is now Wednesday the 28th of May) was our fun run in Denver. Our new crew member, Kendra, arrived in Denver. Our first chore was to go find orange balloons for the event. It was a hassle, but we found some at a dollar store. We hosted the event starting at the Irish Snug, a bar/restaurant in downtown denver. About 40 people showed up for the event. We went out for a run around Cheeseman park, and then returned to the Irish Snug for pasta, bread, salad, and beer. Irish Snug had a big list of microbrews from Colorado, and I had an IPA that was exceptional.TV personality Montel Williams, our national sponsor, showed up at the event to talk with people and support the MS cure. He is a really nice guy and easy to talk to. He would photobomb pictures from time to time in good humor, and talked to everybody genuinely. It was a pleasure to meet him and thank him for his involvement with the non-profit.

Kaitlyn, our previous runner, showed up to the event and brought me a Run Colorado sticker, which is awesome by the way. (im addicted to stickers, okay!?) We hung out and talked for a while. I introduced her to Ashley, since they had only talked via skype. We told Ash all about the stories from Kaitlyns segment.  As usual, Kaitlyns family was there and it was a pleasure to see them all. I really am always a bit bummed to say goodbye.

Kendra walked out of the Irish Snug with about 20 helium balloons tied to her backpack. It reminded me of the movie Up, and I thought she might float away. It was a pretty hilarious moment.

The next night we wound up at the Wild Animal Sanctuary outside of Denver. Amy had organized an event there for a fundraiser on her segment. The owner and staff of the WAS took us in and had a small dinner party, catered by Famous Daves BBQ. The dining area was right above the dens of lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and bobcats. Many times during dinner the lions would roar very loud. I think they wanted some of the delicious ribs we were eating above them. 

The sun set that night was incredible. It would change constantly as it went behind many layers of the rocky mountains, with the iconic Longs Peak right in the middle of it all. I really wanted to go climb Longs, a 14,200+ mountain, but time wouldn’t allow, and weather may have been a bit questionable at the top. It was still really cool to look at it from nearly 70 miles away. I’ve always wanted to see it. Maybe someday…

I am going to tell this story backwards.

It is thunderstorming. A tow truck is hooking the RV up to a winch and dragging us through mud. I called Ashley in a nervous breakdown. We have a wedding party to attend in an hour. My hands and forearms are bleeding slightly. There is a bent muffler on the RV. The black tank has a tear in it. There was nowhere to turn the RV around. We need to crew Amy and there are no pull offs on the road.

Yeah. That sums it up.

Forward direction:

Amy is running through eastern Colorado. It is flat as can be, full of fields, no trees, and the roads she runs are 55mph highways with zero shoulders. It is very hard to crew, and we are driving out of the RV today. We are generally going up every 4 miles to refill her water and get her food. We have lucked out with some very sketchy small pulloffs that barely get the RV off the road. At mile 26 however, there was nowhere for us to park. I drove the RV down a dirt road (everything out here besides the highway amy is running) hoping to find a farm, driveway, or large intersection to turn around in and get off the highway. After a few miles, I still could not see anything. There is nothing out here for miles except straight roads and flat fields. I saw a turn around spot that looked doable, being a field on the side of the road, the only one at road level that wasn’t separated by a ditch. I stopped the RV on the dirt road, got out, walked the field, and jumped up and down to test the hardness of the soil. I got back in the RV and drove it on it. Everything went well for about 50 meters, and then halfway through the U turn, the wheels lost all traction and sunk in some “top dried” mud about 5 inches.

I tried backing up and powering forward, but the front wheels got nothing for turning traction. If I backed up straight too far, it was more “top dried” mud to sink in behind me.

I was slightly panicked with Amy on the road 4 miles behind us, not having been crewed for maybe 35 minutes at this point. I quickly dropped the Camry off the tow dolly, and sent Kendra out to make sure amy was okay. The camry had no problem driving on the dirt, which was good.

I took the metal grip ramps off the dolly and dug them into the mud behind the tires of the RV for some solid traction. I would move the RV about two feet backwards at a time, each time taking a few minutes to do to dig them back out of the mud and wipe off, then jam under the tires. I didn’t realize it, running on adrenaline, that my hands were all cut up from the gritty metal and the thick weeds and old straw in the field cutting them up digging in the mud. A couple of finger pads were bleeding, but I couldn’t feel it.

After a dozen attempts with the ramps, I lost all traction in the deepest mud yet. I noticed the muffler was backing into the mud and was half disappeared. I called it quits there and nervously called Ashley, knowing that her new baby was stuck in a field.

“Ashley, I’m freaking out.” I said shakily. Then, just word vomiting and babbling, “I was trying to turn around to crew amy since we cant find anywhere and (you know the story….) and Im stuck in a field”. Being the great boss she is, she assured me it was going to be okay and called up a tow company.

The tow showed up an hour later with what was essentially a semi truck with a crane and winch on the back of it. He was def overpowered for our RV, but he was a great guy and got us out of the field in about 15 minutes.

I put the ramps back on the dolly, and Kendra drove Amy up to the wedding party of a guy she knows out in this part of the state, about 30 minutes away. I followed in the RV.

At the wedding party there was excellent barbeque and country dancing. I met up there with Kaitlyn, our previous segment 5 runner. She lived about 2 hours away and was nice enough to come out and enjoy the night with the rest of us. I danced with her and she taught me some square dancing moves that my two left feet were pretty accepting of. Amy danced with some cowboys, one who flipped her into the air- he showed everybody up. We had a blast and laughed at our foolish looking dance skills before retiring to the RV around 11pm. I took the bed, and Kaitlyn stayed up in the loft. Amy came in late after being flipped into the air a few more times and conversing with Wade and Shellie, the newlyweds who she can call great friends. I went outside at midnight to fix the oven vent that came unhooked and was banging around in the wind keeping us all awake. Then it was too hot. Then the generator was too loud (need it for A/C when not plugged in). I didn’t sleep until 1am.

Kaitlyn parted ways with us around 7am after getting the usual bowl of brown sugar oatmeal.

Amy ended in Brush, CO that day, and we are staying at a full hookup free campground that has a swimming pool. The day ended at 95 degrees, and very humid. We did lots of shopping for food that night and didn’t really get back in time to enjoy the pool.

The next day was equally hot. I ran about 10 miles with amy. That night, Kaitlyn came out to Brush to visit once more. I took her over to the Brush Movie Theatre to see the one film they show, XMen. Tickets were $2.50 a piece. We passed on the 50 cent pop corn. (that all would be close to $40 where I come from) The theatre was old school operahouse style, with decorated ceilings and intricate curtains. The movie projected on actual film reel, which is a rarity in the current digital age. The movie was great, and it was really cool to experience an old school movie theatre.

6/5/14

Today was national running day, my favorite holiday. I managed to get in about 15 miles today between crewing stops, and along side amy. We ended in Yuma, CO today. Author and Ultrarunner/mountaineer Marshall Ulrich lives in the area and heard of MS Run the US. He helped us out with getting a hotel in Yuma, and took us out for dinner with his wife. It was easily the most interesting and mid-blowing dinner I have ever had. He is full of stories from trans-america runs, climbing everest and denali, badwater, badwater circumnavigating, and just a genuine guy with a friendly and welcoming attitude. I laughed in disbelief multiple times, but left feeling enlightened and inspired by all the stories.

I miss the heck out of the Rockies.

That’s everything that I needed to catch up on!

 

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