If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Collegiate loop, the obsession

 Allow me to introduce you to an obsession that lasted 2 years...Collegiate Peaks Loop. It is a 162 miles circumnavigation around the peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado mountains and is a part of Colorado trail. It is a loop formed in the middle of this hiking trail due to an option of being split into West and East part. The West part is higher and is a part of Continental Divide trail. The East is an original Colorado trail.

Now that we have this settled, I, of course, knew about it since I through-hiked Colorado Trail 2 years ago. At the time I was the first female to do it self-supported and in an amount of time that was respected enough to get into Fastest Known Time. (As a side note, this record, which was done in a way as a simple backpacking trip, with stopping relatively early, carrying heavy pack, and not going crazy with miles, read report here, has been not only broken, which even I could have done, but smashed, by a girl who's a Triple Crowner and is a new generation hiker with ultralight gear and moving through the night after the records). Last year, 2019, when we moved to CO, I felt I wanted to do a solo hike, because it seemed to have been my thing for the last 4 years, but we just moved, and I didn't want to go away for too long. Hiking in CO was appropriate, and I saw the newly established supported record for Collegiate Loop and thought: hmm, I can do it all by myself, wouldn't it be awesome to break supported while unsupported? (Another side note, this past summer this one, too, has been broken to a much more appropriate faster time).

Anyway, sounds selfish and obnoxious, but at the end of August, without much prep, I gave it a go. Well, read about it here with photo link, but in a nutshell, my Attempt #1 ended up at night 2 - I DNF'ed mainly due to PTSD of mountain lions encounters during Colorado Trail thru-hike, but legitimately, I had broken my one hiking pole (one can't push without two) and did something to my stomach that later lasted a few days. I thought I let it go, but this summer the idea was resurrected (the FKT still hasn't been done, not even supported was broken), and in July I had my attempt #2. Photos are here, but let me tell you, I miss my Pearl Izumi Shoes (which are no longer in production). I can run in just about anything, but backpacking big days - apparently not. My feet got blisters on the sides of both heels and at the balls of my feet, deep under calluses, and every step, as time gone on, was more painful to step on. I made it 2.5 days - two and half days, 2 nights, 48/37/21 miles, being relatively on track, but eventually gave up when came across a parking lot with 2 ladies going home. I felt weak in my mind, but again, looking back now, I totally made the right call. Doing the remainder of the miles wouldn't have been possible on those hobbling feet, not in the time I wanted, and I already began to compensate and affect other parts of my legs. I quit, and cried. And, two weeks later, I wanted to go again. Gosh, it became an obsession, that's all I could see in my mind! Poor Larry was pretty fed up (rightfully so), and I planned to drive myself, spend a night at the motel, and start at the different point. Which I did at the beginning of August...with this attempt #3 ending up before the first night fell. Photos are here, but in short, by the end of the day, in the last 9 miles out of 48, literally, I suddenly started to experience a severe pain in my back, and a lean, classic ultrarunning thing, which not only hurt, but freaked me out. The thing is, I have a condition, anterolisthesis, which is a slipped vertebra. Not a disk, a vertebra (L4). If progresses, it may cause spine cord being squeezed in the vertebra canal, and it is something one does not want. So, I came to a road crossing and flagged the first car, which actually stopped - and drove me back to my car. I thought, now, for sure, I am done with the loop.

God, having a mind that is driving your body is not a good thing. I am a month short of being 51, for Christ sake! But a week gone by, and I was occupied with going back. That is while I couldn't walk/stand?sit with the back pain! For real, that was so bad, my neighbors felt bad for me as I was slowly moving across the yard bent over! Yet dumb ideas are my specialty. Larry and I, in the mean time, planned our own backpacking trip in Wyoming (we wanted it for the whole year), and even that was in jeopardy. I barely recovered for it, and off we went. I need to write something about it, because it was fantastic (and the miles we did were 17/20/16/14/7, plus I got to sleep in, drink coffee, set up camp for the night by 5 pm and eat hot dinner!), but you can see photos here. Highlight of that 1 day though: in the early morning hours, before dawn, as I was going down the Fooses creek trail, I nearly stepped over a girls packing from the night sleep - on the trail itself. She said "sorry", I responded "no problem had done it myself", and as I walked, I was like: this is the girl who messaged me that she is going after my CT record! It's an appropriate time for her to be right there, and who else would sleep on the trail, to save time (not looking for a camping on the flat surface) but someone in a hurry? And her face looked familiar (from the photos). I messaged her once home, and next day she responded - yes! She, too, recognized me. We were both so into our thing that the split seconds those thoughts too to form put us apart, but how wild was that! Read her words here. 

This brings us to now, and my attempt #4. I had never in my life gave something, anything at all, that many tries. This was it. Larry was to go visit his son (who's in college, in Lubbock) for a 3-day weekend, and I thought - what a great timing to go and not feel guilty about doing my own thing! (Feeling guilty is my specialty). I told him. He rolled his eyes. I cried a little. Tried to explain (really, it was dumb, but I had some kind of reasoning I can't even out in coherent words). He sighed and said whatever. Just do it, don't tell anyone, don't announce, make it even if it takes you 5 days, just damn finish this thing. Because, you see, after 3 attempts, going from different points, I, literally, was missing about 20 miles of the Loop! Wouldn't you be obsessed? Well, maybe not, but I was.

I set up my time off. I have to say, while I chose every time the days arbitrary due to how it was fitting my work and life schedule, I always managed to make it fall on Full Moon nights AND perfect no storms weather, which is single most important thing when hiking high mountains.

On Tuesday, September first, in the evening after work, I drove myself to the Princeton Trailhead. I had started from there twice, but this time I decided to go opposite direction, Clockwise. I couldn't bear to go same way and see same things and be affected by previous miles!!! I slept in my car (thanks Subaru!) quite comfortably, just that full moon was shining into me. So, 3:24 am off I went...(heads up, photos here).

It was a downhill start on the road for nearly 5 miles, and it was a good start - I didn't even have a headlamp on under the full moon and with easy footing. The thing about doing it in September are long nights and shorter day light. Me being paranoid about wild life (a.k.a. mountain lions, which I have 9 encounters now) is not pairing well with night hiking, but I got better this summer about it. I figured I haven't being attacked yet, they don't really care, just curious cats, and I wear a few lights all over me, like a walking Christmas tree, to let them know I am not a good food option. Plus this particular time I decided to take music for the dark morning hours (from 4 to 6 am) to distract myself from listening to the night silence and being too aware of each noise. It worked!

At 6:10 I could turn all this illumination off. Miles clicked so fast and uneventful, I was at mile 30 hiking my huge climb up Fooses creek to the Continental Divide split. Here's where I took my first break, for real, 9 hrs and 40 min into my day. Crazy! Just tells you how I felt. It was the first time I took my pack off! I also made a commitment to soak my feet at least once daily, and this is what I did, spending a total of 15 min. So, my daily breaks were one - 15 min. Ha. That's not something I would do with a hiking partner, right? ;) I made it up (the climb was as long as I remembered) and took a turn West.

After reaching Monarch Pass and crossing the road, this was that 20 mile section I did not see, although technically the first few miles of it was through the top of Monarch ski resorts - and we skied it so many times! Of course it all looked differed and weird. And then the Big Climb of the day, my first 12,500 footer, at the end of the day, with 45 miles on my feet, fierce wind (and I mean it) having picked up knocking me off, hard breathing, and nowhere to stop. I knew that if I go past Monarch ski area, I am committed to go to Hunt lake, some 47.5 miles day 1, due to no flat sheltered spot and no water. I pushed on. Gosh, it was kind of brutal and fugly - I really hate life above 11,000, with rock and no green stuff growing - but I turned a corner and began my descend. I have no idea how, but I made it, exactly by 7:30 pm, as the daylight started fading, and set my tent at the first good spot by the lake. (By the way, if you scroll through the photos on computer and not the phone, I had made comments to each photo, so it's easy to navigate).

I always sleep pitifully in a tent, but I was not afraid anymore, just restless. I have alarm set at 3:30 am, and by 3:55 I am off for another day. It was a frosty morning! I continued on this section I didn't know, and by sunrise I got to the top of my second "over 12,000 feet" top - and first of 7 big climbs for the day. In fact, this was "high country day", pretty much the WHOLE TIME being spent above 12,000 feet. It is hard work to hike up high. And a lot of rock, scree, and again, not my favorite views. As a side note, those 20 miles, besides the views from the first peak in the morning? Weren't technically worthy the return, if it wasn't for the loop completion.

I got to the Alpine Tunnel trailhead, a point at which I quit in my attempt #2, longest previous (July of this year), and gave it a finger. After that, I had seeing every step already, and it was a known territory all over again. I prepared for the High Country ahead, took my warm clothes off, and inhaled a deep breath. Damn it had to be done or else...

See the photos in the album, but it was just that: work. And it felt like it was, while being very hard, was flowing rather well. I was making the miles click, re-calculating along the way, yet trying to spend a lot of time looking around. Besides soaking my feet daily, I also vowed to doze myself with cold water whenever I can, soak my bandanna and drink a lot (I carried one 0.75 L bottle and I filled it at EVERY creek - which I knew by heart location of - and I only used my second spare bottle for the night fill, saving weight, and because I don't use filters or other devices, the filling every creek thing went fast). Again, see photos with comments for the day, but it was a hot and hard earned day for me.

I gave Cottonwood Pass a finger, too - my DNF point for the attempt #1. This was my "minimum for the day" spot this time. As I was preparing, I had some mileage in my head for "depending how the day goes". An absolute minimum to reach, a "would love to be further along", and a "dreaming is wild" point. Jumping ahead, let me tell you, EVERY DAY I was making the "dream"! I will never be able to explain how or why, but when things fall together, they do. I had no injuries, no crazy things. Just achy feet and shoulders after about 20 miles or so, and a full recovery overnight, like nothing happened.

I dropped over Cottownwood pass road, and pushed on. There was plenty of water and camping spots (and my 2 moose sighting), but I pressed on for that "dream point" at Tejas creek crossing, and I made it before the sun went down! Because, while I made peace of hiking in the dark hours of the morning, I absolutely refuse to do so in the evening darkness. The tent goes up while I can still see. It's a must for me, for normality. I am NOT after ambitious goals, the thing has to remain being semi-regular hiking. 39.9 miles for the day - holy shit, it is HUGE for the high country! Never in my wild dream! Satisfied is not a word I would use.

Day 3 - another 4 am start. I had only 2 of the 12,600 feet passes, but both I dreaded. They knock my teeth out every damn time. Lake Ann Pass and Hope Pass. It's just hard, no matter how you put it, though in-between there is a section of about 6 miles of relatively flat hiking (by mountain standards). This was the day I stopped for 15 min and soaked my feet/cooled myself off not once, but 3 times! I even once washed my shirt and put it on, yet it lasted a mere few minutes before drying up.  It was hot and getting hotter, seems to be a story of this attempt. I recognized, thankfully, that taking care of myself was more important than those minutes I spent for it.

Hope pass going up from Winfield road is crazy steep, that first mile is vertical. My heel rubbed into the back of the shoe, it felt like my toes are about to touch my shin. 45 min first mile, that's how excruciatingly slow it went, with stops every 1/10 of a mile for a breath to catch up. Yet when I passed a few people, they commented how strong I looked. Huh? What are you smoking? Finally, I got up - this was my Hope Pass number 5 (twice during Leadville 100 mile race in 2005, and 3 attempts at the Loop), and I never, ever, want to be on it again. I vowed to finish just for that - to not ever have to go over it again, not on any side of it. That's how strongly I felt.

After Hope Pass, I was at the lower altitude territory for the remainder of the day, Twin Lakes was my day #3 "absolute minimum", and I made it there are 4:10 pm! Crazy shit! 

2 things to mention here. Despite how well I felt I was taking care of myself in these hot days, I absolutely burnt my lips AND my tongue! With all this mouth heavy breathing, while my skin was conditioned by now to the sun, these two spots, OMG, hurt like hell! Dry, swollen and cracked! Couldn't moisten it no matter how many sips of water or trying to lick. hat was a first for me.
Another thing - Twin lakes is where I got the cell signal for the first time since first day. So I texted Larry that I am still alive, pretty much okay besides hot and tired, going uneventful and somehow making absolutely great time. Go figure, no pressure thing works? 

From there on I had one smaller climb and 8 miles to the Clear Lake Reservoir, my "dream spot" to end the day. And yet again, miraculously (I really don't know how else to describe it) I made it exactly by 7:30 pm. I've always wanted to camp there while passing (previous 3 times!) because it is such a safe busting place with few dozens of RV's and a popular site for thru-hikers to stop for the night along the river. I nearly had to squeeze in between the other hikers' tents, that's how popular it is. 38.9 miles for the day it was, and a beautiful sunset.

I knew I made it this time. I wasn't "counting the chickens before the eggs hatched", but, barring disaster, I was going to crawl if I needed to those last 36.2 miles to the end, no matter how long it would take me that day, even with headlamp if needed. I wanted to make it back to the car and home!

So at 4 am on Day 4 I was hiking one last - forever now! - dark morning hours. I promised myself I will never have to do it again, those lonely scary dark mornings. I also was using my music until it dies, it being last day (lasted me till 9 am). I had 2 huge climbs to start my morning right - 11,640 and 11,850. Gosh, nothing like the big mountains to let the day roll! But it wasn't that bad - not yet. I almost felt sorry it was my last day, like, aw, it's lovely, I'd love to go longer kind of way...

Just as the sun was about to rise, at the bottom of my first descend, I got stopped dead in my tracks. Larry knows, I get so zoned out when hiking, especially going down, I, quite literally, don't see a tree in front of me. Something stopped me, before I recognized what, and thank God for that. As I raised  my eyes, I was about 10 yards away from a HUGE bull moose right in the middle of the trail blocking my way, with a lake to the side. Oh, shit. I slowly backed away and hid behind the tree. From my CT thru-hike, I knew this thing ain't moving. He stared me down. I took a photo. He turned his ass to me and did those snorting sounds. After 5 minutes I considered my options. I looked to my left and decided to scrambled higher up the side of the mountains and get my way around to reconnect with a trail some 400 yards later. As I started up, I looked and saw why he stood his ground - there was a mama cow and a baby moose. It was such a beautiful moment, I paused! The, in a couple of minutes, a baby splashed into the lake and ran off, mama followed, and the dad, a minute later, a protector all dads should be. My absolute highlight of the hike, such an amazing thing for the last day!

But that was the end of my good feeling. The miles and hot days caught up with me, and the rest of the day, having being seen 3 times before, being the boring section that it was, got to me. My lips were hurting big time. I had one last HUGE climbs in the middle of the heat, at noon, up to 11,900, I suffered, got down, and it was 11 miles to "home". By 2 pm, with only one power bar left, I couldn't eat even that. At 8 miles to go it was all about head down and suck it up. I never looked around - and I knew already, it was the worst most unappealing section of the whole loop, and it STILL had climbs relentlessly! Not high, longest was 2 miles, but I was panting and crawling badly! Drinking all I could find, licking my dry painful lips, I was just "don't think, keep moving". And that's what I did. At 3 miles to go I finally smiled and believed it'll be over - and texted Larry and a couple of friends about it. 

The last mile is when you join a dirt road leading down to Princeton trailhead (and up to Princeton 14-er) and it's traveled by 4-wheel cars. A truck with a bunch of young kids passed me, shouting "Hop in for a ride!". And I was like "No, can't do!!". In half a mile, as I got done, they were down there, asking why...
I stopped my watch. I teared up. I made this shit happen. I not only completed the full loop, damn it, I made it in time that would have beat the original supported record by nearly 2 hrs! 3 days, 14 hrs, 47 min. That was my story...

What did I feel? Accomplishment, yes. At nearly 51 years old, I still got. Surprise. I couldn't believe, besides lips problem, I didn't have anything else to speak of! No back pain. No feet blisters. No near-injuries in my legs. No shoulder aches. No chafing from the pack at any place at all. Nothing. I didn't even slump! I was moving like I just did maybe a long run! A day later (and after a 2 hrs driving myself back home right after) - not even remotely sore! How freakishly weird!!

But mostly, I felt relief. I don't ever - ever - have to set my foot on Colorado Trail. I mean, I may eventually hike some sections with Larry or a friend, but I don't HAVE TO do it for any push kind of thing. This was my swan song. This is truly enough. I got this monkey off my back, I scratched the itch, I proved I can. I am strong mentally and physically. It is time to move on with real life. I know for sure, this day and age, some adorable young ambitious gal will show up, take her 5.5 lbs base weight of ultralight-everything-expensive and hike through the night, and make this unsupported in less than 3 days. Piece of cake. But - I own this original FKT, damn it! I worked for it, obsessed over it, and somehow, still by the Grace of God, I got it in such an amazing way! I still can't quite comprehend and wrap my mind why it went so flawlessly, as far  such things go. It will bewilder me for years to come. I am eternally grateful though, happy I haven't let it go, and feel like my heart was released to do normal things. There are SO MANY trails to hike, and spend GOOD QUALITY time with my husband, and, occasionally, with my friends! Hiking will still forever be a part of my life I love the most. It's just time to have it happening in a way it was gifted to us by God. With coffee mug in my hands while watching those sunrises, and sharing miles with the loved ones.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

And it's a wrap.

I guess 2019 is almost over. It quietly snuck, the end of it, that is. I shall do something as a year review, but in reality, I don't want to bother.

December flew by in a few ski trips and more house stuff, plus a work trip for me to Austin, this time alone, flying, for a main purpose - make some money and feel needed. Because no matter how much I like my boss here and enjoy her quiet office and my seemingly insane amount of time off work every week - I do like to make money and feel useful. And since it'll never happen here (as I expected, but really, didn't believe, yet here it is) - I'll be making my way back to Austin as long as my clients keep being committed and my management keeps being receptive to this idea.

I stayed with a couple of friends on those 3 nights/4 days trip, and I am really touched how lovely they are in hosting me - the conversations are what always makes my soul smile. I worked crazy hours, 29 hrs "hands-on" from Wednesday 3 pm to Saturday 3 pm (and I'd guess 40 hrs "in the office"). The clients are, too, so amazing, happy to see me, share their lives, ask about mine. Relationships that had been built in years and with open heart...

The weather in Colorado Springs continues to deliver winter, to my delight (and a little grump from Larry). Apparently, he thought snow only happens at ski resorts. :) As someone who lived my whole life (besides fugly years of Texas) in places where snow and winter are one and the same - for a few months at that - coming here feels natural. No, I am not a big fan of driving on icy roads, or running all bundled up in blistering cold, or shoveling snow every week (at least not every day!) - but it's just, still, normal. I don't have any other words besides that. It doesn't irk me. It just is.
We put our Monarch season pass to use and went skiing at Monarch once more in December, and then utilize its partner-pass to have a full day at Copper mountains and a half-day at Ski Cooper.

Copper was really huge, and 6 hrs non-stop barely covered maybe half of the terrain. That was fun - and tiring. Despite gobs of people at the bottom, somehow everyone dissipated along the slopes, and I rarely felt squeezed in. We did pop on a couple of black diamonds, and even once ended up facing a double-diamond mogul run with no way out. We made it through safely! I continue defying odds of still not falling, and still refusing to succumb to shame by relatives (Larry's) and friends who insist on me getting a helmet. The answer is "no", and I don't owe anybody explanation.

Ski Cooper was a complete opposite. It seemed to possess even less people and runs than our "home-base" Monarch, yet the runs were beautifully even (something between green and blue on all as far as we could see), long, and empty! That was a treat in its own right. We simply enjoyed mindlessly gliding for 2.5 hrs, almost always alone, and the views were hard to beat.
After a quick lunch we, literally, crossed the parking lot, and went cross-country skiing at Tennessee Valley. Their groomed Nordic track ski area bared 30 km of tracks, of which we covered 16 km - it was a forgotten (5 years ago last time for both!) hard workout, but to me, still so peaceful and amazing! I want to do it more than downhill. Unfortunately, despite living in CO and all the technically falling snow, we don't have an area suitable for cross-country skiing closer than some 2-plus hours drive away. That feels stupid and unfair (and Larry still prefers downhill, sigh).

We stayed in Leadville, and the added perk of these 2 days of skiing was the fact that both ski areas are what I went through as I backpacked Colorado trail past summer. Gosh, I miss those days so much! Reminded me how wonderfully hard it was.

December marked completion of the 2-months saga of roof insulation. After putting ungodly amount of hours into cleaning, sealing, prepping, whatever else (all done by Larry) work to perfection, one Saturday (before Christmas) we finally bought all the bags of insulation, borrowed a machine, and hammered 3.5 hrs of work. It wasn't hard at all, took a few bags to settle in (for me how to push, and for him how to spread up there), but now we can check this off our long (and growing) house-improvement list of tasks.

A couple cultural events happened: I took Larry to a theater performance locally (a real play, by Cheryl Stray's "Tiny Beautiful Things"), where I cried non-stop for an hour; and then on Saturday (between blowing insulation and then going for our 2-day ski trip) we drove to Denver for a Claude Monet traveling exhibit in Art Museum. 120 paintings, largest at-once display! Amazing! Ah, I miss all-things culture...

We quickly checked out the Denver's center with its Capitol, stopped by the Russian store, where I indulged in a few too many things that were pricey yet reminded me home, and drove home the back-way. The views of coming to Springs never disappoint...
In other, more social kind of news, we attended a Holiday Party at my boss/doctor's house (and had a blast at that), and I managed to join a FB group for local Russians and organize a knitting meet-up (which now is, apparently, going to be a monthly hit).

I suppose I could say something at the end of December write-up, though I really don't know what. I could say it's been a good year - and I guess, on the account that long-awaited move to CO (out of TX!) has finally happened, and, more importantly, it was all I (we?) hoped it to be. Well, no regrets, that's for sure. I love it here, my soul is renewed, I don't dread a day outside. I do wish I spent more days/hours outside, but alas, the balance is yet to be found between my non-existing work load, guilt feeling for leaving a husband working at home, alone, bringing the "bacon" while I flap my wings for pleasure, and other mundane house chores. I read some, knitted a lot - including an insane number of Christmas and other surprise gifts, and ate more food than I should be if I am to feel and look the way I desire. The Miracle, though, didn't happen - I am still hit-or-miss with my running in terms of this stupid over-training fatigue (7th year and counting), and while I continue running 5-6 times a week like a clockwork, I dare say it'll ever get better consistently. I still don't know how I feel about my job, it's complicated. I like my doc, and her small homey office. But we've exhausted clientele base (I got all I could from her, the mostly-old folks on Medicare), and it's almost nothing, and they come rarely, and the hourly pay sucks, and nobody tips...yet I am so mentally drained with my own gremlins that I refuse to look for another job. So here.

It's been a great big year for Larry, besides the move to the mountain itself - he adjusted to his new job position nicely, and work from home went into a new norm, his son graduated highs school, started college, and is doing exceptionally well as an independent young man (knock on wood, kudos to all involved). Larry lost a bunch of weight with this move to high dry air, he handled the Austin house sale and leaving a place he spent 25 years of his life pretty well, fully immersed himself in Springs' house upkeep, and overall, doing as good as it gets.

As far as "no miracles" for me, though, my kids are...well, that's a story not for this place, yet as always, this is exactly why I can never say "I had a great year". I don't. I am trying to manage my state of mind the best I can, and at times it gets pretty fucking tough. I don't give up, though, and have no intention to. I am a fighter, and a survivor. And despite all this shit, from any outsider's view, I live a pretty sweet life. I do. I recognize it, and I appreciate it greatly. Nothing is taken for granted, I promise. So, while I am not expecting no miracles next year either, where miracle would be the only thing desired, the rest of my life will continue to be awesome, with goals, successes, failures, lessons, and a bunch of non-essential stuff.

                                Happy New 2020, y'all.