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.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

The FKT that is not to be mine

Dreaming is a good thing. “It is no coincidence that "aspiration" means both hope and the act of breathing." (Ted Chiang, The Great Silence). And so since last winter, I dreamt. One more thing. Well there was two: to get a 100 miler #20 under my belt and put it to rest - and give one more go to Colorado Trail FKT. That would be the last time I am backpacking alone, high miles, pushing my limits. Why? I already gave everybody and even myself a permission and a promise to stop, after the Collegiate Loop FKT happened. It went as smoothly as these things can, really. High note, remember? We're supposed to go on the high, yet by December, I had a burning idea. Why? Well, there was a number of reasons. First of all, I was getting myself in a really good shape after over 7 years of hiatus. That sort of makes you want to set goals. Then, last summer, the girl (Mikaela) who broke (completely smashed) my self-supported FKT, and at the end of the year that FKT took 4th place of the year award. Rightfully so. But not how it was described - "beating Olga's time by 4.5 days". In technicality, the numbers fit. In reality, it seems that nobody read (forget a blog report) my simple page's recount: I stopped to camp more often than not between 4 and 5 pm. I knitted. I earned that FKT simply by being the first one who applied while following the rules. Sort of like the last summer another gal (Marilyne) did East to West via Collegiate West, is the only one having done so, and the time was similar to mine - good, but not crazy. Now, don't you think I disrespected either one of those ladies. Definitely not Mikaela. She crashed the trail. This Triple Crown thru-hiker is absolutely amazing and driven. What was the thing I thought should have earned her that very same spot as an yearly FKT is the fact how close she came to man's record - only a mere 1 day away! That takes freaking suffering, focus and dedication! I should know. The time is really stout and is going to stay for a very long time. Legit.

But I digress. I went with no numbers in sight to aim back in 2018. Now, after her super FKT, there was a goal. I thrive on goals. I combined her result with that "other" lady's idea of taking the harder lesser traveled route - and picked the "most difficult" option: West to East (otherwise known as NoBo, from Durango to Denver), and taking the Collegiate West option in the middle. From the FKT website description (you can click at the top on "read more" to really get into how hard this particular route is for all attempted): West to East starts at higher elevation with more difficult terrain first 100 miles, with Collegiate West option, and is longer (83 vs. 78 miles) than the standard Collegiate East route, with a more vertical and overall higher elevation. Yet, despite fully knowing this is the hell of a route as is, I had an aim - I was planning to come as close as I can, and potentially may be even break by an hour, Mikaela's stellar record on "easier" standard route - while being completely UNSUPPORTED. Double the difficulty - no resupplies or trail angels or anything of help. Plus, I am NOT an "ultralight" backpacker. I have a free standing tent (4 lbs), a mummy sleeping bag, pad, and a framed backpack. Old school, extra 7-10 lbs of gear. 22 lbs of food. Plus, I am almost 52. Not 29, or 35...full blown older woman. I wanted to do it for us, people of the "former" generation, one more time. My swan song.Technically speaking, as my 2018 go, anything I would have done, even 20 days, would have established a new FKT on this route. That is NOT doing the justice to either Colorado Trail, FKT idea, or myself. I believed I can do better than just hike. Like in races, I am for "pin your bib, race your ass to the best", not go for the finish line. Doesn't have to work for everyone, but this is how I treat such things. Even with all the reality knowledge, I really, truly, firmly believed that, sans disaster, I can do sub-11 days. Yep, I was going after Mikaela's time, crazy insane difficult, but oh, so calling my name. 12 days was my personal very "achievable" goal. Sub-14 is what I had made an announcement for, as the last resort. There was no way I wanted it to go that long, though. Only if the weather would have been so dangerous that I'd have had sat out for hours for a number of days waiting it out, would I have been ok with 14 days. Other than that - big f*ing NO.

And the prep began. That was the most meticulous preparation in all the data/gear selection/food choices (calories per weight). I bought the Spot tracker - since CT is one of the 10 premier routes, it was a rule. I contacted people from the FKT team to clarify few minor regulations (like, no trash disposal at the containers, no people cheering, tracking live, Garmin data, photos...). I trained for my 100 miler, and from April, added backpack training. I agonized over every item I put into it, but at the end, it looked like that: I reduced "base weight" comparing to my previous backpacking adventures, yet 22 lbs of food and 1.7 L of water tipped it at 42 lbs.

And I had a plan. Of course I did! I knew my limits, and my God, I knew the trail like a back of my hand! Better, actually, because I never check out my hands. Colorado trail though, I could close my eyes and picture the turns, the elevation relief, the views, the lakes, the streams to refill, the road crossings, the tree cover, did I mention the views? It's amazing what the brain holds. Either that, or I am in love with it, and it got imprinted in my being.

Where do I even begin with my story? Elective suffering is such a strange thing. At its essence, pushing your own limits is a way to learn about oneself. As the time drew near, and the dates got picked, the vacation time requested (not an easy thing at my job where I am the single provider of a service for the office), the excessive non-stop watching the mountain weather specific websites got insane, I was mentally trying to settle for the upcoming suffering. My successful 100 miler gave me more hope. Plus, I long for the simple, uncluttered existence I can only find in the mountains. It's a place where I am truly happy. I knew that my heart was wedded to the mountains - to the wild places. It was there, and there alone, that I was whole, contented, and blissful, even while suffering.

Thursday, July 1st, Larry drove me to Durango. My younger son called while on the road - what a weird eerie connection we have. I took it as a good sign (he called the night before the 100, and if you're one of those who knows a thing or few, this is as crazy random shouldn't-be as it gets in my life). I didn't sleep more than a couple of hours, anxious. At 2:40 am the alarm went on, I stuffed a burrito in me with some coffee, and we got a short drive to a trailhead. Here we go. 5 minutes for photos, pressing various buttons, a kiss. Nothing more.

The first couple of miles are very tame. At the end of those, there's a left turn over the bridge and a climb. I missed it. Yep. Right off the bat, I walked straight on some narrow path, but quickly realized: too overgrown. Checked the Guthook app, retraced my steps for a tenth of a mile, spotted the bridge. Lets the climb begin. The pack felt fine, the legs were fresh, the water was flowing. I was hiking the CT, what else is there? When my feet are moving, I think about whatever I need to think about and the farther I go, the more I space out. As the dawn drew closer, I began breathing calmer. I am doing my thing. There was something about seeing the first desperately awaited ray of dawn color the horizon ahead of me. It awakens a thankfulness, not only for the strength of my body, but for my life itself. I live for dawns, I forgo sleep on a regular basis to meet the dawn over horizon in the mountains, and I will never give it up. Sunrise is all about life, faith, hope, light. And being alone while seeing it magnifies my connection to Creator a million times. In fact, it is nearly the only time I realize it being such a huge part of me, otherwise rarely acknowledging (or even denying) it. I crossed the creek numerous times, climbing higher, all of 19 miles, and occasionally worrying about blinking red light on my Spot. It wasn't reading the location signal in this deep canyon surrounded by dense trees. I took a couple of shots at places that can't be anywhere else as proof, and got to the dirt road crossing right on predicted time. Jeez, I am a pure visionary, or know myself so well.

More climbing, in the open now, and Kennebec TH was exactly spot on time as well. Last water spot for, oh, over next 20 miles...Taylor lake and its outflow behind me as a little hail broke over my next climb to the high point of the day. The storm for me was short lived, and as I moved forward over 2 more high rollers, the dark clouds with thunder and sheets of rain built up behind the first peak - yet luckily I was ahead. I dodged this bullet, wow! That's why I started 40 minutes earlier than originally planned, weather studying helped. 1.7 L of water had to be nursed, as I eventually started my descend into hot lower elevation during the hot part of the day (after 2 pm). I was hoping for a couple of "seepers", but seepers they were: basically trickles over dirt, not even possible to get into the bottle, yet along drink without a filter (yes, that's right, I carry no filter). What that meant for me that instead of intended 41 miles, I had to haul ass to nearly 45 - next flowing creek. There was no way around it. Thankfully, I was moving along well, eating, the terrain got somewhat lesser crazy than first 26 miles, and I took little sips, getting a little parched in the process. I passed 3 families setting car-camps, and in desperation thought: oh, if only they "accidently" dropped a water bottle. Alas, integrity. I was doing an unsupported attempt. I could not accept anything BUT natural water sources. Another sip, sigh, walk. Took a 10 min break for my feet and shoulders, keep moving.

The wild flowers were blooming like crazy. The snow just melted a couple of weeks ago, and the slopes were making me dizzy with colors and smells. Strong, intoxicating smells, and fields of columbines, so deep in blue-purple, no camera shot could show it properly. I knew I should preserve the phone battery, but I had to take at least one photo. Gosh, how I wished I could slow down and take a picture of every variety of mountain flowers, from tall and gorgeous, to tiny, clinging to alpine rock, absolutely breathtaking, my favorites, so much divergency in color and shape...
Eventually, at 8 pm, my absolute cut-off for daily time of hiking, the creek appeared. I was dry, so I gulped a bottle right there, then filled 2, walked, literally, 10 steps, spotted a wider opening next to the trail, and stopped for the day. Good enough for my tent. 

I drunk more, ate more, cleaned myself (even brushed my teeth and took my vitamins!), and settled in for the night. My goal was to be "horizontal" (I don't really sleep when backpacking) for 6 hrs, 9 pm to 3 am. In that span of time, I probably do sleep about 2 hrs total. The rest of the night I process the day behind, think of the day ahead, and listen intently to every sound...
I got up before alarm, because, well, why not, wasn't sleeping anyway. Packing in those first days takes a little longer - way too much food that needs to be fit in around not as much other stuff, to sit properly on my back. At 3:27 am I pressed the Spot button, and began more climbing. Day 2.

There was a lot of climbing, right off the start. More than I remember, but I did this section in the dark and backwards - and was doing it in the dark yet again. I fought the thoughts of PTSD on being a "Cat Magnet" by not allowing myself to look around at all. Headlamp down, straight at my feet. I know they are out there, yet I made myself believe I do not look like pray: headlamp, waist lamp, and a blinking light on the shoulder, pack, poles, slow moving, breathing hard...Oh, yeah, about that. I am a pretty hard breather when I climb, but subjectively, I normally feel just fine. This morning? Breathing hard was working hard. Concerning, I thought. I remembered that it started on the section climbing from Taylor lake, and I attributed it to a steep 1 mile sharp ascend. Now, it was sort of rolling (by CT standards), not extremely high (11.5-ish?). Yet I felt way out of control on that breathing thing. I chucked it up to a heavy pack and pushing hard the pace, and waited for the sunrise. As always, it never fails. The sun. The life. The hope.

A little easier terrain, some descend, crossing the camping spot with my most horrifying mountain lion's stalking...and another climb. Gosh, I breathe hard. So much so, that when I finally cross paths with a hiker going South, he asks: "Are you ok?". I shrugged this off, too, even got angry - like, WTF, dude, you're descending, I am sort of going up, you want me to smile and chit-chat? The truth was, it wasn't technically a "climb", just a mellow incline. And I was panting like there's no tomorrow. I still didn't really focus on that fact, though. Just, well, keep on moving on...

Another "roller", and the real climb up the pass, 3 miles to 12,200 at Rico-Silv. That was truly harsh, as I saw some cloud building up over the top. I thought I am hurrying to get over with it - I was, of course. Yet, still, too difficult to breathe, too many short stops. I don't do stops! I crested, saw some people coming up from another side, slid over a few short patches of snow easily passable, rolled over Engineer Mountain junction, and took my first break with feet in the water. I thought my whole next section to Molas pass was going to be downhill. I couldn't have been more wrong...the memory failed me, again.

This stretch from that pass, all of 13 miles, was THE most popular trail for day hikers and (to a much bigger extend!) mountain bikers. I saw, I am not joking, well over a 100 MTB'ers. Both ways, mostly towards me. Every one of them (besides, maybe, 5) executed the rule that I had a way to go, and stopped. Every 2nd of them (I am not making shit up) asked me: "Are you ok?". On the map, this trail does look like it's flat and generally down (from 12,200 to about 9,000). But, inside that descend, it rolled small ups and downs incessantly, non-freaking-stop. And it was here, on this stretch, that, between people concerned genuinely (all of them can't be just polite, right?), and myself feeling that I should NOT be breathing and working so hard on these small short rollers, that I recognized something is wrong. Like, WTF is going on? I began to actually stop far more often than I ever do/did during every section up, so often, nearly every 20 steps or so. I was trying to calm myself down, I will get over it, I am drinking enough (plenty of water here), I am getting calories, and my overall "pace" is still 2.5 mph. I just have to focus on keeping it there...though I had to focus much harder for the terrain I was on.

Eventually, Little Molas lake was in sight, and I turned on the phone for some intel text from Larry on the weather. All looked good for the next day, when I am will be above 12k without tree cover. No storms. Relief. I texted "Hard". He shot back "You know first 4 days are always hard". Indeed. This is the EXACT phrase (which I actually taught him) that I was telling myself. It's simply that, 2nd day, nothing more. I had to fight the urge to bail at Molas Pass/Rd 550 crossing. Such an easy bail - hitch right, get to Durango, hitch left - get to Silverton (heck, walk 6 miles there!) and be in a company of Hardrockers (Hardrock 100 was to be held the following weekend). That sounded like a paradise! Oh, God, rush across, drop down before changing my mind!
I got to the next creek just prior the Molas Lake turn-off, and set down. Put my feet into the water, dwelled on the situation. How far can I get today? I was behind my schedule, very slightly, but still, and I was feeling worse with each step, at this point including flat and technical downs. I was gathering myself, and I was trying to be logical. I can always pick up miles "on the other end", when I get my legs (and lungs) in order, and the elevation/terrain become easier.
There was a good (but rocky) downhill. I wasn't able to "push", and got down to Animas river. Oh, gosh, time is slipping away, and welcome to Elk Creek canyon climb. A real f*ing deal climb...

Sometimes it was so steep, I wasn't sure my ankles can bend this way. I asked a handful of folks coming down how are the avalanche debris. My goal was to get to #4, pass mile 400 (southbound), the one that wasn't cleared, while still in the daylight. Back in year 2019, the huge snow/avalanche year (when even Hardrock got cancelled), this particular trail suffered the most, and it being in the wilderness, no access with motorized equipment (including powerful saw) is allowed. Last Fall the first 3 of the debris piles were cleared - by hands! - by awesome volunteers. The last one, even higher up, wasn't. (the "before" photo is from the website, the "after", on the 3rd cleared section, I took on the way up this year).
I pushed hard. At one point, the trail cliffed out and I had to wade (it was on a rock side, and probably during same year, the carved narrow path got chipped off). More extremely steep stuff. Somewhat more mellow. Just before the Beaver Pond, I meet a couple, and ask for some info on the location and severity of the "#4". They said, it is still nearly 3 miles past the pond (and a creek crossing), but it is not too bad, marked by red tape to where hikers can safely pass between/around the piles of high logs. I sighed. No way I was making it tonight, yet there's is hope it was possible to do in the dark tomorrow. I pushed another mile passed the Pond, saw two different parties camped on opposite side of the trail, picked a spot a little farther, and stopped. "Safety in numbers" I said to myself. Another mile (it was 7:40 pm, a tad earlier then my cut-off time) wouldn't do me good, but with people around, I might sleep better. 39 miles for the day. Full 5.5 miles less than yesterday (despite less elevation gain), a drop from 2.7 mph to 2.5. What is going on?
I did doze off for a bit longer periods, for sure. Thanks, people. Didn't start packing till 3 am, and at 3:35 began my day 3. Here we go, High Country San Juan! But first, cross the Elk Creek in a mile and half. Just as 3 years ago (when I was coming down at exactly same time, but the opposite direction), I got the wrong rock-hopping crossing, went back, wondered in the woods for a few minutes, opened the Guthook app, and found the correct way. Despite creek running high and rocks being questionable, I managed to keep my feet dry. Small victory. Another mile and half, and here's the dreaded avalanche pile. Not a good photo, but it was huge and pretty long (I timed it at 8 minutes). I was able to clearly find the ribbons tied up, and thus crawl over/under/around. Of course, I hit my "hole in the knee", and it bled a bit, but nothing major. I was past it, and jeez, and ready to go straight up towards the sun, the high, the sky.
3 miles, 2,400 ft of climb. It sounds bad, and it was worse, because there were a few "better" stretches, so to make the elevation gain count, the "worst" were truly the worst. My heavy breathing immediately kicked in. I thought, but of course, such a nasty climb! Mid-way up the trail the air became grey, and I turned off  my "illumination". I could see the top. Once I reached "the switchbacks", I looked back. The hanging lakes...2 elk at the top of the ridge...this is so worth it, all the hard work. I smiled.
I crested, and I was nearly 2 hrs behind of the time when I would have liked to be there - between falling short on the previous day and underestimating the difficulty of the climb itself (how did the steepness escaped my memory, I jammed my toes on the down part of it 3 years ago!?!). Well, not all is gone, I thought. Despite this next (full day's worth) section being above 12,000 feet (honest to God), I remember calling it "high rollers" back in 2018 and cruising through it with relative ease, even though I was from TX at the time. How bad can it be, I thought? Lots of water, good weather with occasional cloud cover for less heat, a handful of snow crossings and mud stretches, and amazing views.
And, I was so, so wrong...the "rollers" were anything but "easy". Every step was fought for, hard. Below is a map stretch of the section, missing the first couple of miles - disregard the numbers, that was from 2018 "predictions", though it should be relatively the same either way going. 
I was really focusing on the views, the fact that I knew the trail (some of it was aligning with Hardrock course, which wasn't marked this year yet a week prior the race), the abundance of creeks, the clouds (until 1 pm) without storms or rain, and the flowers. At one point, I set down for my 15 minute break (not by the stream), and suddenly I hear barking. 2 dogs pop from the steep side of the hill (not the trail side). I was attacked by a Pitbull in the neighborhood just that past Monday (drug-house people, no bites, but a 3 minute stand-off), plus some gal trying for FKT on 3 other years claimed she was attacked by sheep dogs on 3 different times, so I was still in alert mode. I yelled "No! Stop!". A woman's voice called out the dogs - she apologized as she climbed same weird hill, saying "I didn't expect people, I'll leash them now". Yeah, well, this is CT, there will be people. I quickly buckled up and kept on going.
After that break, I was meeting a handful of south-bound hikers. And, again, every 3rd of them asked me if I am ok, when I was the one going uphill. I wasn't, I now knew. I didn't respond much. I was trying to prepare for the final, the horrible, the climb to High Point on CT, all of 13, 271. Steep like a mo-fo, open jeep road. I took one more break (this time at the creek), submerged my feet, ate some food, and ready to work.
It was so difficult. It felt like nothing ever was harder. I was stopping not every 2 minutes, I was stopping every 5 steps, and resting on my poles catching air for a good minute. This was excruciating. And slow. So very slow, in fact, that I nearly prayed some jeep showed up and offered me a ride. I swear I thought that. No jeep was in sight (never saw one back 3 years either). Quite a number of thru-hikers were coming down, maybe 5 parties of 2 each. Each of them stopped concerned. I tried to weakly smile and brash it off to "damn climb, hot" thing. They nodded, but obviously thought "it's a weird lady". I really don't know how I made it up - 6 pm on the dot - but I did.
What I remembered as a 7 mile downhill to Yurt, was not. Again, this is what happens when the section was done in the dark and backwards. The trail rolled (!) high on the ridge, up and down, and while it did so relatively smooth, every even smallest benign incline was sending me into oxygen deficit and numerous stops. I swore loudly each time I looked at the horizon and saw the line go up. When is the downhill coming? Miles clicked, and even with 2 to go, I still didn't see the drop. I almost stopped to camp right there (being 8 pm). I really wanted to get passed manzanita section ahead of me as I didn't want to go through it the next dark morning (kitties love this stuff). I rallied up, finally going down. Larry later said he saw my tracker pick up. I made it to yurt point (though the yurt itself, where I slept in 2018, was dismantled) at 8:35 pm. Still light to set up camp, thank God. So, so tired...
That night was completely and utterly sleepless. Not even a few minutes. So much was going on in my head. Physically, I felt great. No pains, no muscles sore. No blisters. Shoulders and feet ok. My injured calf behaves perfectly, like I needed to do it to fix the knots (go figure, my injured hamstring was "fixed" during a 100 miler). Pack is getting lighter. But, I had to do an honest math. This was a 36.5 mile day that took a longer time than each day before with more miles put in. At 2.2 mph average speed. As my memory readily told me, I did this stretch (less 2 miles) 3 years ago as a full section in one day, while not being altitude acclimated (living in Austin), and felt then like it was easy-peasy. Nwo, I live here, in CO, I go up Pikes Peak every month, I train at 10-11 k weekly. What is going on? I knew I wasn't sick - once stopped, I had no problems with breathing or other symptoms. I wasn't weak per se, only when I climbed and was lacking oxygen did I feel shaky legs, regaining strength on the downhills (yet not speeding up, purely impossible to go any faster than I did, it's hiking after all, not running). Even if I stay exactly as day 3, I am now going from 11 days to 13-14. Skipping right over 12. I was already 10 miles behind the plan. If a miracle happens and I feel better and get on the plan in the day or two, I might stick with 13 as a best case scenario. I had enough food - I overpacked food exactly for this reason, since in unsupported attempt I wouldn't have been able to ask/beg/buy it. I could always stretch calories to 14 days. But here's the truth, the one I discussed at nauseum in the beginning of this story. I wanted to do the trail, the FKT, and myself, full justice. Like with my3 Collegiate Loop attempts, I kept trying for the time I KNEW I was capable of. But, Collegiate Loop beingn 165 miles, I could keep trying. Here though...one time, one opportunity as the song goes. That does NOT mean I would allow myself to crawl in, whether or not anyone cared. Besides, I felt really horrible on those climbs. FKT is not supposed to be fun, but this was another level. I opened the Guthook app, pulled out the paper maps. What was coming in the next day was, while "not all day at 12k", still lots and lots of steep climbs. Lots and lots of suffering. I am good at suffering. Suffering usually brings results. I despise useless struggle. Obviously, I couldn't enjoy the trail, but I also couldn't make a good forward progress. I opened Google maps and studied options of bailing. In 9 miles I had a road crossing. The next one...not for another 2 days - that is IF I was going as planned originally, what meant it could easily stretch into 2.5-3 days now. Plus, tomorrow, day 4, was a Monday after the 4th of July, still a holiday, and Larry was off work. The rest of the week, his "hell week", there could be no way he'd be able to come get me. I could get worse, not better - so far every next day was worse than one before. In that case, I am looking at 3-4 days of misery and jeopardizing my health. What if I am falling back to OTS? What if, at 51, and after 7 years of adrenal fatigue, I needed much more than 3 weeks of recovery after a hard 100 miler? What should I do? One hour, for the full hour, I am thinking I need to stop. Another hour, purely opposite, I tell myself that this is my ONE and ONLY chance to do it, my dream, I have plenty of time to complete, even 16 days would make it an FKT and still finish before I have to be back at work. Eventually, just before alarm went off, I made the decision: in the next 9 miles to the road, I will have 3 very benign hills. Not climbs, just a mile long ascends of about 500 ft happening just between 11,200 and 11,700. IF I can do even slightly better than day 3, and make it in 3 hrs, I will attempt the next climb past the road, a continuous 2 mile/1,200 ft switchbacks, higher. If that goes more or less ok, I move on. If not, I come down to that very road for a bail. With that, I packed up, put my "Christmas tree" lights on, and began ascending right off the bat. And...it wasn't going well at all. I tried to make it happen so hard, stay positive. I felt a twinge in my left lower back (my broken vertebra/typical spot/anterolisthesis place that sent me side-bent on the 3rd Collegiate attempt), but I didn't allow to worry about it. I was much more concerned about the breathing. At the top of first hill, before dawn, I saw lights of people's dwellings on the horizon. I broke down. I got a signal on my cell phone, and texted Larry (4:50 am): "I think I might bail at Spring Creek Rd. I can't breathe. It's not normal. This is my chance, otherwise I am in for a trouble". He, without questioning, said "I am leaving in a few". I closed the phone. I was relieved. And extremely sad. Can I take it back, I thought? Did I fight hard enough? Next "hill" came, and still, panting for air.
Indeed, I made it in almost 3.5 hrs to the road. The thought of what was ahead told me the answer. I had to let go of the dream. I considered crying, but I still had to hitch to a nearest town - Lake City some 20 miles away. Cars drove by without stopping. I thought it was supposed to be an easy hitch. I walked 2 miles before an SUV rolled to the side and a woman, without me even saying a word, said "Hop in!!" with a huge smile. She immediately extended her hand and introduced herself: "Ingrid". OMG, not only I am getting a ride, she is normal! It was one of those cases when, in the next 30 min drive on this curvy road, we pretty much exchanged all of our lives' information, and it felt like we're best friends and soulmates. My age. With faith. She volunteers for ultras (not running them though). Loves mountains. She wanted to buy ME breakfast. I was like, oh, no, if anything I owe you one. We meet her boyfriend and another friend, and we eat, and talk for another hour, until she runs to work, and Larry comes to get me. This, OMG, made my exit much better - I didn't even get a chance to cry and contemplate.
I had plenty of that during the 4.5 hrs of drive home though. Crying and contemplating. I am NOT a quitter. And this being such a long trail, there was no way to just "try it again", for so many reasons. This year, I simply can't take another 2 weeks. I can't mentally live for a full year mulling over it, this is not a life, not at my age. I can not imagine subjecting Larry to it again - my one-track mind, my training, his long driving and worrying. I am not "young, single, with not much to be concerned leaving behind for a period of time". And, my body is getting there...what a hard fact to accept. I mean, I am fully aware I am somewhere in the top 1% of my age group. I am extremely fit for a 50 yo - or 40, or 30, or, heck, as Larry says, I'd give a run for the money to most 20 yo! But...I am still much more fragile. It's harder to keep being in THAT kind of shape, and it's a bit more dangerous to subject it to stresses of this magnitude, if you will. But, Lord, a dream...I had a dream. A goal. I failed. That was hard. But it was absolutely necessary. For the first time, I accepted that I could not meet the expectations of others and make myself happy at the same time. Being true to myself has led me here. Ego versus reality in life...
We got home, and to my utter surprise, I couldn't get out of the car. My left lower back spasmed. I gasped and slowly pulled myself out, bent sideways. That lasted the rest of the day. And night - I cried, as I tried to turn, so many times, in my sleep (in the middle of the night Larry brought me Advil). I slept for 8.5 hrs - a new record for me. That's what happens when you don't sleep for 4 nights in the row. How would THIS affect the following 2 weeks on the trail, added to breathing problems? The back pain stayed all next day too. What about this on the trail without a point of bail in the next 85 miles or so?!? And, while I can't speak of the breathing problems going uphill - I am not really moving today due to the back pain, I got winded speaking to a friend on the phone. It must have been altitude effect, something I only had once back in 2005 when I DNF'ed at Leadville 100 (therefore screwing up my Grand Slam). Couldn't breathe, without air couldn't move much. Then, there was one episode in 2008 over Handies peak, but that wasn't as important, happened prior my pacing duty at Hardrock 100. Why did it happen now, when I am fully acclimated to altitude? Probably because my body didn't recover from a 100 miler, and because I am older (much), and the push-plus-backpack didn't help...I can't think of another reason or explanation.

All that makes my decision all the more right. I am at peace. Still whimpering in my soul, but completely content with it. While I let go of running 100 mile races on my High Terms, I am letting go of a long FKT on my favorite trail at the lowest point. I know, everyone I meet tell me how much I had done in the years past. I never feel I am that special. I just do things that bring light to my soul. I am blessed by God with a very tough mind - and a very sturdy body, so I use it. I absolutely love the mountains - and I want to love them forever, until the day MY sunset comes over the peaks. For that, I have something to look forward to. I can't let this ruin the joy I get from being on the trail, wandering through the trees and meadows, cresting the high ridges, and living for that dawn moment. The sun always comes. It will come, tomorrow, again.
As far as CT FKT...well, I have an idea. One day, I would live my dream through helping someone I like as a human do it. Because, after all, I do deserve this (as she said), the FKT, the Colorado Trail. And I do know every nook and cranny on it. So, it'll be there for me. I will be here for it. Life is not over.