Between traveling to Austin to visit your mom for Mother’s Day and work, it’s been a long week. You were up late Friday, and likely drank a bit more than you should have considering you have a 15 mile trail run today on segment 5 of the Colorado Trail. But you’re up by 5am and out the door by 5:30 for the drive to Kenosha Pass on Hwy 285. This drive is less eventful than your last journey this way. You stop in the Aspen Park King Soopers again to stock up on trail food and drinks. The drive from Aspen Grove to Conifer is in thick fog and you have to drive under the speed limit. But the sun comes out and you figure the weather is shaping up to make for an awesome day. You’re excited to finish this segment because it will mark the completion of the first section to the Colorado Trail – the foothills.
You pick up Tumbleweed at the Kenosha Pass Trail Head. This is a convenient car shuffle to the Long Gulch Trail Head where you start segment 5. As always, the first order of business is to determine how to gear up. You both expect the snow will be minimal and that it might warm up significantly. You both dress fairly light. You take further gear risks by leaving your gloves and YakTrax in the car, along with your gators. You’re trying out a new hip pack on this run, the North Face Sport Hiker, and it won’t easily hold as many extra clothes as your pack. You pull on a light pair of Under Armour running tights, two shirts, similar to last time with a thin nylon undershirt and cold weather gear top over that. A runner’s hat and sunscreen complete your preparation and you launch off for the final segment east of Hwy 285.
This weekend was nearly cancelled due to a fire started the previous weekend. Monday and Tuesday was bad news but then a cold front came in and dropped snow and freezing rain for two days in a row – squelching the fire. You drove past fire fighters on the trail head road and you wonder if you’ll see any traces of damage on the trail. The trail conditions are simply spectacular. The dirt is soft with moisture and the trees make for a cozy feel to the trail. After a slow start up a particularly steep beginning slope, Tumbleweed has warmed up and sets a strong pace. The trail is ideal and looks like it should be run fast, but you falter. You can’t believe how heavy your legs feel. Last night’s drinks? Perhaps. More likely the long week. You missed 3 days of running, the most in a row in over a year. You did run yesterday and maybe you haven’t fully recovered. Nope. It’s your hip pack. The weight is killing you. You feel strapped to the ground, fighting to clear the rocks with each step. You fall behind.
This new hip pack is a problem. Your water bottle fell out and a second water also dropped that you didn’t hear and is now lost. You’re not overly concerned about liquids because you don’t expect it to get hot, and you’re comfortable you still have enough water. You determine the bottles are too big for the pack’s pockets and carry the bottle in your hand. You resolve to drink it early to get rid of it. You stop after 1.5 miles to adjust your gear, removing a shirt. You take a slightly longer stop at 2 miles and remove your tights. You finish the water and store the empty in your pack. You take out an extremely heavy protein sports drink, EAS Myoplex, and carry that in your hand – with the plan to drink that as quickly as possible too. You alternate holding it in each of your hands as it quickly tires your arm. You don’t whine about it though, instead you think it’s nice that you’re getting an upper body workout in with this run.
But the hip pack continues to bog you down with weight. You adjust it lower, then higher, then lower again. You figure it’s still an awesome pack, and you just need to learn how to pack it and best position it on your hips. Clearly, you will need small waters. And this pack might not work on all segments. It never feels comfortable the entire run, and you miss your old back pack. While the pack is a gear failure, your GPS promises to not disappoint. It calls you at programmed intervals – each mile – with a small vibration. You have a new trail spirit seemingly running along with you. You refer to this spirit as Garmin. Garmin’s synchronous calls are comforting as they provide you with precise time and pace information. Garmin’s only shortcoming is its inability to load waypoints, but this trail is so easy to read it’s not a biggie. You look forward to reviewing Garmin’s digital trail tracks after the run.
These charts are great. The top chart shows your pace and is aligned with the elevation chart immediately below it. You can adjust the display so that both show time or distance, but it’s not really necessary given their alignment. The charts show that you start off slowly with the trail’s initial steepness. And you spot your rest periods at 1.5 miles, 2 miles, etc., as the pace falls dramatically and is noted by big dips in the chart. Likewise, hills illustrated in the elevation chart correspond to a slower pace in the timing chart. You expect further fun searching for correlations among the two chart’s patterns.
You encountered a hiker, which has been rare to date on the previous segments, within the first few miles. And after 11 miles you discover the fire and numerous firefighters protecting against flareups. You’ve never seen the effects of a forest fire so closeup immediately after the event before. It’s evident how the firefighters either dug fire lines or leveraged the trail to stem the flames. The dark ground in these pictures represent the burn between miles 11 and 13. You can still feel heat rising from the scorched earth on the left side of the trail. The lone hiker and firefighters were all you saw today. Very soon now the trail is bound to become more crowded.
Despite your rough start today with the gear failure weighing you down, and possible hang over, you eventually loosen up and have a fast run on mile 7 – covering that segment in under 9 minutes. The chart shows it to be mostly downhill. Not surprising but even the downhills hurt today. Your muscles don’t immediately transition from running uphill to downhill. Your legs are becoming hard however. These hills are getting you in shape. Tumbleweed suggests running the Goldenleaf Half Marathon in Aspen in September as a way to celebrate your trail fitness. Based on his performance today, he should be competitive in his 50-54 yr old age division. He finishes today a couple of minutes in front of you on the wide gravel road that leads to Kenosha Pass Trail Head.
You struggled today with heavy gear, grogginess, tight muscles from a long week, and pain from pronation in your left foot. You celebrate your relief for the finish with a couple of shots from a flask that magically appears from Tumbleweed’s car. Camper’s provisions. This completes not just segment 5, but the foothills section of the Colorado Trail. About 70 plus miles. Future segments will vary dramatically. Segment 6, the longest at over 30 miles, will take you over the Continental Divide at Georgia Pass. The rise in elevation and increase in steep grades will bring about much more walking. Running will become less common. In fact, you’ll likely wear hiking shorts, if not pants, rather than running shorts. The pockets will be nice. And you’ll carry your snow shoes, at least for the next segment which is buried in snow.
After picking up your car from the Long Gulch Trail Head, you drive into Fairplay with plans to lunch at the Brown Burro. Tumbleweed has eaten there before and it comes with strong reviews. You stop in front of the place and see that it is closed. This is a few blocks off Hwy 285, on Hwy 9 that leads into Breckenridge. So the decision is made to drive into Breck, there will be no shortage of open eateries there. But after driving maybe a block, you sight a German Bakery – the Beary Beary Tastee Bakery – and you decide to give it a shot. Good call.
In addition to award winning breads, they have a decent lunch menu. Having just expended 1900 calories on the trail, you order both a bowl of red bean chili and a sirloin cheese burger with iced tea. The servings are generous and flavor outstanding. Since this is a bakery, you should try their dessert. You order apple pie á la mode, Tumbleweed selects the blueberry pie. These pies are to die for and you award this bakery with a puerco pibil award for their desserts. The bonus to this great lunch is the owner who chats with you throughout the meal on her hiking and hunting exploits. She’s a retired police officer and you sense she could tell you stories ’till the cows come home. Fun place.
You plan segment 6 with Tumbleweed. It could be done in two days but you are anxious to complete your first ultra distance event. You believe you’ll be able to drop off provisions at a trail head somewhere part way to reduce your load, like you did on segments 2 and 3. You plan for Memorial Day weekend. It’s not even summer yet and you’re set to begin the second section of the Colorado Trail.