2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  THE NEXT CHAPTER: HANGING OUT
IN LEADVILLE, COLORADO

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12

 
"You've come to the right place -- this Leadville . . . Nothin' ever came easy here. Just the simple act of breathin' has caused more than a few to turn tail. Then there's the winters. They say the only time it's not snowin' is 'cause it's too cold. Makes the Leadville kids tough, though . . . Leadville schools have never had a snow day. Talk to the locals. You won't find a town anyplace where day to day decency, duty, honor, courage is more of an accepted way of life . . . It's a good way of life -- hard at times, but good . . .
 
. . . So saddle up, mountain bikers. Runners, double-knot those shoes. What you're about to confront requires those same qualities [displayed by the miners], that same strength, that same never-give-up, never whine, dig deep, that makes Leadville, Leadville. It's all around you. Accept it. Believe it. Then Leadville becomes a part of you . . ."
 
- Ken Chlouber, LT100 President, from the 2009 Race Across the Sky bike and run participant booklet
 
 
Ken has been promoting Leadville and characterizing its never-say-die attitude for much of his life. The town has been through many economic boom-and-bust cycles since it was founded in the 1800s after gold, silver, and other precious metals were discovered in the nearby mountains. He was one of the many laid-off miners back in the early 1980s when Leadville suffered its last bust. His foresight is one reason Leadville is now in a "boom" cycle again. I'll explain more about that in the next entry.

Leadville is also a tough place to live climate-wise. Jim and I would never make it here in the loooong winters! At 10,200 feet, it's the highest incorporated town in the USA. It snows in the mountains every month of the year. You can bet it snows at least a little in town most months, too.


A mid-August coating of new snow on Mt. Elbert

It's a great place for snow-phobes to visit in August, though. It's larger than Silverton and has more stores and services (including medical facilities and a drug store) but it has the same small-town, tourist-driven vibe as Silverton. We've always felt welcomed by the locals in both towns. Their livelihoods depend on folks like us.

THE ULTRA GYPSIES MOVE ON

It'll take more than an inconvenient bike crash to make us put our tails between our legs and scurry back to Virginia before our tentative time to return! Since my recovery has gone well, and there's nothing more that can be done by being back in the Roanoke area (except visiting my own chiropractor), we're continuing our summer sojourn as planned.

Part of that plan is "Chapter 7:"  heading to Leadville, our second favorite former mining town in Colorado. (Chapter 4 was Silverton before the Hardrock race, Chapter 5 was the Tahoe Rim Trail Race in Nevada, and Chapter 6 was our return to Silverton for two additional weeks.)

We left Silverton with mixed feelings on Sunday morning. We enjoyed both segments of our extended stay there but the bike wreck took a lot of fun out of our last week in the area. Even though I'm not as fast as Jim, we still enjoy doing runs and hikes together, or at least starting at the same place, seeing each other after Jim turns around, and sharing stories about our day at the end. Since my wreck, I've pretty much been holed up in the camper (by choice), concentrating on healing and avoiding infections. I'm just now getting out to do walks. Jim enjoys running and hiking with Cody but it's not the same as having a two-legged training partner.


Jim and Cody in the Upper Ice Lake Basin near Silverton (7-6-09)

We also missed having other ultra runners around; that was a lot of fun before the Hardrock race. At the Tahoe Rim Trail race we talked Bill Heldenbrand into traveling to Silverton on his way to Leadville. He arrived soon after we did on July 22. We enjoyed his company on several runs until he left for Leadville a week before we did. We missed him! The only other ultra runners we knew in Silverton were Rodger Wrublik, owner of the Wyman Hotel, and his son Jimmie. Not only are they much faster runners than either of us, they also put in very long hours at their business, so we never ran with them.

END OF THE DANDELION TIME WARP

Our last morning in Silverton was the coldest in the 36 days we'd been there, only 32F when we awoke. It may have been colder around dawn. Brr! Better get out of here before the snow starts flying, I thought. Then I remembered that we'd be going north AND camping about 800 feet higher (~10,200 feet) in Leadville!

Turns out, that morning or the next Leadville was the coldest place in the state at a chilly 28F. At least that's what a Leadville resident told us.

Welcome to Leadville!


Dandelion Time Warp: early July in San Juan Mtns. near Silverton (CT Seg. 25)

I think we've morphed from eternal spring (the Dandelion Time Warp we've been in since January) to a long autumn season. Our only taste of summer was the stifling 95-100 heat for which we weren't prepared when we were in the Reno-Carson City area in mid-July for the Tahoe Rim Trail race. We aim for temps between about 40-75. Since that freezing morning a few days ago, however, the low temps this week have been more like Silverton's were (40s-50s).

ROAD TRIP!!

The fastest route between Silverton and Leadville is US 550 north to Montrose, 50 east to Poncha Springs, 285 north to Buena Vista, and 24 to Leadville. We have done this route westbound more times than eastbound. Heading east this time was like a new perspective on the whole route.

It took us almost six hours to go 243 miles with stops at WalMart and Subway in Montrose and fuel in Buena Vista. We figured Leadville's diesel prices would be as high as those in Silverton and Ouray (~$2.79-2.83) since it's another little tourist town; we'd better fill up in the last larger town of Buena Vista. Well, guess what? We were happy with the $2.56 we paid there -- until we saw it for 3 less per gallon in  Leadville!

Go figure. We're just happy it's not almost double that, like last summer.


Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison, CO

Sunday was a a beautiful day for the drive, sunny and cooler than normal. We dreaded going down in elevation but it wasn't hot in either Montrose or Buena Vista as we expected when we got out of the truck. We saw numerous RVs, boats, and touring bicyclists in ones and twos along the way. It's a scenic route with San Juan Mountain vistas, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Blue Mesa Reservoir (above), and Monarch Pass.

Heading north the last 45 miles, we followed a string of impressive 14ers all along US 285 and 24:  Mt. Shavano, Tabeguache Peak, Mt. Antero, the Collegiate Peaks (Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Harvard), Mts. Oxford and Belford farther in the distance, then Mt. Elbert (highest peak in Colorado) and Mt. Massive (2nd highest), which are also clearly visible from Leadville.


Elbert and Massive as seen from Hwy 24 to the south

We also passed several of the roads leading to Colorado Trail trailheads we used in 2006 and 2007. We said "Remember that?" lots of times along the way. I would dearly love to do most of the CT segments again.

When we reached Leadville we dumped our gray and black water at the sanitation department, then filled our fresh-water tanks. Even when faucets say the water is potable, Jim is careful to spray them with bleach to reduce the chance of contamination. He filled the tanks just in case something happens to our water supply the next couple weeks.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

For the fifth time, we're parked behind our friend Jack Saunder's office at the west end of Sixth Street. Jack is a master home builder who generously lets us hang out on his seven-acre property full of pines and aspens. In the July 29, 2007 entry you can see an example of one of his houses that was near completion along The Boulevard that summer. We keep expecting each year will be our last opportunity to park here because Jack has been trying to get approval from the country for at least two years to build several houses on this property and possibly turn his attractive office into a real house:


You can see our white camper tucked behind Jack's office.

Not only is this location extremely convenient (half a mile from  the center of town and right on the LT100 bike and run courses), it also affords us the luxury of electrical and water hookups! We've been boondocking (AKA dry camping = without hookups) for so long this summer that this is a nice break for Jim to not have to haul water or go outside every time the generator needs to be turned on or off. (I do it sometimes, but the mechanics of utilities usually fall to him to do). We have a powerful cell signal to use our broadband connection to get online and can take the laptop into town if we want a faster WiFi connection. (We won't ask Jack to use his. That's over-extending our welcome.)


Rodeo grounds and new football field adjacent to Jack's property on McWethy Rd.;
Mts. Hope, Elbert, Massive, etc. in distance

We have no TV reception, however. It worked OK here previously but now we're in the digital age and our converter box doesn't work here. Jim has to do without TV for a while longer. He still has taped shows he can watch on the VCR.

We've enjoyed warm (low 70s), dry weather since our arrival four days ago. We're wondering where those typical wet afternoons are hiding? [Ha -- they came in on Thursday.]

RECONNECTING WITH ULTRA FRIENDS

We quickly hooked up with Bill Heldenbrand, who moved here in his RV a week before us so he could train on the course before the race. We had spent so much time with him at the Tahoe race and in Silverton the last few weeks that we missed him when we didn't see him for several days!

Jim went to our favorite pizza place in town, High Mountain Pies, at suppertime on Sunday to order a pizza to bring back to the camper to eat. He placed his order in the tiny restaurant, turned to go run an errand while waiting for the pizza to bake, and there was Bill at a table a few feet away, scanning the menu and totally oblivious to Jim's presence.

Jim went over to say something along the lines of "Boo!"  Bill was so engrossed in the menu that he hadn't noticed Jim at the counter. Long story short, Jim got a large pizza that was more than the three of us could eat at one sitting back at our camper. We enjoyed catching up with Bill and  planning the next day's run.

While Jim and Bill were doing a run up to Hope Pass and back down on Monday, I drove into town to retrieve a month's worth of mail from our South Dakota mailing service, pick up a big box of Hammer Nutrition products we ordered, and visit the Leadville Trail (LT) 100 office on Harrison Avenue. It was good to meet two of the folks who are working there this summer, as well as Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin (formerly O'Neill), LT100 president and race director respectively.

Our friend Karen Pate was also there; she's training for the run and is staying in Leadville for several weeks to acclimate. She's helping Ken and Merilee as needed. The last we saw her was at Hardrock, where she crewed and paced Pat Homelvig. This time Pat's crewing/pacing Karen. We'll be working radio/communications at their crewing station at West Granite during the bike race this Saturday.


Karen, Pat, and crew member Richard Neslund before the 2009 Hardrock race

I really wanted to talk with Bill and/or Jan Moyer, volunteers extraordinaire who do an amazing variety of tasks before the bike and run each year. I'm not sure of all the things they do, but they're everywhere the two weeks before the run. I do know they coordinate the packet-stuffing and check-in operations for both races, which are major jobs. We always help with registration-related jobs when we're here. Bill became a HAM radio operator this spring and, like Jim and me, will be assisting with communications during both races. I found Bill on my second trip to the LT store and let him know that Jim and I are in town and available to help as needed. Bill told me he's desperate for volunteer help Friday morning when the riders check in, so we'll definitely help with that. We're also spreading the word to other runners we see that their help is needed for the bike race.

This is one of the most fun parts of visiting Leadville in August: reconnecting with friends from all over the country -- and world.

CAN'T ESCAPE THE BIKE

Before our trip Jim fashioned an inexpensive but very effective bike rack on the camper's roof ladder. Neither of us will probably ride the bike while we're in Leadville (I had planned to, before my wreck last week) so it's hanging on the rack right outside my computer desk:

Also in my line of vision (but not visible in that photo) is McWethy Rd. (CR 4), part of the bike course. Every day I look beyond Jim's bike and see lots of LT100 cyclists heading around the curve and down toward the railroad tracks and Sugarloaf Campground, checking out the course and getting in some last training rides.

Both are a constant reminder of my crash. It's not disturbing to me, just another irony.

I think I've already mentioned since the wreck that I've gained a new respect for mountain bikers who are skilled at riding difficult trails and roads. I know how tough the LT100 bike course is -- 14,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal loss) at high altitude, steep climb/descent on Sugarloaf Mountain (the infamous "power line" section), rocks and ruts up to Columbine Mine and back down -- and I wish all the riders the best. Every year there are more injuries in the bike ride than the run (although more runners have altitude problems because they're out there longer).

It's amazing how many folks I've talked with about my bike crash have either had head trauma, rib fractures, and/or amnesia from their own bike wrecks or falls while running -- or they know someone who has. I'm sure I'll hear more stories when I'm talking with some of the cyclists who volunteer at packet stuffing and rider check-in later this week.


Cyclists at 12,600-foot Columbine Mine aid station during the 2004 bike race

Ken Chlouber showed me scars where he's hit his head on rocks twice in the last year while running. The second time he sought medical treatment because he'd also learned that subsequent head injuries/concussions are more serious than the very first one. Another of our ultra friends related an uncannily similar accident to mine that her daughter had when she was only seven years old -- almost identical circumstances and injuries. Other folks have sent me photos and descriptions of their own serious bike injuries on roads or trails after reading about my crash on this website.

I'm sorry to learn how many people have sustained serious injuries when biking and running, but also a little relieved to know I'm in such good company. It's not just me! It's a wonder it took me sixty years to attain all these firsts: ambulance ride, ER visit, CT scans, concussion, amnesia, probably a busted helmet (it floated away in the creek), fractured ribs, and so much serious road rash. I've certainly put myself in more dangerous situations throughout my life than that bike ride.

OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH LEADVILLE

This is my eighth time since 1998, and Jim's seventh time since 1999, to be in Leadville in August to run, crew, pace, and/or volunteer for the 100-mile run. Most of those times we've come at least two weeks early to enjoy the  Boom Days celebration or help with the bike race, too. In addition, we've come once in early July for the three-day running camp, once in February to try to climb up to  Hope Pass for the heck of it, and once to camp nearby on our way to Silverton for Hardrock.

In 1998, I paced a friend the last 50 miles of the race. It was only my third time at a 100-mile race (twice to pace, once to run) and I was already hooked.

In 1999, Jim and I both entered the race for the first time. It was Jim's first 100-miler and my second attempt at the distance. I DNF'd at Winfield, the halfway mark, because I missed the cut-off by a few minutes. I crewed for Jim from Twin Lakes (60 miles) to the finish. It was his first and only finish on this course. He was 51 then.

 
Jim and me at the finish of the 1999 LT100. Photo by Richard Neslund.

Jim entered the race in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007. I crewed him in all of those races and entered myself (for the second and last time at LT100) in the 2003 race. I DNF'd with hypothermia during a typical, nasty storm on Hope Pass. Jim DNF'd each of those races, mostly from lack of speed to make it to Winfield in time. The farthest he ever got during the race was Twin Lakes (60 miles).

This is the first time neither one of us is registered for the race. Seems a bit odd!

After a disappointing DNF at the Bighorn 100 in June, I fully expected Jim to add LT100 to his list of races this year since we planned to hang out in Leadville anyway. The race doesn't fill up early, so he could enter during June or July if he wanted. He surprised me by dropping down to the 50K at the Tahoe Rim Trail in July, instead of running the 100-miler there. For six weeks, he swore he'd never do another 100-miler. He especially didn't want to run LT100 again after all the "LT50s" he's done here (our little joke about our DNFs halfway through the race).

I thought, Yeah right, he's gonna enter Leadville after he gets out there and gets all psyched up. That's really easy to do when you're running these beautiful trails and climbing up to Hope Pass and talking to friends who are in the race. I did that in 2003, convincing myself I was adequately trained when I wasn't.


Hope Pass, the literal and figurative high point in the LT100 run (7-22-07)

What neither of us realized was this year's race had a July 12 deadline! Jim saw a post to the ultra list about the deadline a few days after the date had passed (and after the Tahoe Rim 50K). He almost seemed a little disappointed, while also realizing that missing the deadline took some pressure off him -- now he couldn't run it even if he wanted to! I think he made a wiser choice (once he decided that he will continue running at least one more 00-miler) to pick The Bear 100 in late September as his next hundred. It's not any easier than Leadville but he has six more hours to complete it.

So here we are, happy with our new venue for running and hiking, eager to see old friends and make new ones, and ready and willing to volunteer for the LT100 bike race and run.

Next entry: LT100 bike pre-race activities from the volunteer perspective

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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