Monday, July 9, 2018

Hunter's Creek Traverse

Crescent Ridge caught my eye a few years ago while browsing Mountain Project for moderate routes in Rocky Mountain National Park. One catch is that it ascends Pagoda Mountain, which by any route is rather complicated and technical. The other catch is that as a very exposed 5.6 climb that is miles away from any help, one needs to be confidently up to the task. The last catch is that it is 7.5 miles and 3,500ft of gain (with half being off trail)  just to get to the base, so bringing a rope and rack would be a soul crushing haul. All of this culminated in sculpting a route where Crescent Ridge would be the focus, but I could take advantage of gear carried and nearby routes in the area. I loaded a pack with rock shoes, chalk and the usual necessary provisions and gear for a day up high in the mountains.

Starting from the Wild Basin Entrance Station, it is 4.3 miles and 2,000ft of gain to Sandbeach Lake. Most of the trail is runnable, but I never hesitate to hike if I feel like it when starting a big day -- no need to tire myself out in the first hour! I didn’t realize that Sandbeach Lake is, in fact, a lake where there is a beach composed of sand. It’s actually quite incredible. A father and his son are putzing around the shore, presumably having just risen from their nearby campsite. I find a vaguely cairned use trail around the north side of the lake and begin ascending Mt Orton.

Adding in the otherwise worthless Orton makes sense as it puts you just above treeline to avoid what would surely be an arduous bushwhack up Hunters Creek proper. From here, the majority of today's objectives are laid out: Pagoda, Longs, the Beaver, Meeker and Lookout. Mt Orton is actually just the broad tail-end of Chiefshead’s Southern slope, so after a bit of cross country I need to cross the drainage towards Pagoda's Crescent Ridge. Too excited to navigate properly, I cross too low and end up swimming through some willows before I’m on my way.

A beach in the Rockies!
Crescent Ridge with Longs, The Beaver and Meeker looming. I crossed the stream at bottom-middle of this picture, I'd actually recommend going around the barely visible lake higher up.
Crescent Ridge abruptly soars out of the center of the basin, beckoning you closer; still though, it’s a steep few pitches right out of the gate and it’s intimidating to look at. At the obvious base of the technical climbing I switch into my climbing shoes. The climbing isn’t so hard yet, but I’m nonetheless satisfied to have the added security of my rock slippers. I find generally obvious lines alternating between some cracks on the left and featured face climbing on the right. Eventually, I reach the 5.6 crux, the leftmost of three crack systems. I take my time and move upwards on secure holds and eventually stem out further left (massively exposed) to finish the sequence.

The initial buttress

The start of the technical climbing goes up this flared crack
Above the technical section lies about 1,000ft of 4th class slab with odd 5th class moves here or there, so I transition back to running shoes. On the march up I find some leftover hail from the night before and top off one my bottles that is running low. The summit of Pagoda is small, pointed and it offers some of the best views possible of both Wild Basin and Glacier Gorge. I eye my next objective just beyond the Keyboard of the Winds, the Southwest ridge of Longs Peak, which ascends to the summit directly from the junction of the Trough and Narrows.

Looking back at the meandering

En route to Longs, I decided to spice things up by trending generally towards the ridge proper rather than the normal gully which deposits you far further up the Narrows. I only have to back track a bit before I find terrain which aligns with the guidebook description. The start was a bit awkward as I was foot-jamming with a Boa lacing system, but it works out fine enough. I cruise upwards until I hit the crux which prompts me to back-off and re-evaluate. I could downclimb all the way back to the Narrows from here if I had too, but I figure it’s worth at least changing into climbing shoes to see how that feels. Sure enough, with stickier rubber and a jam-able peg of a foot it goes no problem! I find another granite handcrack to parade along before mantling up onto the massive plateau that composes the Longs summit -- it was a long walk over to the high-point boulder!

Looking down the Southwest ridge to the Keyboard of the Winds' towers and the relatively dwarfed (but still proud) Spearhead.

The finale of the ridge was this sunny and cruiser handcrack at 14,000ft!

Next, I had planned on downclimbing the Stepladder and ascending the Beaver via Gorrell’s Traverse. I hadn’t been on the Stepladder in about 3 years, so I dropped down the east face too early and had to climb back up before finding what I was sure was the right line. Thankfully, I found the sneaky ledge through the Notch without issue. Last time I had done Gorrell’s it was a complete disaster and I wasted almost an hour trying to onsight downclimb during an attempt at the Wild Basin Traverse. From an ascending perspective, it is much easier to identify: begin up a nasty looking gully, traverse on great ledges to the right and then ascend the cleaner and easier crack system.

Looking back at the true summit of Longs from the Beaver. The stepladder downclimb is -- I think -- out of sight in this mass of rock and Gorrell's travers is 200 sheer feet directly below where this photo was taken.

Moments later I’m on top of the Beaver trying to forecast the darkening clouds. I’ve got plenty of time, but none to waste. I dance off towards Meeker and feel surprisingly well ascending the gravel use trail, considering the energy expended to get there. Motivated by the incoming clouds, I scamper across the Meeker ridge. If only this ridge was a bit longer, the position and movement is amazing.

Mt Meeker residing just beyond the expanse of talus composing the Loft

Now, staring down 6,000ft to Wild Basin, I have a long tedious boulder hopping descent down Mt Meeker’s south ridge ahead of me followed by a requisite tag of the mushroom-cap summit of Lookout Mountain before finding my way back to the trail and finally the car. The boulder hopping feels eternal, I’m hungry, thirsty and getting a bit hangry. I find a well cairned path through the brush and up to Lookout’s summit. It’s a quaint little summit with a surprise 5th class finish. Last, is to bomb through the trees until I finally bump back into the Sandbeach Lake trail where I can trot the well maintained path back to the car.

A very long ridge.

Lookout Mountain's mushroom cap summit

Taking a breather atop of Lookout Mountain

I’ve never finished a day in Wild Basin that wasn’t fairly large. Everything worth doing involves a significant approach which despite being downhill, seems even harder on the way back. The expansiveness is intimidating but it keeps gems like today lurking in the shadows -- untouched, unpopular and pristine. I saw almost zero people the entire day, aside from the father and son at Sandbeach Lake, looking down on some hiker’s in the Trough (I had the Longs summit all to myself, actually for the 2nd time this week) and the first couple miles of the Sandbeach Lake trail. If this link was 6 miles and 3,000ft closer to a trailhead it would be as popular as the Petit Grepon, but the surrounding effort required for this adventure makes it all the more sweet to finish.


Since this traverse, I learned of a missing hiker in the area who was reported the night before. This explains the SAR helicopter I saw buzzing around me all day. Unfortunately, I saw no sign of Brian or any abandoned gear throughout my loop.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Cruel Jewel 100

I signed up for the Cruel Jewel 100 for a few reasons. First, it’s hard race mostly on singletrack with a ton of climbing. Second, it manages to evade the fluff that similar races seem to have such as lotteries, huge costs, required gear -- it’s just tough hundred mile race in the mountains, plain and simple. Third is that I’ve heard plenty about how the East is far gnarlier than us pretentious Coloradoans seem to give it credit for. As bonus, the race gives you UTMB points and qualifies you for the Hardrock 100 lottery too!

"Steampunk Dragon" was the art piece made for the race by a local artist Grant Searcey. So yeah, the t-shirts were pretty cool!

My training was a lot less volume intensive than I usually aim for. Having done (for myself) a lot of very long runs in the past couple months, I was confident that I didn't need to have crazy high mileage. I mostly just maintained myself as a runner and tossed in a few long days at high effort level. This mean that by race week, I was mechanically sound, physically rested and mentally ready for the challenge I signed up for.

Abby and I made our flight to Atlanta by about 30 seconds. I made it first to the gate and breathed "one more behind me", to which the ticket-checker responded "she's got about 45 seconds". We were staying with her parents and some family friends at beautiful lake house in Blue Ridge. The house was luxurious, and a near comical reprieve from what 100 miles in the Blue Ridge mountains would be. Here we were able to prepare my gear, crew bags and food in peace and most importantly, with a fully equipped kitchen.

The joy of collapsible trekking poles before the start

The race start was at noon; unique, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Starting at noon ensures that everyone has to suffer through the night out, even the lead male. I was somewhat on the fence to start with poles (clearly, I was confused), but I made the correct decision to use them the entire time. The gun went off (by that I mean the RD said "go") right at noon and we were off to the races. I held back, as it seemed who would finish well did, besides the leader Andy Pearson, who was on fire start to finish. After a forgettable section of road the climbing began as did the hiking for most, myself included. I don't much like a lot of chatting when I race so my patience was quickly exhausted hiking along in a large group. We rolled through the first water-only aid, I stopped in the bushes (accidentally in full view of some hikers, oops), and fell back further in place -- not that it remotely mattered at this point.

The foretold steepness was upon us. I moved up steadily between little pods of runners, not really chatting much besides with Gavin. When I first got into this silly running stuff, I, by chance, was on Mt Shavano when Gavin finished Nolans 14. I remember shaking his hand and thinking it was the coolest and most inspiring thing I had ever witnessed. He later asked "didn't you try Nolans a while back?", to which I responded "yes, it was glorious disaster. I learned a lot!". Funny how these sort of connections play out in a small community.

I moved up in the field steadily until I was in about 10th or so, as fast I was willing to run at this point. I met Abby at around the 20 mile mark at Skeenah Gap for the first time where I changed out of my 215 gram racers into a burlier shoe along with a fresh pair of socks (fear the humidity!). I was able to see her again at the Wilscot Gap as I followed the infamous Duncan Ridge trail (also known as the Dragon's Back) over endless mountains and knobs. I stayed by myself through this section, doing my best to keep the calories, electrolytes and water coming. It was super convenient that every aid had Tailwind; I probably drank 40 or so bottles total!

Pit stop before the night. Photo by Matthew Farina
At Old Dial Road, Abby prepped me for the coming night with a dry shirt and headlamp. A short descent off of Benton MacKaye Trail put me on the road itself. I've found that by running roads one or two times a week, that it was more than a lot of the other runners I spokes with. So on this next section of road, I was able to move up a couple positions then came into the aid station at Stanley Creek TH tied for 7th. Leaving the aid station, headlamp now on, I was able to build enough of a gap with a consistently strong hiking pace that I was alone for the meandering descent towards Deep Gap. I moved into 6th position just before entering the aid station. Despite feeling good, I made a point to spend some time at Deep Gap to eat my first of many potato floats (boiled potatoes in a cup covered with coke) and confirm the directions for the lollipop loop as I had read about prior confusion. I wasn't too concerned though, I was well prepared with the route on my Suunto should I get confused or miss a turn.

I left the aid alone and wouldn't see a soul along the whole lollipop loop. Despite being (allegedly) 5.4 miles, the distance really seemed to drag on. It felt like ages before I even made the cut across the river and began ascending back up. Staying vigilent for the reflective course marking flags, I just kept my head down and eventually popped out of the loop and back into the Deep Gap aid station.

The next section consisted of a short bit of road running so I packed up my poles and opted for single bottle. I always know that on these road sections you just need to keep running all that you can, as they are the easiest miles you'll get the whole time and a great place to make some time. I moved into 5th place just before the Camp Morganton aid station where I met finally met Abby again. She tended to my feet (gross) while I tended to a burrito and a cold brew coffee. I left the aid in 6th, but quickly reclaimed 5th with my eyes on 4th (who apparently was actually in 2nd, but that's another story).

Consumption as an art form, Abby lurks behind keeping the pipeline full. (Photo Matthew Farina)
I had some more potato floats at Deep Gap and left in 5th place. Shortly after starting my second loop around the Flat Creek Trail the skies suddenly opened up with the fury that had been forecasted. I just barely able to get my coat out in time! I plodded along the now puddled and saturated trail with bullets of rain tickling my hood. There were plenty of folks out on their first lap which gave me some people to chase and keep the monotony at a minimum. I caught up to Gavin at the end of the lap and slowed to chat with him for a couple minutes before pushing on towards my fourth and final pit stop at Deep Gap.

The rain wouldn't relent. Ahead was a moderate ascent and then what I thought would be a short bop over to Weaver Creek. I moved into 4th place on the climb. Ouch, should have checked the elevation profile here as it was actually 1500ft descent to the aid station. On this out and back spur, I measured 2nd and 3rd to be a bit under an hour ahead of me; but 5th, a guy I had passed hours ago had come out of nowhere to just five minutes behind me. I tried to put my head down on the ascent out of the lonely aid station both to catch and hold on. In hindsight, I let my calorie intake waver in this section trying to stay dry (which I failed at, anyways). I made it to Abby at Stanley Creek just as the sky was barely letting go of the darkness. I was getting a bit antsy about placing here, but Abby centered me and forced me to inhale the rest of a coffee, some coke and (homemade!) potato soup.

I dashed out onto the final road section with high hope of holding a steady run. My mentality wavered and my legs followed, my legs were definitely sore but I sort of gave myself a bit too much liberty as I turned up Old Dial Rd. I took a couple walk breaks, but per usual walking doesn't make you feel much better, you just go a lot slower. I plodded along towards Wilscott Gap, beginning to seriously feel some fatigue. I arrived at the aid station with Abby armed and ready to both continue crewing and pace the last 30 or so miles to the finish.

Early morning uphill grind, finally with Abby keeping me engaged (and photographed!)

My pace was pathetic, but Abby got me moving a bit faster. It wasn't until we had moved a few miles to the next aid, Skeenah Gap, and saw 5th place Walter flying up behind me. Something clicked in my brain and I met his pace as best I could. We stayed relatively as a pack of three (myself, Abby and Walter) into Fish Gap. We left simultaneously from the aid, but I just couldn't hang with Walter's pace -- especially on the downhills, my quads just didn't have it anymore.

Grinding out what I could on the uphills just after dawn

I was now running scared, clinging to the back of the top five, I didn't know if 6th was just behind me or an hour back. White Oak Stomp was about a touch over an hour away on the out but Duncan Ridge had no mercy for those returning to it's ground. The ridge is truly natural work of art, masochistically speaking. Whatever you trained on, it's not as steep or barely as steep as this, it's glorious and it takes forever. I had to remember that it was a moment like this why I was here in the first place. Head down and legs churning on the uphills, shuffling what my trashed quads could on the downhills. We arrived at White Oak Stomp to find that I was just over an hour back of 4th (who Walter had already passed) I just needed to hold on a bit longer!

The final and near eternal-feeling mega climb to Coosa Bald

A blurry eyed perspective of the trails winding down to Wolf Creek

The final stretch as I suspected, had grown immensely since I had ran the other way. After a final grunt up Coosa Bald it was long descent to the unmanned Wolf Creek water station. The downhills remained a problem but the new problem was finding strength to run the scattered relative flats in this next section. I'm learning that at the end of these things, it requires seemingly herculean effort to accomplish near anything so you might as well run if it's remotely possible. This is observation made in hindsight as at the time I was less enthusiastic about my abilities. The trail wound up and around seemingly pointlessly to nowhere. I couldn't remember what the beginning (now end) of the course was like, but when we crossed pavement I knew we were close.

Feet from the finish, relieved. (Photo by Matthew Farina)

My downward shuffle scooted me along the final wooded section until the glimmer of Vogel Lake peaked through the trees. Gaining pavement, I knew the end was less than a mile out. I looked behind me to see a woman moving extremely well, I did not want to have to sprint to the finish to stay in front of the lead woman! "I'm not in the race!" she belted out -- thank goodness -- she caught me a few seconds later, just a volunteer heading back to the finish. Still, you always need to finish strong, which in this case mean under 10min/mile pace. I thanked Abby for crewing and pacing as the roaring crowd of 20 spouses, parents and friends tricked into spending their weekend at a 100mi race greeted me into the finish, I could single out the cheers of Abby's parents as well as our Blue Ridge hosts. You really can't top these moments.

Stupid and happy.

Promptly after crossing the line I found a chair, as instinct tends to help you out on these type of finishes. The belt buckle was colossal, you would need a separate belt system simply to hoist and suspend the Cruel Jewel buckle. There truthfully isn't a good way to describe why it's fun to do this, why these moments are unforgettable and practically life changing. It's like asking somebody why a food tastes good, it just does. Maybe someday I'll have a reason, but for now I know I just really like this stuff.

Abby kept me going for 28 hours all by herself! Having to both crew and pace (especially 30 miles of the Dragon's Back) is not to be underestimated!
We spent the rest of the weekend lounging on Blue Ridge Lake and at the lake house itself. It was such a privilege to meet new friends with such a beautiful place to stay while others had to retreat to their soggy tent in the state park. Amazingly, I came out of this thing completely injury free, just very, very sore with a couple blisters on my toes. I didn't know what Georgia was going to deliver with the Cruel Jewel, but I can't have imagined a better taste of the eastern ultra-running scene is all about.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Transgrancanaria is really cool. The race crosses the island beach-to-summit-to-beach by a meandering route which dashes through unique sub-biomes and quaint Spanish towns. As far as destination races go, this one has got to be near the top -- I can’t think of a much better way to experience the island! So Abby and I scheduled a full 10-day getaway in order to take in all that Gran Canaria had to offer at a slower pace for a few days before we both took on the challenge.

Typical view on the island. In this case, looking up towards Roque Nublo from Artenara

Getting to Gran Canaria ended up being the first major obstacle. After our first flight, the next three flights would not allow us to check in until moments before and
then would not accept our boarding passes. We did, eventually after several stressful layovers (including wasting a sickening amount of money on an airport hotel) and renting a car, reach our quaint abode on the west coast of the island. Our bags joined us 36 hours later. We had wanted to run more before the race, but after days of travel which necessitated a few 10+ hour nights of sleep we opted not to push it. This may have actually saved us from the trap many Americans fall into when arriving at the massive playgrounds which host many European races.

Abby doing her best to not get overzealous in the days before the race. Our little home in El Risco is below!
The island of Gran Canaria is pretty amazing. From our rental on the west coast, we were clear from the more typical beachfront resorts you can find at any tropical locale. Instead, we found small agricultural communities nestled into valleys and mountainsides. To our surprise and the, Americans’ presence is a rarity. We spent our days mostly hopping in our little car and driving the winding roads to whatever view or lunch spot seemed fit for the day -- for the most part, we put the race out of our minds.

At an unbelievable cactus garden and cafe we stumbled upon in San Nicloas

Snacking on what seemed to be a local favorite (potatoes in red "mojo" sauce) in Teror

We have no problem being tourists walking the boardwalk in Agaete.

The race was at hand soon enough. On Thursday, we collected our bibs, submitted our drop bags, verified what aid station food was vegan (water only, it seemed) and confirmed that there was still no explicit list of required gear. The race is pretty big, there were about 4000 registered runners combined across the five categories ranging from 265km to 15km. Transgrancanaria is by far the most popular with 1200 (1100 men, 100 women) entered. Even more apparent from the get go was the sheer monopoly Salomon has on the trail running market -- especially in Europe -- but hey, they make some pretty nice stuff!

Friday morning we woke up to no power because I blew a fuse trying to charge my headlamp with a converter. We put our stuff together and ate our remaining food at home before beginning a motorized near-double circumnavigation of the island before the race even started! Abby and I ate dinner at La Hierba Luisa, a fantastic vegan restaurant we found the night before to cram in as many delicious calories as we could, money no object. We parked the car about a quarter mile from the eventual finish line in Maspolamos and got in line for a bus that would take us to Las Palmas. In the 60 seconds before we boarded the bus, it poured rain so the ride north was spent mostly trying to dry our clothes and sneak in one last nap. In Las Palmas, a host of nervous spandex clad runners swarmed the proximal cafes to force down some final calories and sip on espressos -- Abby and I being true Americans, opted for Americanos and a family sized bag of potato chips.

The 11PM start was truly all that European racing was hyped up to be: a live band, announcers lauding the top runners (Abby included, myself excluded) and “fans” (tourists which happened to be out, locals with nothing better to do and spouses tricked into crewing, I’m guessing) lining the streets. As the corral proceeded forth, I made sure to start slow; I let Abby pass me right away, she’s certainly the better pure runner of the two of us. The leaders’ pace was ruthless at high-five-minute miles, contently I putzed along until I could find some hiking ascents and out-of-control descents -- that’s why I was here anyways!

The herd departed the sandy beach after a couple miles and began to thin as it climbed an eroding and poorly paved road. Rolling dirt trails and small city streets put me in the first aid station soon enough. I topped off my fluids (soft flasks vastly over-saturated with tailwind so each water refill would offer a progressively lesser concentration) and snacked on a couple bananas as I left the aid. Abby entered the aid right as I left. The field thinned more as we made a net ascent to the quaint city of Teror on similar terrain as which led us to the first aid. I can’t remember much interesting on this stretch.

Abby and I in the bottom left corner
No starting gun, just fire works.
The herd progresses forth
At this point I found myself leap frogging with a man with fantastically strong looking hamstrings wearing Hokas -- let’s call him Ham-Hoka. The trail wound steeply uphill, narrowing to single track until it seemed we were on the edge of Tamabada. After a short section of road, the trail abruptly dropped. Sensing my opportunity I was able to cut a short corner (Euro racing, am I right?) and was ripping the descent exactly as stupidly reckless as I hoped I would. With my headlamp as bright as it could be, I barely maintained traction on the wet dirt and rocky steps. Some sections of the trail were in a tunnel formed by sagging foliage only a few feet tall. Cackling in delight I was able to gap the entire pod I was running with, besides Ham-Hoka. A ~20 minute ascent immediately followed the drop. Looking across the canyon, I could see a solid stream of headlamps pouring down the mountainside.
Typical trail (may have actually been on the course) on this section before the huge descent.
Ham-Hoka and I left the aid station at Presa de los Perez at the same time, I almost forgot to get some food for the road and had to double back for a handful of bananas and figs. We hiked steadily at the edge of the pace I thought I could hold. The climb went on for a long while, with my head down and hands on my knees. I really wished I had some poles -- my quads were going to pay for this sooner or later. The gradient eased and we jogged along rolling trails in the pine forest as the sky hinted at daylight. In Artenara I had to let Ham-Hoka go as I made use of the toilet facilities. Looking for food in the aid, an Englishman was already quite angry that there was no source of salt besides a colossal pan of paella. I choked down some more dry fruit (the taste of bananas now making me gag) along with a couple requisite cups of cola. Leaving the aid I couldn’t stomach much solid food so I filled my bottles with two-thirds cola and the rest with water. Calories are calories.

The sun rose as I focussed on maintaining a strong hike up to the ridge forming the uppermost caldera of the island. Finding myself next to a Scottish runner living in Chamonix, it was nice to speak in English for a bit. The sun was rising and a current of clouds were rumbling over the ridge opposite ours with the sun tickling the upper surface of the inversion into a pink mist. It was an incredible sight. We kept a steady pace until I had to pull into the trees for my usual morning business (bathroom breaks are a more than frequent occurrence both during and outside of running for me -- too much fiber, I suppose). Returning to the trail I suddenly found my mojo gone. I missed a turn and checking the route on my watch had to traverse cross country across a slight ridge and lost several minutes. It felt as if I hadn’t eaten enough over the past 7 hours; in retrospect,that’s probably exactly what was happening! I did my best to not let up on the descent to Tejeda.

Smiling heading down from the Roque
In Tejeda I found some potatoes in red sauce. They were far too decadent for an aid station, I thought, but I plowed through as many as I could since they tasted salty and I hadn’t had any of that in a long while. I held myself strictly to a run, hoping to rebound from the doldrums I was in. Three runners trailed close behind: two men running together and a lone woman. I made a pact with myself to not let them pass on the pending climb to Roque Nublo. I beared down and gritted my teeth, but at certain point could no longer justify the aerobic debt I was putting myself into. Offering their encouragement, all three passed me before I could waddle up to the island’s summit. I felt terrible, but all things considered was doing just fine. Knowing my drop bag was minutes away I did my best to not slog like a miserable and sullen weakling. If I’m going to suffer, I’m going to be damn proud of it and march to my demise with a smile on my face!

In Garanon, a barrage of marathon runners cascaded around me as I took my time to gather my drop bag, eat a bowl of pasta, re-load my gels and of course stiffen up my legs as much as I possibly could. Leaving the aid I tried emptying a packet of tailwind into my bottle but instead tore it open and coated my already damp hands and clothes with powder. A volunteer took pity on me and did it for me. Sensing a serious lowpoint if I didn’t turn things around soon, I forced my stiff legs back to a run. It was a near 6,000ft net downhill to the finish “I came here to push, so let’s go for it”, I thought. Endless technical cobblestone trails flew underneath me, doing my best to keep up with -- or at least stay out of the way of -- marathon runners. I had five gels to take me to the finish, they wouldn’t last the whole way but I could figure that out later. Keeping the sugar coming I inflicted all my legs could bear and moved through the Bartolome aid station with a water top-off and a couple cups of cola.

“Okay, two more climbs. Just keep running, don’t you dare think it’s okay to hike! It has to end eventually, right?”, I thought to myself. Well, I was hiking sooner than I had hoped. The climb was short and the following descent was a blast. Running in the women’s top ten, the competitiveness was tangible. Despite being far from the top ten myself, the atmosphere was contagious. We streamed into Ayagaures, the final real aid station and moved just as quickly out.
A lot of this.
The woman I had ran the majority of the previous ascent with shot off like a rocket. An impressive and highly decisive surge that the other women and myself couldn’t match. The final climb was larger than I thought. Eyes glazed uphill and gel- and cola-sticky hands pressed to my knees I marched on. I probably could see Maspalomas from the top, but I didn’t bother to get my hopes up quite yet. The horror stories about the end of the race were worse than true. After a short trail to the bottom of a canyon, the trail wound through a water polished boulder field drainage. “I can’t run this” I thought, and fell into a walk, “This feels just as bad but slower”.

And that’s about how it went. I resigned to let whomever pass me so long as I didn’t dare walk. Still, I would occasionally falter: a muscle would cramp, my foot would tweak or I would get down on myself and walk a couple steps. A water station greeted us at the end of the road, I quickly downed a cup and kept on. “Just don’t WALK!” I screamed at my legs. Onwards, the gravel road turned into an “urban drainage” -- essentially a cobblestone Los Angeles river. One last aid station offered a reprieve from the pain, the allure of a chair in the shade was overwhelming. Two cups of coke and I was out of there before I had the chance to look for an open seat.

I could taste the finish! Running alongside a marathon runner who appeared to be in a similarly damaged state, we pulled each other along; each demanded the other keep running whenever we even hinted at walking it again. Doing my best to hold the pace, I succumbed to letting my fellow runner with 50 fewer miles in his legs take the lead to the finish. Turning the corner I let the last of my efforts spill across the red carpet beneath the archway. Utterly exhausted, I sauntered out of the finish area. Apparently needing to be off my feet more than food and water, I plopped myself down in a patch of grass. Delighted, I cast my windbreaker over my face and fell asleep.
The highest resolution of my finish photo I could glean from the internet without paying.
After several hours consisting of:

1. Being unable to get back on my feet and not knowing how to ask for help in Spanish
2. Falling asleep in the rental car
3. Weighing the effort needed to get to food, water or a bathroom and whether I needed it
4. Propping myself up against a palm tree watching finishers

Abby darted around the corner, I could tell she was looking for me but stand up I could not. I made some sort of semi-audible chirp that resembled a cheer as I rolled around trying to get to my feet. We met outside the finish area. She had fallen around mile 14 and bore the beginnings of black eye to match her legs covered in dried blood and scabs. At 21 hours, she had just barely accomplished both of our real goals for the race: don’t get your headlamp out twice. There was too much to share, neither of us knew where to begin! The only thing we could settle on for sure, was that it was one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

Will we be back? Maybe.