Talk @ Neptune Mountaineering Notes + Thanks

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Thanks everyone who made the time to come over to Neptune Mountaineering and participate in my talk! I really appreciate everyone's interest and support! Thank you Neptune Mountaineering for hosting the event!

GPS tracks of the routes I presented are available on my Strava Routes page: 

Some of the routes/races I mentioned: 

Other projects I mentioned: 

Alex Honnold/Cedar Wright's Sufferfeast, 

Kyle Dempster's wonderful documentary of his trip to Kyrgyzstan is titled, The Road From Karakol

Mike Dion's Film, Inspired to Ride will be showing in Boulder, at the Boedecker Theater October 21 - 24 (more information). The trailer is below, 

Dion was also heavily involved in another film about the Tour Divide called Ride the Divide, which documents racing the Tour Divide, 

And a great Alpinist article entitled, The Original "Mountain" Bikers

Alright. Get at it!

It was many things, to many, many people. Here's what it meant to me: 

Salvagetti + Happy Coffee: a bike drive thru to by coffee + bike parts, open early in the morning. Another master idea by Scott. I borrowed those beefy tires from one of the mechanics of Salvagetti to try to ride this beast of a machine on some of the more technical parts of the Colorado Trail, in hopes of bagging some 14ers. Long story short: unsuccessful trip in many regards (Trailer?!), but I learned a lot and vowed to try again. September, 2010

I think I was on a date. We had just visited The Denver Art Museum. Practically across the street, there's a block of row houses converted into businesses. One was a bike shop, with a hand painted sign, illustrated with a bike, and an Italian flag. 

It read, "Salvagetti". 

Walking in, the entire area constricted against you. Claustrophobic. This tiny space, filled with bikes and they were all poking out at you. Somewhere in the back was a counter and behind it, were two or three (or four?) people, wrenching on bikes, practically working on top of each other. Greg, Danny, Dave and Scott. Common names, but uncommon people. This was over ten years ago, now. Felt more like a skateboard shop, where you buy a deck for $50, or a set of wheels for $40. Not a multi-thousand dollar super bike. I had just recently given up skateboarding, so this atmosphere felt comforting - something I was accustomed to, already. 

I had just gotten rid of my car. Still to this day, the last car of only two I have ever owned in my life - a period spanning less than a full year. 

The first one threw a rod barreling down from the Eisenhower Tunnel, en route to Las Vegas to see a rare performance of one of my favorite bands at the time, The Breeders. I was listening to a side project of Kim Deal's called The Amps on my stereo, loudly, singing along with much gusto. Their songs were all about riding in cars, fast. 

So much, I didn't realize that a piston was trying to break free from the engine block DANK! DANK! DANK! DANK!, it rhythmically, violently and noisily combusted in its soon to be released shell. Minutes had probably past since the incident started, but I was too oblivious, so pumped to be going on my first road trip, in a car I just bought from a coworker. I turned the volume down, and heard that the sound was not coming from my stereo. I got that sinking feeling in my heart as I drove around Breckenridge for a while figuring out what I was supposed to do. Didn't seem like such a good idea to continue on, what with this snowstorm around me (it was February 13th), and I made it back towards the tunnel. That's when the entire engine exploded, puff of smoke in front of me, I lost all power and found myself minutes later walking up to the tunnel at 11,000 feet, hoping for help. 

The second car was practically given to me - $800 bucks - a Geo Metro, barely definable as an automobile - more of a motorcycle with everything uncool about a car sort of... attached onto a 1100cc engine with double stick tape. If you had more than two people in the vehicle, it just didn't run! But you could park it anywhere, and that was important as I lived practically in the center of Denver - the baseball stadium was a block away and parking was tight. The former owner was giving up cars completely. 

I thought that was weird.

I took horrible care of it. Welded the wheels to the axle - I guess I shoulda replaced the brakes when it made that funny noise that noise just continued to get worse and worse? Oil leaked from the engine into the air filter - I was out of ideas on how to medicate that. On its last leg, it would start only once a day. 

I wanted to get rid of it so bad. I never renewed the registration, but just kept getting temp plates for it, hoping to find something else. That's around when a cop pulled me over, not able to see those temp plates through my back window until I was quite stationary. Nothing was wrong, but he ran my plates anyways. 

Seemed I had a bench warrant for failure to pay a ticket for being in a city park, after hours (another one of my dates, stupid dates!)  and away to the Denver City Jail I went. I was on my way to see DEVO, another one of my favorite bands. My date this night - much younger than me, had to drive my car back, borrow money from her parents, and bail me out. Miraculously, the car started again for her. Finally I had had enough. I gave it away to a cars-for-cash scheme for NPR, and wrote it off on my taxes. 

Just weeks before, I had just gotten a bike for $13 at a thrift store - an 80's Schwinn Ten Speed - I kid you not. I put $10 more into it by way of a pair of on sale tires, and got my first taste of long distance riding - Denver to Boulder - all 30 some-odd miles that took me the entire day, and all my strength to complete. At the end of the ride, my legs cramped up at the mere thought of sitting down, and I didn't have enough change for the bus back to Denver. Stranded, the busdriver took pity on me and let me on anyways. When I got back to Denver, I immediately pigged out on a large pizza I ordered right by the bus station. 

Something clicked. I was hooked. Bye bye cars. 

We met everyone at the shop. Along with Scott who owned the place and the mechanics, it was just the two of us. We were all breathing in each other's faces. 

"Hi Scott, looking for a red blinky light, I wanna be seen at night"

He had maybe two to pick from. I bought the cheapest. 

It didn't take long. I started riding everywhere. Started collecting beat up bikes (never anything new) and trying to fix them up. Found out that for me, there's not too many things better than being young, living in the city, and riding a bike around. I felt invincible diving through traffic and running red lights with abandon. I started pretty soon going on longer and longer rides alone, hanging out with the messenger kids racing alleycats, and joining in on Critical Mass rides. There was a lot of overlap in those last two scenes, as many young kids like me didn't drive cars, were politically active, loved bikes, and loved hanging out with other people who loved bikes. We had bike proms and I went on bike dates, holding hands while pedaling from the bar, to one of our houses. Every time I went to get groceries, I'd do it by bike. It felt more like a mission, rather than an errand - I would time myself and try to beat my last time. My left shoulder still rides lower than my right one, from all the stuff I put in my shit-cool black Chrome messenger bag, which I still use to this day (although now mostly for storing my climbing gear).

I'd stop into this funny little bike shop called Salvagetti ("salvage" with, "tti" added, to make it sound "Italian") to pick up this or that, and quite often. An inner tube, a tool I didn't have, some knowledge on how to fix this-or-that. If it was a Monday after a Critical Mass Ride, some of the cyclists that got arrested would be in there hanging out. You could tell they hadn't showered in days and had slept on the floors of the cell (as I had). There wasn't much you could hide in that shop. Scott would give discounts to Critical Mass riders for things like lights, so that people wouldn't get ticketed for minor infractions - the police were on the lookout for anything at all to shut the ride down. I thought that was pretty ballsy - rather than being professional and neutral, he would help out in these little ways, more like a friend, than anything. His shop was sometimes a checkpoint for the illegal alleycat races. Those things stuck in my mind. It wasn't like Scott was all that older than all of us - maybe a year older than me? He just had passion for getting people on bikes and having a lot of fun, and boy did we ever. 

It could have been my first time ever going into the shop, but what really changed my life - a no going back, complete 90 degree turn into a crazy, adventurous lifestyle, was meeting Fixie Dave Nice - one of the first mechanics working for Scott. I remember the conversation quite clearly - it was a pretty simple one (which helps):

"Hey Justin, this is Dave", 

"Hi Dave" 

"Hi Justin! I'm Fixie Dave! I race fixed geared mountain bikes across the country!" 

"That's. That's the most insane thing I've ever heard"

And really, it was. Any of those three things would have been pretty crazy, "race" "fixed geared" "across the country". For a nascent bike rider, who had just given up cars, who was trying to figure out how to make his life work without them: it sounded impossible, and actually: up to that point, it was. Dave had tried twice, and failed twice. He tried a total of 6 or 7 times before completing the Tour Divide - a 2,700 mile race North to South across the country, on his fixed geared bicycle. I know this, because by the time he was on his successful ride through four states and two Canadian provinces, I was racing a single speed mountain bike across the country, on the same race! We even past each other in Wyoming - Dave was going North and I was going South.

A cornerstone of my life, meeting Fixie Dave. I'm not kidding.

salvagetti-dave_nice_td.jpgBumping into Dave Nice, in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming. One gear is all you need! 

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. My bicycle life got bigger and bigger - enough to envelop most of my free time, and Salvagetti grew as well. The little shop must have been doing well, since they moved to a much larger shop a few blocks away, and then again just a few months later. And then, again. It seemed every time they packed up and moved shop, Scott had bigger, grander ideas and  thus needed more space. 

Scott is a rare bread of people who's always looking for the next thing to tackle. Drove his employees crazy, as he could never just, I dunno: relax - but I understood his drive. He could quite clearly understand problems that were in front of him, and offer up a solution - something he could then explain to you with that same clarity. You'd be left after your conversation thinking, "why hasn't anyone else see that?". And Scott could see your (much slower) gears turning in your own head, and inaudibly gesture a, "I know, right", with just widening his eyes, opening his mouth a little, and raising his shoulders slightly. He could explain how a cantilever brake worked, or the entire backwardness of how the local bike shop's economic environment, works. It didn't matter. I'm not saying he could do it for everything, but probably anything he was passionate about. 

The shop was getting fans, and for good reason. Everyone who worked there was friendly, with little ego, and it didn't matter how small your problem was, someone would help you. It could be a brake cable that needed adjusting, or help with building your own wheel. Someone would help. I would make sure to get there early, as lines would form. I didn't mind waiting for them, or letting someone go before me. I knew it was important to have people happy on bikes. I was on the shop's side - and I was happy - I was riding bikes all day! 

salvagetti-stuck_wheel.jpgTypical visit to Salvagetti for me: Broken bike that needs that expert touch. Here, two mechanics elongate the fulcrum, to take off a stuck fixed cog. Scott and Nick have it out! 

But, I too needed help. I wasn't just riding to the next nearest city anymore, I was riding across the country - the Pacific Coast route in 2007 , or through countries Europe, 2008; New Zealand, 2009. My bicycle adventures turned from hell-bent rides through the city, to long distance tours around the world. My eyes were very much open. I met new friends, I learned new languages. And yeah, I came close to death once or twice... 

After a few years of being a complete maniac for bikes and after Salvagetti itself grew and matured, I went into the shop - now at its third or fourth location and told them I wanted to buy my first new bike as an adult, and I wanted to race it in the Tour Divide (remember: Fixie Dave). Scott showed me a bike, said this is the exact bike I wanted, and I without question, I put it all on a credit card. 

April 1st, 2011: my first Brand New Bike Day. 

Two months later, I was in Banff, Alberta riding in my very first mountain bike race. It didn't really seem weird that this race ended in Mexico. I've crossed countries before, I've lived off bikes for entire summers. How could this be any different? 

Turned out to be a real eye opener. The snowpack that year was holding on well into the summer, and literally every single pass - probably around two dozen, that you had to ride over from the start in Banff to outside of Steamboat Springs, CO was unpassable, except by snowshoe - the snow was too soft for skis or any sort of motor vehicle. The race coordinator decided to make major detours of the route to keep it a mountain bike race. 

Me? I just brought snowshoes and vowed to stick to the route. I tried to find people to go along with me, but no one would - the labeled me a little out there. I had entered myself in the first Mountain Bike/Snowshoe Duathlon. Across the country. After day two, I was literally out there, in last place, as I made my way up and over the first of many, many, snowed-in passes, pushing my brand new fancy bike, 1/2 mile per hour.  

Snowshoeing across the country. The bike gets used. Eventually. 

Fast forward 30 days. I was nearing finishing the race, 130 miles to the Mexican border. And that's where I crashed out. A mixture of complete and total exhaustion and screwing up literally the last bit of technical riding of the entire course. Hurt like hell. 

My bike was destroyed, and so was my body: I had torn my shoulder. We were both inoperable. It seemed then - and still seems now, one of the greatest rides I've ever done, even though I couldn't complete it. I was sad, but the only thing I wanted to do was to complete the ride, by starting all over again. How I was going to do that: I had no idea. 

Back in Denver, times got tough. I wasn't really making enough money to have an apartment and my art studio, so I got rid of my apartment. I didn't have enough money to fix my mountain bike right away, so I boxed it away. After a few weeks of sleeping on the cold, concrete ground of my art studio, I moved in with a former girlfriend in her closet of a bedroom who took pity on me. I kept riding bikes, and when Spring came around, I grabbed my boxed bike from a friend - they threatened to throw it away and brought it back to Salvagetti. They were a bit incredulous. I'm hard on bikes, and the bike, well: it reflected that. 

"I don't have a lot of money, but I want to do the Tour Divide again." 

Phillip, one of the mechanics @ Salvagetti, lent me his bike, when he found a crack in my frame, after I brought it in complaining of, "a funny noise". I did unspeakable things to it during a long training weekend, like ride through Rocky Mountain National Park, when the road was closed due to weather. "Weather?", I thought, "Whether or not I make it through!" I was stuck at 12,000 feet overnight in a snowstorm, but hell if I didn't ride down victoriously the next day!

Nick was my main mechanic at that time. He rides bikes in dirt jump parks and knows a lot about making a bike withstand the type of love/abuse I often give them. We pulled everything off that was completely destroyed (the drivetrain!) and in its place put a 19t cog in the back, and a 32 chainring up front. A new wheel to replace the taco'd one he personally built up, and a new chain and I was good to go, basically. Two weeks before the race, I bought a ticket back to Canada, determined to race the route in full. I was successful. I came back, and the first thing I did - the very first thing was stop by Salvagetti and tell them I had succeeded. They took back the bike, and we put it on display for what seemed like months. 

One dirty bike, proudly on display @ Salvagetti. Photo: gypsybytrade

Salvagetti moved again. 

So did I. Another girl, another bad breakup - one of my worst. I was living in Boulder now, after a ten-year absence. I had a crazy plan to ride my bike to all the 14ers in the state - around 58 of them. I needed a new bike, so back to Denver, back to Salvagetti. Mark was working there, and there's nothing this guy likes to do at his job more than get crazy people like me outfitted with a bike to see them through their projects. With his help (and the rest of Salvagetti), we built up a new bike that would survive me, and that summer - they gave me a great deal - without which I couldn't see this project through (I still wasn't doing well financially).

I finished my project - my most ambitious to date. I had zero problems with my bike. I honestly couldn't believe it. 

This summer has been a bit quieter for me, when it comes to bike riding. Someone new is in my life, who's incredibly sweet to me, and some new passions - running, and rock climbing now sit next to my fervor for riding bikes. I've learned to have all my outdoor passions intertwine with each other in uniques ways. I know not only ride long distances for speed, or to the grocery store, but also to mountains and trails. It's amazing to have this opportunity to evolve and just see where bikes still continue to bring me. 

I can quite honestly say that bikes will still be a big part of my life in the future. Those kids that used to irate drivers in Critical Mass a decade ago, now work for the city in reasonable ways with the community; the road right outside the house I live in has a bike lane - a protected bike lane. The state just pledged $100 million towards bicycle infrastructure and my Denver to Boulder ride that I still take will soon be much more easier, now that there's 18 miles of bike path to utilize. 

Salvagetti's last days - Scott's moving on to even more interesting projects with his patented laser-like-yet-brain-addled focus, are happening right now. Like many, I'm very saddened to hear the news that the bike shop will be no more, as its presence means so much to me. But as Scott himself has stated, he's done his part, and his community is all for the better for it - every shop is a little more Salvagetti-like, and that makes him happy. It's no wonder, as many who have worked for him have moved on into starting their own shop up. We've all grown much richer because of that little funny shop I myself happened to curiously stop by in, more than 10 years ago. 

Thanks Scott, and thanks everyone who has worked for Salvagetti. See you on the trails, 

A Nolans Descent

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The summit of La Plata, my third fourteen thousand foot mountain for the day, still seemed impossibly far away. The storm system that had surprisingly reappeared just over my shoulder was now again not so quietly building up force. Thunder boomed. On any other day I would have called it. 

I crawled upward, rather than descend downward. What I needed desperately to do was to text the only person I knew who was in the area: my girlfriend. The only way to do that was to top the summit and chance getting cell coverage. Finally there, I typed furiously with cold fingers, wind and snow burning my cheeks: 

HELP. I AM NOT OK. Too weak to keep going and stuck in another storm. Going to walk back to the La Plata Trailhead. I should be able to make it. 

Are you there? 

If my SPOT Tracker stops moving, I may have just passed out for a bit. If you get this, please meet me... meet me wherever I'm found.  

If the text got out, and if she herself had service (who knows where she was camped?) she may then be there to help me with my extraction. A gamble, but it was my best idea to avoid calling Search and Rescue. It was going to be a cold night waiting out whatever was about to come down without her help. I just had an ultralight bivvy - a plastic bag essentially, to nestle in. I brought no sleeping bag. 

Sending the message, I turned around, and immediately felt lost on the descent. My Unsupported Nolans 14 attempt was over, but my night was only beginning. 

My summer season in the mountains certainly felt special.  My practice and training in Winter was deliberate and disciplined and culminated in running my first "official" ultra, The Golden Gate Dirty 30, where I more than exceeded in my expectations. I racked up over 75 ascents of Boulder's local Green Mountain, and made a habitual cycling trip from Boulder to Longs Peak to summit on a semi-technical/technical route almost a dozen times, perhaps establishing some new FKTs in the process. I helped pace my housemate on his first ultra race: The Leadville Trail 100.

longs_peak_diamond_step.jpgLooking out to Chasm Lake, from the Kieners Route, Longs Peak, RMNP

I  also spent many weeks on the road alone bikepacking with my trusty Surly Crosscheck - my Jake of All Trades, beast of burden of a bike; all along the Arkansas River Valley - from Leadville to Buena Vista, recon'ing for my late summer go at the Nolans 14 line. 

I spent so much time either on the bike, or parked at a coffee shop working in my downtime, that the bike itself became my calling card, and friends and acquaintances knew I was around if they spotted my fairly unique rig, always patiently waiting for me. Never locked up. 

Outside of City on a Hill, Leadville, CO

Nolans 14 is itself a great mountaineering challenge: take the 14 most Southern Sawatch 14ers,  run/walk/crawl to all of them in a row without stopping, and do it in 60 hours. I liked the idea and the more I became familiar with the nuances of the route and the more I became obsessed with completing it. Having so much mileage off trail means one has to figure out their own strategy to get from each peak, allowing you to put your own signature on your line. You're not tied down to someone else's course, but instead can build upon the ideas of people who have come before you. 

By Labor Day weekend, my recon missions were done, I felt ready, my ride to Leadville and back home were secured and I loaded up my UD Fastpack 20 with some clothes, some food (burritos of different types, mostly), some trekking poles, and that's just about it. On Friday afternoon, we were off. My girlfriend was given up her Labor Day weekend for my attempt, and I had promised her few weekends of doing whatever she would like to do, as proper recourse. 

Sure, I was nervous. My stomach was upset, and I was having a hard time sleeping the week leading up. Pretty normal things for me, but as we snoozed in the back of her Subaru, I kept resetting the alarm every time it went off, until I was more than 2 hours past my planned start time. 

Finally, inevitably, I got up. I was off. 

nolans_start.jpgOne chilly body; one Fastpack. 

Only then to come back to the car, and fetch the one item I had forgotten and the one item I could not go without for 2 1/2 days: Sunscreen! 

After my little do-over, I was off for real at around 2:30 am. The stars were out, but the first peak, Mt. Massive, was no where to be seen. I immediately and surprisingly started my fight with the Sleep Monster, that seemingly unstoppable, instinctual, domineering force to just Stop and Go To Sleep Again. My eyelids stayed heavy, and my movements were just a little too labored. 2:30 start times were not at all unusual for me - that's the time I'd take off for Longs Peak for my self-powered peak bagging.  Alpine starts are something I've intimately familiar with. This wasn't a good start things at all. 

"Oh, no.", I thought,  "This is far too early to be dealing with Him!" 

I'm pretty experienced with pushing through fatigue of all sorts and this seemed no different. I'm also pretty experienced with starting out these types of stunts without proper sleep the night before - I'm usually just too excited to sleep! After a few hours, my natural sleep/wake internal rhythms have a tendency to  take over and I feel a lot better - yeah, a little groggy, but I'm still all there. A little caffeine kick can help as well. 

Mount Massive, my first summit, came after what seemed an endless hike in, or should I say: a sleep walk, where I simply leaned upon my experiences on the route to get me going forward in mostly the right direction. 

nolans_massive.jpgMassive. A low point, but not the lowest point. 

I was greeted by snow on the summit, accompanied by high winds. Everything was enveloped in a cloud, itself comprised of stinging bits of water and ice. Summer, it seemed, had come to a very quick and decisive end. I took just enough time to snap the only photo of the trip, one of myself showing I hoped, a will to keep going ("this was my low point!", I even mentally noted as to be a quaintly fitting caption), and quickly trotted down to the valley floor, to pick up the next 4wd road, to bring me up the West Ridge of Elbert. I felt alert enough to know which way to go (I've gone the way many times!), but it all just dragged on.

I felt a great deal better once at the bottom of my climb and as the sun now was fully up, I was looking forward to taking on this West Ridge: at just shy of a mile in length and steepness of 50%, it delivers you to the highest point in Colorado akin to ordering up a burger and fries at a old-time drive through: no frills, but prompt: here's your burger, here's your shake, now go, you're taking up room! 

Still, the climb up is a big precarious with very, very loose talus and rock that's just waiting for a bad reason to break off, and sending whatever caused this immediate erosion with it to the bottom of the gully. I followed prints in the fine talus, but wasn't sure if they were made by human, Yeti, or mountain goat. My energy quickly subsided, and my forward motion certainly was slowing down, as the grade ramped up. 

I was experiencing a certain phenomena of hill walking that I was not so happy to be in the throes of: that of the summit never seeming to actually get near, but rather appear to be moving farther away! 

This happens when the mind tires, and wants nothing but to end the task at hand, seeing no reason to continue. So, it makes its own mind what physical characteristics of your environment becomes, "The Summit" and these false summits, once uncovered for what they are (just another bump in the ridge line) are a source of great disappointment. To compare this to the false oasis in the desert would be spot on. 

Finally though, the true summit pinnacle gave way. Although the sun was up, the weather was still chilly up high as well as windy and I paused not a moment, as I wanted very much to simply go back down. So off to contour around Bull Hill I went, past the Golden Fleece mine, and down - and I mean straight down, through the lower section of this immense pile of loose ground to the bottom, for a few miles of walking on HWY 82. 

Down is always easier than up, but I was losing it - and I mean really losing it, trying to stay alert enough to be cognizant with what I was doing. At one point, I had lost my GPS, but couldn't remember where I could have done such a thing. Was it 5 minutes, or an hour ago? I retraced my steps knowing full well that finding such a stupid tiny thing was almost impossible, I could not tell the difference between rock and electronic device. They were both small, and of a similar color. I'd go without it, but just losing something so expensive made me very angry at myself. I mean: 

Picture a windburned, angry, bearded dude, a little - OK: a lot lacking on sleep, crying and yelling in the middle of an aspen grove alone: "STUPID GPS! STUPID GPS!". Now think of that same guy, elated, crying - but now with tears of joy! of having found the gps, not 30 feet from where he first realized his misplacement. Energized, he romps down, but not in any way he's been before. Soon though, that burst of energy subsides and he's again, off course and a little lost. Such emotional swings were a bad sign. 

Keep it together, Justin. Keep it together. 

It was afternoon now, and at least at around 9,500 feet elevation, things were pretty OK. Going down just a few thousand feet of elevation is similar to gaining a few hours of sleep it seemed. Up high, I was a wreck; lower down, it was at least manageable. 

I kept eating and drinking, and was looking forward to the relatively easy section of hiking on roads and seeing probably the majority of people I would see my entire weekend racing by me in cars to/from Aspen. These positive moments though, did not last. 

La Plata trailhead. Even though I didn't want them to affect me, the support crews of other challengers, however skeleton, for the Nolans line took somewhat of a hit on me. I elected to personally go without support as that's the way I found the line to be almost perfect: it's short enough that you can realistically just bring all you need with you from the start! 

But it reminded me that people were trying this carrying only what they needed for much shorter sections and resupplying with fresh gear and additional food afterwards - something to look forward to! And that even with all that extra help this line was almost beyond most people who have tried. 

What was I doing here? My confidence was crumbling and my physical fatigue was quickly catching up to my emotional lassitude. I was losing it even more. I was stumbling through my foggy mind in search of an exit, but only buried myself deeper. 

As I began up La Plata, the Sleep Monster came back doubly so. It started raining. Then rain then just got worse. My pace was slipping. Everything got very complicated to do. I wanted very much just to curl up and take a nap, but for whatever reason, pressed on. I promised myself a nap on the other side of La Plata, but not on this side. I felt masochistic telling myself this, but if I was to make the entire Nolans line under the time limit of 60 hours, I needed to keep going, however unrealistic. 

Again, my summit oasis - an oasis of cold, wind, and snow,  just seemed to take an eternity to get even close to - every step just revealed more mountain to overcome, to overwhelm my scrambled brain.  Confusion over simple things: have I eaten enough? Where are the clothes I wanted to wear? Should I change?; had me direct my attention to something other than the job at hand.

Overwhelmed, I feel to my knees and cried. I was not sleepwalking anymore, I was in a living nightmare -  a nightmare set in exactly the environment I loved the most and sacrificed so much to spent as much of my life in: these incredible mountains of Colorado. Something within me was just not even close to being correctly calibrated, my movements painful and jerky; my goals complex and frustratingly hard to know even understand. 

My internal chatter raged, yelling at me: GO DOWN, GO DOWN! Filling me with self doubt, telling me how miserable am I, how this whole thing was a huge mistake, how I was not really prepared.

"How are you going to  recover from all this for the next eleven mountains?!". Being sleep deprived, tired, and confused is one thing. If it snows tonight and I'm without a proper shelter, I'm now in a dangerous situation. 

"That's it", I thought, "I'm done."

A few hours after I summited La Plata, and making my way slowly down , my headlamp met with another going the opposite direction. It was my girlfriend. She had received my text and also had been just down the road from the trailhead, having a wonderful time with new found friends at one of the numerous Indy Pass climbing access parking lots. With her help - I sometimes couldn't keep up!,  we made it back to the La Plata trailhead and into her car where I almost immediately fell to sleep. My legs instantly cramped in every way imaginable, waking me up it seemed every 15 minutes, but at least they did not have to move anymore, up or down. 

The next day, I met her new climbing friends and their crag dogs. Dogs always make me happy, as they care not of our silly human problems, and would rather play a game of fetch, or just generally hang out around you.  I made plans to just hang out while everyone climbed, but I never made it out of the car, having passed out multiple times in whatever position they left me in, while they went out to their climbs.

Now that I'm home, and having a few days to reflect, I wonder what went so very wrong? I pride myself over my control over my mind and my negative emotions. 

Was it just that I was a little tired? Perhaps, but I'm just not too sure. It could have been a week+ of too many sleepless nights that might have culminated into something like my experience of temporary well, madness. Or perhaps I was just sick: my stomach was feeling pretty shaky before/during/after my Nolans go. Even a small stomach bug, paired with an intense physical effort can cause a dramatic result. I kid to myself about all the untreated water I've consumed this year in the mountains, but perhaps I've picked up something. 

Or, it just wasn't my day.

Whatever happened, discovering the terrain that makes up the Nolans line was one of the highlights of my entire year. It felt as if I was rediscovering the high mountains again for the first time. The routes were for the most part all new and held their own little surprises that made me feel alive and to feel like simply smiling on the route. They gave me solitude on otherwise busy and popular peaks.

It gave me a great reason to get out and explore. 

Failure is something that happens to the best of us, and as I will so ineloquently restate: happens most often to those who dare to push their own boundaries frequently. I gave all I had with the circumstances I was given, and it wasn't enough - it wasn't even close. But it bests the times where I'm too lazy to even go out the door and onto the trail, having no good excuse other than I'm not feeling like putting forth the effort. Those days are the real failures, as I stop myself from doing what I love. It's a constant  battle to change that sort of habitual nature, and as long as I do not go gentle in that good night, I feel as any time out, exploring, creating and expressing myself is a total success. Having the outcome be different than what I expected? That should always be the real expectation. 

Will I try again? Perhaps as I still think it's an overwhelmingly awesome challenge, but I don't know if the summer season where a speed run is facilitated has already passed us all by. Perhaps that weather window, the one where it's warm enough during the day and night, yet the monsoon pattern doesn't play a role in bringing dangerous thunderstorms upon you just didn't play out this year the way it usually does late in the summer. I would never count myself out of a good challenge in the mountains. 

Thanks to many people who have helped me with my Descent into Nolans Madness: 

  • Ultimate Direction - who makes the quintessential FastPack for this quintessential Fastpack adventure!
  • Trackleaders for helping with the live GPS tracking 
  • Chrissy, my girlfriend, who gave up her Labor Day weekend to drive my carless ass to Leadvile, get up around midnight to see me off, loiter around with not much to do other than make sure I wasn't dying, and then carry me down the trail, when I was barely holding it together.
  • Brendan Leonard - thanks for that Outdoor Research rain jacket. It protects agains wind, rain and one's own tears of pity!

On Self-Powered Peak Bagging

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finish_tour_14er.jpgShortly after finishing up 34 days of bagging some high peaks, self-powered. 

Since completing my own Tour 14er, where I rode to, then summited the 58 (by my count) Colorado mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, I've started to get a fair bit of correspondence from people telling me that they're inspired by what I've (and others) have done. They think to themselves: Boy howdy: I own a bike and there's a group of mountains nearby that have that siren-like song attracting me to climb them - why not use my bike to ride to all of those mountains, then summit: fair means and self-supported?

Then they ask me, "So well: what are the details? How do you pull this off?" 

Dirty 30 2015 Report

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After crossing the finish line, letting out a long slow exhale, a big smile  - and then a little cry to myself in the corner of the parking lot: my 2015 Dirty 30 was in the bag @ 5:50:33. Relief. 

The days leading up to the race were a little less than ideal: I caught a cold! Right when the weather relented from the weeks of rain, rain, rain. I missed a few runs I wanted to do, and exchanged them for very easy sessions of spinning on the bike indoors, or doing nothing at all. Better to let the cold pass, than to potentially make things worse.  A bit too sheer of a drop off for tapering for my tastes, but it's what I was given. Sometimes it's hard to remember that I have years of base building, I've been relatively injury free all year - save a small hamstring strain I've consciously worked to prevent in the future, and I've been PR'ing all over the place. Time to line up! 

Dirty 30 Recon - Pace

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I was asked by UD to attend the Runners High Fun Run.

But. There's... things about me you don't understand. I Am A Loner Dottie, (A Rebel!), so getting me to do something in a group of people is tricky. UD do a lot for me - essentially they're a huge fan of awesome things in the mountains, of which I tend to do a lot of, so going to this fun run is No Big Deal for me to accept. And the running community is accepting to weird people like me, since it's just full of weird people already. 

Along with the fun run, which was fun, since my sweetie ran with me, was the Elite Panel afterwards, which included Andrew Skurka

He's an interested character, with pretty firm opinions on technique and gear, but he also backs up his opinions with research and data. Love it. One of his articles, Pace charts for TNF 50. And how everyone starts too fast, seemed like a good one to put to the test, using my gps data from the recon run. 

His thesis boils basically down to: everyone starts too fast, and you pay for it later. The slower you are, the more you'll hurt in the end. 

I don't see myself as being an elite running, just a moderately OK one. In this race, I have to keep that in mind. Let's see my rough data, split into miles: 

This is weird data to work with, since the pace is all over the place (I stop, I start) and the elevation changes as well. Above, the light blue line is my actual pace. It doesn't vary too too much, although there is a downward trend. My pace is fairly consistent (slow!), although I'm still slowing down at the end. There isn't a huge dropoff though. Let's simplify things: 

This data removes complete stops, which is weird. 

Here though we can see, in this hastily put together table, that my pace (here, in seconds) goes up, as we go through the course. It's not a huge amount, but it's certainly not a negative split. It is more than 90 seconds/mile - more like 200 seconds. Yikes. 

What to learn from this? Start out slower. My strategy may be to hike the uphills that aren't a full-on dirty road, until after the top of Black Bear trail, then start bombing. That, to me, is the turning point of the race. If you look at the simplified graph, the fastest pace is the first third - then there's a moderate slowdown of pace. Thanks, Andrew. 

5/4/15 - 5/10/15

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Monday, May 4, 2015 - Rest

The deluge of last week finally hit me. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - Green Mountain (S)

The weather has gone from cloudy to just drizzly, testing me to even want to go outside. It's not just that we're not used to such Pacific Northwest-like conditions, it's that everything is getting super saturated and muddy - I'm just waiting for the entire OSMP's to close. 

I'm also adjusting living a few miles away from Chautaugua, so doing an after work run poses some problems of where to stash my backpack. So, after work, I rode up to Chautaugua, put everything in a dry pack (including the MacBook) and just hoped no one took it! I've done this before at trailheads, but never so close to an urban center. 

This made me want to finish up my run pretty quickly and my planned two laps up Green ended up just one - helped by the blah conditions. Despite not really wanting to give it a good go, I PR'd the route up by 3:48, which is notable I guess. More than likely, just starting slower at the beginning gave me fresh legs, once the going got easier. 

Thankfully, the bag, and my Macbook were waiting for me at the bike. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 - Bouldering @ Movement

I had planned to take a run this morning, but I wasn't down to leave my laptop there again. Thankfully work has lockers available and a shower, so I skipped the run, and rented a locker to throw my laptop in for the night, to pick up tomorrow morning. 

Instead, I joined Chrissy bouldering, and promptly hurt my left wrist again. I was actually hoping we'd be climbing on routes, rather than bouldering, which seems to be much nicer to my wrist, but alas. Did some stretching, and a short spin bike sess., so I didn't feel to lazy about things. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - Green (S)

Another lap on Green, this time I had little, if no stoke left in me, having stayed up too late the night before, and having the weather just be as pretty much close to uninspiring as possible - I almost passed on the entire idea.

PR'd the roundtrip (1:09:32) by about 2 minutes, which I guess is nice, but far from what I could do, rightfully stoked and without the trail being super wet - I'm thinking 10 minutes can be found somewhere in there. 

Still, the goal was just to run 99.9% of the route - which was done comfortably. I'm still amazed I'm able to do that. It seems not that long ago that running up Green Mountain by any route was something to be newsworthy to me - as if it was something impossibly difficult to even comprehend. I can remember when running 5 miles on flat pavement was something that made me surprised. Or running flat pavement at a pace over 9:30.

I've learned a lot since then and maybe got a little stronger. The only route I cannot run from start to finish is the social trail behind the sunset Flatiron. It would be silly to do so, except as a challenge. A running time on that would certainly be much slow than a running/powerhiking time. 

Friday, May 8, 2015 - Bouldering @Movement

The weather has turned from bad to worse, and I skipped out on the idea of getting up early to do a massive run. Instead, I slept in, did some work, then hit the gym to do a few hours spin on the bike, about an hour of stretching, and then bouldering for another few more hours. Some fun problems, today.

Saturday, May 9, 2015 - Golden Gate Dirty 30 recon

The weather this week was sincerely getting people nervous that we were in for another flood-like catastrophe. The Quad Rock race up in Fort Collins was cancelled due to trail damage that most likely would occur if the race was held. This led many to all of a sudden have nothing to do on Saturday, and an itching to run, so Fred put together a group run together on the Dirty 30 course, which I was able to join in on. Golden Gate Canyon was probably one of the better places to be on trail, in the immediate area, but the weather just got even worse. Rain turned into snow and freezing rain, but sort of made the best of it, running around 21 miles of the course at a very casual pace. Some takeaways from the course: Most of the climbs and descents and much more mellower than what I practice on, but they seem much longer. I'll have to make sure to keep myself in some sort of reasonable pace for the first half of the race, as that seems to be the easier half, and give it more of a go at the second, hard half. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015 - Off

Off to eat pizza. 

4/27/15 - 5/3/15

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Longs Peak from the steps of the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

This was a pretty difficult week to get through, as I needed to move to a new house, I had a rehearsal, then to play a show in Estes Park. My Brother was also in town for a few days, and I wanted to hang out with him, giving me another variable in an already busy week.  I knew all this going into the week and adjusted my expectations accordingly.