Monday, August 14, 2017

Wasatch Farewell Tour – The Millwood 100

Finish - Photo Christian Johnson
The idea occurred on July 8th, somewhere near the bottom of Beartrap Fork. Greg had asked me to join him for a section of his Millwood 100 run (see report below). That afternoon we had sauntered together to the top of Gobblers Knob, along the Desolation Trail to Big Water, along the Great Western Trail and were now descending to the Big Cottonwood Canyon road. It was fun and nostalgic being back on these trails that I know so well after having lived abroad the past five years. I decided then that I would run the Millwood 100 as a celebratory farewell run before moving to a new job in Switzerland in September.

I wanted my Millwood 100 experience to be uncomplicated, reflective, and challenging. I decided I would run alone, have minimal aid stops and move fast enough that I could be showered and in bed before nightfall on day two.

In the month following Greg’s run I ran most of the route to ensure that I had it seared in my memory. I focused on maximizing vertical, averaging 30K+ climbing every week. I practiced with the ‘sticks’ knowing that I would need a little extra help on some of the long climbs.

The first part of my run was uneventful. I moved well up Neffs in the dark after a 5:10 departure, realized on the climb to Grandeur that I was carrying more food than I needed for the first 27 mile leg, got off track as I always do on the descent to the Mount Aire saddle and made it to my first replenishment stop at the Terraces having had a wonderful morning. Leg two to big Cottonwood Canyon was also uneventful. The climb to Gobblers Knob as usual was a bit of a chug at the end, I was reminded I am getting old as my legs no longer have the quickness to move fast on technical trail such as the rocky ridge down to Baker Pass, I chased a porcupine a good quarter of mile along the Desolation Trail, received a “whoop and hurrah” from George Odell who was mountain biking on the Great Western Trail before descending down BearTrap to the Big Cottonwood Canyon road at 49 miles for aid stop #2.

I was super pleased to have reached the BCC road by 6:30 and set a goal of getting up Days Fork and back down Silver Fork before dark. On the trail to Shadow Lake I had the first of many moose encounters with three pairs of glowing eyes not sure what to make of my single glowing eye. At 10:30 I made it to Silver Lake where aid stop #3 would be at my house. I had initially had some concerns that I would walk in the door and decide that 62 miles was enough and take a hot shower and go to bed. As I entered the garage (I was under clear instructions to not bring my dirty body into the house) Adrienne welcomed me with a cheese omelet, cold chocolate milk and clean socks. I was out of the garage and back on the trail in less than 10 minutes.

Fueled by the high fructose corn syrup in the chocolate milk and the almost full moon rising from the east I made good time up to Twin Lakes Pass. I found the Brighton Cirque trail to be challenging as my desire to move fast across technical terrain exceeds the abilities of my failing eyesight and balance. “Careful,” I kept telling myself. I made it down to Albion Basin by 12:30. On the climb up to Baldy I felt drops of rain. “How could that be?” I asked myself. It had been a clear sky when I had left Brighton and I had opted not to bring my rain jacket. Over the coming hours it would rain off and on – leaving the trail slippery and me concerned about keeping warm.  However, I felt good and was moving well.

I reached Cardiff Pass at 2:30 and had a “Houston we have a problem” moment. I was ahead of my planned splits and I would have to cover the section over Carbonate Pass in the dark. The traverse sans trail to the Carbonate track (trail is not an accurate descriptor) was miserable. While only a half-mile or so, I slipped (on the wet vegetation and rocks), dipped (crawled under downed trees) and tripped (on the undergrowth and downed trees) my way to the faint slash that leads to the pass. With the cloud-diffused light of my headlamp I had trouble finding the obscure, yet generally with some effort discernable track down the backside. The scree kept giving way underneath my feet in slabs as I triggered mini scree slides. I finally made it to the pass and began a long body slide down the old log slide to the road. I cursed Jared as I slipped and tumbled down to the highway.

At the bottom of the log slide I ducked, crawled and climbed through the willows looking for the bridge across the creek. After a crawl through a foot of standing water under some willows I said “F this” and made my way for the creek. As I stepped into the creek my back foot got caught in a willow and in I tumbled. Full immersion.

I dragged myself out of the creek dripping wet and was disappointed not to see Adrienne for what would be aid stop #4. It was 5:30 and she was expecting to meet me here about 7:30. I suspected she was asleep with no idea I was ahead of schedule. Quickly chilling, I realized waiting was not an option and that the best choice was to continue and that when she woke up and checked the Spot that she would see I was heading up Mineral Fork.

As I ran down the road to the Mineral Fork TH watching the reflection of drops of water fling off my poles and gloves I had a realization – albeit a very basic internal reflection. There are hardcore trail runners like Jared that thrive on hardship, difficulty and adversity. The more challenging - the better. Then there are runners like me, I’ll call my group “pansy runners” who are fulfilled and content running on buffed out single track with no burrs stuck to the liners of our running shorts scratching our privates. “Yes” I said to myself. “You are a pansy runner and that is OK.”

I was a bit ill prepared to head up Mineral Basin without having met Adrienne. I was out of water and had only two bars. I knew I could scrape by on nutrition, but would definitely need water. I made the bad choice of not filling up a bottle in the creek at the beginning of the climb. After several miles the only reasonably convenient choice was to take the iron (and who knows what else) infused water coming from the Wasatch mine. Absent any better choices, I filled up my bottle with the yellowish water.

About then I realized that the batteries in the Spot were spent and that this was probably the reason Adrienne had failed to meet me after Kessler. I became worried that she was worried. I turned the Spot off and back on hoping that perhaps it just needed to be reset, or perhaps the batteries would have enough juice for another ping or two. I knew I’d be screwed if she was waiting for me at the bottom of Kessler and not at the S-Curve (note – a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich pressing against the screen “on” switch on my phone was the likely culprit in a dead phone battery when I reached Brighton. I left my phone with Adrienne to be charged and returned to me when I met her after Kessler. Thus, why I had no phone).

I was excited to reach the Regulator Johnson mine feeling great. The rain had passed, the sun was up, mountain goats were grazing on the hills above me. The last real challenge to the run was getting over Regulator Johnson pass and onto the trail down to Lake Blanche. As I inched myself forward I found it useful to step in cadence to “lift your ass (step), over the pass (step)”

I was cautious on the run down from Lake Blanche to the road. I have this real fear on trails with large rocks that I will catch a foot, take a nasty tumble, and have to call Erik and ask him to see if he can save my front teeth. I moved slowly and carefully.

When I reached the parking area there was no Adrienne. Shit! I went through the options. Proceed to the finish with no food (a sure sufferfest and the likelihood that people would be worrying about me thinking I was injured somewhere up on Carbonate Pass), call it quits (no way – I’d come too far and was feeling too good), call Adrienne on her phone (obvious – but I didn’t know her US number by memory), or bum a ride home to Brighton and see if I could find her. I stopped the first hiker coming into the parking area and asked if I could use her phone. I tried several possible numbers for Adrienne. None of them were correct. I then asked if she could give me a lift to the Mineral Basin TH to see if Adrienne was there. As we approached the Mineral Basin TH I saw Adrienne’s car head down the canyon.  In a “game on” move my hiker driver made a u-turn and started pursuing Adrienne down the canyon, tires screeching around the S-Curve. As Adrienne pulled into the parking area the hiker driver pulled up right behind Adrienne’s car effectively blocking her in and ensuring that aid stop #5 would be a reality (a big thanks to the lady who helped me – who btw has run the Logan Peak Trail Run and had been to Lagoon the day before – TMI given I don’t even know her name).

A quick change into dry shoes and socks and a replenishment of water and food had me on my way up Mill B. The climb was uneventful, though I could feel the effects of having been running for more than 24 hours, the sun and the remnants of a mild bonk while climbing Mineral Basin. While I had myself mentally prepared for the first section of the Desolation trail that has a small climb, I lacked the motivation to run much of it. I made myself a bargain that I could walk this section, if I promised to run hard after the saddle to the finish.

That bargain was honored and I finished at 13:49 – a total time of 31:39. Christian and Greg had snuck away from work to congratulate me on the effort. Very kind and most appreciated.

A big thanks to Adrienne for help in crewing! Apologies for the concern caused by dead batteries in the Spot and my phone. And thanks to Betsy, Christian and Greg for compiling little pieces of evidence and arriving at the conclusion that despite no Spot signal all was good and I was moving along well.

Others have found the Millwood 100 to be “life changing” and having significantly impacted them. For me, it was pleasurable and intimate time spent with a good friend. I was content as I plodded along and daydreamed for a day, a night, and a day. I never suffered. There was never any uncertainty about finishing. I felt pride in my knowledge of and kinship with the trails that comprise the route. I felt appreciative of good friends who I run these trails with and for people like Jared who enable others to experience the challenges, rewards and pleasures of the outdoors.  I felt fortunate to have the health and means to live the life I do!

The Millwood 100 provided me with a perfect way to say goodbye to the Wasatch - until such time that I am back.