Last Updated on November 1, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Salomon Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes (via Hope Pass)
13.3 miles / 3,200 ft. elevation gain
We left off Tuesday night with my newly established fear of being struck by lightning, 12,000 feet up a mountain side.
(If you missed it, you can catch up on that story here: Stage 1 recap.)
As if the prospect of climbing about 2,000 feet in 2 miles, reaching an altitude of 12,536 feet wasn’t enough for this sea level girl (who had previously never been higher than 4,000 feet up a mountain in her entire life)…now we’re adding potential lighting strikes into the mix. For those wondering after the last posts cliff hanger, we were told that *if* we felt the electricity in the air (I’m still not even sure what that means, and I hope to never find out), we were to crouch down in a little ball wherever we were, and wait it out.
But let’s get back to camp. Geoff and I barely made it through dinner before crashing in our tent. Sleep came fast, but I did wake up before the alarm, somewhere around 5:00 am, shivering in my dual sleeping bags. That’s right, these two warm weather warriors brought TWO sleeping bags each: a cheap Wal-Mart brand thin mummy bag that was slipped inside a larger, name brand cold weather mummy bag. Unfortunately my bag totally lied about it’s 15 degree rating, as I was freezing. But that’s OK, it was all part of the adventure (at least, that’s what I told myself). We got dressed, packed our bags for the day, emptied the tent, and dropped off our duffle bags at the truck.
Down the massive hill towards breakfast, which was fan-freaking-tastic. Let me tell you, TransRockies Run feeds you and feeds you WELL. And, not that I ever make excuses for what I eat, but I totally went hog wild on the buffet because: 120 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing at altitude = one hell of a metabolic rate. Eat up.
Two pancakes, a huge serving of scrambled eggs, fruit salad, and one muffin later: I was ready to go. And Jen was ready to go. Geoff, on the other hand, had to use the bathroom, and insisted on using the port-a-potties at the top of the massive hill, instead of waiting in the lines for the bathrooms at the bottom of the hill. Jen and I, wanting to save our legs for the intense stage we had ahead of us, decided to wait at the base of the hill, next to line where we would be boarding the shuttles to the start.
The shuttles arrived, and we watched as countless people slowly filled up the GOOD shuttles. You know, the little luxury ones with individual seats that were SURELY heated on this very bitter, cold morning. We watched them slowly fill and shut their doors, as the two of us stood shivering at the bottom of the hill, willing Geoff (out loud, at that) to poop faster. Seriously, I yelled out loud “POOP FASTER, GEOFF”, though I’m sure it fell on dead ears, as he was all the way at the top of the hill. Sadly, he didn’t poop fast enough, and we boarded a cold repurposed school bus (now a rafting bus) that would take us down the incredibly bumpy dirt road to the start at Vicksburg – Missouri Gulch. With it’s windows open letting the freezing cold air in, though I’m still not sure why.
My nerves had the best of me that morning, I truly didn’t know how my body was going to respond to such a climb at such a high altitude. Plus, I was nervous about the potential thunderstorm, and the fact that they race staff had really encouraged us the night before to move up and over the mountain as fast as possible to hopefully avoid the storm. Oh yeah, and the elevation profile scared the crap out of me.
Once in the very small parking lot at Missouri Gulch, we went through the familiar routine of shivering, only to quickly shed layers the second the sun peeked over the trees. 8:30 quickly approached, we were all jammed into the corral…and we were off.
We took an immediate left out of the parking lot and headed down a gravel service road. Just like the day before, despite our very conservative pace, my lungs immediately started screaming at me (the start at this stage was approximately 9,662 ft). But as I learned quickly the day before, when the road is flat and/or downhill, you run regardless of what your lungs say. They’ll catch up eventually.
The dirt road lasted approximately 1.7 miles until we hit the Sheep Gulch Trailhead, and the first checkpoint/aid station of the day. It was stressed to us multiple times that the second aid station, just past Hope Pass, would be very minimal, with emergency water only, as it had to be carried in by pack animals. Therefore, it was at checkpoint 1 where we were told to top off our water and load up on any nutrition we might need.
It was also here that I broke my brand-new-used-iPhone. It dropped out of my hydration pack as I was refilling the bladder, and the screen cracked, just like my 9 year old said it would if I didn’t put a protective case on it. This is why I can’t have nice things.
After the checkpoint, we hit the single track and began to climb. It was painfully congested at first, as to be expected. You couldn’t pass even if you wanted to, so you had to wait for the people in front of you to pull over on their own exhausted accord, and then you could quickly sneak by.
I managed to get stuck behind a woman who didn’t know how to use her trekking poles. Bless her heart, as we say in the South. She had some sort of plastic covering on the bottom of the poles, so she wouldn’t hurt other people by accident, as she claimed. But the plastic kept the poles from digging into the ground, as they were designed to do, and instead they kept slipping backwards and hitting me. I tried to distance myself, but when you have 550 people trying to climb the same single track trail at once, it can be hard to claim a personal space bubble. Alas, I didn’t lose an eye nor wind up with a puncture wound, so it’s hardly worth complaining about. I was eventually able to pass Ms. Poles and use what little remains of my Vermont mountain goat legs to scoot up the trail a ways.
We caught up with a slightly faster group after quickly closing a gap we found after being able to pass the last group. This second group was more our speed, and we fell right into rhythm with their pack. The trail started to climb in and out of the trees, and every time we came to a clearing, the views became more and more breathtaking.
It truly surprised me how great I felt during this climb. So great, in fact, that I began running my mouth faster than my feet, telling stories and cracking jokes. At one point I realized that the others in the caravan we were a part of were probably thinking to themselves “I wish this girl would shut up” so I said out loud, “Please tell me to shut up if I’m annoying”. A guy ahead of me actually said that my rambling was a great distraction from the climb, so I was welcome to keep it up.
So I did. When I wasn’t stopping to take pictures, that is…
We passed a random sign on the side of the mountain that said something like “kissing burns 6 calories per minute”. Of course I shout out “Hey Geoffrey, do you want a kiss?” to which a guy ahead of me turned around and said “Sure!”. Turns out his name was Jeffrey, hahaha.
(I didn’t kiss him. Geoff OR Jeff. I kept those 6 calories to myself).
Eventually we passed the tree line and began some very long, slow, switchbacks up to the summit. Look closely in the picture below, in the middle of the right hand side you can see teeny tiny people climbing up the switchbacks:
The wind picked up and the sky was clouding over, but still no sign of thunderstoms (thankfully). We reached the summit much faster and with far less effort than I imagined. I was pretty giddy, despite the whipping wind and very cold temperatures. We posed for the obligatory summit picture:
Then I scrambled around trying to take pictures myself, sadly, none of which really turned out. Jen, still in her tank top, was encouraging us to get a move on, as it was really cold. So I ran back over to Geoff, said “ready?” and he said no, not yet. He asked me to give my phone to our friend Lauren who was at the summit taking photos, so he could take our photo. I thought to myself, uhhhh we just did that, but OK. Geoff NEVER asks for pictures to be taken, so I certainly wasn’t going to give him a hard time.
He picks the spot for our photo, and I turn to smile at the camera, because that’s what you do for pictures. But instead, Geoff turns me to face him and grabs my hands. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, and don’t really have time to even contemplate it before he says to me: “Hey. Do you wanna get married?” It took me a few seconds to process what was actually happening. Meanwhile, Lauren was snapping away on the phone, getting perfect pictures of the moment.
I’m pretty sure my response was laughter, followed by “of course”, followed by a kiss, followed by “wait, are you serious?” When he said he WAS serious, I think I started crying. And then he started crying. I don’t really remember, because we were at 12,536 feet and it was really windy, but I know we were both crying like a bunch of romantic saps. It all happened so fast that almost no one had any idea what was going on, not even Lauren who was taking the pictures. It was totally perfect and a total, utter surprise. Marriage isn’t something that we had really talked about, and wasn’t one of those huge “life goals” for me, as it is for so many women in our society. I was quite happy and content with our relationship, fully planning to spend the rest of my life with this guy anyway. But now, I guess we get to make it official. Trail wedding coming your way this October. Stay tuned, you’re all invited.
Now, still shocked at what just happened, it was time to begin our descent. We still had about 9 miles left in our day.
The descent began the same way the ascent ended: with switchbacks. Lots of switchbacks. A hiker was passing through with his pup, and the four legged friend decided to weave in and out of Jen’s legs down the first few feet. Added obstacles make the adventure more fun…assuming you don’t fall and break anything.
It felt so good to run downhill…for now at least. The second and last checkpoint of the day came just about a mile later. I was both pleased and slightly concerned (though not nearly enough) that I didn’t need a top off on my hydration pack, as they had told us this was “emergency water” only. There wasn’t a lot, and as mentioned previously, it had to be brought in by pack animal.
Speaking of pack animal, I heard a rumor that they used llamas to bring the water up there. I’m not sure where I heard that from, or if llamas even do such a thing. But when I saw the cowboy (yes, a real live cowboy, probably the first this sheltered New Englander had ever seen) at the check point, I asked him where the llamas were. He gave me a funny look, and pointed to some trees about 100 yards away, telling me the mules were over there. Mules, llamas, all the same for this girl who now lives in the city. I asked if I could go visit them, he said sure, so off I went like a little kid headed to the petting zoo.
The picture doesn’t do the size of these beautiful creatures justice, they were HUGE. And also a little timid over this crazy girl who came running over, so needless to say I didn’t get to pet them. As I turned to leave, another runner had come over, and I gushed something about how this was the most amazing thing on earth. High on 12,000+ feet of altitude, a recent marriage proposal, and mountain vistas like I’ve never seen before, I raved and ranted about how I feel so bad for people who choose NOT to experience things like this. Yeah, the climb was difficult, but for views like this? WORTH IT!
It was a Rocky Mountain high for sure, one that was well worth it, but would come back to bite me in the ass very soon. (As in my ass, not the mule posted above.) In retrospect, I don’t even think I stopped to take in any fluids or nutrition at CP2. I think I just frolicked around, taking pictures, floating on cloud 9. We were off before I knew it, and we ran down hill. For a very, very long time.
The switchbacks ended pretty quickly and we were presented with a moderately steep, but runnable, downhill. I remembered reading the TransRockies Run training tips a few months before, and they mentioned the necessity of practicing running down hills. Unfortunately, there are no hills, up, down, or otherwise, in Myrtle Beach, so I glossed over this suggestion.
My quads quickly reminded me of this oversight, as they began to cramp up only a few minutes into the never ending descent (in reality, it was about 4 miles. It did end, but not for a while.) Down, down, down we went. Through not one, but TWO angry beehives. As we approached the first and were warned of the angry bees by some park rangers, Jen informed us that she was indeed allergic to bees, and was carrying an epi-pen. Because you know, this day hasn’t been exciting enough already, now we faced the very real potential of jamming a life saving epi pen in our friend’s leg. We paused for a second and I told her to run as fast as she could. I ran right behind her, my eyes focused on her back and all of the bees. I yelled “GO, GO, GO, GO….you’re clear!” as soon as I was certain no bees were following her. We got lucky, but many others didn’t. We passed multiple people hopping around, tending to fresh bee stings.
In retrospect, this is where things started to go to hell for me, but I didn’t realize it, because we were running DOWN hill. You see, between the excitement of climbing, the excitement of an engagement (still shocked), the excitement of the mules (I’m easily amused), and the excitement of a downhill…I hadn’t fueled or hydrated as well as I should have for a 13+ mile, 3,200 feet of climbing stage.
We came out to a beautiful clearing next to a lake when I realized I was crashing. Hard. Thankfully, there was a distraction to be had, in the form of historic village of Interlaken. This former summer resort on the shores of Twin Lakes was apparently once a happening spot for the likes of the Roosevelts, or the Rockefellers, or maybe neither, I can’t remember…but it now remains only as a ghost town undergoing historic restoration. Regardless, when we saw a sign on one of the homes that said “come on in”, we thought “don’t mind if we do!”.
I mean, what’s a stage race without a little sightseeing, am I right?
The first level had beautiful wooden flooring, a wooden bathtub, and a guestbook that I most definitely signed. The second floor smelled like pee, which I truly hoped was that of a raccoon or a bear, and not some jackhole teenagers. And the third floor (widows walk type area) presented us with a gorgeous view…followed by the predicament of figuring out how to climb back down a ladder on our now destroyed quads. It was entertaining, to say the least.
Tourist time over, we figured we should get back to the race. Also: the confused looks of other runners passing by as we exited the house were quite entertaining, haha. We still had about two miles to go, according to the awesome passerby who let us know, AND let us know the distance was verified by Strava, so he wasn’t another jerk saying “you’re almost there!”. We really were almost there. The use of his technological credentials let me know he was definitely one of our kind. Thank you, random passerby.
And that’s when the “you forgot to fuel and hydrate properly all day” hammer really dropped. Poor Jen and Geoff had to deal with me as I did the pathetic run/shuffle/walk in incredibly short intervals all of the way to the finish line. The day had gotten the best of me.
But, soon enough the finish line appeared. Though not directly, no, that’s not how TransRockies Run works. We could SEE the finish line, but still had a long winding dirt road to wrap around before we could actually GET to the finish line.
As we finally approached the finish line, The Foo Fighters “Times Like These” was playing. And, because my blood glucose levels had tanked, I was an emotional mess.
“it’s times like these you learn to live again
it’s times like these you give and give again
it’s times like these you learn to love again
it’s times like these time and time again”
Holy sh*t I was tired. But I finished. And I totally destroyed a climb that just 4 hours before had me sick to my stomach with nerves. And did I just get ENGAGED? I did! I did all of that! So I cried a little. Happy tears of course. Damn you, Dave Grohl. I don’t think the others noticed, I tried to keep it together. It was only day 2, after all.
Second finish line of the week done. I chugged the gross chocolate protein mix that I had convinced myself I needed, then grabbed potato chips, coke, and watermelon, and headed to the lake. Thank you, Race Directors, for planning your finish lines near these cold bodies of water. My quads nearly cried happy tears as well (Dave Grohl was not involved).
We sat down and soaked our legs while talking with some other runners. One of which told us that the 13 miles we ran today was a part of an out and back for the Leadville 100. I laughed, thinking about how I had briefly contemplated throwing my name in the Leadville hat earlier this summer. That course would have chewed me up and spit me out. Or actually, maybe just chewed me up, and left me for an emergency medi-vac retrieval, as the new runner friend told us had happened to a woman who got caught in a blizzard at Hope Pass the year he ran. Eek.
Eventually we boarded the bus back to today’s camp, which would be in the ball fields of a school in Leadville, CO. We had maxed out at 12, 536 feet that day, so dropping to 10,146 feet of downtown Leadville should be a breeze, right? As it turns out, sleeping at 10,000 + feet would prove to be an adventure for this sea level girl…
Stay tuned for part 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale. I know the suspense is killing you (where is my sarcasm font?)
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.