I got back to Seattle yesterday afternoon after spending 3 days helping Sam’s wife, Kirsten, pace and crew Sam on the Co trail. The first day was flawless. Sam ran the first two legs by himself, Kirsten picked him up for the 3rd 13 mile leg and I paced Sam for the last 32 miles of what would be a grand total of 72 miles for the day. Coming from sea level to 12,000 feet was hard for me - it was a complex 32 miles to say the least. Sam pulled me through.
We arrived at camp one at 3:00 am and were asleep by 4. I woke up shortly thereafter to make some coffee but had gotten the wrong fuel. @%$*! Even more alarming, I found out that Sam was having heart pain when breathing and he had a 32 mile leg ahead of him before the next easily accessible place. Looking over the maps, Kirsten discovered that we could access the trail 6 miles into the 32 mile segment.
The Plan: Sam would take it easy the first 6 miles while Kirsten called his brother Doc Dan to get his advice on Sam’s symptoms. Kirsten and I also took this time to re-supply. Luckily, we found a gas station open in the middle of nowhere. They had hot water and we were able to fill up the French press inside the gas station and brew up the Caffe Vita dark roast – the locals were a bit confused.
We met Sam at mile 6 and he was feeling much better – knocking it out in about 1 hour 45 min. We later received confirmation from Dr. Dan that Sam’s body was getting used to strenuous activity at high altitude and that he would adjust over time (which he did). I was also feeling great to pace Sam over the next 28 miles to Breckenridge where we would meet Kirsten. Kirsten would then pull Sam through the next 13 miles to Copper Mt. This 13 mile leg was basically a 4,000 foot climb up and then straight back down. Meanwhile, I went to Breckenridge to procure the biggest double Bacon Avocado Cheese Burgers I could find, the right fuel to boil hot water, and a pint of Half Baked Ben and Jerry’s per Sam’s request. I then proceeded to the next meeting point at Copper mountain where Sam and I would start the next 28 mile leg at around 9 pm. (Hopefully).
However, at 8 pm I received a cell phone call from Kirsten saying that they had lost the trail but could see the lights of Copper Mountain and were going to bushwhack their way down. Hmmmm…One hour later I actually saw their headlamps appear high up in the darkness for just a couple of seconds. The brief glimpse of light gave me hope that they would be down soon.
However, the lights and hope disappeared as quickly as they came into sight. Needless to say, I was very concerned for their safety. To my frustration, the cell phone was turned off after the initial distress call, and I was required, as friend and crew, to assume the worst. I set a time of 2 hours before I would call 911 for search and rescue if I did not here back. In the meantime, I strapped on my running shoes and pounded up the trail screaming their names into the darkness. I returned to the vehicle a bit frantic.
At 2.5 hours, I picked up Sam’s black berry and dialed 9-1, when all of sudden I had a incoming call from Kirsten! They were down but blocked by the river. A huge surge of relief came over me. I knew exactly where they were from Kirsten’s description and ran to meet them to guide them back to the trail and the bridge over the river. They were both tired, but in amazing spirits. I was very impressed how well Kirsten handled such a precarious, stressful and arduous situation. I found out later, from a mountain biker, that this section was notorious throwing hikers off course.
It was now around midnight – way too late to continue on the 28 mile leg we had planned for the end of day 2. We set up camp and went to sleep with the plan for an early start. The next morning Sam and I began the 28 mile leg. We realized that last night’s snafu was actually for the best. This leg was tough, with lots of elevation gain, and at high altitude. Also, because it would have been Sam’s last leg of the day, he would have been too fatigued to run any of it. Accordingly, an all night 28 mile high mountain death march would have most likely taken us 13 to 15 hours. But now, with a good nights rest, we were able to knock it out in 7.5 hours, running all of the flats and down hills and speed hiking the 5,000 feet of total elevation gain. To top it off it off, we had breath taking views that we would have never seen in the darkness.
Kirsten met us at mile 19 and mile 28 – perfect timing for lunch and restocking provisions. After Sam and I finished the 28 mile leg, we continued straight into the next 13 mile leg that, according to the guidebook, was easy. We thought it would take us 3.5 hours. It was not easy (dam guide book) and 5 hours later we met Kirsten just outside Leadville. Kirsten then picked up Sam for yet another 13 mile leg. Meanwhile, after running for 40 straight miles, I drove to Leadville to find the biggest steak and stiffest bourbon I could find. I was able to talk with my Macky, her voice always giving me a much needed boost of energy. I also got Sam and Kirsten a high mountain pizza pie full of meat and veggies. Fully stocked reloaded and revived, I drove to the next rendezvous point – which happened to be the trail head to Mt. Massive, the highest of CO’s 14teeners. I would then pick up Sam for as long as we could go before we had to drive me back to Copper Mountain to meet the Mountain Express Bus that would take me back to the airport. I did not want to leave.
I made coffee, bathed in the creek, and got dressed for my final leg of the trip. Sam and Kirsten arrived in great spirits. It was 11:pm. Sam and I started running again around 11:40 and made it about 7 more miles where we met Kirsten around 2 am. Kirsten made Sam a bed in the back of the SUV and we started the drive back to Cooper Mountain to drop me off. Kirsten, being the trooper she is, forwent much needed sleep to keep me awake for the drive. We parked in the gas station/mountain express depot. I rolled out my sleeping bag on a park bench and went to sleep. The van arrived on time and I bid farewell to the crew. I was back at work at 1 pm that same day. I looked like Ed Norton straight out of Fight Club.
Sam’s attempt is not about running through the mountains for obscenely long hours, its about testing the human spirit and its capabilities and boundaries. Its also about illustrating what can be done when folks merge their strengths together to accomplish what most could not fathom. Sam has an incredibly strong will and stays positive despite pain and fatigue. Kirsten is tireless in both pacing and crewing. Sam and Kirsten make an incredible husband and wife team and it was an honor to be apart of it. I wish I could be there to see Sam and Kirsten crush the record. Keep it up guys. I know you can do it!