Wednesday, August 6, 2008

One Foot in Front of the Other...

…was my enduring mantra as I trekked through the CO mountains on some of the most gorgeous and challenging singletrack trail you can imagine. Since arriving back home to Seattle Sunday night, I am continually reminding myself of this same mantra as I work to regroup mentally and continue to press forward.

Last week was a truly incredible journey and one that will take quite some time to digest as I have only just barely scratched the surface at this point. It was as much a physical journey on my gnarled two feet as it was a spiritual journey of faith, a journey of incredible friendships both new and old, and a journey of family. (I just realized this is a great set-up for a prototypical high school essay- this being my introductory paragraph setting up perfectly for my 3 supporting paragraphs which will be smashingly tied up with my conclusion paragraph. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m tossing out the MLA guide and just writing today.) I also feel very much that this is a journey that has not yet ended. Certainly I’m off the trail now and no longer in Colorado, but I continue to move forward each day and know that the past week’s tornado of events will not soon dissipate from my mind.

So as you all now know, we had to make the incredibly tough decision last Friday night to leave the CO trail- this after having already covered right around 416 miles and having only 70 miles remaining. This decision was made all the more difficult due to my body still feeling relatively good and ready to go for a mere 70 miles more. I was indeed smelling the barn at this point, was on pace to break the record, and had my stubborn eyes dead set on Durango. As I neared Molas Pass, I saw Kirsten coming toward me ahead on the trail and had a sinking, yet excited feeling. I was excited to see her and know that she was alright, as we hadn’t met up at the end of the last segment and my altered mind was running through all kinds of terrible scenarios of what might have happened as I plowed through the last 20 miles. I might also add that on these last 20 miles I was drinking from creeks and bumming food from fellow trail-goers as I was running very low on calories and needed all I could get after not refueling after the last segment. So yes, I was excited to see Kirsten as it dispelled the multitude of horrid scenarios my mind had conjured up, but that excitement immediately turned to a sinking hollow feeling as I quickly sensed the reason for her coming out to meet me on the trail. I didn’t know the extreme extent to which our small crew had fallen apart by this point, but I was aware enough to know that things seemed to have been unraveling over the past day or so. Kirsten and I sat down in the grass and I broke down as she explained to me the laundry list of logistical problems we were now facing, and that there truly was no feasible way for us to continue at this point, despite how my body may feel. We sat for a while as a week’s worth of emotion poured out of my body and I attempted to come to terms with the reality of the situation, and then slowly made our way up the trail to the Molas Pass trailhead. After some quiet hugs from Kirsten’s parents, Kirsten and I settled into some lawn chairs and Kirsten lovingly massaged my mangled feet yet again as the sun settled in behind the mountains and night came for our last time on the CO trail.

I could go into detail about the logistical problems we faced, but the bottom line is that our logistics fell apart and we could not safely or feasibly continue for the remaining 70 miles- record or no record. Our incredible photographers had gone above and beyond the call of duty and stayed on for an extra day to support us so we could continue, as they had the only Jeep. However, in the craziness of the day, the Jeep’s engine was flooded and the Jeep was totally out of commission. Without the Jeep (and realistically we needed at ATV to be truly safe), there was no way to access me for the remaining miles. In addition to that, my mental status was completely compromised and I was getting lost frequently as I made my way along the trail in daylight; at night my mind without a doubt could not be trusted alone. As everyone was essentially forced to be on my ridiculous sleeping schedule for the past week, Kirsten was exhausted, Kirsten’s parents were exhausted (this was their summer vacation…), and Tim and Eric were probably at their wits’ end. With Kirsten’s heel injured at this point from overuse and Tim already used up from an intense 16 mile segment the previous night, I was out of options for night time company on short notice. So while my body continued to push for continuing on and wanting to put one foot in front of the other for just 70 more miles, rational thought eventually set in and I came to accept the reality of our situation.

We made the short trip to Silverton (a town awash with ultrarunning lore and home of the Hardrock 100) and I began to come to terms with being off the trail once and for all. The creature comforts were fantastic to say the least (soaking in a tub, putting on clean clothes, sleeping in a bed), but my heart still ached for those last 70 miles. Kirsten, Kathy, Eric, Tim, Eric, and I enjoyed a real meal at a bar in town that evening, and while we were all somewhat relieved to be done, our conversation was muted as the exhaustion showed on each of our faces and the disappointment hung heavy in our hearts. We ate quietly and quickly before heading off for a deep slumber. On Saturday we had a hearty breakfast and all went our separate ways. Kathy and Eric headed off to continue on their intended path for their road trip vacation (after a longer than intended hiatus as crucial crew additions on the CO trail), Tim and Erik tied up loose ends on getting the Jeep rental towed and taken care of and replaced with a new rental to get them home, and Kirsten and I began the drive back to Denver where we were set to fly out on Sunday evening. Kirsten and I didn’t make it far as our overwhelming exhaustion overtook us quickly, and we spent the night in Gunnison. We had a delicious meal there and quietly mulled over the week behind us. Though not many words were exchanged that day or the next, we both knew intimately well what was in each others’ heads as we contemplated this inexplicable journey. We got packed up and made our flight back to Seattle without incident. I’m sure the rental car company was amazed at how someone might trash a car so completely in just one week’s time as well as put more then 2,500 miles on it, but we left them a consolation prize in the back to make up or it- a cooler half full of Cherry Coke and Water.

Life continues on- one foot in front of the other. Kirsten and I returned to work on Monday morning just like any other Monday, though definitely with the look and feel of Ed Norton from Fight Club after a particularly rough night. We have a simultaneous feeling of longing for those last 70 miles and incredible gratitude for the accomplishment of our team working together so amazingly well to cover an almost unthinkable 416 miles through Colorado in just 7 days. I apologize that it has taken me as long as it has to post my own personal thoughts, but I simply hadn’t yet had enough time to process the week’s events to really even know what happened. I am still very much processing every minute of every day, and have had some incredibly strange sleepwalking incidents the past few nights where Kirsten found me out of bed in the middle of the night completely convinced that I was on the trail. But I wanted to let you all know personally that we are back in Seattle safely and beginning to settle back in to life not on the trail.

I also want to thank you all so very much for your incredible support throughout this journey. Your constant prayers, your encouraging words, and all the positive vibes you sent our way throughout last week buoyed us each day and carried us through more than you can imagine. When I started this journey, I did not frame it as a sort of battle in the sense of “man vs. trail.” This to me would be a recipe for failure every time, as the trail would always win. Rather, I thought of this as a situation of “man with trail” as well as “man vs. self.” My goal in this was to become one with this amazing trail and truly enjoy being a small speck on the incredible palette of God’s immense creation as I made my way through the incredible landscapes and pushed my own body to its absolute farthest limits. I was asked what my secret weapon was out there on the trail, and I had to say simply and without a doubt that it was constant prayer. There is no way I could have done this alone, and the element of this being a faith journey was present each and every step of the way as we all saw God’s incredible provision for us at every turn. This was without a doubt the hardest thing I have done to date, and the hardest I have ever pushed my body, and I am continually amazed by what the human body is capable of and how perceived limits are quite far from reality.

I know this is an incredibly lengthy post, so if you are still with me at this point I’ll try to tie up my thoughts for now. First, will be my own central personal website now moving forward. I’ll be making some changes to it in the coming weeks (it’ll become far less CO trail-centric obviously), and you’ll be able to follow along with my coming exploits and adventures. I’ll also continue to post to the blog with relevant updates and more thoughts as they come to me. I’ll be sure to get plenty of photos up in the coming days too, so be sure to check back.

So, I leave you now, but thank you again so much for following along on this incredible journey. We have learned volumes and know the ins and outs of the CO trail better than we could have ever imagined. If (when?) we go back to tackle this record in earnest, it will be with an incredibly intimate knowledge of the trail and a level of preparedness that we could not have imagined for this go around. While certainly an incredible stand alone journey, perhaps this past week was meant to be a recon trip for all of us so that we are even better positioned to truly smash this record at some point in the future.

Lastly, and certainly not least at all, I would be grossly remiss not to thank all the folks that made this adventure possible. I hope this doesn’t sound like overt and in your face product endorsement, but the folks behind these companies really had such a huge role in making this happen and I am forever grateful to them. First and foremost, thank you thank you to The North Face and all the incredible folks behind the scenes there for always supporting me and believing in me through all these incredible adventures, and for providing the incredible gear to make an adventure like this a reality. I can’t count the number of times on this expedition that I said, “man am I ever glad I have _______ right now” where the blank was always filled with some random piece of North Face gear, from my huge puffy Nuptse jacket to the super lightweight new Voza shoes to this huge sombrero-like hiking hat that provided invaluable protection from the sun each day. Also, thank you to phix, my employer for allowing me the time off to tackle this quest. As a startup company, every week is a critical week, so allowing me such a chunk of time off was huge. Not only that, but phix itself provided me extra octane and power throughout this expedition. I was drinking 6-10 phix stix each day, and feel like it gave me a really nice extra boost in energy levels, as well as helping maintain healthy vitamin levels in my body. The crew was making liberal use of phix throughout the day as well. Also, a huge thanks to Caffé Vita for providing us the delicious coffee to get each day started right. Brock got us going with the French press each morning for the first 3 days, and we continued the tradition on to the end. Starting each day with a delicious cup of joe really did give my mind such a nice moment of peace and feeling of all being right with the world as I would sit sipping the delicious black goodness from my plastic Colorado mug as I pored over maps and trail descriptions for the coming day. For my last shameless product endorsement, I must thank and my amazing wife Kirsten for her constant love and support. She took time off from her job to support me on this expedition, and believe me when I say that this past week was not what most would envision as their ideal summer vacation. Kirsten monitored my nutritional intake like a hawk, and kept my body fueled and going strong despite the incredible constant demands I was placing on it. Though definitely not expecting it, Kirsten also stepped up as a necessity and joined me for countless miles on this arduous trail, providing her with without a doubt her highest mileage training week ever (easily over 100 miles!). Kirsten is my best friend and my faithful companion in life and I could not ask for a more wonderful person to be in my life. A huge thanks also to Tim Kemple and his friend Erik Seo, our photographers who became invaluable crew additions- even to the point of Tim stepping up and volunteering to do a 17 mile segment through the night with me in some Abercrombie sweat pants and skate shoes. We went strong, and had a really fun trek together. A huge thank you to Aaron, our videographer as well- he was another incredible addition. Thank you for being so supportive and encouraging throughout, and so willing to help in every regard! (he also got an awesome shot of a rancher herding cattle right through me as I ran at one point) Thank you to Kathy and Eric, my parents-in-law for drastically changing their summer vacation plans and joining our ragamuffin crew as we plowed our way through the CO mountains. Having their additional support provided an incredible boost for all of us, as having their support allowed Kirsten to join me for night segments, provided an additional element of love and support, and just gave us all a lot more peace. Thank you also to my great friend and training partner Brock for joining us for the first 3 days of this journey. He helped Kirsten and I get off to a great start, put us on a great pace, and was a ton of fun to have along for this chunk. After a tough injury at the beginning of this year, Brock is recovering amazingly well, and I look forward to many more miles and adventures to come for us. A huge thank you to my steadfast friend Dave also for keeping up with this blog and masterfully keeping you all informed as to our progress and whereabouts as we foraged through the mountains. I also definitely must thank my constant friend and big brother Dr. Dan for being my orthopaedic counselor even from afar no matter what rigors I force my body through. He kept our fears at bay during my weird heart pain early in this expedition, and kept close tabs on my health from afar. Thank you Dan! I am certain I’ll forget to thank someone, but that is the beauty of blogs- I can just keep thanking folks in additional posts! Suffice it to say that it is obvious from the length of this “thank you” paragraph that I was a minor player in this expedition coming to fruition, and that ultrarunning is without a doubt a team sport regardless of what it may seem like!

So I thank you all again for your constant support, prayers, and encouragement, and I hope this finds you all well. I’ll post more in the coming days and weeks, and I thank you or joining me on this leg of the journey. Trust me that this was just another leg in the great expedition of life, and that we will all continue to put one foot in front of the other each and every day.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update. You made a very wise decision to stop when you did. You will be able to try again someday.

Wow; your efforts were heroic too. Very strong support.

See you two at TNF EC.

Mark S., Minneapolis

Will Thomas said...

Thanks for keeping us all motivated. I hope you recovery is quick.

p.s. I liked your cameo in Dean's movie - will there be any video clips of you the CO Trail?

Anonymous said...

awesome job Sam! You are truly an amazing runner! I hope all is well :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Sam, it was great to be out there with you on the epic journey. Just mind blowing to think about what you were doing out there.