I was running on too little sleep. I’d realized I hadn’t eaten well the previous two days to carry me well through such an effort. But somewhere between Chimney Top Creek and Sky Bridge Ridge I realized as I was running along Rough Trail in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky that the 2015 Leadville 100 mountain bike race was underway 1,300 miles west of the brutal climb I was struggling up.
I had been contemplating bailing on the return trip along Pinch Em Tight to avoid the climbs back out of Rush Branch and King Branch. I’d still get my mileage, but it would equate to 3,400’ of climbing versus 4,400’ or so. In fifteen miles of trail…
Leadville is what, 10,000’? 12,000’ of climbing in 100 miles? Rough Trail out and back across Red River Gorge is a third of the elevation in a sixth of the distance. Traversing Rough Trail one is almost always climbing or descending. There is very little flat terrain on which to recover. Rough Trail lives up to its name.
I felt fantastic as I traversed Parch Corn Creek. As I neared the eastern terminus of the trail on Sky Bridge Road (KY 715) I was seven miles out from the car back at Martin’s Fork trailhead at the west end. It had been a solid push with five typical Red River Gorge trail climbs. I had written a big check by running so far from where I started. Would I have the energy to cover the cost?
|Climbing east out of Parch Corn Creek on Rough Trail|
I stopped in the gravel by the trash can at the Sky Bridge Road trailhead and paused my GPS as I emptied my hydration vest of empty gel packets. I had reached my Columbine for the day.
The words rang in my head: “All you have to do is retrace your steps back to Leadville.” They were spoken by Travis Brown as narrator in Race Across the Sky 2010. Every step I made to get to where I was at that moment had to be reversed. Every knee pounding descent was going to be a soul-crushing climb. Every climb I had fought earlier in the morning was going to be another body beating downhill. I felt too good to care. I took off into Parch Corn at a strong pace. The descent went fast and furious. I loved every techy section. My mind was warmed to the effort and my feet danced over roots and around rocks as I turned my body back.
I finished the Leadville 100 on my mountain bike in 2013. I missed getting a belt buckle by 24 minutes. I had been so close. I didn’t exactly give up on ever getting one, but I let the whole affair grow cold for a couple of years. Last year I tried to forget on race day. I unfollowed the LRS on social media. I ignored tweets and facebook shares of the race.
This year I found myself acting out my own drama on Rough Trail. It brought me back to a Leadville mindset. As I climbed back out of Parch Corn to Chimney Top Road to begin the descent into Chimney Top Creek I knew I had it in me to go back and ride hard and strong. As of this week I’m already nearly ten pounds lighter than I was on both of my attempts at the mountain bike race. I know I’m in better shape.
Leadville is a long way away. Physically it’s never been further from me. Likely next summer we’ll be better of financial means to go back than we have been, but there is still a significant cost to returning.
And then there’s the lottery. Getting back in is the crux. If I don’t get in the lottery then the race might as well be on the moon. I can’t balance my real life with this dream if I have to run around the country trying to claim a qualifier coin. I would like to do Whiteface. I would like to do the Rattler, the Barn Burner, and the Tahoe race. I’ve decided at some point I also want to do the Silver Rush (Silver King) and if I don’t get in the big one that might be a good consolation prize. But my luck I’d get a coin at the Silver Rush in July for the LT100 in August.
There’s the continental distance, the lottery barrier, and then there is my emotional distance. How bad do I want this? At times it does take hold of me and I want to go back and redeem myself. I wrote a book about the whole saga. And that book doesn’t seem finished without having done what I set out to do: claiming a Leadville belt buckle.
But how bad do I want it? I want it more now than I did last year. I didn’t care last year. It was too painful to think about all of the things associated with the race. But this year I am able to look back at it for what it was.
I took off on this quest to find confidence. I’ve always struggled to find belief in myself. I do not have a deep wellspring of self-confidence from which to draw. Maybe it was misguided on my part to seek confidence in some athletic feat. It seems to work for everyone else. And it’s something I had not tried prior to that in my existence on this planet.
I’m a lost soul these days anyway. I don’t know what I want or where I want to be. Returning to Kentucky didn’t answer any of my existential questions. If anything it opened up a Pandora’s Box of questions I never expected. Sometimes I think going back to Colorado would be a good idea. I’m cursed as a boomeranger. I won’t ever find happiness in one place. I would desperately love to find a place I love so much that all I want is to sit on the porch and listen to the native birds sing. For whatever reason I don’t think that place exists for me.
I bailed on the way back. I took Pinch Em Tight instead of retracing all of Rough Trail. At 10.5 miles I ran out of water. I had two climbs and 4.5 miles to go to get back to the car. The sun was high in the sky by then, and I was beginning to feel the miles I was dragging behind me. I remembered to dig deep. I remembered that I’m better than I think I am and can do more than I think I can. But at one point I also realized it was distinctly possible for me to collapse from dehydration. I’m human. I have limits.
I ran on. Those last few miles I didn’t care. I was going to run and finish. It didn’t matter that I bypassed those two last climbs. I was still going to get my 14 miles in. I’m still going to do the Rough Trail 50k. Yeah, it’s going to be wicked hard.
If I can put the belt buckle behind me then there are plenty of challenges for me close to home. Not getting that belt buckle has unbalanced me. I have few regrets in my life. 24 minutes in Colorado in the summer of 2013 are a huge percentage of those regrets.