Ouray & Silverton: does sleeping in your truck make you feel like a badass?

Last year I started a new tradition of mountaining for my birthday, continuing this year in the beautiful (and relatively remote) towns of Silverton and Ouray, Colorado. Of course, in true Sarah’s birthday tradition, there was snow. And mountains! And coffee.

trail to ice lakes, near Silverton

trail to ice lakes, near Silverton

I had been dreaming this trip up for months; I hadn’t yet been to Silverton (my planned trip was postponed in favor of going to Lake City to meet up with my badass runner friend Trish) and basically I’ve been wanting to get back to Ouray ever since the last time I was there in March. In sharp contrast to my usual running trips, I had wild designs to stock up on all sorts of pre-made food from Whole Foods, so I might eat like a queen on the road. With a full cooler, piles of sleeping bags and blankets, and a new playlist, I + dogs left Leadville on the morning of my birthday for the 4.5 hour drive to Silverton.

I make a lot of jokes about how I live in the middle of nowhere, but the truth is Silverton is the middle of nowhere. It’s a tiny, ragged town (both tinier AND more ragged than Leadville, which is apparently possible) situated so deep in the middle of the mountains that it’s only accessible by gnarly mountain passes. Red Mountain Pass, from Ouray, is so gnarly in fact that it’s closed nearly every day now for construction because the outer lane is falling off and they’re trying to blast deeper into the mountain so the future pass can be more than one single lane. Red Mountain Pass (also called the Million Dollar Highway, which is great because I think at this point they’ve spent WELL over a million dollars on this road and it makes me think of Dr. Evil saying “one MILLION dollars”) is named for the iron oxide in the slopes of the surrounding San Juans (it’s true, they’re really red, the San Juans of Silverton and Lake City are extremely large piles of red dirt). I just found an amazing article (http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20140624/NEWS01/140629751/Highway-to-hell-) that says not only is Highway 550 one of the 12 most dangerous roads in the world, but also that it is notorious for having the highest avalanche danger per mile, and this beautiful piece of prose “the narrow road winds through the mountains like a drunk crazily stumbling, and there’s no guardrail to protect cars attempting hairpin turns from hurtling into the jagged ravines that lie, stunning and ominous, hundreds of feet below.” In fact, there are no guardrails because it would be too hard to push the snow off, and let me tell you, the stories of snowplow driver deaths are so harrowing that I can’t even fathom how much that job pays at this point.

the red mountains of this area of San Juans, from Red Cloud

the red mountains of this area of San Juans, from Red Cloud

Anyway, I rolled into Silverton, was amazed by the decrepit and tiny town I found, then promptly drove up a Jeep road looking for a campsite. What I stumbled upon was EPIC. Up on a hillside, miles into the wilderness, waterfall in proximity, spectacular mountain views. “Welcome to Silverton, Sarah, please enjoy this, the best campsite of all time, in honor of your birthday.” I almost considered setting up a tent and making a campfire, but chose instead to bunk down in the back of Hooptie in a cozy, warm nest, and read until I fell asleep.

the view from the best campsite of all time.  Not pictured is the waterfall to the right of this view, best night of sleep ever!

the view from the best campsite of all time. Not pictured is the waterfall to the right of this view, best night of sleep ever!

Waking up in the morning in your truck in the middle of nowhere, there’s not a lot to distract you. You get your chameleon cold brew out of the cooler, throw some nutella on a tortilla, and put your running shoes on. I’m not gonna lie, you guys, I rarely even change clothes for the duration of a running trip. Who’s going to care? The mountain? Then you run all day, sleep all night. You’re limited to the food you brought with you (plus the Snickers and Coke you’ll inevitably buy when you go into town later), so I pretty much eat Nutella and tortillas, pb&j’s, and on this particular trip chips and (fancy) buffalo fake chicken wraps (for the two days they lasted). And I don’t even care. At home I wouldn’t touch a pb&j at this point I’m so sick of them, but sitting on the tailgate between trails it’s pb&j mow time. Read by headlamp, fall asleep. The next day is much the same: wake up, drink cold brew, eat Nutella and tortilla, put on yer shoes. Run mountains, come back for lunch, run more mountains, go into town. Snickers and Coke. Find a new camping spot.

flannel lined nest in the back of Hooptie

flannel lined nest in the back of Hooptie

Then I was in OURAY. I fucking love Ouray. Headed up to Mt. Sneffels (I know.) it’s immediately obvious that there’s a whole lot of snow above 12k. Sneffels, from Ridgeway to the West, actually has incredible vertical prominence (7,200) for the Colorado Rockies, and as this section of the San Juans have very distinct jaggedness and striped ridges, she was named for a volcano in Iceland, Snaefell, that appears in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Apart from some silly Kansas tourists who don’t know the number one rule of Jeep roads (if you can’t drive faster than you can walk, then you or your car don’t belong) the drive in to Yankee Boy Basin was absolutely spectacular and fully otherworldly. I parked a ways below the basin for the extra mileage and headed out, woefully under prepared (while I suspected I would come across snow, I didn’t manage to bring spikes, wool socks, or gaiters). The trail up Sneffels crosses the basin, heading to Blue Lake Pass, then you take a sharp right to climb a crazy steep gully all the way to the ridge. It was actively snowing pretty good, and near the sharp right I ran into a guy hiking with his dog. “I was heading to Blue Lake Pass but there’s blizzard conditions! Where are you going?” I smiled awkwardly and lied through my teeth, “Oh, just hiking until I feel like turning around.” He accepted my terrible lies and went on his way, and I took the sharp right and started climbing the gully full of two feet of wet snow.

this was taken in the basin.  up the gully and on the ridge we gained FEET of snow!  and as you can see, I was woefully underprepared

this was taken in the basin. up the gully and on the ridge we gained FEET of snow! and as you can see, I was woefully underprepared

The climb made me question my sanity, as usual, because when you’re climbing so steep that you can barely ascend in the snow, how do you think you’re going to get down? And as usual, I relegated that question for later thought and powered up. The ridge boasted stupidly hard gusts of wind, and I thought about the TH sign that warned of the wildly high winds (up to 200 MPH!!) one might find on the Sneffels ridge. I pulled my buff over my face and carried on. By the time we made it to the summit, Lu was coated in wet snow (and a little pissed) and I was trying to remember how long it had been since I felt my feet. We paused long enough to turn my phone on and hope that it would stay on despite the cold for the 15 seconds to take this selfie:

the black at the bottom is Lu

the black at the bottom is Lu

then turned around. Tramping through the thigh deep snow on the ridge was cold but fine, and an excellent preview of winter. Descending the gully was about as I expected (not possible without spikes) so I took advantage of the lack of exposure and excellently slippery wet snow and glissaded almost the entire way. When we were back in the basin, Lu gave me the familiar “you can’t be serious, we’re going back already?!?” look and I wish you could argue with dogs sometimes because it was very different than the “you can’t be serious, why the fuck are we up here!?!” look that she had on no less than an hour ago. The basin offered stunning Northerly-ish views that I hadn’t noticed on the way in:

an entirely different world

an entirely different world

Descending to where we parked took us below snow altitude and apparently out of the storm going on in and around the basin; it was sunny and hot and I had to strip all the winter gear in a hurry. Back in Ouray it was nearly summer again. We ran the Ouray Perimeter trail and it further and further cemented my mad love for this teeny tiny town. Also, this is great, I found a campground on the edge of the city

really.

really.

My speculation is that because you can drive your rv’s and trailers into Ouray from the North, but to camp anywhere you’d have to take them up on Red Mountain Pass or on one of the various Jeep roads (towards Sneffels or Imogene Pass or off of Auditorium), the alternative is to park in town I guess. Get a Coke in town, pb&j, find a place to camp, read by headlamp until you fall asleep. Wake up, drink cold brew, nutella on a tortilla, put on yer running shoes. Find a mountain, run up it. Pb&j. Repeat. Coke in town, find a place to camp, read by headlamp, fall asleep.

Ouray

Ouray

What all of this means is: I love the simplicity. There’s no distractions. I always bring my journal but I almost never write in it, unless it’s to record one of my profound breakthroughs during a run (here’s one from Silverton, it’s fucking gold: we’re not looking for anything, we’re trying to find ways to sacrifice more and pay the price of freedom-for it is steep. Sometimes you have to break the things you love, and sometimes you have to love the things you fear; most often both). I run all day, I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat, it’s just fuel. I don’t have to do work around the house, or go to work. I rarely talk to anybody, and I never, ever feel lonely on these trips, despite that I spend all of my time completely alone. I come back glowing, and it’s because I’m completely rejuvenated. When people say “no worries or cares” I think what worries most people isn’t even the worries-it’s the constant process of making the 3,000 decisions that go into your daily life. Those constant decisions are there in most vacations, too. The simplicity of a running trip…I think I’m onto something.

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Week 3: TRAINING (here we go). And! New Goal (it’s a doozy)

Just finished my first post-race training run; 9 miles (sigh). New rule for post run fuel down: 1 bagel for every three miles. Long distance runners get to eat as many bagels as possible (or, as many as they want). It occurred to me before I ran today that now that I’m gearing up for the Leadville Heavy Half, 8 isn’t the goal anymore…8 is the starting point. And we’re heading towards FIFTEEN. (I spelled that out so I could use all capital letters, it’s a shame you can’t get across an all-caps emphasis numerically). Not even just 15…15 miles with 3000 feet elevation gain. Oh-and we’re starting at 10,000 feet…so it’s also at elevation. SIGH. AGAIN. MORE SIGHING.

How do I feel about training? If I could do all of my training on the trails, it would be epic. But I don’t remember the last time I ran 9 or 4 or 2 miles on the road and said “yeah! great run!” because it wasn’t…it was always miserable. Repetitive motion, general boredom, annoyance with cars, playlist problems. All things we don’t need to worry about on the trails.

I mentioned before I’m considering selling my car and buying a nicer bike to do more touring and potentially racing. Well, I was thinking about how I could do more trail running but also not driving. The answer is: I bike to the foothills and run. Very simple. This idea, throughout my morning, grew legs and started running. By the end of my run, the idea is now: I RIDE TO THE MOUNTAINS AND RUN THEM. And I tow Luna in her trailer, because she wants to come to.

How does Lu feel about fourteeners?  Obvious.  She loves them.

How does Lu feel about fourteeners? Obvious. She loves them.

SO. In addition to all of my other goals, and my upcoming races (Vail and Leadville in June), I shall ride to the mountains towing Luna and carrying camping gear and food, and hike fourteeners. First one is Mt. Evans. 60 miles from here. BAM. Now, it’s time for an Epsom salt bath.

How do I feel about Epsom salts?  Obvious.  I love them.

How do I feel about Epsom salts? Obvious. I love them.

Week 2: Distance Running (why I do it) and snowboarding (one last time)

I didn’t post yesterday because I was CRUSHING THE GREENLAND 8 MILE. I was very happy with 1:06 for 8.2 miles of trails; my pre-injury goal time was under an hour so to bust that out after losing four weeks of training in March and April was a good showing in my opinion.

greenland

8 miles made it my longest race. And let me tell you, a lot of shit comes up during 8 miles of trails (particularly when you’re trying to keep your pace uphill). Mainly, WHY AM I DOING THIS. Running sucks. I really want to: take a break, sit down, go to the bathroom, STOP RUNNING. So by mile 6, I could feel every muscle in my body and although I felt stronger then that at any point before, I definitely felt like I was just a body. Muscles and bones, cannonballing forward and forward with no end in sight. Coming up on mile 7, I realized why I run.

Because I am not my body. I am so much stronger than this bag of bones. I am heart and endurance and fire and intensity. I am never going to give up. I will crush all the hills, and I won’t stop until it’s over. I am not lazy. I do not quit. I choose to race 8 miles over going to brunch and day drinking. Over watching other people play sports on TV. In the last 3 miles, I felt so alive. I kicked it in, and the last mile was so painful…but I finished strong. Your mind gives up well before your body does. I’ve come up with lots of reasons over the years why I run. Now, finally, I know. You can’t actually see how strong you are until you stop believing the limits you’ve set for yourself, then shed and shatter them. It is the trial of miles. How strong are you…really?

Then, today, I got up crazy early and went snowboarding. Most of the resorts are already closed, it was Loveland’s last day and I so desperately wanted to get out one last time. It was so windy and icy at the top, the bottom was hot and slushy. The first 5 runs pre-lunch were amazing, despite the iffy conditions. I was unbelievably happy to get up there, and now my legs know the real definition of “burn out”! Epsom salt and lavender bath, coming right up.

taking a break...yeah, this is what breaks look like.  MORE BREAKS.

taking a break…yeah, this is what breaks look like. MORE BREAKS.

Updates:
Still not doing yoga first and last thing. Still haven’t gotten back on track with Ashtanga (wonder why!? TOMORROW, back on track).
I’d say I’m winning at nearly everything else though. So. I feel pretty good.
Next races: Leadville Heavy Half in June, if we don’t do a 10k in Vail the week before also

Potential news: maybe giving up on driving entirely and spending my summer bicycle touring!?! Maybe.

NOW: Epsom salt bath!!!