(This is Part 6 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here and Part 5 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. Thank you so much for sticking with the story so far!!)
Outward Bound (76) to Mayqueen (87)
I don’t remember exactly what Paul prayed for us, but it was perfect. Just exactly what was needed in that moment…
I was slipping into a pretty quiet, reflective space… the rush of being with everyone at the aid station was ebbing away. The reality that we had a long way to go, and a (relatively) short time to get there was sinking in… and I wasn’t at all sure we were going to make it.
It was all turning over and over in my mind. I’d keep going, no matter how long it took, but it was pretty overwhelming to consider that after all of this… after 22+ hours today, and months and months of focus and preparation and training and struggle, I was going to miss the last cutoff. I was quite sure of it…
But, Paul (who used to have the nickname “Sulu” on our fishing trips, because he’d use his GPS to guide us to our destination like the good Lieutenant did on Star Trek) had worked out the pace we needed to maintain to get to Mayqueen ahead of the cutoff. And he was tracking that pace with his iPhone, feeding me results ever half mile or so. It was clear he was going to do everything he could to get me there…
For a mile or so out of Outward Bound, we climbed a gentle incline up Lake County road 300, past the Leadville Fish Hatchery and then there was a downward slope for most of the way to the base of Powerline. We managed to jog a bit, here and there, and soon enough we found ourselves at the base of the climb. There would be no jogging for quite some time.
As I’ve shared previously, the really devious thing about the Leadville course is that, on the return trip, on the way back, all of the climbs are steeper than they were on the way out. And here we were facing this last Beast. Number Six. Steep and rutted. Long and painful. There’s nothing to do but keep going…
Paul began a rhythm of keeping just ahead of me, calling out a good path to follow up the hill. I think I might have asked him to do that, or maybe he did anyway, but he was great at it… just leading the way up the hill, picking the best line through the ruts and channels and rocks.
He was so encouraging. Letting me know when it was going to be time for a feeding, which at this point was nothing more than half a saltine or so… SOOOO far removed from the 20-30 grams of carbs that I should have been consuming. But, somehow, someway, I was still moving. He’d tell me “good job” when we’d push a little bit, talking and he’d talk and tell stories, but not obnoxiously so. I knew from our conversations before the race that he was nervous about pacing, but he handled it like an old pro. He was perfect.
But, back to this “push a little bit” thing… it was a little annoying that he kept stinking passing people! We’d come on a runner and their pacer and he’d every so slightly ratchet up the pace to get around them, and so I’d follow, a bit dolefully, but I didn’t have the energy or gumption to complain. So, we kept going.
Afterwards, Paul confessed to me that he kept doing that as an experiment to see if I would follow, if I could do it, and when I could, he kept on doing it. Deviously perfect pacing. Getting a bit more out of me than I thought I could do…
Then the hill would level off, then climb again, the level off again, and then climb again. We were caught in Powerline’s spell and it was discouraging… I’d heard from others that there were 5 false summits. We counted what we thought was 5, then 6, then 7, and then we stopped trying to count. It was interminable. I kept being sure I knew where I was from coming that way 20+ hours earlier and then it would pitch back upwards once again. And with the darkness, there’s just no way to tell where we were…
Paul maintained his encouragements, and I was so grateful, even if all I could muster in return was a quiet “Thanks.”
Suddenly, we heard sounds… music, shouting, cheering… But, there’s no aid station at the top of the Powerline climb… Then we saw lights. There was definitely something happening.
Some group, some merry band of well-wishers who I believe had called themselves the “Space Camp” had driven up the back side of the pass and set up a party spot, with lights, music, dancing with inflatable space aliens and a big banner stretched across the trail that said (pardon the language, I’m just reporting here) “Nice Fucking Work!” I should also add that the distinct smell of a certain legalized herb filled the air, too. They were having a blast and celebrating our efforts and it was quite a boost to pass through their joyous throng!
And with that, we’d passed over the top of the Powerline Climb. The Sixth Beast was finished. Six climbs. Thousands of feet. Done.
That did not mean it was all downhill from there on out, but there was definitely nothing left that had that degree of difficulty.
And once again, it was very ordinary. No celebratory whoops or hollers. Just movement. Forward progress. We were somewhere around the 80 mile mark, and Paul’s iPhone died shortly thereafter. We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go, and we were no longer sure of our pace.
The barely passable 4×4 road of the climb gave way to a more gentle and buffed out surface as we began making our way down Hagerman Pass road. And we began attempting some jogging, too. Picking out a marker a hundred yards or so down the way, then jogging our way there, then walking for a bit, then jogging for a bit. I really wanted to be going faster, but there was just nothing there…
For some reason, I remember passing a runner through here that was on the verge of completely loosing their shizz, like getting ready to come unhinged… I don’t know if Paul noticed, but I could tell they were on the brink… It’s a bit fuzzy now. I sort of wondered if we should have stopped.
It also occurs to me that as we were coming over the top of the climb, I looked back down the hill and could see many, many headlights streaming up the hill and it made me so sad to realize that so many of those people were absolutely not going to make it ahead of the cutoff. They were so far behind us and I was still unsure of our making it…
But there was nothing at all to do for them, and we had to keep moving.
After several switchbacks, the course rejoined the single-track of the Colorado Trail, which we’d follow until joining the pavement at the Mayqueen campground. By now, the darkest of the night was over and the sky was lightening in the east. It was still very dark in the forest, but morning was coming. Light was gathering.
We’d gone past the 24-hour mark and were now deep into the 25th hour. We were jogging and hopping and walking down the hill as quick as we could. Everything hurt. Like, seriously, everything. Every. Single. Thing.
And I’d had a thought at points in training for Leadville, that if everything is going to hurt anyway, you might as well move as fast as you can… I may have even said something like that to Paul, as we hopped and jogged and stumbled and walked our way down the trail.
It was getting to be very near light enough to see without our headlamps when we crossed a couple of bridges that I knew were very, very close to the Mayqueen aid station. And sure enough, we popped out of the forest and onto the paved road that weaves around Turquoise lake, and that would take us to Mayqueen.
Just before the aid station, we almost passed the #WCE without them recognizing us. They weren’t yet looking for us, and they were startled to see us…
Because it was 5:55 am.
What I had planned on taking 4:45 had only taken us 3:30.
We had done it. Well, really, Paul had done it.
He’d gotten me to Mayqueen half an hour ahead of the cutoff.