Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ute Pass Trail, etc.

We met at Memorial Park. This would be my second meeting with the group, only this time Barr Trail was not on the agenda. Today was the day for running the Ute Pass Trail, and I was stoked as I am before any run. Matt gave his speech, and off we went. We were another pack of a hundred or so Paul Reveres, and I am still convinced that if we hollered “The Redcoats are coming!” some of the locals of Manitou Springs would get overly excited. Maybe I’ll try that next Sunday.
The Ute Pass Trail, unlike Barr Trail, winds in a northerly direction from town. You reach the trail head almost the same way as if you were running to the incline itself, except for the right turn. The entrance is something of a joy as it winds around a hillside revealing Colorado Springs to the East. I beheld the view for only a short time until a hill started. And it was a whopper. I did a tempo on the way up, eased up on the crest, and cruised down the other side. It was like this for a few more miles- rolling hills and a lot of aged ice that I had to contend with. I’ve developed the habit of running down slippery trails in a zigzag fashion to keep better control, which seems to be working pretty well.
I got used to the up and down until US 24 came along. It had to be crossed, and anybody who lives in Colorado Springs would tell you that this is no country road. It is a two-lane divided highway that winds up Ute Pass itself with ridiculous traffic. So, in order to cross this Rocky Mountain Auto-Bahn, you have mere seconds to act. There is no time to tarry, you got to scoot yourself across with your spirits high. I took a deep breath, hauled ass, and made it.
With my heart rate still racing from the road crossing, I was back on the trail. It was a bit different this time, as this section switch backs up a foot hill and plateaus into a deep coniferous forest of Ponderosa Pine and the occasional Lodge Pole. There was a lot of ice here, and I lost traction on several missteps. Luckily though- I had no bruises. I have always been curious about Waldo Canyon, which was where I was at that moment.
The ascent out of the small canyon was another series of switchbacks and not too intense. As soon as I came up on the rim, another view of Colorado Springs came into focus which I couldn’t help but love. From this point on, it was a downhill joy ride on two feet. If you blog followers read my first entry, you know that I enjoy the down hills. The descent was just peachy- I used the gravity to leap over small rocks while in an all out sprint. I will say though, that by this time the chilly wind was really blowing, blowing, blowing crisp coldness against my face. The wind would do this for the rest of my run.
At the bottom was US 24 and it had to be crossed, again. This time though, the crossing wasn’t that nerve-racking. My only issue was a wind blown face, dry with remains of free-flowing fluids that once resided in my nose. Tissues are an essential on a windy trail run, lesson learned.
The re-crossing of the highway revealed a junction of two trails, and shamefully I do not remember the name of the trail I took. What I do remember, though, was that this leg of the run was most strenuous. It just went up, and it seemed to never stop. There were no switchbacks, and the trail was deep snow. On the UP side though, the sun was shining brightly, the winds died down, making for some comfort. By this point, as I was running, I was realizing my failures of checking the Incline Club website as to how long this run actually was. If this trail was leading where I assumed it was, then that meant that there was still plenty of miles of adventure to be had.
The Fremont Experimental Forest, interestingly enough, is the site where many species of trees were planted years ago. The whole purpose of this planting was to see how many species could actually endure life in an alpine environment. ( Ironically, the experiment revealed that the only trees that could survive were in fact the native ones! At any rate, the trail wound through this experimental forest and the remnants of buildings where the research took place could be noticed. Trail runs are good for that occasional bit of history learned during the jaunt.
By now, Barr Trail bid me a how-do. For a good hour, with the company of a helpful guide who has run this 19-mile course several times before, I have been running up and around the tops of Rocky and Manitou Mountains, and through the experimental forest, still feeling a bit of cold wind against the face causing there to be no let up of those internal nasal fluids from flowing out. There just comes a point, though, when giving a shit becomes a figment of imagination. I was ready just to be done, and Barr Trail would slowly lead me to that reality. Goings were a bit rough on the descent, and I had not screwed my shoes per the advice of many other Incline Club members. It was a different type of ice, what I call dirt-ice, where dirt and dust cover the freeze to where you just don’t notice and think that you’re running on the normal ground. Like I say, it was rough but there were railings that helped me out.
I think it was near 1:00 in the afternoon when I finally made it back to Memorial Park. If it hadn’t been for my guide I probably would have lost my way and as a result traveled on the easy, painless path that many of the smart and mentally sound runners chose to take. But some people, like me, just sort of treat each trail run as if it were a fruit, a fruit that is rich with sweet juices of adventure. Blindly, we try to extract great quantities of this adventurous fruit juice until there is none left. When that happens, our run is over.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Barr Camp

Memorial Park. Here congregates the Incline Club, a running group of 100+ who specialize in hills, mountains, anything with- well, an incline. It was my first time running with such a group. Taking a look around, I noticed the groups within the group; there were the novices, the intermediates, the advanced, and the hard-corers. And then there was me, the newbie, the only newbie, it seemed. By the end of today, I would be the newbie no more.

Thus it begins. Like a hundred or so Paul Reveres, we take to the streets of Manitou Springs, Colorado as if to let something be known amongst the locals. Not that the Redcoats were coming, that's for sure. Rather that we, the Incline Club, were coming and that quite strongly. We ran through the roundabout, we charged up Ruxton, and finally set our sneakers on the natural dirt of Barr Trail. And up we went. And up. Switchback after switchback, we runners experienced the change. It was a change in air and scenery, and of ourselves. Some of us, myself included, stopped for a second and looked down upon Colorado Springs. We realized, by beholding this marvelous view that our many conveniences were abandoned for a while but would surely be there when we got back... It seemed to never end. Breathing was getting harder with the climb in altitude, thus making it harder to run, but yes, like the crazy runners we were, we continued our little Sunday morning jaunt.

We eventually came to Barr Camp. The turn-around. A little hut nestled in mountain pines, Barr Camp serves as a half way rest stop where the runner, or hiker, can delight in hot chocolate or home made energy bars. Indeed, some runners took ten here. But others, myself included, just sat for a minute, stretched, and started running down. And we RAN. With gravity being on our side, we were unstoppable. We trail blazed that Barr Trail and heaven help the upward hiker who was in our way. To run down an icy trail safely, the rhythm has to be such that the foot just taps the ground, not giving it enough time to slide. Achieving the rhythm can be tough, but when you do you are a trail running god. The thrill is just that intense. With the sun of high noon shining, the Incline Club made it back down to Memorial Park without a scratch.

What a fun morning. I can hardly wait for tomorrow, Sunday, when we run the Ute Pass Trail.