Its a skinny little trail where we stack up like lemmings on the other side of the horse stables. Fine dirt powder rises from the dusty trail, stirred up by a couple hundred sets of feet. No room to pass, or even step aside, so we each and all, go at the pace of the person immediately in front of us, which is mostly just walking. Can't be more than a couple hundred yards before we drop into the valley below, where the trail opens up and people begin to pour past me. Not that its me in particular holding anyone up, as much as its just all of us squeezed into a bottleneck that has just released. With so much open space available now, people have become impatient with the line of lemmings, and finally cut loose. Adela was with me for a bit, but then she's gone, then Marcia, and the rest, or so it seems.
Before I even started, I knew this was going to be a slow and easy run. Its just the way its been lately and I see no reason why it should be any different today. Especially between 7000 and 10000 ft of elevation on a rather hot and sunny day. I usually start rather laid back and easy, because it takes so long to get the generator cranked up, but also, this course does a fair bit of climbing. We get about 3 miles of sissy trail, and then it begins the 9 mile climb, or maybe more. Sure as hell feels like it.
I've run this course 5 times already, but they've all been in the other direction, so I'm a bit turned around and confused, especially in reference to the up and down location and distance. I guess I never really knew that all this part was one big long up, until now. As the trail climbs the mountain from 7000 ft to 9000 ft, so do the temps from 55 to 80 degrees. I think about running, but it after all just a thought. I walk! Funny thing is: aint all that many people behind me, so I never get the taste of how slow I'm going.
To go from Rendija to Cabra is to climb out of a canyon, not that its a nasty climb, but it is up. Big boulders, single track, and trees fading to scrub as we head north of Los Alamos. Actually, we never do see Rendija. I won't find out until later, the aid station isn't even in the same place it used to be. Typical New Mexico look and feel, which my spirit is particularly attuned to. I like it here much more than any reason I can figure out. It just suites me. Cabra is an aid station and also a reference point for a change in terrain. Its wide open here, partly because its higher up, but also because this area was burned out a few years ago. It begins with a wide dusty jeep road that turns into a single track trail. All the green is from young trees only a few years old, and it's enough to hide the worst of the burn, but not all of it.
Guaje Ridge is where I expect it to be... at the top of the initial climb. But as is my trend today, I'm not even close to right about this being the end of the climb. I had packed a trekking pole to use for the climbs, but forgot about it until I reach Guaje. But then I compound my mistake, thinking the climb is almost done, and keep on it. Over the next 3 miles, I keep questioning myself if I should stop and take the damn thing out, but don't. Now I figure it'll be foolish to take the time if the summit is just ahead. Three more miles and a lot more time and I'm calling myself stupid at least a hundred times.
The landmark I'm looking for is the pipeline road, which I also thought was downhill, but I'm wrong again! How can I possibly have so much of this so wrong? It's up and down, but appears to be mostly up, until I'm within half-mile of Pipeline aid. As much as all this climbing at altitude has knocked me off any suggestion of a fast run, I'm still enjoying the beauty of this magical place. The high desert mountains covered in pines has a humidity so low, I can only dream of it back home. But even the low humidity is causing me problems: my lips are drying up and starting to crack, my throat so dry, I can't drink enough water.
My memories of the trail between Pipeline and Ski Lodge surprisingly match the pastoral setting exactly and the shade from the tall trees are a welcome relief. I can see the ski runs on Pajarito Mountain a long time before I arrive at the aid station. This is the big one: the monster climb and the last climb of note in this race, so I'm impatient to get to it, and aware of the challenge. I need to get some calories in me, so I have a few bites as well as some orange and watermelon slices. I've been carrying an empty water bottle in my pack just for this next section, so I have that and my standard bottles filled with cold water. I even remember to pull my trekking pole out before I start.
On the wrong end of the laundry chute going up and being particularly lousy at climbing, I do the best I can, which I'm certain is pitiful and sad to watch, but I never give up. I can see a number of small colorful spots on the slope above, on the route I'll soon be on. The damned thing goes strait up: no turns and no switchbacks. One baby step after another in a nasty old granny gear trudge. There's a rare few people who go up surprisingly well, but at this point, I've been on the ass end of the race, so it surprises me there are actually still more behind me.
There's a bike race going on at the same time as our run race, and they're using the ski lift, so we get a good look at the lift-chairs filled with bikes and people, just above our heads. I want so bad to go back down and hitch a ride to the top, just as they're doing. It just doesn't seem right: them having a race going down while we have a race going up. I know I chose the wrong one. There's a place we cross each other and I wonder if anyone might have had a collision or near miss yet. I suspect most everyone at this point is near braindead and a bike coming down at speed might be a problem. A woman in black slowly marches past and stops a moment to say something and then passes. All she says is: "Those are the biggest damn feet I've ever seen".
There's another woman, who seems to match me on the climb. She takes as many breaks as I do, and seems to stay just a bit below and behind. When I finally do top out just under the lift, I take a moment to repair: empty my shoes, fetch the other water bottle, and eat a bite. Valerie comes up on me just as I get up to continue, so we continue together. I hadnt hooked up with anyone today for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because I'm just too damned slow today, so it surprises when she hooks on. As fast as I walk, she walks. When I slow down or take a sit break, she does too. Mostly she stays about 10 or 12 steps behind, but every now and then, she gets close enough to talk, so I get a few snippets of information. The route for the remaining part of this climb wanders about, but eventually does reach the landmark ski chair in an open meadow. The chair marks the high point, which I am so damn happy to finally see, because it's now time for some down. I don't really get into much of a running motions so much, but do manage an odd stumbling fast falling walk for the next 6 miles down off the back side of the mountain.
At one point, we're in a huge open bowl of a valley with mountains all the way around, and its breathtaking. Somewhere along here though, we find and follow some of the ugliest jeep rut roads, full of dust, and reflecting the heat from the cloudless ski, and I once again begin to melt. I stop to sit under a tree in the shade once, but get up and go again. Its not long afterwards, we reach Camp May, where its time to lube up. My crotch rash is getting to be a problem, but I have the Desiten and the time to make the repair. Watermelon and orange slices seem to be the thing today. They're nice and cool, even if they're light on calories.
The next section is a mess: road crossings, neighborhoods, swingsets, and all sorts of odd connectors. We even pass through a part of the Los Alamos lab area, drop into a deep cut, cross a road, and climb out the other side. I wonder many times through here if I'm actually on the trail. It just seems so odd, this route we are on. We do a bit of bouldering here and again, going up and down again and then we think we might actually be lost. There are no flags, the trail no more than a trace, crossing over a very rocky area, with lots of easy options, but I just keep on following the meandering trace of trail, hoping I have chosen correctly.
My stress level goes way up right about now: I'm not sure, the sun is up and cooking, I need to sit down a few times, and even lay down once. I must be looking pretty bad, as I watch Valerie pass me for the first time. We do find a flag to confirm we are going the correct way, which makes me feel much better. A short time later, I take time to lube again, and again, Valerie takes lead. I'm quick about it and catch back up, and I tell her she doesn't need not wait for me. But she defers, saying she's ok and willing to stay as she is, and so we continue.
The trail has a bit of roll along here and I'm fine on anything down, but the tank is empty: any up and I hit bottom. We connect with the 50 mile return point, where a course guide woman sits and watches to make certain all of us go the correct direction. It's just before the trail drops into a dry creek bottom and climbs back out the other side. Soon after we stumble into Quemazon for some very welcome relief, where I consume generous amounts of orange and watermelon. This is teh decision point for the 50 milers and one of them sits here now trying to decide wether to go on or drop to 50 km.
This landmark seems to breathe new life into me in some deep emotional way I would have never expected, but I no longer feel as bad as I have been the last few miles. Maybe part of it is because we're down to the final 5 miles, but heading out, I get going and realize I'm starting to put some distance on Valerie. Mostly I stay ahead, but do stop at intersections to make sure she's still on. I still aint running, but my walk's in full power mode now. Maybe it's just me smelling the barn, but we're on the edge of town and I can see houses and the water tower by the finish. I keep pushing, busting at the seems to be done. Its all down now and we drop into a creek bottom where we find Rendija... and a beer. My goodness but it tastes good.
Leaving for the final bit, I'm once again confused because Rendija is not where it usually is. So there also isn't the climb up and out that I expect. Instead, we march down along a dry creek bottom, and I just hope were going the right way. I get faster with impatience, because I don't know for sure, and if I go faster, I might learn sooner. Eventually we reach the trail split and the climb up and out that I've been looking for and relief washes over me. I now know for certain we're just two miles from done, and I'm ecstatic. Valerie continues to lose ground, so I wait now and again. We've been together for many hours today already and we havent really had much to say to one another, so I figure I'll slow and maybe have a visit now that we're almost done. But when I slow to wait, she slows too. I speed up and she does too. Well ok: maybe she just wants to leave this just as it is and I can respect that, so I pull ahead once more and remain there.
At the tunnel finally with just 1 mile to go and I don't slow. Reaching the split for the rock drainage climb up and out to the finish, a guy's sitting on a rock. As I go bye, he says: "There she is". You mean Valerie, I ask? He asks if I know her. I tell him no, but we've been together pretty much all day. So I climb up and get to the top of the chute where a few more people and a few kids are waiting for Valerie. It's all her peeps! I watch one of the kids hug her as I turn and head to the finish. When I get there, I stop and wait. I can't cross just yet, so I wait. Valerie walks up with one of her kids and as she crosses the finish, I turn and cross with her. I'm sure I ruin a dozen or so photos, but what the hell. I figure I have the right. Anyway, I'm done. Time to get these damn shoes off!