Excuse me. Are you the one who wrote that blog about High Lonesome last year?
It started with tacos.
It always starts with tacos.
These tacos happened to have spicy cabbage and Korean beef tips.
The person asking the question about a blog, 1000 miles away from my own home was a complete stranger to me.
Though not for much longer.
Yeah, that was me. Haha. Hope it doesn’t rain this year. Me? I’ll be all over the place, again.
You would think after a year of the insanity that came with High Lonesome, mountains, a Mazda 3, and weird food items in the middle of the night; nothing would come as a surprise or shock to me this year.
However, like in good fashion and failing to miss a beat, God had a chuckle, and decided to teach me a lesson.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
After learning so many lessons as a volunteer at High Lonesome in 2017, there were some serious upgrades that I needed to make before jaunting back out into the rocky rendition of chaos and calamity.
A few changes*:
Needless to say I was ultra-prepped for my journey. It also helps, as a side note, that I was able to purchase an all wheel drive vehicle before this adventure even started because this time I did not want to consider what lied on the other side of the cliff.
Through communication with the race director (Caleb) and the people in charge of the aid stations (Kelsey and David) I started to put together a solid itinerary of the race, weeks before anything even started.
Schedule of Events:
I’ve learned that with race planning, ADHD, and my overall Spider-sense of chaos, it is best to have a plan weeks in advance.
I forgot to take into consideration the element of humanity.
It was Summit County that reported it first. A hiker had fallen down a mountain. I did not think a ton about it because…I met Adam Campbell, I know Hillary Allen’s story by heart, and it was someone that I did not know. These things happen, right?
High Lonesome reported it next. It wasn’t a hiker, it was a runner, and it wasn’t just a runner, it was Hannah Taylor. It was last year’s female winner of High Lonesome. It was an elite. It was a person. It was real.
It was gone.
Now, in full confession mode, I did not know Hannah personally. I remember her flying by me at St. Elmo last year smiling. I know she was fast, but I can’t make a claim to being her friend.
That does not mean it does not shake me like the rest of the running community.
High Lonesome started to slowly take on a new form to me personally. It was not just a race where I can construct my own written oration of crazy, it was now personified. Internally I no longer wanted to just wing it and laugh it off, it was Hannah’s race, and I should do my absolute best because that’s what everyone else would be doing.
Sounds kind of cheesy coming from a volunteer, right?
12:00 PM Thursday: After staying an eclectic AirBnB the night prior in Colorado Springs; my wife and I journey into the actual mountains on route the High Lonesome. The objective was set, help with what needed to be done to make the race was ready. We stepped** into the shiny high school, and Kelsey immediately put us to work. Our job was relatively simple; the aid stations all had specific locations around the music room. All the aid station supplies were located in the middle of the room, we were given an inventory list of each aid station and just had to make sure it had all of the supplies. Frankly, between inventory experience at Subway for myself and Starbucks for my wife, it was a steady three hours of movement. One of the things that makes this running community so awesome is knowing where the aid station supplies came from. Some of the pieces were from High Lonesome themselves. Others though were items supplied by the race director of Ouray 100, and others were items from Hardrock 100. The concept is simply; people work together in order to make the whole picture better for the entire community. Honestly, it was moving (and felt a lot like home). We chatted with the other helpers. They were real, super runners. In fact, they started talking about CCC, UTMB, NWS, WWW…I got lost in all the different letters flying by. All I know is one of them said, “By the way Sabrina, good job at Hardrock.” Hearing that made me realize something about Sabrina right off the bat…
…she must be awesome because she was able to run the Hardrock 100***!
The trail community reading this understands the hand-to-the-face moment that should have taken place at the moment.
Kelsey, through my moment of dumbness, pulled us together to inform us about a change
to the usual aid station grub for this year. Each aid station was going to have a unique item at their station; Skittles, snack size candy bars, cheese puffs (goodness), etc…She explained that each food item would have an image of Hannah, and a quote from her. All of these specific food items were her favorite things to eat during a race.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
While working on inventory we kept finding that there were missing water jugs for the aid stations. At least I thought they were missing. It turns out that all 97, 7 gallon water containers were being stored at Andrew’s house in Salida, just waiting for someone to drive over there and start filling them with water.
It was at that moment, in the dry Colorado summer, that I knew those years of wedgies were all worth it. My years of being a football water boy had finally paid off. Kelsey, without missing a beat, sent me to Andrew’s house to fill 97, 7 gallon containers of water for the aid stations.
I was greeted by
Forest Gump when he ran across the United States Andrew. Andrew was the natural man. He looked like he ran forever, nature flourished around him, in fact there were deer that were laying down in the yard next to him…IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS CITY LIKE IT WAS NO BIG DEAL. My wife and I started the long process of removing the plastic label off of each container, each sticker off of the containers mouth, rinsing each container out, filling the container, and sealing the container.
Thank goodness for a clean water hose.
The containers were filled in around two hours. Afterwards I stayed at the house, waiting for the aid station captains to pick up ‘their share’ of the water. If you’re ever curious how to converse with the good people of Salida, put a bunch of water containers in the front yard of a desert town. It does the trick. I shared my stories with twelve people throughout the evening before I disappeared for the night.
Honestly, High Lonesome was started off right where it left off. Doing weird things for good reasons.
It was only at Taco del Gnar that the world started to get strange. A polite woman asked me if I had written a story about High Lonesome last year. Naturally, embarrassingly, I confessed to that sin. She enjoyed it, said her son ran the race, and this year they were in charge of the Antero Aid Station. You read that right, he ran the race last year and came back to volunteer this year. The conversation over tacos resulted in two realities:
9:00 AM Friday: I found myself thoroughly enjoy the God-like power of all wheel drive while cruising into St. Elmo. My wife enjoyed the reality and Chip & Dale scurrying all over the place for fun while I went running. While we parked the car in St. Elmo, I saw Ryan Smith come flying by along the road, easily the first place runner in High Lonesome. I started to trek after him to the aid station to see what was going on, and how he was doing. You can imagine my surprise when my slow, snail, soul-sucking self arrived to the aid station before he did. Confused yet? Me too. I started to chat with the aid station, and that’s when we discovered the critical reality: coming up the trail there is a fork in the road. If you go left you head to Tincup. However, you must stay right to go to Cottonwood Pass and back before moving on to Tincup.
Ryan went directly to Tincup.
Like a nightmare out of Hardrock, we started moving to redirect him. However, our terror was soon wiped away when Ryan came flying up to the station. He had backtracked back to the fork, and corrected his route to St. Elmo. I’m rarely around race leaders (minus that one time I could hear Kaci Lickteig when the rest of the field went the wrong way in Omaha), so seeing Ryan up close was…well…actually…quite normal. He stopped, grabbed some food, and was extremely chill. He laughed with us a bit, decided on some gels, and after some pleasantries he was gone. I would not see Ryan again, and I would only hear of him again when he crossed the finish line in a course record 21:02:59.
Leaving St. Elmo, fearing that my wife had been kidnapped by the cutest creatures on the
planet, I begin my jaunt back to our car in the ghost town. On my way down I found Anthony Lee in second place, and even had the opportunity to give him a fist bump on his way to the aid station. It was those little moments that truly set the tone for the race; sure they were elites, fast, and likely to do crazy awesome things, but they still respected the human condition and were willing to take those few seconds to smile while on their own journey.
The runners were High Lonesome.
12:00 PM Friday: After freeing my wife from her fuzzy kidnappers (she was a great hostage, so kind), we began the trek to Hancock. Last years memory recalls the rain, the narrow road, and the Mazda 3. We were obviously free of two wheel drive, and it wasn’t raining, and frankly…the road wasn’t that bad in all comparison. We rolled into the quiet
world of Hancock, unknowing that in a few hours it would look like a small town football game on a Friday night.
However, with the downtime prior to setup, it gave me an opportunity to do something that I was so super nervous about; actually running on the trail. Because it was Hancock, and because my timing is impeccable, it started the raining the moment I started down the trail. It rained on me the whole time, giving me a glimpse of the misery for the runners from last year (no wonder they were so cranky). Personally though, it was a perfect blend of excitement and terror. I had never tried to run that high in the mountains, I had never tried to disappear on a trail by myself in the mountains (it was safe), and for one split second I allowed myself to be a bit reckless…and I let myself imagine what it’s like coming down this trail into that mile 48 aid station. It was only 3 miles, but after this summer and all the weird health stuff, it was my reminder that dreams still exist to be accomplished.
I came back into the aid station to the volunteers covering themselves in glitter and neon
I kid you not.
They decided that ‘rave’ was the theme of the aid station, and hey…I ACTUALLY GO TO RAVES!
With glitter in my beard, mushrooms
consumed painted on my face, and my actually raving shirt from a Krewella rave months ago; I was ready to bounce my way through Hancock for the night.
My instructions were simple; all I had to do was park cars. Personally, I loved this because it gave me an opportunity to interact with the crew members of all of the runners. Something I have a slight, morbid obsession with. Each crew team that came through were cheerful, energized, and extremely friendly. A few remembered me from the year prior, one asked where my red jacket was, and another was curious why I wasn’t running (har…har…har…). As I continued to pack in the vehicles, I started to notice that the vehicles were not leaving in a rush. Literally, the road to Hancock began to look more like a major sports event (minus that one drunken, 45 year old man who thinks that the coach should have put him in back in ’85 to win state…just me instead). Hancock was getting packed at the actual aid station. While this was all taking place a car had been parked just next to my own. The runners/crew/humans were throwing a ball for a dog up the mountain.
The next thing I knew was one of them coming up to me with a bag of cookies…
Hey. We got into our junk food stash, want some cookies?
Like I’m declining that offer.
As we conversed over the hour, I started to learn more about the two then I could have ever imagined. While the primary race of High Lonesome was indeed a bunch of people sniveling, crying, and snot-rocketing their way through the mountains, there was also a relay going on at the same time, on the same course.
Yes, dearest reader, there was a relay race at High Lonesome. I’ll never have flashbacks of my high school coach looking for a fill for the 4×1600 meter race ever again. Why the relay? Those in the relay were all friends of Hannah, and they were running the course in her memory with her bib that she was to have during this race. They were some of her closest friends, and it was a challenge to keep it together listening to the story. Each pair ran 25 miles a piece. The first pair was struggling, not because of the terrain or the course, but because of the reality. Just knowing that of these rugged movers was heartbreaking in its own right.
As time drew near for the trade off, the two went over the aid station, and had a small request for myself and my wife at the vehicles. Would we watch their dog? I am not a dog person, but I really like people in Colorado, so inherently my answer was a resounding yes. The dog was chill, and his name was Saco.
I had no idea that Saco would be the mascot of the race.
I had no idea that Saco had been recently adopted by the two I was talking to.
I had no idea that Saco had a history of some stroke-like symptoms that caused his face to droop a little bit in the cutest way.
I had no idea that Saco had been Hannah’s dog for years.
I had no idea that I could draw close to a dog (especially after being nipped at, at the actual aid station by another dog).
Saco just laid down in the shade, drank some water, and watched the world go by. I
couldn’t resist by to scratch his head and just remind him that he’s a good boy. He helped me park cars for about an hour, and also find Rick Mayo of Mile 90 Photography, before the rest of the relay team came back to the car.
After departing from Saco and from parking duty (still proud of that), I hiked back to Hancock to see absolute insanity in the best possible way. The sun was setting, the air was getting rather chilly, and people were sitting in chairs, standing on rocks, or wandering into the woods waiting on their runner (I am so sorry for that poor soul that I spotlighted around 9:00 PM in the woods, you were very sneaky). When each athlete finally came in, Hancock erupted with cheers and screams. You honestly would have thought that the finish line was right in front of you. That’s where I met the man that I would refer to as “Taco & Tequila” for the rest of the race. He looked excellent at Hancock. Meaning, he looked pretty rough. However, a conversation about Korean Beef Tip Tacos at Taco del Gnar with a beer after the race sounded appealing enough that he left for his next leg (that or it was so nauseating that he just wanted to get away from me…I have that gift). Heather came into Hancock also, a bit cold, but in good spirits. I found out much later, like after the race, that she had signed up for this race partly because of last years report (meaning, she’s a glutton for punishment). An hour of bottles being filled, runners being chatted with, and a handful of social miscues on behalf of myself, and I labeled Hancock a success.
I bid my farewell to the station, and began my long trip to Monarch Pass with a simple thought of fact in my head:
The crew members were High Lonesome.
12:00 AM Saturday: There are a few things that are guaranteed in life; death, taxes, and bowel movements. Last year I had the great fortune of stumbling across a bathroom in the middle of the night in Poncha Springs on route to Monarch Pass. Obviously, like any other time, I had high hopes of the same low point in my life. My wife, half asleep, delirious, and questioning why on earth this was a ‘cool thing to do’ for an anniversary (love you), sat shotgun as I wheeled up my beloved Shell.
Only to learn that hours of operations had changed (times are tough), and the store…and bathrooms…were closed.
While my insides continued to die, we made haste to Monarch Pass. There really wasn’t a plan at the pass, just a chance to get some rest before our next stop at Blanks Cabin.
Wheeling into Monarch, there were two things that were immediately noticeable; the fact that it was freezing cold with wind, and also the stars in the sky. Last year Monarch as a foggy mess of depression and poor choices (both for runners and for myself). This year the sky graced us with its own light during the middle the passing night. I could see the stars, the Milky Way, Venus, Mars, and just about everything else out there (except Sputnik…I don’t want to see Sputnik). The moment, short lived, was a clear reminder of why we come out and do stupid things in the woods. It’s for the moment where the world, the self, and the universe connects together between chattering teeth and Ramen Noodles. After checking in with “Rock” at the aid station, I popped the seats down in the back of our vehicle, pulled up my quilt, wool blanket, 500 pillows, sleeping bag, and hunkered down for a quick sleep.
I never slept.
First, the theory of car camping is solid. However, if you don’t have something comfortable to lay on between you and the framing of that car, the ridge from the seat will give you a reason to visit your chiropractor upon your return to civilization.
Second, we were in a parking lot. Each time a crew members vehicle parked, the lights came through the window. I opened my eyes to realize that with the stars I was finally being abducted, or it was just another random DUI checkpoint.
Reality is this; the natural world, stars, planets, moons combined in the stillness of night…that’s High Lonesome.
6:00 AM Saturday: After a drive on a ‘road’ that would make the road to Hancock blush, we found ourselves in the isolated aid station of Blanks Cabin. There was no cabin, it was just a few tents and plenty of cows. At mile 82 this is when the runners start to get a crazier look in their face then usual.
Blanks was absolutely one of the most incredible aid stations I have seen in some time. Check this out, the kitchen area was ran by a guy who owned a restaurant and a guy who just enjoyed serving people (never being around an ultra in his life). They volunteers outside of the kitchen were roaming about pestering runners, and it all led up to the captain; Emily.
Fun fact about Emily: Prior to moving to Colorado, she lived and ran in the Kansas City/Lawrence area. In fact, she ran with the same people I currently run with back home, before heading west.
Emily is absolutely insane.
Emily, when not running, jumps out of planes and tries to break world records with lots of other people jumping out of planes. When Emily is running, she has a tendency to get “trench foot” while running, and also has a history of picking up a lost calf and carrying it back to its mother during the race.
I. Kid. You. Not.
Emily had an unofficial 10 minute timer before she “kicked you out” of the aid station, and was adamant about throwing a no hitter in relation to no drops at her aid station.
Ladies and gentlemen; I would like to introduce you to Trail Nerds/Mud Babes/Trail Hawks West led by Emily. It was a slice of home…10,000 feet up.
The runners started trickling in before the
plague convoy group of crew members really descended (ascended) to Blanks. Nothing brings more joy to me then getting to belt out, “Bring out yer dead!” at 6:30 AM when a runner is coming into an aid station. Alex (kitchen) was the master of breakfast burritos (because…ultras…because…running…because…Colorado) made to order for the runners. You read that right, we were yelling out orders like a little restaurant while Alex was cooking. Crew members were already crying, runner had been crying (for miles), and the aid station crew was there keeping tabs, writing down numbers, and making sure everyone was attended to. Honestly, I had a hard differentiating between this event and the recovery from a natural disaster (I’ve done both for the record), minus the fact that people paid for this event. This included finding Taco & Tequila having the time of his life. In fact, he was having so much fun that he almost made an error that he would have never forgotten. With a smile, he looked at me and said…
You should pace me in.
Dearest reader; there are bad ideas and there are ideas that are so bad that they appear great. My gear was in my car a 1/4 mile away. In fact, because of my packing, I actually had all the mandatory gear in my pack. I had my shoes already on, and my running pants already on. If I wasn’t so adamant about getting him out of the aid station, I would have done it. That’s my confession; I would have gladly paced that last 18 miles. It would have been a horrible, horrible idea on so many levels. However, the waivers were at the aid station and my gear was checked.
I let him move on without me. The second year I turned down a pacing opportunity during this race (and the second year a pacer didn’t become stranded at High Lonesome). Also, I was still reeling from the crew member that looked at her runner earlier in the morning and said (after he laid down when he came in), “Oh? You just needed some time with your kiddie blanket to feel better now?”
The cutoff at this aid station was 2:30 PM. I had gone out on the trail to walk a few runners into the station to keep them moving because it was beginning to get hot. Threw ice on a runner (seriously Colorado…it’s called boob ice!), and by 2:20 PM we were missing one runner. Emily looked at me, strapped a cowbell on my neck, and said, “Go find him!” while I took off running into the woods for my third trail run of the entire race.
He was just moving at his own pace, on route, and he looked great. His story was one that will divide people, but at the same time bring about this amazing sense of joy. He ran the race last year, and completed it in those nasty conditions. This year, he came back from Georgia, and signed up a week prior to the race. His friends were already entered. The concept was for him to run with his friends through the whole race. Georgia is different from Colorado. At one point he waited 45 minutes for them at an aid station early in the race. Unfortunately, altitude sickness got to both of them and they dropped, leaving him behind schedule and alone. He kept moving though without concern, and without a single regret. He left our aid station with 4 minutes to spare. Some could argue that his idea wasn’t bright and selfless doesn’t equal success, but he truly did not care. His friends waited for him at Blanks, and got him back out. That moment of selflessness echoed through the whole aid station.
Georgia was High Lonesome.
4:00 PM Saturday: In a barren field up the grueling, cruel, paved hill from Princeton Springs sat the start/finish line. Through the dust and wind, we arrived at the end of our High Lonesome journey. Runners were coming in left and right; blisters and tears were scattered throughout the worn resting in chairs. Chili was being served with Laws Whiskey on the side. Start/Finish wasn’t a place for the survivors this year, it was the place of the winners, the runners, and the joy of the sport.
David from Golden Mountain Runners (GMR) met me there with the BOCO GMR hat that I so desperately had wanted since unofficially adopting myself into their running group. Buzzing with a porter, Laws, and a few amazing cookies I just took in the entire moment. The kissing, hugging, photos, and stories. This was it. This was exactly where I wanted to be at the exact moment. I wanted to see the finish, the finishers, the fight, the emotion, and I wanted to mentally record it for my own dark times. Their stories and their images would be my fuel for my adventures.
Eventually, the reality of what had gone on in my own body started to emerge. I exhaustion began to set in, and I realized that I still had two hours to get back to Colorado Springs for a shower, food, and a place to sleep. I said goodbye to Caleb, Kelsey, David, Lauren, Anthony and the list really could go on for hours. I was leaving a family reunion that I actually wanted to stay at.
Driving out of the field and getting ready to turn onto the road, I pulled a KeKe and jumped out of our moving vehicle. Heather, whom I had seen at Hancock and Blanks, was 200 meters away from the finish line. She was moving, and that’s what counted. I had told her crew that I would be at the finish line for a while. I gave her a hug, said how proud I was to see her do something amazing, and then got out of the way. It was her race to finish.
An hour later, cruising through the rain heading into Colorado Springs, I sent Caleb and Kelsey a quick message. Thanking them for allowing me to hang out and create chaos with a purpose throughout the race.
Caleb replied first. He stated that I should have gotten a High Lonesome edition bottle of whiskey for my work.
It was a super kind gesture.
I replied back:
No worries about the bottle. Let me earn it 😉
Even though I never knew her; I’m pretty sure that’s what Hannah would have wanted.
She is High Lonesome.