Elk Mountain Grand Traverse 2013

Cb2
Well, there we were
again. The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse seems to have this effect on some
folks. There are some who do it once, and that’s enough. There are
others who do it, and come back again and again. I should have known
that we’d be in the later category. The very evening that we’d finished
the EMGT for the first time, we lay in bed, exhausted, and discussing
what we would do different next time. Wait, next time?

Yep, next time.   

Once
more, we lined up at the start, all 170 teams of two, headlamp clad,
with the most amazing array of ski gear you will ever see in one
competition. Skate ski gear, classic gear, bc touring nordic gear,
"heavy metal" AT gear, tele gear, and lightweight AT gear. There’s
something that makes me smile when you’re lined up at the start and the
person on your right is wearing some fish scale skis, the guy in front
Marker Barons on a pair of K2 Pontoons, and on your left a couple of
skate skiers. The heart of this race beats adventure for skiers from all
walks of life.

Cb4
Every
other race I’ve felt so nervous that I was pretty sure I was going to
vomit all over the starting line. This one was different. I knew what
was in store, as much as you can know. In fact, over dinner, Dan had
said we were too relaxed. Many racers seem to get pumped up and maybe
even a little riled up over something right before a race. It makes
sense. I’m never so good physically as when I am completed pissed off.
Not so much now. I was calm and collected. I hoped to finish, hoped to
do my best, and I had a plan this year. The plan was to eat and drink as
much as I could. Last year, I had ate and drank almost nothing after
about seven hours in. And we were out there for fifteen and a half hours
last year. All I wanted was to beat fifteen and a half hours. That is a
long, long, long time to be skiing.
 

 The epic start. Dominique Maack
 

This
year, I wasn’t paying attention, and when the surge of skiers broke
free and, like one large, crashing wave, began to sweep up Crested Butte
Mountain, I was surprised. Soon, I recovered from my shock.
 I
also realized that I was feeling pretty good, and that it seemed like
the folks in front of me were moving slowly. Since these races are
determined by me, Dan let me lead, and soon we had moved to the far left
of the run, the better to pass people. This year, we have very light AT
gear, and I can do a much faster cadence with this gear than with any
other. This works out really well for me, since I’ve got little stumpy
legs that aren’t much use for strides.   

When
we reached the top – it’s not really the top, and in truth, I have no
clue where it is – and began to rip skins, Dan and I smiled at each
other.  

“You
must be feeling really good,” Dan said. I smiled. I was. And I loved
this descent. It is pure chaos. The folks on nordic gear are terrifying
as they spiral out of control down the steep, icy cat track. I shouldn’t
lay blame all on them, either, for quite a few people in the rando
scene aren’t really skiers, but runners, who have taken up skimo racing
in the winter. You may not want to be right next to said person, but
it’s always good for some excitement.   

This
year was no different from last year, people careening off the trail
into the woods, doing unintentional whoorly birds right in the middle of
the trail and falling in a face plant. One guy came ripping past me on
an off-camber turn, and promptly went careening into the trees. I kept
at my power plow. There are times when it is perfectly respectably to
just plant your legs in a power plow and have at it the whole descent.   

We
reached the bottom, crossed pell-mell over the creek that last year
didn’t have a snow bridge and came to a quite sudden halt.
 Breakable
crust, the stuff of nightmare quality, was waiting there for us at the
bottom. It was stop and go traffic, slow enough where we sat and chatted
with our neighbors, telling jokes (I only can ever remember the one),
and, for me, shoveling Honey Stingers into my mouth.   

As
the leaders broke trail for us, I watched the clock. We had till 7 AM
to get to the Friend’s Hut, our first cut off time. At the pace we were
going, I wasn’t all that sure that we were going to make it this year. I
wasn’t sure that the leaders, who I could still see, were going to make
it.   

People
moo’ed like cows, make honking noises, and joked. The testosterone
filled folks tried to break their own trail, ending up with their tips
jammed way down in the snow, their tails up in the air, and wallowing
around for a good while before they could get back in line with the rest
of us. I figured I was going to save my energy for the many miles
ahead. I didn’t exactly have it to go wasting it like that. At one point
a red fox paralleled us in the opposite direction, looking at us like we were aliens. I'm sure we looked the part.  

There
was a moment when I looked up and felt like I was surely dreaming –
there was a rather steep drop, and then up the other side, what seemed
to me at 1 AM were thousands of headlamps swarming up the side of a
cliff. It was like D-Day. After a power plow with our skins on down the
ravine we saw why. It kind of was a cliff, and there was no clear way
up. We chose the STFU (straight the fuck up) route. Climbing in ski
boots is interesting, and when I struggled for a second, the impatient
people behind me pushed me up. That was fine by me.   

Finally,
we were free of the breakable crust, and people spread out more. I was
feeling ok. I decided last year that I didn’t particularly care for
skiing through the night, and this time was no different. I stared at
the moon, huge and gleaming in the night, and Dan and I gasped in awe
when a magnificent red meteor streaked across the sky. But I was seeing
about quadruple of everything. I was stumbling, and fairly convinced
that I was going to fall sideways and fall asleep. It helped to have the
tails of someone’s skis in front of me. I could focus on them (even
though focus isn’t quite the word, as for one person there were eight
skis and legs dancing in front of my dizzy eyes. In a daze, we made it
to the Friend’s Hut around 5 AM. That was the same time we reached it
last year, only last year we had started at 11 PM instead of midnight.
We were already moving an hour faster than last year. A short break,
shovel more Honey Stingers in the mouth, guzzle down some water, throw
on the wind jacket, and it was up Star Pass.
 

If
the skinning gets difficult, the winds pick up, the snow begins, and
I’m tired, that’s when I begin to feel better. Maybe it’s from skiing
all year long in the Nederland area, but a little wind does me good. It
wakes me up and makes me stronger. While many start suffering, I get
stronger, and we began to pass people on the way up, the wind whipping
the snow around. It really wasn’t even that bad, just enough to be a
waker-uper, but not enough to make me pissy. We ripped skins and
descended to Star Pass, where a gentleman pointed out the best way down
for us. We thanked him and headed down.   

Frozen
snowmobile tracks are not fun when they are involved in breakable crust
and dark conditions, but we made it down, partly because we remembered
that Dan's friend had hung out at the bottom last year with coffee and a
bonfire.

We were not to be disappointed,
once again treated to the same hospitality. Now, I care not at all for
coffee, especially coffee on a stomach that doesn't want to be fed, but
still, the idea makes me quite happy. While Dan drank some Aclimate that
was also there, I chugged an Ensure, more water, and some more Honey
Stingers, all part of my game plan to eat and drink as much as possible.
I was shocked that I was able to get down all of the Ensure, as those
things have a gnarly taste, and tend to make me feel queezy.

We
put our skins on, and promptly Dan hit his wall. Mine came around 4 AM,
and now it was my time to help him. We dipped and danced along the slow
rise up to Taylor Pass, trying me being in front, because I knew when I
had hit my wall, it was nice when I had skis in front of me to focus
on, but finally found that he was doing better when he was in front.

The
sun was rising, the birds where loud enough to break the sound barrier,
or so it felt to me, and it began to warm up. We played a bit of leap
frog with a couple teams, but for the most part, we were further apart
from people than we had been the year before. Finally we crested Taylor
Pass, and made the decent down.

Our
next major goal was the Barnard Hut. This one I was not holding my
breath for. Last year this stretch, followed by Richmond Ridge, had
reduced me to a state of tears, in which I slogged along, sniffling,
while Dan tried to console me. This year I was going to be much more
mentally tough. Dan was still hurting, and as I was feeling slightly
better (as good as I felt I had a right to feel after skiing for so
long), I told him a story.

"When
we were hiking the Colorado Trail," pantpantpant "You told me about the
pep talk that the guy who put on the Leadville 100 gave at the start of
the race." pantpantpant "I turned it into a mantra that I used on the
trail, and since, when I've been hurting." pantpantpant

"You can go harder than you think you can," pantpantpant

""You can go further than you think you can," pantpantpant

"You can go longer than you think you can," pantpantpant

"Because you are stronger than you think you can."

It was a mantra that had always made me feel better, stronger, and more alive. I hoped it would help him.

The
part of the trail we were on now had been majorly disheartening last
year, where we ripped our skins, slid down about twenty feet, put our
skins back on, climbed up a bit, ripped skins, skied down, up, etc. for
what had felt like forever. I decided this year I was not going to rip
skins. We skinned down, skinned up, and on and on. It actually worked
much better, was much easier on the mind, and much sooner than we
expected, we found ourselves coming up on the Barnard Hut.

A look at the watch said that under twelve
hours was within reach, but might hurt a lot. I discarded the thought,
and sat down to a delicious ramen that they were preparing at the
Barnard Hut, watching another fox trot around and around the hut.
There's a mandatory ten minute break there, and I was going to use it to
the fullest. Drinking the hot, salty soup, I could have sworn it was
the best thing I'd ever had in my life. In between, I chugged another
Ensure, and then drank more soup to ensure the Ensure taste was gone
from my mouth. I also broke out the sunscreen and my baseball cap.

"Skininng?" Dan asked.

"Yeah, I want to keep moving," I said. "Stopping to rip skins is demoralizing."

When
our ten minutes were up, we clicked in, and skinned away. Dan was
feeling better, but because I could feel my body wanting to stop. I
thought that completing this in under twelve hours was too far out of
reach to try properly, but if there's anything that I've learned from
Richmond Ridge it is mental discipline. Don't let your mind go, if you
do, you will be a crying lump that moves even more slowly.

Dan
took the lead again, and we skinned up, skinned down, and on and on and
on. There were others pretty close to us, but they were doing the skin,
rip skins, ski, put skins on routine. We played leapfrog with them for
the whole time, and Dan debated ripping skins, but I still didn't want
to. I liked the consistency
of skinning. We skinned up one more big hill, and I knew we were home
free. We had met up with the group of people, ripped our skins and
skated off. When I saw the photographer on the knoll, and saw my watch, I
choked up. We were going to do it. We were going to finish in under
twelve hours. After completing it last year in fifteen and a half hours,
it felt incredible.


Arriving
at the Sundeck of Aspen, there were real hot tears on my cheeks. And
then it was down. Last year down Aspen had been a sufferfest, stopping
to shake out burning legs. This year, I was psyched. I don't know if the
adrenaline and endorphins
were keeping me from feeling the burning, or if I'm in that much better
shape, but we let our skis go and opened it up as much as we dared with
those skinny little skis, catching a few more racers on the way down
the mountain. As we crossed the finish line, the lady with the purple
hair who greets the racers, gave us both a big hug and the medals for
finishing the race and told us that we had finished third in the co-ed
division.


As
they checked out gear, as required for the top three finishers in each
division, I couldn't believe it. Eleven and a half hours. We had cut off
four hours. When the race official left and Dan went to grab our bags, I
sat down, basking in the sun.

"Are you crying?" It was Dan, back with the bags we had given to the volunteers to drive over to Aspen.

I looked up. "Yeah. I've never been on a podium. And that felt so good."

He
gave me a hug. "And the best part?" He said. "It as completely a team
effort. You needed me, I needed you. You did great, babe."

"We did great," and I hugged him back.

What
we're doing different next year? Fixing our drinking system. And doing a
much better job of organizing – avoiding a hitch hike from Aspen to
Crested Butte would be nice. And bring those 5-hour energy shots to get
through the night.

'Till next timeCb1

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