This weekend, I got to check off a few summer bucket list items I’ve been wanting to do for a while.
It kicked off on Thursday morning, when I drove up to the mountains while on a few work calls. It worked out well to take my calls from the road, but I have to admit that I was missing being able to multitask and knock out some emails while on calls… I had a lot to catch up on when I got to Minturn! I worked hard until 7pm to try to catch up, and then took a break in order to meet my friends Sara and Torrey, who had been quarantining in Arizona for the last few months. I was so excited to finally have them back in Colorado and see them in person!
Sara and Torrey joined me at my house for a bit of catchup, and then we drove down the street to the Blue Starlite Drive-in for their evening feature of Dirty Dancing. Believe it or not, neither Sara nor Torrey nor I had seen Dirty Dancing before! And I had also never been to a drive-in before, so this was an evening of firsts.
The movie was pretty good, and it was definitely fun and different to see a movie in my car. I liked that I could bring my own snacks – I polished off an entire bag of kettle corn… oops! However, the ticket price was, in my opinion, a little bit high. It was $28 for a car, but your car could only have two people, and then it was an extra $11 for each person after that. Since I was alone in my car (thanks, COVID!), that meant $30 just for me, which is way higher than a movie theater. In all, it was fun, but at these prices, I won’t be doing it frequently.
The movie didn’t get done till 10:30, so I headed home and crashed into bed shortly after that. I got a really good night sleep in the mountains, as usual, but woke up early enough to get in a very short run before my 7am presentation. I wanted to keep my legs fresh for the big adventure I had planned for Friday morning, but figured doing 2 miles would help me feel good about myself for the day, and would also potentially help my lungs acclimate to the altitude a little bit. No trails on this run; I stuck to the sidewalks and headed up to the new skatepark that’s being built about a mile from my house. It was only 45 degrees out (so much for my decision to wear shorts!) but it was actually really nice and refreshing to have the cold mountain morning temps. Definitely a nice change of pace, and I know how lucky I am to have two homes at a time like this!
My Friday work day was busy, though not quite as wall-to-wall as it’s been in the past, which was a nice change. For once, I felt like I had time to think while still getting a lot done! Recently, my weeks have been nonstop calls for 10 or 11 hours, with barely a chance to go to the bathroom… let alone actually think. I’m trying to be a bit more proactive and block time on my calendar for thinking and following up on the action items discussed in my calls, but it’s definitely not easy – I have the constant feeling that everyone “wants a piece of me” and I don’t want to let anyone down.
But the glorious thing was that I didn’t have a single thing planned for Friday night! I managed to wrap up work by 6:30pm, then headed to the grocery to grab some things for dinner. On my way to the store, I was really undecided about what I wanted, but ended up grabbing some marinara sauce and veggies to make pasta for dinner when I got back home… and it was delicious. My night stayed pretty low-key, with some blogging, reading, and getting to bed early. That low-key night paid off on Saturday morning, when I woke up at 5:30am feeling rested and refreshed. Time for my big adventure!
While looking at the Trail Running Project a few months ago for local trail running options, I found a really epic loop that went up to Grouse Mountain, then over to Beaver Creek, and back… for a total of 27 miles. At the time, that was beyond my capabilities, but now, after a lot of double digit hikes in the Front Range prepping for the Skyline Traverse, I wanted to give this a try.
Although I had been thinking about this adventure all week, when I was packing to head up to the mountains, I completely forgot to bring my Camelbak bladder… so part of my Walmart run the night before had been buying a new one. I found a an off-brand one that they sold for only $12, and I was a little skeptical, but after testing it overnight and finding it didn’t leak, I decided to give it a shot. Worst case, if I ran out of water, I could end my expedition early, and I was also carrying a life straw to be able to drink out of the streams and lakes along the way if needed.
One other fun part of my choice to do this loop on Saturday was that a group of my best friends were hiking part of the same trail! My backpacking friends from July 4th enjoyed it so much they were doing a repeat; however, I bailed on the backpacking and told them I’d just look for them on the trail. None of us would have our phones on, but we agreed we’d likely pass each other between 11am and 12pm, and would keep our eyes peeled.
I hit the trails at 6:40am, thinking I’d finish around 4pm. A long day, but I didn’t find it daunting! I knew that the first ten miles would be pretty much straight uphill, and I planned to hike that. Then, with 4000 feet behind me, I could alternate hiking and running for the rest. I found it really comforting that the majority of the uphill was frontloaded, with two smaller 1000 foot climbs around miles 16 and 24.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous in the first few miles on Meadow Mountain Loop – I hoped I wouldn’t see my friend the bear again! But I actually didn’t end up seeing anyone at all, human or animal, until two hours in, when I saw what I thought was a beaver on a big rock pile. (I’ve since been corrected that it was likely a marmot.) It was so peaceful to have the trail all to myself, and I enjoyed listening to some really interesting episodes of the Rise podcast, including an interview with Joe Biden.
In general, I listen to a lot of different podcasts, but I’ve found that I listen to certain podcasts while I’m doing certain things – Lindsey Hein’s “I’ll Have Another” while I’m doing stuff around the house and not paying too much attention, NPR’s “Freakonomics” and “Hidden Brain” while I’m doing trail runs in my neighborhood, HBR’s “Women at Work” when I’m doing a morning sidewalk run before work… and Rachel Hollis’ “Rise” podcast when I’m doing long hikes / trail runs on weekends. I just started listening to this podcast this summer, but I’m already halfway through the 162 episode archive… which shows you how much time I’m spending on long hikes / runs!
Meanwhile, I was also staying busy looking for photos to take. The scenery around me was so gorgeous that I definitely went a little nuts with the pictures, but I tried to find interesting ways to frame the shots or capture cool unique flowers / trees. Really, though, I could have GoPro videoed the whole thing 🙂
After this vista, though, things got a little bit tricky. The trail directions had noted that the trail would dissolve into the grass, and that I should follow the cairns to the ridgeline. I didn’t see any cairns; however, this was where my Garmin Fenix finally proved its worth! I had programmed the route into my watch, and the little indicator on the screen pointed me in the direction of where I was supposed to go. In general, I just needed to head up to the ridgeline – going through fields of wildflowers on my way.
Meanwhile, behind me I had sweeping panoramic views… and absolutely no one around. Since I was confident in where I was thanks to my watch, it felt so miraculous and wonderful to be in this totally isolated spot – and with the trail invisible, it felt like I was in a place no one else had ever been. This meadow and ridgeline was so wonderful! Click here for a panoramic / virtual reality view from the very top of the ridgeline.
I was also thrilled to be at the ridgeline because things were about to get a lot easier. Although I was only about a third of the way done mileage-wise, I had already climbed 4200 feet – meaning two thirds of the climb was behind me. I was thrilled to get to go down the west side of the pass, where it was a meandering descent with a pretty clear trail. And, again, stunning views!
The descent was lovely, though I mostly hiked it fast rather than running it. I didn’t want to use up all my energy running when I still had another 18 miles to go! And once I went back into the trees, there were some parts of the trail that were a bit too steep to run without slipping. While 18 miles till the end felt like a long way, I was breaking the trail up in my head into small bite-sized chunks – and the next landmark for me would be the junction to Turquoise Lake. This was where I planned to stop for lunch, so it was a pretty exciting milestone!
When I got to the junction, there was a lake almost right there, but my directions had said it was about a half mile to Turquoise Lake. I then remembered that there was a lower Turquoise and and upper Turquoise, but it ended up being 0.6 miles till upper – and I was definitely counting down to get to it. I was hungry! But finally I emerged at the tip of the lake, and seeing lots of tents set up on the left side, I followed the trail to the right to find my own quiet spot to sit and have lunch – setting up shop on a big flat rock that was right in the lake. What a cool lunch spot!
So what did I eat for lunch? Well, I mentioned being at the grocery the night before, and was planning on picking up ingredients to make / pack a sandwich. But instead, I discovered what I dubbed “adult lunchables” – little snack packs that are a bit more grown up than the kids’ classic in that they have prosciutto, salami, gouda, and toasted sourdough rounds, rather than ham and cheese and Ritz crackers. To be clear, I know it’s about the same nutritional value, but the upsell to “fancy” ingredients totally got me. And it ended up being a really delicious hiking lunch!
Now, the downside of eating over the water like that? I was super careful with my phone, and when I heard a plunk, I was confused – my phone was safe and sound?? But I hadn’t been as careful with my solar power bank, and it and the cord went right in and submerged under two feet of water! I scrambled to pull it out, and noticed that the power light was still on when I retrieved it. So maybe it wasn’t totally dead? Sure enough, an hour later I decided it was dry enough to test – and it continued charging my phone beautifully. Score! I can’t find the exact one I have online anywhere (I got it as a gift), but I just ordered this one, which looks pretty similar but also has wireless charging. Hopefully it will be similarly durable.
After lunch, I felt a lot more energetic – that pick me up was great! I headed down the trail again, admiring the beautiful wildflowers along the way,
My next point of reference was 3.5 miles to Beaver Lake, and it was in this section that I assumed I’d see my friends. In fact, I was kind of surprised I hadn’t already seen them at Turquoise Lake, given how I was a bit slower than expected! After another mile or two, I started worrying that perhaps they had been on the other side of the lake and I missed them, but finally, I saw the familiar group ahead.
We stopped to chat for a few minutes, and then I bid adieu with the promise to see them Sunday night and exchange adventure stories. While I was really happy I got to see them on the trail, I was also very satisfied with my decision not to join them for backpacking and just trail run on my own. It was so nice to run unencumbered with just a tiny hydration pack, rather than the giant heavy backpacks they were carrying with all their gear! Plus, doing this on my own meant I didn’t have to choose between exposing myself to COVID risk or being rude about their social distancing habits. This is something that’s definitely been on my mind a lot lately – trying to protect myself without coming off as judgmental toward others. I know it’s cliched, but – strange times we are living in!
As I continued down the trail, I kept the pace at an easy run – and then about a mile down the trail, I tripped and fell flat on my face. Luckily, the trail was somewhat soft, so I really didn’t incur too many injuries; just a small scrape on one knee. I picked myself up and kept going, but another quarter mile down the trail, I felt like something was off – and realized my power bank was missing. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I fell! I decided to retrace my steps, and was happy to find it right on the side of the trail where it had flown. Whew! That little slip added about a half mile to my adventure, but what’s a half mile when you’re already 14 miles in? Halfway done!
Beaver Lake ended up being just a touch further than 3.5 miles, but it was very apparent when I passed it because of how crowded with tourists the trail suddenly got. Note to self – Beaver Lake is not a good place to go this summer! Fortunately, a little ways past the lake, I reached the junction of Royal Elk Trail – and while the tourists stayed on the main trail, I turned right up the hill. This was the final big incline of the adventure – 1000 feet over about 2 miles. Piece of cake compared to what I had done before!
Royal Elk Trail traversed all my favorite ski trails at Beaver Creek – starting with Bald Eagle on Grouse Mountain (my favorite trail at Beaver Creek, where I met Craig last winter), I was able to name each of the ski trails as I crossed them, even when the signs weren’t visible. That’s how you know you ski a mountain too much, especially when it looked so different in the summer!
About three quarters of the way up, I started seeing ominous storm clouds to my left… uh oh! As I passed some other hikers coming down the trail I was going up, I checked in with them, and they said the lodge at the top was open – so while I didn’t love the idea of either stopping or going into a building with other people, I knew it could be a potential spot for me to take refuge from the storm. And as usual for Beaver Creek, the nice workers greeting people at the lodge were super helpful – pulling up weather apps on their phone to show me exactly where the storm cells were and give their predictions for when it would pass over. Since their estimate was about 20 minutes, I took advantage of the time to refill my Camelbak, hit the bathroom, and call my mom to reassure her I was okay even though I was later than planned 🙂
Twenty minutes later, the clouds weren’t totally gone from the sky, but they weren’t over us, and it looked to be moving the other way. Meanwhile, the chondola had started running again (they closed it due to the storms), so I decided I’d make a break for it and start heading home. I had about eight miles to go, but I was looking forward to them being much easier than what I had already done.
My directions from the Trail Run Project said to take Cinch down, but when I started heading that way, the route I had programmed onto my watch actually had me take the Rose Pedal mountain biking trail for a little while, and then meet up with Cinch further down. That worked! And Rose Pedal was really beautiful.
Rose Pedal did eventually link up with Cinch, the beginner trail that turned out to have a fire road underneath – and this was a section where I could really fly. No rocks or roots to trip on and a nice gentle downhill grade – what a treat! I was enjoying it so much that I missed the turnoff for Paulie’s Plunge until my watch beeped to indicate I was off course, and I retraced my steps back uphill a bit until I saw the single track trail heading into the forest. Onward!
Paulie’s Plunge was steep and rocky; it was hard for me to imagine how mountain bikers handle it! For my part, I alternated between walking and jogging, not wanting to trip and face plant again. Meanwhile, the trail was crowded with beautiful birch trees and wildflower stands – I loved the views almost as much as the shade!
The shade on this section of trail was key, as it was pretty hot. My watch told me it was 81 degrees out – the heat of summer for the mountains! Quite a big difference from when I had started out and it was 45 degrees, and I was wishing I had brought gloves. But then, I was a long way from 6am – I had been out on the trails for over 10 hours at this point.
And now, I had a choice to make – do I follow the course as written and descend to Avon, then take the roads back to the trailhead? This way would be flatter and slightly shorter. Or, I could take the relatively new Everkrisp trail (which I assume wasn’t around when this loop course was created) that would keep me on trails as I went from Avon to Minturn. This was definitely my preference, since it would be a lot prettier (and softer on my legs), but it meant I had about another 800 feet of climb if I chose this option. Maybe I should take the easy way out and justify it as doing the course as written?
But with only five miles left, I decided it was worth a little bit of climb. I had run the Everkrisp trail last year, and knew that it would climb for about two miles and then give me some downhill – so I sucked it up and decided to go for it. When I turned a corner and came to the Everkrisp sign, it was reassuring to know it was only 4.5 miles to the trailhead. The end was in sight!
Now that I knew how much was left, I didn’t worry as much about conserving my phone battery, so I switched from listening to podcasts to music – specifically, the country cookout playlist I’ve been listening to a ton of for the last week. Highly recommend it! One of the first songs that played was “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks, and it felt so perfect and fitting as I gazed out over the Vail Valley.
But while my phone was making me happy, my Garmin… was not. While I had fully charged it before I started, it turns out the battery life on a Garmin is only 10 hours – so I had outrun my watch! It died somewhere on that last hill, and I was pretty frustrated, since I wanted a record of this epic adventure. When I noticed, I opened the Strava app on my phone to start recording from there, and I hoped that when I recharged the Garmin, it would at least have the track up until the point where it died. (Spoiler: it did. Whew!)
Finally, I reached the peak of the trail; from here, I knew it was just 2.5 miles of (mostly) downhill to the trailhead. Woo hoo! I picked up the pace a bit, and basked in the setting sun as I ran through the final fields of flowers. But then, another glitch – now my Aftershokz headphones ran out of battery! With less than a mile to go, I wanted some music to run it in strong, and there wasn’t anyone around, so I ended up playing the final few songs on my speakers at a low volume. Thank goodness for my solar charger keeping my phone battery strong!
Finally, with one last sprint at the end, I rolled into the trailhead parking lot at 5:39pm – one minute before the 11 hour mark! My best guess was that I had covered about 28 miles and 6,100 feet of gain, but I couldn’t confirm that until some time later, messing around with GPX files on my computer – and I learned it was actually 29.2 miles and 6,420 feet of gain. WOW!!!!!!
I headed home super happy, and surprisingly not that tired?? I mean, I wasn’t bursting with energy, but I also wasn’t nearly as tired as I would have expected after that kind of distance / vert. I have to think that doing this whole thing on trails rather than roads helped keep my legs from feeling it, but I was surprised my glutes weren’t sore after all that climb.
My right hamstring, though, was sore. Around the twelve mile mark, I tripped over a rock and extended my stride a bit to catch myself, and I seem to have tweaked my hamstring in the process. So when I got home, before a shower, I did a 10 minute Peloton yoga class focused on hamstrings, hoping that would ease it up a bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work – my hamstring continued to get more and more sore as the night went on, even making it hard to sleep. No bueno! So as a result of that, when I woke up super early the next morning, I decided to just grab my stuff and head back to Superior – I certainly wasn’t going to hike on it in the mountains on Sunday!
On the drive back, though, I got some bad news. I’m not quite ready to share publicly yet (I haven’t even told real life friends), but it’s going to mean a big life change, so definitely more on that to come. Right now, I’m waiting to see exactly what it will mean before I worry too much.
However, I think COVID has taught me how to compartmentalize? Because in spite of that bad news, I was able to set it aside and move on with my day. I got home at 8am and made a special breakfast that turned out really well – a riff on Snooze’s OMG French Toast. Their description is “brioche stuffed with mascarpone and topped with vanilla creme, salted caramel, agave soaked strawberries and toasted coconut”; mine was “ten grain French toast stuffed with vanilla-scented cottage cheese and drizzled with caramel.” Maybe not quite same-same, but it was so good!
After brunch and some chores, I headed down to my gym to try to soothe my sore hamstring with a bit of rowing (to loosen them up) and a 30 minute glute-focused power yoga class on Peloton. This marked two days in a row that I did Peloton yoga, and once again, I didn’t hate it? This surprised me – I’m usually not much of a yoga fan. But mildly enjoying it two days in a row made me decide I’m going to do a yoga class every day for the month of August, as an experiment – and I got a bunch of my Reddit buddies to join in the fun too! I know it’s a bit late to share this with you to join, but jump in anytime and definitely let me know if you have any favorite Peloton yoga classes / instructors.
One of the other goals I set for the month of August: cooking a new-to-me recipe every day. Although I was cooking up a storm in the spring, I’ve fallen back on making a lot of the same things over and over, and I want to infuse some variety into my cooking. It’s fun to try new recipes and flavor profiles, and I have a few cookblog authors who are always reliable – like Budget Bytes. So I kicked off Sunday night by finally attempting to make her black bean burgers. I’ve never made veggie burgers before, but they were so easy and so delicious!! Now I have no idea why I’ve ever bought pre-made veggie burgers before; this recipe is definitely a keeper and I want to tell everyone I know about it.
Finally, the other highlight of my Sunday was receiving a care package in the mail from my dad – which included a mix of stuff from Poland (where my dad is from and all his family still lives) and from the Adirondack Mountains (where my dad always took me as a kid, even though I hated the outdoors – funny now, huh?). Two highlights really stuck out though – krowki, a type of cream fudge that you can only get in Poland (UNTIL I JUST GOOGLED IT AND NOW KROWKI ARE SOLD ON AMAZON AND IT’S LIKE A WHOLE NEW WORLD!), and a “Polska” baseball cap that is pretty cheesy but I know it will make my dad smile whenever I wear it:
So now… I guess I need to become a hat person? I’ve been thinking I should try trail running with a baseball hat, since sometimes when I’m running in a forest, the light varies depending on where the sun is relative to the trees, and sunglasses just don’t cut it. But it just seems like it would be weird / hot / uncomfortable to run with my head covered. Anyone have thoughts or tips on this?
All in all – in spite of the bad news Sunday, this was a really good weekend. I was happy I managed to fit so much in, from seeing friends, to spending time on the trails, to puttering around my house in Superior.