Learning and Laughing in the San Juans

Do you enjoy adversity? Have you ever spent less than forty-eight hours of almost complete self-sufficiency in the the San Juan Mountains with a few teammates, high school cross country kids, their coach and two licensed ham radio operators? Are you a trail running nerd? Rad, me too.

43.5 hours were spent at the final hike-in aid station at mile 94.9 of the Hardrock 100, an annual endurance footrace that takes place in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. This aid station is called Putnam and is about a five mile’s from a trailhead ten minutes outside of the town of Silverton where the race starts and finishes. A crew of over 30 and myself backpacked into the location and spent the weekend aiding runners. We logged their times in and out to report to race officials in town via licensed ham radio operators, as the information was needed prior to the athletes arriving at the finish, 5.6 miles further.

This race is run on old mining trails, 4WD trails, dirt trails, scree and single track. Established in 1992, the race serves as a reminder to the memory of the miners who settled in the area in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The mining trails were built by those miners, and much of the race is run on them. There is 33,050 feet of climb and descent for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet, and at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. Which is all pretty cool.

The Hardrock
Instead of crossing a line, finishers are required to kiss this here rock.

Despite spending over half the time awake and entering into a zombie-like state, some humorous thoughts and lessons emerged from this experience. Before you tell me that this wasn’t a smart idea or that I’m delusional, let me tell you right now… Yes.

Doesn’t stop me.

So, here are ten things learned/realized from the less than forty-eight hour grand adventure in the magnificent San Juans.

  1. Be prepared for a bit of a sufferfest. This kind of long weekend in the mountains won’t have you feeling rejuvenated or refreshed.
  2. Even in your thoughts, do not complain. If you are not in check with yourself, the brewing internal thoughts will make their way out one way or another and a chunk of the experience may be tainted for others because of the festering negativity. The sheer thought of complaining about anything would be selfish regarding the particular endeavor because the sole purpose of being placed in this position is to take care of the needs and encourage the tenacious humans who need you to be positive. Their low points are guaranteed to have been much lower than yours, anyway.
  3. Surviving off of the bare minimum for food (protein bars, beef jerky, trail mix, granola) is not necessarily easy but it is possible. However, I can only attest this statement for less than 48 hours.
  4. Politely beg for and/or accept your friend’s surprisingly decent instant Starbucks coffee. Even if he is a barista and has the capability to make quality coffee. Side note: find solar powered espresso machine and pack it in for future races.
  5. When Coach Mac tells you to go to sleep at 4 am, listen to Coach Mac and go to sleep at 4 am.
  6. If you wake up before your teammates, don’t watch them sleep. Get out of that overheated tent as carefully as possible and go find something to pack up.
  7. If you do wake up your teammates at six in the morning because your party needs to leave around that same time like they said they would in the game plan five hours ago, they miiight want to kill you. Because they too have barely had any sleep. And especially if you are accidentally/unintentionally a morning person.
  8. Splash cold creek in your face to tangibly make sure that you are still in fact alive and that your teammates didn’t kill you like you thought they might have.
  9. Hike out of camp like a champ because you heard there was free breakfast in Silverton.
  10. Watch the sun come up over a ridge on the Colorado Trail with your friends, gaze out at the cool mountains, and know that you helped runners accomplish their Hardrock dreams.
Colorado Trail
Taken from Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail, with views of North Twilight Peak on the left, Spud Mountain peaking out in the middle and to the left, the La Plata Mountains, a small subrange of the San Juans.

There was definitely free breakfast in Silverton.

And the views weren’t too bad either.

Worth it.

A huge congratulations to all the runners who attempted and completed their 1st Hardrock, or their 21st Hardrock! I strive to be as resilient and determined as a human and a trail runner someday. And a big thanks to the board, race and aid station/volunteer director, aid station workers, volunteers, emergency services and medics, trail maintenance crews, and everyone else who make the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run possible.

Toeing the Line Hardrock
Toeing the line. Joe Grant, 3rd place male in rust orange Black Diamond t-shirt, to his left, Hardrock returner and survivor of near-fatal climbing accident last year Adam Campbell, to his left, 1st overall female Caroline Chaverot of France, and further to her left, in between the woman in yellow and the man in blue, Hardrock co- male winner of 2016 and semi-acquaintance Jason Schlarb.

Y’all rock. Hard.


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