[Editor’s Note: This is the next edition in iRunFar’s On Adventure article series, a play on words from the climbing phrase “on belay.” On Adventure strives to document the raddest adventures undertaken by trail and ultrarunners.]
When we look back at 2013, we endurance types will remember this as the year in which the FKT phenomenon exploded.
While folks have been going fast through wild spaces for a good, long time and keeping local records of said endeavors for nearly as long, it wasn’t until 2005 that Peter Bakwin started his Fastest Known Time website to organize and codify this type of movement in the wild. Since then, there’s been an upward creep of interest in ‘FKT-ing.’ That is, until this year when it has supernovaed in popularity with a dozen or more seriously impressive records. Kilian’s Matterhorn FKT? Inanely insane in its speed. Matt Kirk’s overall self-supported FKT on the Appalachian Trail and Heather Anderson’s overall self-supported FKT of the Pacific Crest Trail? I know no better definition of the word ‘endurance.’ Rob Krar’s Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKT? He took so much time off the old record that I can’t help but wonder if the da$n canyon shrunk since the last time the record was set. Mike Wolfe’s and Hal Koerner’s supported FKT on the John Muir Trail? S-T-O-U-T. Jenny Capel set the women’s supported FKT on the Tahoe Rim Trail in a wicked fast 53 hours, 39 minutes this summer, but hardly anyone’s heard about it because she hasn’t publicized her effort.
And now Scott Jaime has just set an overall supported FKT of the 486-mile Colorado Trail, which stretches between Durango and west of Denver through some of the state’s finest mountain scenery. Starting his journey just over a week ago on Friday, August 16, he finished on Saturday, August 24 at 12:50 p.m. MDT. His record of 8 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes, and 17 seconds bests the previous supported FKT of Paul Pomeroy (8 days, 12 hours, 14 minutes) by 4 hours and 34 minutes.
The fact that a gah-zillion-billion FKTs are being put up this year should not detract from the merit of each of them. From the sleep deprivation, to the dirt, the hunger, high altitude, heat, lightning and thunder, howling in pain or at the moon, hallucinations, wildlife encounters, numbed nerves, family sacrifices, the joy, the very simple process of putting one foot in front of the other, the finish line. Each record is a stamp marking a human’s potential, a badge signifying maximal effort, a mark for others to be pushed by, a number representing someone’s intimacy with the land. A FKT is, on its most primal level, a celebration of being alive.
Scott invited me to pace him on his record attempt. So, this past week, Bryon Powell and I joined his crew for some running, powerhiking, trail chats, a beer or two, lots of photos, even more laughter, and a deep encounter with Colorado. Below is an account of what we witnessed.
Monday, August 19, 9:30 p.m.
The world is velvet blue, the night brightened by a three-quarter moon through a layer of clouds. Light mist falls from those clouds and into the dark. We stand on the side of Highway 50, west of Salida, east of Gunnison, where the mountains yield to two lanes of traffic, where the Colorado Trail leaps across the blacktop and back into the hills. Scott’s crew is gathered, waiting for him to end his day, waiting to give him food and put him to sleep. Scott’s folks are here, as is Nicole, Scott’s wife, and Nicole’s father. And three dogs, too, because what would any activity in Colorado be without a supporting dog pack?
Among this group I sense nervousness–a mother will always be nervous, won’t she–fatigue, dedication, pride. But the strongest emotion I sense is love. Here we have a crew that is tracking Scott for eight-odd days through the mountains, tending to his every need and sacrificing for this time many of their own. This group, I can see, stands totally behind their man. As I watch them putter in the night, I decide that being crew might just be the finest demonstration of love I know in our silly sport.
Two headlamps appear one ridge over, Scott and his pacer, Matt Trappe. We whoop and holler but realize that it’s going to be a little while before they get here, that maybe they can’t even hear us yet. Slowly the lights disappear into the valley separating us and then, a bit later, we see them shining through the trees below, on our ridge now. We whoop and holler some more as Scott and Matt come level with the road.
“Who’s here?” is the first thing Scott says. He’s identified a couple foreign voices in the night. Bryon and I step forward, me with a hug, Bryon with a beer. When he catches sight of us and the beer in his headlamp, Scott smiles, via a vague parting of his lips and a sparkle in his eyes. The action of smiling is difficult now; Scott it tired. He also shakes his head a little as if maybe beer isn’t the best idea. But he takes the can and cracks it open. I guess there is always time and space for beer.
Nicole leads Scott into the passenger seat of their pick-up truck and gives him some cold french fries she bought at the McDonald’s down in Salida. French fries, beer, and a seat he doesn’t have to get up from for a while, this is Christmas for an FKTer. Minutes pass while we all just watch him, like a reality show on television. The guy’s not much for idle chit chat, but who can blame him? He’s just completed a 49.8-mile day and 231.5 miles in the last 89 hours.
Nicole soon whisks a zombie-like Scott off to a nearby campground where the crew’s rented RV is parked. There, he showers, eats more food, and lapses into five hours of fitful sleep.
Tuesday, August 20, 5:30 a.m.
Scott climbs out of the truck at the same place he climbed in eight hours ago. It’s still mostly dark, though the moon is bright in a now-cloudless sky and the eastern horizon glows light blue. It’s about an hour’s worth of Earth’s rotation until the sun will rise. Scott makes adjustments to his shoes, clothing, and pack, all without saying a word. His crew members whisper among themselves.
I am amazed by the way his body moves. Absent from the movements is the creaky stiffness I would expect from someone who has been going as hard as he has. Where there’s a lack of stiffness, there also seems to be a temporary vacancy of personality, too. Well, of course it’s in there, but it’s covered by layers of fatigue. He is visibly tired, so tired.
After a brief exchange with Nicole’s father confirming a crew point about 14 miles up the trail and a round of “good mornings” among the group, Scott crosses the highway and climbs onto the trail with Bryon as his pacer. We watch the hillside for a few minutes, until we can no longer see their headlamps through the trees.
Nervous, I’m nervous, I realize. I want today, all these days to go well for Scott.
Tuesday, August 20, 11:45 a.m.
“Runner!” Matt Trappe shouts. He has his video camera pointed up the trail, to capture Scott’s arrival into this crew point. Trotting down the trail comes a whole train of folks, Scott, Bryon, and added to the group since I last saw them is Rob Kunz, co-founder of First Endurance, one of Scott’s sponsors, and his wife, Sylvia. The group is a roving party, the mood an approximate antithesis from six hours ago. Since 5:30 a.m., Scott has covered 20.9 miles and according to Bryon, “He’s not stopped talking the entire time.” Nicole’s father whispers, “Thank goodness, he’s back. We were worried.”
Scott credits the return of his regular jubilance to last night’s five hours of sleep. “It’s the most I’ve gotten since I’ve started. It took me a while to wake up, but sleep feels incredible!” In my head, five hours of sleep sounds miserable, but I’m beginning to realize that FKT events and the meeting of basic humans needs are mutually exclusive occurrences. There is not much creature comfort in the long haul.
But there does seem to be some serious solace in burritos. Nicole has emerged from the RV with one and it’s hard to even get a glimpse of the thing before it’s down Scott’s hatch. I did see in it cheese, some sort of meat, and potatoes. It’s big and thick, and I imagine an atomic bomb to his intestines. Scott will tell me later today, when I ask him what he craves on the trail, “Burritos. Definitely burritos.” While I know a lot of people who like burritos, I can’t say I’ve met anyone who craves them in situations of an extreme physical nature like this one. When I think about burritos and running, I also think about barfing. But for Scott, burritos it is.
Twenty-five minutes is his stay here, at the Chalk Creek Trailhead, and Scott sits in his chair for about 24 minutes, 30 seconds of that time. In addition to his burrito, he is also savoring non-movement. The precious act of, if only for a short time, not going anywhere during a journey otherwise defined by relentless progress.
Tuesday, August 20, 5:00 p.m.
It’s evening in Avalanche Gulch, which carves its way down the southeast shoulder of Mount Yale, one of Colorado’s famous 14ers. We’re not climbing the mountain, but the Colorado Trail gains and then descends a 12,000-foot pass to the peak’s east. The sky is an almost uniform gray, a thick layer of clouds spreading horizon to horizon. This is a massive step up from the afternoon’s weather, where rumble-y thunderheads threatened from up high before dissolving into the sky we have now.
I’ve been pacing Scott for the last 18 miles and I haven’t found it hard to keep up with him. It’s not speed that renders a FKT of this length; it’s that the guy has the mental and physical ability to pretty much not stop moving for more than a week. Except for right now, where Scott is climbing this pass at a remarkable rate of speed. He says he’s on autopilot when I ask about where the fire in his belly comes from. I tell him, “I wish I had your gearing.”
Scott’s talking about his older son, Jaxon. “He recently ran a 25k race. I think he saw me finishing these races and the big smile on my face. He wanted to feel the same joy. But he wasn’t old enough to perceive the pain that precedes those finishes. He learned in his race that running hurts, that it takes a big effort to get to the smiles at the end.”
We talk some more about that concept, about the age at which kids begin to understand the intangible process of seeing an extended experience through from beginning to end, from point A to point B, from now to some time in the distant future. We decide that, in an age where humans are coming to value immediacy over most other things, this sense of projection, procession, progression is a concept that some grown-ups struggle with, too.
2,600 vertical feet from the beginning of this steep climb, the land evens out. We’ve been in the trees mostly, but as we drop over the pass and onto the northeast shoulder of Mount Yale, a sprawling, above-treeline bowl reveals itself. Scott’s patience–or shall I say his acceptance of the procession between Durango and Denver–is rewarded right here. Scott may still have about 200 miles to travel, but clearly progress grants little victories along the way.
Tuesday, August 20, 8:30 p.m.
Our next work project beckons, so Bryon and I have to break off from the group. We’ve already said good-bye to Scott, as he’s retreated into the RV for the night, for some food, for a shower, for some hours of unconsciousness. Again the whole crew is present and accounted for. They’ve given us hugs. They’ve showered us with food and drink. They’ve thanked us so many times that I’m beginning to feel bashful. One of Scott and Nicole’s dogs, an Australian Shepard called Livvy, pretty much just tried to herd me to my car. I think she’s the only creature who wants us to go. If I had my scheduling druthers, I’d stay on, join the crew, pace a bunch of miles, and watch Scott embrace his family when he reaches the east end of the Colorado Trail in record time.
Oh yes, I’ve said ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ Of course, I don’t actually know that for sure, that Scott will set a new FKT. From my 24 hours with him, I do know that, between right here and the record, there will be more jubilance and probably a couple more quiet patches. There will be more burritos and moon-shine-y nights. Maybe there will be some sleep. There will be a surprise visit from Scott’s kids on the trail, more big mountains to climb, perhaps a bear or two. There will be enough nervousness and even more love among his crew. There will be more pacers with stories and songs to pass the time. More tests of the limits of Scott’s potential, more moments when he’ll have to ask himself, will I, can I do this? And there will be an end to this long and arduous process. Whether that ending coincides with a new FKT, even Scott won’t know this until he’s there.