For A Kiss

Bang! The sky explodes in a thunderous roar above my head. I’m startled, nearly to the point of falling over. I hug the side of the road lined with aspens. While sparse, the trees are of somewhat even height, providing a semblance of protection from the storm. I continue to run along the road between the Sherman and Burrows aid stations during the 2017 Hardrock 100 as the rain intensifies to a torrential downpour.

The overcast sky was very much welcome for the first six hours of the run, taking the edge off the harsh exposure of moving at 12,000 feet through Pole Creek.

My only piece of extra clothing is a windbreaker, which is nearly instantly saturated by the sheer amount of water coming from the sky.

By the time I reach Burrows, I’m soaked to the bone. I quickly fill my bottles, not lingering for fear of getting cold. A supercharged crew of volunteers cheers and clamors as I leave, crossing the bridge for the start of the ascent up Handies Peak.

I wonder to myself, How long can a cheer keep you warm? I get my answer soon enough, as within a few hundred yards, my hands, feet, and pretty much everything else goes numb.

It’s hailing now, and despite being below treeline, any exposed skin is getting hammered. I switch from hiking to jogging intermittently, in an effort to stay warm–a wasteful, yet necessary consumption of energy. I try to take a sip out of my bottle, but the cap breaks, spilling the entire contents onto my shirt, adding sticky to wet.

I’ve been here before, dealing with the infernal weather these mountains can savagely unleash. During last year’s Tour de 14ers, I spent the entire week in the San Juans contesting with the elements. From morning drizzle, to thick fog, thunderstorms, hail, and even some snow flurries, I got the all of it. It worked me deeply physically, and left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t yet come to a place of acceptance and spent those seven days fussing and fighting instead of simply being content with what is. Fourteen peaks and 250 miles of travel later had left me close to broken.

After that rain last year, though, came the sun. There is no reason to assume that the sun won’t shine again today. Soon, hopefully.

While perspective is helpful, just like the cheers, it doesn’t provide much warmth. Cold is cold and a stupid mistake at roughly 35 miles into Hardrock, like bringing too light of a jacket, could have devastating consequences.

Above treeline, the hail subsides and has shifted to steady rain. The thunder and lightning have also tempered, offering a somewhat more reassuring path to the summit. Up ahead, I can see Kilian Jornet, Iker Karrera, and Mike Foote. Just behind me, Caroline Chaverot and Chris Price. All are dressed similarly to me. All forge ahead with the same vigor and intensity.   

Compared to being alone, I find comfort in the collective struggle. Of course, we all have to deal with our own trials individually, but there is a unifying thread running down the valley–all of us, heads down, numb with cold, finding our own meaning in this arduous process. Nothing quite matches the visceral intensity of feeling the pulse of the world, a humbling realization of our place in the universe.  

As I run down off of Handies, I can feel the life pumping back through me. I regain feeling in my hands and legs. I can nearly taste the hot soup a few miles ahead at the Grouse Gulch aid station. I am flooded with positive emotions, beyond grateful for the opportunity to try to meet the challenge of these mighty mountains. Who would have thought that so much could be learned, so much could be felt and shared, all of that just to kiss a rock?

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you found that a simple running moment can offer psychological complexity?
  • If so, can you describe the situation that offered this?
Joe Grant - For A Kiss 1

Photo: Joe Grant

Joe Grant - For A Kiss 2

Photo: Steven Gnam

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 16 comments

  1. Sean Cunniff

    Knowing the perils of high mountain weather, why not carry a couple of extra ounces and bring along a water-resistant jacket just in case?

  2. Markus

    A real water resistant jacket would be to heavy. Everything else will be soaked anyway. Not that you would be soaked from your own sweat in your heavy water resistant jacket anyway as well.

  3. Sean Cunniff

    There are some remarkably light water-resistant jackets available these days. For instance, the Arc Teryx Norvan SL weighs in at 4.2-5.8 ounces. By comparison, the Patagonia Houdini, a lightweight windbreaker, weighs around 3.6 ounces.

    I disagree that wearing such a jacket per se results in counterproductive sweating. In particularly cold, wet, and windy conditions, as sometimes arise in high mountain travel, such a jacket can keep you warm without causing excessive condensation inside the garment.

  4. Joe Grant

    Sean,
    I had full waterproof gear with my crew at Grouse which I carried for the rest of the race. I much prefer to run in a windbreaker rather than a goretex jacket if possible though in this particular case it would have been better to start with a waterproof one. The difference in running in an event like this is that you can adapt your systems on the go (with crew and drop bags) so you’re never stuck out too long if you miss judge a section as opposed to a solo outing where I’d have planned ahead differently.

  5. Tom Davies

    The jacket selection is secondary to the meaning of the article. I appreciate your outlook on the situation. You hit the nail on the head, whether we are too hot or too cold, fresh or tired, there is solace and camaraderie in the fact we are all out there sharing the experience, comfortable or uncomfortable. I always enjoy your column and insight. Great job out there this year. Glad it went your way. Cheers.

  6. John Hunter

    “Manage your situation in the moment. I think that brought a lot of perspective to me in this race. I didn’t use pacers. Part of it is that I’ve spent a lot of time alone up in the mountains, so you deal with your own stuff.” This is a quote from Joe’s post race interview with which I profoundly connected. For me, as an ageing Scotsman chasing 60, Joe’s perspective, viewed from a continent away and almost a 30 year age gap, reveals the core of what such activity is all about. His article sums up what so many of us get from moving fast and light through the mountains especially when faced with sketchy conditions, difficult terrain or both. The simple joy of overcoming adversity on a personal level in the high mountains, when near to our limits, is what keeps so many of us going back for more throughout our lifetime. Keep going back for more Joe and keep feeding us believers with your unique perspective.

    PS: A point for discussion. In races such as Hard Rock perhaps everyone should ditch the pacers.

    1. Burke

      I totally agree with your assessment. I commented on that video (Wilburn Jones), and I truly think it was the best interview I have ever seen/heard from a runner. The nuggets of knowledge that can be found throughout the conversation are numerous. Everyone should watch it.

  7. Brian

    Great writing Joe. Thanks so much and congrats on the effort. “Nothing quite matches the visceral intensity of feeling the pulse of the world, a humbling realization of our place in the universe.” Accept what is…..

  8. Tony Mollica

    Joe I always enjoy reading your articles and reading about your outlook on particular situations. As an old guy I also dig the black and white pictures!

  9. Karen Jones

    We were at Maggie Gulch. Joe, you looked amazing! Congratulations on a great race!
    You came back strong after 2016. Very impressed with your perseverance!!
    Karen Jones

  10. Joe Grant

    John, thanks for the perspective. I sure hope to still be getting up in the hills in 30 years. As for pacers, I really think it’s an individual choice. I’ve had pacers in the past (and I’ve paced too) and sharing that experience was something really special. It’s an opportunity to bring the community into an otherwise individual challenge and since Hardrock is so hard to get into, it offers another way to experience the event. I think going alone or having a partner both have their merits.

    Burke, thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the video and I wasn’t babbling too much in my sleep deprived state :)

    And, thank you to the rest of you who commented for the kind words and support!

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