A few weeks back, the Quad Rock 50 Mile in Fort Collins, Colorado was cancelled due to concern from the park services of the environmental impact on the trails following persistent heavy rains. Three of my Boulder friends were signed up for the race. Rush and Jon were running the 50 miler, while Jake was doing the 25 miler. Despite the prospect for continued grim weather, I offered for them to come up to Gold Hill to run a long loop from my house to salvage some of the work they had put into training for the race. The route I had in mind connects a network of dirt roads, singletrack, and a tad bit of asphalt with many of the sections being infrequently used. I had never run the loop continuously, but guessed it to be somewhere in the 40-mile range. I was eager to put it all together and see how it flowed.
The guys show up around 8 a.m. After some indecisive mulling over of what to wear, we all opt for tights, except for Jake, who being originally from Minnesota, is unaffected by a little drizzle and chill. Heading east down Sunshine Canyon, the precipitation is a mix of heavy, wet snowflakes and sleet. We are all drenched by the time we peel off the dirt road onto the sneak trail that leads into the tiny town of Sunshine.
We take the Rowena trail down to connect to Lefthand Canyon. It is now pouring rain. The solemn atmosphere and roaring creek give the drenched canyon a feel reminiscent of the 2013 floods. The snow resumes as we turn north to ascend on old mining trail to the Lefthand ridge. At this point, we are barely an hour into the run. My sense is that this will be a long, cold outing, good for the mind, but certainly not the most pleasant in the moment. Everyone seems content though as we climb steadily to the high point on the ridge.
As we cruise along delightful stretches of rolling singletrack, cushioned by several inches of fresh snow, the clouds part, letting the sun poke through and revealing patches of blue sky. The whole temperament of the run changes from being confined to our waterproof hoods, scarcely conversing, to cheery chatter and renewed zest in our step.
The route on the far west end of Lefthand ridge can be confusing, with game and dirt-bike trails spurring off in all directions. I have been turned around in here many times, but today my choices are on point as I manage to keep us on track. We pass interesting, old mining shacks, quirky homes with peculiar machinery out front, and even a llama farm before finally emerging on the Peak to Peak Highway at the Millsite Inn.
Jake decides to take off here and run back to Gold Hill through Ward putting his outing right around 25 miles. I am happy to see him running so strong, this being his longest run in quite some time. Jon, Rush, and I continue up Brainard Lake road to the winter parking lot. The paved road is a steady two-and-half-mile grind. It is covered in icy slush and we get sprayed every time a car passes. While my intended route initially involved running a portion of the Sourdough Trail south, we find the snow is much too soft and deep. We punch through to our knees and thrash around a bit before deciding to retrace our steps down the pavement. I have spent too many hours postholing along that trail to have much desire for the additional slog it would require to get to our destination.
Rush is running a little low on fuel, shifting into that solitary, hollow mental space, pushing along quietly a few feet behind Jon and me. We reach the Ward waterpipe, a continuously flowing, gravity-driven spring lauded by the locals as being some of the purest water in the country.
After we refill our bottles, the ambience of the run changes yet again as we enter a thick forested area laced in fog. We run tight, windy singletrack covered in pine needles, remindful of the Pacific Northwest. Rush has perked back up and now matches Jon’s steady stride. As we run into Gold Hill, with the prospect of hot food and beer on our minds, I sense the gradual deepening of our camaraderie that emerges through the seemingly trivial happenings of a long run. I cannot help but feel appreciative of days such as this one spent with friends and a good reminder that I should do it more often.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Can you describe the last long run you did with friends? What kinds of conversations did you have? What were the periods of silence like? What was the mood between you like when the run was over?
- What is it about challenging, intimate, and enduring situations that make deep human bonds their byproduct?