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?