Day 13, Thursday, October 1st
Copper Creek Trail Head to Aspen
Katarina Ostarcevic, Corona, CA
Jessica Joye Ostarcevic, Corona, CA
Karen Goodwin, Houston, TX
Owen Skillen, Billings, MT
Today started on high after the shorter/positive day with Wendy yesterday. It was my first and only day without a support vehicle, but also a day where my heart loved to be… in the wilderness…without people, cars and cell reception. I was heading over East Maroon Pass trail (via Copper Creek Trail), unfamiliar ground to me, but leading me to my first signs of where I grew up. My feet were sore, but nothing that wouldn’t go numb and be insignificant after the first little bit…or so I thought.
I hit the trail running (literally) with Marcus slightly ahead on his bike. He had his camelback stuffed to the brim with his bike gear, snacks, cameras and everything else he could fit in there. Then on top of his camelback he had is drone back pack… as he road off down the rocky trail I watched him trying to maneuver his awkwardly packed self and giggled… thinking “this is going to be quite the trip for him”… and I was right!
The first 6 miles were a tough climb through the pines and aspens. The scent of recently abandoned deer and elk beds from the night before filled my nostrils as I focused on my breathing. As we continued to gain elevation my running turned into fast walking and Marcus’ intense pedaling turned into hike-a-bike. I knew he was struggling with all his extra weight, so offered to carry his drone the remaining 2.5 miles to the summit. With much hesitation (and me persisting) he finally let me strap it on my back. The added weight made walking a bit slower, but it was the least I could do to help Marcus capture some of the most amazing footage of the trip. As we passed Copper Lake and hung a right onto East Maroon Pass trail, the pain started to set in. The blisters on my feet were starting to throb. The muscles in my low back were aching. The tendons on top of my knees were screaming.
We kept pushing forward and the rocky dirt trail turned into a path of jagged broken shale. Each step my ankles would twist and my feet would shift in my shoes causing even more friction on the already formed blisters. What I thought was going to be one of the most pleasant parts of the trip, was turning out to be quite the opposite.
As we reached the summit we were above tree line and I knew that the trail ahead was going to be spectacular. However, my mood was headed downhill fast and I was struggling to get out of the hole I was diving in to. Marcus was trying to so hard to keep a positive attitude and encourage me, but I was in my head, I was grumpy, I hurt and we still had A LOT of miles to go. He stopped to grab a snack and prep his drone for the descent, but I just pressed forward. Stopping hurts worse than continuing on because the semi-numbness goes away and the pain is 10 times worse.
Without the weight of the drone backpack on, I figured the steps wouldn’t be as painful, but I was wrong. Every step sent agonizing pain through my toes, ankles, knees and hips… so I tried to focus on the absolutely breath taking views I had. Jagged peaks to my left, aspens surrounding the trail, yellow leaves scattering the trails. The sounds of chipmunks scurrying up trees and runoff streams finding their way to the Roaring Fork River down in the valley made my heart happy but still the pain was unbearable.
There were several streams that crossed over the trail I had to carefully rock hop over or balance across fallen trees to cross without getting my feet wet. If my feet got wet, I knew I was done for. Blisters require 3 things to form… friction, darkness and moisture. The friction was there with the repetitive steps on the uneven trail and the inside of my shoe was obviously dark… so keeping them dry was critical. Then all of a sudden, I heard what sounded like a full-blown river ahead.
I rounded a left hand bend in the trail to see Marcus standing by his bike in front of a knee deep creek about 20 feet long without any sign of a dry crossing. I broke down. Tears just started streaming down my cheeks. There was NO WAY of keeping my feet dry and I still had 17 miles left for the day. What was I going to do? The only option in my brain at the time was to wade through it and live with the consequences. Luckily, Marcus was still thinking logically and seconds before I stepped into the water he talked some sense into me and told me to get on his bike and he would push me across. I held onto the right handle bar with my right hand and his back with my left hand. He held onto the left handle bar with his left hand the seat with his right hand. With my legs straight out in front in an effort to stay dry, Marcus carefully pushed me through the water soaking his shoes and socks an telling me “it’s okay.” He was my knight in shining armor that day. Afterwards, I sat down and cried tears that I hadn’t been able to run the entire route now and that I still had 17 miles to go.
In a very tough spot mentally, I started forward again. The rest of the trail was the same… unexplainable beautiful scenery surrounding me as I took one excruciatingly painful step after another. We came upon a second creek crossing with the exact same scenario explained above and executed the crossing in the exact same fashion.
With 8 miles to go I could feel more blisters forming so stopped, took off my shoes, applied chapstick to the toes to help with the friction, put my shoes back on and charged ahead. A couple of long miles after that, I ran into the guy I was looking for. Bret Nelson, an Aspen local and friend of my mom’s, came to meet me for the last leg of the run. Seeing him means we were close to getting off the trail and onto a flatter/paved surface. I didn’t think there would ever be a time in my life I looked forward to getting off a mountain trail. But ½ mile later, we reached the pavement and it was a low-grade downhill jog for the next 5 miles.
I finally reached the bottom of the hill at Aspen and the intersection of hwy 82 (my route for the next day down valley). I desperately asked for water, as I had run out miles ago, sat down and waited for our ride (Pam) to come get us and take us into town. The initial plan was to have Vaughn and Tory meet us at the intersection but they had been delayed 4 hours up on Kebler Pass due to blasting and didn’t arrive until 6pm that night (loooooong day for them as well). Since we didn’t have food or clothes or shoes or anything… I walked barefoot hand in hand with Marcus a few blocks from where we were staying to a favorite local restaurant. We ordered half the menu (salads, French fries, salmon, burgers) and devoured them in good company. Erik Larson (owner of Aspen CrossFit) and Bret came to join us. Good food and good conversation made the pain of the day disappear. Then, the best thing of all… my dad showed up after work (he’s a carpenter in Aspen) and I gave him a big bear hug and buried my head in his chest. I was home!
Lesson Learned: Some days the pain is too bad to ignore.