For more than a week now, I’ve struggled against my keyboard to beat out a race report from the GoreTex Grand Traverse (GT), which Taylor and I raced on the night of march 28th and well into the day on the 29th. To encapsulate 15 hours of backcountry racing into a succinct blog post is nigh impossible given the spectral range of emotions and experiences that evolve and transpire during such a lengthy race. Nevertheless, inspired by a report from my friend and fellow racer Ethan Linck, I hope to bring you a few highlights.
Expanding my sense of the possible is the biggest kick that I get from prolonged endurance events, and the GT was a new high for me. I’m a new convert to prolonged endurance, having only run my first Ultramarathon last summer. Nevertheless, it’s an addicting feeling to line up for a new challenge and to wait for the gun on a race that’s longer than you’ve ever done before. More addicting still is the confidence that, regardless of the duration, you are strong enough to finish– that feels good.
Three days before the start of the race, while taking a slow morning ski out of Ethan’s cabin at Gothic, Taylor took a tumble in the semi-supportable crust and tweaked her knee. When we returned to the cabin, she couldn’t bend it. That evening, when I tripped over her outstretched leg, she screamed like I’d stabbed her. “There it goes”, I thought, “four months of training and hundreds of dollars worth of gear and travel, out the door because of a silly accident”. The next day, her leg was barely better. We put up an optimistic front, but I could feel an unspoken consensus that this leg wasn’t going to ski 40 miles. We’d be driving to Aspen to cheer on our friends and bring them home.
The day before the race, we went through the motions. We laid out our gear, organized, and shopped for food. The leg got a little bit better, walking a few blocks and starting to bend. We watched the weather and course dispatches, and tried to decide what kind of candy would be best. With the help of some local friends, we filled out our med-kit with anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain killers. In the early afternoon, race organizers announce that due to avalanche conditions, the course would be a Grand Reverse, looping back to crested butte. Supposedly, it would be an easier and less time-consuming trip. Taylor and I rejoiced; this we would attempt with a suspect knee, as even failing on the course still meant ending up at the finish line.
Moments before midnight, we lined up among a sea of headlamps at the base of Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The Soul-Train Dance Partygoers who had shared the bus to the mountain danced and screamed to boogie-down music as a spotlight illuminated the mountain’s peak. Following a nonsense blessing from the race’s pseudopope, the starting gun cut loose the horde with a festive yet absurd atmosphere that reminded me of my only stint at Burning Man.
Atop the first hill, we discovered that Taylor’s binding were incorrectly adjusted. After absurd fudging with our impotent (lightweight!) multitool, we began the first ski in true last place. With energy born of frustration, we surged up the rolling track of the East River Valley, passing one, two, ten teams as they progressively exploded alongside the skintrack. Enjoying the boisterous light of volunteers’ bonfires at the first checkpoints, we snuck through the narrow and touchy track on the cutbank of Death Pass and began the climb through the woods to the Friend’s Hut. Here, the tow rope came out and my competitive spirit went unchecked, and we ate up team after team with a steady but safe pace. In the dark, the miles passed easily. Under the trees, the night was comfortable and close.
At tree line, the night was truly cold. Taylor shivered and withdrew, but with some coaxing, we turned the top under a cloudless sky hinting at dawn and ripped skins. For a moment, as the sun rose, we skied untracked powder. Lower, where the track undulated, Taylor’s knee couldn’t skate, so we combined absurd sidestepping with grab-my-pole towing to suffer through the quick hills. We returned through Death Pass as the first bits*** of sun warmed the track, and we turned off onto the side loop that stood between us and the return trip.
Long story short: what looked in the race briefing to be a short and simple loop turned out to be an infinite pilgrimage about an unremarkable but impressively girthy hill complicated by confounding quasi-transitions and almost-skiable angles. Team morale hit the day’s low as my impatience for progress peaked and Taylor feared my disappointment. Recouping our camaraderie with chocolate and RedBull, we eventually returned to the East River for the trip home.
The East River Valley became a tanning booth through the early afternoon. Skinning, technical down-skinning, skating, and towing brought us back into the resort boundary. There, insufferably steep groomer climbs turned the last stretch of the race into a zombie-slog made all the more charming by the insensitive encouragement of the skiing public. With nearly broken spirits but stubborn determination we crested the final hill and skied sloppy mashed potatoes down into a welcoming crowd. Friends. Beer. Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Shared Suffering. These are the best remedies for sloth and mediocrity.
The post-race fatigue was a swift blow, and within hours Taylor, Ethan, and his partner Kate were all unresponsive on adjacent sofas. twelve-hours’ sleep was nearly insufficient, but we resurfaced for the call of breakfast burritos and a drive back to Park City. 24 hours after our mind-altering endurance experience, we retrieved our car from Aspen, where it had been parked in a 24-hour parking zone for almost 5 days (sorry mom).
But what of it all?
These days anchor my life, their experiences so raw that they cut to my character with a swiftness unknown to the daily grind. I’m not proud of my moments of impatience with Taylor, but that was my world then, and my reaction. The race, too, was our collective reaction to the setback of her injured knee; Taylor showed tremendous courage to start and to continue despite her pain, and I found new wells of energy to curb my competitiveness and unfailingly tow and encourage her. Finishing was enough for us this year, and after a nap or two, it left us stronger and closer than before. That’s the best possible outcome.
The CAMP Flash Anorak got me through this race. At 4 ounces, it’s as versatile as a windshirt, warm, water resistant, and you can put it on without taking off your backpack. Improve your own game, lighten up, and support a small business: grab one at SkiMo.Co before supplies run out!