After my last two, no three, no many weekends, I was looking forward to taking a weekend off from a big effort. Then I got an email from my buddy Eric. He was doing the Longs Peak Duathlon. I had already done the Mt. Thorodin Duathlon (twice, once with Eric) and the MAD this year and had wanted to do the grand daddy... Also, I had not been up Longs Peak all year. That's a travesty.
I didn't need to be as tough as Eric - he's training for the Run Rabbit Run, his first 100 miler - so I didn't bother. He started from Longmont and I started in Lyons, adding 45 minutes to the ride. He rode a mountain bike weighing twice as much as my carbon road bike. Part of the appeal to this adventure was to show Eric the North Face of Longs Peak - the shortest way to the summit. It feels good to be useful.
Meeting us at the trailhead were Jason Antin, Dan Miller, and Kirk, Eric's pacer at Run Rabbit Run. Jason even provided support for us and took our running up to the trailhead so that we could bike unencumbered.
I awoke at 2 a.m. and was driving by 2:10, having got everything ready the night before. After costing down the McCaslin Hill toward highway 36 a touch fast, I noticed a cop in a lefthand turn lane. What's he doing there? He fell in behind me, but didn't turn on his lights until I had merged onto the highway. He was cool and just gave me a warning for going 55 in a 45 mph zone.
I passed by Eric as I entered Lyons and he found me at my parking spot. I was ten minutes away from riding, so Eric continued on. I geared up in short-fingered gloves and short-sleeve jersey and no leggings. At the last minute I pulled on my armies. It felt warm even though it was just 3:02 a.m. I had a rear flasher and a headlamp on my bike.
I caught Eric after about 50 minutes and we rode together the rest of the way. The two big descents were really cold (40 degrees out and we were riding at 30 mph downhill) and our hands and my feet got very uncomfortable. With less than ten miles to go, I flatted and we struggled to use our frigid hands to change my tube.
Jason came by us in his Jeep ridiculously early. We were all supposed to be meeting at the trailhead at 5:30 a.m. and Jason got there at 4:30 a.m. getting the last spot in the parking lot. the other two arrived right on time. Eric and I were ten minutes late, mostly due to my flat tire. We transitioned to our hiking gear and hit the trail at 6 a.m.
Eric announced, "I won't be running to begin with, as I'm transitioning from my cycling muscles." "To begin with?!" I thought, "I won't be running at all on the way up." I showed the crew all the climber shortcuts. It was apparently early on that Eric wasn't having his best day hiking. He dealt with some cramps early and Kirk fed him a salt tablet. Further up, Eric faded further. At the base of the North Face route he'd say, "This is the worse day I've had in the mountains in a couple of decades."
We separated into two groups for most of the hike. Jason, Kirk and I led the way and Dan stayed back with Eric. As we approached the North Face the winds picked up considerably and the skis grayed over. We hunkered down out of the wind and waited for Eric and Dan to catch up, but Eric was falling back immediately as soon as we started moving. To his credit, he never considered turning around and calling it a day. This perseverance to keep going even when going through a very bad patch is the key attribute in finishing a 100-mile race.
I asked Eric if he was solid to solo the 5.3 crux of the North Face and he gave me the thumbs up. I led the way with Eric following, then Jason, Kirk, and Dan. The two crux sections were wet and this provided a little extra stress. Everyone was a climber to some extent and everyone kept it solid. Dan had a touch more trouble than the others, but Jason and I watched over him. Dan didn't like the second crux and to his credit he asked for help. He didn't push through when he wasn't solid and he didn't panic. He just asked me to downclimb a bit to him and give him a hand. Problem solved.
Dan and I climbed the rest of the way together, overtaking the other three by going a more direct way, aka the wrong way. Dan is a Cat. 3 bike racer and very fit. I'd raced against him in my racing days, and he always schooled me. Kirk is a former 2:30 marathoner and despite working pretty hard on the hike up there, I never heard him even breathing. Jason is about my height, but probably weighs 200 pounds, 35 pounds more than me and I'm sure he has less fat on him. He looks like a body builder. He's also running Run Rabbit Run for his third hundred of the year. The most amazing thing about Jason is that he was a Division I defensive end. When he played football he weighed 260. How he could handle 60 more pounds of muscle on his frame, I don't know. His arms must have been bigger than my waist.
We topped out around 9:30, doing the ascent in about 3.5 hours. So, Eric "slow pace" was probably faster than anyone else who climbed the peak that day. We took summit photos and signed the register. We split up on the descent with Jason and I going back down the North Face and Dan, Kirk, and Eric descending the Keyhole Route. I was slow and clumsy on the descent. I told Jason that I hadn't recovered enough from Pikes to do a 5000-foot descent with any agility, but I don't know if that was a valid excuse. I hope so.
Back at the parking lot I leisurely transitioned back to my cycling gear and then took off for Lyons. I descended the steep mile of the Longs Peak Road and then a quarter mile down the Peak-to-Peak highway, I flatted again! Cheap tubes... I pulled out the tube and located the hole, but I was out of CO2 and didn't bring a pump. Stupid. Luckily, I was near the stage for the US Pro Cycling Challenge, which was riding above Estes Park and there were many riders out. A CU student stopped first and gave me a CO2 cartridge. I thought I was good until I opened up my patch kit and only had patches in it - no glue. An older guy came by and he gave me a tube. What generosity. I got the number of the first guy so that I could pay him back but the older guy just said to pay it forward. Will do.
Back turning the pedals I struggled up a steep hill into a strong headwind. I was fading a bit. On the ride up that morning, in 2h40m of riding I had two sips out of my bottle and no food. I felt fine at the trailhead and hiked strong, but if I was trying to go fast, I wouldn't have. I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle and labored up the remaining hills before the cruiser descent to Lyons.
I did roughly 53 miles of cycling and 10 miles of hiking/running. The total elevation gain was 11,500 feet and it took me 10h17m. That's not too impressive, but this was supposed to be a rest weekend. It was not... But I had a great time with some new and old friends. And finally climbed Longs Peak for 2013.