|A San Juans marmot, apparently with Hardrock aspirations|
I remember this from my days of consistently showing up late for work in Juneau — once I start to climb with a goal in mind, I'm essentially incapable of stopping until I reach the top. It's not that I'm a crazed peak-bagger, not really. I'm just as happy to reach a broad pass or a mountain meadow. It's the goal that drives me forward. When realities trump my expectations, I'll just adjust my expectations, often to the detriment of being on time to prior commitments. I had been lured onto this path by the common misconception that "roads are easy," but the jeep road to Kendall was a road only in the most rudimentary sense. The narrow path was strewn with ankle-wrenching loose rocks and gained altitude at a rate of a thousand feet per mile. As far as footing goes, it was my most difficult climb in the San Juans. But I had committed, and I was not going to concede my three-hour tour of Kendall. So I put my ragged lungs to work, and climbed hard.
|Silverton as seen from Kendall Mountain|
Twenty minutes went by and the rain finally diminished to a trickle, but the fear remained. I crawled out of my tent and saw a group of four racers jogging along the wall of the adjacent cliff — the trail cut a switchbacking path down it, and they descended in plain view for more than ten minutes. When I realized that the course line of sight was that large, I abandoned the meager comfort of my tent and set up a standing vigil.
The obstacles that made Kendall Mountain a tough climb created an even tougher descent. Loose rocks rolled like wheels under my feet, the steep pitches somehow seemed even steeper, and 6 p.m. was much too soon. I'd have to do something like ten-minute miles to make it, which seemed laughable when I was side-stepping down boulders. But I wanted to try. I grasped my secret-weapon poles, tightened the laces on my Cascadias, and let go of everything else.
Still sleep-deprived and slightly irrational, I was close to panic after a long lull in headlamp lights, when finally a set of six emerged from the rim. The final two in the small group took quite a bit longer than the others to descend, but at 10:14, Beat finally emerged onto the road, followed closely by Daniel. I can't say I've seen Beat so shattered before. He didn't notice me walking alongside him for some minutes, and slumped over immediately once we reached the aid station. I tried to coax him with soup and ginger ale, but he wasn't interested in anything. His pack was still full of uneaten food. Beat was soaked and Daniel was shivering. I gave Daniel a down coat and took Beat to the car to warm up. He fell asleep with a cup of soup still in his hands.
It's easy to say "there's only nine more miles," but in Beat's state it might as well have been another hundred. Even his fumes were long spent, he couldn't eat without puking, and even slow steps caused his heart rate to spike to the point of exhaustion. I decided I was going to try to let him sleep until an average of one and a half miles per hour wouldn't allow him to finish in time — which was midnight. He woke up after ten minutes and began to gather up the remaining dry clothes in his drop bag. He wanted it all for the push into Silverton.
I took one trip to the bathroom and managed to miss Beat's own shuffle into the finish line at 4:16 a.m. for a finishing time of 46 hours and 16 minutes. I missed the opportunity to take a picture of him kissing the famous Hardrock rock, and had to settle for a hug and a portrait taken shortly after he sat down. The triumphant rock-kissing picture is the popular image for this race, but in my opinion, this portrait is more telling. The Hardrock 100 pummeled Beat, slowly and forcefully. He fought back in the only way he knows how, by not quitting, by continuing to move forward, even when it was the last thing he wanted to do. He was the fighter with bloodshot eyes and a swollen face, horizontal on the mat after a near-certain knockout blow, only to struggle upward at the ninth second and deliver his last decisive punch. And when it was all over, he did, ever so slightly, manage a smile.
I'm so proud of him, and inspired, too, to try harder in my own running.