Desert Solitaire - Page 2
When April rolled around and Kilian still hadn’t posted, I headed to the desert with Charles and Nick, my support crew. The crew would meet me at two points to supply new Vitargo S2 (a super-soluble carbohydrate powder) mix bottles and water bottles, and I can’t stress enough their importance in my endeavor. We arrived at Lee Pass on the west side of the park at about 7 a.m. on April 6, and I headed out a few minutes later. No gunshot or “Eye of the Tiger,” the start was remarkably unceremonious.
Cruising down the La Verkin Creek Trail at dawn, dipping in and out of the drainage surrounded by high desert brush, I envisioned trailside stalking mountain lions.
As I rounded blind corners, I’d warn, “Hey, cougar!” Soon, though, energy-sucking sand decreased my enthusiasm for catcalls. Then as I headed northeast up La Verkin Creek, I encountered the first of 10 or so through-hikers.
I turned right and southeast off La Verkin Creek onto the Hop Valley Trail, and hit the first big climb. Rangers had warned that this section (and others) might be covered with snow and/or mud, and I was relieved to find the trail almost completely dry, with just a bit of mud in places. My Hoka Stinson EVO shoes and Moxie Gear gaiters worked well here, as elsewhere.
As it turned out, the running conditions were almost ideal over the whole route. There was, of course, plenty of sand, technical terrain, climbing and descending (about 10,000 feet of each), and a temperature range from mid 40s to high 80s.
Hop Valley was in good condition for running, with just enough water in the stream to cool off on its numerous crossings. My first time check for the run was at the end of Hop Valley at 13 miles, where the trail crosses Kolob Terrace Road. Nelson had posted his splits for the run, which he had done in the opposite direction (east to west), and I had calculated his time for three segments across the route. Since we generally slow down later in an ultra, I figured I had to complete my early sections faster than he had. I was a couple minutes off my goal at the Hop Valley Trailhead, and worked hard on the Connector Trail, heading east to its junction with the Wildcat Trail, where I would meet my crew at 16.8 miles. The Connector Trail rolls nicely through open fields and old pine forests, and I almost felt like I was at home in the Colorado Front Range.
I was enthused to hit the crew point at 2:27, and so was my crew—they had arrived just moments before! Running down the trail alongside me, handing off fresh bottles and clothes, Charles and Nick gave me a nice boost. I grabbed two bottles of Vitargo S2 and one bottle of water. As it turned out, my entire consumption for the run was four bottles of water and four bottles of Vitargo S2, each with 175 grams of carbohydrates and 700 calories, plus some salt pills.
I hadn’t seen anyone in about 10 miles and would not for another 12—perfect.
Wildcat Canyon presented a nice combination of forested terrain and energizing views. The climb was consistent, but not too steep, and I continued to roll, reminding myself that working hard now would get me to the finish faster. When I turned south on the West Rim Trail from the high point of the route at about 7500 feet, I had covered 21.5 miles.