Thursday, February 28, 2013

Just Like That: Hut Trip Day 1 (Project Pretty Week 7)

(Project pretty is a personal commitment to share my weekly journey of keeping my non-New-Year's-Resolution: staying fit to improve quality of life while inspiring others to do the same. Let's all jump on the endorphin wagon!)

Monday morning came bright and early, and just the simple view from our Rodeway Inn was enough to get me excited. I had no idea what to expect from the upcoming hours and Patrick had been a nervous wreck about the unknown all week, asking me too many questions I didn't have direct answers to. 
We crawled out of bed and into the shower, a luxury we'd kiss goodbye for the next couple of days, got dressed and loaded up the car, patiently waiting on the last few stragglers in the group to get themselves together. The drive to Aspen would add on another hour, but what's one more when you've already drove a collective 24 hours in the last few of days?
  When you do anything with 15 people, patience is essential, especially when individuals like Patrick and I have absolutely no idea what they're doing. We'd completely dove head first into a new sport without an inkling of knowledge on the subject. I had a childhood flash back of being in ski school as a child while Heather helped me put each of my snow shoes on and taught me how to work them. (Not only is she so awesome that she dressed me like I was a 5 year old, she let me borrow her brand new snow shoes while she skiid, and also let me use her favorite pack for the trip while she tested out a new one.)
Aside from all the other minor ignorance's like how many layers to wear, how much water to bring, how much food to pack for the hike, like an unbroken horse, I'd never worn a pack before. 
I got a quick run down of where to put my hydration bladder and how the weight of all my gear should be resting when strapped in properly. 
We cheated our way up the first mile of the hike by vehicle, since it was just an annoyance of asphalt, but in order to do so, had to shuttle the group up in sections due to a lack of parking. The whole process was burning so much daylight and we'd been told the night before that the average backpacking/snowshoeing pace was around 1mph.......would Patrick and I be able to make it do the hut before it started getting dark? 
Finally, it was time to start the journey. I looked down at my feet. 
Me: Hey snowshoes, you ready to do this? 
Snowshoes: No reply
Me: You're not as bad as I'd imagined you to be......a little more slender and flexible than I're not like tennis rackets at all.
Snowshoes: No reply
Me: And you're real pretty too.
Snowshoes: No reply
I crossed my fingers that flattery, ancient iPod music, and my previous training would be enough to get me up the mountain without feeling like I was going to die and started on my way, 3rd in line. My game plan was to start towards the front of the line, so I'd have plenty of cushion to fall back little by little without getting too far behind. 
Craig, our fearless leader, was hauling ass, and I was directly behind Cindy's......not willing to give up my momentum too early in the game. He'd speed ahead of us for a while, then turn around and wait, not something I'm a stranger to with all my super speedy hill running friends back home. 
I'd look behind me every so often to make sure Patrick was keeping up, but as more distance was covered, we started to pull further and further away from the group. 
Not even a mile up, and I was already sweating through my two layers of clothing, so I started to strip, and waited for Patrick so I could help him do the same.
Up through the tree line of Aspens we trekked. Up. Up. Up. 
I started to develop a rythm. Bust my butt uphill, stop and take pictures while I let Patrick close the gap. 
With every hike, it seems there's always some break in elevation gain where you get to go flat for a little while, or even downhill for a moment, and my anticipation for that moment started to grow as my legs became more and more aware they 'd been tricked into carrying about 40-50 more pounds than usual. 
But unfortunately, when the moment finally arose, the relief I expected was nonexistent. As it turns out, once your legs are fatigued, extra weight just feels heavier and heavier the longer you carry it. 
An epiphany slapped me in the face: the more I paused, the more time I was adding on to lugging this pack around, which would make it just that much harder towards the end of the hike. 
The thought of this boosted me to push through, waste no time, finish as fast as possible, prove to myself how strong I am. 
But then I turned around and saw my sweet husband struggling to find his breath in the altitude. The big hearted man who'd never consider leaving me behind in a million years, no matter how it would affect him or his goals. And so, I decided......this is vacation; take your time, don't worry about the rest.  
The untouched snow was so elegant and sparkly it screamed, "Write entertaining notes in me!!!"
So we did. Which really helped once when we came to a fork in the path and wasn't sure of which direction to go. 
About a mile or two into the hike, Adrian wrote, "Almost there." Following it up with, "Bazinga!"
And after I saw Steve's moo cow illustration, all I could think about was, "Eat more chicken." Which inturn, made me crave some chicken nuggets with polynesian sauce, waffle fries, and lemonade!!! Completely out of the question. 
Not too long after the Chick-fil-a advertisement, I was starving. I swear, never in my life has a cliff bar and beef jerky tasted so gourmet; it's amazing how necessity alters perception!! 
About 2 hours into the hike, the trail transformed into a shady tunnel of pines. Some of the trunks were so big around, it'd take two people to wrap their arms around the base. In Texas, shade and rest is a virtue, but here the combination was a recipe for disaster. I had no idea how vital it was to keep my hydration tubing clear and found out the hard way when it froze in the tubing line. With no way to keep tabs on how far we'd traveled other than the guesstimate we were moving around 1mph, I started to worry......Now I'm screwed; how am I going to keep this level of activity up for 3 more hours without water?
Being out of the sun for so long, my fingers started to get really cold, protected by only my glove liners, but I couldn't reach my ski gloves without help. Not a single sun patch around, I finally convinced myself it would be best to wait for Patrick to help me. So I waited. And waited. And even resorted to tucking my hands into my arm-pits. Nothing was working. 
Finally he rescued me, but I was afraid it was too late. My fingers were so cold they were almost nonfunctional and I wondered what frost bite felt like. 
Thankfully, about 30 minutes of activity with my ski gloves on got everything feeling back to normal, the harsh shade no match for my determination. 
Under the assumption we were only half way to hour destination, I was surprised to see Heidi, one of our group members, walking towards me without her pack on. Confused and thinking maybe something was wrong, I inquired. 
"The hut's just around the bend!!" she yelled, "I saw the territory sign and thought it was really mean they would tease us with a sign and still have two more miles to go, but then we saw the hut!"
I suddenly had a burst of energy and shooed her down the trail to go spread the news to Patrick, who I knew would appreciate the morale boost. 
And just like that, I walked out of the trees, into the sun, and saw the gleaming McNamara Hut, one of the original two huts built of the 10th Mountain Division Huts. 
That was it??? 5 miles? It's over? I'm done?.....I thought......Huh, not so bad after all. 
As soon as I made it to the porch, I could see waving hands accompanied by warm smiling faces peering through the window, the hut already warm with a fire. Craig came outside congratulating me on my accomplishment while offering a flask of peppermint snchapps for a celebratory shot. 
2,000 feet elevation gain over 5 miles, finishing in just 3.5 hours, with 1600 calories burned, and the rest of the afternoon to soak up the fire and get to know the new friends we were surrounded by. 
Our shelter was cozy and simple, with no running water, meaning we'd have to melt snow then filter it, and use an outhouse.....
.....a "refrigerator" that was actually just a wooden cabinet with it's body nested in the walkway outside to keep cold, a stove that required an actual fire with logs to heat it....
....and beds upstairs, all connected together, waiting to be claimed.....Like I said, real cozy. 
Post dinner, we all learned a new feisty card game called Nurts and played until the pillows were chanting our names. 
Patrick was so worried about everyone's sleeping situation versus his snoring, he passed out earplugs. Little did he know his own snoring would be the least of his worries; there was plenty more to go around!
That night we went to sleep with sugar plums over our head while Angel read up on a "Mountain Medicine" by the light of her headlamp, a decently appropriate subject considering the upcoming activities.  
I'll give you a little hint at what we started working on to provide some old time unbridled fun for the next day. From the mouth of the great Ricky Bobby, "I wanna go real fast."

Have you ever been backpacking or snowshoeing before? Where did you go?


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