El Vaquero Loco 50K, Afton, WY 5,5
Start Elevation: 7100' Elevation Gain: 9000' High Point: 10,000+'

Scrolling Photos

August 9, 2014 - Few events will I return to, but this one is the prettiest 50K
of all those I have had the pleasure of running, hands down.  Since I failed
to carry a camera for photos when first I ran Vaquero, I had to return.  To make
it even more enjoyable, I invited my friend Alexandra from Driggs, Idaho, to join me
for the day in what would be her first ultra event.  It turned out to be a perfect
day on a breath-taking course with the bestest of friends.

After picking up race packets in the park in Afton, mixing with a few friends and
acquaintances there, Alex and Christo and I headed up Cottonwood Creek to
make camp where I had set up a tent and camped the previous two nights.  The
weather was still a bit rainy as it had been all week, but we were able to enjoy
a campfire a bit before settling in for a good night of sleep.
Arising at five we pulled everything together quickly before walking up the creek
road to Cottonwood Lake where we would set off at six.  Temps were mild to
slightly cool, but there was no rain.  Low lying clouds would lift quickly and we
would enjoy clear blue skies nearly all day.

The first four miles are nearly straight up for most of three thousand feet to
gain a ten thousand-foot ridge above meadows where sheep grazed to the south
and large glacial cirques spread out in spectacular fashion to the north.  By the
time Alex and I mostly hiked up to the ridge in an hour and a half, the sun was well up, 
offering us perfect lighting for photography.

I was dragging from the get-go and knew Alex was stronger and feeling good; 
she was very kind to hang with me and wait as we brought up the rear.  Knowing
some of those around us from the start set up a social mood for the day from
the outset.  We kept it social all day and never got into a "racing" mood.  Photos and
conversation took precedent over any urgency to cover ground.  Perhaps it is just
a consequence of racing too many times or merely a matter of aging, but the
slower approach to "racing" seemed to suit me better than ever before.  I am
evolving in my racing outlook to becoming more of a pedestrian... and enjoying
it more.


The slower approach with signficantly more walking has had its benefits, as it has
allowed nagging injuries to heal gradually without having to give up racing for rest.
The downside of all this attention to healing is that I haven't trained all summer,
resulting in generally reduced fitness and more difficulty breathing at altitude.  All
I can do is roll with it, so I shifted perspective and enjoyed the day - immensely.

Alex is great company and was a great complement to the scenery.  It was tough
not to take a lot of glam shots.  We paused often to look at the explosion of
flowers, rich in color and succulent from all the moisture carried over from the heavy
snowfall of winter and recent rain.  It was a great route to check one's recall of
flower names and other points of natural history.

Our progress was slow with the many climbs, but we made up some time by shuffling
on singletrack when the trails turned downward.  Each of the three aid stations
were staffed by volunteers that either packed in provisions on their backs or by
horseback.  We spent unhurried time at each aid station eating, drinking, and socializing
in both directions of this out-and-back course.  

The course turned around at Intermittent Spring, where Debbie Farka's husband
Lane was waiting with a much anticipated cold bottle of beer.  The beer refreshed us
as we took time to restock provisions for the return journey and check in with
Christo who was there as super support.  Spirits were high and the sun was getting
warmer as we turned after five hours to head back to the start/finish at Cottonwood

The hike/shuffle back was steady - walking uphill and shuffling down.  In large part we
shared the inspiring company of 71-year-old Jim McGregor, back and forth.  As lighting
conditions had shifted with the afternoon sun, we stopped for fewer pictures on the
return trip and mostly enjoyed an ongoing conversation.  After making the final ridge 
we opted to walk in the final four miles down to the finish.  One is always tired at this
point, but we walked as much to stretch out the day as to take it easy on our feet.

Debbie and Lane's crew caught us a quarter mile from the finish and helped us begin
our celebration early with a couple cold beers which we enjoyed as we casually strolled
to our conclusion of this fun day.  Neither of us had beat ourselves up with the effort
and would feel recovered mostly already by the next day.  Hanging around for a bit to
socialize with new and old friends we finally parted company after a ride back to our
campsite.  I broke down my outfit, packed the car, and headed out to get a start on
my 1700-mile cross-country trip back to Pennsylvania for the next event in my summer
series.  Farewell Wyoming, for now.  I love your beauty and challenges and will be back.