A few weeks [months?] ago there was a discussion about how much more fun training runs are if you make them fun…almost race-like, but without the pressure to perform, just in case things go awry while you’re out on the trail. I stand by this thought process, especially after my Presidents’ Day weekend of “destination training” in Moab on the Whole Enchilada trails.
On Saturday morning my alarm went off well before the sun peeked over the horizon and I started the drive toward Moab for a weekend of sandy camping, trail running and bacon eating. We rolled into Moab around 3pm, stopped by the Poison Spider bike shop for a new map and set up camp in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. There were four of us making the most of a long holiday weekend…but only two of us were stupid enough to think running our legs off counts as a good use of vacation time. Robb and Kami were there to relax and explore the area while Jeremy and I had big plans to run out/back along a 30 mile stretch of trails the guys knew about from previous mountain biking adventures.
While it was sunny and 70 in Moab on Saturday afternoon the Whole Enchilada trails would take us 30 miles west, up into the snowy La Sal Mountains. We did our part to plan accordingly. We split up to prep good and pack up gear. Before crashing into our sleeping bags at 9pm we cooked up bacon, wrapped taco meat into baby burritos and filled our Ultimate Direction Fastpacks with snow boots, extra layers, lots of water, a little bit of every imaginable food group and snowshoes! We were ready…for our alarms to go off at 11:30pm. Yup, there’s nothing quite like a good night of sleep before hitting the trail, amiright?!
Our original plan was to attempt the full Whole Enchilada out/back which would give us roughly 60 miles on our feet. After chatting with the guys at Poison Spider it became obviously that the trek above tree line was way too dangerous [the La Sal Range avalanche a LOT] so we adjusted our goal to the top of Haystack Mountain, giving us close to 50 miles for the day.
We arrived at the Porcupine Rim Trailhead at 12:45am and were on the trail headed upward by 1am. There was no one else around, even the nearby campground was silent and not long after we left the trailhead our own conversation died down. Jeremy recognized the trails and had random MTB stories about short stretches but for the most part we just hiked up, up, up.
As we hiked my shoulders slowly adjusted to carrying a 30+ pound pack – it’s been a long time since I’ve done any backpacking and my shoulders were letting me know! Our trek in the dark was fairly uneventful. Every once in a while we’d stop, turn off our headlamps and stare up at the clear, starry sky – it was beautiful and so quiet! If you want to escape from the harsh lights of the world head to the desert of Moab!
The horizon finally started to brighten when 6am rolled around and while the sunrise was rather anti-climatic we were stoked for the sun to make its appearance! The night was chilly. Not really cold, but chilly enough that we had to keep moving to stay warm. By the time the sun made it’s way over the horizon of mountains around 8am I was so ready for an excuse to sit down and eat, rather than hiking and snack. Heck, I’m pretty sure my shoulders threw a mini party when I finally took my pack off and flopped myself on the ground to eat a baby burrito! This became the first of about five true sit-on-our-butts-and-eat breaks through the day, all other munching was done while on the move.
I learned really fast just how not fast hiking with a heavy pack actually is! We knew our ascent into the mountains would be slow, but man, I felt like a freaking snail! Rather than think about pace I did what I could to take in everything around me. We were on the Porcupine Rim Trail when the sun rose and watched the desert around us light up. I’ll say it again, Moab is beautiful!
By the time mid morning rolled around my feet started to get cranky. I’ve always had problems with my tendons/stabilizers in my feet and many miles of hiking with a heavy pack in the sand was not helping! We stopped to work out my feet, which helped loosen everything up. As we continued on I paid close attention to how my feet felt and while they were tired they were mostly happy to be out there exploring the world.
We saw random clumps of snow near the top of the Porcupine Rim Trail but didn’t have to trek thru snow until we got to the UPS Trail, which took us to the wider, snowier Kokopelli Trail. About 18 miles into our adventure we decided we’d spent enough time post holing and switched over to snowshoes. Snowshoeing is harder than plain ol’ hiking but I was glad we’d found enough snow to put our boots + snowshoes to good use!
Just over 21 miles into our trek we crossed over La Sal Loop Road, our first encounter with anything close to civilization since we left the trailhead. At this point we were both dealing with feet that were not ecstatic to be in winter boots, we continued on after deciding we could always return to this road, radio back to camp and get a ride back if needed. About a quarter-mile later we spent a few words talking each other into calling it…then we turned around.
Yes, we gave up on our 60 mile quest on the Whole Enchilada Trail. Sure, doing the entire trail would make us sound a lot more badass and summiting Haystack Mountain would have gotten us some awesome photos but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it. Even if we did make it to the summit we would have had 30ish miles left before we go back to the trailhead. It didn’t take us long to decide we’d rather cover 40+ miles without any outside assistance than push forward to a summit only to have to bail out early with a ride back to camp. We both have big summers ahead of us full of goal races so our decision to turn around early was an easy one.
The entire mood of the adventure changed a bit after we made the decision to turn around. At this point we’d been on the trail for nearly 12 hours and, aside from an early misunderstanding about “headspace”, we were yet to annoy each other. Our conversation would ebb and flow – for the first time ever I wasn’t constantly talking. I was too busy just being there to over analyze anything. Shortly after we started backtracking on the trail we stopped to do what all the cool kids do…build a snowman! It was a nice break in the day of move, move, move!
Our descent back to the trailhead was a big of a whirlwind. We stopped a few times for snack breaks and abuse-Heidi’s-feet fun but otherwise we were on the move. I dug out my trekking poles for snowshoeing and kept them out after we returned to our trail shoes. I needed practice using trekking poles and once I found my rhythm I swear they made me move faster! The trekking poles + an unspoken goal to see as much of the trail as possible before the sunset had us moving at a 15ish minute/mile pace. Not speedy, not running, not record breaking…but I was proud of our steady pace with heavy packs and tired feet!
I spent the majority of the trek ignoring my Bia GPS, not wanting to know how far I had come or how far I still had to go. Because of this I had no idea where we were distance-wise when the sun sank below the desert canyons that spread out before us. However, I do know it was a long way from the car! As we continued into the dark I set mini goals at various landmarks I remembered from the hike up…like a big “Porcupine Rim to Moab” sign we stopped near the night before. For the record, I swear on my life that stupid sign moved! Good grief, it took FOREVER to find it again! And then, once we found it…the trailhead did not seem any closer!
For the majority of our trek I was in a good mood. While occasionally tired and hungry I was never exhausted or cranky. A little food + caffeine always did the trick to readjust my attitude. I’d like to say I kept my head on straight the entire weekend, but alas, that’s not the truth. As we neared the trailhead [and could see cars on the road miles below us] I made the stubborn decision to NOT take in anymore caffeine. I was tired and we were close to the car, close to camp. When we got back to the campsite I wanted to be able to crash into my sleeping bag without random caffeine jitters…so I ignored the bag of chocolate covered espresso beans hanging out in my UD pack, just inches from my face. That was a BAD decision!
Without the extra boost of energy from caffeine I slowed down…a lot. And while I wasn’t outwardly whiny on the trail I felt myself stumble into a pool of exhausted thoughts. It wasn’t a “bad headspace” as I wasn’t doubting myself, I was just tired. Really tired. After going, going, going on about 5 hours of sleep over the past 72 hours my brain was shutting down. We had spent the day picking up litter along the trail and I kept seeing broken bits of bike reflectors where there were just white rocks. After two moments of “why the hell did I just pick up this rock?!” I gave up on my quest to win extra Trail Karma and focused on just moving forward. This should have flipped a switch in my head…this should have been a trigger to just give in and caffeinate, but no…stubborn Heidi wasn’t giving in.
I made it back to the trailhead safe and sound, without complaining to Jeremy or flipping out over something stupid. Ha. Stubborn Heidi won – I didn’t actually need caffeine, right?! WRONG! Robb and Kami surprised us at the trailhead [thanks to live tracking] and my exhausted brain wasn’t functional enough to interact like a civilized human being. Instead I was whiny and bossy with everyone. I swear I was happy to see them, I just did a terrible job of being excited and nice about it! It was surreal, I watched myself act like a complete jerk but couldn’t help it. They called me out on it. Heck, I called myself out it…but I didn’t know how to adjust my attitude! Eventually, after a completely innocent “geez, Heidi must be tired” comment, I retreated to the car to avoid a teary meltdown in front of people kind enough to support my crazy. I hoped real, hot food would help. It didn’t. But, surprisingly, sleep did! Duh.
On our drive home Monday we talked about the trek up/down the Whole Enchilada trails…sure, it wasn’t exactly what we’d hoped for but it was a good weekend and it turned out to be everything we needed it to be. It was solid time-on-my-feet training with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 I will be taking to Chile – after the Moab adventure I have a lot more confidence in my ability to survive our trek around Torres del Paine [and I have a healthy appreciation for what 30 pounds feels like!]. It was good “crew/pacer training” for both of us as we figured out how to spend a lot of trail time together and that not speaking for hours can be a positive thing. Plus, after my irrational attitude post-trek we had a good chat about how the heck to avoid/adjust that level of crazy.
Was it worth the drive to Moab, even if we didn’t cover the entire 60 miles? Heck yes! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat…and eventually I will do it again, without the avalanche danger up on the La Sal Range! Moab is a fun little town. I’d never survive living there but it’s worth visiting! And there is Arches National Park…which I have now driven passed twice but visited exactly zero time!
Our Planned Route: Porcupine Rim > LPS > UPS > Kokopelli Trail > Hazzard County Trail > Haystack Mountain bushwhack
Bia GPS Stats: 42.2 miles – 19:39 elapsed time – 7,663 feet gain/loss