AUGUST 1-10, 2008

Wild west relay medal [Note: Judy has competed in several races this year, but none before or since has had the challenges of the Wild West Relay, a 195-mile course from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs. Judy wrote an account of her adventure and took photos along the way. After the race, we camped at Steamboat Lake State Park and for a few days at Lake Granby. Below is Judy’s account of the race, followed by some notes on our camping that followed.]

        Actually the Relay Race started a night early (July 31) for me! I decided to go ahead and run in the Pearl Street Mile. We drove to Boulder’s Pearl Street area in plenty of time for Hughes to check in as a volunteer. The masters wave (men and women over 40) started about 6:40 pm. I did take first in my age group even though my mile time (sub-8 minute) surely has slowed down over the years! Much later than promised, the awards were finally given out and we headed home for what sleep we could get before the early alarms went off.
        At 4:30 am on Friday, August 1, the coffee was ready, we gathered the last few items I wanted with me for the Wild West Relay Race, loaded the dogs into the car, and headed down the mountain to Boulder again. We met my teammates in the parking lot of an exercise club, loaded up everyone’s “stuff,” and headed up to Fort Collins. 
Race Route        There were 123 teams registered in 11 different categories, including high school teams, masters, men, women, and mixed teams, flatlanders (must live below 2500'), and hash house harriers (or the Red Dress Division—wearing red dresses and/or running in red), ultra runners, 12-person teams, 6-person teams, even a 3-person team. Runners came from all over the country to participate. It certainly invites a wide range of outstanding runners.
        The race started at the Budweiser Beer distribution center just off I-25 just north and east of Fort Collins. We got to the start about 7 am for our 8:30 start time. The race officials required teams to arrive at least an hour before their start times to be sure that there was adequate time for check in. Not only did the runners have to wear race numbers at all times, but each van had to have regulation signs, a first aid kit, reflective vests for night running, headlamps, red blinking lights for runners to wear at night, and other things that our captain had to show to the officials. We took a team picture, which included all twelve of us (six per van), and then I wandered around looking at the way some of the vans were decorated and saying “hi” to some of the runners who I knew but were on other teams.
        The start times were staggered starting at 7 am and spaced a half an hour apart to ensure that runners would be spread out on the course. At 8:30 on the dot, our first runner took off with a group of about 25 other runners. My teammates who were in Van 1 ran their legs first, so our van had about six hours to get to the van exchange. We decided to start off with a good breakfast, so we stopped at a nice little eatery on the north edge of Fort Collins. Then we found a store where we could buy fruit pies to enjoy later in the Relay!Relay Team
        About 11 am we arrived at the first van exchange. It was at a school on Red Feather Lakes Road near the town. It was stinking hot (about 100 degrees!) and we tried our best to find shade in which to wait for the last runner in Van 1 to arrive. At about noon, she handed off the “baton,” which was a LiveStrong bracelet, to the first runner in Van 2 (my van). [Note: Each green dot on the map above is the beginning of a leg of the race.] Because of the extreme heat, we lost a bit of time that day. (It was 104° in Denver that day, one degree shy of the record for the hottest day in Denver’s history. We later heard that one runner from another team dropped out because of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and was taken to a hospital in Fort Collins. His team had a substitute who finished the race for them, but the team was disqualified anyway.)
        I was runner #12, so I didn’t get to run until about 4 pm; while it had cooled ever so slightly, it was still well over 90 and the pavement was radiating all the heat stored during the earlier hours of the day. I felt good that I was able to run my entire leg with no walk breaks as most of the previous runners were forced to take.
        When I handed off to runner #1 from Van 1, our van was directed on a slightly different course from the actual race, purely to relieve some of the congestion and dust on the road. We drove up the Poudre River Road, passing beautiful fields of wildflowers and low, marshy areas where we saw at least four groups of moose! We also saw antelope and even horses wondering down the open range road we were on!
Leg #1        We arrived at the next van exchange about 6 pm or so. It was at a small rustic resort near Woods Landing, Wyoming, where the runners could enjoy a spaghetti buffet! I had no idea! Spaghetti sounded a bit heavy to me, so I opted for a chicken breast sandwich and salad, which were excellent. Then I understood why we purchased the pies in Ft. Collins! This was where they were to be enjoyed! After we ate it was time to either stake claim to one of the seats in the van or spread sleeping bags out on the grass. Because the mosquitoes nibbled on me earlier, I opted for a van seat, which was plenty long for me! We rested or snoozed for a few hours till it was our turn to run again around 11 pm.
        The time that we lost during the hot day we started to make up with our first night run. Everyone came in a bit faster than our predicted time on these legs. My leg was the one that brought us in to Walden (Colorado) High School. I arrived about 5 am, handed off to Van 1, and then all of us from Van 2 rushed in to the school to take warm showers! Wow! Did that feel good! Then we arranged ourselves for another few hours of sleep or rest before heading in to town to try to find a place to get a cup of coffee!  
    Coming in
        We got to the next van exchange at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass in plenty of time, and our first runner did an amazing job of running that leg. The slightly cooler weather during the rest of the day leading into Steamboat Springs also helped us make up a lot of lost time from the day before. I was the anchor runner, so I had the pleasure of running in on Steamboat’s bike path (with all the non-relay race traffic—bikes, strollers, walkers, etc.) into town, and then back up the valley and up hill to the Steamboat Springs High School. I’m not sure what the temperature was for that leg, but it was plenty hot! It is tradition that the whole team joins the anchor runner to cross the finish line together, so it felt great having the other eleven with me to go under the banner! We arrived about 3:00 pm, only a half hour longer than we had estimated.
        One of the things that we kept track of during the race was road kill! When we passed another runner during one of our legs, we counted it as a road kill. Of course if you then got passed yourself, that was negative road kill. I managed to score the highest, a grand total of eight road kills, including three in the last leg! I also ran faster in each of my legs than my predicted time, so all in all, I considered myself to have been a team asset! And icing on the cake: our team was first in the Masters Division and 69th overall! We all have medals to prove it! (See top of the page.)
Team at the Finish
        All in all, it was quite an amazing experience for me. I’ve never done a relay race before, though I was invited to be on this team two years ago right before my cancer was discovered. So not only did it bring chills to think that I am a two-year survivor, but that I was strong enough to participate on this team now.
        When I write my letter to the race director, I will praise the organization of the race to the highest. Also the numbers and quality of the volunteers were rather amazing. Some stood outside for long hours in extreme heat, others managed to stay warm during a long and chilly night. They all remained cheerful and encouraging. My one not-so-positive comment would be that there were not enough port-a-potties at the runner exchanges. I was actually late for my hand off to run my second leg because I was stuck in the potty line for too long!


        While Judy was in Fort Collins getting ready to begin the run, Hughes was completing the final packing in the RV: fill the water tank, pack the dog food, etc. The rest of the family (Sophie, Bella, and I) left Saturday morning at 7:30, heading south to I-70, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, north from Silverthorn on SR 9 along the beautiful Blue River (great fly fishing) to Kremmling and got to Steamboat Springs High School about 11:30. Judy would not arrive until around 3:00. 

        By the time the awards and drawings were completed by 4:30 we were away and headed for Steamboat Lake State Park, 25 miles north. Our campsite was disappointing—no view, surrounded by noisy families, a loose dog—so we walked down to the lower area near the water where we’d camped before to scout possibilities for changing sites. All filled. (A bit noisy there also—dogs this time). The park was full this weekend and we hoped that lots of folks would leave and make openings for the next four days.

        [Note: We couldn’t move our campsite, but we did learn a useful lesson/strategy for future reservations: we should (1) know where we want to be—or which sites we should avoid, and (2) reserve separately, if necessary, for the nights we want. Further, we decided we really should do more dry camping at campgrounds that do not require reservations—that are just off the beaten track or along rivers or in the backwoods or whatever. We have a generator for the times we’d like to heat water, take a shower, or what have you, and we should take advantage of the conveniences we have.]
Steamboat Lake State Park   
        We were dismayed how much the mountain pine beetles have nearly devastated the forests even up here in the beautiful Elk River Valley. The slopes show large areas of red needle pines; only the scrub oak and aspens keep the area looking even partially green. We have photos from last year when there were far fewer red-needled trees. The spread of beetle-kill has devastated large areas of forest on the west side of the continental divide and the flying insects are slowly migrating to the east and south toward our side of the divide. It’s not a question of if they’ll attack our forests, but when.

        Did we mention the crows? The Sunset Campground area at Steamboat Lake SP is home to at least one “gang” of a dozen noisy crows that attack a campsite as soon as the campers leave. They scavenge for whatever might be left behind and then sit on tree branches yelling at the rest of us to get out so they can sort through our campsites. They don’t attack humans or dogs (and there are lots of dogs in camp), but they certainly fuss with each other and with people; their cawing is continuous from sunup to sunset. I suppose it’s due to them that the nights seem especially quiet and still.   
        •Day 1: Our first full of camping was very restful. We slept in just a bit, read a lot, walked the dogs a few times, and just hung out. Hughes worked on more notes for the Alaska trip, selecting from Fodor’s, National Geographic, and Lonely Planet guides for recommended places to eat, and for what to do and see in various areas; today he worked on the Kenai Peninsula—Seward, Homer, etc. Judy didn’t hurt from her relay but she did decide to take the day off from running. After lunch, Hughes biked with his fly rod to Hanhn's Peak Lake, a nearby (four miles) smaller lake, to discover a species of laughing and taunting fish live there. He’ll try the other side of the lake next time, and maybe at a later time in the day. Good exercise and a lot of sun. By the time he got back, the sites around us had just about filled with adults. Judy fed the dogs and then we all took naps until just before six. It has been a really lazy day.
RV at Steamboat Lake
        •Day 2: We woke to a warm sunny day, perfect camping weather. Judy did a 40-minute run through the park to the marina and back along the shore in the direction of the visitor’s center. She showered and shampooed after her run. After breakfast we biked about 5 miles to Pearl Lake SP, which is just south of here and a couple of miles off the road.  The campground there has two loops with 34 sites, no electricity, several water taps,  and one flush toilet plus three vault toilets. The lower loop is closest to the water, excellent both for views and for access. If we were to make reservations, we’d opt for #24, #25, #26 or #27 as first choices (views, access, near flush toilets and water). Fishing from the shore is just a short 10 yards from most of the campsites. It would be nice to have an inflatable canoe/kayak at either lake, but especially at Pearl Lake since we could tie it up at the campsite. I’ll start looking on Craigs List when we get back.

        As we were leaving for Pearl Lake, we stopped at the visitor’s center and bought postcards, put stamps on them, and wrote quick notes. There was no mail pick up at the visitors center, so I decided that since we were already three miles from our campsite that Judy could bike back to camp and I might as well bike on down to the Clark post office, which was just a short six miles away. Mostly downhill as it turned out—but not all of it. I was tired and thirsty when I got there, so I rested, looked in vain for more postcards, and refilled my water bottle. The trip back was a full 10 miles, most of it uphill: a 5 mph grind for a fellow who is clearly out of shape. In all, I biked 24 miles that morning, which included the Pearl Lake out and back—all to mail two postcards! I was done for the day. Judy had a very relaxing afternoon waiting at the campsite with the dogs. We finished the day with the usual round of gin rummy, some Ian Tyson songs in the background, shrimp for dinner, a walk or two around the park with the dogs, and topped it all off with a glorious first fire of the trip.

        •Day 3: Another lazy day— very lazy! Judy ran (to the Hahn’s Peak Café and back—4 miles) and I biked over to the marina area to check out the camping spots in that area (and found nothing special) and the boat rental fees (not exorbitant). We didn’t go out this evening, but we planned to take a small fishing boat out in the morning when the fishing might be better than mid-day. Other than that, we walked the dogs and read a lot. We had another fire tonight in spite of the black cloud hanging overhead. We discussed future trip possibilities and the cost of getting to and from places like Vancouver Island, Banff-Jasper, western Arizona, and other destinations in a car (cost of gas for the car plus motels) versus the RV. Surprisingly, it’s not significantly more expensive in the RV (we got just over 20 mpg on this trip!), and maybe even less if the cost of food is thrown in. And even cheaper if we overnight in Wal-Mart parking lots! Conclusion: we should go more often and stress less about the cost of trips in the RV. And we should take such trips before things in the RV start to wear out or go bad or break down. We thought of checking national racing information and see if it’s possible to take trips that involve running events along the way.
Boating on Steamboat
        •Day 4: We began our last full day here with breakfast, Judy got a run in while I cleaned up, and then we biked to the marina to rent a fishing boat. We thought we’d see the lake and park from a different vantage point and I bought some worms (imported from Waterford, Michigan) for some real fishing. Of course we spent most of our time in the “no fish” portion of the lake. Not even a nibble! Judy hadn’t brought a book or binoculars, and she didn’t want to drive the boat. She did, however, take some lovely photos of the surrounding area, even though the clouds were gathering for the rain that would begin about 2:00 in the afternoon.

        The dogs were glad to see us when we got back and after walks and lunch we settled in for some afternoon reading outside, until the thunder and rain started (it rained—sometimes hard, sometimes gently—the rest of the afternoon and into the evening). We were comfortable inside: dry, and very glad we’re no longer car camping, tent camping, or any other style of camping we’ve done in the past. The dogs lounged with Judy while she read and we continued our on-going gin rummy game. We had our "coketail" hour: Judy will have some wine (this trip she brought an outstanding 2006 Vinas Chilenas Reserva Cabernet from Trader Joe’s) and I have my diet Coke before dinner. After dinner we got things ready for our departure in the morning.
Hahn's Peak near Steamboat Lake
        A final thought: We had climbed Hahn’s Peak last year because we wanted some good hiking. And it was a great hike. You can see for miles from this volcanic cone-like promontory. However, I don’t think I appreciated just how much of a real landmark the mountain is. It stands tall above everything, though it’s only a little over 10,000'. Its sides are sloped with some beetle-kill, but most of the way to timberline it’s thick with hearty aspen, which must be a glorious scene in the fall. The mountain hovers over the little town of Hahn’s Peak Village where gold was discovered in 1862. I don’t know how much of a strike it was, but a town evolved, turned ghost, and is lately attempting a mild comeback—there’s some new construction and remodeling among the old miners cabins that line the main/only street in town. It’s close to the lake, and there are beetle kill trees to cut and skin and stack like Lincoln Logs. We didn’t get to the Hahn’s Peak Café for the very tasty margaritas and enchiladas as we did last year, but we will next time.
        •Day 5: Our stay in Steamboat Lake SP was, in the end, a good one. We rested a lot, biked and fished some, and we felt relaxed and refreshed when we left this morning. We filled our tank with good tasting water at the park and drove into Steamboat Springs to restock up on groceries to for our time at Lake Granby. We discovered Safeway prices are higher in Steamboat than in Boulder. The drive to Granby was smooth and scenic. The rig pulled up the grade to Rabbit Ears Pass briskly and very easily. When we passed Meadows, Walton Creek, and Dumont Lake Campgrounds near Rabbit Ears Pass, we thought about doing more dry camping in the future: no reservations, no electricity, no fuss. The places we’ve stumbled into (e.g., Transfer CG near Mancos or Big Meadows CG on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass—or camped at someone’s recommendation (e.g. Teal CG above Pagosa Springs) have been very scenic, with good hiking, and relatively private and quiet. We really should do more of these. Our RV is well built for movement, not necessarily for going to a place and sitting for a week.    
Stillwater CG
        We drove along the Colorado River through Kremmling, Byers Canyon, Hot Sulphur Springs, and into Granby for a quick shot of diesel and directions to the farmer’s/produce market held Fridays in Granby. Then we drove five miles up to Stillwater CG on Lake Granby, where we had camped a few years ago and vowed to return. It’s a national forest facility, but our site had  water and electric hook-ups and was across from the cleanest bathrooms in the state. Plus it offers free showers! The view across the lake to the east side of Rocky Mountain NP and the Indian Peaks is stunning, especially with the evening sun adding a reddish tinge to the landscape. And it is less than eight miles to Grand Lake, a charming mountain resort town just a short bicycle ride away.

        Speaking of the color red: it is the dominant color of the area, sad to say. The beetle kill has devastated the entire region in Grand County. And there’s nothing that can be done about it. Hundreds of square miles of beautiful pine forests have turned red-needled and are dying for as far as the eye can see. Here at Stillwater it is especially sad to see the piles of cut trees that have been downed by forest service chain saws, leaving the few green-needled pines as reminders of what the entire shoreline of the park was like just a few short years ago. It’s not clear what will come back first: there are few aspens in the immediate area, the scrub oak is hearty but short, and there are only a few pine seedlings surviving. Whatever comes first will take several generations. While the park facility is one of the nicest we’ve encountered, it may be a while before we choose to return for camping.    

       Lake Granby sits in an unprotected valley where the wind can blow pretty strong. In fact, since we got here there was a constant wind from the mountains to the east with 35–40 mph gusts, and whitecaps on the lake have driven all watercraft to safe harbor—and us indoors. The temperature is in the low 70s and the dark, thick clouds that gathered yesterday at Steamboat Lake threaten to bring a pretty good thunderstorm this evening.

       •Day 6: The morning weather looked a lot like yesterday’s, but we had planned to do some retail therapy today anyway. Judy did get in a nice run while I cleaned up and got things stowed away so we could unplug and leave. It turned out that Granby’s farmers produce market was not in the morning, like most farmers markets are; it began at 3:00 (who knew?). However, a stop at the Granby thrift store proved fruitful: Judy bought three pairs of pants and two tops (one of which is a short sleeve print she’s worn all day and looks really nice on her)—bargains all, and I got a long sleeved shirt for a buck, which I’ll leave in the RV for buggy evenings, and a Souza margarita shaker for a mere 50¢! What a find! We do like our thrift stores.
Hughes at Campfire
        We drove up to Grand Lake to see what might be happening this weekend and learned that tomorrow there would be an arts and crafts show at the city park. We turned down the purchase of the last two tickets for a production of “Urinetown,” put on by a summer repertory group. The woman at the visitor’s center said it was well done and hilarious, but we decided another time. We ate our lunch at the marina and then walked the dogs along the shore. We decided that a place like Lemmon Lodge (or a nearby condo), at the shore with boats and a private beach, would make an excellent place for a family vacation: there’s excellent sailing, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking (in Rocky Mt. NP), horseback riding, good restaurants, events most weekends, and lots of downtown retail just a single block away.

        Later, at the farmer’s market, we bought some fresh veggies for ourselves and for Jeannie and Steve, campground hosts who can’t leave the park on weekends. We also stopped at an Antiques/Collectibles store on the way out of town and would have bought one of the two old fashioned tin bathtubs for sale, but not for $125 each. A nice store but pricey, we thought. The owner didn’t. Then back to camp for a shower, afternoon “coketails” and gin rummy. We built a lovely fire, ate dinner, including a delicious salad with fresh lettuce and arugula grown near Granby by the Morales Family and sweet tomatoes brought in by a couple of wholesalers from Steamboat Springs, walked the dogs, and were just settling in to enjoy the afterglow of the fire when the first drops of rain drove us inside about 9:00.

        •Day  7: We woke to warm sunshine this morning, though there were clouds all around, some fluffy white, others dark and threatening. Judy had a nice run followed by a very satisfying shower and clean clothes. I ate my breakfast, donned my fishing outfit (after all, you’ve got to look like you know what you’re doing), carried a folding chair, my fishing gear, and the container of Michigan worms, and headed for the shore. The bright sun stunned the worms when I opened the container and they protested, as usual, when the one selected was skewered on the hook. Forty minutes and three worms later, I landed a nice sized trout: about a pound and 12"–13". But like a gambler who says, “Just one more hand or one more roll of the dice,” I thought if one fish strayed by mistake into the usual “no fish” zone I seem to find, maybe a second had followed. An hour later, I took my valiant worm off the hook (he’d worked with me for the last hour) and freed him into the lake, and headed back with my pretty nice, but solitary, trout. I cleaned it, Judy pan-fried it in olive oil and onions, and we had an early lunch. Delicious. Dick Sanders would approve, though if he were with me he’d have caught a half dozen on his own.

        In spite of threatening skies, we decided to chance a visit to the art show in Grand Lake, though not on bicycles. It was a rather small gathering of artists where Judy lingered over several jewelry makers, winding up with a couple of pairs of earrings and a very nice house gift for some friends. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and when we had finished and got back to where we’d parked the RV, the first raindrops were coming down. On the way back to the campsite, it poured; the clouds hung low and the wind came up. We were very glad to be inside and off the ground. The rest of the afternoon and evening was mighty wet, windy, and cool—time to hunker down with a good book.
        •Day 8: We woke in the morning with plans to hike a portion of the Continental Divide Trail that can be accessed from Green Point CG. It’s a trail we walked the last time we were here and it parallels the Colorado River. Instead, we looked out the window and faced a dreary prospect for a wet and wild day. With gloomy skies, temps in the low 50s, and more rain on the horizon, we opted to cut our visit short by a day. We thought it would be better to be on the road in the rain than be prisoners in a soggy campsite. So, in short order, we unhooked and unplugged, and left Stillwater. We were home in just over three hours with one stop for coffee and another for a fill-up of “cheap” diesel. As usual, arriving home was a pleasure; the dogs relished the freedom to romp unleashed through familiar terrain and to revisit old smells. We took our time unpacking and parking the RV in its familiar spot. We slept well in our own beds that night.

       Of course Sophie and Bella always travel with us on road trips like this one. After all, that’s why we have that expensive doghouse on wheels. They seem to always have a grand time, though they are on leash a great part of the time. But they meet lots of other dogs, they eat some new and exotic flora, they get buzzed by unfamiliar flying insects, and always receive lots of attention from strangers. They have learned to relax when we do, to snooze when we do, and they are always the quietest dogs in camp. They bring smiles from everyone they meet and, of course, from us. And, most important, they keep watch like the guard dogs they are. What would we do without them?

Judy and Hughes Moir
Home Email H&J Letters USA Travels Foreign Travels