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Going the distance

May Eynon

Anyone who has ever been involved with the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse knows what an incredible experience it is. Anything can happen.The 40-mile overland route from Crested Butte to Aspen through the Elk Mountain range covers a variety of terrain frozen sidehills, snowfields, exposed ridges and passes, thick meadows, creek crossings, four-wheel-drive roads, ski areas you name it. Wearing packs loaded with supplies, most competitors travel on lightweight skinny skis. Climbing as high as 13,000 feet and gaining roughly 6,000 vertical feet, its a cardiovascular challenge. Navigating through ever-changing conditions, staying on course, deciding on what gear to use and when, as well as just keeping your wits about you, its also a mental test.Its an incredibly difficult event you have to have your head in the game, said Traverse veteran Todd Kennedy of Carbondale.Conditions are always a variable for the event, held on the cusp of March/April. This race always throws the book at you, said Bob Wade of Aspen, who competed in the coed division with his wife, Ruth. You never know what to expect.The seventh annual Traverse was staged on Friday, April 2 with the usual midnight start. Due to unseasonably dry conditions on the Crested Butte side, the course was moved from downtown to the resort changing the opening section from a flat expanse to an immediate uphill.We were sweating from the get-go, said six-year racer Bryan Wickenhauser of Gunnison.Last years bitter temperatures caused serious frostbite to at least a dozen racers on the course, myself included, so I took this year off to avoid further damage to my frostbitten foot.With the warmer conditions this year, snow bridges over several creeks had thawed, forcing many racers to remove boots and skis for the crossings. Others attempted to block moisture by wrapping their feet in plastic bags or gaiters.I saw one guys skis escape his grasp and float downstream, said a competitor. He ended up chasing them, but he was obviously frustrated.Steve Rane of Frisco ended up with wet feet from 1 a.m. to the finish. It was heinous.Unique to the course this year were stretches of mud and dirt where there should have been snow. There would be a ribbon of snow and then it would disappear, said Bob Wade.I dont like to run, so I just speed-walked when I had to, said Ruth Wade. The husband-wife team wound up second in the coed division and 12th overall with a time of 9 hours, 51 minutes.As the race continued throughout the night, the winds picked up. It would have been great to have had a kite on some sections of the course, joked Kevin Dunnett of Aspen. He and Chad Denning of Aspen placed 18th with an impressive time of 10 hours, 14 minutes.For some fortunate and prepared partners, there were no technical issues during the race. Ellen Miller of Breckenridge entered the Traverse for her first time with four-time veteran Billy Mattison of Vail. Racing as Team GoLite, they pulled off a first place in the coed division and ninth overall with a 9-hour, 40-minute time. Luckily, we didnt have any problems with our gear, noted Mattison.For others, technical issues were the crux of the event. Mike Preston of Crested Butte partnered with fellow CB resident Billy Laird. Halfway into the race, the bar on Prestons boot broke, preventing him from fitting into his binding. We used baling wire to try and affix it into the binding, which worked for a while, he explained. Basically, I spent a lot of time on one ski on a long walk to Aspen. It was a horrible experience.The pair still finished in a respectable 24th place after 12 hours, 37 minutes.If you keep going, you can always get there, added Laird. Even if everything runs smoothly, though, its still a brutal race.Elliott Larson and Aron Ralston of Aspen also experienced gear problems. At the Barnard Hut, 30-or-so miles into the race, Ralston broke his pole in half. I just continued with my good pole, said an optimistic Ralston. Carrying his one pole in his hand, he let his prosthetic arm roam free as he plugged along. The pair pulled into the Aspen Mountain finish area in 33rd place with a time of 11 hours, 40 minutes.For the winning team of Crested Buttes Pat ONeill and Jimmy Faust, an extensive training regimen paid off. They reclaimed the cup with a 7-hour, 55-minute finish. Defending champions Mike Kloser and Dan Weiland of Vail trailed in second at 8 hours, 8 minutes.Said Kloser, a decorated adventure racer with numerous Eco-Challenge victories under his belt, Ive been to a lot of events around the world and I have to say that the Grand Traverse is a classic race. You never know whats going to happen.To contact May to send info, insight or invites, e-mail: allthewaymaymay@hotmail.com


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