I last boarded an airplane back in August and, despite the economic gloom the news would have me believe, the parking lot outside the airport was packed, the hallways were flooded with bodies hurrying from gate to gate and there was not a single unoccupied seat on board. Looked just like it did in the salad days of the late 90's and early millennium by my eyes.
But Cincinnati in early 2012 had room, room, lots of room to spare. My mind conjured up the foretelling of the rapture but I couldn't recall if Cincy fell in the ol' Bible belt or not and my instincts told me no.
Nope, not a single soul had ascended to heaven but some of the hell had been taken out of flying. The flight in from Philadelphia found me enjoying a row of seats all to my lonesome and I'd landed in Ohio without any need to unfold myself from a cramped position. The doors flung open and there waiting in the airport was...nobody. Glorious.
There was another spare seat waiting on the connection from Cincinnati to Salt Lake City and clear, obstacle-free skies delivered me blissfully to the Wasatch Front. Back again and ready to run.
Yes, there was work (much work) to be done and as much as I'd like to "cool guy" you into believing I don't give a crap about work, I'd be bluffing and you'd be right to call me on it. I toil away like my Germanic father before me, wearing a work ethic like its the only pair of pants I own.
But I do leave room for my vice and, in a world of R-rated vices, mine is downright Disney with a capital G.
The clock strikes 4:30 AM Mountain Time and I am out the door. Fifteen minutes later, I'm a thousand feet above downtown and Salt Lake City sleeps below like the slumbering lion of The Tokens' song.
I only covered about 5 miles but the thin, crisp (and impossibly clean in comparison to home) air and the meandering singletrack put me in the right headspace for a day of business-ing in the climate-controlled environs of the Salt Palace and the Winter Outdoor Retailer trade show.
I did take a pretty big digger on a patch of black (brown?) ice that surprised me on the otherwise soft, sandy trail and deposited on my, er, um...ass. Which is where being in my line of work comes in rather handy. In between appointments, I ducked into the Kahtoola booth and bummed a pair of MICROspikes from Danny Giovale, the very man who built the damn things.
What are MICROspikes? Glad you asked. They are one of those startlingly simple engineering marvels, a set of low-profile crampons integrated into a durable rubber housing that slips easily over whatever footwear you got. You might be more familiar with Yaktrax, but they are truly pedestrian in comparison to the adventure ready MICROspikes.
Where can you get them? Glad you asked. Try here:
So, I'd secured traction but needed advice on how to get up higher. Danny began saying something about Grandeur Peak but then got pulled in another direction, leaving me with an imagination-inspiring name but no idea how to get there.
Lucky for me, those-in-the-know were milling all around me, including Piep.
Piep (John Pieper by birth, but, take it from me--a Steven known to many/most as Leon--he is and shall ever be Piep) had been living with his lovely family in Durango, Colorado for the past several years but had returned home to Salt Lake about a year ago, taking a Director of Sales and Markeing position at Gregory Mountain Products. He was well familiar with the area trails and he seemed to agree with Danny that Grandeur Peak was well worth visiting. After dinner, he grabbed a topo map, outlined the approach options and then insisted that I take the map along with me when I headed back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep.
I just realized that I've failed to touch on the fact that the daytime temperatures in town had been hovering in the upper 40's and low 50's even though Salt Lake City sits at an elevation of 4,226 feet, a good 3,800 feet higher than my Manheim home. In other words, winter hadn't come to the Great Basin any more than it had come to the Susquehanna Valley.
And, so, the next morning I awoke to precipitation, but not the fluffy white stuff that I'd hoped to find. I drove up above town, hung a right on Wasatch Boulevard and then took a left up Millcreek Canyon in the dark. The moisture in the air still qualified as rain but just barely. A good sign.
As soon as I stepped from the car, I was headed uphill through a National Forest picnic area. The lungs were immediately heaving despite the fact that I was creeping along at a rate well shy of my normal pace.
A sign came into focus in the beam of my headlamp and confirmed that I was headed in the right direction.
That was fractions of a mile farther than I expected which immediately illuminated the fact that I'd forgotten to bring my Garmin. Who cares right? I know, I know, BUT it meant that I was going to be ascending in the dark with no real idea of what time it was or how far I'd gone which could be problematic since I needed to eventually to get back to the hotel before returning to the Salt Palace for another day of work.
The effort required in the climb and my love of running in the dark combined to back burner those concerns. Per the topo map, I was looking at well over 2,500 feet of climb in those 3 miles and my legs and lungs were busy confirming that reading. I cycled between running, power hiking and straight-up trudging, all with an oh-so-happy grin. You know the kind...shit-eating some call it, though that phrase has always been lost on me.
Periodically, I'd peek to my right or my left depending on the turn of the switchback and ponder the void, wondering at the invisible drop. I was so captivated by the darkness, it took me longer than it should have to realize that I was ankle deep in snow and more was falling. A look back over my shoulder confirmed that I'd been plowing through snow for quite some time.
Such is the power of the MICROspikes.
Long (too long already) story short, I ended up turning back before the top out, a decision I'll probably always question, but the appropriate call given my not being able to confirm the time but being conscious of my going pretty darn slow given the conditions and my flatlander lung capacity.
Thanks to the short hours of winter daylight, I didn't see a single drop of sun on my morning runs but I loved everything I could see in the tunnel of light that I carried with me. I look forward to getting back up to Grandeur (or anywhere else Piep or other locals can point me toward) in August and getting in a run or two ahead of taking another shot at the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase up in Park City (just confirmed today as again being part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup series!) on the Saturday of Summer OR.
Then, if the body holds up, I'll be back through Salt Lake in October for the drive down to Moab for the SlickRock 100. Pretty stoked.
And, just to return to the good omen of the empty flights, Salt Lake sent me off in style with an unexpected meet-and-greet (a run-in...get it?) at the airport with the iconically-mustachioed Nick Offerman.
Who? You know who.
Pretty random, I know, but good times nonetheless. Don't let the scowl fool you (his, not mine), he was a sweetheart.
If I hadn't alreay returned Piep's map and Danny's MICROspikes, I might have clued him in on Grandeur Peak.