As The Sun Set I Felt My Sense Of Idealism Return

Word by dakota jones


Mental Athletic media

I was introduced to trail running in the mountains of Colorado. With a group of students from the tiny high school in Silverton, I hiked to 3,500 meters and set up an aid station for the Hardrock Hundred. We were at the halfway point of the race. It was early afternoon. “Don’t worry guys,” the aid station captain said, “nobody will be here for hours.”

But he was wrong. Just after 4:00 pm, a runner emerged from the trees. He was shirtless and carried one water bottle and his long blonde hair was tied back. He ran up to us as we scrambled from our seats to help him. I remember thinking he was so tall. We filled his bottle. We gave him a cookie. And then he continued up the mountain.

That runner’s name was Kyle Skaggs. We didn’t see another runner for almost three hours, and in the end Kyle won the race by more than six hours, breaking Scott Jurek’s course record by 2.5 hours. But those statistics were less important to me than the vision I couldn’t get out of my head: Kyle running up the trail with almost nothing at 3,500 meters after more than 80 km of running, looking like he had just begun. For years afterward I dreamed of being so strong, of running across high mountains all day and night with nothing but a bottle and a few gels. It fitted my ideal of a simple and authentic life outdoors.

Three years later I drove out of Silverton at 3:00 pm. The afternoon sun was hot and the air was dusty next to the road. I parked at a dirt road, grabbed one water bottle and a few gels, and started running uphill. I could hear the sound of the river and the rustling of the aspens, their green leaves looking faded in the bright sunlight. Running at 2,800 meters always feels hard, and I kept my head down and tried to find a rhythm. 

My goal was to run 50km of the Hardrock course. I was training for the race myself now, and wanted to be prepared. I carried no watch and no cell phone. I didn’t even own a camera because I worried that taking pictures was too materialistic. I wanted to immerse myself in this place, this beautiful high Colorado landscape.

Mental Athletic media

The road became a trail and then ended at the continental divide, which is the ridge that separates water flowing to the Pacific ocean from that flowing to the Atlantic. Hardrock crosses the divide twice, and by descending the other side I was setting out into the wildest and most remote part of the course. From that point it’s more than 15 kilometers until you cross back over the divide, but even then you are still on the wrong side of the mountains from Silverton. To get back home I had to descend to one of the lowest points on the course and then climb 1,400 meters to the highest point of the course – 4,284m Handies peak.