How to drink your own piss: A Nolan’s 14 story

Three idiots standing on a mountain

Summit shot on number 14. From left, some guy, Wade, and Walt. Photo credit: Some hiker on Massive.

Prologue

One morning in May I drank my own piss. One afternoon in June my dad died of cancer. Those two statements are loosely related. I don’t remember July or August, but earlier this month I finished Nolan’s 14, and I find myself unable to write about it without weaving in themes of piss and death. My father’s passing is still fresh on my mind, and like Nolan’s 14 it’s a surreal and difficult thing to experience and process. So I guess what I’m saying is — I wrote a story about piss, death, and processing loss in the mountains. Happy reading.

“My overall conclusion is that we rocked that thing.” — Wade

“Where am I? Who’s this dude I’m following? What am I doing out here in the middle of the night?” — Brandt

Sept. 4, 2017. I’m sitting on a pile of rocks on the summit of Mt. Massive soaking up the sun and it’s just such a lovely Monday morning. 53 hours and 40 minutes have passed since Wade and I hiked away from Blank Cabin well ahead of Saturday’s first light. There are 14 Sharpie marks on my left arm, right by that scar that’s been smiling at me since the day miniBrandt dropped a bottle of soda pop and glass shrapnel happened. I’ve taken three naps, eaten two footlong Subway sandwiches, and pretty much retired one pair of shoes that were new not two weeks ago.

We did it, Wade!

  • Nolan’s 14 — “A run over the 14 summits over 14,000 ft. in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, from Mt. Massive to Mt. Shavano in either direction.” This blog assumes the reader has passing knowledge of Nolan’s 14 and an interest in reading a mostly unhelpful, usually coherent, occasionally profane blog about Nolan’s 14.
  • Wade Gardner — My partner for this attempt. Goes by the handle “warg” on 14ers.com. Nolan’s 14 report.
  • GPX file — Wade’s cleaned up version of my original InReach track running on 30-minute intervals.
  • That was a bad idea — My 2016 Nolan’s report. 10 summits N-S. Shot down by trench foot and sleep deprivation.

Hey Wade, we did it!

In a little over three hours I’d be down at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery stuffing yet another Subway sandwich into my face and hating myself for ordering the jalapeños. Probably taking a shower in the hatchery’s oddball public bathroom. Maybe thinking about drinking the homebrewed wheat beer in my drop tote and then not drinking it. Yes, I brew my own recovery drink, thanks for asking! Since I do so much running and hiking, I need to have lots of beer sitting around to help me recover, and it’s cheaper and much more interesting if I just make it myself. All things in moderation, of course, although you probably shouldn’t be taking advice about moderation from anybody who thinks Nolan’s 14 is a good idea. Which I definitely don’t. Where was I. Oh yeah, I was explaining how to drink your own piss.

Step 1: Drink way too much beer.

Looking out the back of a pickup truck at nighttime streetlights in Buena Vista, Colorado

Buena Vista at night as seen through the back window of Wade’s truck, Ranger.

Friday night lights of the head and star variety

We hide out in the back // Like shadows in a stranger’s dream — Metric

Friday, Sept. 1. Night. Wade was driving Ranger, his 2004 Mazda B2300, south on Hwy. 24. His wife Dara was in the passenger seat. I was lying on my back in the truck’s bed, watching the road unroll behind us staring at headlights wondering how much it would hurt if we got in an accident. Driving is one of the only things that make me nervous, because statistically speaking it’s probably the most dangerous thing I do. My greatest fear in life is that I’ll die in some dumb forgettable car accident instead of, say, in some awesome freak backcountry catastrophe way out in the middle of nowhere with both of my legs smashed like bugs under a boulder and my InReach resting a few inches out of reach just for the comic relief. Man, wouldn’t it be a bummer if I kicked the bucket screaming boringly in the back of Ranger on my way to attempt Nolan’s 14, instead of laughing at the fact that my satellite tracker was barely beyond my grasp and then succumbing to shock and blood loss alone on some mountainside during a Nolan’s 14 attempt? I don’t want to think about that.

Fortune was on my side this time, though, because we reached the Shavano trailhead without incident. The Gardners went to sleep in the truck. I set up my tent nearby. The darkness above was decked with the tiny lights of dead and dying stars and as I stared up at uncaring space reflecting in the cold quiet I thought to myself, Should I hold in my farts tonight or is it okay to make some noise? And billions of dead and dying stars became the fuzzy voices in my head and they whispered to me in chorus: Make some noise, man, nobody cares, and you can take that in a good way or in a bad way, however you like, it’s yours for the taking. Nobody cares, so fart like there’s no tomorrow, because there is no tomorrow.

“Hey Brandt.”

“Hmm?”

“I’m setting my alarm for 4:15, that work for you?”

“Sure.”

“Cool, see you dark and early tomorrow then.”

“There is no tomorrow.”

“What?”

“Yeah, the stars just told me.”

“The stars told you?”

“Yeah.”

“Haha. You’re crazy.”

“I know.”

” … ”

” … ”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

A dark morning sky with sunrise peeking over the horizon. Trees silhouetted in the front.

Looking eastish across the valley on Saturday morning. The weather never wavered.

Hello my sweet and sour Sawatch

Saturday, Sept. 2: Shavano, Tabeguache, Antero, & Princeton

Miles away // No, you’re never turning back — Winger

We started our adventure with the most perfect weather you could imagine for a Nolan’s 14 attempt. Clear skies, minimal wind, relatively warm temps. The plan was for me to lead the way up the first few peaks and set the pace. So up I went Shavano, Wade in tow and probably hoping I’d go faster, our headlamps lighting the path past hikers who wished us good day in the dark and good luck without really knowing the quality of the abyss we were staring into. Only a few miles to the hatchery, right? Don’t think about it. As we neared treeline I looked down and east across the Arkansas River Valley and saw blood on the horizon.

A bit higher up after the sun came full circle up someone came ripping up the trail and passed us moving fast. He introduced himself as Eric, a fellow Nolan’s competitor, and then he kept right on ripping up up up. We caught sight of him a couple more times between this point and Antero, and then he was gone. I later heard he ran into some troubles around Princeton and had to stop, but I think what actually happened is he was scooped up by the yetis that inhabit these parts.

Shavano was icy up top. Black frost on a crazy old pile of rocks. Slippery when … dry? Already the 14 giants have conspired to kill us. But it’ll take more than that, man. One down. Fistbump. Sharpie mark on arm. Your turn, Tab. Shav and Tab are close so it’s a quick trip over. Careful on that crazy old frosty rocky road. Two down. Fistbump. Sharpie mark on arm. Coming for you, Antero. Down Tabeguache and across the log and up the nonstandard gully where a mob of bighorn sheep were waiting to mug us.

Blurry unhelpful image of a dozen or so sheep standing on a ridge flipping off the camera

Nailed it! You see these bighorns and you know you’re right on course.

Shortly after the sheep we came across Nancy, who had started her attempt a bit earlier that morning. She was going solo and hadn’t even seen parts of the route before. We said hello, made some small talk, exchanged hugs, and went on our way up the road to Antero, turning right at the Range Rover onto the summit trail. Keep an eye out for that Range Rover as you switchback up the road. If you miss it you’ll probably miss the trail, too, and end up on the wrong peak. Side note, I believe Nancy was also claimed by the yetis after Princeton, but what a great effort when all you’ve got is your own self and a GPS track to follow. As Wade and I were later to find out, even having significant knowledge of the course, multiple selves, and GPS tracks to follow isn’t enough to keep you from getting hilariously lost.

Three down. You’re up, Princeton.

We jogged the road down Baldwin Gulch to the Antero trailhead. Nancy’s husband Mark and their friend Diane were there, presumably waiting for Nancy and not us, but when they saw us drop onto 162 they made an educated guess that we were us.

“Is that Wade!?”

“Yes!” Wade said.

“No!” I said.

“You guys are doing great!”

“Thanks!” we said.

They gave us water and words of encouragement — and then, as we plodded east through Alpine on 292B, they decided to go driving past us toward the cul de sac where the Grouse Canyon trail starts by the graveyard. This is where we’d planned to meet our crew Dara and Ranger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Yetis, most likely. So it was a huge help to have Mark and Diane randomly offer us aid here. They gave us water again and fixed us up with some food and made sure we were all set up for our next little climb. This is what I love about the ultrarunning community — people will just do stuff like this to help total strangers. It’s inspiring to experience. It makes you want to return the favor, believe in something, restore the hope inside yourself. It’s one of the only logical reasons I keep signing up for ultramarathons. Thanks for helping us Mark and Diane!

Alright, c’mere Princeton. Up we went into the heat of Saturday. The trail into Grouse Canyon was gorgeous as usual, aspen turning yellow, evergreens turning green. We located the raggedy sweatpants below Blake’s Fast Scree Gully and then proceeded up, slowly but surely, hating Blake’s Fast Scree Gully with every two steps forward one step back we took. At the summit we encountered plenty of bugs bent on getting our attention. Shake off skin, slay. Four down. Fistbump. Sharpie mark on arm.

Be afraid, Yale, for we are coming.

Down into Maxwell Gulch, past the old miners’ quarters, down the faint old mining trail to the more obvious old mining road to the Colorado Trail. From there it was an easy trek to the Cottonwood Lake crew point, where we met up with Dara, Walt Hall, and Walt’s wife Diane (side note, not the same Diane as the Diane above). They had all of our crap with them, which for me included a plastic tote filled with way more backup clothes and gear than I’d ever need, plus a reusable Safeway grocery bag filled with enough food and beverages to get me through Nolan’s 28.

On our way up 306 toward the Avalanche trailhead we ate the best Subway sandwiches in the world, walkjogging the road as the crew truck puttered behind us with flashers flashing. My mouth was on fire from the jalapeños. Why did I order jalapeños? Along this section Wade and I talked and laughed about things I’ve long since forgotten, but I know we were feeling fairly hunky-dory here.

(Left) Wade pointing at the camera with both hands (Right) Brandt looking over at Wade with the beginnings of a laugh on his face

As you can see. Photo credit: Dara? Walt?

From our crew stop just east of Avalanche we cut through the woods on an old road grade and caught the CT heading up that titan named Yale. The sun set Saturday night the same way it sets every Saturday night. We were on our way up Hughes Ridge and I was feeling as strong as the moon was full, so probably about 95%.

Looking at Mt. Princeton as we ascended Yale. The moon is nearly full and partially hidden behind clouds.

Looking back at Princeton on the way up Yale Saturday night.

Insects on the skin of giants

Saturday night: Yale, Columbia, & Harvard

Where we’re from // There’s no sun // Our hometown’s in the dark — twenty one pilots

Five down.

“So Brandt, Facebook tells me you’ve been reading the Book of Mormon.”

From Yale’s summit we had descended northish into the bowl, then shot to the right of avalanche/plane crash gully. Wade knew of a decent trail that dropped into the gully next door, so we took it, and we were now well down into that gully, hugging a very steep, loose, slip ‘n’ slide incline and generally having difficulty staying on our feet.

“Say what?”

“You like the Book of Mormon on Facebook.”

“Oh yeah.”

“So … ?”

“I think it’s funny to like things on Facebook that I don’t actually like in real life.”

“Interesting.”

“Yeah, I just really hate Facebook, man. And social media in general actually. It all feels so fake and forced and distracting from real experiences. I’m only on Facebook to make it easier to get in touch with people if I need to. But I like finding ways to subvert the medium. So for example with Facebook I like things I don’t actually like in order to screw with their algor — ”

“Watch out for the cliff,” Wade said, rudely interrupting me before I could fully expound on my groundbreaking social media philosophy.

“What?”

“There’s a cliff down there so be careful.”

“Oh.”

I looked down the very steep, loose, slip ‘n’ slide incline under my feet and concluded that yes, there was in fact a point where it halted in what appeared to be vertical darkness.

“You’re saying I shouldn’t lose my footing on this very steep, loose, slip ‘n’ slide incline?”

“I guess that depends on your goals in life.”

“Well, so far the only life goal I’ve defined is the one about dying in a freak backcountry catastrophe.”

“It’s not that bad. You’ll be fine.”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

Both of our protagonists survived said cliff and continued down and eventually arrived at North Cottonwood Trail and the bridge, where as it turns out Wade had stashed a stashy stash in a plastic container. There was a gallon of water, too. Brandt poured BlisterShield into his socks and refilled his water bottles with Tailwind. They got their stuff together and started up the trail, shortly turning off in the usual spot to climb Columbia.

The standard S-N Nolan’s route to Columbia’s summit sends you straight the hell up toward heaven forever on really loose terrain. The ridgeline, when you finally finish dragging yourself on all fours up to it, seems to go on and on and on, and in the moonlight we could see it stretch out and up far in front of us. All told it’s rather irksome, but not so irksome that I wouldn’t do it again someday.

Somewhere above treeline, after having put the worst of the Columbia climb behind us, we turned back and caught a glimpse of a headlamp descending Yale.

“I wonder if that’s Nick,” I said.

“I heard he was going to start Saturday morning after us.”

“Yeah, I hope he knows about that cliff.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Cairn marking the summit of Columbia, lit up by headlamp in the darkness

Six down. Unless this is actually Harvard instead of Columbia, in which case seven down.

During our traverse to Harvard, the headlamp/Probably Nick caught up to us and passed us on the standard route a hundred feet above while we were filtering water down below. Probably Nick was moving fast, and he disappeared from view as we proceeded up to Harvard. While writing this story I was informed that it was Actually Nick we saw out there, and that the yetis got him after 9 summits. But he escaped and then he went back two weeks later for another try and finished in 54 hours. There must be some kind of lesson about perseverance here.

“Looking at you, Oxford.”

“Oxford’s over that way, Brandt.”

[checks compass]

[looks over that way]

“Looking at you, Oxford.”

The sun rose as we went down to Pine Creek. Sometimes when I’m feeling sad and tired I step outside my apartment and stare at the mountains I moved here for and I feel nothing for them. After all the stories I’ve read of the miners and the spoils, fortunes won and wasted, hopeful souls who arrived in the high country with not a chance and died nameless in Poverty Flats — they are now a standing army of ageless indifferent giants to the east and to the west, cold killers who look down on us and see insects to be shaken off the skin and slain.

The mountains are calling and I must go be a hopeful soul.

Wade’s Death Log

Sunday, Sept. 3: Oxford, Belford, Missouri, & Huron

I wanna get fucked up // and then hit undo — Kongos

We were at treeline on Harvard’s lower parts with Oxford looming over us like a god when we decided it was time for nap #1. I set my alarm and passed out pretty fast. I conked out like I’d never outconked before. I zonked out like zonking out was the new conking out. Never before have I ever passed out quite like I passed out on the side of a mountain that Sunday morning.

20 minutes later I popped awake and I was ready.

“I feel great!”

“You were making animal noises in your sleep.”

“That’s good, right!?”

“I think so.”

“Let’s go climb a mountain!”

“Right on!”

We finished our descent into the valley, where Wade had the great idea that instead of crossing Pine Creek on the easy log where a normal person would cross, we’d just go a bit farther west and cross on Wade’s Death Log — without telling Brandt, who at this point was feeling rather slaphappy and mindlessly following in Wade’s footsteps. I wish I had a picture of the Death Log because it’s really just a bad idea. It’s covered with the little stumps of branches past, perfect for tripping on. There’s nothing to hold on to as you cross. Oh, and it sits at a 30ish-degree angle about 30 feet above a shallow creek full of big sharp boulders. A fall from the Death Log would result in … would result in … crap, I had something for this. What would it result in? Can’t quite put my finger on it.

No matter. We successfully crossed the Death Log and started up Oxford. I recall having to make a few Class 5 climbing moves somewhere in here (typical for a Wade shortcut), but presently the terrain improved and we marched steadily toward the summit. Wade split straight up aiming at his stashy stash of stashness (this time a 1-liter bottle of water) while I swept a bit left and then swung around to the top. At the summit I shot the breeze with some day hikers and after fielding a few questions from them I was forced to admit that yes, I was attempting Nolan’s 14. I usually make a point of not saying anything about Nolan’s during a Nolan’s attempt, because I feel like telling people about it is somehow bad luck, but now I obviously have to reconsider. Perhaps it was meant to be. What, then, shall we say? If Oxford is for us, who can be against us? Eight down. Fistbump. Sharpie mark on arm. Don’t go anywhere, Belford.

We spent a solid 30 seconds on Mt. B and then hot diggity dogged it over to Elkhead Pass for the always fun Missouri traverse. Some guy with a foreign accent passed us here and he said Hey, are you doing Nolan’s? And we said Yes and he said I’m scouting and then he took off right up the freaking ridge. By now I’d snapped out of my slaphappiness, and if Wade had opted to go follow that crazy ridge with Accent Guy I sure wouldn’t have followed. But he didn’t — we stayed lower and hugged the cliff’s edge as I’d expected, and then we ascended as usual. Not too shabby, man. Ten down. Fistbump, double digits. Sharpie. Arm.

For the descent we did something interesting. Instead of following the regular trail to Clohesy Lake, we took the ridge a bit south and skied down a scree field into the bowl below Missouri, then walked across a field to intersect with the trail farther below. The downski was a blast, but the field march was slow going, and in hindsight I’d say it’s probably faster to take the regular trail the whole way. Walt was waiting for us by the lake and we took our time changing shirts, restocking on food, and talking about wow, how do we feel so awesome on only 20 minutes of sleep? This is great. I don’t get it but I’m not gonna complain. This is a dog. This is a dog slobbering all over me and getting in my way. Stop it I’m trying to do important things right now. Whose dog is this and where did it come from. I’ve definitely never seen this dog before. Is this even a dog. What are dogs. Wade, do you remember what dogs are? I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Let’s go climb a few more 14ers. Up Huron we went on the unicorn trail, which is pretty easy to …

Wait.

What the hell, Wade.

“This is a good shortcut, Brandt.”

“How is this a good shortcut?”

We were pushing straight up into dense undergrowth of the sort that rips your skin and snags your pack and makes it miserable to be alive. Equals not a good shortcut.

“It eliminates a couple switchbacks,” he said.

“I’d rather walk the trail and keep my skin intact,” I said.

“Just wait till you see my shortcut up higher.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s just outstanding.”

“It’s pretty great.”

Why would anyone ever be interested in Wade’s shortcuts? They’re always bad ideas.

“Hey Wade, glad you enjoyed it! I’m interested in seeing those new shortcuts someday. Next time, I guess :)” — Me, one year ago, responding to Wade’s comment on my Nolan’s 10 report

Up higher Wade led us through a notch that skipped all the willows and dumped us straight into the boulder field above looking straight at the line of cairns leading to the scree field climb. I have to admit it was pretty great.

“That was actually pretty great,” I said.

“I told you.”

Our protagonists then went up the scree field, hugging left to stay on boulders. They waved and said Hi to a happy gent who cheered them on as they made their final push to the summit, and then they and he did the same on the way down. The Halls met them near the Huron trailhead with the RZR and their second dose of Subway. Ate sandwiches. Walkjogged to La Plata trailhead via Winfield. Snagged nap #2 on an inflatable mat. (Thanks, Walt!) Woke up refreshed and riled up for night #2.

Eleven down. You ready to lose, La Plata?

Huron seen from La Plata's willow trail

A look back from the La Plata trail near the willows. Huron is the high pointy one.

Sun setting on a clear evening with La Plata's boulders in the foreground

Sunset on our climb up La Plata.

On loss and getting lost

Sunday night: La Plata & Elbert

Forget your head and you’ll be free. — David Bowie

We dove through the willows and dashed up the steep slide slash trail and slipped all the way up to where we could see LP.

And then, as darkness settled and I led the way La Plataward, we got disoriented in the crisscrossing of trails near the summit and spent like half an hour banging around trying to figure out where the hell we were. As Wade later observed to me via email, we both suffered from total GPS failure, at the exact same time, for the exact same amount of time. Arrows on maps on iPhone screens weren’t making any sense to our sleep-deprived minds. Forget your head. Forget your head. We forgot them, all right. So are we free?

Everything’s fine. Twelve down. Fistbump. Sharpie mark on arm. El. Bert. El. Bert. El. Bert. Down we ran the terrible terrible trail to Hwy. 82, hard the whole way, ain’t stopping for anything friend. Near the bottom my head started playing those old tricks on me. Staring at trees for no reason. Forget it. Staring at trees. Forget it. No reason. Where am I? Forget. Who’s this dude I’m following? Forget. What am I doing out here in the middle of the night? Forget, man. Head set on repeat, man. Loop through the memory lapses, all the way down to 82 for another crew stop and a fresh change of socks and a protein shake and a Red Bull and wait, where am I? Wade, do you know where we are?

Blurry shot of Brandt and Wade, representing our questionable mental state after climbing 12 14ers

Everything’s fine. Photo credit: Dara

I was feeling the fatigue here big time but my blurry mind decided it could push through. We got our things together without wasting much time and then we were off, running the road to the Elbert trailhead with the crew truck puttering behind us again with flashers on again and there was stabby pain in my knees and stabby pain in Wade’s knees but we both ran the whole way without saying anything.

Projecting my thoughts onto the minds of every driver of every car that passed us in the dark: “Who’re these knuckleheads running the road in the night?”

Sometime in the unwaking hours between Sunday and Monday two knuckleheads started making their way up the Elbert trail and I led the way, fighting sleep. Wade knew I was struggling to stay awake so he’d been letting me set the pace, but eventually it got to that point where I said Dude, I’m basically sleepwalking right now, I gotta stop for a nap. Off with the pack. Down on the ground. C’mere, sleep, let’s do this.

20 minutes later I popped awake and I was ready.

“Hey Wade, remember that time we climbed La Plata!?”

“I have this fuzzy memory of desperately looking for cairns going up that last ridge.”

“Yeah, wasn’t it great!?”

“Then I blanked out till you asked me why we were on the ‘down’ trail without ever having summited.”

“What a crazy night!”

“It’s still the same night, Brandt.”

“Let’s do it again!”

“I was really, really confused up there.”

“Me too! Let’s do it again!”

” … ”

” … ”

“Is that Bull Hill!?”

“I have no idea.”

Again with the GPS failure. Everything was going so well. What’s happening. Why can’t I figure out where I am. Who’s that guy over there. This isn’t hard it should be right in front of me who’s that guy. I know that guy’s name why can’t I remember that guy’s name what’s going on. I’m going to pull out an actual paper map. I’m going to break out my compass and try to figure this out the old-fashioned way with an actual paper map and compass

and lo, I understand the Truth and Meaning of Bull Hill and Elbert. Everything is suddenly alight. Bright. A beacon of light above us. There before us is the right path. Firebrand reflector of the night, blaze away and bathe my sweet and sour Sawatch and guide us up to Elbert. Let us climb to the summit and celebrate with singing and dancing and —

“What the hell, Brandt!” yelled one of my cynical selves.

“Just waxing eloquent!” I yelled back.

“That’s the worst writing I’ve ever read!”

” … ”

” … ”

Moving right along. Bull Hill is hereby renamed Yep, That’s Bull Hill Alright. Elbert is now Mt. Obvious. Next time you’re out wandering around by Bull Hill for some dumb reason tired inside and sick in the head you’ll be able to scream nonsense things at nobody like “Yep, that’s Yep, That’s Bull Hill Alright alright, and that obvious peak over there is Obvious.” You’re welcome! Thanks. I know, right?

We’ve remembered our heads, we’ve figured it out, but are we free?

I led the way up and over to the summit as wind sprinted across the ridgeline. We arrived at the first level of freezing to death and it was chilly there. Out came the puff jacket to keep hypothermia from shutting down my upper body. Out came the long pants to keep my legs from turning to stone cold oh, I left my long pants at the last crew stop and oh, Wade doesn’t have long pants either. LOL. Nice work, guys. Now keep moving or die. We are flies. Insects on skin. They’ll flick us into the afterlife, man, be careful lest ye be killed. Hello Mt. Obvious! Thirteen down. Fistbump. Forget your Sharpie mark on arm head. Forget your head. Forget your head and then. Hit undo. I wanna get fucked up and free. And you’ll be free. Forget your head and you’ll be undo. I wanna get I wanna forget I get I wanna get fucked up, and then hit undo.

I wanna get FUCKED UP, and then hit undo.

Hit undo.

HIT UNDO:

Sit in a shitty doctor’s office chair

as an ocean rises up behind your eyes.

Fix those sad and tired eyes on some shitty doctor’s office floortiles and good luck forgetting those floortiles because they’ll brand an eternal pattern onto the back of your mind and such pattern’ll stay with you forever and ever, amen. There is no afterlife, there is no god save Oxford, et cetera. Hey man, here’s a finish line you didn’t ask for and it’s moving at you like finish lines aren’t supposed to move and it’s not something you can run from. There’s nothing anybody can do. Six weeks max, man, sorry, it’s over time’s up clock’s done ticking there ain’t no more time you done punched out one last time and now you’re long gone, goodbye forever and ever, amen. I’ll never forget. Fuck it. Who’s in for some sin? I’ll bring the matches you bring the passion let’s set a shitty doctor’s office on fire and then let’s get high and dance up and down a few mountains, and when the stormclouds send down their electric love we’ll embrace it and we’ll go out with a bang, a flash and a bang, we’ll go out doing what we love, alive one second and dead the next, never even knew what happened,

and then,

hit undo.

Such a lovely Monday morning

Monday, Sept. 4: Massive

So this is how it feels // to catch your face in broken glass // and know that that’s what’s real — Firewater

Sun’s up for the third time since we started. Here we are sitting on the side of 110J at the base of Elbert after a crazy slow and kinda dangerous descent, exhausted, probably/actually in a bit of shock after all that’s happened.

“Hey, remember that time we climbed __________?”

“Yeah, that sure was __________.”

Is there really only one left? We’re going to finish Nolan’s 14. Here we are. Here we are sitting on the side of a lonely dirt road, and I can imagine you sitting here too but you’re gone and I can’t exactly hit undo on that now can I.

We walked down the road with very little jogging and plenty of time to spare. Dara was at the Massive trailhead but we had to wait for Walt, who’d apparently just rode away in the RZR looking for us because we were oh, three hours late for our planned crew meetup. Neither of us cared. Let’s go climb another mountain. Let’s do this.

Walt walked us up the back side of Massive.

Wade sitting on a rock at the Mt. Massive trailhead showing some kind of purple footcare product to the camera

Wade being Wade at the Massive trailhead.

Brandt sitting on a rock at the Mt. Massive trailhead opening a packet of BlisterShield

Brandt being Brandt at the Massive trailhead.

Fifty-six fifty-six

Big thanks to:

  • Wade Gardner for sticking with me through this whole thing, you’re a great hiking partner. I really appreciate you letting me piggyback on your attempt. I guess it worked out well for me to tag along, but still, I’m grateful that I could do so.
  • Dara Gardner, Walt Hall, and Diane Hall for coming out to help me and Wade finish Nolan’s 14 on Labor Day weekend.
  • Mark (Nancy’s husband) and Diane (their friend) for stopping to give us some much-needed aid at Alpine.
  • Julian and Lisa Smith for providing the leadership and planning to help me and many others learn the Nolan’s 14 course and meet some really neat people in the process.
  • Beth and Gia for helping me and Adam earlier this summer when we attempted Nolan’s 14 in a monsoon and had to quit on Princeton.

Lessons applied:

  • Foot care — During my Nolan’s attempt last summer I neglected to care for my feet, mainly because I’d never had any issues with my feet before, so why bother? I was in the habit of running for 100 miles without stopping to think feet-related things and it was working fine. But Nolan’s is a totally different animal, and Nolan’s set my feet on fire. This year, I was careful to use BlisterShield throughout the attempt, and I’m happy to report that I had zero problems.
  • Sleep — Last summer I followed Julian for 10 summits N-S without bothering to take a nap, and it caught up to me in the trees below Yale in a pretty severe and (in hindsight) hilarious way. This year, I made a point of stopping for 20-minute naps anytime the sleep/fatigue seemed impenetrable, and it paid off.

Lessons hopefully learned:

  • Gaiters — I need to get them. Not sure how many times I had to stop and dump a pound of rocks and dirt out of each of my shoes. I think at the bottom of every mountain? Wade probably remembers better.
  • Calendars — I need to pay more attention to them. On the Tuesday before Labor Day weekend, I discovered a small problem with my plans to attempt Nolan’s that Saturday with Julian and company. Wade had messaged me on Facebook to say that the weather was looking sketchy on Friday, and that he was considering a Saturday start. … Why is Wade talking about the Friday forecast? Julian and company aren’t starting till Saturd — oh, they’re starting on Friday. Crap. I can’t take off work Friday. Crap.
Two idiots sitting on the ground surrounded by hiking gear devouring Subway sandwiches. They are dirty and tired for some reason. Fish Hatchery sign is in the background.

Here we are eating Subway sandwiches at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. Not recommended for picnics because you get a lot of creepy dudes here who look and smell like they haven’t showered in days.

Epilogue

Step 1: Drink way too much beer.

Steps 2-5: Pass out on the couch in the basement in your parents’ house in Indiana as melanoma ravages your dad on the couch upstairs. Wake up in the middle of the night half drunk and disoriented and piss in your handheld water bottle. Roll off the couch the next morning with an almighty thirst in your throat. Grab that water bottle and take a big swig.

That wasn’t Tailwind, man, that was a mistake. That’s what a bad idea tastes like. But what are you going to do, throw it up and taste it again? No, you can’t undo that, it’s over alarm clock’s done ringing you done drunk piss and now you’ve got a story to tell so get up and go make that happen. Forget it. Life is an adventure. Don’t let it pass you by.

Take the opportunity. Climb the mountain, shoot the breeze. Stare into the abyss. Be careful on frosty rocky roads, watch out for the cliffs and the yetis. Take naps and make animal noises. Follow the cairns. Forget your head and stare at trees. Scream nonsense things at nobody, ski down scree fields, be a hopeful soul. And if you wake up on the wrong side of the couch some morning and start your day with a big swig of your own piss — laugh at yourself, and then move right along.

A pirate.

Here’s the pic we picked for dad’s obit.

Dad, you taught me how to have hope, how to keep moving through tough times, and how to laugh at myself. Maybe we didn’t agree on the meaning of life, but you were my dad, and I loved you, and I’ll miss you. Farewell. I’m off to dance up and down a few mountains.

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