I awoke at the crack of dawn and headed back to the campers village to grab Tamsin for breakfast. She was still asleep, she had slept like a rock the night before and didn't even notice that I'd disappeared sometime in the night. Apparently she'd even done the "zip...zip...zip" bathroom exit of someone trying their hardest not to awaken anyone else by just ripping open a tent zipper a 2am.
Over breakfast you could see the lack of sleep plastered on people's faces. I would guess that half of the campers tossed and turned on the first evening. I was grateful for my decision to limit my losses and sleep under the stars.
After a shuttle ride to the start we were ready to tackle the 12,600 foot Hope Pass!
Stage 2: Vicksburg - Twin Lakes
Distance: 10 miles / 16 km
Climbing: 3098 feet
Descending: 3570 feet
Low/High Elevation: 9203/12538
This would be our shortest stage of the six days at just over 16km, however we were about to crest our highest elevation point and with that came just the slightest bit of trepidation.
At 8:30 we were off. There was a flat entry of about two miles until we started our march up and over the pass. Again Tamsin and I found our own groove and didn't worry about what was happening ahead of or behind us. After about fifteen minutes the trail dropped from a fire road to single track, and the true race began.
We clicked on the tow rope right away and went about a very strong power hike mixed in with running when the terrain allowed. The great part about easing our way into the run was that we were now passing teams the whole way up. Eventually we found ourselves situated with Kami and Nikki again, while Anita Ortiz and Prudence L'Heureux traded spots with us throughout the climb. Overall women's leaders Devon Crosby-Helms and Caitlin Smith were just back from our pack, and overall open mixed leaders Keri and Jason could be seen in a flash of red about four switchbacks and five minutes ahead of all of us.
Heading into this stage our greatest concern was our breathing at elevation. When the gun went off we both felt weary and struggled to find a rhythm but eventually settled in. My only real 'scare' of the day came at about 11,500 feet when I felt the onset of a head ache from being light headed. Thankfully this only lasted five minutes and I'd forgotten about it once we could see our high point up in the distance.
(Thomas and Monica Miller atop Hope Pass, thanks for letting me use your pics Thomas!)
We pushed hard for the saddle, took all of three seconds to try to enjoy the incredible vantage point, and then went about bombing down the opposite side of the mountain. As the trail filtered us into double and then single track our pecking order found it so that Nikki was off the front showing us all how it's done. To my pure enjoyment Tamsin quickly established herself as the second fastest descender within the group and by the time we found ourselves upon the flats with just two miles to go we even had a slight gap on the other teams.
Tamsin and I lead it out over this terrain and it wasn't until I tried my absolute best to take a wrong turn...and quickly got lassoed back on trail via our tow rope, that Nikki and Kami overtook us. Everyone then kicked it up a notch, knowing every second can count in a stage race, and we passed through the finisher's arch in a time of 1h55m16s.
If I'm not mistaken Keri and Jason had taken another eight or nine minutes out of us, but conversely we had gained seventeen minutes on the then second place open mixed team, and five minutes on the team we would eventually be battling it out with. It was another successful day, and once again we knew we'd left lots in the tank for the remainder of the race. I had but one thought as we crossed the line though...was Aaron Heidt able to recover from his seizing diaphragm the day before.
WELL, long story short on their behalf. The answer was YES, he recovered, there were no breathing issues, and they ran strong...HOWEVER Aaron quite literally bailed hard, kissed a big rock, tore his face open, nearly broke a tooth in half and needed a root canal to fix it all after the fact...BUT THEY HAD WON THE OVERALL STAGE! I couldn't have been more excited and while he sat in a van with a bloody cloth over his face awaiting a trip to the dentist I banged on the windows and cheered him on like I was the paparazzi!
(you can see the blood on Heidts face as he's closing in on the stage win!)
After cheering in a bunch more teams we caught the shuttle back to the campers village to go about our daily recovery duties. Eat-Shower-Massage-Rest, then head for dinner and devour the wonderful food prepared by the TR caterers, watch awards, get break down of following days stage, be entertained by live performance, and cap it off with a slide show and video recap of what an incredible day of running we'd just experienced...all I remember thinking was,
'I could get used to this in a hurry!!'
Day two was in the books, and Taz and I could already see on other peoples faces and legs that we had instituted and followed a very good race plan up until this point in time.