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Journey to Colorado/New Mexico

By Erik DeLapp

   Boom! Off into the small Volkswagen Jetta and the huge van, the 14 selected athletes of this year's trip began their journey across the United States into the mountain region and the hot dry southwest desert. Every year had been a blast, with runs and a level of fun hyped to be unprecedented in any other trip put on by the Southwest distance core. Shooting off onto the interstate highway we went, making our way out of the state, and I looked around to see just who exactly made it this year...

The Travelers (All Sixteen of Them)

   The Leading Core

   Zhao. Of course. The driver, the leader, the head of the trip, the chief of operations, operator of the van, the man with the master plan. Zhao put his work and his money to make this trip possible, his planning is what made the fun possible, Zhao is the essential core of the annual Colorado trip.

   Charles Cracraft. The other driver, Chuck is another part of the core. He spent long hours driving and working to make the trip possible, and it is absolutely necessary to give him proper credit in what he has done for the team. And besides, who doesn't like Chuck? His naturally kind mood has given him a wel earned reputations as one of the nicest and level-headed people to be around.

   The Women

   Lena Suhner had plans to meet up with her host family in Colorado on the last day, which she did, but she did spend the entire rest of the trip with us, and everyone on the trip was glad. There is possibly more to say about Lena than anyone else on this trip, she is incredible-- fun to be around, charming, smart, not to mention very fast, with an extremely high amount of wisdom to top it off. She added to the comedic core of the trip, writing one last letter to all of us before she left dubbing me as, perhaps, the one stereotypical stupid American in the group-- something to say about the group, perhaps, if not myself. It's not hard to miss how much she enjoyed the trip-- she practically beams constantly with positive energy, enough to cancel out any negative energy on the trip. Without Lena, where would we have been? Thank you, Lena.

   Koby Hagen spent a great deal of the trip building her friendships with people-- a great deal with Neil Grosscup. Nevertheless she managed to also destroy most people on the brutal and tough uphill, or rather, upmountain runs in the dry heat. She is an impressive athlete and a positive person, practically overflowing with a smiling energy. Although I can't say too much about her-- I only have a picture of her annoyed expression burned in my mind-- I can say that Koby was a big slice of the social climate, and she brought with her a very outgoing and fun personality.

   Callie Pastarr ran some, smiled some, laughed some, and made fun of some. Fun to be around, interesting in conversation, and frighteningly fast on the running course, she helped raise the bar of greatness for the trip. She also was kind enough to use her artistic talent to work and imprint pen tatoos on various athletes' backs, necks, and arms. She added some color to the trip, quite literally.

   Katherine Ketter was unable to run because of a stress fracture in her leg, but everyone is glad she could come anyway, because she is one of the most fun people to be around and to talk to. She is a great conversationalist and thus a great person to hike with and sit in the car with-- and since most of the trip was sitting in a car, or a tent, or on a rock, or just sitting or hiking somewhere, it was definitely a big plus to have her around.

   Laura Berskow is another vital piece of the carefully constructed fun social chemistry of the trip. She is fun to chat with, and her opinion is always interesting and fun to hear. I think this year she was happy to not be stuck in a small car next to me and have to listen to my silence for hours on end-- now she was able to connect into the social hive of a large van, and without her, it wouldn't have been as much of an impressive social hive.

   The Men

   Ethan Jewett came this year and became a useful person to have around, helping with general and specific navigations along highways and streets and also taking control of the music selection in the car. Of course I was happy that Ethan came and I'm sure everyone else was too-- he's a very smart person with a great view on most everything, not to mention a great runner that killed me on the uphill runs.

   Mauricio Yaurincela... I love this guy, he knows how to be funny. He was, to many people on the trip, the absolute core of the male comedy. He continually cracked hilarious jokes in the tent at night and in the car at day. Last year it was Charles Yin and the Vegitable of the Day. This year's it Mauricio and the 8K. He was funny but smart, he knew when to use "no more words." He also surprised many by suddenly getting in shape and running quite fast on many of the runs.

   Forrest Tahdooahnippah returned once again as one of the funniest, smartest, and fastest people on the trip. Coming off a State championship he is runnning faster than a horse, I don't think he needs to fear the Buffalo on the side of the road any more. And of course Forrest is loud and hilarious, as always. There's not much more to say except that Forrest is an incredibly gifted person that is great to have around.

   Dan Dickinson also came back and bettered many of his times from last year. He was the navigator for Chuck's car, and being one of the most intelligent people that I've known, it doesn't surprise me much-- but perhaps Chuck just wanted to have him there to chat, and since Dan is also one of the nicest, wisest, and most interesting people I've known, that wouldnt surprise me either. He's great to talk to, always has a superb view on anything you might want to discuss-- I would definitely not be as motivated to go on this trip if Dan did not go, he's like a brother and a training partner to me.

   Erik Maloney came for the first time as the youngest runner on the trip, but he was definitely one of the bravest. We're talking about the infamous multi-talented man, and running around on hills at high altitude appears to be another one of his long list of talents. I can remember quite a few times that I had to slow down to catch my breath, turned around, and saw him catching me, and then passing me, and then beating me.  That's not to mention, Maloney is one funny kid. Need more be said?

   Francisco Vargas suddenly became one of the fastest runners on the trip. One of the three amigos, he kept things real with his views on things and kept everyone else behind on his killer, fast-paced runs. Like Zhao said, Francisco is a mountain goat like his brother. After seeing him beat me practically every run, I can see him being one of our top runners this fall.

   Carl Henderson, Southwest's all-star Decathlete, hulled around his mountain bike on this trip and then managed to bike faster than cars in various cities in the mountain region. That's not to say he didn't run-- he probably ran more than I did, actually. Carl brought tons of music and made the car ride a more enjoyable experience. Without him things might have gotten a little repetitive.

   Neil Grosscup continued opening himself up to others, and spent a lot of time building friendships with people he hadn't known as well. He came back and ran a lot, again, and ran very fast, again. Perhaps not quite as wholesome as last year, Neil was bent on keeping the "party" in the "party car," and was highly motivated to keep things interesting. Good job, Neil. You definitely kept things interesting. Joking aside, Neil is one of my best friends and of course he added to the overall enjoyment of the trip.

   Me (Erik DeLapp)! I returned as an even older and more cynical man, to the comedic enjoyment of some and the horror of others. Nevertheless I enjoyed this trip once again, especially the sand dunes and New Mexico running. I enjoyed all the conversations I had with people on the trip-- I cannot remember one boring or uninteresting conversation I had with anyone, and with the possible exception of one or two people, I managed to get to know everyone at least a little bit better.

Some Memorable Runs (Without Terribly Sore Quads or Altitude Sickness)

   Yes... It is true that I pounded my quads so hard the first day I couldn't run for a few days afterwards, and then a few days afterwards I had altitude sickness for a while-- but there were still some memorable runs that we all went on!

   The Return to the Badlands and Bear Butte
   I love the runs we do in South Dakota. This year marked the return to Bear Butte and the return to the badlands.  My running group, consisting of Ethan, Dan, Erik M, and myself, had to be cautious of the various sudden pits and canyons along the badland trail-- which we actually found this year, after running around in the middle of nowhere last year looking for the trail. Atop Bear Butte we could see as far as our eyes would let us across the flat Dakota landscape.

   Various Colorado Runs
   Due to the fact that I came down with altitude sickness and hurt my quads at Bear Butte, I'm missing a few tough runs-- one particular run where Neil Grosscup fell off a small cliff and scrapped his legs into a bloody mess, well, perhaps that's a little extremely said, but there's definitely truth some if it.

   Another Day in Vail
   Once again the group passed through Vail and took the time to run up the 4.5 mile trail alongside of the treacherous ski slope. It was a tough run that put runners in oxygen debt within minutes when not adjusted to the extreme altitude. The difference with this year is that once we got to the top, and got our pictures taken, we took the gondola down, seeing interesting things on the ride down.

   Piney Lake
   A great campsite! Very isolated and private..... Except there are no bathrooms, no running water, not even an outhouse in sight. So have fun in the woods, kids. I tried to make sure to take care of business in the city, but I failed again this year, shouldn't have eaten those beans for dinner...  An enjoyable experience nonetheless, very peaceful place indeed.

   The Great Sand Dunes
   While taking between 20-40 minutes to climb atop, it only takes a few to run down the steep, 120 degree dunes of sand in southern Colorado. This was new to me, we didn't go there last year, and it was one of my favorite places, despite nearly being beaten by sprinter Carl Henderson.  On the bright side, I wasn't far behind Dan.

   New Mexico
   We also didn't go to New Mexico last year, which was a very enjoyable experience-- hot dry weather, not humid and hot like the summer in Minnesota, and a very beautiful landscape. Some people went on long runs next to the Rio Grande... I just slept in in the tent as long as I possibly could instead. 

   Flagstaff Mountain
   Last year it was Magnolia Road, this year it was Flagstaff, another famous site from Running with the Buffalos. It was fairly steep and fairly hard, especially if you actually try to run the entire thing. This was more of a run-hike for me.

   Pike's what?
   Due to extensive forest fires in Colorado, Pike's Peak was closed to the public. We took refuge in Neil Grosscup's brother's, Scott Grosscup's, house. He and his wife were kind enough to let us stay there, not to mention that they cooked us an incredibly good dinner and let us sleep inside and watch TV. For me, it was pure paradise, especially in harsh contrast to Piney Lake. Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Grosscup! Speaking of staying at people's houses, we also stopped by at one of our pole vaulters, Caitlin's, house, and  her and her family provided us with another great meal and we were also able to use a nearby pool and hot tub. Thanks!

   Before this article gets so long that no one wants to read it, I had best stop here. I know that I left out about 99% of the events on the trip, and if there's something you really want me to put in or cut out, just email me. Overall, it was a very hyped trip, and as it turned it, it was a very fun trip too. Thanks to everyone that made it possible and came with us.

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