Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Dodgy Lama

I was five minutes off the front, sixty miles into a one-hundred mile running race, and breathing thin air at over 12,500ft when the lama took off. In the middle of the Rocky Mountains tree-line fades into a sub-alpine zone. Comprised of sharp rocks, roots, and not nearly enough oxygen for someone from sea level--this section of trail is a dopey stumble through broken glass.

Hope Pass is the crux of the run. Racers start 50 miles north in the retired mining town of Leadville, run South down the spine and turn in the ghost town of Winfield. I'd made the turn and had just reached the summit of Hope Pass for the second time when I heard her cry.

"Damn you, Ted. Get your ass back here"

The woman's face told the story of a good life. Deep wrinkles from the sun, the worried brow of a farmers daughter, and a relaxed smile.

Tiny running shorts, shirtless, and dehydrated, I must have looked the least threatening of the bunch, never mind this silly running race--"Go get in front of him!"

The frame was classic. Herds of tired racers slogging up the backside of Hope Pass dodging off trail to avoid this huge quadruped in complete control.

"Get him off trail and put up your arms," she instructed as we both started to chase.


The Hope Pass aide station is perched just below the saddle at about 12,000ft and 3,000 feet above the nearest jeep road; pack-lamas are the means of transportation for the aide station perched on the wind protected side of Hope Pass.


All of a sudden the race went from a lonely pain cave to a primal chase after an animal twice man size.

Delirious runners slogging up the pass dodged sluggishly.

A couple folks with obvious experience put their arms up to slow the lama, Ted simply ducked around them.

Chasing, I managed to loop below him and grab a couple sticks. Holding them out arms extended Ted and I met eye to eye in a treed ravine. He grinned his teeth and made unforgettable Lama noises.

At some point we descended down into tree-line and I had him cornered surrounded by trees; again, obviously not threatening he practically jumped over me and was down the trail again, sending groggy uphill runners stumbling off the trail.

A powerful looking dude with trekking poles extended himself and sent Ted into an area surrounded by thick trees, slowing his progress and providing time for the cow-girl to catch up. We we formed a semi-circle around him and held the line.

Before she set out on the chase from base camp she must have instructed a peon to bring down a female lama to lour Ted in. Teeth grinding and weird noises on both sides went on for the longest five minutes of my life until the peon showed up with the female.

Ted mellowed out, the peon and I witnessed the cow girl more-or-less tackle Ted and get him clipped into a harness.

Watching this unfold, sticks in hand and arms extended I watched the South African zip by and take the lead of the race.

He went on to win to hold the win for over 60 miles. With a beefy resume of self supported desert races and this being his first 100 miler his win was well deserved and entertaining to watch from behind.

Anyone who completes the Leadville 100 derserves the utmost respect.

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