Logging Miles at the Fjallraven Classic
In early June, I found myself craving some summer adventure. Just a few days later, Fjallraven invited Wayward to send someone out for the Fjallraven Classic – when I got the notice, I knew I had to go. Shortly thereafter, I found out that the trip consisted of a 34-mile backpacking expedition through the high-elevation Rockies. Naturally, I got a little nervous. I had just about 3 weeks to prepare myself after a long winter of working the retail floor and otherwise hibernating.
Those weeks flew by, but I got in as many hikes as possible to get my legs and my hiking boots ready for the trip. At the airport I met Jen, another person who happened to be going on the trip, and one who fortunately shared in my apprehensive state. Whew. We made a pact to stick together on the trail.
We landed in Denver and met up with the rest of our team, later sharing a 1.5 hour shuttle trip to Copper Mountain Resort. As we got to know each other, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a rad trip filled with all sorts of entertaining characters. We bonded quickly and easily, laughing at and with each other from the very beginning.
We hit the trail full of jitters and excitement. As we made our way up the slow incline, we suddenly began to relax. This is it? This is what we were worried about? About two miles in, the real incline began. I felt like a slug, inching my way up the mountain in heavy strides. My mind and body weren’t used to full days of hiking. A few Clif Bars and preemptive (but ultimately useless) heel wrappings later and we were at the top, where they had water, food, and words of encouragement. With these priceless motivators to boost our spirits, we pressed on.
What goes up must come down, and if we thought climbing up the mountain was hard, getting back down was in some ways even harder. Our knees were aching, our toes were ramming the front of our boots, and the dried creekbed of a trail was much more uneven than what we had come up.
When we reached flat ground and passed the mile 9 marker, we realized that something was off. Wasn’t Day 1 supposed to be just over 8 miles? At about mile 10, I was ready for a beer. And boy did our campsite deliver! It may have been a couple miles further than we expected, but a 10 Barrel beer tent, hot BBQ food for dinner, and live music made for an epic first night. Our little team closed out the night around one of the many bonfire pits, laughing and bonding over swigs of whiskey.
A late night on Day 1 made for a later start on Day 2, our longest day. Mentally preparing for the 15 mile trek, we packed up our gear and hit the trail… dead last. Not long into the hike, we passed the mile 12 marker. Some quick and optimistic math led us to believe that Day 2 must have been shortened since Day 1 was extended. So we decided to take it easy, relax, and take nice long breaks whenever we wanted.
The 9 of us weren’t together all of the time, so when a few of us saw the rest of the team taking a little break under the trees for some liquid motivation, we joined them.
Throughout the day, the 9 of us continued to separate and reunite on the trail. When we finally made it to our lunch spot, we practically set up camp. With what we thought was only 3 miles left to hike, the 9 of us took a luxurious hour-and-a-half lunch. It was fantastic.
As we were putting our packs back on and walking back onto the trail, the guys closing up the course met us with a discouraging message. We had two options. Stay ahead of him, “and I don’t walk slow,” or get on the bus that would take us to camp. We still had 7 miles to go. 7 miles.
In quiet frustration, those of us who weren’t suffering knee injuries or total fatigue put our heads down and marched onward. I don’t remember much of those 7 miles, but I do remember that the 4 of us quick hikers kept each other going. After those long hours together, we became a team. Strategies, encouragement and commiserating were all that came out of our mouths.
We made it out of the trees to epic views of Breckenridge and I made everyone stop to take it in. We weren’t just there to prove we could hike. We were there to enjoy ourselves and the beauty around us.
Staggering into camp, we were applauded as the four of us awkwardly smiled, internally feeling somewhat embarrassed. Let’s be real… we weren’t slow. We were confused. After grabbing cold beers, we slowly made our way up the hill to mile marker 27.
We happened to be near the official cartographer of the course, Jeremy, and he filled us in on all the mile marker confusions. With the snow covering the trail while they were mapping it out, the course details changed. By the time they realized it, it was too late to make new trail maps.
The new course was 42 miles long, not 34. And Day 3 would not be 12 miles, but 15. “And see those mountains over there? That’s what you’re going over,” he said.
Fjallraven called an all-camp meeting to discuss Day 3. The course was harder than many participants expected, and they wanted to give us options. We could hike back 2 miles, hop on a bus, get taken to a check point, and then walk the remaining 1.5 miles to Copper Mountain. Or, we could unload some weight from our packs and finish out the hike, but we had to leave by 6:30am at the very latest.
I wasn’t there to only do part of the hike, but honestly, without people by my side saying they were doing it to, I probably would have bailed.
So, it’s 5:30 am on Day 3 – I woke up thinking, “I’m getting up this early to do what, again?”
It wasn’t that bad. I’m so glad I did it. Day 3 took us through a much snowier area, so the 3 of us who decided to go squished and splashed and crunched our way up the mountain through mud and streams and snow. The final push was brutal. We could see the summit. We were almost there. But we had a steep climb to finish it out.
Before we knew it, we were there. William pulled out a little bottle of whiskey and we celebrated our accomplishment for about 5 minutes before we got too cold at the top of that peak and decided to make our way back down. After three days in, downhill was even harder on our bodies. We were all hurting. The only way I can describe how we felt is miserable but accomplished.
A mix of emotions were running through my head at the end of day three. I couldn’t wait to finish the course, but I was so sad for it to be officially over. We rounded that last bend and found the rest of our little team waiting with cold beers for us. The three of us nearly lost it. After the struggle to get through the three long days and the bonding we experienced with all of these people, we truly felt like a little family. Jen, William, and I lined up side by side and walked through the finish line together with the most gigantic grins on our faces.
“Struggle through something together and you’re bonded for life,” as our friend Tyler said. It’s so true. Overcoming challenges is an amazing feeling in itself, but making them happen with good friends by your side who are pushing you and encouraging you is so much better.