You can have your crocuses, your Easter eggs, your spring solstice. For me, the real first day of spring is when the snow's cleared enough that I can run the full length of the Carbonate Mountain trail.
Spring officially broke yesterday.
Now, among the small but stalwart ultrarunning community here in the Sun Valley, Idaho area, Carbonate (aka Carbo) holds a special place, so the meaning of its full opening reaches beyond a simple switch of seasons. It's always the first real climb to clear in our area after a long, snowy winter in the Rockies; and while it holds some decent vert (1300 feet) and OK distance (5 miles roundtrip), it's not on its own the epic outing most ultrarunners need, so we practically live on its hillside late March to early May, doing lap after lap, relishing the bare earth and hard fought miles as we wait for time to clear other trail.
In April of last year alone, I ran to the summit 21 times in 8 different sessions. And I know friends and training partners AJW and Brad Mitchell closely matched or exceeded that. With all this time and all these laps, the trail imprints itself on your unconscious and your muscles. You know by heart nearly every stone, every turn, rise, and sagebrush, every time split. You know three minutes into it what type of day it's going to be, yet even on those leaden-leg days, you can bank on long experience with the hill to carry you through to your fourth repeat.
And doing so, you'll rarely be alone. Laps on Carbo mean company. Part knitting circle; part endurance smackdown, part comedy club, the group sessions are always loud and always fun, even as your eyes cross chasing Brad, AJW, or Mike Stevens up on the eighth climb in two days. It was during many of these group sessions that I learned what it really took to be an ultrarunner.
In many ways, Carbo's my madeleine. There wasn't a single race last spring or summer where I didn't use it as a major part of my mileage buildup or a timed test of fitness. So when I'm fighting up the craggy ridge to the mineshaft summit or descending toward the pioneer-days cement foundation, it's hard not to think back to, hard not to feel, the sensations (as European bike racers like to say) of those training days, those races. And in these early spring days, they can come on in a crush.
Yes, we all have our special trails, our go-to trails. But there's something about Carbonate that seems to make it a bit more remarkable than a favored, easy-access run. I want to call it transcendent, but I know that may be over-reaching. Yet, the way it sits at the nexus of time, community, passion, grit, and memory, it seems to be a distillation of the qualities that draw us all to ultrarunning in the first place. And if ultrarunning isn't a transcendent experience, I don't know what is.
A Spring Tour of Carbonate - March 23, 2010
Looking toward the rocky ridge from the trailhead
Buffed out singletrack
All runnable, but some steeps
Room to let it run and season the quads
The trail can blur on some repeat days
The flag. True summit about three minutes beyond
Coming down from the summit.
Still looks like winter