THE ROAD TO LEADVILLE IS COLORED WITH WELCOME SIGNS. Welcome to Dinosaur is a real thing. But, the We <3 Leadville mural with it's Great Living @ 10,200' stood out. Long and low, the white sign stretched 200 feet.
Pulling into town I realized it was gone. Replaced with houses. I wondered how welcome I'd be, and how much I'd love this trip... little superstitions are real.
We ambled around the lower roads at set on riding Hagerman's to Power Line. This is my favorite part of the course. From the summit, it is a very fast Jeep road.
As I was geeking and gearing up, I heard Susie chatting to a solo rider outside the van. He said he used to live in California. Susie asked if he knew me.
I jumped out.
Oh man... my fears or riding alone at sunset were blown away with memories from Nate's first Leadville, which was also my PR year.
Nate has finished top 10 and sub-7 hours multiple times, over 18 go's. That's world class.
But, he didn't start that way... in fact, I gave him a 25% chance of finishing at all.
Somehow we'd met on AOL or something pre-social media. He lived in Venice. He was a semi-pro soccer player. He wanted to see what he'd gotten himself into. I'd done the race once, which made me the local expert back then. He drove to meet me and Peter Vidmar at the bottom of Harding on a sweltering July afternoon - weeks before the event.
I'll never forget it.
In a heavy black soccer jersey.
Uh, you sure about that jersey?
Oh definitely. Soccer guys know this is best.
It was a long day for all of us. Pete and I cruising, Nate nowhere in site. The afternoon heat scorching our backs.
Two of us howled with laughter about the black jersey.
I could tell Nate was discouraged at the top.
At the bottom, he asked Do you think I'll be okay?
My response, which he remembers to this day... You're fit right?
There is no other place like Leadville to find out if you're fit. It's an obviously infectious quest... one that Nate has answered and mastered.
Seeing my friend Nate was a great sign of being welcome, which would get added to at dinner.
How things have changed up here! There is finally, really good food. We sat at Treeline. Out of town owners who brought their out of town talents and out of town prices. Well worth it.
Clearly, the locals love it... as in walks the legends themselves. Founders. Creators. The spirt of Leadville... Ken and Merilee.
I popped off my chair.
Gave them a big hug.
They welcomed me like an old friend... I wondered how could they remember so many people, imagined it was impossible and didn't care as Merilee embraced Susie and whispered...
The legend, Nate Whitman
Side story... we met a real life Leadville Trail runner. Mark. 64. 1 artificial hip. He's in for his first LT100 running race. Got in via lottery. Has no idea what he's in for... and I mean that in a good way. Good Luck!