In Crested Butte, a run­ning re­nais­sance is afoot.

In Colo., Crested Butte is beau­ti­ful — on foot

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY RACHEL WALKER travel@wash­post.com Rachel Walker is a writer based in Boul­der, Colo. Find her on Twit­ter: @racheljowalker.

Out­side of Crested Butte, Colo., there is a trail that de­liv­ers in­trepid moun­tain trav­el­ers to a high-al­ti­tude par­adise erupt­ing with wild­flow­ers, lush mead­ows and views so ar­rest­ing that you won’t be­lieve your eyes.

This trail, the 401, climbs 11/2 miles out of Schofield Pass, el­e­va­tion 10,707 feet, through an ever­green for­est to ac­cess a high-alpine moraine. Then it me­an­ders through grassy fields rimmed with boul­ders and scree fields be­fore gen­tly de­scend­ing more than 2,000 ver­ti­cal feet over seven miles. As it drops, the 401 plunges through fields of cow parsnips and del­phini­ums, vi­brant red and pur­ple wild­flow­ers that burst sky­ward as high as your chin dur­ing peak wild­flower sea­son in the last half of July.

The 401 is Crested Butte’s most cel­e­brated moun­tain bike ride, and in 2016 Out­side Mag­a­zine dubbed it the “most epic loop of sin­gle-track rid­ing any­where.” But here’s a se­cret: As good as the 401 is for moun­tain bik­ing, it’s even bet­ter for trail run­ning.

I dis­cov­ered this first­hand last Septem­ber while re­port­ing on an ath­letes sum­mit in Crested Butte that was spon­sored by La Sportiva, a maker of tech­ni­cal moun­tain footwear — in­clud­ing run­ning shoes. For three days, the ath­letes, some of the best ul­tra­run­ners (long-dis­tance run­ners) in the world, tested var­i­ous mod­els of footwear and ap­parel, posed for cat­a­logue photo shoots and talked up­com­ing races. Mean­while, I huffed to keep up when we were on the trails. But though my legs and lungs were no match for those of the pros, it didn’t mat­ter, thanks to the sub­lime sur­round­ings.

On the day we bounded down the 401, the flat-topped Gothic Moun­tain tow­er­ing to our right and lay­ers of peaks and val­leys peel­ing off to our left, en­dor­phins flooded my ner­vous sys­tem, adding spring to my step and spark­ing an epiphany. Though Crested Butte has long been a mecca to moun­tain bik­ers — it’s even home to the Moun­tain Bike Hall of Fame — trail run­ning may well be the best way to ex­pe­ri­ence all that it has to of­fer.

Moun­tain-bik­ing die-hards, hear me out. I grew up in Colorado and have logged many sum­mer days since my teens ped­al­ing the CB (as lo­cals call it) sin­gle track. When my sons were born, I sought so­lace on solo rides deep into the wild back­coun­try and far from the mewl­ing in­fants who had taken com­mand of my life. I’ve ripped down the 401, flow­ing over miles and miles of un­du­lat­ing dirt. Ini­tially, I thought it would be sac­ri­le­gious to ex­plore these trails, which rank among the best I’d ever rid­den, on foot.

But as I trot­ted for miles in the shad­ows of stronger, bet­ter­trained run­ners, I came to rec­og­nize the ab­so­lute peace cre­ated by the com­bi­na­tion of moun­tains, phys­i­cal ef­fort and the el­e­ments — the hot hand of the sun on my neck, the brisk wind at my face. As I ran, I med­i­tated on the sim­plic­ity of trail run­ning. Lace up your shoes, grab an ex­tra layer, some wa­ter and a snack, and you’re off. When you run, there aren’t de­railleur gears that can break or chains that might fall off. You don’t lug around a huge ruck­sack as many hik­ers do. You bring only the essen­tials, and that light­ens your load to ex­plore fur­ther, to push your­self more.

I know more than one set of cou­ples in which one per­son is an avid moun­tain biker and the other isn’t. Their trips to Crested Butte tend to leave he-or-she­who-doesn’t-pedal in charge of the kids/pets/lo­gis­tics while the other part­ner finds nir­vana on the trail. Al­ter­na­tively, the non­biker at­tempts to ride, gets scared out of their pants and crashes, bruis­ing limbs and ego.

On the other hand, most any­one can run. Some folks jog, oth­ers are speed freaks. Some com­plete marathons, oth­ers ul­tras. It doesn’t mat­ter how “good” they are at run­ning. So long as you’ve got a pair of cush­ioned shoes with tread and some quickdry­ing clothes, you can trail run.

Con­sider my run on Doc­tor Park, a pop­u­lar ride south of town in the Tay­lor River val­ley. We started up a rugged Jeep road, our legs loos­en­ing as our lungs adapted to the oxy­gen-de­fi­cient air. At the top of the hill, we were re­warded with a smooth path lead­ing into a thick for­est of Dou­glas firs, pines and spruces. Soon, the trail hit a high, grassy ridge with views of ser­rated peaks in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Be­cause it was au­tumn, the hill­sides were ablaze with the burnt yel­low of golden aspen leaves. Add in the run­ner’s high, and we were all giddy. The de-

As I trot­ted for miles in the shad­ows of stronger, bet­ter-trained run­ners, I came to rec­og­nize the ab­so­lute peace cre­ated by the com­bi­na­tion of moun­tains, phys­i­cal ef­fort and the el­e­ments — the hot hand of the sun on my neck, the brisk wind at my face. COLORADO

scent ramped up that eu­pho­ria. It was the kind of run where your feet work in­de­pen­dently of your brain and your body moves in sync with the world around it, every­thing op­er­at­ing ex­actly as na­ture in­tended.

Not ev­ery run was as dra­matic. We hit the Loop Trails ad­ja­cent to town and en­joyed a mel­low three­mile loop through a rel­a­tively flat val­ley. What this route lacked in vigor it more than made up for in, you guessed it, views.

To be hon­est, I didn’t need an­other rea­son to love Crested Butte. This small, dead-end ham­let sits at 8,909 feet above sea level in south­west­ern Colorado’s rugged Elk Moun­tains. The town is pop­u­lated with fun-lov­ing moun­tain folks. There’s lots of fa­cial hair, craft beer, ar­ti­sanal bread, good cof­fee and friendly dogs roam­ing the streets. The shop­keep­ers ac­tu­ally smile at the tourists’ kids, and there is nary a stop­light in town.

But spend­ing a few days run­ning the trails I’d come to know by bike made me fall in love all over again. And while I’ll never keep up with the likes of ul­tra­run­ning phe­nom­e­non An­ton Krupicka, who was at the sum­mit, or the other ridicu­lously fast pro­fes­sional run­ners I met, I don’t care. Be­cause get­ting out in the cool air, where wind whis­tles through the as­pens and creeks gur­gle down­stream, and where moun­tain magic man­i­fests in col­or­ful blan­kets of wild­flow­ers, isn’t about be­ing the fastest or the strong­est. It’s the sim­ple act of putting one foot in front of an­other and re­mem­ber­ing to keep your eyes up as you take in the world around you.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: The scenic beauty of Crested Butte, Colo., is per­fect for run­ners; Peter Koch finds his rhythm in the as­pens of Doc­tors Park; ul­tra­run­ners An­ton Krupicka, from left, Kristina Pattison, Mered­ith Ed­wards and Ni­col Bar­raza at Schofield Pass.

PHO­TOS BY RACHEL WALKER

Den­ver N.M. OKLA. THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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