Every day along the Colorado Trail is an adventure. Mountain peaks and valleys, streams, lakes and meadows, wildlife and wildflowers.
It was a vacation Doug and Melinda McCaw will never forget.
The Grand Junction couple, with their 9-year-old daughter, Alison, and Doug’s parents serving as their support team, successfully completed running the 490-mile Colorado Trail in 18 days earlier this month. They started at the trail head in Denver on July 16 and ran into Durango on Aug. 2.
There were days when the equivalent of running a marathon every day had their bodies wanting to stay snuggled in their sleeping bags, but the end goal kept them going.
“For me, I’ve been focused on the goal for so long now, I wasn’t really entertaining the possibility of not finishing,” Melinda said earlier this week. “Pretty much every day I woke up and said, ‘Yes, I’m going to go out and do this.’ That being said, that doesn’t mean I was eager to go out and do it. There were days when I woke up and said, ‘Oh, wow, I really don’t want to get out of bed today, let alone go run 27 miles or 33 miles,’ but for me I was so focused on it that the possibility of not finishing wasn’t something I entertained.”
They averaged 27 miles a day, with elevation gains of as much as 7,000 feet in sections of the trail, dodging rain and hail that interrupted bluebird skies.
They’ve covered the trail before, on bikes where permitted, and hiking the other areas, but this was the first time they ran the whole way.
The McCaws turned the trip into a fundraiser for the Kids Aid Backpack Program and Alison’s school, Intermountain Adventist Academy, and so far have raised about $20,000. Donations are still being taken through their website, helpelevatekids.com.
“We’re not turning it off. When our documentary comes out, we plan to have some showings locally and sell tickets, and that money will go to the nonprofits,” Melinda said. “We’ll sell probably digital downloads or some way to buy the (documentary) and we’ll send that money to the nonprofits as well.”
They hired Infilms & Design to make a documentary of the trip, and the camera crew met up with them every morning and evening. Once they got on the trail, Melinda and Doug used GoPro cameras to film the day’s journey.
Although they had mapped out their trip by day, that doesn’t mean they didn’t stop to take in the scenery and visit with others along the trail.
“Meeting some of the people we met along the trail was a high point,” Doug said. “There was a guy who was working on a 7-day (fastest time known) attempt, and we got to spend a little time with him, that was really cool. As we were climbing over to Copper (Mountain) we ran into him, or he ran into us, and we were moving at similar speeds for a little while and got to chat. That was really cool. There were a lot of really neat people we met along the way.”
Then there were the views — sunset atop Copper Mountain took their breath away.
“I love the visual beauty, being a photographer and a web designer,” Melinda said. “For me it just felt like I was in this visual candy store every day. Everywhere my eyes looked was so beautiful and I could not stop taking photos.
“Doug sometimes was not so happy about that, ‘C’mon, we’ve gotta get going,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s so pretty, I want to take pictures.’ That was a highlight for me, especially certain segments that are just typically really beautiful, like the San Juan Mountain area.”
“The one instance that really sticks out in my brain, coming over into Copper Mountain,” Doug added. “We were on top and it was getting dark, and it was cool. It was very gorgeous. Coming down it probably took us an extra 45 minutes to an hour to come down in the dark.”
The McCaws encountered people of all ages and backgrounds along the way, including the chairman of the Colorado Trail Foundation. They pointed out a couple of areas that could use a little attention.
There was an older couple spending several weeks on the trail, taking their time by hiking half a segment a day. Others were backpacking, and as they stopped and chatted, the McCaws realized they were the talk of the trail community.
“My thoughts keep going back to Jack,” Melinda said. “He was out backpacking, his goal was 17 days backpacking. We met him and from that point on we kept leap-frogging each other on the trail. We kind of became trail friends, if you want to call it that. That was really neat.
“It was kind of funny because hearing from some of the backpackers, the trail chatter was about us. Everybody out there started talking about what we were doing and wanting to meet us. We’d run into people and they’d be like, ‘Are you the couple that’s running the trail in 18 days?’ That was cool, too, to see that happening and meet people and see what questions they had. A lot of people had a lot of questions and we had a lot of good conversations on the trail.”
Those conversations made the days a little longer, but they were also an enjoyable respite.
“We’d be moving pretty quick and then we’d meet someone who wanted to chat, so we’d stop and chat awhile,” Doug said.
Only three days before they finished their journey in Durango, they came across Jack, who was napping under a tree. They decided not to wake him, and after they started the descent, thought they should have dropped off a business card to let him know they’d passed by.
The next morning when they woke up, Jack had caught up to them. It was a fortuitous meeting, because he was ill, the reason he was sleeping the day before. He ended up abandoning his trip with only 40 miles to go, accepting the McCaw’s offer to have their support team take him to get medical attention.
“Because we had built a relationship with him, he was looking for us, and we sent him to the doctor with our support vehicle,” Doug said.
Alison joined them on one morning run to Twin Lakes, where they stopped for lunch, and ran the final mile of their journey with her parents, celebrating at the Junction Creek Trail head in Durango.
Their feet are recovering from the pounding of that many miles in 2½ weeks over rough, sometimes wet and muddy terrain, but the training they did the past 18 months had them physically prepared.
They’ve been out for a couple of runs since they got home, but mainly have been biking, giving their feet a break while still getting in a workout. Alison started school last week, and Doug and Melinda are catching up on work — Doug is an engineer at Reynolds-Polymer and Melinda owns her own web and graphic design company.
As for the next adventure...
“We’ll have to see,” Melinda said, asking her husband if he had anything in mind.
“No,” Doug answered, “I’m still figuring that one out.”