The sun beat down on me as I willed my legs to move, one foot in front of the other, up the infinitely steep incline. Despite my training, I wasn’t halfway up the hill and I was already tired.
I was embarking on my very first Quad-City Times Bix 7, but I wasn’t dragging myself up Brady Street Hill in Davenport; I was climbing a sand dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Southern Colorado.
Because of COVID-19, the race’s 46th running moved to a virtual format this year, allowing participants to tackle the Bix 7, the Prairie Farms Quick Bix and the Arconic Jr. Bix at any time through Saturday, July 25, which would have been this year’s race day. Runners and walkers may join from wherever they’d like — from sidewalks, trails and bike paths, to treadmills and living rooms — and then submit their times online.
My husband and I had been planning a July 2020 camping and hiking trip to Colorado for the last year. Since our plans were to enjoy the outdoors and stay away from other people anyway, it made for an inherently low-risk week packed with plenty of social distancing and a little mask-wearing.
Because I planned on putting in more than enough mileage on our trip, I figured I’d join the Bix fun this year from the mountains (and sand dunes) of Colorado.
Typically, race days are packed with participants, supporters, cheers, hugs, parties and drinks. And having covered the event for the newspapers numerous times, I always thought my first Bix experience would entail much of the same. COVID-19, however, had other plans.
While I didn’t have streets lined with people cheering me on, I did have my husband, Chris, with me, who arguably is one of my biggest cheerleaders perhaps only second to my mom. Plus, little to no audience meant I could take my time and catch my breath with some privacy!
Runners and walkers tackling Brady Street will see a 160-foot change in elevation from the bottom to the top, according to a past report from the Quad-City Times. My sand dune, on the other hand, gained a few hundred feet in elevation in just over a mile — and I began at roughly 8,200 feet above sea level, versus Davenport’s 580 feet.
While I’ve never run or even walked up Brady Street, (half the time, I worry whether my car will make it), I have never wanted to trade a trail for Brady so badly in my life. Hiking in sand is no joke. Every step nearly buries your feet, and the higher you climb, the scarier your position seems.
As our path grew steeper, Chris, who has legs up to my chin and is in far better shape than I am, would walk about 10 paces in front of me and stop, and I would climb to meet him. Breaking up the distance into smaller chunks helped me to focus and keep my momentum, since comparing my exertion with our overall progress as clocked by my Fitbit continuously made me want to turn back and give up.
Finally, when we reached the top of our dune, we posed for some selfies and began our run back to the bottom. This, thankfully, was a breeze. I’m not sure I’d have had the same confidence to run down Brady, though; the risk of tripping and falling into sand is not the same as tripping and falling onto pavement.
While challenging and time consuming, in about two hours, this hike hit only about 2.5 miles, which is 4.5 miles short of the Bix, so we chose a leg of the Colorado Trail a couple of days later to finish off our "race."
Much of the traditional out-and-back Bix 7 course ebbs and flows up and down hills, and the 4.53 miles we covered on the Colorado Trail just south of Silverton, Colo., at Molas Pass, included much of the same.
Rather than meander along Kirkwood Boulevard, Jersey Ridge and Middle Road, we climbed a handful of switchbacks, making our way through some trees before reaching some wide-open meadows. There, we crossed a few streams, passed a couple of hikers and mountain bikers, and stopped for some snacks.
Though we weren’t surrounded by encouraging spectators, we were encircled by mountains, and I like to think that they were rooting for us on our climb. (Or maybe that was the nearly 12,000 feet of elevation getting to me.)
After nabbing some stellar views of a lake, prickly pear cactus and countless peaks, we decided to head back to our car after reaching a bend in the trail next to a large, dead tree. Though I certainly felt accomplished, it definitely lacked the pomp and circumstance of the Bix’s McClellan Boulevard turnaround. Instead, it was kind of like that scene from “Forrest Gump” when Tom Hanks suddenly declares he’s tired and that he thinks he’ll just go home.
We wound our way back to the car, a mostly downhill trek, and I was grateful for reaching our home stretch. My legs, feet and lungs were tired, and while our trip would see more days of hiking, my first Bix would be complete.
Once we were done, I felt a little sheepish clocking my four hours of “race” time, especially when I saw my pace of just over 34 minutes per mile. But slow and steady wins the race, right?
Next year, I hope the Quad-City Times Bix 7 is able to take place in its regular stomping grounds. But whether I’m hoofing it up Brady Street, or a trail near or far, I’ve already decided that I’m in.