“Fitness cannot be bought, borrowed, of bestowed. Like honor, it must be earned.” – Winddrinkers motto
This all started when two women, introduced by a great company, befriended each other because of similar interests. What once was a simple message, quickly turned into the start of a lifelong friendship and one badass mountain. The Bridger Ridge Run, 2015. It’s said to be one of the toughest mountain races in the country, and Trail Runner Magazine’s top 10 bucket list races for all runners. Soon, one woman’s passion forged its way into another woman’s dream. They were made for each other.
Prois was once again was the “middle-man” in the creation of this friendship. It’s constantly bringing women together with common interests and common ways of life. These two were no exception. Kelly Altschwager is apart of the Prois Staff, a Certified Personal Trainer and Owner of Western Workouts. She works with countless people helping them improve their lives with healthy lifestyles and fitness. Megan DeHaan is also apart of the Prois Staff, Rancher, and is an avid trail runner among other things. She balances an incredibly busy life with grace & is harder working than most.
One day, Megan asked Kelly if she would want to run the infamous ridge with her in 2015. After a few jokes about Kelly’s lack of running skill, she broke down and decided to throw her hat in the runner’s lottery assuming she would never be chosen. It was a safe move she thought. After all, Megan said she “probably wouldn’t get in her first year”. Not long after, Kelly received the confirmation letter “CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made it in!”. An immediate call was sent to Megan full of excitement and fear, if she were to be fully honest. Not long after that letter and that call her training began.
Over the next several months they exchanged phone calls, texts and messages on what to do, how to train and nutrition requirements. In all reality, that’s what Kelly does for a living, but never like this! Never on a mountainous trail in a mountain range she’s never been too?! (The youtube video doesn’t make it look any better either. You can check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qo-La-zkPY) The days of training quickly came to a close. The anxiety was relentless and finally that Thursday in August came and Kelly arrived in Montana at the DeHaan Ranch. It was an instant friendship between both women and their families alike. They wound up talking all night about what was to come, what their game plan was and how excited and nervous they were.
Then, 4:30am came that following Saturday. That dreaded alarm because you didn’t sleep a wink. That holy coffee pot that every runner glorifies. And off they went to the starting line. Several hours of driving, hitchhiking (yes, thats how you get there), and the instant energy you get after that mountain range comes into view behind the trees grew… they had arrived. Wave one starts at 7:00 am, then wave two, and then their wave at 7:10 followed by two more. They were noticed by numerous people right away. Could it be the matching Nathan packs? Or the matching watches? OR, was is that they were the only two women with matching camo Prois shirts and hats? People asked if they were sisters. They laughed and said they might as well be.
Their wave’s starting time neared and they placed themselves in the front of everyone else in that wave. People joked and said they would protect the rest of the runners from wildlife. They were the hunters, they could start first. Then boom, 7:10 on the dot and Megan takes off running and keeps a good pace with Kelly. They soon come to their natural paces as they reach the bowl leading up to Sacajawea and the bag pipes start playing and the spirit of the race takes hold. Sudden addiction strikes, and they haven’t even reached the first summit. Kelly starts thinking, “What have I got myself into? Can I really make this? Sure I can! I got this! Who is that screaming my name? I think thats Megan? YES! It is!”. After a long first climb, they’re on the top of Sacajawea Peak and they about loose themselves in awe of the view. It’s simply breathtaking. You could never fully understand the massive grandeur of it all until you’re standing on the top. Then the epic downhill towards the next saddle and off they go.
Kelly’s husband decided earlier that he would hike several miles up to the halfway point with the kids and take Megan’s oldest along as well. A simple, yet steep (OK, VERY steep) mountain that most kids couldn’t make. But the boys pushed on to watch their momma’s run. They got there 5 minutes before Megan crossed into the halfway point and she lost it. Hugging her son, she told him how proud she was of him for making it all the way up there. It took her about a mile to recover and breathe again. She had been so inspired seeing her handsome boy there cheering her on. Soon after, Kelly came across the same point fresh as can be, hugged her family tight and pushed on.
The hardest half was over, but the push to the finish had just begun. Megan was going in and out between negative and positive thinking. Could she make her goal time? No way. Wait, she felt better, maybe she could? “Just keep pushing,” she thought. “You can still make it in under your last years pace no problem.” So she pushed on prepared to do just that. She knew her friend was pushing through the hardest race of her life so why couldn’t she do the same? That’s the thing about this mountain, your mind has to overcome what your body is telling you, you can’t do. But you can, and you will, and you will never regret it. It will change you, it always changes you. You can’t go back to the wuss you thought you were, especially after you just overcame that treacherous mountain that most will never attempt.
Megan finally reached Mt. Baldy and knew it was “all downhill from here”. She knew she could bomb down that mountain. She knew it well and knew every last trick in the book. As she reached the aid station she took a sip of gatorade and quickly turned and noticed some downright angel of a person had carried up a keg of locally crafted microbrew…and it was cold. So. Very. Cold. So she drank down a few gulps, took a second to savor the intense moment of happiness, and started down that downhill section. Kelly was making great time and pushing hard and she was feeling more confident than she had expected. And then, in the blink of an eye, the rocks crumbled below her feet and in an uncontrolled instant, went her knee. Her GOOD knee, at that. She knew in that second she had the push of her life ahead of her to finish this thing. Her “I won’t quit” nature kicked in full force. She was ready to conquer. Even if conquering meant limping, which she did, across that finish line. She pushed, she dug deep, she refused to quit and then, she too saw the angel at the top of Mt. Baldy with a cold glass of beer. It was like heavens parted and you could hear “Hallelujah” being shouted from the mountain tops!
It’s at this point though that the work really started. It’s hard enough getting down that torrential downhill slope as it is… and that’s with two good legs. Add a bad knee and a limp and its dang near impossible but it had to be done. Another self pep talk and off the side of the mountain she went. Meanwhile, Megan had crossed the finish line below. She was pushing for another PR this year. She had PR’d every year since she started running this race. This being the 4th attempt, she thought another 30 minute PR would be sufficient. However, she felt like she finally reached that point where 30 minutes was too much to ask. She knew she was going to be faster than last year anyhow. And she was, by 19 minutes. Only 11 minutes shy of her goal. Success! (And there’s still next year.)
By 6 hrs and 30 minutes (into the race) within the time Megan knew Kelly should finish, she and Andy (Kelly’s husband) started to get a bit worried. She was pacing well at the halfway point and should have been off the mountain by now. Megan checked with the Hamm radio operators who would know if anyone had gotten hurt and/or couldn’t continue. They said they hadn’t heard anything about her. That was a good sign, but still. Once 7 hours passed they knew something was wrong. Megan asked Andy, “Is she going to hate me when she gets done?” Andy said, “Umm, no. She is going to be pissed at that mountain and she is going to be back next year to prove it wrong!” Sure enough, after the 10th time asking each other “Is that her?”, they saw her. They knew it was her immediately. She was limping, struggling, and fighting the urge to quit. The last few miles are almost quite literally straight down. Megan ran up the end of trail in flip flops with open arms and started yelling up the mountain, “YOU GOT THIS KELLY!!! COME ON GIRL!!!” Kelly soon got down to Megan and being the incredibly friend she is, Megan offered an arm to help her down. Kelly quickly said “NO! I JUST NEED TO FINISH THIS!” Megan laughed loudly, she knew she was going say that. Megan couldn’t have been more inspired or more proud. She let Kelly past and followed her, cheering her the rest of the way down. Kelly collapsed into her family’s arms a handful of gimpy strides later. It was over… Take a deep breath. Let it all sink in.
All the anxiety, all the training, all the mental preparation. Nothing can prepare you for that. Nothing like being up there on that mountain and experiencing the spirit of the ridge. Kelly will be back next year, it’s already been scheduled. Megan has proudly created a monster. This is a story about two women, two states apart, who have the same passion for love and life and beating all the odds. The odds that come fully stacked against you on that ridge. All of this started with Prois, it always does, and it always will. No other company can bring people together in a way quite like this. This is something beyond average or normal. Its exceptional and it’s inspiring.
“You can’t cheat the mountain, it knows how much you’ve invested. It won’t give you anything you haven’t worked for.” – Author Unknown
-Kelly Altschwager and Megan DeHaan