2018: Cactus Eagle 100 mile

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======= Loop One

It's way too early in this race to be running this fast, especially a 100 miler, and doubly because its Cactus Rose. My legs are already mud-splattered, one shoe coated in mud, the other drenched wet. Everything I have on is sopping wet from the humidity saturated fog, and we're only three miles in. Running in a tight pace-line across the top of a high ridge, I tuck in behind Jorge, and we chat a bit about what all has been going on since we last crossed paths. The rock ledges are slick with seepage from the recent flooding, the grass wet from the early morning moisture, and it's all ignored until we hear a yell behind us as Melissa falls and is quickly back up and into the line with not much of a delay. Neither Jorge or I even slow down, when I ask who that was, and Melissa replies, oh, that was me! When we make the end turn mid-way on the long Texas Trail, Nyleva steps off, and Jorge cuts loose, with me caught in the vacuum he creates. We pass by Tom and continue to roll from top to bottom. I ask Jorge if he's going a bit fast, and he says he just wants to avoid slowing me down on the descent. I know he's just teasing, but it does feel good to push the effort just a bit right now. Once the sun wakes up and burns off the fog, It's going to get hot, and I'd just as soon get some good cool miles in before the sun cooks me down to super slow granny gear.

We roll into X-roads for the first of many times today, and Jorge turns directly up the hill, while I go over to sign in, and to fetch my trekking pole. One of my many schemes and plans is to use the pole from here and back again after the 2nd return, to leave it for the next go round. I could use it for the whole race, but I don't want to carry it the entire time, so I’ve created this pick up and drop off point for a break. I refill my water while quite a few roll past uninterrupted. I wonder how many of these people know we need to sign in. Or maybe Chris has told them to skip the first check-point? The 100milers are mixed in with 75 milers, 50 milers, and relay folks, so it's hard to know who is running what. And it gets more complicated when I realize he has early starters for all of the races too.

There are 2 major aid stations on this 25 mile course: X-Roads and Windmill. After the first 5 mile section, which ends here at X-roads, we split the remaining 20 miles around two separate and distinct loops, called A and B. Both loops begin and end at X-roads. And they both pass through Windmill in an interesting play of course and terrain. To begin with A-loop, the ascent goes up a rather steep rock covered jeep road which I'm pleased to manage with a strong power-hike. Can't be much more than a few tenths, but it's still a tough little eye-opener. Once on top, the flatter terrain is littered with rocks enough to arrest any easy gliding rhythm, and so we dodge what we can and kick the rest.

A few years back, some of us cut a trail called The Bear. It was just a connector, no more, to simply get from one place to another. But we had a problem with the terrain and the scrub we cut it through and it ended up changing directions way too much for a short trail, going up, then down, and repeatedly changing about. And then the camp cut the end of it off, turned it strait down the hill without a single switch to what it is today. Well, as I approach The Bear, I know what it is, and I know just about everybody slows way down on it. They just don't know what to do with it, go up, down, jump, or crawl. Basically, it's a bear, but I like to do it fast!

The Bear dumps us onto a jeep road that is wide, flat and obstacle free, but in a couple of minutes, it drops into a culvert and out again, and then more flat easy running. The next drop down is a bit more rugged with a flooded-out wash littered with rocks. The flood was so recent, you can still see the waves and ripples of rocks in the raging washout. I drag myself across the rock flow and begin the one-mile hill, which pretty much matches the exponential curve of my personal health costs, gradually creeping up over a period of time. Its power-hike time and the reason I brought the trekking pole, to row my decrepit old boat uphill.

There’s a triangle of roads at an intersection near the top where we turn to the right. We come back to this same spot after we do a big balloon loop, and then follow the crooked string back the way we have just come from X-roads. But, now, our route takes us to the back valley. We run another race in this place (J&J) in which this back valley is an elephant's idea of terrible. But those trails have been watered down to a much more pleasant stroll down a grass covered jeep road that would be pristine if not for a few washouts filled with rock. Still, its nice and easy enough, until we reach the end. The climb up out of the valley is rather too abrupt though, going strait up a fenceline that is just plain nasty. It's one of those where its best to not look anywhere but strait down as you take one step at a time.

Once on top, there's a nice clean rock ledge that doubles as a perfect bench. I sit down every time I get here, to gather my breath, to appreciate what I have just done, and to be grateful it is now behind me. I'd like to think it’s all cake from here to the Windmill, but it’s not. It's an ignored old trail full of rock and prickly pear that doesn't see much activity besides us fool runners. It should be a strait line trail following the fenceline, but it's badly overgrown such that we zig and zag quite regularly to dodge the many natural obstacles. About midway is the remains of an old hunter's deer blind: just the chair and metal frame around it and nothing more. I would like to think it’s a landmark that means something in reference to my destination, but it's only a joke. If anything, it marks the place where the fog finally burns off.

The Windmill is the second of the two major aid stations. But more than that, it sits next to a swimming pool filled with clean cold water pumped directly from the earth under it. I don't need it right now, but I know it'll come in handy later. Jorge is signing in as I enter the tent, so I sign in behind him. I've a bag full of running gear and a cooler with cold drinks sitting in front a lawn chair, so I take the time to relax and drink an ice cold Gatorade before following Jorge. It's a short haul to tie the knot on the A-balloon, and begin the long descent back down to The Bear.

It sounds odd, but it’s easier to go up The Bear than it is to go down. And on top, I realize there's still more UP, which I didn't notice earlier. Doesn't take long until I'm on the rocky jeep road rolling into X-roads to finish A-loop, right behind Jorge again. With both Windmill and X-roads as double stations, I've a matching gear and cooler setup at each. These two stations are the crux of this race and I plan to take the time to use them. I may be rushing about between the stations, but it's a long race, and I need to take the time to manage myself correctly. Another Gatorade, a few cold salted potatoes, and I’m ready to roll.

B-loop begins with rolling swells, and slowly begin to rise higher, taking the trail further up. I'm glad to finally reach the end turn, but less excited when I find the flat dirt trail overloaded with mud. This in fact slows me more than the climb. Twisting my torso around branches and tiptoeing around water pocked mud holes, one after the other until escaping onto the Antenna Hill moonscape. The big dead antenna lying abandoned does little for the beauty of the place, but it’s better than the mud trail, and soon after drops down the rock scramble onto Wagon Trail.

From the base of the rock scramble to Windmill Hill, this trail is one I can run, so I do! But then, at the trail's end, sacrificing the shade of the trees for direct sunlight, I turn onto the jeep road going up. This is one steep road reducing me to a short stride and high cadence. Again, I'm thankful to have my trekking pole. Moving up a steep slope is a rhythmic thing of balance and strength, where momentum comes from all the moving parts being in sync: foot-plant, arm-swing, inhale, exhale, as well as trekking pole swing, plant, and push. So completely internalized, all I visually see is the general idea of the track I follow until I top out. And when I do top out, all systems switch from automaton to whatever the hell I was doing before I started the climb. There's a lot more road from here to the Windmill, but it's a gentle ascent if anything, passing by the big zip-line tower along the way.

I swap out my soaked and salted shirt, hanging it from a tent pole to dry out. Which reminds me of the salted potatoes sitting on ice in my cooler. They hit the spot while I relax in my chair. Its also time to swap my bandana for something with a sun visor. It's a rocky minefield of fenceline from here to the river, with not much more than a snippet of uphill. And when it tilts downhill, this heavy rock rolls. It's usually dry where the Armadillo creek meets the Nueces River, but I'm watching water flow over a rock slab into the river. It's a gentle flow, and shallow, with a series of stepping stones to dry cross.

All my memories of the Armadillo Trail are of a pleasing gentle track, under the shade of oak trees, in the shadow between two ridges. It was always fun to dance from slab to slab, and stop for pictures in this natural cathedral of beauty. But, just one week ago, a deluge flushed rock and tree off the walls upstream, changing it into a field of rock debris and shattered trees. The long unbroken slabs of rock are now buried under a field of treacherous loose rocks, and the side trails are blocked, such that our only choice is to run through a flow of loose rock. It's hard to find the route. I can see confidence ribbons ahead, but not the track to it. The flags are not necessarily on the track as much as just a convenient twig nearby. Sometimes, they lead me to the wrong side of the creek. It's still serene and beautiful, but my feet can't see the beauty or feel the joy.

Escaping the evil creek bottom is more than just a little welcome. I can run again, making the turn, heading back the way I came, just a little higher upslope. Rock-dancing once again, getting my speed and momentum turned up, and still in the shade until the ridge top. We turn again and head back in for another in and out. Finally done with the long switchbacks and approaching the overlook, I hear the thundering roar of the Nueces River. Dropping over the edge and descending the cliffside trail, I pass the 100ft repelling wall, zag through the W, and land at the Lisa Lane aid station, where Joyce is waiting for me with a bright smile and a happy face, which is about all I need. It’s only three more miles to the end of B-loop at X-roads.

Lisa Lane is a short steep fifth-of-a-mile up-tilt to old Wagon Trail, which is just under the new Wagon Trail. We head towards the edge of the camp lodgings, skim under the Mi Casa porch, and turn up a short steep trail to reconnect with new Wagon. This is the point where the beginning and end of the B-balloon merge. From here to X-roads is bidirectional. Wagon to rock scramble, up this time, Antenna Hill, the mud trail, and down the long and winding trail back to X-roads. There is no reason to stop with just a half mile from here to the Pavilion, but I do slow to toss my trekking pole into my chair.

Past the clock, under the arch, and into the pavilion... in just under six hours. It's much faster than I expected, but exactly what I had planned. I successfully milked the best run I could from the best part of the day. I head over to the Trinity building, climb a flight of stairs, and into my room. I strip off my muddy shoes, socks, and shirt, leaving them at the door, and head strait for the shower. Joyce moves the race bib from one set of shorts to the other, while I hose down and re-lube. A minutes to rinse off the abrasive salt and caked-on mud, and then I sit on the couch for a cold drink and a spot of lunch.

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======= Loop Two

One down and three to go. I'd have to run another six hour loop to return before dark, which sure-as-hell is not going to happen. 1pm to 6pm of loop two should be quite nasty for this heavyweight. I expect to be a lot slower through the hottest part of the day. Running the same loop multiple times has such an odd feel to it. Been there, done that, I see less, internalize more. Alone now, I hear every sound, try to identify, and make up some sort of monster for each. My inward-turning-vision, reconstructs memories to match the sounds. But worst of all is my sense of touch. All pain sensors are overstimulated exponentially. Hotspots on both feet, sour stomach, sunburn on neck, chafing in three places, hands swelling, dry lips, gritty teeth. How can I possibly have all these things wrong at the same time? Its bullshit, all of it. I need to quit listening to my body because he's a needy bitch.

And so it goes, up the initial mile into the trees, fast hiking, trying to settle the contents of my stomach. Down to the river, I attempt to spin up now and again, but after tripping a few times and sinking a foot into some mud, recognizing my dexterity is no longer up to speed, I settle down to fast march as best I can. After leaving the river's edge and passing behind the barn, I start feeling the hot spot on the tip of a toe, so I pull into a shaded bench to repair. I always keep a foot-repair kit with me, with pre-cut oval patches of KT tape. I stick one on the whiny complainer and quickly back into the trees. On autopilot, I slowly creep upwards through intersections and turns I never see. Shit, it would be embarrassing to miss a turn on a course I designed... and marked. The day is warm, but it's tolerable in the shade. On top where its horizontal and easier to run, I'm out of the trees and melting, so I continue to walk. On the down-side of Texas Trail, back in the trees, I try to spin up, but can't get anywhere near the rhythm I had on the last loop. Hell, I'm barely into the 2nd loop and I'm already into the 'Fuck this Shit' mode. Hell, I already knew this was the way it would play out. It's too hot for me, but I just need to suck it up. If I can just get through these next few hours without a total meltdown, I'll be fine.

Its time for some pickle juice when I arrive at X-roads, and some Gatorade to wash down the salted potato. I take up the trekking pole I left here from the first loop and march back onto the A-loop. Round the top to The Bear, down the nasty little ankle-biter, and back onto the one mile road going up. I'm in full-on roast mode now but switch to convection once I roll into the back valley. The sun has dropped just enough to provide some short shadows on one side of the road, and although that side is littered with rocks, that's the side I ride. The feet don't care much for my choice, but my head thanks me for the bits and pieces of cooling shade. The back valley is a blur... not from speed... but from the daze. I slither through and arrive at the mad scramble going up. As nasty as it is, it's one redeeming value is it's shaded. The increased amount of foot traffic has smashed the slanted earth into a slick slide of mud and mess with even the rocks coated in the slippery snot. I spin out a few times, but manage to keep from falling, and slowly make my way to the top, where I once again sit on my rock bench for a breather.

The fenceline visual is a mind-blowing forever of deceptive distance, so I try very hard not to look up. Besides, I need to pay attention to all the handicaps on this obstacle course, dodging this way and that, past the hunter's chair minus the hunter, and on and on and on. I go positively ecstatic, even blink an eyelash, when I see the turn for Windmill. Well, its time for me to go swimming. I remove shoes and socks before rolling off the wood platform into the tank of ice cold water. Not sure how to describe the feeling besides orgasmic. Joy melts the stoic, bringing me back to life... maybe just a little! I probably spend more time here than I should, but the brain is turned off and I suck so bad right now, I'm certain I just don't give a shit. I drink entirely too many ice cold drinks from my ice chest, creating a witches cauldron in my gut, and slowly waddle on. The route back is the same as it was before, but done with a lot less gusto. Young Joe ran loop one, but old Joe is here now. I feel like I'm 82.

Ending A-loop at X-roads is such a landmark, I should be thrilled, but I just don't have the energy. I once again drink way too much ice cold fluid, and begin B-loop. There's not a whole lot of us out here, but more than a few know I am responsible for creating this course. Some of them let me know how much they enjoy the course (ha), and some of them cuss me as they pass. That's one of the things I like so much about ultra-distance running: people are reduced by their deprivations to base honesty. It also needs to be understood that I take a good cussing as a compliment. And maybe they appreciate the plain fact that the designer of this evil course has at least put himself in alongside them. Anyway, the constant feedback has been stimulating, especially from the people I don't know. Overall, the consensus has been that A-loop kicks B-loops ass, even though B is longer than A. I'm not arguing the point, but right now, I suck equally on either side. Although, I'm beginning to find some satisfaction with my ability to keep going.

The out-n-back section of B-loop is a mixed mess of connector trails, rock scrambles, abandoned antennas, and one flat but very muddy trail. This one bit of trail is such an enigma. It’s mostly flat, free of rocks, shaded, and gorgeous, but the muddy slop holes along its length reduce the gold mine to a piece of shit. Its potential simply pisses me off. Back to Windmill Hill, I match strides with a couple of ladies hiking strait up into the setting sun. The sinking of the sun is the rising of my energy, so I once again find enough oomph to put in a few surges from walk to run clean up to the Windmill. The shirt I hung here to dry earlier is dry now, but its coated with salt stains, so I pull it down and shove it in my drop bag. A few more cold drinks, another potato, and I remember at the last moment to take a headlamp before moving out.

On the fenceline heading down, with the setting sun at my back now, I watch the shadows getting taller, mine included. The late evening half-light creates some deceptive misperceptions of where to put each foot. On a steep and rocky descent, I should be more careful, but I can run again, so I turn loose just a bit and let the physics of my body-weight pull me downhill. I catch a runner before the river, and then another, and the three of us together struggle to find the best route through the debris field that used to be the Armadillo creek bed. Both of these guys are faster than me, but there aren't many who can run here, partly because of the rocks, and partly because it's just hard to know the right direction, especially in the dark. All of us with lights on, we make the turn out of the creek, and they both quickly sprint ahead, leaving me as they found me, alone and doing just fine in my slow and methodical way.

The multiple sets of long switchbacks are quite enjoyable after what we just went through, so I roll along quite pleased to mix walk and run once again. Up and through the overlook, hearing the impressive river roar and seeing the scattering of lights from down in the Camp Eagle compound, it feels good to know I'm once again approaching Lisa Lane. Joyce again welcomes me in, knowing full well how poorly I do in the heat, and soothes my soul with her care. I head out for the final section while she heads back to our room to make ready for my next arrival. The smorgasbord of bidirectional trail varieties between Lisa Lane and X-roads is much the same, including the mud that never dries, and somewhere in here, I connect with Stephanie for a nice chat for the final few miles through X-roads and the Pavilion.

Fifty miles is done in a surprising 14:09 and I feel almost as good about that as knowing I survived the heat of the day. Back to the room, shoes and clothes discarded at the door, and back into the shower. It's a hot shower this time though, as I need to avoid the body confusion of hypothermia. The re-lube and reclothes occur while still in the warm bathroom. Joyce and Henry double-team to zap me a hot potpie, fetch cold drinks, and get my pack ready for the night. I won’t be cold for long, but need to start in jacket and gloves just to escape first flush of restarting in the dark.

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======= Loop Three

I have just finished 50 rugged and brutal miles and I'm only half way. I need to not think about this, and yet I do. I simply need to keep moving and eating, and that's about it. I'm surprised that I managed the chicken potpie ok, but I'm still not back up to speed. I manage a slow run now and again, but I struggle to avoid rocks and mud holes in the dark. I take the headlight from my head and hold it in my hand, but still bumble about in the dark. I do feel better now that its night, but the handicap of running in the dark is slowing me. I usually do pretty well in the dark, but maybe not with a 14 hour add-on. Same trail, same rocks, different loop, and alone again. Its quiet out here on the other side of the ridge, but once I cross over the top, I can hear voices and see splashes of light everywhere. There is nobody close, but in this bowl of a valley, light and sound carries a long way. And so I go on down, around and into X-roads where Joyce is geared up and looking to pace me. What a pleasant surprise! She had made some comment about possibly coming out with me, but I didn't want to put any pressure on her to do so. But here she is and ready to roll. She wants to know if I'm running or walking, as she knows how I run rough terrain and is concerned she might be a handicap if I'm rocking it. But, I’m not rocking anything right now. Walk is the best I have right now so she says she's comfortable hanging with me for the night. I knock down a bottle of ice cold chocolate milk, another potato, and up we go.

Joyce is in a talkative mood and I listen without responding. I'm exhausted, with scarce little energy for moving the jaw muscles. She's hyped up a bit with being out here now after a full day waiting around for me, so she quickly moves ahead. I can't match her pace and rhythm. Eventually she figures it out and backs off. By the time we top out, we're synced up and walking side by side. When we approach The Bear, I ask her to let me lead. I know the best track by now, what to avoid, and the angles. Her shoes have lousy traction and she slides out a few times, so I get a little distance on her while she attempts to get through without a mishap. On the jeep road, we go through the same sequence of events once again, her getting a long lead, then backing down next to me and matching my stride. Still chatting away, I'm hardly paying attention when I realize she's asking me questions and waiting for answers. I think about it for a moment and then tell her: She can talk as much as she likes, but I'm not answering any questions. She stops talking after that, and tells me later, she was trying to think of what to say that was not a question. And so we continue together into the back valley.... much quieter. But, the fenceline climb out of the valley begins to knock the words right out of her... and she starts talking again.

At the Windmill, I sit down to pour more cold drinks into me, seasoned with potatoes and another chocolate milk. My stomach is still sour, and I had hoped the chocolate milk would help. It seems to at first, and then it doesn't. We stroll back down to The Bear, up and round to X-roads, and I wonder if Joyce plans to continue. X-roads and Lise Lane are both good places for pacers to pop in and out, and if she's done, this is one of the places for her to exit. But, she says she's staying on, so I figure her to pop off at Lisa Lane a bit later. By now, my stomach is in an uproar, and close to puking, so I don't drink a thing. Figure I'll drink water for a while and damn little at that. Good news is that it's still night, and my stomach might tolerate a lot less fluid for a bit. Back to the B-loop multi-direction and all its entertainment, Joyce has some fun saying, left side, right side, over and over again, providing directions to the best side to go through each mud hole. I take the lead on the rock scramble, no longer following ribbons so much as instinct and memorization. And Windmill Hill requires no explanation. Strait up the road to the Windmill, we visit with Klapthor as we pass.

Loop three is taking even longer than the Loop two, and I begin to realize I'll roll in at sunrise. We make our way down the fenceline once more, and I offer Joyce my trekking pole to get down the last rock flow into the creek and across the stepping stones. Even with jacked up senses, my balance is still better than her's with her slick-bottom bowling shoes. I lead through the creek-bed maze to the end, but let her take charge at the turn. As has been her pattern, she spins off well ahead before backing off. Switchbacks lead to the overlook and then Lisa Lane... and Joyce remains! Says she's finishing the loop with me. Up Lisa Lane we go, along wagon, up the slot, back to the scramble, the mud trail, and slippery rocks back to X-roads.

Henry ran the 25 miler yesterday, got a full night's sleep, and now he's up and waiting for us. I skip the shower this time, sleepy, and worried about going hypothermic. I try some sausage, egg, and cheese for breakfast, and get some small amount of it down. I discard my pack and Joyce hands me a fresh water bottle. Says the one I've been using stinks. My stomach feels a little more tame, now that I've left it alone for a couple hours. I'm only drinking water and Ginger Aid now. Not even touching the pickle juice. Its daylight now, but it's hard to get going. I stumble out of the room. Down the stairs, and head out one more time... alone.

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======= Loop Four

Finally, on the goodbye loop, doing the last part of everything, and saying goodbye as I go. Last time up Boot Trail, along the river, onto Texas, and I start feeling pretty damn good. Might be the breakfast or might be the sunrise, but I seem to get some of my edge back. And yet, I'm a mess. My feet are thoroughly jacked up. A few blisters and a bit of swelling keep me conservative even if my total body energy level is up. Stomach is also back under control.

When I arrive at X-roads, Henry is there to crew, sets me up, and off I go for my final A-loop ramble. There isn't any running on the climb, but once on top, I make good time over to The Bear. Same again down on the road, where I get to running again, then fast hiking on the mile long hill. Into the valley and to the other side is nothing to get sentimental about, but I'm damn glad I never have to look at that shit again. The final hump is memorable. I stop at the bottom, three times on the climb, and one last time on the rock bench at the top. This is one bitch I do wish to say goodbye to, so Adios Bitch!

Back to the Windmill is meaningless because I still need to get back here one more time, and for the first time, I'm in a hurry to get through. Back down to The Bear and goodby-ing every slick rock and twisty turn brings a special joy for each and all. Arriving at X-roads, I once again find Henry and also Joyce, geared up yet again. She says she wants no more, but figured if I could keep going, then she could too. First off, the A-loop is done. And so we head out for the final go-round of B-loop. Same shit as last time, all of it. What more can be said. We do it, and I'm dragging low as we approach the Windmill.

It's my second noon-time of non-stop running and it's starting to heat up again, so I figure its time to go swimming again. I drop the old beat up rig into the water tank and it is so flippin cold, it's awesome. The ice bath on my whole body is more invigorating than a six-pack of Red Bull and twice as healthy. I climb out, and get to rolling downhill with a lot of momentum. We run clean down to the river, then power hike the Armadillo creek bottom better than I expect we should. Out of the creek, we start running again, make all the turns on down to Lisa Lane, where Henry and Lise wait. And Joyce keeps on rolling with me, counting up her miles for 50k of surprise bonus pacing miles.

Onto the last of the last section... finishing B-loop and cruising better than I dared to expect round the last of everything I've already seen way too many times. We make the final turn where the X-roads aid station used to be. My last time down the road back into the Camp Eagle compound, across the road and the basketball court, through the arch and the finish clock to finish at the Pavilion. The second 50 miler takes me 5 hours longer than the first one. Damn that was tough.

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======= And Before

All of central Texas was under flood warning, rivers and streams were flooded. Some bridges had washed out, towns and homes underwater, it seemed that everybody and everything in the area was affected in some way. A few races had cancelled, a few others rescheduled, but Chris had it in his mind to find a fix, especially for the people who had flown in from outside the country. So, he asked me to help him figure it out.

Option A) The race is traditionally held at Hill Country State Natural Area, which was certainly dealing with its own flooding, but the weather had softened somewhat as we got closer to race date, and we hoped. Too much of the lowlands were mucked up and impassable. No go!

Option B) The original course was not happening, so we laid out a 12.5mi point-to-point such that an out-n-back would net 25mi, and four sets of out-n-backs thru the upland hills would work, and looked kind-of exciting. But this too washed out. The parking lots were all flooded. No place to park.

Option C) We already had a 16mi loop at Pedernales, but we knew there was more trail potential, and also the connection to Flat Creek Crossing Ranch next door. I had previously laid out a 31mi loop through both properties and knew we could slice it down with some work, but neither property was available. Nope.

Option D) Camp Eagle is a place Cris has connections, and they were available too, but we had just run the J&J100k there 4 weeks ago. Another long race would be tough to stomach so soon after, and also, we did not have a 25mi loop. We had a 20mi loop... and there is no way I'd run anyone through 5 loops of that back valley meat-grinder. Do-able, but not attractive. At least we have an available option.

Option E) Camp Eagle again. I took all the old courses we'd used in the past and tossed em in the trash. I needed to start over and rethink this. And so it evolved that by re-using a couple of the longer trails, making them bidirectional, and creating two separate loops within one big one, came up with a 25mi loop and it looked good. Aid stations were double-use sites, which were great. Aid station splits were 5mi and under. I wondered if the self-serve concept would work with this format. It would be easy to go the wrong way. On a better day, one without flooded out creeks and road crossings, we might drive to all of them. Also, the suspension bridge was gone, washed out, and the trails below the dam was a river. And we have yet to talk about the 8mi drive into camp? But we still needed to check a few things. Chris and I showed up at camp on Tuesday before the race about mid-day. We had no time to lose, so we immediately went out to mark and measure at the same time. We had it all down except for a few places along the riverfront, around Lisa Lane, and under the overlook. We even went out and measured late one evening to finalize the beast. One of the unexpected problems was the creek bed full of rocks called Armadillo Trail. This was in pristine shape for J&J, but now it's a mess. Also, the river had chewed up the entire river-front trail. The back valley had multiple rock flows across the verdant green. And then there were the endless rocks on all the trails, many of them clear of rocks just a week before. Of course, it was raining and nasty the entire time we marked and measured. Chris knew I was running the 100 in a few days, and he worked with me so I was mostly on the ATV while he did what needed to be done on foot. Pam came in after we were done marking and helped with everything else: stepping stones across the creek, tents, chutes, signs, and so on and on. I got one day off before the race started, and that seemed to work out ok.

2018: J&J 100k

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Michael dropped me off at 2pm and I checked into my room. Chris would not arrive until late and I was tired, but bored, so I changed into running gear, turned on the GPS, and headed out. I'd helped lay out the new course, but this was all done from the comfort of my home, many months ago, but the math done in the computer does not always ad up the same way in reality. Mostly, I just walk, following the first 6-mile section of the new course, using my GPS to cross-check the numbers I used from previous distance measurements. The GPS is nothing to count on, more of a confirmation that I am close to right. I'm not in a hurry, so it takes awhile, and I get done in time to zap myself a pot-pie dinner, read a bit, then bed.

I wake at 7am, shower, and eat breakfast, before Chris is banging on my door. We plan to get going by 8:30, but thats not what happens. We talk a bit, gather what we need, and finally get to it... late. He's borrowed a camp mule loaded with an ice chest full of drinks, marking equipment, and a few other odds & ends. We drive to the new Zip Aid, where I ended my walk yesterday, and start there. We go all day, and get done by dark. Kenton's there waiting for us when we arrive at our rooms.

The next morning, the three of us get going again, and finish much earlier, but it's still a full day. It's only Tuesday and the course is pretty much marked, with the exception of a few odd ins & outs to do, which Kenton deals with, while I back off a bit and rest my feet. I sit up to read a bit, but sleep in on Wednesday morning, and skip out from all the banging about Chris and Kenton are up to. He's sorting out the trailer into piles of equipment and food, but I want none of that, and hate to watch people work while I laze about. I get bored, so I go figure out the 50k split off, and then take some tools out to Prospector to clear the drop down trail over the cliff. I get to bed early that night, and sleep in again, but Thursday is a total chill day for me. All but a short walk-a-bout to get the 50mi split worked out, after which, I hook up my hammock and get some mid-day sleep, or read, when I'm not sleeping.

Race day, Friday, finally comes round and again I sleep in, and remain in bed as long as I can stand it. Must be 9am when I bust out, and decide to go look at the new cut-thru Chris did over on the Gorilla Trail, off Armadillo. Its just a 3-mile out n back, but I'm soaking wet from the humidity and sweat when I return to my room. Since I arrived, Its been comfortably warm and overcast, with the threat of thunderstorms, but no rain. Looks like the thunderstorms and cloud cover may be swapped for light rain and heat. And so, it's going to be warmer than I prefer for a race of this distance. I'm going to have to push the pace early to use the dark to get as far as I can before the melt-down. I figure to stop in my room after each loop, same as last year, with it being right next to the loop end point, it's clean and simple. I put a few changes of clothes in the bathroom pantry, so I can shower off the salt after each loop, and change into clean dry clothes.

Joyce arrives a few hours before start, so we talk about my tentative expectations, and what I've done to set my self up. We both know Heat is my Kryptonite, so we have cold drinks and food in the cooler. Not much else I can do, but get as far as I can before everything goes to hell.


And so I start at 8pm with a small group of 100k runners. Twenty-three of us wander off into the night, while most of the others left behind are in for an early bedtime in preparation for their early starts: 50mi at 5am, 50km at 6:30am, 25km at 7:30am, and 10km at 8:30am. Boot Trail begins with switchbacks and then crosses the powerline onto the down chute. The sounds of voices ahead and behind filter into my thought process, recognizing Nancy and the Bills behind me, while a woman and man are laughing somewhere ahead. Under the suspension bridge, we cross the main road toward the river. With the moon reflecting off the water, the Nueces River is always gorgeous, daylight or dark, and the sound of water going over the falls provides the musical background symphony that soothes and relaxes. The trail we run is one long flat rock ledge overhanging the river some five feet up, with enough undulation to force me to pay attention to the path instead of the river. What a wonderful way to begin a long arduous race. We cross the road at the low water road crossing, up a short steep scramble, cut diagonally across another road and head for the barn. Directional arrows I put here a few days ago lead us between buildings, around others, alongside a fenceline, and into the trees. Its time to go up.

Not only do we loose sight and sound of the river, but our firm footing becomes a nightmare of baby-head rocks. Each of us rolls out awkwardly now and again as we attempt to push our bodies up the short hill. With so few starters, I'm surprised to have a trailer attached by the name of David. I tell him I'm a slow up-hiller, and expect to bounce about with my pace and rhythm, but he says it suits him. He attaches a psychological bungee and then pulls himself right up next to me, over and again. And so we begin to talk in short bits and bites as we wrap around and enter Texas Trail. This must be the easiest and most docile climb of any on this course. We mix running and walking for the length of the climb, but then crossing the top and down the other side, we get to rolling a little quicker. The sky is still a heavy overcast with openings now and again so the moon can peek through to watch our progress. I’ve always liked this skinny down track between rock and tree, even though a few spots of mud and slick-rock keep us from going faster. We track onto Moon Trail and then Boot Trail, a longish rolling traverse, where David and I catch Gilbert, as we all three come into the Zip Aid Station.

From this point, the three of us create a bond for the next 10 miles and longer. Up Zipline Trail, across Antenna Hill, and down a rock and cactus ankle-breaker. Gilbert leads every climb, I lead every descent, and David holds a steady balance between us, as we three change place and distance. Onto Wagon Trail and up a very steep jeep road called Windmill Hill, Gilbert moves ahead on the climb while I relax a bit and enjoy a game of hide & seek with the moon. It's a beautiful night, but a bit humid. The zip-line tower with the ghost-like apparition of a monolith slips behind us, followed by the turnoff before the windmill, and then down towards Bear Trail.

Used to be, we ran UP the Bear, and it's a beast of an UP, but now, not only are we going DOWN, but the tail has been halved. With its tail removed, we drop off the Bear directly to the long perimeter jeep road. We catch Gilbert in the middle of Bear standing still, confused by two trail markers in two different directions. I know we go down, but I take the time go up just to check the other flag first. Its on another trail, the UP Texas trail we were on over an hour ago, so I move it around to the other side of the tree so nobody else will be confused by it. Even though we are going DOWN, the Bear is still a Bear: rugged, twisty, and confusing. It sucks the gumption right out of your soul, but it's short enough to not destroy you.

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Once on road, its easy to relax a bit, even though we're going up. Thing is, it's too dark to see the UP or how far UP there is, so we simply march along the road, while we talk. Gilbert, of course, surges ahead. He cant help himself on the ups. I on the other hand, settle into a fast hike, that conveys me up the road in relatively good time, or at least it seems like it. We roll on up with little effort and good spirit to the turn, and then across and down towards the back valley. We start running the down-side and catch Gilbert quickly. While the three us are together, I tell them about all the nastiness waiting for us in the Elephant Legs. A profile of the back valley route traces out like the lower half of an elephant, with each ridge and valley reaching to the back property fenceline, columns of rocky ridges separated by arroyos, each with the trace of an old jeep road. Chris and I hung the confidence flags here a few days ago, through the graveyards of baby-head rocks and cactus, but there is no trail to speak of.

First, we stop at the Prospector Cabin Aid Station to reload and refuel, before dropping over the cliff edge to start down the rocky face hugging the wall. As has been my fate of late, my foot slides out on a slick rock, throwing me on my back where I slide across a rock and scrape one of my elbows in the same damn place I cut myself a year ago. It doesn't start all at once, but the blood does eventually find the offended skin, and begins to flow out of three or four cuts. At the base of the cliff lies the jeep road that bisects the length of the back valley. It's a lovely pastoral grass road, flat and flowing, but the thing is, we don't use much of it. It's more just a landmark to mark the inverse side of the back fenceline. We go to the back fence, then back to the cross-valley jeep road, and repeat for each of the three elephant legs. That's right: our elephant only has three legs.

Gilbert leads us up the first leg, climbing the steep rocky ridge line that keeps on going for much further than it seems it should. Rocks of all size litter the area and they’re hard to dodge, especially in the dark, even with a headlamp, partly because the ground is a riot of obstacles, with seldom an encouraging track or flat space. And even the flat spaces are usually found to be mud. Gilbert's light blinks on and off as he passes ahead between tree and scrub, but we catch him on the descent off the ridge into the arroyo, and together we rush quickly along the slot back to the valley jeep road. We can see the lights from Prospector Cabin over our heads and the voices of people in it. It's the sound of cold drinks, comfortable chairs, and civilization. We turn away from it... running along the flat grassy road, looking for the next slot. This leg begins with the arroyo and jeep road between humps, back to the fence line, where we turn and start UP again. A whole field of baby head rocks tilts upwards and slows David and me, but Gilbert flies up and gone. It's a slow motion affair, but my desire is no more than to keep moving, however slow. Granny-gear with no insult intended for granny. It's a high cadence, short stride, constant spin, and no stopping allowed.

I have my trekking pole out, and use it to assist… to plant, pull, and then push. Just one pole is all I need. I need the other hand for my light, or the water bottle. It is enough. I switch hands every so often. I roll over the top, start down, and then up again, until eventually we summit. I want to stop and rest, but don't wish to lose Gilbert either. He's been a great motivator to keep going until we catch him. And so we do literally roll over the top, turn and head along the ridge. The ridge stays high for a ways, but then turns and drops steep down. I love this kind of stuff, so I slip, slide, and stumble down rather quickly, catching Gilbert near the bottom, but losing David. There's no transition between legs two and three. We simply turn and head along the next arroyo for the third and final leg. It's a grand old march, which I have good rhythm for, and push along. Gilbert surges ahead and up while I dial in my best effort. Midway up, Gilbert's light blinks out as he goes over, and I look down to see David starting up. The rocks are brutal, rolling out form under foot, one of them spinning round and popping me in the shin. I make sad little headway moving up. David is on me by the time I top out, but Gilbert's gone. On the long strait-away leading back into the valley, I can see both their lights, front and behind.

We close ranks along the short connector that leads to the last nasty climb... the one leading out of the valley. This climb, like the others, is not easy. It's steep, full of rocks, and a few dead tree cross bars, which we climb over or around, and like the other climbs, we slowly ascend and escape along the boundary fence. One would think that after suffering the beast in the back valley, it would get easier, but it is not so. Even up here where there's much less elevation change, the terrain remains brutal, reaching out to cut and slash any mis-step. And so I stumble up to and onto the turn leading to the windmill. It's an exhilarating moment for me, knowing I have escaped and that I'll soon be submerged in the cold water tank at the windmill.

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All together again, we approach the tank, with me leading by just a few steps. There is no hesitation as I head up the steps, removing shoes and socks as I go, dropping them on the deck and then dropping myself into the water tank. It's hard to describe the feeling, being tired, overheated, scraped, cut, and bloody, to drop down and immense my body in this cold comfortable womb. A sensual satisfaction that touches every pore instantly and all at once. I almost feel embarrassed for the pleasure I don't share with the others, as they look at me, and wonder if I'm insane for doing what I have just done, and I look a them as if they are insane for remaining out there unknowing. Usually, when this extreme a pleasure is shared, it's called sex. But why do they avoid it? There must be many reasons, but for me, this is the crux of my expectations these last few miles... to get here!

I do get out of the tank, and I'm actually amazed they have not taken off yet. I quickly re-sock and re-shoe, and head back down the trail... towards Gorilla and the Wall... dripping a trail of joy behind me. The long fenceline has been called the Gorilla for all the years we've run UP it. But now, we're running DOWN, and the gorilla is a pussycat. Across the dry creek, and up the other side, but not far, then down to the Nueces River. There is something so naturally soothing about coming up onto a river on a hot day or night, especially when coming from Hell.

Across the suspension bridge, different from the one we went under earlier in the loop, and quickly to the Wall Aid Station. Gilbert knows these people and is swapping tales with them as I reload my water and start going again. The next climb has us all three march up rather quickly, maybe because we're near the end loop and we can now match Gilbert's energy going up. Across the top and down the other side into the rock creek bed called the Armadillo Trail. Gilbert and I are matching each other's energy right now, but David falls off when we do the descent. Its at least a mile up the dry rocky creek bed, and our legs fairly hop from rock to rock, following the yellow and white lines... to the sweeping turn at the end, one last short climb before we finish the loop. We're close now, and we know it, so the buzz is on. We turn directly up to the top of Lisa Lane, then roll over the top and down the other side. Left onto an old jeep road leading to the Ski Hut, we slide under it, past the mine, across the road and into the Pavillon, just under 6 hours at 2am.

I head directly to my room, where I leave my muddy shoes, socks, and shirt outside the door, then wake Joyce by simply entering. I move to the bathroom and step into a cold shower to rinse off all the salt coating my body, soak for just a moment, then dry off, apply a fresh coat of Desitin, and re-clothes, before I sit down to the food Joyce has waiting for me: cold coke, egg & biscuit, and a sandwich. I can't consume it all, but a bit of each is what I do, and I'm out the door in ten minutes, and surprised it isn't longer.

All the loops are the same, so I'm back out the same way I did six hours ago. It's the exact same route and same hills, but now, I'm not running as much, walking more, but still walking with effort, pushing my body to be efficient, waste no time, keep moving, even on the ups. I lost both my buds, so I'm solo now. I know Gilbert is ahead of me, but have no idea where David is. I suspect he's come in and gone out while I was in my room, so he's up there somewhere. Boot, Moon, Duck, Texas, Moon, Boot and so into Zip Aid. I hear a few voices now and again, out there somewhere, but never do see a body or even a light. I get some ice and oranges at Zip and go on. Zip, Antenna, Wagon, and Windmill over to the drop down on Bear to the jeep road which once again goes rather well. Way up on the jeep road, where I can see for a long way off, I see nothing. The twenty-three of us in this race are spread way out by now, but its 5am, so the 50-milers have begun, and are now on course. I wonder when I'll see the first, and I wonder about my buds and where they might be? Am I close to either one? My mind spins riddles around times and distances until I shut the thought down, knowing it's foolish to do math while running an ultra.

I stop at Prospector to get more ice and oranges, and look out over the wide expanse of the Elephant. Nothing but darkness. No twinkling of lights anywhere. Down I go, with one thought in my mind: to push myself to get into and out of the back valley before the sun rises. I have one hour. I know I'm going to melt when the sun hits me, and hope not to be climbing one of these nasty climbs with the sun punching me in the head. And so I go, with forced effort, still walking mostly but not a sissy little walk, but one with some punch to it. I power up the first leg, down into the arroyo, up the slot and on into the next. 22 minutes! I get up the next one rapidly, climb the up with some effort, across the ridge and heading down the next, I see a light. I come up on one of the Kansas girls (Theresa) I met yesterday. She was behind me on the first loop but must have gone out ahead of me while I showered. Anyway, here she is, and she's very slow and careful going down the steep drop, which I am not. 20 minutes! Up the next arroyo, over the top, down the other side. 18 minutes. Quickly now to the last nasty climb, the one that pops me out of this hell hole. The sky is getting light now, so I don't dawdle. Over and up the to the top, hell-bent on summiting as soon as possible. I reach the top, but feel the energy suck as I push the effort, scrambling along the fenceline, moving forward, and finally reaching the windmill, where I once again plan to take a dunk. I need to cool myself down. On my way to the windmill, I cross paths with Chris Prairie and then Gilbert, who asks if I'm going swimming again. I reply affirmatively. He goes on, while I ascend the platform, then struggle to remove my shoes and socks. Just doesn't seem to come off easy and I'm stumbling about in the process, but I mange it and drop myself into the water tank once again. The bliss is overwhelming. I close my eyes and soak in the wonderful coolness all over my body. I watch the sunrise encased in water.

Leaving the tank, I cross paths with Kansas coming in, then get on down the trail. Chris and Gilbert are both long gone, no lights, as far as I can see, but when I arrive at the Wall, Gilbert's there. We leave together and recreate an exact duplicate of what we ran the last loop, including coming into the Pavilion side by side once again. Loop two took just under 7 hours, which is still much faster than I expected. I'm back at my room, leaving more filthy clothes on the growing pile outside my door, another shower, dry off, Desitin the bod, clean clothes, and try to eat, but this time, I struggle to get anything into me. It's not good, but its where I'm at. The sun is now up but low and overcast.

Going out for the third and final go round, I'm slower again, less run, less push, and less oomph. One foot at a time, same as usual, but there is no smooth easy glide any longer. It's a struggle, but I understand the struggle and the effort it takes and simply do as best I can with what I have left. The course is all mud, bugs, horseflies, and sweat bees. It starts to rain, a soft mist really, a light dusting of moisture that lasts just long enough to ramp up the humidity to kill-joe level. The river rocks are slick from it and causes even more slowdown. Texas Trail is muddy and I'm careful on the rock ledge where I busted my ass last year. Beyond that, I'm sliding-out and spinning randomly, sometimes in mud, and sometimes on rock. There is simply no safe landing for my feet, regardless the surface. It's an odd conundrum, regardless if I can actually push or not, I want to, but I can't. The excuse to back off becomes a reality of circumstance.

My thoughts tumble about like strobe dream snippets, such that my eyes are backward looking into my ideas rather than the reality of the rocks and cactus I trip over. I seem to be out of body, everywhere but where I am. It may be that my mind has gone on vacation elsewhere to avoid my body's infected discomfort. I reenter the current reality only when I arrive at Zip Aid and probably only because Joyce is there. I can tell from the look in her eyes and my too-slow responses that she is concerned. All I want is some ice cold water and nothing more. I take a second water bottle with me for the first time today, knowing the aid stations will take longer to reach. Chris is in the station, and says something to me before he moves out, and I leave right after he does, hoping some company may make this loop more tolerable. But he's so quickly gone, I can't see him on any of the long look-aheads. Oh hell, and oh well, I keep on trudging.

Each and all of these short sections seem to take forever now. It's forever to the end of this short ascent, then left onto the muddy track over to Antenna Hill. And the drop down on the rocks, as long as it takes, I'm surprised to see that the route is now easy to follow. This is my first time through here in daylight and its easy to see the track that I could not see on either of the other two loops. The half-mile Wagon section feels like 10 miles, and just when I know Chris is long gone, I make the turn onto Windmill Hill and see him up near the top, just 100 yards ahead. He turns to look at me, then hurries off. I'm out of the trees and into the direct sun for now and expect to be in the oven for the duration now. The open climb allows a trace of breeze to scatter the bugs that seem to be attracted to my particular combination of stench. The mix of blood, piss, shit, sweat, salt, sugar, and fear has marked me as old, weak, and slow... an easy kill. For the wildlife, I am an ass dragging cornucopia of delight.

All night, I used my trekking pole as an aid to go faster, but now it has become a crutch of necessity, to keep me upright and arrest my descents. And so I push/drag myself up Windmill Hill, hoping to hang with Chris, for no good reason, other than the thought gets planted in my head. But he is gone! I can see a long way up the jeep road, and even the dust from the route he has run is gone. I keep on walking. I realize I've been hanging my head. My neck aches. I have the trekking pole in one hand, the two water bottles in the other, and maybe its more than just the distance and the heat. Maybe it's the odd balance from the two water bottles. Maybe I'm just looking for reasons, but I have certainly crashed.

I make the turn off the main jeep road, the middle road turn, and now at the top of the Bear Trail, I fairly sprint into the shade of the trees such that I leave all the rocks and cactus standing still. More shade equates to more humidity so there is no advantage that is not counterbalanced. Makes me laugh out loud. The raving lunatic laughing as he slides down off the tree covered ridge to the perimeter road and more sun, along with all his collection of biting flies. I take the bandana from around my head and unroll the corners while leaving it tied, so that I again push it down onto my head with the knot on my forehead and the flaps covering my neck and ears. If nothing else, it drowns out the irritating buzz in my ears.

For the first time, I ascend this long jeep road in the daylight and can now see just how far and high it goes. It aint hardrock, but the sight does my reeling senses severe damage. It's only a two mile climb, with a few dips to keep all of it from being constant up, and it drags on, and on. And when the turn does eventually present itself, even the descent down to Prospector Cabin seems to go on as well. I finish the one water bottle, and open the other only to find it too warm to drink. Go figure? I carried two bottle, but two water bottles is not the answer. I simply need to run the section faster with one. There is not much to say or remember about any of this, my mind being numb, my thoughts transient, but when I arrive, Chris is there. He starts talking about how I'm running him into the ground... chasing him?! He gets up from a stool which I then claim, directly in front of the ice cold water cooler. They give me a tall glass with ice in it, which I fill from the cooler. I try to tell Chris I'd rather just run with him than chase him. I couldn't care less if I catch or pass. Mostly, I'd just like some company to share in the misery. I think I say that, but more than likely I just think it, while I pour, drink, and refill the tall class of ice at least three times. Jonathon is there for aid support, and seems to be humored by what I say, what I do, how I look, and all that. Somebody asks if I want some salt caps. I ask if they're cold? What? Do you want some salt caps? I don't want anything unless its cold, I say! He tries to give me the salt, but Jonathon laughs and tells him Joe doesn't want them. Says they aren't cold, so he doesn't want them. I ask Jonathon to tell Joyce, it's gonna be awhile. Chris gets up and leaves, says he has to put some distance on me. I get up moments later, peek over the edge and can already see him climbing the first leg. My sense of time is jacked up. I could swear he just left. Did he jump off the ledge?

Over I go, down the slip-n-slide. Looks like a herd of elephants has been through here since my last trip. The ribbon route is ripped up and torn down. Trees and rocks are broken, the earth ripped up. I just remembered, all the other runners have been through here since my last trip, The 50-milers thrice, 50km twice, and 25km once. They've created a trail where there was none, dragging their asses through the rocks. We should have run them first. Would not have been near as hard finding our way with all they have done, dragging all their behinds over rock and ridge. To hell with the flags! I can follow their trail of destruction. The first leg up is so slow and methodical, but it comes to me, and the drop down some relief from the sun, dropping into the trees of the arroyo leading out. Leg two has some small amount of shade, but none on the climb, or the descent. Leg three piles on to an already beaten man. This is where I begin to question why, but I stumble on, up, and back down into the valley of the beast. Doesn't matter how bad I feel. I need to drag my own ass out of this valley. Just one more hill. The one that gets me out of the belly of the elephant, and I stop numerous times. There's shade on this climb and I struggle with wanting to sit in it and get out of it, but mostly I just want to lie down and rest. The irritating flying pests are all over me, but mostly when I stop, so they too chase me up and out. Once out, I would like to think it is done, but there's still some distance from the top of this climb to the Windmill and the water tank that I crave so much.

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At first, it's a mental chant, but then I realize I'm mumbling it silently: Windmill. Windmill. Windmill! Tripping, stumbling, I weave between the cactus, rocks, and scrub, and I have no idea how far, how long, but I know the landmark will appear to direct me to the tank. I trip on the steps, knees down onto the deck, I roll onto my back and remove my shoes, socks, then roll over to drop into the water, and sink to the bottom. Precious relieving womb of water. I rise up and allow my head to poke out and remain so for a minute, then longer. My senses return slowly. I feel better. I can think clearer. I start to get out and decide to stay longer. I'm badly overheated and need to cool my body core down.

Not sure if its 10 or 20 minutes I remain in the tank, but I get out and head back down the trail, a new man, a back-from-the-dead man. Down the Pussycat Trail and I arrive to find Joyce waiting for me at the Wall. I sit and drink another three full glasses of ice cold water before I head back out... with Joyce. We walk, talk, and move along relatively well compared to what I did back in the Beast's belly. Near the top, I pull up and sit down when a blister pops. I ask for a moment until the pain subsides, then up again, we continue. Down to the dry creek, then up the mile long rock path, the sweeping turn at the end of Armadillo, one last little climb, then over and down into the compound where we come into the finish. The first place 50 miler passes us as we cross the road.

After looking at my splits, I'm surprised to see that each loop was almost an hour slower than the previous. I am not surprised it's slower. I'm surprised it isn't a lot slower, especially the last one. I am happy to have pulled this one off as well as I did, with as bad as I felt. Gilbert had finished an hour in front of me and David an hour after.

lp1: 20.7mi) 5:53:47

lp2: 20.7mi) 6:56:59

lp3: 20.7mi) 7:56:32

100km time: 20:47:18

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2018: Sky Island 50k

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I had run this race last year, but only the 25k, so I knew the Primitive and Lodge Loops just fine, but I had no idea what the Skyline Loop was about in the 50k I was running today. The course description ran something like this: Skyline Loop (7.5mi), Skyline Loop (7.5mi), Primitive Loop (12mi), Lodge Loop (4mi). Well, this left a few details out that sure as hell confused my as I ran. Anyway, this is kind-of how it played out.

We started at 6am in the dark, just outside my hotel room at Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park. Michael and I had driven in yesterday, picked up our packets, had dinner into town for dinner, and got to bed early. It was a pleasant enough morning, but figured it to warm up, so I dressed for heat. I hate road races as well as any portion of a trail race that includes road, and I knew we'd be starting on a road, but at least we'd get that out of the way.

Because of the overcast skies, It was too dark to see anything but the roving spots of light on the pavement. Seventy-one of us ran down the road, and I knew only a few, including Michael and Bill. The thing is, I don't know the first part, where we start in the dark, so I have relegated myself to that status of lemming. For that reason as well as many others, I start in the back. I do have a rough idea where we turn off the road and up the mountain, but it's so dark, I can't see it, so I follow the rest of the field past the turn and on down the road. Fortunately, somebody up there figures it out and the whole herd has turned back, reversed field, and came back to me. I stop and watch as they pass me, then stop and gather around a sign that says second loop, this way. They're loudly discussing its merits, when a few people take off into it, and then the rest of the pack follows hot on their heels. What I figure is that it's roughly about a mile of road from lodge to trailhead, with a few tenths of bonus. And so I move onto the back of the buss with Bill and start up onto the Skyline Loop.

It's a nice steady climb, switchbacks, and single-track. Everybody's certainly moving faster than me, so whenever I hear footsteps behind me, I step off trail, wait for them to pass, and then start back up. Besides, they're all running and I'm walking. No way am I going to run up this mountain, especially with so much course more waiting. The night before, Michael and I had driven up to the summit to catch the sunset, and this same spot is where we run through before heading over to the other side. It's not all down though, so much as a bit of ridge running, fun stuff, over and around boulders, through a gate, and more. Now that we're going down, I quickly catch up to a ten person train which won't let me pass. I'm trying to get them to let me by, when somebody else comes up behind me and asks me to pass, and as I let him bye, I tell them I'd like to get by too. Anyway, not sure what he says or how he does it, but he gets a few to step off and as he goes to pass, I lock onto his heels and stick close to him so as to pass along as his shadow. Once he gets a few to move, he gets all of them to move, and so he and I get to pass the entire pack. I don;t know it at the time, but Michael is in that pack, but he's trapped behind as we go ahead.

I reached the Skyline Ridge Aid Station, refill my water, and go up a bit further before passing through the point on the trail where I'd come back from a 2 mile loop. This is where we enter the Fort Davis National Historic Site. We keep bombing down until near the bottom, and he pulls ahead, while I slow down, which is exactly the wrong thing to do right now. Basically, he's gone ahead and the pack is a ways behind me, such that I find myself alone with no idea which way to go. I'm in the middle of the old historic fort, buildings everywhere, and not much for signage I can see. I approach one sign which says, 'Enlisted Men's Quarters', then another that is a bathroom. The fort signs are easy to see, but not the race signs. I bumble about for a bit before I just stand and wait for the next group to show up. They can see much better than me, and I follow them through the old fort and out the back side. I'm looking for them, but can't see any of the signs.

Out back, we start up a rocky trail that goes up until we reach the intersection I was at just 2.2 miles ago. Its not a big loop, but I sure wasted my descent in the fort. Back at the aid station and it's 7.2mi, which confuses me somewhat. I though the entire lop was 7.5mi, but I neglect to add the milage on the road from the Lodge, plus bonus. I keep on going down, which is fun, fast, and easy all the way back down to the sign we saw where we huddled earlier. I stop to get some rocks out of my shoes, when Michael comes in from behind, and thats when I figure out I had passed him earlier. We're at 9-mi here and the 7.5mi loop thing sticks in my head, but nothing to do but keep going. At least I now know the loop. The sun came up on me during the descent, so its all sun and wind now.

Michael follows me on the climb and catches me at the aid. It's 11.5mi now and of what the hell, if I can figure this out. I should just give up on any idea of milage. Michael and I stay close down to the fort, and now I can see the signs I couldn't see in the dark. The flags and all the other signs for the fort that I tried to follow on the last loop. A fellow named Al passes me as we start the climb out, saying something about missing the cutoff, and I ignore the though, but stay close to him. He powers up the climb as I stay near him through the aid station and down the long fast downhill. I start thinking about the cutoff and realize it just might be close. The cutoff is 10:30am at the park entrance which should be mile 16, but they neglected to figure in the road miles, so its more like 17.1. It seems so insignificance, but for us back-of-the-bus guys, its a problem. As it is, I arrive with a few minutes to spare. Al is there just ahead of me, and Michael comes in right behind me. But, I need to go to the bathroom, and its back in the building next to the aid. I rush over to find it, and a woman in a pickup wants me to answer a few questions, which I just dont have time for. So, I rudely ignore her and step into the mens room and lock the door. I'm well into my business when the lights go out, dropping me into pitch black darkness. Oh hell! I cant even find my ass and or paper and the timing is perfectly wrong. I do my best, then waddle over to the door to turn the timer back on, then settle in to finish. All this shit simply takes much longer than I anticipate, and when I escape, I check my watch to see its strait up at 10:30, the cutoff time, so I slide on through the gate and keep on running. I guess, I'm the last one who made the cutoff.

Well, I'm on the Primitive Loop now with no cutoffs between me and the finish, so I relax and start down the grassy highway access to the ditch under. There is one guy who ran through the aid just ahead of me and I pass him on the other side of the highway. He doesnt seem to be in any hurry and neither am I, but I do move ahead of him. I pass by a whole lot of emergency rescue vehicles, and know something bad is going down up ahead. I see them coming down the switchbacks as I start up. Its a woman on a flatboard being carried down by a whole herd of medical people. When I pass by, the trails ahead appear empty. I was hoping to see all those guys that were at the gate when I went off to the bathroom, but they've put some distance on me. I do catch Michael just before the Primitive Loop Aid, and the other 3 guys are there when I come in. While I stop to reload my ice water, Michael skips on through and keeps on going.

Its only a 5.5mi loop, from aid back to aid and its the easiest part of this whole race, so I get after it. I start walking, and Al tucks in behind me, but we lose the others when we start to run. When we catch Michael, he stays with us for awhile, but then we lose him on one of the climbs. Al and I continue, jabbering away the whole time, catching and passing a few others before we get back to the aid. Another reload and out we go, downhill now, chasing another guy we had caught just as we entered the station. Each time we get near him, he starts running hard again, but our constant easy downhill roll finally has us roll up on him just before we hit the bottomland. Off the hill, we switch to a fast walk, and keep on down to the underpass and back up to the Gate Aid.

My GPS says I'm at 29mi, so I suspect the last section is a but shorter than advertised. It has to be less than 3 miles from here to the finish, and I need nothing from the aid, so I cut on through the aid while Al reloads. I'm surging now, speed walking, and surprised when Al catches me. he had to have been running hard. The next turn starts up the beginning of a load of nasty UPHILL, lung-sucking, climbs. I'm familiar with this from last year, but its knackering the hell out of Al. I keep my breathing smooth and comfortable, short steps, constant spin, and try not to stop while I see Al sitting again. I slowly move up and away, as the climb continues. I make a few more turns, hit the first summit, over the top, down, and begin the next UP. About midway up, I look back to see AL has been passed by that fellow we passed earlier. We had talked about the idea of energy theft on the Primitive Loop, where when you pass somebody, you take some of their energy, and if you get passed, they take some of yours, so I know what he's think right about now, and it aint good.

I keep on pushing, pass another guy on the next summit, but dont want to look back again. I just need to hump on in. I keep surging, walking fast, and pushing over one rise after another, until it finally turn down and I let it go. This last half-mile is a deep rocky ditch with lots of ankle biters, but I'm good with it, and roll on down and round the last few turns and into the finish. 8:16 run time for a 50km aint nothing to brag about, but I'm quite pleased with it. Total distance turns up a perfect 31.2 miles.

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2018: Pace Bend Half-Marathon

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I like to think that I live in a good mental space with spirit and mind, while balancing todays world events and my finances... and I somehow seem to manage a somewhat even keel most of the time. But, today at this race, while running in humidity thick enough to swim through, my clothes soaked completely wet with sweat before I reach mile two, and sliding about in the mud, I let my sense of self slip down and merge with the slop. I typically revel in a nasty wet messy course and enjoy the non-normal-ness of it, smile and joke, and pick up pace. Today, I have the added pleasure of running with a dear old friend and running buddy, Hobbs, who is always in a good spirit, so I struggle to understand why I'm down here. Hell, life is good. Must be some perfectly wrong alignment of the moon and stars, or maybe it's just the rash that's beginning down in my nether regions that sinks my mood. Whatever it is, I need to escape.

Hobbs runs ahead, and I struggle to keep up, slipping into a walk on every climb and sometimes on the flats. Back and forth we go with a few others, and at one point, Hobbs rushes ahead... and I think he has finally given up on me, when I realize he sees a friend and goes to visit. We catch up to Cris, running with her sister in the marathon. We talk a bit, take a picture, then continue, and Cris comes with us to loosen her legs a bit, before dropping back with her sister. She then comes back up, tells us her sister says to go run with us for a while, so she does. We're now on the back-side hills, under the power-lines, and Hobbs begins to pull ahead again, and then he is gone. I tell Cris to go on and catch Hobbs, but she says she's ok right here behind me. We go in silence for a ways, and I always appreciate a friend who is ok with silence as a form of communication. With my current funk, I'm especially glad not to share my mood. But then Cris asks, how are you Joe? And she seems to ask that with more than just a standard greeting. Well, I don't answer right away, but then I do. I get started talking about my shoulder, then my hip, my eyes, and after about 15 minutes of bullshit about the litany of things that just don't seem to be working right, I catch myself and apologize. What the hell is the matter with me? Cris is always good with me and so she smiles and tells me, 'no worries', but it just makes me feel worse. That I actually verbalized all that funk, and let it out. We drop into the next aid station together and of course, Hobbs is there, sorting out his gear and refilling his water bladder. I should have known, of all people, he'd wait, even if I tell him, he better not be waiting for me. Go run your best race! He says, this is what I got and it's all good. 

And so we go out together, while Cris stops to wait for her sister. We're about halfway into the race at this point, soaked clean through, and I attempt to push myself a bit more, but can't seem to find what I need. The temps are actually cooler than it's been of late, but the all night rain has dropped a humidity blanket on the area, which cancels the temperature benefit. We walk the ups, run the downs, and mix walk/run on the flats. This is where I try to match Hobbs with his walking speed, and it aint easy. The boy can walk pretty fast when he wants to. With no sun reference, the only idea I have to where I actually am is with reference to my GPS milage, the occasional sound of a car on the perimeter road, or a boat from the river on the other side of the road. We are actually on a peninsula surrounded by the Colorado River, and the road rides the perimeter, while all this mess of trails remains mostly inside of both. I had marked this course each of the last few years, and know the system of trails reasonably well, but this year's course has been modified such that I am not exactly certain where we are and what is next. I recognize many of the landmarks, but am not all that comfortable with much more than the rudimentary aspects of my location.

The next aid station is exactly where I expect it to be, and while Hobbs is in a froggy attitude, my drag-ass mood has a desire to stop for a few moments to refill with ice, have some orange slices, and take a big drink of coke. Maybe some sugar will kick me out of this bog. With roughly four miles to go, I feel the energy of knowing it is almost over, and still I can't disconnect the anchor dragging behind me in the mud. I talk to Hobbs once more about cutting me loose and going on, and he tells me he's just fine where and how he is. This is where the mud gets even worse. As flat and easy as it appears to be, the mud is so slick as to cause each step to slide and spin out, so we attempt to use the grass on the trail side, same as everybody else has, and so even the grass is slick with mud. Hobbs seems to do better with this than me, with his best Wile E. Coyote high speed stationary run. We wind around the inside loop, under 3 miles now, heading back on the inner jeep road, and for the first time, the sun begins to burn off the humidity, split the clouds, and offer us some of the sun's rays and it's subsequent heat. Usually, this is not a good sign, but today, it is good to see and feel.

We make another big sweeping turn on the jeep road, and the new course once again deviates and takes us off road and up a singletrack, and I do mean up. More UP I was not expecting! Nice, but damn. Run turns to a walk, not that the walk is slower, and so we continue UP and over, back to the road, and then another trail, back to the road. Down under 2 miles now, we make one turn after another and I am so turned around. My GPS reads 13 miles and I know we must be close, but it's a good bit after that before I know where I am, and we cross the main paved road and head down to the river. And so it ends, and I am so done, as we cross over the timing mat and head down into the river, clean up to our necks.

I'm ok now, flushed the pollutants out of me, desiten on me, and beer in me. Hanging out with a few good friends as the rain comes in to finish the cleansing process. Wow! That was a mind-blowing, spirit-checking, washing-cycle of energy. I'd rather not do that again. I feel great now, but that entire race for me was one huge suck... and all of it was completely within me!

2018: Reveille Peak Ranch 30k

This was to be my 4th and final summer night trail races this year, and it seems as if I am just now starting to feel more acclimated to the heat than I have been in many years. Also imbedded into the madness of this challenge is the occasion of Jimmy and Adela's wedding taking place tonight on one of the high points mid-10k, which me and the rest of us in the 30k will go nowhere near. They certainly have my best wishes, but today, I am in for the 30k and will share a toast with them after I am done.

And so we begin, across the levee, into the trees and, up along the fenceline to the big gate in the big fence. All of this in the late evening fading light, with plenty of heat and humidity, which tend to define these night races in the midst of a late-August Texas summer. The 60k runners are already out ahead by 30 minutes, but they have an extra 3 mile section over the rock dome, so it's no surprise when they merge back in with us soon after our shortcut. We replace their 3 miles with a 30 yard shortcut under the new pond, and so from this point to the finish, I never know if I'm running with a 30k or a 60k runner, unless I ask. Even though we skip the major part of the dome, we still get to sample a one mile scramble that wraps in and out and through all sorts of rock and twisted trees, the terrain so rugged, constant attention to every step is essential.

Its at one of the higher rock points in this mess of mangled scrub when I notice the sunset lighting up the clouds underside as well as the big fat full moon peeking over the tree tops. What a glorious setting for the wedding they must be having at just this moment, while I am sensible enough to just get a peek, before returning my attention to what I'm running through. Hell, I'm already bleeding from the nasty little bastard branches that reach out and scratch me as I attempt to slip by. But there is no way to avoid it all. If not the mesquite thorns, it's the pencil cactus with their deadly little hitchhikers, or the Prickly Pear. But mostly, it's the rock... hard and sharp, and unforgiving. So glad I don't have to run over the 4 miles of rock which the 60k runners must do 3 times.

I come into the Rock aid station in complete darkness, with headlight on to the sound of raucous laughter. This station is so appropriately named, here at the edge of the rock dome. I get a hug and a refill before heading back out, down on a twisting trail towards the creek bottom. I can hear voices everywhere, and the way the trail winds about, the sound could be coming from anywhere. With the sun down and the moon up, I sometimes find the moon in a direction I'm not expecting, which only confirms... I have no idea which direction I'm heading in. Certainly I know the trail, but I am lost to the direction it twists and turns.

I cross over the rock bottom of the creek, and head up what I suspect might be the wrong trail, or maybe it's one of the new trail cuts that the owner has recently bull-dozed all over the old trail system. I'm with a few others and we're all reasonably certain this is not the correct trail, but I can see the right one just 10 yards over, but on the other side of scrub and cactus in which I have no intention of crossing. And so we continue for a few tenths before we reach a connector that drops us right back on the correct trail. Pretty certain we actually did more distance, but whatever it was, it was not all that far, so we just keep on going.

We cross over one of the main jeep roads, and pop into the next section that has its own unique set of characteristics. Used to be, this section was pretty simple, but that was before the new bull-doze trail cut endlessly over the old trail, making it an endless set of decisions. I marked this section last year, so I know what a problem it is to mark all of these endless crossovers, and it is a constant concern to remain on the proper track. I can see runners left and right, picking one or the other, and they all pretty much go to the same place, but each a bit longer or shorter, or who the hell really knows. Even when we get higher up on the bluff, the same situation continues, but now it's up into the rocks, looking down into the valley.

I think this is up on the High Fence Trail or maybe just a trail under the road by that name. Not sure exactly, because this entire thing is now a spaghetti bowl of trails. There are even a few more odd reroutes up in here that I have no idea why they were done, but they are not the same as what we did last year. Reaching the Flow aid station is a welcoming sight for more than a few reasons. I need a refill and could use something cold, plus this station is not all that far from the end loop, so it feels like I am actually making some progress. Again, one big huge flow of rock fills the creek bottom, which we dance across and into the trees, scrub, and rock combination so typical of Reveille Peak Ranch.

The trail is a carnival ride of ups and down, while spinning left and right, and all on skinny single track. But it's a short ride back to the big gate, which we pass through, turn left and head for home. The faster runners are coming out, passing us in the opposite direction, moving at a much faster speed than I am. I think I recognize a few of them, but running without glasses in the dark tends to blur everything and everyone down to smudges of ideas. And eventually, I cross the levee, and back into the pavilion area where I have my chair, cooler, and gear. I'm also surprised to find my wife. Joyce was at the wedding, and it's a pleasant surprise to steal a kiss from her. I told her I might be about 2 hours for the first loop, and so I am, dead strait up at 2 hours.

Jimmy and Adela are most likely married by now. Joyce heads for home as I head out for another loop of exactly the same thing... but different. Now, I'm more tired, more wet, and more chaffed. Even though I have changed all my sweat soaked clothing, my body will quickly treat everything I have on the same as it did the previous set. Fumi has also provided me another riceball wrapped in seaweed and salt, which has recently (Fumi's fault) become a new race fuel for me. I walk out, eating, taking my time to getting readjusted to the mood and rhythm of this madness I have adopted as my normal.

I fall into conversation with James Askew, and our discussion carries us along at a fast walk, through the big gate and on into the Road aid station. Besides a slice of watermelon, I have no need of anything else, and quickly skedaddle out, while James falls behind. Soon after, I find myself in another conversation with a 60k runner who is training for a 240 mile race, in which I attempt to match walking pace with. Our discussion winds around these new longer races of 200 miles and more, in which very few people do more than walk, or at least, thats what he says. I have no interest in the 200 milers though, feeling that the 100 milers offer enough of a challenge as it is, for me. His conversation and his pace are both too much for me to match, and before long, he has out-walked me and is gone, soon after we pass through the Rock aid.

This is where I get reconnected with an interesting pair of women. The same two I had a couple of sets of passing and getting passed on loop one, and in the same place on course too. The young one was Layla, and the reason I knew this is because the older one kept saying her name. How are you Layla. Are you ok Layla, and so on and so on. It was easy to see that the older runner had the younger one under her wing and was helping her run this race. I thought it was pretty cool, but they were pretty aggressive and much too serious to waste time visiting with me. I attempted a few times, but we never did find any connecting thread. Although, every time I did pass them, Layla would always say something encouraging to me. I found that they made me feel comfortable, if not somewhat familiar, being around them so much. After so many passes back and forth, I wasn't sure where they ended up until I saw them cross the finish just minutes after me. I suspect we were within minutes of each other the whole race, even though they were rock solid consistent, and I carried on like a rabbit, with my fits and starts. Still, I realized somewhere along here that I had only been walking the entire second loop so far, and actually doing quite well with it. Me and Layla and her friend were always within sight of each other, even though they were running, and I was walking. I'm thinking maybe I might be able to keep up with my best bud and walking champion Henry Hobbs.

And so we roll into the Flow aid, in which I top off my empty water bottle with water and ice for the final plunge. Out we go, into the trees and I just start thinking I have not fallen today. I'm certainly bleeding from the mesquite stabs, but I have in fact remained upright. If anything, my walking pace increases with the desire to get this bastard done. By now, Adam has long been done and showered, so he and Fumi are now patiently waiting for me to finish, so they can go home. I walk faster! I make the gate turn, turn left, and go faster. I do believe this is the fastest I have ever walked, but it's a salient point now, that I should not run. Walking is good enough and serves me well right now. Still, I keep peeking behind me now. I am not very competitive, and could usually care less how I fare compared to those around me, but get me near the finish and I hate getting passed late in a race. So I keep looking back, and then I see a light. It's a ways back, but as I get closer to the finish, it gets closer to me, until I feel rather certain I will for certain be passed. I try an old trick, for some damn reason I am not certain why, but I do indeed turn off my light. I have always liked running without lights, but with other runners around, its rather difficult. But for now, with just that one light back there closing on me, I have no worries about being night blind. I know how it is, chasing the light in front of you, trying to catch it, using it as a carrot to pull you on. Well, I have just killed the carrot. If he's to catch me, I'm not going to provide the bait. And I also quit looking back. So I finally relax and keep on walking... in the dark, without a light, make the turn, cross the levee, and as I near the finish, within 100 yards or less, I look back, and can see him running fast... trying like hell to reel me in while the distance to the finish makes for a near miss on his part. And so it plays out, that I walk across the finish without a light just moments before he crosses just behind me. I find out later, he is the same age as me and would have certainly knocked me out of the top spot for us old buzzards. Even the finish line crew miss me, as I walk right through them unnoticed and have to come back for the finishers medal and turn in my chip.

My first lap was 2:00, and my 2nd lap, even though I walked the entire thing, was only 34 minutes slower than my first. I'm a full 15 minutes faster than my previous three 30kms, and though I feel I am finally getting used to running in the heat and humidity, I am glad we are done with these night races... and the summer weather

2018: Ute 100 - Crew

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Texas is still baking under a long stretch of 100 degree days, so I am grateful for the opportunity to escape for a few days into the La Sal Mountains. The occasion was offered to me by Richard and January to crew them at their 100 mile attempt at the Ute 100 just outside of Moab and within sight of the San Juan Mtns of southwestern Colorado, where I'd been only 2 weeks ago. It was much more docile to fly this time, and even fun to share company with R&J, as well, as Matias (also running), and Cyndie, who would be crewing as well.

I'd never been in the La Sals before, but I have been to nearby Moab, Arches NP, and Canyonlands NP. I flat out love this area for all the wonder of the huge natural red rock formations. Moab is an oasis in the middle of the desert, thriving on the mighty Colorado River that powers through her, adding water sports to the other outdoor sports (mountain biking, hiking, running, rock climbing) that boom here. It's a town with an edge to it, young, cocky, strong, confidant... reflecting that persona. And it turns out, the same sort of edge that the RD and his crew also wear. A fun and happy bunch, with a big sense of adventure, laughing and drinking, and certainly up for the sort of challenge that would take a group of ultrarunners traipsing around the high mountains for a 40 hour run. I think R&J are up for it too, and just as importantly, they like the feel and the atmosphere of the race organization.

We all fly in together, Austin to Salt Lake City, then drive to Moab, and beyond, to the tiny one horse burg called La Sal. Our cabin is well off the paved road, at Hang Dog Ranch, hanging over the edge of Hang Dog Canyon. The back porch offers up perfect sunrises and front porch, brilliant sunsets. The cabin has all the amenities we need, as long as we don't plug in the coffee pot. We quickly learn to disconnect the refrigerator beforehand.

Getting to the cabin, we pick our rooms and beds, toss our gear in, then head back to town for dinner and groceries. R&J were just here a few weeks ago, so we take their recommendation for a Mexican restaurant, then off to the grocery to buy the race day fare for the runners, as well as what we may want at the cabin during our stay. Its dark by the time we get back to the cabin, and we each go about hauling in the groceries, and making ready for bed. R&J take the two downstairs rooms. Upstairs has two rooms, one with one bed, the other with two. Earlier, Cyndie had announced, she's taking the single bed room, so I assume Matias and I'd share the other room with two beds. I had left my gear on one of the beds before we headed back into town. But, I must have missed the handoff somewhere along the way, because I now realize Matias and Richard are downstairs, leaving me upstairs with the girls. I was just about to take a shower when I put together that Cyndie thought my gear (on one of the beds) was January's, and January thought my gear was Cyndie's. I quickly walk in, collect my gear, and ask where I need to be. The single bed room was now mine, and the girls had the two bed room. I am so glad I realized all this before I hopped in the shower. 

In the morning, we find a couple of old but functional ice chests in the shed, as well as a few cooking tools to add to the crew kit. I brought a small camp stove and cooking pot with me from home, but need a few more accessories from town. Moab's 40 minutes back, and with a late check-in, we decide to wait a bit to drive back into town for dinner, race checkin, and the outdoor store. We still need to pick up a few odds and ends for crewing, cheap folding chairs, a tarp, propane, and whatnot. We have plenty of time, so Richard takes us on a drive into the mountains to help us figure out how to drive to the crew only station at Geyser Pass. The drive's ok, if there's only one car on the road, but a bit sketchy if there's car's going both ways, or the weather gets bad, or in the dark, but I understand the route. It takes us about an hour to drive up, and another to get back down, and we still have plenty of time, but I'm a bit nervous going further up and/or getting stuck, when the runners need to be in Moab in a few hours. So, we head home, and relax into it. 

The runners sort through their drop bags, run packs, hydration & food, shoes, clothes, poles, and so on. We have some fun with each other, play some cards, and sling verbal crap at each other with lighthearted ease. Cyndie's a bit put out when she realizes exactly what is meant by Hang Dog Ranch. She sees the big metal sign leaning against a barn wall, depicting a dog hung from a rope. She walks over there in one state of mind and comes back in another, fuming. A bit later, we gather up and head back into Moab. We stop for dinner, buy the outdoor goodies, gas the car, and then to packet pickup. The runners get their bags, bibs, and spot-trackers, then we stop for ice and head home, to arrive just as the sun sets.

It's not all that easy to get to sleep, with the excitement and nervousness running high. A few of us play cards, but we're all to bed by 9 or 10. There is no way that any of us got much sleep with a 2:00 am wakeup and a 3:00 am start. The drive from ranch to start is only 15 minutes, and we blend into the thick dusty air with all the others driving in. We park, walk some 30 yards to check in, then stand in the dark and the dirt, not seeing much of a damn thing. It's a new moon night, dust fills the air, and I can barely keep my eyes open, and I'm not surprised that the pictures I took here at the start are all too blurry to see. 10 minutes later, the RD shoes up, yells at the crowd of runners for a few minutes, climbs in his car, and starts the race.

I know their route well, even though I have never been on any of it. Fact is, when I was asked to crew, I started digging and searching everything I could find about the race and the route to learn what I could. I know they are to run a short ways up the dirt road, turn right and run more dirt road, and then turn left on their way to aid#1, which I am not allowed to crew. Makes sense to me. I am also not allowed at aid#2, and aid#3. Matter of fact, I won't see these guys again until mile 32 at a crew-only location that is a non-aid location between stn#2 and stn#3. What this means immediately is I can go back to bed. I have many hours before I'll see any of them one-third into the race. Cyndie and I head back to the cabin, where we wordlessly head off to our own rooms for the rest of the sleep we did not get earlier.

Up at 7am, a shower, and some cereal, we begin to prepare and load our crew kit into the car. Besides all our own crewing kit and coolers, we have all of the runner's roving drop bags that we had intended to take with us as an aside just to keep in our care in case they can use any of it. No big deal really, as it's just nice to have the in-case stuff. We also load 3 chairs, 2 coolers full of drinks, lunch-meats, cheese, bacon... all on ice. Another cooler is just for ice. We also have a tub just to contain all the dry foods, plates, cups, utensils, stove, propane, seasonings, and a load of odds and ends. It's crowded, but it's all packed in. The thing is, last night at packet pickup, the runner's had each received a new map with all the aid stations listed on it, and although I had seen the map, it wasn't until we got back home when I turned it over and realized the directions to aid#1 were changed completely. We had already explored the route around the East side of the mountains, which was the directions posted online, but now we are being told to go around the West side of the mountains, back towards Moab and up from that side. So, now I'm a bit anxious. With no reason to hurry, I'm nervous and eager to get started, especially not being certain of where the hell I'm going on the new route.

We drive out earlier than expected, but there is no way I want to miss them at the crew only station. This is a very important stop for the runners, and so we go. Back towards Moab, I follow the new instructions as listed, 11.7mi up 191 and then turn right onto an unnamed dirt road. No sign (unnamed, right!), but I turn right at the mile listed, and we roll down a dirt road 1.1 miles not knowing if we are even close, but in a short period, turn right again onto Geyser Pass Rd/La Sal Loop Rd/La Sal Mountain Loop. I have no idea why this road has three names, but it's paved, and we take it. Cyndie's driving, because she has no intention of navigating. I have, at least done some upfront research beforehand, albeit for the wrong routes. I have even printed out maps and bought a topo map from the website in which I have drawn both the run route and recommended drive route. 8.9 miles to Geyser Pass Rd is dead on, and now its dirt for another 6.3 miles. We keep driving until we see a woman in the middle of the road telling us to park. She tells us the crew access point is another half-mile up the road. Well, from everything I've read, it's this exact point where we are supposed to crew. So, we park, and figure to walk up and see exactly what we're dealing with. It's about 0.3mi to the spot where all the other crews have gathered. We turn back to the car, and then start thinking about what all we really need. We certainly don't wish to haul the ice chest or the tub, but we need at least 2 of the chairs. Don't need the cooking gear yet, but need to haul all 3 of the runners roving drop bags. So, we gather up a mixed set of things, but not all, pack it as best we can into what we have. Had we known in advance, we might have bought a small wagon, or at least a large pack, and we would have been more selective of the runner's roving drop bags. So we strap the packs on our fronts and backs, hang the chairs on a shoulder, grab a full gallon jug of water, bread plus pb&j, a few cold cokes, Matias' Monster drink, and all kinds of other odds & ends. It was a full load.

We hike up, get more than a few odd stares from other crews, assuming we're crewing for one very needy runner. We find a shady spot, spread the tarp, set the chairs, and lay out what we have in as organized a manner as we can. After checking the spot tracker, we see that Matias has gone through aid#1 forty minutes ahead of R&J, and is about the same again at aid#2. So, we expect Matias within the next hour. And so he is. He comes in looking a bit raw, dirty, wild eyed, and functional, if not a bit used. We give him a sandwich along with his Monster, then take off his shoes and clean his feet. They're filthy with dirt caked on, and it's some work scrubbing it off. Some Cheetos too, while we load his water bottles and send him back out. We figure we have another hour before R&J, so Cyndie heads back to the car with Matias' gear, while I go looking for a bathroom bush. For reasons of altitude, low humidity, stress, or whatever, I'm having some very odd bowel problems that are quite uncomfortable. Anyway, I go deal with it, and get back just before Cyndie does, and then go about cleaning up the mess that we made with Matias.

Forty minutes later, R&J came in, and we do a repeat for them what we did for Matias. Richard needs his medical kit to repair a blister, but eats while he doing this. He wants a coke and I give him one, but he wants another in his bottle, which I cannot do. We had not brought that many cokes up from the car. We explain about the car and the aid but don't want to go into detail about it. Hell, he has 100 miles to run and doesn't need to know about our issues. We're just the stinking crew after all. Richard is obviously having some problems with his shoes, so he changes into the other pair we had in his roving drop bag, and he tells us to toss the ones he removed. Cyndie is working January: feet, pack, water, food, et al. while I help Richard, and between us, we get them serviced and out in good time. We didn't know until they got up to leave that there was only one other person behind them. We're only at the first crew stop, but this trend will continue.

Again, we clean up all the mess after they leave. The goop from Richard's blister repair is nasty and adds rather nicely with the filthy baby-wipes, bits of jam, and everything else. I fold the tarp with all the mess on the inside, pack up all the rest, load it all up on our bodies and start our hike back to the car. We're the last of 2 cars in the lot. And now our next adventure begins, driving to another mountain lot somewhere up on another part of the mountain, following the directions I now have on the sheet of instructions in front of me. 6.3 miles back the way we came, then right and 2.7 miles to La Sal Loop Rd/Wilson Mesa Dr for another 4.7 miles. This would be aid#4, and just up the road from aid#8, which we'd have to hike into much later. The runner's still have to go through aid#3, which we're forbidden from, so we have a good bit of time to get there and sort our gear out. I had printed out a topo map of the area so I have a good idea of the lay of the land, which made no sense to me when we arrived, because the aid station is missing! We look around, find only cars, and a shit house.

I walk over to the road and find a man sitting in a lawn chair at the intersection. He says, the RD decided to combine aid#4 and aid#8, so they are now in fact the same aid at the same location, up the road a half-mile. No shit? Another flipping hike. I was expecting one for aid#8, but not for every damned aid station out here. So, we gather up our gear once again, and maybe just a bit more, but we cannot take everything. I badly regret not having ice cold drinks for these guys when they arrive. As well as the meat and jam, and other odd things that need refrigeration. Oh they'd be ok without all that stuff, but had I known, I would have made some other plans, a small ice chest, a bigger supply pack, and all that rot. Still, we have tons of time, so I take my hammock along too, and string it up as soon as we get there. We need to make some time for sleep or we'll get as punchy as the people we need to crew. I lay down for a bit, then give the hammock to Cyndie for some sleep too. Checking the tracker, I can see Matias as now an hour ahead of R&J, but they're all still hours out from us.

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Matias arrives with his eyes vacant, looking right through us, so we sit him down and offer up what we can. But, he wants nothing more than to be left alone. The medical person comes over, seeing his state, and starts asking questions, offering advice, basically gets between me and Matias, so I'm forced out of the way, until she leaves. I give him a cracker, tell him to eat it, but he doesn't want it. I tell him to eat it anyway. Nibble a corner! Here's some ice too. How about some Cheetos? We get him some broth. Basically, we run the array of options past his eyes and keep at it until he takes something and begins to eat. It's slow work and takes most of an hour before he's back amongst the living. R&J came in and we have to switch gears to help them. Richard's in great shape and positively bouncing, but January needs some coaxing. Midway through the servicing, Matias decides he's good but will wait for R&J. But it takes longer than he's willing to wait, so he takes on out, RUNNING down the road. Ten minutes later R&J are up and going too. And so we clean up the mess, take down the hammock, load up, and hike back to the car. 

It's late, the sun going down, and we're in a hurry to get to the next place while we can still see. Remember, we're still in the high Utah mountains, on dirt roads, and obscure routes, in places we've never been before. But it's no big deal really. 4.7 miles back the way we came, right onto La Sal Loop Rd and then another 6.4 miles to ... It doest say where. You see, up until yesterday, we were not to crew at aid#6 and aid #7, which are both at the exact same place. They had just added these in as crew accessible, and none of us had bothered to even look at the route, or what we we're looking for. I could only assume we'd know when we get there... and so we did. The aid is right on the road, but everything is marked for NO CREW PARKING, so we drive past it, up a road on the right, past twenty or more cars to the end of the road and park at the end loop. And oh what a surreal setting, looking down into Castle Valley, with the sun setting, and the bad light, and the desert colors, and pastel color tint in the air. I immediately pull the camera and start snapping pictures. The light is so bad, that I expect nothing, but its too cool looking not to keep on. 

When the light finally fades to nothing, I pull out the tarp and start sorting and cleaning what we have on the tarp. The runners will be many hours once again, passing through aid#5, which we cannot go, and then on to us here at aid#6. With headlights on, we haul what we need one more time another 0.3 miles down the dirt road, and then further past the aid on paved road to a spot which we claim on the edge of the paved road we had just driven down. Cyndie decides to get some sleep, so she goes back to the car, while I set up and get as comfortable as is possible, which is not all that damned comfortable. Its dark now, and Richard has been asking for pancakes for a while, so I figure its time to set up the stove and see how it goes. I am no cook, but maybe I can work this out. I search around and find a good sized flat rock for the stove and another for the pan. I start with boiling water for some hot cocoa, which goes rather well. I then try my luck with a quesadilla, tortilla and cheese, but the tortilla is too big for the pan, so its more mess than it is edible food. It's a backpackers stove, so it's not all that big a space, and the pot is small too. This time, I trim down a couple slices of bread, and with some cheese, make a round grilled cheese sandwich which turns out brilliantly. Ok, now for the pancakes. Richard bought a pancake mix that only needs water, but I also put some butter in the pan for grease and non-stick, and then pour it in. So, this would be a pancake that is three inches in diameter, and it looks good, but there is no way to dig it out to flip it. I fuss with it a bit, and it turns into a mucky mess, with some burnt edges and well, it just looks like hell. So I take the pot off the flame, sit it on the rock, and let it be.

Cyndie comes back down to see my masterpiece and asks for hot water for tea, so I boil her a bit of water, just to feel like I'm doing something functional. Soon after Matias arrives out of the dark, coming down the paved road, and done in. Complaining about his stomach, he says he doesn't want anything more than to just lie down, and so he does. Lying in the road, he says he's done. Later on, he asks me why I didn't try to talk him out of it. I think I was done in too, but I also figured he was trapped there with us for the time, and if he changed his mind, there'd be no problem simply going on, regardless when he decided to go, that is, up until the cutoff time. I talk Matias into trying the ugly pancake, and he promptly spits it out. Soon after, he goes up to the car to get some sleep. Now that we have Matias with us, Cyndie rearranges the gear so the back seat is empty for him.

R&J come in 40 minutes later, and some 40 minutes before the cutoff, and as willing as Richard is, it looks like January is not there in her body. Still, we service them, minus the pancake, but do make them some hot cocoa. They leave for the Miner's Loop 30 minutes under the cutoff, are gone for two hours and come back with an hour under the cut. January looks a lot better, and we all have high hopes they'd be able to keep on. Once more, we take care of them, but just before they leave, I tell Richard, they need to be at the next station, aid#8 by 6:30 am, sunrise, and it stops him cold. He disagrees for a moment, pulls out his own chart, sees it matches what I said, then lets out a big exhale. Well, damn, that's not much more than 3 hours to get over another mountain plus the miles! Yea, that's about right. He asks if he should put on his cold weather gear and I suggest he wait until he has to. Still a lot of sweating to do before you get to the cold summit. And so they go, spinning up another mountain trail, while we go about our business of crewing.

At this point, they've passed a few people, so there are now a few people behind them, but all that is irrelevant. All that matters now is they arrive at aid#8 before 6:30am, and it's not going to be easy. This may be the one that bites them, I tell Cyndie. If they can get past this one, I think they'll be good to go the distance, but this will be no easy task. We clean up, load up, and hike back to the car. Matias had brought the car up a bit, so it's not as far away as it had been, but at this point we're numb to the whole process of humping and hauling. I evict Matias from the front seat, so I can once again navigate while Cyndie drives. Matias goes into the back seat to sleep some more, while we drive out. It's way into the wee hours now, our body clocks trying to put us to sleep, our stomachs rumbling, and my bowels still not settled one damn bit. Already half blind, struggling to check the map, and watch the roadside signs I can't see. The directions from the crew map are unintelligible. This is what is written: Head southeast on FR4650 toward Forest Rd 0063 .1 miles, then Turn left onto Forest Rd 0063 .3 miles. I'm not too good at math, but I would suppose these two distances add up to 0.4 miles, and I know damn well that makes no sense. But we're simply going back to where we had just come from, so I should be able to reverse the directions... I hope. I try, but my mind is not connecting the dots. I think we need to drive about 6.4 miles to Forest Rd, which I thought was Warner Lake Rd, and I know what it looks like, but now that its dark, I worry I'll know when I see it, if I see it. So, we drive, and I can't see any damned think in the inky blackness. But I do recognize when I get to the big sweeping turns just before Geyser Pass Rd, so I get Cyndie to turn around. From Geyser Pass, its 2.7 miles back, so we set the car trip odometer, drive 2.7 miles, and turn up the correct road. Now, we just drive until we get there.

We park in about the same place as we did earlier, and Cyndie is done in. She needs some sleep. I grab my hammock and a few other things (including my pillow) and start hiking up the road, while Cyndie and Matias sleep. There is nobody out, no runners, signs, crews, and I begin to wonder if I'm going the right way, even if there is no other way to go. Of course, it is the right way, and I arrive at a very silent aid station, and sling my hammock directly across the road from it, on exactly the same trees I had slung it earlier, such that I can lie in it and see into the aid station as well as up the road the runners approach from. I have a lot more clothes on now, with the temperature dropping into the early morning cold at high altitude, it's a tad bit nippy. Hammock up, I tuck in the pillow in just the right place, and climb in. A few moments later, I'm asleep. I wake now and again, as each runner comes in and the aid volunteers make some noise. At one point, I ask about the tracking device, and they tell me they've mislaid it. The last shift must have taken the scanner with them when they left, so they have no means to scan and thus track anyone. In this case, if I go to sleep and miss them, I'll never know until hours later, when they reach aid#9. Messes with my head, but what choice do I have. I get a few minutes sleep here and there that doesn't really add up to much, and when I see the time at 5:30am, I walk back down the road to fetch the rest of the gear. I wake Cyndie, sort and load the gear, cooking stuff too, and head back up the road. I'm setting up the stove when Cyndie arrives. Together, we make ready for R&J with the idea in our minds, that if they do make, it will have to be a quick in and out. Water's boiling, Richard's gels are laid out, January's pack is handy, the chairs are waiting, and we can do no more.

We are still waiting as the sun rises and the clock rolls through 6:30am. It is done, they are done, but they are not here yet. I take down and put away the hammock, and everything they might need to keep running, but leave the hot water on, thinking they might want some hot cocoa still. And so they do come in about 12 minutes after cut. They walk down the road together, come over to us and sit down.They remove their bibs and hand them to the aid volunteer, and relax into their chairs. Matias had come up the road too, from the car, so we're all there together again. Matias runs down to the car one more time to bring it up, so we don't have to hike down that damned road one more time. Initially, I drive, and I do slowly get us off the mountain, without missing a turn, or driving off a cliff, but I had my doubts. We get back onto 191, and about to Hole in the Rock before I must pull over and allow somebody else to drive the rest of the way in. I simply can't keep my eyes open and I'm terrified I've made it this far and will kill us all within a few short easy paved road miles before bed. I couldn't even tell you who drove the rest of the way. I didn't go to sleep, but I was not awake either. More of a ghost floating somewhere between the physical and spiritual planes

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2018: Colorado Bend 30k

Bombeam- the matriarch of the Sederholm clan, and my kids grandmother had passed away 2 weeks ago, and the funeral ceremonies were today, starting at 2pm, and then continued afterwards with a family gathering at her home. Joyce also knew I had registered for and had planned to ride with Adam and Fumi to the Colorado Bend race later tonight. With everything that was going on, I wasn't sure if I'd have the time to make the two hour drive for the 7:30pm start, or if circumstances would arrange such that it even made sense for me to leave. So, I left my bag of gear in the backseat of my truck, and made myself available to the family. As things evolved, I drove Lar and Shawn home, and then on to our house, when Joyce tells me I should go. Soon after, I call Adam and Fumi, who just happen to be driving nearby, on their way up the highway, and they decide to circle around to pick me up. And so, 15 minutes later, I'm in their back seat, heading up the highway. Fumi always brings a container of rice balls, wrapped in seaweed saturated with salt. Hearing my stomach rumble, I realize I had not eaten anything today, so I quickly eat two.

Two hours later, I'm at the back side of the pack, doing my typical walk/run beginning race shuffle. Jimmy runs with me along the river trail, and then we start up the skinny single-track Spicewood Canyon Trail, and he goes ahead. With no place to pass, everybody's tucked in real tight, and because we're going up, the conversation is light. It just so happens with the angle and the direction of the climb, that we find ourselves looking directly into the setting sun. Tripping and bumbling about becomes the norm, with the bright light in our eyes, and I can feel somebody right up against my back. I turn and say, beep if you want by. I can move over. They beep, I move over, and Amanda pinches my side as she squeezes by.

The trail meanders about, up & down a few dips and dives, with an overabundance of rocks, the dominant feature of this race. The trail squeezes between trees growing from the same root, and wanders like a drunken fire ant, but we're locked in together like sardines in a tin, right up to and into the Lemon Ridge aid station. My effort up to now is hard to define, being captured in place, I did as much walking as running, so I simply shifted between walk and run, as did the guy in front of me, and the one in front of him, and so on. All in all, it worked out to suit my race-start temperament to a T. When I arrived at the 3 mile aid, I was surprised to find my water bottle empty, which is rare for me.

Although we're now on top of the mesa, and the terrain much flatter, it does still roll, and the rocks are even more treacherous than they were. Some stop, as I do for refills and ice, while others skip directly on through, with the result of shattering the conga line into sets of 2 and 3. The breakout reorganizes into pecking orders based on each packs skill and ability. Some let fly and quickly fade ahead, others walk more than they run, and many like me, continue with a running/walking sequence based on each our own inner motivations. I begin to run faster, and hold pace for a few miles, crossing the road, and then begin to slip into uphill walks, but fly over the rugged landscape, enjoying the rock dancing and the play of the game. Mostly alone, I slide in behind a woman for a bit, until she stops to walk, and then another, and another. The conga line is gone. All restrictions to speed or rhythm erased, so now its all on me, and I need to be careful.

The sun has been slowly slipping lower, dimming the light by fractions, but I'm good in bad light. For 95 degrees, you'd think it was unbearable, but the slight now-and-again breeze takes enough of the edge off, that it oddly enough seems comfortable. Normally, all black is not wise during the Texas summer, but with most of the race being run in the dark, it seems to suit just fine, so I run in stealth mode black shirt and shorts, without a light, and the sun sinking fast. I usually keep the light in my hand to help navigate the rugged terrain, but when I make the turn onto a docile grassy jeep track, I place it on my head. Unfortunately, the soft and docile road quickly shifts to an angry hateful bitch just as the last few lumens of light dissipate, and I catch an edge and fly shoulder first into the rocks. I lie there for a few moments, evaluating all the body parts, sensing pain, and where. I move my arms and legs first, before siting up, collecting my headlamp, water bottle, and then standing just as two runner's go by. You ok, one asks? No, I say, and they keep going. I try to check and feel for anything that might be messed up, can't find any visible damage, but my right shoulder stings a bit. Funny thing is, it hurt before I started, so I don't think much of it. I start walking, and soon slip into the Windmill aid station.

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They top off my bottle with ice, I fill it with water, drain it, then refill again. I use some water to wash my dirty face and hands, take a slice of watermelon, and walk out. More rocks, twists, and one hell of a lot of low hanging branches that tug at my hair and poke my shoulders. This whole route is a tunnel of stabbing mesquite, cactus, and rock, making for an awful lot of ways to hurt. I've lost my mojo since I busted my ass, and although I can get running now and again, I can't seem to sustain it for long. A few pass me, and I pass them back. The long rugged downhill to Gorman Falls might have been more fun, but I get stuck behind a couple of guys who are moving well enough. I know I'd be going a lot faster alone, but I leave it be and slip into a cautions pace for now. I'm tripping a lot now but suspect it's more from the slower pace than anything else, but still, I stay tucked in behind. When we reach the road, there's a water cooler sitting on a milk crate, which confuses the lot of us. I'm pretty sure the aid is just down a bit further by the house, but it would be one hell of a bad mistake to miss water now with another 5 miles to the next one. The lead guy hesitates for just a moment and then turns down the road, but the guy in front of me goes to the water cooler to get water if there is any. While he's fussing with it, I simply stand there and watch for a moment, then wake up, turn, and head down the road.

A well supplied aid does indeed exist, complete with ice, water, food, and a couple of friendly volunteers to assist. I top the ice, then water, take another watermelon slice, and walk out. And now I find myself alone in front, walking up Old Gorman Falls Rd. It's all up, and I make no attempt to run, but do focus on a fast forced hike. I check behind me now and again to see of the others follow, but see no lights. I catch a young couple, pass them, and keep on going. In time, I reach the flat area on top, part of the Cedar Chop Loop, and stop to finish eating the melon. I'm putting away the remains when the couple and another guy catch and pass me. I pull in behind the guy, and together we pass the couple. After a bit, we talk a bit, and I get his name (Josh), and so we keep on together, sort of. I'm much stronger on the downhills, and pull ahead on the downs, but Josh is stronger and much more consistent all around, so he ends up pulling ahead everywhere but the downs. So, when we turn down the Dogleg Canyon Trail, I slowly slip ahead, and keep on gaining distance until I reach the River Trail. At this point, I slow down and Josh closes on me and passes well before I reach the last climb up Lemon Ridge Pass Trail.

About midway up to the final aid, somehow the plug gets pulled, and the energy quickly fades to cramps. Both calfs knot up and scream for relief, of which I have none. I'm carrying no fuel of any sort, but for a bottle of lukewarm water. And so I walk, but attempt to push the walk as best I can. I'm surprised that no more than one woman passes me, and that happens just as we come into the Lemon Ridge aid station. In bad need of some repair, I guzzle two full cups of cold coke, eat a pickle, reload the bottle with ice and water, and walk out. Wanting desperately to just sit and do nothing for a while, I know the only remedy is to find the finish.

With high hopes of getting my mojo going again for the final 3 miles down the Spicewood Canyon Trail, I'm disappointed to realize I still have cramping issues, so I simply push the walking pace. I can't seem to run, but doesn't mean I need to screw around either. I get passed by 3 individuals who can still run, but hold on as well as I can to make the rounds down to the Colorado River reasonably well. I cross paths with a half dozen 60k runners heading back out for their second loop. For some reason, the thought of them doing another loop, makes me feel so much better knowing I don't have to. Even this can't kill the cramps though, which in the end is irrelevant. I drop down to the river trail in good time and power walk the last half mile into the finish, where I find it difficult to stand up while a volunteer attempts to remove my timing chip.

2018: Ouray 100 mile - crew

  The Perimeter Trail - on the way to Chief Ouray Mine

The Perimeter Trail - on the way to Chief Ouray Mine

I knew of the Ouray 100, but the buzz was disturbing. I coached a friend for the 2015 race, so I studied up on it as best I could back then. The course that year was using the Shattered Windshield concept, which did a variety of different out-n-backs from numerous points, which I thought might be quite difficult to mark and manage effectively.

Fast forward a few years, and now it's Jake Richter who's asking me to coach and crew him for the race. Jake's aware of the problems, but he know's Charles (the RD), and really like's Ouray, so he plans to take his family on vacation there. With all that said and understood, we create a training plan heavy on hills, which is not easy with Jake living in Ft Worth TX. Through a variety of ways and means, Jake does manage to get himself in great shape prior to meeting me in Ouray a few days before the race.

I've crewed and run this sort of race more than a few times, so I have a pretty good idea what is about to happen, but no idea how Jake will respond. I do know Jake well enough to think he will manage just fine, but weather and altitude will take its toll and then we'll see what change he has left. I have quite a bit of my own running gear and a few bits of things to eat and drink, as well as camping gear, but will soon learn that Jake doesn't ask for or need much of anything he doesn't already have. He's self-contained, self-motivated, and self-less, so maybe I'm just going to sit and watch.

The 100mi starts on a crisp and clear Friday morning at 8:00 am at Fellin Park in Ouray, known locally as the hot springs pool and park. My hotel room is a short hike along the Uncompahgre River trail from the start, so Jake had stayed the night before, for a quick and easy stroll from room to start. This gives his wife the opportunity to sleep in at their RV some 30 minutes up Hwy-550 in Ridgeway, and me a short walk back to bed after he and the others take out. They cross the Uncompahgre on a pedestrian bridge, south on unpaved Oak St, left at Queen, then Pinecrest where they reach Ouray's Perimeter Trail. There's a neat little tunnel that exits onto a see-through bridge 50ft over a narrow slot in which the river roars through. It's a nice little wake-you-up for all the mountains will offer in the next few days.

I am more than likely asleep before Jake reaches Camp Bird Rd, where he will spend a good bit of time. Having divided the race up from aid station to aid station, and showing the profile in elevation change as it moves from one point to the next, displayed in the runner's race info, looks like a box of crayons. So, it begins with a steady climb, albeit on a well travelled jeep road from Fellin Park to Camp Bird Mine. I can't stay in bed long, my curiosity slaying the sleep in me, so I get up to check his progress on the website with the Spot tracking devices. He's doing ok, but this is going to take awhile. Before the race started, Rene Villalobos told me that for the first 50 or more, not to expect to go faster than 25 miles per 10 hours. This seems excessive, until you think about the 52 hour cutoff time, which would translate to finishing 12 hours under the time allowed, in 40 hours.

The first crew access point isn't until Ironton at mile 27, so I have a good chunk of day to work through before I need to drive 9 miles south on Hwy-550. From Camp Bird aid at 5.5 miles, they continue up into Silver Basin, then back again to Camp Bird for another 6 miles. Camp Bird is at a road split, and having done the right fork, they now take the left fork for another 2 miles to Richmond Basin aid. This is the kickoff point for the next part of the Shattered Windshield pattern that defines this course. First they go right up towards Chicago Peak, but only as far as the Chicago Tunnel, then back down only as far as to take the other split up towards Imogene Pass, off the jeep road and up to the summit, only to turn around and return back to Richmond aid for about 8 miles of mountain climbing and descending.

At this point, it's a strait shot from Richmond to Ironton, and only 6 miles, but it's just another long slow up and an even longer down. Of course, I could not and would not remain in town to sit and watch the spot tracker blips that would move only occasionally from the moment when it actually located and posted a new position. In such a fashion, you would see blips disappear only to appear many miles up the trail. It looks like he would sit and wait, and then sprint ahead of a dozen others, only to have each of them do the same. Instead, I drive to the grocery to buy me what I might need for a few days, put a few thing on ice in the cooler, and some dry goods in the cab. Then I make the short drive to Ironton, and as slow as I am to get there, I'm still there before the aid station volunteers, or the aid station, and nothing but jeeps and dirt bikes tearing up the lot. No matter where I park, I'm in the way, so I leave, drive down to Crystal Lake to make sure I knew where that is, and to get a few pics. Still in no hurry, I drive back up to Ironton in the rain.

A woman is there with everybody's drop bags and needing to leave soon. Still no aid station or anyone else to hand off to, so she asks me if I'd watch the bags. Sure, I' do it, so I help her unload all the bags in the rain, and then she leaves. I take the time, having nothing else to do, to sort all the bags in numerical order, and then spot the aid station around the corner in another lot. I go over to tell them about the bags, but they're busy and don't have time for the bags right then, and I'm going to just leave it, but again, with nothing else to do, start hauling all the bags to their new home, where once again I make sure they're in order, albeit sitting out in the pouring rain. Some of these were most certainly not waterproof and I hope it doesn't ruin anyone's race.

And I still have plenty of time. It's hours before the first runner comes through, and the rest come through separated by big chunks of time. From here the runners have an 8 mile loop over and around Red Mountain No.1 on Corkscrew Rd through Corkscrew Gulch and most of that on jeep road. And so the runners come in and go out, all to be sucked into the Corkscrew vortex. Thing is, they have to run this damn loop twice, ccw and cw, so they'll pass through the Ironton aid 3 times, and so I decide to pull up and help at the aid station while waiting. It starts raining and keeps right on raining, and tosses some hail at us as well. It's a good thing the aid was moved here, as the other lot is a mud pit, and this place drains rather well. Good call moving here, as spontaneous as the decision was. The entire aid is one big family and they've got everything covered, so I become the drop bag shagger by default.

Rene comes in first, followed soon after by Jake, telling me he had puked not long ago. All things considered, neither one of them looks too bad for the abuse they'd suffered through, the rain, hail, miles, and altitude. Jake doesn't need or want much besides cleaning his feet and changing his Injinji socks. I top his water bottles and meet his pacer, Dos, who has just showed up. Jake heads out while Dos and I create a plan. Once Jake gets back here again and we get him taken care of, Dos will drive into town and get some sleep. I'll wait for Jake to make his second round, then head in as well, to get some sleep. Then we'll drive together to Crystal Lake in the morning for Dos to begin pacing, while I will once again drive back to Fellin Park and wait. Jake takes just over 3 hours and we set him up by my truck to redo his feet again and eat a few quesadillas. He actually wants one of my ice cold Sprites from the cooler, and maybe I've managed to justify being here. It seems I'm the only means for him to get a cold drink, and somebody to handle his disgusting socks. I toss the abused socks into my truck bed where they begin to accumulate fungus.

Jake heads out for loop two, Dos is off to find a bed, and I go back to shagging drop bags, until just after midnight, when Jake comes back in. It's gotten quiet, the rain has stoped, and most all the runners have gone on or dropped out. A few more quesadillas and Sprites, plus the personal foot wash and sock change and off he goes, back over the mountain to Richmond, where we've had a few reports of running out of water and food. Jake and a few others are nervous about the water problem there and looking to get over and past it to Weehawken.

The return trip skips all the Shattered Windshield out-n-backs this time, and heads more directly to Richmond aid and beyond. Camp Bird station has picked up and moved down to Weehawken, so 6 miles to Richmond and another 4.2 to Weehawken. Once here, the runners turn left and head strait up the mountain to the Alpine Overlook and then back down again for another 5 miles. So this is how it goes, all these seemingly little out-n-backs to summits here and there to add distance and altitude over and over, until the runner is smashed to a useless fraction of what he was before.

From Weehawken, its more of Camp Bird Rd and then up Hayden Rd to Hayden Mountain and then Hayden Trail over the pass and down into Crystal Lake. When Jake left Ironton, he was dizzy from the multiple Corkscrew loops, so I had loads of time to get to my bed for some sleep. As it is though, I got to bed by 2:30am, and wake at 7:00am, with time to get some hotel breakfast. Dos and I get to Crystal Lake by 9:30am, with hours it seems to wait. There had only been 10 people through and Jake was far from the front end of this pack. We had barely made ourselves comfortable when the skies once again open up and pour. Retreating to the truck, we make ourselves lunch and watch from the cab. The rain turns to hail, and just keeps on coming, and figure Jake for plenty more of the same treatment up on top.

The aid volunteers are a bit confused about the cutoff, and are preparing to shut down at 11:15am when the actual cutoff isn't until 3pm. I talk to them about it, and not sure they're buying anything I'm selling, but, they do remain open. The lake is unbelievably beautiful and I take a few of those perfect mountain landscape shots with the mountains reflected in the water, until some ten year old girl starts tossing rocks into the water, rippling the reflection into oblivion. I put the camera away right about then.

  Crystal Lake before the little girl chased the clouds away.

Crystal Lake before the little girl chased the clouds away.

Some time after noon, Jake walks in through the rain, and with the aid station being small and full, we sit him up out in the rain. Won't make much of a difference at this point. He asks for more cold Sprites, so I run off to fetch them, while he once again cleans and changes socks. A bit to eat, refill the water bottles and gone. Before he goes, he tells me about Rene. Said he had fallen and cut his face pretty bad, blood, and black eyes, so Rene's moving much slower now. I want to wait for Rene, but I need to get back too, so I get on the road. There's a long wait at the one way light, where all the drainage of rain off the rocky mountain sides is pouring debris onto the paved road. It's a 30 minute wait before we can go, but as long as I can go, I'm fine. Hate to think I could be stuck here for many hours when the bigger rocks come down. Back to Fellin park eventually, I begin to wait again. Still plenty of daylight left of the day, but 8.6 miles of mountain trails tend to take awhile. I brought a hammock and was going to set up between the two big trees by the gazebo, but it appears that someone has set up their lawn chairs and waiting area right where the only place exists I could hang the hammock. Oh well, sometimes it rolls like that, so I think about my lawn chair, and realize Jake may have taken it into the aid station at Crystal Lake, because I no longer have it. I find a spot up in the gazebo aid station and immerse myself in conversation with whoever will listen.

Dos rolls up on us and we ask where Jake's at, and he simply points at the bathrooms. So, he's now through 75 miles, but getting close to the cutoffs, losing another half hour at each aid station. Jake says the socks he now has were a mistake. They keep sliding up under his feet, so we go through all 3 of the drop-bags that he now has here. No socks in any of them, so he sends me off to my truck bed to fetch the fungus-ed ones he took off last night. My truck is at the far end of the lot in Jakes' secret parking space that's always available. I run over, root out the black socks, run back, happy to please, and Jake say's it's the wrong ones. What do you mean, wrong? The blue ones he says. No shit? So I run back over again, find the blue ones, run back, and he seems pleased, and quickly puts them on, re-laces the shoes, and heads out.

This next section is only 6 miles, but it includes another out-n-back up to the summit of Sister Peak. Not sure if Dos is up for this kind of total distance,  so I pull him out and send Jake out solo. Figure to let Dos come back in at Silvershield aid after a break. We drive over to Silvershield and park as we watch the sun go down and the time run away, and I begin to realize I should have left Dos stay with Jake. The father & son working this aid station are two of the most pleasant people I'd met today. Cheerful to all and in the face of some angry runners who were just now realizing they are done. This section is much more difficult than any of us had anticipated. Jake's way late, and we're beginning to worry. A runner comes in with his knee ripped open. Says there's lightning on top and slippery as snot on the climb and descent. Another runner comes in with the same story, and another. I send Dos up the trail to see if he can find Jake, and two runner's drop to catch a ride out, just as Jake comes in. He's not very happy with any of it, the time, his condition, the course, none of it. He takes the time to clean his feet again, a quesadilla and a Sprite, and out he goes with Dos. 

I drive back to Fellin Park to wait, and find the aid station abandoned. All the fixens, food, and drinks are here, but not a soul to administer to it. So, I start cooking quesadillas, cleaning up the table, and looking to see what else can be served up. Jake and Dos make good time, being just 4 miles and avoiding Sister Peak on the return, so they come in quick, get served up, feet fixed, another Sprite, and off they go, with not much time to spare. With roughly 17 miles to get, Jake's on the edge of cutoffs now, with precious little time to spare. He's also been on his feet for 2 days and 2 nights, nonstop mountains, with rain and hail, and how much more does he have in the tank. Most people have reduced to a crawl if they are sill going, so I'm beginning to wonder about his chances of finishing. I'm working with him right through to the final out, and acting as if anything is possible, but damn... can he do it?

He's on the 6.7 mile Chief Ouray Mine out-n-back now, and a lot of this trail is docile, but for the switchbacks up and over to the mine at the end. I hike down the river trail to the hotel room, to get Dos's shirt, to check the computer, and something else I can't remember any more. I send a text to Jake's wife, telling her the down-low, the time, and the potential, what he needs to do, and what he most likely will do. I tell her I'll let her know when he's near the finish after the next section, and then I hike back to Fellin Park. The clock hands are spinning much faster now, and Jake appears to be very slow moving on the spot tracker. After an hour and then another rolls past, I tell Brienn (Jake's wife), his chances are getting real thin. It looks like he's gonna miss the cut for the last section, won't even get on it. Brienn begins to question if I might have missed him, and he's already on the last section. I tell her its possible, just not likely. And then 6:00 am rolls by and he's done. But I've been talking to the RD and he seems to not care if people miss a cutoff, as long as they look good. It's not how I would do it, but he seems ambivalent about it, and I think Jake knows this too. 

I get tired of waiting at the park, so I walk up to the road to wait for him to come off the mountain. When he does, I ask if he knows about the cutoff, and he says, I'm going to talk to the RD... end of conversation. He marches in to the aid, finds the RD, and then walks right back out, and starts for the next section. I'm still in, he says. It's 7:05, more than an hour past the cutoff. I take his water bottles and do as I've been doing the last 2 days, I run to the truck and fill them. I then make 2 fast peanut butter sandwiches and hand them to him as he runs past me. Holly shit! This next section is a beast of 10.6 miles and most expect to do it in 6 hours, but he has less than 5. It's a pace he has not done once in the last 2 days, and highly difficult to manage after 90 miles and 2 days. Dos is only with him until he gets his food and water situated and then he comes back down the mountain minutes later. I have no time left, he says. I need to get home and a long drive. I feel bad, but I have to go. 

I text Brienn and tell her the state of things, and she bolts for her car. She is on her way and wants to be here when he comes back in. He will now most certainly finish the 100 miles, and that's a grand thing to do, but there's not much chance of getting back by noon to beat the 52 hour cutoff. No more aid, support, crew, pacer, or time. He simply has to get up a 5 mile mountain climb to the Bridge of Heaven and then back down again another 5 miles to the finish by noon. Brienn arrives with her 2 boys, and sets up her chair near the finish, while I bounce around. I can't possible set down, even though this will still take hours. I walk back to my room again, so I can get a better feed on the Spot Tracker, and watch with amazement as he moves quickly UP the mountain. I didn't honestly think he had a chance, but I can tell now that he's RUNNING UP the mountain. I can see him tag the summit, then start RUNNING DOWN the mountain. Thats when I quickly head back over to Fellin Park. No flippin way can he do this, but I hope! The RD is starting to gather up his notes for the awards ceremony, when Brienn spots Jake weaving between the cars in the parking lot. It's only 1 minute before noon when we see him, and now everybody's yelling. He bobs left, then right, he gets waved through a hole in the fence, across a railroad tie. If he falls now he won't have time to get up. He's stumbling, raw emotion on his face, the medical guy runs out and directs him to the exact spot he needs to be, where he stumbles between the cones and hits the ground just past the finish, with a second or two to spare. Pure pandemonium ensues

                        A Shattered Windshield course

                      A Shattered Windshield course

2018 Capt'n Karl's Muleshoe Bend 30k

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Not that there is much can be done about it, my preference for going out slow is beginning to slap me in the face. It simply takes my body 30 to 60 minutes to work out all the tightness, to get loose enough to stretch my legs and actually run. Thing is, the lot of us are packed into a single-track sardine tin with no room to do anything more than the person immediately in front. And that person is in the same situation as is the person in front of her, and so on and so on. I might be a bit more comfortable with it if they'd run the downs, but hell no, they gingerly walk the downs, and partially spin the ups. I simply have to get out of my head or I'll be doing like some of the other poor impatient souls and sprinting through the scrub alongside, tearing my clothes and skin on the lethal juniper branches. So, I start talking... to anyone who will listen. The woman in front ignores me, even though she knows I'm talking to her, she acts like she doesn't know. But four people up, somebody responds, not that I can hear every other word, but I make out it's Shelly, who I had coached a few years ago for Leadville 100mi. What I want, is to get out of my mind, and struggling to construct a complete sentence out of every other word from Shelly, it works perfectly to suffocate the internalizing whiny bitch in my head.

The merry-go-round course twists and turns, up and down, and round and round, in a pleasant sort of way, entertaining in its unpredictability. Starting late in the day, but close enough to night, I have my headlamp wrapped around my wrist, and a water bottle loaded with Tailwind in hand. Almost everybody else already has their headlamp on their noggin, but I generate a lot of heat and sweat from my head, and don't need the extra add-on. I finally get past the woman immediately in front of me, and soon after see others stepping trail side to escape the pace that for them, may be too quick, or maybe they just want out of the pace-line. Don't know, don't care, but glad to see some room begin to open up. Now I need to be careful, with room to run, I don't do too much. I no longer have the speed I used to, but I so much enjoy a bit of technical trail, and I find myself dancing around Shelly and a few others when they slow on some short bit of rocky descent. Since I slid past the speed regulator, my cadence has been increasing bit by bit. I feel good so far, but I'm trying to process what is too much when I go to pass another, but back off instead. It would have been no different from just up-clicking cruise control for another 3mph , but instead I drop down and tuck in behind. He's moving well, constant, steady, and I think I'm pleased with myself for successfully reigning in. Now, if I can just stay here?

Well, of course I can't help but chat Nick up, but as you would suspect, he rises like a leprechaun on the next climb, while I walk, albeit one with some purpose to it. Still, he's quickly gone. This course has more than a few inside-out loops, in which we run right alongside the trail we just turned off, to run next to it in reverse for some distance, and then reverse again. The one we're on now is the double or triple inside-out loop, where I can see lights flickering all about, and have no idea if they're in front or behind. This section of trail is more bushwhack, slipping up and sliding down over rock ledges, around trees, and it's hard to make out the direction in the fading light. Thankfully, I can read trail by brail, and with my bat-vision sonar engaged, I ride this lovely playground with a wide grin and some amount of joy. I also catch Ashley, that is until we turn back and the trail opens up into an easy ride and she drops me quickly. At the end of it, the trail once again gets rocky as we climb out of the hole we've been playing in, only to arrive on the other side of a trail block from where we fell in. Minutes later, we arrive at the second aid station. I'd skipped the first one, with a full water bottle and no reason to do otherwise, but now I need a top-off and some ice.

With the 10k starting 30 minutes behind us and a four mile shortcut, they now merge with us at this aid. I'm in a particularly froggy mood now, wanting to run, and needing to dodge, but it's really not much of a big deal. Every person hears me coming, knowing I'm moving faster than they are, and steps off trail to let me by without so much as a hiccup. I might have even preferred more of the slow-me-down, but the timing of the 10k/30k merger seems to be a smooth one. Me and those around me, who have been changing places with one another for the entire first loop if nothing else, are slowing down the 10k runners, but it's hard to say.

The last little loop-ti-do is not much more than a landmark to let me know I'm almost done with the first loop. It also reminds me how much of the insidious little pencil cactus there is alongside the trail. I know what they are and make certain to dodge every overhang, but I wonder how many of the others are caught unaware. Soon after, I'm back at the start/finish/turnaround in solid time. I sit and take a moment for a beer while Jeannie helps me with a Tailwind and water refill. I also change my shirt and would like to change shorts too, but there is nowhere convenient to make this wardrobe change, so I don't.

Off again to begin loop two without the limiting pace-line of runners, I might be going a bit too fast. I pass a guy standing mid-trail, then another walking, and for some damn reason, it only makes me go faster, like a thief, stealing what precious little energy they have and using it myself. Another couple of guys slide behind and I realize one is Nick, and he asks me what's got me powered up. I tell him it's beer, an ice cold beer that has cooled and refreshed me, and I should have brought one along. And so I continue, and I think that Nick has tagged along, but it's the other guy instead. Rick from Houston chats me up and we get into a discussion about race directing and the philosophies used to run a small business or a family being much the same. And so we talk for another mile or more before he goes ahead on the same climb that Nick dropped me on the last loop.

This is where I hook up with Ashley at about the same place I hooked with her on the last loop. We do all the inside-outs and by the time we escape, we're best of friends. I was explaining to her how of late, I've been spending the night alone in the woods with strange women and never even getting their names. It's about now when I realize my clothes are soaked through and starting an irritating rash in a most vulnerable location. So much so, that I'm finding it difficult to run or walk without the burn, like dragging a wet rope across my groin. It's about here I catch and entertain Cyndie, January, and Richard for a few, but moving faster than they, I run just a little and then start fast walking again to go ahead.

I ask for Vaseline but get Trail Ties at the second aid for some rash relief. And with my fingers now polluted, I ask the volunteers if they'd mind handing me some watermelon instead of dipping my own disgusting fingers into the tray. I also top off my water bottle with ice and get a cold-water spray on my hands and face. What royal treatment for a peon, and I'm both thankful and relieved. But, the relief is short lived, the rash fix doesn't last and once again, I'm walking cowboy funny. We're just about to the final pencil cactus loop-ti-do when Shelly and friend catch us and Ashley says she needs to run it in, that I find myself alone once again. It's just as well, with the irritation making me less than good company at this point. With all three ladies moving ahead, their lights disappearing in strobe flashes between the trees, I continue to walk, and walk poorly. With less than a half-mile to go, more and more lights begin to appear all about, some 60k runners starting another loop, some 30k runners pushing to get done, crews waiting near the finish, and the general chaos that always surrounds any finish area. From almost total darkness, firefly lights are now flitting all over the place, welcoming me to the finish

2018: Capt'n Karl's Pedernales Falls 30km Night Time Trail Race

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Hot Damn, but it's hot! 97 degrees at 7:30pm start time. Got maybe 90 minutes of daylight left, but a hell of lot more heat yet to come. Don't want to think about the humidity, but it's way the hell up there too. Even with the sun low and in my eyes, I didn't want the ball cap. The visor would have been nice, but only for an hour. I figured on the bandana instead, partly to soak up all the sweat, and partly as a headlight pad for my noggin. Didn't want to deal with a hydration pack laying against back either, so a single water bottle is the entire list of all my gear. I have enough weight already without adding more. What I need is a radiator to suck the heat off my body, and I damn sure don't need anything else on my body to generate more.

Besides minimizing the gear, I also have a slow motion agenda so as to minimize the amount of heat I generate from within. Won't be doing much more than an easy glide until the sun goes down, and then I suspect I won't be going much faster even after. I'm thinking about a finish without badly overheating, and not much else. Walk the ups, run the downs, and take what I can muster when the trail is horizontal. 

I leave out from the start near the back of the pack and hit a bottleneck rather quickly. The next quarter mile is all military grade start and stop drills, then slips into whatever speed I wish at the out and back. Down a short bit, back up the same way and then around and onto the back fence line. The sun's in my eyes so bad, I can hardly see, and have to use my hand to block the sun a few times, but then we turn left and it's all fine from here.

I can hear the headquarters area when we finish the start loop, and soon after the 10km runners start busting through us. Some of it's ok, but when a pace-line of five or ten go by, it gets a bit old, waiting for them to pass. I feel as if I should just plow back onto the trail and force them to go around, but that would be harsh too, as there's no place to go around. What would have done it better for me, and the others as well, is another fifteen minutes or more. I suspect our 30km fast guys did the same damn thing to the slower 60km runners.

At some point just out from the first aid station, all of us merge together much better, such that we're all running about the same pace, and there is much less conflict. The first aid station is at 4.5mi and I'm under an hour, but just barely. There's a dozen or more runners buzzing around the tables, filling water, eating a bit, chilling.

Must be three quarters of a mile roughly to where we finally lose the 10km runners. Might have been much nicer to give each race an hour gap instead of the 30 minutes we had, but thats just the race director in me thinking. Soon after the 10km spin off, we get to the beginning of the big balloon loop, where Axel stands guard to make sure we all go to the right. 

This section of trail takes advantage of the Juniper Trail, which I like quite a bit. Even though there's not much elevation gain or loss, this trail rides right on the rocky edge of every arroyo in the area. Rock hopping from one to the next, dodging trees, and endlessly turning. The sun goes down, as the humidity ramps up, but the heat just keeps right on burning. The wind does reach into the trees a good bit and wash over us like a caressing hand, but it still isn't enough to keep me from getting soaking wet from my own sweat.

I hook up with Penny and Amy along here, tuck in behind, and listen to their girl talk for a few miles. Penny's rolling along really well, Amy hangs on, and I eventually let go, but not until after the unmanned second aid at 8.4mi in 1:53. There's another dozen people buzzing around when we arrive, but I can't figure out exactly why. The coolers are low to empty and one guys is filling a cooler with a large water jug he's pulled in from the back side. I get what I want and escape ahead of the crowd. Time for a gel, which costs less than a few seconds. Soon after, Penny and friend are gone.

I roll up on Don along here and slow to walk with him for a bit, while the pack I left behind now washes over us. We have good company for a bit, but then I go bye and start up the climb to the park road. I catch Rich up near the road, and figure to visit with Rich too, but he doesn't seem to be in much of a mood to talk, so I stay mum and walk just ahead for a bit. Slowly, I begin to pull ahead walking, and then catch up to Amy. Looks like Penny has tossed her as well, and good for Penny, to keep rolling. 

The next aid at 11.7mi in 2:50 is the corral in full hum, with dozens of people all about. I get a drink of coke, refill my water, and scarf a few orange slices, before rolling back out, with Amy in tow. Down the hill and back onto Juniper Trail, heading back home, we pick up Roni. The three of us roll along walking more than running, but a fast walk more or less, until we come up on another dozen people standing around a down runner. And there's Penny again, taking care of a young man with heat issues. They have more than enough people wrapped around the laid out runner, and one more will just be in the way, so I skim on bye, but Amy stops to reconnect with Penny. Roni stays on with me, and we keep on going, and although it's difficult to run, I try to keep pushing my forced walk. Eventually, Roni falls off as well, but she's in the 60km and I'm in the 30km, so she's being as careful as me in her own way.

And so I continue for the duration on my own, with s few passing by, and me passing a few as well. I pass sets of runners on the trail side, and a few lying on the ground, each trying to deal with the heat, and some not doing very well at all. I stay on track, keep going, and eventually get back to the same aid I was out just after the balloon loop at 17.2mi in 4:00. I get some ice cold water and keep marching, but I'm now stumbling about, tripping a bit, and wondering how much more of the heat I can stand. No way could I have done the 60km today. So glad I'm only in the 30km and starting to feel really bad for all the guys doing two loops. But damn. As wet as I am, I'd be big time dealing with underarm and crotch rash real soon, so its good I only have another 2 miles to go.

The last two miles are so slow, knowing I'm close, wanting to run, and suddenly realizing a big part of this last bit is mostly uphill. I do drag my ass in and not soon enough for me at 18.4mi in 4:39. I cross the timing mat and go sit down on my cooler. Fumi walks over to let me know the real timing mat is further up and I haven't crossed it yet, so I get up and walk a bit further to find the real finish at the second timing mat. What the hell was that all about? NO matter. I am done, and add another few minutes for stupidity.

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2018: Jemez 50km

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Its a skinny little trail where we stack up like lemmings on the other side of the horse stables. Fine dirt powder rises from the dusty trail, stirred up by a couple hundred sets of feet. No room to pass, or even step aside, so we each and all, go at the pace of the person immediately in front of us, which is mostly just walking. Can't be more than a couple hundred yards before we drop into the valley below, where the trail opens up and people begin to pour past me. Not that its me in particular holding anyone up, as much as its just all of us squeezed into a bottleneck that has just released. With so much open space available now, people have become impatient with the line of lemmings, and finally cut loose. Adela was with me for a bit, but then she's gone, then Marcia, and the rest, or so it seems.

Before I even started, I knew this was going to be a slow and easy run. Its just the way its been lately and I see no reason why it should be any different today. Especially between 7000 and 10000 ft of elevation on a rather hot and sunny day. I usually start rather laid back and easy, because it takes so long to get the generator cranked up, but also, this course does a fair bit of climbing. We get about 3 miles of sissy trail, and then it begins the 9 mile climb, or maybe more. Sure as hell feels like it.

I've run this course 5 times already, but they've all been in the other direction, so I'm a bit turned around and confused, especially in reference to the up and down location and distance. I guess I never really knew that all this part was one big long up, until now. As the trail climbs the mountain from 7000 ft to 9000 ft, so do the temps from 55 to 80 degrees. I think about running, but it after all just a thought. I walk! Funny thing is: aint all that many people behind me, so I never get the taste of how slow I'm going.

To go from Rendija to Cabra is to climb out of a canyon, not that its a nasty climb, but it is up. Big boulders, single track, and trees fading to scrub as we head north of Los Alamos. Actually, we never do see Rendija. I won't find out until later, the aid station isn't even in the same place it used to be. Typical New Mexico look and feel, which my spirit is particularly attuned to. I like it here much more than any reason I can figure out. It just suites me. Cabra is an aid station and also a reference point for a change in terrain. Its wide open here, partly because its higher up, but also because this area was burned out a few years ago. It begins with a wide dusty jeep road that turns into a single track trail. All the green is from young trees only a few years old, and it's enough to hide the worst of the burn, but not all of it.

Guaje Ridge is where I expect it to be... at the top of the initial climb. But as is my trend today, I'm not even close to right about this being the end of the climb. I had packed a trekking pole to use for the climbs, but forgot about it until I reach Guaje. But then I compound my mistake, thinking the climb is almost done, and keep on it. Over the next 3 miles, I keep questioning myself if I should stop and take the damn thing out, but don't. Now I figure it'll be foolish to take the time if the summit is just ahead. Three more miles and a lot more time and I'm calling myself stupid at least a hundred times.

The landmark I'm looking for is the pipeline road, which I also thought was downhill, but I'm wrong again! How can I possibly have so much of this so wrong? It's up and down, but appears to be mostly up, until I'm within half-mile of Pipeline aid. As much as all this climbing at altitude has knocked me off any suggestion of a fast run, I'm still enjoying the beauty of this magical place. The high desert mountains covered in pines has a humidity so low, I can only dream of it back home. But even the low humidity is causing me problems: my lips are drying up and starting to crack, my throat so dry, I can't drink enough water.

My memories of the trail between Pipeline and Ski Lodge surprisingly match the pastoral setting exactly and the shade from the tall trees are a welcome relief. I can see the ski runs on Pajarito Mountain a long time before I arrive at the aid station. This is the big one: the monster climb and the last climb of note in this race, so I'm impatient to get to it, and aware of the challenge. I need to get some calories in me, so I have a few bites as well as some orange and watermelon slices. I've been carrying an empty water bottle in my pack just for this next section, so I have that and my standard bottles filled with cold water. I even remember to pull my trekking pole out before I start.

On the wrong end of the laundry chute going up and being particularly lousy at climbing, I do the best I can, which I'm certain is pitiful and sad to watch, but I never give up. I can see a number of small colorful spots on the slope above, on the route I'll soon be on. The damned thing goes strait up: no turns and no switchbacks. One baby step after another in a nasty old granny gear trudge. There's a rare few people who go up surprisingly well, but at this point, I've been on the ass end of the race, so it surprises me there are actually still more behind me.

There's a bike race going on at the same time as our run race, and they're using the ski lift, so we get a good look at the lift-chairs filled with bikes and people, just above our heads. I want so bad to go back down and hitch a ride to the top, just as they're doing. It just doesn't seem right: them having a race going down while we have a race going up. I know I chose the wrong one. There's a place we cross each other and I wonder if anyone might have had a collision or near miss yet. I suspect most everyone at this point is near braindead and a bike coming down at speed might be a problem. A woman in black slowly marches past and stops a moment to say something and then passes. All she says is: "Those are the biggest damn feet I've ever seen".

There's another woman, who seems to match me on the climb. She takes as many breaks as I do, and seems to stay just a bit below and behind. When I finally do top out just under the lift, I take a moment to repair: empty my shoes, fetch the other water bottle, and eat a bite. Valerie comes up on me just as I get up to continue, so we continue together. I hadnt hooked up with anyone today for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because I'm just too damned slow today, so it surprises when she hooks on. As fast as I walk, she walks. When I slow down or take a sit break, she does too. Mostly she stays about 10 or 12 steps behind, but every now and then, she gets close enough to talk, so I get a few snippets of information. The route for the remaining part of this climb wanders about, but eventually does reach the landmark ski chair in an open meadow. The chair marks the high point, which I am so damn happy to finally see, because it's now time for some down. I don't really get into much of a running motions so much, but do manage an odd stumbling fast falling walk for the next 6 miles down off the back side of the mountain.

At one point, we're in a huge open bowl of a valley with mountains all the way around, and its breathtaking. Somewhere along here though, we find and follow some of the ugliest jeep rut roads, full of dust, and reflecting the heat from the cloudless ski, and I once again begin to melt. I stop to sit under a tree in the shade once, but get up and go again. Its not long afterwards, we reach Camp May, where its time to lube up. My crotch rash is getting to be a problem, but I have the Desiten and the time to make the repair. Watermelon and orange slices seem to be the thing today. They're nice and cool, even if they're light on calories.

The next section is a mess: road crossings, neighborhoods, swingsets, and all sorts of odd connectors. We even pass through a part of the Los Alamos lab area, drop into a deep cut, cross a road, and climb out the other side. I wonder many times through here if I'm actually on the trail. It just seems so odd, this route we are on. We do a bit of bouldering here and again, going up and down again and then we think we might actually be lost. There are no flags, the trail no more than a trace, crossing over a very rocky area, with lots of easy options, but I just keep on following the meandering trace of trail, hoping I have chosen correctly. 

My stress level goes way up right about now: I'm not sure, the sun is up and cooking, I need to sit down a few times, and even lay down once. I must be looking pretty bad, as I watch Valerie pass me for the first time. We do find a flag to confirm we are going the correct way, which makes me feel much better. A short time later, I take time to lube again, and again, Valerie takes lead. I'm quick about it and catch back up, and I tell her she doesn't need not wait for me. But she defers, saying she's ok and willing to stay as she is, and so we continue.

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The trail has a bit of roll along here and I'm fine on anything down, but the tank is empty: any up and I hit bottom. We connect with the 50 mile return point, where a course guide woman sits and watches to make certain all of us go the correct direction. It's just before the trail drops into a dry creek bottom and climbs back out the other side. Soon after we stumble into Quemazon for some very welcome relief, where I consume generous amounts of orange and watermelon. This is teh decision point for the 50 milers and one of them sits here now trying to decide wether to go on or drop to 50 km.

This landmark seems to breathe new life into me in some deep emotional way I would have never expected, but I no longer feel as bad as I have been the last few miles. Maybe part of it is because we're down to the final 5 miles, but heading out, I get going and realize I'm starting to put some distance on Valerie. Mostly I stay ahead, but do stop at intersections to make sure she's still on. I still aint running, but my walk's in full power mode now. Maybe it's just me smelling the barn, but we're on the edge of town and I can see houses and the water tower by the finish. I keep pushing, busting at the seems to be done. Its all down now and we drop into a creek bottom where we find Rendija... and a beer. My goodness but it tastes good. 

Leaving for the final bit, I'm once again confused because Rendija is not where it usually is. So there also isn't the climb up and out that I expect. Instead, we march down along a dry creek bottom, and I just hope were going the right way. I get faster with impatience, because I don't know for sure, and if I go faster, I might learn sooner. Eventually we reach the trail split and the climb up and out that I've been looking for and relief washes over me. I now know for certain we're just two miles from done, and I'm ecstatic. Valerie continues to lose ground, so I wait now and again. We've been together for many hours today already and we havent really had much to say to one another, so I figure I'll slow and maybe have a visit now that we're almost done. But when I slow to wait, she slows too. I speed up and she does too. Well ok: maybe she just wants to leave this just as it is and I can respect that, so I pull ahead once more and remain there.

At the tunnel finally with just 1 mile to go and I don't slow. Reaching the split for the rock drainage climb up and out to the finish, a guy's sitting on a rock. As I go bye, he says: "There she is". You mean Valerie, I ask? He asks if I know her. I tell him no, but we've been together pretty much all day. So I climb up and get to the top of the chute where a few more people and a few kids are waiting for Valerie. It's all her peeps! I watch one of the kids hug her as I turn and head to the finish. When I get there, I stop and wait. I can't cross just yet, so I wait. Valerie walks up with one of her kids and as she crosses the finish, I turn and cross with her. I'm sure I ruin a dozen or so photos, but what the hell. I figure I have the right. Anyway, I'm done. Time to get these damn shoes off!

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2018: Texas Switchback Half-Marathon

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I'd run these trails a few years ago, biked them too, and had a pretty good idea of the terrain. So today's race for me was a refresher, yet there's no way I can know the route or what exactly was going to happen next. Mostly, I just want to check on my old friend Erik Stanley and see how his Trail Roots race is run.

The half-marathon pack is somewhere above 150 strong when we start at 7:30am, and even with a wide area to spread out, the bottleneck comes way too soon. It takes me way too long to warm up, so I'm mid-pack with another 100 people when we get stuck as soon as we hit the single-track. The race has just started, so the only thing I can figure is a tortoise or two are blocking our progress. I'm used to slow, but standing still during a race is new for me, especially just minutes into the race. The pack around me is starting to grumble and some try to surge around the hangup, only to be squeezed back into place by the abundant prickly pear. We open up and surge again, only to stop again, surge, and wait some more, then surge and wait... and finally I pass the first bottleneck: a woman walking up the middle of the trail, oblivious of all the chaos she's causing. Then I pass the 2nd, the 3rd, and finally we're set free to abuse ourselves as it suites each of us to do on our own terms, with only 15 minutes of official time delay. No big deal really, but I tend to roll with this sort of stuff. There are a few around me that had worked themselves into a big energy surge by the time we break free, and they sprint off with willful abandon. I hope they have enough sense to spin down before they burn themselves out. Oh well, but we will see. All I can do is the same as everybody else: take care of myself.

It was 75 degrees when I drove in at sunrise, and I suspect nothing less than an increase of temp to go along with the abundant humidity: the hallmarks of a really nasty Texas summer day. As has become my standard method when the weather and my clothes reaches this point of sweat saturation, I power down and tend more to a walk than a run. I save my better running moments for the downhills and cool shade areas, if any! I can tell, most of this crowd appears to be more road runner than trail, because most of them are running the uphills. They scamper around me as I walk the ups, which is no concern of mine, but then they clog up the descents with their tentative concerns, as I attempt to bomb through them, and this is just too much. All in all, it makes for some interesting looks from the dozen or so I tend to go back and forth with. They pass me on the up and I pass them on the down, with the result being we simply stay all together through the balance.

Another odd thing, not many are carrying water bottles or hydration packs. Standard operating procedure for me is with a water bottle in hand, and so it is right now. The aid stations are close enough from one to the next, that a single will do, so I skim the aid at mile 3, while all the others around me stop for a drink or two. So the aid station serves as simply another downhill for those around me. 

It's a rugged course, rocks everywhere, with quite a few hills, and a few really nice rock chutes that switch down along creek bottoms. These are quite a bit of fun to run, whether they're up or down. This place is typically used as a mountain bike ranch, with more than a few structures made just for a bike. I can avoid most of them until I get to the mountain bikers jungle gym section of chutes and bridges, where I'm herded over the first big one, but find a way to skirt the edges of the other 5 or 6. But all this jumping about stirs up an awful rumbling in my tummy, to the point where I have little option but to go off into the woods to visit the bears for a bit. I can hear a good number of runners pass by, while I slowly try to relax and unwind.

When I get back at it, I've lost my herd, but I've had a bit of a rest, so I spin up a bit and run for a while, wondering if I'll find a new pack. Seems as if I'm between packs now as I'm alone mostly. There are a good number of people around I keep seeing, but the course is such that we're on drastically different sections of the course, yet within a stones throw of each other. Its hard to know who is in which race, going on who knows what direction, and how far form anything. There's more than a few trails on this course that are so typical of mountain bike ranches, ,that go a long way in one direction only to switch back and go a long way in the other direction right next to the same trail, and then reverse again. It seems the designers of mountain bike ranches do not wish to ignore any of the real estate whatsoever. Reminds me of how I mow my lawn, making certain I hit every blade of grass.

Rolling into the 2nd aid is a bit confusing. I see people coming in to it from different directions and going out in different directions. I ask which way I need to go, but the two ladies are overwhelmed and don't understand me. One of them glances at me for just a fraction of a second and points at the water cooler. Wasn't what I asked for but I figure I might as well top off. The trail in and out of here are not much of what I'd call a trail per se. It's just flagged and easy to follow, but no more than a clearcut through scrub on the edge of where flat land tips off the edge of a hill. I'm used to this kind of shit, so I catch and pass a few people in here, who are struggling with the terrain. The thing about it is it's very irregular, rhythm destroying, and awkward: run a few, hop a few ledges, walk a few, and repeat. There's no way anyone can hold a rhythm in here, but hell, thats the way I run all the time.

Again, we go a long way one way, reverse for a long way, then again, and again. The last reversal drops us onto an old pot-holed paved road that eventually reaches up and touches the aid station I was at a while ago, but didn't understand. Now I understand, but I had to see both sides for it to make sense. This time, I'm at mile 9. Again, I don't need water, so I roll off the right side and continue.

Theres a bazillion intersections all over this course, but Erik did a great job using caution ribbon to herd us through all of it as good as he did. The course is one twisted up mess of intersections and caution ribbon that I see from one side of the caution, then the other, and sometimes yet even another. There are runners and voices everywhere, but they offer no confidence I'm going the right way. I find another chute that spins me up, but before I reach the bottom, I pull up to an intersection that seems to want me to go left, but a sign that tells me to go right. Yea, I know this is real simple, but I'm at boiling point now and ready to be done, so I'm second guessing everything. I just stand there and study on it, think a bit more, and as simple as it is, I'm stumped. My body wants left, the sign says right, so what do I do? I go right, but it just doesn't feel right.

There's lots of great deep shade now, and as much as I'd like to sit here and just chill for a bit, I don't. The trail goes up and comes down, so I walk a bit, run a bit, but keep at it, now that I've got past my mental hiccup. Coming to the river, I can now hear the finish line noise, but know I still have a mile or more remaining. I'm about to pass a kid, but I'm going so slow, he gets tired of waiting for me and decides to keep on, and runs ahead. And he does stay ahead for spurts, but I'm hell bent on getting done and stay on him for long enough that he steps off again and this time lets me go by.

The final bit along the river is soothing to my soul, hearing the water first, then seeing some people playing in it. I'm under a bluff, between the river and the plain, a wall to my left and trees between me and the river, offering their cool shade. Such a beautiful and calm setting is a wonderful way to finish out this race, and the tunnel we pass through on our way up to the plain is cool looking as well as cool temp-wise.

Nothing left but for the field now, but even this is another of those same old back and forth affairs that insists on once again mowing all the grass. The finish line chatter pulls on me while my body demands I stop and the ensuing argument turns into a bog war where I indecisively just slog along. There is of course always one last hill and I know it well. I laugh when I see it, because it only makes sense that there is always one last battle before the war is over. No choice but to up the beast and get it done where there is always somebody at the top telling me what I already know.

Damn but it's hot today. A sunglasses, sun hat, and bandana kind of day. It does get up to 90 degrees and everything I have on is sweat soaking wet. Tom's at the finish and like the good friend he is, offers me an ice cold beer. I am done. Life is good

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