Hells Hills
2 April 2016
Rocky Hill Ranch

At 6am on Wednesday, we drive from our home in Austin to Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville. We have a full day planned for course marking. It usually takes a full day or two to get everything done depending on logistics, weather, and circumstance, so we go to it not knowing exactly how it will go. Chris meets us at the saloon, with everything already packed and ready and the truck loaded with extras of everything as well as cooler full of cold drinks.

The plan I devised after years of different approaches and good intentions is one in which we mark from the furthest loop away from the start and work back towards where we parked our own truck. So, we stop at the powerline where the BottleInFrontOfMe Aid will be. For now, Joyce will remain with the truck while Chris and I march and mark from here to the Tunnel of Pines Aid. Joyce will mark the area into out out of this location as well as the next one, while we mark everything in-between here and there. Chris has a very heavy pack on with a couple hundred signs, a staple gun, extra staples, a heavy sledge hammer, 2 big rolls of caution tape, a pocket knife, a couple of bottles of water, and some food. I carry an open-toped ruck sack loaded with 50 wooden stakes on my back, and another bag with 200 clothespin ribbons over a shoulder, hung so that I can hang flags at regular intervals. We stop to pound stakes in the ground and staple arrow or wrong way signs on the posts. We've been using this system for years, so we move along quickly with little wasted effort. When one of us stops, the other one does not, such that we are more often than not just ahead or behind each other just a little. We're still close enough to chat with each other constantly the entire time. As efficiently as we are, it still takes awhile. We cover 5 miles in 2 hours and find Joyce patiently waiting for is at the Tunnel of Pines.

We take a short break, get a bite to eat, some water, reload what we need in the packs, and head out again. Joyce will meet us under the Powerlines this time, just opposite where we started, so its only about 2 miles. Our process continues as before without change. When we reach Joyce at the powerline, we decide to change things up a bit. Joyce will go on with Chris, while I take the truck and work backwards towards them. I hope this will speed up the process a little. I drive back to mark from where we started at BottleInFrontOfMe backwards towards the 10km cutover. They are marking on the other end towards the same place. This works ok enough, and I reach them further along than I expected, so I tell them to keep going along the course til they get to Black Trak and I can finish up the other side. So I go back and get the truck, and park where they come out. And so it goes, them doing one side and me the other, such that we mark the entire course back to the start. Of course, the truck is still up at Fat Chucks, so I get done first, and hike back up to fetch the truck. So, we finish the entire course in one day. 

Doesn't take long to gather up our personals and get on the road for home. We're sunburnt, dirty, and exhausted. We've been up since 4am, and expect to get home well after dark, so we stop in Bastrop at the Road House for dinner. Home by 9pm and quickly to bed, completely wiped out.

Three days later, we drive back to the same park to run the 25km. We arrive 45 minutes before our 7am start, and are surprised by a wonderful cold front that has dropped the temps to something a lot more tolerable than our marking day. It's mid-40s with a nice cool wind blowing as well. Joyce has on all the gear, 2 shirts, vest, gloves while I have a long sleeve and gloves. We start way too far back in the pack, so we get stuck in a walking group for the first mile. I planned to go out easy anyway, so its not a big deal, but its still a lot slower than we would have run. Still, its not worth the extra effort to run around all these people so we back off and wait til we reach the top of Fat Chucks. And so it goes that the pack literally stops at one point, and thats when we go around the whole lot of them, about 15 people. One guy comes with us as we begin to run. Karaway Trail is a fun and twisty romp that is fun to pick it up and begin to roll. Joyce leads, I follow, and our new friend comes along. We pass a few others who had gone out too fast. Karaway turns into Off The Lip as we cross the road and our buddy passes us there at the water table.

So, we were off and running, and running well. This is a Texas mountain bike ranch, which implies a lot of  twisting and turning with tons of short little drops and climbs, partly for the fun of it and partly to use every square inch of real estate. We drop into a shallow creek, climb up the other side, turn right at the top, and drop in again, and repeat for 3 miles. The 50 mile leader had passed us all back there when we were staked up like lemmings, and because he had to take the 50 mile add-on fro another 1.25 miles, he passes us again, having done the extra distance since passing us the first time. This is about the same place the trail name changes from Off the Lip to BottleInFrontOfMe. Joyce & I roll into the BottleInFrontOfMe Aid and collect a hug each from Melissa. She's dressed herself and her aid station up like HELL itself, to follow theme with Hell's Hills. Joyce drops off her vest, buff, and gloves, while I donate my gloves and she promises to find us later for return. Besides that, I dont need anything else, but Joyce refills her water bottle.

Longhorn Trail is much the same as the last one, which then becomes Omar's Howl. I lead for awhile, until a rumble in my belly advertises an unplanned stop. Joyce waits while I dispose of one sock, and now it's her turn to lead, and I can barely keep up. Not sure if sh'e suddenly pushing harder or maybe I'm not fully recovered and spun up yet from my unplanned stop. Either way, Joyce is running damn well and begins to pull away here and there. My stint of the occasional downhill or other such advantage, I manage to keep her close at best, and end up being on her as we slide into the back side field and just a short jaunt from the Tunnel of Pines Aid. Nancy Marks and friend are working here, so collect more hugs while I top off my water for the final time. We are now at 10+ miles and just 5miles from done.

Joyce has the bit now and surges out and over the creek, that is, until she discovers her turn for an unplanned break. I walk ahead while I wait for her to catch me back up. A few ladies go by as I walk, and take note, because I know she'll be wanting to catch them. Odds are good that there's a fair share of other girls in front of us, but because these passed us while we dawdled, odds are good that we should be able to catch them again. Who knows? Anyway, when she does run up on me, I tell her about the girls, but she already knew. So, we are off again, with Joyce leading and running a pretty snappy rhythm at that. I'm working hard to stay on and she'snow even more motivated to catch these other ladies. Doesn't take her long to pass the first one, but she doesn't just let us go bye. She hangs on and rides the wave with us. We pass another girl just before the big ditches but she appears to be limping a bit and isn't the one who passed us earlier and about that time we lose the other one too. Joyce is accelerating on all the downs and not wasting much time on the ups either. As we approach the campsite, I tell Joyce to just go. All these girls are pretty close and if she takes even a short break, she'll wish she hadn't. She tells me to come with her, but I dont have the motivation she does. Just go girl, kick it up just a notch and tak it on in. So she does. I pick up a bit, but not near as much as she does, so she pulles ahead and cruises around the pond and finally into the finish. I'm not far back, and it is done. We are done.

The other lady Joyce didn't catch took first master just 2 minutes up on her and there were another 8 women within the next 10 minutes, most of whom were also masters. It was fun to run and race and fun to watch Joyce compete. She was 9th female and 2nd master in 2:42 for the 25km. Not super fast, but not bad for us. The weather was phenomenal, the course was superb?! We hung out and visited old friends for a few hours before loading up and heading back home again.