The wide variety of clothing options on the people in the start-line crowd was indicative of the changing weather pattern. From thin teeshirts to heavy winter jackets, long pants or shorts, and all the accessories, people were trimmed down or overloaded. The temp was 38 and would trend up, which is what we call great volunteer weather. It'll be a bit warm for me and knowing this, I still start with jacket and gloves: a case of knowing and not thinking. Hell, I'm just here for a little all-day run.
As the herd squeezes forward on the tree-lined jeep road, we have little room to move about until we pass the old abandoned Boyle's house. The sudden single-track bottleneck stops us in our tracks as we sort into a single file. This done, we speed up a little until we reach the next squeeze point at the base of Big Nasty. The first of the tough technical climbs is not terribly long, but an eye-opener for flatlanders and smooth-trail runners. Like so many of the others, the climb is rutted, full of rocks, ledges, and sotol. Explains why I like it so much! The compressed pack of people remains tight from Big Nasty, across the saddle, up Sky-Island, around the perimeter, and back down. This is great downhill barn-storming if there's room to run, but I'm stuck in a long line of lemmings with no room to do anything but hold pace with the pack. If I was in a hurry, this would be frustrating, but I have no plan other than relaxing and enjoying the day.
Down low, we pop onto another scrub juniper and mesquite lined jeep road. To be a tree in Texas, you must be short and have thorns, which works great to keep runners on trail. The main point about this particular section of jeep road is: we are finally sorted such that we can finally run as we please. All other excuses for me going slow from this point forward are my own. Less than a mile of jeep road until we turn back up onto the next single-track around a ripple of land below Sky-Island. One of the risers is a spiderweb of trails, where the people in front of me take the rightmost option even though the trail is marked up the middle. I choose the middle and find that I climb faster than the others in this group of lemming and pass quite a few by walking faster. Round the traverse, I pass through the lower saddle and high ledge before dropping down into the Equestrian Aid Station. I hang my jacket and gloves on a tent cross-bar, refill my water, and continue out the other side. Without much wind or humidity, 38 degrees is not cold enough to require much more than a tee shirt.
The route out is a flat and boring jeep road that does its best to avoid hills and trees. We had a wet winter, so there's more color in the leaves than usual but the tall grass is winter brown. I have a hard time making myself stay on the run through these flat areas, so I try my best to maintain an intermittent walk/run: walk for a bit, run for a bit, and repeat. The next turn leads to another technical single-track, a rare difficult section not on a hill. Not seeing an unoccupied inch of ground anywhere to plant a foot, there is no way to avoid the rocks through here. Surprising how few and small the hills are here where the ground rises up just to create a ledge more than a few times. It makes sense that this trail would terminate at what we so lovingly call the Devils' Intersection, where three trails come together that all used to be called trail#6. The park has recently renamed all the trails mostly I suspect to get rid of the Devil, but I do believe he remains.
The next section of trail is mostly flat and easy and then it's not just before getting to the big major course crossroads. We're to go up into the Sisters then drop down and around the other side and come back to this same spot. But first, the Sisters: three bald peaks with two saddles in-between and all of it covered in sotol cactus fern and rock: big rocks and little rocks, ones that roll, and some imbedded. I have a great pair of heavy duty rough country trail shoes, but there are times I wish I could attach additional padding to the front and sides like a little tug boat. I've dialed in a fast forced march for the climbs and bomb down each of the descents very comfortably with a controlled fall. At the base of the final sister, we turn back onto the boring jeep road and head back to where we started this loop. For the first and only time, the road ripples a bit over a few hills. After the back-country campground, where a few of the campers sit and watch us file by, we turn up to the intersection we had left just a short while ago, tying a nice little knot into the Sisters, which have tied a nice little know into me.
From here to Nachos is nasty piece of work. More rock and sotol for sure, but more than that, this bit of trail is more secluded, narrower, more opportunities for the sotol to cut on me, and more rocks I can't avoid. But first, the trail leading to Ice Cream Hill has more ripples of arroyos loaded with rock to crawl up and slide down before I even get to the main climb which tops out with a few ledges near summit. It's here the lead 50k pack blows by with Ford Smith. From Ice Cream to Last Chance, there'll be small groups of 50k runners that skim by, going a bit quicker than the slower stream of 100k runners. Its easy to see who's in each race without bothering to ask. They have five more miles and a faster stride than most if us. The descent off Ice Cream is a minefield of accidents and the section after not much easier. Some of the ruts are low enough and the sotol high enough to poke me in the face. By the time I get through the worst of it, I have bloody smears on my arms and legs. Nachos Aid used to be down on the jeep road across from the Park Ranger's house, but the park recently created a new trail higher up where there is no room for aid. The next convenient flat spot is another half mile down the trail at the road crossing. The temp has risen to 48 by now and my shirt is drenching wet with sweat, so I change it out from my drop bag. Still feeling pretty good, but a bit warm.
Done with the hills for then next 15 miles, I'm now moving into my least favorite section of the course. The trail is single-track riding in and out of a two mile long section of dry creek bed. I might enjoy it more if it had water but its been a long time since I've seen water here. There's less rocks here in the creek bed than there was over Ice Cream Hill. This whole park is odd like that. I cross the road leading back into the main park HQ then cross it again to the old ancient road onto number 8. There's so many rocks, I cant help but think they all used to be part of a reclaimed road. Used to be, the grass hid all the rocks from my eyes and allowed my feet to find them as they might, but somebody has cut and worn a trail here that rarely ever exists. It's a pleasant surprise. Later when I come back through here in the dark, these hidden rocks are usually brutal, so it's nice to have a well worn trail. I find a few arrow signs that are knocked over and take the time to pound them back into the ground with a rock. Over the powerline hill and down the rock chute to the cactus garden at the base, I turn onto another jeep road, rarely used but functional. It's an easy rolling road until we reach the last bit which turns to the overlook and rides the bluff to the drop down to the park road across from Chapas Aid Station. The course wraps around and comes in to Chapas (a concrete floor barn) from the other side, passing directly through and turning back where we started this pretzel loop only to turn left again back to the old number 9 trails. Its in the 50's now and getting unpleasantly warm.
More flat shit to do so I go to do it. Again, I'm surprised how much of this typically awful trail has been trimmed down and cleaned up. It's not nearly as bad as it usually is. I continue my run/walk for the entire perimeter loop around what used to be called 9a and 9b, then the new section of rocks that has not been cleaned or trimmed. Crossing the road at the front of the park, I pass the old barn that has been recently burned and then the most mentally debilitation section of the entire course, the Race Track. It's a one mile loop around a field and back to the exact same spot at the gate where it began. I can see and hear YaYa Aid Station on the other side of the creek and it generates enough energy to pull me the rest of the way round the field, over the dry creek and in. I get a hug from Liza Howard and also Dave Mackey who is in the 50k and coming thru just as I'm starting back out. Temp is in the high 50's now.
A bit more field, all on a strait flat jeep road, open field on the left, but creek and trees on the right. About a mile of this before we drop down into a dry creek and up the other side into the trees. Another creek crossing, and then it's a good bit of twisty turny single-track for a while, all under and in the shade of trees. The trail rolls a bit, goes flat, and rolls again, but generally starting to bend upward as we roll just out of sight of the Lodge towards Lucky Peak. We can hear the Lodge and the excitement of the 25k and 50k finishers. The closer we get to Lucky Peak the rockier it gets. Down the other side and thru the big ditch at the bottom, it's no time at all before Last Chance Aid Station. The temp is still in the high 50's.
One of the reasons I'm excited to get past Last Chance is now I know everyone I see is in the same race as me. From the point the lead pack of 50k runners went by until now, I thought I could tell but was never certain of the people I didn't already know which race they were in. Not that I cared for the competitive aspect of it, but more why some of these people looked so strong as they flew by. The last two climbs, Cairns and Boyle's, are the big ones, steeper, longer, taller, and closer to done. The 25k and 50k runners did these climbs first, while they're saved for last in the 100k.
Its slow hot work going up Cairn's and I sit once to get my wind back before continuing. Once on top, it's not all that difficult, but I'm a bit toasted at this point from the heat and the miles, so its slower than I might normally go. Going down is always easy, but the connecting trail from the base of Cairns to Boyles is tough work and also because I'm a bit out of it. I can feel a few hotspots on my feet, and start thinking about exactly where so I can patch them when I get to the Lodge. One more hill, Boyles, and this one the tallest. Its slow work and I switch to a lock-step march to rest my climbing muscles. It's slow, but easy enough to do when I feel overworked. I sit at the top of the climb. Not for long, but enough to get my wind back. Across the long ridge, past the high point overlook bench, and then down. Seeing the buildings at Boyle's house is a highlight, knowing the first loop is done. I downshift to a walk and coast to the Lodge. In the open field near the finish chute, Matias and then Vianey pass me, and then I see Richard and January. Most of my training buddies are here all at the same time and it's nice to see them, but wonder what the hell are they all doing here right now. I'd expect the lot of them to be well up by now. Still, I have things to do, so I do not stay around to visit. I head over to my truck, which is near the Lodge which I'm using for my own personal aid station. I see Peter Vroljik, who has already finished his 50k and he offers to help. I ask him to find me a few medical pads to cover the hotspots on my feet while I change my clothes and eat. He comes back with some adhesive stuff I put on both big toes and one heel. I then ask him to find some quesadillas while I repair my feet and get my shoes and socks back on. All this takes about 20 minutes to repair, change, eat, drink and get out. I already had my pack ready for loop two, complete with trekking pole and headlamp. Hottest part of the day at 3pm and the temp is just a pinch under 60. Good news is, in another three hours it'll cool down quickly with the night.
I head back out with Nancy Marks, walking and eating. Soon after Boyle's house, I switch to a walk/run to the Big Nasty. Its all rough country hiking and forced march up and beyond to Sky Island. We make the top loop and start down to the base where we cross paths with my compadres, Matias, Vianey, Richard, and January all in a pack going up. I tell them they need to be up here with me and Richard says something to the effect he intends to catch up. Well, I've run with Richard and January before and I know they are much faster than me on the flats. But in the hills, I can usually stay in front of them, and so I'm thinking I need to remain in front until Nachos, just to have a chance to hang with them thru the next 9 miles of flats afterwards. So I push myself just a little harder, run a little faster, less walk, more run, and get back to bombing the downhills and fast marching the ups. I hammer the descent from Sky Island and lose Nancy in the process. I manage the flat jeep road and again push the uphill traverse around lower side of Sky Island. This is where I first hear the music or maybe I should just call it what I think of it: Noise! It's irritating me for some damn reason and begins to mess with my head. I quit thinking about my buds behind me and start thinking about getting past the noise. It's a young woman with an external speaker playing a mix of electronics, rap, and occasionally some pretty vocals. It's driving me mad and faster too, which is not a good idea. So far, I've been managing myself pretty well, but I can blow it up really fast and easy if I'm not careful. When I roll into the Equestrian aid station, she's there with the music still blasting in the station. I bitch about it for a few minutes, and then she's gone and I begin to simmer down and take care of a few things I need to do. My stomach is starting to roil a touch and I have a spare empty bottle in my pack, so I ask them fill it completely with Ginger Ale and ice. On second thought, I put the bottle with water in my pack, deciding instead to carry the Ginger Ale as my primary. Its 4:30pm and still just under 60, so I'm still sweating my shirt soaking wet. I left my jacket and gloves here earlier and want to pick them up, but in my madness, I forget. I remember soon after leaving and with night coming on, I hope it's not a major mistake. I have a drop bag at Nachos, so I should be ok with the cold weather gear and light I have there. I already have a spare light in my pack, pre-loaded just in case.
Heading up the same boring flat jeep road as earlier, as much as I want to, I find it difficult to run. I employ the walk/run pattern again, trying to run more than walk, but it's not as easy as it has been. But for the occasional blasts from the Noise-maker, I don't see anyone else. I navigate the rocks of old trail 6 to see the Devil on my way to the Sisters, when Vianey surprises me. She runs up, slows to chat for a moment, and then gone. Last thing she says is 'You told me I should run my own race and not stick on anybody'. I watch her summit the first Sister when I turn and start up after her. I summit soon enough and bomb the other side in time to catch her in the saddle. We start the 2nd Sister together, but I'm moving faster on the climbs and leave her as I pass over the 2nd and 3rd Sister alone, then bomb down to the old jeep road and make my turn. The jeep road has some climb to it, but its still not my cup of tea, so I get down it a good ways before Vianey comes by me again. She has a smooth easy glide for somebody 45 miles into a 100k and I'm envious as she spins by and gone again. When I pass the backcountry camp site, I can hear all the sounds of a huge group settling into a late dinner on a gorgeous night in the woods. It almost drowns out the sound of the lady with the boombox who remains in front of me. When I get to the crossroads, I see Penny Lane making her turn onto the Sisters as I make my turn away from them. We wish each other a good finish just as the sun begins its final goodbyes for the day. I push across the Ice Cream arroyos and up the final pitch on a gorgeous night, watching the sky light up with colors, as the temp finally begins to drop, all while listening to some hip-hop from a backpack boombox. Oh what a lovely sky, the beauty merging with the lower temp, and a pinch of irritation surges my body to the summit and down the other side to pass the Noise-maker. I cant hear it as much being in front of her. I suppose the speakers might be on her back. Hell, I don't know and don't care. I just need to run to get away. It's 6pm strait up crossing Ice Cream and pitch dark just 5 minutes later. Still, I don't turn on my light, wanting to just run and enjoy the quiet for a bit. I really think I'm doing well, but she's running better, catching and passing me a half mile before Nachos. Completely deflated, I start to walk. I just want distance between us and if I cant pass her, I can slow down. When I get to Nachos Aid Station, she's still there, and so is the Noise. I have a few things to take care so I take my time changing into a long sleeve shirt. I stuff a jacket and gloves in my pack, also an extra light. I eat a few quesadilla slices. My stomach feels better from the Ginger Ale so I get another complete refill of the same, minus ice. Now that its 6:45pm and dark, the temp has dropped down to 50. It still seems warm but I expect its going to drop more.
Now that its dark, I begin to trip more and my feet are really starting to hurt. This section us literally a bed of rocks and the Noise-maker is still ahead, so I back down and simply begin to stroll, being careful not to kick any more rocks. I don't hear any noise this entire section, so I'm good with my current plan. Up the dry rocky creek bed and as I cross the park road, a truck stops to fix a traffic cone. Its Jonathan and I stop to chat for a moment. I'm curious if Chris (the race director's) wife had her baby yet, who won the race, and if he would mind collecting my left-behind jacket and gloves from Equestrian. The next road crossing takes me back to the ancient road and grass covered fields. Besides Jonathon I hear and see nobody in front of behind. My easy saunter has me placed perfectly between those in front and behind such that I'm completely alone from Nachos to Chapas. Coming off the last few powerline hills and onto the rarely used jeep road, I drift in and out of old memories as I silently wander. At one point, coming out of a drifting series of thoughts, I wonder if I'm still on the correct path. Another mile down the trail, for some reason I don't even know why, I shine my light off to the side and see two big glowing spots. I know enough to realize they're the eyes of an animal reflecting my light. It's a good 30 or 40 yards off trail at the edge of the trees and tall grass. I cant see anything other than the eyes, no outline, nothing else. I keep walking, but have to move my light in front of me to keep from tripping, but it has me creeped out, so I turn it back to the eyes over and over again, in front, to the side, and back and forth until I get far enough away I cant see it anymore. Thats about where I turn left and bend up behind where I saw it. This is the cut over to the bluffs above Chapas. I keep looking left until I turn at the bluff and drop down to the main park road across from Chapas. I stop for a moment and realize I'm holding my breath and my arm hairs are standing up. I have no idea what that was. I keep telling myself it was piece of old machinery left in the woods, but I don't really know. A wild pig might not have stared at me and it was too wide to be a deer. I have no idea but it certainly gave me the willies. There's guy at the door of Chapas yelling at the top of his lungs over and over again. Not sure what he's yelling but he's happy to see me. I don't see any other runners, so it must be me he's yelling at. I sit down at a bench to get some hot potato soup when two guys come over to tell me the Noise-lady just left. They were at Nachos when I was too and remembered me enough to warn me. I thank them and ask for another Ginger Ale refill and more food. Figure I'll take a few more minutes just in case. I sure enjoyed the quiet of the last 5 miles and hope to get more of the same. Its 8:15pm now and the temp seems to have settled into a low of 46. Still too warm.
Immediately after leaving I put on my jacket and gloves but then not long after I roll up the sleeves, unzip the chest, and remove my gloves. I don't need the jacket but too lazy to remove it and put it back away after taking the time it took to take it out and put it on. I make the rounds of the number 9 trails. At the back side border fence between the park and ranch, I hear a group of people talking loudly, but never see them or any lights. I don't see anyone else either until I'm almost done with this section. Just before popping across the jeep road, a woman catches me, stays with me for a few, and then when another guy catches me and goes by, she goes with him. Across the park road and back to the Race Track, I pass a guy who begins Retching louder than I've ever heard anyone: his rolfing so intense it hurts to hear. Turning onto the Race Track, I hear a few voice behind me coming fast that sound like two men and a woman, who I think just might be Richard, January, and Matias. Well, its about time, I think. I've done enough to keep them behind me this long, but I keep on and push on around until I see YaYa off in the distance. I make the turn, cross the creek, and roll into YaYa just at the trio catch me. I turn to say 'Hi' and it's not them. I forgot about them but now the thought comes back and I begin to worry they are not out here on the course any longer. I've been dragging my ass for 10 miles. All I need is a sip of coke, so I stop to get it, remove my pack to take out my trekking pole, and leave, forgetting the pole. I could have taken off the jacket and should have, but my laziness has reached a new level of 'don't give a shit', so it remains on. Its after 10pm now and the temp has gone back up to 50.
Five minutes is what it takes to remember what I forgot, but I'm sure as hell not going back to get it. My feet are hurting so bad and I don't wish to add one step in the wrong direction. Just keep on walking. One more time through the field, across the creek and back again, and I finally catch the Noise! She's with another woman, they're moving even slower than me, and they're chittering away like two birds on a wire. It's hard to believe, but as I pass by, I pick up speed on start a fast march again. I try a few times to run, but thats not happening. But I can without a doubt walk fast. And the trail begins to bend upwards again. Passing the Lodge around 10pm, there's still a good bit of people and noise over there. It's getting closer! Heading up to and on to Lucky Peak, I get a bit too ambitions and have to sit again. Not for long, but a few moments and then slowly down the other side. The pain in my feet hurts too much to bomb the downhill now. This doesn't happen to me often but it sure as hell is where I'm at now. Sliding down and into the big ditch, then up and in to Last Chance, I sit down to visit with Roger Davis, who has been managing this station for the last ten years. He says he's done and he'll be hard to replace. I for one will miss him. He offers me some hot food and drink, but its now 55 degrees at 11:30pm and all I want is something cold. I get up quickly, not wanted to get too comfortable, and head out for the final section.
Two more big honkin climbs, Cairns and Boyles, and I try to run but it's a farce, so I walk. The climb up Cairns leaves me breathless again and I make myself keep on moving until I reach the summit before I sit again for a breather. I get up quickly and get around the top and head towards the drop, where I pass a guy clicking along with two trekking poles. Once down, I get over to Boyles and once again attempt to push my body up. I remember to use the lock step again, but I'm slow. The clicking pole guy comes up on me and hangs on. After a good bit more climb I learn his name (Jose) and we continue together across the summit and over to the drop. I start to get excited now, knowing I'm on my way down the final hill. Jose and I stay together on down, past Boyle's house and across the final half mile flat. I tell Jose, no matter how bad I feel, when I get to the gate, I'm gonna fake run the last bit to the finish, and so we do.
Immediately after crossing the mat, Vianey comes in behind me, running fast. She had missed a turn and got lost for a few miles. We go into the Lodge to get warm, change into warm clothes in anticipation of our core temp drop. We're there for a bit, when the Noise lady comes into the lodge looking for medical... with her speakers still blasting. She's asked a few times to turn it off, but I don't know if she does or not. I get up and leave. I don't understand why people have to blast their music out to the world when it would have been just as easy to use an ear bud.