You gotta help me out with this Joel. I want you to grab hold of it and pull as hard as you can. Damn Joe - thats F-ed up! Not sure if we can pop it back in, but I'd at least like to get it strait. It doesn't hurt at all right now, but once the shock wears off, I'll not be able to touch it again. He does manage to pull it a bit straiter, but the crook in my finger is still not right. Looks like Stonehenge: the tip of the finger laying partially on top of the next one down. I'm done Joel. Hell Joe, you don't need your fingers to run! Joel has a great laugh and usually laughs at everything, but he's not laughing now. The fact he doesn't makes me worry. I think, what I've done scares him more than it does me. Well, I need to have somebody who knows about this kind of shit to take a look at if right away. Pisses me off I have to stop to deal with it, but the race isn't in the same priority level.
I'd just left Cedar Chop, so it's not that far back. I ask for a ride from some people sitting in lawn chairs, and got an immediate response once I show them my finger. It's only a five minute ride and I arrive in the middle of friendly chaos. Quite a few friends have recently finished the Half-Marathon or the 50k, so they gather around to see why I'm here instead of out there.
Lar checks my finger, asks JoAnna and Henry to help, just to hold me still, while she pulls and turns just enough. We all hear the pop as the finger slides back where it belongs. Up until the pop, there was no pain, but at that moment my knees buckle and I start to black out as the blood rushes into the displaced joint. You're pasty white and look like you should sit. No, I can't sit. When I fell, I rolled into some prickly pear. There's a lot of thorns stuck in my butt cheek. JoAnna goes off and comes back quickly with some small surgical looking pliers and proceeds to pluck the thorns while I drink a beer. She says there's just as many in my shorts as in my butt, so I change shorts and she renews her hunt. In short order, I've been weeded and splinted, but I'm still dizzy so they give me a chair and I put my feet up while I finish my beer and try to clear my head. My timing chip has been turned in and I am done. DNF.
But, way before all this happened, I had a plan, and it had nothing do with all this. I was going to run this 100k, Lar was going to crew, and Joel was thinking about running with me. The 50k left at 7:30am. We'd start 15 minutes later, the 29 of us. I like to start in the back, but with so few of us, I was not far from the front either.
I have a great love for interesting and rugged trail, so it's understanding that I have no fondness for boring flats. I used to think this particular peccadillo of mine was an emotional one, but lately I'm beginning to believe its physical. More of a repetitive motion where my foot-strike is the same for each step, and because I avoid flat routes, my body is no longer comfortable on flat surfaces. My back, hip, feet, and everything else just seems to whine at me every time I spend more that a few minutes in this detestable circumstance. Because the course is not exactly the perfect distance, we must begin with an out and back for a mile of the most lovely perfectly flat section of river trail. Most people would use this opportunity to run a bit, to get loose, to get some distance in the bank, and use this time to get ahead, but I tend more to a fast walk, almost run, sort of glide. Our small group, a collection of older runners, including a group of five over 60 clump together at the back. On the out-n-back, I get to see each and all, and realize that none of the local running studs have thrown in with us today.
After the initial doldrums, the out-n-back-n-back again to the Spicewood Springs Trail, I find my cavalier attitude has me lined up with all the regulars I usually find myself with: Joel, Axel, Bill, Nancy, and Rich. This section is beautiful and calming, a flowing stream and waterfalls. Last year, when I did the 50k, I ran right through the water to get past all the runners hopping from rock to rock in a slow moving assembly line. Today, there is no need. Nobody's in the way and I'm in less of a hurry than usual, so I hop from rock to rock to cross the streams. Must be 4 or 6 crossings and its easy enough to keep my feet out of the water without much effort, so I do. I have some fun with the route selection and rock dance to the effect that Joel makes a comment about it. He says I have a good eye for a great line. For being a near-blind person I do rather well with seeing what I need to see. If anything, I actually pick up speed and pass through this section faster than I did the flats and lose everybody but Joel. The water music fades as we climb up out of the canyon and reach the intersection of Spicewood Canyon Trail. Joel and I get into a comfortable rhythm now that we're past the water crossings and its less hilly.
Lemon Ridge Pass is a trail of shattered rocks tangled up with a lot of trees, uniquely different such that it's not hilly and not flat. I scan constantly, to void tripping over rocks, or getting poked by a branch, while finding course markers. The best possible landing pads for my feet are the big flat rocks, my rhythm and stride dictated by the distance between one and the next. As we constantly change direction and frequency of pace, my feet and Joel's paint a staccato sound in the air. I don't feel we are moving fast, but neither are we slowing down. Our steady crawl appears to be eating away at the distance as we pass a few others. Larry catches us right about when we pass a few 50k runners, near the park road crossing, which is odd, because he passed us earlier. Not sure what he's doing, but I know he's passed us a few times now. He hangs back to talk with us for a bit while we carry on a conversation about coaching, training, and the cost of running. And when we talk about the cost, it's not just about the money. At the Windmill, we stop to reload our bottles while Larry moves on. This next section, a combination of Windmill Trail, Dry Creek Junction, and Lively Loop, is mostly flat and boring jeep roads, albeit in a lovely pastoral setting. We cross paths with a few deer, rabbit, and armadillo while our conversation wanders as well. Once we turn and bump back into more of the shattered rock trail, I know we're close to the next aid, across the park road, and Gorman Falls aid.
Joel has been telling me about his coconut water and had been planning a refill here, but he made a bit of mistake in his understanding of the drop bags. We put all our own bags out except the one by Gorman Falls. Funny thing is: Gorman Falls aid is not at Gorman Falls! The actual Gorman Falls is down in the canyon by the Conference Center. And to further confuse, this aid is split in two, the nearside aid is three miles from here, and the farside aid another five. They did rename the nearside aid to Tinaja and the farside remains Conf Center, but at this point, Joel does not know where his coconut water is. I suspect it's the farside one in another eight miles. I give him a bottle of Gatorade out of my cooler, but it's a sorry substitute.
The Gorman Falls Trail and the Tile Slide Trail are a landmine of trip hazards and toe bumpers, but its also a bit of downhill, so its dangerous. Our momentum pushes us faster but I'm tripping more and ignore the danger. The constant cloud cover has been nice, but the heat and humidity are rising to the point that the rocks are getting slick and we begin to slide on the rock tiles. It is inevitable that I should bust my ass, and this is where it happens, driving me face first down onto some rocks, like a sack of something heavy. My natural instincts being what they are, I get my hands out in time to save my face, but I hit the rocks hard with both hands palms down. Besides a minor scrape on one knee, my hands took most of the punishment for my ignorance. Left thumb turns purple instantly, and the right hand receives a couple of poke holes, scrapes, and something that looks like a snakebite on the tip of my little finger. I like to think of it as a rockbite! Hurts like hell but no major damage.
I get up more embarrassed than hurt, but mostly it slows me down a bit, and forces me to think a lot more about the more difficult terrain coming up. The Overlook at the end of the Slide Overlook Trail is pretty and we quickly turn back up the out-n-back over the same jumble of huge boulders and busted rocks. Soon after that, we approach the next out-n-back down to Gorman Falls. Its nasty slick and we take our time sliding down the damp rocks, and then crawl back up the same trail to get out. Once out, it's only minutes before we cross the jeep road into the Tinaja aid, where there is NO coconut water for Joel. I don't believe I have ever seen Joel unhappy, but he appears to be less happy than usual right now.
The Tinaja Trail is one of the newer trails in Colorado Bend. It's a five mile loop that goes around and through a good sized canyon, with beautiful vistas, a gorgeous water tank (tinaja), as well as more than a few brutal rocky climbs and descents. This trail alone has more memorable settings and rock features than the rest of the park. It's a confusing joy to wander through something that beats the hell out of me this good, but it hurts so nice. We pass a few more people just before we top out in the area of Cedar Chop. We can hear people at the aid station we know we're not going to just yet. I'm all twisted up now that we're no longer on the traditional park trails. I know this park, and I know we're not on any trail that's on the park map. I also understand the race got approval to use some of the old abandoned roads, so thats what we're on now, the top end of the Old Gorman Road. It's not strait, but also not as crooked as every other trail out here, and it bends decidedly downward too. For the first time today, Joel and I actually get to running and running well. Even with all the rocks, we spin up to a descent stride, passing two people on the way down to the bottom, where we find the Conf Center and Joel's coconut water.
The River Trail is exactly that, an easy flat dirt trail with no rocks, but it begins with a 100 yard drop. The hills are all on the right, but on the left is the big muddy Colorado River, high and faster moving than I'm used to seeing it. Somehow or other, I've screwed up my GPS, so I have no idea about milage or time any longer. I must have accidentally stopped it while I was sliding around in the rocks by Gorman Falls. I start it up again, not sure why. So, we run/walk down the docile River Trail for some distance, then turn back up on the Dogleg Canyon Trail, heading to Cedar Chop. I've been seeing the signs all day for Cedar Chop, and now that I'm finally going to Cedar Chop, it's not on the Cedar Chop Trail.
We'd passed Elizabeth running down to Conf Center, and she passed us back on the River Trail, so it's fitting that we pass he again climbing up again. She gives me a hug before we slip by, and minutes later, we see Michele Genereux going the other way offer up a kiss. My energy stores are topped out with all this renewal. If I can just use it wisely. Joel and I make the climb up to and past the intersection of the loop on top, scoop around the bushwhack back to the Cedar Chop aid. Just seven miles to the end of loop and checking the time, I realize we're actually doing quite well, with a potential seven hour first loop. We top off and head back towards the river. Can't be more than a few minutes, when we approach a confusing narrow slot through some scrub. I'm on the right, but forced to go left, onto some big flat rocks planted at an angle, and sure as shit, hit it all wrong. One foot on the ground and it slides out, throwing me face down once again. Thats the place where I jack my finger... and exit the race.
Lar is my daughter, and she's a PA (physician's assistant), and more importantly, my crew. What she has done to repair my finger is simply amazing, but after some time, my dizziness also passes and I get some color back in my face. I begin to think I might be able to get back in this thing. I talk to Lar about going on, with the understanding that she can tell me I'm done at any point. I'll see her at regular intervals, per each aid station. Henry goes off and comes back with my chip. I'm back in the game.
Two hours later, with my fingers in a splint, I'm back at the same place and running again, maybe even better. Hell, I had a two hour break, a bite of food, and a splash of beer, but I have no idea where I am in reference to all my brothers in arms. I see Mike Riggs first and he's confused, but I smile and keep going. I see Rich next and he's having a rough day with heat and cramps. I see a few others and enough to know I'm at the back of the pack, but these are all guys who usually finish anyway, so it gives me enough of an idea that makes me believe I should be ok with time. Down to the river, up the River Trail, and then Lemon Ridge Trail. I feel good, but for the aches in both of my hands. It's a new sensation. Usually it's my legs whining at this point. This might work for me. Once my hand stops hurting, maybe I'll feel the other muscles under stress. I cut through Lemon Ridge with joy, cross the road and begin the final three mile Spicewood Canyon descent back home. My GPS is stopped again, so I restart it and I don't know why I even bother at this point. My reference to anything is way off track. I see a few guys who were near me when I went down hours ago, heading out on their 2nd loop, who are surprised to see me. Larry says something about breaking things, but I don't see Joel. I have no idea where he might be and I suspect he has no idea I'm still going.
Back at the start/finish, I sit for a moment while Lar assists. I get my feet cleaned, add another pad to my heel, fresh socks and shirt, eat a hamburger, and head back out on loop two with my hydration pack on. Bill was heading out as I came in, and Nancy walks out with me. We stay together until we reach the creek. She's tentative crossing the rocks while I drive right though, and maybe even pick up speed again, like I did last time, and I continue alone. Lar is on the job now, waiting for me at Lemon Ridge, where she assists with a refill and writes my time in the book. She tells me Joel is one hour ahead which I'm pleased to hear. I'm glad he's still going. I lose the sun near to where I cross the park road and get my headlight on. It also starts to sprinkle too, but after some thought, It seems to be more of a rain cloud I run through than anything falling out of it. Its 100% humidity and it makes the rocks even more slick and slippery than they already were.
For all this morning and day, I'd been using the rocks as landing points, but now its impossible. With both hands a swollen mess, I can't afford to fall again, so I slow down and start looking for the in-between spaces to land. Its awkward at best, looking to land on anything except a rock. It's so counterintuitive for me, hopping from dirt to mud to grass and there are places where there are no good choices, so I slow to ease through as best I can. I'm moving damned well and still feel good enough to run, but I cannot fall again. I crawl for a bit, run when I can, and its all insane. By myself, no lights or sounds anywhere near. I see more deer and armadillo, almost trip over a rabbit and then get buzzed by an owl. It's stimulating to see so much wildlife, not that I'm sitting on a park bench patiently observing. I feel as if I'm part of it, just another wild animal looking for food, running to the feed stations.
Lar is waiting at Windmill and so is Joel. When Lar showed up and told him I was still going, he just sat down to wait. Must have been 30 or 40 minutes ago, and he got cold so he put all his cold weather gear on. It takes me a few minutes to reload, and when I go back out, Joel is once again with me. It doesn't take him long before he has to stop and get all that gear off. Its still too warm when we're moving. I've been in shorts and tee-shirts all day, and expect to stay that way. We walk mostly, but do manage to run now and again. But even walking, we're moving pretty well. It seems to be working for us. This is a long section and it's exciting to finally get it behind us and over to Gorman Falls aid, where we walk into a bit of chaos. Somebody down at the Conf Center has been hurt and Jimmie Phares has run up from there to find anyone who can go rescue her in a truck. He gets Lar on it, and she starts calling everybody on my phone she thinks might help: Brad, Chris, Kyle. Eventually she talks to the Park and they send someone to get her. Lar's busy with the rescue, so I take care of myself and get going. Before I go, I tell Lar the next section is the longest and I won't see her for three hours, so she should get over to Cedar Chop and get some sleep. When I get there, I can walk up the trail to the road and wake her. No need for her to sit in the weather for hours.
This next section is the appropriately named Slide Trail where I fell earlier, the first time and I'm a bit nervous about it in this weather. Everything is slick as ice and we're sliding out regularly now. We cant avoid all the rocks and it's a constant worry for both of us. Joel seems more worried about me than I am. What we do just for safety is to slow way down. We're more than just a little careful. Coming into the Overlook out-n-back, we pass Tara Woodard, who Joel had been with an hour ago. She started the 50k very late and is now imbedded with the back-of-pack 100k runners. We visit for a moment, then head to our next major worry, the Gorman Falls drop-in. We practically fall into it. The slanted rock is slick, the guide wires too. We take time to articulate our bodies about until its done and get the hell out. Its hard to explain exactly what we do, but it's not easy. My hands are not much use and it's just stupid going down the ice chute in these condition, but I will not be denied. Soon we're at Tinaja aid where Joel completely loses his shit. He starts puking and after he empties his stomach, continues to dry heave.
This is my bedtime, he says. I'm not sure he's even talking to me, but nobody else is here. He has his head on the table resting on his arms. Its time to go, so I get up, make a lot of noise, and he gets up too. I love this section, but in the dark, there's nothing to see, nothing to stimulate. I've seen Joel like this before and I hope to be able to help him. I tell him, we don't need to move fast, but we must keep moving. We've plenty of time, but cannot waste it. I try talking to him, but he's walking comatose and his response is null. All I get out of him is the need to sit, so we sit. A rock here and there, a few minutes each, I empty the debris out of my shoes, wait a moment, then get up and go again. It goes like this all the way up to the pond, back round the other side to the place near Cedar Chop, and back again down towards Conf Center. We ran this descent the last time, but we walk now. I wish we could run it. We both have the legs for it and maybe it might help too, but the rocks are too slick. One of us would bust it for sure.
Walking into Conf Center ghost town is weird, the porch light's on, but nobody's home. Joel finally gets his coconut water, but he can't drink it. I feel like hell, suspect he feels even worse. He needs to lay down and sleep until the sun comes up, but doesn't have the time, and neither do I. Come on Dude! Time to roll the rock down to the river and out of this hole. He doesn't get up right away as I walk away, but he does eventually get up. At the steep downhill, his momentum pushes him down the hill a bit faster than he wants and I think he's gonna run into me. Hey man, you want me to get out of your way? And he laughs. It's a glorious laugh and I just love to hear it. So he's still in there. Moving down the long flat and easy jeep trail, I get my fast march on and I hope he hooks on, but he does not. It's a slow shuffle accompanied by constant and irregular dry heaves. My stomach aint no daisy either, and I've been holding it together, but his dry heaves are starting to turn my stomach. I decide to stay just far enough ahead so I don't have to hear it, to avoid harmonizing tummies. I march ahead, then stand and wait, watching his two lights shimmy towards me: the big bright 300 lumen headlamp and the dozen parallel waist lights. It's an interesting visual, next to the river, with all the lights from the houses on the other side reflecting on the water, and I can hear the fish jumping out of the water when I stand completely still. I want to run, I need to go, but I don't want to leave him down here alone, and oddly enough, all of this is beautiful in a long lasting sort of way. The sounds from the wind and the water, the lights and the shadows dancing together, and a couple of good friends just trying to get this damned 100k finished.
I stop and sit on a rock long enough for Joel to get next to me. I wait and listen to the voices on the other side of the river. Some people who are probably relaxing over beers and watching the river, same as me. This time, Joel lies down and goes to sleep. I sit and watch for about 10 minutes, then wake him, tell him its time to go. I don't think he'll do it, but he gets up, and starts walking again. I can still hear the voices from across the river, until he dry heaves again, and the voices stop. We stop two more times along the river and he sleeps each time for some five minutes each. By the time we reach the turn to Cedar Chop, I'm checking my watch more regularly than I usually do, trying my damnedest to figure out the timing. But I've messed up my GPS so badly, I've only a rough idea of time and distance. I think we have plenty of time... but not at this pace. The climb to Cedar Chop is not any bigger or nastier than anything else we've done today, but it feels like a big ass mountain right now and suspect its even bigger for Joel. Again, I move ahead, turn to check, and rarely get any further than to see Joel's light behind me. It all seems to go on and on, until finally I start thinking about Lar waiting up there for me, and I decide to go ahead, if for no other reason than to wake Lar and get myself resettled. She should be sleeping in the truck and it's not right at the aid station, so I need to find her and get back before Joel gets there. I push the button and go, a fast march and minimal run all the way up and around to the aid. Nobody's there, no lights, nothing. I grab my bags and head up looking for the parking lot, but I'm unsure which way to go. I head up the trail that says half-marathon, but after a few minutes, it curves the wrong way and I know its the wrong choice. I head back to the station and head another way, but still cant find the road. I come back to the aid again, go another way, and this time I find the jeep road and soon after the parking lot and Lar. She wakes quickly, sets me up while we watch for lights back down the direction of the station. She asks what I need, but I need nothing more than to keep going. I grab another of my spare lights out of my drop bag, dump the dying one, when we both see the lights near the station and head for it.
Joel is in the tent and so is another, both sunk down into chairs. Joel's lights are off, his eyes closed... but the woman in the other chair has her light on bright and looking right at me. Please, I ask, you're killing me! She doesn't react, maybe doesn't understand, still looking at me. I can't see a thing. Your light? I say, and then she understand and covers it with her hand, but leaves it on. Joel says, go on Joe, you don't need to wait on me any longer. You need to go. There's a lot I want to say, not that my conversational skills are all that grand, but now I have nothing. I want him to go on, but I don't want him to hurt. I want him to finish, and want for him to get some sleep. I'm a mess and he's a mess and I don't have a flippin clue how to solve this one. The only person here with any real sense is Lar and she tells me, you go on. I'll take care of Joel. We'll do what needs to be done, whatever that is, but you go.
Traumatized, emotional, hurt, angry, confused... I stumble out, not sure which way to go, figure it out, come back, leave again, and start running. I forget to fill my water bottle and its empty, don't realize until I attempt a drink. Go back? Ah hell no. I can't do that. I just need to suck it up and go. The only damned way I'm gonna feel any better is to be done. I run faster, then faster, then I slip, almost fall, and settle myself down. I can't afford to fall again. The splint on my hand is gone. All the moisture and everything else and its just gone. I see a light coming towards me and its Axel. He stops to talk and I ask if its possible he has any extra water. He fills my empty and wishes me well. I thank him and then take a big deep swallow. It's interesting how thirsty I get when I realize I have no water, when otherwise I might have run for hours and never taken a drink. Such amazingly contradicting impulses that drive us. Nothing but darkness after the trail angel Axel, down to the river yet again, and then Lemon Ridge Trail. I should feel exhilarated knowing I'm on the final trail, and feeling lots of different thing, but not exhilaration. Leaving Joel behind has simply removed that emotion. I am sure I'll be happy to be done, but it would have been so much more awesome had we shared the experience of finishing. My mind is spinning and I can't slow it down. Every thought lasts seconds, and another, and another. My light is almost completely dead before I realize its even dimmed. I'm stumbling about because I can't see. I have two spares, pull out a good one, put the dead one away, and continue a bit more gracefully than I was just moments before.
Lar is waiting at Lemon Ridge, and again I don't need anything at all. Actually I dump everything out of my pack except the spare lights, and fill my bottle with Ginger Ale for the last three miles. I ask about Joel. She gave him a ride back to his van. I feel bad about that, but I'd also feel bad knowing he was out there alone. Nothing good about it either way. I need to stop thinking. I tell Lar I'll be done in ninety minutes and head on, walking mostly, with an occasional downhill run, but mostly just falling towards the finish, I cross paths with another armadillo. I start thinking about all the wildlife I'd seen today and it's a lot more than I usually see. I gave the GPS to Lar back at Lemon Ridge. It had already powered down, which seems funny to me. I've outlasted my GPS again. Now thats something to tell the grandkids. My mind wandering so much I begin to worry my legs don't wander as well... over a cliff or worse. Lar has been awesome. JoAnna plucking thorns out of my ass. Joel and Lar fixing my finger. Sliding down into Gorman Falls. How'd I get out of there, hugging the metal poles to keep from falling? I wake out of my mental meander when I hit the final jeep road. Just walking now, I reach up to turn off my light and realize it's already off. Don't remember turning it off, but sure as hell don't need it now. No run left in me and don't care, so I slowly wander down the last half mile. When I see the lights at the finish, there is no buzz of excitement. I'm just glad I can finally sit down. When I walk in, there's nobody there. Without my light on, I suppose nobody saw me coming. Doesn't matter. I cross the timing mat, done, walk to the tent. Somebody sees me and gets up, so I sit in the chair they exit, and remove the chip. Brad hands me a buckle and offers a handshake. I reach out, then pull back. I should not be shaking hands or fist bumping for a while.