Henry and I are just having fun getting in another run, so there's nothing serious about our agenda. If we hadn't run Hells Hills last weekend, I suspect we might be a little faster, but not much. I'd run this race eleven times already and know the trails well, but this trail is a first for Hobbs. We did talk about it, but seeing it with his own eyes is a lot different than hearing about it. There's only twelve of us in the 20 miler, five guys and seven girls. So when the lead three guys take off immediately, Henry and I know right from the start: we'll be last and 4th/5th too. One of the girls appears to be tracking on Henry and I, or more correctly, we may be blocking her way.
So, we're trolling along, running the one and only flat trail until we pop into the hills, and then switch to a walk/run, running the downs, walking the ups, and let me tell you: Henry can walk faster than some people can run. Candace and I get to talking and I learn this is her first trail race and Tim (the RD) is her coach. I figure she's a load faster than either of us and cant imagine she'll stay with us for long, but we'll see.
Turning onto steep leaf covered Arroyo Trail to begin the roller-coaster going up, then down, then up, down, and repeat. Sidewinder snakes into sweeping switchbacks, then winds about until we pop up onto a road. Twenty yards of pavement then a rapid descent on Speed Run to Edge Trail and back to the River Trail past a paved parking circle and pavilion, and back up to an unnamed set of switchbacks. And thats pretty much how it goes: up and down.
Never far from the river, we pass through Twin Bridges to the infamous Bamboo Chute near Drain Pipe. This little beastie isn't all that long but does take what wind I have and a bit more. I'm careful not to grab any of the busted and shattered bamboo as I climb this nasty tunnel of pain. The green mess is all around: under foot, across my path, and drooping down as well. Escaping the jungle into a large open field big enough for a soccer match, I stop to catch my breath before beginning to wade the healthy green spring grass, a paved road loop, then round a copse of trees to the double aid.
The Highlander / Hail Bopp loop is just a pinch under 2 miles and loaded with big hills. There are little ones too, but mostly, it's a lot of butt dragging in a short bit of time. We get turned so many different ways, I lose any reference to direction or location. Beginning with Highlander and finishing with the Bopp right back to where we started the loop at the double aid. Mariela and Adelaide catch us just as we come into the double aid around mile four and then the 5 of us yoyo with each other for the rest of the loop. The girls go ahead, but we catch them waiting for us, unsure of course direction. I smile as I pass and then hop on, and so it goes.
I'm really good at remembering trails and routes, but all of these hundreds of intersections, drops, climbs, turns, and such all start to blend together until I have no earthly idea of anything other than following the faint blurring wet flour arrows soaking into the ground. Passing Rinky Dink for Baseball, Cedars, and eventually Outback to the Powder Monkey. Weber Run falls into Torquer, and then the Vortex which can only be taken at a run down to a paved road. Ascending Colorado to another paved road or maybe even the same road, but how the hell would I know.
Life is good until I swallow a bug, a big one, and it gags me. I start coughing and spitting, trying to clear my throat. The others are offering advice, but I can barely see from gagging. I pour my drink down my throat, but It does nothing. Maybe the tailwind just powers its wings more. I figure if I guzzle a beer, maybe I can get it drunk, but you can never know for sure. If it's Irish, it might start singing too. I even bust my ass and roll up like a pillbug, but that doesn't help either. Jumping to Johnnie, then Kidney, and back to Johnnie, Its all ups and downs. After so long, it all looks the same and feels the same and if not for the occasional paved road, I'd think I was going in circles. A bit of Rio Perdido, then Act of Faith until popping up to Tar Hill, then it's a Picnic until another paved road where we find the 8mi station where I smash a banana down my throat and guzzle a coke. Between the two, I finally clear the bug.
We're in an area with a lot of awesome downhills now, so Henry and I manage to stay in front on the girls. Pipeline to Shyst and no matter where we turn, its all Shyst until we arrive at California 56. This might be a dream, but nothing changes except we're closing in on the end loop, marked by another bamboo grove and another paved road. Root Canal used to be our end route, but Tim decides to punish us further with Jacob's Ladder instead. Can't imagine who thought it was a great idea building a set of concrete stairs strait up a 100 foot wall with 100 steps: not sure exactly, but it feels like forever. They had a problem creating a form for the steps, each one a different height, and some so tall you have to climb to the next level. When we arrive at the base, there's a crowd of people, but the girls go up front and we never see them again. It's a short slide down Sturgis Rd to my truck and cooler, but I was out of breath well before Jacob's summit, so its rather difficult to run.
At the end of the loop, Henry and I work out of the trunk of his car as our personal aid station. We have a cooler with cold drinks, extra clothes, some food and water, and a hell of a lot more gear than we could ever use today. We take a few minutes to get situated before we head out for another loop of the same damn thing we just did. The temp is in the low 50s and its windy as hell, but real comfortable in so many different ways. No soaking wet sweated thru clothes, no chaffing, no dry mouth, and oh but its almost perfect.
Going out on loop two, I realize my body is getting a bit tight and maybe it's not going to go as smooth as it did last time. We were not in much of a hurry last loop and now it seems we will go even slower. Now that this has become our current status, we do pick up our pace now and again, and then drag along now and again too. We didn't realize Marcia had come through right behind us at the turnaround, but she buzzes by rather comfortably soon after the double station. We seem to be doing ok, but my calfs are getting tight and starting to cramp.
We're starting to have problems following the course now that the flour arrows are beginning to fade. All us runners plus the mountain bike traffic are slowly rubbing out the arrows, and that's the only course marking being used. I feel sorry for the 3-loopers who have another round to go. The almost invisible flour arrows will only add to their difficulties.
Henry has some pickle juice and asks if I'd care for some. Says its great magic for healing cramps, so I give it a try. Can't be more than ten minutes before my calf cramps are gone and I'm simply amazed how quickly it works. But now, Henry's quads are cramping and he's already used it all. We ping along with our irregular walk/run for the rest of the loop and get it done, although our 2nd ascent of Jacob's Ladder almost rolled Hobbs up. We end up finishing in 4th & 5th as well as last 2 men and 2nd and 3rd masters