Caprock Canyon SP has all the mystique and majesty of any western topography filled with bison, red rock canyons, and thunderous weather changes. Today is no different, with 20mph winds blasting us from the East and a storm approaching from the West. In a gale, Jimmy attempts to put up his tent while I try to sling my hammock. Jimmy's having a problem hammering his tent pegs into the ground behind a wind block, and I get one side of the hammock up but can't get to the 2nd tree. The hammock parachutes out instantly and pulls me off balance. I give it 3 or 4 tries but when the rain and hail comes on the 5th try, I quit. I wait for the hail to stop, then go find my tent and put that up instead, under an overhanging tree next to a dirt bank serving as a wind block.
I have discovered a new joy in camping the night prior to trail races, regardless the weather, but there are circumstances that need to be dealt with. Today, it is the wind, but we get it done. Once the tent is up and loaded with pad and bag, I settle down to read a bit and enjoy the storm as it rages. Bill and Nancy show up and go through their own processes same as we did, but eventually they also have a set of tents up. By the time the sun sets, there a dozen tents and a few others sleeping in their cars in the overflow parking area next to the lake. By dark, I've put away all the distractions and settled in to sleep. Nothing quite like the white noise of rain on a tent roof and wind blasting the tent walls to rock me to sleep.
I wake to the sound of coyotes yipping and checking my phone clock, find I'm 30 minutes shy the 5:45 alarm. My stomach reminds me to visit the bathroom before all else. I have everything already pre-set and ready for the day's adventure, so I pull on my shorts, shirts, socks, and shoes... and gather up the little I'll need for the first 15mi loop. Basically, its just a water bottle with tailwind mix and a pocket with toilet kit, foot repair kit, and a few gels. I have another complete change ready for loop two, as well as all the other what-ifs, dependent on how things go.
It's not raining when I visit the bathroom, but a rain cloud settles into us by the time I get back to the tent. It's a comfortable 50 degrees even with the rain, so its right on the edge of too cold and too hot, depending on the wind. Everybody at the start seems undecided whether its rain jacket weather or not. Some are completely covered in layers and jackets while others are in t-shirts and shorts. The spartans appear to be way too cold shaking in the wind while the multi-layered appear a bit too warm. I can't decide, but by the time we move out into the rain cloud, I simply leave the jacket on.
Jimmy went out yesterday to have a quick look at the trail and told me it looked to be a bulldozed jeep road, and so it is. Its wide, flat, and manicured enough to drive a jeep for a good part of the Eagle Point Trail. The dirt trail is a bit sloppy in places due the rain which makes for a bit of slipping and sliding. Jimmy goes on ahead, while I keep reconnecting with the same guy over and over, until we start talking and swap names. Paul's a triathlete from Lubbock in his first 50k, and after a good bit of random discussion, he clicks into my odd rhythm of mixed walking and running. We pop onto a paved road and run down it, until we see the turn on the right side for a bit of lively up and down on the Lower Canyon Trail. This rolls us into the Double Aid Station
By this time, I am way beyond wanting the rain coat and leave it here. While I'm sorting this out, Paul refills his water, but Nancy and Bill pass us along with a couple from Puerto Rico. Back on more paved road, I naturally tend to slow down while everyone around me goes faster, such that I get rapidly left behind. Paul looks like he can roll along and I suggest he take after the others, but he says he's hanging with me. Damn but I hate the road and I'm on it way too long, but this road ends at the South Prong Tent Camping Area and we spin off the right side to the Upper Canyon Trail. Its another bulldoze jeep road, but at least its dirt. It rolls along, up and own, left and right within a rock throw of a big mountain wall on our right, and a very shallow South Prong River. Eventually, we cross the river a few times and then hike directly up the middle of it, hoping from sand bar to sand bar.
Then I see the Bison and a handful of others, all standing and talking, trying to figure how to get around the big animal. I am not one to idly sit and wait, so I immediately go off into the brush on the right. I figure I either get around him or get him to move, and so he does. He moves towards me, off the path, into the prickly pear and scrub. The others get past him and I back up and go around the same way they do. We're not far from the base of the big climb and I end up in front of this small pack before we arrive, so I start climbing first. It's an extremely steep and rugged 2500ft ascent that requires both hands and both feet to push and pull from one rock to the next. Oh hell yea but this is the stuff. I wasn't too terribly excited about the course until just now. Paul stays on me, but we pull well ahead of the others, going from ledge to ledge, rock to rock, up into the clouds where the wind coming over the summit begins to hammer on us once again. The climb takes the wind right out of us, and also it exhilarates to the point that we begin to run and keep running across the top and down the rugged descent into a slot on the other side.
I would have run right past it, but Paul sees the unmanned aid and stops for water. While we're there, our Puerto Rican friends catch us and pass by. This is still the Upper Canyon Trail but it's completely different from the South Prong side. This has the look of New Mexico with hoodoos and striped red rock mesas. Each time we drop into a depression and top out, we see another one just like it again, and again. Suddenly, it's hailing marble sized ice pellets, popping us on the head and shoulders, and heavy rain mixed with the hail drenches us. I start looking for any sort of cover and find a steep drainage slicing in from one side that offers just a sliver of cover, but not enough. Paul stands with me for a moment, but we're just going to get cold standing there so we decide to suck it up and deal with it. Five minutes later, we're back to the Double Aid where I pick up the rain jacket I left here a few hours ago.
The rain stays with us, but its on and off, so I'm glad to have my jacket back. We return the way we came down the Lower Canyon Trail to the road, and Eagle Point Trail. When we get to the out-n-back to Honey Flat, the route follows the edge of the bluff, with numerous splits going off in so many different directions, were it not marked, I'd have no idea. Onto the road, pass an aid station that I have no reason to use, back onto another trail, another road, another trail loop, then back the way I came. Back to the beginning point of the out-n-back, we go left and find the road just down from the start.
I tell Paul to have at it. I plan to go to my truck first where I'll change out all my wet clothes and eat some lunch before going after loop two. And so I do: change all of my soaking wet everything for dry everything, except shoes. I make myself a turkey and cheese sandwich, drink a coke, and head back up. This time, I have a small pack with a few odds and ends, but no rain jacket.
I head out alone this time, with cloud cover and wind, but no rain. When I run, I feel I run well, but I still walk the ups. The wind and the running traffic have dried and pounded the mud into a path that is easy to manage without any sliding. Where I not already tired, I might have run this 2nd loop rather well, but the wear and tear of running abuse keeps me going pretty much the same as I did the last time around. When I reach the climb, I take a short break. After all, this is all I have been thinking about since I began loop two. I drink the pickle juice I carried with me and chase it with a bit of cold gatorade I'd also brought. Not sure if it was the juice or just my excitement, but I take the climb quickly and easily.
On top, I take another breather before rolling down the other side. I stop at the unmanned aid again, but not for water. This time, I just want to wash the salt off my face and out of my eyes. I start pushing a bit harder now, wanting to get done. The endless ups and downs that all look the same beg me to keep my head down and not think about it, but I can't stop. Each time I top out, I hope to see the aid station, without seeing what I want. So I try to not think about it, but it's not any better than telling myself to go to sleep, and not sleeping.
The aid station does come to me, but it seems a lot further than I thought it should be, and I quickly continue to the next section. For the first time I start thinking about how long this is going to take, and then I see a big old Bison just ahead on the trail. He's looking right at me. I stop when I first see him about 30 feet out, but then I take a step towards him, and he rumbles a few steps towards me, not that his feet are noticeable. His entire front end looks like a huge black mass from horn to beard, and I'm not sure I can make out his hoofs at all. I take a step to his left and he goes left, so I stop and make a move to his right and he doesn't react, so I keep going right, through the prickly pear, thorn bushes, and tall grass. Finally past the big animal, I stop to take another look. He couldn't care less what I'm doing, and thats just the way I want it too.
Ten minutes later, I get to the out-n-back turn, and follow the Bison track. This is the flattest and easiest part of the entire race, and it is my nemesis. I try to push myself to run, but the wind pushes back. I cannot get myself to change now what I have been doing all day. I walk some and run some, all the way out and all the way back. The final turn and then the road and I still can't force any change, and so it is that I saunter on in to the finish for pretty much the same time I ran on loop one. If nothing else, I am consistant