Tuesday, September 18, 2012

LAVS 500K: Tales From the Road [ Part 2 ]

Day 2: McKenzie to Parsons.
Wherein I manage to...Run all 58 out of 50 miles; eat lunch in a nice restaurant; receive homemade granola from total strangers (and inspiration from Carl); get questioned by the police (for the first time); purchase a soda from a space machine; meet Richard Westbrook along the never-ending road of construction;

Days two and three were probably the two most memorable days of the entire run (Gee...even as I write that I wonder if it's a lie). I know I was still flying high from the overwhelming sense of adventure of just being at Vol State. I still could barely believe I was even there, amidst the company I was in. It's hard to describe the sense of absolute freedom this race gives you. It's intoxicating and empowering. I felt invincible!

I woke up Friday morning and tried to get out of the room as early as I could. What should have been a 5:00 a.m. start became a 6:00 a.m. start. I was two blocks off-course, and had to go back to the 4-way intersection to start my day. I stopped at a donut store and ordered 2 apple fritters and coffee, and marvelled at the luxury of being able to eat like this. It's practically reason enough in itself to run Vol State.

I then do an incredibly stupid thing.  I arrive at the 4-way intersection where I (purposefully) went off course the night before in order to get to the motel, and I proceed to cross the street and start running. What in god's name made me think I was going the right direction is beyond me. But I felt goood, dammit! Fueled by fritters and hitting my stride at 4 mph, I had my directions in hand, and I was lost in my own world- reliving the memories from the previous day. To my credit, I looked at my directions occassionally. But each time that I did, I found no obvious landmarks with which to verify I was on course. Imagine that.

After a while (as in an HOUR) I came to a bridge  with a fairly large creek running under it. I thought that had to be on my map. I started looking for blue on my map, anything that might show me what creek this was. Then it hit me. Oh... my.... god. What if I had gone the wrong way? Omg, omg, please say no, no, no...no...Noooooo!

Shit. I totally went the wrong way.

My thought process then went something like this:

Be cool.
Don't even think about it.
Just head back and think of nothing.
Don't even call in to Carl until you're back on course.
Consider not even telling anyone about this.

As soon as I turn back and start running, the first billboard ad I came to mocked me: "Brandon Heating & Air Conditioning in McKenzie...Just 4 Miles!!" Ha ha. Very funny. I'm sure someday this will make a great story. But for now, I am a little upset at how good I am running and how it is for absolutely nothing.

I checked my watch more frequesntly as the 7:30 a.m. call in time approached. There was no way in HELL I was calling in and saying, "I've been off course since 6:00 a.m. but hey! I should be back at my STARTING POINT any time now." That was not going to happen. So I sped up even as I vowed not to call Carl until I could say I was on course and say something vague like "leaving McKenzie".

Picture courtesy of Carl Laniak, who got a kick out of the
fact I strayed off course for 4 miles and still caught John Price
Finally, back at the 4-way intersection at 8:00 a.m. and I text Carl. I go in to the gas station and verify which way I should be running. I should have taken a left originally. Fucking-A.

 But here's another funny thing...I'm back on course for only about a mile, and I swear I see what has to be a Vol Stater up in the distance. Yes! The closer I get, the more I am SURE it's a fellow runner. Finally, I come upon John Price!

We hang out for a bit and I do tell him of my misadventure, and I'm laughing about it, so, when a few minutes later Laz and Carl appear, I go ahead and tell them I went off course for 4 miles before I called in earlier. They seemed to enjoy hearing the stories of the runners, and I was happy to oblige.

John and I ran for a while together. Ran, walked, mostly walked, and right around 11:00 am we headed into Huntingdon. He knew of a really good restaurant that most people overlooked. As we approached it, we saw it was closed but we decided to wait 15 minutes for them to open. It was so worth it!

The next 7 hours or so were fairly uneventful. I can't remember if I had blisters already or not. I think I did, and I think it was this day where I spent a fair amount of time trying to find some bandaid combo to fix them up. But in the end, I gave up and when my feel let me, I would get some good running in, and when they hurt I would walk.

I remember I was near Lexington, mile 92, as I was coming up to the 7:30 p.m. call in time. I had already decided I would push on to Parsons that night. When I texted in to Carl where I was and that I planned to keep moving, his response was awesome! He told me I was in 7th place!! He said I had covered more miles so far than he did on his first Vol State!! Holy crap!! He was cheering me on! I really felt great and I was so excited about moving on through the night.

Around 8PM I was walking through a neighborhood and this guy came out from his house and he knew I was one of the Vol State runners somehow. It was amazing! He was offering me Gatorade, or food or anything I needed. He was so polite, too! He said his wife was there so if I wanted to come in and use the bathroom or get water, it would be OK.  Then his wife came outside, carrying a bag of homemade granola and another bag of dried fruit. She gave them to me, and wished me luck in the race. It was so cool.

I stopped at a gas station next, to load up on water and food for the next stretch. This time, I looked for beer ahead of time, thinking I would really want one when I was ready to stop and there may not be a convenience store open in Parsons near the motel. So I bought a 22 oz. Heineken (not much to choose from) and it fairly took up all the room in my pack*. I didn't have a lot of other fluids as I set out. 

As I left the gas station, I knew I was passing the 100-mile mark. I ran for a little while, but the sidewalk was awful to run on, and the road was full of traffic. It got frustrating. I decided to take a break and give Charles a call to update him on the adventures of the day. It was dark now, and I sat on the curb on the side of the road to call. Just as I was talking to Charles, a cop car rolls up to me. I instinctively knew the cop thought I was homeless, or possibly waiting for my dealer. I told Charles what was happening, and that I would leave him on the phone to listen in.

Sure enough, this lady cop gets out of the car, and she has this look, like OK, let's move it along here bum lady. She's pretty aggressive and tells me to stand up and keep my hands where she can see them. She asks me if I have ID. I tell her yes, and that I'm in a 300-mile race across the state of TN. I ask her if she's seen any of the other runners come through. I show her the flag on my pack and tell her she can identify us by our U.S. flags.  As I tell her more, including how I'm in 7th place overall, she totally changes her attitude, and seems all happy for me. She tells me I'm amazing and she wishes me luck.

I move on, happily, through the night.


From: Carl Laniak [mailto:carl.laniak@gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, July 13, 2012 9:31 PM
To: Volstate List; ultra List
Subject: vol state (36 hour) runner status
Through an intricate and unpredictable series of choreographed footsteps,
each of the runners has arrived at the exact spot where they should be at this point in space and time.
This 36 hour update shows a list of beauty, to those who know of these things....
NO ONE has quit yet.
Unless you count the handful of times that each of the runners has vowed, internally, that they are *definitely* quitting!
But none of them has followed through on that promise to themselves.
They are all (from the first to the last) pushing beyond the point of discomfort now.
Searching, and finding, *something* out on the roads as they head into the dark of the second night.
1) Paul Lefelhocz 107 down to sleep
2) Joshua Holmes 104 moving
3) Dan Fox 103 moving
4) Jay Dobrochewski 103 moving
5) Juli Aistars 100 moving
6) Thomas Mikkelson 96 moving
7) Psyche Wimberly 94 moving
8) Richard Westbrook 93 moving
9) Sal Coll 92 stopped
10) Jan Silverman 92 stopped
11) Sulaiman Seriki 92 stopped
12) Charlie Taylor 92 stopped
13) Abi Meadows 92 stopped
14) John Price 88 moving
15) Sherry Meador 86 moving
16) Rita Barnes 84 stopped
17) Dusty Hardman 84 stopped
18) Shannon Burke 84 stopped
19) Erika/Adam (now a relay) 83 moving
20) Fred Davis 80 moving thru clarksburg
21) Mike Melton 68 stopped
22) Diane Taylor 63 moving
23) Marvin Skagerberg 54 moving
24) Oprah 53 moving well

Around midnight, I run out of food. Then water. Then energy. I am bonking big time. I am on a road that has all this construction and I kind of remember it from the van ride down- but the construction seems like it is going on for freaking ever. It's disorienting, and time just crawls by. I try to run, but walk far more than anything else.

Up ahead I see something like a building and hope/ pray for a soda machine or some sort of vending machine. It seems many of the building along the road have them. It's not too far fetched to hope for one.

I get closer, and I see that it IS a vending machine!! I cross the street and walk over to it. It's surreal how bright and shiny it is, here in the middle of nowhere. It's like it doesn't belong here. I fumble around for money and I finally- in what seems like hours later- get a dollar bill out and insert it in to the machine. But then I can't figure out what thing you do to order a drink. It's as if I'm looking at the machine but there's a delay in what's translated to my brain. I begin to wonder why this machine looks so new and shiny, like maybe technology's been updated since I last used a machine like this, and now I don't know how they work.  Maybe it's super simple, I think, like advanced technology sometimes is. Yeah, you probably just push the giant picture of the soda you want. OMG! What if I do that and my hand goes right through the machine???? How cool would that be???  I bet I stared at the luscious pictures of Coke, Diet Coke, Aquafina, and Dr. Pepper for a very long time indeed as I contemplated just how to communicate to a Coke machine of the future.

Wait, I thought. How do you communicate to Coke machines of the past? There's probably a clue there. Aren't you supposed to push a button or something and a coke drops down to the bottom of the machine? Oh, god, I hope math isn't involved- what if I have to match up the drink labeled D2 with a button labeled D2 in order to get Dr. Pepper? Shit. I'm not sure I'm up to that.

I start laughing maniacly because on one level I'm aware I'm totally tripping on this machine, but I also know I can't do anything else but stay with it until I figure out how to get the Dr. Pepper out of the machine. I'm fairly desperate by now, so I start feeling the machine with my hands, hoping my fingers will run in to some clue. Just in case, I press down with my hands over the picture of Dr. Pepper. I half expect it to work. I marvel at how the plastic bends inward...but, alas, no drink is forthcoming. I wonder if this is how stupid people feel. I hope not. I hope they are blissfully unaware of their shortcomings.

I no longer remember how I figured out how to get the drink out of the machine, but I finally did get a drink. I was so thirsty! It's funny that I never once thought to get more than one drink. I just sat there, enjoying the hell out of the one drink I managed to score.

As if this weren't weird enough, suddenly I see someone walking across the street towards me! At first I was scared. Then I realized it has to be a Vol State runner! For a brief moment, I feel embarrassed and wonder if perhaps he's been watching me as I took the better part of the evening to purchase a soda. He gets closer, and suddenly I recognize Richard Westbrook!

I'm so out of it, I don't really know how to handle this new social situation, so I kind of wander off, leaving him to figure the machine of the future out for himself. I do chuckle to myself just a little bit at how long it seems to take him.

As we head down the road, we make small talk and this small stretch of road surprisingly contains one of the strongest memories I have from Vol State- The road we're on has a net elevation loss, and the stars are so bright against the night sky. I'm blown away by the beauty and simple pleasure of just walking down the road into the stars, with a soda and the night breeze to cool me off.  I find out Richard is from Georgia, and I mention that Charles is from Georgia, too. Then I ask if he's with GUTS.  I think I say something like, "It seems like most ultrarunners from there join GUTS." And he says, "I'm not much of a joiner." Now, it was just the way he said it. I thought it was the coolest answer ever. In that moment, I thought I knew all I ever needed to know about Richard Westbrook**.

To be continued.....

Next up- I am bested by Sonic, then it rains and my feet are destroyed. Naresh saves my race.

* For those of you wondering why I didn't just drink that 22 oz. Heineken I was carrying around, well, I tried. It was just too disgusting to drink warm Heine in the state I was in. 

** Only later did I learn what a legend Richard is. He's so legendary, he's Schick-like:))

Thursday, September 13, 2012

LAVS 500K: Tales From the Road [ Part I ]

The following events take place between
 July 11 and July 21, 2012.
First, a word about the "tales" you are about to read. You have to understand that I am totally sand bagging how good these stories are going to be a lot of stories from this race won't be funny to you, because the humor can only be appreciated from the perspective of one who is being pushed to the sheer edge by pain and fatigue.  But to me, these stories will always be hilarious (or heartbreaking, or some other equally intense adjective), and in the re-telling, I know a few others will be out there chuckling to themselves and "getting it". That's enough for me. My goal in writing this is simply to be able to look back at these words one day, when the experience of Vol State 2012 is almost faded from my memory, and be reminded of what an incredible adventure and achievement it was to run 314 miles for the first time.

So now that the bar is set appropriately low, let's set it a little lower.

I'm not even going to try to capture events in the correct order. I'm not even going to try all that hard to get the facts right. Instead, what follows is my account of many of the most intense moments (both good and bad) that I experienced over 9 days on the road.

Of course, the first memories were made days before the start of the race. The lead up to something this epic is epic in itself.

Also, and worth noting - there is something strange going on between Charles and I and Laz's races. Take Barkley for example- Charles ran it last year and I ran it this year. We had this shared freakish mirror image experience- a year apart! You can't make this stuff up:  We were both #1 on the weight list the day before the race. We both got in at the very last minute- and we got in because someone died (yeah, I know -  someone had to die for us to get in). I was alone for the first 4 books this year, and finished a loop with Naresh and Matt Mahoney. Last year, Charles was with people for the first 4 books and finished alone.

Coincidence? Maybe.... But on the eve of Vol State, I had to wonder if this strange link we have wasn't continuing with this race. It's as if the intensely surreal quality of preparing to board the ferry had somehow spilled over into Charles' life. I wish I could tell you the details of what happened to him on the eve of Vol State, but this one is not my story to tell- although it's a really good one! At the very least, it deserves a shout out to Julie for adding a heaping dose of drunken crazy surreal to an already over the top experience. Good lord! Someone check- was it a full moon on July 11?

OK, more ramblings...about the genius RD's. From the very start, I marveled at how Laz is an absolute master at designing life-changing, consciousness-altering experiences...that just happen to be running related. What makes me say this, you ask? Well, it is simply pure genius to set up a 300-mile race and drive the runners from the finish to the start.  Think about it: it takes all day to get there. As the hours roll on, no one can escape the fact that we'll all be on foot the next time we see the locales being discussed by vets as virgins try to take it all in.

Don't let them fool you- this is what RD genius looks like
More genius RD strategy- you see Laz and Carl at least once a day for the first 3-4 days. You would not believe how good it is to see them! After about day three, you become completely aware that on some level you are living to see their faces again. On Day 5 I told them I now know what it feels like to be a dog: All of a sudden, they're HERE! They came back! They came back! They came back! Great rush of happiness, excitement and love! Oh, now they're gone again.

Another great impression of genius I was left with about those two- They are out there in the very early miles recording race splits like it's the Kinney National Cross Country Championship or something. Seriously, the last time I had what could even be considered a near-race experience was back in 2009  when I tried to run down the only other over-40 female for an age group award. At my ability level, ultra's are extreme efforts, but are not races. At least before now.  Yet, here I was, just a few miles in, feeling the distinct rumblings of competitiveness. I left Hickman, KY in 16th place (16th? Damn! There's only like 23 people out here!! I better get moving!)
And finally, on the drive to the start, I remember Laz saying Vol State is nothing like Barkley- that anyone with enough determination can finish it. I remember how relieved and encouraged  I felt at hearing those words. Barkley is for strength-oriented runners who thrive on tons of climbing and rise to the challenge of orienteering. Nothing in that last sentence remotely describes me. Vol State, on the other hand, plays to totally different strengths.

First, you don't have to be fast to succeed at LAVS (check).
You have to be able to exist on very little sleep (check).
You have to be able to sleep at the drop of a hat (check).
You have to be extremely, extremely determined (check).

In hindsight, and in my humble opinion, Vol State trumps Barkley as far as life-changing experiences go.  But what's really cool is that they are completely different experiences- and chances are, if LAVS is your thing, Barkley probably isn't.

If nothing else, I owe these two a debt of gratitude for bringing the race experience back to me as a reality. True or not, I am convinced I have what it takes to be a future King of the Road. Given enough things going right, and very few things going horribly wrong, I really believe I have a chance of being in the hunt for the win one day. As Dan Fox mentioned, with this beast, the race isn't even ON until mile 250.

Day One: The First 400 Years
I officially get on the ride. I discover LAVS as my calling in running. I adopt a hybrid strategy based on John Price's advice and my own stupidity. I get attacked by dogs. I get befriended by Tennesseeans. I cover 57 miles on day one and, yes, there is beer.

As we set off to our first destination 18 miles away (Subway), the female unfriendly nature of this race in terms of bathroom opportunities becomes immediately evident. Nothing out here but wide open spaces and cars. You can be sure that before it was over, I found some pretty interesting ways to pee in public. Some successful, others not so much. All were pretty funny, though.

Day One really didn't get interesting until night time. However, as I mentioned before, I was desperate to call Charles and find out how the drama of the night before had finally resolved. At this point, I was convinced Charles needed to be running 300 miles far more than I did.  As we arrived at Subway for lunch, I called to check in with him and was hardly surprised at all when Daniel Tosh answered.

Daniel Tosh has begun narrating Charles' life. This is not good.

Mike Melton, Paul Lefelhocz at Subway

Just 2 miles down the road, everyone checked in with the RD's at the 20-mile checkpoint.

Paul Lefelhocz in disguise at Mile 20

Psyche and John Price- disguised as each other at Mile 20
Around 4:00, I stopped at a Burger King in Martin and enjoyed the air conditioning, a chocolate shake, and the company of John Price, Dan Fox, and Sherry Meador. Pretty heady stuff for a newbie.

Heading into Dresden that night, I was about 40 miles in to the race and it finally felt like the adventure had begun. I came upon this sign painted on the road and enjoyed following the arrows for a while. I was really enjoying running at this point. I love this time of day, and was moving well and feeling good.

I caught up to Sherry Meador and realized I had missed the pizza place described in my directions. Last chance for water for a good while. So, as we walked through a neighborhood I only half listened to Sherry as I searched the houses for a hose I could drink from.  I finally found one, but the water tasted like 3 parts plastic hose and one part water. Really nasty stuff .

As I was drinking said nasty hose water, I noticed a guy in a truck had pulled over and was talking to Sherry. It turned out he was from the local radio station and he wanted us to call in to the station to talk about the race the next morning.  He gave us his card and we would see him a few more times over the next few miles.

On the way to Gleason, a mom in a minivan stopped and gave us ice cold water and oranges. This was my first experience with the kindness of strangers. It was fantastic! This family made us feel like rock stars!!  I would show you their pictures, but alas, I lost my camera somewhere around the 200 mile mark. (Yeah, I just wanted to say, "200 mile mark". It makes me feel like a badass).

At about 8:00 p.m., I had to decide if I was up for another 15 miles or if I would stay put. That's where my "strategy" came in. I had asked John Price all kinds of questions about this on the drive to the start and he was wonderful about sharing viewpoints about how people do the race. He had some really good advice. One thing I was going to follow was to try to get 4-5 hours of sleep a night.

Everyone approaches the sleep issue differently, but I tend to think you only hurt yourself by being too sleep deprived. I can function really well on 4-5 hours a night. It get tricky, though, because you need to decide every night if you can make it to the next stopping point in time to get 4-5 hours of sleep.  If  you think you'll roll into town at 2-4:00 a.m., it might be better to stay where you are that night. I just felt good in having some way to approach each day.
Since it was just 8PM, I thought I could easily push the extra 15-17 miles into McKenzie. I would arrive around midnight and check in to a motel for 4-5 hours of sleep. I set off to McKenzie with Sherrie Meador. Sherrie was having stomach issues as she will tell you she's prone to do. I didn't want to hurt Sherry's feelings but I was really just in the mood to run alone and try to get into a groove. I actually felt pretty good, and I just told her it was nothing personal. 

Around 10PM, I was running through a neighborhood in the dark. It was peaceful. I called to talk with Charles for a bit. I was aware of what a lovely memory I was going to have of this night, as I looked at the moon, enjoyed the breeze, and especially the company of the one I love.

Not 5 minutes after hanging up, 3 dogs come tearing down a hill from behind a house. I immediately knew they were not protecting their territory or trying to warn me off. They were out for blood. They seemed to be medium sized terriers or something and they did not hesitate or slow as they got closer. and I was immediately completely freaked out. I started yelling and screaming and waving my arms but they just kept coming. The terror was magnified when I realized they had formed a circle around me! I swear to god, this seemed like it lasted 20 minutes- the dogs coming at me, and me fending them off and screaming like a crazy person. I have woken up in a cold sweat and screaming from bad dreams less scarey than this.

Finally, I threw some water at them from my water bottle, then threw the water bottle itself and distrated them. I started running and they came after me, but didn't pursue for long.

I thought I may die of adrenaline overdose, and I was shaking, and I was especially wondering how in the HELL no one heard me screaming or why came outside to see what was going on. I left that neighborhood screaming, "What is freaking WRONG with you people....???"

I probably had about 7 - 9 miles left before I could stop for a few hours in McKenzie. The adrenaline and previous 50 miles had both taken their toll, and I began the slow death march in to town. The last couple of miles were extremely long.

As I exited the neighborhood which dumped me on to the street where I'd find a motel, I spotted a convenience store that was still open. It seemed about 2 blocks from the motel, so I decided to stop and see what fine craft beer they might be carrying. As I was in line paying for my barely drinkable hops, I struck up a conversation with a guy who seemed to be the buddy of the guy working behind the counter. They said another person had come in there about an hour ago and he asked me what we were doing. It was incredible to tell these guys we were in a race across Tennessee.

I checked in to the motel, requested a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, and climbed the stairs to the second floor. I wasted no time at all  in drinking a beer, getting a shower (cleaning my clothes by washing them while still on me) and getting right in to bed for whatever precious little sleep I could get.

I was gonna need it.

In just 3 hours, my future self wakes up, hits the road, and travels 8 miles in the wrong direction.

Stay tuned....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LAVS 500K - Part 3: They're Off (Way Off)

This Race Is So Long It Takes 2 Days To Get To The Start
Although the race start date is Thursday, July 12, if you plan on riding the bus to the start of the race, you need to meet up with all the other bus-riders at a private ranch in Georgia called Castle Rock on Wednesday morning. You then partake in a secret ceremony featuring Kool Aid.pile into a bus and travel as a group to the start. The traditional "last supper" is held Wednesday night, with the runners retiring to their respective hotel rooms afterward to await the ride to the Ferry the next morning. 

A Word About Vol State Logistics

I'm pretty sure I just made that sound easy, but let me tell you, getting your head around logistics for this one is a bitch. After two weeks of sweating out what the hell to put in my pack, I realized I hadn't thought about the fact that you don't want ANY extra baggage when you get on the ferry. I wondered, what do people wear to the "last supper"? Do they all wear what they're going to run in? They must, right??  I placed a quick call to Dusty Hardman to ask her about this aspecct of things. Given Dusty's detailed to-the-ounce gear list, if she didn't have the answer, no one would. However, all I remembered hearing was something about a "4 ounce dress" and "maybe go to the Goodwill..."  Hmm. Note to self: must... work...on...listening...skilz.

Psyche: "You are yankin' my chain, lady! That dress weighs at LEAST 12 ounces."

Because I like you, and I think you're special, I'm going to tell you the secret to handling Vol State logistics. Are you ready? Are you sure? Because this is really important, so you should be ready, OK? OK, then. Here goes: Don't waste your time packing, planning, and preparing.

None of it will matter.

Just get yourself to the start with your ID and a credit card. And possibly your health insurance card- Nah, strike that. If you knew insurance would pay, it would be far too tempting to throw yourself into oncoming traffic just to make it stop. Better to not have a safety net.

A Word About The RD's

Seriously? It's Laz and Carl. Think about it. If Laz and Carl had a baby, it would look like this:
Vol State: Demon child of Laz and Carl

The Start: And They're OFF (...Way Off)
To start the race with a simulated Ferry Ride simply added to the surreal quality of this race.  Here's some pics of the photo ops and socializing that took place prior to the start.

This almost looks like the start of a "regular" race

Laz's Angels
(Stop laughing! I said shut UP!!!)

Sherry Meador, Me, Marvin the Awesome, and Dusty

23 Start...

This picture virtually screams, "I have no IDEA what I am in for."

I'll end this post with a recap of the start by the RD's:

Vol State Update 1: They Are Off (Way Off)
we got lucky.
the ferry is sitting in the mud,
the crew is doing repainting and other maintenance tasks.
they allowed us to board the barge to start.
at 07:17:42 we started atop the riverbank in kentucky
and ran to the ferry.
following a 20 minute "simulated" ferry ride,
used for photos ops and socializing just like normal,
the gates were opened,
and the runners set out on their magnificent quest.
there were 23 starters, and they passed by the mississippi river overlook in hickman in this order:

1) sal coll
2) richard westbrook
3) charley taylor
4) julie aistars
5) jan silverman
6) thomas mikkelson
7) joshua holmes
8) rita barnes

9) dan fox
10) sherry meador
11) abi meadows
12) shannon burke
13) dusty hardman
14) mike melton
15) sulaiman sericki
16) psyche wimberly
17) ericka matheny
18) john price
19) fred davis
20) paul lefelhocz
21) jay dobrowalski
22) marvin skagerberg
23) diane taylor

in a little while we will go out to get the 20 mile splits...the last time we'll be able to sit in one place and watch all the runners go by.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LAVS 500K - Part 2: Getting To The Ferry

Figuratively and Literally - Getting to the Ferry Is Everything.  
Figuratively, my own journey to the ferry began when I started running. I say that because it was clear to me from the start that (ultimately), running is an expression of self transcendence. By its nature, running is about pushing beyond personal limits.

However, to be honest, I never really experienced the "transcendence" part of running until I began running ultramarathons. The reason for that, I believe, is that it takes something extraordinary, epic even, to truly push you to your limits.  And part of that is that you can't be sure you can actually do it.

Literally, it took me about a year to get to the ferry. About this time last year, I sat reading Naresh's Vol State race report, just like you're reading mine now. In his report there is a quote from Laz, which, if you are the type of person Vol State calls to, will make running this race truly irrisistable:

a run like this is not just a race
it can be (is) a life changing experience.
vol state is a journey thru personal hell
you WILL be discouraged.
you WILL feel self doubt.
you WILL want to quit.
but if you persevere.
if you dog it out, step by step.
you will find in yourself a strength you never knew existed.
the vol-state is not a time to be concerned about teaching the young or helping out friends.
you will need every ounce of your mental toughness just to reach the rock

As soon as I finished Naresh's incredible account of his experiences last year, I knew I was in.  I remember I texted Charles and said something like, "Sorry, honey, but I'm (we're) gonna have to take 10 days off in July." 

Fast forward 11 months. 

As Vol State neared, the race weighed heavily on me. The race was here, but I was in a position where I couldn't afford the expense of food and lodging for 7-10 days plus the time off. I struggled with the decision because given the circumstances, doing something of this magnitude wasn't the responsible thing to do. For a couple of weeks, I went back and forth with my decision.

Then, one day I came across an email from Jason Sullivan that had gone to spam that I had never read. It was from the Foothills List, and it was about Angela Ivory. Angela lost her battle with cancer in May after a long fight, and although I didn't know Angela on a deeply personal level, if you ever met her, or even knew of her- you could not help but be moved by her story. In this email, Jason talked about how Angela had always wanted to run the Foothills Trail, and how he had told her he would run it with her. Now he would never share that victory with her. 

Angela's desire to run the Foothills Trail is something I didn't know about her, and for some reason (even now) I am deeply moved by Jason's heart felt words. I started thinking. Who knows what next year will bring.  All I know is that THIS year I have an opportunity to do this race because Leopold is able to stay with his dad - who is also fighting cancer. THIS YEAR, I'm able to take the time off from work.

In that moment, I decided to refuse to look back and wish that I had done this race. That is not the life I want to live. Right or wrong, I decided to run and live with the consequences.

Smartest thing I ever did, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LAVS 500K: Part I - An Adventure Of a Lifetime

"There is no fee, no disclaimer, just 500K of open road.
And the adventure of a lifetime. If you have what it takes to do it" -Laz
It really is a selfish thing to commit a week to a race, but if you get the right thing out of it, it could be the smartest thing you ever did. -Charlie Taylor

I've lost track of the number of times I’ve started to write this report.  I’m virtually desperate to put this experience down on “paper” yet…I'm resigned to the fact there's simply nothing I can write that will do justice to the magnitude of this experience or convey what it took to complete this race.  In fact, it's still hard for me to even believe I ran (and I use the term loosely) 314 miles (more like 330 miles if you count all the “bonus” miles).

In Linden on the morning of day 4, I was ready to QUIT. The rains that hit us on day 3 (Saturday), resulted in the worst blisters and most tender feet I've ever had. I couldn't put weight on my feet. I couldn't put a shoe on my left foot. Yet somehow, I ran 51 miles that day and I kept going...Day after day...after day...after day....I kept going. For six more days.

The daily mileage went something like this:

Day 1/ 57 miles to McKenzie
Day 2/ 58 miles to Parson (50 miles to Parson +8 bonus miles)
Day 3/ 21 miles culminating in a nervous breakdown in Linden
Day 4/ 51 mile push to Columbia after pep talk from Naresh
Day 5/ 49 miles ending with the wildest night of all in Wartrace
Day 6/ 29 miles and a decision to take on crew. And by crew I mean Charles.
Day 7/ 22 miles to Monteagle
Day 8/ 26 miles to Kimball
Day 9/ 14 miles to finish

I ran the last 70 miles or so without shoes- without shoes! THAT'S how wild this story is.

Those highs make you feel like you can ride them right to the rock. The lows like you will never feel better and the rock is a million miles away. - Fred Murolo

In the weeks since Vol State, I've had time to digest the experience for the most part. Vol State is like the most intensely joyful and inspiring running experience you've ever had combined with the funniest running thing that's ever happened to you while you're running the most painful, grueling and disgustingly disappointing race you've ever run. And it goes on for a WEEK.

It's been incredible to read the other runners' accounts and race reports. They are all so good, and are such a source of inspiration. They confirm that indeed I am part of an experience that very few people will ever share. They confirm that it really was as wild as I thought it was.

In his race report, the winner of this year's race, Dan Fox (all Hail! King of the Road!!) likens Vol State to a Mandan Tribe ceremony called the Okipa. He succinctly answers both "Why?" and "How?" when he talks about Vol State as a means to "being the Hero in a myth of your own making"

He perfectly describes the race when he says, "the loose organization of Vol Sate provides just the right proportion of freedom/safety to go hard. And a defined goal: get to the Rock as fast as possible - provides the context. The back roads of Tennessee make a fitting Underworld in which to do battle. Add in the searing weather elements and the stage is set for epic performances." Indeed.

A more epic road race cannot be found. Nor can I imagine that a more intense race experience exists.

The challenge of this race report is to tell both my story and the story of the race. I find it hard to come up with a cogent format in which to relay the race and my own personal tales of the road- they are so intertwined. 

So, what will follow in the next few posts is a sadly inept accounting of the race (which relies heavily on Laz and Carl's updates to the various ultrarunning lists), along with the highlights and lowlights of my own personal experience. It is a long, long, story- and by the time you are done reading it, it will seem as long as the race itself.

But it's a good story. They are good stories- and great experiences. Ones I will cherish for the rest of my life and always look back on with fondness, and a sense of longing.

For I now know that life will never seem quite as alive as it does at Vol State.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Not the Vol State Update You're Looking For

Vol State has come and gone. If you haven't heard, I made it to "The Rock" in Castle Rock, GA in 9 days, 4 hours, 1 second in what was nothing short of an epic, and incredibly meaningful experience.

My report is on its way.  In the meantime, here are the race results sans report (via Runitfast.com):

The Last Annual Vol State 500K Results (2012)

All hail, King Dan! And congrats to everyone who toed the line at the ferry in Dorena Landing, Missouri. You have all inspired me and touched my life in a way I will never forget.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

No Regrets

I was in Barnes and Nobles earlier this week with Leopold. It's been awhile since I've been in a book store and I automatically gravitated to the sports section to see if there were any new, interesting titles about running, or better yet, ultrarunning.
Then I had to laugh because I realized that I am so far beyond turning to a book for something new and exciting to absorb about running that it's not even funny. Are you freaking kidding me? I was in the BARKLEY last month. I'm gearing up for VOL STATE, a 500K across Tennessee in JULY. That's right...I'm one of those people now. There is nothing a book can ever offer me again. How wild is that?

Although I'll never abandon the core principles of training, gone are the traditional training plans- at least for the runs I'm really excited about. Good thing, too, because where the hell would I find a training plan for a 500K? You train for that by doing it.

Which brings me to my subject matter. Look at this wild man:

On Saturday, Charles and I had the complete privilege of sharing the trail with Sean Cien Fuegosthechisel Blanton on one of the most difficult sections of the AT (Fontana Dam to Clingman's Dome) as he attempted his speed record.  33 miles of incredible trail with huge climbs and some great views on the ridge lines... What an adventure!  SCAR is the real deal and we didn't even cover 1/2 of it.

We knew we were in for a special day when we first set out, and as we walked across the bridge we met this Belgian dude. He looked like a serious (sponsored by New Balance) athlete and he was doing a speed workout. We asked him if he had come from the trail (or something like that- Run Bum is just amazing with people. He can strike up a conversation with anyone). Anyway, the guy was strikingly modest and he casually says, "No..Just a training run."

"What are you training for?" Sean asks. And this is the part that I'll always remember- Without hesitation, and with incredible fire in his eyes he says, "A four minute mile."  The flash subsides and I wonder if I ever saw it in the first place. He matter of factly tells us, "I ran 4:01 last year, so I will train for sub-4, hoping to run 4 minutes flat." Holy crap, I thought. I fully believe he will do it. "Damn. This is going to be a great day."
And it was.

Charles "paced" our friend the entire section of trail, while I went in about 4 miles at Fontana Dam and then turned around. I took the car over to Clingman's Dome and ran in 7.5 miles to bring in food and water. It was a long day, but the fact we were helping Sean (if only by keeping him company and trying to keep his mind off his stomach and GI problems) made the day feel special.

It was an absolute nightmare to climb the hill to Clingman's Dome. It's like being smacked down by the Hulk (yes, I just saw The Avengers).

The weather had turned cold and windy and ugly, and we were all freezing and exhausted. There was no way Sean could cover the section to Newfound Gap and we all crawled in our vehicles- done for the day, cared for and tended to by Denise. Exhausted but grateful for the experience.

It's been a long time since a run took it out of me like the 23 miles I ran that day did. I was slumped over in the car asleep not 5 minutes after we left the parking lot. I felt bad because Charles had run 10 more miles than I had AND he had to drive.

All I can say is that I am grateful beyond belief to have met the people I have through ultra running and to continue to be connected to a sport so pure- it truly brings out the best in people. Sean Blanton is a talented runner, but I admire his adventurous spirit- how he truly lives life fully, on the edge, with no regrets.

You'll get it next time, little brother. No worries.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Black Mountain Campground to Mt. Mitchell

Mt. Mitchell Scenic Drive
Saturday's run with Charles was the perfect adventure run. Our only goals were to run "somewhere out towards Mt.Mitchell" and to "be out for about 6 hours or so."

We left the house late, around 1:00 p.m. (assuring some night running) and decided to try a new driving route to Mitchell.   From Chimney Rock, we took Hwy 9 towards Black Mountain and picked up US Hwy 80 for about 15 miles. This is a beautiful drive, and later I discovered it's part of the DOT's newly designated Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway.  Cool.
The drive was an adventure in itself, being a new route. We were rewarded with surprisingly great scenery, including the discovery of Tomahawk Lake. On a beautiful day, I have to say it was just nice to be out driving. Like me, C likes to drive around aimlessly and enjoys making road "connections".   
Once at the BRP, we pulled off at the Green Knob Overlook at Milepost 50.4. Our plan was to hike up to the firetower, descend down to the South Toe River and the Black Mountain Campground, and then ascend more than 3600' in elevation over 5 1/2 miles to reach the Mitchell summit. This is one of the toughest climbs in the region.
The trail to the firetower is not obvious from the overlook, since there is no signage. You have to walk about 100 yards north (turn right from the overlook) and look for the signpost for the trail on the opposite side of the road. The narrow 1/2-mile trail gains 340 feet in elevation. It has a yellow blaze and can be overgrown in areas. Since it is somewhat hidden, the trail is not used by many hikers.

The panoramic views from atop the tower are certainly worth the 1/2 mile hike from the Parkway. The tower provides the best viewing point of the rugged and tall Black Mountains range, including Mt. Mitchell. The fire tower, atop the 5,080-foot Green Knob Mountain, was built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1931. 
The tower can be seen as you drive north on the BRP

Looking westat the peaks of the Black Mountains, the highest in eastern America with

Mt. Mitchell (6,684 ft) on left, Mt. Craig (6,647 ft) and Big Tom (6,580 ft).

The Black Mountains are underrated. They are more than a billion years old and contain 16 peaks over 6,000 feet tall. Six of the ten highest peaks in the eastern US are found here- including Mount Mitchell, with an elevation of 6,684 feet. Under...rated.

What a setting for an adventure run!
We descended down to the Black Mountain Campground easily enough, adding miles by taking the longer loop trail. We stopped and had a bite to eat at the bridge entering the campground.

As you go through the campground, it's a little difficult to tell where to pick up the trail to Mitchell. We saw a sign for a trail to a waterfall...so we had to take that excursion. Setrock Creek Falls is very cool and easy to access.

Setrock Creek Falls- Between Briar Bottom and Black Mountain Campground

Eventually, we made our way to the trail indicating the Mitchell summit was 5.5 miles.  This was a tough, relentless climb. It's deceiving. About midway up, I bonked. However, after some food and rest I came around pretty quickly.

We met up with the old Mitchell approach trail at the junction of Comissary Ridge and knew we only had about 900 feet to go. Midway up the trail we saw signage for the Balsam Nature Trail, and we didn't take the trail to the right...yet still ended up arriving at Mitchell via the Balsam Nature Trail. I've approached Mitchell from this same starting point, and fail to understand what turn I take that puts me on the Balsam Nature Trail...a mystery.

Finally, we summit Mt. Mitchell, and it's totally fogged in and it's gotten very cold. Then it starts raining!  We were definitely taking the road back to the car.

This was the most interesting part of the run. It was so foggy and rainy as we left the park it was a little bit scarey. We had to wonder if the winds were going to stay kicked up. because we were both freezing.  Then thunder and lightning got our attention...

It was like this the whole way back, although we did run most of the way which felt good.

We got back to the car almost 9 hours later, and endured fog so thick you couldn't see through it for almost all of the ride back.

This was a very tough 25 mile loop, but one I will come back and run again. It was a great reminder about how fickle the weather can be at Mt. Mitchell. 

Good times!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Barkley: What Was I Thinking?

I realize now it was probably a mistake to go in to work the day after getting home from Barkley. I mean, how do I reconcile the fact I broke IN to a prison in the dead of night with this stack of papers on my desk?

It’s like Barkley switched on my prehistoric brain and I'm having trouble switching it back. I can readily deal with the possibility of falling off a cliff while being lost “out there”, but answering a phone? What planet does THAT happen on? I’m staring at this box of highlighters on my desk like they're moon rocks. What ARE these things? And when will I remember why I find them necessary?

Like so many others, it will take me a while to “normalize” and absorb everything that happened before, during, and after Barkley. Barkley changes you, and it’s hard to force yourself to put everything in to words when you’re still trying to understand it. But you have to weigh that against the fading memories that will be gone forever if you don’t act.

Now, more than ever, I know this is an event you have to experience to appreciate. To attempt one loop is to know not how difficult, but how IMPOSSIBLE this event truly is. And I say this even after watching not one but THREE people finish this year, and six people complete the “Fun Run”.

As for my 1-loop experience, I found myself scraped, alone, lost, found, befriended, and continually tortured in seemingly endless ways. I climbed almost 11,000 feet, descended the same amount of treacherous downhill, jumped off a cliff, bush wacked through briars, creeks, rocks and trees, located 11 books hidden in the woods, and found my way back to camp in a 18 hour and 46 minute timeframe of seriously difficult effort.

I was rewarded with a spectacular DNF.

It was the best day EVER.

Foothillz Foolz, Meet April Foolz
Charles and I drove up to Frozen Head State Park on Wednesday for Saturday’s race. In contrast to last year, we arrived to a completely full campsite- and the entire vibe was different than last year. There were a lot more people, including a documentary film crew.

We were starting to get worried about where we'd be staying when Carl Laniak and Co. drove by on their way out to dinner. Wouter Hamelink was in the van and he solved our problem by kindly offering us a place to pitch our tent at his campsite. Later, we invited Thomas to join us as well ('cause everyone knows it's not a party 'til the 'Snail arrives).

Wouter is awesome. His name is more difficult to pronounce than mine, so I like him based on that alone. But after just a few minutes with Wouter, anyone would love this guy.

Weight List Therapy
I remained #4 on the weight list for weeks. However, with last minute weight list activity, Travis Wildeboer was #1 and I was #2 going in to Barkley week. By Friday, Travis was in and I was next up. I was in exactly the same position Charles was in last year (what are the chances?).

Being #1 on the weight list is horrible for obvious reasons. In fact, the weight list concept is just horrible. I mean, it’s hard enough to train through the winter knowing you’re actually IN the race. Try training for the hardest thing you possibly may ever attempt while not even knowing if you’ll get in. Then sit back and watch your motivation climb and descend faster and farther than you ever do. It’s not fun.

Needless to say, my head was not in an ideal place upon arrival at FHSP. Up until about 5 weeks out, I had trained fairly well (or so I thought. It's funny how that changes post-Barkley). But suddenly I wrote a BOOK! work overtook everthing in my life and I was working 10-16 hours a day. My training fell apart. However, I wasn't all that worried - I actually didn't believe I was going to get in.

Now it looked as if I might just get in, afterall.

Talk about race anxiety. With more than 2 days to stew in the race anxiety of all race anxieties, I mentally fell apart. I focused on my lack of training, on how I "sacrificed" my aerobic base for less, climbing-specific miles and then lost even that fitness. I doubted the training I did, and the training I didn't do. I doubted my decision not to drop, and basically my sanity in general. Things spiraled downward from there . It got ugly.

By Thursday night, I was in such bad shape and was bringing such negativity to Charles everyone around me, I finally forced myself to stop focusing on the anxiety itself and trying to find reasons to justify it, and looked within for answers. I asked myself what was truly going on. Surely all this commotion isn't just about some dumb race??

Of course not. The race was is just a perfect excuse for long hidden fears to arise and take hold. What a nightmare...Barkley had become a perfect storm of fear.

Not to spend too much time on this, but as a race experience, this was a good one. Barkley raised the bar of fear so high for me that it facilitated a breakthrough. I was able to see the fear for what it was - in this case a perfect example of how losing my mom at a very young age created a certain insecurity within me that plays out when I'm confronted with new (and fearful) situations in my life. The best thing about seeing this was that I immediately knew the solution to the problem. My takeaway is this- the answer is never to think smaller, or be or do less, but to see the fear for what it is and do what I need to do anyway.

Uh huh…and you thought this was just gonna be a race report about some really tough trails with names like Testicle Spectacle and Rat Jaw. Instead, you get Barkley therapy. You can thank me later.

As it is with many of my "big" insights, I feel kind of dumb when the realization sets in. It always seems so obvious. I will say this, though- as anyone who has survived early childhood tragedy knows, things don’t become available for healing in the order you always expect them to. You take what you can get when you can get it, even if it's at the Barkley Marathons. I'm just thankful that there has been as much grace in my life as there has been tragedy.

Oh, $hit. I'm IN
So, I got in to the race at about 9:30 Friday night. There were rumors that Luis Escobar would not be arriving at Barkley as expected. He supposedly was involved in the search party for Caballo Blanco (Micah True) - of "Born To Run" fame. Apparently, Caballlo had gone out for a 12-mile run and never returned. Sadly, the rumors were true. Caballo was found dead, apparently of natural causes, on Saturday. Read the story here.

The story of how I got in to the Barkley stands alone, but on a personal note, it got even better when I arrived home and googled "luis escobar". I wanted to know more about the runner that enabled me to get in to the Barkley. Perhaps I would "friend" him on facebook and send him a thank you message. Guess what? As soon as I read a little about him, I was like, "Oh! That Luis Escobar!!" I know exactly who he is- because we both grew up in Central Coast,CA (he's from Santa Maria and I'm from Arroyo Grande). I knew his name as a x-country phenom when I went to Arroyo Grande High School in 1981-82. Wild, huh?

Getting Ready
In theory, the race could actually start in a few short hours. Although, Charles and I didn't really think it would- not with a new first section that sounded kind of dangerous, and with a film crew here. But you never know...

Now that I had my head firmly screwed on, I got my things ready and went to bed early. Surprisingly, I slept really well. We heard the conch shell blow right after 8:00 a.m., and I went to work getting ready. What a difference a day can make! I was totally focused and ready to make the very best of my situation. I was calm but excited.

Georgia Snail & Psyche- Getting Ready (to each his own)

Now that I was in the race, I wanted to be included in Geoffrey Baker's "portrait project" and I went over to his tent to have my "before" portrait taken.

Geoffrey S. Baker Photography Tent

Before I knew it, I was milling around the yellow gate with the others as if in some surreal dream where the hardest race on the planet is begun with the lighting of a cigarette.

Witness the typical all-out sprint start. Ultra style.

Book #1- Pillars of Death, the Flume of Doom, and Hiram's Gambit
Perhaps I should have mentioned this at the start. Finding books 1 and 2 at the Barkley is the most exciting thing I have EVER done. I truly don't have words to describe the heart-pounding adventure this was.

Earlier today, I was walking down our road with Leopold and we startled some deer. They ran through the forest and across the road, and the very last deer jumped all the way across the road from the forest in one leap. You could feel his fear and adrenaline.

It was like that.

But not right way. Immediately after starting, I noticed nothing was going as I expected. I assumed everyone would take off and I would be hard pressed to keep up. My "plan" was to make sure I did not lose sight of Frozen Ed and/ or Leonard Martin. Instead, both of them were well behind me, and I found myself leading a small group that included Joel Gat and Tim Hardy. We all walked up the first couple of steep miles of Bird Mountain "candy ass" trail in a group.

Joel had Laz's instructions out and it seemed the group I was in was paying close attention, even while talking all the while, so even though I was "leading" this little group, I wasn't really paying too much attention myself.

Soon, we arrived at the top of Bird Mountain and turned left on to the Cumberland Trail (a new section this year). I was curious about the "Pillars of Death" I heard about in camp the night before. Thomas had been up here exploring the trail the day before, so I knew I wasn't looking for pillars that went UP, but ones that I would walk over. And they were cool:

Pillars of Death - photo courtesy Matt Mahoney

Immediately past these rocks, I decided to heed Laz's words about taking advantage of any flat, runnable sections. I was jogging down the trail when I heard Joel call my name, and in whatever time it took for me to run the 50-100 feet back the way I came, I knew I was fucked my entire race experience was formed. I watched the entire field of runners cut across a small hill and begin running down the other side. And they were moving incredibly FAST.

I got a glimpse of Frozen Ed and Leonard Martin- Leonard was wearing a red and white shirt and all I knew was that I had to keep that red and white shirt in sight as if my life depended on it.

Later, several people said and wrote in their reports, "I saw this section was called 'Hiram's Gambit' so I figured I better stick with Hiram." That never even occurred to me. My one consolation is that you can go here to see how much good it did Hiram to be Hiram.

This is the view going down Check Mate Hill - courtesy Matt Mahoney

As I flew through "fanghorn forest", it registered that the section was aptly named- what a creepy forest. The forest leads you to Check Mate Hill where you descend 1300 feet in less than 1/2 a mile. Of course, at the time, I didn't know this was Check Mate Hill. I was out of my mind, trying to keep any human being that I could in my sights.

This photo gives a better view of how steep Check Mate Hill is (courtesy Matt Mahoney)

Everone was just gone, except this one guy with longish grey hair (I later learned this was Pat). I flew down the hill, chasing Pat, hoping against hope he was going the right way. I could no longer see Frozen Ed or Leonard Martin.

I was almost all the way down the hill, when I got a really bad feeling- This just can't be right, I thought. I know the book is back up there somewhere and I've screwed up. What a moment of truth. Follow the one person I can still see and assume he knows more than I do...? Or head back UP check Mate Hill? Oh, holy god. I headed back up the hill. I didn't come here to NOT get the book pages, damn it.

About 1/2 way back up, I see people coming towards me. I ask if they've already gotten Book #1 and they say yes. Someone tells me to head back up and angle slightly to the right until I hit a road. Go down the road and I'll find Book 1, they say. Then, (I think it was) Tim Dines says, "Psyche, you've got this." *

So, I climb back up Check Mate Hill, I find the road, I run down the road and I eventually see the rock that Book #1 is hidden under. Just like the instructions say: "The first runner will find the book under a large rock. He may need to wait for the second runner if he is not strong enough to lift the rock."

Oh, noooo..... I can't lift the rock by myself. And I'm...the...last...person...in...the...race. Can you imagine? I get scraped, descend and then climb back up Check Mate Hill to find Book #1, only to realize that I may not be able to physically get the book out from under the rock? No, no, no, no. That is not happening. I pry and pull, and push and shove, until I finally see a bit of plastic. E ventually, I work the book out from under the rock, and get my page! Sweet, sweet victory.

Naresh, Stu, and Terry at Book 1 (courtesy Matt Mahoney)

Book #2 The Rambo Experience
Obviously, I don't bother placing the book back under the rock because 1) I'm not strong enough and 2) I believe I'm the last person in the race. I secure the page in my plastic baggie, and head back the way I came. I read Laz's instructions. I'm supposed to be looking for a creek, but shockingly, I don't see it. I know I have to go back down the hill but I'm not sure where to go down, or if it makes any difference. Then, I see Pat- he's coming up Check Mate Hill just like I did and he's saying he made a huge mistake- he went for Book #1 where it was last year. So I tell him where he can find Book #1, and I continue to try to make sense of Laz's directions.

Eventually, I decide to wait and follow Pat. I figure he must be a vet if he knew where Book #1 was last year. When I see him, I say something like, "I don't know where the hell I am so I'm following you." He mentions something about a jumble of cable being a landmark, and heads down Check Mate Hill that way. I follow, until we get to a section and it becomes unclear how to proceed. Laz's instructions say to be careful not to go too far to the right because there are dangerous 40- 60' cliffs, but this guy is moving.

All of a sudden, he finds a rock face drop off, and jumps off of it. He begins descending. I'm like, "mother fucker!!" "Hell no!" but then I remember: I'm LOST. And he's gonna be GONE in a few seconds. I decide to follow, and I take my pack off and throw it, along with my trekking pole, down the cliff ahead of me. I remember saying, "Sorry, honey" out loud right before I jumped, because I knew Charles would not like what I was doing...at all.

Naresh and Terry Cash going down the Flume of Doom (courtesy Matt Mahoney)

Later, I heard this section was called the Flume of Doom. I don't think I actually went down the Flume per se, but rather jumped off the cliff you see in the picture above. It was scarey as all hell.

The fear did not let up. Pat was now almost completely out of sight, and he was bushwacking down the side of the mountain just freakishly fast. It was incredibly hard to run fast enough to keep him in my sights. Especially as I'm having a heart attack. The whole section down to Phillips Creek had such a surreal, dream-like quality to it. I was chasing Pat, but it also felt like I was being hunted. It somehow reminded me of Rambo- the forest scene in First Blood where Rambo is forced to hurt the officers who are hunting him. He tells them to get over hunting him or they will get a war they will never forget. At any moment, I expect Rambo to silently step from behind a tree, or spring from his lair in the leaves beneath me. Surrrreal, I say...

I've now completely lost sight of Pat. I decide to head down to the water instead of bushwacking just above it. I don't even know why. I honestly think my race is over. I take my time and follow the creek, thinking it will eventually lead me... somewhere. I can decide the best course of action at that point.

Then I look up, and right in front of my face is the rock cairn where Book #2 is hidden. Damn! Barkley is nothing but a series of emotional ups and downs!

Rock Cairn where Book #2 was found (photo from 2010 Barkley)

Books #3 and #4 - Takin It Down a Notch
Now I know exactly where I am... and I know where Book #3 is located. I secure my page, get water, cross the creek and begin climbing up to Jury Ridge. This section is on "candy ass" trail and it's a tough climb and everything, but nothing like what I just went through. Mostly, I feel a little depressed because I know I'm last (turned out not to be true) and it's hard to make myself hurry.

I do run all the downhills of this section and I keep checking Laz's instructions, wondering when I'll get to Son of a Bitch Ditch. I also think that no one better tell Laz that this whole section is quite runnable if you're so inclined.

The Garden Spot was tricky to find and I wasted a lot of time, but it seemed to me I could follow the directions for the most part, even if I lost a lot of time doing it.

By the time I was on Stallion Mountain, I was losing heart and considering taking one of the roads back to camp. Can you believe it? After all that initial excitement, I was having a hard time facing the prospect of navigating the rest of the course alone and it taking me for freaking EVER to finish a loop.

Just as I was finding Book 4, I look down the trail and...Naresh and Matt Mahoney are walking towards me!!! GET OUT! I was so happy to see them! I knew right then I would finish and it would be perfect. I mean what's not to love about how this turned out? Matt Mahoney, the godfather of Barkley, gives Naresh and I a personal tour.

align="left">I'll end this story with a few photo highlights of the rest of the journey. Matt took some phenominal pictures, and it was such an honor to complete the loop with him. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect experience, especially since I don't know if Naresh will even be here next year. It was the best day ever.

Book 5 at the swamp

Book 6 at Raw Dog Falls

Breaking IN to the Prison for Book 8

The rusty barrel on the way to Pig's Head Creek

Congratulations to the 3 finishers this year.
I still can't fathom what you did.

* You have no idea what that meant to me, Tim. Thank you.