Mt. Lemmon 50 Mile Birthday Bash
What Just Happened??
There is an interesting series of thoughts that run in circles around my brain I've found to be pretty consistent when it comes to ultrarunning. Never more so than this weekends 50 miles in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Running (hiking...) up from less than 3,000 feet in elevation to over 9,100 feet on trails winding their way past rattlesnakes, dead bodies, tarantulas, hidden cougars, delirious men, encouraging women through desert, forest, rainforest (kinda...)....nothing short of incredible. Tucson, in one nights running, has converted me to both a firm believer and supporter. Dallas Stevens and his wife Renee are incredible and I've been lucky enough to have met them. I can't wait for another chance to head down to run with them. Tom Gormley and Mike Duer were great guys to run with, always interesting and always ready to talk when you needed it. They have a wonderful group down there. Tucson Trail Runners site.
Step 1. - Challenge Discovery
Bear Canyon, Catalina Mountain. Minus this snow...pretty compelling photo. www.johnmiranda.com
Find a cool race. Challenging terrain. Rugged. Wild to some degree. Doesn't have to be a "race" but some level of unique toughness. Preferably something "most" people would avoid. (See: Superstition Wilderness 50...) In this case it was 50 miles up and town Mt. Lemmon and it's 9,100 feet. Multiple micro climates, ecosystems, cactus, pine, rocks, roots, pine needles, ferns. Lot's and lot's of climbing. Just for kicks...let's do it at night. 7pm start time. Why? Why not? Plus, as it was for friend Dallas Stevens 50th Bday, it was his call. It was a good one.
Step 2. - Anxious Excitement
I see you Jeremy...
Get really excited, anxious and constantly think about said chosen race/adventure. Go into event with hopes of something spell-bindingly unique to happen. Unusual weather, rare animal species spotting, or just some incredible terrain. Something is always bound to happen.
In this case? Well, several things happened. One for instance would be the hiker we passed around mile 4 of 50 miles that had found a dead body. Pretty unique right? We yelled across the canyon where the guy was with the body for about 20 minutes before deciding we cannot do anything to help, the guy had supplies while he waited for 9-1-1 and we had a timeline that we had to meet without worrying people on our own. So we moved on. (Later we would find out the guy was a 52 year old man from the Midwest visiting his family in Tucson. So the kid that found him was his nephew. Something the kid never though to mention. Like maybe a "My uncle passed out and I can't get a pulse!" Or, "My uncle's dead!" Nothing. Weird. We hadn't made it 2 more minutes on the trail before a Tiger Rattlenake blocked the trail. Good start. Maybe there are burning crosses on the trail up ahead? Should we sing Happy Birthday now or at the finish?
Later on in the early dawn just below the peak there was a moment when I had fallen behind the other while eating a powerbar. Walking along among all the boulders and pines I glanced to my left and I stopped dead in my tracks. I immediately look to my right and up the trail and saw nobody. They were gone, out of sight. I look back to my left and it was still there. Sitting there, legs outstretched in front of it, head upright overlooking the ridge, a stoic mountain lion. Had it seen me? Can it smell me? What am I going to do? The guys are too far away to do anything now, this thing is going to be on me in 3 seconds. Weapon, I need a weapon. I look around for a rock or sturdy stick. Like that's going to do anything but it'll make me feel better. I look back up the trail again and then again to the lion. Wait! It's gone!! Shit. Is it circling around? Had it seen me?
Looking at where it was once again I realize what I should have known. The "lion" looked a lot like what I was looking at now. A rock with two colors. So I was safe after all, just a complete moron. Saved again by my own reckless mind. I thought about running to catch up to the guys and tell them the "funny story" but realized...its probably more embarrassing than anything. So instead I'll just put the story on the internet. Nobody reads this stuff anyway. I can't wait to see what kind of stuff I conjure up being up for 24 hours and 75 miles on my legs instead of 35. I'm imaging flying goats with hot pink capri's on while whistling the soundtrack for The Sound of Music. I'll let you know.
Step 3. - Start. Hold the Throttle. Settle In.
The First Step...
Start the run. Feel like gunning it. Settle in. Enjoy the people and environment.
This whole run was filled with great attitudes. I got to meet some great Tucson TTR (Tucson Trail Runners) and hear their passion for this entire network of trails they use as their playground. They are incredibly lucky to have this as their backyard with all the climbing, canyons, and runnable trails at their disposal.
Starting any long run is difficult in the beginning. You know from that first intrepid step that you are not going to be back to your car for a very long time. There will be some low times, some high times and some very challenging times. That first step is a big one. One usually followed by the one that wants to run hard way too fast. The challenge is holding that second step in and replacing it with a more responsible one.
Step 4. - Self Doubt. Dealing with Self Induced Stupidity
Yummy...the first 10 times.
Push on through the miles as I progressively question the intelligence of this undertaking, question my involvement in ultrarunning alone and stare in disgust at the upcoming Strawberry Banana Powergel I'm about to ingest.
It's something I've yet to really avoid on any long run. Even training runs. With experience (little that I have) I've at least learned that it'll pass with enough time and sure enough it always does. But that doesn't always stop the, "I really don't understand why the hell I always think this is going to be fun." or "This is stupid. Just plain stupid. How in the hell am I going to run 100 miles if I'm this tired at 20?" Then it passes, I feel stronger as the miles add on and I reflect back on it like many of the idiotic things said as a 15 year old. Or 30.
Step 5. - Embrace It. All of It.
I'm Renee. I can cheer ANYONE up. I rule.
Close out the pity partiers and rebound to push on towards once again enjoying what is happening, embrace the mileage, the climbs, the downhills and get this done.
Pity party's are always temporary and inevitably pass. Banana here, Avacado Turkey wrap there and some good old fashioned apple pie. Maybe just a trip through an Aid Station, or in this case the Renee Roving Station. Rebound complete, power out some miles. It cannot get worse, it can only get better. Embrace the hills, power the downs and push the flats. Or just run whenever possible but this was a volunteer situation so complaining is useless.
Step 6. - Pity Party Invitations Coming Soon
Please come. It's really fun.
Banana is gone. It's cold. I'm wet. The balloons arrived for the After Party Pity Party. Clown should be here soon. Looks to be an all out party. Lots of people showing up. Tendonitis and Blister are here. Major of Crankytown should be here any second. Actually...wait...he's already here. Looks to be a doozy of a good time. Right about this time I start getting major tunnel vision, dizzy and...yup...faceplant. Perfect.
Step 7. - Espresso Beans Trump BONKS
Copious amounts of espresso beans destroy all semblence of a bonk and instead open up the 10K sprint for the next 45-55 minutes until digestion dissolves all remaining caffeine. Food levels equalize, hydration recovers, electrolyes ok. Chafing minimalized. I'm ready to run and I'm not stopping. At times, there very well could be a random air guitar as music takes control over my breathing, leg strength and overall ability to function. It's at these times that I'm having the most fun, forget about everything and can keep up with anyone. Anyone. It might only be for 30 feet but I'm nearly untouchable in this phase. Or at least I feel it. It's like lightning in a bottle, Mountain Dew in a can or Geoff Roes on a bad day. The day I figure out how to stretch this out is the day I start winning races. Look out.
Step 8. - Pity Party Recovery
Recovered nicely from Pity Party 2 running returns to fun again. Doubts are gone and replaced with the renewed confidence that I'm trained for this. I can do this and I can do this to the end.
Coming down off Mt. Lemmon on the rock strewn, thinly veiled, single track I was convinced with every bone in my body was scattered with mountain lions waiting to pounce if I ever stopped to tie my shoes. The rocks, the constant battering coming down off that mountain is a brutal reminder of what the terrain can do to you, not the miles. Add in a solid 24 hours awake and not everything is always as it seems. (See above...) With the roughest sections behind us the trail opens up and becomes a winding trail devoid of any real distractions all the way to the Basin, a massive valley where runoff pounds one central point. Impressive I'm sure in the early summer when snow pack is flowing down the peaks.
Step 9. - The Finish Line Dominates the Mindset for the Remainder of the Race
Step 10. - The Aftermath. Glory. Humility. Resolve.
Images of YouTube glory fill my brain as I imagine coming from behind after 99.5 miles to sprint to the finish as the long time leader feebly looks back in disbelief as the finish line is lined with clapping men wearing mid-90's Cleveland Indians jerseys. (It's my fantasy so I'll imagine it how I want. In this case it's Willie Mays Hayes style...you know...sleeping on a cot in the parking lot, shot goes off and...a hoarse, "Get him a uniform." I want a uniform.) That thought alone, in any race, in any event gives me more energy than any gel packet, Powerbar, espresso bean. The imagery of people cheering you on as you finish what many would consider an incredible feat (whether a marathon, 50k, 50m or 100m. It doesn't matter.)
In this case it was a weekend runner on the Tram Road that passed us headed down the mountain. Clearly we were all a bit weary at we reached 46 miles and were headed on in but for some reason I only wanted to beat that guy to the end. And we did, quite easily, knowing that we were going to have an imaginary finish line waiting for us with imaginary Cleveland Indians cheering us along the way. Instead though the reality was Sunday morning tourists, locals and day hikers leaving the pavement for a side trail or tram ride, staring at us as we past wondering inside their heads, "I wonder where they were, they look like hell." Or maybe not. Maybe it's my imagination, maybe they never looked at us in the first place. Maybe they were thinking, "Why is that guy staring at me like I'm a Grilled Stuffed Burrito with chicken, hot sauce and a big 32 oz. Mountain Dew...wait...sidetracked.
- Yes, this video is in another language...no i don't know why. You get the idea.
Pretty stellar view.
With each thought of doubt and remorse during a run there are dozens more of pride, adventure, fun, and accomplishment during and after. The aftermath of a run is one that consistently ranks in my top moments in my life. Sitting on a rock, chair, truck bed moments after a run, looking back up a canyon to a massive mountain hanging above our heads...you can't help but be a little overwhelmed with the thought of, "We just did that. Just now. Just happened." It's that moment of gratification that justifies it all. Something that many people just don't get, won't get, and don't care to get unless they've actually done it. Why do I run? Why do I sign up for 50 mile runs at night up a 9,000 foot mountain for a friends Birthday?? Because you never know what you can do, what you are fully capable of, until you are doing it when nobody is making you. It's not quite the same when you are entered in a race you paid for against people of the same mind. It's a bit different when you are heading out into a verifiable wilderness (especially at night) running 50 extremely challenging miles just because. Looking back up that canyon afterwards, sitting on that stone wall at the park entrance, overrides every doubtful thought, every murder scheme on Dallas, and only leaves encouragement towards the next endeavor. Cascade Crest 100. 30 days and counting...
First Water Trailhead- The Beginning of the End
This wasn't ever going to be a race. This wasn't ever going to be a speed run. This was never even going to be a twelve hour run. But I don't think I ever really imagined it being as long, brutal, exhausting, unrelenting as it turned out to be.
At 5am the three of us set out from First Water Trailhead in the dark. Nobody else out there, quiet as possible, it was a new moon so there were a billion stars over our heads as we ran down a nice stretch of wide, packed, clean dirt doubletrack weaving our way through a forest of teddy bear Cholla. Our headlights bobbing up and down as we climbed over the rock faces and back onto the nice stretches of clean trail. It wasn't but two miles before our group leader Jeff Jones took a fall and cut his hand up. Nothing major but a sign of things to come and certainly not the last to draw blood. Then we were off to the Boulder Canyon trail. The word "Trail" may be a little exhaggerated so maybe something more like Boulder Canyon Cairn Search would be appropriate here. Crossing Boulder Canyon again and again, slow going through cat claw our pace dwindled quickly. From Boulder Trail we made our way to Calvary Trail which wound it's way through Marsh Valley, (picture below) a beautiful stretch of singletrack surrounding by high rock walls and giant cacti surrounding the winding trails.
Marsh Valley was a nice section of runnable trail that kept wandering its way through an assortment desert plant life and cacti. Being March the desert is just now starting to come alive with faint patches of grass growing and the beginning stages of a bloom on some of the ocotillo and palo verde. In a couple weeks this area is going to be National Geographic pretty. Seriously. The desert in bloom is as beautiful a sight as any autumn in Vermont or summer in Colorado.
Marsh Valley hooked up with LaBarge Canyon on the Dutchman Trail. This stretch I had previously been on a couple times and is really pretty as it winds its way down the canyon surrounded on both sides by massive red rock walls. As the trail converges with the elevation of the river the area is overgrown with Cottonwood trees and leaves scatter the ground. Which of course is always a welcome sight to the desert runner who only gets the thorns, cacti, cholla and snakes at your feet. Rarely leaves. +5 points. Add in it's a very runnable stretch and we were running and having fun as we neared the intersection with Peter's Trail...
Up to this point the run is beautiful but nothing difficult or unusual. Of course there's a reason I just wrote that. Enter Peter's Trail...
I don't know you, but I don't like you Peter- Miles 8-16
Whoever Peter was that this trail was named after...well...he needs to talk to someone about his trail. It sucks. BIG TIME. Right off the bat you climb this nice ridgeline that again really wasn't even a "trail." The trail consisted of the area you pushed the holly and catclaw away from you as their accomplice's at your ankles dig their claws into your flesh. Over and over and over again. The "trail" wound it's way to the top of the plateau where for the first time I could see into the Wilderness Area to the East. All of this was untouched to me and all new so I was excited to see what the central corridor had in store for us. Apparently it was more catclaw and holly...in reality though this is what makes running trails so much fun. When I see a mountain range I don't think "oh, another mountain range," but instead, "What's on the OTHER SIDE of that mountain range" or what's inside that range, I wonder what water is out there, wonder what trees are growing there. Driving around Phoenix you can always see Superstition Mountain, the western most edge of the Superstition Wilderness and I've always from Day 1 living here wanted to see what lied inside that area. Today was my chance.
We ran along the top of the ridge through some very sparse vegation minus a few agave and low lying cacti. Crusing along we hit the edge of the cliff that stood a good five-eight hundred feet above a river. Under normal circumstances this cliff would have led me to search around for the way down but Jeff found what looked to be the way down and of course it was straight down the rock face. We soon got the good news though, the overgrown cat claw was sufficient in keeping our speed down. At the bottom of the canyon we regrouped and took off again for what was arguably the worst stretch of the entire 51 miles. The next 3 miles was at a miserably slow pace picking our way through a severely overgrown trail. Every step was a scratch, cut, pull, tear or some kind of curse waiting to happen. Clearly everyone else felt the same way as nobody was talking. Finally after not being able to walk any of that entire valley we make a good sized climb out of the canyon to a nice vista overlooking yet again another valley. Powering down through the prickley pear and then right back up the other side I started to feel good just being able to run again. We bounced up and down through one small valley after another until we reached a large downhill overlooking what would be the Mile 17 Trailhead. Disaster overted. Peter's Trail, the worst is past us....
Search & Rescue Teams...That's a Good Sign...
Coming down Peter's Trail was a lot of fun. Jeff and I came down the big hill on some seriously loose rock with sharp corners and unforgiving corners until halfway down we came up on a search party with the Superstition Search & Rescue Service out gridding out locations for a missing Utah man from late 2009. They naturally were interested in the three people running down the steep, rocky mountain face out in the middle of nowhere.
"Where are you coming from?"
"First Water Trailhead" Jeff said casually...
Eyes got wide quick as they all realized how rough the 15 miles were just coming from First Water over the stretch we just covered..."How far are you going today?" they asked.
"Back to First Water Trailhead. After we take the loop around. Should be about 50 miles and be back around dark."
After more discussion on how they found the three missing Utah miners last fall (one of them less than 3 miles from First Water Trailhead...) and that we were welcome to help ourselves to the water at their vehicles at the bottom of the mountain we pushed on and said goodbye. Down the mountain and across the river a few more times we met with their vehicle team, had a good fresh bottle of water and moved on to the JF Trail.
11:30am and only 17 miles deep...
Where the F*** is Paul??!!- Miles 17-25
Taking off from the end of Peter's Trail onto the nice dirt road was a godsend and while it only lasted for a quarter mile it was great to be able to cruise along without anything slapping at your legs and arms. The JF trail is long and travels North to South generally through the central part of the Wilderness. It starts out with us on a single track on a high plateau with great views of Four Peaks back view, rugged range of mountains and canyons to every direction. The trail itself was incredibly rock (see picture below if you don't believe me...) and was a non stop climb for what seemed like hours and hours. Less than 20 miles in and I started to have doubt creep in already that I was not ready for this level of running. This was kicking my butt. We were already over 6 hours on our feet and less than 20 miles in?? Bad sign. Yet there wasn't an area we could have gone faster, the terrain was just brutal and was really beating us up. Add in the rising temperature and it was getting very, very challenging. Head down, time to step it up. Just keep climbing.
One climb after another we made it up to the top, great view, then down a short steep decline that wasn't runable for more than 25 feet before a block in the trail forced you to a crawl. Then hiking until it opened up which lasted for only 20 feet before again...crawling around a bush or cactus or massive rock. Some parts of the trail would just straight up disappear and leave us searching around for another cairn before resuming our breakneck 3.0 mph pace. Plugging away though we kept climbing, kept finding the trail and kept moving until we finally made it to Tortilla Pass, the start of a long 3+ mile downhill. Under normal circumstances this would be an opportunity to pick up time and race down to the valley below, strech the legs a little and make up some time. Not here. 3+ miles of downhill on the JF trail means risking your life or limb or both if you chose to open it up on the trail through so many thick bushes and cacti. After the worst of it I trailed behind Jeff as he pushed the pace headed down the mountain. All of use are out of water and in great need of a refill. The last five plus miles have been in the upper elevations and without any springs and we needed access to something soon. So our motivation became reaching the next water sooner rather than later. I pushed the bushes as best I could and kept up behind Jeff as he did a great job keeping us moving. Paul was somewhere behind us as he usually is and would surely be there soon after us. Jeff & I bounded down the switchbacks that overlooked vertical drops into areas no helicopter would ever discover until a few miles later we reached a small river with a few pockets of remaining water. None was particularily inviting but with a few minutes my UV filter fixed up the water as best it could and I refilled my bladder and started chomping on a PB & Honey sandwich as Jeff filled up on water. A few minutes later Paul had still not arrived. I kept eating and drinking. A few more and Paul had not arrived...then a few more...
...Then a few more...
...until it had been 30 minutes...
...then 45 minutes...
Jeff started back up the trail an started yelling for Paul. No response. He goes up farther and starts yelling again. No response. Something must have happened.
I get my gear back together, packed and on my shoulders and start back up the trail to help find Paul. Right now we are 6-7 miles from where we left the Search & Rescue team. But that is easily a couple hours away and they were leaving at 3pm and it was already after 1pm. The road to Woodbury cabin is a couple miles away to the South and that's not easy ground either. Not to mention the road itself is never used and it would be a miracle to come across a vehicle to help. Even worse I left my SPOT GPS messenger at home. Stupid. Dumb. Moronic. One button on that thing and we'd have a helicopter rescue. They'd know exactly where we were and we could sit tight until they came to help if Paul broke something or worse. Now we are going to have to build a splint out of an agave trunk, I only have 3 feet of rope in my pack, I guess I could cut my shoelaces...at least I brought a first aid kit..
Headed back up the mountain with Jeff we were quiet. Both certainly thinking the worse because at this point nearly an hour after we both had reached the bottom there was no reason Paul would not have come down the mountain. The route was skinny, very, very rocky and each corner overlooked a steep precipice. He easily could have rolled an ankle and slipped down the ridge, hit a rock and broken a leg or worse. As Jeff and I clamber up the ridge exhausted we quietly peer over the edge looking for any sign of Paul's colored shirt or pack, hoping to God we don't see anything. Climbing further and further we make it about halfway up the mountain and suddenly Jeff yells out, "There's Paul!!" Sure enough...there he is running down the trail.
He did fall. Fell and got up and somehow thought he had passed us so when he went down the hill and didn't see us he turned around thinking maybe he went too far and possibly missed a turn. So he started climbing back UP the mountain while Jeff and I were sitting down at the river bottom waiting for him. It wasn't until he was part way up the first set of steep switchbacks that he realized he was wrong and turned back around and went back DOWN the mountain where he soon ran into the two of use headed up to find his body. Relieved that he was alive but seriously upset that we had just spent the last 30+ minutes thinking we were going to find Paul's body in a ravine we made our way back down the mountain. Live and Learn. At least he was ok.
Are we done yet? Miles 25-33
After that episode I was really no longer interested in running. My body felt like I had finished 50 miles already. My stomach was revolting in the heat and from being dehydrated during the JF trail section with no water. Emotionally I was still realing a little from the thought of Paul falling off a cliff. Although honestly not so much about Paul but far more selfishly that if Paul got hurt or worse...I knew I would never be able to go on these kinds of runs again. Everyone that cares about me would all but ban me from anything outside of a track. They already think it's "dangerous" to do trail races so this would only support their stereotype. Aside from my typical mid race downer I was happy to get to the second half, past the worst sections of the trail and into some runnable and more familiar sections. Unfortunately that wouldn't come for some time...
Woodbury Trail to Coffee Flats was a lot of wash running. In and out of river beds finding the trail, losing the trail, running/walking down deep, sandy river beds until climbing back out to a narrow trail that led us to Coffee Flats. Coffee Flats was half terrible/half best running ever. First half sucked and was a major low point for me. We were making such a slow pace, less than 3 mph that all I could do was punch the numbers in my head and predict the finish time which was hours past the time I told my fiance I would be home. Knowing this I knew she would only start to worry after I was an hour or two late and that quickly started to dominate my mind more than anything my legs or stomach were telling me. Obviously this was something that Jeff had been thinking as well and he responsibly asked our opinion on cutting pieces of our route short to get to Peralta sooner and use a hikers phone in the parking lot to call his wife so everyone would know we were behind schedule but ok. We decided to cut out the Red Tanks Trail>Whiskey Springs>Dutchman Trail and instead stay on the Coffee Flats>Dutchman>Peralta which was more of a straight shot and allowed for more running miles and hopefully a faster time. I'd wanted to see the Red Tanks Trail but had no issues with the change if it meant that people would worry less.
Once we started to get 5-7 miles away from Peralta you could tell as more and more hikers were making their way up the river to campgrounds. The trail cleared out for the first time in over 15 miles and we were able to run through some beautiful stretches of grass covered desert with nice tree cover. The sun was starting to come down as we came upon a water tank for cattle. The guys filled up as I ate some trail mix, passing on water as i had a 100oz bladder i filled up only 5 miles ago. We headed off running and collectively feeling better as the trail continued to be open, winding and absolutely beautiful in this massive open valley of giant Saguaro cactus and towering cliffs. I felt great through this entire stretch. Even my right knee which I tweaked on a rock a few miles back and was seriously bothering me all along started to loosen up and was less of a concern. At one point I was seriously considering dropping at Peralta because of my knee but by the time we reached the pass leading into Miner's Needle and when Peralta was nearly in sight I was feeling great and we were all off and running.
I always find it interesting in ultra running how short term my memory really is. Just a few hours ago we were hiking through some ridiculous terrain that mountain goats probably bitch about when they go over to see their inlaws for dinner at night. Broken, twisted, tearing, disappearing, menacing trails. Yet, here I was just a few hours later, a few handfuls of trail mix, some cold water, a washed face, setting sun over some incredible Saguaro, rock faces and generally perfect and every way mountains I couldn't help but think..."Totally worth it." Right there, right then. Already forgot and the entire Peter's Trail, JF trail and Woodbury trail were forgotten by this perfect trail winding it's way up and down and around these massive Saguaros. Everybody I know runs for a reason. This is mine.
Peralta Trailhead- I Love You- Mile 40-13 Hours deep...
Coming into Peralta felt like dropping down the ravines in Zane Grey at their aid stations. Coming down the ridge you can see cars in a parking lot, as you get closer you start to see people moving around and hear their voices. Except you get there and there is no water. There is no food. There is no cheering. There are no chairs to sit in as someone fills your bladder. It's amazing the effect aid stations do have on you. That moral support, that genuine care and encouragement that the volunteers put into you at those little in between marks at a race. Invaluable. I love that about the Zane Grey race. Awesome volunteers but also that you can see them for some of their aid stations as you come down off the mountain. It's like taking 5 gels at once and always bumps me up a dozen notches. I could have used it at Peralta. And some water as I'd been out of water for the last five miles and we ran nearly all of it. Thirsty wasn't even the start of it.
Jeff asked a reluctant hiker to use his cell phone to call his wife to let her know we had ten miles left and would be later than expected. For some reason the hiker didn't seem to want to let us make this one phone call that cost him no money. At least he helped us but really didn't understand the reluctance. As we started up the Peralta trail, a nice 2-3 mile climb with over 2,000 feet in climbing to the Freemont Saddle, Jeff thought ot ask a woman who just finished if she would spare a bottle of her water for me. She graciously (see..she gets it!) offered me a full 16oz bottle (REI shopper...+5 Kharma points) and we thanked her several times and started up the last major climb of the day. It was already getting dark around 6:30pm and we still had 10 tough miles to go. The motivating part of it all was we had all three done this strech before and could do it in the dark. Only ten left. Time to knock it out.
Underestimated this climb...BIG TIME...
I couldn't believe how long this climb was. I had it in my head it was like hiking Camelback Mountain and we'd be up it in an hour. Yeah...not even close. It just keeps going and going and going. I stubbornly just kept going up as it got darker and darker. I was determined to keep my headlamp tucked away inside my bag until I made it to the Saddle. Had we not talked about mountain lions for the last 14 hours of the hike I might have made it but I was freaking myself out as I climbed up the rocks that I was going to get jumped from above by a giant mountain lion that was out to eat my heart. I hiked past a giant rock overhang, talked myself into thinking it was a den full of mountian lions, scrambled ahead a few feet where there was a pool of water and got my headlamp out immediately. A minute later the guys caught up and said, "Good, you found some water. Let's take a break and fill up." "Yeah...umm...that's what I was doing...good plan." I said.
So we filled up for what would be our second to last time on the edge of this cliff with a trickle of water coming out of the rock. The UV filter works amazing at night as you can easily see it working (we hoped) in the dark and we knocked out a few bottles for everyone so we didn't have to wait unti the iodine drops Jeff had been using worked. I dug out my long sleeve shirt that I almost didn't even bring and threw on my gloves, downed another PB& Honey sandwich, a gel, and we were ready to push through the last 8+ miles. It was dark now and the mileage wasn't coming quick. We got up slowly and stiffly and made our way back up the ridge. At the Saddle we stopped for just a second and started down the long, steep switchbacks of the Peralta Trail towards familiar territory in the Dutchman Trail. This section is one of the most beautiful in the area I think so it's a shame we got to it so late and in the dark. Most of the trail is along the ridgeline on bedrock where you have incredible views all around on every side and one step either way and you're going for a long ride down the cliff. In the dark though, it's just a trail with a big white circle. To be fair, I'm not sure how much I really would have cared at that point anyway.
Down Peralta we made it FINALLY to the intersection with Dutchman Trail. We filled up one last time in a pool of water and started off running down to meet up with the First Water Trailhead. I led the group and darted down the path now only 5.2 miles from our vehicles. My mind takes over my body at this point when I know the finish is only a matter of minutes away. In a race I simply imagine the cheers as they see you approach and I get excited with the sheer thought. I can conjure up that image at any time now and save it for these moments when I'm really tired, really beat, and caffine is just not working, music is not doing it and I'm just tired of being on my feet. The image of the finish line works every time and it worked this day. I ran like I just started out. The temperature dropped drastically as it does in the desert and suddenly we were seeing our breath, my nose was dripping and my ears were cold. I slowed up for the guys to catch up a couple times again not wanting to get attacked by a cougar because I seperated myself too much from the group (this is called self induced paranoia...). I really did feel so much better and caught myself several times running long sustained rocky hills as we climbed up Parker Pass. It was really encouraging to feel that strong at that point but didn't want to put too much distance between the group. Moutain lion attacks aside we were running as a group, ran as a group and should finish in the same couple minutes. Mile after mile we jogged, ran walked sections seemingly always right around the corner from the trailhead but never really quite there. One ridge after another until finally, FINALLY we hit the intersection with Second Water Trailhead. .3 miles from First Water Trailhead. I ran that final uphill without reprieve until I reached the trailhead. Non stop, uphill, full speed with the cheers of volunteers ringing in my head with every step.
Most Challenging Run Ever
Despite how hard I felt I ran the last third of a mile up the hill I was happily surprised to turn around 30 seconds later to see Jeff and Paul flying up the hill right behind me closing out an incredible run strong. Immediately my first thought was to let my fiance know we were ok as we had just finished 51 miles in 17 hours and 35 minutes. We were expected to be back about 2-3 hours ago. She was worried but happy to hear from me and after an hour drive home I'd be in my living room. Exhausted. Destroyed physically. Changed.
There are a few times in everyone's life when something happens to you that leads you years later in life to look back and say, "I can't believe i did that. I can't." A couple days later after this run and that's all that goes through my mind thinking about this run.
People have run 50 miles before. That's not new. People have run 100 miles, 200 miles, people have run across deserts, countries, you name it. To me though this run was more than just a 50 mile race, run or hike. This was something else. The solitude, ruggedness, route finding, climbing, the sheer number of rocks on the trails and cactus covering trails makes every footstep harder than anything I would have expected. Incredible doesn't even start to begin to describe this day. To be able to share it with such great runners as Jeff Jones and Paul Rondeau makes it even better. Fun guys, great sense of humor and always entertaining and supportive. As it always seems to be the case, it's the people you run with that makes the day, not the trails, scenery or running itself. That certainly was the case with this adventure.