Bar-H Boondoggle
NTTR Club Run
Bar-H Breaks Mountain Bike Ranch
St. Jo, TX
May 13, 2006

Devil's Backbone...

by Becky Hale

If the title of this blog triggers images of blood, pain, sweat, and fear...you are either a mountain biker who has been out to Bar H OR you just have a keen sense of imagery. Some of you have heard of this trail, a mixture of switchbacks, plunging downhills, and lactic acid producing climbs that make you seriously consider suicide to end the suffering you endure while trying to complete it. Maybe I am exaggerating. Maybe not. This weekend, I participated in a semi-organized run out at our favorite mountain bike ranch/camp. I even took my bike, hoping to get some riding in. Unfortunately, in my haste to pack and load my car, I forgot my helmet. So, no riding for Becky. :( This is a good thing, however. If I had ridden, I probably would have just DIED on that hill.

The course for the Boondoggle run takes its participants though dusty jeep tracks, sandy and rocky creek beds, twisty hill hugging curves and through the torture of "Devil's Backbone" - known as one of the roughest trails in North Texas. The run through the "Holler", the sandy/rocky creek bed, was rough...but not impossible. I kept a pretty decent pace and relished every moment in the shade, as the temps that day were pretty hot. The stones were a challenge and after a bit, I figured out the best way to run through it without killing myself. The back of my heel started to twinge a bit and I was forced to walk it off. This p!ssed me off. I wanted to run as much as I could, but at the same time, I did not want to injure myself on what is supposed to be a "fun" run. We bopped around "Copperhead" and then were thrust into the bowels of "Devil's Backbone". Looking back, I can honestly say that this area is beautiful. The trees, the hills, etc etc. But while trying to drag my out of shape and somewhat hefty frame (hey...if you know me, you know I am not a little girl) up and down this absolute BEATING of a trail, I wasn't thinking about how "pretty" it is. I just cursed and prayed it would end soon.

Starting up the first of many switchbacks, I felt relatively strong. I walked the first part of the climb and then sprinted to the top. I felt good. Maybe this hill isn't so bad after all. I have heard horror stories of how tough it is, etc etc. This isn't so bad! Yay, a downhill. I can joggle down and just kind of cruise. I knew there would be another uphill, so when I get to the bottom and notice no flats, I think.. "huh..well...it can't be that bad..just soldier on, Becky!". So, I did. I mustered up more energy and strength and forced myself to get up that hill. I didn't sprint up the top, though...it was more of a strong hike. :) After a while, I realized why they only recommend advanced riders take on the challenge of RIDING this trail, much less running it. Let me get one thing clear, there was not much running from Becky by this point. I would joggle the downhills, but the never-ending uphills...well, lets just say I somehow figured out how to get up those, but it didn't involve anything resembling RUNNING. I seriously think I went uphill about fifteen times on this ONE hill. How is that possible? I think part of my problem out here was that a) I didn't have my watch. I can usually gauge how far I have gone by the time I have been out. I had NO idea how long I had been out there. So I had no idea where/when the end would appear. b) I was not mentally prepared for this course. I didn't expect it to be so long...so I didn't psyche myself up for the extra mileage. I also didn't expect it to be so taxing on my body. I have been to Bar H a number of times, but had never actually crawled up DB. I know why now. Thankfully, two little tree sprites saved me. Ok, they weren't tree sprites...they were REAL trail runners - Stevie Wonder and LK (Lauren Kennedy) - who showed me a shortcut. :) I hacked through briars and god knows how much poison ivy to cross up to the trail they were on and, at best guess...shortened my route by a half to a full mile. Not totally sure, but I was soooooooo pleased. This bit of trail cutting only lifted my spirits momentarily, however...there was more fun to come. :)

For those of you who are fans of Harry Potter, you are aware of what a Dementor is. I have renamed this trail "The Dementor". There were moments where I genuinely felt like, "I thought I would never be cheerful again". (Ron Weasley's description of how the Dementor affected him) Knowing that my friends would be supportive, yet roll their eyes and sigh if I just gave up and said I couldn't do it...I gritted my teeth and "powered down". I knew I could, if I had to, hike though the rest of this course and eventually, even if it was after dark...I would be spit out onto the finish line. I could take a shower, lie down, and forget about the horrors that are within those tree covered hills. Despite this image, that I held onto with a death grip, the trail continued its onslaught. I think it's goal was to literally strip my soul away from my body by beating it senseless and laughing at me with gentle breezes. I didn't actually SEE vultures, but I know they must have been there...circling...waiting for me to keel over. It was working. I felt all my confidence, all my strength just sucked out of my body. I questioned whether I should even be out there. I mean, how the hell would someone even recover my lifeless body if I were to collapse and gasp my final breath on trail? I wouldn't want that person's job. I questioned whether my goal of completing the Durango Double was even rational. I realize I have until October, but sheesh. If I am this beat down and mentally WHIPPED, how can I compete in the MOUNTAINS? This is a baby hill in Texas...I don't even know the elevation. For the love!

Eventually I came to realize two things: 1) I am over thinking everything. I am not going to die. I am going to get through this trail and sit around the campfire with my friends and I WILL keep training for Durango because I want to. I like running..usually...and just need to get in better shape so next time I come out here, I will do better. 2) I don't want to cross the finish line in a heap of downtrodden "I am a loser"-ness. I want my friends to see that, even though it hurt like a mo-fo, I finished with a smile...or at least a smirk. :) Sooner or later, the trail began to turn into something that I started to recognize. No longer was it a winding uphill monster with gnarling teeth, hissing "you can't finish!". All of the sudden, it looked like a normal trail. Hey, I can sorta jog again. Ohhhh there's a sign. "Devil's Backbone - Do Not Enter" leading up the way I just came from. I am done with the evils that possess that hill. I can move on to the finish.

The rest of the course still had a few challenges, but I could actually start running again. At one point, I think we were on "Split Ears", there was a constant buzzing. I realized there must have been thousands of bees in the cedar trees up there. It was a wall of sound. I felt like it was following me. Every turn I encountered more of this low, dull, but constant electric noise. While I never actually SAW a bee, I did get confirmation from some other runners later that I was NOT hallucinating. The noise did serve a purpose, though. I ran faster. The last bit of the trail was going backwards through "Go West". I love riding this trail, and running it was actually pretty fun as well. Then I was on the jeep tracks and could hear the music from the end of the race. I lengthened my stride a bit, contorted my face into a grin, adjusted my tank top and camelbak, and tried as gracefully as possible to glide right into the finish.

I saw Stevie Wonder and LK chatting it up with other racers, and Matty kindly cheered me on as I trotted on in to the check-in table. "Will you be going on another loop?", asked one of the race volunteers. Instinctively, I responded "hell no." I took a shot of Gatorade, removed my camelbak, and walked around talking to folks. Then, after being repeatedly bitten on the a$$ by these evil little air sharks known as mosquitoes, I ran up to the showers, rinsed off and changed into fresh clothes. I applied more insect repellent and grabbed a bottle of water.

Most people don't understand why I do this to myself. "She must be crazy", they say...or think. I realize I am not your standard, run-of-the-mill athlete who can run 8 minute miles or ride 25 miles/hour on a bike. But I love getting out there. You never know what you are capable of until you try. I am already seeing a difference in my endurance, my recovery, and my overall strength. Baby steps to Durango. Some steps hurt worse than others, and on some you might fall down...but you still gotta keep taking them and trying to push farther or you will be forced to crawl for the rest of your life.

I ain't gonna be a life crawler, dammit. :)

*hugs, kisses, and all that jazz*

 

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