by Fred Thompson
June 16, 2007
I had some thoughts in review of our experience at Big Horn regarding what went right. First of all, there is really no way to train for altitude except at altitude so I just had to take what came. Peaking at 9100 ft, it wasn’t too bad though I did feel it had a minor impact. Training for hills we thought we had handled by doing Cedar Ridge and Cross Timbers a few times. Running hilly trails does not prepare one totally for long extended climbs, but Lynn had told us that part would suck and just keep moving and he was right. Nevertheless, I thought we handled ourselves well for being “flatlanders”. The long extended downhill at the end was where I think most damage was done, so next time I will include some type of downhill training. I am sure this is where most black toes occurred, including Char’s. Nutritionally, I was served well by Perpeteum and Gu. With the exception of one boiled potato before climbing “The Wall”, that was all my calories. Our feet were wet all day from snow, mud, and water crossings but my Injinji socks kept me blister-free. I did change socks at both drop bag opportunities, but did not change shoes. My shoes, NB 907, drain well and I wore a size bigger to offset swelling and black toes. With the aforementioned downhill, I am glad I did. Everybody’s feet took a beating and I am still unable to run going on two weeks later due to foot pain.
It was a long day come race day. I set my alarm for 1:45A, but awoke at 12:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. Dave Billman and I left the hotel at 3:00A to drive to Dayton to catch the bus to the start that left at 4:00A. That was about an hour and 20 min ride with a mix of chatter and attempts to sleep. Todd, Dave, Mark & Brian Blenden, and me were all on the same bus. We arrived at the top as the sun was starting to lighten the sky and stood around for a while before we decided it was too cold and got back on the bus until closer to the start. We had a nice rendition of the national anthem by a local talent and were off. Immediately we come to a water crossing and mud and everybody scrambled to get around it on a narrow footbridge. As we stand in line to cross the footbridge, I comment “I have a feeling that in a short time this will seem ridiculous”. I was right. The early miles were spent in snow and sloppy, shoe-sucking mud. The views, however, were incredible right away, including Leaky Mountain-a waterfall coming out of the middle of the mountain. The first 18 miles consist of a brief climb up 300 ft and then gradual downhill to the bottom of the canyon. I fell 3-4 times in this stretch as I slipped or stumbled from trying to keep those size 15’s in a narrow rut of a trail. One fall nearly impaled me on a broken tree branch, but only left me with large scratches across my chest. In actuality, the broken branch kept me from falling off a sheer dropoff to the river.
We could hear water running all day, but especially up at this top portion. There were small runoff brooks and streams everywhere. Also, we could hear the roar of the river below which gradually became louder as we descended. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it. As we neared the canyon bottom, we could hear nothing else. The aid stations up here were very remote and the volunteers had their horses tied up in the back. I saw one volunteer filling jugs from a stream so they apparently were filtering the water for use at the aid station. Not much here but water and Heed, but I was OK because I only needed water to add to my refill packets of Perpeteum. After 18 miles of gentle downhill, we reached Footbridge aid station and our first drop bag. Mark B. left just ahead of me and Brian B. came in as I was leaving. Hadn’t seen Dave or Todd since the start. Dry socks, reload Perpeteum and Gu, cross the river and start up “The Wall”. For those of you familiar with Bandera, this climb would be like going up Lucky Peak for 2-3 miles. For parts of this climb the trail was the runoff stream. But walking in the water beat walking in the mud alongside the trail. As I reached the top, I was literally in the clouds as low-hanging clouds moved in surrounding the runners in a cool mist. Reaching Bear Camp aid station meant we were done with the heavy climb and back on more manageable terrain. I was happy to finish the climb, but the extended up had my neuroma screaming. That eventually died down as we entered what I think is the most scenic stretch of the entire trail. I literally stopped and gasped on two occasions as I would exit trees and be overwhelmed with what lay before me. I did not regret carrying a camera because I know pictures could not capture what we could see. Incredible. This stretch featured a spring to refill water bottles with cold water on our way to Cow Camp.
Between Cow Camp and Dry Fork aid stations, is 5 miles of mostly gradual uphill with a tortuous glimpse of Dry Fork when we are still probably 2 miles away. This stretch is exposed and it was hot and it seemed unending. Not far from the aid station, I am passed by a search & rescue 4-wheeler with three guys sitting on the back. One of the guys sheepishly waves and I realize it is Brian Blenden wearing this goofy helmet that looks like a 4 yr old’s bike helmet. It looks like his day has ended. At Dry Fork, I was greeted by my favorite cheerleader,Paula Billman, as well as Matt Crownover and Pam Blenden. Pam was the only one supposed to be there, but Paula and Matt had both decided to shorten their run a bit.Brian is OK-just had enough. This is the 34 mile mark and our second drop bag. I sit and this crew of friendly faces takes care of everything. Another change of socks after Matt washes my feet, reload and on my way. I made it here only one hour ahead of cutoff, so I’m concerned about Dave and Todd making it here on time. After Dry Fork we have a stretch of gravel/dirt road so our feet adjust to level footing. It also starts raining and blowing. I clear a hill which blocks the wind and the light rain actually feels good. Nothing too out of the ordinary through here as we continue to go through small water crossings and back onto rocky single-track into Upper Sheep Creek aid station. Get my water refills and head out. About 200 yds down the trail, I hear the volunteers yelling to Mike that he left a water bottle. My name is not Mike, but I do realize that I don’t have my hand-held bottle where it should be–in my hand. A young volunteer graciously runs the bottle out to me and I am again on my way. Shortly, I pass a group of three and feel good about my pace. Running again for a change. Before long I cross the deepest water crossing of the day–above the knees–and it is cold and fast. Another half mile or so and again I hear yelling behind me. This time the group I passed is asking if I see any trail markings. “No. As a matter of fact I don’t”. We back track to discover that I lead us off trail and needlessly across the deepest water crossing of the day–twice. This is what I will forever remember as my “stupid stretch”. With bonus miles logged, I am again on my way to the last big climb of the day-“The Haul”. This I would say was very much like Lucky Peak, but when we crested this bump we could see all the way to the valley floor and possibly the finish line waiting for us 13 miles below.
From here to the trailhead 5.5 miles from the finish is severely downhill. Narrow rut of a trail, full of rocks, barbed wire on your shoulder, quad-busting, hip jamming, downhill. I thought it would never end. I have never been so happy to run on flat road in my life as we exit the trail and finish the last five miles or so on dirt road along the Tongue River. I run a while, walk a while through this stretch where I catch up to Mark B and Lynn B. Lynn, of course is finishing his 100 mile adventure and he is pumped. I am too, but I am ready to get this over with so I take off and leave those two, but am quickly joined by Mark. I also pass Joe P and Diana Heynen on this stretch as, they too, finish their 100. Joe tells me cutoff is not a problem so they will walk it in. Mark and I continue our run/walk routine all the way into town. Bob Wilmot meets us about 2 miles from the finish and escorts us in. Mark and I finish together though the official results show that I out-leaned him by 1 sec. An epic finish for an epic day.
A brief bout of nausea came over me as I crossed the line, but managed to keep everything in order and the rain clouds were hovering as we finished, but it didn’t detract from the idyllic setting of the park along side the swift-moving tongue river. A brief sit in the cold water of the river to hopefully offset soreness then a heavenly hamburger. Char is full of excitement about her finish and I am really proud of her because I know it was a tough trail and she surpassed expectations.
I truly never intended to write more that the first paragraph of this report so I appreciate your indulgence in allowing me to relive one of the best runs of my life.