by Joe Prusaitis
2 Sept 2006
Twas a typical day in the hill country town of Bandera, where the air was so hot and wind way down low. The cowboys stay inside their air-cooled horse trailers and the wild critters hide in the shade of any deep hole they can find. Even the rattlers and scorpions remain out of sight. Yet a hardy group of wild eyed trail runners raise dust on the rocky trails from morning on through the night. Insane: some would say, including those who did bake their own buns.
It is so very hot. Unlike Death valley and its zero humidity, more like Houston and its high humidity. Nothing so simple as an elevated temperature, but a combination of heat and humidity that belongs in the stupid category. A heat index that combines 95 degree heat and 65% humidity that is downright nasty. It is stupid hot and maybe even dangerous.
Henry and I arrive a day early for a hard day of sun burnt skin and dehydration. I ride the metal horse while Henry (sans horse) runs alongside, We place a pebble on each summit to fetch, one million rocks on the trail to trip over, and the hoops to jump thru. We call it course marking, but in reality, we insure that all the survival tests are in place. No one deserves to return safely unless they have what it takes. And it takes more than desire this time: you have to be smart, well prepared, and very strong. A ribbon here and a glowstick there leads them by the nose over 25 miles of sun baked caliche trails. I try to explain to those who ask that this is insane: what they hear is a challenge. So I create a 25mi loop and tell them anything less than 4 loops is pathetic. They come anyway! I place a large dirty rock at 5 mile intervals to serve as landmarks and tell them this is a self-serve run. But they create an oasis at each rock with shade tents, cold clear water, and blocks of ice. Some crusading kings and queens even bring slaves to wash their feet and feed them grapes.
At 3am its 71 degrees and 57% humidity. Two hours later, its 76 degrees and 50% humidity. The wind is dead still. By 9:30, the slightest of breezes, no more, at 79 degrees and 47%. By noon, it is 92 degrees and 29%. By 4pm, it tops out at 95 degrees and 25%. It does not drop back under 90 degrees until 8pm, but the humidity stays near 37% with a slight breeze. By midnight, it drops as far as 83 degrees, but the humidity is back up to 51%.
The screen door bangs shut from multiple trips to the indoor bathroom and excited voices boom through the open door. The trio of 3am starters wake the entire house of light sleepers. I get up to make sure they sign in, and watch them start – the wrong way! I call them back and send them the opposite direction, and they miss the first turn to wander into the field – lost! I don’t want to watch any more, so I go back to bed. But, after that, nobody sleeps. Each of us ease out of bed to take care of our normal pre-run rituals, whatever they happen to be.
Mariela, Kim, and David are out there somewhere, and I wonder where. Mostly, I hope they are on course. Our route is evenly balanced with an oasis every 5 miles, adding up to 25 miles, and 4 loops for 100 miles. Most of us are withholding bold predictions in favor of incremental reevaluations, but I know that most assume they will do much more than they will eventually end up with. The truth of it is revealed in the note tablets from each oasis where we write down our times as we pass through. Even though we can see these at each station, they also mislead. Some breaks last for hours and others minutes, such that the next split is a combination of last break plus the run time.
We begin walking up the road from the Lodge at 5am. Soaking wet from sweat even before Henry splits the group by running, Thru Last Chance and up Cairn’s Climb in the dark, the ascent splits the group further. Our accordion of lights wind along the trail, over rock and prickly pear. Mike moves ahead on the climbs, while Henry sprints ahead in random bursts, both moving to the front. Earl Blewett, Letha Cruthirds, and Joyce stay close to me, thinking that I hold the key to this riddle. Quickly, we tour Cairns Climb and then move on to Boyles Bump. While ascending the bump, Gabe spins past us and keeps going as we stop at the overlook to see if we can spot the early trio down in the park. The oasis at Boyle’s reminds me of the distance covered: only 5 miles!
I have already drained both water bottles. A few wonder off into the dark trees for a bear break while we top off and reload. Henry and a few of the others wait on us to gather up again, while Gabe has gone ahead with Earl and Mike. The next section seems to be the toughest and effectively splits the rest of us up into ones and twos for the duration. It takes us over Big Nasty, Sky Island, T#5, Mount FUJI, the Sisters, and T#6. Checking the log book tells the tale as each of us log times that spread all over the clock. It does appear that everybody is on course, including the lead trio. We take a long break at the 10 mile Equestrian Camp. Besides refilling both bottles again, I also drink 2 bottles of ice cold Gatorade. I remove my soaking wet shirt, bandana, and headlamp and replace the shirt and bandana.
The trail from here to Nachos only has one hump, but Ice Cream Hill always leaves a lasting memory. T#1 leads to the technical and fun T#6 on over to the Devil’s Intersection (666), under The Sisters, and over the triple creek rollers up to Ice Cream Hill. Henry, Letha, Joyce, and I run this section together until a potty break leaves Joyce and I behind the others. But Letha’s bear break leaves me with the ladies while Henry runs ahead of us and alone. A jackrabbit sits in the middle of the trail in the shade of some brush, not moving. We stop right next to him, surprised that he doesn’t run. We stand and watch him for a minute and then go around him, looking back to see him still sitting in the same spot. Henry is leaving Nachos as we came in. Again, both bottles are empty and my shirt once again soaking wet from sweat. The ladies move ahead and I try to keep up with them. They both seem to be pushing each other while my rear seems to be dragging more than a little. But, I know the route and they do not, so they wait on me. Crossing the road, we drop into the completely dry creek bottom. The ladies seem to be spinning along fine, but I can feel the drag from my core temp overheating. I force myself to hang on but just barely. The power dissipation is rapid, the energy loss leaving me to move slow at best. We turn onto T#8 and then T#8b. Some good shade leads past the dry swimming hole. Past the cowboy camp and army barn, we drop down and across into the field. A cool breeze rolls over us, invigorating enough to raise a smile and a moan. Back to Equestrian Camp, we slip in as Henry starts out. Behind him are TJ, German, and Earl.
I grab a few Gatorades, a bag of chips, and a mess of guacamole, then sit outside of the tent in the shade. There’s a hint of a breeze, which is much better than the stifling steamy inside that has been cooking all morning. Joyce goes inside and stays a bit too long. She looks dizzy and unfocused when she comes out. About to black out, she sits to keep from falling. Languishing In the shade of the tent, she tries to compose herself with no luck. Her lethargic state requires rest and a cooler core temp. We get her to lay down and put some ice on her neck and head. She attempts to eat but is unable. There is nothing that can be done except to let her rest here in this comfortably shady area. I finish the avocado and then continue alone.
I see a ghost through the shimmering heat waves just ahead and wonder if it is real. Soon after, I pull up with a very real Mark Raymond. Too tired to say much of anything, I move past him and try to run. Awkward at best, I pull ahead as he fades back into the heat waves. My energy is so low, I cannot sustain the effort to run for very long. Walking seems so much easier. I suppose that everyone out here is dealing with the same thing. This logic fortifies my reason until Chris Chandler runs past. Damn! It must be me then. My desire has flown and left me empty, I try again to run but only an ugly gangling gait. I try to talk to Chris but she’s plugged in and can’t hear me. Talking seems to provide a bit more energy for some reason, but Chris can’t hear me, so I start talking to myself. It’s a rude conversation: more of a disgusting self abuse because of my inability to even run. Mark Dick is at the Shade Tree, riding his unicycle and I stop to visit while Chris slips away. I tell him that Letha is well ahead and the best route to catch her is the direction we are going and then the shortcut over to Shady Grove. He follows behind, screaming and whee-ing, as he crashes down the rocky trail. At the base of Lucky Peak, I look up to see Chris top out, wishing I was already up there too. Its a steep rocky bastard of a climb and the sun continues to beat upon my head as I slowly crawl up to where Chris has long since gone. I glance back to see Mark, who must be wishing he was already up here too, and then I roll off the other side. In the middle of the many ledges is one very deep shady area, which is a perfect place for a little break. My sit turns into a lay and when I realize that I’m really sleepy, I immediately get up and continue. The ants and the scorpions would carry me off if I fell asleep. No more than a death march now, I slowly slog along down the jeep road. Its afternoon and we’ve been cooking about 7 hours. We’ve had a slight cool breeze now and again, but mostly its been deathly still and extremely hot. Cloud cover has been nil for awhile, but now the sky seems to fill with clouds. And yet, even with a sky full of clouds, none seem to be keeping much of the sunlight off of me. Henry, Letha, and Earl pass me going out for the start of their second loop at about the same time that Mark comes running up from behind. We walk in to finish the first 25 mile loop together, and Mark declares he is done. I am not sure what I am, but a long break is for certain.
Chris Matus tells me that Joyce has recovered and gone on with Diana Heynen. I told Joyce I’d wait for her so it looks like I have some time for the luxury and exhilaration of a shower in the horse-wash. Followed by a fresh change of clothes and I’m feeling pretty good. I look for a cold drink only to realize we have ALL our cold drinks at the Equestrian Camp. I have nothing here. The others feel sorry for me and provide a few cold gats. I must be dehydrated. As much as I’m drinking, it just aint enough. I can’t seem to stay ahead of it. Dave and then Gabe come in while I drink, both stopping at Boyles on the second loop and taking the short half mile walk back in. They are done. Joyce comes in an hour later with Diana and says she is done, but Diana plans to go back out. I’m not quite ready to to stop yet, so I decide to go with Diana. The luxuries of my long break has me feeling good… for the moment! I take Joyce’s camelback, fill it up, and head back out with Diana. My breaks at the last two stations add up to over 2 hours, so we are well behind the others now. But Robert had come in as we left, so he will be along soon.
We start the second loop the same as we did the last one, walking! We get as far as last Chance before Diana suggest we try to run. We get about 5 paces before we start walking again. And so it goes for awhile: walking mostly with a bit of running. It’s still crazy hot so my feeling of well being disappears quickly. Some of the pebbles have been snatched from the summits, but most remain… and the rocks seem to be multiplying. We slowly ascend cairns climb and make it around to the descent, when Diana starts talking about waiting for Robert. I start looking for him and find him a good way up the climb we just finished. He’s about a half hour back and we yell across the canyon, asking if he wants us to wait, which he replies ‘No’. On we go to Boyles which is even slower, if that is possible. We seem to be taking turns with who is faster as one or the other intermittently have to run to catch up. Takes a long time to find the overlook and searching the park for any movement is fruitless as everybody must be moving as slow as us, and thus invisible as any rabbit in the brush. On round the top, we see nothing but bright white rocks reflecting the heat. Down off the backside, we manage a bit of a stumble on into Boyles. We stop to refill, but waste little time. Its too close to the Lodge and a very easy place to give up. I just now remember that I’m supposed to be breaking the glowsticks on the second loop. Damn! I missed the ones behind me. There’s not that many, but still, I had forgot. Moogy hikes up the trail from the Lodge, arriving with a block of ice for the water cooler. I ask him if he can make certain all the sticks are snapped behind us and he promises to get it done. Great! That leaves just those in front to deal with and I start with the one here at Boyles.
The turn up the First Big Nasty is slow again, with Diana falling behind. I’m stumbling faster than her right now. We climb the Sky Island and I note that some of the glowsticks have already been snapped. Only means one thing: Henry just remembered too, but he missed a few. So, between the 2 of us, maybe we’ll get most of them. Diana stays well back of me as we circle the Island and then down T#5 over towards T#1. We cross paths with a mountain biker heading up: the first person I’ve seen out here on the trails this weekend besides our crew. We make the T#1 turn and search the hills for Henry and friends, but I think they are far enough in front of us to have made this complete circuit on towards the Equestrian Camp. So we walk/run over and down to Mount FUJI. A camper sitting at the campsite picnic table sits and glares at us as we make the turn and start up the hill. The glowstick I put here yesterday is gone. I suddenly feel so miserable, I have to sit down. Diana passes me and keeps going and then I rise behind her and do the same. Its a very slow and awkward climb up the goat track. The summit rolls over onto the third sister and then down the saddle over to the middle sister. I keep scanning for Robert, wondering if he’s close enough to see. We then roll over to the first and final sister. I move ahead of Diana again, enough to sit and wait for a few minutes. Scanning about does not help me find the ol Dinosaur though. Down we roll back to T#1 and then over to T#6. My stumble walk has slowed significantly by now and Diana again goes passes me. This time, I cannot hang on. I work hard to just stay close as she seems to have worked up the ability to run. Not me though as I seem to be slipping further into dept. I seem to be aching all over and for some odd reason cant stay awake. Dehydrated, sleep deprived, and undernourished, I start looking for all the other reasons to whine about my miserable existence. All of this is internal, thankfully. T#6 rolls a bit and has a few slight ascents that force me to a crawl, but Diana slows to wait for me towards the turn across T#5 under the saddle. There is not a conscious thought in my brain when I say to her that I am considering dropping at the next station. She tells me that she intends to keep going for 50, then she turns and starts running. No way can I catch her now. I keep going and try very hard to make myself run, but its an embarrassing impersonation. She stops a few times to break glowsticks or I’d never have caught her. There’s a small party sitting at Equestrian Camp when we arrive. Diana and I do come in together and we both know who’s whupped and who is going on. But they don’t know until I tell them.
I drain a few more gats before Diane heads out, and then Joyce hauls me back to the Lodge before driving into town to pick up some pizza. I’ve been thinking about pizza and beer for hours. While she’s gone, I hose off as much race funk as possible in the horse-wash. Over a beer or three, I start asking questions to find out who’s still in the game. It has thinned a bit, but still a good amount keep going. The 3am starters are out. David came out after 30miles, said he was tired of walking. Mariela and Kim made it 35 miles before the heat cooked them. David Jackson showed up when we started, but didn’t get started until hours later. He made one loop for 25miles. Chris Chandler, Mark Raymond, and Joyce each did 25 miles. Gabe was running very well when he took the shortcut from Boyles at 30 miles. Chris Matus and Moogy were running, but in no sequence that I could quantify. They ran the 5 mile Lodge Loop starting after midnight and then ran a few other sections the next day. Janice Ayson ran the first 15 miles, but I never did get her final time. She was busy helping the runners and never did log it.
I warned them all before they even started, but they did not listen to me. With all the best laid plans and high hopes, reality took over and quickly dashed them all… but one. The heat and humidity were pretty severe. Heart and desire were no match for the relentless heat. Strength of will slipped into a mug of beer and took a seat in the shade. The wheels came off much quicker than many of us were used to. Most went further than they should have. Berdis owns the quote that seems to fit most of us, “I just got tired of walking”. After all, we all came here to run and did expect a certain amount of walking, but… there was a limit! First, the wheels came off, then we walked, then we got really bad. First time I’ve ever heard of somebody getting pulled from a Fat Ass race. Chris pulled TJ at 35 miles just to save him from himself.
But, a few still carry on. German is out front, followed by Mike Dobies, Henry, Letha, and Earl. Diana is next and then Robert. But Robert starts thinking again and the simple math overwhelms him. On his way from nachos to Equestrian Camp, he decides to quit, so he skips the southern loop and instead goes strait to Equestrian. But nobody is there, so he starts walking back to the lodge. For the record, he gets credit for 40 miles, but actually logs closer to 43 or 44 miles. German spins around to start his third loop. Mike comes in next and sits down for a break. Eight of us are sitting on the porch drinking beer and it’s too much for him. Dave Berdis had brought some home brew that was cooling n the frig and Mike knew it was there. He looks to be going out again, but after a half hour, he goes to his car and brings back his beer mug, and that is when we know he is done. The home brew waits no longer. Henry and Letha come in next. Henry is done but Letha wants more. She sits in a chair and makes funny noises for a long while, until Mark talks her into getting some sleep first. Earl is next and done. He says, “That is the hardest 50 miler I have ever done, including the second half of every 100 miler”. Needless to say, he is whupped. A short time later, Diana comes rolling in and Robert takes care to fix her with a beer as quick as possible. Only German is left on the course, but only on his third loop. Letha plans to go again, and who knew what Mike is really gonna do? Letha does get back up and leaves with Mark Dick. A few hours later, she comes back in with Mark holding her up. She is done this time, and toasted… like the rest of us. Still she had gone further than anyone but German. The beers and the conversation continued well into the night as one after another slip off to bed, each of us wondering where German is and will he start his next loop.
A funny thing happens… very early in the morning, we all wake to the hammering rain coming down on the tin roof. I’m not certain if it was the rain or German coming in from his 3rd loop that gets us all up. But, we watch him and his crew rushing about, fixing his food, and shoving him back out into the rain. The rain did not last very long but it sure was something special for a short while. Now we knew. He was on his fourth loop and we knew he would finish, and we knew he would suffer for it. I woke more naturally much later… after sunrise and thought about the mud under German’s shoes. But there would be more and he was still far from done.
We tear down Boyles station and the markers that we knew were now behind German. Then we took down the Lodge because nobody was using it anyway. We got to Equestrian Camp about the same time he did and took it down, putting his stuff on the picnic table there. Chris took down all the ribbons behind him and Mike followed him out and got all the ones from there to Bar-O. Nachos was taken next and then we went back to the Lodge to wait. Most of us drift off to sleep as we wait. With time to kill waiting for the winner to come in, we decide to make a trophy out of the rocks he’s been running over these past 2 days, We find a rock with holes in it and a strip of rusted barbwire. Janice and Gabe create a very nice looking trophy witch I write “Cactus Rose 100” on. German certainly earns a Champion’s award. Then we decide to give Letha one as well for being the woman with the furthest distance. We did not write Champion on hers though. She instead collected the “Toughest Bitch” award. Only 1 of 17 finish the main event.
Today’s weather is not as hot as yesterday but the humidity has to be way up there from the rain and then the mud. I do believe German got the nastiest possible weather he could have had in one run. We create a toilet paper winner’s ribbon for him to break just under the big shade tree next to the house. He gets a standing ovation from all those present as he breaks the ribbon at 33 hours and 48 minutes. We hand him the rock & barbwire winner’s trophy and give Letha hers as well. All in all, I think that this was one of the toughest set of circumstances that I have ever seen somebody run this distance.
Cactus Rose 100mi Fat Ass
2 Sept 2006
33.48 German Collazos Houston TX
18:32 Letha Cruthirds F Dallas TX
14:48 Mike Dobies Detroit MI
15:59 Henry Hobbs Washington DC
16:57 Earl Blewett Tulsa OK
17:25 Diana Heynen F Austin TX
15:29 Robert Heynen Austin TX
10:00 TJ Thompson Austin TX
11:10 Mariela Botella F Houston TX
11:10 Kimberly Pilcher F Houston TX
12:19 Joe Prusaitis Austin TX
7:45 Dave Berdis Dripping Springs TX
7:50 Gabe Ayson Austin TX
6:58 Chris Chandler F Austin TX
7:10 Mark Raymond Austin TX
7:23 David Jackson Dallas TX
8:00 Joyce Prusaitis F Austin TX
3:58 Janice Ayson F Austin TX