by Paul Tidmore
13 DORBA Trails in Under 24 Hours
May 31-June 1, 2003
Sometime around early April, Scott Eppelman forwarded me an email sent to him by Mark Dick. The email had a link to the DORBA (Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association) web page with info about the Tour de Dallas. As an effort to get more riders exposed to a wide variety of Dallas-area trails, the Tour was designed and consists of 13 DORBA-maintained trails with the requirement that riders complete 7 of the 13 trails in a period of nearly a year. In 2002, the first year of the Tour, 23 riders completed it with 2 riders completing it (at that time 12 trails) in less than 24 hours. Mark sent Scott the email with the thought that he should attempt to run all 13 trails in less than 24 hours.
I was thrilled that Scott had forwarded me the email and wanted to include me in this adventure. This would be a really cool opportunity! I quickly replied to let him know I was in, then I started doing my research of all the trails on DORBA’s and other web sites. We immediately started checking our calendars and after running into several conflicts settled on May 31. We then talked about how we could possibly pull this off with and without a crew, but before we had to do much planning, Mark volunteered his crew services. I had ridden around all night and day with Mark during Scott’s and Blade’s Beltline run, so I knew we would be in excellent hands. Sarah Brown was interested in joining the crew effort, and Letha Cruthirds also joined forces to run the event, making our Tour team coed—way cool!
We now had our team and a date, so we all took time to get all the info we could on the trails as well as the routes between trails. We compared notes via email as much as we could then met for one last team meeting. Since we would be visiting three state parks as well as other parks with gate hours, we had to really take a good look at the timing of the run. We agreed on an order and starting time, then we compared notes to see what trails we knew and didn’t now. Most of the trails had been run by at least two of the three of us, and we each volunteered to explore the few trails we had yet to run. We figured from the info we could find that we would be running somewhere between 80 and 90 miles. What blew me away was that getting to all the trails would require about 235 miles in the car!
I now needed to plan my supplies. I had only run two ultras prior to this and basically ate and drank what the aid stations provided. Now I had to try to imagine everything I would want to eat and drink for around 24 hours plus gather up all the other gear I may or may not necessarily need. As temps rose to 100 degrees the day before the event, I knew hydration would be very important throughout the day. I also had heard several reports of unavoidable poison ivy along a few trails, so I got a bottle of Ivy Block as well as some Tecnu Oak N Ivy cleanser.
The plan was to meet at Scott’s house at 4:30am, so we could start our first trail at Johnson Branch at 6:00. Letha was unable to run with us, but she did, however, join Mark in the crew vehicle. Mark told us that Sarah was not able to make it but would possibly hook up with us later in the day. He also brought his daughter, Lauren, along to help with the crewing effort. After loading up Mark’s van with coolers, water jugs, and bags of food and supplies, we headed up I-35 toward Lake Ray Roberts to begin our adventure.
We arrived at Johnson Branch a little earlier than we had planned, so we sat out on the parking lot at the trailhead and watched Mark’s TV for a few minutes. When 6:00 approached we grabbed everything we’d need for this trail, took a couple of pics, then finally started our adventure at 6:08. It didn’t take long to start running into lots of big thick spider webs. Scott led this trail and stopped long enough to find a stick that he could wave out in front of us to hopefully knock down as many spider webs as possible. Waving the “spider stick” would be the responsibility of the trail leader for the first two trails plus all the trails we’d be running after dark Saturday night.
Not too long down the trail we spotted a skunk with his striped tail high up in the air. He was trotting right along in front of us and showed no desire to move off of the trail. We could either wait for him to move off the trail or blaze through the woods and poison ivy to try to get around him. I picked up a few small rocks and tossed them toward him to try to get him to run off into the woods. When he finally moved off the trail, Scott decided that we just needed to sprint by him as quickly as possible so we could be on our way. Either the rocks or thundering footsteps pissed him off a little, as he decided to spray in our general direction. Luckily we weren’t in his direct line of fire, but the cloud of spray we had to run through was definitely the strongest I had ever smelled.
It was about 15-20 minutes later that we had our second skunk encounter. I saw the skunk immediately appear on the trail in front of us, yelled “SKUNK!”, then immediately retreated back up the trail. Scott took off and quickly ran passed it without even seeing it. Hmm…now we were about 20 yards apart with a skunk somewhere between us. I knew it was close by but couldn’t see it, so in order to keep moving, I picked my way through the woods on the other side of the trail and made my way up to Scott so we could keep moving toward our goal.
I took the opportunity to ask Scott lots of questions about races he had run, ultra strategies, etc., and we talked about several other topics as we wound through the woods back toward the trailhead. As we made our way back to the parking lot, we shared our skunk story with the crew then loaded up to head back down the highway toward Isle du Bois.
Running Time: 1:31:18
Isle du Bois
Travel Time from Johnson Branch: 0:37:37 (2:08:55) [Note: Time in parentheses is cumulative time]
When we arrived at Isle du Bois, the first thing we discovered is that none of us knew exactly where the trailhead was. Down by the swimming area, we saw what looked like a rescue/dragging operation. The whole area was blocked with yellow crime scene/barricade tape with lots of park rangers (and of course, the media vultures) around. We asked one of the rangers where the trail was and quickly jumped out of the van to start the second leg of our Tour.
I took the lead on this trail, and at this early time of day that meant having to wave the spider stick out in front of us. Parts of this trail are fairly new, but overall it was pretty well marked. There was one little out-and-back section near the middle of the trail, and we weren’t quite sure if that was a “bonus miles” opportunity or just part of the trail.
About four miles into the run, Scott took the first fall of the day. He rolled over in near-perfect style, popped up quickly, and continued up the trail as if nothing had happened—what more would you expect? We continued on until we heard Mark, which meant we were getting close to the trailhead. As we arrived at the van, we chugged down some water, Scott brushed the dirt off his clothes and legs, then we jumped in the van for the ride toward McKinney.
Running Time: 1:05:05 (3:14:00)
Travel Time from Isle du Bois: 50:17 (4:04:17)
The Erwin Park Trail starts with some twisty turns through the woods. It doesn’t take long, however, to get to the open meadows, and when we did, we could tell it was going to be a hot day. I had only been on this trail once before, and I wish it was closer to my home, as it is a nice and easy-to-follow 7.6 mile loop. We continued pretty much uneventfully while maintaining casual conversation until we made our way back to the parking lot then went about our between-trail hydration, rest, etc.
Running Time: 1:11:48 (5:16:05)
Travel Time from Erwin Park: 32:56 (5:49:01)
This was what I considered to be the first hot trail of the day. There is not much shade at Sister Grove, and it’s not a particularly pretty place to run. Nonetheless, it’s always nice to have a change of scenery, and this is a trail that neither of us would’ve likely visited had we not been on the Tour. The trail is about 5.6 miles long consisting basically of two loops, and like my scouting trip a few weeks before, there was still a lot of poison ivy along the sides of the trail. Once again, this was a rather uneventful trail. As we neared the parking lot, Letha and Lauren snapped a pic or two of us, then we finished the trail and jumped in the van for the long trip down to Arbor Hills.
Running Time: 57:06 (6:46:07)
Travel Time from Sister Grove: 51:50 (7:37:57)
When we looked at the map of all the trails, we knew this one would require a pretty long drive–the longest drive to the shortest trail! At a little over 2 miles, we knew we’d pretty much blow in and outta here pretty quickly (NOTE: there currently are more than 2 miles of trail at Arbor Hills; we ran the main DORBA loop for the Tour).
My wife, Ginger, showed up with our two sons. Although it would only be long enough to say “hi” and “bye”, it was nice seeing them since I had left the house about 4:00am and still wouldn’t be home for several more hours. It may have been here that Lauren had had enough of riding around in her dad’s van with two sweaty, stinky dirtbags (I did mean Scott and me, in case you were wondering), so she grabbed a ride home with Ginger. That was quite a blow to me and Scott, as that would mean no more of Lauren’s collection of R Kelly and Vitamin C (like our parents said when we were kids: “You call that music?”).
Running Time: 22:30 (8:00:27)
Rowlett Creek Preserve
Travel Time from Arbor Hills: 28:54 (8:29:21)
So far Scott and I had been trading leads on each of the trails we had run. I must say I was thrilled to be leading this next trail knowing that this would be the longest trail at the potentially hottest part of the day. I took off with my fanny pack with 2-20oz bottles and carried an extra handheld for this long mother.
I scouted this trail with my wife and Robert Tavernini just a week before, and we really enjoyed the trail. It’s about 13 miles long if you hit all the loops, and a big part of it is shaded. Soon after the trail starts, it crosses under Centerville Rd. for a short loop along the creek. We came to a fairly steep downhill, and as I tried to glissade down it, my heel slipped, and I took the second fall of the day. I pretty much fell and slide a few feet on my butt and was able to jump up and continue running in one continuous motion. It wasn’t until several minutes and sweat drops later that I realized I had a pretty good scrape back there. Oh well—such is the life of the trailrunner.
The trail north of the parking area has a pretty long section out in the open, and here is where it was just downright hot. We were both drinking lots on this section, and I was going through my water and Gatorade at a very fast rate. It was nice to get back in the shade again, and not long after that, we came back close enough to the parking lot to top off our bottles.
The second half of the trail starts off primarily in the shade, and with the cold water we had just gotten, I felt pretty good as we cruised along this section. A couple of miles into this section, Scott hit a root and took his second fall of the day. Once again, he got up pretty quickly, and we continued to make our way rather uneventfully up the trail.
Running Time: 2:06:21 (10:35:42)
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the awesome crew job being done by Mark and Letha. They really stayed on us to take in lots of fluids and electrolytes. They also kept encouraging us to get in some food whenever we could, which for me is really hard when I get really hot and am drinking as much as I was having to. Knowing the next drive to Boulder Park would be pretty long, I knew I better try to get some calories in one way or the other, so I grabbed some candy bars—Twix and Snickers—which were about the only things that sounded anywhere near good at this point.
Travel Time from Rowlett Creek: 39:37 (11:15:19)
Neither Scott nor I had run Boulder Park, and Letha had just visited this trail with Robert within the week before this run. They reported that the trail was extremely hard to follow, and that there also was a lot of poison ivy that we would have to run through. On the way down to Boulder, we got some really great news via a call from Julie Bryant. She was at Boulder Park with DORBA member, Jay Lamb, who was out marking the trail with flour for us. After running the trail, it’s easy to see how you could find yourself going around and around in circles, finding yourself coming back to the same point over and over. Jay did an incredible job marking the trail for us, however, and the only excitement we had here was the flash we got from Julie as we made our way back to the trailhead.
Running Time: 52:32 (12:07:51)
Travel Time from Boulder Park: 14:53 (12:22:44)
Windmill Hill was another trail neither of us had run before. Letha had checked it out along with Boulder and did her best to describe the route. We took off heading south then west on a trail that went along the boundary of the park until we came to the Stevie Ray Vaughan Bridge. No matter which way we went from there, it seems like we kept coming back to that bridge. To make a long story short, we basically just covered all the trails we could find until we felt that we had covered all the trails in the park, then we made a quick dash to the car for the short drive over the Cedar Hill State Park.
Running Time: 30:42 (12:53:26)
Cedar Hill State Park
Travel Time from Windmill Hill: 26:06 (13:19:32)
We knew going into this run that we had to make sure we got down to this state park before gate closing hours. We did that with plenty to spare, but since we knew it would get dark before we would finish, we had to take our lights with us. I was looking forward to this trail, as I had never run here before, and since it was still really hot, I grabbed three bottles as we left the van for the 10.5 mile run on the expert loop.
Not much more than a mile into this trail, we ran right by what I’m pretty certain was a water moccasin. It had the classic diamond-shaped head, and as a wildlife expert told me, the fact that it stayed right there and didn’t slither away from the trail when we ran by it was also an indication that it was a venomous snake (wow—you learn something everyday!).
We made our way pretty much uneventfully up this trail until darkness descended upon us, and we had to turn on our lights. We were making really good time until we came to a fork that left us wondering which way to go. The map there was unreadable, and as I said, I had not been here before. We chose a direction and headed on up the trail toward the van. A mile and a half or more later, however, things started looking really familiar to us. Somehow we had taken a wrong turn and were back on the loop we had started on. We did some backtracking and added on what must’ve been about 3 or more “bonus miles”. That wasn’t all that bad, except for the fact that I had been chugging down my water and Gatorade at a pretty quick rate.
Carrying three empty bottles, it seemed to take forever to get back to the parking lot. Although it was now very dark and a little cooler, I was starting to feel worse than I had all day. When I finally heard all the noise from the parking lot, I was very relieved that this trail was almost over. All the noise we heard was from a group of people gathered around a couple of park rangers who were looking for a lost biker. It was a girl with no helmet, no water, no phone or radio, and no light out riding on the trails, and nobody knew where she was. As much as I wanted to get some serious rehydration going on, I stopped with Scott to show the rangers where we had been (or thought we had been) running. Although we saw quite a few bikers out before dark, we hadn’t seen a sole after turning our lights on.
Running Time: 2:26:22 (15:45:54)
After hanging around for several minutes, we decided that they had things under control, or as much as they could anyway, so we finally headed toward the van and on to the next trail. I guzzled as much water as I could, then I really started feeling bad. I thought I was done, as I felt extremely nauseous and like every ounce of energy had been taken from me. The crew urged me to take some electrolytes and sip some Coke. I took down what I could without feeling I was going to toss it back up, and somewhere a couple of miles away from our arrival at L.B. Houston, the sick feeling went away quicker than it had come on. I was a new man and was even laughing as much as the rest when someone suggested that Scott and I take our turns on the “amateur stage” as we passed by LaBare (even if they wanted a couple of skinny runners up there, I don’t think they would’ve let our filthy sweaty bodies anywhere near the entrance!).
Travel Time from Cedar Hill: 46:01 (16:31:55)
As I mentioned before, the support van was working very well for us. All we had to do was run, then we just jumped into the air-conditioned comfort of the sag wagon while we sipped drinks, ate what snacks we could, and prepped our gear for the next trail. The down side of the rides was that it took a few minutes to get our legs loosened up as we began each of the later trails.
Like a few of the other trails, it had been quite some time since either of us had been on this trail. Mark assured us it was very easy to follow, and it seemed to be until we came to a fork in the trail. There was a sign labeled “Dips” pointing one direction, then a trail going the other way. We took the dips section, and somehow when we came out of it, we ended up heading back toward the trailhead……more bonus mileage. Actually it wasn’t much, as it didn’t take long to figure out our mistake.
We made our way up the trail and had our third (and last) skunk encounter. Being the pitch-black of night, however, we had no idea where that critter had scampered off to. We agreed that we had no time to mess around, so we rolled the dice and just sprinted for the next 200 yards or so to make sure we would get by it without incident. Luckily, we did!
We continued to follow the trail until it brought us back to the van and to more really great news. Many of you who have run Horseshoe know that there doesn’t seem to be much of a logical path but instead just several trails that seem to weave and crisscross all over the place. Add night to the equation, and you have a real mess. Letha, however, had spent far more time than either of us and at one time had been shown the correct route by our very own Ferd. The great news was that she was going to lead us on it!
Running Time: 1:13:17 (17:45:32)
Travel Time from L.B. Houston: 26:38 (18:12:10)
I had been told that there was a fair amount of poison ivy at Horseshoe, so like I did at Boulder, I covered my legs with Ivy Block before leaving the van on the trail. Letha took the lead and led us through the maze. Since she decided to not run with us, it was nice having her with us on this trail.
There were a few patches of poison ivy here and there, but other than that, the trail was quite uneventful. We wound around by flashlight until we came back to the van where Mark was waiting on us, then we piled in and headed for our last two trails.
Running Time: 40:13 (18:52:23)
Travel Time from Horseshoe: 26:16 (19:18:39)
Knob Hills is a one-way trail with the west end trail head on HW 377 and the east end in a neighborhood off of Cross Timbers Rd (FM 1171). Once again, Letha was the only one who really knew this trail, and she told us that the end had a few confusing turns that she wanted to make sure we didn’t miss. The plan, therefore, was for me and Scott to start running from the 377 trailhead. She would then ride around with Mark, show him where to park on the west end, then she would run toward us and lead back to the car.
Scott took the lead with the spider stick. The early sections have some pretty rocky areas with some short twisty ups and downs. We then came upon a long smooth and very flat section, and we settled into a very nice cruising speed for this section. After putting 70+ miles behind us, I gotta say that this section was a lot of fun.
Not much later, we saw the LEDs of Letha’s headlamp coming toward us, and she turned around and led us back to the van. Somewhere around the finish of Rowlett Creek, I knew we were gonna go under 24 hours for the Tour, and a quick glance of the watch confirmed it. It was 2:27, and all we had left was our “home” trail—the North Shore Trail—and over 3 and a half hours to do it.
Running Time: 1:00:44 (20:19:23)
North Shore Trail
Travel Time from Knob Hills: 18:26 (20:37:49)
As we pulled toward the gate at the end of the trail, we made sure we had all the gear we would need for this last leg, then I asked Mark to give my wife a call to let her know our ETA at Rock Ledge Park. She had gone back to Mark’s house to pick up Lauren to babysit our kids, which would allow her to come out and watch us finish our adventure.
As I do most Wednesday evenings in the summer, I patted the top of the brick column at the gate just past North Shore’s 9-mile mark, then Scott and I slowly loosened up and rolled into a jog as we headed into the woods. It was my turn to lead. Knowing this trail is notorious for lots of spider webs, I waved the spider stick one last time as we made our way toward our goal.
While we were out running, Mark and Letha decided to “watch the submarine races” at Rock Ledge Park. OK, so they really weren’t, but when a Flower Mound cop saw a couple parking there at 3:30 in the morning, he couldn’t help but be a little suspicious. They told him that they were waiting on a couple of guys who were out trying to run all the DORBA trails in less than 24 hours (hmm…I think the parking story would’ve sounded a little more believable).
It was a beautiful night, and I was pumped as we were nearing our goal. As we approached the last stretch where you can see the parking lot, I can recall Scott saying that he “was going to savor every step of this last stretch”. That almost choked me up, as I was just so incredibly happy to be successfully completing the Tour with the best ultrarunner in the area not to mention one of the best in the U.S.!
As we took the last few steps to the parking lot, I looked down at my watch: 22 hours, 47 minutes. We were done. The first person I saw was Ginger, who had come out to watch me finish, then there was our incredible crew, who had been with us through the entire day and night. It was an amazing moment as we all exchanged hugs, high fives, etc., then took a few pics of our team.
Running Time: 2:09:15 (22:47:04)
We piled in the van and drove up toward the park entrance where we could clean up a little. I scrubbed my legs with Tecnu to ward off any poison ivy, took a few minutes to put on some dry clean clothes and sandals, while Scott sipped on a cold Sam Adams. After that, we rode as a team back to Scott’s house, and with tired legs and weary eyes told each other good night as we unloaded our gear and made our way to each of our own homes for some long needed rest.