I spent a lot of time being astonished and perplexed in the weeks between receiving my condolences letter and arriving at Frozen Head park. We were originally just going to come watch the race this year. Now all of a sudden I'm actually IN it. I'm going OUT there. What just happened?
I don't think my "entry form" had anything to do with getting in, but it was fun putting it together with our talented nieces, Lindy and Abby:
So I threw myself into preparations for the Barkley Marathons. Several previous runners were hugely helpful with their advice, not to mention the wealth of information in the race reports from prior years. I read Frozen Ed's book twice. I did as much training as I could manage, teetering between slightly injuring myself several times and getting in big days of climbing. I tested gear and clothing in training and came up with a system that mostly worked very well.
And of course the maps - studying the park map, trying to figure out the routes, looking at everything from an orienteering perspective. We arrived in Tennessee a couple weeks early and I spent 7 days roaming around all the trails and everywhere it was "legal" to train. John and I experienced some of the infamous fog and cold weather on the mountaintops, and that helped me understand some of the potential nav issues. Not to mention solidified some of my clothing choices.
So when Friday (the day before the race start) rolled around, I was actually feeling halfway OK about it all. Mostly just really excited and trying to keep the adrenaline at bay. I've read about this event for many years, now we are actually here!
Heading to the park in the rain, with my $1.60 entry fee (in coins, of course), my Texas Truck license plate, and an offering to the Barkley library (called "Unravelled", it appears to be about a knitting group):
We were lucky to meet Jodi and Karine from Nova Scotia, super nice people. Here is Jodi with his new Barkley bumper sticker:
Getting checked in with laz:
Preparation of the famous Barkley Chicken:
Copying the course onto our maps. Frozen Ed happened to be there at the same time, and he was so helpful in answering several questions (and signing his book). Thank you Ed!
Frozen Ed and Stu giving our friend Jeff some pointers. Jeff was on the wait list and got into the race as he was driving down from Massachusetts a couple days before the start!
Laz practicing blowing the conch shell which would signal "1 hour to the start" - it was good to know how loud it sounded all through camp, but it made me jump a couple times during the day Friday.
The "buckle" for a sub-24 hour finish. This is as close as I (or anyone else) will get to that:
Hi Charlie! It was great to see him there, along with several other people we have befriended at the Backyard races.
Our license plate along with the other new ones added to the "wall" that weekend:
More fun hanging out with Jodi and other runners before the race:
I actually got some decent sleep Friday night, the only problem being overcoming the aforementioned adrenaline a couple times. Just before 6 am, there's the conch shell! And then some car alarms. I imagine that was on purpose so NOBODY would sleep through the start. Good thing Barkley people took over the whole campground.
Dressed and ready to go, one more pose with my license plate, happy that it's not raining at the moment:
Tightening up a shoelace at the last minute:
The starting "gun" - laz lights a cigarette and people take off:
Off on a big adventure!
I wasn't sure how long my climbing legs would last, but based on previous mountain races I knew it would help if I started at a reasonable pace. Similar to previous mountain races, that pace put me at the back of the field. There were 3 guys behind me for a while, one passed quickly (it seemed he might have started a tad late), another caught up gradually, and one was actually slower than me and stayed at the back. I could hear a group talking up above and guessed that it was Frozen Ed along with a few others.
My climb to the top of Bird Mountain went great, nice and easy, and I could put my flashlight away by the top. 45 minutes, that works for me. Also - perfect start time.
Along the Cumberland Trail, Matt and Cat were coming back to the turn-off spot right as I reached it. I headed over the top of the mountain and north down the spur. I was able to run well along the ridge, passing Leonard, Ed, and a couple other folks.
Ed joined me at book #1, hi Ed! He was very encouraging, such a nice person. My page was missing, hmm. I took #335 instead, hoping that wouldn't cause anyone a problem later but figuring that was high enough not to be missed. Yay, my first Barkley page! That is just so cool. The title - "You Get What You Pay For" - indeed!
I circled around and found a way down through the trees and down the steep drop, through the high wall and eventually down the long, steep spur toward the creek. There weren't many tracks in the leaves ahead of me, looks like I took a less popular route down this one.
Below I saw a group coming down the trail from the south. That drew me a little too far right, resulting in some off-camber travel down the bottom of the spur, but at least it was quite direct to the park boundary corner. Hiram was leading the group, and he joked that he guessed I wouldn't trust him down "Hiram's Gambit" (the section we had just come down). Naw, I think I'll stick with trusting myself for the moment :)
Time to the park corner = 1:19
I followed them up the next climb on the trail to Jury Ridge, again taking my time with the ascent. Frozen Ed and Antoinette had come down close behind me and we all made our way uphill. I was getting warm so I stashed my jacket. Not 10 minutes later it started raining so I got it back out. I was thinking, "I know this game". But no, actually the rain continued from that point on and I didn't take the jacket off again.
At the top was the beginning of the new section, starting with a short run down a spur to book #2. Again Ed and I met at the book and we told each other "good job!"
Now for the part where we pay attention real good. I went for an east bearing, steeply downhill and around a bunch of blowdowns. Ed went a bit more to the left. We converged further down on a narrow spur, then split up again as I took the right spur when it forked and Ed took the left one. Going through some tiny trees, it was decent travel, but when I caught a glimpse of the creek down below I could see that it was pretty flat on the other side.
So I headed down, verifying my location at a creek confluence and going a bit further downstream to find the appropriate one. I had learned that creek beds tend to be rocky and slower to travel in this area, but this one seemed to be the exception. I came around the corner at the creek intersection to find Ed and Antoinette holding book #3 - hi again! That was pretty funny.
Ed put the book away and we started the long climb up the spur back toward the trail. Our first off-trail climb of the race, and it went pretty well. My legs were starting to warm up and I got more of a climbing groove going, following Ed and Antoinette uphill. Partway up, Ed asked how I was doing, and I replied that I was good, just looking for the high wall we had been promised. Ed said it was coming up soon and proceeded to explain that there were multiple ways over it. I asked which way laz had gone, and since Ed knows many things, he knew he had gone around to the left. Best piece of nav help I could have gotten at that point.
At the wall, which was rather high indeed, Ed clambered up a steep pitch with a log partway up. I watched him sliding around on the muddy bank and decided I would go find where laz had climbed up instead. I ducked under a large downed tree and walked around, following a few tracks from other less brave people such as me.
I got a bit impatient and climbed up something that was better but still not great, getting my hands and gloves and legs all muddy from clawing my way up. The trees at the top were stable enough to hang onto and soon I was working my way up to the spur where I could see Ed and Antoinette up above.
Long climb, false hope of a trail a couple times, finally Ed was standing with his arms in the air in victory - yes! I followed them up to the North Boundary Trail where we discovered that the rain was making a mess of the place. The trail is narrow and sometimes slanted to begin with, now with runners trying to keep from sliding off the trail it was a bit of work to maintain any kind of cadence.
I decided that I would not blame anyone for whatever sideways, slippery, sliding footsteps they had made in front of me. Not to mention I was making a few of my own, and I would be following myself later if all went well...
Song in my head = Slip Sliding Away - "You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away"
For a while I was able to keep light feet and work the sliding into my trotting stride. It worked OK where the trail was a bit wider and not so steep. Uphill was fine. The 2nd set of downhill switchbacks got slightly ridiculous and overall rather slow (I might have started talking to myself here), but eventually I got to the Son of a Bitch Ditch and the final climb of the trail.
I navigated the coal ponds and the climb up to the Garden Spot without difficulty, only finding the climb up the Cumberland Trail section to be a bit longer than expected. Ed and Antoinette had stopped to discuss water and I no longer saw them behind me. The stop for book #4 at the top was rather chilly in the wind, but I made it quick. Also had a laugh at the book title, by Jimmy Connors, "Don't Count Yourself Out: Staying Fit After 35" with a picture of Jimmy on the cover.
Time to Garden Spot = 4:10
A short way down the trail I found the water jugs off to the left down a steep, muddy little drop. I filled a SPIZ baggie and a bottle, pulled myself back up to the trail, and continued over toward Stallion Mountain. The directions for following the jeep road around the mountain worked just fine, and soon I was pushing through vegetation to find the drop down into the drainage system. Following a side drainage down, I reached Barley Mouth Branch and the road below.
That road led over to the top of Leonard's Butt Slide where I spotted the milk crate in the tree. Three guys were just sliding down toward the next book when I dropped down to follow them. That is one steep little drop! Majorly muddy too, from all the rain that was still falling and all the footprints ahead of me. But at least it was short. And I went directly to book #5, with timely help from the group down there.
The climb back up wasn't as bad as expected (there were plenty of things to hang onto). I climbed up through the hole in Bobcat Rock, very cool, then continued uphill toward Hiram's Pool and Spa, also very cool. Especially the sofa in the middle of nowhere. The three guys were climbing well and they were just leaving the next book (#6) when I arrived. One of them knew me, but I wasn't thinking clearly enough to ask who it was.
Time to book 6 = 5:10
I circled around to find a good spot to drop down through the woods to the road that led to the field, then followed the spur down the south side of Fykes Peak. Some advanced beta helped me descend efficiently without getting stuck on top of any cliffs, so maybe I passed the group of 3 guys in here somewhere. Near the bottom I followed a reentrant down toward the New River, and this is where I saw Hiram again. He was alone this time, and going gingerly downhill.
Pushing through some reeds, I found the river and an easy crossing spot but didn't see the supposed log. No matter, my feet were already soaking wet from all the rain. Yes, it was still raining, alternating between a fine mist and actual pitter-patter rain, but at least never a downpour. Up to the highway and across the road and then up the next small valley. Hiram followed, so I figured I must be on the right track.
I stopped to drink some SPIZ and found Hiram right behind me - he told me his knee was giving him issues on the descents but he was climbing OK. I stashed the baggie and followed Hiram around to the book #7 location, proud that I spotted the right tree before he reached it. He did me a favor and handed me my page (thanks Hiram!). I also thanked him for the 2 new sections added these past couple years - I enjoyed the extra nav challenge and interesting terrain as opposed to the tedious trail (especially in the muddy conditions of the trail this year).
Hiram left me on the climb when I stopped to futz with something else, then it was my turn to start the slog up Testicle Spectacle. The steepness was compounded by the slippery mud, so it was an exercise in finding foot placements that would hold. Eventually I realized I could kick my own sideways steps in the mud, just like in steep snow travel, so that was a fun little revelation that came in handy occasionally.
There appeared to be a photographer or someone watching from above, but he was gone by the time I hauled my butt to the top.
Down the other side on Meth Lab Hill... we followed a steep road partway down, and that was certainly better than what we had just climbed. I passed Hiram who was back to favoring his knee. I was impressed that he was still moving along on the course and not going out to the road to hitch a ride.
The Neo Butt Slide was short, with plenty of wet scree and deep footprints. I had heard someone say something before the race about a second bench, so I tried to keep going down the powerline once I reached a flat spot. Nasty brier patch there! Hiram called down that I should head into the woods instead, great idea! Thanks for all the help, Hiram!
I traversed around the hillside, not really finding an obvious bench but heading down to something slightly flatter. I came out on the road alongside the creek and could hear the waterfalls just above me. What a beautiful falls! Hiram said it had more water in it than he had ever seen.
Time to Raw Dog Falls = 6:45
We got our pages from book #8 and headed down the road a short way. I got distracted staring at Danger Dave's Climbing Wall across the creek and forgot I was going to fill up a bottle here. I found the easy way up and around to the top of the wall, then realized my oversight. Erg, didn't really want to go back down, and besides, that creek was pretty brown with all the rain-washed mud coming down.
I had been slightly concerned about the route-finding through here, but the directions and the map and the footprints ahead of me were easy to follow and soon I saw the 50-gallon drum. There was also a small creek running down, not the clearest water either but it would have to do. I added extra water treatment to that bottle. Hiram passed me again here, and I followed him up toward Pig Head Creek.
A photo John took on Sunday of the "Pig Head" skull marker (only visible on race weekend, it turns out) and the "trail" we would follow...
Bit of a steep climb, that one is! I found a road to follow up the ridge and decided to follow it around to the next saddle. Another racer came up behind me, we said hi, then he continued on up at a good climbing pace. I took another road back up to the ridge and decided that Hiram's strategy of just staying on the ridge made more sense.
Further up, a bunch of vines and logs, plus a mess of sliding tracks leading around it. Glad that many of the tougher obstacles are reasonably short. Somewhere in here I paused to dig out the salt caps to try to keep some leg cramps at bay, and that must have worked because I didn't have any more issues with that. Soon I was on the Old Prison Mine Road and jogging toward Rat Jaw. Let's do this thing!
I got out my leather gloves and used them to pull myself up with a cable on the first steep slope. This is a bear of a climb. Hey, but there are flat places in between all the really sucky, steep parts so you can catch your breath. People were trying all different things, according to the tracks - this part of the slope, maybe over in the woods a little bit until there is too much crap in the way, OK how about over here?
A second steep pitch. Hey, there's Jeff, hi Jeff! I started seeing racers coming back down and it was awesome getting to greet everyone. One guy told me that it got easier after the left turn up ahead. I scoffed, but he was serious, and he gave me a few more tips so I thanked him and told him I believed him now.
The gloves were OK but eventually they just got pretty wet and heavy. With the briers cut down, I didn't need that much hand protection. I more needed something to keep me from slipping on the cut-down briers... mostly I just needed to watch my step and keep climbing, up, up, up we go.
On top of the 3rd steep pitch the powerline turned and the ground did level out some, thank goodness. Into the thick foggy soup now...
More racers running down toward me, hello! I found the crack on the right side of the rock wall and pulled myself up, glad for some handholds to combat the slippery terrain. My trekking pole was also very helpful the whole race, except when it sunk too far into the super-soft ground.
Eventually I could hear cheering from the top. It was great that some folks hiked up in this weather! Not ideal Barkley viewing conditions, that's for sure. It was cold, windy, rainy, foggy, basically the opposite of nice weather.
John was watching for me from the top of the tower - his view looking down:
A photo from John Price as I finished the climb to the top:
Time to the tower = 8:03
John Beard takes over the photo documentation of me at the table - tearing out my page from book #9:
Hi John! I promise to NEVER ask you to come up to the tower again!
Prepping a SPIZ (I ended up dumping the water I had treated and waiting until I reached the top to get some clean stuff):
More water resupply - dang, could you pick a colder place to set the water jugs for us?
OK, time to go! This might be the first time my toes turned into ice cubes by the top of a climb, starting a trend. Running downhill reversed the effect, thank goodness, and my feet were always warm by the bottom. Which is where I would cross another creek... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Right about here is where one of my feet came out from under me, giving the spectators a little something to "oooh!" about. No worries, I'm OK!
Down the hill, I passed Hiram who said I might not see him again. I told him I wasn't sure if I was hoping I would or that I wouldn't. There were the 3 guys from Leonard's Buttslide, one of them trying to figure out how I had gotten ahead of them. Hi Frozen Ed and Antoinette! That was pretty much it for people coming up behind me, if I remember right.
OK, time to get down to the prison and find out what that is all about. Very exciting! It was quiet, not so windy, and warmer down there. I saw a videographer moving around as I worked my way down to the start of the tunnel.
Then my whole focus was on how to get to the tunnel opening. Many (most) other racers don't seem to have a problem with this. Jared grabs the gate and swings around to land on the one dry spot available amid the creek coming out the hole. But me, I'm more of a wimp with stuff like this. Usually John helps me figure it out. This time I would have to come up with a solution on my own.
I got down to the top of the muddy rocks and studied the situation. Directly below me was the creek, which I could get into I supposed, but that wouldn't help me get in the tunnel because there was too much water coming over the lip of the tunnel floor. There were some rocks and probably handholds right below me, but it wasn't immediately apparent how that would work.
I went back up and checked out the other side, no option there. I paced a bit. I felt like a puppy trying to find a way off of a couch. I was aware of the video guy and wondered if I was providing fodder for footage of "how not to run the Barkley."
Finally I folded my trekking pole and stashed it in my pack, as it was part of the problem at the moment. I went back to the top of the rocks and sat down. I turned around and eased a foot down to an excellent rock right below me, then found several good cement blocks for handholds. Inching over, another handhold, then there's the gate - got it!
Just one big step into the water and I was there! I turned around to the cameraman and gave a goofy face, then raised my arms in victory and started through the tunnel.
After that excitement I hardly noticed the cold water running over my feet, although I did notice that it was dang dark. 300 meters through a tunnel is a long way. I fished my pole and flashlight out of my pack and started the long wet walk. I tested the ridge in the middle but didn't see how it would help since it required a lot of balance and there were plenty of other reasons my feet would be wet anyway.
Finally the other end, a quick check of the "chimney" that rock climbers can use to get out (you probably can guess how long it took me to decide I wasn't doing that), and then a step into a bit deeper water to wade to the exit ramp. Up a couple rocks and I'm back on the lawn. Yay!
Book #10 was hanging on a pole. Notably, this one was called "The Bad Place" by Dean Koontz.
A few more feet of runnable yard, then it was back to the woods. I climbed up behind the water tower, happy that my climbing legs were still working well and happy to be able to easily see the contours around me. There was no fog down below, so I was able to match the terrain to the map in this area where I wasn't precisely certain about the nav.
Razor Ridge (or as Ed calls it, Ray's Ridge) was easy to follow, except for the fact that it went rather steeply upward. Partway up the mountain it petered out as ridges seem to do around here. At this point I contoured around to the right on a diagonally upward route. After crossing into the large bowl of small drainages, I eventually looked up to see a huge rectangular capstone above me. I figured I should head for it and figure things out from there.
Phew, the top of that Bad Thing climb sure is steep!
Upon reaching the capstone I saw the shape of a face on the side and also a triangular keyhole underneath. Score! I found book #11 in a crevice in the rock. Only one more climb and 2 more books to go, and it looks like I'm on schedule for completing the loop in time to start another one (time limit = 13:20).
Time to Indian Knob = 9:49
Just need to continue with the good nav... knock on wood(s).
I had heard a lot about the Zip Line descent, and none of it was good. It started out just fine, following tracks of runners sliding down ahead of me, but that was just a teaser. There were no particular obstacles until partway down. Then a bunch of small drainages converged one after another, each full of rocks and stones, and then there was nowhere to go but over said rocks and stones.
My bearing took me in between two large converging creeks. The spur above where they converged turned suddenly steep and a bit gnarly. I wondered if there might be a better way, but gamely picked my way down to the confluence. There I crossed over to the western bank and found a much more runnable surface, namely an old road.
For the first time in a while I was actually running like I knew how to run. Except for the occasional pause to climb over a small tree lying over the trail, it was very nice.
Of course that doesn't last long, or this wouldn't be the Barkley. The road crossed over the creek and I stayed on the west side per the race instructions. I moved over to the next creek that was converging, crossed it too early, had to cross back, and then finally crossed at the right place so I could climb up a small Barkley Trail to find the Beech Tree just above.
Thank you Jeff for showing me before the race what a beech tree looks like.
I found book #12 in a hollow at the base of the tree, yay! The book was titled "The One Tree," one of my favorite titles of the race.
Now time for that "one more climb." The spur above the tree was pretty dang shallow and covered with small trees, I could see that being not so easy in the other direction. I followed it uphill until it curved around to join the main spur and made a note of an interesting protrusion on the tree at the junction. Someday it might matter, you never know.
More climbing. As the instructions say, just keep taking the steepest way up. The sun even came out, ever so briefly! The slope wasn't so bad until the steep grind right near the top (per usual, it seems). Finally more capstones, plus book #13. Last one for the loop! I wasn't quite as excited about this title, although it certainly stuck in my mind: "Neither Five Nor Three."
Time to Chimney Top = 11:29
I still had good legs, so I was off and running down the trail. The wind at the top was still blowing all to heck, and the ridge down from Chimney Top is one of the worst places. The wind seems to gust right over the top from one direction or the other all the time. Even turning down onto the switchbacks had the wind still in my face. Finally I got down lower where it was much calmer.
This trail was in better condition than the North Boundary Trail and I enjoyed "flying" down it, which is only relative to what I had been doing all day. Regardless, I felt fast and that's what matters. I crossed the creek, enjoyed the climb to Rough Ridge because the grade was so much easier, and then charged down the other side.
Partway down I passed Bill and another guy - hi there! Then I took the side trail to the creek, crossed the creek through the water because the bridge was out (sorry John, I couldn't avoid finishing with sopping wet shoes that you will now have to deal with), and jogged along trails toward the camp.
Apparently it was still raining, but I didn't notice it at the time:
Time at loop 1 finish = 12:47
Turning in my pages for a loop verification - John mentioned how it must seem a little like an urban race camera check. Indeed. Laz found 13 pages and I was officially a loop finisher at the Barkley!
We hurried down to the trailer where I stripped down completely and put on a new set of dry clothes, socks, and shoes. Ah, much better. This included nighttime tights (my winter pair of Amfibs), 2 layers of poly pro, and warmer socks. Plus I carried a warmer hat and mittens with me in case it got worse at night. John donated his dry pair of overmitts, and helped towel off some sweat from inside my awesome rain jacket which I definitely had to keep wearing.
We swapped packs, I downed some warm SPIZ (nice!), and I grabbed a small rope in case I could figure out an alternate method at the prison tunnel (yep, still a wuss about that).
15 minutes later I was back at the gate and ready to go. Thank you John for all the help with the quick turnaround. Next race number please!
It was starting to get dark as I set out up the trail for the second time. I had my bright headlamp on my head and my super bright flashlight in my hand. I was also trying again with my photochromic glasses. I had tried to wear them in the first loop but the rain and humidity made it impossible to see. It wasn't raining quite as hard now. And it was supposed to stop sometime? Please? I didn't mind the rain except for the slick mud, but for goodness sake the forecast said it should have stopped by now.
Still, I gave up on the glasses partway up the trail. Those conditions were making it difficult to wear them, and I felt bad for anyone who actually needed glasses in order to see. I would just have to watch for vegetation and keep it out of my eyes the old fashioned way like I've always done. I stashed the glasses in one pocket or another.
Next order of business was the fog as I climbed higher. I initially turned on my headlamp, but immediately saw that it wasn't the right light to be using. When I turned it off and switched to my flashlight, it was like magic - I could see really well. Night and day, as it were.
By the time I reached the top, only a couple minutes slower than the first loop, I was pretty well situated with my gear setup. Time to move.
I had been alone on the climb but I rounded the corner toward England Mountain to see some lights just over the top. Right at the top I encountered a couple guys who appeared to be trying to figure something out. They came over and asked, "Where do you think you are?" On top of the mountain, I replied, explaining that the trail was just back behind me. They said they couldn't see a thing. Neither can I! was my answer. And with that I set my sights on a north bearing and departed, wondering if they would follow.
I heard them discussing the situation and saw another person climbing back up the mountain, but soon I was alone again. I followed the ridge over through Fangorn Forest and down to book #1 (you really do get what you pay for). Another guy walked up right when I got there and said he had been wandering for a while. Good job in sticking with it!
Heading around to the descent, I was careful with the landmarks and didn't have any issues. I decided the word of the night was "methodical" - in the navigation and in the movement off-trail. This was no time to get lost, as it would likely be difficult to recover quickly.
I found the same slot through the rock wall and tried to follow my previous route down the hill. I think this is one of the steepest places for the longest time because you really aren't following a slightly gentler spur, just the side of a mountain. I noticed a light way off to my left but tried to ignore it and not think about this person that might be getting themselves a bit lost. Perhaps my light could help them figure it out.
The biggest issue I had was maintaining any sense of quick movement down the hill. Between the wet slippery leaves and occasional mud, constantly shining my light ahead to find a way through the logs and trees, and being overall a lot more cautious because I was out here alone, it took me a lot longer to descend. This was something I did not expect. John is so much better at this, and normally I just follow him at night and we can move reasonably well. Daytime by myself was fine. Nighttime (especially in the rain) was another thing altogether.
I found a creek at the bottom and verified it was going north-south. I had not hit a trail, so I turned to the right and almost immediately saw the "Trail" sign. Oh my gosh, that was the most perfect landing I could have made! I laughed out loud. It might have been slightly maniacal due to the absurdity.
Time to the park corner = 15:02 (total race time)
It was clear at that point that I was not likely to finish loop 2 within the time limit to start another one. I wasn't sure how to move much faster than I was going. The problem wasn't due to loss of climbing legs (at least not yet) but due to a slowdown on the nighttime downhills. On the plus side, I had a great opportunity for some night navigation practice.
Well, time to get going uphill then. I climbed Jury Ridge, watching for some of the less obvious switchbacks, thinking about how my slower pace would affect my water and SPIZ rationing.
At the top I pushed through the fog on down the spur to book #2, then took a bearing toward the drainage to the east. The main tracks through the leaves agreed with me at first as the crowd went around the mass of crap just below. Then I got drawn a bit more north, although I thought this would be OK. I picked my way down and eventually ended up in a shallow draw. It had a northerly heading, so I was pretty sure I knew where I was (a bit too far west).
When the land leveled out to the right I crossed over the bottom of the spur, found a road (hey that's on the map!) and walked over to the confluence I was looking for. I later called this a "bobble" but really it worked out just fine.
The main challenge was getting up the slippery little slope to the rock where the book was stashed. Instead of that mess, I went up around from behind to reach it. Sometimes it's good to be short, other times not so much.
I decided that at my pace, I better fill up a bottle if I was going to fill another SPIZ baggie anytime soon. I couldn't tell for sure in the dark, but I suspected the creek was still brown and muddy. Ah well, no help for it. I filled the bottle and went for the water treatment tablets.
Then I discovered that this set of tablets all had the same problem - they wouldn't open, no matter how much I pulled and tore and gnawed at the package. What the heck? Fine! I give up then. Honey chews for now, SPIZ later.
Will it ever stop raining? Or maybe those are just drops falling out of the trees. Sure sounds windy up above.
I climbed up the ridge to the high wall, went around to the left again and this time continued further until I found a much better spot (I wasn't the only one that thought so, according to the tracks). The penalty was a steep, steep haul back to the top of the ridge before I could continue up at a more reasonable slope.
Finally back to the trail, it was great to stop climbing but of course now I had to deal with the muddy North Boundary Trail. And wind. And some kind of sleet-y sort of precipitation. There was some white stuff on the ground too. A fun night on the north boundary!
If it was possible, the trail was in worse condition. That's all I remember about that.
Song in my head = Left Outside Alone
"And I wonder if you know
How it really feels
To be left outside alone
When it’s cold out here"
While up on the trail I remembered that all the little creeks seem to sprout from the side of the mountain, way up high. Inspecting one of them, I could see that it was quite clear, almost delicious looking. Deciding to chance it, I filled a bottle, let it settle, skipped trying to wrestle with the treatment tabs again, and filled up a SPIZ baggie. Back on track with the nutrition (at least until I run out of powder).
I knew I had returned with some extra food after loop 1, but it wasn't a lot extra. As I was pondering the calorie question, I passed a baggie lying next to the trail. Wait, stop. I went back and poked it with my pole, trying to figure out what the white stuff inside was made of. I picked it up - potato chips! Wow, that is exactly what I need! Something lightweight and full of crunchy goodness. I stashed it for later when I figured I would get hungry trying to get back to camp. Thank you whoever dropped those!
I found the coal ponds and the climb up to the Garden Spot. Oh my gosh, the wind up there! It was gusting and swirling, sometimes coming through with a huge rush of noise. I got my Jimmy Connors page and got the heck out of there. Thank goodness the water jugs are down lower.
Time to Garden Spot = 19:28
I didn't actually mind the short drop to the jugs this time because it was quieter than up on the ridge. While filling up my bottles I heard an owl really close by, really loud - "who - who - WHOO" - cool!
I "jogged" / slid along the muddy jeep road over to the start of the Stallion Mountain section. Turning confidently, I followed the road around to where it starts to head south along the side of the mountain. I glanced at my compass just to verify, since it was pretty foggy there. Wait, what? It says I'm going WEST. That's not right.
I backed up 100 meters to the turn, verified I had been here earlier (along with a bunch of other footprint makers), and checked again. My compass got all wishy-washy. Maybe southeast? Are you sure you don't like west? How about north?
Argh. I had been wearing it on the same hand where I was carrying my super flashlight, so I supposed the lithium battery had demagnetized it.
I got out my little backup compass, but it wasn't any more committal about picking a direction. What is up with these compasses?
Fine! I can do this without a compass then. In the dark, fog, rain, sleet, whatever. Bring it on. Let's see how much I remember...
I put both compasses away, actually glad to be rid of the wrist compass. With the extra layer of an overmitt, my thumb had been turning slightly numb and I couldn't loosen the compass strap any more than I already had.
Back to the road heading south. It went up and down continuously like I remembered, then ended at a dirt pile. I climbed around, crossed a little road, and headed down through the trees to the next road below. So far, so good. One steep drop, then I found the Barkley Trail going down to the left along the side of the drainage.
Partway down I stopped suddenly when I spotted a large turtle just sitting there. It had already retreated into its shell and the color was very similar to the surrounding leaves. But I was sure it was there. Maybe on a second night without sleep I would suspect I was hallucinating. No, that is definitely a turtle. Cool!
Down to the Barley Mouth Branch confluence, out to the road, up the road to Bobcat Rock. I psyched myself up for the steep drop to book #5 on Leonard's Buttslide, but it wasn't so bad. Hey, it might have stopped raining by this point. Can't remember for sure.
I climbed back up, through Bobcat Rock, up to the Pool and Spa, and up to the next book. Still going uphill OK.
Time to book 6 = 21:04
Wow, at this point in loop 1 I was already at the tower. That was sobering. Still, I had my extra potato chips, so I would be OK :)
At some point my fingers were getting chilly and it had definitely stopped raining, so I replaced my bike glove/overmitt combo with the mittens I had been carrying. Wow, what a difference! These were my winter mittens, with cutoff fingers and a pull-over top that I could remove for working with gear and then replace to keep my fingers warm. Along with my warm tights, waterproof jacket, and double layer of poly pro, I was set for warmth. I didn't even need my warm hat, as I had learned that my jacket hood over my buff kept my head toasty (all that rain was useful for something). Only my toes were occasionally an issue.
I didn't miss my compass for most of the descent from Fykes. There were plenty of landmarks and the spur was narrow enough to follow easily, not to mention all the tracks from earlier. I did lose a little time looking for the drop-down below the first high wall (I didn't go down far enough at first). I did lose my sense of location while following tracks in an unfamiliar area to a ditch - ah, there's the old road, got it. But otherwise the descent went well and soon I was at the camp-like flat area.
Looking down, I debated how exactly to approach the last drop to the river. This is where I most needed to know what direction I was going. Finally I decided to aim left where I found what I call Switchback Ditch, which led me to a long downed tree I had remembered. That was right next to the little ridge I was looking for, yay!
Then an orange park boundary marker, a little drainage, and a final descent to the New River. Phew, that wasn't bad. Again, just slow.
The river crossing was C-O-L-D on my feet, but I took it nice and careful to be certain I didn't slip and get anything else wet. Cold cold cold cold... that got me moving up to the highway to try to warm up my toes. I knew I was about to head uphill, so the toes might not be warm again for a while (yeah, it's weird, but the downhills were warmer than the uphills).
I climbed up to book #7 and discovered that Hiram had done me a huge favor on loop 1 when he handed me my page there. The book nook was high up a slippery slope, requiring a scramble up and then some kind of bracing maneuver to stand there and tear out the page.
Back to the Spectacle - just another muddy climb. Now that the rain had stopped, it seemed the mud was not quite as bad. The previous footprints were giving me slightly more traction.
Over the top, admire the lights of the town of Petros, down the muddy road. Here the mud was actually turning tacky and starting to stick to my shoes. Well, that's a new one. I stayed more in the grass to keep from getting clunky feet.
One little buttslide down-climb, around through the woods, up to book #9. I'm sure the waterfall was just as pretty, if I could have seen it.
Time to Raw Dog Falls = 23:25
Just as I was working my way down the road, shining my light toward the creek and kicking myself for not having pace-counted this section during loop 1, there was a headlamp coming toward me. It was Jared! His light pointed me in the direction of the easy little ridge climb, thank you!
I told him he was doing great, and he asked if I was OK. That was thoughtful! Yep, I'm doing fine. I wondered if he would beat me back to camp - wait, of course he would.
The nav around to the road was straightforward except I never saw the 50-gallon drum even though I was looking hard for it. I'll have to make a better note of its location next time (hold on there - IF there is a next time).
I climbed up the exact route I had taken in loop 1, right down to the McDonald's trash I passed near the top.
The climb up Pig Head Creek started to take a bit out of me. Hey, not a bad 24 hours worth of climbing legs, I must say. I started leaning more on my trekking pole, except I had to be careful not to shove it so far down into the soft ground that it was difficult to extract.
The sky started getting light. I could see around me by the time I got to Rat Jaw. I had been dreading the trip to the top of the tower all night, but now it seemed like the wind had calmed down and it was about to be a nice day. I accomplished my goal of getting through the crappy weather in order to experience some of the nice day on Sunday!
That didn't make the Rat Jaw climb any easier. It only helped knowing the scope of the climb and where the worst of it lay. I started appreciating some of the tracks in their shape and location as footholds, and the ground was a lot more solid. Frozen solid, in fact. Yep, still cold. But the sun was coming up over the horizon.
I paused at the rock wall and found a great little spot to sit and eat a snack, in the sun and out of the wind. One last push to the top - I made it! I collected a page from book #9 and poured water from the ice-encrusted jugs in my bottles. I was hoping someone would be up there who could let John know that I was running late, but it was an empty mountaintop. Not unexpected.
Time to the tower = 25:37
Side story (like this isn't long enough already!) - John had been up at the tower around 4 to 5:30 am to see if he could catch me. That would have been quite a surprise for me if he had! But he didn't know my race # (to check the book pages) and wasn't sure whether I had come through or not, so after a while he went back to the truck.
Here's a photo he took of the snow on top at night:
At the truck he found a small brown dog guarding it. From him. John figured she must have come up from a house in Petros, got in the cab without a canine confrontation, and went back to camp to wait.
Back to me...
I had been working through a decision all during loop 2. Obviously a finish within the time limit was out of the question. Can I still make it around the loop? What would make me give up and head straight back to camp?
Lack of food - kind of an issue, but I had been stretching out my store, plus now I had the potato chips. So I would likely be hungry by the end of the loop. Not a reason to quit.
Lack of a working compass - there were only a couple remaining challenges, and I felt I had gotten through the darkness OK without it. With daylight I should be able to work it out. Not a reason to quit.
Toes are cold - ha ha, that's a good one. Go downhill and they will be warm again.
Legs getting tired - um, yeah, not even close to a reason to quit. I've been a lot more tired during expedition races, and my team always finds a way to keep going. If we had two more climbs to get to the finish, no major issues, and plenty of time, of course we would keep going. Not sure I understand the question.
The tunnel problem - well, I could not abide quitting because of that. I had to figure out a way to do it. Otherwise, it would bother me for months and I would end up having to come back to this race just because of that. Terrible reason to quit.
People wondering where I am - at least the race was still going on, so I wasn't keeping the organizers from going home earlier. I figured John knew me well enough and would guess that I was still going, just slowly.
Reasons NOT to quit - that would be the worst hike ever, heading back to camp thinking about how I could have kept going. The sun just came up. I was plenty warm, dry, comfortable. The mud wasn't so bad anymore. It wasn't raining anymore. There was a precedence for people finishing loops well over time. I would get to greet people starting out on loop 3, I hoped. It was another chance to experience the prison and beech tree sections that are off-limits otherwise. I wanted to make the most of this experience - I may never be here again. Laz gave me a race number that would allow me to collect 13 pages, so gosh darn it, I'm going to get those pages!
By this point I was down at the prison. I went too far around to the left instead of dropping down the hillside, but it was a quick run across a lawn to get to the tunnel.
I tested my rope on the upper rail but it was too short to be of help (unless I tied it to the rail, in which case I wouldn't be able to pull it down). I did use it to help with the initial slide down to the rocks, then put it away along with my pole. I tucked a flashlight into my jacket pocket, then did the same down-climb as loop 1. This time I found an extra foothold that helped a lot, and soon my feet were submerged in the icy creek water. Success!
At least I was faster here than in loop 1 - small victories.
Now for some really cold feet. I hurried along, taking out my flashlight. I pressed the ON button but got - nothing. Again - yes, that is the button - nothing. Oh for heavens sake. I guess I'm getting the full Barkley experience. I didn't really need it, just would have been nice. Keep going, slosh slosh slosh. Finally out the other end and a short climb to the other side.
Oh those feet were COLD!
I collected my #10 page from "A Bad Place" and hurried to start climbing the hill. I hoped that the sunshine and warmer temperature would help my feet, and soon I forgot about them being cold.
I repeated the climb from the first loop pretty much the same way except slower. It was great being able to see all around me. This would be a lot more interesting in the dark. Or in the other direction. Maybe someday.
Song in my head = I'm Alright - "I'm alright, Nobody worry 'bout me"
I was starting to wonder if/when I would see other runners going out on loop 3. I would not have missed anyone on the Pig Head/Rat Jaw/prison sections, but there are multiple ways to do the Bad Thing, Zip Line, and Big Hell parts. I thought I heard voices in the distance, but it might have been the creek babbling. Or the deer talking.
Toward the top on the steep-steep section I climbed from one tree to the next, stopping to rest briefly every minute or so. Phew. So slow. Just get to the capstone. Another well-navigated climb, at least I have that to show for. Another book, #11! One big climb to go.
Time to Indian Knob = 27:41
Apparently I missed seeing Jodi somewhere through here, bummer. I got out my map and checked on a bearing, since I could see Chimney Top over yonder. Yep, that looks like a good direction. I started down Zip Line following tracks going the direction I wanted to go. Actually, I think some of those footprints might have been mine.
Same as before, eventually it got rocky and slow. Good thing I'm not in a hurry on this one, that would be tough. Then I really did hear voices and I looked over to see a group of 3 guys. They were too far away to hail, but apparently it was Alan, John F., and Jamil. Go get 'em, guys!
I tried a different way down to the confluence but it didn't work. Going down the steep spur in between the creeks is the best way I've found so far. Eventually I got over to the right road and jogged on down the hill. Soon I was at the Beech Tree and collecting a page from book #12, The One Tree.
I climbed a little way and then sat for a short rest break. Time for some potato chips, yes! Oh yum, some kind of strong vinegar-type flavor. That'll wake you up. I started taking off clothes since it was getting warm (yay!), then dug through my pack trying to find my sunglasses but no luck with that.
It was a long, long climb up from there. I felt even slower, occasionally climbing onto the uphill side of trees to lie against them and rest and look up at what I still had to do. I was lucky to run out of uphill legs right about at the right time.
There normally wouldn't be much more to this story, except partway up I saw a brown dog coming down the hill. She was following the scent of Barkley runners and following our tracks. I said "Hi dog!" and she wagged her tail and came over to greet me. She was a bit shy but obviously happy for some company.
OK weird, maybe she ran away from some campers up top. I got her to come along back up the hill with me (wasn't hard, even without coaxing her with food I couldn't afford to give away). Seemed better than having her go down into the Beech Tree valley by herself.
She seemed content to sniff around in the woods, watch me, and follow along up the hill. She was a cute little dog and quite friendly. We reached the top where I got my LAST BOOK! Yep, neither 5 nor 3 loops for me.
I went around to the trail and marveled at the little white pieces of ice that were falling off the trees. Still getting dripped on, after all these hours. No one at the camp site at Chimney Top, bummer.
Starting down the trail, I immediately slipped and did a bit of a flailing move. I was quite familiar with this move by that point, but the dog seemed startled and wary. She stopped and watched me, eventually following but a lot more slowly now.
Then there were 2 hikers coming up the trail - hello! I asked if they knew anyone looking for a dog, but they did not. They asked where I had come from, I told them vaguely "the next valley over", and that I was doing a race (yeah right, all by yourself with no race number on...). OK, have a good hike!
After they passed I heard behind me "oh what a cute dog!" and I was pretty sure I had just handed her over to the next people who would try to find out who she belonged to.
Side story #2 - apparently this dog had followed Jodi early during his loop 3, from Rough Ridge to Chimney Top. It's unclear how she got from Armes Gap, where John had seen her, over to Rough Ridge a couple hours later. Jodi made her stay at Chimney Top to try to keep her from going down Big Hell, but apparently she thought Big Hell wasn't so bad.
Anyway, I started running down the hill, down the switchbacks, no sign of the dog behind me. Down to the creek, up a short climb to Rough Ridge. Yep, ready to be done climbing now!
Song in my head = Forever Young (not sure where that came from) - "I want to be forever young"
And one big downhill on trail. Hmm, ready to be done descending now too. That sure was good timing. I started feeling blisters forming on the sides of my big toes. Well, at least I'm almost done. And when you're ready to be done, sometimes the last part takes a lot longer than you want.
Weirdly, I still had a decent split for the last section even though it seemed to take a lot longer. Down to the creek, time to get wet feet one last time. That actually felt good (briefly) on my toes. Somehow I missed Jared through here as he was starting his 4th loop (we're guessing he was in the camp bathroom at the trailhead). Then a climb up the road to camp. And - done!
I learned that John was out looking for me. He had made a plan with laz, recorded my race number this time, and headed back once again to the tower for more unexpected exercise. There he found my number was gone, so he knew I was still moving. He went around on trails to Indian Knob and found my number gone there too. On the way to Chimney Top he ran across the same two hikers and the same dog. They reported meeting me (and taking on the dog tail) so he knew I was OK.
Side story #3 - the hikers came down, found someone from our Barkley group to take the dog since no one at the park office knew of anyone looking for her. So she ended up in camp with lots of petting, food, water, and I believe a family to adopt her. Happy ending for Barkley the Dog!
Before John made it back, I got to sit and share stories with fellow racers and report to laz that I had gotten all 13 pages from loop 2 (even though it was WAY unofficial). Then Davy played Taps for me, which was worth the whole experience. Wow, that was awesome!
I don't have a picture of when he played Taps for me, but here he is "tapping out" Tim:
John came back and we spent the day cleaning up and talking with people in camp. I verified that my glasses were indeed not in my pack. I must have dropped them while moving clothes around, bummer. Not even sure where that happened. That, plus a possibly-broken compass and one messed up trekking pole, well that's a bit of gear to be replaced. Odd, I thought I was going to be replacing clothing after this, not gear.
Then we got to see Jodi finish the Fun Run in 2nd place - way to go Jodi!!
Even Fun Run finishers get tapped out:
I tried to stay up for the 40-hour Fun Run cutoff, but ended up passed out in bed by the time the next 3 finishers beat the time limit by 4 minutes. That must have been exciting, sorry I missed it.
But we didn't miss Jared's 5th and final loop finish! I "ran" up the hill to beat him to the gate to get a couple photos:
I really enjoyed listening to him answer questions and tell stories of his time "out there":
One final Side Story - Jared took off the shades he was wearing and put them down next to laz at the finish. The glasses looked familiar to me, so I went over and sure enough they were the same brand I had been wearing. After Jared was done with most of the photos and filming and questions, I asked him about it. Sure enough, he had found them near the end of loop 3. Thank you Jared!
No - he said - thank YOU. He told me he was just wishing for some shades when he ran across them lying on the ground. How lucky! Not only that, he liked them enough to wear them during loops 4 and 5. My glasses went more miles than I did!
Plus they make a guess appearance in this broadcast about the event (I'm also in it, in a less conspicuous role).
I came away super happy, satisfied, amazed, and content. Laz said I was the only one who timed out on loop 2, everyone else either finished it in less than 26:40 (the 7 who started loop 3) or quit. Jared finished all 5 loops. Jodi, Alan, John, and Jamil finished the Fun Run within the time limit. Harald finished loop 3 over the time limit, so he was the only other runner besides me to time out. Eva returned to camp in the middle of loop 3.
If anyone was keeping score by # of books collected (which is not the official way the score is kept, I'm well aware), I would be 8th overall out of 40 and 2nd place woman. That had nothing to do with why I didn't quit, but it's fun to think about after the fact. Another proud DNF at a laz race.
I did everything I could, and here is what I have to show for it:
Thank you everyone! John for crewing and going to the tower 3 times, all our friends for the help and well-wishes, all the runners for giving it their all in this difficult quest, and especially laz and the other folks who put it on for this one-of-a-kind and special event. We will not forget any of it.