Hundreds of bats flutter above me as I run under a bridge that crosses the Rio Grande. I stop for a closer look and am amazed by the sound of thousands of fluttering wings. Suddenly I hear a screech and see an owl take flight. She continuously flies overhead while making an eerie call like fingernails down a chalkboard. I was once struck on the head by an owl protecting her nest. Although it is hard to see in the dark, I suspect this raptor is a barn owl because of it’s pale color and incessant screeching.
I’ve only been running for an hour having left my house at 3:30am because I plan to run to the next state; New Mexico. This 40 mile training run will take me from West El Paso, TX to Old Mesilla (Las Cruces) and should take a whopping 9-10 hours because of the August heat and humidity.
Once past the bat colony I pick up the river levee road which eventually takes me out of the city and into a rural farming area. My headlamp lights the way as I listen to the crunch of gravel underfoot with nothing to look at except the illuminated oval bobbing around in front of me. Soon this puts me in a trance and I begin to nod off to sleep as I plod along. Fail #1: Didn’t drink coffee before leaving this morning.
Two glowing jewels appear in some weeds ahead and I shine my light wondering if it’s the eyes of a ringtail, raccoon or skunk. When I get closer it turns out to be a stray domestic cat. Finally the sun starts to peak over the Franklin Mountains and I begin to wake up a little bit. I pass a farm with a donkey resting in a field who looks very sad like Eeyore with his droopy head and all. “I know how you feel Pal, I haven’t had my coffee yet either.”
I enjoy running along the river that is actually flowing this time of year. The Bureau of Reclamation controls water releases from several reservoirs upstream so most of the year the Rio Grande is dry and sandy. The water is important to farmers and pecan growers so a complex series of diversion dams and canals have been built to enable growing in this otherwise desert area.
I stop for a short break to wring out my heavy shirt and pack away my headlamp. I run for a while and notice that my hydration pack is chafing my back. I stop to rearrange some of the hard items in my pack like my phone, camera and headlamp that seem to be digging into me. The fact that I’m soaked through and through from sweat is not helping matters and my clothes seem to be chewing at my body. I try applying Body Glide anti-chafe balm, but it just won’t stick to wet skin.
Passing another pasture, I see some longhorn cattle grazing in the morning sun. I must still be in Texas. Did you know that there is an Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd located at Fort Griffin near Abilene, TX? These are beautiful animals that add to the picturesque beauty of my running path. One is eyeing me with a concerned look so I check to make sure there is a fence between the two of us.
Soon I make it to one of my water stops. I dropped off water and a few gatorades along several of the bridges a few days ago to ensure I have enough fluids to survive the oppressive heat and humidity. I fill up my 3 liter hydration pack with water, but can’t find the gatorades. Nothing to do, but keep going.
A coyote darts from the river and runs down the road in front of me. I pass some pecan orchards and come to a mobile home where several dogs start barking and running towards me. I see that one is a pit bull. This is going to go one of two ways. 1. You’ll be hearing about me on the six o’clock news or 2. I’m going to have a new best friend. Lucky for me, the bull terrier happens to be the sweetest dog ever and only came out for a little pat on the head. The other dog is timid and goes back home after giving me a couple of sniffs.
I continue on and realize that I’ve reached New Mexico. How do I know you ask? Because chile peppers are growing in neat rows. Surprisingly they have been planted in between young pecan trees which is brilliant on the farmer. Instead of wasting land between the trees he has planted peppers which will help get him through until the trees are mature enough to produce nuts. I take a close look at the plants; they are full of healthy looking peppers. A few morning glory vines wind around some pepper plants creating a beautiful bouquet of red, green and purple.
After five hours of running I reach the 20 mile point and my second water cache. I quickly locate two small gatorades and down one of them instantly. I eat some snacks, fill my pack with water and carry the other gatorade to drink on the way. My food on this trip has included salami and crackers (consumed early), fig bars, granola bars, chia seed/juice concoction and cream cheese on raisin bread.
The sun is getting higher in the sky and I’m starting to suffer miserably from the heat. My shirt becomes saturated with perspiration every 30 minutes, so I stop frequently to wring it out. Evaporation is what helps cool the body so a soaked shirt is not doing much good. My bandana keeps sweat from running into my eyes, but my clothes and backpack continue to eat away at my already raw skin. Under my arms, upper chest, lower back, waistband and a few unmentionables.
I keep my spirits up by looking at the Organ Mountains and spotting some familiar landmarks like the Bishop Cap in Vado, NM and Tortugas, aka “A” Mountain, in Las Cruces. I’m slowly making progress and feel lucky that my feet don’t hurt and I have no blisters. I pass some freshly mowed hay fields and am entertained (about as much as one can be watching hay dry) by a hay turning machine. The hay cuttings are thrown up by spinning forks that look like a whirligig making a wuffle, wuffle, wuffling sound.
I finally reach the next water cache in around seven hours. I grab my stuff and duck under a bridge to sit in the shade. The shelter brings some relief but trash is scattered about; the usual ancient beer cans and brown quart sized bottles ensconced in paper bags. I take the time to apply sunscreen and anti-chafe balm, but my sunscreen has completely liquified in the heat. I do my best to slather it on and hope for the best. The gatorade helps quench my thirst and I have a snack for good measure. When I’m finished filling my pack with water I look at my watch and notice that 15 minutes has elapsed since I first took cover under the bridge. Better get a move on if I’m going to meet the family by 1:30.
In 40 minutes I’m soaked through again and the heat is eating away at my mind and spirit, my clothes masticating my chafed body. Fail #2: slept in until 3:30am (otherwise I’d be done by now). I cross NM Hwy 28 and believe I’m at mile 28. I look at my watch and calculate that I’ll be late for my lunch date with Cara and Maddie. My spirits slip further, but I just keep moving as fast as I can.
Having run this route several times before, I know that a diversion dam is my next prominent landmark and is only about four miles from Mesilla. My hope is that I can make it there by 12:45. After 30 minutes of misery I see something in the distance that looks like the bridge that crosses the dam. Perhaps it is a mirage because I just passed mile 28 and the dam is at mile 36. Am I really that fast or am I starting to lose my mind?
I cross the dam, but not before taking in the sights. Brown foamy water is churning through the spillway gates on one side of the river while the other side is partially empty. Cracked mud flats and sand bars are exposed signaling the end of irrigation season. Huge gears and cables used to operate the flood gates adorn the sides of the bridge. The last miles are very tough, but the end is in sight. I take in a great view of the Organ Needles to my right, the meandering river on my left all the while watching Picacho Peak in front of me getting closer and closer.
The Rio Grande Levee Rd that’s been chewing me up for miles and miles finally spits me out on Calle del Norte Rd where it’s less than two miles to my destination. To celebrate I take a pull on my hydration tube only to discover that I’m completely out of water. I’ve consumed more than two and half gallons of fluids in over nine hours. The temperature is now 90 degrees, my throat is parched, ass chapped but nothing is going to stop me now.
I hear my phone make a text message sound and know that it’s Cara letting me know that she is waiting for me at ¡Ándele! Restaurante. I take a few short walking breaks, but make it there with several seconds to spare having covered 40 miles in two states in 10 hours. I don’t have much of an appetite, but have no problem drinking endless glasses of iced tea with lemon.
See you on the trail.