Several years ago I was running a 27 mile loop around the Franklin Mountains State Park. The trails here are very steep and rugged and temperatures can get brutally hot even in the fall. Several mountain bike races are held in the park each year and I happened to be running the day after a race. Hot and completely exhausted, I was approaching the end of my run around mile 25 when I read a race sign that said, “One More Lap!”. I chuckled to myself and thought, NEVER—that would be impossible! One loop out here can damn near kill a man, but two?
Well, here I am several years later trying to figure out how to complete more than one loop. I plan to try my luck at the inaugural Lone Star 100 Mile Trail Race that will be held here in February. The course is not only two loops, but actually three if you sign up for the full 100 miler and includes three trips to the top of North Franklin Peak (7,192′ elev.). With a total elevation gain of around 20,000’, it is sure to be a real ass kicker. Trail Racing Over Texas is also offering a 100K (two loops) and either race can be completed as a relay.
|North East El Paso|
I decided the best way to mentally and physically prepare for the race is to make the 33 mile loop seem routine. I run this route several times a year anyway, but decided I would do it once a month leading up to the race. Last weekend I set out to tackle the course with the mercury pushing 90 degrees. Luckily I have established several personal water caches throughout the park so I can refill my water bottles. The park also stocks water, but these caches can be unreliable and you don’t want to run out of water in the middle of the desert.
I started out in the dark with my trusty headlamp which can be kind of strange in the backcountry. I often run alone before sunup, but had a friend along on this morning to keep me company. While we have wild animals in the Franklin Mountains and getting eaten by a mountain lion is a real possibility, my biggest fear is stepping on a rattlesnake.
People often say that you shouldn’t run alone in the wilderness because it is so dangerous. In reality, if something happens to me this week it will most likely be while I’m driving to work. Seriously, it’s a jungle out there on my commute. Why just this morning I was cut off by a Jesus fish, almost killed by a pro-lifer, the honor roll kid was texting while driving and the stick-figure-family lady was putting on her make up while tailgating me. (Didn’t see any 26.2s, they must have all been running to work.) So, am I worried about dying on the trail? Not at all; the benefits of trail running outweigh the risk.
Anyway, my buddy and I started our run on the West side along the Lower Sunset trail heading in a clockwise direction around the Franklins. The weather was in the low 60s with a light breeze. Our headlamps occasionally illuminated phantom eyes along the trail which was really spooky with halloween in a few days. As we got closer to the eyes, we could see that they were just common nighthawks which is far better than creepy clowns. Although nighthawks wait until you are right on top of them before bursting up from the trail leaving you with soiled running shorts.
After a while we ran Schaeffer Shuffle trail, a treacherous three mile loop, in a clockwise direction so we could get the most steep and dangerous part out of the way first. We usually descend this section so thought maybe climbing up instead of the usual falling or sliding down would be better. The conclusion of our little experiment is that Schaeffer Shuffle sucks in either direction so just embrace it; it'll be over before you know it. Soon we ran into another friend who finished the loop with us and continued on as we headed north through the desert.
I enjoyed my friends' company for a while, but soon they had to turn back as they didn’t have time on this particular day to complete the entire loop with me although we have run the whole thing together in the past. They made sure I had enough food and water for the rest of my journey and commented on how hot it would be later. “Maybe there will be a cool breeze on the peak this afternoon,” I rationalized. “Yeah, good luck with that,” they replied and with that, I was off on my own. I’m quite comfortable with it actually and feel at home on these trails.
Before long I was at the first water cache and stopped to drink and fill my bottles. I also had some snacks to keep my energy up. I started to climb again and made it over the Northern Pass to the East side of the mountain range where I was completely exposed to the sun. A twisty trail snaked its way around a few deep arroyos and then I roller coastered along the contour of the mountains.
When I reached the second water cache I stopped to put on sunscreen and eat some food and this is when I saw a large furry creature out of the corner of my eye. I worried that this might be the day that I was to be eaten by a large carnivore. I could see the creature lurking in the brush, but then it started to slowly creep towards me. I finally turned my head to face my foe head on only to discover that it was just a gentle and harmless tarantula. He was one of the brown ones with a tan body that looked just like the surrounding rocks.
Before continuing on I snapped my neck drape to my hat and pulled my buff around my face to protect it from the intense desert sun. I hate putting sunscreen on my face because it inevitably gets in my eyes and stings. The buff is a very versatile garment that can be used around your neck, over your nose and mouth when there is blowing dust, as a headband, as an ear warmer, tourniquet if you get bitten by a snake. Just kidding; you are not supposed to tourniquet a snake bite.
The heat was fierce as I ran the East side of the range so I made sure to stay on top of my hydration. Wildflowers were a plenty and the barrel cactus had yellow fruit on them that looked like mini pineapples. These are actually edible and the only cactus fruit without spines according to Jonathan DuHamel of WryHeat.
Hot and exhausted, I finally reached the base of N. Franklin Peak where I took another short break by some abandoned tin mines and watched the acrobatic maneuvers of swallows in flight. I fueled up and started the relentless slog up the mountain stopping occasionally to catch my breath. The sun had reached its peak and was now waning towards the west, so every now and then I would find a small piece of shade to rest in.
I reached a flat spot beneath Mundy’s gap where I had another stash of water. I drank and filled my bottles and continued on. It was hard going because my legs were shot, but at least a cool breeze was blowing on the ridge even though the air temperature was in the upper 80s. Eventually I made the peak and celebrated by taking some photos of the panorama; I could see Mexico, New Mexico and Texas in the distance. It was all down hill now (except for those few uphill parts).
I ran back down to the desert floor where it was hot as an oven since it was now 3PM and there was little breeze. This fall has been unusually warm even for us and, since global warming isn’t real, the only explanation is that the Earth is being sucked into the Sun and, in a few years, will become a part of it; so live large today folks because the end is near.
Watch Texas Tech Scientist and Evangelical Christian, Katharine Hayhoe explain Global Weirding:
I made it back to my car having completed about 30-32 miles in a little more than ten hours. I was still able to run the last few miles and felt that I could have done some more especially if it had been cooler. I plan to do this run again next month, but with an additional trip up the peak. I’ve also signed up for the Bandera 100K in the Texas Hill Country which will happen one month before Lone Star giving me time to taper my mileage.
See you on the trail.