About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bighorn 100 Mile Trail Run

After a grand week in Yellowstone National Park with my family, I find myself sitting nervously on a wooden bridge overlooking the Tongue River in Dayton, WY. Last week, we experienced cold, rain and even snow in the park and today’s forecast is calling for rain showers.

Pre-race selfie
Cara and Maddie in the Bighorn Mts.

The Bighorn 100 Miler is about to start and about 340 runners are “warming up” before the race gets underway. Warming up is code for socializing, comparing black toenails, pacing nervously, lubing armpits, groin, etc. Let’s face it; no one needs to warm up before starting a hundred miler; that’s what the first ten are for.


Needle's Eye
Anyway, we wait by the river for a while and then finally get under way. The Tongue river canyon is spectacular with tall rising rock walls and a prominent formation known as the Needle's Eye which looks just like its namesake. After running a dirt road for a mile or so, we transition onto a single track trail where the field bunches up into a train of runners. We climb up out of the canyon into the Bighorn Mountains as I sweat through my shirt because the humidity is higher than where I live in the Chihuahuan Desert. At least the sky is overcast and the temperature is in the low 60s.


Soon we reach lush grassy meadows full of wildflowers of every color. White, yellow, purple, pink and blue. I’ve never seen bluebonnets this large and plentiful and I’m from Texas where everything is bigger and the bluebonnet is the state flower. I would say that Wyoming has outdone Texas in the bluebonnet department, but these are actually silvery lupines (Lupinus argenteus) even though they are related to the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis). Nice try Wyoming. My pace is much better today than when I ran this race in 85 degree heat several years ago and I feel energetic so far.The first 15 miles are mostly uphill though so I struggle on some of the steepest climbs.


Lupines galore!
I run some flat sections where I jingle along as my bell does its job of warning bears that runners are in the area. Some other runners pass me occasionally and I overhear their snarky comments about the bell. “Sounds like a Salvation Army ringer.” “How can you tell the difference between a black bear and grizzly? Black bear poop has seeds, leaves and fur while the grizzly’s has little bells and smells like bear pepper spray.” Haha, indeed I’m also wearing bear spray ever since a lady was attacked during the Caldera Marathon last year near Los Alamos, NM. A Yellowstone park employee was actually killed and his body cached for later consumption several years ago and an unfortunate teenage runner was just killed by a bear following a trail race in Alaska just this week. I know bear attacks are extremely rare, but the price of wearing a bell is almost nil and I barely notice the bear deterrent that’s attached to my hydration belt.

I took this photo while running alone in Grand Teton earlier in the week.
We also saw some bears in Yellowstone.
Soon I catch up to my running acquaintance, Cliff from Albuquerque who is checking out a dusky grouse on the trail. The grey chicken sized bird isn’t afraid of us at all and just stands her ground. Cliff comments that she was chasing him earlier so I say, “Want to borrow my bear spray?” Most likely she is guarding eggs or her hatchlings as grouse nest on the ground. According to the Audubon website, “Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely.” What’s also strange about these birds is that they eat leaves and conifer needles along with insects. Didn’t dinosaurs also eat pine needles? I snap a few close ups of the grouse and then we get out of there before she goes all ninja on us. 

Dusky grouse, she is pissed!

We run some dirt roads where the course flattens out a bit. In about four hours I reach the first big aid station, Dry Fork Ridge (mi 13.5) where there is a tent and lots of food. I eat some boiled potatoes, fruit and grab a turkey and cheese wrap for the road. I leave after filling my bottles and eat on the go. The sky begins to darken the more miles I get behind me. I run through some livestock grazing areas with picturesque barns and other structures and come to the bacon aid station. That’s right! Everything is better with bacon so I grab a few slices and keep running. 





Eventually I come to a pipe spewing spring water, but I don’t stop to fill my bottles since it’s not too hot and I’ll be at an aid station in several more miles. Time seems to fly as I enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. During one stretch the mountain is strewn with hundreds of downed trees like someone spilled a box of toothpicks, but I can’t figure out what happened. It’s not steep enough to be an avalanche area and the trees aren’t blackened from fire. Maybe a microburst or other strong wind event brought them down. The power of Mother Nature!

What happened to all those trees?
Pretty soon, I’m descending the mountain and can run a faster pace. The weather begins to deteriorate so I pull out my rain shell to try to stay dry. The temperature is still quite warm though and I feel like I’m running in a sauna. The trail is tricky in spots with some slippery rocks. I fall on my ass once, but am able to get right back up and keep running. I pass a few runners who are struggling a bit on the tricky descent. After eight hours I reach the Little Bighorn River where I cross Sally’s Footbridge to reach the next big aid station (mi 30). 

Little Bighorn
I get my drop bag and take out my headlamp, some warm dry shirts and wind pants. I stuff it all in my pack because I know I’ll need it soon when the sun goes down and I climb up to 9000 feet this evening. I contemplate changing my soaked shirt, but know I’ll continue to sweat as I ascend the trail. I eat some food and quickly take off. 

In about a half mile I see a guy running back down the trail. “I forgot my headlamp!” he says. Yeah, nothing like getting a few bonus miles during a hundred miler. I chuckle to myself and grab my water bottle to take a drink. That’s when I realize that I forgot to fill my bottles and only have about half a bottle left. It would be ironic to go back just for some fluids when it’s raining and the river is discharging hundreds of cubic feet of water per second. I’m not going to dehydrate today and the aid station is only about three miles away.

I pass beneath some high rocky cliffs and run some single track with a pretty gradual ascent. The trail takes me along the river bank and then I climb a few switch backs that take me higher on the mountain. I reach the aid station and am able to fill my bottles. I continue on and the rain comes down more steadily as the hard packed trail turns into a slippery muddy mess. I walk the hills and run when I can. As the sun begins to set, I run through some fog where the rain subsides temporarily. I keep thinking that I’ll soon be above the rain clouds and conditions will improve. They don’t; the rain just keeps coming turning the trail into brown soup. I turn on my headlamp since it is dark now.

The trail before it turned to mud.
All the hills are very hard to negotiate when you are sliding in the mud. Runners with trekking poles seem to fare a bit better, but everyone is pretty miserable this evening. Sometimes I’m able to run in the grass along the side of the trail, but at other times there is sage brush or logs lining the trail making it impossible. The middle of the trail is a mud pit and it’s impossible to tell how deep the puddles are. I fall a few times and think about quitting, but when the trail levels out, I start to think I can make it to the finish. It just keeps getting worse though. It’s pitch dark and I can hear the rapids of the river roaring below as I try to stay upright on the trail. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to slip off the mountain and slide into a watery grave below, but there is probably enough sage brush to arrest my fall. Probably.

I come to a scary slippery log bridge with water raging below. Fortunately there is a rope to hold on to as I cross, but you wouldn’t want to slip in the river here. A while later another bridge is tilted to the side making it even more precarious to cross, but again there is a rope which helps me feel a little more secure while crossing.


On the way to the Dry Fork Ridge Aid Station.
Livestock grazing area
I run for a while and the trail descends into a gully filled with mud. I can’t tell how deep it is so I just go for it hoping for the best. Well, my shoe promptly gets sucked off my foot and fills with mud as I simultaneously drop a loud F-bomb and a few other expletives. I sit on the side of the bog and reach in and pull out my shoe. I take the insert out and wipe it in the grass and fling as much mud out of the shoe as possible. I put my shoe back on and squish on down the trail as best as I can. It’s mostly walking at this point as running is nearly impossible. 

It’s pretty cold by now and my hands are wet and numb. Luckily I have some insulated gloves but they won’t go all the way on because my hands are so wet. They eventually warm up though and then I reach another aid station with a blazing fire. I decide to take this opportunity to put on a long sleeve shirt and dry my hands. The fire is comforting and feels pleasant on my cold body. Others are sitting around the fire and one lady is laying down while medical personnel check her out. These are perfect conditions for hypothermia. Cold, rain, night, high elevation and overexertion. 

I finish donning my dry clothes and drink some hot soup to help warm myself. It’s another six miles to the half way point where we are to turn around and run back to town. My spirit is broken at this point though and I decide that I’m going to throw in the towel at the next aid station since I’ll be able to get a ride out. 


I keep slogging along through the mud at a miserably slow pace. I can barely stay upright while walking and running is completely out of the question. I come to a steep hill and try to climb it on all fours, but I can’t get any traction and my feet just slide out from under me as I balance myself with my hands. I make it half way up and then slip all the way back to the bottom again. I try a running start this time, but it ends up more like Scooby Doo running from the Headless Horseman. Eventually I slowly make it up, but my gloves are completely covered in mud and I’m exhausted from the effort. This just confirms my decision to drop from the race.

It takes forever to reach the last aid station and my feet are cold, wet and numb. Lot’s of runners are coming towards me on their return journey. They are very encouraging as they pass by and say, “goo shob runner!” “Way to go” and “Keep it up!”, but I can’t muster a single word in response. All my energy is sapped from struggling in the mud. I reach a flat dirt road where I’m able to run again and then come to the warm aid station tent (Mi 48). 

Earlier in the day when it was still fun.
I notify the volunteers that I’m going to drop and they immediately take care of my every need. They bring my drop bag and help me get into dry clothes. They shove warm bean bags into my armpits and put a blanket around my shoulders and a crazy space hat shower cap looking thing on my head. Then they bring me hot soup while I sit comfortably beside a space heater. They are busy taking care of other runners as well and I’m ever so grateful for their selfless volunteerism. All the volunteers throughout the day have been absolutely wonderful and we appreciate everything they do to keep us moving on the trail.

About half the runners have decided to quit the race on such a miserable night so I’m in good company. The mud was too much for me, but I’m not that disappointed because I finished this race several years ago and know what that feels like. After recovering for a while, I get a ride out with some other runners who also dropped and I am very grateful for their hospitality. It rained the entire hour and a half back to my hotel and I was never so glad to get my filthy shoes and mud caked clothes off and into a hot shower. My apologies to the housekeeping staff at the Holiday Inn.


See you on the trail.

2 comments:

  1. Soul sucking mud. I think this could be a setting for a Harry Potter novel.

    ReplyDelete