2015 Barkley Marathons
Charlie Taylor Race Report
The day that the condolences came I knew relatively fast that I did not get in. After all, this was the 4th time I had entered, although the first year, I did not do it right. I had no idea how the weight list was announced and when I did not see my name pop up, I resigned myself to the fact that 2015 would not be my year. After all, I kinda bombed out on all of my races in 2014, having colon removal in December 2013 and liver resection in late January, then 12 nasty sessions of chemo April thru August. I did manage to pull off 12 races with 8 of them ultras, including a course record setting 3 man vol state relay 3 days after one of those treatments. I didn’t do real well in any of my fall races due to the after effects of putting weed killer, as my friend Stu Gleman calls it, into my body. I ran 2 of Laz’s fall races, the Barkley fall classic and missed the cutoff about halfway into the race and Big Dog Backyard, dropping after 3 miserable loops. At Stump Jump 50K, I finished only 13 minutes before the sweeper caught me, almost 3 hours after I normally would have finished. All in all, fall racing was not good. But I ran anyway.
I was outside working when I got a text from my friend Bill Lovett saying that he was sorry that I didn’t straight in but I had a great place on the weight list. I ran into the office, pulled up the info and discovered that old Charlie T was 2nd on the weight list, guaranteeing me a place in the March 28 race. I called Terri, so excited that I could hardly talk! I was in, finally!
I started planning trips to Frozen Head to train and picked up a few items that I would need to get through this monster of a race. Tubs for my gear and some clothes, a new compass, FH topo maps, and preparing for the fools weekend, which was 11 weeks away was at top of my mind. I was getting back in decent shape but I had done zero hill work in over a year. I had a long way to go to even think of doing well.
January weather in middle Tennessee started with a bang. I had signed up for The Pistol 100 mile in Maryville and halfway through my race, it started pouring rain. 40 degrees and a deluge. It rained all night and the creeks came up to mid thigh with 2 crossings per loop. Well, is this Barkley training or not? I thought about quitting but quickly told myself, if I can’t handle this, I can’t handle Barkley. So I ran. The whole race. In the rain. It wasn’t that bad. Most of running is mental anyway. Except for when I was crossing a road and some redneck who I happened to cross the road in front of decided to shoot me in the ass cheek with a paintball gun from his car – 5 feet away. That part of running is not mental. That part is real. Big bruise on the ass cheek, first barkley training Badge. I finished slow but I finished. First Barkley test completed.
The weather in January was cold, a lot of rain and some snow. I was still having a hard time getting out of bed at 4:30 to run with my local buds at 5:00 due to the fall Chemo stuff still riding around inside me and I started going to the local YMCA on occasion. I shortly discovered that they had 3 dreadmills that would elevate to 30%. Try 30% on a dreadmill sometime. It’s hard to run, even slow.
I started doing this 3-4 days a week for a hour each time at 25% at about 2.5 Mph and found that I was bad out of climbing shape. When I could make myself, I would then go outside and run some miles. Then go to work and sometimes come back to the Y and do another hour.
January 24th I got my 2nd test in the form of Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, AL. It snowed real good the day before and thoughts were that they might call off the race, but they didn’t. I got up early Saturday morning and made the 120 mile drive to Huntsville. The race was the nastiest, slickest mud I have ever been a part of. The crazy downhills were like glass and the course is really rocky. I made it though, taking my time and focusing on beating it in my mind. I ran into none other than Leonard Buttslide Martin again as I had run some with him at Pistol 100 3 weeks before. My time was slow but only about an hour slower than what I would normally run this race.
My 3rd test came at the Cummins Falls Marathon in Cookeville, TN. Normally a really nice course with a couple killer hills. One of the biggest snows in several years fell the night before. I went to Cookeville the day before to beat the snow but it came anyway. 8-10” of snow fell and I ran into the ditch only 1 mile before the turn to the race and had to be towed out. They held up the start time for over an hour for stragglers. At the start line, the slush was 8” deep and feet were wet within 10 minutes. 35 degree chill and steady melting rain kept the edge on. I ran mostly by myself, which I quite enjoy, and once again, pushed through a miserable race, winning Grandmasters division in a slow time.
February and March were cold and we had more record snow. I ran one day in solid 10” of fresh white snow, no traffic on the highway and I ran right down the middle of a 4 lane highway for more than 2 miles before I met the first car. It was 0 degrees and minus 15 chill. On days like this, I would normally hit it for 12-15 miles.
I made 2 trips to Frozen head, one with Jim Ball and we camped for a night and made forays into the North Boundary trail learning the terrain and trying to relate to where everything was and another day trip with Dusty Hardman and Buttslide Martin to explore Indian Knob and the capstone area. I feel like I learned a lot about the park in a short time.
I started searching for a campsite and almost immediately ,Thomas Armbruster offered a spot on his site. I gathered all my Barkley stuff together, set it out in the bedroom floor so I could psyche myself out over it and set my sights on the fool’s weekend.
I left Thursday morning for the 3 hour drive to Wartburg and arrived about 1PM in a light rain. There is something about coming in past the Morgan County Correctional Center that makes you want to stop and take a picture of the sheer beauty of the Brushy Mountains, so I did. The terror that lies up in those mountains doesn’t show to a normal human but I had some idea that I was in for a real treat. I got to our camp site, got my tent set up in between rains, got my tarps set up for a dry shelter and had everything ready in about an hour. I blew up my air mattress (I guess I’m a wimp) and laid down my brand new warm Marmot sleeping bag Christmas present that Terri got me for the cold night ahead. Thomas and I chatted a bit and I turned in by 9PM, intending on getting a good night s sleep.
I did not wake until 9am and felt great. It got cold at night but I stayed warm, unlike last year when I forgot the sleeping bag and ended up with a crocheted blanket for cover, you know the ones with the holes in them. I just about froze. No more of that. I got out of the tent, made myself a veggie burger and made my way around camp, chatting with many friends. Several were just getting on and setting up camp. Gary showed up in the early evening and I got my license plate turned in and got my Barkley papers and bumper sticker. I was now a registered pre-Barker! Later in the evening the master map was laid out and I spent my time making sure that I tagged every ridge that I was supposed to climb and every detail that I could see. Back in my campsite I decided to make a duplicate map due to the fact that my map carrier was just a tad smaller than the map surface. I had to fold it over with part of the map on each side. I also highlighted the important parts of the written instructions, choosing to not highlight the Gary Chatter. I wanted to make sure I knew what to read if I found myself lost in the dark. Laminated and stored in my waterproof carrier would assure that nothing would get wet if it rained. I made sure that I had everything packed in my backpack, all my running clothes laid out, and ready for whatever time Laz decided to blow the conch shell. Jim Ball and I decided to have a nighttime backpack ready in case I made it in with no time to spare, I could grab that ready pack and be gone in short time.
I hit the sack at 9Pm intending to get as much sleep as I could. I was hoping that he would blow the shell around 4AM for a 5AM start which would give us a full day to run and if possible, a daylight start on a 2nd loop. I slept like a baby but woke a few times when I would somehow crawl out of the sleeping bag and get cold. Then, sometime in the night, 2 hoot owls decided to hoot in our trees, making many runners think it was Gary. I knew that Gary’s conch shell was much louder than a hoot owl and went back to sleep. I heard later that some could not sleep after that. I woke around 830 am and felt great.
The wait was on for the blowing of the shell. About 9AM. Gary was seen walking down the hill past us with the Little Dog and we were certain that the shell would not be blown until he got back. He finally decided to ease our tensions at 10:22 am which meant we had an 11:22 start, guaranteeing most of us a night time finish on loop one. We all took pics, I wanted one with Laz after he blew the shell and Keith Knipling shot a great pic of Lax blowing the shell in my ear. I made my way back down hill, made sure everything was ready to go, ate another veggie burger and prepared my mind for the great adventure that lay ahead.
11:22 came quickly. It was still cold and many of us were bundled extra with stuff to remove as the race started, however, we all knew that it would get cold on the ridges, especially when darkness would fall. The forecast was 30’s and down in the 20’s at night.
At precisely 11:22, the traditional Barkley cigarette was lit and I could tell that Gary Cantrell was as happy as any of us were. We were off, crawling under the locked gate and up the jeep road toward Bird Mountain. That first third of a mile was probably the easiest part of the race. We crossed the broken creek bridge and made our turn onto the trail. The switchbacks were gentle compared to what was ahead and we were all single file. This was the closest we would all be together. Several went out hard to get in front and several straggled behind. I settled in somewhat in the back with about 10 runners behind me. I was hoping to follow Hiram and Dusty as best I could until I couldn’t keep up since they do hills much better than I do and I did. As we turned onto the Cumberland trail, rounded the big rock, climbed up on the capstone and crossed the Pillars of Death, I stayed where I needed to be. At the proper place to turn we rounded the top of the knoll and headed down toward Fanghorn Forest, a heavily infested pine thicket. The crowd separated quickly once we came to open woods and it was pretty much the 3 of us. We went through Fanghorn and then another steep drop and were spot on the the coal bench where book one lay exactly where the instructions said it was. I remember thinking, “I have my first Barkley Book!” We had been on the course 42 minutes.
We made our turn and headed to the corner where we dropped violently down Jacque Mate hill. Now that’s a hill!! 2 or 3 times my feet would step on the thick pile of leaves and go sliding out from under me. More than once I would slide 10 feet forward or more, never know what might be laying underneath those leaves. I cannot imagine having to come back up Jacque Mate on loop 3 and in the dark. There were downed trees that had to be climbed over and some drop-offs that that to be maneuvered and we moved forward down the 40 to 50% grade. Hiram was a great person to follow because he led us directly to Phillips creek and the crossing to go up to Jury Ridge. Several other runners, in their haste to run had gotten lost in this first difficult area . We started up Jury Ridge and Hiram and Dusty moved ahead of me, not a lot faster but I could not keep up. Lesson here: More hill training for the next time I get in! I moved on anyway, confident that I would do what I had to do to get where I needed to be going. The grade was steep but instead of what we had just come down, the route was on a marked trail with switchbacks. I saw runners coming upon me and noticed that the first one was Rob Youngren who had evidently gotten lost. He passed me and went out of sight, a much stronger trail runner than I am.
At the top of Jury Ridge, Jodi Isenor and Edward Sentor came upon me. They had been lost too and just happened on me at the right time. We turned left to go over toward book 2 and I was glad to have another Barkley veteran to follow. The decline started fairly easy but decided to get mean really quick. The grade was 40% or better and Edward and I stayed on course through the unmarked woods. We ended up a little to the north and came upon the gas well, turned right and the confluence was in our face with the book laying on the rock that the instruction said. Page 2 was torn out and about that time, Frozen Ed and some others came upon us. Frozen Ed is a beast of a man, not a big man but a beast nevertheless. This is his 19th attempt at Barkley and he actually was the first finisher back when it was a 3 loop course. There is nothing Frozen Ed doesn’t know about the park. And of course, you have to read his book, Tales from out there.
As we got the book, we turned right, as the instructions stated and headed straight up the steepest hill you can imagine. Straight up. So far that you could not even begin to see even halfway to the top. Straight, straight up. No switchbacks. Ed and his group moved in front and overtook me and I moved on. I found myself having to stop and lean on my trekking poles quite often. Note: More hill training! I limited my stops as much as I could and tried to not stop for long. I think Laz calls this hill-apocalpse. Good name for it. I had never climbed a mile and gained 1800 feet before. Halfway up, there is a 15 foot High wall, which consists of a straight up rock wall and you have to scamper (Laz says like a squirrel) by grabbing roots and planting your feet on loose rocks to get up. I made it. Just as I was going up, Jeremy Ebel, who had been lost came upon me and then moved on past me. I pulled through the rest of hill-apocalapse, which became somewhat gentler and came out on the North Boundary trail right in from of the Thoreau sign, exactly where I should be.
I was glad for the temporary relief of a decently level place to ru , turned left and headed toward Bald Knob and up the swithchbacks. As I came to the top, the trail eases right and at that point Leonard Buttslide Martin, Kat Lawson, and Fred Pilon came out of nowhere. I was getting all the legends! We went down the hill via switchbacks. There were blowdowns, some we could climb over and some we had to go around. With steep grades on each side, sometimes it was easier to crawl through the mess. The previous month’s massive snow storms had really taken its toll but the terrain was nowhere near what I had expected. Where the ground levels out is son-of-a-bitch ditch, a massive rip across the ground all the way from the top to the valley. Laz says we should get a good running start and see if we could clear it in one leap and I ustacould do stuff like that, but today was not going to be that day, so we all climbed down in the 10’ ditch and crossed the 15’ width and found roots and stuff to help us get out. I had been thru this ditch a few times during my training runs.
The trail then starts back uphill and past the turn to coffin springs. This is the first sane place where a person could quit and easily get back to camp. I am sure that some did. We went on. The coal ponds were a relief because, once again, here was a place where it was neither up nor down but the footing left some to be desired. Went past them, through the bushes and down a small but steep hill and crossed the little creek, then back up a steep climb, headed toward more switchbacks and up toward the Garden Spot. It was better footing on the candy trails, although a steep climb. Pretty soon, we came to the Garden spot and once again, the book was exactly where it was supposed to be. We grabbed the pages and headed on toward the first water drop. Laz has about 50 one gallon milk jugs sitting there on the ground and we made haste in refilling what we all needed to and moving on.
The jeep road goes a ways, then we came upon a dirt pile, crossed over it and was instructed to head straight over the hill. Super steep and brier infested was the order of the day and down we went. We stayed on a straight line until we came up some 20’ cliffs and found our way around them to a cut in the rocks that we passed through and followed the creek, jumping across the rocks and fallen trees to another jeep road, then another massive descent with the same characteristics, roots, rocks and fallen trees. We all fell at least once but my trekking poles saved me from being on the ground several times. Finally, we came to another jeep road and turned on it toward Bobcat rock. When we got to Bobcat, we turned and followed the instructions down a 60% grade, made slick with the earlier runner’s feet for about ¼ miles and 600 feet of drop down Leonard’s Buttslide. I have no idea how this name came to be and even being with Leonard, I never even thought to ask him. I do know that it has been called that for a long time and this was Leonard’s 20th Barkley attempt. The descent is treacherous and has many places where it would be easy to break a leg, or worse with 3 or 4 brutal downward pitches until we got to the book, but again, it was in the right place. We grabbed our pages from Book #4 and immediately headed back Up the Buttslide, all 600’ feet of uphill, topped out on the jeep road, climbed up Bobcat rock and headed up another 700-800 feet climb to the top of the mountain where Book #5 was waiting for us.
Once upon a time, when the Barkley was a little Baby Barkley, I was told that Gary had a difficult time getting runners to not cut the course in certain areas. Frozen Ed says that it was his suggestion to put Books in baggies, hide them in hollow trees, under rocks, and in rusty oil drums and make the runners find them and tear out the page that corresponded to their race number, proving that they were at that point. Gary seems to enjoy putting the books at the very top of a hill and maybe the next one at the very extreme bottom making every runner work as hard as Is possible to go to all points of the course. In addition, the maps are not even laid out until the evening before, so nobody really knows if he has changed any part of the course and/or moved a book or two. This year both were done. Sometimes the instructions are simple to find the book but sometimes they are not. One recent description was this, “Look up that hill. Steep huh? Go up it a little ways and veer off to the left. There are 2 trees 12 feet apart. The book is in the hollow of one of them.” Imagine finding that book in the middle of the night with fog so thick that your visibility is one foot. Hah, that is just another part of this crazy race. Everything is at the maximum extreme. And we all love it.
clear and we actually had to go around them both, passing the old school bus seat that was beckoning our call. Around the spa and a short jeep road, then another massive hill of only maybe 50’ climb to the top where the book was waiting in its cubbyhole. Pages were ripped out, we took a short break for snacks and moved on. Enthusiasm was high! I had not even been close to being lost.
The descent down Stallion went straight down the hill, about 1200 or more feet to the highway to Petros, there were several ridges that could be taken to end up at the right place and Leonard took us exactly down the right one. Either ridge would have ended up on the highway but would have required some hiking to get where we should cross. He showed me a pointer to make sure I was on the right ridge. I will remember that but not disclose it here. Ha! I found that probably the biggest secret to Barkley, other than being in shape and not being skeered of the dark and of critters, is to pay attention to details. Details about everything. You are either detail oriented or you are not, it is good if you are though. Some ridgelines, even though they are so close together will take you somewhere you do not want to be, then you are lost and have to bushwhack your way to where you should be (and it could be night time and foggy beyond belief). Pay attention to what is around you, you might be running a 2nd loop and need to remember which way to go. Details. Very important Barkley stuff. The instructions tell you EXACTLY what to do if only you READ them. That’s a Gary thing in every one of his races. He is a brilliant man, even though you might think he is just a crazy old dude that likes to inflict pain on people. Now, liking to inflict pain? Oh yes, he enjoys watching people wallow in things they could have avoided, but is quick to tell you what you ask him. Then he gets to laugh at the griping that goes on when it’s their own fault. Brilliant mind. All his races are like this in their own way.
We descended Stallion and with expert guidance, Leonard led us exactly to the New River Crossing and up and over Hwy 116, up past the waterfall and past Testicle Specticle, which was not part of the race this year. Every time Gary adds a new section, it always adds some distance and some more elevation. They call a full loop 20 miles, year after year but some have measured it with GPS (not during the race because that is illegal) and the consensus is that a loop is about 27 miles. Think about that, you are running a 20 miler and it turns out to be only 7 more miles. Fun, huh? It’s all like this. The new section has a tricky little ridge that is tempting to take but you have to go up it, then back down into a hollow, then take the next one, which is straight up the side of another massive hill, then turn and go up to the top of the big hill. The book is halfway up that way and was right where the instructions said it was. 6 pages of my race #25 were in my pouch and I felt good. More than halfway through and half the books. I believe it was about 6pm and we had been out there 6.5 hours and looked like it would be tough to make the cutoff. The last part of the race was the tough part.
At the top was a Tennessee redneck dumping ground, where, for years the locals had carried their trash and old appliances, mattresses, and odd junk to throw off the side of the road. I wonder if they ever think that one day it would look like this? Why not just carry it to the dump? Is it the $14 charge that gets them? Anyway, there was a lot of trash and we went through it and up to the road that goes to Fodderstock mountain. This road is part of the out and back in the fall barkley Classic, at least it was last year but the word is that the Fall Classic will get some major tweaking this year due to a 75% finishing rate last fall. We went under the gate and into the woods, bypassing the easier descent down Meth lab Hill. Taking the easier way is strictly prohibited and will result in disqualification if a runner is caught. One year, 2 runners were disqualified after finishing 5 loops because they crossed a creek, running on an easier terrain for ½ mile instead of taking the instructed route. Brutal, but that’s the rules. Gotta follow the rules
The descent down through the woods toward Petros was much more difficult than Meth Lab and I’m sure Gary was grinning just thinking about it. The footing was loose with all the leaves on the ground and trekking poles were extremely handy. We came out at Raw Dog Falls, went down the creek, crossed over at the right place, observed Danger Dave’s Climbing wall, which is an 85-90% grade, but immediately decided to go around P ridge trail, adding more distance but was much safer. We dropped down into another holler, back up a hill, then into another one heading toward what looked like a city reservoir and found the rusty oil drum with Book #7 inside, grabbed our pages and headed back up yet another heavy climb, past the old truck tires that were just laying there in the woods and toward the 2nd crossing of Hwy 116. We were pushing it to make sure we got as far as we could before dark and dark was on its way.
As we pulled ourselves up the hill and onto the pulloff on the side of Hwy 116, someone had tried to administer illegal aid to us. We had no idea but all was blamed on Mike Dobies, that awful man. Someone had left 3 beers sitting on the side of the road right where we came up. Now, normally 3 beers on the side of the road anywhere in east Tennessee would mean that someone had died and left their beer but this had a different feel to it. Definitely illegal aid attempt. Definitely, as the Rainman would have said. We passed on the lure, crossed the road at the pig’s head and went up Pig Head Creek, which is no more than than a little rocky place jutting down the mountain. It got steeper and climbed making several gentle turns before coming out on the old Prison Mine road. We passed some old mine ruins which were very cool and at that point Fred decided to take the shortcut back toward coffin springs and pack it in to camp. Now there were 3 of us.
Leonard, Kat, and I made it on up to the intersection with the power lines and the old abandoned Guard Shack. It was pitch dark by now but when we looked to the right, My and Kat’s breath was taken by the sheer briar infested climb that lay before us. This was the famous first pitch of Rat Jaw, the 50% climb to the tallest point in the park, the fire tower. All the way to the top to get a page out of book 8, then turn around and retrace your steps all the way down to the old Brushy Mountain Prison. The park people or maybe prisoners from the nearby Morgan County Correctional Center had cut all the briars since the Fall Classic but they were all still laying on the ground, eager to grab anything that came in contact with them. The first pitch was steep for a couple hundred feet, the next one was steeper but there was an old electric cable laying there that could be used to pull oneself forward. Somewhere in here, I put a pretty good twist on my right ankle and immediately though about the difficulty of getting back down this section. The 3rd pitch was maybe even steeper but Leonard assured us that it would get better and it did. Eventually, it got easier and then we came to the cap rock and found our way around it, heading up toward the fire tower. As we rounded the rock, we saw headlights and as we neared each other, we chatted with a runner who was making his way down. He told us that Jim Ball and others were up at the top, the only place on the course where spectators can come to watch. Turns out that Jim, my wife Terri, and some others were there and were getting ready to leave due to the fact that I had been expected to be through there 2 hours earlier. We missed them by less than 30 minutes. When we got to the top and turned around, the view of Petros and the Prison at the bottom was spectacular. The view of Terri would have been more spectacular.
We got water, tore our pages from book 8 and took a well deserved break. It had taken well over an hour to cover this last mile. I was secretly dreading going back down Rat Jaw and was beaten to a frazzle. After several minutes, Kat said that she was going to quit and the weinie in me took over and I quit too. We thanked Leonard for his guidance and for letting him slow us down and he went off over the hill to make an attempt to finish loop one, even though he knew he was still 5 hours from the finish. It was 9:30PM and we had been “out there” for over 10 hours. I figure that based on the 27 mile real distance, we made it about ¾ of the way around, or a good solid 20 miles of Barkley Course with about 10,000 feet of climb and 10,000 feet of descent. I was beaten as hard as I have ever been beaten in a race, as I should have been, but I felt good. Kat and I headed down the quitter’s road toward the South Old mac trail, which was a 3 ½ mile downhill trek to the camp. Somehow, in the dark, we missed the turn and kept walking until we came to the North Old mac and decided that we were not going to turn around and back track so we took the 4 ½ mile Old mac back in.
It was all downhill. As I got started, I felt better. Of course I felt better. I had quit. I found myself power walking back. I’m sure Kat was beat up and I kept pulling away from her, stopping to wait until she caught up, and then pulling away again. It was the middle of the night and a long way from the camp and I assumed that she wasn’t scared (Barkley is not a race to enter if you are easily scared), so eventually I went on out of sight. The closer I got to the bottom, the faster I walked. Why didn’t I feel this good an hour ago? I got to the bottom, turned on the jeep road, went behind the bath house and out to the park road, making my walk of shame up to the yellow gate in the park. On the way up the hill, people were clapping and congratulating me, thinking I was coming in on loop one in 11 hours, but I sadly informed them all that I had quit at the fire tower. They still congratulated me and it really felt good knowing how ultra runners pull together even when you quit. John Fegyversie had walked down to the corner to use his phone and gave me kudos. John is a 2 time fun run finisher and a full 5 loop finisher in 2012 the year there were 3 finishers. John finished 5 loops of Barkley with only about 19 minutes before his 60 hour cutoff!
I stopped as I passed by my campsite because I saw Terri warming herself by the fire, and told them all I had quit. I was hungry so she started the coleman stove to cook me some food and then I headed out to the top at the yellow gate. I handed Gary my pages and told him I quit at fire tower. He don’t even want to see your pages unless you are a full looper and under the time limit. I showed them to him anyway because I was darn proud of the fact that I had gotten 8 pages. We chatted a minute and he told me I looked chipper. I told him I always looked chipper and he said, yeah you are. I told him it was tough but I had not got lost, was just slow. He jotted me down in his book as the 7th person to quit, although there were still several out there that were even behind me and would not make the time cut. The journalists took pics and I made my way back down the hill to my campsite and my lovely wife for some warm hugs and some hot food. The food was great but the hugs were much better! We sat around the fire, warmed ourselves, and chatted about my experience.Terri probably had 100 places that she would rather be but here she was with me, frozen and beat up and helping her crazy old hubby fulfil one of his big dreams. I am forever grateful to have a great wife. She was a great catch 31 years ago and I’m gonna hang on to her. Cold weather camping is not her idea of fun but she would have probably stayed at the campsite if I had a
asked her. I could see that it would be another cold night and I felt like she wanted to go home to Gallatin, but it was about midnight and a 3 hour drive home. I suggested that maybe we both drive back to Rockwood and get a room, spend the night in a warm bed, then she could drive home the next day. That suggestion was immediately accepted and we got outta dodge. Back at the room, I had a nice long hot bath and some of the best sleep ever. I did have a few crazy dream things about being “out there” and we did not wake up until 9AM.
I drove back to the park and she went home, hung around for a few hours chatting with friends and watching runners come in on their 2nd loops. Runners came in tired and broken. I knew how they felt, except that they had been out there longer than I had.
Johnny Adams and I hiked back up to frozen head to see if we could see anybody come up Rat Jaw. I was surprised at how good I felt. We moved up the hill at a steady power hike, reached the top, and sat with several others. We were there a couple hours and only saw Jeremy Ebel trudge up the hill, having been lost part of the night and still on loop 2. He was in good spirits and had his pretty Christmas sweater on. We walked up to the water jugs and chatted with him for a bit. He was going to be past the time limit and was thinking he might go out to explore for the full 60 hours. We would tell Laz that he was safe. He headed back down Rat Jaw and we started back toward camp.
Got back, packed the tent and other things, said my goodbyes and headed home.
Great weekend! 10 hours – 2o Barkley miles – 10,000 feet of climb – 10,000 feet of descent – all estimated except the 10 hours.
Overview: Barkley Marathons is all and more of what I expected. I did get to spend 4 days in the woods this year training and attempting to learn the overview of the park. I paid a lot of attention to details and felt like I could not have gotten lost, at least in the daytime. I had read every previous finisher’s race report that I could and took parts of all of them as my own tools. There are some good informational race reports out there. Barkley was brutal, but really not as brutal as I had expected. I had only been on the trails during training but had no idea of the seriousness off the off-trail stuff. These ups and downs are really mean! I did take a bad fall going down toward the 2nd book and somehow banged my left forearm on a big rock which left a real nasty length of arm bruise on that forearm. I had a real Barkley Badge for 2 solid weeks. The ridiculous climbs and descents will sap your energy very fast. You just have to keep moving and keep your stops at minimum time. The more you stop, the harder it is to start back and easier it is to stop the next time.
What did I do right? I had most of the stuff I needed, really too much, but I really didn’t carry too much in my pack. My Bushwhacker pants were the bomb (Rail Rider). The impenetrable patches on the shins, back of legs, and butt left me with zero brier scratches, even though I took the most direct routes through all the briars. When I slid down hills on my butt, I did not get stuck. Best pair of long pants ever, only weighing 12 oz. Trekking poles are a necessity. Some laugh and snicker at those of who use poles and I respect those who do not, but those things were a lifesaver. Only 5 oz too. I cannot imagine picking up a tree trunk to help me down a hill and it snapping right when I needed its support the most. I purchased a good map holder that I saw a few runners have last year, only problem was that the map was about 2 inches larger than the holder, quickly solved by making 2 maps, folding in half and putting them back to back in the clear holder. All I had to do was turn it over before Buttslide and beyond. I Also carried my written directions in it on the opposite side. There was Zero fumbling with the map. I had the right clothes on, not too much, not too little. It got cold on the ridges, especially at night but adding a thin shell rain jacket was the trick and kept the wind out. I had the perfect shoes. I had experimented with Hoka the last year after failed trysts with Salomon and others and found that the Mafate fit my foot perfectly with a hollowed out footbed where the foot did not slide ever. The top came together snugly enough to hold tight against the ankle, not requiring gaiters. I never had to stop and remove trash from the shoe and even though a lot of the terrain is on sidling ground, I had zero blisters or even hot spots. Really wide foot bottom for less ankle turns and not slick when I stepped on wet rocks. Best of all, your foot is 2 inches off the ground, so you can wade 2” and not get wet feet but if you do, they dry almost immediately. Now that’s a shoe! My Inov8 pack was really a bit too big (it held everything I needed on solo Volstate runs) but that don’t mean you have to fill it up. I carried what I needed and had adequate reachable spaces to carry snacks, compass, reading glasses and a few other items. I started with the 80 bladder and 2 empty 20 oz bottles, filling them at the Garden Spot water stop when my bladder was about ½ full. The bottles carry on the chest, keeping my hands free. I got plenty of sleep the couple of nights before which is always good. And most of all, I let my beard grow out which gave me that “grizzled” look. A grizzled look can be good in a grizzled race like Barkley.
What did I do wrong? I was not trained nearly enough, matter of fact, nobody probably ever trains near enough. Not even close to enough hill work. I read that Brett Maune ran 50,000 feet of hills some weeks in his training. I did get most of what I had on the 25-30% dreadmill at the Y and without that, I would have been doomed. I took way too many days off, blaming it on the cold, the snow, being tired, whatever. I should have run way more miles than I did. I really did not start training at all until January, was still suffering through the chemo all fall and into December. A person wanting to do well at Barkley should Barkley train always. But then.. I heard a couple folks talk about almost no training at all. Without training, I would not have been here and given my spot up to someone else who did train. I had the wrong gloves. Brown jersey gloves with a pair of Wells Lamonts over them and my fingers got real cold, that’s a chemo thing. I did not push when I got tired at the end when I quit. I could have gone on. Of course I could have. Should not have been a weinie and quit. It was way too easy to pack it in at the Fire Tower.
Will I do Barkley again? Gary?????? I certainly hope I am given another chance. I realize that Barkley is a victim of its own success and getting back in is never a guarantee and an impossibility for some. Travel distances make it extremely costly for some, but for me, it’s a matter of 163 mile drive, which is a blessing. However, that don’t guarantee anything except for Frozen Head being close. I like to think that in spite of what I had happen to me last year with 2 cancer surgeries, chemo, and recovery, might give me a dollop of weight on the list. Even though I quit, I feel like I performed decently well, finding 8 books and not getting lost. Barkley is almost an addiction, the thoughts of being “out there” surface at odd times during my work day now. Yes, of course I want to run it again and I will spend considerably more time this year after my April 27th Liver resection and recovery training for the fall races and another Barkley attempt if fate happens to smile on me with a condolence letter next January.
What did I learn? I’m a little bit tougher than I thought I was. I am more detail oriented than I thought I was. I came to the camp with almost no orienteering training and learned how to do what I needed to do in 4 – 5 minute training sessions with Jim Ball. I had him show me the same exact thing 4 times with time apart to think about it. I learned that I am just a little bit crazier about crazy races than I was before touched the yellow gate on the Fool’s weekend.