24 June, 2011

Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run, June 15-19

Man, it’s good to be in an Idaho summer!  I had almost forgotten what it feels like to be warm without being sticky. It’s just past nine in the evening right now.  The sun is low in the wide blue sky, the air is warm and still and sweet with the scent of farmland, and I have the house to myself for the night as my parents have gone away to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

A dear friend of my from Singers (you know who you are!) suggested I make blog updates about my summer in the US, and since she is wise and full of good ideas and advice, I’m going to do just that.  Here is my first story:
I arrived in the US on the evening of June 13th.  Early the morning of the 15th, my sister Emily, her husband John, and I tucked ourselves into their Xterra along with a mountain of camping and running gear and zipped across Idaho (highway 20 across Idaho is fantastic!), cut through Montana, and touched down 13 hours later in Dayton, Wyoming.

Idaho landscape
Craters of the Moon
Montana-Idaho border

What’s in Dayton, Wyoming?  Not much, really.  A park, Foothills Motel and Campground (‘Motel’ being the loosest of terms), Crazy Woman Saloon, the Tongue River...but most of all it’s the site of the start/finish line of the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run which both John and Emily were signed up to run--John the 50K and Emily the 100 mile.  No, that’s not a typo.  
We unloaded into our cabin at the Foothills Motel and Campground (I still can’t figure out if we were in the motel part or the campground part) and crashed for the night.

Thursday morning, we drove into Sheridan for brunch with our grandparents who have lived there for many years.  That they live in Sheridan is one of the main reasons my family started to run the Bighorn, and it was really great to see them.

We spent the next few hours driving around and scouting trails before the rest of the Boise area trail runners pulled into town and the runner registration opened.  After a group meal at The Pony and a tick extermination, it was time to at least try to get some sleep.  The five of us women packed into the cabin, two guys pitched a tent outside, and John slept in the car.
Would rain ruin the race?
The raging Tongue River
Road to Tongue River Trailhead

Runner registration 
She's alive!
Chip check = good
'There's mud here, here, here...' 
Downtown Sheridan
Dinner at The Pony
Theresa, Christie, Emily

Friday began with the 100 mile informational meeting (from which I remember ‘shoe-sucking mud pit’) followed by the 100 mile race start at 10am.  After getting some lunch and registering John for his race, John and I drove up into the Bighorns to the Dry Fork aid station where we would see Emily come through.
The 100 milers show some leg at the pre-race meeting
The Whole Crew
Dressed for success 
Still shiny and clean
At the starting line

Pre-race national anthem and prayer
See you tomorrow night! 
View from Dry Fork aid station

Emily looked good coming through mile 18 just before 3pm on Friday afternoon.  She came back through mile 25 around 5pm, still looking cheerful, after an out and back to Twin Buttes.  I wouldn’t see her again until 12:25pm Saturday.  I dropped John back at the campground and then drove to my grandparents’ where I had dinner, a wonderfully quiet night in their guest room, and a tasty breakfast.  Then it was back up to Dry Fork.
Smiling at mile 18 
Dennis finds his chi at mile 25 

Dry Fork aid station
Still smiling at mile 25 
Is there mustard on that wrap?! 
Heading out into the long night
The 50 mile and 50K races started at 6am and 8am Saturday.  I decided not to go to those starts.  Emily had given me a rough ETA of 11:30am for mile 75 at Dry Fork, so I arrived just after 11am, unsure of how accurate she would be.  I saw one of the Boise 100 milers, and he had just dropped (DNFed in ultra-speak).  I had already missed the other two speedy Boise 100 milers, so I settled into a camp chair with some snacks, my camera, and grandpa’s binoculars to watch runner after haggard runner struggle up the hill into the aid station.  

A little past noon, I saw Emily’s turquoise bandanna and red spiderman sleeves come trotting down the valley.  She had made it through the night!  After hearing stories of her night at the Bear 100, I was a little worried about how I would find her, but she was in good spirits and only slightly stiff body as she came into mile 75 at 12:25pm.  She commented on the search and rescue vehicle that had been heading up the valley as she was coming in (‘I hope that wasn’t for John...’), weighed in at the medical check (‘There’s no WAY I’ve gained 20 pounds--my hands aren’t even swollen!’), refreshed her water pack, and started out to Twin Buttes one more time.  I returned to my chair.

Thumbs up at mile 75
'Our scale DOES seem to be a little off...'

About 1:20pm, the search and rescue ATV trundled back into Dry Fork--with John in the passenger seat.  

‘Dude!’ I exclaimed as he tried working himself out of the vehicle.

‘I know,’ he said ruefully, wincing as he tried putting his right foot to the ground. Two aid station workers helped him hobble to a chair.  I helpfully documented the ordeal with my camera.

Fortunately, it was only a bad sprain.  Unfortunately, it meant the end of John’s first ultra run.  He sat in the car while I watched for people I knew.  
The rescue 
'Marge, I'm thinkin' 'bout killin' you raht 'bout now' 
'Does THIS hurt?' *poke*

Only a short time after the ATV had come in with John, it was dispatched again, and when it returned just past 2:30pm, one of the Boise 50 milers got out.  She had been having muscle cramps and had also turned her ankles several times and just didn’t feel it was wise to keep going.  I packed her into the car with John and kept scanning the hill for Emily, who I was expecting at any second.  Through the binoculars I spotted a guy by the side of the road just as he bent over to vomit.  As I watched him spew like a fire hose, I realized it was do or die, and that guy was dying.  

Minute after minute passed with no Emily.  Aid station workers told me the trail from Twin Buttes had been swept, and only four 100 milers were still out there.  The 4pm Dry Fork cutoff was looming.  I walked 10 minutes up the road hoping to meet her, and FINALLY she came over the crest.  She had donned her wind breaker, and her face was drawn--I could tell she was flagging.  It was about 3:30pm, mile 82. She now had just three hours to make it 13 miles to the next cutoff.  I was worried, as she had just taken three hours to do the previous 7 miles. I hated having to break the news about John.
Eking out a smile at mile 82 
A pep talk to carry her through the last 18 miles

By this time, we still hadn’t seen the last two Boise 50 milers.  At just a few minutes to the 4pm Dry Fork cutoff, we had a sad feeling they probably wouldn’t make it.  I drove John and Theresa back down to the campground so they could clean up and then sent a flurry of text updates to people who were waiting on edge for some news.  

Grandma and Grandpa were already at the park for the finish-line picnic, so I found them and gave them some updates.  It was nearing 6pm and I was getting restless--was Emily going to make the 7:30pm cutoff at Tongue River Trailhead?!  Cars were not allowed out to the trailhead, so I got a wild hair to find someone whose bike I could borrow.  The guy I asked hesitated only slightly--probably assessing my ‘crazy’ factor--but then got right on board with the idea, even calling his wife over to loan me a women’s bike instead of his giant men’s bike and strapping a bottle of water to the rack.
And so began my furious 5 mile ride out the dirt road to Tongue River Trailhead.  I passed quite a few runners and cheered them on with such sentiments as ‘You’re almost there!’ and ‘Way to go, good job!’ and was met with varied reactions.  Some gave signs of victory and triumph, some managed to crack grim smiles, some simply trudged on in delirium.  

I reached the trailhead at 7:06pm with no sign of Emily.  The aid station workers said people were starting to sweep the trail down from the previous aid station.  I crossed my fingers that she would stay ahead of them and chatted with another woman who had run out to meet a friend.  A couple of runners chugged down off the trail into the aid station.  At 7:23pm, I heard some whooping and saw Emily charge out of the trees into the clearing with her arms raised in celebration. Yes!  Several 50 milers trailed behind her.
I was so happy to see that face come out of the trees!
Now it was just five miles to the finish, cutoff 9pm.  We hit the dirt road as a motley group of five. The three 50 milers refused to leave Emily on the homestretch, and I  wobbled along on my borrowed bike, texting, answering frantic calls from John (‘Did she make the cutoff?!’), and taking pictures.  About two miles from the finish, one of our friends appeared on the horizon, a fresh and cheerful face set on motivating Emily to the finish in time.

It looks as if the banana didn't sound very appetizing 
There were signs of encouragement all along the homestretch
I zipped ahead with about a mile to go, sure at this point that she would make it.  My grandpa was waiting at the corner of the park.  The bike loaners were also waiting, hoping I turned out to be an honest person.  A fair number of people were still established along the finish line--people who understood, people who knew the importance of their presence at this very time and place--and as Emily came running around the corner into the park just before 9pm, murmurs of a runner approaching grew into wild hooting and cheering as people realized she was one of the last 100 milers to finish.  And she was smiling.

Running on sheer determination--so sad it's blurry! 
Licensed weapon carrier
Emily's groupies
Grandma and Grandpa stuck it out to the end
Yeah, I guess my sister's alright 
100 mile feet

The pancake award breakfast Sunday morning was the perfect way to end what was for some a very long weekend.  I got to see and meet many inspiring people along the way, such as 53-year-old Dennis from the Boise group who finished 25th overall and 3rd in his age group in the 100 mile; 84-year-old Bob who blasted out 50K for 1st place in the ‘89 and under’ category; the cute Italian couple who ran 100 miles side by side; the sweet Japanese couple who have run the Bighorn 100 eight times; and of course my sister--just don’t ask her about the buckle!!!
Those were some good pancakes
Rusty Spur Club inductees - those who ran sub-24 hour 100 miler 
Dennis cuddling up to his 100 mile 3rd place 50-59 rock 
84-year-old Bob with his 50K 1st place 89 and under rock 
Finisher's jacket and buckle--THE BUCKLE!!!
Shannon, Emily and The Buckle 
Hiromi and Katsuyuki Hatta with Hiromi's 100 mile 1st place 50-59 rock 
The Idaho Crew and The Buckle 
Emily, The Buckle, and Shandra - 107th and 110th finishers of 110
Emily, The Buckle, and a cowboy mural 
Emily, The Buckle, Hiromi, 1st place rock


Nancy Thompson said...

Thanks for the great description of your road trip and your sister's adventure. I was sitting on the edge of my chair to see if she would make the cutoff! I look forward to the next update.

Potato Woman said...

It was a nail-biter, for sure. I'm just glad I wasn't the one running!