(This is a continuation of my Bear 100 adventure in Utah on 9/27/13. Part 1 is here)
As darkness set in during the Bear 100, the temperature dropped to low 30s, then 20s (I was told). I was still feeling ok, but my body started shivering to keep warm. I hadn’t run an ultra through the night in awhile (since the 20in24 was cancelled), so I started feeling nervous. I sat down for the first time at Right Hand Fork (mile 36.9) and some lovely volunteers made sure I got my headlamp from my drop bag, hot soup, and gave me a fruit cup and everything I needed. There was a tiny creek crossing and I was on my way!
I couldn’t believe how quickly it got dark. I switched on my headlamp and prepared to find my way to Aid Station #6, Temple Fork at 45 miles. It was here that I took a wrong turn and got lost for the first time. I knew something was wrong when I
didn’t see any pink trail markers for at least 20 minutes. By now, it had gotten really dark so it was hard to see anything. I was on a Jeep road, and I saw people camping with RVs in the distance so I wasn’t totally alone, but I saw no runners. I backtracked, and finally I saw some headlamps on an adjacent road that was a few meters above the road I was currently on. I called out “I think I’m lost! Are you part of the 100?” Turns out that it was a runner named Amber and her pacer (small world–Amber was friends with a friend I made through the Maniacs named Jennifer), and luckily they helped pull me up through the bushes and onto the correct path.
We chatted and ran together the 3-4 miles until the next aid station and I felt a sense of relief at seeing another runner. I had lost time and run extra miles by this point, so I knew I needed to keep going, even if that meant separating from the comforting presence of another person. I made it to Temple Fork, and at this point I was mentally tired, since it was completely dark. I was looking for my drop bag, and was told that it wasn’t there. I was searching and searching when I suddenly realized I didn’t HAVE a drop bag for this aid station. Another example about how my brain was a bit addled.
The volunteers pointed me to a trail above the highway and said, “just follow the glowsticks.” I obliged, and followed a steep climb lined with only a few tiny glowsticks hanging from the trees. It was pitch black at this point and I could only hear the sound of my breathing. I couldn’t even see whether the trail ahead of me was flat or steep! (maybe that was a good thing.) The only thing that kept me going was seeing the pink trail markers and an occasional reflector strip tacked onto a tree. There were a few times when I heard small animals scurrying around in the bushes, but nothing big.
Another hazard of navigating the trail in the dark was stepping in cow/animal dung. Seriously. I’ll tell you why later (besides the obvious gross factor of it). There were several times I was thinking, “wow this trail is really muddy,” while I was actually stepping straight into cow poop. Lovely.
The next 6.7 miles between mile 45 and mile 51 (to the Tony Grove aid station) took me forever. I only saw two souls: a guy from California with trekking poles, and another fellow named Kevin. It turns out the guy from California was on his 3rd attempt of the Bear 100, seeking his first finish. I found Kevin sitting in the snow by the side of the trail around mile 48. He didn’t look good, and I asked him if he was ok. I couldn’t bear to leave him by himself, so I helped him get up and promised that we’d get to the next aid station together. It was so, so dark, and I could only see the glistening snow when I shined my headlamp through the trees. It was very, very cold, and I sort of contemplated dropping out at the next aid station, but quickly quashed that notion. Kevin was talking about how this year the weather was brutal, and he was able to finish last year but was going to drop out as soon as we hit mile 51. I was glad for his company, and we made sure to look for the pink mile markers. We finally reached the Tony Grove aid station, and the hum of the generator was the best sound that I had ever heard.
It was 12:30am at this point, and I sat down in a chair while volunteers draped me in blankets. I reached for my drop bag, where I had stashed a big red fleece jacket I bought the day before (Bear 100 merchandise). I put on the jacket, downed half a can of Starbucks Espresso shot, and rested for 10 minutes. It was so cold that I wanted to just stay there the rest of the night, under that blanket, but I was on a mission. I had told my pacer that I was going to meet her around 2:00am at Mile 61. I was going to be really late, but unfortunately I had no cell phone reception and no way of telling her.
I said goodbye to Kevin, waited for the caffeine to kick in, and asked a volunteer to guide me to the trailhead. I hated being lost the first time and didn’t want to waste valuable time looking for the wrong trail! Up I went on the steep trail. It was a long climb–the darkness was only good because I didn’t have to think about how steep it actually was!
I drank a lot of water and ate some granola bars to keep my energy up. At this point, my granola bars were frozen! The mouthpiece on my Nathan hydration pack had also frozen, so I relied on my handheld bottle. When I shook it, I could hear chunks of ice inside. Freezing. I was very conscious of the ice at night, and my trail shoes provided little traction because of the frozen cow poop I had stepped on earlier. I started to feel scared and lonely, and used my iPod shuffle for moral support. I kept one earbud in so I could listen for animals and people with the other ear. Around mile 53, I came to a creek crossing. It was icy, and I could barely see the other side. I used my hands to brace myself on the rocks, and very slowly made my way across. There were three possible ways I could have gone after crossing the creek. One of them was a dead end, one was the way I came from, and one was the right path. I was suddenly very disoriented and I couldn’t remember which way I came, since I went back over the creek to look for the last pink trail marking.
I forged ahead and assumed I was going in the right direction. The scenery was exactly the same. I had completely stopped taking pictures once darkness hit because I was feeling crappy and couldn’t see ANYTHING. The next mile was the scariest part–there was a really steep downhill part completely iced over. I took one step and went flying down the path on my butt. Ouch!! The worst part was, I used my bottle as a trekking pole while I helplessly clung to some weeds on a hillside. The only way was down, and there was a ravine on the other side. If my mom could see her daughter in this state, she would’ve had five heart attacks in a row. It was really dangerous–one wrong step and I could fall OFF the trail, into the ravine, and no one would have found me for hours. It was so dangerous that I literally wished I had quit at the last aid station when I had a chance.
I gingerly crawled down the iced-over trail on all fours, using my bottle for traction. God, I really wish I had some trekking poles. I did this for about 300m, and it was the longest stretch of my life. I saw one person come by (same guy from California with his trekking poles), and asked him for help, but he didn’t look to be in any position to help me. He came and went. Well, so much for that. He was probably delirious as well.
I finally made it safely down the path and kept walking down the path. I stopped to look at my directions and they said “Turn left, down, crossing a stream, and ascend north, up a pass full of Mules Ear daisies. Cattle braid the trail in this area, but the trails will rejoin after the meadow.” What??! If this didn’t make sense to me at home, what the heck does it mean 19 hours into running a 100-mile race when I’m exhausted? I was growing increasingly frustrated.
I passed through a giant field (I assume full of Mules Ear daisies, still don’t know what it was talking about), and saw two lone runners.
“Am I going the right way?” I asked.
“You’re on the right path, but I hear the aid station is at least an hour away,” they called back.
My brain refused to believe it. It was already 3am and I was the most tired I had ever been in my life. What choice did I have? I was closer to mile 61 than the mile 51 aid station I had left. I couldn’t fathom making my way up the icy hill. I literally had no options. I couldn’t call anyone for help with my useless cell phone. It was an awful feeling.
The last 5 miles were torture. I would see pink trail markers, then I would stray off the trail, and then I would feel like I was going in circles. At one point, I followed the trail markers right into a big field of rocks. I contemplated this problem for a solid 10 minutes before I finally found another marker. I was hopelessly getting lost. I knew that I was not too far off the trail at any point, but going in circles did nothing for my morale. I made the decision that if my pacer, C, was still at mile 61, I would continue. Otherwise, I was going to drop out because mentally, I was done.
The last few hundred meters before reaching the aid station were tough. I saw a volunteer go out looking for runners, and he shouted at me “the aid station is just up ahead!”
“Ok!” I said, and gestured in the direction I was going. I heard the generators and saw the lights of the aid station a few moments later, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the way out! All I saw were more trees and impassable woods. “Help!” I shouted, hoping someone would hear me.
A volunteer actually had to guide me the last few hundred feet to the aid station because I was so delirious. I was surprised that I didn’t even cry, because I was so broken-spirited at that point. The first thing I asked was if she had seen my pacer. The volunteer said no, she had not seen anyone ask for me or look for me. It was not cool. At that point, I was too tired to care. I sat in front of a bonfire, tried to get warm, and told the volunteers that I was dropping out. They tried to get to me to stay in the race, but it was already 5:30am and I had no more will to go on 39 more miles after the 10-mile fiasco I had just went through. I needed to save my energy for another day. I send my thanks to the volunteers, and especially to the good Samaritan that drove me from mile 61 to the finish line in Fish Haven, ID so that I could wait for Shane to cross the finish. I got my glimpse of Bear Lake from the car, but was too tired to enjoy it.
My first DNF was a tough pill to swallow. I had wanted so much to complete this race. There were a few things that went wrong–some of it was beyond my control and some of it I know I can do better for next time.
For this race, I would definitely use trekking poles next time. They would have saved me from sliding down an icy mountain on my behind and would have helped in my posture for later in the race. I would also pack more layers and dress more warmly next time.
I would also bring along a pacer that I know and trust for this race. I don’t blame my pacer for my DNF, but I wished that she would have at least left a message for me at the aid station that she had to leave (she was supposed to be with me from 2am-10am), and at least acknowledge she cared for my well-being. I exchanged a few texts and an email after the race telling her that I had no reception and didn’t have any way of letting her know I got lost, but I was disappointed that she did not at least inquire about me at the aid station. Anyway, that is water under the bridge, and I can’t change that.
I would have also tried to study the course a bit more. The markings were more sparse than promised (or wild animals ate them, who knows), but at some parts it was very difficult to navigate.
I really do want to try for the Bear 100 again, hopefully in 2014, but if not, then definitely 2015. I do not regret giving it my all and making it as far as 61 miles! I am glad that I am safe and uninjured, and I thank Shane for making the journey with me.
I made it to the finish line by car after my DNF, and I was able to watch Shane cross the finish line in a time of 32 hrs 57 min! Well done, Shane! It was a really crazy race in less-than-ideal conditions. I heard from many runners that it is rare for the course to be so icy/snowy this time of year.
I was exhausted but was so hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline that I found it impossible to sleep at the finish while I was waiting. Plus, I wanted to be sure I saw Shane finish. There was a nice post-race food spread and an awards ceremony, where the finishers got a belt buckle and finisher’s plaque. I later found out that Fish Haven is famous for its raspberry shakes, so I will have to have one of those next time!
The day after the race, I met up with my friends Jenny and Mark, who drove from Provo to have dinner with us at an Italian place named Cafe Molise. It was so nice to see them after such a crazy adventure, and I hope to see them again during my next trip to Salt Lake City. Shane and I also enjoyed a day of sightseeing on Antelope Island. We got really close to a bison that crossed the road, and saw stunning scenery and awesome salt flats. I’ll be back, Utah! Until the next adventure…