2010 The Tuscobia Experience

Always this nagging question of “why?” Why am I out doing this? What purpose does it serve? About fifty miles in, I made a quick stop into the berg of Radisson.  Not far off the trail, the bright lights of a Spur station beckoned and my drive to keep moving was trumped by my body’s need to void and also refill the water bottles.  I dropped the sled and felt the instant ease of walking without forty pounds of gear carabinered to my waist. Like a feather.

I wanted to be here and gone. Fill up and get moving. One of the women came out from behind the counter and asked if I was in “that race.” I said “yes” and asked if she had a sink with hot water I could use. She pointed me to the Bunn coffee machine and I slowly began topping off my liter bottles.  I began heading for the candy aisle to buy the token, bathroom usage, surcharge PopTart when she stopped me and asked me if the race was for a charity. I was caught off guard a bit by such a reasonable question.
“Um…no,” I said.
“Well,  I thought it was. What do you get, then, for finishing? Do you have to pay to do this?”
Another logical question that my reptile brain could hardly fathom.
“Ya…you have to pay to play. And I think we get a hooded sweatshirt.”
She looked at me like I was just about the biggest idiot she had ever seen. This hurt because, not long before on the trail, I had verbalized my tiredness of all those Ford vs. Chevy, cheap beer drinking, trophy deer hunting fools that inhabit many towns of this upper Midwest region I call home.
“We race just to do it. But a charity is a good idea…”
She walked back to the counter with more fresh ammo, I’m sure, about those fools from the City who dress in weirdly colored, tight fitting exercise suits. With headlamps strapped to their foreheads.

I hightailed it back to the sled.  Despite the mini interrogation, I was feeling good.  The reality is that I spent very little time mulling over anything of importance during this haul of a race, much less why anyone would want to pay to do this.  I did not question the convenience store clerk’s rationale.  I was just in straight go mode… “rip, shit or bust,” as one of my old boss’ used to say.  I picked up the poles  and began that rhythmic swing, stepping as fast as I could down the trail.

The one thing I was forced to think about while on the trail was the total change of speed compared to being on my bike.  Holy crap!  The time needed to go 3 miles, toward the end of the race, became a huge mental challenge.  Mid race I was feeling particularly cocky that I might just finish several hours before I had expected to. I had been able to run much farther than I previously thought possible (roughly 40 miles). After the last checkpoint in Winter, though, that dream fell by the side of the trail.  I had to continually remind myself that instead of biking the distance in only a few minutes, it would now take HOURS!!!  It became just another example of how mental toughness begins to be an equal to the physical in this type of event.  I was frankly happy that it was dark for a large portion of the race.  Otherwise, I would be forced to SEE that those spruce trees at the end of the tunnel of trail are STILL two miles away and not very quickly changing their position relative to me.

I was encouraged to leave the last checkpoint with John Storkamp.  I knew he was strong, but I had never traveled with him before this race.  He led out on our final push to the finish.  We chatted for a while as we settled into our own walking rhythms.  He turned around once to ask if I had seen that coyote or wolf cross the trail in front of him.  I tiredly said “no,” I was too busy studying my shoes.  But I had heard the yips and howls of a coyote pack a few miles back.  His blinking taillight started to creep ahead and I knew I he was just too strong for me to hang with.  I somewhat gladly let him go so that I could focus solely on my now aching, blistered feet.  I was in constant pain now and every step was starting to be a new challenge.  And then came the wave of tiredness.  That type of pure sleepiness can be so tough to work through.  I started scoping potential bivy sites along the trail. I realized that I was doing my usual canoe camping habit of trying to find the perfect camp site…always paddling ahead to the next red dot on the map…thinking it might have a better view or landing or tent spot. I rationalized that if I hold off on a site long enough I might just be able to sneak past the sleep zone.  I slammed another handful of Ghirardelli’s finest chocolate chips and strode on.  (Next to my stupid Hammer Perpetuem (which has become my blood on these races), the dark chocolate chips are gold.)

It worked. Finally I was at mile 65. No sleeping. Storkamp was long gone.  I turned around and a lone headlamp was quickly coming down the trail.  Before I knew it, a fella with a Texas drawl was asking how far ahead John was.  I said, in some disbelief, that he was at least a half hour in front of me. Tim  Neckar then proceeded to run ahead, chasing that skinny rabbit down the trail.  I couldn’t believe he was still running!  Just for kicks, I tried to run and nearly fell flat on my face.  Those muscles were long since cooked! So I kept walking as fast as I could.

I rolled into the parking lot in 21 hours and 31 minutes. Storkamp 20:25 and Neckar at 21:02.  I limped into the warming tent and said hi to Tim Roe and Nick Wethington who were diligently keeping the home (propane) fires still burning. I limped back to the back of the Subaru and arranged a makeshift bed with my down bag.  The pain in my feet and hips kept me from sleeping soundly, but I was allowed a few minutes of sub sleep. It was enough that in an hour, I rolled out of the car and began packing up for the drive home.  The amazing effort it took to just walk around the car sweeping off the snow solidified my decision to skip the bivy.  I had to physically lift my legs into the driver’s seat.  The lube in the joints had totally been depleted.  If I would have stopped to sleep on the trail, I now knew that I would probably not have been able to fire the legs back up again and continue. I briefly worried about the Arrowhead (and it’s 135 miles) and then decided to just relish the fact that I had knocked off a rather large new challenge for myself.  Now…if I could just figure out how to dive stick without moving my legs…

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