Trail running has taken me a lot of places, many places where I never would have seen. This morning, I ended up somewhere I never should never have been. I got up early for a quick 4-5 miler on easy trails on Turkey Mountain. I took the snake trail and veered off towards the Westside Y past Rock City, and wound around on some newer trails that came out near 61st street. At one point, I rounded a corner and passed an old homesite where an old well, or maybe it was an old septic tank--I'm not sure. I was doing a little exploring there, and thinking of taking a picture or two, when I heard something tramping quickly through the woods around 50 feet or so from me. It was a person, and they were bushwhacking quickly away from me roughly towards the road. I was startled to say the least, and headed on down the trail and it bended around on towards 61st street, and as I neared the street, I decided to step through some high grass to the road to see if that person had made it to the road. As I stepped over an old steel cable and through some large rocks, and on to the shoulder of the road, I saw the man crash through some heavy brush and spill onto the road. He looked up towards me, and staggered across the road and into the woods across 61st street. I should have went on my way, but curiosity got the better of me, so I went after him. I went just a little further from where he went into the woods to an old road, and stepped over a gate and headed south. I had never been there, and this hint of a road looked like it might be a good place to run, so I could check that out while checking on this old man....seemed like a good idea, right?
Well, the briers were relentless to my right where I thought the guy had went, so I kept on heading south and the road gradually curved a little downhill and to the east. I passed a small pond, and a trail lead to it and around it....a trail runners delight. Then, on the edge of a small clearing, I saw this old shack almost hidden in the scrub trees.I headed over that way, peeked inside, and stepped in. It had a dirt floor, a cot on the south wall, and pot bellied stove in the center. I reached for my camera to take a picture, and was setting the light settings for an indoor shot. There were a few empty cans of beans laying around, and I noticed a couple of them were unopened. I then realized the a can on the wood stove was half full, and the stove was warm!! I quickly turned around to leave, and I met a horrible face at the doorway!WHOA!! I nearly panicked, knowing I was clearly trespassing, and who knew if this guy had a gun, knife, or was ready to kill me for being in his house. Then, in a flash, I recognized this man. It was Eldridge! A man I had met on the other side of Turkey Mountain a year ago. "Eldridge! I said....It's Ken....remember me??" I was praying he'd remember and would be friendly and maybe understanding of me being in his house.
"Who? Ken....?!? Who the hell are you, why you in my place?"
"Oh, sir, I'm sorry....I didn't know, I was just running by, checking out some trails over here. I didn't know anyone lived here. I'm sorry....didn't mean--" He cut me off.
"Nah, don't worry about it son. It's nuthin. Nuthin. Don't worry about it. You that guy that I saw in the caves over on the east bluffs a while back, right?"
"Yeah, about a year ago." I was so glad he remembered me!! "How you been?" (How stupid a thing to say, I thought....like he would really think I gave a crap how he was....but actually, I was very curious about who this guy was and where he disappeared to that day after leaving that cave, and more importantly, why the entrance to that cave had vanished!
"What happened to you that day, after we got back out of the cave? You were there, and then the next minute, you were gone."
"Oh, I was there. I lived up here a long time....keep out of sight mostly. A man's gotta keep to himself roun here else people won't leave em alone." I processed that for a split second, thinking maybe back then I had just missed him as he had just slipped out of sight and kept silent. Today, he had crept up on me and I had not heard him approach the shack, although he did sound like a dinosaur tramping through the woods back across the road when I first saw him earlier today. "Son, that old well where you saw me cross the road a bit ago....well, that was where I grew up back in the depression days. My Pap and I, we built that well. That's where I growed up. Used to be our house there. That old well is all that's left over there. I still go over now and again....tryin to remember what I can. Gettin old and the memory's goin."
"You live here?" I asked.
"Hell no!!" Oops, I thought. Didn't wanna upset this guy. "No, I live here, there, and around. Where ever's the driest and that's hard to find this past winter."
"Ya ain't kiddin there," I chimed in. (That's good, Ken....get him talking about the weather. And quit trying to talk like him, Ken! Do you think that helps your cause??) "Listen, Eldridge, sorry again to come traipsing in here....I didn't know....I need to get on...I need to get on home and on to work." (I actually did need to do that!)
"Awright. Be careful out there, Son."
I left. I left without a "see you later", "good to see you again", "take it easy", or any other such cliche. I ran at a pretty good clip, made a wrong turn, and ended up almost to the intersection of HW 75 and 61st street, and instead of running home on the trails, I took the road home so as to get there asap.
Still, I would love to meet this guy and spend some time with him. This is the second time I've met him, and both times, the time has been brief. He has a story to tell, and I am still baffled about the disappearing cave entrance!
Since Christmas, there has not been a time that mud was not a big playa in trail running roun here. Of course, true trail runners relish the opportunity to play in the goop, and I am no sissy when it comes to a little splat splat action. Still, there is a thrill from running on firm but soft, dry but not dusty single track that is so therapeutic to a soul such as mine. But for now, just bring on the mud.
It was 5:30, the sun had been out all day, the north wind was hung somewhere between a breeze and occasional gusts, and I pulled on my next to the muddiest pair of trail runners, grabbed my camera and my headlamp and hit the trails. A trail that I had not traversed for a season had seen a little action during the heavy snow of this past winter, having endured a twisted and broken tree. It's always easy enough to re-rout the trail around a treefall.I love odd trees, ones that look like fierce scary monsters that come alive at night and do terrible things. I also love bright blue skies. It is medicine that I need. It keeps me alive.
An interesting rock formation on Turkey Mountain.
To my delight, there were miles of dryish trails, and if you hedged toward the rockier sections, mud was not in the equation at all. Still, the areas that are the usual slop pits did not disappoint.
Enjoying the afternoon with 3 of my friends--trees, blue sky, and the sun.
The afternoon slides away, and the sun reaches for me as if to say, "Bye....see you tomorrow!"And with a gentle sigh, she slips out of sight.
"Shoot for the moon....even if you miss, you'll be among the stars." Not sure who is credited with that saying, and it is possible I bobbled it, but I like it anyway.
Ok, I'll fess up....I played with photoshop a little on this one.
Funny how nightfall makes a muddy pond look so magical.
Odd things to see on the trail:At least there was no blood on the tongs.After running more than a mile from the Westside Y, I was running from across an open field into a slightly wooded area, and came upon this chair. Why? This was not on the edge of a fishing hole, not overlooking anything other than some scrubby trees, but I suppose it was a good place for someone to stop and take a rest. I opted to keep moving. A possible correlation between the pitch fork and rake a mile back? Hmmm....Lastly, me playing with my MyTouch camera-phone, with the help of a Princeton Yukon headlamp.
Finally, our nasty weather took a southern turn and deposited our allottment of snow on those low-lifes in Texas. We have had snow hanging around and sub-freezing temps that I was actually getting used to it. With tomorrow's forecast in the mid 50s, I'm concerned with heat exhaustion!
I did manage to get my midweek runs in this past week. I have missed a lot of group runs with my friends the past few weeks, and on weeks that I don't get my run on, I suffer greatly, and worse yet, those around me suffer as well! Monday night, I got a shortish 3.5 miles in, and then Wednesday, I roamed the pot-hole lined streets of Red Fork (West Tulsa, if any Coloradians were wondering.)Thursday, I ran with friends, Jason and Lisa. We nearly solved all the problems in the world....at least we talked about them! If you felt your ears burning....well, we talked about you too.
Truly, I sometimes wish I had enjoyed running all my life. It was a drudgery when I was a kid. My gym teacher in elementary school gave me a hard time for running like a duck. I was always one of the slowest kids....still am, for that matter. But had I found a way to love running, I might be in the Olympics now, or winning marathons, or at least taking the bronze in my age group in a rural 5K somewhere.One thing I'd like to pass on to my grand-kids, is that running is fun....it's not a punishment. Enjoy it--we were meant to run!
I have looked at this run for several years now, since my second year at Athens/Big Fork, when Chrissy Ferguson was seemingly recruiting to get as many peeps to commit to running it that year. I have read the course description over and over, and at times thought the course would be way to much of a climb for a runner like me to do. Somehow, I always envisioned it as single track, running straight up and straight down huge Arkansas mountains, but the description in this years web page (and maybe it was there all along?) said it was on well maintained forest service roads. The web page also said there was 3,500 feet of climbing going out along with 1,900 feet of decent, and of course those numbers are reversed on the way back. Sounded like a lot like the Midnight 50K, which I regard as an easy run.The race headquarters is at the Turner Bend store, a station for rafters, canoe-ers, and possibly hunters and fishermen to get their supplies and food stuff. It's adjacent to a camp ground, and near the Mulberry River. Tom Robinson and I left out of Tulsa at 5:00 am and made the 165 mile drive in time to take an early start.We were told the race started about 3/4 of a mile up the road, on the second road to the left. So we parked right off the highway, and I used the back of my Prius as a camera stand for a "before" pic.Then, we cleared garmins, started stopwatches (you have to keep track of your actual time) and took off at a slowish trot.Several cars turned and headed up the road we were starting on, and I explained to Tom that they were aid station workers, and ham radio operators. We cruised along about 1/4 of a mile, and came upon what seemed to be an aid station (already???) and then we noticed a chalk line across the road....DOH!!! So, instead of being .25 miles into our race, we had just had a little 1/4 mile warm up run. The cars people congregated there were starting line peeps, and other early starters. (More egg on the face here as I type than actually on our faces at the time.) we laughed about it, reset watches, and started again.This course, which I still deem as fairly easy, had nary a level stretch the entire way. Every step was either UPHILL or DOWNHILL. The first hill climb was 2.62 miles, and we walked most of it. I worked on my walking and in the early doing, was keeping around a 16 minute mile average on the uphills. Then, a long sweet downhill followed, and while we were not screaming down the hills, being careful to not run all the gas out of the tanks too early, we did bring our overall pace to a mid-13ish pace....slow to a die-hard roadrunner, but not too bad for a trailrunner.Tom and I ran part of the way with Greg Bourns, a man who at 70 years old, still does trail marathons and 50Ks, and routinely beats my butt. Greg and I have ran together at Athens/Big Fork, and Lovit in the past couple of months. I tend to be a little faster in the early going, but he is steady and a faster walker and climber, and he usually passes me by in the later stages of the race. (This day was no exception.)About the roads....these were more dirt roads, with a few rocks here and there, as opposed to gravel roads which gradually take a toll on your feet. I found the running surface soft and forgiving, and a pleasure to run on, although there were a few short muddy sections which were a minor annoyance. (Mud is supposed to be fun for a trailrunner, right?)Another hill topped, and now a 2 mile downhill decent!! Candy!!And then back up again. Here, Tom and I get passed by a Volkswagen.Aid station # 1, manned by Charlie Peyton at the 5 mile mark. Thanks Charlie, you always rock!Did not catch this guy's name, but I do know he ran the entire way with there Vibram Five Fingers shoes--the next best (worst?) thing to running barefoot. I was amazed.It's always good to see old friends. Patty is always all smiles, and this day, despite only being out of a cast on her foot a week, helped out at some of the aid stations, and then drove to the turn-around and ran a few miles out and back from there.At approximately 8 miles into the race, and up and down 3 or 4 hills, we saw the big daddy hill in the distance. White Rock Mountain, which was clearly twice the height of the ones we had been messing around on.Tom and I had started our race 45 minutes before the official start, and soon we were being passed by the speedsters. Stan Ferguson, in the blue, was cruising, and pulled away on the return trip for the win in the 50K by over 8 minutes.No water crossings this day. We saw a lot of small waterfalls along the way, but the only creek/river/stream of any size was crossed on this low-water bridge.Another view of White Rock Mountain. Actually, we climbed the one in front, and then descended a little on a saddle and climbed the White Rock, the one in the back. May not look like it here, but it was a big one.Aid station # 2. At this point, we were about 6 miles from the turn-around, and had a solid two mile climb, then a short reprieve, and then another long and very steep climb.Another friend, and fellow TATUR, Jason Thomas passed us and went on to have a good race, finishing in under 6 hours.For a second, I thought another old friend was gonna show up, but this is as close as the sun came to breaking out of the clouds all day.Oh is got steep after the 14 mile point. This 50K, which was 25K out and back, was actually almost 16 miles. But we ultra runners love bonus miles, right?Up up up! And just when you thought you were at the top, surprise! It was a switchback, with more climbing ahead. This last two-tiered climb took us from around 900 feet to over 2,300 feet. (Athens/Big Fork has a more than a few climbs like that!)One tired climber. Actually, there was another tired climber....behind the camera.I got to say HI to Colleen, aka Cynical Dirt Doll, a blogger-friend who has turned out to be a great ultrarunner, and a 100 mile babe. She ran steady and finished her 50K in 6:31.Why this picture? Well, someone told us that a bear did all the damage to the post. A little claw sharpening? Or teething?We are close....less than a mile away. Somewhere along here, Tom semed to be laboring, and we had both mentioned possibly calling it a day at the 25K point. I know Tom wanted to do the whole 50K, and I did as well, but we both knew the return trip was gonna be ugly. Plus, I thought I might earn favor with my DW by getting home a few hours earlier than my previous ETA. I asked Tom to rate his enthusiasm on doing the 2nd half of the 50K on a scale of 1-10, and he rated it a 2. Good enough for me to sanction a vote, and we agreed to call it a nice 16 mile run.But still, there is a little more uphill to deal with. Gotta reach the top.And finally, we were there, but we still had to go just a little further down a bit to a gazebo overlook where the sign-in book was. It was a good place for some pictures, but on this cloudy day, it was hard to get any exceptional photos.Well, HERE'S an exceptional photo!We told the folks at the turn-around of our intentions, and we were able to get a ride back to our car. Driving the course took a 4-wheel drive SUV nearly 30 minutes, and the ride was exhausting, but much less so than running it would have been, although I am sure we would have made it in before they closed the course. No regrets, and we both agreed it was a good call. That being said, this race is definitely on my list for next year.