September 30, 2022
The next section was relatively flat to rolling terrain compared to what we had been running. The sunlight was softening as the evening approached. On my current pace, I would get into the Coldwater Lake aid station before dark. Jodine and I maintained a close distance and pace to one another, and it was nice to have that contact with someone due to the remoteness of this section of the course. Mentally, I was in a good place as I looked forward to seeing my friends and picking up my first pacer!
I remember getting to a road crossing and seeing the sign for the entrance to Coldwater Lake Parking Area where the aid station is located and feeling such relief. Relief in the sense that I had made it this far. Relief that I would be seeing Nathan and Dave, and relief in that I now had a guaranteed partner to run with for the remainder of the race (all 163-miles that were left).
As I ran into the entrance of the park, I could hear the familiar sounds of an aid station and soon enough I saw the familiar sights. As I entered the crew parking lot, I began to look for our crew vehicle. I scanned the entire lot and did not see it. I ran back through the lot, but again, I did not see our vehicle. Ran through one more time and tried not to freak out, but I did not find my crew. I took a deep breath and reminded myself I had a lot to get done, and that would hopefully give my crew time enough to get there. So, I set to my tasks and prepared myself for the next section that would take me into my first night on the trail. I ordered some hot food, which was my first real meal of the day. When I thought about it, I was amazed that I did not really have much else besides the nutrition I had carried on me throughout the day. As I waited for my food, I sorted through my pack to organize my gear and get my night running lights and such ready.
As I did so, a vehicle came roaring into the parking lot. My guys of course! I could see the stress on their faces and reassured them I hadn’t been waiting long and we were fine. I had to calm them down and make sure Dave had everything he needed for the night. We had 30 miles ahead of us and around 8000’ of climbing and temperatures were set to drop to around freezing. We were almost ready to go when Nathan made a remark that shook me for a moment. He said, “Don’t worry! This next section is just like running Art Loeb.” Not going to lie, that was in my head as we headed out of the aid station! Luckily, I had Dave, and he was excited to be out there! That combined with the fact we had about 5-miles at dusk running along the shores of Coldwater Lake made for a much-needed calming effect.
As we neared the end of the lake, the darkness set in, and we turned on our headlamps. I’m not sure if you’ve ever run through the night, but there are those that look forward to night running, those that do not, and those that are ambiguous. I fall into the last category. There are some bits of night running that can leave you in awe and there are others that can leave you desperate to see the first light of day. On this night, Dave and I were treated to some of the most amazing night running I’ve been afforded in my 30+ years of running, but we had to earn those memories.
When we reached the end of the shoreline, the vegetation began to encroach our path impeding our view of our feet and making our progress slow. And just as this began, we began a long ascent. One of the aspects of night running I love is being able to see other headlamps on other points of the trail ahead and behind of us. As we climbed, and the vegetation began to abate, we began to see headlamps ahead of us, and we realized they were still on the same ascent we were on.
As we climbed, we talked, and I could hear the excitement in Dave’s voice as he spoke about his limited night running experience and how cool this was. Just as he finished his comment, we reached a height that we could see the surrounding ridgelines. The next few images I will describe are deeply ingrained in my memory and perhaps some of my favorite memories of the race. As we ran toward another peak, we saw a light that illuminated the side of the mountain. It was so bright and such a strange angle of light that I asked Dave if that was the Aid Station. Neither of us were sure. As we ran toward the bright side of the mountain, the moon peaked out and neither of us could speak. It was amazing, beautiful, and larger than life. It was one of those moments that almost causes you to freeze in your tracks. I don’t think a photo could do it justice, I envision it more as a painting as it was so surreal that no one would ever believe it was real. The moon was just passed full, but still whole enough to cast light on the surrounding mountains and allow us to see their outlines. To see the ridgelines in that light made me reflect on just how lucky I was not only to be out there, but to have the capabilities to take me to these places and experience these incredible opportunities mother nature provides.
As we made our way along an adjacent ridgeline we were again fooled by the moonlight. I knew it was too early for hallucinations, but I could swear that there was a cars headlights were shining in the valley below. We discussed this, and then saw the light shimmer & ripple when we realized were seeing the moonlight reflect in a lake below. What a sight!
We were afforded a short out-n-back to the summit of Mount Margaret, the high point of the course (all downhill from here!). It was here I noticed the temperature had significantly dropped, and when we made3 the summit, I put on my wool base layer long sleeve. As we looked around, we could see where we came from and where we were going based on the string of lights.
To our surprise, we saw snow not far above us until my foot fall made a crunching sound unfamiliar to what we had been hearing. I looked down and sure enough, my headlamp reflected off the snow. It was only a short section, but the surprise was noted in both Dave and my comments.
We were getting close to the next aid station where we would meet my crew member and good friend Terry Foxworth. After a few more ups and downs, we made it to Norway Pass, and could see the lights of the aid station directly below us in the valley. Unfortunately, we still had an hour and a half around the rim of this valley till we descended into the aid station.
Terry called out to us, and we gladly met up with him. Dave and I ordered some food, and I went to the vehicle to stay warm while we waited and ate as it was after midnight, and it was cold! The thermostat in the car read 34 degrees. I sat in the car with my puffy jacket on and ate. The warmth of the jacket and the vehicle made me sleepy, and I faded in and out, but never really fell asleep as Dave and Terry were in and out of the vehicle getting my pack ready for the next section.
Once ready, I gave Terry a huge hug for being there in the middle of the night and being so awesome! Dave and I left the aid station. Next stop, we would see EVERYONE on the crew! I hadn’t seen everyone yet, and I would see Beth again. That was incentive to make it through the witching hours. 2AM to 3:30AM is the toughest and darkest period for me. I usually get very drowsy and thus have a very hard time keeping my eyes open. I had a cup of coffee at the aid station and a Double Espresso Clif gel soon after we left to try to combat this.
As we were running, we heard an animal call from our position on the ridgeline somewhere below us in the valley. We discussed what that could possibly be. It was a strange howl/cry. Somewhere between a canine and feline. We decided it was unfamiliar to us and we should probably keep moving.
I remember I never felt very sleepy during this section, but I do remember becoming a bit impatient for the first signs of daylight. I could not wait for the break of day or at least the bluish/grey tint of the sky that signals the end of night. Once I saw the change of sky, I felt so much better.
When daylight finally did break, we found ourselves on a section of trail that would lead us to the aid station, but we saw no course markings. We continued and I checked my phone’s GAIA App with the downloaded course to make sure we were on course. We certainly were, but we did not see markers for a good four miles. Having gone through the night, this was tough to ignore, and I checked my phone multiple times just to make sure of three things; One, we were on course; Two we had no other trails ahead that could cause us to go off course; And three, about how far we had to go to the aid station.
When Dave and I arrived at the Elk Pass Aid Station, we were immediately greeted by the entire crew. Oh, my Lord it was so good to see EVERYONE, and I embraced my wife. Oh, that felt good to make it through the first night. We were 75-miles in, and everything was as it should be.
At Elk Pass, I had breakfast and coffee and Dave, and I spoke about what we went through to get to that Aid Station. It was at this point I realized I wouldn’t see Dave again until we were back in NC. Dave had to leave to return to NC the next morning. I would miss my friend, but I certainly felt overwhelmed by how fortunate I was that he came all the way out there to run 50k with me. Thank you, Dave!
Nathan would pace me through the next 34 miles, but we would see the crew again in 15-miles. In this next section, I will say I struggled. The combination of the gain, descent, heat, and sleepiness all combined to slow me down and make this section more difficult than it truly should have been. As the morning wore on, I realized I needed my first dirt nap. We found a good switch back on the climb we were on that had extra space for me to lay down and stay off the trail. Nathan found a log for me to prop up against and another for me to put my feet up on. I passed out quickly and woke up just as quick. I think I was out for a total of nine minutes. When I stood up, I realized how filthy I was, and was surprised by how repulsed I felt by that realization. I pictured jumping into a stream and cleaning off, but unfortunately, there were no creeks as we climbed higher and higher to the summit above us.
I was also surprised to see tire tracks. I wondered though what type of track it was. I asked Nathan just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating that there were indeed tracks. He confirmed there were and that he thought they were from a motorcycle. Looking at the trails, I was amazed that anyone could ride these trails on a motorcycle. It wasn’t long until we heard the loud sound of approaching motorcycles to confirm Nathan’s hypothesis. They came ripping by us leaving huge plumes of dust. Three different groups passed us on that section, mostly after we reached the high point and were on our descent to the next aid station at Road 9327.
My patience did wear a bit thin on that section as it felt like it took forever, but when we finally did complete that section and reached the Aid Station, I decided to take a moment and clean myself up, take a short nap (less than 15 minutes), eat some food, and make sure I was prepared for the next section as we wouldn’t see the crew for almost another 25-miles. I had a drop bag at the next aid station.
To be continued...