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Water Lake Landscape

Trying to Process the Bigfoot 200 - Part III

October 31, 2022

Nathan continued with me. Ultra-math was not particularly on point for either of us in this next section. I believe what happened was I miscalculated both the distance and gain that I would see on my watch at the next Aid Station. I think Nathan did the same as we both felt we should have been at that next Aid Station about 2-miles before we actually arrived. That made for a lot of patience on my part as we continued to climb in the heat. Fortunately, I was able to maintain my composure and get to the Spencer Butte Aid Station without a hissy fit, but my feet needed attention. My blisters were bugging me, and I knew we had a 2800’ descent down to the next Aid Station in a 4-mile stretch. I needed my feet as prepared as they could be.

When we got into Spencer Butte Aid Station, we addressed my feet and had some food. It was a nice reprieve, but suddenly what had been such a hot day seemed to cool off quickly. I started to get some chills, so I put on another layer and told Nathan we needed to keep moving. I was over 100-miles into the race, and overall, I was very pleased with how my body was holding up!

We headed out and found ourselves on a paved road for a bit before turning off and onto a single-track trail that descended steeply, just as I had anticipated. My feet were holding up, but I had to be mindful not to descend too quickly or too slowly as I had to be careful of my quadriceps as well. It was a tough balance and I literally leaned into my poles. I slalomed from side to side to slow myself in spots that were very steep and not break too hard which would cause both stress on my quads and friction on my blisters.

The Lewis River was at the bottom of the descent. A very welcome sight as it meant we were getting very close to the Aid Station that shared the name of the river. We were running with two other runner/pacer pairings, the sun was going down, and that’s when the course markings ended. Nathan ran ahead to look for another marking but did not find one. We all pulled out our phones to look at the course and figure out what to do. We came to a consensus that thankfully was the correct direction and made our way to the Aid Station. It was dark when we arrived. Nathan was amazing! He had run close to 34-miles, and he had more to come. He was no worse for wear or at least he didn’t show it. He still had the same sharpness and resolve as the moment we started. That resolve gave me hope!

I thought that I would only see Morgan at the Lewis River Aid Station as this location was advertised as not crew accessible, but to my surprise, everyone was there. Hugs all around! Oh, it felt so good! I was so happy! The plan was to take a two-hour nap and get ready for the next section, 17-miles with 7500’ of gain and 4500’ of loss. This next section was the one part of the course everyone was nervous about. I on the other hand had chosen Morgan for this specific section because I knew his confidence on climbs and descents in turn give me confidence! It did in Hardrock, and it did on that night.

The sleep had done me well! I felt great, confident even! With our packs loaded and lights on, we headed out for our overnight adventure. There are more reasons I love Morgan; his positivity and good-natured ways are infectious as well. We turned on music and we hiked the ups and ran the downs. The thing was, I was in flow. When you’re in that state, there is no perception of movement or time. The ups felt effortless and before I knew it, we were on our final climb to the Quartz Ridge Aid Station. The arguably toughest part of the course was almost behind us, and dawn was breaking on Day 3.

Morgan and I had one final descent into the Aid Station. The sun rose on the horizon in front of us. Gratitude flooded my being. How fortunate I felt to be on that trail with my friends at my side. Each time now that I saw my crew, it was as if it was the first time, I’d seen them as my excitement and rejuvenation were renewed as such each time.

I grinned a wide smile as we saw the Aid Station tents come into view. I whooped and laughed as we ran in and met with everyone. I put on my puffy jacket to not get chilled, drank some coffee, and ate some breakfast as my crew readied my pack again. It had become like clockwork. Just then a volunteer came over and asked to reset my GPS tracker. Apparently, it had been turned off by another volunteer the night before at Lewis River by another volunteer thinking they were resetting it. I was back online, but worried that the race would question if I had done that last section. I had it recorded on my watch if there ever was question, so I decided to brush that aside and keep moving forward. Another 17-mile stretch lay ahead of Morgan and me. While not as difficult as the last section, we still had 4000’ of gain and 4000’ of descent to get to the Chain of Lakes Aid Station. Once again, I smiled let everyone know I loved them, I thanked them, and we continued.

Morgan and I had fun! We laughed and joked through the next section. I remember running down a forest service road and another runner looking back at us. The look on his face made me pause. He was not having fun. I tried to encourage him and let him feed off our energy, run with us even, but he was in a place that only he could bring himself out of. We kept moving and made our way by beautiful lake after lake. It was new scenery. This course changed so much.

The temperature was rising, and we popped out on a paved road. A long straightaway was ahead, and we saw no one. We were exposed as the sun was overhead and the trees cast no shadows on the road. We adjusted our pace and began to play a game. We would see a crack across the road and surge as we approached to be the first one across. As we made our way further and further along the road, I looked back, and no one was behind us either. On occasion a car would pass, but other than that it was quiet aside from our conversation and laughter.

We continued to pass lakes until I spotted the unmistakable red hair of my wife. Once again, I smiled and whooped. She turned around and smiled and whooped back. My heart swelled once again! Optimism can be a great tool when used properly. As the race unfolded, my goal was to run 70-miles a day. I was on track and stoked that I was two thirds the way through the race as we had reached mile 143.5 and the Chain of Lakes Aid Station.

I settled in and had a meal and some fluids. It was HOT! Nathan would be joining me for the next section which was roughly 17.3-miles away. I didn’t want to rush out as I wanted to make sure I had enough fluids and fuel as I planned on taking this section super easy so as not to waste extra energy in the heat. Once I was sure I was good to go, I thanked Morgan, gave out my hugs of appreciation, and told them I would see them at Klickitat (the next Aid Station).

I think I mentioned once or twice that it was hot. As we descended to a river, the temperature seemed to soar! Phew! We could hear the rush of the water, and it was as beautiful as the song of the Thrush in the heat. It kept me moving forward. We dipped our hats & Buffs into the water as soon as we reached it. The relief we felt was immediate, and thankfully repeated often on this section of the course. There seemed to be a new water crossing just as soon as the effects of the last wore off.

We picked up a runner and he was the most welcome company. He had great stories and the way he told them kept the conversation flowing. Distance and time passed by, and we came to a point where we caught up with another runner and pacer. We had one large river crossing then a long ascent to the Aid Station. Nathan and I crossed the river and found a good spot to sit and have a snack. The others looked at us like we were crazy. What were we doing stopping is what their eyes said. We were fueling for the climb ahead, and I’m glad we did.

The climb was steep in parts, gradual in others, but constant. We were afforded views of Mount Adams. The snowcapped mountain was inspiring in its size and beauty! We had caught back up to the others and asked if they knew how far to the Klickitat. We were getting close they said, but we had to pass our turn to the Aid Station and do a steep out-n-back up to a peak before we could make turn our turn back to Klickitat.

It was heading up the peak that I had the greatest surprise. My kids came running down from the summit. The joy and pride I felt in seeing them gliding down the mountain. They ran into my arms and their embrace was like fireworks. I couldn’t help but cry. I was overwhelmed with emotions. They saw my tears and hugged me tighter. It’s one of those moments that makes me well up as I write this. That moment is frozen in time for me. A snapshot I hope I never forget! The happiness in their voices helped me regain my composure. They give me a rundown of what I had left in getting to the next Aid Station. I smiled and told them I would see them soon. They’re excitement was revitalizing.

Nathan and I made our way up to the summit for one of the most outstanding panoramic views I have ever seen! I could see Mount Saint Helens in the distance and recognizing the gap between where I had to started, to where I was now left me dumbfounded. I was speechless. We took our last glimpses with the sun setting and made our way back down and to Klickitat.

We could hear the cowbells and excitement of the Aid Station before we could see it. We didn’t need our lights yet, but I wanted to try and get a nap if possible before going into the night. The next section promised to have a plethora of blow downs. The nap the night before had been my saving grace in making it through that section, so I was hoping for the same here. The problem was, this Aid Station was not a designated sleep station as was Lewis River, so we tried to set me up away from the noise of the aid station. Unfortunately, there was too much cowbell. I never thought I might utter those words, but yes, it’s true. The noise kept me from getting a solid rest.

Not wanting to waste time or get frustrated by the fact I couldn’t sleep, I decided to gather myself once more for the night and the trail ahead. We had 19.4-miles to the Twin Sisters Aid Station where would again see my crew. I saw my friend from the Ek Pass Aid Station that had originally taken care of my feet. She offered to work on them once again. After all the water I had been through on the last section, I couldn’t refuse her.

It was getting dark, and I knew I had better get going. I’ll admit that aid station was a tough one to leave having seen my kids and knowing what we were about to face in the woods ahead. Up to this point, I had remained even keel about every challenge that laid ahead, but for some reason, perhaps due to the fatigue and sleepiness I felt, I was leery of this next section. I think my wife sensed this in me. She took out the folder and made me hold it up and recite my mantra, “I got this!” She said everything I needed to hear. How proud she was of me, and how much she loved me. It stilled my wavering confidence.

Nathan and I took to the trail once more. As the light from the Aid Station grew dimmer, the forest seemed to open. The trees were tall and there wasn’t much undergrowth. It seemed the trail could go anywhere. It calmed me further.

We’d climb up and run back down. It seemed we did this twice before we came to the blow downs. We were slowed by what seemed downed trees about every 200 meters. I wasn’t frustrated by them, but I was growing more and more tired. I told Nathan I needed to pull over for a nap. I was starting to fall asleep while walking. We found a spot to pull off the trail and cleared the ground to sleep. Unfortunately, as I tried to unroll my emergency bivy, the seams split in multiple spots. A wind I hadn’t noticed blew straight across us and into my bivy making me colder and colder by the minute. I started to shiver and told Nathan this wasn’t working. We had to keep moving.

We packed up and moved on. As we did, another runner (a pacer) came up the trail saying he had left his phone behind and was going to retrieve it. As we kept moving our light shown on the runner of the pacer we had seen. She was wrapped up just off trail. As we asked if she was ok, I attempted to go over a blow down and slipped and twisted my knee. The pain was not excruciating, but enough to hobble me. It made it hard to get over the blow downs, and I was using extra energy to do so. To boot, I was still sleepy. So sleepy I was hallucinating seeing people in the woods. I knew they weren’t there, but I couldn’t get them to go away. Good times!

We found a nice pull off that was well sheltered. This time, I used my bivy as a blanket. Nathan put his emergency blanket over me and gave me two ibuprofens. I kept my knees bent, took a double espresso gel, and told Nathan to set a twenty-minute alarm. I passed out immediately and woke to the alarm refreshed and ready to roll. To my amazement, my knee was ok. We started running when out of nowhere a burst of energy hit me. I was running uphill like I had just started the race. It was the best I had felt all race. Nathan warned me that I was expending a lot of energy. I ate extra calories to compensate for it. We were moving so well. Dawn was breaking again. It felt so good to shut off my lights!

We came to a future turn. That meant we were on the final descent to the Twin Sisters Aid Station. I thought we were running fast until Nathan came crashing into me telling me to run faster. He had been stung by a bee (and didn’t want to be stung again). We kept the surge for a bit and slowed. We ran down into the Aid Station and I looked for the crew. I didn’t see them. They weren’t there. I tried to remain calm. Morgan was supposed to pace me to the next & final Aid Station. I sat down next to a fire and had some breakfast and took stock of what I had left in my pack while Nathan tried to get a message to them through our Garmin inReach. They were in route, but we had no ETA.

It was then I made the decision to go on and not wait for them. I had enough to make it through the next section (16-miles). Nathan, I shouldn’t have been surprised, said he would join me. He had just run 34-miles, on top of the 33 he had already run earlier in the race. What a trooper! Nathan let them know we were carrying on before they would arrive.

Back up we went. We prepared ourselves for the section with the bee. We started our mad dash and there was one tree to hop over to be free and clear. As I focused my attention on that tree, I missed something small that protruded from the trail and sent me into a superman. Thankfully there wasn’t a yard sale that morning and everything stayed in my pack. My pack was heavy as I was carrying extra gear from the night I had planned to give to my crew, but no longer needed to wear. Thankfully I was unscathed. We laughed it off and turned some music on.

From that turn, we ran along a ridge. Views on both sides were outstanding. We came to a nice patch of grass on the ridge with one of the great views. I decided to take a snack break there and enjoy the surroundings for a bit. We had one more final climb that was an out-n-back to Mount Pompei. As we were getting near the summit, we saw old remnants of perhaps an old fire tower. There were cables in the trail, and I thought to myself, I should move those, as someone could tripppppppppppppppp! Down I went with a familiar crack. There went my pole. $#!+

I was beyond upset! Choice words escaped in a louder than I’d care to admit volume. Not my proudest moment. It took me a moment (alright, a few moments) to regain my composure. I did though. As upset and frustrated at breaking my pole as I was, this had happened before, and I knew I’d be alright. I reminded myself I was on my way to the last Aid Station. I was almost done for crying out loud! We ran back down and continued our way through the forest and over more blow downs, making our way to the Owen’s Creek Aid Station.

We came out on what seemed to be an old railroad bed. The grass was overgrown and luckily, we were able to follow the trodden path of those who had gone through there before us. Stowing my poles in my pack made it a bit heavier, and combined with the increasing heat, I had to switch to a run ¾ and walk ¼ mile strategy. Both of our patience was waning as we tripped over unseen rocks and branches hidden in the overgrown grass. We sounded like Yosemite Sam cursing under our breathes. I waited for the creek I would recognize from my scouting run (see part I). The funny thing was, I crossed it without knowing it and Nathan was the one that said, “We’re close!”

It was like coming out of a dream. I realized where we were and hollered with excitement. After missing them at the last aid station, and this being the very last stop before the finish, I couldn’t help but feel giddy and super excited! Thirteen miles were all that separated me form the finish. Morgan was going to pace me for the last section. I dumped everything I could out of my pack leaving the required gear. Oh, my it felt so much lighter! I had some food and said the words I’d been waiting to say for the last 196 miles, “See you at the finish!”

Morgan and I took off and in no time, I saw my kids running towards us. They were so excited! I hugged them and kept on. Then I saw my parents and gave them a hug and kept on. We came out on the road, and it was 10-miles to the finish. Unfortunately, we were in the sun again with not a lot of shade and the temperatures were in the mid-nineties. Morgan checked the tracker and let me know tenth place was just ahead, but I didn’t have it in me to chase. We tried for a mile, but I didn’t feel it sustainable. We settled into 11:30 pace and made our way to the finish at the High School.

When the High School came into sight, I almost cried. We ran through the parking lot and waiting at the gate of the track was my crew and family. We all ran around the track together and finished. It was done! 209-miles in the books surrounded by my family and friends. I couldn’t ask for a better ending to a wonderful journey.

Thank you, Nathan Frantz (87-miles of pacing), Morgan Elliott (47-miles of pacing), David Workman (29-miles of pacing), Mercedes Siegle-Gaither & Terry Foxworth for driving and crewing! My wife for being my crew chief and organizing this bunch! My mom and stepfather for watching my kids, and my kids for being an endless source of inspiration and motivation! I love you all and this wouldn’t have been nearly the experience without you!

Will I do another 200-miler…we’ll see!

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