"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A short hike on the Superior Trail

Omnia interit, nihil mutantur. (with apologies to Ovid)

I went up to the Superior Trail Races to cheer for those who were running, to hike parts of the trail I've never done and perhaps pace someone who needed (and wanted) help. I was asked many times why I hadn't volunteered to man an aid station like I did last year; essentially, I didn't want to be tied to one spot - you can learn a lot from working a station in a hundo, like how top runners never send more than 2 minutes at one, but those who don't finish camp at each and every station.

It was rainy and foggy and the drive up in the middle of the night was not fun, but I pulled in to the Temperance way station at sunrise, to see what all the fuss is about. Every time one goes by, it is crawling with tourists.... but I've never been. It's postcard pretty. The rivers in this area are Cross, Baptism, Temperance, so someone was trying to entice the religious to buy land (nearby French and Onion rivers make me crave soup).

I went up to the Temperance aid station and headed for Carlton Peak. As it was raining and I was going to go slow, I dressed warmly (too warmly, as it happened). I didn't eat anything before starting and the food I thought I'd stored in my pockets the night before were sitting on my kitchen table, so I was doing it on one bottle of water. Elevation charts show this has the worst climb of the course, 700 feet, but many have told me it's not too bad. The first two miles reminded me of how little technical trail (none) I've done since I was here in May. I was soon passed by the first woman in the 100, who was all business and looked strong. The climb up Carlton isn't bad for the most part, until one gets near the top and is boldering; after 80 miles, this must be pretty bad. I went to the summit, which is not part of the course and there was no view due to the fog, so I signed the guest log and went on to where the spring race has its turn-around, then headed back; I was only a mile from the next aid station, where I'd worked last year and I probably should've got food and water there. The trip down the mountain is easy and I met the next runner, who looked like he was ailing, then Dale Humphrey (who I once again didn't recognize - sometimes there's a beard, sometimes glasses...) who was as strong as an ox at that point - and he'd done the Lean Horse 100 in 20 hours two weeks earlier - and another runner who told me he'd had a nightmarish night with a complete meltdown and was "going to Oberg Mountain and p#$% on it." As I got back toward the river, the first marathoners were storming by and I apparently missed Val LaRosa among them; the trail was a lot muddier after all that foot traffic. One guy shouted out to me, "This is soooo BEAUTIFUL!!!"

Yeah. When you're not cursing the god-forsaken pile of rocks that's taken your toenails, it's lovely. As the fog lifted, the view of the river was spectacular and the trees were just past peak color, when everything is drenched in subtle pastel colors.

Got back to the aid station where they were inundated by marathoners and 50 milers. I filled my water bottle, chatted with a few people and headed off in the opposite direction. Without food. [What the eff is wrong with me?]

I thought the next section was from 77.2 to 71.6 miles, but it's 84.3 to 77.2; going backward messed up my thinking. Going my way, there's a huge climb for miles at first and I was greeted by dozens of people coming the other way, some of whom I knew immediately, some who I needed a little help remembering and quite a few who were like, "Carrie. I'm Curt's wife. (eventually I recalled that Curt was the guy whose name I couldn't recall an hour earlier.)"

Then there was the woman who said, "Oh your one of the few who finished!" I assured her that I had NOT finished this race and she said, "No. You know. Itasca." Oh, that! Yeah, I finished that. That was not a race to remember.

There was a spot where one's on the edge of a cliff. All that's holding the path is a layer of dirt being supported by the roots of a dead tree, half of which are sticking into air and there's water running through the dirt under the roots in a waterfall. In other words, nothing was holding this up. I recalled the arch at Tettegouche which collapsed and wanted to get clear of this quickly. Doing this in the dark would've been treacherous, but the first runners managed it.

My achilles tendons started to ache, then hurt - badly - like I'd torn both of them severely and I had to walk oddly to keep moving. Still, people going by asked how I was and I'd lie that I was fine; or they'd ask why I wasn't doing the race. I saw Susan Donnelly (who recognized me; she has a great memory for faces, as we've barely met) and thought: 32-hour finisher. As the various 100 mile runners went by, I could think what times they were doing by what they've done before and that gave me an idea of how long before I'd run into those I might pace.

This section is interminable. The region by Cross River was 3 inches of running water over 6 inches of mud churned by runners... on slopes, not just low areas. I saw Dallas Sigurdur, Andy Holak and a guy I didn't know who looked like death warmed-over; I thought Andy must be pacing the unknown guy, but Andy's story was more unusual (he'd been racing for the lead when the weather turned and then he decided to get a night's rest instead and just cruise the next day to a finish). There's a meadow in this section that, like alpine meadows that pop out of nowhere, was gorgeous; the trip was worth it just for that surprise. I was seeing (leopard?) frogs and coyote tracks and weird plants that turned out to be just pine trees stunted and twisted by the terrain and tiny flowers and a bull's-eye made of lichens and a grouse and... well, if it wasn't for the pain and the terrain, it was a great hike. I discovered that rushing water gives me auditory hallucinations even when I'm not exhausted in the middle of the night - sounds like a radio, with voices, static, then eerie music.

I was wondering if I'd be able to pace anyone back to Temperance and my car. I absolutely had to make the next aid station for refueling, so there was no chance before then. I saw Kazimierz Swistun (that's him behind me in the banner photo) and Jim Wilson and Steve Grabowski, Daryl Saari (with Lynn), Kathleen Rytman, John Taylor... The ones I was looking for that I might pace that were left were Bill Pomerenke, Allan Holtz, Alf Sauld, Gary Giannunzio and maybe someone I was forgetting. I was fading. I was hurting. Where was that aid station?

Eventually, I got there and downed a ton of fluid and food, while those who were there working the station wondered why I wasn't wearing a number and going the wrong way, yet eating their food. One there knew me from this race in previous years and from other races. I looked at the list to see who had dropped. There was no one left to pace. Allan, who never drops, apparently found that Leadville 100, Angeles Crest 100, Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim and Superior 100 in the rain - and all in three weeks - was his breaking point. There was a woman there who was crewing for her husband who was doing the 50 mile and I asked if she would give me a lift back to Temperance. She said, "Your the flag guy from Afton, aren't you? How long have you been doing that?" She made room, laid down plastic for me to sit on and I gave her directions to the next aid station so she could get back to her husband.

I've always relied on the kindness of strangers (apologies to Tennessee Williams).

I got to see Daryl, John and Kathleen head out from there toward Carlton and then went to the finish line, where I hoped to talk with those I'd missed. Most of them were getting cleaned up or sleeping, but winner and first-time 100 mile finisher Brian Peterson was his usual perky self, having had several hours to recover. After a little chit-chat with him and my cousin, I was back in the car headed home.

16 miles hiked, 5:20. That'd be just barely a sub-38 hour finish pace.


Scream'n Turtle said...

Oh ,Superior. You got to love it.
Maybe next year uh Steve? 102.6 Miles ?
That is if we can keep these old busted up person's moving for another 363 days!!!!!!!
Take care,

Londell said...

Sorry I missed you... Was at Beaver Bay and the Tettagouche (sp). Went to Sugerloaf at 7 AM to about 9:45 then off to work Oberg (as they were in need) from 11-7. It did start a little flicker inside but not sure I want to go through all that work just to have that beast spit me out again!

wildknits said...

Great to see you out there!

The terrain is tough and the views were spectacular. As miserable as the rain and fog was (and I missed out on the worst of it as I didn't start pacing till it was mostly over) it sure brings out the colors. We are not at peak yet up here on the north shore - give it a week or two and the hills will be blazing with color! This weekend was a just a preview of what's to come.

The aid station folks are the best!! They take good care of the runners and the pacers - and apparently random hikers ;->

SteveQ said...

@Wildknits: The maples had only a few red leaves on the top and were bare below, so I figured they were past peak, but since they're a minor contributor to the color there, they made all the soft yellow and chartreuse pop. I prefer the subtle color to the garish blaring reds of the maples in my yard which is a couple of weeks away.

@Screamin' Turtle and Londell: You guys are going to have to help propel me through the next year and then that race.

Chris Scotch said...

My ultra brain totally spaced when Helen (she was pacing me from Temperance to the finish) and I ran (limped) past you. I wish my neurons would have been firing fast enough for me to at least spit out a "Hello". I enjoyed reading the account of your hike. Hope the Achilles are feeling better and hope to see you again soon.
Chris Scotch

SteveQ said...

@Chris: When I saw you, you had a look on your face I know all too well - determined, but none too happy. Can't wait for your report.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Don't apologize to Ovid! Guy's a total d*ck? (His full Latin Name? Biggus Dickus.)

But if you must, do it in Latin: Me miseret, Biggus Dickus!

RBR said...

Let's see.... what to bitch about first?

Should it be that you say, "It's postcard pretty" and ONCE AGAIN did not bring a camera and did not post any pictures?

Or should I focus on the fact that you set out on a wilderness trail ONCE AGAIN without food or adequate water?

Tough call. I will let you choose.

wildknits said...

Steve, there were plenty of green leaves remaining!!! I think you noticed an early changer. The hills around the Sawbill area will light up with maples soon.

You are right - the subtle changes can be spectacular - and the way the light shone through the trees... it was amazing!!

Hmmm - now to figure out how to get back up there during the peak....

SteveQ said...

@RBR: There's no end of pictures available on the web to show the postcard features of Temperance River; it was foggy and rainy - no chance to get a good photo had I wanted to. As for the food and water thing: I went up there on the one day when I knew others would have stores of food and water all along the course and people could keep an eye on me if anything happened - but I DO have to learn better how to prepare, or get myself a crew to do it for me.

SteveQ said...

@G: Ovid's statement was that everything changes, nothing perishes; mine is everything perishes, nothing changes. That requires an apology.

RBR said...

1. Your readers want to see what YOU saw, not some schmoe on Google images. Hence the request for camera carting in your travels.

2. Crew? What a novel idea!

Miwok 100K in May. It should be sufficiently torturous to meet SQ standards.

And look who is calling who trail trash. I am just saying....

zbsports said...

Great, I was entertained by the post. I learn more things on it. Thanks!!!