Bigfoot Part 4: The Offensive Toad & an Explicative
Spencer Butte to Lewis River (Mile 112.1, 1,282' gain - 2,852' descent)
I ate. I left smiling. When I taped my toe I noticed my feet were starting to feel less tender, which was a big relief since they completely fell apart at my last 200. The next section had a massive descent and was not terribly long. "Bib 17 out," I nodded to the volunteer staff and started to walk. The sun sank low. Back into the woods I went.
The trail changed to deeply beveled mountain bike trail, too rutted to run comfortably in and too steep to navigate quickly. My heels slid in my shoes and my knees felt the pounding decline. I continued to run. Massive inclines rose out of nowhere and I started to sweat. I felt watched. The forest was silent aside from the occasional mountain stream. No wind. No stars. I had the same feeling of suffocating. I had not had service for three days and could not check in with family and friends. I felt alone.
Rob strode up behind me. At first, I was relieved to see a familiar face. However, the company soon made me realize that I had slipped into a dark place. I did not know how much I was struggling until I heard myself talk. "Do you think the rest of the course like this?" I said weakly. "Yeah, I think so," he replied cheerfully. My heart sank. These woods were old and smothering and wet. The trails were brutal.
"You're limping," he pointed out. My right knee had seized up and felt painfully tender behind the joint. "Maybe you're dehydrated." We had just descended a couple thousand feet. Sure, dehydration. Not all the downward pounding. I sipped electrolytes begrudgingly. He was right; the knee unlocked after a few miles.
I felt the first ping of hot tears. I was tired of only seeing ahead ten yards at a time and having faith there was a finish line out there, somewhere. I know how long these races take, but I wanted the end to be closer. I was frustrated at myself for being frustrated. Rob sensed my depression and tried to encourage me. Like my crew, he wanted to do everything to help.
That gave my frustration a target. "I didn't ask for your help," I said defiantly. The words surprised us both. For two days, everyone had been in my pack and dropping things in my lap, hugging my shoulders and touching my feet, trying to comfort me, feed me, cling to me. I tensed my jaw. Being consoled when you are in pain exposes a great sense of weakness. Dependence. I pushed away the vulnerability angrily. I did not want comfort. I was suffering.
Rob got the message and pulled ahead. Alone in the blackness, the tears bulged and began to slip. I did not know what I wanted. I was alone again in the godforsaken trees with a long night ahead. I passed people sleeping on the trail. I continued on, distressed. Refusing to cry.
It was going to get so much worse. I wish someone could've warned me.
The night ground by slowly. I tried to listen to an audiobook, but the story was about a ferocious little heroine who had just axed her ex-Russian spy father in the face after he shot her three times and buried her alive, so in retrospect, perhaps not the best mood-setter for the midnight hours. I clicked it off and continued picking off hills miserably in silence. I finally saw marked campground trails. The aid station must be somewhere ahead. I pulled out my Gaia map. It was not close.
Gradually the sky lightened. I followed the Lewis River forever. Lower falls, middle falls, upper falls, so many falls. I noticed the beauty, and the beauty upset me. This was an incredible opportunity in a breathtaking new place. I should be grateful. Instead I wanted to throw my poles off the next bridge like a spoiled child. I had not slept in days. I was still losing time, and that upset me. My emotions felt irrational, and that upset me. A fist-sized toad in the trail wouldn't move (and that upset me).
When I finally smelled the aid station, I choked up again. I found my crew and dropped into a chair. I apologized for being crabby and didn't say more. None of the food sounded good. I saw a box of cereal I had packed and tried to open it. It wouldn't open, which also upset me. Jenny reached out to help me, but I ripped the top off instead.
My pinky toes were having significant problems; one of the nails had fallen off a few aid stations ago (no big deal, I knew I was losing it anyway) but they were both being smashed by my other toes and the callus underneath was blistering and breaking. Ben came and rubbed my shoulder while the medic started draining. "Enough," I said under my breath, and wiggled away.
Isolation is powerful.
That has been my lesson all summer; the times I isolate are the times I hurt most. By trying to hold out the pain, isolation grips it within.
I wobbled to the sleep tent and dropped to a mattress for another half an hour. Again, I could not sleep. I closed my eyes and listened to the demons and shadows of my emotional wreckage tell me how pathetic I was. Why did I even sign up for this? I was barely running. I should be embarrassed of myself. I shouldn't even pretend to be a runner. I'm not even a damn hiker.
I was already getting up when Brent came to wake me up. He and Jenny had driven over from Portland to pace that day and night. I was indescribably thankful to have a friend after my hellish night. We had a nearly twenty mile stretch coming up with huge climbs and the morning was wet and cold. Ready or not, there I was.
Lewis River to Council Bluff (Mile 131, 5,472' gain - 3,315' loss)
"Who are these trails even made for!" I blurted out. The angles were nonsensical. No one could bike them. No one would hike them. Brent laughed, but I was not amused. Then I laughed a little too. Emotionally I was all over the map, which I did not fully understand.
Slipping off a log and tumbling down a ravine offered a little comedic relief and also unnecessary pain. "What happened!" Brent called down to me.
"Just leave me here," I said dryly, unsure whether I should laugh or cry. I was laying facedown in a net of rocks and sticks staring at water flowing several feet below me, hoping that I didn't break through and fall further. I was not sure what had happened but I knew it stung. Brent reached down and gave me a hand back up. It was either fine or it wasn't, and since it wasn't broken, it was fine.
Bigfoot was hard. Harder than I expected it to be. Much deeper into a forest of insanity than I expected it to be. I was weaker than I expected to be. Having Brent to chat with helped immensely; the focus was no longer internal struggles but rather story swapping. My commitment to the beast did not waiver. Not yet.
Council Bluff to Chain of Lakes (Mile 140.8, 1,740' gain - 1,478' loss)
Jenny picked me up for the one flat, fast section of the course and we kicked the miles down. "I don't know what you've been complaining about," she teased me, "Bigfoot is easy." Her energy and conversation instantly pulled me away from the emotional ledge I kept wandering toward. We joked about these great plains of the Pacific Northwest and how terrifically boring the trails were. I first met Jenny during a race when she was laughing with another woman about "fake running" up hills and shouting "Gravity!" on every downhill.
For a brief moment we entered a clearing and could see sky again. It was overcast, but she pointed out where all the mountains should be anyway. The sun set for the third night, but it did not feel as intimidating with a friend.
We got to Chain of Lakes Aid early in the night; I decided to eat and move on. The next section was almost twenty more miles, grisly and had several water crossings, but Brent was up to the task and I was moving well. Right before we got up to leave, I felt a wave of exhaustion rattle through me. "You ok Jules?" Ben asked. I hesitated. "Maybe I should take a quick nap first," I frowned and tried to make a decision. I did not know what to do. "No, I'll be fine," I decided. There was that word again. I pushed it away.
When I was originally planning for the race, something about "Klickitat" always stuck in my head, like a premonition. Reading the maps, course elevations, even writing it on a drop bag. Klickitat seemed important. It was also the next stop.
Leaving the glow of the aid station, I had no idea I was embarking toward the hardest experience of trail running in my life; the shitty and the gritty were about to descend from the mountaintops.
Bigfoot was about to break me.