The Bear 2014, Miles of Mud

It was mile forty-five, and Dad was sick. He sat in the van, shivering and shaking, mumbling incoherent little nothings. The family had been in the van, watching him, for the past hour.  I thought his race was over. I really did. It would be a disappointment, of course, but nobody would fault him for giving up. The day had been record hot – upper eighties – and the course, which ran through the winding single-track trails of Cache National Park, Logan, Utah, United States of America, Earth, Spinning Orbit of our Sun, was quite exposed. Dad got blasted with Vitamin D.

At mile thirty-six he started puking.

None of the family was there to see it. We were only allowed to see him at miles twenty, thirty, thirty-five, forty-five, and so on. So he had been vomiting, running, vomiting, walking, vomiting, running, vomiting, walking, for nine miles before he saw our familiar faces.

And now he had heat exhaustion.

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We had been up since four in the morning. The race started at six. By the time Dad was at mile forty-five, the leaders were through eighty.

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One minute at a time Dad came back to us. First the shivering slowed, and then stopped. The glassy look in his eyes faded. He said something coherent.

“God damn sons of bitches heat fuckeroni.”

Next thing I knew he was out of the van. Mom and Ava gave him water, orange slices. He ate the slices, and then a minute later ralphed them back up.

“Stupid sucking rat shit ass liver meat.”

He gave me the nod. I’d been called up.

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So here was the original plan. This was life in a perfect world: I crew with Mom and Ava through mile fifty. Then I hop on for the second half of the race with Dad and act as his running companion through the thick of the night. Mom and Ava would then continue crewing for Dad without me. We would finish the race just after sunrise the next morning, a successful hundred mile ultramarathon completed in just over a day.

Wishful thinking.

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I was hopping on with Dad at mile forty-five. At that point, what are four miles but a few extra drops in the proverbial bucket? I was excited, and nervous – this was going to be my longest run by nearly double … at twenty-eight miles Maroon Bells looked little more than a small puddle of piddle compared to the fifty-four that lay ahead of us.

We started slow. Our first six miles were all uphill. I talked to Dad, saying not much of anything in particular. I told him about that time on Bike & Build when I thought Nicholas Cage was from Eureka, Montana.

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We made it to mile fifty after a length of time. It was full dark, no stars. Dad had a cup of chicken broth and then waddled off to go vomit into the high grasses.

“Cock ass wringmeat buttplug granny tits!”

He was feeling better.

The next little section we ran for a while. About a mile in all. It felt wonderful. Then we hit a ridgeline and the wind picked up and our footing deteriorated and there came down the fine freezing drizzle of cold mountain rain. Our clothes were not waterproof. We were soaked to the bone.

My thoughts turned inwards as I settled into a dark place.

Many times I thought about telling Dad “I quit!” and “Good luck.” But I didn’t. He was going through the same night as me. Because of the aid stations spacing we weren’t going to see Mom or Ava for six hours. The long black night was ours and ours only.

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My emotions ranged wildly during this time. The rain fell, and then stopped, and my mood lifted. And then it began again, and I dropped deeper than before. My world was confined to the bubble of light my headlamp thrust. It was all shrubs and wet trail. Trail that would soon become mud. Thick, unwieldy muck.

We would climb a mountain, reach its peak, and then descend down the other side. The downs were as difficult as the ups – the mud made it impossible to run. Our pace slowed. I was so cold.

I don’t know what all Dad and I said to each other that night. It wasn’t much. There wasn’t anything to say. This was an experience we had to go through alone. We were just lucky to have each other nearby.

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It rained hardest just before dawn. Our trail became a small creek, and the best footing was found in the running waters. Exiting the trail Dad slipped, fell, and crashed off the trail into a deep ditch. His head missed a large rock by a foot. I fell running after him. My head missed the large rock by a foot as well, but on the other side.

We were muddy, and wet, and cold, and exhausted when the sun broke the horizon. But Mom and Ava were waiting for us with fresh clothes. We rested, drank coffee, and continued.

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The sun was out but the rain fell. The devil was beating his wife. Our trail became a slippery slope of ankle-deep mud. Our race became one against the clock.

My feet began to feel as if their bottoms were racked with blister atop blister. It hurt to walk. I gritted my teeth and continued on. Dad was more talkative now. We considered life, how it is very similar to a race of this sort.

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We walked along our last ridgeline. With ten miles to go it was raining harder than before. My head was exposed. I got the chills.

When we arrived at our final aid station I went and shivered in the car. I changed shirts. I put on a hat. I protected myself.

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Dad and I climbed the last mountain, descended through the thick mud, and ran in the final two miles. Ava joined us those last five minutes, Mom the final five steps. We finished as a family.

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