If one is resting at A, he explains, and desires to rest in a distant place B, one can only do so by resting for infinitely brief intervals in innumerable intermediate places.  Thus there is no difference essentially between what happens when one is resting at A before the start of the ‘journey’ and what happens when one is ‘en route’, i.e., resting in one or other of the intermediate places.  (Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman)

4:45pm, the day before:  David Ayala and I pore over an IMTUF 100 course map and elevation profile, debating target times and starting pace.  I advocate for nine-minute miles, David makes the case for ten.  We are near the north end of Payette National Forest, leaning against a crude counter while an ancient barn looms over us.  The barn and counter belong to Burgdorf Hot Springs.  A woman from Silverton, Colorado walks by and introduces us to her three-month-old pig, Simba, who just made a 14-hour car ride.

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Course profile.  106 miles, 22,000 vertical feet.

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Lodging at Burgdorf Springs.  Photo: Mike Ormsby.

6:00am, mile 0:  Sunrise is an hour away and it’s 28ºF at Burgdorf.  I am shoulder-to-shoulder with 122 other racers.  Jer Humphrey lifts an elk bugle and signals the start with the sound of 30 toddlers screaming through a length of flexible tubing.   Everyone jogs and chats and headlamp beams bob across the dirt road.

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With David at the starting line.  Photo:  Sarah Biber Ormsby

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Mile 0.  Photo:  Sarah Biber Ormsby

7:40am, mile 11:  The lead pack cruises in to Loon Lake.  David and I are at the front.  A photographer snaps photos and I try to look casual and relaxed.  I am casual and relaxed.  Why am I trying to look that way as well?  Marshaling an unexpected amount of effort, I pry the cap off a green chisel tip Sharpie marker and scrawl a small X between the 9 and 7 on the race bib pinned to my shorts, signifying that I have not skipped the half mile excursion to the lake shore.  I share encouragement and smiles with the dozen other racers I see on my way back to the Loon Creek Trail loop.

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Arriving at Loon Lake.  Photo: Howie Stern.

10:25am, mile 27:  David, Jesse Langner, and I crest Diamond Ridge, the first notable climb on the course.  The air is thin and the sky is slightly overcast.  The wind whistles through the trees.  Distant crowds cheering on our run?  In pure Ayalaian fashion, David plummets down the descent trail, propelled by gravity and a childhood of competitive skiing and Zion slickrock hopping.  My own descending chops have improved over the past year, but they’re no match.

11:20am, mile 33:  I cruise into Upper Payette, handing off my race vest to my crew: wife Sarah, mom Cindy, and dad Mike.  They inform me that David is five minutes ahead.  Gels and water are added to the pack.  I wipe my face with a washcloth.  Sarah applies spray-on sunscreen to any exposed skin.  I get a summary of the upcoming chunk of course:  a short flat followed by a gradual 1,200-footer and quick downhill to Snowslide Trailhead, about 15 miles total.

11:40am, mile 35:  I see David ahead on the trail and announce my presence with a quick turkey call.  (I learned how to do this from Sarah, and got a lot of practice with the flock in Berkeley.)  We run together.

1:10pm, mile 43:  The ecstasy of pear chunks, perfectly ripe, in a tupperware on a plastic picnic table decorated with rubber duckies.

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Nearing Duck Lake.

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David and Ana ascend Snowslide.

2:40pm, mile 50:  I crest Snowslide Summit with Bow Angemi, my pacer, after 47 minutes of hard power hiking.  It’s been raining and the rocks are slick.  We followed David and his pacer/girlfriend, Ana, up the steep, 2,000′ climb, but David has now bombed off the backside of the mountain, careening through primitive switchbacks in an avalanche chute.  I focus my thoughts on efficient, smart running, but feel my energy lag as I approach Lake Fork.  David accumulates a 15-minute lead on the descent and I speculate that it will only grow.

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Ascending Fall Creek to Crestline.  Photo: Rick Valentine.

6:00pm, mile 68:  I’ve been running for 12 hours and am 18 miles past the furthest I’ve ever run before, trotting down the backside of Fall Creek Summit, the most difficult and penultimate major climb in the race.  David is an unknown distance ahead of me, but I am in second, slightly euphoric and slightly clumsy, reflecting on the impossibility of time as I skip down the Crestline Trail in Payette National Forest.  Rick Valentine, my pacer, trots behind me, intermittently stopping to snap photos and text them to my nervous crew.

6:10pm, mile 69:  Rick is somewhere, peeing or taking pictures.  I’m navigating an ATV track through rolling hills, high above McCall and nearly everything else in the area.  The rain has knocked the dust down and this section is reasonably runnable.  I’m gamely jogging, but my stride is far from energetic.  A runner comes up on my shoulder.  “How’s it going, Rick?”  Silence.  “Is that Rick?”  “This is Elliott.”  “Oh….  Hi, Elliott.  How’s it going?”  “Pretty well.”  “These are beautiful trails.”  “They are.”  “Good luck out there.”  “Good luck.”  I am in third place.

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Crestline at dusk.  Photo: Rick Valentine.

8:15pm, mile 74:  An insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air descends on Crestline Trail.  Rick and I force our way to the Box Creek aid station before rummaging for headlamps in race vests.  At the aid station, we find six goats: four large white goats, and two brown kids who, with the assistance of several humans, have established this makeshift backcountry camp.  There is a fire and there is hot soup and there is water.  Rick snaps my photo with one of the goats, and we head back out to the wet trail just as Sam Ritchie enters Box Creek with his pacer.

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Receiving some love from one of Box Creek’s cheer goats, Buzz.  Photo: Rick Valentine.

9:15pm, mile 78:  Sam double poles past me with authority on the dark, misty climb to North Crestline.  “Where are you from?”  “Boulder.”  “I’ve heard of it.  Do they have mountains there?”  “They do.”

11:45pm, mile 89:  I shuffle into Upper Payette for the second time, a hypothermic, despondent zombie who has just had treefuls of cold water poured under his rain jacket by the foliage choking the 1.5 mile sheep path known as Terrible Terrence.  I have finished the crux Crestline section of the course and only have 15 miles to the finish: a 2,500′ climb up Bear Pete Ridge to finally break 8,000′ feet and then a screaming descent back to Burgdorf.

My crew welcomes me and I demand warmth.  I am settled into a chair and fed hot broth and coffee and begin the slow process of changing into dry clothes.  I am ready to quit.  Why would I continue?  I have nothing to prove.  I am cold and exhausted and have run further and harder than I ever have before and finish lines are arbitrary human constructs that signify nothing and I should quit.  Despite the absolute necessity of me quitting, I am given ibuprofen and electrolyte pills and am told that I will finish.  My crew swarms around my peripheral, full of care and anxiety.  “Keep going.”  “You can do it.”  Bow stands ready to shepherd me over Bear Pete.  “You’ll turn the corner.”  “You didn’t say you could quit because you’re cold and tired.”  The race director appears, eyes shining, and encourages me onwards.  “Has he had caffeine?  Someone find him a caffeine pill.”

Finally, a bargain is offered:  Just continue to Cloochman Saddle.  The crew will be there.  It’s only five miles away and I can quit there if I still want to.  Grudgingly, I agree.  Sarah delivers a 200mg caffeine pill as I pull on my warmest mittens and trot out of camp with Bow, the trail briefly marked by glowing Chinese lanterns.  The 25-minute rest has reinvigorated my legs and my core temperature is back up.  I’m not setting any speed records, but I’m on my way running again.

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Bargaining at Upper Payette.  Photo: Rick Valentine.

2:50am, mile 99:  I am swimming through pea soup at 8,000′.  I should have seen the aid station a mile ago, and it’s impossible to make out the topography of this place for all the fog.  Bow and I keep picking out pink streamers marking the course, but I begin to wonder if we are retracing our steps.  Maybe we’ve made a loop on Bear Pete ridge and we’re going to repeat it all night long.

3:10am, mile 100:  The Bear Pete aid station.  An offer of whiskey from strangers in sweatshirts by a roaring fire.  The HAM radio operator is chipper and caffeinated, alternately wearing a reflective vest and a huge blanket.  A few moments of warmth and then off, to the finish.

4:10am, mile 105:  The jarring descent trail gives way to gravel road and a woman in a white pickup truck parked at the trailhead hollers encouragement.  “One more mile to go!”  I make out headlamps in the dark.  First my dad, and then Sarah and Rick join me and Bow.  This may be the longest Sarah and I have run together since she started her third trimester.  There is chatter and people seem excited.  My face is a mask and my eyes must be a half inch deeper in their sockets.

We cross the finish line at 4:20am to the applause of my mom, race directors Jer and Brandi, and David and Ana.  There is also the enthusiastic wriggling of my dog, Aesop.  I collapse into Sarah’s arms, heave-sobbing, and then we hobble — could this body ever run? — to the Burgdorf office.  A runner who has dropped is curled asleep on a sofa by the wood stove, and the lead HAM operator sits at a table recording splits from across the course.

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Belt buckle AND bottle opener.

6:30am:  A bowl of minestrone soup sits on the kitchen table of our rented cabin in McCall, Idaho.  I consider the impossibility of excavating its Martian surface with my spoon.  The hard boiled eggs to the side of the bowl are too foreign to contemplate, but I manage to consume one in four fearful bites.  My forebrain flickers with awareness of my 11,000 Calorie deficit and then sputters into reptile acquiescence.  I shuffle to bed and join my wife and her enormous belly.


Acknowledgments:  Sarah for her patience, mom and dad for their support, Bow and Rick for their audacity, Joelle and Trail Factor for their encouragement, David for conspiring, Jer and Brandi for their care, all the volunteers for all the million things, Ben Nelson for his craft, and de Selby for the title of this post.

Other drama:  David won the race in 19:52, breaking Seth Swanson’s 2012 course record by 1 hour 14 minutes.  Sam passed Elliott in the final two miles.  Both of them were under the old course record and they finished within four minutes of each other.  The top four women were under the old course record as well, led by Darla Askew in a time of 26:42.  Of the 123 starters, 78 finished the race under the 36-hour cutoff; Julie Seydel received a finishing time of 36:01:19.

Supplementary material:  Slightly erratic GPS track (watch was off for 3.5 miles headed out of South Crestline; satellites lost in the fog on Bear Pete), race website, results.