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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
 
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  DRY FORK RIDGE TRAINING RUN #2
            
SATURDAY, JUNE 3
 
 
"The shortest way to anywhere is to have good company along."
- unknown
 
 

 

For our second run from Dry Fork Ridge, we definitely had "good company along" - Dave Westlake, who moved from Montana to Sheridan because he and his wife fell in love with the town and wanted to live there. When a suitable position for him became available at the Sheridan Memorial Hospital, the couple relocated. They are very happy with their decision.

Jim wrote a note to the Bighorn message board on the race website to invite other runners to join us for a long run on the course this weekend. Dave is entered in the 100-miler and responded that he was planning a 20-miler from Dry Fork Ridge northwest past Cow Camp (a race aid station location) to Stock Tank (an unmanned aid station) and back. Did we want to join him?

Sure, why not? We're familiar with that part of the course, and it's very runnable. Although Dave described his pace as "slow," it's a relative term and we weren't sure we'd be able to keep up with him. But we'd at least meet him out there and run with him as long as we could.

Above: prolific yellow Balsamroot, blue Lupines, and other wildflowers on today's run.

Jim was considering a 36-mile roundtrip run from Dry Fork to the Footbridge aid station location (where the course crosses the Little Bighorn River), but I think he was wise to do just 20 miles two weeks out from the race. There's usually more danger in over-training than under-training for a race. After all, he just did 50 miles a week ago. By the time we got to the "start" today, Jim had pretty much decided to turn around after ten miles when Dave turned back.

My MO was to keep up with one or both of them if I could do so at a comfortable pace. I don't want to over-do it this close to the race. I was also interested in taking photos because I probably won't take my camera during the race. I'll be very close to the time cut-offs and don't need to spend time composing shots. So I told Jim to go on ahead with Dave if I lagged behind, and don't wait for me. I knew the way, and I'd just turn around when I met them coming back.

Dave's an amiable guy about our age. He did the 52-miler at Bighorn last year and chose this race for his first 100-miler. Brave fella! This is a tough one. Jim did the same thing back in 1999, however. The Leadville Trail 100-miler was his first, and he finished it. Dave has a home-course advantage since he can train on these trails. He should be able to finish the race if he manages his pace, hydration, nutrition, and the myriad of other variables well on race day.

This is a photo of Jim (L) with Cody (black Lab) and Dave (R) with Misty (Australian shepherd) before today's long run:

It was overcast and perhaps 55 degrees at 9 AM when we started running down the dirt jeep road from Dry Fork Ridge at the location of the aid station on race day. It warmed up significantly in a couple hours when the sun came out. A nice breeze helped cool us down on our way back to Dry Fork.

The elevation at Dry Fork is about 7,500 feet. We'd be running a net downhill to 6,500 feet at the Stock Tank, then back up to 7,500 feet. The course is rolling with some short, steep hills both directions. The elevation gain and loss is a lot more than 2,000 feet.

Volunteers at Dry Fork use binoculars to spot runners coming up the long hill during the race so they can have their drop bags ready. Runners in the 50K, 52-miler, and 100-miler all have to climb up to the aid station during the run. It is frustrating because you can see the aid station from about three miles out. It seems to take forever to reach it because many of the runners have to walk uphill much of the way at that point in the race.

But today we were going down the road first, and it was a nice way to warm up our muscles. Just look at all those blue Lupines in the photo below - gorgeous!

Many of my photos going outbound today show Jim and/or Dave because I was usually behind them, taking photos, then hustling to catch back up to them. I heard only about 20% of the conversation between the two men. They had a great time talking with each other and got to the turnaround faster than expected.

We were on this dual-track road for about six miles to Cow Camp, the location of a fully-stocked aid station popular on race day for its bacon. Yum! I don't eat bacon much, but it sure tastes fine during a race. The meadows were just loaded with beautiful flowers the entire way today. The photo below shows more of the blue Lupines within a mile of Dry Fork:

We passed through a burn area about half a mile long. Dave said it was to control the sage brush, which apparently just takes over the meadows. The burn area is not unsightly.

This part of the course goes through several pretty aspen groves:

Now we're approaching Cow Camp:

After passing the aid station, outbound 100-milers begin running on single track and drop down through a (possibly wet) field to this cabin with a spring:

Then we cross a creek and head up a moderately steep hill with this view back toward the cabin; the aid station will be located on the jeep road above the cabin during the race:

It is fun to run down this hill in the 52-miler and on the return of the 100-miler. I hope Jim and I make it this far (about 20 miles outbound, 76 miles coming back). The 50K runners come down from the closest hill in the background of the photo above and then join the 52- and 100-mile course to Dry Fork. The 30K runners are the only ones who don't see this aid station.

Now Dave, Jim, Cody, Misty, and I were on single track for another four miles to the unmanned Stock Tank aid station. There are several stock tanks on the Bighorn course, most or all of which are good sources of water for runners or hikers on these trails. They are located at springs. Some have a pipe from which you can fill a bottle or water bladder, and some look like this one just past Cow Camp:

I took the picture above when Jim and I were running back toward Cow Camp today. It was more convenient for us to get water in this trough than go through the barbed wire at the cabin to reach that spring. Sounds yucky, but the water was clean.

The stock tank at our turnaround today has fallen into disrepair, but the pipe still puts out clean, very cold water. This is the site of the Stock Tank unmanned aid station during the race. Cody loved drinking out of the pipe but I didn't get the camera out in time to see him slurping it up:

Jim and Dave got to the turnaround about five minutes before me and rested another ten minutes, talking and snacking, before turning back. I encouraged the fellas to go on ahead because I knew I'd be taking more pictures on the return. Dave ran the ten miles back mostly alone, but Jim hung back with me as I savored the scenery. We were both able to run quite a bit today, despite not being acclimated to the altitude yet.

There are several nice shady respites in this ten-mile section of the race with either aspens or tall evergreens:

This section is also chock-full of spring wildflowers. They were terribly distracting! I kept stopping to take pictures of yet another "new" flower I hadn't seen yet on the course. I took 75 photos on this 20-mile run. Stopping to take pictures had an advantage in that it let me get my heart rate back down sometimes when it was high. Despite all the photos, it took me "only" about 2:20 hours on the outbound (net down) and 3:00 hours on the return (net up), including all the stops except the turnaround.

Jim and I took a short break at the top of one steep hill on the return. I sat on a stump so my Granny Knees wouldn't complain as much as getting back up, but Jim got down in the grass and flowers. I think he knew what would happen next. Whenever we're at Cody's level, he thinks we're there to play with him!

 

Jim's probably thinking in the photo below, "I can't believe she's still taking pictures!!"

After the long slog back up to Dry Fork Ridge, we rested and continued our altitude acclimation with Dave as we looked back over the course we'd covered and reflected on a very satisfying long run in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges around:

The trails in the Bighorns are the driest we've ever seen them. This is Jim's seventh time here for the race and my fourth. We also came down here to train sometimes when we lived in Billings. There was no snow nearby today. Snowmelt and the various drainage areas, especially at the higher elevations between Porcupine and Footbridge aid stations, usually make the upper part of the course a real mess, but we hear from locals that even it is drier than usual. We went through only one short muddy area today and the rest was "dry as a bone."

Jim and I were pleasantly tired when we got done but we weren't exhausted. I had no swelling or cramping today, thankfully. I drank a lot of Perpetuem and water, but took 'way fewer Endurolyte capsules than I did during the race last week (only five caps total). Maybe I just took too many during Berryman. It wasn't nearly as hot today, though.  Jim's legs felt great today, even better than yesterday. He's recovered very well from his 50 miles last week.

We're both pumped for Bighorn!

FLORA

What an outstanding display of flowers along the trail today - tons of Lupine, Blue Flax, Larkspur, Monks Hood, Forget-Me-Not, Balsamroot, Dandelion, Saxifrage, Wild Rose, Aster, Meadow Chickweed, Western Bistort, Sunflower, Indian Paintbrush, Violet, Sticky Geranium/Crane's Bill (shown below), and others I haven't identified yet. Whew!

I hope they are still out for the race in two weeks. Despite the drought, Dave predicts the flowers will be even prettier on race day and more species will be blooming. The most prolific, healthy flowers have been between 6,000 to 8,000 feet so far. Below that, they are more sparse where we have been. Some through the Tongue River Canyon are wilted. It'll be fun to see what's blooming between 8,000 and 9,000 feet when we get up to the Porcupine Ranger Station area soon.

Dave helped us identify some of the flowers. We also bought the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Wildflowers/Western Region edition to help with wildflower identification this summer. I'll do a separate entry regarding flowers in the Bighorns. If any of the IDs in this journal are incorrect, please let me know.

FAUNA

Jim and I didn't see any large animals during the run today but we saw a huge pile of bear scat along the trail, bigger than any I saw last summer on the Appalachian Trail. I'm more nervous about seeing bears out here than I was on the AT because I know less about them (the ones along the AT usually just run off). Dave said he recently saw some moose and large herds of elk in the valley below Dry Fork. We're hoping to see some on future training runs and perhaps during the race after the runners are spread out.

We had a real treat on the drive back home today, however. Dave was a couple minutes ahead of us on the dirt road. We saw him stopped ahead, pointing to a deer crossing the road hesitantly. Why didn't she just run across like most deer, lickety-split?

Then we saw why: the tiniest spotted fawn we've ever seen was following her, so wobbly it took a while for it to cross the narrow road. We watched nervously for other drivers so the little guy/gal didn't get run over. Dave had gotten closer before we arrived and said the fawn was wet, like it had just been born. He surmised the doe was moving it to a safer location farther from the nearby forest service campground.

We were so mesmerized by the scene that we didn't get the camera out until it was too late to get a good picture. Jim got the doe but only the baby's butt shows behind the tree:

I smiled about that fawn and its mama all the way down to Dayton. It's springtime in the mountains, time for baby deer, antelope, elk, moose, and bears to be born.

Tomorrow will be a rest day, time to relax, read, write, do laundry, and run errands. We plan to do a tough 12-miler on Monday, weather permitting: the 4,000-foot climb through the Tongue River Canyon and up to Horse Creek Ridge, then back down. Only the 100-milers do this climb in the Bighorn race. Everyone else gets to come down through that drainage!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil