That quote pretty well summarizes one of the more important things I've
learned during my sixty years: where's the challenge, the FUN, if
everything you do turns to gold? It helps explain why race DNFs don't bother me
much and why I'm willing to take some risks that others would not. Who cares if
I don't always reach my original goal? I might learn or discover something else
that's even better.
Today's little adventure in the mountains is but a tiny illustration of
adapting to circumstances and reaching an equally-satisfying goal by being
flexible. I'll summarize the last three days
and two more training runs in one entry for brevity's sake.
Ha! Since when was I ever brief??
SUNDAY, MAY 24: JIM'S LONG DRY FORK-BEAR CAMP
I was serious when I wrote in the last entry that Jim is much
better trained for distance, mountains, and moderately high
altitude than I am.
Our little trek up the Tongue River Canyon to Horse Creek Ridge
and back on Saturday made me sore enough to want two days of
rest before my next foray onto the Bighorn race course. My
glutes, the tops of my illiotibial bands, and the muscles behind
one knee were sore from that run/hike, and my shoulder blades
were sore from lots of rotator cuff strengthening exercises. I'm
pretty diligent with my self-PT program and can see results --
mostly better sleep -- but neither shoulder is completely healed
yet. Ironically, the muscles that protested during the run
Saturday (calves, hams, quads, Achilles) were just fine the next
I stayed at the campground in Dayton on Sunday and accomplished
a variety of tasks like house (camper) cleaning, journaling,
writing e-letters, and giving
Cody a bath. I wasn't a complete sloth, however. I took Cody for
a long walk and then rode our mountain bike through town. I was
surprised to find so many houses; I'd never gotten very
far off the main thoroughfare previously.
Meanwhile, Jim returned to the mountains and did an eight-hour
training run from the Head of the Dry Fork to Bear Camp and back.
Jim doesn't have the same affinity for carrying a camera with
him that I do so there are no pictures to document any of those
26 miles. Tired legs, a voracious appetite, a big smile on his
face, a roller-coaster GPS track, and an interesting verbal description were
evidence enough for me of Jim's fine day in the mountains. The
photos in this first section are ones I took of flowers on
Saturday. Jim was running at about the same elevations today
(approx. 6,000-7,500 feet) where these flowers were blooming
three days ago.
The weather at the campground on Sunday was mostly overcast, up
to 68°F., with a few sprinkles. I
wondered what it was doing in the mountains where Jim was, since
it rains more often up there than down in Dayton. He lucked out
with overcast skies, minimal rain during his run, and temps in
the 40s and 50s, just about perfect for a person with
sun-sensitive skin. The most rain he got was on the 38-mile
drive back down to Dayton in the late afternoon.
Since Hwy. 14A only recently opened
up near Burgess Junction, we wondered what the dirt forest
service road would be like on the way to Dry Fork. Jim drove
over some snow in shady spots but there was no snow on any of
the trails he ran at the lower elevations in this section. It
was a good choice of trails to run early-season. The six miles
between Dry Fork and Cow Camp are on an exposed jeep road. The
single-track trails between there and Bear Camp had more mud
from melting snow but weren't too messy.
The lupine in the middle of the cow pie
isn't blooming yet but it should be
spectacular when it does, considering how
well-fertilized it is!
Cody isn't trained for such a long
run right now so Jim was on his own Sunday. He wasn't totally
without company, however. He did see another man training for
the 100-miler, as well as race committee members Rich Garrison
and Karen Powers (twice), who were also doing an out-and-back
run to check on course conditions. And there were the occasional
rabbits and deer . . . but no elk or moose sightings that
Jim was pleased with his long run and happy to find the course
in relatively good shape. The cool weather suited him fine and
helped him run a faster pace. He was able to refill his water
bottles regularly from springs along the trail. He managed his
calories and electrolytes well, also.
MONDAY, JUNE 25: A QUIET MEMORIAL DAY
By now, Jim needed some rest, too, although he was game for a
stroll around the campground and nearby Scott Centennial Park. We had a relaxing day in
beautiful, mild, sunny weather. I did several of the same
activities (including another long walk and bike ride) that I
did on Sunday. I was pleased to be much less sore.
The Tongue River flows high and fast past
the campground on 5-25-09.
Jim was so
bored after lunch that he offered to go do laundry in Ranchester
and shop at WalMart in Sheridan. Thank you, Sweetie!
We also took time to plot our future
training runs on the Bighorn course. Where should we go
TUESDAY, JUNE 26: STYMIED BY SNOW ON THE RILEY
Since Jim had no trouble driving the long dirt road into Dry Fork on Sunday we
decided our next training run would also begin there and include about eight miles of
rough jeep roads and single-track trails that Jim doesn't even
run in his race; it is exclusive to the 50K.
On the road to the Head of the Dry Fork
I call it the "Riley Loop," about fourteen miles total from the
location of the Dry Fork aid station,
up a jeep road to Riley Point,
down a sometimes-steep single track trail to Cow Camp, and back
to Dry Fork on another jeep road. We'd start at about 7,650
feet, go up fairly gradually to almost 8,600 feet, drop rather
precipitously in a couple miles to about 6,500 feet at Cow Camp,
and gradually climb back up to 7,650 feet at the end.
That was the plan, anyway.
Jim and Cody play in a patch of snow at Dry
Fork; Freeze Out Road is in the upper left corner.
I really like this loop and wanted to share it with Jim because
he's never been up to Riley Point before. I've done the whole
loop twice previously in the 50K but never on a training run and
never when it has been unmarked. I was certain of the way to the
Point, but not so sure I'd be able to navigate correctly through the woods below it. The last time I was there, two years ago, a
lot of trees that came down in a storm the week before the race
hadn't been cleared and runners had to do some detours. I had no
idea what shape the trail would be in today and how much snow
would obscure the narrow trail.
Frosty Pasque Flowers on a chilly morning
near Dry Fork
We figured the worst that could happen was being unable to find
all of the trail below Riley Point and having to backtrack. No
big deal; miles are miles unless you're off-course in a
Ha! To make a long story short(er), we got all of 3½
miles into the jeep road . . . and there was so much snow
at one point that we couldn't even figure out how to follow the
ROAD to Riley Point!!
Beginning of the road that goes to Riley Point
It's funnier in retrospect than it
was several hours ago, after we'd been post-holing off and on for two
The jeep road quickly gains
elevation from Dry Fork (photo above) to 8,000 feet in less than
Looking back down to Dry Fork; there are no
leaves on the deciduous trees yet.
It was fairly muddy in places from
snowmelt, which made climbing more difficult. This is the type
of mud that sticks to your shoes and weighs you down. It was
like that in my race two years ago, too, only without as much
We encountered more and more snow
between 8,000 feet and our high point of about 8,588 feet, which
we reached after about 2½ miles.
Some of the snow was hard enough
for us to walk on without falling through. Most of the time we
fell through the crust or simply sank in soft snow.
Although a few people had been
through the snow before us and left big holes to tell us where
NOT to tread, the snow had melted sufficiently
since their passage that if you were the lead dog, there wasn't
any way to tell if you'd stay on top of it or sink unexpectedly to your
knee or farther. That's a lot of fun when your other foot is
still on top of the snowbank!
Fortunately, Jim's faster and was
usually ahead of me. If he stayed on top of hard snow, I
followed in his footsteps. If he fell through, I tried an
alternative route. (But don't tell him I did that!) Cody seemed
to catch on to that drill after a while, too.
I hesitated at one intersection
because the road looked so different than it does when the snow
has melted. We did go the correct way that time (I recognized
the fence in the photo above after we'd gone a couple hundred
yards) but we were
tired enough from post-holing by the 3½-mile point (below) that we
decided to turn around instead of trying to find the correct
route and forging on.
Where we re-grouped and turned around
I figured if the snow was that deep
on the road where the sun was more likely to melt it, it would
be even worse in the deep woods below Riley Point. So we
post-holed our way back to 8,000 feet elevation and ran the rest
of the muddy road back down to Dry Fork.
I'm not giving up on running the entire Riley Loop before the
race, just re-grouping today. We'll give it another try after
more snow melts.
So far we had seven tough miles
that took us three hours to negotiate. True masochists, we
wanted more time on our feet -- but without the snow, thank you.
Ultra runners aren't easily
discouraged, even on training runs when nobody's keeping score.
They are also typically adaptable people, making it up as they
go, if necessary. Jim and I had a new plan well before we got
back to Dry Fork.
We optimistically decided to hike
up Freeze Out Road from Dry Fork to the top of the ridge, a
steady climb from 7,650 to 8,000 feet in about 1¼ miles
each way. .
We would have been able to run more if we'd
gone a little further and stayed entirely on the dry,
(above) instead of taking the tangent the race uses on animal trails
through a drainage area for half the distance. We got into more
rocks, mud, and water there but heck, we were already wet and muddy so
we just hiked up the way the race course goes:
I always like the view back down the valley toward Dry Fork from
Freeze Out Road at the top of the ridge:
We decided to go back down the same
route (next photo). Jim and Cody took one last opportunity to chase
snowballs (second photo down).
We're hoping the course dries out a
lot before race weekend June 18-19, but this area is still
typically wet and/or muddy then with all the water flowing
through it. There's been a little progress snow-wise already;
since Jim was up here two days ago, he noticed there was less
snow on the dirt road to Dry Fork.
Jim and I are both tired puppies
tonight from this workout and accumulated fatigue from our
earlier runs over the weekend. My knees hurt today coming down
both mountains so I walked more than Jim did on the descents.
I'm hoping the muscles around my knees will strengthen as I
continue to train so I'm not in too much pain during the race.
Despite the whining I'm doing, the
views were as magnificent as usual from both ridges we climbed
today. There aren't very many flowers blooming yet at these
higher elevations. It will be fun to watch their progression
over the next four weeks. In addition, today's weather was very
It was sunny and in the 40s-60s F. in
the mountains while we hiked and ran. We shed clothes as the sun
warmed us up (below). By mid-afternoon it was in
the low 70s back at camp. So far we've had mostly sunny days,
mornings in the low 40s in Dayton (elev. about 4,000 feet), and
around 70°F. during the day, which is normal for this time of
year. Love it!
It was warm at 8,500 feet, despite all the
snow around us on the road to Riley Point.
[IMPORTANT CLUE TO OUR TRAVEL M.O.:
This is what we consider to be our perfect "temperature
window," the range in degrees that we seek all year long as we travel
from place to place. Much under or over those temps and we're
uncomfortable. That's why you'll find us in the Rocky Mountains in the summer,
the Southwest in the winter, and our Virginia
house in the spring and fall.]
It took us a while to get the mud
off our shoes, clothing, bodies, dog, and truck when we got back
to the camper. Cody was probably the
cleanest of the three of us because of all the time he spent
splashing through water and rolling in snowbanks today. He's so
funny. When he sees snow, he makes a beeline toward it and
starts rolling around in it, even when he's wearing his pack.
Jim likes to egg him on:
We spent the rest of the
day mostly relaxing. I enjoy sitting at my desk, watching what's
going on outside my windows when I need a break from
reading or writing: rabbits and cats teasing
Cody to give chase (they quickly learn exactly how far his cord
reaches!), squirrels cavorting in the trees, the Hoods
doing various chores in the nearby cabins and grounds, other
campers walking around and visiting.
It's usually quite peaceful and idyllic
here. I'm glad we decided to spend a month at Foothills this
Next entry: slaying the dragon (you'll just have to stay
tuned in to find out what that means!)
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil