Good friend Garry Harrington was supposed to pace me from Grouse to Cunningham, but he couldn’t go because of fatigue issues. I was looking forward to running again with Garry. We had run the entire 100 miles together at Bighorn as we were both in need of a qualifier for this race. Garry had recruited Durango Colorado’s Steve Collins to pace me through this section. Steve proved that he knew this whole section of course from memory without having to rely upon course markers.
As Steve took over the pacing from Grouse Gulch to Cunningham I think that we did pretty well on the climb to Handies. Once we summited, a new friend named Sarah from New York was there cheering for New York and New Jersey to get over the pass. After the race she told me that she couldn’t remember what State I was from so she cheered for both. I remember saying at the top that I was incoherent and had to get down fast, but I was still hiking well.
The road down to Sherman took a lot out of me. I should have been running this section, but I mostly power walked due to the heat. When I got to Sherman I was in bad shape for me and it was only mile 71 or so. I took my time swapping my gear and gathering supplies. After eating a huge PBJ and downing a few Cokes I no longer was thinking about taking a nap. I finally started to feel good enough to hit the trail again.
By the time that I reached Pole Creek I felt that I was in danger of overheating. I wasn’t sure if I was headed for a heat stroke, dehydration or what the problem was. I had to cool down or I’d end up on the side of the trail or worse my race would be over. First we started drenching my cap and bandana in water along Pole Creek. Next I was dunking my shirt as well. Finally, after I laid down in the creek with my feet on the embankment a few times. I started to feel better, like I was cooling down. Luckily I didn’t lose too much time. As we continued to Maggie Gulch I placed snow under my cap to keep my core temperature down.
At Maggie Gulch I was crashing again. I was thinking about taking a nap, which I had never done before in a race. An awesome aid station volunteer suggested that I have a coffee and some soup. I am a coffee hound by nature, but never had a good experience drinking it on race days. Although it was a black coffee and I like mine with lots of sugar and milk I was feeling good in minutes. Off we went.
As we reached Cunningham we encountered a huge mob of sheep. At the pre-race briefings, we were warned that a few hikers had been bitten by sheep dogs just before race day. It’s interesting that the dogs guard the flock without human intervention and they are very protective. Pacer Steve was parting the sea of sheep and we picked up the pace through them. There were thousands! The sheep were so loud that it reminded me of running through Wellesley during the Boston Marathon. Steve was waving his arms and yelling at them, scaring them off in full stride. I laughed at the time because he looked like Ford Prefect using his towel to chase Vogon’s away (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference for those not familiar). After we got through there was one lone lamb just standing there bleating at us with their little black face. Poor bugger got separated on the wrong side of the trail. Good thing that we didn’t see any sheep dogs though.
With another mile to Cunningham we started running harder for one of the few times, only to get to that tricky descent into the aid station. It seemed like it took another 45 minutes or an hour. Now I know that a Hardrock mile is really 2 or 3 miles. Right Steve?
At Cunningham the whole crew was there; Joe, Barry, Elizabeth, Karl and Garry. I wasn’t sure who was going to pace me to the finish. I had assumed that it would be Elizabeth since she knows me as a runner better than anyone. She had also paced me in my fastest 100 miler at Vermont in 2012 and at Western States last year. Steve had also offered to bring me home to the finish.