Saturday, December 30, 2017


I hunt.  Mostly big game like deer and elk, occasionally birds and small game.  I grew up hunting, and since the hunting seasons were relatively short compared to the rest of the year, I spent even more time dreaming of hunting.  Hunting excursions with my dad and brothers were my first exposure to the ridges, valleys and trails in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. As I grew older and more independent, I found myself exploring more and more of the terrain around Millcreek and Parleys Canyons, in search of the perfect place to find that big buck deer or bull elk that I dreamt of.  Every now and then, I would come across some one RUNNING the trails that I was struggling to hike up.  And while it seemed crazy and beyond my abilities to run such ridiculous terrain, it was slightly intriguing.  Fast forward a few years, and I had actually grown to enjoy, and (gasp) even crave running.  I ran a marathon or two a year to stay in shape, and to give me a goal to focus on.  Fast forward a couple more years, I was finished with graduate school, had moved back to Salt Lake City to begin a career and raise a family, and I was focused on hunting again, and running those trails I had thought were un-runnable to stay in shape for hunting season. One September afternoon in 2004, I pulled up to a trailhead I had been frequenting, to bow-hunt for elk.  Instead of the usual 3-4 trucks parked there, it was overflowing with cars, tents, plastic pink flamingos, spectators blowing horns and ringing cowbells, and runners.  Lots of runners.  Yes, it was the Big Mountain Aid Station for the Wasatch 100 mile Endurance Run.  Dressed in camouflage, I joined the spectators for a while and watched the runners come through the aid station.  I talked to crew, and pacers.  I watched the struggles some of the runners were already having just 40 miles into the run.  Some dropped out, but most persevered.  After hunting along the Great Western Trail the rest of the afternoon and evening, I woke up the next morning absolutely fascinated by what I had seen the day before, and couldn’t get the thought of those runners, STILL running, out of my mind.  So, I drove up to the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah, the Finish of the Wasatch 100, and I watched as these amazing, tenacious, gritty and absolutely unbelievable runners of all shapes, age and size ran, walked, and stumbled across the Finish Line.  And I was hooked, I knew that the Wasatch 100 was something I needed to do.  The following September, I was one of the lucky ones that were able to run, walk and stumble my through the Wasatch Mountains and across the Finish Line at the Homestead Resort. 

What was to be a one and done type of event, has turned into a huge part of my life, helping define who I am, what is important to me, and how I spend a large portion of my recreational time.  While hunting was still part of who I was and what I identified with, instead of moving slowly through the woods, or sitting on a ridge top with a pair of binoculars waiting to see what would step out of the trees, I was seeing how efficiently I could move along those trails, and how fast I could get from ridge-top to ridge-top.

The past few years, however, as the seasons transition from Summer to Fall, I have felt the cravings of moving stealthily through stands of golden aspen, of smelling the rich musky odor of rutting bull elk, and listening to those bulls screaming their challenge into the frosty September air. The majority of my bow-hunts this year have been quick affairs before work or over a lunch break, and I have needed my fitness to get from one spot to the other as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

I’m still moving as fast as I can, but once I get to the ridgeline or peak I am focused on, the game changes from speed to patience.  It’s proven to be a fun way to combine my running and hunting passions, and I have started to call it “Runting”.   While my runting excursions have not yet been successful from the perspective of harvesting a deer or elk with my bow and arrow, they have been rewarding in beautiful sunrises and sunsets, in close encounters with wildlife that are easy to run by if you’re not paying attention, and in gaining an intimate connection with some of the land and mountains I have “sped” through in years past. 

Whatever your preferred method of travel, or reason to spend time outside, it’s good for the soul to change things up now and then.  What a wonderful Fall it’s been. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wasatch Farewell Tour – The Millwood 100

Finish - Photo Christian Johnson
The idea occurred on July 8th, somewhere near the bottom of Beartrap Fork. Greg had asked me to join him for a section of his Millwood 100 run (see report below). That afternoon we had sauntered together to the top of Gobblers Knob, along the Desolation Trail to Big Water, along the Great Western Trail and were now descending to the Big Cottonwood Canyon road. It was fun and nostalgic being back on these trails that I know so well after having lived abroad the past five years. I decided then that I would run the Millwood 100 as a celebratory farewell run before moving to a new job in Switzerland in September.

I wanted my Millwood 100 experience to be uncomplicated, reflective, and challenging. I decided I would run alone, have minimal aid stops and move fast enough that I could be showered and in bed before nightfall on day two.

In the month following Greg’s run I ran most of the route to ensure that I had it seared in my memory. I focused on maximizing vertical, averaging 30K+ climbing every week. I practiced with the ‘sticks’ knowing that I would need a little extra help on some of the long climbs.

The first part of my run was uneventful. I moved well up Neffs in the dark after a 5:10 departure, realized on the climb to Grandeur that I was carrying more food than I needed for the first 27 mile leg, got off track as I always do on the descent to the Mount Aire saddle and made it to my first replenishment stop at the Terraces having had a wonderful morning. Leg two to big Cottonwood Canyon was also uneventful. The climb to Gobblers Knob as usual was a bit of a chug at the end, I was reminded I am getting old as my legs no longer have the quickness to move fast on technical trail such as the rocky ridge down to Baker Pass, I chased a porcupine a good quarter of mile along the Desolation Trail, received a “whoop and hurrah” from George Odell who was mountain biking on the Great Western Trail before descending down BearTrap to the Big Cottonwood Canyon road at 49 miles for aid stop #2.

I was super pleased to have reached the BCC road by 6:30 and set a goal of getting up Days Fork and back down Silver Fork before dark. On the trail to Shadow Lake I had the first of many moose encounters with three pairs of glowing eyes not sure what to make of my single glowing eye. At 10:30 I made it to Silver Lake where aid stop #3 would be at my house. I had initially had some concerns that I would walk in the door and decide that 62 miles was enough and take a hot shower and go to bed. As I entered the garage (I was under clear instructions to not bring my dirty body into the house) Adrienne welcomed me with a cheese omelet, cold chocolate milk and clean socks. I was out of the garage and back on the trail in less than 10 minutes.

Fueled by the high fructose corn syrup in the chocolate milk and the almost full moon rising from the east I made good time up to Twin Lakes Pass. I found the Brighton Cirque trail to be challenging as my desire to move fast across technical terrain exceeds the abilities of my failing eyesight and balance. “Careful,” I kept telling myself. I made it down to Albion Basin by 12:30. On the climb up to Baldy I felt drops of rain. “How could that be?” I asked myself. It had been a clear sky when I had left Brighton and I had opted not to bring my rain jacket. Over the coming hours it would rain off and on – leaving the trail slippery and me concerned about keeping warm.  However, I felt good and was moving well.

I reached Cardiff Pass at 2:30 and had a “Houston we have a problem” moment. I was ahead of my planned splits and I would have to cover the section over Carbonate Pass in the dark. The traverse sans trail to the Carbonate track (trail is not an accurate descriptor) was miserable. While only a half-mile or so, I slipped (on the wet vegetation and rocks), dipped (crawled under downed trees) and tripped (on the undergrowth and downed trees) my way to the faint slash that leads to the pass. With the cloud-diffused light of my headlamp I had trouble finding the obscure, yet generally with some effort discernable track down the backside. The scree kept giving way underneath my feet in slabs as I triggered mini scree slides. I finally made it to the pass and began a long body slide down the old log slide to the road. I cursed Jared as I slipped and tumbled down to the highway.

At the bottom of the log slide I ducked, crawled and climbed through the willows looking for the bridge across the creek. After a crawl through a foot of standing water under some willows I said “F this” and made my way for the creek. As I stepped into the creek my back foot got caught in a willow and in I tumbled. Full immersion.

I dragged myself out of the creek dripping wet and was disappointed not to see Adrienne for what would be aid stop #4. It was 5:30 and she was expecting to meet me here about 7:30. I suspected she was asleep with no idea I was ahead of schedule. Quickly chilling, I realized waiting was not an option and that the best choice was to continue and that when she woke up and checked the Spot that she would see I was heading up Mineral Fork.

As I ran down the road to the Mineral Fork TH watching the reflection of drops of water fling off my poles and gloves I had a realization – albeit a very basic internal reflection. There are hardcore trail runners like Jared that thrive on hardship, difficulty and adversity. The more challenging - the better. Then there are runners like me, I’ll call my group “pansy runners” who are fulfilled and content running on buffed out single track with no burrs stuck to the liners of our running shorts scratching our privates. “Yes” I said to myself. “You are a pansy runner and that is OK.”

I was a bit ill prepared to head up Mineral Basin without having met Adrienne. I was out of water and had only two bars. I knew I could scrape by on nutrition, but would definitely need water. I made the bad choice of not filling up a bottle in the creek at the beginning of the climb. After several miles the only reasonably convenient choice was to take the iron (and who knows what else) infused water coming from the Wasatch mine. Absent any better choices, I filled up my bottle with the yellowish water.

About then I realized that the batteries in the Spot were spent and that this was probably the reason Adrienne had failed to meet me after Kessler. I became worried that she was worried. I turned the Spot off and back on hoping that perhaps it just needed to be reset, or perhaps the batteries would have enough juice for another ping or two. I knew I’d be screwed if she was waiting for me at the bottom of Kessler and not at the S-Curve (note – a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich pressing against the screen “on” switch on my phone was the likely culprit in a dead phone battery when I reached Brighton. I left my phone with Adrienne to be charged and returned to me when I met her after Kessler. Thus, why I had no phone).

I was excited to reach the Regulator Johnson mine feeling great. The rain had passed, the sun was up, mountain goats were grazing on the hills above me. The last real challenge to the run was getting over Regulator Johnson pass and onto the trail down to Lake Blanche. As I inched myself forward I found it useful to step in cadence to “lift your ass (step), over the pass (step)”

I was cautious on the run down from Lake Blanche to the road. I have this real fear on trails with large rocks that I will catch a foot, take a nasty tumble, and have to call Erik and ask him to see if he can save my front teeth. I moved slowly and carefully.

When I reached the parking area there was no Adrienne. Shit! I went through the options. Proceed to the finish with no food (a sure sufferfest and the likelihood that people would be worrying about me thinking I was injured somewhere up on Carbonate Pass), call it quits (no way – I’d come too far and was feeling too good), call Adrienne on her phone (obvious – but I didn’t know her US number by memory), or bum a ride home to Brighton and see if I could find her. I stopped the first hiker coming into the parking area and asked if I could use her phone. I tried several possible numbers for Adrienne. None of them were correct. I then asked if she could give me a lift to the Mineral Basin TH to see if Adrienne was there. As we approached the Mineral Basin TH I saw Adrienne’s car head down the canyon.  In a “game on” move my hiker driver made a u-turn and started pursuing Adrienne down the canyon, tires screeching around the S-Curve. As Adrienne pulled into the parking area the hiker driver pulled up right behind Adrienne’s car effectively blocking her in and ensuring that aid stop #5 would be a reality (a big thanks to the lady who helped me – who btw has run the Logan Peak Trail Run and had been to Lagoon the day before – TMI given I don’t even know her name).

A quick change into dry shoes and socks and a replenishment of water and food had me on my way up Mill B. The climb was uneventful, though I could feel the effects of having been running for more than 24 hours, the sun and the remnants of a mild bonk while climbing Mineral Basin. While I had myself mentally prepared for the first section of the Desolation trail that has a small climb, I lacked the motivation to run much of it. I made myself a bargain that I could walk this section, if I promised to run hard after the saddle to the finish.

That bargain was honored and I finished at 13:49 – a total time of 31:39. Christian and Greg had snuck away from work to congratulate me on the effort. Very kind and most appreciated.

A big thanks to Adrienne for help in crewing! Apologies for the concern caused by dead batteries in the Spot and my phone. And thanks to Betsy, Christian and Greg for compiling little pieces of evidence and arriving at the conclusion that despite no Spot signal all was good and I was moving along well.

Others have found the Millwood 100 to be “life changing” and having significantly impacted them. For me, it was pleasurable and intimate time spent with a good friend. I was content as I plodded along and daydreamed for a day, a night, and a day. I never suffered. There was never any uncertainty about finishing. I felt pride in my knowledge of and kinship with the trails that comprise the route. I felt appreciative of good friends who I run these trails with and for people like Jared who enable others to experience the challenges, rewards and pleasures of the outdoors.  I felt fortunate to have the health and means to live the life I do!

The Millwood 100 provided me with a perfect way to say goodbye to the Wasatch - until such time that I am back.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Millwood 100

George Odell and me Elbow Fork

George on the off trail section between Birch and Mt Aire Saddle

Jay Aldous and me Big Water

Above Wolverine Cirque  Picture Erik Storheim

Climbing up to Mt Baldy Picture Erik Storheim

Resting on Carbonate Pass Picture Erik Storheim

Last climb up to Regulator Pass Picture Ben Lewis

Almost to Ridge Picture Ben Lewis

Descending to Lake Blanche Picture Ben Lewis

Totally cooked coming into S-Curves

Ben happy to hand me off to Christian for last section

Excuse to stop and point to where I was 3 hours ago Picture Christian Johnson

Slogging the last 6 miles, Desolation trail Picture Christian Johnson

Almost, almost final stretch Picture Christian Johnson
 Millwood 100 2017

So why run Millwood, as Jared stated on the newly created Millwood Official page, you receive no award, no belt buckle or t-shirt, no listing on Ultra Signup and accept for a handful of local runners no real recognition from anybody. I had a few reasons to attempt this route.

First is the route itself, it covers all the geographic area that I have been running for the last 10+ years. I do occasionally run in other parts of the Wasatch but 95 percent of the time in the spring, summer and fall I am running on one of the trails in the three canyons this route covers and I love them all, and this route covers most of the better ones. Think of the multiple spectacular locations this route covers, plus I can't think of a 100 mile race that has a better finish then the last 10 miles of Millwood. I mean seriously you can't deny that the trail from the top of Porter Fork over to Thayne's Canyon isn't some of the best single track in the Wasatch Range.

Second reason is how hard the route is. I gave up running 100 milers back in 2013 when I had my first drop in a race at the Wasatch 100. I dropped because I felt awful in the very hot conditions that year but I had felt that way before in races, the missing component in this race was I wasn't having any fun, wasn't looking forward to the experience of running 100 miles and didn't really care if I finished. It was as if a light switch had been turned off, I was done with 100 mile races. But.... and there is always a but, I had never run the hardest 100 mile mountain race in the country, the Hard Rock 100. Now I have never really been drawn to H.R. 100 like some people, even as impressive as those mountains are and the amazing community that surrounds Hardrock I never really had a burning desire to run the race. I have paced about 130 miles of Hardrock so I know how spectacular, hard and special that race is but I was not willing to run a qualifier to get in and deep down knew I really didn't want to. But I felt like my 100 mile resume if that is what you want to call it was incomplete and I hadn't proved to myself that I could complete such a hard mountain course. Now I really don't know which is harder HR100 or Millwood but I figure Millwood is close enough, if I could complete this route then I could mentally check off 100 mile races and move onto what ever new adventure presents itself.

The third reason and hopefully I can explain this in a way that makes sense, Millwood is a celebration a tribute if you may. A very very long time ago when people still had blogs I wrote some post about how Wasatch 100 race was just a race and the I important part was the journey to get ready for running Wasatch. My friend Peter commented something to the effect that sure the journey is important but the Wasatch 100 was the celebration of the journey and chance to get everybody together to do so. For some reason this has always stuck with me and I believe it is completely correct. Millwood to me is a celebration and a tribute to these amazing mountains, and the people that run in them. Jared wanted to make a very hard challenging 100 mile route but he also wanted to showcase the best of the Central Wasatch Mountains  and its trails and he nailed it perfectly. By completing the Millwood I have hopefully shown how much I love these mountains and how lucky I am to share them with truly amazing people. Now sure ego is always in play in these events/routes but I don't think you run something as hard as Millwood without a strong connection to the place and the people, otherwise what's the point.

Thanks to everybody that made this possible and thanks to Jared for creating such a amazing challenging route.

In this last week Ryan Tockstein became the 6th person to complete Millwood. Congratulations to him, Ryan ran a very fast time and did it in style, it was a pleasure to spend a little time with him at the finish. 

July 8,9 2017
My time 41:01, 5th person to complete the route
Pacers: Peter Lindgren, Astrid Lindgren, George Odell, Jay Aldous, Erik Storheim, Ben Lewis and Christian Johnson, guest appearance Dan Barnett ( Cardiff to Kessler to B.C.C road)

Crew: Betsy Johnson and Christian Johnson

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Staring Down the Demons at the Barkley Marathons

The Yellow Gate.
Where dreams begin and end.
After last year’s ho-hum completion of 1 loop and 4 books, I thought there was no way I would be getting a second chance at running the Barkley Marathons again in 2017.  At best, I hoped to maybe get on the Weight List, and over the next few years, work myself back up onto the group of unfortunate 40 who get to toe the line. As part of my essay (below) details, I acknowledged there was no real reason I should be selected to run this year:

“This year I am hoping to do better.  Although, in applying, I recognize that I am no more qualified, in fact substantially less qualified, than most of this years applicants.  I haven't finished a 100 mile race since 2013 (Barkley being the only one I've started). I've struggled to find "it" over the last 9 months, settling for long mellow hikes and explorations with kids and neighbors and/or a bow and arrow, rather than "training" hard. I've wondered if at 44, with a surgically repaired ankle, and 4 kids (#5 due the end of April), I'm spread too thin to give Barkley another go. 
As far as credentials go, I have nothing current to supply. I'm relying on past accomplishments, wins, FKT's, etc.  But I can promise you that if I do happen to make it into the Unfortunate Group of 40, the past will be forgotten, and the focus will be on the next 4 months.  As I stated in a post-Barkley race report earlier this year, "The goal is five loops, and there's really no room for any thought other than that".   

So when I received my Letter of Condolences indicating my acceptance into the 2017 event, I was shocked (Brooke even more than me), ecstatic, nervous, grateful, and overwhelmed.
Obligatory Check-in Selfie.
Which brings me to Friday, March 31, 2017.  I had trained the best I could.  I had gotten myself ready physically. I was in a much better mental state than during the previous year. I was ready to go.  I checked in and handed Laz the pack of comfortable white socks that along with $1.60, was this year’s entry fee. I picked up my Loop 1 race # (49), and took a look at the Master Map to see what changes would be facing us this year.  The map changes were small, but the big change was that instead of running Loop 1 &2 clockwise, and Loop3 & 4 counterclockwise, each loop would alternate directions. 1 clockwise, 2 counter, and so on.  Wow-that was a change all right.  There were plenty of veterans out there who had never run a counter clockwise loop, me included!! This could be interesting, and I was really excited about the change.  A loop 2 in the counterclockwise meant I’d see it with a fresher mind and eyes, but depending on the start time, it also meant it could be run entirely in the dark.  But I wouldn’t worry about that until the conch blew and we knew the starting time.  Just in case this year’s loop was an early start (which hadn’t happened since 2011), I made sure my food bags were packed and labeled for each loop, had my clothing and gear laid out, and asked Dale Holdaway’s sister and brother-in-law, who I was sharing a campsite with, to wake me up if I slept through the conch. I was asleep by 9:30 and all of the sudden someone was knocking on the window of my van telling me the conch had been blown and I had 45 minutes. What the???? I had slept through the conch??? It was 1 am, with light rain and camp was abuzz. By the time I got something to eat, got dressed and took care of last minute details, everyone (but me) was gathered at the gate. As I put my pack on, I heard taps being played for “those who have gone before us,” and then the lights gathered at the gate let out a shout and were moving up the trail, as I ran to catch up.  I’m embarrassed to say this wasn’t my first late start……

Loop 1- Chaos
The initial climb up Bird Mountain was relaxed.  There was a light drizzle, and the higher we ascended, the denser the fog became.  I tried to figure out who was around me, and I remember talking briefly with Ed, Sean Ranney, Mike, Kathleen, Henry, and a couple others. As we ran along the ridge, Kathleen, right in front of me, excitedly yelled “ Hey it’s the Pillars of Death!” One step later, she slipped, went head first, and caught herself at the last minute. The Pillars almost lived up to their name. The fog was so dense that at times, I could barely see my feet, and I resorted to taking my headlamp off and holding it at waist level to better illuminate the ground in front of me.  As we neared where Book 1 (which had been changed to a new spot this year) was supposed to be, confusion set in.  There were searching headlamps everywhere, and voices echoing through the fog asking if anyone had found the Book. Finally, a voice called out that it was found, and all headlamps converged. Pages were ripped out, and off the headlamps went to disappear once more into the fog.  This was repeated over the next 4 books.  Each time I arrived at where a book was supposed to be, I’d start to hear voices drifting through night, and then headlamps would once again shine through the mist, casting back and forth until the book was found, and all the lights would converge.  Looking back at the situation, it is fairly comical, but at the time, it was extremely frustrating, and with each book search, I seemed to lose more and more time. As the sky started to lighten while heading up Leonard’s Buttslide, I was already an hour behind last year’s pace at this point. My prerace plan (to be in a position to attempt 5 loops), was to finish an hour faster than last years Loop 1 time of 10 hours 10 minutes. I was only 5 books in, I felt like my race was already beginning to unravel and the feelings of despair that had become so familiar over the last year started to manifest.  “This is stupid. What’s the point? Can I stick this out for another day and a half? Do I want to?”  It was getting dangerous and I needed to get my head in a different spot.  Luckily, the sky lightened, the fog became less dense, and as typically occurs with a new day, new hope came along with it. I had been tagging along with Heather Anderson and Adam Lint since Book 3 and while we didn’t do much talking, their company was appreciated! As we headed down towards the New River we found ourselves close to Rob Youngren, Scott Breeden, Kathleen Cusick, Megan Farrell and 1 or 2 others. Over the next 6-7 hours and 9 books, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and moving efficiently. And while I lost my map temporarily just before Pig Head Creek, and was mostly by myself until I caught up with Rob, Megan and Scott at the Beech Tree, I kept the negative thoughts at bay and truly enjoyed my time in the Tennessee Woods, grateful to even have the chance to be out competing against myself and the course.
Clearing Fog
Photo: John Sharp
Loop 2-Demons
Arriving at camp in 10 hours 42 minutes, Rob and I agreed to head back out at the 11 hour mark. Dale Holdaway’s sister and brother-in-law were extremely helpful in crewing me and while I changed my wet socks, ate what I could, and got new food and batteries, Joey made me a 3 egg/sausage breakfast burrito to take on the trail.  Rob left camp at 11 hours on the dot, and in what would turn out to be a recurring theme for the rest of our time together, I left a few minutes later, and spent the next 45 minutes catching up to him on the long trail up to Chimney Top.  Rob was a great companion, and I was extremely lucky to be able to spend a little more than two loops (and 30 hours) sharing the trail with him.  This was Rob’s 8th time at Barkley, and with a Fun Run finish in 2012, he was about as experienced a participant as there was to be found in the woods of Frozen Head that weekend.  We motored along without any navigational errors and somewhere along the way (I don’t recall if they caught up to us or we caught up to them) we hooked up with Brandon Stapanowich, Jamil Coury and Michael Versteeg.  Heading down the Bad Thing, Jamil decided he wanted to actually move and disappeared down the hill in about 3 seconds, and then Michael did the same.  We didn’t see either of them again.  Brandon, Rob and I made a good team and seemed to be moving well, but at about the halfway point, as we were heading down Testicle Spectacle, I realized that we had been out almost 7 hours already, and this would likely be a 14 hour loop, with the sun going down in the next hour.  Holy (insert your favorite cuss word)!! My 36 hour Fun Run was out of sight, and a 40 hour finish was quickly becoming less likely. The demons that I had firmly put behind me on Loop 1 came shrieking back and I quickly found myself in a very bad place mentally, almost talking myself into quitting at the end of Loop 2.  I was starting to get tired, I didn’t know how I could do another 20 hours of the relentless climbing and descending, and I kept thinking to myself “This is stupid. What’s the point? Can I stick this out for another day and a half? Do I want to?” I was so tired of feeling like this, and finally, as this rolled over and over again in my mind, I remembered. I remembered why I was here.  This was EXACTLY the reason I needed to be here. It was to remember what it was like to be uncomfortable. To suffer. To feel the pangs of hopelessness. Not to “wonder why”, but to KNOW why. And to embrace these self-doubts. To welcome them and turn them into Strength. Resolve. Determination. I remembered something that Laz had said. Something along the lines of “The successful Barkley applicant will learn to Embrace that which they Fear the most”. That was why I was here.  My mental state leading up to Barkley had been great, up until the week before the race.  Then my mind began to race, my heart-rate would quicken as I lay in bed thinking about what was to come. I was almost on the verge of panic.  And I realized that it was fear. Not necessarily fear of failure (because most people “fail” at Barkley), but fear of discomfort, of sleepless night(s), of screaming quads, a rebellious stomach, and cramping calves. And fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
So…in that moment, it all changed. Really. It was literally within a few second span that my mind raced through processing this, and all was good.  Sure, it was going to be uncomfortable, I was going to say to myself “Boy, Big Hell really sucks,” I may not even make the 3 loop cutoff, but all was good, and the Demons of Self-doubt that had plagued me since my Barkley attempt last year were banished for good.  
Brandon, Rob and I watched a spectacular sunset while climbing Stallion Mt, and we steadily made our way through the rest of the course.  Brandon’s left shin was becoming quite painful and starting to slow him down and I was sad to see him drop behind and out of sight before climbing Jaque Mate.  Rob and I decided that with the 36 hour cut off out of reach, but 15 hours left for a 40 hour Fun Run finish, we’d take an hour once back to camp to eat, and possibly take a nap.   

Feeling Better than I look on Rat Jaw.
Photo: The RealHikingViking
Loop 3- Fun.
Again, Dale’s Sister and Brother in law were a huge help in getting me turned around at camp.  I changed socks, ate a pot of stew and climbed into my bag for a 20-minute nap. As I lay there processing all the things I needed for Loop 3, I remember thinking there was no way I was going to fall asleep, and then… my alarm went off and I woke feeling completely refreshed.  15 minutes of deep sleep felt like I had been out for 3-4 hours.  I added some hot water to the now cold cup-o-noodles I had prepared, filled my water bottle with hot chocolate, and headed out on loop 3, once again chasing Rob up the trail. He had left at 26 hours to the second, I was a few minutes behind, again. As I slowly caught up to Rob, I thought I saw a light way below me on the switchbacks. Someone in camp told me that Jamil had been asleep for a couple hours and they weren’t sure if he was coming back out. I figured he must have decided it was time and apparently the long nap had been good to him because he was catching up to us quickly.  Sure enough, Jamil passed us as we were almost to Book 1, then took off down Jaque Mate. I’m not sure where he went after that, because the next thing we saw of him was while almost to the top of Jury Ridge, and we could see a light way below us, back where we had just come from. Someday I’d like to talk to him, and see what happened.  Rob and I pressed on, knowing we had plenty of time, but very aware that if wasted any time, or made any navigational errors, our chances of a Fun Run would quickly be over.  Every time we came to a creek crossing, I would stop and fill up my water bottle. Rob had a 60-70 oz reservoir and didn’t need to stop so often, so he would keep moving and it would take the next 10-15 minutes to catch back up to him. It was a great motivator to keep me moving at a steady pace! The rest of the loop was fairly uneventful.  The sun came up and what a spectacular sunrise it was.  The sun a molten ball of orange hanging just above the treeline above Stallion Mtn.  All the infamous climbs and descents came and went and we plugged along. We ran into John and Gary at Indian Knob, a couple hours into their 4th loop and they looked as fresh as if they’d just started. The only other notable moment (to me) was while descending to The Beech Tree. Rob wanted to stay left, I wanted to go right, and being the unflappable guy that he is, Rob agreed with me.  Well, I chose wrong and we ended up in a nasty section of rocks that ate away precious minutes.  I could tell Rob was a little stressed, so when we sat down at The Beech Tree to get our pages, I said , ”Rob, If I suggest a route, and it’s probably not the best, just say ‘Bro-This is my 8th Barkley and your 2nd .” He smiled good naturedly and just said something about not having much room for error. Then we got up to move, I got something out of my pack, and spent the next 10-15 minutes catching up to him…. 
And then we were at Chimney Top, on Candy-Ass trail, and I gratefully allowed myself the luxury of admitting that we were going to finish the Fun Run.  I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t remember how many times I yelled out to Rob running in front of me “Dude!! We’re doing it!!!”  “We’re going to do it!!” If I could of, I would have flown down the trail at 6 minute pace. The reality was that I was happy to stump along at half that speed.  We crossed the creek, hit the walking trail, crossed the bridge, and finally, luxuriantly, allowed ourselves to relax, walk, and enjoy the last 200 meters up to the Yellow Gate.

Fun Run Finish, with Rob Youngren
Photo: The RealHikingViking
As I touched the Gate for the 3rd (and last) time, a flood of emotions surged through me.  I struggled to hold back the tears of happiness and gratitude.  The sense of accomplishment was almost more than I could handle. In retrospect, I should have run high-stepping up to the gate with fists pumping, high-fiving everyone I could get close to and yelling at the top of my lungs.  But…. I am a fairly stoic person, and the only emotion I revealed was a huge, cheek splitting grin. 

Counting the final pages.
Photo: The RealHikingViking
Rob and I handed our pages to Laz, and while he counted them (Rob could only find 12 for a heart-stopping moment, then found #13 hidden in his race #) we joked that the race issued watches were not synchronized.  Mine was 4 seconds faster than Rob’s, so he was winning the whole race.  It turns out that Laz’s was 2 seconds faster than mine!!

All smiles. couldn't have done it without Rob
Photo: The RealVikingHiking
After the hand-shakes, smiles, congratulations, and looking for a place to sit down, I saw the bugler out of the corner of my eye, waiting for his turn. Rob and I both stepped back, and with hats off, and hands on our hearts, listened to Taps being played. Twice. Once for each of us.  We had “failed”, because “The goal is five loops. And there’s really no room for any thought other than that.” But I have seldom felt a greater sense of accomplishment. It was a somber, yet oh-so-fulfilling moment, and one that forever will be etched in my mind. 

Tapped out.
Photo: The RealHikingViking
Thanks go out to many- but foremost to Brooke.  Without her unconditional love and support, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish much. She sacrifices, and then sacrifices a little more to encourage  me to train, sleep, recover and eat everything in sight.  Thank you to my 4 (5 in two weeks) kids who inspire me to be a good person, and help me remember that there’s more to life than Barkley.  Thank you to my parents for always being there (if not always agreeing with where “there” is). Thanks to friends and neighbors, and training partners who are willing to get up hours before dawn to go on a hike.  And thank you to God for a body that allows me to do such marvelous things.  Thanks to people and companies that have supported me along the way. Altra, First Lite, Petzl, Wasatch Running Center, and Trail and Ultra Running (TAUR). And my heartfelt gratitude to Laz, and all the other volunteers and participants (past and present) that make Barkley what it is, and continue challenging us to embrace our fears, and to chase away the demons.