I donít normally write reports of ultra events I do; but a few people suggested that I write something about this yearís experience at Barkley. Last year, Nick Graner and I were out there for 10 hours and never saw Son of a Bitch Ditch or reached Book 2. Nick was not there for this yearís event, so I was alone at the back of the pack. I refer to Barkley as an event, not a race. It is my belief that, with possibly one exception, no Barkley participant has ever treated it as a race. It is a test, partially of physical capability, but much more a test of mental resolve or toughness. Some might consider it a test of mental sanity.
This year I had no trouble getting to Book 1 (appropriately Great Expectations). I was now looking forward to seeing SOB Ditch. I still havenít seen that feature of the course. My best guess regarding where I got off course is that I went down the wrong trail off Bald Knob. I did realize when I reached a creek at the bottom of a long, twisting, downhill trail that I was not on the course. Perhaps I should have climbed up that long trail and tried to find the correct trail; but I decided I was lost and just needed to find a way back to camp or some other part of the course. Since the trail off Bald Knob started at the north boundary of the park, I knew that going south was going into the park. Looking across the creek, I saw a series of ridges with some power lines on top of one of those ridges. Well, I thought these power lines were to the south and in the park; and there are power lines on the course. Thinking about it now, I know those ridges had to be to the North because I traversed and climbed them going to my right and ended up near the eastern park border. To go to my right and end up at the eastern border, those ridges had to be to my north just outside the park. I continued traversing and climbing for hours, finally finding a trail which led up to the top of a ridge. By now it was dark. At the top of the ridge, I saw four tall towers which I believe were transmission towers. They had to be outside the park. I had seen a dirt road near that trail that led me up to this spot. Actually, that trail ended before I reached the top. I decided to head back to that trail and the dirt road. I didnít find the trail; and then the batteries in my flashlight died.
I sat down on the side of the mountain to replace the batteries. I thought I had safely placed the housing that held the bulb in a secure spot on the side of the hill. I started to replace the batteries when suddenly I heard the sound of the bulb housing rolling or sliding down the hill. I groped around in the dark hoping to find it, but didnít find it. I was now stuck for the night. I tried to work my way a little farther down the hill; but I slipped in an apparent streamlet and lost my hand-held bottle which contained my last batch of energy drink. Earlier in the day, Barkley had taken my Leadville 100 Goretex hat and my compass, and it had just taken my flashlight and my energy supply. I moved to the nearest tree and began to prepare for a cool night in the woods. I was wearing a short sleeve t-shirt from the 50 K race near Ridgecrest , CA which Chris Rios has directed for the past 15 years. I believe that shirt was provided by Patagonia and was a wicking material. I put on a long sleeve shirt from the Mountain Masochist race directed by David Horton. I believe this was a polypro type of material also provided by Patagonia. Over these, I put a plastic rain poncho; and, to trap heat, tucked all three inside the pants I was wearing. Over all this, I put a plastic trash bag in which I had torn a hole for my head and a hole for each of my arms. Then I settled in for the night. While the night was not frigid, it was cold enough that I could not sleep. I had to keep moving my hands and arms and twisting my body from side to side to stave off hypothermia. I did go into uncontrolled shivering on a few occasions; and I did doze for a few seconds or, possibly, a few minutes once. The rest of the night I stayed awake.
I watched the thin sliver of the new moon, bright Jupiter, Orion with red Betelgeuse all parade across the sky to the west and waited for dawn to arrive. Dawn and the yelping of the coyotes I had heard up at the top of the ridge the previous evening arrived together; and I began looking for that dirt road I had seen earlier. I found the road. While sitting by the tree late in the night, I had seen the light from two flashlights going up a ridge in front of me. I assumed these had to be Barkley people (Who else would be out there in the middle of the night?). I shouted out asking if anyone had a spare flashlight. Someone answered in the affirmative. I shouted something back and one of them apparently shouted asking me if I were in Barkley. Sound must travel in strange ways because I never heard their query and they heard nothing further from me and could not tell for certain from which direction my original shouts had come. I guessed that I was near the northeast corner of the park close to a point called Coffin Spring. Near this point is where water had been stashed for the first water drop. This water drop is about the place where the course leaves the park for a few miles and the water drop is where those runners had just been.
Having reached the dirt road, I looked at the map of the park. The map showed a road leading from the northeast corner of the park all the way back to the campground. I checked this road out in one direction, and it seemed to conform to the map; but I was going in the wrong direction; so I reversed direction. As I walked down the road (too tired to run), I continued to check the map each time I encountered a side road leading off the campground road; and each time the road conformed to the map. It was going in the right direction and it was downhill, just as the campground road should be. After awhile, I came to a side road that wasnít on the map. Shortly after that, the road began to climb. The campground road should not climb; but I continued on for about Ĺ hour before deciding this was not right. I returned to the side road and started down it; but it was going in the wrong direction and soon began to climb. After 10 minutes I returned to the original road. I decided to once again proceed as I had previously done hoping that if I went a little farther, it would turn down towards the campground.(For the other grammarians on the list, I realize that the last sentence contains a split infinitive; but I believe it should be acceptable to split infinitives for increased emphasis.) After 45 minutes this time, that road was still climbing and was now going in the wrong direction. I had reached a point from which I could see the rest of that road. It was climbing a mountain. Looking at the map, I saw that there was a road that forked off the campground road and climbed up Bird Mountain. I was sure I had not turned off the main road but circumstances made that seem the only reasonable explanation.
If this were the Bird Mountain road, reversing direction and following the road back uphill should lead me to the campground road. As I was about half way back on this trek, a vehicle came down the road, the first sign of intelligent life I had seen in about 30 hours. The vehicle contained two good old Tennessee boys who stopped and asked me what I was doing. I gave them a short description. They told me I looked beat. I told them I was tired and had run out of energy food. They asked if a beer would help (I canít stand the taste of beer.) I told them no but a coke would. They didnít have any coke. They asked where I was trying to go. I told them. They said I was on the wrong road. I said I had to continue back to check it against the map. They said there was no doubt that they would see me later because that road led out of the park. Actually, the campground road led out of the park; but what I didnít know is that there is a locked gate at the park boundary to keep people off that road. They went on down the road and I continued up the road. I finally reached a point that convinced me that they were right, and this was not the campground road. Believing I was near the northeast corner of the park, I felt my only option was to go back down that road since it did go southwest toward the western boundary and the campground. Fortunately, I soon encountered the good old boys coming back up the road. They had lived in this area for years, and liked to spend Sundays driving around in 4-wheel vehicles, drinking a little beer, and smoking a little pot. They stopped and offered to take me to park headquarters. I gladly accepted. On the way back they even stopped at a little store and bought a coke for me.
I knew that because I had been gone so long, there would be some concerned people back at camp and that Gary (laz) would probably have people out searching for me. When the good old boys left me off at park headquarters, there was a ranger in the parking lot who asked if I were the missing runner. I said, ĎProbablyí. He took me inside the headquarters building to confirm that the lost runner was found. They then put out the call to the searchers to call off the search. The ranger then drove me up to the camp. Gary and others were more happy to see me than I was to be back, if thatís possible. Gary had not called out search and rescue. Instead, people who had already quit the course went out in teams, each searching designated sections of the course.
As the hours went by when I was wandering up and down that wrong road, I was bothered by the fact that I was causing worry and concern for Gary and others back at camp. I apologized to them for that and thanked them for their efforts trying to find me. As I was returning from a hot shower, walking up to my car with my toiletries bag, dirty clothes, and dirty shoes, I was met by Gary, Frozen Ed Furtaw, and three park rangers, one of whom was the chief ranger. They wanted to get some information about where I had spent the night and the following daylight hours. They also wanted to check on my condition, and were very solicitous asking if there were anything they could get for me. The chief ranger continued to ask about my condition. I told him that I was very tired but that he should be able to tell from my attitude and behavior that there was no longer anything about which to be concerned. I had been joking with them. I told him to look at me, that I was jovial and in good spirits, and I was clearly alert and in control of my mental faculties. This seemed to finally convince him. Since Gary and others worked so hard over the last year to keep Barkley alive, I hope my demeanor at my age and after being out there for nearly 32 hours made a favorable impression and, perhaps, showed that while we may be a bit different, we arenít really crazy.
I am very thankful that Gary has given me the opportunity to be a part of Barkley. While I have not seen much of the actual course and features of Barkley, I have encountered similar features. I have climbed up and made my way down 40% hillsides, I have slipped and slid in Barkleyís mud, I have given my blood to its sawbriers, I have searched for and not found its trails, I have crawled over and under its many downed trees, I have trod where none have trod before, I have EXPERIENCED Barkley. I said earlier that Barkley is not a race. It is not. It is an event, an experience, not for the timid.
The official distance covered at Barkley is the course distance to the last book you find. I was out there going up and down mountains and that dirt road for about 24 hours; and I spent nearly 8 more hours huddled by a tree. I have a page from Book 1, so my official distance is 2 miles. From the beginning, I had one record for the event, the oldest person ever to start it. I now hold the record for the slowest pace, nearly 16/mile. Thatís hours/mile!!
This is my last time at Barkley as a participant. In the future, some young stud can have
my slot. While there certainly were times out there when I wasnít a happy person, I am glad I was there. The t-shirt this year says,
Ďmeaningless suffering without a pointí. I liked last yearís motto better. It was, ĎWhere your very best just isnít good enoughí.
The day before the event, a young woman was at camp asking questions, possibly for a local publication. She asked why we do such things.
I told her that we were people who had a desire, maybe even a need, to test ourselves to see where our limits are. We also enjoy the
camaraderie of being with others of like mind. Barkely is neither meaningless nor without a point. I have great respect for those
who do Barkley, and I appreciate the respect that has been shown me. I am very happy to have been there.