“It Begins on the Long Drive Home” – 2014 Barkley Report by Lazarus Lake

The following 2014 Barkley Marathons report by RD and Barkley founder Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake) is re-printed with permission. The original post was on the Barkley mailing list on April TBD, 2014.


when does a barkley race report really begin?
for me, it begins on the long drive home.
my mind still filled with the dramatic stories of this year,
turns unavoidably to the hurdles to be cleared before next year.

the barkley was supposed to be easy to direct.
little offered and little provided.
i suppose it decieved me,
as it has deceived so many aspiring finishers along the way.
the barkley calls for each person’s full measure…

and then it demands a little more.

for 99% of us, that is not enough.

even as i drive, and think about next year,
i know i am not alone.
barkers might fail.
they are never defeated.
i know that others are sharing my contemplation.
i might be considering potential tweaks to the course,
and starting times.
runners still aching from the beating,
pride still stinging from utter failure,
are concocting plans for outrageous training loads;
tweaking of gear and acquisition of new skill sets.

our paths may diverge for a year,
but we all have the same beacon calling to us.
that gallant, agonizing, and generally futile exercise
that they call “the barkley.”

this was not one of the easy years.
a full court press by the barkley’s one sworn enemy
failed to drive us from the park (yet again)
but it required 3 months of e-mail conflict.

that hurdle cleared,
the pace quickened.
a field was selected, and a weight list formed.

i knew that there were many training schedules kicking into gear,
a lot of them by weight listers,
even with no guarantee that their slot would come open.

i don’t feel too bad about that.
such training won’t be wasted.
if you are in good enough shape to achieve a worthy failure at the barkley,
it will be enough to destroy most courses.

book setout trips come and go.
it is as good as ever to get out in the woods at frozen head.
it is a time of renewal, clambering thru the mountains with raw dog.
we do not cover ground like we used to.
but we are still up to the challenge.
it is still fun.
and we always see something we have never seen before.

this year was tinged with sadness.
another tradition i looked forward to was having dinner with ma henn.
last year i had been shocked at how much she seemed to have aged,
i was afraid it might be the last dinner we shared.
and that was how it came to pass.

but this is life.
on the other hand,
little davy, the impish boy who brought the bugle,
has become dave, soon to be married.

more than 40 years of trips to frozen head
so neatly measure out my adult life.
some have been easy, some have been hard…

ok. most (maybe all) have been hard.
i would not trade away so much as a single one.

when i started gathering the piles of stuff to bring to the race,
it really started to feel like barkley.
my checklist was massaged and studied.
just like the runners, i try each year to do a little better.
to be more prepared.

it required discipline to wait and make each purchase at the proper time.
perishable items coming last.

finally the day came that had seemed like would never arrive.
on thursday i packed the last of the stuff in the rented cargo van.
then me and little headed out.

this is little’s biggest weekend of the year.
all the goings on would overwhelm the big.
i cannot bring him,
unless i would be able to pay him close attention the whole time.
that is not possible during the barkley.
little seems to thrive there.

having seen the forecasts for bad weather on friday,
i stopped off to put out the prison book on thursday.
i visited a while at the campgrounds,
and then headed off to get a room in wartburg.
there will not be many creature comforts in the days ahead.

i was a little disappointed to only sleep 2 hours thursday night.
i quit using an alarm clock some years ago,
since i don’t sleep much anyway.
but i ususally sleep more than 2 hours.
i had hoped to stock up on sleep before the race.
instead, me and little went out running around wartburg in the night.
it was windy and spitting rain,
but little didn’t mind.
neither did i.
as the early morning traffic started heading off to work,
me and little returned to our room,
and got ready to go to frozen head.
maybe i would sleep a little longer friday night.

friday was a day of fun.. and nervousness.
after waiting out the morning rains,
and being grateful for the “kowalski manor” the first of many times,
i got camp set up at a leiturely pace.
the hanging of the license plates took longer than ever.
we got runners signed in, and brought out the master map.
eager runners got their first good look at this year’s course
and were soon busily transcribing the course to their own maps.

the weather was good when i started the first batch of charcoal,
and for hours there were empty plates for every piece of chicken that came off the grill.
eventually all the runners trickled away
to spend restive nights in their tents and cars,
leaving me and raw dog to talk late into the night.
after even mr dog retired,
i puttered around camp a while,
and then retired to sleep myself.

i was disappointed to wake up in 2 hours again.
i tried to get back to sleep,
because it would be a long, long time before i got another chance.
but it was no use.

so me and little got up in the darkness again.
as soon as i opened the door to my van,
a light came on in a car parked directly beside it.
the french tv crew had sat up all night in shifts,
so they could film the blowing of the conch.

it seems like every year there is more media at the barkley.
it is something i cannot understand.
this year they seemed to be everywhere.
but i have to give the french guys credit;
they were as determined to meet their goals as the runners themselves.
just like all the rest, this team had massaged me for information about the starting time.
just like always, i didn’t reveal anything.
(only me and raw dog know when the race will start)
they would be the only ones to get film of the conch.

later, some of the others would ask me to “recreate” the moment,
so they could film it.
i told them that would be “perpetrating a fraud.”
we won’t have any TV timeouts at barkley while i am alive.

me and little still had some time to fill,
and then, precisely an hour and fifteen minutes before daybreak,
just as it had been planned for a year,
the mournful sound of the conch echoed thru the camp.
one hour until the start.

a minute later a car alarm sounded,
and went on for several minutes.
i think that was deliberate.
no worry, tho.
no one would sleep thru the start.
most of them had probably slept very little.
bad things would be happening today.

and they would start happening very soon.

Part II

the hour before the lighting of the cigarette seemed to fly past.
i am sure it went even faster for those about to embark on a journey thru hell.

watching them gathering at the yellow gate
in preparation for the start,
i was struck by the faces.
some were filled with anticipation,
others with dread.
the expressions would be very different the next time i saw them.
i wondered what was showing on my own face.
because the lighting of the cigarette would bind me to the people at the gate.
once the race began i would be attached to the gate by an invisible tether
until it was certain that no one would be coming in unexpectedly.
at the time the cigarette was lit, my watch read 0:00:00.
for the next two and a half days i would live on race time.

it was a cheerful lot that jogged and walked up the road,
and disappeared around the bend.
i watched them go,
and then hurried to make my last trip to the bath house.
one final shower, and a last visit to a civilized toilet.

about 4 hours into the race, the first rain showers hit.
a steady rain fell, driving all the spectators to shelter.
after about 15 minutes it stopped.
but not for long.
this pattern would go on for many hours.
except the rain periods grew ever longer,
and the respites ever more brief.

04:34 race time.
ryan brazell seems to materialize in the entrance to kowalski manor.
he has a sheepish look on his face.
“i could not find book 1.”
he drove 22 hours to get here.
and will go home without even 2 miles to his credit.

the rain continued to come down,
and as the hours passed,
i was faced with the need to do something about the little.
everyone was jammed into the kowalski manor,
and it was indeed a wonderful haven for the humans.
i have indelible memories of wet-weather barkleys under a tarp.
no matter how well hung, rain and wind gradually reduces the size of a tarp refuge.

for little, it was a sea of feet, and hardly any safe space for a puppy.
for a while she was able to take refuge under the table,
but water ran in from the sides,
until there was no dry place for a little to lie down.

to further complicate things,
the little felt obligated to go out into the rain to greet every new arrival.
and people were coming and going continuously.
she was soon soaking wet and shivering.
the only solution i could see was to put her in the van,
to nap away the time until the rain ended.
poor little.
this is her favoirite weekend of the year.
she loves all the people.
she loves to be my constant companion.
but she was glad to hop in the van and curl up on her bed.
i just had to remember to check on her frequently.

07:24 race time.
tetsuro ogata came down quitter’s road.
another casualty of poor navigation skills, he had been lost repeatedly,
finally giving it up in the lost world at the bottom of hiram’s vertical smile.
after travelling all the way from japan, he would log less than four and a half miles.

07:29 race time.
tim bird came down quitter’s road.
tim had gotten in late, off the weight list.
he had not trained as if he would get in.
5,000 feet of elevation change in 4 miles had made him very aware of how undertrained he was.
so he surrendered to the inevitable.
at least he had not come so far.

while we waited and speculated on whether the next runner in would be finishing a loop,
or quitting,
reports started to come back from the fire tower.
60 and rain, with intermittent wind gusts, was pretty miserable in camp.
up top it was 30 degrees colder,
and the high winds were constant.
it would be hard to believe the conditions could be so different only a mile away atop bird mt…

if we were anywhere else.
the runners were making that climate change every half mile to a mile.
it is the frozen head shuffle.
i have done it countless times.
spend a quarter of my time with most of my clothes tied around my waist,
a quarter of the time wearing as many layers as i can put on and still move my arms and legs,
and half the time either putting clothes on or taking them off.

the bitter cold was sending the under-dressed spectators
who had hiked up to the fire tower,
scurrying for camp in a hurry.

08:02 race time.
Jared Campbell finishes the first loop.
he looks unfazed.
well, a little weary, but that is unfazed for the barkley.
after an 18 minute break he heads back out.

09:10 race time.
a big group comes in.
bev and alan, jodi isenor, jamil coury, fegy,
the vets look grim.
the virgins look shocked.
they ran a good pace for finishing the 100.
it was a question of how (and when) they came out of the interloopal period.

coury was out in 19 minutes,
and he looked really strong.
the rest went out together after 27 minutes.
they still looked grim.
but that is one tough band of ultrarunners.

09:46 race time.
antoinette landragin comes in.
she quit at the firetower.
13 miles.
she was too “tired” to go on.

after eva pastalkova came in at 09:49 there would be a steady stream of runners finishing loop 1.
they were the same as the others.
the veterans looked grim.
the virgins looked shocked.

after varying amounts of time spent regrouping,
in ones, twos, and threes,
the resigned looking runners sallied forth onto the course.
a few managed to muster a small wave at the cheers from kowalski manor.
most just slogged on.
there was no dancing or cavorting this time.
even tho they were way under the time limit,
the barkley was no longer a concept.
it was real.
too real.

and the cold rain kept pouring down.

but finishers were not the only ones coming in.
the quitter’s roads were getting plenty of traffic as well.

at 10:14 it is frozen ed. he is too cold.
at 10:23 it is hiram rogers. his knee is gone.
they both bailed at the firetower.
13 miles.

at home it might seem strange that most people quit at the same places.
the reason most often given is the presence of a tempting quitter’s road.
the greater factor is the abyss.
at these particular junctures runners are given a cruel choice.
take an easy, all downhill route back to camp,
or…

drop off into the abyss,
descending some horrendous hill inro a deep valley,
from which the return to camp would be hours and miles and thousands of feet further away.

11:07 race time.
matt mahoney and cat lawson some in on quitters road.
they have 2 books, or just less than 3.5 miles.
cat has heeded the advice to follow a veteran.
her choice of matt, with his singleminded determination to finish the barkley
without improving his navigation skills might not have been the best.
the virgin barker is well advised to choose their veteran wisely.
both appear, none the less, very happy to be back in camp.

someone comments that the runners must be doing well.
it is nearing dark, and only 8 have quit.
i had to laugh.
“oh no. there are plenty more who have quit. they are still trying to get here to make it official.”
looking at the faces, i know that some of the ones continuing have already been beaten mentally.
they are simply going thru the motions,
to get as much as they can.
the barkley hills are relentless,
and things were not going to get better at night.

11:17 race time.
tim dines becomes the 14th runner to complete loop 1.
20 miles.
his left knee is a bloody mess.
in the dim light it is difficult to distinguish between mud and bruising.
the light is plenty adequate to see that it is swollen and lumpy.
it does not resemble a human knee any longer.
he fell, coming down thru the boulder fields on the zip line,
and smashed it on a rock.
that is one of the more dangerous places on the course,
i think we have had so few injuries there because it is plain scary.
i know that i traverse it gingerly, and in fear.

i suspect that tim’s patella is fractured.
tim is wrestling with himself.
he is aware that continuing would be stupid.
but he does not want to quit now.

any normal person suffering such an injury,
would have lain there until rescuers could extricate him.
a tough guy might have managed to make his way out to the highway,
and called for help.

tim has completed the zip-line, climbed big hell,
descended chimney top,
then gone up and down rough ridge,
before completing his loop.
his kneecap will turn out to have indeed been fractured.
barkers are not right.

11:19 race time.
noe castanon comes in on quitter’s road.
he made it to the garden spot.
just over 7.5 miles.
he is both frustrated and inspired.
for the remainder of the weekend he will watch the race with amazement.
he vows to come back and do the race justice.
he had no idea before he got out there.
and his navigation skills put him thru a grinder.
i make a mental note to watch for great things from noe.
the barkley is just like life.
if (and only if) you blame your failures on yourself,
they can be replaced by success.

12:45 race time.
john hansen and bill lovett come in from a quitter’s road.
they are cold and confused.
i never do find out how far they got.

it is now fully dark.
temperatures have dropped to near freezing in camp.
the rain continues to fall.
gusty winds threaten to carry off the kowalski manor,
even with people hanging on to it.
we get out ropes to add additional lashings to trees.
we even tie it to the two large picnic tables inside.
this keeps it from flying away,
but we have to keep pushing it back into place.
we can see where it belongs,
because the tent poles are cutting trenches in the ground as the tent is blown about.
we are feeling pretty sorry for ourselves.

compared to the mountaintops we are having it easy.
45 mile an hour winds are raking the runners on the ridges,
driving sleet and snow.
the temperatures are (at best) in the 20’s.
probably colder.
frozen head has some unique features that feed the weather.
there is nothing to the west to block incoming weather.
masses of cold air are hitting the long, north-facing mountains,
and picking up speed as the air is compressed as it pushes up the 2,000 foot faces.
by the time it goes over the top it is blowing many times harder.
many is the time i have taken a break just before crossing the crest of a mountain,
in warm, calm conditions,
while 10 feet over my head a howling wind, 20 degrees colder, waits for me to continue.
other parts of the air mass are funneled up the valleys,
pouring thru the passes at the top, with hurricane force.
in some places, like the garden spot, both types of features converge.
frozen head has one other special attraction.
with the collision of radically different air masses,
even in the strongest winds, thick fog covers the mountains.
visibility has been reduced to a few feet.

maybe in some other place, these would be conditions to call off a race.
this is barkley.
if we did not stand up to this sort of stuff,
we would only have a complete race one year out of five.

12:58 race time.
billy simpson and mike burr come in.
billy doesn’t know if he should just cuss me out, or punch me in the face.
he never dreamed it could be like this.
burr is a veteran.
he quickly gathers his supplies and heads back out, 6 minutes before the cutoff.
it is a noble, if futile gesture.

13:03 race time.
jason barringer comes in.
he is finished.

in all, 27 people (out of 41) have made the 20 mile cutoff.
24 of them have continued into the brutal night.
three are still out there somewhere on loop 1.

now the barkley is getting serious.

Part III

14:47 race time.
mike bur is the first to return from loop 2…
down quitter’s road.
he reached the top of bird mt, and had no more will to continue.
only another half mile, and he could have gotten book 1.
of course, that would mean crossing the pillars of doom in blizzard conditions.
and he would have had to descend the gambit.
it is only a couple of hundred yards down
(but it does drop about 500 feet)
only a half mile further
(and a half mile back)
it was beyond comprehending.
nearly 15 hours on the course and mike gets credit for just 20 miles.

thomas ehmke’s wife (girlfriend, crew, ? i am not good at keeping these things straight)
comes up to kowalski manor with a friend to interpret.
she is concerned.
she has heard the stories about what is going on “out there.”
thomas has still not returned from loop 1.

i tell her he is fine.
i tell her it is not uncommon for people to be out on loop one until the next day.
thomas is a big, tough, experienced runner.
he has finished the spine,
and the tour de geants,
among other things.
going in, i figured he might make a run at the 100.
clearly he has come up short in one of his skill sets.
most likely navigation.
the trails in the brushy mts are not like the trails in europe.

but those alpine guys are tough.
and they know how to take care of themselves.

i leave her with a comforting thought;
“thomas is not in any trouble. i am sure he is not happy, and he might be miserable. but he will be fine.”

she only looks half comforted.
but i have on my game face.
the one i wear when we are behind near the end of a game.
“we are fine. we can win this. here is what we have to do.”
we win a lot of those games.
when things get tough, it is important to be calm and confident.
the guys who will do well at barkley will wear this same face.

i don’t tell her that i already know thomas is late.
him and two others.
i have been listening for reports on where these guys were last seen,
and what was their condition.
i start the race with 40 people to track,
beginning with what i expect them to do,
and adjusting expectations as reports come in.
i won’t sleep until everyone is accounted for and safe.

15:05 race time.
chip tuthill and doug seaver come down quitter’s road.
they reached book 1.
a little over 22 miles.
then they looked into the abyss.
and turned back.

15:23 race time.
roger lehman comes in, with leonard martin a few minutes behind.
they reached the needles eye,
just short of 15 miles.
but the climb up big hell had taken their last reserves.

i never understand why people drop at indian knob.
the quitter’s roads are longer than following the course.
just a bit less cruel.

now only poor ehmke remains on loop 1.
loop 2 is down to 21.
my mental leaderboard is getting easier and easier to maintain.

we are heading into money time.
at most ultras a runner has the luxury of getting deep into the race
before reaching that point of crushing fatigue.
at the barkley everyone feels it by the time 20% of the race is done.
saturday night is a time of despair.
the race will go on until monday night,
but the runner is already locked in a desperate struggle.

i always tell the “media” folks that saturday night is when the drama happens.
they always give up and go to bed,
only to find out on sunday morning that almost no one is left.

15:23 race time.
it is bev abbs next.
she seems to have shrunk to almost nothing.
she is pitiful, and chilled to the bone.
i am stunned.
rumors of her and alan’s over the top training regimin had filtered all the way to tennessee.
i was sure that she was going to make a serious run at the 100.
as much as i delight in shocking the women crew members in camp during the day on saturday;
“the barkley is too hard for women.”
“no mere woman can do it.”
i am about ready to see some woman at least give it a serious challenge.
it will not be bev.
at least not this year.
she made it to the garden spot.
27.6 miles.

15:26 race time.
willy syndram.
willy has a resume full of bucket list achievements.
he dropped at bald knob,
too tired to produce body heat.
25.6 miles.

15:40 race time.
jay hallinan.
book 1.
he looked into the abyss,
and could not find the will to go on.
22 miles.

taps kept ringing out,
time after time.

during a long gap between quitters,
the rain finally let up in camp.
it dwindled away, and eventually stopped.
after waiting for the inevitable return for a half hour,
i finally took off my blue poncho.

the blue poncho has its own story.
when the rain had begun, early in the race, i felt cocky.
last year i had forgotten my poncho.
this year i remembered.
not only did i remember to pick up the folded green plastic,
i remembered where i had it packed.
due to the constant rain, most of my gear was still in the van.

i pulled it out after the rain started,
went into kowalski manor, and jauntily unfolded….

a tent flap.

there had been a lot of swearing before i resigned myself to a wet, miserable weekend.

later that morning julian jamison,
veteran of previous barkley failure,
and current barkley crew extraordinaire,
tossed me a small blue package.
“i thought you might could use this.”

it was a poncho.

did he pull it out of his gear?
did he go to town and buy it?
i don’t know,
but it was a godsend.

tethered to the yellow gate,
i am dependent on the mercy of others for anything not already in my van.
and every year there is something i need that is not there.
i have encountered trail angels,
and road angels…

gate angels have to be the best.

i did not get to part with my blue poncho for long.
as soon as frozen head duped me into removing it,
the rain started again.
this time there were even spells of fine ice mist mixed in.
sunday dawn seemed like it was a forever away.

17:20 race time.
nikolay nachev.
nikolay was a master.
he had remained warm and dry despite the conditions.
his navigation skills had kept him on course.
at bald knob;
a quarter of the way thru the race,
he could climb no more.

17:47 race time.
jared campbell finishes loop 2 to applause from those huddling in the manor.
he has run loop 2 in 9:27:12.
only 5 others had beaten that time on loop 1…

in the daylight.

he reports that ehmke is not far behind.
and then returns to the course in only 35 minutes.

17:58 race time.
thomas ehmke finally makes it in.
relief is written all over his delighted crew’s face.
i think she must love him…

later i expect he will have to answer for all the worry he caused.

routefinding had indeed been his nemesis.
he does not have all his pages.
as i expected, he has managed to stay warm.
but he is unhappy with his navigational shortcomings.
already he is planning for the training that barkley demands.
“next year” is a consistent theme,
as runner after runner surrenders.
the indomitable spirit of these barkers amazes me.
failure only makes them hungrier.
no matter how many times they are knocked down,
they always get back up and want more.

the field has been pared from 41 to17,
and no one has been timed out.

the race is not yet a third over.

19:40 race time.
nicki rehn, brad bishop, and heather anderson straggle in down quitter’s road.
they made it to the garden spot.
hell cold.

heather was another hope for the distaff side.
she has accomplished so much.
some of her supporters had e-mailed me back in january,
to tell me that “anish” was going to put an end to this “women are too weak” nonsense.

it is easy to talk big,
if it is someone else’s ass on the firing line!

heather still has laughter in her eyes.
and she speaks with delight of the torments that she endured.
i think that she and barkley have unfinished business.
but this is not the year.

20:50 race time.
this time it is tim waz and bob jones.
they had reached book 2.
23.6 miles.
they had no heart to go on.

23:25 race time.
the irrepressable iso yucra and michiel panhuysen.
theirs was a wild tale.
reaching the garden spot together with dale holdaway,
they found that the windblown snow,
while only a few inches deep,
had completely erased any evidence of trails, footprints, or any previous human activity.
the thick fog sompleted their isolation.
within minutes, they were lost.
so the trio separated looking for signs of the trail.
it was then that they discovered another unpleasantness.

the others’ headlamps were invisible in the fog,
and their shouts could not be heard over the roar of the 50 mph wind thru the trees.

finally michiel and iso had found each other,
and iso, the master tracker, had traced out enough human sign
(with his nose, literally, to the ground)
to find someplace they recognized…

it was the start of quitter’s road.

what idiot would not take it?

as to what had become of dale,
they could offer no clue.

which is better,
a race you know you will finish,
or stories to tell your grandchildren?

you know which one the barkley offers.

a couple of hours before dawn,
the rain finally stops for the last time.
me and raw dog have kept the campfire going thru the entire race.
but this is the first time we have been able to warm ourselves by it
for more than a couple of minutes.
the crews for the band of 4 come up to join us.
they look tired,
and cannot understand what is taking their runners so long.

we entertain ourselves by talking about how thoughtless the runners are being.
we have it rough in camp
(what about us?)
they might not have the kowalski manor,
but at least they know where they are.
we can only speculate.

after it passes 13 hours on the loop we know one thing.
where ever they are, they are not moving fast…

*really*
(who do they think they are, anyway?)
the crews vow they will no let them stop short of the 100.
not after we have gone thru all this!

23:15 race time.
fegys comes in from loop 2.
he looks awfully pale.

a couple of minutes later, jamil coury and jodi isenor follow.

the surviving abbs was 3 minutes behind them.

they do not look strong enough to kick my ass,
so i cheerfully inform them they are still on pace for the 100…

“but you need to get a good turnaround,
and make up some time on the upcoming daylight loop.”

they just stare at me, like i was speaking gibberish.
then they head off for emergency repairs.

fegy, coury, and abbs are back an hour later,
with sunlight finally back in camp.
i hear coury’s crew ask him;
“you are still thinking 100, right?”
his response;
“i am thinking ‘can i make one more loop?'”
he is limping pretty bad.

technically, they still have a shot at the 100.
realistically, it is a long shot.

24:59 race time.
harald zundell and eva pastalkova finish loop 2.
it looks like the last female hope has faded out.
it is looking like sunday will be a nice day;
warm and sunny.
harald and eva are not going to enjoy it
they are human wreckage.
mechanically, they head off to restock for another loop.

25:23 race time.
jodi isenor takes off an hour behind his buddies.
the extra rest has him looking nearly human.
i had been told he was one tough guy.
now i know it to be true.
the 100 is almost certainly out of reach.
but a fun run is nothing to sneeze at.

25:45 race time.
harald zundell heads out.
“the german,” as he has been calling himself, trudges on.

26:06 race time.
eva leaves on loop 3.
the time limit is not far behind.
she looks really rough.
but she is hard as nails.

27:17 race time.
dale holdaway staggers into camp.
his only comment on what happened after he got separated from michiel and iso;
“i was lost.”
he seems untroubled by not making 40 miles.
and very happy to be able to stop.

the magnificent 7 are all out on loop 3.
marcy beard is somewhere “out there,”
dog determined to finish loop 2.

i stand in awe of those who are still running.

and the race is not yet half over.

Part IV

sunday was like a whole new world in the campgrounds.
bright sun had replaced the steady rains and low hanging clouds.
it was warm instead of cold.
about half the tents were gone.

if it weren’t for all the limping people,
with their bruises and cuts,
and the wall of license plates,
it would be hard to tell the barkley was happening.

there were a couple of issues that i needed to attend.
first, i got some chicken going on the grill.
after the insanity of saturday,
i was ready to put some hot food in me.

it was also time to start studying the placement of the runners.
i still felt fine,
but, approaching 30 hours without sleep, and only 4 hours in the last 80,
i knew i would need to get a nap soon.

i had some time before jared could possibly come thru,
but marcy could show up at any time.

really, my schedule depended on what was happening with the four amigos.
abbs, fegys, and coury had to have a good loop,
if there was any hope to make the hundred.
jodi was seemingly over the limit of human possibility.

as bad a beating as they had taken,
the weather was almost perfect…

for now.

it seemed like a longshot.
but there would not be but a couple of hundred milers since the race began,
if it were not for the remarkable guys who had been able to fight the time limit the whole way.
i wasn’t going to sell this class short.
and i was not going to let them down.
there would be no serious sleep until all the surviving runners were at least on loop 4.

eva and harald.
if there was enough gas in the tank, harald had a reasonable shot at a fun run.
eva would have to have a miracle.
i have seen enough of her that i would not bet against it.
i am not going to underestimate anyone with the ability (and guts) to start loop 3.
real sleep was probably still about 12 hours away.

i ate some chicken and then slouched down in my yard chair for a 10 minute nap.
10 minutes later i woke up.
it took a little longer than usual to shake off the cobwebs,
but i felt refreshed enough to make it thru the rest of sunday.

sunday was a great day in camp.
defeated runners, who had stayed for the finish,
recounted their horror stories about the race.
little, who had been freed from her prison in the van shortly after sunup,
was finally enjoying her perfect weekend.

we spent a lot of time speculating about what was happening to the runners still “out there.”

the general sense was;
“nothing good”
at the barkley, the beating never stops.

30:23:26 race time.
jared completes his fun run in the warm early afternoon.
his third loop took 11:59:48.
it is easy to tell he needs sleep in the worst way,
but there is sun shining.
barkers know how tough it is to make time at night.
daylight is something not to be wasted.
he is back out in only 39 minutes.
he has taken a frightful beating,
but from somewhere deep inside a fire still shows in his eyes.
he reminds me of the campfire that burned all thru the long day of rain yesterday.
31:14 race time.
marcy beard finally completes her second loop.
she is proud to be the first person to time out.

6 remain on loop 3.
we wonder where they are, and what is happening.

one is out in the rarified air of loop 4.
we wonder if he is human.

mig (michiel panhuysen) has come up with a theory about the barkley.
the great minds in camp work on refining it.

we know we are the great minds,
because the minds that would still be “out there” must have something wrong with them.

essentially that is mig’s theory.
the barkley is a stimulus response test…

sort of like the tap on the knee,
or the stroking of the sole of someone’s foot,
to see if the apprortiate reflexes are functioning,
or, if they fail, there is possible brain damage.

the appropriate response to the barkley is to quit.
jared is failing the test.

34:00 race time.
eva pastalkova is back.
she has been totalled.
it is not clear how far she got,
even tho she says several times;
“10 books.”

she came back on the north mac trail.
the north mac trail is not the shortest route home from anywhere on the course.
however, this is not the first time it has been used.
i doubt she cares about anything except the hell has ended,
and a hot shower and warm dry bed are in her immediate future.

as the clock ticks remorselessly towards 36:00 race time,
we begin to watch anxiously up the trail.
will anyone be here in time to join jared on loop 4?
has someone managed to come back to life during the perfect day?

once again, it is us here in camp who are sufferering.
we are the only ones in the dark.
out on the course they know what is happening.
and it is not that good.

36:00:00 race time.
now we all know.
one runner carries the banner for all the barkers.
the course has beaten everyone else.

36:36:03 race time.
it is jodi isenor who pulled out the miracle lap.
he started an hour behind everyone else,
and he is the first one back.
is he so happy because he finished a fun run?
or is it just because he gets to stop?

apparently he passed the three stooges on the zip line, without seeing them.
that is a good place for that to happen,
altho not good for them, since jodi took the best line.

he saw them when he was on ratjaw,
about a mile behind him.
that doesn’t sound like they were moving well at all.
sometimes there is strength in numbers,
pulling one another thru the low spots.
sometimes there is only a reinforcement of the desire to quit.
i wonder which is happening out there in the darkness.

jodi thinks the others are close behind him.
he has been hearing voices since it got dark.
i keep my smile to myself.
me and raw dog have spent many hours alone in camp at night,
listening to the distant voices of frozen head,
calling to us from the dark woods.
i know what those voices are.
they are the ghosts of crushed dreams and shattered ambitions.
it is the voices of 3 decades of barkley failures
warning us to stay out of these woods at night.
“stay by the fire, where you are safe. there is nothing out here but pain.”

i post his finish to the list, under the heading “isenor fails”
it doesn’t take long to get indignant responses.
jodi laughs.
failure is not the same thing as defeat.
he lives to fight again.
already he is making plans.
now that he has been “out there” he knows what he faces.

and so we wait around the campfire for the others.
and we watch.

every few minutes, someone hollers;
“i see a light”
and we all rush over to the gate to wait…

for no one.

the phantom lights go back as far as the voices.
maybe they are the lights of those ghosts of failure.

as the clock ticks down towards 40:00 an unheard command
calls us all to the gate.
for the moment it doesn’t matter that the starry skies have sucked all the afternoon heat out of the air.
we all want to see these guys have something to show for their race.

i keep getting out my pen and opening the book.
as if that would somehow bring our guys home.
then i look at my watch again.
time is running out.

the runners know where they are.
and they know what time it is.
they are either dredging every last reserve from their bodies in a race against time,
or they are dragging themselves thru the mountains for no reward except to end the hell.

false alarms are coming more frequently.
even after all these years, i never seem to learn.
when you “think” you see a light, it is nothing.
when a real light shows,
we will know it.

crews that were telling me a day and a half ago that;
“anything less than 100 is unacceptable”
are now hanging on a slender thread of hope for a fun run.

they were virgins then.
veterans know better.
people who fail at the barkley do not hang their heads in shame.

finally comes the moment of truth.
if no light appears right now, for these guys the race is over.
i have one hand on the book to close it one last time, and head for the warmth of the fire,
when bev sings out;
I SEE IT! I SEE A LIGHT!”
some one else sees it too,
and then we all see them
one light,
then another.
and another.

everyone starts screaming and hollering at them to hurry
(as if they don’t know)
we can see that they are “running”
even the lights look tired, just the way they are moving.
we can see that they are running…
then walking…
then running again.
i cannot see them,
but i am sure they are checking their watches every 20 seconds.

we are exhorting them with all our might.
at one point bev, standing next to me, mutters;
“they aren’t even trying!”
i’m not sure why, but it is the funniest thing i have heard all day.

39:54:59 race time.
john fegyveresi slaps the gate.
his face radiates joy and gratitude.

39:55:57 race time.
jamil coury joins fegy.
he just looks incredibly tired…

and happy.

39:55:59 race time.
alan abbs touches home.

all three guys are grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

they receive the reception of conquering heroes.

then they get tapped out.
sweet, magnificent, failure.

ah, the stories they have to tell.
but i won’t repeat them,
these are their stories to tell.

but i will tell you this much.
it was a heroic fifteen and a half hour loop.

now there is one more to go on loop 3.
when i speculate if harald will be the second to time out,
i am corrected.
jodi, john, jamil, and alan timed out.
and they are proud of it.

40:49:24 race time.
harald zundell proudly reaches the gate.
“the german” and his crew beam with pride as he is tapped out.
the course beat him,
but it did not break him.

i check my watch.
jared has been out nearly 10 hours.
in theory he could be in any time.
i hope it is soon.
whether he stops, or goes on, i get to sleep after he does it.
and i could use a good nap.
it is almost monday morning.

44:03:15 race time.
jared comes in.
he does not look so good.
physically he looks kind of wrecked.
but when i look in his eyes, i can still see the fire.
it is buried way down deep.
but it is still burning.
those guys,
those very few guys,
who get the 100,
there is something special in them…

even if they do fail the stimulus response test.

jared still has it.

but he has to get some sleep.
i don’t have much choice but to wait up.
no telling when exactly he will leave,
but it won’t be long enough to sleep now,
even for me.

45:45 race time.
jared is ready to go.
the sun will be up in about 2.5 hours,
and hardly anyone is there to see him go.
everyone left in camp hears the bell, tho.
i make sure of that.

i watch him disappear up the trail.
every step looks painful.
he has a very long monday ahead of him.

then i go get in the van.
little has been there for hours,
and she has co-opted my mattress.
she is like a liquid dog,
as i try to push her aside to lay out my bedding.
she flows back into her warm spot as fast as i can push her off it.
i don’t care too much.
once i make a place for me, she will be really warm under the covers.

we have a small dispute when i first get in.
little believes she should still sleep in the middle,
and i can cling to the edge.
i see it the other way around.

200 pounds wins out over 50.
i snuggle down in the middle, pushing her to the side,
and pull the covers over us both.

i open my eyes to see little’s face about 4 inches from mine,
looking back at me.
“i need to poop.”
i check my watch.
4 hours. whew. i feel much better.
altho i know it will take more than one normal night’s sleep before i feel completely right again.
little honks at me.
“i need to poop NOW!”
it is sunny outside, and i can hear people moving around.
so i get up, put on my boots,
and take little to the brier patch that i have assigned her as a bathroom for the weekend.
maybe it is cold to make my poor dog squeeze in among the briers to poop.
but she doesn’t seem to mind.
and it means i don’t have to clean up after her.
the runners have encountered plenty of briers “out there”
they will feel no need to go in the briers next to camp.

it is a great day.
the sun is out again, and the day is warm.
probably close to 80 by afternoon.

we cook chicken, and eat,
and listen to more horror stories.

we speculate about jared, “out there” in his personal hell.
even when you “have it made” at the barkley,
there is a cruel necessity to actually do it.

those stories are jared’s to tell.

57:53:20 race time.
jared comes home victorious.
his 5th loop has taken 12:08.

a pretty good crowd has stayed to see him home.
his barkley family.
for we are all family, who have shared this incredible experience.

a chair materializes.
a chair always materializes.
jared looks at it for a moment,
as if wondering exactly what this thing is.
then he smiles.
“yes. yes, i think i will…”
and he sits down.
free at last.

we pump him for stories for what seems like a long, long time.
we cannot hear enough.
and he seems willing to oblige.
who else, in what other place, will really understand?

darkness is falling again, when i finally get to packing up.
me and little get in the van to drive home,
and i make a decision.
a selfish decision.
i know how this works.
i have done it so many times before.
i feel great now,
but in 20 miles it will become a struggle with sleep.
i will stop repeatedly to take naps,
each one buying me another 20 miles,
and the drive home will be a hellish ordeal.

“little. i am getting too old for this. we are getting a room, and driving home in the morning.”
the barkley fund lost a little ground this year.
but there is enough there to put on next year’s race.
i don’t think anyone would begrudge me one night’s sleep.
so i call home and tell them not to look for me until tomorrow.
i get that room and take the world’s most wonderful, long, hot shower.

then i go to meet the remaining barkers at the wartburg mexican restaurant.
we have to apologize for getting there 5 minutes before closing,
but it is great to eat something that is not chicken.
and i don’t want this weekend to end.

it will be a year before the barkley family gathers again.

frozen head will be waiting.

laz

More Barkley Stuff

If you see any other race reports buy runners or crew,  or particularly good recaps, let me know. And as always, if you want to learn more about the Barkley, check out the following:

Peace, and good luck Out There.

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