Friday, November 20, 2015

Chasing down Bigfoot: Prologue

Writing about my Bigfoot 200 experience is a little like cleaning house. Look at any flat surface and you'd think I needed to relearn the definition of "organization." Open a drawer, however, and you'll see everything in perfect and repeatable order. Look in my closet, and you'll see every piece of clothing arranged by type and time of year it's to be used. Take a gander at the shelves, and you'll find the DVDs in alphabetical order and the books arranged by genre and author name. It's not that I don't like things to be in order (or at least that's what I would explain to my mother), it's that things are either put away or they aren' half way, no in between...and so things build up until I'm ready to put everything away the right way. And so it is with Bigfoot. I feel a responsibility to either write about it "right" or not at all...and since I work a full time job and happen to have a rather time consuming set of active, living in the moment hobbies, reliving it for you all at once may never happen. Instead, please bear with me as I follow the advice of those who excel in keeping a tidy house: Break it down into manageable pieces and the task won't seem so big. If I were creative and had it all written out to dispense in teaser bits, I'd start with Part 3 or something, just to make you all confused, yet engaged in true George Lucas style. Alas, I am not...and Star Wars did that better than I would have anyway. So, welcome to Part Zero. 

The magnitude of the Bigfoot 200 experience makes it hard to sit and write about. There isn't one single lesson learned. There isn't one single dominating feeling, though at the end all those emotions briefly faded in comparison to the joy of crossing the finish line. Most of all, it does not feel at all like the solo effort that races in the past have been at their core. 

This part of the story begins at the airport in Tucson, where thankfully I made it through two rounds of security with my expired temporary driver's license and birth certificate. From there, I took a plane to a train to a bus (Dr. Seuss would be so proud), to spend the next two days with my buddies Trey and Ryan in Issaquah, Washington. Within a few hours, I found myself caught up on all the Uphill Running gossip from my three month absence and in possession of 2.5 new pairs of shoes for the race. When you plan to be on your feet for four days straight, traditional rules for breaking in equipment tends to go out the window. Also, for anyone who hasn't been vertical for that many consecutive steps, gravity and the rules of circulation make things like feet swell over time. Why the half pair? Trey was kind enough to send me with an extra extra pair on loan, just in case. If you're ever in Issaquah, do yourself a favor and stop by the Uphill Running shop. Tell them Kate sent you, and they'll probably offer you a beer...or just be share your story and have a conversation and they'll probably offer you a beer anyway.

The next day, I hijacked Ryan and his car in return for a breakfast stop on our way to Monroe to pick up a car from my wonderful friends and former landlord/lady (is landpeople a thing?), Alan and Heidi. You may be able to get through airport security with an expired temporary license, but companies frown on renting you a vehicle. Grocery shopping done, bean burritos made, further visiting had. To add some functional component to the remaining day at my favorite bachelor pad, I cleaned the inappropriately green fuzzy things out of the fridge and made enough French toast, scrambled eggs, and sweet potato hash to feed a small army...because, let's be honest, that's the real way to show love to a bunch of people who run up mountains for fun. Before leaving, I promised Trey I'd share a beer with him as soon as I got done, however many miles I ended up completing, whatever time of day or night. His return threat to only partake if I crossed the finish line was probably an empty one, but I'm only a little embarrassed to admit how much it motivated me to keep putting one foot in front of there other in the coming days when I couldn't come up with many other reasons to do so. 
 Thursday afternoon was filled with race meetings in the little town of Randle at the White Pass High School. A pit opened in my stomach as soon as I parked the car, which only got bigger as I fumbled through my drop bags and cheerfully asked the pink trucker's hat wearing gentleman (Yes, Phil, you get to be a gentleman for my story) next to me, "Any second thoughts?"

"Nope, I just finished Badwater and the Colorado 200 last month. My feet are a little sore, but it should be a good time."

Oh...shit. I'm in a place where even the normal looking people are actually running gods. 

It's a good thing my response to fear is to become very quiet and still whilst considering my options, because otherwise I might have started running a dark place to hide and say "Just Kidding!!" when asked about the concept of running 200 miles. Instead, I coerced my facial muscles to produce some vague form of smile or grimace by the time the pink hat turned back around. Then, all real prep work done, finding food to put in that ever growing pit seemed like the only reasonable task to keep from pacing in circles all night. Yep, food's a pretty big theme in my life. When in doubt, eat. Forty driving miles later, I was back at the campsite in possession of my Last Meal: a Subway egg sandwich and a bag of yogurt covered pretzels.

Nothing left to do, staring blankly at the Runner's Manual, I started writing down aid station distances and cut off times on my left forearm in permanent marker. I don't typically carry course descriptions, or even read them in detail before a race...something about taking the magic out of the exploration, I guess, but looking down at them, the task seemed just barely manageable. It reminded me of a chance remark from my first 50 mile race in December 2012. Trish turned to look at me as she paced the last fourteen miles of the course and said "you know, it's really amazing that even when you're coming off an injury or things don't go as you planned, you never have to worry about cut off times."

 Though I'd set up a tent, my anxiety of missing the early morning bus ride to the start had me trade a cramped position in the borrowed car for access to a cell phone charger for a fitful night of almost sleep, dressed in everything but my bib number (#73) for the next day.

Morning came, as it has a habit of doing, so cold compared to my desert training ground that it was hard to move in spite of my refreshed nerves. We boarded the school bus and began the winding drive to the start line. Conversation ranged from silent contemplation to booming and enthusiastic discourse of adventures past. The handful of 200 mile veterans were a welcome and stolid presence as well all wondered what the inaugural course would bring. The statistics alone set the Bigfoot 200 apart from all but the very most super human foot races, yet here we were, a bunch of very human folks without the benefit of morning coffee, ready to make an attempt.

At the Marble Mountain Sno-Park, we unloaded and dove at the provided spread of food and coffee (!!) with vigor that nearly matched the race's namesake. Resigned excitement began to join the knot of nerves in my least I had enough time to use the restroom before the starting gun, right?

"Luis Leon, please come check in!" Called Candice, the Race Director and living legend in my household for the past three years, naming the other Tucson runner.

No Luis meant no Allie (his lovely fiance who had graciously agreed to move some of my spare equipment between aid stations to lessen my self-crewed burden), so I said goodbye to my sunscreen and bottle of contraband ibuprofen, leaving the backpack I'd hoped to send with her with the pile of things to return to the finish. It was too late to worry whether I'd see the other resupply items (shoes, batteries, spare food, etc.) I'd left in her care. I'd simply have to adjust to whatever happened. Now that we were in the final countdown stages, it was all just part of the race experience.

Pictures taken, we counted down the ten seconds to "Go!" and trotted leisurely to the double track entrance of our Mount Saint Helens partial circumnavigation through a chorus of cheers and GPS watch beeps. A hairy fellow with large feet chased us out with a growl and a wave. Now, it was just a matter of one foot in front of the other. This was what we did. We were home.