Remember what it was like on your first day of school each year? You wore your best outfit, you were excited to see your friends again, and while there was a nervousness in the air, no one would ever let on that they were anxious about what this year would bring. Pulling into Frozen Head State Park had the same feeling. I’ve looked forward to this for so long and I could not actually believe that it was finally happening.
Thursday morning was still brisk but warmer than yesterday. We met up with Bill Lovett and headed out on the trails. We returned mid-day for lunch and was lucky enough to meet up with Frozen Ed Furtaw and reviewed the park map with him for quite some time. This picture was by far one of my favorite from the entire weekend. Frozen, talked with Bill and I for almost an hour before we headed off to camp for a nice thick Bacon Cheese Burger for lunch (we ate good all week!!!) Frozen Ed is a pioneer in the Barkley and knows these trails like the back of his hand. I wanted his autograph, but was too caught up in the moment to ask. These “old” guys are my heroes!
Thursday night was T-bone night! We ate until our stomachs were full and then called it another early night. Friday was going to be a long day and my body was pretty tired from another long day on the trail. I slept like a rock that night, waking up to high winds and pouring rain well after 9am. Karen and I strung up our tarps the night before so we were able to cook breakfast without getting drenched. Bo Millwood made it to camp just before 11am and all the excitement of the race was now buzzing around camp. I turned in my virgin licenses plate, got checked in (Bib #9 for lap one) and got to meet a lot of the racers. My plan was to hang around camp until the map was put out, copy it with accuracy and then try to lay down for a quick nap. I opted for a short hike with Bo and Karen to burn off some nervous energy as it would be a few hours until the map was visible.
We took an easy stroll to the top of Bird Mountain again and I’m glad that we did. Sitting around camp in the damp rain was making my body stiff. When we got back I copied the route onto my map and got some last minute advice from the veterans before heading down to Jodi Isenor’s camp to review the Stallion Mountain area in great detail. This proved very useful on race day and I’m glad I took the extra time as a lot of people find themselves lost on this section. Jodi was an awesome guy and you could just tell that he was going to do well on race day!
A nice pasta dinner followed by a hot shower had me backed up to “bed time” as the race could start as early as midnight. Bo volunteered to stay up and listen for the conch as Karen was still on deck with the possibility of getting into the race! Then I did something that I thought would never happen: I fell asleep and slept well.
The North Boundary Trail is in fact a “candy ass” trail but it goes on forever and the trail was slick from the rain. Trying to run downhill in certain sections was very difficult as I continued to slip off the trail. I watched Jodi pull away and found myself alone for the first time as I headed towards Book #4 at the Garden Spot. Prior to the race, everyone said, don’t be alone out there, latch onto a veteran that knows the course and hold on for dear life. I continued to navigate the NBT alone until 5-Lap Finisher John Fegyveresi came into sight behind me on the trail. I pulled myself up Son of a Bitch Ditch and continued towards the Coal Ponds as John pulled me along to The Garden Spot and Book #4 where the first water drop was located. Nicki also came up at this point and I was set on holding on to her throughout the rest of Stallion Mountain.
About this time Willy “Natureboy” Syndram came up on us and took off with a blaze and a quick “be sure to look for these rocks next time Tim, it’s your marker to go down”. Willy was looking strong and eating a tortilla wrapped hotdog. We continued to navigate to such famous Barkley markers such as Bobcat Rock, Leonards Butt Slide and Hiram’s Pool and Spa. We hit Book #5 in 4:20 and the course was now soaked and muddy. I was loving every minute of it.
A quick change of clothes and a refuel I was back at the gate with bib #19 in hand and I was heading out for more. It was going to be a cold and wet night but I was exceeding my own expectations at that point. The climb going up Bird Mountain would set my pace for the rest of the night. I had “no more up” in my legs, but I continued to push on. I was very comfortable getting to Book #1 and down the back side of Jaque Mate Ridge and ran into Bob Jones on his way back up to camp from Book #1. I talked him into following me to at least Book #2 and we headed off together. We followed our early tracks to the NBT but when we reached the creek bed at the bottom I felt lost. Nothing looked the same. The small creeks were now rushing streams and I couldn’t tell if we were too far North or too far South. We hiked 30 Minutes North along the creek before realizing that we were not going the right direction. We turned around and hiked back to the point where we started and could not make heads or tails of our location. We sat down on a rock and then saw an Orange trail blaze on the tree in front of us. We had found the trail and decided to push on to Book #2.
The climb up to Jury Ridge was LONG. I still had “no more up” in my legs and the switchbacks seemed to go on forever. The wind was strong and the rain/ ice/ snow mix hurt when it hit your face. My core was warm even though my feet were drench from the rivers that now flowed down the trail. Bob and I found Book #2 and we each pulled out our page. In front of us was a tough decision. Do we push on into the “new section” for Book #3 and try to climb out or do we turn around here and start the long and hard climb back to camp. I had “no more up” in my legs and knew that we had at least 18 switchbacks of “up” directly behind us just to quit. That was the moment I quit the Barkley – It may have taken three more hours to get back to camp, but sitting at Book #15, I was done. The long process to get here was over and I knew that the education I got out there was more valuable than any lesson I could learn in any other classroom.