A Siren Song and a Warm Bed
I have been moving forever and I must move forevermore. There is only the shuffling of my feet and the occasional attempts to run which are stalled by the pains in my legs.
It is clear to me that the myth of Sisyphus is derived from ancient tales of runners given phenomenal tasks.
I am weary but it is the tightness in my hip that is slowing me. Occasional runners plod past me and I feel only mild frustration. The sense of urgency has abandoned me, and this is no longer a competition; it has become a way of life, an existence, a soul purpose. I move on, each step is past me. The next step faces me and demands my strength. I am in the meditative state.
I am running without a light as the brightness of the moon is almost blinding. It lights the trail with a cool feverish glow that causes what it touches to vibrate and casts long ink dark shadows that ripple softly across the barren landscape. It is the world of the Necromancers where the pale sun is near death and strangeness stalks a shadowy land.
Dark forms on my right become Mayan warrior heads as I approach. They line the trail like a history painted on the walls of a ceremonial pyramid, each head marking the passage of an ancient reign. I know each will tell me some gruesome story if I stop, but I move slowly by focused on the trail. They silently mouth strange curses and charms to me; each in turn offended when I do not stop to listen to his tale. One head leers at me flicking a snake-like tongue, eyes wide and ogling, it raises a dagger as I stare back in fascination. The image morphs and I find myself confronting a dancing kokopeli who plays a tune on his flute that draws me toward the darkness. Blackness sweeps over me and the entrancer slides out of my vision in turbulent rolling focus as my eyes cross and roll to search the back of my brain.
Forcing myself to concentrate on the moonlit form, I come almost to a stop before the shimmering dancer takes on the appearance of the white fluffy heads of a large cactus. I look ahead and a giant grinning coyote sits like a chinkit guarding the left of the path. I gaze to the right for its twin just as a large dog bounces out of the deep darkness howling and yipping after my unsteady steps. Turning on my headlamp in the hope of dispelling the marauding images I find the moon is so bright the beam of the LED makes only a smudged and cloudy mark on the ground and conjures up distortions worse than those of the simple moonlight. I turn off the lamp and jog slowly on.
The trail is familiar. I have passed over it five times already, but the vistas off the trail are surreal aggregations of animals, Indian spirits, and tawdry trailer parks. I just accept them as they appear; it is too much trouble to fight to clear my brain. It is ok I tell myself as long as I can see the trail, as long as I do not allow some enchantment to lead me astray.
A coyote growls and yips not 30 yards away, pulling me from another cycle of moon struck illusions. Yipping back I press along the brightly lit path through a large sleeping pueblo village where I am suddenly startled by a smiling black haired woman who waves to me from a second story window of the pueblo. She calls out the window and sings a song promising a warm shower, clean sheets, and eternal sleep in her arms. A siren I tell myself but I am tempted nonetheless and stagger toward her home. Her white cotton gown is translucent in the moonlight and I can see the roundness of her breasts and curve of her hips. The wooden stairway, the smiling woman, the promise of a warm bed it is all so good. Then suddenly I stumble and my attention is momentarily on my feet, Looking up I find she is gone, and the pueblo has become yet another light industrial zone trailer park. I do not want this to end, but there are no lights, no second story windows, no enticing woman; just large metal boxes. Moving on the memory of the promised warm bed and the dark haired woman’s knowing smile and laugh fill me with desire like a soft hit of pakalolo. I may be tired I think to myself, but I am not dead.
The sky lights up as I catch the flash of a large meteor burning a florescent green and yellow trail through the western sky. It moves so slowly it appears to be a burning plane and as it disappears behind the mountain I half expect to hear an explosion, but all is silent. Moments later another flashes along the same path. They are so clear and bright I feel I can almost reach up and touch them. I stop, raise my arms and give thanks to spirits of this place for the beauty of the night.
A coyote howls and briefly drowns out the sound of my feet shuffling over the gritty trail. Another trickster off to the left answers the call, the barking and the yipping echoing back and forth through the glowing moonlit night. I yip back and howl at the moon. A long mournful cry echoes from my lungs and the coyotes chuckle in response.
I am somewhere beyond 75 miles. Somewhere out on that long stretch of trail that winds up into the hills before beginning the long arch of the loop that carries the trail back to its beginning. I have stopped shivering. The pain in my hip is no longer so bad that I limp along, but I still cannot jog without looking like some kind of busted up land crab skittering lamely along the rocky path
I press on and slow only when the trail begins to become unfamiliar twists and coils along the back of a giant rattlesnake. Shuffling along the coils, I look ahead to see a car sized wedged head moving back and forth in the distance, its black eyes reflecting bits of moonlight as it prepares to strike. Entranced I stumbled toward it hypnotized by the shimmering eyes. It strikes and just as the great fangs are about to rip into me two runners appear out of the blackness, their headlamps bobbing in unison.
Squinting and shaking my head I mutter the often repeated acknowledgment ‘Hey how you doing?’
The often heard benediction ‘Good Job! 'Keep it up buddy', is the quite reply.
I’m tempted to ask “Where’s the beach brah?” but know it’s an insider joke.
The world flips and I am once again in a race that has no ending. Pains in my hip and feet replace the numbness that had filled me; the outlandish landscapes are held back by this brief brush with beings from an alternative unreality. Then as I push on as my eyes cross, and I focus once again on a world gone mad. I make my way silently through another trailer park toward a giant smiling neon cowboy who waves a great ten-gallon hat back and forth on a mechanical arm and as I pass he howls a loud ‘Yippee!’
My aid-station stop at 75 miles had been hard at best. I sat down on the bench of a picnic table and could have fallen asleep with my head propped on my hands. Perhaps I did. My body simply dissolved and I sat there as naked as a skeleton, little more than pain and complete exhaustion. When I rose to get a drink my hip spasmed and I doubled over, staggering to the cooler. Somebody asked me if I was all right and I shook my head ‘No all left actually” I mumbled. Somebody else asked me if my leg was cramped. I shook my head and ‘piriformis and rotators’.
“Few steps and I be right as rain?’ I heard myself quip. It was the most outlandish thing I could think of saying, but they seemed to believe it the truth of an affirmation. It was preposterous that I was thinking of heading out again. The reasons for stopping were mounting.
I looked down at the salt streaks that formed like icicles on my shirt and made the mistake of reading the shirt front. H awaii U ltra R unning T eam…. Is plastered across my chest. HURT. Well I am that, I thought sardonically. But the shirt had POWER. It was a bit of the Islands, and I suddenly realized it carried with it the strength of mythical Hawaiian trail runners, and more importantly, the Hurt Family. The shirt evidently also had an audio chip built into it because I distinctly heard Don Fallis chuckle at me and tell me this was the time that he told me would come. This was time where it counted.
“Now look Mike, you are not very fast, and you are certainly not too bright, as your present situation shows,” He added with a laugh. “ But you are not a quitter. You are not going to stop,’ he said with a taunting laugh, “because you can not come home a quitter!”
People in the station looked at me kind of strange when I answered Don on that one.
Now, I had asked John Salmonson for the shirt, and I put it on with pride. But, quite frankly, it wasn’t until mile 75 that I realized I had yet to really earn the right to wear. I looked up and I could feel the entire HURT gang standing silently at my side in that Aid Station. I could feel the power of Hawaii. I cannot honestly say I wanted to feel that power. The strength to go on came to me unbidden. But I knew I was going on despite all my excuses, and all the reasons to do the ‘sane’ thing. So I struggled to my feet, had one last drink of Succeed, and hobbled, shivering and quite miserable toward 90 miles. It was insane and I giggled about it for a mile or so. But there was no way I could quit. I would crawl before I quit. HURT was not going to DNF the Javelina. And I was, on that particular day and place, the HURT.
Fountain Valley lies to the east of Phoenix, which is one big sprawl of homes and developments that fall upon the dry land like a colossal cancer. Fountain Valley does, indeed, have a fountain. One which shoots so high into the air it is as if the earth itself is taking a long needed leak and I whenever I gazed at it I half expected to hear Gia sighing in relief. It is so high, in fact, that one can see it from many places on the trail even though it must be five miles from the McDowell Mountain Park, miles from the Pemberton trail that winds snakelike up into the foothills and then takes forever to work its way back down. It is low desert, despite the trail’s climb, with saguaro cactus and mesquite brush. There are lots of coyotes up there but the javalina were too shy to accept the honor. The way is along mostly gravely trails and tracks, hard packed and well used. The trail winds in and out of arroyos and rock formations, up and down a mild grade that can turn the distance between aid stations into an eon long march.
The daytime had been clear and hot, too hot for a soft-bodied creature such as myself. My water consumption peaked near 60 plus ounces every five miles or so, with a high dosing of electrolytes to balance the inflowing river of fluids. The low humidity, perhaps 15 percent, meant that every opening of my body was expelling water at a rapid rate. Lungs, nose, mouth and skin were all being sucked dry. Salt collects on the body faster than on a Hawaiian tidal salt flat and abrasion is a constant problem at all those common tender points. A large can of Bag Balm was my regular friend at the main station. Though it felt very good not to be soaked and smelling like an ammonia factory, the trade-off to parched and dry was no less difficult, and the cautions no less severe.
It was the hardness of the trail that I found most difficult. Much of the time it was like running on asphalt. My right piriformis began acting up early and I could only beat on it with my water bottle for so long before the compressions became a problem of potential bruising. Ibuprofen had its limits. The bad hip cost me hours of time. Race walking saved me and allowed me to finish.
I ran with gaiters and was glad that Don had lent me his pair. The dust was so fine it worked its way through my shoes, but the heavier stuff did not get into my socks. I saw a few runners at aid stops who were having foot problems that appeared to be related to gravel and sand. The bottoms of the arroyos were often like running along Kailua beach and there were sections where the rock and gravel was strewn so loosely down hillside paths it made it hard not to kick up lots of dust, gravel, and rock. Desert running demands gaiters. In fact I think gaiters are a new essential for me no matter where I plan to run.
I started smart with a reasonable time on the first loop, got stupid for a couple of loops chasing those ahead of me, and then paid for it through the night. I saw a chance at doing under 24 hours disappear by 60 miles, 26 fall by 75 and 28 at 90. I managed to get something together on the last ten miles but could not break 28 hours, and settled for 28:24. I was happy with that considering how I felt out there beyond 75 miles. It is my belief that I could do a 24 if everything went just right, and an good 26 with proper self pacing.
The Javalina Jundred is a great race and a good run for a virgin 100 miler. In terms of difficulty I met a few people who had done the 100K at HURT and were in the 26-hour range at Javalina. I did 22:20 for the HURT 100K last year and did a 28:24 100 Mile at Javalina. If you can run streets it’s a fast run. If you are a mudder you may suffer, as I did, from some foot, leg, or hip wear due to the hard packed nature of the trails. The trails have some technical issues but you could probably encounter just as many in that 200 yard rooty section coming into Manoa.
Jimmy Wrublik and his crew of Javalina Jundred Aid Station volunteers did a wonderful job. I was treated very well at every stop and every effort was made to make my stay good and short. But it was at 60 and 75 miles when I really needed the help. I came in at 60, the heat of the long day frying my body and brain, and there was a very kind volunteer waiting for me. He stuck by me seeing to my every need, getting me to eat and drink when I just wanted to sit, talking to me about my gear and my plan, and finally offering me a lot of encouragement when I limped off in search of 75. That really helped. I never got his name, but I will always remember his kindness. At 75 I was spaced out for a long time and the patience of the volunteers was phenomenal. Limping away from the station I felt like I was going out the front door of a Hospice when I’d come in destined to quickly leave via the rear exit.
Javalina offers the Hawaii Ultra runner a complete change of scenery and methodology. The washing machine loops (out, turn around, and back the way you came.) give you a chance to see all the runners on each loop and get a good feeling of participation in the event while still remaining fairly isolated on the trail. The optional Halloween theme is fun and adds to the character of the experience. I followed the Grim Reaper for miles and would occasionally catch sight of him flashing across a barren ridgeline, black robes flowing, sickle held high, a group of collected souls following close behind him. I finally passed the Dark Soul when he stopped to take a leak. At the time the surreal nature of that occurrence seemed to have almost life changing significance. One of those ‘You had to be there!’ moments, I guess.
I strongly recommend the run. Jimmy and his gang are a great bunch of people. They got Aloha! Mahalo Jimmy and to your Crew!