Date: Thu, 05 Apr 2001 13:17:56 -0600
From: "Joe Prusaitis" 
Organization: Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector
To: "Prusaitis, Joe" 
Subject: barkley

Barkley (1-loop)
March 31 - April 1, 2001
Frozen Head State Park
Wartburg, Tenn
Joe Prusaitis

The sky is gone. I cannot distinguish any difference in shade or outline regardless of where I look. I could have been in a cave and seen the same light. That's the problem. My light is dead, the spare is gone, stolen from my backpack by the thieving thorns & brambles. I found the zipper open and pocket empty, too late. The pickpockets scrape, rub, and pull on you constantly, such that you not notice a deftly pulled zipper and valuables removed. It's not a smooth operation, but one of brute force and hard tactics. I have spare batteries, but not enough. The new ones I just put in are dead. Such is my fate, determined by bad planning. Actually, no planning. I got the call at 3pm and was in my car 12 hours later, driving 1000 miles cross country. Hasty arrangements made with home, work, and all. I revel in spontaneity and snap decisions, but this one was insane. I showed up at the Barkley without a clue. From what I soon learned, I knew as much as the rest.

Driving into Frozen Head State Park, I pass through the Brushy Mountain State Prison. This is for the good guys. The bad guys reside in the prison on the backside of the park. Much of the park used to be prison property and convict labor was used to deep mine coal. Limacher offered me a piece of his campsite parking spot to put my van. I check in, turn in my Texas License plate and six-pack of Lone Star beer, and pick up my instructions. I go down to the park office, buy a park map, and copy Cantrell's route onto my new map. Arranging my gear for the morning, I begin to study the map and instructions. It's difficult, without having seen any of the course. Dave Horton offers to help, talking me through the entire course, using the map as an aid. Cantrell roasts some chicken as it gets dark, and we sit around the fire until 10pm, when he lets us know what time we we're starting in the morning. Initially, it's to be 11am, but Blake adjusts his watch for him, so now it's modified up to 9am.

With map & compass, I walk out of camp along with 34 others. The sky's clear, the mood festive, but nobody runs. I feel good, strong & capable, and painfully ignorant. My only goal is to not get lost, and my best chances are to leach onto someone who knows the course. Find someone within my level of ability so that I can stay the course and not be limited or lost. Anything else will leave me hanging. I keep my eyes open for possibilities. I know John DeWalt goes out strong and keeps on going, even if he does back off some. I don't think I can hang with him early, but if I catch him later, it might work. True to form, John moves uphill away from me like a Billy goat. That old man is one tough character, and not a good option.

I start mid-pack on the initial long climb. By the 10th or 12th switchback, my calves are burning, and we've a long way remaining on this, the first climb. I drop back, easing off, while the lead group separates from me. Another group follows further back, moving much slower. Anointed a Sissy trail, it's easy to follow, but has a few splits that are not so obvious. If I had not seen the lead pack in the distance, I would have missed some for certain. For fear of missing turns, I pick it up. I either have to go faster, or wait on the trailing group, and go slower. I know better than to go out hard on any long run, but now I have a greater fear. At the summit, I can make out bits of color as bodies hurtle down the other side. Blake Wood and Buddy Brasington, both stopped for something, as they're the only ones near. On the downhill side, I begin to roll, and catch up to Buddy. It's not much of a trail, and the wicked turns are difficult to catch. Blake misses one and is standing, scanning for sign, as we pull him back to us. Back on, training my eyes for sign of disturbed leaves, broken branches, we hurtle down the switchbacks. Near bottom, we catch a few stragglers, and pull in behind, our mad gallop arrested but not done.

We follow the contour of the hills, rolling up, down, and round. I study the signs, trying, training my eyes, to learn and memorize the landmarks. The trail itself isn't enough to note. We don't always follow the most obvious route, and given a choice, usually the lesser used. Over and over again, the trail disappears, with no continuation or best guess. When everyone in front goes the same way, it's easy to see, but when they split, they walk on air. Few traverses are well worn, and thus thin and canted. I slide over on my side and butt again and again. Attempting to manage my descent on steep slick mud slides, I grab at branches and trees. Usually this works well, but sometimes finding a weak or dead standing tree, I pull it over on top of me. And the flybacks from the ones Buddy uses sometimes whip into my face. It's all so much fun and laughter now, tumbling backwards down a hillside, but what about later.

A gang of ten or more gather around Book#1, a stream nearby being used to refill water bottles. Taking a page, I place it in a plastic zip-lock inside my pack. We cross over and make our way back up the next ridge. Usually slow on these long uphills, I make more effort to go faster, to hang with the gang, to hell with the ache, and keep me on course. I cross the false Jury Ridge along with Blake, David, Andrew, and Buddy. The vines are thick, blowdowns numerous, and brambles mixed with everything. We slow to a crawl through this playground that bites. Clear of the maze of vines, the traverse becomes clear and fast, the group disappearing quickly in front, leaving Buddy and I behind, for good.

The Manly trail we were on is quickly becoming a What trail. Now you see it, now you don't. Buddy knows the course well, having been on it many times before, so he takes lead and I hang on. We're well matched, making reasonable time, over a few more ridges and down to ten feet wide and ten feet deep Son-of-Bitch Ditch. A stand of eight or so tall thin trees all growing from the same root leans across. Buddy drops down and starts climbing the trees. Slipping, he falls into their midst and wedges his forearm, close to breaking his arm, the lever of his weight working against him. Freeing himself and starting again, he's quickly up, with me soon after. DeWalt is on the hill in front of us, bushwhacking his way strait up the hill. No trail in sight, we follow his lead. It's slow, nasty work, slipping and sliding in deep dank leaves and mulch. We reach the summit road soaking wet with sweat, just as DeWalt runs by going the opposite direction. A wide jeep road takes us easily up to the summit of the 3100 foot Garden Spot and Book#2. Back down the road to Coffin Springs on a poacher road, we find the water jugs and DeWalt. I wasn't real certain we would be given water. So far, I had been lead to believe that I was responsible for everything I'd need. I didn't expect it. John falls off into the trees on the south side of the road, while Buddy and I top of our water and eat. The North Boundary 8mile section took us 3.5hours to do, and I'm starving.

The next 4.5mile section is called HELL. It begins on Anklebreaker trail, which is no trail at all. Down into the trees, drifting due south, bushwhacking, I blindly follow. Making our way to a clearing we can see through the trees down in the distance, we fall off the mountain. The clearing is marshland, spitting water on every step, and it's flat. We make good time along these flats and then turn down again. We find an old coal road that barely makes enough room for a single track trail, crossing Barley Mouth Branch and on up to Bobcat Rock. Buddy looks up at the enormous rock on our left, turns around, and steps off trail. Landing on his butt, he begins to slide downhill on Leonard's Butt Slide. It's steep and muddy, but my size 13s help me ski down standing for most of the way. Partway down, I get some horizontal air with a thumping mud finish. The slide is clear of debris, wiped clean by many butts before ours, smooth and slick slalom runs, slipping between tall thin trees, and picking up speed. We find Book#3 at the bottom of the 3rd slide, and then continue on past for a few more.

We continue after the butt slide on down What trail to the Barley Mouth Branch and then to the New River, just short of 10miles in. We stay to the east of the river, connecting with an old railroad bed. This puts us on the edge of a 100foot cliff that looks strait down into the river. Dropping down to the river bed, we follow the course of the track across. It's gorgeous down here, and I get my camera out for a few good shots. Crossing the creek and distracted a bit, I slip one foot down into the cold water before I catch myself and recover. We continue downstream on the other side through some of the most beautiful country I've seen so far. An oasis! We cross over again with the old railroad bed cutting through and then across again. Still moving downstream, we pass a stone wall with a frying pan on top, our key to turn uphill. We cross a ravine and then up a steep slope. Book#4 is 100 feet up the slope at a good place for a break. We collect our pages and then refuel. Badly misjudging how much I would need, all my snacks and meals are gone.

We start up the very long and steep slope called Little Hell. We take small slow steps, moving constantly, but slowly upward. Each of us finds a stick to use as a wedge, lever, crutch, or machete. Snarling mobs of brambles add to the joy, grabbing at us, tugging and tearing. We make a ridge line and turn right along it and continue to take the route that leads up. There is no trail, but more a general idea that we know must move in this direction. Not even a mile from bottom to top, it takes us forever, as we navigate the steep slope monotonously up. The slope on either side falls away, the ground soft and slick. We use our sticks as levers to wedge us higher. Dark black coal litters the ground, covering everything. Eventually, we top out, where the brambles are even higher and thicker. We're forced to stop and untangle ourselves, but never for long, moving along the crest, still a slight rise. A small gap leads to the jeep road at the top, and just on the cusp of the final rise is Book#5 hanging from a stump. Little Hell is behind us, with a lot of downhill if front.

We take another break. Buddy eats while I remove my wet shoe to evict stowaway stones and muck. The sweat that found me on the climb, now gets a bit cold sitting up high in this wind. With gloves back on, we descend quickly down the jeep road, a large valley falling away to our left. A road splits back off under us to the right, doubling back the way we came, but lower down, and we take it. Less steep, it's damp and marshy, holding the water more than the steeper slopes, but still turning downward. Passing caves covered with bars, we enter the old mine ruins and power line. A couple of old abandoned concrete structures inhabit this step, and a large mine entrance covered with bars is sunk in surrounding concrete. Looks rather eerie and ugly. A large concrete guard tower sits near the ledge, surrounded by high fence and barbed wire. We enter an opening and find Book#6 wedged between the 1st and 2nd floors. We leave the way we came and look up into the teeth of the Rat Jaw trail. No trail really, just a power-line cut overgrown with sawbriers. We find fresh sticks to help beat back the briars and assist to lever our sorry butts up this half-mile 73% grade, 1000-foot long, and 50-foot wide ascent. The instructions were very specific that we had to go strait up, and not around. This is the trail! A large piece of rubber-coated wire lay on the ground up parts of this and Buddy uses this when he can to pull himself up. Other times, we force our bodies up one step at a time, using the sticks when we can. It's mostly soft mulch and brambles, with only an occasional rock. We find ourselves entangled again and again, but we continue to make progress, never stopping once, making headway through this maze. Once atop a step, we have some respite, before the next, and the next. The fog, moving in and out the last few hours, moves in solid now, blotting out everything. No matter really, as it's quite ugly along here anyway, and I don't care to see how much more we have to swim through before the crest. It becomes a tactical boxing match, picking the best path, beating down all attacks, stopping to remove stringers that latch on and pull us back, cutting as it slides along the skin. Rat Jaw leaves it's multitude of bites on us both, and we top out finally with a few new tokens to add to our collection of memories. We toss our sticks, make a right on the jeep road, and walk around the top of Frozen Head Mountain's fire tower to the water laid out for us. We're finally free of Little Hell with about 13 miles behind us.

We make good time on the road and then a well traveled trail for a bit. On top of the mountain, it's down in every direction, and we can hear voices around us carrying from who knows where. Three boys at the intersection to Mart Field are looking for the fire tower. We give them directions as we run by. Watching for our marker, we're moving pretty well when we find the stone. MF is carved into it, and blood red paint's splattered across it. No trail leads off, and it's not obvious which route we should take. I step off trail and move towards the ridge, just parallel to the trail on my left. Eventually, a fresh trail tails off to the right of the ridge, so we follow it. The ridge on our left grows larger as we stay right, and we eventually make a sharp left turn, heading strait back up the side to the top. The faint trail disappears, so we keep moving up the side, searching for a large fallen tree, a good place to sit, and Book#7. We stop at one prospect, with no luck, continue up to the next and the next. Finally, we find one that looks perfect and are rewarded by Book#7 and good resting spot. This section is new this year, and being dubbed The Hump or Rude Dawgs Detour.

We follow the ridge line south down a shallow saddle and up the next point through brambles and deep leaves. Over and off the ridge, we land back on trail, but don't know exactly which trail. We study our maps, directions, and compass, and still aren't certain, because we don't know for certain exactly where we came off the ridge. I think we should go left, while Buddy thinks right. We go left for a few hundred yards, then turn around and go back. Finding Mart Field campsite, we learn that our 1st guess was right, so we turn back around and go back the other way again. The trail drops off the ridge to a good decline, and confused again, we stop and check our charts once more. This time, it makes sense, so we continue until we intersect the trail we left earlier for the MF or Rude Dawg detour. We're soon up at Indian Knob, passing a large rock along the way with the profile of an Indian's face. We find the large capstone and pass through the needle's eye hole and circle round.

Again, like a few times before, Buddy steps off trail and falls strait down the mountainside, trying to keep his feet under him. Through the briars and deep leaves, we slow our descent as best we can by snagging trees and vines, occasionally pulling half dead trees over on us. Slipping and sliding, we move quickly down the Zip Line trail, which is again no trail at all. Multiple ridge lines separate different creeks, none more distinguishing than the other. I cannot see why we would choose this one we are on more than any other, so I blindly follow. The idea is to reach the juncture of two creeks. We cross a few trails running perpendicular to our descent, which we don't slow for or even consider. Lots of big rocks now as we near the base, yet we continue to make our way generally downhill, downstream, and southwest. Reaching Beech Fork, we cross just above a waterfall. It is obvious that nobody else has come this way today, as the trail on the other side has not been used in some time. We move downstream along a wisp of a trail on a steep embankment, crossing the creek into a meadow, flat & pretty, and back across again. It's lush & green down here, so I take out my camera and get quite a few more shots. We climb a short slope to Book#8, nestled into the hollow of a tree and take a break. Buddy shares some of his food with me.

We are now at the base of Big Hell. The last really big climb and the worst, I am told. We find fresh sticks and walk slowly upwards, same as before, methodically, with as little wasted effort as possible, and without stop. Our route takes us the steepest way up, through some brambles, but less than some of our others, and less steep but longer than Little Hell. Not even a mile, it takes 45minutes to summit at the capstone of Chimney Top Mountain. We edge round the east face of the capstone looking for Book#9, but can't find it, so we go back around again and find it hanging in a tree just off the far south face. Page collected, we take short break. Buddy hands me a fistful of gingersnap cookies as we make ready to descend. We make our way around and through the next capstone. Rested and ready to rock, with nothing but Sissy trail in front of us, we begin our descent. Stink of cigar wafts through the air, so odd that Buddy comments about it. A few minutes later, we pass a fellow smoking who heard our conversation long before we reach him, and he comments how conversation and smoke carry a long way up here. Our speed increases, while I quickly swallow one gingersnap after another. We're most of the way down when Buddy tells me we'll be back in camp in 45 minutes. He points out Rough Ridge in the distance through the trees, and says that's the last climb, and not much of one either. Relatively speaking, after where we've been, I'm not sure what he means by 'Not Much'. We near bottom and then turn sideways, traversing for a ways, and then descend to the creek. We cross over and then start to climb again, but don't slow much. We pass a steep ledge where trail sign shows somebody has slipped and fallen off, sliding down into the culvert and then climbing back out. That must have been a surprise, the fall first, but then climbing back out of there. We quickly pass over Rough Ridge and then look down into the valley where camp is. Park headquarters is visible below us now, and we circumnavigate around it. Moving strait down the hill towards it, we turn right and go across the flats for a short ways, and cross a creek on a hikers wooden bridge. Passing a park bathroom over to a paved road, we climb onto the road and run up the road to the park. Left across the bridge and uphill, we run the last 100yards to the gate. It's 7pm, and we have beat the night on the first 20mile loop in 10hours even. Now it's going to get more difficult.

Buddy heads off to his dinner while I go to my van to make myself ready for the 2nd loop. All my clothes are wet and muddy, so I change them all, including fresh socks and Montrails. Remembering my food problems, I load up more this time. I drink some ensure while I work and munch a sandwich. I check my lights and discover my good lightweight LED headlamp is gone. I had it stowed away in case it got dark on the first loop, but it must have been snatched out of my zip during the first loop odyssey. I take two of my other hand lights, load them both, and stuff a bag of batteries in a zip. Ready to go, I call my wife to let her know I'm ok, and then head over to Buddy's camp. His crew loads his backpack while he eats. They offer me a steaming hot plate of noodles and meat sauce also, which I accept. They tell me it's gonna get cold tonight, in the 20s, with rain, sleet, and maybe snow. And also, a prisoner has escaped and is loose in the woods. I go back to my van for my GoreTex pants and then load up and head out with Buddy.

It's still a warm night, and we're both ready for the cold, overdressed and sweating like pigs on this long climb. We stop to adjust and then continue with less clothes on. There is no one else in sight, no lights, and very dark sky overhead. It's going to a very a very dark night. We make good time, taking all the correct splits, turns, and twists. We are well on our way to the 1st book, when my light goes out. This is not good. I stop to replace the batteries and we talk about hours of dark, how much battery power, and determine that I'm way too short. We continue to move forward, when the light goes out again. Damn, I'm screwed now. What is the deal? These were from a brand new pack of batteries. I have been burned like this before, but I had no time to check them. I was so rushed that I didn't think all of this through and now I'm having a major problem due to it. Buddy's set, but I'm going to be a handicap for him, with this new problem. Up to this point, we've worked well together, with me mostly hanging on and providing company. Not so, now! I feel awful. Strong as an ox, fired up and ready to rock, sans light and worthless. Damn! I have only one real choice and both of us know it. I turn back. Slowly at first, then I run hard, with all the pent up anger and energy from bad luck and poor planning. Pissed and angry at first, eventually cooling down from the hard run. Almost back, I pass Mahoney going out with his tiny penlight. I wish him well and continue back in.

I surprise Cantrell. He didn't expect me and wonders what's up. I explain my woes and he says I still have time to fix my lights and head back out. I find another light and stash 2 packs of 12 batteries each in my zips, then go looking to see if anyone else is heading out. I would still be lost alone in the dark, and don't want to chance it. I talk to Leonard, not sure I even want to mess with it. I pull up a chair near the gate, head spinning, thoughts awhirl in a maelstrom of this and that. My brain's steaming when Leonard heads out. I jump up and go with, still spinning.

We talk, swapping stories and histories, climbing quickly, catching Dick near the summit and descending the other side with him. The three of us struggle with the turns, loosing the trail over and over again, careful on the muddy slides. Leonard and Dick both know the course well, having run it many times, but the sky's as black as the earth and everything's very difficult to see. We find Mahoney wandering around lost in the bottoms. He joins our troop shortly before we find Book#1.

We cross the stream when my water bladder goes dry. With all the other issues, I've neglected to fill my water. Things just aren't going well for me at all on this loop. I stop to top my bladder in the creek, and stuff it back in my Camelback. More wasted time. We climb the next ridge, descend again, and repeat endlessly as a storm moves in and starts to rain. Along with it, comes the fog. Leonard's resolute about making good time, but he keeps falling, and we all keep loosing the trail, and finding it again. Leonard asks if any of us want to take lead, but Matt & I cannot, while Dick defers to Leonard. It's slow work and tiring. The scrambles through brambles, slick downhill slides, bushwhacking strait up mountain sides, and it began to wear on me. Looking down, I run my face into a thick branch, cutting the bridge of my nose. As slow as we're going, it's too fast to see everything coming at us, and keep the trail also. We find ourselves in a deep pocket on a steep hillside, wanting to go up, and being forced to climb up root and tree to escape. Finding trail, we lose it again, and more bushwhacking. There's no way to get back in time for a clean finish, so we decide to take the easy way out, as soon as we find it. Leonard and I decide we've had enough. On top, we find the jeep road and go left, passing the real path that we lost, and then on up to the Garden Spot in the pouring rain and dense fog. We find Book#2 and head back to Coffin Springs, where I plan to put the final nail in my coffin. We stop to load up on water and eat. 7hours to reach what took me 3.5hours the last time. Mahoney challenges Leonard to go on, and he changes his mind, deciding to continue with Dick and Mat, to finish the loop. The fog so thick, you can't see 10feet, I ask for directions to the road. Leonard says I'm on it. The three of them we're looking for the best way down to the Butt Slide when I left them, hopefully going in the correct direction.

Alone! For the first time on this run. It's Sunday now, April Fool's day. How perfect is that? Daylight Savings Time began at 2am, so I've lost another hour. Coincidences, bad luck, fate, bad planning, and all the rest spin through my head. I wonder if the escapee is up here and I wonder if I'm on the right road? Sure hope these batteries last and I don't really know how far this road is, how long it will take me to get back, and if I have enough batteries to get me there! Fortunately, it's mostly downhill going back, but it's also open to the wind and the rain. The storm continues, as does the fog. Splashing through the pools of water and mud, I can't see anything until I'm in it. I walk first, and then run. My feet are not feeling too good from all the sliding. A few hot spots feel like they might want to blisters, but not just yet. I'm wet, damp, and clammy from sweat and mist. The rain is kept out, but not the rest. I keep moving and stay warm. Not comfortable, but not in trouble either. I reach a T in the road, and turn right. This turn makes sense, so I'm on the right road, I think. I keep running for a long ways it seems. Nothing to keep me company but a million excuses, I trudge endlessly on until I finally see the fire. I'm back. Done. Finished! The sky becomes noticeably brighter as I walk back into camp.

Cantrell asks again, what happened? I suppose I'm done having fun! I still have my million excuses, but none will fly, so I save 'em all. I go down to the bathroom where I shower and put on clean clothes. A few others are there, cleaning up and getting ready for a nap prior to going back out on their 3rd loop. Blake & David have already begun their 3rd loop. Sue & Hans are in camp, eating, changing clothes, and getting ready to start on their 3rd loop. I clean my gear, the van, and make ready to drive home. I thank Cantrell for letting me run his race and then I'm off by 8am. I drive out while Sue & Hans leave on foot for their 3rd loop.

Austin is 1050miles from here and I haven't been asleep for awhile, so I don't know how this was going to go either. But, I do know the way. I pass through Wartburg and get sleepy by the time I reach Harriman, only 30 miles gone. I pull into a Best Western, park, and fall asleep as soon as I close my eyes. Awake 20 minutes later, I mount I-40 west and make it another 50 miles. I stop at a roadside park where I take another cat nap. I hop like this all the across Tennessee, through Nashville and Memphis, then Little Rock, which was about half way. I might get 100miles between naps. By then I'm more awake and the book tape I have is keeping me entertained. Homer's 'Odyssey' is 12 tapes and appropriate for this entire adventure, including trip over and back again. Odysseus has his plans, but the gods plans override them. He does as best he can with all the setbacks. I have other tapes too, but these I had already listened to an on the way over. 'Tale of the Narwhal' and 'A Tale of the Sea'. Feels good to finally get back to Texas, but I still have 350miles to go. Dallas, as usual, is a high speed berserk experience. I make it back through Waco before I start to zone again. With less than 100miles to go, I have to work to stay awake again. The Odyssey ended in Temple, so I stop for coffee to prop my eyes open for the final 50miles. Home by 1am and to work by 7am, followed by College classes from 6pm 'til 9pm. Tonight, I'm sleeping like a rock, but Blake and David are still out there somewhere in Frozen Head State Park being harassed by Barkley.