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Barkley 2008

Well, by now, most of you know that my futile attempt at Barkley was.... well, futile. I flew into Nashville late on Thursday, and drove the 3 hours to Frozen Head State Park on Friday morning. Many of the runners had been there most of the week checking out the trails... er.. route. Friday was spent setting up camp and talking to old friends.

The sun came up on Sat am, and most of the runners were milling around waiting for the bugle which signifies 1 hour to the start. The horn finally went off at 7:40 am so we gathered and waited for the start. Promptly at 8:40 am, the starting cigarrette was lit, and we were off. Weather was great as it was in the mid-40s at the start and overcast. The high for the day was probably mid-60's with light rain and fog.

(Fatboy and Frozen Ed at the start. We were required to wear Orange because it was hunting season.)

The first climb up Bird Mountain (1600 ft in 1.4 miles) and down (1200 ft) the back side to Book 1 was great. The trail had been cleared a lot since I had last been there in 1995. Tearing my page out of book 1, we turned east along the North Boundary trail. In 1995, you couldn't really tell where the trail was, but again it had been cleared for most of the north boundary section. Awesome, as we were making great time. I found myself running with John from the UK, and little navigation was needed. Unfortunately, at Bald Knob, about 2 hours into the run, we continued on a good trail and came out at a jeep road. Upon referring the the written directions, we had gone about 1/4 mile too far and backtracked to the original north boundary trail. Now that it was more Barkley like, the old NBT was overgrown with briars and had many blowdowns. We missed a switchback and continued out in the middle of nowhere, until we saw runners below us on the "trail". Back through the blowdowns and we were back on course.

(Yes, this is part of the old North Boundary Trail)

I had hoped to get to Son of a Bitch Ditch which marks the official 10k distance in good time, but made it in 3:15, 5 minutes off of my PR. We figured we had lost about 25-30 minutes on route finding.

(Son of a Bitch Ditch)

John and I ended up hooking up with a few others that knew the course much better than us, and made it to book 2. After leaving "The Garden Spot" we headed down the road and refilled at the first of the two water drops. Continuing down the road another couple hundred yards, we came to a 5 way intersection and spent another 10 minutes discussing which direction to head. Leonard caught up with us as we made the correct turn, but then immediately guided us off the road and up a ridge to Book 3. We would have definitely missed that turn as the written description was not clear. At this point, we decided to stick with Leonard, as our efforts of pushing ahead were stalled time and time again with route finding. During the remainder of the loop, other runners fell in and out of our group, but the group generally consisted of about 5 or 6 people, mainly Frozed Ed Furtaw (first fun run finisher back in the 80's), Leonard (famous for Leonards Butt Slide), John Price from VA, Sue from Michigan, UK John, and myself.

(Matt Mahoney near the coal ponds)

Book 4 was not far away... or was it. As we approached the location, there were several other runners meandering around the area looking for the book. Apparently, someone had taken the book which was hidden in a "rattlesnake den" under a tree root ball about 50 feet off of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I'm still curious as to how someone would come across it. We spent another 5-10 minutes looking to satisfy ourselves that it was really gone before dropping off the east boundary of the park. Dropping off, literally in several places, as we would encounter cliffs where we would have to find cracks or trees to work our way down. The directions indicate that you follow yellow marked trees until the terrain levels out, then head south down a creekbed to a river, cross the river and head straight for a road. Once again, John and I got ahead of the group and lost time on poor navigation.

(Climbing down through the cliffs)

After crossing the road, we headed up Pig Head creek, signified by a Pig skull on a stick which was supposed to be obvious from the road. Someone pointed it out to me as we crawled up through the brush. Up we went to Book 5, and the bottom of Testicle Spectical, which was nothing more than power lines straight up the hill. The lack of trees made for some great sawbrier growth. The climb was pretty steep and slick in many places. Topping out, we then descended down Meth Lab hill, still under the power lines then pealed off to look for a waterfall. Book 6 was hiding somewhere near.

(The climb up Testicle Spectical)

(Decending Meth Lab Hill)

Crossing back over the road, the course once again became somewhat familiar, as the remainder had changed little since 1995. Climbs up Rat Jaw (1000 ft in 3/4 mile immediately followed by another 1000 ft in a mile), down Zip Line (1500 ft in 1 mile), and up Big Hell (1600 ft in 1 mile), which were mostly not on trail. Its amazing what one can remember. The final 2 miles were down (1800 ft in 2 miles) on a good trail and back to the campground. Since John and I had been conserving for some time, we pushed the pace back to the campground. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention and twisted the ankle on the descent. After walking it off, we jogged back in to finish lap 1 (20 miles) in just over 11 hours.

(The climb up Rat Jaw)

(Book 9 at Indian Knob)

(The climb up Hell)

After a 20 minute aid station break, consisting of change of clothes, reloading the pack, eating, and getting a new number, we took off for loop 2. The climb up Bird Mountain only took about 5 minutes more than the first lap, and the descent about another 5 minutes. Legs were feeling great and all systems were in good order. No stomach or sleepy issues. It got dark just before book 1, and I left John to head to book 2 while he returned to the start. Making good time, I gained about 20 minutes on the runner ahead, and caught him on the climb just before Bald Knob, where the course gets off the maintained trail. For some time I had been convincing myself that the steep rocky decents down the East Boundary and Zip Line would not be good on the ankle. So, as I reached the summit of Bald Knob, I decided to bail and save it for another day.

Flyin Brian set a new 5 loop course record in something like 56 hours. Seven runners (including Brian) finished the 3 loop "fun run". Even though I was a bit disappointed with not getting a fun run finish, I had a great time. The 15 hours spent out in the hills of Tennessee were grueling... and wonderful. I felt fit, healthy, and ready but you also have to have a lot of luck to finish this event.