I stood up and went over the edge, down into the Caldera, taking the 50 mile route... as planned. The cutoff was in another 30 minutes, so I had to get hard after it now. No more screwing around. No time for thinking about what-ifs. I had to run. I slipped off my feet, landing hard on my ass directly on a rock, and sliding. I could feel my skin being scraped as I slid off the rock and onto another one. One of my hands too! I managed to arrest the slide, catch myself from farther damage, and slowly stand up. I could hear Nancy laughing and pointing at me. Yea, even I can bust my buns and look a fool. One good thing about the fall though... it really spun me up, got my blood pumping in more places than my ass. Once reoriented in the right direction and vertical, I started running, and running well, for the first time today.
Bobby had a good lead on me, but I thought to catch him, if I could. My vision is awful and I worried about finding the route. If I could just hook up, I'd feel a lot more confidant with finding my way. So, I ran... and I told my aches and pains to shut up. I didn't have time for long conversations with the beat up old bag of bones inside my clothes.
The previous 22 miles wasn't much to talk about. It was dark for awhile, then I was miserable for awhile, then I was worried for awhile, then I climbed over one great big ol mountain that started the bones whining, and by the time I arrived at decision point, I was ready to take the short cut home. I hadn't talked to anybody about it, but it was in my mind. Problem was, I was so confused by the time I got there, I had to sit down to work it out... and that took awhile.
The Caldera is wide open and pastoral, with lines of trees along the endless rolling dirt road, and a sky in turmoil... thick black & grey clouds mixed with pastel blues. I couldn't see far enough to know if Bobby was close enough to catch, but ran like I knew that I would... and in time, I did see two dark shapes well ahead. I made it my mission to catch them, and so I did. It was Bobby... and also Rene. I fell in with them, and backed off a bit, to recover from my surge. A little further, it was just Rene and I who found the Aid Station... and soon after, we turned off the road.
Tufts of brown and light green grass filled the field as far as I could see to the left and right, with barely a visible track leading through it... but track it was, It wasn't strait or constant, as we dropped down, skipped to tracks right and left. Before long, we turned up... towards the trees and the mountains. It was the thunder boom that drew my attention to the misty white cloud that filled the entire space down valley. A light rain began, but it wasn't enough to warrant a rain jacket yet, and not knowing if it would continue or pass, we kept moving. The coolness of it felt great though, and helped me to manage my energy well even as we started to climb. Not only did I not feel the need to slow down, but I took the lead and started to move better as we climbed.
The so called 'new trail' was no trail at all. Matter of fact, it crossed ditches, downed trees, and was rarely if ever in a direct line. Nancy caught us in the trees and I could still see Bobby just back a ways. We wondered about, as the light rain got heavier, turned to sleet, hail, and then snow. I took the time to put on my rain jacket, and renewed my surge up through the fall-downs. I following the bright orange flags, which were now very easy to see in a background of snow. The ground was quickly being covered with huge snowflakes, as was my shoes.
Everything was white on top, and I kept going even though I didn't see any flags. I made my best guess and kept going til I did see flags. My intuition worked well for the most part, but did cause me to take a staggering route. We were heading down now, not steep, but constant, and I got on a roll. There were no longer any flags to provide comfort, but I recognized landmarks now and again from my last trip through here a few years ago. I only hoped with all the changes, this was not one of them. The snow eventually gave way to rain, and between the two, I was now soaked through... but quite comfortable. My energy was keeping me well heated and warm.
I stopped every now and again to see if anyone was still with me. With the rain and snow, and a rain hood on, I couldn't hear anything other than the rain hitting my hoodie. I wasn't sure if Nancy thought I was lost or maybe she trusted me, but each time I stopped to check behind, she let me know she was concerned. Its alright, I'd tell her... but really I wasn't too sure. We went on this way for awhile, longer than I expected... but still moving very well. And when I thought we should have been at the aid station, there was still nothing in sight, and I began to wonder. I slowed down for fear of going too fast and too far in the wrong direction. Thankful that the rain hid my head and my concern from Nancy, who remained behind me, I kept on keeping on... hoping it would work itself out soon.
It wasn't soon, but eventually we did roll into the next aid station. We were both pretty excited, knowing full well, that we just had one more big climb and should we arrive at that aid station in time, would be free to finish at our leisure. We had well over two hours and pretty excited to get after it. Expected only to top off my water, I ran into the station, wearing a grin, and pretty damn pleased with myself. The rain soaked aid station worker wasn't smiling back. She said I was done!!! The race has been cancelled. Why? What? The next mountain top is covered in snow and frozen over. It isn't safe and people are coming back.
While I stood there and tried to process what she was saying, Nancy was becoming visibly upset. Hell, I dont know if I could have made the next aid station cutoff, but I didn't I think I could make either of the other two times I had run this race either... and I did both times. I wasn't going to allow my own bad thinking to get in the way of what was attainable, but this was something else completely unexpected and insurmountable. The race was over. I was done, so was Nancy's birthday run, Rene's 2nd finish, and Bobby's 10th.
Rules are rules and the decision of the race is final, so I allowed myself to slip into a new place. While not succeeding in my goal... it was one hell of a day in a little slice of heaven. I got to run through snow and hail, over mountains and calderas, with some damn good people. As much as I would have loved to finish this beast, I am almost as happy to have had a good go at it.