|At Caribou Highlands, ready to run at the Superior 50K|
Temperatures were in the mid 40's and wouldn't move much over the course of the day, which was welcome. However, there was also a mix of fog, drizzle, and rain, so it would be a damp, wet, and muddy day on the trails.
I got to greet a few friends at the start (Lisa, Wayne, Jon), listened to the last minute briefing from the race director, and soon we were off and into the woods.
Start to Oberg Mountain
The first leg of the journey runs from the ski hill to Oberg Mountain. In this section, there are a couple of significant climbs up Mystery Mountain and Moose Mountain. Moose Mountain in particular is a very steep climb - too steep to run up, and almost too steep to run down! It is a very challenging section of the Superior Hiking Trail. I ran with my friend Lisa for the first few miles or so before we became separated.
The views from the top of Mystery and Moose are spectacular. There is an impressive overlook at Mystery, and when you are on top of Moose, you can see Lake Superior on one side, and the Superior National Forest on the other. We spotted Dutchman's Breeches just starting to bloom, and I heard the songs of the winter wren, black-throated blue warbler, and the noisy little ovenbird on this leg of the trip.
I was lucky to have a cheering section following me around. Mom and Dad were meeting me at the different aid stations. I had told them it might take me an hour and a half to get to Oberg. Turns out I underestimated myself and ran pretty well through this section. I was emerging from the woods to ringing cowbells and the sound of wild and crazy volunteers as my folks were pulling into the parking lot, so I almost missed them. However, I did stop for a quick picture!
|Heading into the Oberg aid station|
From the parking lot at Oberg Mountain we headed back into the woods, crossed the Onion River, and made our way towards Sawbill Road, the next checkpoint. This section of the trails is described as more "runnable" than the first (whatever that means!). The trail was not as severe in terms of elevation change, however there were tons of exposed tree roots and rocks. Add the fact that the rain was picking up, and that presented its own challenges. Lots of shoe-sucking mud as well.
Believe it or not, there was still some snow at the base of Leveaux Mountain. Lots of wild onions poking out of the ground in this section, more ovenbirds were chirping (they were everywhere!), and I also heard two different ruffed grouse doing their spring drumming.
I met the leaders coming back down the trail shortly before I got to the aid station. Here is one of the main differences between road races and trails races; nearly all of the runners, including the leaders, greeted and encouraged the other runners they met. "Great job!" "Looking good, keep it up!" It's a very different, laid-back atmosphere where everyone is cheering for everyone else. Extremely cool.
Next stop was the Sawbill/Britton Peak aid station. Mom and Dad got a couple of shots of me here.
|Entering the Sawbill/Britton Peak aid station|
|Ready for a refill|
We crossed over the Sawbill Trail and headed up to the turnaround point at Carlton Peak, which was one of the most difficult climbs of the day. The trail leading up there was incredibly rocky, steep, and muddy in places. There was one spot where it was so steep and slippery that I needed to grab hold of a stump to pull myself up. I met a runner coming down who said, "You're almost there, and the beer is at the top!" Of course, he was joking, but I appreciated the extra motivation!
As I approached the foggy, rocky outcropping at the top, I was greeted by a voice. "Come on, I know you can run all the way to the top!" I looked up and there was gentleman manning the turnaround point. He was wearing an ornate Native American ceremonial buckskin outfit. It was a somewhat surreal, mystical, and inspiring sight. All that was missing was a screeching bald eagle circling overhead. I smiled, ran the last final steps up the steep rock, shook his hand and thanked him for being up there.
The Return Trip
Since I saw no beer at the top of Carlton Peak, I figured it was time to head back towards the finish!
The return trip was interesting and challenging for a number of reasons. The mud on the trails was becoming thicker and deeper due to the number of runners that had passed through there, and also because of the continued rain and drizzle. This made the tree roots and rocks along the trail very slippery as well. I nearly slipped on a couple of occasions, and I stubbed my right toe once, which may or may not have resulted in some rather colorful language. A brazen pileated woodpecker along the trail cackled and laughed at my escapades.
I didn't feel all that great between Sawbill and Oberg. But you could truly hear the cheering, cowbells, and chaos at the Oberg aid station from miles away. It was an uplifting siren song, and it gave me the added boost I needed.
At the Oberg aid station, I met up with Lisa again. After fueling up, I headed back into the woods to the cheers of the guy with the cowbell. He was still going strong, even hours after I had last seen him. I gestured towards Moose Mountain and shouted to him, "One more time over the hump!" He replied with even more cowbell (I gotta have more cowbell!) and said to me, "Yeah, man, you've got this! You are looking strong!" It was awesome.
Back out on the trails, I ran with Lisa some more. We made the final ascent up Moose Mountain together, a long, steep climb. It is so steep that one section even had some steps that were constructed with logs to help you make it to the top. An exhausting climb! Once on some relatively level ground, Lisa took the lead, and with a burst of energy took off like a shot. She was gone! I tried to keep up but had to settle into my own pace.
After descending Moose Mountain, I made the long, but not quite as steep, climb back up to Mystery Mountain. At that point, there was only a couple miles left, so that made me feel good. The mud towards the finish was positively unbelievable, as many of the 50K runners, and nearly all of the 25K runners, had already traipsed through there a couple of times. Parts of the trail looked like a stockyard. Within the last miles, I was following a girl who had a shoe completely sucked off her foot in ankle deep mud! She had to stop to dig out her shoe, and we both shared a good laugh.
The pavement close to the finish was a welcome sight. One runner passed me and said, "The beer is that way!", enthusiastically pointing to the bar. (trail runners clearly like their beer!) We turned off the pavement, on to one of the still snow-covered ski runs, and rounded the corner into Caribou Highlands for the finish.
|Rounding the corner into the finish|
|Crossing the finish line|
|Notice how clean the shoes and socks were|
|The hoses were working overtime with this crew!|
A big thank you and a shout out to Rocksteady Running, the race director, and all of the volunteers who made this such a great event. While the weather certainly created challenges for the runners, it has to be especially difficult for the people at the aid stations, directing traffic, and helping the runners, all the while standing in the cold and rain. Job well done, everyone, and many, many thanks to all who had a hand in pulling off this event and making it the success that it was.
Also, thanks to Mom and Dad for being my cheering section and support crew. It was fun to share the experience, and it was nice to have my own personal race photographers!
Another race is in the books. On to the next...
|The wood finisher's medallion...|
|...and a groovy race shirt!|