BIGFOOT 200 ENDURANCE RUN – RACE BEYOND THE BOUNDARY OF EXTREME #1
20. 08. 2019
200 miles with superelevation of about 13 kilometres in the lava fields of Mount St. Helens, the inaccessible Cascade Range, where you will find what "a God-forsaken place" means. Completely without coverage by a cell phone signal, where safety sounds like a word from another universe - that is Bigfoot 200. Because Jirka Hálek and I had arranged everything at the last minute, we went for it with a feeling of sweet ignorance. I have to admit, we also went there as road ultra-marathon racers without any mountain training, equipment and preparation. So did Szilvia Lubics, the third member of Kilpi Racing Team, who had been lured by our participation and took it as a replacement for Ultra Gobi.
So, instead of departure to China on Monday, we were at the airport on Tuesday, but we were heading to Portland. Our flight was scheduled early in the morning, so I had gone Prague on the last train and slept at Jirka's. We were at the airport as early as 4 AM. The mood was great; I would say we were ready for battle. The flight to Amsterdam was quick and we were joined by Szilvia there. Everyone sat somewhere else during the 9-hour flight to Portland, as Jirka needed more space for his big body. I drank several beers first, but finally, I opened my laptop and wrote a report on Badwater 135. It took me good five hours. No wonder that we landed in Portland shortly afterwards. We had to go through the immigration desk for the second time in one month. When I answered the question of what I was going to do in the US, the reaction was like "Find your own way to hell". I was a bit more nervous at the customs officers - I had a lot of food in my suitcase, the import of which was forbidden and when asked, I answered with the promptness of an experienced liar that I was carrying no food, of course. Luckily, all three of us passed without any problems. I went to pick up the rented car (they no longer had the class I had booked, so we took a larger car for 7 people, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise due to the size of our baggage) and in a minute, we were on our way to Motel 6 in Centralia located about 75 minutes from the centre and destination of the race.
Photo: Jiří Hálek
Before we arrived at the motel, however, we had to buy the things we had forgotten at home as well as basic food and equipment for a Czech traveller, i.e. a mountain of beer. Indeed, we bought so much of it that Szilvia laughed and seemed to have doubts about whether we knew why we were there, and about our mental health. We assured her that it would not be enough and that we would actually run the race. We checked in at the motel. Szilvia was too tired, so Jirka and I went for dinner in a Chinese restaurant alone. In the evening, we had a beer party in the room. Since there was no fridge in the room, we turned the sink into an improvised freezer by filling it with ice, so the golden liquor was properly cooled. Tired by the journey and the beer, we fell asleep quickly, even though it was after midnight.
The plan for the next day was simple. To have a tour of the town, prepare drop bags, go out to dinner and continue in replenishing liquids. We woke up quite late, drove a few blocks by car, and then all three of us went to downtown. When I asked what was there to see in the town at the café, the reaction was an astonished look. I see...nothing. We walked past a few historic houses and had an ice cream (which, by the way, was sold by the weight - what you take, you pay). When we came back, we had to prepare our drop bags. In the Gobi, I had everything packed from home. This time, I had a whole pile of food and equipment on my bed and I didn't know what to do with it. The Gobi plan was useless, I hadn't had time to read the Bigfoot manual (well, frankly, I didn’t even want to read it), so I had no idea what to put where. The only relief was the knowledge that all checkpoints would be greatly supplied with food and drink, so I would only lack a few specialties from my stock. In particular, I hesitated where to put spare shoes and socks, but in the end, I gave up thinking and divided it randomly, based on my experience. I checked if I had packed the required equipment several times. There had been rumours that the organizers would be checking it properly the next day, so I wanted to avoid any problems. After a few hours of packing and repacking interleaved with an abundant supply of beer, we had everything packed and ready. We called Szilvia for dinner at a local country restaurant. They had a pound of shrimp in the menu, which I ordered with enthusiasm. However, I did not notice that it was fried. Jirka had to fight with this brutal portion as well. Szilvia had the same difficulties with her sandwich and chips. Finally, I won, emptying my plate while Jirka and Szilvia did not finish their meals. The two hundred meters back to the room were a real feat. But even that did not prevent us from having a few beers for dessert.
Photo: Jiří Hálek
We were as fit as a fiddle in the morning. We scheduled to leave for the briefing after ten. We had not seen the mountains so far, but we were supposed to see them soon. After a few kilometres we drove off the highway and passed through the American countryside with scattered solitudes or small communities and the ubiquitous rusting car wrecks. We arrived in Randle and easily found the local high school, where the race center was situated. There were few people on the spot, we were one of the first to come. We walked around the hall, gathering information. An informative meeting was scheduled for 1 PM. Before that, however, we managed to pass the equipment check and we received a bag with the number and other items. We also took a photo of each other.
The pre-start meeting did not bring anything new, perhaps just the feeling that it would all be much more demanding than we had initially thought. At 5 PM there was another mandatory meeting and we spent our free time before it with a cup of coffee. The blueberry pie we ordered was really monstrous. We did not stay long after the second meeting and rushed back to the motel. Jirka and I went for a pizza, drank a few beers and went to bed. We were scheduled to wake up at 3 AM. Besides the journey to the starting line, which would take nearly three hours itself, we also had to go to the finish line where the race base was located and from which a bus was leaving to the starting line.
The alarm clock went off exactly at 3 AM. I jumped out of bed and my first steps took me to the toilet. I then proceeded with filling my sack with water. Blimey! My backpack was suddenly full of water. I took out the water sack but it seemed to be all right. I must have closed the lid incorrectly. I didn't trust it much, though. I pondered what I would do if the sack failed. I opted for a one-liter PET bottle as a last resort and I could finally start dressing up. It was high time. There were only 10 minutes left to go. I almost forgot to grease myself with petroleum jelly. At 3 AM, Szilvia knocked on the door, we loaded our stuff in the car and left. We journeyed in general silence. No wonder. At the high school, we just swapped the car for a bus and at 5:45 AM, we were on our way to the starting point.
I partly slept and partly watched the countryside. The ride was bumpy and I was a bit cold. We arrived at the starting line about 40 minutes before the start of the race. We picked up our GPS trackers and each of us prepared on our own. I dropped some more muffins into my stomach. At 9 AM, the starting shot sounded.
I and Jirka had arranged that we would try to run together for about 40 miles and then we would see. At the start, we were a few meters apart, and when everyone started moving, my instincts kicked in and I rushed forward without hesitation. After a few hundred meters, I realized that Jirka was in the back, and there was no sense in racing at the start, so I slowed down and in a kilometre or two we were running together. We ran along a cozy forest path and said to each other that if it continued like that, it would be great. It was 12 miles to the first checkpoint, less than a half-marathon distance. In a few minutes we got out of the forest and picturesque views of Mount St. Helens opened in front of us. There was no time to admire nature, though. We had to cross a large lava field with huge boulders.
Photo: Darina Levandovski
I jumped from boulder to boulder like a chamois; some smaller boulders wobbled, so I had to watch out to avoid injuries. I was not lagging behind the other, more experienced racers much, but the section did not give me much pleasure. Towards the end, swearwords started to fly. The lava field was followed by long sections in quite deep volcanic ash. The trail was winding up, sometimes disappearing in rocky passages where I had to navigate by streamers. As I was approaching the second lava field, I found out that Jirka had disappeared from my sight. I waited for a while, but then I decided to run further. At the checkpoint, I just replenished my water and disappeared.
Photo: Darina Levandovski
The next checkpoint at Windy Ridge was on 48th kilometre. I descended into a large canyon using a fixed rope, waded across the river (my shoes finally got wet…) and on the other side I climbed up using the rope again. The sun was burning, and there was a photographer sitting at the top. She seemed to be having a great time. My water consumption grew higher and higher until I finally ran out of water. When my tongue started to stick to my palate, I filled my PET bottle in the next stream, standing ankle-high in the water. A high mountain appeared in the distance. It was Windy Ridge with another checkpoint. It was windy as the name hinted.
Photo: Darina Levandovski
So far, I was in good condition, even though my legs were a bit tired. There was a car at the beginning of the ascent to the checkpoint, the first sign of civilization after more than 40 kilometres. I crawled up. It was a dirt road, but very steep. In the middle of the hill, I met runners returning from the checkpoint in the opposite direction and then turning to continue further. At the station I was greeted with applause, which pleased me, as did the beer I had hidden in the drop bag, even though it was pretty warm. For the first time, I had a normal meal prepared for me. I swallowed a huge burger and flushed it down with a litre of Coke. I only took a few things from the drop bag and left the station without further delay. I had to go back the same way for about 4 kilometres and I met Jirka about halfway down - I did not know it was the last time throughout the race we had seen each other. We exchanged a few words. The trail to the next checkpoint, Johnston Observatory, which was on the 65th kilometre, was sometimes comfortable, but a series of alternating uphill and downhill runs made it more difficult.
Photo: Jerry Gomez
In all the enthusiasm that I could run, I had a few nasty landings on my feet, but both ankles withstood that, even though they hurt a bit. I swore and forced myself to more attention. The ascent to Johnston Ridge was a topping on a cake for me. A steep, continuous climb without a visible end. The poles helped me a lot, but I was still annoyed by a few other runners who were about 300 meters ahead of me - I was not able to catch up with them, but they did not escape me either. At the end of the slope, I was welcomed by the short tarmac section and a parking lot with a checkpoint. I was starting to feel more tired at that time. First I added water to the sack, emptied half a litre of Coke into my stomach and topped everything with another hamburger. Most of the racers present were changing their socks and resting, but I felt sorry for every wasted minute (of course, it was unnecessary) and so I went further.Michal Činčiala