Chasing Immortality - Page 3
The first segment, called "Downtown Jaunt," plugs promptly into swampy wilderness. The trail here undulates through sections of shoe-sucking mud and creek crossings before it arrives at two mountain lakes. The humid air was oppressive and many runners opted for rain ponchos or shells. Occasionally, there was the vague stench of something else—a bear? With a net elevation loss of 500 feet, this 19K leg would be one of the day's easiest and shortest (tied with Segment Three), yet many arrived at the transition point bearing the weight of sweat and mud on their heads, legs and shoes.
The mellow nature of Segment One seemed to lull Death Racers into false confidence as many gamboled happily into Segment Two, called "Flood and Grande Mountain Slugfest". Here, the Death Race hits runners' lungs and legs with the shrill of a hotel alarm clock. Leaving a verdant valley, runners began the ascent of the first of back-to-back peaks, grinding to the top of 6085-foot Flood Mountain —a route littered with bear, elk and cougar prints.
From Flood's summit, the overwhelming view prompted some to stop and snap photos. The elation was temporary, though. The ensuing descent is so steep that runners flailed for trees just to slow down. What's more, this is not a trail per se— it's as if Tuck stood atop Flood Mountain and pushed off a keg of beer, and wherever it went would decide the course.
"It was the most brutal terrain I've ever had to run through—you're either going straight up or straight down," says Andrew Anglemyer, a Bay Area resident who eventually placed 11th. "At some points I found it better sliding down on my butt than trying to hold onto a tree or rock."
After crashing down 1800 feet, runners began the second major climb of this segment, back up 2000 feet to the summit of Grande Mountain. In this deep cleavage between two steeply sloped mountains, surrounded by thick forest, a sense of complete isolation dominated and all was silent save for heavy breathing and the jingle of bear bells. For some, isolation equaled elation. For others, it was a claustrophobic moss garden.
The descent off Grande Mountain pulverized both the quadriceps and ankles during the 3000-foot plunge to Grande Cache. The slope offers rocks of all sizes—from ball bearings to doll heads to grapefruits to bowling balls—and it became a chorus of grunts and cuss words as everyone struggled downward.
After the hell of Segment Two, runners passed through Grand Cache, where screaming spectators acted as a slingshot, rejuvenating runners' spirits and sending them buoyantly back out to the course. But Grande Cache also became a siren's song that made it too easy to toss in the towel.
Ryan Hannah, a well-built member of the Canadian Armed Forces, surrendered here. In this, his first Death Race, he admits to being caught off-guard. "The views from the top of Grande Mountain were great until I realized I had to run down," said the 31-year-old from Shiloh, Manitoba, while sitting in a lawn chair, his pruned bare feet propped up. "My knees just went numb."
The 19-kilometer Segment Three, called "Old Mine Road," is widely regarded as the easiest, and rookie Death Racers get the false sense that they are over the hump. "Smooth sailing from here!" shouted one racer to her crew as she gave a thumbs-up.
A gentle downhill and rolling dirt road equates to a net loss of 1000 feet. Road speedsters crave this section, and many of this year's racers clicked off mileage like caffeinated jaguars. Death Racers are encouraged to stay on their guard for wildlife all over the course, but especially here. Big, hungry and ornery local wildlife include cougars, wolverines, elk, moose, mountain goats, wolves, bighorn sheep, caribou and, most notably, grizzly bears.
While cruising the Old Mine Road, Brian Hyland from Canmore, Alberta, encountered a grizzly. "It was a good-sized one," he says. "I backed up, waited for other runners, and we made a lot of noise while walking through there together."