Thursday, October 24, 2013
On 12 October I participated in the 32nd running of the Le Grizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon in the Flathead region of Montana. As regular readers know (recently several people have actually claimed to be regular readers!), Barack Obama's spiteful shutdown included canceling the permit from the USFS to run the traditional course along Hungry Horse Reservoir. RD Pat Caffrey worked like crazy to establish a new, non-federally-shutdownable course on Montana Secondary 486, and in the process established a new Le Grizz aphorism..."The federal government has shut down. Le Grizz does not shut down." Readers already know that Caffrey was successful, and I completed my 13th Le Grizz. Here's the rest of the story.
I arrived in the Flathead a few days early to check out the course and relax; Montana's Flathead Valley and the surrounding mountains are particularly lovely in early October. It tends to be cool, and the tamaracks and quaking aspens are changing color. There might be a skiff of snow down low, and certainly more on the mountaintops. And the summer tourists are are long gone and the skiers haven't yet arrived.
My crew began arriving as well -- my mother, who had last been at Le Grizz in 2007, showed up with my brother John and his wife Renette, neither of whom had crewed for me before. Longtime friend and fellow adventurer and crew member Jeff Ross arrived, with Luna as navigator. And a friend of ours from MSU days, Marc Pittman, also joined us. None of use had seen Marc since, well, he claims it has been 37 years, which seems about right. (By MSU I mean the real one -- Montana State University.)
I took advantage of the early start. Despite my somewhat improved running, I figured I needed all the help I could get. I know pretty much all of the early starters anyway, and it is fun to meet with them and to run in the lead for a bit. The race began at the Polebridge Mercantile, which kindly opened its doors very early for us. We started out in the dark, ran out maybe 1/4 mile to Montana 486 and headed south. I felt great for a change -- I think that's the effect of the speedwork -- I seem to warm up more quickly. We ran 3 or 4 miles south and turned around. As we headed north, it started to get light, and soon I was tied for the "lead" (but in fact, already an hour behind most people, running with Adriana M. of Missoula. I've run with her before in races, most notably at Elkhorn 2012, where I caught up with her about 60 seconds after she had a little meeting with a bear that ran past her. As we ran together talking, some race support in a truck point out to us a couple of very healthy looking foxes (man, were they furry) watching us. One ran off and I called to the other one to come run with us. It looked like it actually might -- it took a step toward us, but then hesitated, turned and vanished... kind of the way Adrian did a few miles later. We ran together until maybe mile 10, and then, good bye. She had told me she had to finish, drive back to Missoula, and start working by 8:00PM... an emergency guardian ad litem case had just come up, which is why she did the early start. Awesome running performance and even more awesome dedication.
The rest of the day consisted mostly of running with Jeff and Marc accompanying me on bikes, and regular rendezvous with the rest of my crew every 4 or 5 miles. I cannot say enough to do justice to all my crew members. They were upbeat and encouraging, they took care of my every need and then some. Marc and Jeff got me a huckleberry bear claw baked that morning at Polebridge Merc, Marc handed me astounding ginger cookies just baked by his wife, Jeff stuffed me full of cashews when I needed protein and fat, and Mom, John, and Renette kept me hydrated and passed me chunks of elk summer sausage. Mostly it was just fun to talk with them all. (Funny thing... talking with Marc felt like we'd last seen each other only a couple of days ago, not 37 years.) I also talked with numerous runners, fast and slow, and their crews. Great time.
It was pretty cool and overcast. We had a a little graupel, but no rain. I felt very strong, and I think I ran relatively fast for the first 20 or so miles. I slowed down for various reasons, but felt pretty good throughout. Towards the end I was unsure how much farther we had and did not push when I might have. The course was, I think, harder than earlier courses. This s almost certainly true, since it is an out-and-back while the others involve net altitude loss. But also the hills were deceptive -- driving them a few days before wasn't bad, but they were frickin' loooooooong!
I finished faster than last year. If readers care about the time, they'll have to consult the Le Grizz Gazette, it was still so slow I won't report it myself.
At the finish Pat told me to hang around for a special award. I did, and in a few minutes was summoned before the wildly cheering crowd to receive the "Government Shutdown Award," for most volatile commentary on Le Grizz and the government shutdown. Unforeseen Contingencies, now an award winning blog (see last page of the 2013 Le Grizz Gazette for more details). I have to say, the Obama strategy of inflicting pain on the American people simply in order to try to preserve the badly designed and horribly executed Obamacare is one of the most vindictive, vicious, and alarming acts I have seen for an American official in my lifetime. I suspect we are in for worse before this is over. But the post cited in the Gazette illustrates clearly how we can get through any difficulties.
Afterwards my crew and I headed for the firepit and the traditional fried chicken, beer and potatoes. I cannot say how wonderful this combination is after a 50 mile run. I simply urge all readers to try the entire experience themselves.
Sated, we started heading back for our vehicles, when suddenly in the not-so-far-distance a wolf pack began howling. It's only the second time I have heard wolves in the wild, and if you've not heard this... well, one more good reason to run 50 miles in the Montana wilderness. The evening I bumped into a crew member for Jim Ballard (who finished his 20th Le Grizz, just a little ways behind me). She told me how she had gotten out of their rig to go back to bring Jim some stuff, and suddenly out of the dark a large wolf ran right in front of her. She jumped back into the car. Several runners also saw grizzlies during the race, and Jeff and Marc noticed a live trap the MT Fish & Game had set for a problem grizzly that has been up to some sort of mischief.
You know, it's really quite a different feeling to spend most of the day running slowly, realizing you are only midrange in the food chain, and everyone above you is considerably faster.
The next day we had a big breakfast at the always excellent buffalo cafe in Whitefish MT. Later John, Mom, and I drove up along Hungry Horse Reservoir on the traditional course. There was no evidence at all of the shutdown. Nothing was closed -- not that "closing" really was in the realm of possibility -- what exactly would you close? Would you demand the bears hibernate early? Fence out the elk? Or just tell people they have to stay in town and pretend the rest of the world is closed? Plenty of people were out cutting firewood and the like. And USFS has no role at all in Le Grizz, other than requiring a fee for a permit. They don't attend the race, don't supervise it, don't do a damn thing other than take our fee...which I presume was refunded. Some "shutdown."
But it was a great race, not to be forgotten. I hope there are many more. Obamacare and other things coming down the pike are going to do great damage to this country. I summarize what is wrong with ACA here, and in the future will talk about other problems. But despite the best efforts of various political visionaries and schemers, the good will conquer the bad. Le Grizz is about what is right with the world and with America. It's about individuals tackling difficult challenges, it's about enjoying life, it's about people supporting it other, it's about having fun together, it's about appreciating the beauty of the wild and of civilization. (Huckleberry bear claws combine the best of both.) That's what will prevail.
So stay tuned for the Second Saturday in October 2014!