Bighorn Trail Race 2012
By Marcel Uttech
I had been looking forward to getting back into the mountains for a trail race since Hellgate of last year. There is nothing as humbling as the ocean until you experience the mountains, and doing ultras ensures you will see a lot! Piling into Roberts van along with Jodie and Jose, I was excited to head West.
We drove all through the night and by dawn we were already spotting antelope here and there among the vast rolling hills of Wyoming. Every gas station stop there were cowboy hats and shot glasses for sale, and signs for local rodeos all over. We stopped to eat breakfast at a place called Donna’s where I got to witness this rancher pull out his .380 up on request of the table of people next to us, and promptly show off the laser sighting on the nearby wall- much to the glee of the little girl who was filling her face with pancakes…ah, the Wild West.
Sheridan is a pretty neat little mountain town. With the Bighorns looming in the distance, mountain adventures are close by and there are some neat cafes in town. The one we found online was called Lulu’s, and it had plenty of organic eats and a coffee bar- nice place to frequent!
The remainder of the day was filled with me working on homework, which I so joyously got to bring along, and the others relaxing while sounds of a nearby train filled the mountain air. (Coal train, which we found out, loved to blast its horn multiple times a day, and night. Thank God the window didn’t close all the way otherwise I would have missed this haunting wail numerous times)
On Friday it was all about Robert, and he seemed relaxed and ready to go! We went with him to the pre-race briefing, where it was nice to hear about the trail and where all the fresh water for drinking was (we found out later that some of these marked ‘pipes’ coming out of the ground were considered unmanned aid stations and those are what he was referring to) this place would also be the finish, so of course I was already envisioning myself staggering over the line…there was a good sized creek right nearby, perfect for rinsing off and soaking legs afterwards! (duly noted)
With Roberts race underway we realized we were next and the rest of the day was spent pondering that realization, oh and me joyously working on my homework, thankful that there was internet so I could submit it before the race the following day. Last thing I wanted to do was to worry about my sociology essays for 50 miles…
Saturday morning came and we were up at 2:35 am. Awesome time to be awake, because you realize that you are heading into the mountains and all day you are going to be exploring new trails! We were all pumped and ready to go. We had to get on buses at the high school in Dayton, and then had about an 90 minute or so bus ride up the mountain. With the sky starting to lighten, it was awesome being able to see the surrounding mountainside, and in between ear pops we scanned the hills for elk…
Just about to Porcupine I spotted about 12 or so elk on the side of a hill grazing- that was pretty neat. Of course the people sitting across from us tried to see but they were on the wrong side of the bus for this so they missed it. It pays to know where to sit, or just get lucky like I did. This was now the land of snow and sage, and the temps were dropping. We got up around 8500’ to the Ranger Station and then unloaded. This was the start, and it was cold! It was strange to see snow, and frosted roofs and grass. It felt like Wisconsin in a way, except for the thin oxygen part. I didn’t really notice this much until we started running and gaining elevation to around 9000’ or so, where I could tell I was losing my breath frequently and having to slow it down. This was fine, since there were snow banks to maneuver and post hole through anyway and muddied creeks to cross. (Many shoes tried to bail out of the race at these creek crossings, good thing mine are trained to stay put)
Single track into the woods and the mountain exploration began…I kept a pretty decent pace going, walking most of the uphills and just trying to focus on good form and relaxed running. The miles went by like the clouds, mostly unnoticed and seamless. The aid stations were like little encampments set up in the woods, with horses tied nearby and fires crackling. They were hard to leave, but there was more to see! And miles to go! I met people from all over, and many times had to stop and just take it all in. There were meadows covered in sagebrush and wildflowers, and thick forests of pines and rock. Raging rivers and little mountain streams. By mile 34 I was still feeling good, and felt fortunate to be out there soaking it all in. A few miles after this I was making my way through a sagebrush meadow by myself when I saw a rather large dark colored animal ahead...”What the hell is that?” I thought and then it raised its head from where it had apparently been feeding and I saw that it was a MOOSE! The first moose I had ever seen in the wild! I would have loved to see the look on my face, perhaps something of a mix of ecstatic joy and pure terror? I looked for a way around, since he was standing RIGHT on the trail. Nothing but sage brush covering hidden rattlesnakes I presumed…and nowhere to take cover in the event of a sudden charge. Hmmm…pretty tired to play tag with the moose so I decided to just make some noises so he was aware of me being there (wouldn’t want to startle the ol’ boy) so I made some noises by clearing my throat loudly at which he perked right up and started staring. I wondered then if those noises had resembled the sounds of a challenge??? More feelings of uneasiness as the stare-down continued…My camera! I got my camera out and started taking some pics while I wondered how long this was gonna take…finally a hundred miler came up behind me. “Oh great…” he said. “ Well at least it’s not a female with calves, they get pretty aggressive”… he was from Colorado, where this is a little more common. Upon seeing my reinforcements arrive the moose wandered a bit off the trail finally (bout 20’), and we edged past talking soothing words like “We’re just going by now, take it easy now…” then once I figured he was cool with us I took off.
The remainder of the race was spent with me reliving the moose encounter in my head and how cool that was to see. Coming up on the last mountainside descent I saw a guy that had been trailing me for awhile gaining on me slowly…I figured time to gain some ground so I just ignored my screaming quads and just pounded down the mountain…my next mile was a 8:02 and I passed everybody I came across on the way down. Felt great until the bottom and the trail flattened out…6.25 more miles to go on trashed legs! Run walk Run was the recipe to get me to the finish. Coming out on the road there was only 3 miles to go, all pea-gravel road. Some of the caring neighbors had hoses laid out front that you could spray yourself as you went by! So COOL! Huge thanks to them!
I managed to keep my spot those last 3 miles, averaging 13 minute miles and just keeping forward progress…upon entering the park I made one last surge and had a strong finish with a time of 11:48. Was given the finisher vest and headed straight to that cold creek – HEAVEN! I washed up and Robert found me, carrying his chair and all smiles. I was glad to hear his race went well…We plopped down and waited for the others at the finish line.
I asked Sean Meissner during our Hellgate trip last year what the most scenic race he had ever done was and he had told me Bighorn. If I were asked that same question, I would have the same answer. This is an amazing race held in a beautiful part of the country. You get a chance, get out there and do it. TOUGH course, but worth it all…