Liminal Space: Wild Race

Superior 100 Race Story, 2017

By Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer

 

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

–Henry David Thoreau

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

–John Muir

The North Shore is for me, a liminal space. A thin place where the everyday and the spiritual exist more closely, where the divine can be more easily accessed. It is a sanctuary place where I feel a sense of peace and serenity that I don’t always feel. Many people have asked me over the last 9 months why I would choose run the Superior 100. I echo John Storkamp when I reply, I run to remember all those who came before, those whom we as a community have lost, those whom I have lost.

I run in the woods because I am grateful for this life and all the life around me.

I accept the challenge of the 100 mile trail race on the Superior Hiking Trail because it gives me time to think, time to pray, time to meditate, time to wonder, time to ponder the mysteries, time to find some clarity, and it gives me a breath of peace from the chaos. I run for community. I love these people. I do it because it allows me to tap into the ancient rhythms of migration around the world, the movement of peoples. It allows me to connect with the Earth in ways I don’t always connect, with an intimacy and a depth that takes real time.

We come together as a community out there in the woods. We find ourselves and each other. And if we look and listen, if we are fully present, we can hear the Spirit rustling through the leaves. We can feel the interconnectedness of all things. We can see the face of God glistening in the waters.

My story begins so long ago that it is difficult to know where to start. That being said, I will note briefly the week prior to race. Tuesday of race week I went to an Episcopal priest friend for a blessing. I was nervous about this one. I knew this was the one of the biggest undertakings of my life. I had witnessed John Mathson being carried off the trail during the Spring races and I have carried him in my heart ever since. Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund at St. Mark’s Episcopal was deeply curious about the race (he just ran his first marathon, Grandma’s, and loved it). He asked me lots of questions about the upcoming event. Then he read a passage (don’t worry about what you are going to wear, or what you are going to eat…) the jist of which is put your trust in God. Then he prayed for me and all the people racing—he mentioned gratitude, joy, and the environment. I don’t remember what all he said now, but it set me on a good course and it eased my anxieties.

Thursday at noon Liv and I picked up the kids from school and headed Northbound. My excitement was through the roof. I tried to remain calm, but failed repeatedly. Finally I stopped fighting it and embraced the crazy. My wife Liv has witnessed my madness for a long time now. Her patience and love are Biblical. I will be forever grateful to Liv, and Vera, and Raphy for supporting me through this wild endeavor. Liv is my rock. She put up with so much over the last year…And she has a great sense of humor. Without her I would not be here. I ponder this as I drive and the kids sleep in the backseat. Just then a bald eagle flew within feet of our car. We took it as a good omen.

We drove North rather quickly to Blue Fin Bay. Phil and his family arrived shortly after we did. Phil was to be my crew captain and one of my pacers. He brought his wonderful wife Julie and their three kids, Landon, Holden, and Isla. Liv’s parents drove in a few minutes later and the team was assembled, minus Reid, who would be up the next day. My crew was to be Phil, Liv, Julie, Liv’s mother Lisa, and her father Craig. My pacers were to be Reid from Finland to Sawbill, Phil from Sawbill to Oberg, and Liv and Phil from Oberg to Lutsen.

Phil and I jumped back in the car and headed back to Two Harbors for packet pick-up. I talked incessantly to Phil about the race, but that was ok, because he was 100% into it. He asked all the right crew questions and studied maps while I drove. He was excited, and his excitement fueled mine even more. The fact that he wanted to go to packet pickup let me know I had chosen the right person. I told to watch out, he might get inspired tonight and find himself at the starting line next year.

The energy at packet pick-up was palpable. I looked around and wondered just how the hell I had gotten here. I was surrounded by greats on all sides. The badass sweatshirts with stars down the sleeves were everywhere! I listened, I learned, I drank in the scene. I tried to look like I belonged there. I recognized so many of them. Legends in their own right. After a while I felt like I was part of this big something, like I belonged. The vibes in the trail community are always good, always positive, always true.

John Storkamp gave a phenomenal pre-race talk. I was moved several times throughout. He and Cherri and all the hundreds of volunteers make this race possible. I am reminded of how amazing they all are. again, what a community!

All of the sudden it was time to time back and get some rest.

Phil and I were driving back to Blue Fin discussing all things race when I happened to look up. Ahead of us in the night sky were long green pinnacles rising towards the heavens. The Northern Lights! We saw them several times over a 1 minute period. We took this as another good omen.

Back at the place everyone was winding down. I had to work hard to calm myself down. I went to bed and tossed and turned all night. Liv got up and went to sleep with the kids. I awoke at 4:45 and went downstairs. I ate, got cleaned up, did a final gear check, said a prayer or twenty, and left to catch the bus at Lutsen by 5:30. The morning air was crisp and I could smell the fall.

The bus turned out to be pretty jovial at first. Timothy Owata, Susan Donnelly, and a bunch of other good folks were there chatting. Once we got moving the chatting faded and most people closed their eyes. I looked out the window and contemplated what lay ahead. The day had arrived! I tried to mimic what Susan Donnelly, going for her 100th 100 miler that day, was doing. She closed her eyes and then chugged water. Smart, I thought.

We got to Gooseberry Falls and checked in. Race start was still 45 minutes away. I paced around and probably added 2,000 steps unnecessarily to my day.

Storkamp told us to move closer to the starting line. I got to a place I had no business being…way too close. He said a few words and then before I knew it we were off! I said hi to Aaron Hansen on the side of the course (he was helping Tony, pacing and crewing) but I hadn’t seen Tony. I looked around for Jeremy Lindquist, my trainer, but didn’t see him either.

I started to run with Sherri Schummer on the open stretch of paved trail the race starts with (the only paved trail until Ski Hill Rd., this is a 99% trail race). Turns out she is a competitive curler…what are the chances? Well, better in Minnesota I suppose. We ran to Split Rock and cut under 61. We hit the trails and the woods. I felt on top of the world. I teared up as I felt the beauty of it all. This was really happening.

Split Rock was as muddy as I’ve ever seen it. We ran to first river crossing where the bridge had been washed out. It wasn’t bad at all, but my shoes got soaked. I continued to the first aid station at 10 miles and saw Jeremy. He looked good and ready. Jeremy is a brute of a guy, tough as nails. We spent some time together over the next several miles chatting and catching up. He encouraged me too slow own, and he was right. This was a long game and I was, as usual, excited and moving along way too quickly. We crossed the 3-foot river where a beaver dam had flooded the bridge and had a good time with it. Shoes soaked again. Some folks behind me got attacked by hornets and yelled profanities. Jeremy was one of them. I wondered when I was going to get hit!

We arrived at Beaver Bay, mile 20, and my whole crew went wild with cheering. I was elated! I hugged Liv and Vera and Raphy and high-fived Craig and Lisa and Julie and Phil and their kids. Then Alex came up out of nowhere and hugged me. He couldn’t believe how dry I was (sweat-wise). This is an ongoing conversation—Alex sweats profusely, and I sweat minimally.

Alex said, “DO NO FUCKING HARM!” Alex has a way with language that I appreciate.

This was awesome! So many of the people I love were in one place at one time for one event. Beaver Bay was a great aid station.

I changed shoes and socks and talked with everyone for a bit until it was time to keep moving. I said bye until Tettegouche, grabbed some food, and moved ahead. I don’t remember much from Beaver Bay to Silver bay. It’s actually a complete void in my brain. Nothing. So I ran that five miles and came out to the Silver bay aid station and saw Reid and Alex, in their Superior sweatshirts looking badass. They cheered me in and Reid gave me a hug. “You’re wet,” He exclaimed. “Yes,” I said, “See Alex, I do sweat!”

I skipped off towards Tettegouche, a long and difficult section. But also one of the most beautiful. This is the Bean and Bear Lakes section which I had never before seen. The sun was out in full. The day was perfect, and bordering on hot. 65 degrees perhaps? I met up with Jeremy for a while and we power hiked and talked. He was in good spirits and so was I. Early in the section I got stung by a wasp on my left knee. No big deal but strangely I would feel that sting for the rest of the race.

Looking down upon Bean and Bear Lakes was extraordinary. We all took moments up there to take pictures and to take a breath. Being is the moment is so important—so we stopped and we looked. We felt. I thought about the vastness of this range. The immense natural beauty Minnesota has to offer. I continued on and lost Jeremy.

By the time I cold hear the Tettegouche aid station (it was loud and bustling, like an outdoor marketplace) and I ran into Jeremy again. We ran in together and there was my crew waiting for me. The cheered like crazy! Vera was crying, and I could tell this was all too much for her. I picked up Raphy and gave him a hug. He asked me to put him down, because I was “tinky”. Which was indeed the truth.

Tettegouche was packed with people. I sat down in a chair Alex brought (thank you Alex!) and Reid asked how my feet were. I said Ok. He said how are they, are they good? Or just ok. I said, I don’t know for sure, I’ve been wet so much this morning. Reid told me to take my shoes off so he could have a look. Sure enough, the very beginnings of hot spots were showing for sure. Reid said, ok time to tape. I’ll fix you up and get you back out there. I didn’t want to use too much time but Alex concurred that this was important. Listen to the guys with the badass sweatshirts and the stars on their sleeves!

I sat there and caught up with Liv and Phil and everyone. Lisa and Julie and Craig seemed good. The kids were all doing well, I think, except Vera. I knew she would get over it but I did wish she was having a better time. Phil was doing great with the logistics of timing and where to go. I could tell his mind was spinning withal the details. Crewing is incredibly detailed work. They had to constantly adapt to my pace, place, and needs. I felt grateful beyond words.

All this time Reid was wiping my feet down with wet wipes, washing my feet, like Jesus. I told Reid that Jesus did this kind of thing and he said that fact was not lost on him. I teared up at the thought. My feet were smelly and muddy and sweaty. Reid disregarded all of this and took on the task at hand. He blowed on them to dry them. He added the tincture, and then the tape. He did a great job and let me know he had been researching foot taping for ultra-running all week. Alex verified this.

I told my crew that there was no need to meet at County Rd 6 because I had everything I needed and it would be late by that time. The plan was to meet Reid at Finland (50 mile half way point). I knew that all I had to do was get to Reid and do no harm, which he had been telling me for months. DO NO HARM! I only had to get to Reid and he would lead me another 40 miles. I split this race into sections between aid stations but I was still in the long game in my head.

I said thank you’s and I love you’s and headed back out with my poles, headlamp, batteries, battery pack for my watch, and more food. I was carrying way too much stuff in my hydration pack, but it gave me a sense of security so I kept it all. I had asked Reid about this but he said just do it if it makes me feel better.

I launched out on the trail towards County Rd 6 and talked with a kid from Connecticut. He was moving a little faster than I was so he went on ahead. My pace was slowing big time. And my stomach was turning. I hadn’t eaten in a while because of the waves of nausea but I kept drinking water, too much water.

My stomach issues went from bad to worse. I felt sick. This was the moment that my race changed from a fun, happy go lucky run, into something different. Into an all out spiritual experience. I prayed for help. I prayed for a miracle. I knew I could not go on if I felt this way. I needed something to happen. My feet were barely moving and I had no energy.

The sun was down by this point and my spirits were in shambles. Five minutes later I vomited on the side of the trail. I blasted out about 5 to 7 times and then dry heaved when I tried to clean my mouth with water. Shit. I was completely empty of calories and void of hydration. This was not a good situation and it was worsening. I sat down on a log and felt sorry for myself. People came by and asked how I was. I told them I was having quiet time. I was still a couple miles from the aid station and it was getting later by the minute. I got up slowly and continued on down the path, my headlamp lighting the way in front of me.

A long time later I came down out of the hills towards the lights of the aid station. I was beat up and tired. I was empty. I was having thoughts of turning in my bib and getting a ride home from a volunteer, to my warm bed and breakfast in the morning with my family.

But low and behold, I ran into the aid station and there was Liv and Phil, clapping and smiling. My angels were waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it! My spirit is lifted. Phil “felt” only a little while earlier that I needed them. He told Liv about this feeling and they drove as fast as they could up 61 to find me at County Rd 6. I hugged them and gave them my ominous news. They got me some broth and talked me through it. Jamison Swift came over to check on me and so did John Horns. They don’t know who I am but I know who they are. And I appreciate their tireless service on this dark night.

I got some warmer clothes and had three cups of broth and noodles. The warmth returned to my soul. In my head I was crying tears of joy. We talked for a while as I sat in a volunteer’s chair (thank you volunteer, wherever you are).

My angels talked me through the darkness and sent me back out on the trail singing songs and excited for the rest of the race. It was nothing short of a miracle. Phil was tapped into my psyche the whole time—he knew exactly when I needed my crew and much of what I actually needed. Liv gave me countless words of encouragement. I cold tell that she was into this. She, more than anyone, wanted me to finish this.

County Rd 6 to Finland was long, cold, and lonely. But I was singing Neil Young songs out loud to the elves and forest creatures in the woods. I sang some other old folksy songs too. Ones that made me feel to hear out loud in the silence of the night. I was still moving slow but I was moving. I powered through the 7 plus mile section and made it to Reid after midnight. He greeted me with smiles and told me sit by the fire. It was so warm and comfortable. He got me soup, quesadillas, and coffee. I talked with some really nice ladies who were crewing for one of their daughters. I don’t remember her name but I hope she had a good race! These women were so wonderful. They talked to me and asked questions. Reid got my drop bag and we looked through it to see if I needed anything.

Kevin Langton came into the aid staion and sat down on a cooler. We would leap frog for most of the rest of the race. I don’t know Kevin very well at all but I have read some stuff he wrote and I very recently listened to the podcast he did with Jason Husveth. So I felt like I knew him a little. Great guy with a great attitude.

Reid took good care of me and pretty soon we were off again towards Sonju Lake Rd. Another 7 miles or so. I moved slow as Reid asked me questions and got me talking about all kinds of things. We sand Space Oddity (Ground Control to Major Tom) for a while after he told me about the astronaut at the international space station. Peter, Reid’s 3 year old son, really likes to watch that video. Reid loves all things space! He also loves sci-fi which kept me entertained. The yellow moon and bright stars were out in full, and magnificent.

Sonju Lake Rd. was illusive. We kept hearing music and then it would disappear into the night. Where is this place? Is it real? I asked him several times. Our friend and running partner Anne Norton was volunteering there so we were looking forward to seeing her. “Take me to Anne,” I yelled at Reid more than once.

We finally arrived and the music was blaring, the lights were on, and the fire was roaring. It was a party. Woodstock was the theme—they were playing the Grateful Dead and low and behold, David Bowie’s Space Oddity! Ground Control to Major Tom came on and Reid and I laughed. Anne was so excited to see us. She gave us food and we talked for a while. I sat by the fire and warmed up. Reid got my drop bag and took care of me. Anne hooked me up with a doggy bag of quesadillas and burgers (per Reid’s request). I determined that I could only eat real food now. No more disgusting shot blocks or cliff bars or gels…only real, hardy food.

A young woman asked if anyone had had hallucinations yet. I said, “I thought they were hallucinations, but it turns out the elves were real!” Everyone laughed. I was back! My neurons were firing.

Kevin Langton came in and sat down, he was quiet. I wondered what he was thinking.

We got up and pushed on. It was after 3am. We headed through the short 5 miles to Crosby Manitou aid station. Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf would be the real test. 9.7 miles of climbs and rocks and roots. But for now we pushed through to the aid station. Reid was awesome, patient, and bearing with me. He would walk up a ways, stop, and turn around and wait. It must have been taxing. He has the patience of Job. I mean to tell him that but I don’t think did.

We arrived at Crosby and dawn was on her way. About 5am or something. The first lights were creeping up out of the darkness. I pee by the side of the road to the station and a someone yells something. Sorry, I say, it’s urgent! I’ve been peeing a good amount so I know I am back and well hydrated. The aid station was quiet compared to Sonju, but it was a welcome sight. I ate bacon, and it was glorious. The fire warmed us and we grabbed soup and Reid got me more coffee. It was doing the trick. I was warmer than Reid I think because I was using poles. I was also exerting more energy to maintain a slow pace. He was struggling to stay warm at such a slow pace and his upper body was not getting the workout of the poles.

We departed for the great big section with the new day rising. Heading into the longest most difficult section of the course and day breaks. It’s beautiful, we are energized, Reid is doing am incredible job of leading me and staying with me. We still had headlamps on but we needed them less and less. A few miles into the section and it was full on morning. The sun rose and with it my spirits. A new day!

We climbed and we climbed. It felt like it lasted forever. I loved these climbs. The first half of the section was pretty awesome. I must admit that halfway through I started to complain to Reid about the length and started asking, are we there yet? Are we there yet? I’m sure he loved that but he took it in stride and said soon! Every move of his was made to ensure that I was successful at navigating, the whole night. I wonder how is. I ask him, and he says he’s doing well, of course. I joked with him earlier that I wanted him to get a good workout.

Sugarloaf was next and I was not supposed to have crew until Cramer Rd, marathon start. But I was way off schedule now so I didn’t know how they were adapting the plan. I originally wanted to get to marathon start by 8am, the actually start so that I could feel and feed off of the energy of all those fresh runners. Like a vampire for energy. But to no avail. The 50 miler had started at 5:15am so the first 50’s would be passing us shortly. And they did! They passed about 7 miles into Crosby.

Ah Sugarloaf! We arrived and there they were! Liv and Raphy and Craig! I yelled and smiled and looked fresh. I hugged them and high fived. Raphy was excited to see me. Another emotional moment. I sat down and they got me sausage, grilled cheese, and burgers and other good stuff. Oh, and coffee! I brushed my teeth with the toothpaste and brush in my drop bag and changed my shoes back to my originals which Phil and Liv and cleaned and dried for me. I was profoundly happy. The sun was beating down and I took off my shirt for a fresh one. We saw Alex’s parents too, they are awesome.

Liv looked me and smiled as she said, honey, you’re going to finish this! You’re going to do this! I said yes as a lump caught in my throat. Yes, she was right, I had a really good chance. I talked with Craig and Raphy a bit and saw Jeremy a little ways away.

Reid and I picked up and left feeling great towards Cramer Rd. Once I hit Cramer I knew the course like the back of my hand, and I would only have 26 miles left! ¾ done…

This was a rather uneventful section and as I write this I realize my brain is missing large chunks of time from the sleep deprivation, etc. Memory is fickle. We arrived at Cramer and shortly thereafter Alex and Tonya came in. I whooped and Alex whooped even louder, much louder. It boomed. He came up to me and hugged and kissed me and yelled you do this! Fucking finish this! I love when he gets like this. He was so excited and it made me even more excited. He looked great and Tonya did too. He was running with his sister for 50 miles! How cool! It was her first 50. Alex’s primary concerns of the day were Tonya finishing and me finishing. He was also concerned with Brandon, Carl, and plenty of others. I never once heard him mention concern for himself. He did say he was peeing a lot, but that was more surprise. He was running a super tough 50 and just trying to make sure all the people he knew were all taken care of…

We chatted briefly and Reid and I left. Tonya and Alex passed us about 30 minutes later. I knew he was worried about me making the upcoming cut-offs. In fact, this is when I realized that the race was going to be tight. I needed to hurry up. My cortisol levels shot through the roof at this point! I hadn’t been thinking about cut-offs at all, really. I knew they were there but they seemed so far away. Now they were real. I tried to do some math but it wasn’t working and it was stressing me out. So I asked Reid to help me figure it out. We knew the next cut-off at Temperance (4pm) but not Sawbill. Reid said he thought Oberg was around 7pm. I remembered I had taken a screen shot of cutoffs on my phone the week before. I stopped, whipped out my phone, and located the picture. 5:40. Fuck. Yep, this was going to be close. No way around it now.

We moved on and came into Temperance seeing Alex’s dad with his bright yellow bike. I asked him for a ride but he said that might be against the rules. My spirits were high but my sense of dread was growing.

We spent a very small amount of time at Temperance. The volunteers were so nice. One guy tried to help me with my pack, and I said no, let me. It’s just easier. The Solomon packs are a bear to figure out sometimes. They gave us pancakes with bacon inside of them. We spread Nutella on top. This was among the greatest things I’ve ever eaten, in my life. Ridiculously good! Kevin Langton was sitting there gathering strength. I think he had one too.

We set off towards Sawbill with one thing on our minds, getting there before 5:40. We needed any extra time we could get. Reid asked me if I could go any faster. I said no. Kevin L and his pacer passed and he said some nice things. Reid had told me earlier that he was carrying Tylenol and that if I needed it, just ask. At his point I asked. I don’t normally take any Tylenol or Advil or Ibuprofen or anything except beer. This was a special occasion though. I popped two or three, I can’t remember. We hiked fast as we went up and up. I prayed. I prayed for speed. For fortitude. For tenacity. For grit. For the power to run. I don’t know when, but a mile or so in I started to run. I told Reid I could run and I was going to do it no matter what. We ran. It felt like we ran fast. I cruzed along with my poles in one hand. We went faster and faster. We passed Kevin L and he yelled out, did you guys take some cocaine or something? I yelled back, yeah a whole mountain of it! I thought this was extremely funny at the time, still do. This was my rally time. I told myself, if there was ever a time to rally Rolf, this was it. We ran. We passed several more pairs. We passed Jeremy and his pacer and said hi. He looked like he was in the zone.

It was getting serious and getting real. 80 miles in and we’re running as hard as I can. We power hike Carlton and I don’t even feel it. I love it and push hard. On the other side we start running down. An older lady and her husband are walk towards me. The women yells, how far are you going? I say, 103 miles! She yells back, at least we know you’re not a pussy! I hear her husband laugh pretty hard. I laugh too. That was unexpected! And good for the soul to hear some more humor.

We run it through and Reid sprints ahead to Sawbill to tell everyone, especially Phil, that I are coming. I come into Sawbill and my crew goes crazy! Everyone is there. Liv, Vera, Raphy, Holden, Landon, Craig, Lisa, Isla, Julie…Marcus and Jan have come too (Julie’s parents). It’s a boost into the sky for me. The volunteers get me water and food, they are awesome. Maria Barton looks at me and I raise my eyebrows. I don’t know what she is thinking but she knows how tight the next section is going to be and how closely I am chasing the cut. I am thankful to her in my mind for being there and for all she does on behalf of the people in this race. I yell out that daddy has a schedule to keep and yell to Phil, WE GOTTA GO!

Reid gives Phil my Tylenol which he knows helped me and gives him other instructions I can’t hear. Perhaps I’ll never know, but it seemed like magic to me. I know Reid is worried about me, but he has gotten me another 40 miles along. He has done everything he can. Now it was up to Phil. I am in Reid’s debt. He would never let me say that, but its true. He gave me everything over the last 14 hours. Without him I would not have gotten nearly this far. Reid is one my favorite people, heart and soul, salt of the earth. He makes me want to be a better person, in a healthy non-guilty way. You would be hard pressed to find a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate person.

Phil and I go. We start off pretty fast. Phil starts giving me instructions—follow me Rolf. Keep your footwork going. Phil is British so his accent softens what he is saying. He’s basically telling me to go faster. He calls out roots to me and rocks. Watch that one buddy, oh and that one! He tells me a joke about a bartender…its funny. He talks to me and gets me moving. Just keep moving he says, We have to make up time in thus section. It’s critical. Go faster buddy, You can do it. Imagine your kids at the finish line. I’m not going to let you DNF here. You can do it. I get annoyed. I can’t go any faster, I yell. I can’t. I’m on the verge on tears. You can do it buddy. His motivations and words take over. I start to run. I begin to run so fast it feels like I’m sprinting. He calls me the gazelle. He says I’m running like the wind. He tells me everything I need to hear. He says that’s it buddy, keep doing that keep it up. You’re making up time, that’s what we need. We go and go like for the next five miles. We come out at Oberg at 6:48 and Liv cheers like wild! We are a little over 2o minutes from cut-off (7:10pm) at Oberg. We get water and food. Liv is going to pace me with Phil for this last 7-mile section. I am so excited to see her. She is more excited to see me!

She gives me my headlamp and my long sleeve. The sun is going down again and we need to be prepared. There’s a hundred mile finisher in fresh clothes, jeans, belt buckle, superior tee, etc. He looks like he’s had a day to rest…oh wait, he has. He finished early this morning! Not sure who it was but it was a top fiver or top ten.

Lisa had gone to park the car. Liv told the aid station people to tell her that we had already left if they saw her. I hoped to see her before we left again—but it was time to go. Just then she got back and was in a hurry to catch us. Liv took a quick picture of Phil, Lisa, and me. Lisa started to cry as we said goodbye and strode towards the woods, and the last section of the course. The victory lap…but not really. We still were in danger of not finishing by 10pm. Phil said I needed to keep up a decent clip through this section if we were going to do this. I told him I was not worried at all and that I wanted to enjoy this last bit.

Liv and I talked and joked. It was so good to see her. I thought I was going to break down and cry several times but I think I was too drained. We hadn’t spent much time together over the last 35 hours (obviously) so we caught up on what the kids were doing and all the behind the scenes activity. I was happy to hear that they had had a great time with Holden and Landon. Everyone seemed to have had a really fun and adventurous weekend. I just wanted this to be a family and friends affair. Where everyone felt like they were part of something big and exciting. That goal ahd been achieved.

The sun went to sleep again fully and my energy dropped significantly. I had my headlamp on…again. How did night fall so fast? The woods around Moose Mountain are particularly dark at night. We powered up Moose without a second thought. Liv asked how I was still going so strong on the ups. I told her ups were no worries, it was the downs that were killing me. I was getting progressively more scared of each decent. My ankles were on fire; piercing pain with every step. Daggers. We came down the backside of Moose and headed towards Mystery. It was then that we could hear the finish line. But there was more talking. It continued. That’s the award ceremony I said! We could hear it in waves, almost crystal clear. As we trudged up and over Mystery we passed the spot where I had seen John Mathson being carried off at the Spring races. I said a silent prayer for his family, for him, for all of us. Then came prayers of gratitude. I was quiet and reflective for a while until we started to head down.

It seemed like it took forever! Go down, I yelled at the trail. I had rally embraced the trail and become one with it over the last two days. But now I was fighting with it. Asking it to change its natural course and become shorter.

Then the sounds of the blessed Poplar River became louder and louder. I went fast and faster. We came down to the bridge. I told Phil we were good to go. 9:30. We were less than 10 minutes from the finish line. I breathed in for one final happy push.

We came up on the road and I tried to run. Then I walked. Then I ran again past another hundred miler with two pacers (this was Stuart Johnson I would find out later). I ran swiftly down the hill and around the pool as they announced my name and I turned off my headlamp. The cheering was glorious. Vera and Raphy and the other kids were yelling Daddy, Daddy! Some were yeling for me, others for Phil. Reid was screaming! Alex was yelling! Craig and Lisa and Julie and everyone were clapping. The moment was brilliant. Everything I had envisioned for the past year. I hugged my kids and gave high-fives to everyone.

I asked if I could sit by Tonya and Alex. Marcus said, of course! I congratulated Tonya on her first 50 and Alex on his race. They looked great—elated. They looked so happy that it increased my happiness! Reid was on fire. He and Alex had trained with me more than anyone and they both knew what this meant. Alex said something at this point, I wept for a few seconds. It was really nice. Someone said, how did you come back from the dead (or something like that). Alex said, “it was karma man! You were so happy at every aid station, smiling and enjoying every moment.” I did feel really great at the aid stations, he didn’t see me at my lowest points though, no one did. I knew that I had gotten here because I prayed without ceasing. I prayed when I had nothing left to give. When I had nothing left in me. My family and friends carried me through. If you took one person out of the team at any time I would not have finished. Reid, Phil, Liv…they each played a key role in helping me push forward. My kids too. Getting to the finish line to see them was my guiding vision. Craig and Lisa made sure the kids were there for that moment. 37 hours and 39 minutes. I certainly took full advantage of the timeframe! The race cutoff was 38 hours.

What happened out there for me was nothing short of transformational. I tapped into those ancient rhythms of people, of the thousands of First Nation’s people who pounded these trails so long before. I became one with the forest and the trail and embraced its wildness. I came to a point where I was going to quit, and then I let go of all control. I asked for help and help was sent. It’s hard to make sense of just how crazy Temperance to Sawbill and Sawbill to Oberg were. I moved faster through those sections than any section since the beginning of the race. I don’t know where the power came from. Something happened in there, in the woods. It was a full on rally, but it was more than that. It was the Great Spirit breathing through me.

I feel a profound sense of peace after the race. Clarity. It’s not that I can accomplish anything, for I am no better than I was before. But I know that anything can be accomplished with help, with God, with others. I am deeply grateful to my crew and pacers and family. They made this happen.

We adapted, we persevered, we endured.

Gratitude!

 

“In wildness we are saved.”

–Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer

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THE END

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