My goals for the night: Stay steady, get in and out of aid quick. Eat more food, use caffeine at dusk and dawn. As the sun began to set I began to feel a little lazy. I popped 2 pieces of caffeinated gum and continued to eat bites of sandwich and drink water. The thick green canopy was starting to glow with the sunset, and the bright orange orb was visible intermittently as we crested knobs in the ridgeline. I contemplated the difference between knobs and gaps and peaks and valleys. It was still very warm and humid. I started rethinking my strategy. I was planning on really conserving all night long and making a hard all-day push the next day to the finish. But considering how hot it would be tomorrow, I decided I would make the night really count. I knew if I tried to push hard 12-14 hours tomorrow, I would die in the heat. I would need to conserve some in the midday heat. So my new goal was to maximize my focus and effort in the dark.
The trail would be a little less technical throughout most the night. The caffeine perked me up, and with the heat pulling back, I sped up without increasing my effort much if at all. I turned my waist light on. I was glad to not contend with a headlamp for 2 reasons. First the strap always gives me a headache after several hours and bugs. The bugs were thick and they flew straight to the light...which on my head would’ve meant my face. I came into Wilscot Gap a little after 9pm in 59th position. I had moved up 58 spots from 117 earlier in the afternoon. I suspected quite a few people had dropped out due the heat/terrain. I sure didn’t remember passing that many people. There was a group of guys that we traded positions all evening. They would pass me on the ups and I would pass them on the downs. We did this virtually all evening. Once it was dark I was mostly solo, seeing people only at aid stations or a few as I passed on the trail.
The moon was almost full and super bright. In Cherokee, as with most Native American cultures, the moon is masculine. I think it was former Chief Wilma Mankiller that joked, reasoning the moon is the man is because the woman is always the constant stable factor, like the sun, the sustainer of life, taking care of her children. The moon just shows up when he wants to and usually isn’t all there. I was also seeing more wildlife. A few deer, a hoot owl, small snake, occasional field mice crossing the trail, and some sort of bigger brown furry animal the size of a mole. It moved so quickly, I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Then a red-tail hawk, a few lizards, and a turtle. I listened to the frogs sing. It reminded me of a Cherokee story about the animals and birds that I’ll share at the end of this looong post.
I kept myself at ease, but focused. No laziness through the night. I made sure I was getting a steady stream of calories and water. I wanted to be primed for the sun that would drain me the next day. Every runnable uphill I ran, every downhill I ran, relaxed and fast and smooth as possible, no quad banging, no overheating. I was a bit disappointed that there was no coolness to come that night. We soon hit the 5 mile paved/dirt road segment. I ran all but a small steep portion. I remained focused, It was around 11pm and mile 33. I would hit this same stretch on the return, around mile 70. I wanted to hit that exposed road section before late morning to avoid the heat. That would really suck late morning or midday.
I made it to Camp Morgonton, mi 52 around 2:45am. I decided I would allow myself up to 10 minutes here to deal with any issues and really get good food in. The volunteer handed me my drop bag. I immediately opened it and grabbed the vaseline and asked “where’s the restroom?”. He looked puzzled for only a second, then grinned and nodded as I said, “I need some personal time”. Anyone who has run more than a few miles in the heat and humidity knows that there is “chafing”. Before leaving. I ate several squares of grilled cheese and headed back out. My only issue through the night was intermittent attacks by swarming biting gnats. All of a sudden, my ankles and lower legs would light up on fire. The only remedy was to keep running and rub my ankles and legs so vigorously as to kill the little bastards. This usually took about 30 minutes of running and rubbing. I would be in peace for another hour or so and get attacked again. This happened over and over through the night. One of my race goals was to remain as positive as possible. As soon as my brain started to lead me down a negative path I would intervene. “The gnat attacks are keeping me awake and alert and moving at least”, and “At least the attacks are intermittent, not constant”. And so ends part 2 of Cruel Jewel 100.
Now that I’m home, I can tell the Cherokee story I had in my head better by abbreviating an excerpt from Meditations with The Cherokee by J.T. Garrett. The full exerpt can be found at www.northerncherokeenation.com.
The animals challenged the birds to a game of ball. The birds discussed the challenge, and finally decided though they were smaller, they were swift and agile, and the animals were slow and awkward, so they figured they had a chance. The animals boasted that they were strong. The bigger animals were proud and boastful, they told the small animals to get out of their way so they would not be stomped. 2 little field mice scrambled up a tree to sit by the little birds watching. Eagle saw them and asked why they were not with the animals. The 2 mice explained that they were asked to leave and that the animals made fun of them because they were so small. The Great Eagle told the mice they could join them and the birds made them wings out of the leather and string used on the ceremonial drum.
The game began, and the ball was thrown in the air. Hawk caught the ball. He threw it to the field mice. One caught it and glided into the air to the next tree. To this day, he is called bat. He passed the ball to another mouse with wings, who flew into another tree. To this day he is called flying squirrel. The birds ultimately won. So through this story the young Cherokee are taught to never boast about what they can do based on size or strength, but be humble true to their family, their clan.
Although not representative of this story, here is a picture of one of Murv Jacob's paintings. He is one of my favorite artists, and I think of his work often as I encounter nature and think of the animal stories I have heard. Although not Cherokee, he was recognized as a Master Artist by the Five Civilized Tribes. Much of his art brings to life the fables and stories told through animals in Cherokee tradition. He lived in my home of Tahlequah, Oklahoma and had an art studio down town. Of course he also has quite a bit of street cred for designing posters for the Grateful Dead.