Bee’s, Mountain Lions, and Murphy’s Law
I stood at the start of the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run full of excitement and nervous energy. I had never attempted 200 miles all at once. My backpack was fully loaded to take on the challenge of running 200 miles in 100 hour limit with 40,000 ft of cumulative elevation gain, or was it 70,000 ft. I don’t know, does it matter? The longest distance I had gone was 138 miles continuous in the Himalayas at La Ultra The High race.
Bill Andrews, my husband and partner in this adventure was also toeing the line. We often run races together but usually don’t plan on staying together. Our pace is different and he is definitely the stronger runner.
The race begins at Homewood, California on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It ascends over the ski slopes into a remote area called Desolation Wilderness. In a counter clockwise direction the course circumnavigates all of Lake Tahoe. One big giant loop back to the start finish at Homewood.
The course was stunningly beautiful. At least the parts I saw until my unexpected finish. I also spent about 12 hours in pitch blackness but I am a head of myself! 5 miles into the race at the top of a steep mountain the views into the wilderness area are breathtaking. For as far as the eye can see it is wild untamed forests with scattered lakes. Then the bees came. I got stung early in the race. This year yellow jackets are ruling the forests. I hit a swarm of them and got stung on my leg trying to scamper through a bushy area. It hurt but wasn’t that bad until I hit more brush and branches and scrapped my stinger area which became an angry bleeding welt. I was wishing I wore long leggings like Bill. Onward….. The course continued to a remote lake that was so vast I thought we had returned to Lake Tahoe. But it was just one of the many lakes in an area that is so difficult to get to that few people visit. The lake and rugged shoreline were empty of humans. The day had warmed up and I was looking toward to refueling with water and food at the 18 mile aid station. We past the lake and I kept checking my GPS. I knew the aid station had to be close. Bill and I were both out of water. Arriving at the aid station we were informed that they had run out of water. I was bummed. We had to run back to the lake and use our water purification pumps to pump our own water to refill. It was very discouraging but come on, we are in a remote location and stuff happens. I refilled all my bottles and continued. The next aid was another long twelve miles but at least I had my water.
The course became more difficult at this point. Lots of jeep trails with huge boulders and rocks. The difficulty was that the rocks were covered with a film of thin dust that made them slippery. I found myself slowing down to keep from falling. It was technically challenging. We were winding through this for hours. My pack I realized was way too heavy. I was so worried about being caught in freezing conditions in the Sierras that I packed for the Himalayas. I wasn’t going to be able to see crew until mile 62 so I was trying to be self sufficient. With my shoulders aching as I tiptoed on granite boulders that never ended, I reached in to my hydration pack for my water and realized my bottle that I had refilled at the lake was missing. Somewhere along the last five miles my water bottle had popped out as I bounded up and down on the rocks and I hadn’t noticed. I had 2 bottles left but miles to go before aid. The 30 mile aid station found me dehydrated and my stomach was funky. I wanted some Coke. The aid station had no Coke. Bummed out again I felt like Murphys Law was following me. Everything seemed to be going wrong. I wanted a grilled cheese or tortillas and cheese but they had run out of cheese. I asked for a tea and they had none left. The problem with being a back of the pack runner is that often times you don’t get want you want because everyone else has been there before you!
I ate a hotdog which wasn’t my first choice but I was starving. It hit my stomach like a brick and I immediately felt awful. I continued the long trudge on endless rocks. The longest 14 miles I had ever experienced. I felt awful with my stomach churning.
At 2 am Bill and I were trying to find the reflective mile markers that were leading our way. The markers were well placed but we were in a very remote and dark section of trees.
Bill stopped and said, “Why are the markers over there?” He pointed to the trees then said, “Those look like eyes.”
That’s when I saw the animal.
“Bill” I replied calmly with the hair rising on the back of my neck. “That’s a cat”.
It was a rather large mountain lion crouched on a rock about 15 feet from us. As Bill turned his headlight on the animal it turned slowly towards us and moved into a pouncing position.
I whispered, “Bill, there is another cat to the left of him crouching behind the tree”.
We both turned our lights on the second mountain lion.
We quickly decide to pull out our pocket knives and pepper spray.
I felt surprising calm because I had Bill next to me. He’s 6’3 and a large presence on the trail. Although I never underestimate wild animals I felt safe having him next to me. I was hoping that they were more scared of us then we were of them. We started backing away, both Bill and I holding our weapons as we made our retreat.
Mountain lions are super intimating to see in person. It was surreal to realize how large they are and have them so near to us. I was seriously ready to take them on if I needed to. I was kinda pissed that I didn’t get my Coke at that last aid station and I planned on taking it out on the cat if it messed with me! Ha!
Anyway, Bill and I did tag team, each of us, one at a time, moving about 20 feet ahead while the other one watched to see if the mountain lions followed. It was a tense hour trying to get distance between us and the wild animals.
By then I was mentally done. My leg was festering with the bee stings. I was slow and dehydrated. I was freaked about the mountain lions and sick to death of the endless rocks I was trying to maneuver through without breaking a leg.
Mile 44 aid station came and I was totaled. I didn’t have enough time to regroup before cutoff. It was over.
Bill said, ” I have no regrets. It’s been a great adventure but I’m done”
I always want to finish a race I start. But the idea of trying to run out of the aid station to avoid cutoff wasn’t possible. I didn’t have time to regroup and get my body stable. I would have to run weak for another 19 miles with no aid station in wilderness. It would have been too much of a risk to push it. So the end of the race was at hand.
DNF ( Did Not Finish). I’ve had my share and they certainly aren’t as fun. Finishing an ultra race distance is always a gift. Everything has to click into place and the problems that pop up have to be solved to move on. It’s like a game of chess. Each move counts. Next time I would have a lighter pack, carry a Coke and be prepared for scrambling over miles of rock in the first portion of this race! Ha!
I have no regrets because I did learn and grow from the experience. Will I attempt it again?? Hmmmm, maybe?? Until next time Lake Tahoe 200……..
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