It feels like a tearing down of camp.
A disbanding of the community.
It feels like years of effort washing out with the tide.
Someone sold me a yard sale jigsaw. A ziplock bag of edges and colours all askew. I’m so stubborn that I have to see it through. Maybe there’s a picture coming. Maybe there are pieces missing.
… an incomplete set
Still I am fixated on piecing it together. It’s finding peace with that, that is overwhelming.
I am stumbling in the light, bumping into things, tripping over things, jamming my toes against rocks I’ve known were there. I am increasingly lost the more I am found.
I sent them away, my guides I mean, I sent them packing. Oh how I loved them. Oh how I enjoyed their edits. Oh how I miss their buffer. My doing. My choosing. My footsteps in the light, in the blinding, blazing splattered light.
I’ve been struggling as to how best to tell this tale. I’ve been rattling around with syllables and imagery of how best to describe barriers and obstacles. Maybe, like my yard sale puzzle, the picture will appear clearly.
The grocery store plaza 800m from my door is under construction. Upgrades. improvements.
Noise. Commotion. Distraction. Smells. People. Moving parts.
It feels inhuman to not be able to go make a bank deposit alone, to ‘elect’ to avoid that coffee shop for six months, to fear the next time I need tylenol from the drug store, to not eat the last apple because then you’d have to go buy more.
These are not things I can’t do. These are things I currently can’t manage under the conditions set out in front of me by society at large.
Why no guides?
This is why.
I need to tell the tale of how inaccessible the world is. I need it to be persuasive. I need it to be compelling. I need change to be something worth fighting for. I need to be heard.
That has to be my biggest fear; not being heard. Disability should be heard. It deserves a place beyond a token card holder. It deserves a voice.
Fear grows like a weed, like a fungus, like a wild thing. Fear of the unknown, fear of the misunderstood, fear of the lack of control. This Vol State training has consumed me with that fear. It bubbles and simmers on the back burner. It spits and froths under the excess heat and stress. Fear, I know your name. I know your name more than I know my own.
Friday at 8pm we started running at Dundas Conservation Area. Not quite dark, no longer bright. Sulphur Springs officially begins exactly 10 hours after my first step. Seems like an unfair advantage right? Let me tell you, it felt more like extra punishment. And I was there to embrace it all.
The forest was sleeping and dark. Steven kept me company. Head light bobbing up and down in the dark beside me. Silence between us. Company only. Usually on a run I can anticipate his next step, feel his heart quickening before a hill, hear the inhale before a mouthful of descriptives were thrown out in order. It nearly broke me, this silence. No words. No gestures. Not even sure his socks were different colours. Promised myself I wouldn’t look. I don’t envy him, or the position I’ve put him in. No one wants to put their loved one in danger. No one wants to walk them to the door and say go on, go… No one wants to walk beside and SAY NOTHING when there are things to say, obstacles pending everywhere. I had to get over myself pretty fast in the first few miles. I wasn’t more than three feet away and wanted to scream “why are you doing this?” “Don’t you love me anymore?”
Yes he does. So much so he could do this. Remember I asked him to. Not sure that makes me a very nice person. More on that later.
I broke the course up in my head into sections. Maybe they make sense to you who have run this place?
The descent - Martin rd… the optimistic beginning
The gimme - everything until you cross the road, because honestly it was the easiest part
The new altitude - a few climbs that were added to keep us off the road. This took away a portapot access point, added hills, showed me a jeep road looking trail that make my goosebumps tingle in barkley memories.
The Bruce - a warm hug for those that know her… the first escarpment sight.. the one everyone takes a picture of.
Aid station one - thank the heavens
The dive - Those incredibly technical steps down off the bruce into the ravine, and the root tiptoeing after, plus the climb.
The round about - Seriously who puts a roundabout in the woods?
The new altitude take two - seems hillier this way
Two way traffic zone - after the road crossing
The blurry grass lollipop - the new last year edition. This section hid the roots, played mayhem with my headlamp, made me cry. two hydrocut crossings, timing mats to trip on… and oh the way the sweet grass smells in the heat.
Last loop - the second turn off the trail you dam well know takes you to the lollipop. ITs like someone decided you hadn’t gave the climbing your best so here’s a second chance bitch… (Or second, or hundredth)
Aid station two - people who smelled better than me and who promise only 7 km to the end to the loop
the lollipop - Root dancing, bugs are the worst here. The trails feel older. The ground doesn’t drain the same. The stick, the round, the up and up and up those sisters, the lick that never seems to end, the down and down some more and the stick again. Ending again in the root dancing and bugs
aid station once more
The ascent - one last fuck you before someone might offer you a freezie.
The first loop we got half way down the hill and Steven retreated to get his headlamp. Geez, these ultra runners I tell you! Everything went as planned. Including the lump in my throat. At the Dive the caution tape was before my memorized steps. They wanted us to use the old way down? But I’ve never gone that way. I’ve never walked those steps. I’ve not… Fine. Fuck you fine. And then mud and slippery ground and Steven offering his hand. “Go the other way the next time” he said …”let me help you” he said. Oh Jesus… I can’t give in so close to the beginning? One second of hand holding, one dart in my unguided run of the year, one million pounds of instant guilt. More than anything, I want your help. I think that’s what makes this whole journey to Vol State so incredibly frightening.
At the Blurry grass section I had to ask Steven to run farther ahead. His headlamp made the ground dance. 20 meters have never separated us on a run. “Just here to keep the coyotes away baby” Stupid running. But they were indeed out and prowling around. As were owls, deer, skunks, raccoons, and Hooligans apparently.
On our second loop 80% of the reflective markers had been removed or deliberately turned away so that they wouldn’t reflect oncoming light. I cannot believe the people who did this thought it was, what funny? What if I’d gone alone? It’s bad enough I can’t see the pink ribbons anywhere.
On our third loop the sun came up on the lollipop. And yes, it actually does take me that long to run 60 freaking km on unguided trail. I am so sick of defending my pace; it’s a nauseating insult to my soul. People were beginning to staff the aid stations. They were of course confused as to why we were out there. I was happy to see them. Happy to know my next solo loop wouldn’t be just me and the coyotes.
Loop four I took my poles, interpreting my steps by sound and resonance of taps. I left Steven to nap. I hoped Jennifer-Anne got some sleep as well, although from the size of her newly knitted blanket, I doubt if she got any. People started popping up around me on the course. Rounds of ‘good job’ ‘amazing’ ‘doing great’ … you racers, you’re the best alarm clock ever. That voice in my head that you may never understand, answered each one of you with a ‘this isn’t great, I’m not great, I’m tired and barely moving, don’t kid yourself’. The filter won over and I only allowed a “you too” to escape my lips.
This ultra running business can build you up. It can move mountains in your soul. It can change your life, if you let it.
This ultra running business can tear you down. It can bury you under avalanches in your soul. It can change your world, if you let it.
All that stands between you and that… is a matter of belief.
Loop five I think was my longest loop. I lost my running bounce and was hiking. My foot was talking back. I’d been taking a mental inventory of the aches and pains and NONE of them were worth stopping for. None of them worth giving up, giving in for. I found myself once again standing at the Dive. It was then I realized my vertigo was winning. Think I’d been ignoring it for a while. The root steps I knew were there in front of me. They had multiplied however, morphed into about a zillion dancing steps I couldn’t steady. Runner noises from behind brought me back to the present, back to the place of knowing there was no other way out. I took a step back and asked them to go first. Said it was more difficult to have noise behind me on the descent. Most went without question. One turned and asked if I needed help, if I could see the ledge. Filter allowed me to say no I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. Thank you, I’m fine. Still I stood.
Still I stood. Tears stealing the day. You can’t run 100 miles afraid of the one you might have trouble with. Still the roots danced out of focus. Five minutes? More? I stood. A few more friends came from behind and really wanted to help. That nearly broke me, as it meant they could see my struggle. Graceful in an ultra I will never be. Gratefully they too went on.
I took a picture. I took a picture of the steps, then zoomed in on the image and used that memory to steady the roots in my view. Closed my eyes and went down on my rear. Fumbling in the light. My only way, in the light.
Once at the bottom of that ravine, and over the bridge more roots and a climb to write home about only because of the angle of the dirt. Another friend from behind, “How are you doing?” Please don’t ask that. There is no question I’d like to answer less. That ultra running stuff…
At the last aid station before the lollipop, I sat. I sat and rubbed my feet, removing the stone that had wedged its way into my left heel, bruising it nicely for the memory. I sat and listened to the people who said things like “you look so strong!” Someone sat beside me complaining of knee pain, saying he was done. This is when I knew my vertigo would win. As a Massage Therapist, I would have stopped my race and helped any other day. I’ve never turned away a need before. Instead? I offered him tylenol. That was good for a few guilt points.
I texted Jennifer-Anne that I needed a break. That I was trying to piece things back together. Once I’d gathered, into the lollipop I went. On my way back down Jennifer-Anne met me. I think she most of all struggled with not telling me things. We walked back to the start/finish to eat and regroup.
They fed me. They humoured me. They let me change. They sprayed me for the bugs. Too late I’d been their feast last loop. There was so much noise in the base camp. Incredibly loud chaos. My head was spinning. I think I left on loop six more to get away from the noise than to run.
Loop six, what would be my last loop, I went entirely off the clock. 12 minutes to get to that section. 35 minutes to make that loop. Aid station one I texted back that the vertigo wasn’t getting better, but that I was hopeful that darkened skies would settle it down. I found my run again. I knew it would come back. It always does. Wait for it. It will. I promise.
Run or no run, the earth was moving. I could feel it rotating under my feet. The dive was just as bad as the time before. I had expected it. Didn’t even look at the ground. Checked my picture and went down on my rear again. Every effort was for making it to the aid station before the lollipop so I could put my head lamp on there. I almost didn’t make the self imposed cut off before dark.
Aid station volunteers cheered when I arrived. Angels you are. I can’t eat your food, but I love that you bring breath to the forest. “See you in an hour!” they offered. Um no… 2 maybe? 90 mins at least.
Coming down the hill my third nose bleed of the race hit me, which did not help the vertigo, but man did the bugs love it. Head lamps danced in the distance ahead of me which made me believe they were stars above. I tried to look up and pull things into focus. Perspective? But every time I looked up everything went white. Blasting glaring white. Send me to the ground, hands in the dirt, bright white.
My wonderful crew met me with medicine at the bottom of the road. Because I knew it wasn’t safe to be out running anymore - even if my legs couldn’t care less if we did. we called it. There was no rally. There was never meant to be a buckle, having started some ten hours before the pack, even if I’d covered the entire 100 miles, I would have defiantly turned a buckle down.
You know what there was though? 120km of unguided trail running. More than 26 hours of unspoken roots and bumps and horse shit and ravines. There was over 36 hours of awake time with no asleep on the side of the trail. There was zero gastrointestinal upset. There was intake of real food 100% of the time and, sorry aid station staff, proper digestion at nearly every pot. There was supportive family and friends and strangers everywhere.
That ultra running stuff batman… It can change you, if you let it.
Oh and my favourite line of the entire event goes to the one guy with (humour? balls?), who made me smile anyway… after seeing my “blind runner” bib on my back, came up beside me and said
“You’re going the right way!”
why yes… yes I am…
Constant. Forward. Motion.