Man bitten by Bear Barely Survives to Tell Story

The last animal 100 in Mike Minch’s immediate future……..

I was feeling pretty confident as I headed out of the aid station and could see a 32 hour finish up ahead somewhere  beyond the darkness of  the night and some nightmarish group of jagged teeth perched at the gaping end of the altitude profile.   But I had legs and had managed to battle back from an almost four hour DFL position.  Anyway things were so spread out that time was the only competitor, the few other racers I met either laying in chairs in the aid station or stumbling along the trial.  I was moving well as the fast starters sacrificed a portion of their pack to the gods of over-exuberance.  Twenty hours of waiting and now the tree of patience, which I had tended for so long, was beginning to bear its fruit.   I had concern for other’s issues, asked if they needed help, but also felt that grim satisfaction a survivor feels as he leaves others to fend off the demons of despair. 

It started to rain, and I put on a cheap poncho.   It got cold and the wind blew.   Then these gigantic snow flakes began to filter through the trees as I marched along an ugly section of trails called the Roller Coaster.  Up and down and repeat it over and over.  Nothing hard but always unpleasant.  I felt it was the ugliest section of the course, even in the dark. I didn’t need to see it to feel its course character.   All the time it edged colder, the rain falling heavier.  I didn’t let myself dwell on the cold and just kept moving through the darkness. 

The rain became snow again, this time little hard balls of flakes—the kind that like to fall forever.  It got colder.  I was cold but every hill, every climb brought me into a sweat.  I could have run bare chest and would have been sweating on the ups.   Then the down brought a chill.   My chest began to wheeze, and I heard a constant chorus of voices off in the distance–screams, laughs, howls.  I put most of off to my singing lungs and pushed on.   

Then disaster hit.  My breath left me and I doubled over.  I wheezed and breathed and it returned and I pushed on forcing the cold air through my nose, trying to heat it a bit.  I managed forty yards of up, was forced over, and pushed on.  I repeated the process endlessly, losing precious time as each bout of gasping bent me over and demanded its payment in the commodity I found most precious.   Time that I had collected like a bee seeking honey  at endless small flowers, that I had gathered in relentless steps up innumerable steeps, that I had managed to find in too fast steps down long downs—was now being taken from me by a body that could not give me what I demanded of it.    I coughed and gagged, I pushed on forcing the cold air into my lungs, intent on ignoring the problem.  Twenty yards, forty yards, the ups were becoming endless, and then suddenly I was bent over again gagging and coughing and breathing hard trying to find something in my lungs to quench the yearning pain deep inside my chest.

It began to lighten, the snow was collecting on the ground, the muddy slopes demanded more careful attention, and the air chilled even more as I gained altitude.  I was forced over, gasping and wheezing again and again.   Finally a voice chuckled, "Best back off  FOOL!  You are so far out in the middle of no where that even if they knew you were here they wouldn’t know what to do.  Your chest shuts down and that’s all she wrote."    I listened, knowing the truth, but attempting to negotiate the limits I had to adjust to.   

"Right now I figure you will be fortunate to just get your worthless ass out of this situation.  Trying to do any better would be a gross over estimation of your actual potential.  But go ahead. If you get yourself any closer to the line you could die out here and that would at least be more interesting to watch that your constant trudging up and down these hills," came the reply. 

I cursed, gagged, coughed up stuff, swore, gagged, coughed and spit.   I swore again, straightened up, forced air into my nose, and pushed on up the hill.  "Yeah, if I keel over at least I won’t have to deal with these damn steeps anymore!" I agreed, as I charged up the next section trying to last until I hit the turn in the trail.   I made it, went through the gasping routine, and swore knowing I had to cut back just to keep breathing.  A crew of complainers rose in the back of my mind as the weakness caused by my lack of breath grew more pronounced.  I elbowed them back into the closet, locked the door. "Shut up," I said, "I don’t have time for petty fears and complaints."   I pushed on as best I could because there was nothing else to do and nowhere to go but on. 

I finished in 33:27, about an hour later than I had hoped, but it was a fight getting down off the top with my lungs out of sorts with me.   Days later they are still all Huhu with me.   

It was a breathtaking experience.  Literally and figuratively.   Bear country was just beautiful.  Stunning!  Maples and Oaks, and elders had gone all shades of orange, yellow, and red.  Aspen in their screaming yellow garments or hanging back in pale greens to grab a few more days of sun.   The snow draped over the leafy colors, producing bleeding pastels, and collages of colors that just can not be found on a pallet.   The vista’s of the high mountains and far ridges stretching endlessly over the horizon constantly stopping me in my steps.  The dry late summer grasses of the high meadows and alpine marshes–yellow and brown.  The slopes of pines, green black and against the pastel blues of the high mountain sky.

There were very good people at the aid stations who were very caring and encouraging.  It helped a lot.

I ran into some friends from the Teton Run.  I also had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with some Ultra-running Nurses from Salt Lake.  My almost total inability to remember names makes it impossible for me to mention  these lovely women more specifically..but…  Ultra-running nurses….the best of both worlds. 

This was the last race in the Rocky Mountain Slam, and there were perhaps a dozen people who completed that lofty achievement four of (Hardrock, Leadville, Big Horn, Wasatch, and Bear).  There were a lot of very good runners, and all with a lot of experience.  I ran into only one person who was doing a first Hundred–and he was out in the first 10 hours.    This is not a loop course but a long constant run.   There are many places far off in the endless terrain where it is just you and nature.   …..I’ve seen enough stunning Rocky Mountain vistas for a while, I can tell you that.   

Much aloha,  Mike Muench.

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