The winner writes...

Hellgate 2009….

by Jeremy Ramsey


Start to FSR 35 (AS1)

 Well the race started in typical Hellgate fashion with the singing of the National Anthem and a bunch of chilly runners jumping around looking very strange to any teenager who may have found themselves cruising the back roads looking for a place to park. Remarkably the temperatures didn’t seem all too cold while preparing to embark on the adventure that is Hellgate. On Horton’s command we started the long run into the brightly lit moon night. The first couple miles were really neat with a group of about six of us running in a large pack. Meanwhile Sean Andrish decided to reenact his dominating performance from Promise Land earlier this year by taking it out very fast with the hard charging Harland Peelle giving chase. I settled into nice smooth pace chatting with Michael Schuster, Don Padfield, and Clark Zealand. I reached the creek crossing before aid station 1 taking a quick peek around for a place to somehow stay dry, lets just say that the water was extremely chilly on my knees.

 FSR35 (AS1) to Petites Gap (AS2)

 I worked through aid station 1 without stopping ready to tackle the 1200’ climb up to Petites Gap. Early in the climb I managed to catch up to Harland, with Don joining us shortly thereafter. The climb was pretty uneventful with small chitchat back and forth amongst the group. At this point I was internally questioning whether I was pushing too fast too early in the race. I felt that I was running at a comfortable pace so I decided to go with it. Later in the race I would express to Don this little bit self-doubt and he would indeed state that he had wondered much the same. I guess not Don.

 Petites Gap (AS2) to Camping Gap (AS3)

 Upon arriving at Petite Gap I was greeted by Horton with something that I didn’t expect nor care to hear. He informed us that we were 4 minutes ahead of Eric Grossman’s record pace. That’s not exactly the kind of news that one would like to hear, especially when considering Grossman’s course record is a blistering 11:03:35. Worried by this bit of news I left the aid station with a renewed since to run relax and to stay within my comfort zone. Harland had hurried out the aid station leaving Don and myself alone to tackle the next section. Don pulled ahead on the downhill section leaving me all alone in the scary forest at night (yes indeed I cried). I ran the single-track part of this section mostly alone with only the momentary glimmer from Don’s headlamp rounding the bend up ahead. Reaching the gravel road I joined up with Don as we ran together to Camping Gap.

 Camping Gap (AS3) to Overstreet Falls (AS4)

 At Camping Gap the animated David Horton once again greeted me, but this time he had the little Fat Girl posing as his mini me. Fat Girl was much easier on the eyes than Horton’s ugly mug in the middle of a cold breezy Hellgate night. David’s info this time was that we trailed Sean by 9 minutes. So Don and I hurried out of the aid station prepared to make up a little time.

Oh the grassy road, I believe that the grass road has neither definite beginning nor definite ending, or so maybe it just seems this way in both directions. This was the first time during the race that I noticed the teeth chattering chilly weather. It was rather blustery with headwinds gusting so strongly that at one point I actually walked a small flat section wondering why I hadn’t grab my Patagonia Houdini. Well as much as I hate the grassy road, the opposite is true about the single track leading to Overstreet Falls. This section always gets me stoked, which can lead to problems if you’re not careful to contain yourself.  Here’s where I pulled ahead of Don and caught up to Harland who graciously stepped aside allowing me to lead us into aid station 4.

 Overstreet Falls (AS4) to Jennings Creek (AS5)

 Feeling great arriving at aid station 4 I quickly grabbed a banana and couple PB&J’s squares. While preparing to leave I was informed that I was currently trailing Sean by over 6 minutes. Quickly gathering myself I set out alone up the hill towards the second parkway crossing of the night.

This section of the race is one of my favorites of Hellgate. Crossing Chestnut Mountain with the moon shining unbelievably bright and the peaceful quiet of the night combined with some gnarly single track at 4 am in the morning, only one question comes to mind. What more does one crave in a trail ultra? Moments like this are the reasons I love running trails. To me personally there are very few better feelings than effortlessly cruising along a trail suspended in that particular moment in time hoping it will last forever.

 Jennings Creeks (AS5) to Little Cove Mountain (AS6)

                 Coming into Jennings Creek there were two things on my mind. The first was how much of a lead did Sean possess and how much time did I have on the next guy? I received the answer to the first from no other than one David Horton. The gap stood at 3 minutes. That guy is everywhere on race night. As for the answer to the second question no one had any idea. For the first time I started to consider that I had legit chance to compete for the win. As I was leaving the aid station Horty said to me, like he has so many times before, when you have a chance to do something special grab it because they don’t come along very often.

                This section of the race involves two solid climbs and couple of nice downhills. After the first climb there is a small section of single track leading over to a gravel road, here is the first time I had a glimpse of Sean in 30 miles. I would later find out that Sean had also spotted me at this point. Well I assume Sean didn’t waste anytime on that particular downhill because he vanished like a ghost of the night not to be seen for the rest of that section.

 Little Cove Mountain (AS6) to Bearwallow Gap (AS7) 

                As I was arriving at Little Cove Mountain, I replayed last years race in my mind. At this point in the 2007 race I was in sad shape staggering up the gravel road towards the aid station as the sun was peaking over the mountains.  What a difference a year makes. This year the sun was nowhere to found and my body was more than cooperating with my race pace.

                I hurried into the aid station with my crew handing me a fresh supply of gels and the wonderful volunteers filling my Nathan Hydration pack. I asked my father, who crewed me for the race, for an update on Sean’s lead. I’m not sure whom, but I do recall someone stating that I was about a minute behind. There was work to be done, so I wasted little time scurrying out in chase mode.

                I ran with a purpose down the trail trying hard to close the gap between Sean and myself. At this point I decided that I wouldn’t use my headlamp for fear of Sean gaining that tiny bit of extra motivation from the site of my light. I was moving well after making the determination that this was the time to race for the lead. I ran and ran- then I ran faster and faster- the whole time hoping to catch Sean before Bearwallow gap. No such luck! Oh yeah one last thing about this section…. the leaves and rocks absolutely sucked.

 Bearwallow Gap (AS7) to Bobblets Gap (AS8)

 By the time I reached this aid station my legs were beginning to feel the miles building up. Once again my crew, who were joined by Horton and Bethany, met me. I quickly informed them I was beginning to hurt. Horton looks at me with this glow of excitement in his eyes asking, “Where did you pass him?” puzzled I responded with “Whom?” At that point I realized he must have been referring to Sean, so I said, “I didn’t. He must have gotten lost.” Realizing I was in first, with no idea where Sean might be or for that matter the chase pack, delivered a stern sense of urgency. I left the aid station with Horton once again making reference to doing something special. This was a new experience, leading an ultra this late. As some of you may know I had never won one of these things and it made me feel a little uneasy being the stalked as opposed to the stalker.

After the beginning climb of this section I began wondering to myself how the hill had grown so monstrous. Finally reaching the top of that initial climb I began the dreaded swooping in and outs that would continue for what seemed like FOREVER. Still running a little scared, expecting Sean to pop up at any point during one of these massive switchbacks, I continued moving towards the Bobblets Gap aid station at a swift pace.

 Bobblets Gap (AS8) to Day Creeks (AS9)

                 This is the beginning of what we all know as the “forever section”.  As I approached this aid station my legs were a little trashed and mentally I was going through a low point in the race. I met my crew and a lovely lady who was the only aid station worker to have arrived. I pulled my pack off to have her fill it only the nozzle of her water supply was frozen shut. In typical Hellgate fashion she quickly filled my pack from her personal water bottle. I wish I would have caught her name but the truth be told I’m not sure that I knew my own name at that point. Anyways, I would like to send a huge thank you for your wonderful kindness to one really tired runner…. oh and those cupcakes were splendid.

                This section of the race played out like so many other times I’ve been through this section…. LONG! It’s not particularly difficult, it just that it seemed to be a repeat of itself over and over and over. Luckily for all of us runners the rain helped tremendously in this section beating down and washing away the heaviest of leaves. They were murderous just few weeks ago, for that matter even just a week before the race.

                Day Creek (AS9) to Finish

                 As I reached Day Creek I was starting to feel better knowing that I was a mere 6 miles from the finish. Coming into the aid station I got a pleasant surprise seeing Sean Andrish standing fully clothed. Boy did that make me feel quite a bit better.

                I grabbed a couple gels and headed up to the Parkway in search of my first ultra victory.  During that climb I took a couple of glances during the long stretch even though I knew I had comfortable lead. Cresting the mountain at Black Horse Gap I began wrapping my mind around the possibility that I may indeed win Hellgate. Descending the mountain toward the finish was a big blur. Reaching the gravel road I was happy as a peach to see Bethany, Clark, and Horton waiting for this long-suffering runner. Having these wonderful friends there to share in the moment brought me great happiness. Of course that happiness quickly turned to envy as the three jumped into the truck to comfortably drive to the finish. I ran that last mile, might I add in no hurry at all, reflecting on the special adventure that is Hellgate. I rounded the turn into the camp crossing the finish line collapsing in sheer joy with the knowledge I had just won Hellgate.

                 Well I have had quite a year. My year didn’t get off to such a great start. It began with my first and only DNF at Holiday Lake (Thank you Horton for not letting me forget that the last 10 months) but ended with my first ultra victory. Personally for me the best times of the year are getting out on beautiful trail with all of my wonderful friends. I would like to take an opportunity to express gratitude toward David for all that he has done for me in the pursuit of my passion. So goodbye 2008 and hello 2009- what does the new year have in store for us? - Hopefully we’ll all be blessed with the opportunity to enjoy another great year. See you out on the trail.

                Jeremy Ramsey