Laney Baris writes:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents...” might be
the opening of an 1830 novel or the start of Hellgate. We stood at the
gate in the cold rain, awaiting 12:01 am. I was bundled in Gore Tex from
head to foot, wondering at other runners in shorts and thin raincoats.
After we all sang the national anthem, Dr. Horton released us out onto
the course. A long, mostly gradual climb began up Headforemost Mountain.
We splashed through knee deep, freezing creeks, running up and down
slippery rocks and leaves. The fog surrounded us, obscuring the trail.
To make matters worse, all the sugar that I consumed in the car on the
way up to the start caused a crash of epic proportions. I literally went
blind and became horribly dizzy. I could only see a little just in
front of my feet. The trail appeared to be descending into a hole and
then climbing out. I nearly ran off a cliff at least ten times. I tried
eating some candy bars, but that seemed to worsen the problem. Finally, I
reached an aid station where I ate a grilled cheese sandwich (thank
you, cold, wet, kind volunteer) and could suddenly see again. The
By then, dawn was struggling to break through the
clouds. I began to panic... I had to be at Jennings Creek aid station by
8:06 am. So I ran, as hard as I could and as desperate as possible. I
made the time cut by seconds. Panic receding, I met my crew who shoved
food in me and Ritz crackers in my pack. I wouldn’t see Jeff again until
Bearwallow Gap, about 17 miles further on. I pushed myself through the
Devil Trail, rolling rocks hidden by copious slippery leaves. I fought
tears, knowing I was close to cut off again. Shoving the doubts deep, I
fought with all I had. I crossed a road and heard Jeff yelling at me.
Jeff, it can’t be... “you’ve got seven minutes”, he yelled, “and a half
mile.” Ok, I thought, ok. Run! Well, shamble, stumble, trip my way in.
Three minutes to spare, thanks to Jeff. Eat, rip off the Gore Tex, soak
up some sun... no, it really did get sunny. Then, back on trail in less
than five minutes, grateful to Jeff for his NASCAR style crewing.
down and up and down and up and down, well, you get the idea, to
Bobblet’s Gap, my favorite aid station. The nicest people in the world
volunteer there. They fed me pirogies and let me wash them down with
Coke. Kicked me out, admonishing me to run the next long downhill. I
took their sound advice running hard until I hit the Forever Trail. It
really is forever... I met some cool guys from PA. We discussed chafing
and the course (why are there so many rocks?) and runs we’d done in the
past. Finally, the last aid station, Day Creek. Jeff hugged me and sent
me off with more pirogies from the volunteers, no time for anything
else. About six miles to go with very little time for a sub eighteen
hour finish... digging deep, I climbed up and up the Jeep road to the
Finally, time to run downhill to the finish... 66.6 miles
(including the Horton miles). The run might have looked like a shuffle,
but I gave it the last of my mental fortitude. I couldn’t look at my
watch; enough to know that the clock was ticking too quickly. I thought,
I know I can finish, it might not be before 6:01 pm, but I will finish
as strong as I can. That, at least, I could do. Jeff met me on the road
into Camp Bethel with a mile to go. He didn’t say much, no need, he was
there, the sound of his footsteps matching my sloppy gait speaking
volumes. The lights of Camp Bethel within reach... I could see the
chute. Horton waiting for me, the last, no longer lost soul on the
course. I was wrapped up in a Horton embrace, with him telling me that I
fought hard and congratulating me. Those words meant so much. Mentally
exhausted, I hugged Jeff, thanking him profusely. I staggered off to the
bathroom where I finally stopped fighting. Tears streamed down my
face... I wanted so badly to finish under 18 hours... I thought of my
friends who believed in me... Dr. Horton who had let me in the race...
my ride n’ tie friends who volunteered to sweep in the terrible
weather... and I felt: gratitude. I hope to return again for another
Hellgate... to be continued.