This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010
For more info about Australian Ultra Runners' Association click here
The Barkley Eats Its RunnersApril 1998
The Barkely Marathon is a 100 mile trail run in Missisippi, USA (or thereabouts). Only one runner has ever completed the distance in the 60 hour timeframe (an Englishman, Mark Williams). There is a "fun run" of 60 miles with a 40 hour cut-off. Very few even make this. The race director, Gary Cantrell, is an eccentric sort of guy who makes the course harder and harder just so that no one finishes. It's a cult race.
This is hard core Barkley stuff. I've made no attempt to explain things that you couldn't possibly understand unless you've been to Barkley, or read a course description and anything else you can find on the subject.
Someone suggested that there should be a Barkley glossary. Maybe I'll work on one sometime. For example, and abandoned railroad bed is a place in the forest where you can sight a line of trees that are all less than fifty years old.
It's very long report, but as Mark Williams says, it's a long race.
Barkley 1998, by Fred Vance
I was the second person to show up for Barkley. When I arrived on Tuesday, John DeWalt was camped across from my campsite and had been there since Sunday. I was in too much of a hurry to talk much because I had a lofty goal of doing a counter-clockwise (CCW) loop segment to Coffin Spring. It was 11PM before camp was set and I struck out for the Chimney Top Trail.
After searching every "funky forked tree" I could find around the Chimney Top capstone, I convinced myself that Gary Cantrell (GC) had not put that book out yet. So I took a compass reading and started off down Big Hell to find a hollow beech tree near the confluence of the Beech Fork and Low Gap Hollow (forks and hollows are creeks). I found at least six hollow beech trees in the vicinity of the two creeks, all on top of what appeared to me to be the correct "50 foot-high earth bank", but none of them had a book inside.
After several hours of searching around the Beech Fork, I gave up and was about to ascend Zip Line when I realized that it was getting late and I needed to return to camp. On the way back up Big Hell, climbing the 50 foot-high earth bank for about the fourth time, I noticed a young beech tree over near the edge of the bank and decided to take a closer look at it. It was hollow, and by golly, someone had put a baseball cap in the hollow. I felt like a toddler finding his first Easter Egg, when I lifted the cap and found a book inside two ziplock bags. I opened the bags and read the title, _Temporary Insanity_. If I had any doubt that it was Gary's book, that clinched it.
After carefully putting the book back the way it was, I headed up Big Hell. As I reached the top, I realized that I was near a small capstone twenty or thirty yards from the big capstone on the Chimney Top Trail. I almost passed by it, but then I thought that maybe the "funky forked tree" is there. After staring up at the trees for a few moments, something shiny caught my eye about knee level ten feet from me. It was a ziplock bag tied to a tiny shrub-like "tree". Wow, two books in one day. I was on a streak!
Back at camp, seven and a one-half hours had passed, and I was beginning to despair of finding all the books before Barkley '98 began. I saw John and invited him to have spaghetti with me. Over dinner, I told John I planned to start at Indian Rock and work CCW as far as I could. He said that he wanted to do a CCW loop too, but didn't have the water to make it. I told him that I had a filter pump and would bring it along. Although I wasn't interested in doing Big Hell again, I figured it wouldn't hurt.
So Wednesday morning, the two of us set out on CTT a little before 8 AM. When we got to the bottom of Little Hell, we were walking along a level stretch through a stand of pine, when John suddenly stopped and grinned at me. I said, "What?" and he replied, "I just wanted to see if you could find it?" It was then that I remember that we should be looking for the rock wall near some concrete pilings on an old railroad bed. I didn't see a RR bed, I didn't see any concrete pilings, I couldn't see the New River, although I could hear it, and I didn't see any rock wall. Looking closer, I noticed that the moss-covered bank that we were standing next to was a pile of flat stones stacked on top of each other. Well that was the rock wall, and in it was another book, _Shadows Out of Hell_.
John tested me again from Coffin Spring to the Garden Spot. I didn't do too well at picking the correct roads at the two intersections. These roads were not on the Frozen Head State Park map or on the USGS topographical charts, although the abandoned trail was. And of course, the roads were much more evident that the abandoned trail.
It was sunset when we finally reached Phillips Creek, and found that someone had taken the book from there. We returned to camp after dark, twelve and one-half hours, for one CCW loop minus Rat's Jaw, about 17 miles. It was too late to fool with cooking, so I drove us in to the little town of Hariman, 20 miles away where we had pizza just before closing time.
Thursday should have been a day off for rest, but I had to go see Rat's Jaw and find the only book I hadn't seen, at the Guard Tower. Before I left, Mike Dobies and his friend Sue had arrived and were planning to look over Big Hell and Zip Line. John offered to drive them to the Beech Fork jeep road so they would have to waste time on the easy CTT. I was going to drive to Armes Pass on Hwy 116, so I offered to take them.
I walked up the Lookout Tower Road from Armes Pass, and went down Rat's Jaw. By the time I returned to camp later that day, Mike and Sue were just returning. I invited them to another spaghetti dinner with John. Mike brought some home brewed beers. We sampled his Barkley Bitter, Rat Jaw Pale Ale and Coal Pond Stout. I like the first two, but refer to the latter as Coal Pond Scum. I had a great time and was very happy knowing that I had the good fortune to have completed an entire loop prior to my first Barkley, and still had a day to rest before the event started. John had made it all possible by showing me the way through the loop on Wednesday. That really took a lot of pressure off me.
On Friday, everybody began to show up. Blake Wood's parents had set up camp above me the day before and now he had arrived and stopped over to say hello. I don't know where most of the day went, but it began to rain in the evening. By then my parents and sister and friend from Hariman had all arrived and were standing around in the rain. I threw my running gear in the vehicle I was driving, and followed them all back to Hariman to have dinner.
I missed the famous Barkley Barbecue Chicken Dinner, and finished packing my five (yes five) loop bags in a motel room. I almost stayed the night at the motel, but knew I would be able to sleep soundly if I were out of hearing range of the Barkley Bugler for Reveille. I returned shortly before midnight, and fretted a little about not getting the course description for fear it might have something new in it.
First thing, Saturday morning, I found Gary, and officially registered and got my copy of the course description. The only change was the addition of a new book at the bottom of Leonard's Butt Slide at the Log Structure. John had pointed it out to me on Wednesday.
I was pleased with my racing number, 77. I thought it had to be lucky and was surprised that Gary even bothered with race numbers. It was only afterwards, that I learned that Fred Pilon and I were both number 77. I was impressed with Jim Dill's number 1, until I learned that John DeWalt had number 0. Wow! You can't beat that without being negative.
I didn't see the starting cigarette lit. (I heard later that it was a cigar anyway, courtesy of Suzi Shearer.) I was two or three minutes late to the starting line, the yellow gate. I vied with Jim Dill for last place going up the road to the Bird Mt. Trail.
Jim and I passed a couple of runners, Doug Barrows and Bill Andrews maybe? We caught up with John DeWalt (JD). I was using my lap counter function to count the switchbacks. I found an abandoned trail leading off to the left after 13, and assuming that I had missed one count, I managed to talk John and Jim (both Barkley veterans) into following me (a first timer) off on the old trail. They were too busy talking. The two runners behind us didn't take the bait, in spite of my yelling back to them to do so.
After 20 or 30 yards, John and Jim realized their mistake and turned back. Rather than turn back, I ascended cross-country to the trail above and found myself with the two runners whom I had previously passed. John and Jim were in last place, thanks to me. I didn't wait for them and proceeded down Bird Mt. (BM).
For a while going down BM, I was behind Matt Mahoney. At the bottom of BM, Greg Shoener was handing out pages to a group of about four of runners. He seemed in no hurry to start up Jury Ridge. In the early flat switchbacks above Phillip's Creek, I passed Matt and another runner by cutting the switchbacks. I promised Stuart Gleman (I think) that I wouldn't do it again and I think he thought I was serious.
I passed a couple of runners at SOB ditch and caught another two or three runners near the Coal Ponds in the Strip Mine area. I believe Debra Moore, Merianne Brittain, Bill Johnson, and possibly Leonard Martin were in with this group.
I was looking for John Dewalt's trail above the Coal Ponds (CP), but somehow missed the marker, two large stones stacked with a long log on top. I followed a runner with black hair and a ponytail (one of the Brasingtons?). We were following the ridge of tailings below the CP through an area thick with saplings and tangled vines. At the first opportunity, I crossed the line of CP on a marshy section and headed cross-country uphill to the west. It was foggy, but I could see enough of the strip mine to know that it was curving north, so I knew I was ascending in the correct place.
I didn't bother trying to find the switchbacks up to the Garden Spot. I left the other runner behind in the fog when I crossed the marshy area. I could hear runners calling to each other in the fog of the CP below me.
I had no trouble finding book two, but going down hill toward Coffin Spring (CS), I didn't recognize the intersection of the CS road, and trail. The old road down from book two merges into a good road from the strip mine area to Stallion Mt. (SM).
I missed the narrow down hill trail extending from the apex of a hairpin in the SM road, that after passing a pit, widens into a mine road. Instead, I went along an abandoned road just to the right and above the correct path. As I proceeded along this road, it became less distinct, and I realized that I was not on the road that I remembered following from CS on Wednesday before the start. I saw boundary markers and the blaze of the old BMT, so I felt that the trail would take me to CS, but I didn't feel good about exploring new routes during the race.
As I headed back to the SM road, I met Bill Johnson. He had taken the same route that I was on. We had a short discussion and went back to try to find a better road to CS. We met Merianne at the hairpin, and had another brief discussion before the three of us continued along SM road, looking for the turnoff to CS.
At some point, we realized that we were on SM and felt that we were paralleling Coal Road (CR). Bill suggested cutting cross-country down the mountain to arrive at CR and bypassing CS. I had a filter pump with me to get water from the Barley Mouth since we would miss the water drop at CS. It was cool enough that we were not using much water and didn't need to stop after all.
The next road down the mountain was not CR, but another strip mine road bounded by a pond. Not knowing where the strip mine road might lead, and not able to cross the mine pond, we followed the road in the direction of CS and entered the wooded area below CS to follow a stream to Blake's Meadow (the start of the CR).
Back on course, we caught up with Matt’s group near Bobcat Rock, so we hadn't lost much time. Descending Leonard's Butt Slide (LBS), I met "the" Leonard Martin, but he wasn't sliding on his butt. At the bottom of LBS, Dale Sutton was waiting, unable to find the log structure that he was standing beside. (It really didn't look much like a log structure although it was). Almost down, Leonard began to pull out his course description, and I told him, I knew where the log structure and book three were.
I left the log structure first, with Dale behind me. After crossing the New River, I waited long enough to make sure that Dale found the crossing. He caught up with me at the "stockades", (a stack of flat rocks with moss on them along the side of a small bank, very easy to miss if someone like John DeWalt hasn't shown it to you before). We climbed Little Hell together. I don't recall ever seeing the old prison mine trail, except maybe on the ridge at the top that Gary C. calls Sawbrier Point.
At the top of Little Hell, I thought we met Eliza McClean and Buddy Brasington, but I must have heard their names wrong, it must have been Leslie Hunt and Kerry Trammell. Leslie? wasn't feeling well, so I offered her one of Karl King's electrolyte caps. I don't know if it helped. I left Dale with them and headed down to the guard tower at the bottom of Rat's Jaw. I passed Debra Moore and Tom Bennet. I think I passed Suzi Shearer (nee Thibeaux) before Rat's Jaw although I had passed her earlier before going off course on SM. Fog shrouded Rat's Jaw, making the hard climb tolerable. Near the top, I made loud noises and cursed, but no one was at Lookout Tower to appreciate my performance. I had imagined that Gary might be up there to see how badly beaten we might be as we climbed up onto the road.
I was alone from Lookout Tower until Indian Rock. For some reason, I climbed up to the capstones and passed over to the opposite side before the trail did. I thought I heard voices. I found the rat's nest book easily and sat down on a rock outside the capstone crack to work on my Aquifer's drinking tube.
At Lookout Tower, the CLIP mixed with water had gelled in the bladder's exit tube preventing me from drinking. While working on this, Andrew Thompson and his friend, John Basham?, went by me commenting that I had gone right over them. A minute or two later they came back by and entered the crack in the capstone. When they came out, I apologized for not telling them where the book was. I had been to preoccupied with my task and for some reason assumed that they knew where it was or had already retrieved their pages.
Andrew and his friend followed me down Zip Line. I stayed left using John DeWalt's route to avoid the worst part of the briers and picked up an old trail south of Beech Fork. We quickly arrived at the jeep road and made a beeline to the hollow beech book.
The three of us were together to the Chimney Top book, but on the way down CTT, I ran with Andrew on my heels and his friend dropped behind. Near the bottom of CTT, Andrew and I overtook a group of about four runners. I told them they were having too much fun as we passed, because they were carrying on a conversation and laughing.
I ran the uphill from CTT to the yellow gate and Andrew matched my pace. I was a little surprised to find that JD was already in for loop one. He left on loop two before I did, but I caught up with him just before Phillips Creek and book one. I was surprised to find him so soon.
The sun was setting going up Jury Ridge. We spent the night together going slowly because of the difficulty of the North Section at night. The night was uneventful if slow. Down LBS, I dropped my bullet-proof flash light and it quit on me. I threw it down in disgust, and it came on only to turn off when I picked it up again. My AA backup flash light lasted only two hours instead of the four hours I got when I tested it. Maybe because I changed the bulb, or because the temperature was lower ?
JD was using his headlamp and gave me his extra AA batteries. Zip Line and Big Hell would have been an interesting challenge without a flashlight. Probably not as bad as finding my way to Lamb’s Canyon aid station without a light at Wasatch.
Day two came upon us some where between Indian Rock and Beech Fork. On the way up Big Hell, JD was talking 14 hours for loop three and arriving late at night. I didn’t like that kind of talk and wanted to make up for the slow time through the night. Near the Chimney Top book, I told JD that I was going to run hard down CTT and that I had come to Barkley to see what I could do, not to finish the fun run.
As usual, I was slow getting the last page stashed away securely. I figure that it took two to three minutes for each page, at least an hour for the three loops spent just putting away pages. I need to improve on that next time, but at least I didn’t loose any pages.
To my surprise, JD was running a good pace down CTT. About a third of the way down, I caught up and asked him not to blow his quads because he still had another loop to go. For some reason, running downhill has never bothered me, no matter where or how fast.
JD let me pass and I finished loop two a little before he did, again running the uphill between CTT and the yellow gate. At the gate, someone from David White’s group said, “David White wants to know when you will be going out again.” I replied that I was leaving as soon as possible.
After a fast re-supply, and a quick meal, I headed back to the yellow gate, but first admonished JD to get back out and finish. On the CTT, I had told him that I was likely to burn out on loop three and that he would pass me.
After checking out, I stopped by David’s camp and found him in sandals and obviously unprepared to go. I asked how long before he could be ready, and he said 15 or 20 minutes. I told him I couldn’t wait and left. I learned later that JD also stopped and was willing to wait for him, but David told him to go on.
On Sunday after Barkley was over, Andrew came over to talk with me and we got on the subject of David White. I mentioned that he did not look well after the second loop. Andrew said that he was scared because during the night he had slipped off the trail at the Gorges and his feet had dangled over the edge with him holding onto a log.
Wednesday before the race, I had helped JD put a log across a section of the old RR bed that had slid off leaving a 100-foot drop within inches of the trail. JD had followed Ed Furtaw too far left descending the LBS the year before and had almost gone over when he jumped onto the trail from the uphill bank, landing with nothing in front of his flashlight. I wondered if JD had saved David from a fall by putting that log there.
Back to loop three: I ran to the CTT and powered up to CT in 1:20 from the yellow gate. I felt good and optimistic in meeting my goal of getting back in 36 hours or less (i.e. 10:40 or less for loop 3).
I had taken longer for loop one, about 11:30, but I had lost time on Stallion Mt, and felt that a CCW would be easier than a CW in daylight. Why? Because, I thought the ascent of Zip Line and LBS would be easier than the ascent of Big Hell, Little Hell, and Rat’s Jaw, and that the direction of the North Section wouldn’t make much difference in the daylight.
After leaving CT, I made my first serious mistake. I followed pink ribbons down to the South ridge instead of taking a SE compass heading. It was a stupid thing to do and I began to realize it as I went down. I had rationalized it by thinking that some of the front runners had taped the course on loop two to help on the CCW loop. There seemed to be some evidence for this because at night, JD and I had found the log structure marked with reflective tape.
I cut back to the left trying to get on course again by searching for the abandoned trail traversing Hell at about 1900 to 2100 feet of elevation. I found a branch as I worked left and assumed that it was Low Gap and decided to follow it to the Beech Fork.
In fact, I had found the next branch west of Low Gap. Realizing this on reaching the Beech Fork, I corrected by crossing the Beech Fork and following the jeep road east to where it crosses the Beech Fork. From there, I worked my way back to the hollow beech book following the CW course. There, I found Matt and Bill Johnson, still on loop two. They didn’t seem to notice that I had approached from the same direction that they had.
I started up Zip Line and realized from the tracks how many people were following the Beech Fork up to the creek from Matt Fields rather than taking a more direct approach on JD’s route to the right. I was almost tempted to try the normal route, but decided to stick with JD’s route since I had done it before.
I was beginning to slow on the Zip Line ascent, but was still hopeful of making the third loop in close to 36 hours. I had no difficulty with the section from Indian Knob to the top of Little Hell, but I did stop for half a minute on the climb up the Lookout Tower Road to the Little Hell descent to admire a particular rock formation. I could clearly see the head of a mountain lion, in stone, about 10 or 20 feet high along the rock out cropping above the road. I thought it must have been sculpted by Indians, but then I realized that it had to be a hallucination, and went on.
Going down Little Hell, I became concerned upon reaching the 2300’ elevation bench, and not recognizing anything. Again, I had failed to take a compass reading before descending. Worse yet, instead of looking at my map and determining that I should be heading off the center of the bench, I went off the left end because I recalled that JD had been concerned about descending too far to the right.
As I approached the New River, I could not see the stand of pine at the stockades and so I veered further left. That’s when I reached what I thought was the New River, but not recognizing it, I almost started upstream. Finally, I had the sense to consult my map and altimeter and realized that I was at the Sugarcamp Branch. As far as I know, I’m the first to ever do this.
In retrospect, it seems that I pulled out my map only when unsure of myself AND faced with an uphill climb. If I were unsure and could continue downhill, it seemed I was too willing to take a chance.
I backtracked along the New River on an abandoned road until I saw the gorges just below the Log Structure and recognized the log that JD and I had placed there. It was almost 100 feet above me on the other side of the river. By then, I had similar cliffs and waterfalls between me and the “Stockades” at the bottom of Little Hell. Rather than climb back up, I crossed the New River, and followed it through the Gorges to the old RR embankments and crossed the New River again. From there I could reach the Stockades like I would in a CW loop.
Back on course, I had no trouble to Bobcat Rock, but was beginning to feel there was little hope of finishing in 36 hours, although 37 or 38 hours seemed reasonable. Running along Coal Road I reached the wrong meadow. I almost turned back, but decided to follow it further in the hope of reaching Coffin Spring (CS) or the Garden Spot (GS). I found prints from running shoes, but finally gave up and turned back to find where I had missed a fork in the Coal Road. The foot prints were probably mine from loop one.
Somehow, I missed the fork on the way back, and would have gone all the way to the Barley Mouth, except that to my amazement, I saw JD coming toward me. I said, “John, you’re going the wrong way.” He replied, “No, you’re going the wrong way.” And of course, he was right. JD told me I missed the fork and so I joined him on the way to CS.
I was in no hurry to finish having missed any possible chance at finishing in 36 hours. JD let me lead the way from CS to the GS to make sure I knew the way. We discussed cutting the switchbacks down to the Coal Ponds, but I had enough exploring for one (two?) days and voted to stick with them.
We followed the switchbacks all the way to a traverse above the Coal Ponds, a route that only JD seemed to know. I call it the DeWalt Detour, but need to think of a better name since JD doesn’t like that.
Time was slipping away, so I pressed the pace trying to make Bald Knob by nightfall. It was dark by the time we reached Rayder Creek, so we did well. I had hoped to make Phillips Creek in 37 hours, but we reached it in about 37.5 hours. That left us 2.5 hours for the ascent and descent of Bird Mt. We powered up Bird Mt and ran down easily finishing under 40 hours.
Toward the finish, JD suggested a tie, but I knew there could be no tie at Barkley, and insisted that he finish first. We argued a bit and almost stopped before reaching the gate. So, I took John’s hand and forced him to touch the gate first.
It had been a surprise to meet JD on the Coal Road on loop three, because as much as I had been off course, I really expected that he had passed me. He deserves to place above me at Barkley, because he is a master at the art of finding the quickest or easiest way to get from one book to another.
From my CCW practice loop with JD, I had learned where to find the books, but I had missed something just as important. That was the necessity of being able to navigate from book to book in the least time or effort. I had gleaned a little of this knowledge because at LBS, I knew to look for the rock bridge, cross it, find the next big rock, and sight uphill, west to a dead tree. This is the type of cross-country navigation that JD uses, and it puts him exactly where he wants to be on the ascents or descents.
It was an easy fun run (60 mile) finish. The weather had been good, cool and not too wet. I was amazed that Blake and Mike, and especially Dave had RTC’d. My goal had been to go as far as I could, and I did that. Maybe their goals had been to finish the 100, and when it became obvious to them that they couldn’t, they stopped. I would have been thrilled to be the second person to ever start a fourth loop like Dave did, but I hope that I would have finished any loop that I started even if over the time limit.
There are several things I have learned about Barkley and what I believe will be required to finish the 100. These are that you must:
Item number two was my downfall.
After finishing the fun run, I chatted with GC at the gate and told him that I would have continued with loop four if I had been permitted to do so. I also told him that I feel I am capable of finishing the 100. I didn’t say that I would be back however, because I think I need to retire from ultra running to spend more time with my wife and children.
GC came over to my camp to get the pages that JD and I had forgotten to turn in on the last loop. Then he returned them to us as a souvenir. There are too many pages to frame, so I think that maybe I’ll bind them into my own Barkley Book.
One of the first things I did was to take a shower. After I stepped out of the shower stall, my friend, John Paul, handed me his cell phone and my wife was on the line. I told her I did my best and was not unhappy with it. She asked if Dave Horton was going out for a fifth loop, so I asked him since he was just getting out of the next shower stall, and replied, “No, he’s done.” It wasn’t until later that I learned that he had not finished the fourth loop.
While I was still drying off, DH said, “Whose tooth paste is this?”
“It’s mine”, I replied, and added, “I’ll bet you have my toothbrush too.” He did, and dug it out of his travel bag, explaining that he thought his wife had bought him a new one. “That’s all right, I’ll have it bronzed and keep it as a Barkley souvenir, a toothbrush that Dave Horton used.
Monday I met GC on his way out of the campground headed for home. He stopped to talk for a moment and thanked me for the use of my tent and sleeping bag Sunday night when I went into Hariman to sleep at my friend, John Paul’s 105-year-old house in Hariman. GC mentioned that he had heard that I was running Barkley, Hardrock, and Badwater this year. He said it sounds like a “Damn Slam”. It was then that I realized that I could think about something besides Barkley again, but first, I had to write it all down.
Man oh man, what a lot of living crammed into 40 hours, and I don’t think I’ve written the half of it. Just think, if I could avoid a few mistakes, I could get 50% more for my $1.55 entry fee!
Barkley, April 4, 1998: 60 miles, 39:23:xx