There are many many big races during the Thanksgiving holiday season. From the Seattle Marathon to all the little Turkey Trots around the nation. But by far the most obscure and dangerous event in America is the Bear Trap 10K. Billed as the shortest adventure race ever it is by far not the easiest. One can only get into the event through secret invitation only and is limited to 5 racers due to strict wilderness regulations. I cant believe that the tree huggers are trying to save sasquatch after what it do to the small community of Norris; but that is a separate issue. This post is about the greatest little adventure race around.
It was snowing in Missoula when I began my trip to Bozeman. Normally I would of never gone due to the bad weather but something internally urged me to take a chance. So I did and when I got 50 miles outside of town the roads cleared up and it was smooth sailing. It was good to be out on the open road again. The last time was my trip to Utah … oh that trip to Utah.
I arrived with time to spare before the annual pre race meal and meeting so I took a nice nap while watching the Dallas Cowboys got their ass handed to them. Soon it was meal time and this is where this event sets itself apart from the rest. Total home made turkey dinner with kick ass desert. I dug in and dug in deep. At one point I had to take time out on the couch before going back in to finish up a second huge plate of some of the best food I have had to date. After that the wine and brew flowed very well and we sat around each other, friends, warm companions of endurance. We embraced each other and exchanged ideas.
The event is secret invitation only because to be in it you must all be friends. Back in 78 the event took a bad turn when a participant did not came back from Bear Trap. The wilderness is so unyielding and to try and trespass into its canyon and fierce winds you must have friends by your side. Friends that would drag your body back to the start through hurricane winds. True friends.
The next day everyone gathered equipment and plotted the course. We bundled and collected food. And then around 3 pm we loaded into the shuttle. Piloting the shuttle was Mr. Hertsens who’s countless big rig miles and stunt driver training would ensure that we would all arrive to and from the course in safety. Back in 87 an inexperienced driver plunged the shuttle into the frigid waters of the Madison and all racers were lost. Truly tragic but this year we had experience behind the wheel.
We busted through 60 mph winds and 10 foot drifts. We chatted about the course until we were close to the trail head. We grew silent as we realized that we would soon plunge into a arctic wilderness where not to many humans have come back from. We were in the Bear Trap.
And then it began. The Bear Trap 10K started just an hour before sunset to ensure that stragglers would be overcome by terror inducing darkness. Headlamps are not allowed. During the first couple miles not a word was issued and everyone saw the blood on the trail. Blood from what? Everyone had a guess but no one would make a comment. The reality of the event sunk in and we braced against the winds. Back in 90 a man was eaten by a griz.
I fell behind from the start when the high winds tore apart my inexperienced placement of my glasses (goggles are not allowed). My glasses blew down a slope and into the fridge waters. They were close enough and I went down to retrieve them causing much discomfort of everyone in the lead pack. They figured I had made a grave error and that I would not survive. They had to move on and leave me there. To rescue me was a chance they could not take. I was left for dead.
I reached my glasses and put them on before I lost sight to my other eye (don’t ask). Being able to see in those high winds was mandatory. I struggled up to the trail and started to chase down the pack of runners that were now disappearing into the white wall of wind and snow. I reached them as they approached a water crossing. To fall through the ice would be certainly lethal. I don’t know if anyone got their feet wet but I lucked out and made the traverse. If I had of I would never reported it because after all this was a race … right?
I passed the main group when one member stopped suddenly. As I passed I saw the horror on her face. What had she seen … or heard? To lead the race was taking a chance of coming into contact with the voices of the wind. A howling wind that at times whispered to you. Whispering things about your past. Things about your weaknesses. Things … well, things that would expose your metal weaknesses. As I passed I wondered if leading was a good idea. I looked back and one member turned and headed back. Probably a good idea because if the wind cracked you and exposed your soul it could mean getting lost or a quick plunge into the Jefferson. Back in 02 a racer screamed, “I have failed you mother” before plunging into the raging river beside the trail.
I ran on and soon started distancing my competition. I pounded post holes into the hardened compacted snow drifts until I felt like I could not longer lift my legs any more. Breaking trail was taking its toll. Then the wind started to whisper to me.
“Your alone, your friends are gone, and you are all mine now”
I looked back to see nothing.
“No one will miss you in fact you are just a burden. You will run on and instead of turning around you will continue. Come to me. I will love you. No one else does. You are all alone”
My tears were freezing on my cheeks. It was right. I should just continue until mother earth would just devour me.
“Come to me”
Just then something caught my eye and I glanced back. My friend was bridging up to me. I was standing there clearing my eyes when he finally caught up.
“I don’t know where everyone is. I don’t know where we are. I don’t ….”, he mumbled with terrified eyes. I could see the wind had been talking to him as well.
“It’s the sounds of silence man, the wind, don’t listen to it”, I looked down at my GPS.
“We will turn around in .6 miles and return. We must not continue past that. We should agree to that. Please…”
We continued on and I kept checking to see if he was still there. I was closing in on the turn around point when I stopped to check in with my adventure companion. His eyes were blackened again and it was obvious that the winds had snuck back into his consciousness.
“I am done, I am going back”, he muttered.
“OK, I will turn around soon, take care of yourself”
“OK”, and with that he turned back. I faced the wind and started running. I was nearing a dark corner of the canyon and I realized the sun would set soon.
“Come to me. I love you. I will embrace you. Come to me. Come …”, voices whispered so very gently in the lower sound waves of the raging wind. At times the wind was so strong it felt like I ran face first into a giant’s chest. Yet the chilling voices urged me forward.
I came upon the turning point and started to keep on going.
“Yes, that is it. Good boy. You don’t need them”
I stopped for no reason but a memory. A memory of a distant friend. I stopped to wonder … maybe think. Maybe it was a wish. It was unsettling and I struggled with continuing. I turned around and looked back on the trail. From here it would be a bush whack. I would be leaving everything behind by leaving the path. The path that contained all my friends. The path that contained all that my life has been along with the memories that shaped it. I was about to leave it all behind.
In hindsight a path that I would of set a new Bear Trap record on. The race had never been completed and the farthest a human did reportedly go is the turn around point. Back in 05 when someone made it here only succumb to the wind and ran past it to never be found again. Would this happen in 2010?
Two figures appeared and ran up to me. “GREAT”, I thought to myself. “What other hallucinations could I conjure up?”
“Is this the end”, my friend asked. My friend that seemed to not be affected by the wind. Along with her was the companion that had just turned around. As we stood there another runner came into view. Then I realized that I was not alone, everyone was still here and at the turn around point of the Bear Trap we were all still in it … together.
We ran back and I put a slight time advantage on them but only because of my conditioning. The wind was at my back now and at times seemed to be pushing me back out of the canyon. I felt like I was being rejected by the wilderness. The wind was now singing a different tune as well.
“Go back, I hate you. I have beaten you. Go back where you came from you weak human”
“I will see you anther day when you can’t kill my friends”, I shouted back. I finished the Bear Trap 10K and so did my friends just behind me. I slowly continued down the road as a cool down and debriefing with myself.
The post event party was a sweet combination of warm friends and a fatigue melting soak in the Norris Hot Springs. Our shuttle ride back is missing from my memory due to a eternal fatigue. We arrived back in Bozeman and chilled the rest of the night with warm friendship and a fresh story of adventure and the first successful finish of the Bear Trap 10K.
After a good nights rest I ventured homeward. The drive is around 4 hours and in that time could of swore I heard the whispers from the day before. Whispers that urged me to return when I got home. How would I return is not important but that I would go up against the forces of nature again. A bike ride to Miller Peak? A tele ski up Lolo Peak? Maybe I should just ignore the challenge until I recover a little more. Maybe just a skate ski in Pattee Canyon. No matter … I will return.
I am now back home in Missoula sitting at a coffee shop. It is snowing heavily outside and I am making decisions on what I want to do today. Maybe I should go see my friend the wind.