Team Oso Fine (Andy White, Neil Weintraub, Nick Irvine, David McKee, Mark Thurston and Charlie Webber) sponsored by NATRA and Flagstaff Design Center
An amazing weekend of fun, thrills, and chills at the inaugural Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Ultra Run and Relay. I had long dreamed of seeing this event take place on the Arizona Trail crossing the Coconino NF, Babbitt Ranches, and Kaibab National Forest, especially as a relay race. For more about the history check out the Mangum's book! That the race proceeded under perfect conditions and the full moon made it that much more spooktacular! (Check out their page on Facebook too!)
The Ultra Runners Team photo.
FUCers Scott Bajer, Joel Axler, and Ludo Pierson
Kudos to the race director Ian Torrence and his crew of FUCers (Flagstaff Ultra Clubers) for bringing this important piece of Flagstaff and Grand Canyon history back to life. The 100 volunteers who supported the race throughout subfreezing temperatures deserve a hearty pat on the back. While I have helped organize nearly 100 race events in the past decade, those efforts pale to the complexity of getting runners 100 miles from point A to point B across three land jurisdictions in the middle of the night. Way to go Ian!
RD Ian Torrence
Ultra runners head out!
The race started off with a bang, literally, as Race Director Ian Torrence fired an old muzzle loader that probably dated back to the days of the original stage coach. Off in two waves, the Ultra runners started first at 2 PM, followed 10 minutes later by the relay teams. Mark Thurston led off Team OSO Fine covering the steepest climb, highest elevations, and longest mile (21.5) leg. Mark handed to me around 5:30 PM at Kelly Tank, where I bolted off thinking I would run faster than my predicted 10 minute miles. I passed by an ultra runner and we enjoyed a quick view of the sun set over the Painted Desert!
View from Kelly Tank
Chris Johnson picks up his pacer.
With no watch or GPS, I had no idea how far I had been running. I knew I was probably making up time prior to full moon rise. Most of my leg was on Forest Road 416, a very rutted and rocky road which soon turned downhill, which is when my legs took a real beating. While I could see the rocks well with my headlamp, my depth perception was absent and I keep slipping into the invisible ruts on the road. I was amazed I never fell, but the act of prevention was jarring to every inch of my aching quads and illiotibial band syndrome. In the distance I could see the lights of Cedar Ranch, but had no clue how long it would take to get there, so I started walking. A pack of howling coyotes got my attention so I would run a few steps, and then walk, but saw no one until I reached Cedar Ranch on the Babbitt Property (later in the race, Garrett Michaell reported Mountain Lions hiding in oak trees along the Coconino Rim!)
After about 2 hrs. 20 minutes of silence, the heckles from my teammates perked me up. To boot, friends Bill, Fon, Jan, Gerry, and Sandy staffed the exuberant aid station at Cedar Ranch so I had a great excuse to hang out. As I stuffed as many Gummi Bears between my cheeks as I could, my old pal Bruce Higgins passed me at the table, focused on getting to Tub Ranch. I was in no such hurry and enjoyed the Babbitt's great aid station. After all, I knew I was shufflling the next 4 miles to the Tub Ranch exchange.
After a few minutes of laughs, I made the march along the dusty ranch road. A few vehicles passed me heading towards Tub Tank, and I plotted how I could quietly sneak onto a bumper without anyone's knowledge. I mostly hobbled, or "Yogged" across the ranch under the full moon and kept my headlamp off. After about 45 minutes, Tub Tank appeared out of nowhere, and the first part of my evening was over! I slapped my relay bracelet on Andy White, and enjoyed a casadilla and hot broth before we headed north to my overnight aid station at Moqui.
The drive across the Babbitt Ranch to Moqui followed the old stagecoach route. All I could think about was how jarring and dusty the ride must have been. It took us quite a bit of time to catch up to Andy who was speeding along. I worried that perhaps someone had slipped some PEDs into his energy drink and we would be disqualified. It seemed forever to get across the property to the Kaibab Boundary exchange. David, Nick, and I kept saying "wow, this leg is very, very long." By 10:30 PM David and Nick dropped me at Moqui Station where the midnight madness would begin.
The Moqui Stagecoach Wagon Wheel Pumpkin greets all runners!
Kathleen and her son Isaac had the aid station set up nicely adjacent to the historic cistern. Kathleen had even carved a stagecoach wagon wheel pumpkin that welcomed runners. Isaac placed candles in a landing strip formation along the side trail to the aid station so that late night runners easily could find us. We managed to keep warm with Wall-E, our propane blaster.
The warmth of Wall-E!
We tallied all the runners as they arrived at mile 60. Many seemed to be enjoying themselves and were thankful for our best impression of Will Ferrell's "mo cowbell" in the middle of the silent, freezing cold night. Most were amazed by the well stocked aid stations in the middle of nowhere. The most commonly asked question was "does the trail get less rocky?" Having surveyed much of the remainder of the route, I told folks, "about 10 more miles of cobbles and then it will ease up somewhat past Russell Tank.." Now just imagine riding a stagecoach across that....I'd rather go by foot anyway!
Kathleen O'Neill and son Isaac serve up runners and More Cowbell all night long!
Not long after I settled into the aid station, the first of the Ultra runners arrived, including the eventual winner Michael Versteeg, and my buddy Bret Sarnquist, looking as fresh as when he started. A few minutes later bounding out of the woods was my teammate Nick, who was somehow livelier than our aid station in the wee hours of the morning. Not sure what they put in his drink at the previous exchange, but he was off faster than a shooting star on his way to meeting David, Andy, and Oso at Russell Tank.
2:30 AM...Coke slushee anyone?
At around 5:30 AM the sky brightened, the coldest hour passed, a few more enthusiastic runners greeted us, and the earth slowly started to warm. At 8 AM, the sweep came through and our night tour at Moqui ended. We replaced the Subaru's flat tire and were on our way back to Flagstaff. We stopped at Valle for a quick break, and ironically encountered my teammate Mark Thurston who had handed the bracelet off to me about 16 hours before! While he was on his way to the finish line celebration, I was on my way to get some sleep!
Charlie Webber of Team Oso Fine crosses the line at 6:30 AM
Within the hour text messages began arriving, and Team Oso Fine won the men's division (after all we had only ourselves to beat) and I was set for a well earned Sunday nap...well not quite. I turned on the TV and my beloved J-E-T-S were playing the PATS. Tired as I was, I had to watch this game - to prolong my agony the JETS tried to blow it per usual, ended up in overtime and gave me the gift a second victory. Then came the nap!
Team Oso Fine Arne winner's mug, shirt, and bib
Again, congrats to all the participants, the Babbitt Ranches and the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests for permitting the event, the race organizers, and Kathleen and her son Isaac who spent the cold night with me helping serve the runners at Moqui Aid Station. Can't wait until next year!