I guess to get to the end you have to start at the beginning. The beginning of Desert RATS started long before I even knew of the race. It started the day I looked at endurance sports and started training for my first triathlon some 14 years ago. I didn't know it then but like most things in life you start down one road and it leads to others. I think that is one of the beauties of living out loud and being in tune with the world of living beyond possibilities. The past 10 years Shelley and I have been racing Ironman's and ultra running was something we did in the off season to stay in shape for the up coming tri season. After IMUSA in 2008 I knew it was time for something new. Ironman was fun but it lost its challenge as the fields grew and the hoopla surrounding it seemed to make it less of an endurance challenge and more of big participant party. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it isn't what I am looking for. I want the challenge; I want to be out there where the terrain smacks you in the head and says "this world is much bigger than you". This event did just that.
Desert RATS is a 6 days stage race that runs the length of Kokopelli's trail which is 148 miles in length. Competitors carry their daily needs plus a list of mandatory gear. This is similar to races like Marathon de Sables and the Gobi March but we did not have to carry the full week. Each night camp was set up by the crew of Gemini Adventures and we had dinner cooked for us as well as breakfast supplies. Aid stations varied but were generally 10 to 14 miles apart with water drops in between. The trails are very remote and temps can be extreme. We got lucky and the temps were very mild.
A quick note about the Gemini crew...these folks are professional and the organization is awesome. They really know what they are doing and their love for this race shows in their actions. I can not say enough good things about them and in the end I am so lucky to have shared time with all of them. I will make sure our paths cross many times in the future.
For those of you wanting a short report...This race was the hardest thing I have done to date both physically and mentally. Going to the well to drag my depressed butt out of darkness time and time again was a challenge like I had never experienced...there is no one out there handing you a Dixie up of Gatorade and telling you that you are doing awesome...there is no race expo....there is no jumbo-tron...there is just you and an expanse of land that you are trying to cover. This race is what endurance sport is about...a solo effort against something that is immense. If you have a crack in your confidence it will crush you....but...you can control those emotions and fight to finish what you start. It is all up to you and that is the beauty of it. It is simple...run, rest, run again. A priceless span in time.
Sunday, June 14th Check In:
Sunday was check in at the hotel in Moab. I was so freaking nervous I could hardly stand it. We met Chris and Tom who were doing the race and were seasoned vets of big events including MdS. They were so helpful in putting mine and Shelley's minds at ease. Seeing the race crew and our race group for the first time was nerve wracking. I had no idea what to expect. We went through our mandatory gear and did a bit of paper work. We were no more than a bunch of individuals who signed up for a race at this point but that would change as the days went by. After check in it was time to get to bed. No sleep would come. I was ready to get this thing started.
Monday, June 15th Stage 1:
20 miles: We loaded our gear packs in the trailer and hopped on the shuttle that would drive us from Moab UT to Loma CO. for a 1 pm start time. I was a ball of nervous energy. About ½ ways to Loma I had to call for a pee break much to the delight of the 10 of us stuffed in the van. A bit later we were at the start line. The temp was mild low 80's...we took a few pictures and then Reid (RD) said go...we did, up hill. Looking at the profile I was under the assumption that the stage was flat. Wrong answer...after the first little hill we came out along the trail as it ran along the Colorado river. The trail was amazing as it ran on a rim along huge canyons just so beautiful. I have never been on a trail that was this breath taking. Words can not describe how I was feeling. Lots of single track, lizards and open space. I was feeling small. I also was feeling some gnarly GI issues and had to make a pit stop. At this point the gravity of this race set in and I started to have doubts. We made it to the aid station and worked our way through the day. Thankfully we only missed one turn and realized it before we went too far...only added a mile or so.
Camp was set up and the crew was cooking up some great grub. Got my gear in the tent and ate...my mind was really starting to play tricks...much bad ju ju in my mellon. I was totally convinced that there was no way I was going to make the next days cut off. The internal conversations were intense.
Tuesday, June 16th Stage 2:
40 miles: After horrible nights sleep (4 hours at most) we get the "coffee call" and I waste no time getting my gear sorted out. A good cup of coffee and some oatmeal and we were at the line for the start. I told Shelley to hang with Juliann as I was having serious doubts about making the cut off. I really didn't want her to miss one due to my short comings. The first few miles were really casual and I was making good pace staying with Shelley and Juliann. Then we hit the only big climb of the day...it was short maybe ½ mile but it was really steep and I was laboring. I hit so many low points in the brief period it was so strange...but I made it to the top. Shelley and Juliann separated at this point and I was alone...the rest of the stage was rolling and one we got to the final aid station it was basically down hill but that was killing my feet. I just kept moving forward. I finally came to the camp but it took a long time 10:25? I was spent mentally and physically. I took a dip in the river and Milts stop and eat cooked us up some burgers and bacon...best thing I have ever eaten in my life...
The crew of runners and mountain bikers had started to gel...friendships were forming and the support started to grow...we only had each other...Morgan fixed some blisters on Shelley's feet, Chris help me get some nutrition down. I was so happy to make cutoff. I was at a high point and feeling a bit better...one big hurtle down.
Wednesday, June 17th Stage 3:
I slept a little better knowing that today's stage was only 9 miles. I was sore but my feet were in pretty good shape and I had no issues at this point other than altitude and fitness. We took off back up the hill that was yesterdays finish stretch and headed along the river rim trail. I wish I had words to describe the beauty of it all. I was just amazed to be out there and still in the race. Shelley, Juliann and I ran the stage together getting some pictures and just moving along at a leisurely pace. The finish line came quickly and I was glad to have a few hours of rest...another great meal on the river. We all did some laundry and bathed in the river...the cool water was welcome relief on tired legs. We had covered nearly 70 miles in three days...all day my eyes were wandering up to the La Sal mountains, I was fighting the thoughts in my head that come Thursday we were heading into the mountains. They seemed so far off...52 miles off...and I knew that I was going to have to move my body over that distance to stay in the race.
Thursday/Friday June 18th, 19th Stage 4:
The Expedition Stage: 52 miles...8000 feet of elevation gain. Today was going to be about making the cutoff...I had till 3:30 am on Friday to make it that seemed like a lot of time but I was still nervous as hell. My confidence was low. Tom and I were talking and he made the comment..."you will make it if you want it". That thought stayed with me for the next 16 ½ hours. Do I want it? Do I want it? At that point honestly I didn't know...I was almost to the point of...well, you had a big week that is good enough but I knew that did hold any truth. I did want it and I was going to move forward until I either passed out and was drug off the course or I made the finish line. Go...we were off. I was moving well the first 9 mile loop to Aid one...this section was basically sand and some amazing canyon walls...I was actually hanging with Shelley and Juliann at this point and making good time. We were treated to seeing a Golden Eagle take flight...I thought to myself..."Kurt take flight". I nearly broke down...After Aid 1 we started up hill...for 10 miles we went up...remote canyons, huge drop offs below and huge walls above...I had seen many photos in magazines of people running in remote places and I always wanted to be that guy...and I realized...I was that guy. I finally reached the water drop on top as I sucked that last ounce of water I had...refilled and started the decent to Aid 2.down the Rose Garden...what a trail. I was just trying not to break an ankle going down that rock strewn goat path... back in the valley...only one more climb. Heading to about 9000 ft. I saw the clouds building and wondered how bad the storm was going to be...Aid 3 was about a mile and a half from the peak...as I started up the sun started to go down. I felt okay and was determined. I wanted this with every fiber in my body I WANTED THIS! I knew I was good on the cutoff time if I just keep moving up. I had so many ups and downs through this section I lost track but I kept moving...the sunset was beautiful only because it was lighting up the thunderstorm on top of the mountain...I was climbing directly into it...then it started to rain...I hit aid 3 at dark and just as the lightening started to crack all around me. I sat down and Reid through a tarp over me "HEY I AM NOT DEAD YET" I got my tights on as the temps were getting really cold. I was shivering. I got some coke, potato chips and beef jerky in me and was back on the trail...a little over a mile of climbing left then down hill to camp and a rest day. I trudged on...the rain finally stopped about the time I hit the downhill which was pavement. My legs were toast. I tried to run but my back would lock up and knees felt as if they were going to explode...I kept moving...I wanted this. Sam followed me in the car as it was dark and I was having trouble keeping a straight line...finally the glow of camp came into sight. It was still a bit off but I kept moving...finally I got to the cut off and headed to camp. Everyone was awake and waiting for me....I broke down. That was one of the hardest days that I can remember...I hugged Shelley and just stood there completely and utterly spent. A couple bowls of chili and I crawled into my bag and shook myself to sleep. I had made it. The support of the racers and crew was overwhelming. I could not thank them enough. These people have become family.
Friday, June 19th Rest Day...
After a good nights sleep finally it was rest day...we ate a huge brunch that was awesome and loaded up to spend the day at the sandy beach on the Colorado River...as we were leaving I saw two people on road bikes coming into camp. I said...who the hell is riding a road bike down here and holy shit it was Lauren and Mark from Austin coming to say hello to Shelley and I! I was so stoked to see them it meant the world to me and Shelley! The met us down at the river and after some huge hugs we recounted our adventures of the past few days. It was so awesome to have them there...we spent the afternoon relaxing, eating and telling stories. It was a very special moment for us all. We went from being strangers to family in those days. It was our world and when boats of rafters came to stop on our little corner of earth we looked at them as intruders. It was odd looking at them wondering how we were going to tell others about our adventure in the desert.
Saturday, June 20th...Stage 5 Marathon Stage:
After a good nights rest it was all done but a marathon. LOL We all laughed when it became clear what we were saying...."all we have to do is run a marathon today". It is funny how ones perspective changes with their environment. I was still shaky on the stages cutoff time but knew that I wanted this more than ever and would turn myself inside out to finish this thing. The first six miles of today's stage was all up hill on the road...it was a long steep climb but I knew if I could get to the top I could make the day. I was steady and I was going up...that is what I could control and what I did...once on top it was downhill until the Porcupine Rim trail head...my legs were killing me going down hill has my big toe nail was all but off. I had to put the brakes on to keep from screaming in pain...got to Porcupine and headed back up hill for 2.5 more miles to find a bowl that had a numbered rock in that I had to bring back to show the final aid station that I actually did the out and back...that trail section was diabolical...I struggle up and up...saw Morgan coming down...he was hurting...saw Ashley and she was her upbeat self all smiles, then Kyle, pissed he missed a turn, then Juliann and then Shelley who gave me a big hug and told me not to get frustrated and the rocks were a little further...finally that little red bowl was sitting there...I took out rock #1 which was my race number...tucked it into one of my pockets with a zipper...no way I wanted to lose that little SOB...back to Aid and showed it to John and Sam...after a few words of grief to one another it was back down hill to the finish...I just kept it rolling the best I could. I was so ready to be done...the last 6 miles was the longest 6 miles I have ever run. I got more and more worried I had missed a turn off...finally a mtb guy came by and I asked if I was close to the Slick Rock trail head...he asked what I was doing...I told him I was trying to finish a 148 mile run on Kokopelli's trail...he said "holy shit" that is awesome and yeah the finish is like 200 yards around that rock! I couldn't believe it. I took off and there it was...all my friends and the finish line! I HAD MADE IT! Lots of tears hugs and congratulations! Of course much smack talk as well. We had done it.
If you have made it this far congratulation...this race is still a blur in my mind and I am missing many details I know...I have never had such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and I am truly proud of myself for getting through this race. I have many people to thank...I know I will miss many but if you are reading this you are to thank as you have listened to me tell tales of running and endurance sport for a long time and are a part of everything I do....thanks to Reid, John, Sam, Josh, Glenn, Karen, Mark, Doc (the crew) also thanks to Chris, Tom, Kyle, Juliann, Ashley, Jeremy, Shaun, Morgan the runners...Heather, Eric, Lasha, Ryan and Matt the mtb gang...
What a week.