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The Barkley is held around April Fool's Day in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Some say it is the toughest trail race in the world. Some say it's not a race. Some say these are not trails.
The course is a 20 mile loop, repeated 5 times in 60 hours for the "men's" race, or 3 times in 40 hours for the "women's, children's, and weakling's race". Each loop has 0.48 miles of paved road, 1.92 miles of jeep road, 4.69 miles of candy ass trail, 0.40 miles of mixed trail, 8.43 miles of real trail, and 4.08 miles of no trail, 10,380 ft of climb, 10,380 ft of descent, an average gradient of 19.66%, no aid except for two unmanned water drops, no course markings, no pacers, and nine books. To prove you ran the loop, you have to bring back one page from each book, matching the page number to your race number, as shown above. After each lap, you get a new race number, although for the majority of the runners, this point is moot because they will not finish more than one lap.
Thirty three runners wait for the idiot (far left) to light the starting cigarette at camp. The start time (7:08 AM) was announced one hour ago by the sounding of a conch shell in camp. The time varies each year. The date was only announced after the runners have been accepted. The entry procedure is not published anywhere. The race is not listed in any calendar. To get in, you have to know someone, although it helps to have some experience in easier races like Hardrock.
This is "real" trail. We had warm and sunny weather this year, which is unusual. Usually it is cold and raining. Last year the rain was mixed with snow.
Stu Gleman is not running very fast here.
Neither are Pete Ireland (front) and Rich Limacher. This is the North Boundary trail, built in the 1930's and not maintained since then. Any trees with blazes on them have long since died and fallen across the trail. I refilled my water bottles several times from small streams.
The best way across Son of a Bitch Ditch is to pole vault. This is the 10 km point in loop one and the marathon point in loop 2. It took us 4 hours and 10 minutes to reach this point. Unfortunately it is still the first loop.
This year 5 miles of the loop from Stallion Mountain to Rat Jaw was replaced. So far it is not too bad. Allan Holtz points to the outcropping we just came down.
OK, it is getting bad. We bushwack 1800 ft. down from Fyke's Peak. We knew we would be descending Fyke's Peak (named after Jim Fyke, who tried to get the race cancelled), but you won't find it on any map. The course changes were kept secret until the day before the race. Only then we learned it was actually the south summit of Stallion Mountain.
In several places we descend through breaks in small cliffs.
We descend south, cross the New River and route 119, then up the Testicle Spectacle (above). We couldn't find this on the map either. We learned yesterday it was actually along these powerlines.
It's not bad at first, but let's not think about that wall up ahead.
View back from the top.
Down the other side is easy at first, a dirt road that's actually runnable until it ends at a cliff dropping into a mass of thorns, that we have to downclimb. Then we turn right into a wall of thorns and search for 20 minutes to find book 5 (Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes) in a rattlesnake den. (Fortunately the occupant was back around book 3 when Hiram Rogers took this photo). The whole point of this detour was to avoid the meth lab, which we found anyway (above).
Then it's a long, steep climb up to Rat Jaw, beginning with Methlab Hill, seen here in profile from the top. It climbs at a 60 degree angle.
Rat Jaw climbs 1000 feet in about 1/2 mile, which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't covered in tangles of sawbriers to add to your misery and loss of blood. We reached the top, 13 miles, at about 11 hours. Unfortunately we only had 13:20 to finish the loop. When Allan, Pete and I came in after dark at 15:56, the bugler played taps to announce our DNF, the same fate that ultimately awaited every runner in the race.
Report and photos by Allan Holtz
Report by Dan Baglione, age 75, who set a new age group speed record by collecting one page (2 miles) in 32 hours.
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