It was a hot one this year for the Bridger Ridge Run 2021, but after a quiet last year with canceled races due to the pandemic, runners were eager to return to their favorite, local course. Perspectives are by first-place winner David Ayala and Ridge Run veteran, Darryl Baker.
By David Ayala
The start area is a warm scene, for every sense: smiles and nerves on people of many shapes and sizes. Megan and I chat about dreaming. Shane consolidates our intentions with some well-chosen words and prayer, which I summarize as “May we celebrate our vitality, as individuals and as a people”.
I hadn’t scrutinized the participant list, making it thrilling and unnerving to see the eager faces line up in this final minute before go-time — fist-bumps and nods in mutual camaraderie. I’m invigorated by Tim’s pure enthusiasm.
I turn a sharp corner of the first switchback in that open bowl toward Sac with two others on my heels: Dylan and Jason. My peripheral glance toward the forest reveals no other racers in sight — we’re already several minutes in the lead.
Just before the saddle North of Sac, Dylan blasts past me. By looks, Dylan is a younger fellow. Noting his bouncy stride, I tell myself I’ll pass him again sooner or later, and earnestly try to believe this in effort to remain calm. Oop, now Jason is blasting by in chase of Dylan — he looks strong and ready for this event. The Baldy Blitz with Jason affords me some delicate confidence that I can catch him on descents. But, gosh, Jason is proficient with focus and compartmentalization of will, from years of competitive running and biking. So, while this experience retains its welcome uncertainty, the race clarifies: it will come down to Jason and I descending from Baldy.
Two goats calmly, unblinkingly, watch me jostle from some 3 meters away. I consider telling them to run for their lives and enjoy these closing days of their species, but wonder if they’re hoping to get something out of this event as well. The sunrise from Sac, with the entire route in sight — Ross’ sheen — is superb as always. I will eclipse the horizon drawn closer by smoke, we all will. The scene is so warm, both in the familial sense and in temperature.
On the South ridge of Naya Nuki, I pass Dylan with flailing finality, and give my regards to sweeps Ana and Tommy. I pass Jason shortly after gaining the foothills trail — he graciously steps aside for the exchange. Jason passes me in the climb leading to Ross Pass — I step aside. I’m already feeling an onset of cramps; my `training’ for this BRR has been just lots and lots of time-on-feet, hardly as regulated and explosive as previous seasons. I hope Jason interprets my sluggish ascents as strategic. I figure 5 minutes is the largest margin I could close on Jason in the descent from Baldy, so I commit to keeping him within 4.
I pass Darryl and his perpetual aura of kindness just after Ross Pass.
Tenuously cramping legs tool me uphill for a while.
At Bridger, Nikki says “You know the downhills” in a hushed voice.
I measure I’m 4:20 behind Jason on the ridge North of Saddle.
I commence my usual plan to run everything from that ridge on, and so implement my cramp-avoiding jostle which I’m becoming embarrassingly proficient at.
Peder and Mike cheer me on from Saddle; their faces betray that something’s wrong with me.
Kristina stands brightly on some rocks just North of Baldy. Be it true or not, she reports “Jason looked hot and tired. You’re 4 minutes back. Nobody is behind you.” — an expertly communicated anchor for will, though my insecurities mine concern in her voice.
Sam greets me on Baldy across from a petroleum palm tree. In an outfit of flamboyance, Nick reports “4 minutes back” as he pours water into my handheld. Brenden tries to guilt me into tasting some Bozone brew he and crew painstakingly hauled up in a pony keg. I hear him chasing me “C’mon Dave! Gotta have some!” I’d be embarrassed if he catches me, so I pick up my pace. As expected, I feel a heel blister, the blister grow, the blister pop, heel-juice soak my sock, heel-skin tear off my foot, then heel-skin crumple into its resting place like a bunched up sock in my shoe. I measure I’m 1:10 behind Jason by the base of the scree field South of Baldy.
Now on flatter terrain, my legs cramp: I walk, then stumble, then am forced to lay down locked in cramp. That descent was reckless for my condition. I chew a salt pill, and rise using contortions and maneuvers more familiar in Class 5 terrain, manually bending my legs. As I pass Justin, then Rachel, I rearrange my grimace into a passable smile. Cresting the Knob, I engage a dangerous pace — a dynamic trip, really. Jurro, at Half-Way, reports “3 minutes behind the leader.” Just beyond Yoga Point, I see a flash of Jason; little below the now-burnt TeePee, I catch him. He graciously steps aside; I mutter “nobody behind us”. I elect to hold my excruciating pace: my other heel comes off.
I cross the finish line to interested faces, and collapse with urgency in shade to remove my shoes. Denise arranges an ice bucket for my demolished feet; physical therapist Dan relieves my cramps; Dylan fills my handheld.
Jason is placed on a bed while Anne and other medical folk buzz around him. He demonstrates a limpness that I start to aspire to; I cherish the race-element afforded by Jason’s performance. Eventually, he comes to, and we make some nice conversation about the morning with the accumulating mass of half-familiar people. The after-party hovers in the grass, mowed by Boz earlier in the week, under the shade of those great trees. Emmiliese, in wedding white, and her friends, finish looking remarkably fresh as they celebrate her Bachelorette party. I’m moved by the industrious and supportive human activity around me: the volunteers fulfilling each participant’s personal little journey, the participants each undergoing their own private acute experience, friends and family generating so much spirit and interest, access to this land and the profound consumption of resources, etcetera
By Darryl Baker
After we had a couple of requests this year for early starts for fear of smoke and heat, and being out there all day we decided to open up “The Heat Wave.” One of the requirements was that you had to be in the 7 hour category. We had 14 people sign up and then 2 dropped, including Pat Calis, who is now 83. But he did tell me he’ll be ready for next year. The wave started at 6 am so we missed the crowded start, but cashed in on a fantastic red Sacajawea sunrise and over an hour of cool running.
I more or less ran with Art Sanborg, the oldest in the Ridge Run this year (by a couple of months) to Ross Pass. It was like doing a training run with no one else around till we got to Ross Pass. I managed to come into Ross first and it was really awesome coming across the meadow alone. Like doing a low key training run. That by itself was worth it all, and maybe the best moment in my 16 times of doing this. I had written an Excell Spreadsheet to see when and where David would pass me. You know “One train leaves the station at 6:00 pm going….The other train leaves..” I had it calculated he would pass me at Ross and sure enough he flew by about 100 feet south of the Aid Station.” At that point he was only a few minutes behind the lead runner.
I climbed “The Wall” out of Ross and I have to say I’ve always liked that bad boy. I never saw Art again and I felt great going through Bridger and over Saddle. In fact I got to Bridger in 3 1/2 hours which for me is a pretty good time. Since I can always do the second half faster I thought I would be under 7 hours. But once I got over Saddle the heat set in and I had to slow it down. I had a guy bring up some ice at Bridger for my ice bandanna and that really helped. I had ice on my neck to Baldy, where I got a refill there. We flew a bunch of ice to the private land corner on the ridge just below Baldy and had it packed up. There was ice and ice bandannas for everyone, which really helped when it got hot.
It was a pretty slow go from Baldy down. No dangerous pace for me. In fact I sat down for a minute at the new (the old one burned out) 1/2 Way Baldy station where another guy was laying down and really out. But we have a doctor there and she was working on him. They had packed Otter Pops up and Don Rodgers slipped me a couple extra as I was leaving. Those things are amazing. I finished just over 7 hours, second in my age group, soaked my feet in the cold trough and then really didn’t feel too bad. But then I had to pick up the finish line, so by the time I was done with that I was beat. Glad to see what David wrote and now I have even more respect for him because he helped pick up the finish as well. And he didn’t even have feet.