The Crewel Jewel 100
Maybe a better name would be The Hallucinatory 106 (The race isn’t 100 miles at all. It is 105.9 miles.)
Part of running 100 mile races are the strange things runners see at night especially in the early hours of the overnight section, or in the case of the Crewel Jewel 100, “overnight sections” since it took me over 44 hours to finish the race. The hallucinations or illusions are usually caused by a combination of running through miles of “pitch dark” woods, hills and mountains, using a headlamp which reduces your world to a small oval of light directly in front of you. The trails are lined with huge trees both standing and fallen, long stretches of rhododendron tunnels, bushes, vines, ferns, roots and of course rocks. Small rocks, car size rocks, house size rocks and mountain size rocks. Just to make things more interesting Saturday night as I followed the Duncan Ridge Trail over the “Dragons Spine,” a series of ridges and peaks ranging from 200ft to about 500ft in height, we were running through cold fog and blowing mist.
I kept seeing small building or shelters off the sides of the trails. I also saw some large gray structures like columns. I saw a clothes line, several iron gates and a couple of rail fences. Of course, when I looked, there was nothing there. Just illusions. Fireflies off in the dark to the sides of trails appear to be a flickering campfire off though the woods. When you turn to look, again, there is nothing there. Then, I saw were three jack-o-lanterns hanging from a tree perhaps 100 yards ahead. Each appeared to have a candle burning inside illuminating the entire pumpkin. After running along the ridge for perhaps 1/2 mile, the jack-o-lanterns were still 100 yards ahead. Obviously they were houses or large street lights somewhere miles away at the bottom of the mountain. About this same time I saw several large buildings on the next ridge about a mile to my left. There are no buildings on top of the mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I was seeing some structure miles away in some town, or perhaps it was a town far off in the distance.
Two of the illusions I saw were real. First are the “strobing eye spiders” that are always along the trails at night. Apparently the spider’s eyes react to the oscillation of LED lights used in the headlamps causing the strobe effect. I am always fascinated by the thousands of these little spiders along the trails. The other “real” illusion was along a section of Stanley Creek Road. I ran up the road a little after midnight Friday night and passed what appeared to be a lake (I think it was actually a large field) off to the left. Huge trees surrounded the field and the trees were full of the brightest fireflies I have ever seen. I turned my headlamp off and walked in the almost total darkness watching the brilliant flashes. I had to turn my light on for an instant every 30 or so seconds to check my course. I could see nothing. Each time I turned my headlamp off I saw lightning. It kept getting close, then thunder, then the storm hit. I wish that had been an illusion!! So much for enjoying the fireflies.
Normally, I only see such weird things at night during 100s. Not at Crewel Jewel. After 42+ hours of running (well, more hiking than running) and about 32,500ft of the 33K total gain I stared up the final climb to Vogel State Park and the finish. I know there was a gate were the climb ended and we crossed a road to enter the park. This final 3.5 miles was strange. The trail up the final climb traversed up a scalloped section of the mountain. That is, there were a series of large concave washes out of the side of the mountain, most about ½ mile across. Every time I rounded the crest of the ridge, I found another scallop. Each time I enter the next scallop I could see the gate at the far end of the scallop. Sometimes I could see people at gate. I remember thinking, “That’s the top. I’m almost back.” But as I got closer there was no gate or people. The trail just continued up and around the next scallop. There always appeared to be gates at the far end of the scallops. I finally quit looking ahead. It was discouraging.
I did finally get to the end of the climb and crossed the road watching for insane bikers. The road is “Wolf Pen Gap Road” a favorite with “220 MPH Ninja” type bike riders. After crossing the road I realized it was still about 1.5 miles to the end. The trail followed a small creek on my right. I looked up ahead and saw a large “Yellow Children’s Playhouse” with green siding sitting right on the side of the creek. It was rounded and looked “sort of” like a big apple, but I was sure it was a playhouse because I saw several kids playing around it. At that point I was very focused on the trail because I didn’t want to fall right here at the end. After 50 or 60 yards I looked back up at the playhouse and all I was a large boulder with the morning sun shining on it. It had a lot of green moss on the side. There were no children!
Just a few hundred yards further I looked up to see Marye Jo coming toward me. I didn’t take my eyes off her. I was afraid she would disappear too. She didn’t and she escorted me to the last half mile. The finish materialized in front of me and that didn’t disappear either. If it had, I would have sat down and cried, or died!!