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 morning 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 Crewel Jewel 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. This was much like driving a car at night in dense fog.
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 three jack-o-lanterns hanging from a tree perhaps 100 yards ahead. Each appeared to have a candle burning inside illuminating the entire pumpkin. The eyes and mouth were clearly viable. 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 less than a mile to my left. I knew there are no buildings on top of the mountains in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I was seeing some structure or structures miles off in a town, or perhaps "I was a town" far off in a valley at the bottom of the mountains. I know that was what I was seeing, but the illusion stayed the same. I could see doors on the side of the building like warehouse bays just over on the next ridge.
Some of the illusions I saw were real. Actually, if it's real, it's not an illusion is it? But they seemed like illusions. Maybe they were "virtual reality" illusions! First was the “strobing eye spiders.” These little spiders 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 at all overnight races. Another “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 something else that was a bit disconcerting, lightning. At first it seemed to be off in the distance but It kept getting closer. Then I could hear thunder. About that time, the storm hit. I wish that had been an illusion!! It poured ice cold rain for about 20 minutes then eased up but continued to rain for perhaps another hour. That will bring you back to reality in a hurry!!
I also saw a bunch of mice racing up and down and across the trail Saturday night. Strangely, I don't remember seeing any Friday night. A few times one ran up the trail in front of me probably making fun of how slow I was going. Then, there were the salamanders. I probably saw 20 or 30 both nights. The first one I saw I thought was a very small shiny snake. Then I noticed the four tiny legs propelling it along the trail in a very "squiggly" manner. I had to be careful not to step on one. There was also a lot of mica (a shiny silicate mineral with a layered structure, found as minute scales in granite and other rocks) in several places along the trail. I mean LOTS of mica!! The ground looked like it was covered in diamonds. It was actually really pretty and a nice distraction. I do remember thinking at some point, "I certainly hope all that mica is, in reality, thousands of those little spiders with the strobing eyes. If so, they are about to gang up on me."
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 32,300ft of the 33,200ft of total gain, I started up the final climb to Vogel State Park and the finish. This final 3.5 miles was strange. I know there was a gate where the climb ended and we crossed a road to enter the park. The trail up the final climb traversed up a scalloped section of the mountain. That is, there were a series of large concave washed out sections of the side of the mountain, most about ½ mile across. Every time I rounded the crest of the ridge, I entered another scallop. Each time I entered the next scallop I could see the gate at the end of the climb at the far end of the scallop. I was sure it was the gate because I could see people waiting at the gate. I remember thinking, “That’s the top. I’m almost back.” But as I got closer there was no gate and no 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 trying to avoid all the insane bikers. The road is “Wolf Pen Gap Road” a favorite with “220 MPH Ninja” type bike riders. And they say Ultrarunners are crazy! After crossing the road I realized it was still about 1.5 miles to the end. The trail followed a small creek down the hill on my right. I looked up ahead and saw a large “Yellow Children’s Playhouse” with green siding or roof. It was sitting right on the side of the creek. This didn't strike me as too strange since I was almost to Vogel State Park and there was a playground somewhere I had seen earlier. The playhouse was rounded and looked “sort-of” like a big apple. I was sure it was a playhouse because I could see several kids playing around the far side of the playhouse. 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 saw 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! That one was a little freaky!!
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 line materialized in front of me and that didn’t disappear either. If it had, I would have sat down and cried, or died!!
As I read over this, it sound like a am maybe exaggerating just a little to make it a better story. I promos you, I am not! Actually I could come up with even more strange things, like a pack of dogs barking and people yelling about 3 in the morning on Duncan Ridge Trail. It as very loud and got closer and closer as I ran. I began to get a little concerned! But that's another story.
Runner for 50+ years. Unknown number of Marathons, 10K and 5K. Trail Runner for 20 years. Ten 100s as of 2018.