September 30, 2009

So Close.....

It's been almost 10 days since I left the mountains of Colorado and I simply cannot get rid of this sick feeling I have in my gut. Working and grinding for 364 days to prepare only to find myself coming home empty handed leaves me with an absolute horrible feeling of failure. A feeling that I simply cannot stand. In fact, I hate it. The elk, the mountains, the entire Colorado experience smoked me. I had 8 days to get it done and I failed.

The facts show that success rates in this high pressure, over the counter unit run just a shade under 10%. And that's any elk, any weapon (bow, rifle or muzzleloader). Obviously not the best odds, however I expect to be one of those 10% every year. Period. Plain and simple. Anything less, no matter how many ways I try to spin the experience is a failure to me. And after looking at the sticker (Failure Is Not An Option) on my bow limb for the millionth time before packing it up to come home, I pretty much feel like a 1000lb weight has been directly dropped on the Shoemaker pride-o-meter.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. In fact as with any hunt not only are there lessoned to be learned, but there are also many memories that are created. Take for example Day 3 when I had a monster of a bull at a mere 6 yards.

Pup, I and Cow happened to be together and making our way to another part of the mountain. On our way we heard a bugle from below. Quickly we dropped our packs to make our move. Pup cow called and instantly the bull responded with a bugle. He was below and to our left. Trying to put the wind in our favor we dropped in elevation as quickly as possible.

As we worked down he bugled again. He was still to our left but had now moved above us. We tweaked our location. 2 minutes pass and the bull bugled again. He was still above us but was now moving to our right. We moved again. Another cow call, another bugle. By now the bull had made almost a complete circle and his bugle told us he was closing the distance. Trying to gauge his path I moved forward into a small opening to set up behind the only bush available. I burned holes through that bush looking for the first sign of movement as I nocked an arrow.

As I stand there ready he bugled. He is so close and I know at any second I should see movement. Before that thought even leaves my mind I see him. He is directly ahead of me. The first thing I see is the tips of his antlers bobbing in rhythm as he walks. With each step he is closes the distance…..30 yards, 20 yards, 15 yards, 10 yards……..he finally stops at a mere 6 yards just on the other side of the bush. He is directly facing me, I have no shot.

Struggling to hold it together and desperately trying to figure where my shot is going to come the bull looks right, looks left. Right on cue Pup gives a cow call to which the bull explodes with a bugle and grunts. That bull was so close that I could hear him breathing, I kid you not.

Although it was an awesome experience to have a bull of this magnitude right on top of me, it did me no good. He was facing me and was almost too close. I knew if I have any chance of arrowing this pig, I needed him to go right. If he went left it’s over (wind) if he goes right I got a chance. He starts to move and just my luck he takes 2 steps left and got my wind. In one single move he turns and bolts. I run out from behind the bush, pull, and give a cow call desperately hoping he stops. He didn’t. An awesome experience to say the least but one for me that ended less than ideal.

Over the course of the rest of the week I/we were on animal’s everyday. The next best opportunity for me came on day 8 during the last morning of the hunt. At first light I could hear a bull sounding off over on a distant knob next to a cut I had been in 2 days prior. I was off, investing 2 hours and a mile trying to get in on him.

Making my way ever-so-slowly through the oak brush I was finally able to close the distance. Gaining a good position I moved down in elevation, put the wind in my favor, and cow called. If you would have asked me at that moment I would have told you I had this bull smoked. I knew where he was, where he would come, and that there was no possible way he could get the wind on me. I sat waiting as my mind started to wonder. And this is where I got in trouble.

Of course I knew it was the last morning of the hunt. There were no second chances. I hadn’t heard him bugle in about 15 minutes and after much discussion with myself I decided I needed to make a move. If he was coming he would have been here and if he was leaving I needed to get to him fast. The conversation seemed so logical at the time. Before I could even think rationally my patience got the best of me and I got up, took 2 steps, and busted the bull. He was only 20 yards from me. I wanted to puke. I had just blown what could have been the clinching moment of the entire trip. It had been 8 long days of pushing myself to the limit only to blow it all in the final hour.

Now I know no one knows for sure what would have happened, but one thing is for sure, busting a bull 20 yards from where I was sitting was a hard lesson to swallow. A few more minutes and I’d like to think this entire story ends a little differently.

The 09’ Elk season will be defined with lessons learned and memories created, nothing more. Looking back over the past year I have worked harder than I ever have shooting, training, and pushing myself to new levels trying to take chance out of the equation. In 09’ I have trained to be the best bowhunter I can be. And to be honest, the hard part isn’t the preparation and effort that it takes……it’s the realization that as of today my best is not good enough.

So now it’s back to drawing board to find some how, some way to get it done in 2010. New goals will be made, new levels of what I think is even possible will be tested both physically and mentally. Coming home empty handed is not something I want to do again in 2010. I’ll push on, push harder, and raise the bar again to be the best bowhunter I can be. Let the quest begin, 353 days and counting.

September 1, 2009

Cheat Mountain 50 Mile Endurance Run

"Accept no one's definition of your life, but define yourself." ~Harvey S. Firestone

I'm a quote guy. From the "Failure Is Not An Option" quote that is and forever will be stuck to the back of my bow limb (for a full story check out Saturday, August 09, 2008 entry), to quotes like the ones above......they fuel me. They are something I think about and I repeat over and over again. I don't know why, I just do. So when I came across the quote above, I couldn't think of a better place to use it then my first 50 mile endurance run......

Looking back it probably would have been easier to call it quits after my last ultra. I mean why not? I had already logged a couple of marathons for 09' and I just came off some serious training getting ready for the BT50K. And, in less than 8 weeks was Elk season. I could simply take it easy, run a couple of times a week to keep in shape and call it good. Right??

Hardly and let me put it another way, absolutely not. Doing what 95% of the others do to prepare myself is not what I call trying to take "chance" out of the equation. Instead, taking it easy would be taking "chance" and multiplying it by 25. I've never been the best at math but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that simply doesn't work for me.

So to keep striving to be the best bowhunter I can be I decided to pile it on and sign up for my first 5o miler. 50 miles is a long way to run and especially when it's 5o miles in the mountains of West Virginia. Add to the challenge a 9pm start and it became the perfect mix of final prep work just 2 weeks before the Elk hunt.

Race night August 28 had finally arrived and I was pumped. I knew this 5o miler was going to be a true test for me both physically and mentally. The longest I had ever run before was 31.6 miles and that was during the day on familiar trails. So there was a little bit of nervous energy as I loaded up the truck and headed south.

After loading the truck, I said my goodbyes to Big O and Jor and headed out on the 5 hour drive to West Virginia. Heading down I thought a lot about the race. Could I do it? Would I hold it together enough to finish? I really didn't know what to expect. Using the Internet prior to the race I did manage to find a couple of reports from 2008. Each report gave me a healthy understanding that the trails were pretty gnarly and rough. Elevation change wasn't huge, only covering just shy of 6800 ft.
I arrived at camp about 45 minutes before the mandatory race meeting at 8pm. I parked the truck, snapped some photos and made my way over to check in. After checking in I headed back to the truck to throw on the UA, double check my Badlands Hyper Hydro, and triple check my drop bag that I would be able to access at miles 23 and 33.

The mandatory race meeting was pretty much what I expected. The race director answered questions and made sure that everyone knew the drill. The main question from most was how to tell if you were on the course. A pretty valid question and they had a good answer. Before the race 10" reflector ribbons were hung roughly every .2 miles so if you went without seeing any ribbons for a while, you were on the wrong trail.

After the meeting we had about 1/2 hour to spare so I went back over to the truck and looked through the Badlands and drop bag again. I knew what was in it but the difficulty was that I really wasn't sure on exactly what I needed. In the Badlands, which was going to make the entire 5o mile trek with me, I threw in a few spare batteries, gels, perpetuem, endurolytes, and heed. From there I checked my drop bag which contained a long sleeve UA top, extra UA shorts, socks, ibuprofen, extra gels, and endurolytes. After checking I labeled it up "Shoemaker #25" and took it over to the truck to be dropped off in the mountains.

I walked back over to the start and the director went over a few last items before he let us go. It was surreal as he counted down.........4, 3, 2, 1, go. All this time I had been thinking and focusing on this race and it was finally here. I hit the timer on the watch, punched the button on the headlamp, and ventured into the darkness with 85 others set to cover 50 miles on foot.

The interesting thing about Cheat Mountain is that the first 12 miles is all up hill. You start at a 4-H camp on the bottom of the mountain and it's all up from there. The route goes from paved road, to stone road, to dirt road, before you finally crest the mountain and hit the trails. During the first 12 miles of climb we would knock out a little over 2000ft in elevation.

Starting into the race, the first 6 miles went quick and we were at aid station #1 before I knew it. I stopped, threw off the Hyper Hydro to pop a pair of endurolytes, throw back a gel, before re-shouldering the Badlands again and heading off into the night. 6 down, 44 more to go.

The next 8 miles we continued to climb before finally cresting (elev. 4000ft.) at aid station #2. During this section is where we hit the clouds and the rain. For the majority of those 8 miles I could hardly see but 30 yards in front of me. Finally I hit the 2nd aid station.

At aid #2 I started to feel my stomach. I'm still not quite sure what or why, but it started to feel pretty uneasy. I quickly refueled before heading out to hit our first section trail. As I left heading into the woods I remembered the various race reports that told of over grown, muddy, rocky, mossy trails. And they were dead on. To say I drastically underestimated these trails would be putting it lightly. Quite honestly, these trails made the buckeye look like a paved highway. I worked them as hard as I could trying to make time.

At about 3 hours I hit aid station #3 and my stomach was bad. I grabbed some Tums and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. In the shape I was starting to get in, I didn't want to get comfortable there. The next trail section (miles 18-24) were the most painful, longest, grueling part of the entire race. My stomach was tore up to the point that it got so bad I actually had to sit down. This section was only around 5 miles but it felt like 20. As I walked along alone in the middle of the night in the rain, I started to wonder if I might had gotten in over my head.

As I walked along the trail I would go through this horrible cycle of walk, run, walk, sit, walk........I would sit for awhile and think about how the world, under my current situation, was I going finish the remaining 31 miles. It virtually seemed impossible. To add fuel to fire, each time I would slow down I would start to see the glow of a headlamp coming my way. Talk about depressing. Let me just tell you getting passed while feeling completely down and out is not a morale booster. It was of the worst running experiences I have had to date. After 2 grueling hours I finally made it to aid station #4.

Walking up I had to look like I had just came through world war 3 because as soon as I got there one of the helpers came over and asked me what I needed and how they could help. After hearing my tragedy over the last 5 miles one of them recommended some chicken soup and pretzels. So I choked down a cup of soup and a few pretzels before heading out. As I leaving another runner was just getting ready to leave so I knew I had to go with him. If I had any chance of getting through the remaining 26 miles I needed to be riding somebodies heels.

As we walked away we made small talk. His name was Bill, he was a Marine, had 3 kids and was from South Carolina. Good dude. He asked me how I was doing and I told him my stomach was tore up. He told me he had the perfect solution. At first I was skeptical but figured it couldn't really get much worse. He handed over 2 ginger chews and told me that within 10 minutes I'd be fine. To this day I say it was a miracle......Bill from SC, if you ever read this you saved my butt man. Within 10 minutes I was fine. All stomach issues were gone and I felt like a new man. I had a new lease on life. I hung with Bill for a short time before thanking him for his kindness and heading out on my own......I had some serious time to try and make up, I was off into the darkness.
I pushed hard over the course of the next 20 miles. Trails were very tight and rough. In some sections they were just wide enough to go through as I brushed branches and weeds with my arms along the way. I finally hit road before hitting Aid station #6 on my last stop before heading back down the mountain.

About mile 39 I caught a glimpse of was the sun. Pushing hard and trying to stay focused I hadn't even noticed that I had been running for almost 9 hours now. I had a little less than 11 miles to go. The end was right around the corner. 39 down and 11 more to go.

Now back on the stone road I hit the last aid station. I refueled one last time before finishing out the last 5 miles and crossing the 5o mile mark at 11hours, 17minutes, and 26 seconds. Good enough for 33rd place. Well off my 10 hour goal, but in the end I finished and while doing so pushed myself through some major deep levels of quit.

After telling my story and talking with people I've found it kind of hard to explain, and I'm sure even harder for some to understand, why anyone would want to put themselves through an experience like this. Don't get me wrong running for 11 hours is tough, but to me a necessity. You see pounding out 50 miles at night in the mountains, means that I have already faced and conquered many of the same challenges I will encounter in the mountains chasing elk bow in hand. Stay tuned, elk camp in less than 7 days........