Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tracker Jacker Attack!

Last week I went out for another Sheltowee trail run.  I needed to scout my second section of the Trace for the 2015 Trail Check.  I chose two five mile sections.  And I figured the best way to do them was at least two separate trail runs. 
Week before last I knocked out the Bison Way to Corner Ridge section and surprised myself with a nearly off the couch effort.  I pounded out ten miles like I had been training for it. So I decided repeating that feat on the much more familiar and less remote KY 15 to KY 715 (Tunnel Ridge to Red River) section would be easy.
Wearing similar deer fly defensive garb I took off at an easy cadence from Pinch Em Tight trailhead off Tunnel Ridge Road.  It was in the 80s, threatening to rain, and the biting meanies were suspiciously absent as I was enveloped by the out of doors.
I kept my pace slow as I trundled out Pinch Em Tight Ridge.  The day before I had put forth a solid road effort at 10k.  According to Strava it was my third fastest 10k.  I managed just under an hour and the last mile and a half I was holding firm at a 170 bpm heartrate.  But it felt good.  I didn’t think I was too wrecked to do a longer trail run.
I love running that ridge.  From Buck Trail down into Chimney Top Creek the trail follows the Rugged Red course.  Without getting too deep into unpacking that snarl suffice it to say last summer I ran that section of trail more than a few times.  It was about this time last summer I got serious and started upping my trail miles too.
I debated running out to the end of the ridge and turning back with the intention of getting the lower section on another short run from the other end.  But when I got there I was ahead of schedule, no bities were afflicting me, and I was feeling good.  I let gravity pull me down into the cool shadows of Chimney Top Creek.
Last summer I always tried to ramp up my pace between the Sheltowee – Rough Trail intersection and the suspension bridge (swinging bridge) over Red River.  On the recent run I kept a modest pace.  While I wasn’t wrecked per se, I definitely am not in as good running shape as I was a year ago, and I did throw down six hard miles less than twenty four hours earlier.  My bad knee sings good.
That, and the section along the creek and the river was muckier than the other trails in the area.  I had to slow to get around most of the mudholes.  We’ve had rain lately.  The fact that 75% of the trail was nice and dry is testament to the trailbuilders’ skill.  Even the muddy sections weren’t that bad.  I managed to return home with mud only along the rands of my shoes. 

I hit some congestion at the swinging bridge.  But I hit it just under an hour and 4.5 miles from the car.  I weaved through the large group that loitered on the bridge for photo ops and then with renewed energy (gel powered) I turned for the return trip to the car.
There’s something about reaching that turnaround point in a run, or bike ride, or long hike when you know you have to cover a certain amount of ground to be finished with the activity.  You may be enjoying each step along the way and not wanting it to end, or feeling too tired to take another step, or fighting cramps, the bonk, or mental breakdown.  But that moment is magical regardless of what other factors are affecting you at that time.
I think it’s that moment when all choice is gone.  You’ve gone far enough that you can’t decide to bail and cut it short.  You’ve committed to the full monty.  There is a sublime satisfaction at that point.  Any worry or stress regarding your ability to push on to the point of no return is gone.  You are in that moment already closer to the other side.
Half a mile into my return trip fire spread up my calf.
I yelped, hopped in the air, and looked down in time to see a brilliant yellow insect leave my leg and dart into the undergrowth.  A yellow jacket.  Or a tracker jacker.
I kept running, but I immediately took stock of my condition.  I glanced at my heartrate display.  It looked normal.  I backed off my pace and listened to my breathing, my sensory input, and toggled through vision, hearing, etc, etc to make sure my system wasn’t going to shut down.
In the past I have had serious reactions to stings.  My mother is deathly allergic to stinging insects.  My dad, on the other hand, once turned over one of Grandpa Chainring’s been hives and was stung all over his body and has no allergy.  My worst reaction was the time I was hiking in to Fortress Wall with a heavy climbing pack on a hot day and a bumblebee flew into my shirt and stung me on the sternum.
I almost passed out.
Lately I have thought about the eventuality of getting stung while out far from civilization and having a reaction.  I wondered if I had screwed myself not being prepared.  But would I really give myself an epi out alone in the woods?  I couldn’t spare much thought on regret at that point.  The work at hand was more pressing.  My body seemed to be fine, but my leg hurt like a fuddy duddy.  Oh my dogs it hurt!
I didn’t censor myself out in the woods so well.  I was four miles from the car with some tough climbing and a rolling ridgeline left to retrace.  I drank some water as I kept right on running.  There was nothing else to do.
I had hoped that I could up my pace along Chimney Top Creek, take it easy on the climb back to the ridge, and then bust hard back out to Tunnel Ridge.  The sting took some of the wind out of my sails.  I walked the climb.  I hadn’t intended to run it, but the choice was elusive.  I walked.
As soon as I could canter I was off along the ridge.  I love that section of Pinch Em Tight.  It’s nice and tight, a beautiful section of singletrack, and it’s relatively level once you get away from the big climb.  I upped my pace as much as I dared.  165 bpm.  And not soon after a peal of thunder rattled across the sky.  It was a sound akin to ice cracking under your feet on a frozen pond, but it was meaner.  The air was cooler.  The sky was darker.  I had two miles to go and I was beginning to feel the seven behind me.
In the last mile a few drops fell.  The darkness seeped out of the sky somewhat, and I never heard any more menacing thunder.  I shuffled over the last couple of deadfalls and saw my GPS had ticked “9:00.”  I stopped running and walked the last hundred yards.  I stretched quickly as a light rain fell.  And before I knew it I was back in the real world and racing away from those couple of hours of running therapy.  Despite the yellow jacket venom coursing through my veins I felt pretty good. 
Anaphylaxis never set in, and I have yet to turn into a were-bee.  Life is good.  Buzzbuzzbuzz.


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