Friday, October 17, 2014

Euchre Bar Massacre

Not many people know ultra-marathons exist.  Even among actual ultra-runners I think you would be hard-pressed to come across someone that would know about "races" like the Euchre Bar Massacre.  Sure, much of the ultra community knows about something called Barkley Marathons, but this kind of competition is definitely a subset of a subset.  The Massacre is a race over mountainous trails, or not trails.  There was a 25 mile and 50 mile option.  It is self-navigated, meaning participants are given a notional map and have to complete the course without the aid of trail markers.  There is very little aid and long stretches where you might be very far away from any help.  You are required to carry sufficient safety gear and food and be able to get water on your own.  The trails (or not trails) might be fairly difficult to traverse.  There was plenty of times where I was on all fours trying to climb up a hill.  Sometimes that wasn't enough - you had to get your hands on rocks or trees or something at least semi-solid to pull yourself up the hill.  Going down that same hill was a whole other skill that I had never acquired before.  In short, there were plenty of skills that were required in addition to ultra-endurance.

I have given a little thought as to why more of these events do not exist.  It is a natural extension of the trail-ulra-runner: someone who thrives on moving efficiently through wild terrain for long stretches.  It seems logical that such a person would want to have the skills to do this regardless of maintained trails, being able to overcome almost any obstacle thrown in their way, and doing it self-sufficiently.  Ultra-runners are famous for being able to deal with discomfort, but I think a lot of us draw the line somewhere.  The fact of the matter is that as soon as you throw scrambling, blackberry bushes or poison oak, or a high probability of getting lost into the equation, there is a level of risk that many of us would rather avoid.  Maybe that is why we stick to the trails and to the safety.  But, there are definitely some rogue individuals who have indeed decided to take that next step, and I have to admit, this was a really fun day.  It probably helped that I did this with a couple of buddies at my side, which definitely helps with the risk part of the equation.  Not to mention it is always more fun to have an adventure with friends.  Sachin and James were the partners in crime for me in tackling the 25 mile version of this race.  This was while watching in awe as the fourth member of our cohort - Toshi - tackled the 50 miler.  The estimated finishing times for the races were in the 10-14 hour range for the 25 miler and 24 to whatever hour range for the 50 miler.  To put that into perspective: a traditionally hilly ultra-marathon of 50 mile distance should be completed in 7-11 hours.  This was a beast.

To prove that we had ran the course as prescribed, the race director, Sean, placed books at various landmarks where we would have to tear out a page and carry it to the finish line.  We were mingling around the picnic area when Sean said go and we all (all 17 of us) headed out into the forest in the early morning dark.  I got a first taste of what awaited us when within 200 ft of the start we were bush-whacking.  We finally made it up to an open dirt road and found a nice trail that we ran down to the north fork of the american river.  This stretch was rather eventless, just sorta in cruise-wakup mode.  We crossed the river and immediately headed up some rocks on the other side to find a trail that skirted the hill.  Only we went on the wrong trail.  There was a small group of us that figured out we were going the wrong way and then decided to bushwhack ourselves over to the trail we were supposed to be on.  The issue was that our sideways progress just sent us right back down a cliff to the river where we basically started over again.  We knew we were nearing in on our first landmark: some dudes grave out in the middle of nowhere.  We got within 100 ft of the grave when we decided we were going the wrong way, turned around, headed back to the river, then headed upstream before we figured out that we had to go back, and then sort of fumbled through bushes before one of us finally found the thing.  It was at this point that any competitive aspirations I might have had vanished rather quickly.  I knew that my only advantage over the others was my fitness and ability to cover large swaths of ground quickly.  But spending half an hour looking for a book made me realize how futile the exercise of "racing" was for me in this event.  Course knowledge would be the only thing that could really let you harness all of your physical prowess towards winning.  This would very much turn into a team challenge where we try to leverage all of our combined experience to at least have a shot at finishing the course.

James, Sachin, and I at the "sign"

Early morning at the river.

And the fun begins...

Kinda pretty here.

Sachin, crossing the footbridge.
I was pretty much in a full sprint all day.  I don't know how anyone was keeping up with me.

At the stream before the carnage began up Ebenezer's Highway. 

Filling up.
The real challenge began with the climb up Ebenezer's Highway.  Basically a stretch of off-trail scrambling up a steep hill to where our third book was located.  I have climbed this kind of a hill before, where basically you have to use the trees to pull yourself up and scramble on all fours.  But never for 2000+ ft.  It was tough!  


Neat little climb.

Yay, we are like a third of the way there...

Sachin, enjoying the views.
Running the chicane through the various hunters and other suspect individuals we finally made it to our only aid station on the course.  It was pretty nice to sit and hang out and drink some soda and eat some fig newtons...
The best aid station ever.

That's the guy!  The inspiration behind this fun stuff.  His name is Sean.  And then there is some guy on his smart phone, lol, I swear, I was just checking the map.
Sachin decided to call it a day at the aid station because of a lingering ankle issue that had been slowing him down all day, so James and I continued on to tackle the downhill.  I was really curious about how it was going to go to get down that monster.  In actuality it was really fun.  Basically a big slide.  You just sat down and rode the loose leaves all the way to the bottom.  You had to build in a few stops where you smashed into some trees to slow yourself down, but it was a blast.

We filled up our water at the stream again and continued on to smash some blackberry bushes.  We started to crash through them, but we came to a point where it was so thick, and the forward progress was so slow, that we concluded that there was no way to continue up this trail and still make the 4 p.m. cutoff at the top of the hill.  So we turned around and went back to the dirt road and decided to hike that up to the top of the road where we could then continue on "drop road" back to the campsite and call it a day.

On the way up the road we ran into Joel who was returning down from the top of the climb and was on his way to finishing the 25 mile course.  We chatted a little bit about his ability to endure the blackberries (he said they weren't bad, but by the look of the bloody scratches up and down his arms, James and I came to a different conclusion).  Joel was the only person who was able to finish the beast, which is pretty cool because his brother won it last year.

The winner of the 25 mile event, Joel.  Actually he was the only finisher of the 25 mile event.

Breakfast Sunday.  Toshi looks like he is high, because, well, he hadn't slept in over 28 hours.

You know it was a good day when you look like this.

James and I jogged it back to camp where sachin met us later when Sean dropped by.  Even with our drop we managed to cover about 30 miles with 9000 ft of climbing.  James drove back to town that night and Sachin and I hung out around the non-campfire with some other hearty souls until we decided to his the sack and wait for Toshi's arrival the next morning.  It was an intense thought to know that Toshi was going to be doing all of that stuff through the night.

Sure enough, next morning I am just awaking in my tent to hear some footsteps and some hollers.  Toshi finished in 25 hours and some minutes.  He was the only finisher of the 50 mile course.  Serious cred.  We piled into the car and then crushed a serious Man breakfast in Auburn before returning to the bay area.  What a great adventure with the guys...


  1. Great write up! Love the name of this race, Euchre Bar Massacre.

  2. Wow,, I wish Josh could have enjoyed this with you !

    1. LOL, probability of Josh falling off of mountain at Euchre Bar = high.