-Nuclear engineer and ultra runner Ephraim Romesberg, sixty-five miles into the Badwater Ultramarathon
Wilderness 101 is long over and I feel bad taking this long to write a post but I’m not sure even weeks after if I can accurately describe how I felt about the whole thing. All I really know is it was a blast. A week or two prior, we hiked up to Ellicottville, NY for a little race called 6 Hours of Power. The town was adorable, but I was seriously lacking any motivation to race. I was more interested in a new found little game of packrafting; pedaling to some far off exotic location, inflating a sub-five pound kayak, loading bike and gear on front, then paddling off around glaciers, fishing and whale-watching. Big dreams right? Luckily for me they never stop rolling. Guiltily, I lined up at the start next to a really excited Palermo girl, knowing
good and well that I only wanted to do a cross-country race that day. So I rode four laps and hunkered down in the shade while everyone else suffered like dogs in the heat.
The night before Wilderness all I could think was- if this is as hot as 6HOP or as brutal as Stoopid 50, I’m going to die. I felt just okay at Lumberjack, but still by no means ready for another
hundred miler. I haven’t even pedaled a century on the road this year and haven’t slept in two days. Stoopid is one of my all time favorite races but it’s packed full of rocky single track that most people can’t handle for a couple hours. I finished two minutes behind Misty in 6th place in under six hours. I just can’t stomach the idea of doing that twice in one day. Not yet anyway.
The entire campground was silent by 9pm the night before and everyone was scrambling at 5am when the gong went off. I watched Montana’s girlfriend picking almonds and quinoa out of the lid of an almond can. The whole 90 lbs of her if that made me feel too guilty to eat a ‘hardy’ breakfast before the race. My stomach was in knots anyway so half a bagel and an egg white would have to do.
Somehow after crawling out of the port-o-john I ended up smack on the start line in front of 350 riders. I have absolutely no right being up here, I thought to myself but stayed in front, tucked into the 27mph pace set by the would be leaders and took off grinding up the first climb. After a mile or so, I settled down. This is insane- I can NOT ride this hard this early in a race. God I can’t ride this hard in a thirty mile race! Ruthie and Misty passed me near the top and tore off while I settled into a nice calm chug a lug lug. I thought for sure they’d both beat me as the mojo settled into my feet. I still wasn’t awake yet. Finally after a grueling six mile climb or so, we started down another hill and I slowly started to wake up and grab wheels for short pulls on flat sections. I couldn’t
believe we still hadn’t found any single track but I wasn’t upset with that either. The pine forests and miles of ferns and boulders were great scenery. Even the occasional dead porcupine was better than getting torn apart in rock gardens. By the time I reached the first aid station I had only drank one bottle of water and started feeling better. The next hill was a familiar one. I caught back up to Ruth near the top and excited to finally have someone to ride with she tore off and tried to ditch me. I caught her again on the downhill after picking off a few straggling
guys who got in the way and on the next climb I turned around and she was out of sight. It’s a race, so in a sick sadistic sort of way, that made me feel better. By the time I finally found some single track I also started catching up with a bunch of riders I remembered blowing by me on the first climb. I felt a small grin spreading across my face when I rolled across the three bridges because the photographer, instead of shouting great job, or keep it up Buerkle,
just threw in my face that Rob was waaaay ahead of me. Hmm, I thought…. I’ll go faster then. So I set a goal for the day. I left the single track with a small entourage of guys from CT and Baltimore who had a nice pace going into Aid station two. At this point I didn’t realize we were 40 miles into the race and I was finally starting to feel good, so I took off with one bottle and munched on a few clif blocks.
Shortly after the Magic Carpet Ride we pedaled down a couple hills that literally made my legs quiver. This hill and every hill after that actually. The theme of the race was grind for five miles to the top of a road, then bomb down ¾ of a mile of gnarly single track. Most I recognized from the old Stoopid 50 course and just fell in love with them.
The heat started climbing by the time I got to aid station 3. I had to leave my camelback thinking it’d be good to stretch out a little. I started off with a mouth full of Pringles again oblivious to the mileage and just before the ‘beer station’ I finally caught up to Misty. She really wasn’t feeling well, so happily I trudged up the next climb and grinning ear to ear tore off down the next piece of deer trail. On a downhill, before aid station 4 I think I passed a dozen guys walking their bikes.
When I got to the 4th aid station, there were a couple women who decided to quit and for the first time that day I was a little curious about where I was placed in ladies field. The shade felt great but I knew if I didn’t keep moving I would blow up. It had finally hit me that this was roughly 70 miles into the race and not once had I thought about quitting. I stuffed another handful of Pringles in my mouth and rolled down around the bend. Just a few hundred yards away a sharp 90 degree turn yielded another disgusting climb. A little chipmunk must have heard me sigh because he started snickering as I started hiking. According to my number plate this would be a long one. I was so completely discouraged and exhausted to care about pedaling or reaching any specific time goal. I didn’t care at this point. I still felt good but was getting really tired. Like sleepy tired but still never thought about quitting. I was really enjoying myself. At the top of that climb Mark Liti caught up to me and we spent the next 30 miles pushing each other on the road sections. There was one final rocky downhill road leading into the last aid station that left my fork saturated in oil and stiff as a board so with numb arms and a grumpy knee I did what any normal person would do- I stopped to pee. I was a little grumpy because I was hungry and got dropped by some chick that talked way too much and was too happy to be 10 hours into a ride. After yet another wonderful mouth full of Pringles, an empty bladder and defending the half a brain I have with the aid station guys over my broken fork, I rolled out again glued to Marks wheel for another ten miles of baking on the rail trail.
By this point I was absolutely exhausted. I didn’t care who passed me or how long it took to finish as long as I didn’t pass out from the heat. I was nauseous and hungry but couldn’t stomach another gulp of water or food. After one final death march I hung on through the last downhill sort of feeling guilty for leaving a guy basically dying from heat stroke at the top. A few gun shots went off as we hiked through the boulder garden and I couldn’t help but muster out ‘geez mister just put me out of my misery’… I was still grinning. After this crappy section of rocks it’d be smooth sailing. I lazily hiked across the narrow railroad bridge and we popped out of the other side of the tunnel this time subtracting nearly taking out a group of kids with rafts and rolled into the finish. Barely rolling, but it felt good to finish. A high five sealed the deal and I ended up 8th in the women’s field.
A few minutes later I was laying in the babbling stream when some guy decided to throw up in the creek maybe a foot away from me. I just sat there. I couldn’t move I hurt so bad, then finally grossed out went to eat dinner. Twice.