by Laura Clark
Year 2016 did not disappoint. After an unusually hot and dry summer, one where we did not have to include rain dates in our outdoor theatre and fair-going plans, the skies opened up directly over Thatcher Park and unleashed a storm of Biblical proportions. I have learned by this time that even when heading to a race in the middle of a hurricane, (yes, I have done this), the venue usually Brigadoons into a magical time warp where rain mists over and rainbows appear. But not today.
We mulled around, some folks huddled conveniently in the rest station, others poking gutter-like waterfalls from the ARE tent, and most under the pavilion. I experimented with all three locations and found one too smelly, one too iffy and the third too claustrophobic. Finally, with a resigned, “It isn’t going to get any better,” Mike Kelly prodded us out from our shelters. We began almost immediately. Good call, I thought, “Why wait around?” But no. After our Light Brigade charge we were halted at the real start line. Not that it mattered. We were already soaked.
It was amusing to evaluate the different styles of dress. Some folks, like me, optimistically wore a rain jacket, thinking it might help, or at the very least could be removed once the Indian Ladder sun logo reasserted itself. Others were pretty much exposed, figuring that wet clothes would simply slow them down. Most of us dutifully wore wicking gear which proved to be an exercise in futility as dry was not an option. Those who miraculously made it to the start with semi-dry shoes soon got over that warm fuzzy feeling as we were greeted by a wall-to-wall morass that could not be straddled, circled or otherwise jumped over.
Baptism complete, our adventure was underway. Like all Tough Mudders worth their entry fee, we were presented with slippery roots, treacherous rocks, and bottomless muddy pits. Although we had gotten over getting our shoes wet, we still found a certain security in skirting as many puddles as possible. What could be underneath all that mud? A slippery rock? A half-drowned rattler? Perhaps even an alligator? However, avoidance didn’t necessarily work out for the best as the ribbons of saturated dirt surrounding the puddles were poised to collapse at the slightest disturbance. And why bother? Half the trails were ankle-deep tributaries flowing into the puddle collection points.
One recurring feature was nature’s version of a Walmart Slip ‘n Slide apparatus. Early on, the lady ahead of me hydroplaned through a gully where a thin layer of water was artfully concealed beneath a growth of sturdy grass. The slickest slides were linked to the most beautiful feature of the Park, the limestone escarpment. Guess what happens when limestone mixes with clay and water? And guess where most of that mixing took place? Yup. Right on the steep downhills that punctuate the latter third of the course. The narrow, slightly sloping trail by the roadside became a slick, whitish chute where progress was incrementally measured tree-to-tree.
The funniest thing about this day was that pace didn’t really matter; only survival counted. The route proved a constant surprise as the unexpected greeted you at every turn, leveling the playing field for course veterans and newbies alike—with a “little bit of luck” thrown in for good measure. Early on, I decided to yield to the day while looking forward to the future. I pretended I was snowshoeing—another sport where footfalls are constantly in flux and balance matters. Finding the stance similar, I powered on to Christmas in July.
Upon finishing, I laughed when I spotted the Stewarts ice cream cart. Ice cream? On such a rainy day? Definitely yes!!