It was the start of day 7. The first full week was almost compete. Wow. Keith hung with Brian and Casey for my first stretch of trails before saying goodbye. I didn’t want him to go but he had a long drive back to KC and a family he needed to be home with – and who wants to ruin another pair of shoes in the water?! Casey ran with me until about 10am that morning. It was funny, both her and Brian hate getting their shoes wet and watching them try to tiptoe around a swamp avoiding the inevitable was hysterical! At least looking back now! Casey succeeded, but Brian wasn’t so lucky!
As Casey and I came up to the next gravel road, there was Brian and a neon shirted fellow – it was Jose!! I smiled so big. In the same smile, I was so sad to see Casey go and also so happy to see my next pacer arrive. He parked his car about 20 miles away and ran to our exact location. He described the trail and what had happened out there in the early hours of the day. My eyes were wide in disbelief – coyotes, a 40 foot river crossing, beaver dams…time to get moving!! And with a guy that can occupy my brain for hours upon hours!
Day 7 was pretty similar to day 3. I couldn’t get my legs to turnover. I could run a few steps but then the pain in my now cankles was like electric shocks in my feet and legs. It was a bit alarming, but I knew I just had to get though the day. It was really a relief that Jose didn’t care that we were basically on a hike. I had spoken with Rivs and he said to just have an easy short day. The plan was to get to Jose’s car – it would be 25-30 miles total for the day. Not at all what I wanted and mentally it killed me, but I knew in my heart that would be best for me.
My 25-30 miles with Jose was interesting to say the least. We embarked on some pretty wild trail. Within the first mile I was drilling him about where this river crossing was. He deflected a few times, first telling me about his run in with a coyote. It was actually right about where we were on the trail in the first segment together – forested and soggy of course. The coyote kept following him, smelling his scent, and basically just scoping him out eventually getting bored and moving on…or maybe it was because Jose was challenging it to a brawl and making loud noises at it! I asked again about the river crossing and Jose said it wasn’t until for another 15 miles or so…it left my head in that moment. Typically I love river crossings, but when majority of the day is in water, it really was the last thing I wanted to do, and this one came with a current – my weak legs quivered at the thought. I started to focus on my feet and just listen to the conversation; it was relaxing. We came upon a muddy area and I saw some tracks, clearly bear. I pointed and with some excitement but mostly concern commented on how fresh they looked. Jose had the best response in the world…”naw, those aren’t bear tracks, those are deer, lots of deer.” If there is one thing I know the difference between when already in a state of delirium, it’s the difference between bear and deer tracks! I had a good laugh in my head with that one.
Not too long after seeing tracks – the river crossing…? Wait, 15 miles already?! No, he was lying to me – it was about 5 miles in and the largest river I’ve ever seen in my life – did I mention the current? (Ok, maybe not the largest!). Jose explained to me that we had to get across it like a paper cut out of gingerbread men stepping side to side, one foot to the next. We held hands above the water which came to about my shorts – not as high as I was anticipating. The current was strong. Just lots of rocks under my feet; nothing too stable. It was refreshing on my legs as the weather was getting hotter as we hiked along. We made it across and next on my checkpoint list was the Wisconsin River and said beaver dams. I thought I would have to actually cross the beaver dams like all the other days since starting, but nope, I was able to go across a very large bridge instead. This wasn’t until about the last 5-7 miles though. In the meantime, we had to get to the bridge by hiking alongside the river on the west side. It was maybe 3 miles in length, but was all boulders so took FOREVER. It would have been fun on say a Saturday afternoon to go play on the rocks and then go swimming in the river – that’s what it reminded me of. Sadly, it was pretty challenging terrain when you’re trying to make good time. I loved listening to the current and crashing sounds of water near the dams. It was peaceful. After crossing the bridge and having a winding road segment, we made it to Jose’s car. It was a relief. I started to soak my legs in the cooler – it sucked to have put in such a short day but so wonderful all at the same time. I didn’t know how to feel or really what emotion to express. I just sat and soaked. I wanted to hang longer with Jose and keep him around another day or two. We said our goodbyes and headed to the next hotel…
Mentally the start of day 8 really kind of stunk. I had to do an out and back. Why?! It’s a point to point and this is the one spot there is a 3 mile out and back. Somewhat deflated, I asked Brian if he would start with me that morning. He typically waits until the afternoon to run and has been exhausted lately. Probably almost as much as I was by this point. It was really a lovely out and back though – one of the greenest areas I had seen. Brian read a sign at the beginning saying that the DNR is trapping and tagging bobcats in the area to watch activity. We didn’t see any active traps nor bobcats. Wisconsin has a plethora of wildlife which is so cool I must admit. It was still pretty wet on the ground and of course our shoes were needing a change by the end of the 3 miles. We finished the out and back and I started my run on the road. It was nice to be running again! The swelling in my ankles was still growing exponentially it seemed, but I could still get a shoe on which was great. I was basically going to be running on my own until around 10am when my cousin Louis and friend Dewie would be arriving for the day. They graciously took the day off from work to come run with me.
I had just entered a 5 mile stretch when they arrived so we all had to meet at the next road crossing. It was so great to see them and I was mentally and physically feeling good. I’m not sure why it’s different one day to the next, but for today, I will take it. I sat down to eat some food when Louis gave me a present for my efforts…It was a netted fishing hat to keep the bugs away from my face. We all couldn’t stop laughing. They both have been tracking my journey and knew of all the flies I had consumed up that point! He also had a high potency bug spray that he left with us “just in case.” It all just made me smile, something I was forgetting to do more and more each day.
Louis, Dewie, Brian, and I had a great day of running. We put in about 45-50 miles total for the day which was great given the amount of climbing we had to do. It was dryer ground but a lot of rolling hills. I felt like I was on top of the world, running what felt to be 6 min miles (actually I’d guess more like 12 to 13 min/mi but just to run I think mentally lifted me up!). The swelling was still there but I think I was just so focused on the dry ground, company, and new lunch item (beer…) recommended by my coach, the pain just faded into the abyss of my mind. It was nearly 4pm and I wanted to get in another few sections before ending for the day. Louis and Dewie had to get going by that point, but planned to come back in the next few days. They left me with one more beverage for dinner time and we all headed on our ways. I was now entering the highest concentrated wolf area in Wisconsin. I didn’t know that of course. I just kept seeing really big dog prints, and being a dog lover, I assumed they were just large dog prints and maybe I would see a hiker and his pup. Nothing of the sort like that ever happened along my entire journey. I realized they were wolf prints honestly only after being told there were wolves in the area by Brian. Made sense; he’s a smart guy to wait to tell me those things. I started to think where on these trails there would be a den. I picture bears and wolves living in a cave, not the flatland forest of Wisconsin. Do they hollow out tree trunks like in Bambi? Or dig a really deep hole that they cover with leaves? A bit of logic mixed with more and more crazy as each day passed. I was so happy to finish strong on day 8. I loved day 8.
My goal for day 9 was to crest the western terminus and start making my way south. I had a mini goal that I needed to mentally and physically achieve today. I would be running alone, just having Brian at times in the afternoon. Like I said, he was physically and emotionally exhausted as well, so I knew he needed a break from the whole journey. It wouldn’t be today though. I needed him more than ever but I don’t think I knew really how to convey that to him knowing he was struggling just as much. Day 9 would be starting at a trail head near a logging area. It was a great starting place, but the trails were destroyed. That morning I averaged 2-3 miles per hour and that was with a running trot…
About 2 miles into the first section I hit a logging area which was not expected. There was a reroute that both Brian and I were not anticipating. I started to go on the reroute, but then second guessed myself; went back, then back to the reroute. Yes, much of the day on some parts of this journey would be wasted in trail searching, but that is the nature of the job. I stuck with my guns and stayed on the rerouted path over logging grounds and more fallen trees and branches than I have seen yet. The trail after that was overgrown; I just keep accumulating more cuts on my legs exacerbating the inflammation that I kept ignoring. I was in tears and texted Brian about how awful the trail was before getting to a road crossing area. He actually walked in to meet me there as it was not an actual crew area. I got a hug and calmed down a bit. I started to continue on and he started to head back to the car. Out of nowhere, I yelled his name…he had to come see this!! Fresh mom and cub tracks. Being the great guy he is, he hung with me for about a quarter mile until the tracks went off into the forest. I was back to being on my own and needed to get out of my head. I knew I would be close at some point of day 9 to the turn south so I used that as motivation.
The trail started to get better…I was going 40-50 miles today on mostly logging roads and hunting land. Perfect. Some areas were wet but just dry enough I could go around and keep a run going. It felt good – painful, but good. I had a pretty good day actually. The first 5 and last 5 miles of the day was the hardest – just simply not runnable. I had company though for the last 5 miles of running and hiking. Brian and I were coming up to Kettlebowl…I had made the turn south and thought, “it’s all downhill from here.” Runnable terrain I have ran before. I was so excited.
We had an interview to do that evening at the end of the day right at the start of Kettlebowl. It took some time and my legs started to stiffen. I expected it but today it was different. The pain in my lower legs, ankles, and feet was changing. It wasn’t just achy with bouts of pain anymore, it was becoming alarming. I figured the next day would be like any other…wake up, feel awful, start running, feel better. I soaked. We ate. I tried to sleep.
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.