Javelina Jundred | Arizona | October 30, 2004
By Gary Dudney
The day before Halloween and the spooks were out. The Javelina Jundred cast a spell that could be like a dream or a nightmare. I followed an angel for ten miles, her wings bouncing gently behind her…like in a dream…but not far away was a guy in a big platinum blonde wig and polka dot shirt with a fake butt strapped to his behind…definitely a nightmare.
For non-desert dwellers even the trip to McDowell Mountain Park just outside Fountain Hills in Arizona is other worldly. From the moment I arrived at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in the Valley of the Sun, I was awestruck by the weird desert landscape and the strange Indian motifs scattered all around. Along the Beeline Highway through historic Maricopa County and the lands of the Yavapai, strange red rock formations rose abruptly from the desert floor. The signature Saguaro cactuses seemed to be raising their arms in greeting or in shocked surprise that I would invade their demanding realm. Even the race website greets the visitor with an eerie coyote’s howl and the dying tendrils of a rotting cactus reaching up above a moonlit desert.
The first ninety miles of the race included six 15 mile loops on the Pemberton Trail with aid stations an unvarying five miles apart. The same runners passed by over and over as we alternated running clockwise and counterclockwise. The trail was hypnotic. Good that we had transponders strapped to our ankles to keep track of our progress. After ninety miles, a star was attached to my race number, the magic entry ticket to Tonto Tank Trail, which plunged four miles down from the aid station to near the finish, a giddy ride after a full day and night of the gentle ups and downs of the main trail. All night the volunteers at Coyote Camp howled (literally) their encouragement as runners appeared. “Another athlete approaches,” someone kept yelling. The crew at Jackass Junction was equally enthusiastic and good-natured. They laughed off the question, “So this is Jackass Junction, how does that make you feel?”
The spectacular fountain in Fountain Hills, higher than the Washington Monument, looked like a ghost on the horizon and all night the bright lights of jet planes climbed into the sky from the direction of Phoenix. The moonstruck desert was still and quiet at night. The coyotes we heard were distant and sounded like rowdy drunks at the far end of a dormitory hallway. Some of the bushier cactus plants seemed to light up and glow in our flashlight beams. The Saguaro showed every stage of their life and decline. Many had rotted still standing into a sort of deathly filigree, while a few had toppled over and lay like murder victims in the sand.
Even with the costumes and the crazy Halloween decorations and the crews pumping us up at the aid stations and the Full Moon (Best Ass) Award competition going on, Javelina seemed at heart a very contemplative race. A raucous, all night bike race next door went unnoticed. Our own trail was closed to all but us. The usual streaming flags were missing as only a few trail crossings needed to be marked. We padded along quietly in the desert, the moon and stars above, the Saguaro watching over us. Only a few animals appeared: three wild horses, a covey of quail, a frightened mouse at night, and two Jack rabbits with extravagant ears in the morning. At the end of each loop, we returned to Javelina Jeadquarters and to the sandwiches, soup, bean wraps, pumpkin pie, warm tent, helpful people, and blessed chairs. All had to be left behind over and over again to continue the journey, truly an ultra test of resolve, especially the last seventh time in the cold, dead hour just before dawn.
Having finished, I was sitting in the warming tent under two blankets where race director Geri Kilgariff found me. She presented me with the finishing trophy–a dead on replica of a coyote skull. Now there was something to contemplate.