Chimera 100 Mile | California | November 16, 2013
Mauled by the Beast
By Gary Dudney
The name of the race, Chimera 100, should be your first tip off. You can figure that something named after a fire-breathing mythological mash up of a lion, a goat, and a serpent is not going to be some easy-going walk-in-the-park. The shorthand for the race, since the concept of a Chimera is a little complicated, is simply “The Beast,” also not encouraging if your plan is to live through the event.
And sure enough, it’s not clear exactly when it happens out there in the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, but when you finally reach the finish line, you feel like you’ve been mauled by something. Even the finisher’s buckle is a bit sinister, like a shiny tick with fangs. I was afraid to leave it out next to my bed for fear it would be attached to my butt in the morning.
Actually the course showcases the best trails and locations in the Saddleback Mountain area, including Trabuco Canyon, Holy Jim Canyon, Bear Springs, Santiago Peak, and Silverado Canyon. The hills and forests have been the home of Native Americans for ten thousand years, and then witnessed the encroachment of the Spanish, an influx of American miners, and finally a wave of beekeepers. One of the early beekeepers and fig raisers was Holy Jim, whose name reflected a surveyor’s desire to avoid calling the place “Cussin’ Jim” canyon. It was said when Jim started cussing, “he could peel paint off a stove pipe.” His canyon is now filled with a weird collection of 1930s built cabins that you glide by late in the night. The beehives, incidentally, attracted the grizzly bears living in the area. They leant their name to Bear Springs. The last grizzly known in the area was hunted down in 1907 for the crime of destroying beehives.
Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountain range. It’s called the “talking mountain” because of all the antennas and transmitting stations clustered on top. Two trips to the summit help ratchet up the difficulty of the race as does the many miles of rutted jeep road and trail liberally sprinkled with loose rock.
But as far as challenging segments of the course, it’s hard to beat the seven mile trip down to the bottom of the ridge to the town of Corona and back to the top that comes at about mile 80. On the way down, you look out over a twisting maze of jeep road that descends forever and I swear looks like an M. C. Escher print complete with tiny runners moving along the maze. You wonder what in the world they were thinking when they built this road. Something like, “Okay, let’s build a road that defies all logic and maybe someday it will come near the end of a hundred mile run.” The only saving grace for this part of the course was the breakfast in a sandwich I got at the aid station at the bottom. Imagine toast wrapped around a pile of scrambled eggs, sausage, and chunks of potato…a real life saver.
The race began literally in a cloud which was hunkered down over the start/finish area all morning. My rain gear was all stowed safely in my closet back home thanks to a glowing series of weather forecasts. At five in the morning, cold fog and rain greeted the runners who wouldn’t even come out from under shelter to hear the pre-race briefing. The race start was postponed a half an hour for fear that the first stretch of technical trail would prove too treacherous when you added the dark to the mud, slime and fog. This threw my race plan off by half an hour but gave me hours of distraction out there on the course trying to figure out when and where I was supposed to be in the plan. We looped back to the start/finish and the cloud twice at 11 miles and 33 miles which gave us access to our cars and all the warm clothes that were in the trunk rather than in drop bags and were not supposed to be necessary. Then we went off into the death trap part of the course, the Trabuco Trail, Holy Jim, Bear Springs, Maple Springs, Santiago Peak, Silverado Canyon, Indian Truck Trail, and finally home. Much of the landscape is unique: scrub forest canyons with huge rounded boulders scattered all around.
Support on the course was terrific. Soup and quesadillas filled the night, and breakfast items were a highlight at the later aid stations. I vaguely recall eating a quesadilla/bacon sandwich, two quesadillas with three strips of thick bacon clamped between them. Race Director Steve Harvey and all his support staff make no bones about putting on a tough event, but they deliver all the aid, comfort, equipment and supplies to make Chimera a great ultra experience.
The term “chimera” has been generalized beyond referring to a mythical beast made up of different animal parts. Chimera can now apply to anything that is “wildly imaginative or implausible.” That describes this race perfectly…wildly imaginative and implausible. Celebrities used to escape old time Hollywood by building homes in the nearby town of Lake Elsinore. One of those homes, still standing, belonged to Dracula actor Bela Lugosi. That figures.