Bighorn Trail 100 | Wyoming | June 15, 2012
Family Affair: The Bighorn Trail 100
By Gary Dudney
The Bighorn Trail 100 is a showcase for Wyoming’s natural beauty and tremendous spirit. The Big Horn Mountains overwhelm you with their vast rock walls, raging rivers, canyons of grassy meadows, and glorious wildflowers, but time and again it was the race organization and execution that kept amazing me. How often do you find that someone has constructed temporary handrails at all the remote little stream crossings where runners might encounter slippery logs? How many times have you seen rows of cups lined up behind neat labels so you don’t have to ask which is the water and which is the sports drink? How often do you have a camera pop out of a pocket out on the trail and have it handed back to you at the awards ceremony?
And if these could be considered just the small details, all the major issues the race directors hit out of the ballpark. I followed the fifty miles of trail on this out and back course pretty much alone without a single misstep thanks to the great course marking job. The aid stations were numerous, well supplied with soup, pizza, quesadillas, and lots more, and fully staffed with very helpful medical personnel wearing red vests so you could immediately fall into their loving arms. At night there were huge bonfires going at every station, even at the two more Spartan stations where everything had been brought in by horseback. The website, the race orientation, the awards ceremony, the catered meals were all first class, and you couldn’t help but notice that lots of the work was being done by little kids helping out their elders. I’ve never been to a race that had more of a family feel to it, a real testament to the women who are the race directors at Bighorn and the husbands and relatives helping them out.
The race starts in the Tongue River Canyon four miles outside of Dayton, Wyoming, and visits the Dry Fork and Little Bighorn River canyons all by singletrack trail and jeep road. I had heard that the course was particularly rugged, but I found the first thirty miles manageable, so I wondered what all the hubbub was about. Then I became the victim of the middle forty miles of the course, which did not disappoint. There were extensive bogs, a forest full of snowy ridge barriers, rocky trails, steep climbs and descents and nowhere to relax your wet, mud encrusted feet. Advice at the race briefing to not bother with shoe and sock changes proved accurate. The shoes I wore got so torn up and muddy I took them off at the finish and threw them straight into the trash.
That you were squarely out West was evident in the fabulous tack stores in Sheridan, the grand hospitality, and the riders you met by chance out on the trail who pulled their horses aside to let you pass. They looked like they could have been riding in a posse looking for the bad guys. At one point, I missed a little bypass trail that had been set up to keep us separated from actual bear hunters that were camping at Bear Camp. There were several horses tied up in the trees, a large canvas tarp making a rough shelter, and two guys, left behind apparently, hauling some kind of huge grill thing up off a large fire with chains. I smiled sheepishly as they watched me slink by. I said, “Don’t shoot,” which made them grin. In fact everybody out there helping, and camping at the remote, packed in aid stations, seemed to have the right gear, the right clothes, the right hats, the right vehicles. You got this feeling that you were in good hands with the people of Wyoming.
An eleven o’clock start on Friday morning also gives the race a unique character. You tackle the first day after a good night’s sleep so you can really enjoy the first fifty miles. Nightfall comes late, around nine o’clock, and the night does not seem as tortuous, since you started later in the day than usual and you’re not so worn down. You get the standard bump out of the coming of daylight on Saturday morning and surprisingly this energy seems to last well into the afternoon when you’re ready to make the last epic five-mile downhill plunge back to the Tongue River Canyon and then run a flat, surreal five miles to the finish at Scott Park in Dayton. An accompanying 50 mile and 50 kilometer race that begins Saturday morning also injects a couple of hundred energetic, talkative runners on the course with you and makes you the hero when you can keep up.
The race makes so many vivid impressions, but a standout for me was a long stretch along the Little Bighorn River. Here you are at 7,000 feet where it seems you should be above most of the drainage. Instead you are running along, sometimes right on the very edge, of a roaring, massive river. There are giant boulders pushing the green-blue water into muscular crashing cascades. The energy coming off the water seems palpable. Runners are all spread out at this point so most of us probably experienced this wonderful place all alone in the solitude of that massive canyon. Just being in that one spot for a few moments, alone, in the midst of the run, for me was worth the trip to Wyoming, the whole hundred miles of tough trail, the sore feet, the hacking cough, the queasy stomach, all the training to get ready, and the aching, painful trip home. Just that one spot. Everything else about the Bighorn Trail 100 was a bonus.