The Bear 100 | Utah & Idaho | September 28, 2012
The Bear is A Bear
By Gary Dudney
The Bear 100 has the feel of an epic journey. It’s point to point through the mountains of the Wasatch-Cache/Unita National Forest, from Logan, Utah, to Fish Haven, Idaho, ending at enormous Bear Lake. No surprise that a single state cannot contain it.
The mountains are bursting with full autumn color: the maple stands run in bands through the canyons and hollows ranging in color from a dark maroon through chartreuse, to bright red, to orange, and even washing out to a delicate pink. Counter bands of aspens flow along the canyon sides contributing light greens, limes and yellows. Then there are the lodge pole pines, the Douglas firs, and the blue spruce keeping the forest green and lapping up toward cliffs of exposed rock on the sheer canyon walls.
The course climbs and descends constantly, traveling through forest at one point, then emerging into open vistas of mountains and high passes. You have a fight on your hands to reach each aid station, especially at night when the 7 or 8 miles between stations can seem endless. And the journey isn’t over until you’ve passed through the crucible of the final tough, tough fifteen miles of the course. There are two extended climbs up a jeep road. The first climb is five long miles done one slow step at a time. The second climb is only about a mile but at an incline that breaks your heart. Then you plunge down from the top of the course at 9,000 feet to the finish at 6,000 feet on a cursed, steep, rutted, rock strewn, hot, dusty, slippery, gritty trail nicknamed Leland’s Ledge that tortures your 95 mile quads and puts you into a very negative frame of mind. The angry squirrels chattering at you on your way down do not help.
Other than this horror show at the end, footing is good throughout the race, with only here and there a short technical section. I wore the same shoes and socks the entire race and had no blisters. Dust can be an issue, especially at the beginning when there are lots of runners churning up the trail and on an occasional section of road where RVs were passing by, so a handkerchief is a good idea. There are no water crossings of note. Temps were moderate. A cool breeze kept the few hot sections manageable and the night stayed this side of frigid, though being inside at the Bear Lodge aid station at mile 76 and having good fires at other stations really helped.
Even the people directing The Bear seem like they’re on some kind of epic journey. Leland Barker had initially just wanted to give runners an alternative to Wasatch but now, in its 14th running, The Bear has become something of a young classic all its own. Co race director Phil Lowry, who usually runs the course along with Leland and Errol Jones, sent in a message to the race briefing from abroad, which revoked all runners’ privilege to be pissed at the course, as one alternative, he wrote, was to be where he was…in Afghanistan. Finally, Errol Jones ennobled the final minutes of the race, sprinting down the home straight to capture the last finisher’s buckle with only a couple of minutes to spare, and receiving heartfelt hugs from his friends.
The venues for the race are also fittingly quirky and memorable. The race briefing in quaint little Sugar Park in Amalga, Utah, was low key. Leland doesn’t give a pep talk. He acknowledges you might not be able to eat at the finish, that you might quit. You don’t get a lot of rah-rah everyone is a finisher stuff, but you do get solid information about the course markings and the trail. Drop bags go to Leland’s Mountain Valley Trout Farm, a little collection of buildings and stock ponds just down the road from Smithfield. The race begins at the Hyrum Gibbons Mt. Logan Park. Logan itself is a beautifully manicured historic, college town without a blade of grass untrimmed or out of place. The campus of Utah State University overlooks the spectacular Cache Valley. The first mile of the run winds up through a prosperous, sleeping neighborhood before you transition onto a trailhead that rises up and up through a canyon. As you ascend, the rising light slowly reveals the awesome beauty of the area until you look back over your shoulder from a great height into the valley you left behind. It’s spectacular.
There always seems to be a moment in every 100 that stands out, that captures the spirit of the race. For me at The Bear, it was in the middle of the night, I was all alone, going up a jeep trail, deep in the quiet dark forest, and out of nowhere there was a wooden sign. It said, “Utah-Idaho State Line.” It seemed momentous to be traveling from state to state. Quite a journey.