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Barkley Marathons, Outdoors, Running

2003 Barkley Race Report by Rich Limacher

Barkley Yellow gate

The Yellow Gate, Courtesy of Finally Found Something I love

Rich “The Troubadour” Limacher (aka scRitch) is a multiyear alumni of the Barkley Marathons, and occasional chicken cook. Here’s his trip report from the 2003 race, as originally published on Ultra List and also on Matt Mahoney’s great site.

History-Making at the Barkley:
A Personal Perspective

by Rich Limacher

I wanna give you all a lotta rope, a pair of crampons, a coupla carabiners, maybe an ice ax, and meet me out front of the Sears Tower in Chicago’s Loop.

Now, let’s climb it.

Who’s ready?

Never mind the legalese of the thing, the cops, the robbers, the lovers, muggers, and thieves. Let’s all just for the next three days do something, like, we wouldn’t and shouldn’t and couldn’t ever even imagine attempting to try in our lifetimes. Well, that’s just about exactly what Teddy “Cave Dog” Keizer has just now done.

He’s a young man who never even pinned a bib on to try to run a 5K race, and now he holds the undisputed course record for the Barkley Marathons.

Well, now. Maybe the pundits had it right all along. The Barkley is not a footrace. Maybe it’s taken a mountaineer to show us all what sort of event this thing really is. For example, most of us runners do not routinely imagine ourselves clawing hand-over-hand scaling cliffs and peaks. So, I’m guessing, the vast majority of us clawing our way up either (pick one) the Sears Tower or Little Hell for the fifth time would probably drop like a stone. For Teddy, though, it’s different. “Cave Dog” has *mostly* clawed his way up and down nature’s own towers that terrify. It was just running, I guess, that he didn’t do much of in his training so far. And guess what? His training was perfect for the Barkley.

This is not intended in the slightest to minimize his achievement. Quite the contrary. So let me now rephrase all this along a brand-new track called: making history.

I take some small comfort in some little-known facts that I have witnessed a bit of it in my lifetime. For example, I once tried to read the Magna Carta (in Latin) when the U.K. lent it to the U.S. during our nation’s bicentennial year, and it was put on display in the rotunda of our Capitol. I couldn’t decipher a single word. Later that year, on July 4th, I witnessed Johnny Cash ring “The Bell of Freedom” 200 times near the Washington Monument. Just a little prior to 1976, I’m thinking, Ted E. Keizer was born–although, of course, for that I could not be a witness.

Years and years later, I actually beat Cosmas Ndeti in the Chicago Marathon, because he DNF’d. Some time after that, I witnessed Ann Trason herself not finishing Sunmart, standing there by the side of the trail while I slogged by in wide-eyed disbelief. And some years after that, it befell my lot in life to abandon my running experience altogether as a sacrificial virgin at the Barkley. But while I was there, I witnessed Sue Johnston go farther than any other woman in history, and the next morning I watched Blake Wood and David Horton stagger down the road to begin their own historical fifth loop. All, all of these sterling people are tremendous champions, and it has been my privilege in life to stand wide-eyed on the sidelines and witness their heroism.

So now, what, just a couple of days ago, I watched another sterling young man approach me and Herb at the campsite, extend his hand in friendship, and say, “Hi. I’m Cave Dog.” That historical moment was not, and should not be, taken lightly. I had never before in my life shaken the hand of a cave dweller named “Dog.” And I now tend to think none of my cave dwelling ancestors ever did either. Generally in those days, distinctions were made between men and dogs–presumably so as to be able to tell them apart.

Naturally it set me to wondering what this own young man’s history might be to have earned such nomenclature. Perhaps the dude’s into spelunking? Maybe his claim to fame might’ve been running the entire expanse of Mammoth Cave on all fours? Without lights? Navigating only by tongue?

Nah, you think I’m making light of making his acquaintance. Actually (I should know) nicknames are very important to the ultra community. After all, wasn’t this foot”race” itself invented by “lazarus lake” and “Raw Dog”? And frequented frequently by the likes of “Frozen Ed,” “Trail Dog,” “Mountain Goat,” “Dirt,” “GodBLESS,” and lately by the likes of “Spyder, the Psychorunner,” “The Mathineer,” and “Redneck Wisdom” himself? So, for sure, “Cave Dog” fits right in.

Immediately I had a lot of respect for this young man. He told us he’d been camping there since, I believe, March 10th. Every day (and two different nights) he’d gone out and scouted the course in both directions. All he had to go on, I’m guessing, is the Frozen Head contour map and the set of the last Barkley’s “instructions.” These instructions, by the way, are written by “lazarus lake” and contain quite a few immortal phrases in their own write, such as:

At the base of the triple forked tree is a large rock. Book 3 is under that rock.


On this section there are a number of High Walls and Cliffs, so you need to be very careful. When Raw Dog & I went down, we found the best route to be following the straight line till we were above the first high wall (DO NOT GET TOO CLOSE OR YOU COULD FALL OFF AND DIE).


Go back to the power line and look uphill. See the cleared path under it? Is that steep, or what?


Think about the prisoners who used to be housed at the bottom, and marched up this trail each day to work these mines. See, you don’t have it so bad after all. But exercise caution. Here and there, now and then, the old mine shafts are open at the surface. If you fall in one, we will not find you till you start to smell.

and finally, of course,

Continue up the same trail. Remember Little Hell? Well, take comfort. They call this one Big Hell. All you have to do is keep choosing the steepest way up the mountain…. Keep taking the steepest possible way until you believe that death is imminent.

To a young sniffer-outer like Cave Dog, I’m thinking that words like these wouldn’t faze him much, relying instead upon the detail of the map. To a jaded old chronicler like myself, however, those words mean everything. I still to this day can’t decipher the map, which I believe is old enough by itself to be written in Latin.

Anyway, Herb “Redneck Wisdom” Hedgecock and I were both impressed by the young Dog’s diligence. And we asked him, of course, what he did for a living.

“I’m a bum,” he said.

Right. I’m thinking he must be to hoboism what Einstein was to haberdashery. Nobody on earth will give one rat’s jaw how either one was employed when they rewrote history as we understood it.

“Actually, I just do odd jobs when I need them,” he said, “to finance my next adventure.”

Herb and I were tempted to (and, in fact, probably did) grumble between ourselves something to the effect that, “Hey, it must be nice, huh? To have no life or responsibilities and just bum around the country setting human endurance records.” Well, what other sort of grumblings would you expect from weathered old hard-bitten school teachers who’ve been married a few times, lost their asses in the legal system, and struggle daily to reaffirm their dignity by excelling at stuff nobody cares about? I admit, sometimes I feel like an old hunchbacked stamp collector who’s just found the rare Transylvanian wolfman stamp that was cancelled the same year the Magna Carta was signed. Nary a man rejoiceth, save I.

Well, maybe I’ll find more rejoicers now that we’ve all found Cave Dog. Go ahead, check out the man’s website at: www.thedogteam.com. This young Dog is already famous–just, perhaps, in a different venue. And now that he’s proved once and for all just what sort of sport the Barkley is, my next guess is that a ton of us running folk are gonna start climbing.

I remember saying to anyone who’d listen down there in Frozen Head, “If Cave Dog can actually do this, I know everybody’s gonna be happy as hell about it, except one guy. And guess who he is.”

Maybe it’s just human nature to grouse and grumble when some young upstart comes along and wipes the slate clean, totally blowing away everything all the previous champions worked for years and years and years to accomplish. Look, for example, at Tiger Woods in golf, or the Williams sisters in tennis, or Michael Jordan in basketball. For that matter, consider what Mozart did to music in his day, or, the Beatles in our own. (Well, in some of us’s day anyway. I’m guessing Cave Dog might just think “the revolution” started with Eminem.) [That’s a joke!] (What I’m realizing more is that our newly crowned Barkley King probably doesn’t spend a whole lot of time stopping his run to change CDs in his Walkman.)

Here is the real pity of it all. The fact is, Cave Dog should now, or soon, be RICH! The stratospheric nature of his recent achievement should be rewarded with cash and sports-endorsement contracts mounting to the summit of Rat’s Jaw itself. He has single-handedly rewritten the history of what human beings can accomplish. His feat staggers the imagination. During a race in the most miserable conditions previously known to Tennessee man, he not only damn near doubled the distance covered by his closest competitors, but he did it all–all by himself–in record time. Not only that, but the course, of course, was changed (for the MUCH worse) this year, adding extensively to everybody’s time! And here this kid comes along and obliterates all previous performances by a couple of hours! And every other one of his competitors QUIT! But they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, whimps. Trust me. I stand in humble awe of anyone who made even eight books! Hell, I stand in awe of anyone who collected ONE PAGE! Actually I appreciate and applaud anyone with guts enough to go beyond that damned yellow gate!

But don’t you see? Why shouldn’t Cave Dog’s picture be on OUR box of Wheaties? What should he EVER have to worry about doing “odd jobs” in the future for? This man deserves all the riches we Riches could spend on him! (Of course, if he’s waiting on me, he won’t want to give up his day odd-job yet, eh?) Here’s the point: every one of the White Sox ball players is a millionaire. But there is no major league ball player alive today–not in baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis, OR music–who could possibly equal the achievement of our newfound ultrahero Cave Dog. And I’ll bet my buck-sixty on that any day of the week!

Maybe we should, after all, start some kind of a “fund.” Hell, if we ALL chipped in a buck-sixty, Cave Dog could have himself quite a prize. You think this man doesn’t deserve it? I’m telling you true, when I myself staggered back to camp on the “candyass trail” after quitting on the mountaintop in a freaking blizzard, I was very, very shocked indeed when good ol’ laz actually shook my hand and told me how busy his bugle had been. I swear, I felt a certain unexpressed sincerity in the R.D.’s manner, something which to me seemed like genuine congratulations that I wasn’t stupid enough to stay out there and die.

So, my new theory is that laz is not at all mocking us by playing “Taps.” It is, I suppose, a kind of reverent praise. He seems rather amazed himself by this annual exercise in pushing the envelope–and extremely grateful to all of us for keeping the Barkley’s forestry “record” perfectly clean: No Barkley runner has ever had to be searched for and rescued. Trust me, this is a big deal among the rangers, politicos, and powers-that-be at Frozen Head State Park. It’s why perhaps they “love” us so much?

All right, so if they love us all for having the sense to quit, how much more worshipful are they of the guy who didn’t–who actually succeeded in laying down a brand-new yardstick by which all future endurance shall be measured.

I’ve met some of those rangers. They are proud as heck. One of the female rangers even promised to run Barkley herself in another two years. Go, Shay!

Gosh, folks. I just can’t say enough good stuff about this shocking new upstart in the running world of “marathons.” Five of ’em. All at the Barkley. All done this year. All finished yesterday. All by one bright shining young star–who didn’t make a golldang dime in the process.

Let me prophesize some. When and if there’s ever a bicentennial for the Barkley Marathons, there ought to be a special bell made in the shape of a cave, and some future progeny, on April Fool’s Day, really ought to ring it 200 times–with a dog bone.

And, well, I’d just like to stand around wide-eyed on the sidelines and write about it.

Yours troubly,
Rich Limacher (a.k.a. “Barkley scRatched”)

Ah, yes. Yankee Folly of the Day: Trying for, oh, thirteen-and-a-half miserable hours in the Rebels’ backyard just to keep up with the Dixie-whistling pace of “Redneck Wisdom.”

Reproduced with permission. If you’d like your Barkley report on the site, just let me know. If you didn’t understand any of the terms, check out the Quick Reference Guide.


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