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Barkley Marathons, Outdoors, Running

2008 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 runner who runs runs like no other runner runs. Here’s his trip report from the 2008 race, or at least his part of it, as originally published on Ultra List and also on Matt Mahoney’s great site.

“Chooglin’ Trooglin'” Limmicker

by Rich Limacher

“If you can choose it, who can refuse it,
You all be choogling tonight. Keep on Choogling”
–Creedence Clearwater Revival

All this talk about “Flyin’ Brian” Robinson. Hey. What about those back, way-back of the packers like me, El Troogladour? It probably took me at least five times as long to go one-tenth as far.

I’m talkin’ about the Barkley Marathons this past weekend. Yeow! In the middle of old James Earl Ray’s woods outside the baddest, way-nastiest prison in the State of Tennessee.

[Time Out: Mostly almost everything I write is just silly “jive talk,” or the last remaining exercise of a wandering mind while its host human body declines…. HOWEVER, this paragraph is serious: I have never witnessed an athletic performance such as those of us who remained in the park all Monday afternoon were treated to upon the arrival of, yes, Flyin’ Brian Robinson–running up the pavement to touch The Yellow Gate, thereby signifying the completion of Loop 5. It was astonishing. The man actually RAN and looked better than I’ve seen many looking at finish lines of most 50Ks. He accomplished a full Barkley finish in 55:42:27, which shatters Cave Dog’s (Ted Keizer’s) previous record by one hour and fifteen minutes! Awesome. Godlike. Other worldly!! Brian was also fully lucid, said he did NOT hallucinate once (for which he credited his two brief naps), and had the wherewithal to sign the back of my campsite claiming slip while he was still standing! I asked him, “I’ll bet one thing you NEVER thought of out there was having to write your name when you got back to camp.” “No,” he responded, and gave me an autograph. And so now I know why so many fail at this Barkley race: ya gotta be left-handed! (little humor there) But I’ll leave the details of his triumph to others (like himself!) who are much, much better qualified than I am to comment.]

This year “Chooglin’ Trooglin'” found about two books fewer than even he did last year, which was pretty bad. lazarus lake (apparently uppercase letters are out of fashion at Barkley) told me he’d like to read my “race report” afterwards to see just where in “tha hail” I had gone. He even went so far as to announce to the campfire-sitters that maybe I deserved some kinda award. As he put it, “This is the ONLY guy out there who knows from the very start that he will NEVER at any time during the race know just where in the hell he’s at. And yet he has the courage to start anyway!” Apparently he thinks that’s trophy-worthy. I myself think it’s pretty pathetic.

Well, I started out hustling UP (and up and up and UP-UP-UP) that first mountain, not keeping pace with anybody, although Jim Nelson’s S.O. “Katrina” was right on my ass the whole climb. We talked briefly about how that’s not her real name. My guess is that laz gave her that tag after the hurricane, no doubt because he felt she could simply destroy the course. Awesome! So of course when we got to the summit, I let her pass because I KNEW she KNOWS how to move like a whirlwind through jungles that otherwise destroy mere mortal men.

Leonard (of “Butt Slide” fame) Martin suddenly showed up out of nowhere, also flying uphill, so I let him pass too. (I later found out he usually arrives late, mostly because he lives nearby and prefers to sleep in his own bed–which then nullifies his ability to hear the one-hour-warning conch shell blast.) Anyway, before you could say “Jack” or “Flyin’ Brian” Robinson, I was all by myself on the top of mountain ugly in the forest primeval.

Fortunately (to laz’s chagrin) the Cumberland Trail Association has volunteered to “clean up” (i.e., completely REBUILD) much of the ancient trail that lay before me, so I was able to somehow not get lost for the first couple miles. In fact, I followed that new trail halfway back to camp–right PAST that stupid new sign that says “To Campground ==>” thataway. So then I had to retrace my steps back to the other new sign that said “Trail Closed.” When you see a sign like that at the Barkley, it means: “Ignore The Sign.” The Barkley course goes wherever a “trail” hasn’t been maintained for 75 years.

So, boom. That’s exactly where I BEGAN to not know for many, many hours just where in the hell I was.

Fortunately (to my surprise) Merianne Brittain and Stu Gleman (who probably remembers this trail from 75 years ago–just kiddin’, Stu, please don’t sue me) were also discovered to be lost, too, so all three of us proceeded to BUSHWHACK our way from Bald Knob all the way to Son of a Bitch Ditch. And, boom. That’s where they left me.

At the Garden Spot (dontcha just love these names?) which is choked full of sawbriars, I totally forgot which way to go next. So, because there were three roads in the vicinity, I had to check all three. That takes time, no? After I finally rediscovered the right one, I then had to repeat the entire process to figure out the way up Stallion Mountain, because I found at least three NEW roads there. This takes even more time, yes?

I found that book (#3) all right, but then immediately got lost trying to decipher laz’s “Instructions.” It says (and I’ve got it right here on my desk so I can quote verbatim ): “NOW LOOK AT YOUR MAP. You will see that there are two other peaks on Stallion Mountain, a middle peak, and a south peak. It is very important to follow the directions on this section of the course. There are numerous high walls where you could fall to your death!”

( O_O )

OK, I did gulp a little, but I’ve been here before and surprisingly haven’t died, so I kinda-sorta now think this is baloney. I “know” that the way off this thing is through the thorns. “Sawbriars ripped my flesh.” (Wasn’t that a Mothers of Invention album title?) Anyway, bleeding arms, legs, and hands are better than Search-and-Rescue discovering your pale bloated corpse about three weeks into the future, so down I plummet into the sawbriars.

All right, so now will you tell me please: what in the heck is the difference between a “coal road,” a “jeep road,” a “haul road,” a “mine road,” an “old road,” a “game trail,” a “4-wheeler track,” and a “traverse”? THEY ARE ALL THE FRICKING SAME!!!!! AND… they are all invisible to the naked Yankee eye.

For that matter, what’s a “ridge,” “ridgeline,” “bench,” “saddle,” “draw,” “hollow,” “dirt bank,” or “point”?

Do ya get MY point?

Besides, that “middle peak” in the foregoing Instructions? There is no middle peak. It’s been strip-mined. The map we use was printed BEFORE the strip-mining. For that matter, the “south peak” isn’t called “south peak” anymore either. It has since been renamed to “honor” the Tennessee fat-cat politico that tried to shut our race down in 2002-03–and it also isn’t even very “south” (at least not from where I was standing).

So, yeah, I’m supposed to go down “one level” to a “bench” through “a lot of grassy, marshy areas” and follow a “jeep road” through a “saddle” that leads past a non-existent “middle peak” on up a “road” to the top of some mountain where the rattlesnakes live–and search out a “downed tree” which is due west from where I’m supposed to be standing when I get there.


And after I find that fallen tree, there in the “hollow under the root ball” I’ll find the rattlesnake den where BOOK 4 is.


One full hour-and-a-half later… I’m staring at: a little tree, lying on its side, surrounded by trappings of previous runners (a half-full water bottle, a bag full of white pills… huh?) and there in the dirt pit where the roots used to be is an old soggy book inside a rotten plastic bag–WITH ALMOST ALL THE PAGES MISSING!!! The page I am to tear out of it… ISN’T THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!

[I learn later, of course–ALL of this is ALWAYS learned “later”–that that original book wasn’t even there for our leader Flyin’ Brian (apparently some hikers? hunters? poachers? meth lab manufacturers??? had found the book and absconded with it) so my buddy Dave Hughes had gone to the trouble to retrieve last year’s book (!!!) with all last year’s pages missing and place it there instead. Thanks, pal. ;-]

So what I did was remove the unpaginated dedication page, along with a chunk of the back cover to prove the identity of the book. And I still have them both–right here! Because laz doesn’t even want to see whatever you’ve ripped out of any books–if you fail to finish any loop under the cutoff. So, again, I can quote: “Who shall stand guard to the guards themselves? –Juvenal.” And this gem: “Tyranny is always better organized than freedom. –Péguy.” Yo, frontmatter to a paperback book called “The Endless Game” by Bryan Forbes.

Maybe my problem is stopping to read too much? Ya think??

Ah, and from there my whole day went completely downhill. I hacked for miles and miles and miles down through relentless thorns and over impossible cliffs, butt-sliding all the way. Those running “pants” I wore are now in pieces inside my garage.

I tried and tried and TRIED to understand what laz wrote, but even still have no clue. When I tried to “follow the park boundary” down to the New River and cross over to the turnoff alongside Highway 116, I found ONE boundary marker, TWO New Rivers, and got onto the Highway about a half-a-mile past where I was supposed to be. How did I know which way (north or south) alongside Hwy 116 I was from the “turnoff”? (I.e., in English “turnoff” means “scenic overlook” or PARKING PLACE. Everyone knows you can do a turnoff with your car almost anywhere you’d like alongside ANY road in AMERICA!!!) Well, it’s easy, isn’t it? You simply go one-half mile in BOTH DIRECTIONS. The last direction you chose will be the right one.

Omigod, it was really getting late into the afternoon by the time I climbed up the next hill from which I was next supposed to climb up the “hill.” That would be: the Testicle Spectacle. I’m told that the way THAT got its name was from the Barkley-new-course-rerouting-exploration gentleman who first beheld that behemoth and immediately made the Jewish “sign of the cross” (touching all locations as you move your hand): “spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch.”

But of course you can’t just stand there and crane your neck ever upwards toward infinity. No, you first have to find your next book… which is, as I read: “Where the old road turns to follow the power lines, there is a small marshy area on your right. Behind the marshy area is a dead tree trunk, still standing, right in front of a big old white tree. The big white tree has a visible hollow at the bottom, and BOOK 5 is in that hollow.”


Do you KNOW how many INFINITELY different ways that passage CAN (in English) be interpreted? Like, still in wintertime, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH TREES ARE DEAD? None of ’em have any leaves! And can ya dig how many “white” trees there are in a forest? None? Probably. How many “still standing” tree trunks are there? Like, ALL OF THEM!!!!!!! “A small marshy area”? Like, every single mud puddle? Where some “old road” follows under some power lines? Eh?? Well, hey, I did find the power lines (those are pretty obvious). BUT HOW IN THE FRIGG WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THERE WERE TWO FRICKIN’ “OLD ROADS”??? One was apparently right by a “waterfall” which, to this day, I still have never seen.

Well, friends, I spent WELL OVER ANOTHER HOUR right [smack] there nearby those freaking power lines, looking for any moisture, checking each and every tree (both dead or alive or “hollow” and standing and fallen), gawking in vain at the top of the Testicle, and ransacking all the sawbriars for any ancient evidence that water once fell there.


Not a damn #!!%*!!&*##!!!’n clue.

Until I basically just gave up and started my sojourn UP the titanic HILL… and had to walk about a quarter of a mile even to get to its bottom. When, boom: right <spit> THERE, well off to the side of the “trail” which was already a large part of a mile from where the “old road” first turned under those power lines… there was the marshy area. And over yonder, filling your shoes first with mud, was some stupid hollowed-out tree trunk with a damned plastic baggie inside.

That pretty much did me in right there. I looked at my watch. I looked at my map. I was tempted to throw my Instructions into the marsh.

I had less than two hours to finish the second half of a so-called 20-mile loop. And I’d done that before (in 2003, I think) so I already KNEW what hill-topping, briar-infested, steep-ass climbs all THAT held in store–plus getting lost again in the “Limacher Hilton” which is where I spent my very first complete night, lost, shivering on the course–so it basically became a “no brainer.” I was heading back to camp.

But… ya had to climb either the Testicle or Highway 116 anyway to get to the top where, yes, a ROAD was that eventually led to my fave “candyass trail” that zooms me straight back to yummy barbecued Barkley chicken. So, what the hell, I chose the Testicle. Maybe that was because I already had the other one safely inside my Jewish bargain ripped-to-shreds pants.

It took forever, of course. That sucker is STEEP! But about 50 feet from the top of just the first pitch, the all-night-and-lots-of-today’s RAIN had converted that dirt slope into one hellacious MUD SLIDE. And… I… physically… could… NOT… get my whole body UP it.

I’d step, and the shoe would slide back down. I’d step again, and the whole leg would plummet farther down than the previous shoe was. I would grab something to hold onto… and, BOOM: it was a sawbriar. [I sit here happily happily keyboarding today–with puncture wounds in both hands.] You get the picture. Probably one WHOLE ADDITIONAL TOTAL HOUR LATER… I finally clawed my way to the top.

And there was the decision “point”: Off to my left was a road that led nowhere (actually towards the top of yet another mountain we were all worried about being added to the course before the start). Off to my right was the road back to camp. Down, about 2,000 feet below my feet, was the way “of good intentions… paved all the way to hell.” I already KNEW what’s down there, and also that, from THERE, to get back to camp was yet another nasty, horrible, ugly, sawbriar-infested mountain-climb called “Rat Jaw.” (Dontcha just “love” these NAMES?) From down there (now called “Meth Lab Hill”) it was easily another FOUR HOURS back to chicken, and probably nobody’d still be awake cooking any. No brainer, whammo: I turned right almost immediately.

“I am not done with this race that eats its young” –Annelise LeCheminant

Back in camp the feast came easy. First, of course, the course was very highly praised for eating me, but then following “Taps” and all manner of psychological abuse came my turn to chow down on Barry Barkley’s donated chicken. And–a bonus!–I now had lots and lots of time to cook it myself.

Some credit is due here to Andras Low, who had flown into Nashville–from Hungary!–and gotten a ride from good ol’ lazarus himself. That meant that he’d be riding shotgun when the two of them visited Barkley’s Farm (see my “take” on THAT in THIS: http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/01rich.txt) in order to pick up Barry’s sponsored cases of frozen fryer quarters. So Andras took a few digital photos, and that’s how I’ve finally come to see proof that the man indeed exists.

He’s pretty short! And, laz sez, he’d gotten his ankle busted up pretty good, courtesy of the U.S. military, so Farmer Barkley isn’t likely to be running any race named after himself any time soon. However, he makes up for physical condition by farming size. Cryminnie! laz sez he’s used to raising way over 100,000 chickens at a pop. But NOW, he sez, Barkley’s changing over from chicken breeding to egg harvesting. Thankfully, though, he can still cough up once a year with several cases of dark meat. [Thank you, Barry! :]

Maybe next year… hard-boiled eggs instead? Eggs Benedict? Eggs Barkley??

Life (yes, LIFE!!!!!) in camp has been elsewhere chronicled (see, for example, my companion piece “1,000 Words = Better Than 1 Picture” which is sorta-kinda s’posed ta be like an appendix to this piece here) but now I gotta tell y’all about a way better sweeter treat: there’s now a musician in Jim Nelson’s extended family, and her name follows her quotation just above. [She’s “Katrina’s” sister.]

And that lyric, my incredulous though very lucky friends, is the refrain from her new song, just composed, called (I think) “The Race.” She sang it for us! And it, like she, is absolutely beautiful.

If you go to her website (http://www.annelise.us/Home.html) and click on “Cool Stuff,” you’ll find it listed there. You can also click around the site and find sample “soundbyte” clips of her singing several other original songs. So don’t just take my word for her talents, check them out for yourselves. But there’s no soundbyte of her singing our Barkley song… although she promises it will be on her next album “Driven” to be released this summer–which y’all can now preorder via her website. [And, hey, for alla you T-shirt designers out there, she’s even sponsoring a contest to design one for this upcoming release. Check it out!]

She gave us a wonderful performance, sitting on a boulder by the campfire, and strumming her acoustic guitar. If I was still single, I’d’ve asked for a date. [I’m thinkin’, though, that my tent is older than she is!]

Frozen Ed was there (he who gave his name so that the park could be born 😉 as was Jim Nelson himself. What lucky guys those guys! Ed served with the Confederacy and Jim has already FINISHED this race!

Other way-blazing-FAST folks came to Frozen Ed State Park from as far away as London, England, and South Africa, Africa! Our rep from the U.K. told us that British shoes are for sale HERE cheaper than they are in England! And Matt Mahoney still doesn’t wear any!

( O_O )

[Just kiddin’, Matt. Please don’t sue me. ;]

Other veterans, like Leonard Martin and Kerry Trammell (“just visiting”), came all the way over from Oak Ridge. New longest-time-taken-to-quit record holder, Dan Baglione [thank YOU, Daniel!!!!!!!! ;-], drove down from nearby California.

Blake Wood, another alumnus (2001 FINISHER!), came a short ways from neighboring New Mexico, bringing his family with him. Always great to see, and keep re-seeing, all these fine folks!

So, with all these powerhouses sitting in the bleachers there at the end, it’s no wonder why Flyin’ Brian had such cheerleading goin’ on! Man, it was a positive THRONG that was there for his history-making finish. Wow! I’m thinkin’ their standing-ovation applause for the 7th Finisher ever in history might’ve been heard in neighboring Anderson County! (Probably not all that amazing. Most of the Barkley course is in Morgan County. But I, of course, was in Anderson County two days before–before quitting, that is. 🙁

Hell, I might’ve even been in Nashville–which is 150 miles to the west!

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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