Running in Ridgecrest with Rios

Running in Ridgecrest with Rios

Fat Ass Race: The name given to a low key run characterized by the phrase “No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps”.

Fat Ass:  A person with large buttocks.

You should never call anyone a fat ass, ever, but if you are a runner, you should most definitely run a fat ass race. Period.

The OTHTC Caballo Blanco Fat Ass Fundraiser was happening on Saturday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Hmmm, this one could be tricky. “Hey Brittany, do you want to do something special on Valentine’s Day? Maybe we can run a Fat Ass race in Ridgecrest? Wait, what!? No! I didn’t just call you that! I promise!” Well…things could only get better from there.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - OTHTC Caballo Blanco 2015We loaded the car and headed east after work on Friday. Even with traffic we pulled into the parking lot behind Cerro Coso Community College just 30 minutes after Luis and Beverley Escobar. The dirt parking lot sits on BLM land so we were able to camp for free. Legendary Race Director (and legendary beer drinker) Chris Rios had cold brews and a hot fire waiting, it was the start of another weekend adventure.

After catching up on the week everyone went to bed and me and Brittany hiked a bottle of wine down to the edge of the parking lot and sprawled out on a dirt berm, looking up at the night sky and the stars shimmering against the pitch black space. We bundled up in sleeping bags that night to stay warm in the cool desert air.

Saturday morning we awoke to cars arriving in the parking lot. Runners from the OTHTC (Over The Hill Track Club) had come out to support this free event and donate to Norawas de Raramuri, the Caballo Blanco foundation supporting the Tarahumara people.

The course was a 5.1 mile loop on BLM land with one water stop at the 2.5 mile mark. Everyone was able to choose their distance, drop some cash in the donation box, and make their way to the starting line where Luis Escobar gave Chris Rios a shotgun to start the race. It was a bit scary, but it went off without a hitch.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - OTHTC Chris Rios
Rios! Be careful!

I ran the first loop with Luis, chatting and enjoying the scenery. California, while still in a severe drought, had received a bit of rain recently. The desert floor was green with lush plant growth and a spattering of purple and yellow wildflowers. The race course consisted of dirt roads and scenic single-track trails. Lost in conversation, I missed a few turns and had to backtrack to stay on course.

We completed the first loop in good time. There were two runners ahead of us, but we were sure that they were in the 10 mile race. Luis and I set out in the reverse direction, counterclockwise, for our second loop. Luis was adding a few course markers for Rios when another runner passed us. He had a running pack on and Luis pushed me, “That guy came out here to win, you better go catch and pass him!” Okay, I was feeling strong so I power hiked the uphills and glided down the other side. I passed him about 2.5 miles into the second loop.

Near the end of the second loop I heard footsteps. Had Luis cranked it up and caught me? Was it the other runner? I was almost 10 miles into the race and I had been expending a lot of energy. Would I be able to keep this up for another 20 miles?

We made the last turn and out of the corner of my eye I could see the other runner. He was sprinting with me to the end of the second loop which I thought was crazy, until we crossed the line and he hit the stop button on his watch and sat down in a chair. Ah, crap. Luis and I had been racing against a 10 mile runner. I still had 20 miles to go and I hoped I’d saved enough energy to finish strong!

I left the aid station for loop three in the clockwise direction and I passed Luis and told him about the 10 mile racer. I still planned to run hard and started my 3rd loop in good spirits. Many of the other runners were completing their 2nd loop counterclockwise so I was able to smile and say hello to everyone else. One of them said, “Hey, your buddy is looking for you up ahead!” What? Who? I only knew Rios and Luis, and Rios was drinking beer at the finish line and Luis was behind me. I pushed on, wondering who they were talking about.

I finally crested a hill and saw Luis in front of me. What the heck?! As I approached he turned around and shook his head, somehow he had missed a turn and ended up right in front of me. Oh well, we were running a fat ass race, not a Western States qualifier.

I finished the 3rd loop strong and even had a chance to chat with Brittany at the half way aid station. She had rolled her ankle but was still able to finish 2 laps. She was planning to grab her yoga mat and head up to the hills to do yoga until I was done with my race.

The 4th loop was counterclockwise and the long, gradual hills finally started taking a toll. I had to walk more which frustrated me mentally. I was doing the calculations constantly to see what it would take to get my PR in the 50K. I was also keeping an eye on the sub 5 hour mark. I was losing time, a few minutes a lap, and I had to stay focused.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Caballo SignI started wondering if the counterclockwise loop was slower, and if I’d have a better chance to PR if I did my last two loops clockwise. I expected my clockwise 5th loop to be faster, but it was a good 10 minutes slower that my previous lap. Ah, what the heck, I grabbed some chips and water and headed out counterclockwise again. I had 52 minutes to finish the last 5.1 miles.

I pushed hard, crossed paths with Luis, and smiled and cheered for everyone as I saw them on the trail. I spent the first half of the final loop climbing slowly, running when I could, power hiking when I couldn’t. I finally had the opportunity to run downhill and had 28 minutes to finish. I opened up my stride and let my legs fly…until I started feeling the cramps. I was dehydrated and needed salt, but it was too late for that, I was now on cramp control.

I tried to hold my legs tight and keep my form consistant. I ran the downs, hiked slowly on the ups, and hit the flat road with 12 minutes left. I covered the last mile and entered the finish area at 4 hours and 54 minutes, my first ever sub 5 hour 50K. (Yeah, I know that 5.1 miles times 6 loops really isn’t an official 50K, but heck…I got lost several times and I decided that the extra running counted and I round up.)

As soon as I finished I collapsed in a chair and drank 3 IPA’s, scarfed down pizza, and cheered on the other finishers. Most runners went home, but several stayed and we enjoyed an afternoon making new friends over pizza and beer. The event was a great success and Rios reported that we had raised more than $1,000 for the Tarahumara people. As soon as the sun set we closed up shop and retreated to bed, ready to get some shuteye from a long hot day.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Camping in Ridgecrest
Sunrise in Ridgecrest with the Silver Bullet and the 2Pugz RV

In the morning it was just Luis and Beverly and Brittany and me. We had coffee and some breakfast and headed out into the desert for photos. I got some pictures of Brittany’s Wildflower tattoo in the Mojave wildflowers. Luis (a professional photographer) took much better photos than me, but I don’t own the rights to them, so all you get is this…

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Brittany May Tattoo
You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free.

We cleaned up camp and headed over to meet Luis and Bev, Chris Rios, George Velasco, and Eric and Jo Kajiwara for breakfast at their favorite spot, Casa Corona. We all had the Mexican Breakfast Buffet, and Rios ordered a Corona. After breakfast we said goodbye to our new friends and drove the Element west for more adventures.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Element in Joshua Trees
Driving through Joshua Trees

We followed highway 178 toward Lake Isabella. On the climb to Walker Pass we drove through a vast spread of Joshua Trees. A few had started blooming, showing the promise of a beautiful floral spectacle in the coming weeks.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - In Joshua Trees
Photobombed by a Joshua Tree!

Lake Isabella is a reservoir on the Kern River, and like most other reservoirs in California, it is desperately low. In 2013 the reservoir was reported to be nearing 10% capacity and as we approached the lake it was shocking to see the historical waterline so high above the dry lake bed. Closed campgrounds stood like ghost towns on dry banks with boat ramps falling hundreds of feet short of the waterline.

We drove to the Kissack Bay Recreation Area and noticed a dirt road that lead into the sandy lake bed. We followed the dusty path past abandoned roads that had been submerged for years. We passed dead trees that had been underwater since before we’d been born and weaved around old tires that had been sunk to create fish habitats where none had been before.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Lake Isabella Lakebed
The dry lake bed of Lake Isabella

We drove to the other side of the shrinking reservoir to find a campground, but the ranger station was closed. We came across a fitting campground 10 miles down the road called “Hobo Campground” and were excited to live there for a night, until we found out that it was closed too. We asked a local where to camp and they suggested a free parking lot a few miles away at the Remington Hot Springs next to the Kern River. Sold.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Kern River Hangout
Watching the Kern River with PBRs

We found a flat space next to a tree and set up home for the night. We packed a bag and hiked down to the hot springs, tested the water, and then found a naturally fashioned rock bench a mile upriver where we could sit and watch the Kern flow. We stayed until nearly sunset and hiked back to the car to get layered up for the cool canyon night. We sat out all evening, talking about life, the world, and how we fit into it before falling asleep to the sounds of the highway across the canyon.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Remington Campsite 2
Home for a night along the Kern River

Monday morning we woke up and packed the house. I had a holiday, but this time we had to be back in Santa Barbara for Brittany’s work. We drove through the rest of the canyon and spilled out into Bakersfield. A few short hours later we were back in Santa Barbara, another amazing weekend of running, making new friends, hanging out with old ones, and adventuring. We drove, we stopped, we ventured down unnamed roads to find out where they lead, and if we didn’t have to be back for work, we’d still be out there. At the same time, we were happy to be home. Santa Barbara really is paradise, and we are lucky call it our base camp. We enjoy hitting the road, almost as much as we enjoy coming home.

More ultramarathon posts here.

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