Headwaters or bust, part two

By Jamie Balke Explore Big Sky Columnist

In my previous column (EBS, Aug. 22) I described day one of the Headwaters Relay, a 232-mile team running race from Three Forks to the headwaters of the Missouri River. The following is my experience on days two and three.

They were hard and sleep deprived days, but also beautiful. My team – the “Bozeman Goats” – made the relay easier to handle, but certain logistical aspects of the race facilitated my well-being and success.

The Goats camped during the race and, anticipating a potent combination of sunscreen and sweat along with a spicy dash of limited-access-to-indoor-plumbing, I made showers a priority. Luckily we didn’t have to use the crude solar camp shower I purchased.

We camped one night in Dillon, where my boyfriend Aaron’s mother invited interested Goats to shower at her house. The second day of the race in Ennis, a kind campground host allowed me to pay for a shower. I’m forever grateful that there was no time limit.

Aaron helped as a support car driver, getting camp ready and allowing my dog Finn to join the adventure. This was both Finn’s first road trip and his first attempt camping with us. Finn, very much a creature of habit, came unglued the first day when my brother John and I left early in the morning to begin the race. By the time we made it to camp that night, he was a pacing, inconsolable wreck.

It wasn’t until the second night that Finn figured out the pattern and was able to relax. He assumed an important role as a lovable, 80-pound, team-therapy dog available for hugging and was an essential asset during the race.

The opportunity to run legs of the relay concurrently was also tremendously helpful, though the decision disqualified us from placing. Since we believed ourselves to be competing for last place anyway, I felt entirely OK with it. Running concurrent legs allowed us to finish at reasonable times in the afternoon on the second and third days. It also elicited surprised exclamations like, “Is that the Goats?” from faster teams that we should have been nowhere near.

On the final day of the race, we ran through the unrelenting beauty of the Gravelly Range, southwest of Cameron. Buoyed by this haunting wildflower-speckled landscape, I was able to complete my final two legs of the race. Being in the Gravellys felt like being on top of the world. By the end, however, I was exhausted, dehydrated, and probably wasn’t running faster than 13-minute miles.

At one point I was yelling, “I am like lightning!” as I slowly passed my cheering teammates and hailed cows along road. When runners inquire how cows are doing, then laugh at how funny it is, they should probably drink more water. I shudder to think what my last leg would have been like without the help of these emotional advantages.

Dramatically underprepared and clearly way out of my league as a runner, I thoroughly enjoyed this race. It was a great adventure, surrounded by wonderful people and beautiful mountain landscapes.

Jamie Balke is still trying to work up the courage to answer “Yes!” when people ask her if she will do this race again. Go Goats!