Monday, March 16, 2009
Imagine running the 6 Foot Track in March and not seeing another person. Better still, run from the Explorer’s Tree in Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, then turn around and run back and not see one runner. Sometimes you just want to go for a run on a trail. And after a crap run at 6 Foot last year I decided I would get the best of both worlds: I would fly to Sydney to watch the 6 Foot Track Marathon but arrive a day earlier and run an unofficial 12ft Track, solo. Some runs you will always remember. Even without anyone to share my 12ft experience, this was one of those runs: one I will always remember.
Tim dropped me at the Tree as the first light was breaking through the low, thickset mountain cloud cover. I had my ceremonial picture taken in the gloomy shadow of the tree then walked off into the bush at 6:40 am. I was not the least bit concerned about pace. For once I would be just running for the sake of it. No race. Just me and the track.
The steps down Nellies Glenn were slippery and I took my time. Despite walking most of the way, or perhaps because I was walking, I still managed to slip and land fair on my backside. Ouch. Ego hurt more than my rear.
The bird-life was rousing with the breaking light and the whip birds pierced the stillness. Along the sandy white road I managed to ease into a trot but it was clear I was not going to break any speed records today. Care not.
Into the paddocks of Megalong Valley and the dew on the grass was thick. I remembered crunching through frost here on previous authorized 12ft runs in winter. Not today. The humidity was high but the clouds were blocking out the sun. Kangaroos watched me inquisitively before loping off. They cleared the fence effortlessly. I used the stile. I went to hide some coke in the traditional hiding spot in the hollow of the tree at the road crossing but opted for the bushes instead. I had visions of people swarming all over in the evening as they set up for 6ft.
Climbing Pinnacle Hill the sweat started to bead on my nose. The day was warming. The humidity made my damp clothes cling to me. Flocks of Gang Gang parrots swooped past with their staccato cries. The bird life was amazing. I deviated off the track to visit the memorial plaque on a tree on top of the hill: “Robert John Webb 1949-1992 His spirit runs free.” I looked up the valley at the view and reflected on how lucky I was to be out here.
The single track down into the Cox River valley is always a great run. The only impediment: the cobwebs across the track and the occasional gate to open and close behind me. Yellow tail black cockatoos screeched their long wailing calls all around me. Truly magnificent birds. A solitary wallaby took fright and plummeted through the bush to escape. The rumblings of the river could be heard echoing up the valley. I was at one with the trail.
The river was low but I thought I would chance the rocks. They were treacherously slippery and I ended up shimmying across on my bum. Dry feet though. No campers. Empty. The slow drizzle had settled into rain. I sat under the shelter and ate some creamed rice. I checked the tank for water for the return trip and headed off into the hills.
I stashed another coke here. I contemplated 850 runners ploughing through the river then drudging up this hill. The climbing was hot work. The sweat not only dripped from my nose now but also mixed with the rain and dripped from the brim of my cap. The rain eventually stopped but the hill kept going.
Down into Alum Creek valley and my feet got wet at the small river crossings. Kangaroos were out grazing in the dull light. The clouds hung low over the surrounding peaks. I was moving freely now running the downs and flats. The climb up Pluvi was long but not taxing. The track was in great condition. Big spots of rain fell intermittently and I took off my cap to let the cool water splash on my bald pate.
The Black Range road seemed ominously empty. But the wildlife made up for it. Small wallabies occasionally thumped away. A lyrebird scurried from side to side before finding an escape route. Another took off as if it was flying on the run. More black cockatoos serenaded from above. Their huge graceful wing strokes weaving through the treetops as their ‘creaking-door’ like cries rang out. They seemed oblivious to my presence. It was just me and my footprints.
Deviation campground was empty. I refilled my bottles from the tank. Across the Caves Road and the final stretch into Jenolan Caves. Not even any tourists out on the paved trail. I had gone the entire way seeing only one farmer in his ute.
I ordered some lunch and by chance ran into Dog, Bernie, Sarge and Seris so sat and ate in company. A 45-minute break and I had to then carry my overfull stomach back up the steep climb. At the top I met an RFS ute checking the track and I directed them to the only tree across the path. The undulations back to the road crossing eased me into my stride. I decided to put my ipod on and up the pace a little.
More lyrebirds on the Black Range Rd. Or maybe the same ones back again. The rain started coming down. This time real rain. Heavy, soaking rain. Rivulets down my neck. The wide road was awash, turned into a stream with the puddles forming billabongs. The music pumped my legs and the pace kept me warm.
Down Pluvi, picking a path as the trail rushed up to meet me. The small creeks before Mini Mini blended with the wet track. The rain eased and the low clouds hung like halos around the peaks. The climb up Mini was the toughest for the day. The late afternoon light was fading. The distant escarpment was shrouded in white mist. I was cocooned in my own little world amongst the enormity of the landscape. I stopped on the hill where Tim and I had paused on my first run here in 2005. His prophetic words in his race report: “if Whippet were a girl I would have held his hand” as we watched the sunset glow on the escarpment, echoed in my ears. Not this time. I was alone. And the orange glow was replaced with wispy white cloud. But I could not be more at peace.
After the long downhill the coke was a treat. When I entered the Cox River camping area the place was abuzz with RFS people setting up for the race next morning. I wandered through and filled my bottles from the tank. No-one seemed to notice me, almost like I was cloaked. I waded the river and began the long climb back to Megalong Road.
There were no cobwebs and the rain had stopped. I was running hard now. Running up the hills. Well within my comfort zone. Singletrack with just enough technical to make it challenging. The stimulating blend of rock music and coke fuelled me. The fading light added incentive.
The cows in the open paddocks of Pinnacle Hill were not impressed at my intrusion. One decided to follow me. The next turn and a huge bull eyeballed me. His unbroken stare followed my nervous path before him. I scampered across the next stile, relieved. I rang Tim to organise a pick-up. He had a special relationship with these cows and I blamed him for their scary tactics.
It was dark as I reached the road and my last bottle of coke. I resisted my headlight, opting to run in the dim light, feeling the trail with my feet. Once on the long white sandy road towards Nellies Glenn I relented and pulled out my light. I was still running strong, despite the continual climbing. I looked at my watch and realised I was making good time on return. I ran almost to the sign at Nellies then pushed solidly up to the steps. I focused on each step. Each step brought me closer to the top. They went on forever but my stride was unbroken.
Finally the sandstone rocks of the final stretch. I imagined how in but a few hours hundreds would fly down here elbow to elbow. Not me. I had it all to myself. As I jogged the final steps to the tree headlights pulled off the highway and Tim arrived right on que. 9:05. Another photo. Cold, wet, but elated. 849 runners would run the 6ft Track the next day. They would experience a truly great race. I got to experience a truly great trail.