Ultra-marathons: Running to Find Stick Bee Guy

By KEVIN TWIDWELL

Some people run ultra-marathons for the physical challenge. Others run them for the endorphins. I run them for the Stick Bee Guy.

In 2001, I signed up for my first 100-mile race, an ultra-marathon called the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. I had done several ultra-marathons (races longer than 26.2 miles) including 50- and 100- kilometer races and a few 50-milers before I decided to make the leap to 100s. Like any good obsessive compulsive, I read whatever was available about running hundreds before toeing the line on a farm outside of Woodstock, Vermont.

Along with all the literature about proper nutrition, trail shoes, blister care, and people who had their toenails surgically and permanently removed to avoid the mess and pain associated with the dreaded black toe, I discovered that some ultra-marathon runners experienced hallucinations on the trails during their races. There were ghost miners on the Leadville Trail in Colorado, miniature gorillas at Western States in California and Godzilla-sized lizards at the Badwater 135 in Death Valley.  Others reported unicorns, roads full of snakes and non-existent ghost runners joining for portions of the race.

This sounded like fun stuff to me, and I was ready to experience a little trail entertainment without the use of meditation or pharmaceuticals. I got my chance after more than 22 hours of trudging up and down the rolling hills of Vermont. As I was running up the last hill before the finish line, I was hot and tired. The Darth Vader of dehydration had set in — about all I could hear was my own heavy breathing through ears plugged by fatigue and lack offluids.

To cajole me across the finish line, my wife had joined me as a pacer for the last 18 miles of the race and was doing her best to keep me from walking. Tracey’s mission was to get me to the finish line before the sun came up, and we were on pace to do that as we struggled the last few miles.

That’s when I saw the midget kangaroo sitting by the side of the trail. Although the furry little guy sure looked real, I was coherent enough to seek some confirmation.

“Uh, Tracey, that is not a kangaroo by the side of the trail, is it?”

“No, there is no kangaroo there, Kevin.”

I smiled, knowing that I had just experienced a hallucination – just like I had read about. Pretty cool. I now had a fun story to tell my friends back home. In fact, I was a bit smug about the fact that I recognized that my mind was playing games with me and I was not really fooled by the vision of the marsupial.  We continued our death-march up the hill when I saw the alligator crawling down the trail toward me, mouth wide open.

“And that is not an alligator in the trail, right?”

“No, there is no alligator.”

We kept going.

I remember congratulating myself on again having the presence of mind to know that I was simply hallucinating and was wondering how people could honestly think their hallucinations were real. I mean, really.  Pshaw. Vermont’s state animal is the Morgan Horse, not the kangaroo or the alligator.

Just when I was feeling mentally superior to my gullible ultra brothers and sisters, I stopped dead in my tracks, startled, shocked and slacked jawed.

“Hey, who’s that guy,” I shouted above my Darth breathing.

“What guy?” Tracey responded.

“That Stick Bee Guy,” I said as I stared with wide eyes at a point just off the right side of the trail.

“What are you talking about?” was herresponse.

I couldn’t understand why she could not see the four-foot tall yellow and black bumble bee dressed in a red and white football letterman’s jacket standing in front of me.  This cartoonish bee-man didn’t have legs but, instead, was supported upright by a stick that extended into the ground.

The best way I can describe him is that he looked like one of those shadow puppets that are popular in Asian countries – the ones where the puppeteer holds the puppet by a stick behind a backlit screen. But this was not a puppet. My Stick Bee Guy had a long nose and was pointing a white-gloved hand down the trail, telling me where I was supposed to run.  He was nodding at me and had a big smile. I liked him very much.

Given Tracey’s ridiculous skepticism, I walked over to Stick Bee Guy and tried to pat him on the shoulder. But my hand passed right through him, and then he was gone. There was no stick. There was no bee. There was no Stick Bee Guy.  I felt only the warm Vermont morning air where my trail companion had been only seconds ago.  I trudged the last few miles to the finish line without saying much, trying to figure out where that Stick Bee Guy could have gone so fast.

Later, under Tracey’s questioning, I reluctantly had to admit that Stick Bee Guy might have been a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep, physical exertion and dehydration. My two young daughters, however, thought it was cool that I got to meet Stick Bee Guy.  For years after that encounter, the kids asked me “Did you see the Stick Bee Guy, dad?” when I came home from a long run or from an ultra-marathon.

I have completed numerous ultras, including four other 100-milers since 2001. Unfortunately, I have never seen Stick Bee Guy again. But I look for him whenever I run ultra-marathons. I miss that little guy, and I still think he is real.

 

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Kevin Twidwell is a partner at the Missoula law firm of Garlington, Lohn & Robinson and likes to run long distances with his friends, dog and imaginarycritters.