Only 4 racers have completed the 500 mile distance at the Peak Ultra. One of them is Kale “Cleetus” Poland who finished in 9 days. Here are his memories of the event.
After I take the turn from VT-107 to 100, I make a conscious effort to not put the pedal to the floor for the final 13 miles on the way to Pittsfield.
Don’t get me wrong- the small, charming mountains rising up from the river along that road are worthy of gawking at length… but the anticipation of what I am headed to far exceeds my willingness to rubberneck.
The mystique surrounding the trails at Peak is well-known amongst those who make the annual pilgrimage there.
There is an energy within that forest that cannot be denied. I’d been there to witness it multiple times within the past 5 years, but hadn’t truly felt the extent of it on my own until last year, at the Peak 500.
We began on a Thursday afternoon in late May.
Incessant rain dominated our first few days on the trail. We were muddy, constantly wet, and tired. The forest seemed dark and imposing- perhaps compounded by the daunting task that lay ahead.
I believe the sun finally made an appearance on day 3. New England forests in general are very dynamic during this time of year, as everything begins to come back to life after a long winter. This was especially so here on Joe’s Mountain. The flora changed from deep green to bright and vibrant…growing right before our eyes. The grass and ferns, not much taller than ankle-height at the beginning, grew to knee height. Over the final few days, I became almost attached to certain parts of the trail that I’d run or walked by over 40 times, having literally watched them grow over a week and half. A haunting forest suddenly became inviting, even during the final night when things were at their toughest.
A few days after finishing, I chatted with fellow finisher Nick Bautista. We both expressed feelings of difficulty in leaving the trail and assimilating back to the “real” world. After knowing the whereabouts and condition of seemingly every root, rock, and plant, it is very hard to not know how the trail is doing. I know how silly this probably sounds, but when the only thing you have with you are your thoughts, suffering, and nature around you, the attachment becomes very real.
Peak Races are polarizing, but in a good way. You will have some of your worst moments on these trails. There is a good chance you will end up at rock bottom, and you just may stay there for a long, long while….but never forever. The collective energy of this place and the people around it will raise you up.
You will learn, adapt, and then have some of your best moments here- and while those good and bad moments may not last forever, the memories will.
And those memories will change you.