Viking Mom

My mom descended from the Vikings. If you had seen her crossing the finish line of the 1998 Bridger Ridge Run you would not doubt this fact. After racing the 20 rugged miles of relentless hills and shoe-shredding scree, her blond hair had unwound from its customary braid into wild tufts, her knees and elbows were covered in blood, and her blown-out quads could not hold her weight. She was wiped, collapsing as she crossed the finish line. But more importantly, she had broken the five-hour barrier with a personal best: 4:52 and change. One finisher, a young man in his twenties, searched the crowd for the bleeding, crazed woman who had sprinted passed him on the way down from Baldy Mountain. She yelled "Track!", elbowed me out of the way, and then accelerated at breakneck speed down the wickedly steep trail past a fellow who was holding onto an old pine tree for dear life. Oh yeah, at the time of the run, my mom was 54 years old.

The results from the race did not surprise me. That summer we had run the classic 25-mile Indian Ridge Loop in the Spanish Peaks in a blistering 5 1/2 hours. That run, which we did ten days before the Ridge Run, I will never forget.

I can remember arriving at the trailhead at six in the morning with not a soul in sight. We had the usual assortment of gear: six GU power gels, a light rain jacket, lip balm, fruit leather, and two water bottles. The water was a point of contention, as my mom hated drinking water on long runs. I had to convince her that it was worth the extra weight.

With two full water bottles each, we headed up the trail, a beautiful dirt single track. My mom let me set the pace, then stayed a fraction of an inch off my heals as we worked our way up into the highlands. Half an hour into the run, my mom began to overheat a bit because she was wearing a black Patagonia polypro shirt. She stopped for a second, ripped the sleeves off, and then kept going in her new tank top as if nothing had happened.

Indian Ridge is a spectacular ridge that runs east to west, just north of Gallatin Peak. It is classic Montana high alpine terrain, with limestone crags poking out through blond grasses and tiny blue flowers dotting every meadow. The ridge rolls fluidly from one hill to the next. The running is pleasant, and even though you have powered up seven or eight miles at this point, the terrain allows you to open it up a bit. As you run, you can gaze out over the Gallatin Valley, or look the other way off into the rugged Madison Range.

We hit the ridge under perfectly clear skies. The wind blew north, across our path, rippling the sea of grass like waves of water. After climbing all the way to the ridge it felt relaxing to lengthen our strides a bit. Mom ran up along side of me.

"Does this ever happen to you?" she asked, extending one of her hands for me to look at. I gulped. Having swollen to almost twice its normal size, it looked a bit like a baseball mitt. At first I thought she was having a systemic allergic reaction. But really she just had been running with her hands below her waist. The centrifugal force from moving her arms back and forth so low had pulled an extraordinary amount of blood into her hands.

"Um, no. Is that a normal occurrence?"

"Yeah, this always happens when I run," she responded in a chipper tone. Typical that she was unmoved. Swollen hands, like physical pain, were merely an annoyance to be shrugged off in the pursuit of the greater goal, finishing the run in good time.

We ran and ran, smiling in the sun, until the ridge dropped out of sight down a steep slope of scree. Following a maze of cairns and goat paths, we worked our way down a precipitous rock chute. The trail markings faded to nothing as we descended. We hopped down the final boulder field into a heavily vegetated marsh thicket. After the fluid running of the ridge, our step-by-step thrash through the forest was real work.

This did not last long, however, as we picked up the trail that ran up Hellroaring toward Summit Lake. After more than three hours, our legs were rubber. Occasionally we post-holed through snow.

"Tired, Mom?" I asked.


"Mouth dry?"


Onward we charged, until at long last we crested the ridge to Summit Lake and saw our descent trail unfold before us as a winding ribbon down to the valley below. I picked up the pace a bit to see if Mom was really tired. I did it again. Soon we were bombing down the steep, rock-strewn, muddy hill like deranged mountain goats. Through creeks and over logs we went, spraying dirt into the air. I think I even giggled a bit. As we approached Spanish Creek and the four miles of flats back to the car, we caught sight of a brown bear darting up the hill.

"Grizzly?" I thought to myself. But we were by it in a flash. By the time we hit the final straightaway with the bridge to the parking lot in sight, we were in a six-minute-mile sprint. My watch read 11:30 – car to car in 5 1/2 hours. We high-fived. My mom’s blond braid looked perfect with not a hair out of line. She barely looked tired. Looking back I realize that that was a sign of what was to come a few weeks later during the Ridge Run. She had an even faster run in her. As we headed back to Bozeman for lunch I glanced over at Mom. As she gazed out over the plains, her eyes struck me as fierce. They were Viking eyes that pierced the horizon, beckoning the next challenge.

Jeg Skal Frem.

I will succeed.

Indian Ridge Equipment List
1 packet of GU power gel per hour
2 liters of water
Water bottle carrier
Fruit leather
Sun visor
Light rain jacket