The Mountain Dew of My Salvation: 20th Anniversary Mountain Mist 50k


Mike Baker,


There is a section of Mountain Mist called the Waterline. It’s a long steady steep climb up the side of a waterfall. I have no idea how high it is but to my mind it’s high enough. Many people were scrambling up it laughing and jostling. I spent my time clinging to rocks, begging God not to let me die.

There was a photographer perched on a rock right near my head when I was going up. She got off two shots tight in my face which I’m sure was clenched much like my body in a tight white fist of horror. I’ve always been afraid of heights.

I have been to Paris six times and never gone above the second platform at the Eiffel Tower because you have to leave the safe enclosure of the elevator and climb stairs. I once made a friend stop his car half way up Lookout Mountain so I could walk back down the road. It seemed safer.

Last Saturday, at Mountain Mist, I had already run 25 miles when I came up on The Waterline. I was leg shaking, quads burning tired from running. I was a dizzy wreck by the time I reached the top of the waterline. I was about to drop.

I had switched from PowerAde to water around mile an hour back. Even without the Waterline climb, I was in a bad place. I had been rushing through aid stations trying to make the cut offs and forgot to really eat anything.

There are three cut offs that matter at Mountain Mist. The first is at mile 17. It was the easiest one to make. The second was at mile 21 but even with the shorter distance I still had to “run” for it. I say “run” for it because I was only moving my body like I was running.

I learned this fact soon after the second cut off when the woman behind me power walked as fast as I could run, settling me back into a hip switching trot, the lady power walker kept me company until the waterline.

The waterline almost broke me. It took everything not to quit from the terror of it and then all I put into getting to there. I came up over the ridgeline and staggered down the trail sure that I would drop even if they let me go on.

And then it happened, a miracle, my friend Dana moseying along the trail drinking a Mountain Dew which he told me later happened completely by chance. He was watching the race, looking at everything, and there I happened to stagger his way. That Mountain Dew made all the difference.

I remember my first ultra. It was a figure eight course with an aid station in the middle. Mrs. Baker crewed for me. I told her that her job was to make sure I ate and drank something at every stop and, no matter I looked like, say that I looked fresh and ready to go.

I popped loose a muscle adhesion in my calf around mile 10. It hurt like nothing I’d ever felt in my life. I came in to the aid station ready to quit. Mrs. Baker gave me a PB and J, a cup of Coke, told me I looked awesome and pushed out the gate and into the race again.

I never had a chance to quit. Dana’s Mountain Dew was just like that. There he was, “Hey man, you want some Mountain Dew?” And before I knew it I was at the aid station under the cut off by a sizable margin and back in the race before I knew what hit me.

The last six miles were a struggle. I had a massive hydration pack failure. I got passed by the same pretty Korean lady who passed me in the last miles of Duncan Ridge. I made it through to mile 29 with 20 minutes to spare before the final “end of the race” cut off.

There Dana was again. This time it was on purpose. He ran me in the last mile or so. I’m not sure if it disqualifies me. I don’t care. He kept telling me jokes and running. It turns out a bunch of folks I knew at the race had waited for me.

I heard them cheering as I came in and then the ominous warning, “Hurry up you have two minutes.” I went from a run to a sprint and finished 8 hours and 28 minutes. It wasn’t my best time but it’s one of my proudest.

I have heard this was the best it’s been at Mountain Mist. The last few years have been not as cold but rainy messy mud fests. It’s easy to think of the things I did wrong. It’s easy to brood on the loss of fitness I’ve had over the last year.

I might fixate on that but I won’t. I finished. That’s something I haven’t done in the last two races. I needed this, as slow as I was, more than just about anything. It comes down to something a volunteer said to me at an aid station. It was a beautiful day for a run.

It’s been a hard running season. I’ve seen my body worn down from too much racing and too much life. They pulled me at Duncan Ridge for missing a cut off. I refused to continue at Ancient Oaks. Going into the Mountain Mist 50k, I needed things to not go wrong. I needed some redemption.

Dana drove us home that night from Huntsville. It was a blurry funny conversation occasionally interrupted by gas stops where I would wander into gas stations still dressed in my beanie, tights and sweaty mud and race bib covered t-shirt. I looked like a black and neon yellow alien.

I remember there was a missing person’s flyer taped to the counter at a gas station in Dothan. The missing fella had been missing since early December. I was so tired I blurted out, “That ain’t good.” The lady behind the counter said she knew him and she shook her head.

I said, “You know he ain’t coming back, right?” She looked at me real cross and said, “You don’t know him.” I told her she was right, I didn’t know him and then left the gas station with my soda. We still had a few more hours in the car before we got home.