Much like any regional motorist's love-hate relationship with scenic Red Mountain Pass, so felt Trevor Gabbard of the 2014 Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival's route around the Grande Sports Complex.
"I liked it," he said, before noting the course's primary U.S. 550-like similarity.
"I didn't like how many switchbacks they did. I didn't walk the course before I ran it, so I kind of ran it 'following,' I guess you could say. Just kind of followed, not knowing what to expect.the switchbacks just never ended. Never ended!"
But they couldn't stop the Bayfield senior late last Friday from clocking a new BHS-best 15:46.260 down in Casa Grande, Ariz., amidst some of the Southwest's best in the eighth annual festival's sole sports sweepstakes division.
Just how good, you ask?
Gabbard, interviewed while wearing a humorous shirt from the massive event reading "Losing is nature's way of telling you 'You suck!'" on the reverse, took 32nd out of 178 finishers, beating 4A Durango's Gordon Gianniny across the line by 0.903 of a second.
"The first mile I was with three kids-they ended up finishing with 14:50s!-and our first mile was 4:40. At Mile Two we were at a ten-minute [pace]," he recalled, "and then I just kind of stuck along with all the people. My (closing) kick, I passed.like, 15! I guess it was just the environment that was there-thousands of people, all cheering."
3A Rio Rico, Arizona's Carlos Villarreal won the run in 14:49.986. The festival draws more than 100 schools from throughout the Southwest competing in multiple divisions of races.
The Wolverines had already made their presence known earlier in the evening. Sloan Mazur strode to victory and proved himself against the region's top rookies in the boys' small-school freshman race. Completing the course in 17:34.59, Mazur was more than three seconds faster than 4A Flagstaff Coconino's Sam Lasley and much faster than the run's other 113 finishers.
"I'm pretty sure everybody P.R.'d. Sloan won the freshman race with.a minute-forty P.R., I think?" said Gabbard. "Joey P.R.'d by 20 seconds, I believe.. Can't think of all the P.R.'s, but we all did really good."
Joining three other teammates in the small-school varsity race, Joey Sandrey placed 255th out of 283 in 21:06.927. Bryan Gram was 231st, registering 20:12.976, Justis Herrera finished 196th in 19:39.947. Alex Knight was 102nd at 18:19.599, missing top-100 status by roughly four ticks.
The Wolverine girls were also classified small-school varsity and were led by Rachel Cooper in 71st at 21:48.830. Bridget Goddard was 109th in 22:41.354, and Amber Johnson took 168th in 24:04.165.
Coconino's Alyssa Gregg took first out of 241 finishers in 19:06.523.
BHS' Lexa Fleming, however, was one of four runners who started but were unable to finish; according to reported race statistics, she withdrew with an ankle injury after a 7:20.493 opening mile.
The Four Corners region's highest placer in any of the divisions, other than Mazur, was 4A Shiprock's Shawan Levi-runner-up in the boys' small-school varsity in 16:12.678.
"It was nice dropping down in elevation and getting that experience," said Gabbard. "Kind of lit the fire in everybody again, getting started training and getting ready for regionals and state." Up next for Bayfield is the 3A-Region I Championships on Oct. 17 in Delta. The state meet is on Oct. 25 in Colorado Springs.