We’re en route from Lone Pine to the airport in Las Vegas retracing the 135 miles of the Badwater course along the way. Seeing Doug’s feat as a whole, rather than in one mile increments over forty hours, makes it even more impressive. (And it was wildly impressive at the time.) 135 miles on a road through the desert. It had to be strange to know the town distance signs along the highway applied to you. “54 miles to Panamint Springs.” Those kind of distances are for cars.
The weather was not as brutal this year as it usually is. Brutal enough at 116, but not crushing — at least not from my vantage point in the rental van. And it dropped down to 52 overnight. We saw a couple of runners sitting in their crew vans with the heaters on warming up in the wee hours of the morning. Another lesson to expect the unexpected when packing for an ultra. It actually rained the day before we arrived — in Death Valley– and I started to worry that I had become some sort of short rain god. (Nope.)
Most of the crews leapfrogged with their runners in mile increments throughout the day. Pretty much everyone drove a light- colored minivan. Honestly, a family flying into Las Vegas hoping to rent a minivan would have been out of luck. They were all in Death Valley. Each bore placards with the runner’s name and number, so it was easy to track people’s progress. We drove a mile ahead off Doug and then stopped to cool him off and offer cold water and food for about 133 of the 135 miles.
Pull off the road to the right. Turn the hazards on and the headlights off. Turn off the car. Get out and pull out a ice filled scarf, a bottle of ice water, the hand sprayer. Wait. Run down the road to meet Doug once he’s in sight. Yell supportive things. Exchange water bottles and ice scarves. Ask if he wants anything else. Spray his torso and legs with water. Yell supportive things. Cross the road back to the van. Resupply the water bottle with ice and water. Resupply the ice scarf with ice. Refill the hand sprayer. Put everything in the cooler. Close the back hatch. Load back into the van. Engine on. Hazards off. Headlights on. Drive down the highway one mile. Repeat 133 times.
Most crews had two vehicles, so they could split the support duties and take rest breaks. I drove out to Lone Pine (near the end of the race) with Doug’s wife and son, Jazzy and Joseph, during our first break to see if we could get our hands on unclaimed permits to climb Mount Whitney after the race. That’s the original course — the lowest point in the continental US to the highest point on the top of Whitney. 11 more miles and some 6000 feet higher. Amazingly there were three permits and we drove back to Death Valley giddy with the news that Doug could make the full journey. (He did not look particularly giddy when we told him at mile 60ish.) Goals change on a 40 hour journey along a desert road
Doug’s hamburger picture
After Doug finished and headed back down the mountain to the hotel in Lone Pine, Mark, Jason and I stayed at the finish line to cheer in Claire Heid, a Team Red, White & Blue runner.
Watching runners cross the tape after 40+ hours was as awesome and tear-jerking and fun as you would expect. I had all the gear I’d planned to bring up Whitney, so the three of us were warm with a sleeping bag across our laps and happy with beers in our hands. By midnight the finish line was fairly deserted, so we had fun giving everyone a loud Texas welcome. I even got to hold the finish line tape 4 times. (Mark beat me with 5 holds.)
A few crews gave us their cameras and asked us to take pictures when they arrived with their runner. We took the pictures they requested and then some.
The course itself didn’t inspire me to start the application process, but the finish line scene got me thinking — that and the beer and some peer pressure. We’ll see what 2014 brings.
Congratulations to Doug! Simply awesome. Thank you for letting me be part of your day. And congratulations to Claire!! Youngest female finisher ever.