Thursday, July 03, 2008

Crew Report: The Western States that wasn't

I intended this post to serve as my first attempt at a "crew report". So many ultrarunners participate in the catharsis of posting race reports on their blogs, and those reports prove to be an excellent way for others to prepare for (or recover from) a race. But there aren't too many firsthand accounts from crew members that help other crew members prepare to keep up with and take care of their runners for the duration of an ultra event. Sometimes interesting stories come not just from the trails, but also from the winding roads that link the aid stations.

Our first view of the Sierra Nevadas—and the pervasive smoke—from the aircraft.

Adrian chills out on her first airplane trip.
"Team Kearney" laid its assault on Sacramento International Airport at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 25. The group consisted of eight individuals from the same Kansas City-area town: Rick Mayo (entered in the 2008 Western States 100 event on the two-time lottery-loser rule); Rick's 13-month-old daughter, Adrian; Adrian's mommy (me); his pacer, Gabe; and Gabe's wife, Tiffanie; and their three fantastic children, Tristan, Corbin, and Ella. We were all already worn out from the 3 a.m. (Central Daylight Time) start to our day, but in good spirits as we collected our rental vehicles, made a stop by the Roseville Wal-Mart (right off I-80 on the north side of Sacramento), grabbed some good fast-Italian food at Pasta Village (just across the parking lot from the Wal-Mart), and drove the additional 1.5 hour to our hotel in Truckee. From the time we stepped off the plane in Sacramento, we were aware of the presence of fires: the sky was a strange, brownish shade of white, and the sweet smell of burning pine and grass hung in the air. The winding drive up I-80 between Auburn and Truckee was beautiful but should have been stunning; each awe-inspiring vista was cut short by the milky air.

Pacer Gabe Bevan pilots the pace vehicle.
The Haze, as seen from I-80 between Auburn and Truckee.

After settling into the rather comfortable Best Western Truckee Tahoe Inn (clean, updated rooms and a full, hot, complimentary breakfast), Rick, Adrian, and I decided to stretch our legs at the Western States starting point in Squaw Valley. It was a very quick and scenic 20-minute drive. When we turned off Hwy 89 into the resort, Rick put in a call on his cell phone to Kansas runner Willie Lambert who was staying in accommodations at Squaw Valley. Just moments after Willie answered the call, the tone of Rick's voice changed and punctured a hole in the bubble of excitement that surrounded us. "You're kidding! Oh no..." Judging from his inflection, someone he knew had either suffered a very serious injury or had died. When he ended the call he relayed the news to me: The race might be canceled.

Rick & Adrian near the WS100 start in Squaw Valley on Wednesday, June 25.
Adrian takes in the bad news.
A sample of the air quality in scenic Squaw Valley Wednesday, June 25.

We spent some time wandering around Squaw Valley, taking in the scenery and the pervasive scent of campfire. The air burned my nose and throat, and I hate to think what it was doing to the baby. I tried to keep an upbeat attitude, saying out loud that maybe the rumors of the cancellation were overblown... maybe the fires weren't as bad as they thought... Rick was quicker to accept the impending news. "They'd better give me a loaner buckle," he said.

We returned to the hotel with the smoky haze enveloping our own minds. I had come there only as a crew person, but I had spent years planning for and anticipating this one event. Simply imagining Rick stepping onto the track in Auburn brought tears to my eyes. My preparation hadn't involved the miles and hours of sacrifice that Rick had endured, but I had prepared mentally to be there for him as much as possible, keep him moving, take care of a 13-month-old for the duration, and—most importantly—I had to get Rick to that track no matter what.

Around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday Rick got the call in our hotel room with the final word: the Western States Endurance Run was canceled.

When you stay in a hotel near an ultrarunning event, it's never difficult to pick out the guests who are there for the race. Particularly after the race. Walking wounded shuffle through the lobby, horde food from the complimentary breakfast, pause on the stairs to catch their breath. Thursday morning in Truckee, you would have thought it was the morning after the race—in a hotel full of runners who DNFed at mile 89. Fit-looking men in shorts, race t-shirts, and ball caps shuffled through the lobby wearing unusually clean-looking trail shoes. They stared at the ground, avoided eye contact. Disappointment in its purest form was palpable.

Blogger's Note — 27 May 2009 — I began writing this report almost one year ago and apparently gave up because the disappointment was still too deep. Rather than leave it unpublished, I will post this now, somewhat unfinished...

The track at Placer High (Auburn) — waiting under orange skies to serve
as the finish line to a race that will be delayed for another year

Rick and Adrian take a somber stroll around the track

Approaching the "finish line"

A reporter from the Auburn Journal interviews Rick

Robie Point

No Hands Bridge

The end of Slinger Mine Road; from here crew people walk about 1/2 mile to the Green Gate aid station.
The road to Green Gate. It's a steep walk down and even steeper walk back up.
I will not be attempting this aid station with Adrian in tow in 2009.

Pretty view from near Green Gate

No Hands Bridge

Part of Granite Chief Wilderness Area. Very pretty.

Adrian and Cowman (and a daisy... and me)

Robie Point

Rick's training run in Squaw Valley

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