Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bighorn 100- A pacers perspective.

I got the email from my friend Dan a few months ago. Would I be willing to come to Wyoming and pace him in this race? Emphatically, yes! Plans were made, time requested off from work, items packed, and off we headed, first to Sheridan, and then to Dayton, finally ending up in the mountains.
The scenery was epic and beautiful, in a way similar to, but distinctly different from Colorado. For instance, there is almost no beetle kill pine in the area.
We arrived on Thursday with the race to start Friday morning at 10. Sleep was had, though not of high quality in my case. We attended the prerace briefing in Dayton Friday morning, killed some time, and then delivered our runner to the start.
The first large aid station was at Dry Fork, only a twenty minute drive from where we were staying. Dan thought he'd make it there in about three hours, so we planned to get there in two and change just in case. We passed some beautiful scenery, then pulled into the parking area. Opening the car door brought the sweetest and most intense aroma of wildflowers I have ever experienced. The only thing I could compare it to is opening a jar of wildflower honey and taking a big whiff. It was pretty amazing.
Prettiest parking lot ever?
Wildflowers galore in ever color imaginable.
The race is an out and back, and continues down and out this valley before returning.
Our runner, looking fresh, feeling good.
Dan heading down the valley (red shirt).
Dan's parents were also part of his crew, and we decided to do a short hike in the area.  The weather was nice, overcast and cool, and the area quite enjoyable.
More flowers.
A deer in some sage.
We eventually made our way back to the hotel.  Dan's parents started preparing a pasta dinner for all of us, while I drove down the mountain to get a cell signal and call home.  It was an interesting few days without a cell phone and internet access.  I had brought along some summer reading, a classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
We hung out a bit after dinner before I decided to call it a night and try for some sleep.  My alarm was set for 330am, with the plan to meet Dan at Dry Fork around 500.  I'd have him for the last 18 miles.  Dan's family and Nora, his other pacer, set out for the Jaws aid station at mile 48.  She had volunteered to run with him from mile 48-82, through the night.
Being up all night is one thing, but Dan's dad knocked on the door to my room around 1130pm and told me that it had started raining and the trails had become very muddy.  Therefore, Dan was now expected at Dry Fork no earlier than 7am.  I reset my alarm for 530.
Dan's dad woke me up at 529 saying he wanted to make sure we got there in time; I was in agreement and got ready quickly.  It was raining heavily.  We made the drive to Dry Fork and waited.
In the car.  I didn't bring a physical book, but enjoyed some time reading an ebook on my phone.
At one point the rain stopped, and the sun started to poke out.  Things were looking up!  Then it started to rain again.  Boo.
Dan and Nora arrived around 9.  Sitting in the car, I had thought about alot of the hikes Dan and I had done together, particularly the hard ones where we'd gotten lost, or did big days, or did alot of bushwhacking.  I was thinking about his own life- he has a well paying job right now, but is about to leave it to start his own business and follow a passion.
I was thinking about these things because he'd now been rained on for about ten hours straight in the cold of the night, and I felt these things might provide some inspiration to keep on going.  I got to the aid station to find him in good spirits, joking around and laughing.  Typical Dan!
With just a few steps out of the aid station, he remarked that he'd now run farther than he ever had before.  Awesome!  He did this race in 2016 as well, but dropped out at mile 82 due to injury.  The trail left the aid station in an uphill, so we hiked it.  We were passed here by another hundred mile runner who was running the uphills.  Interesting.
Dan was covered in mud, but things dried out enough for us.
Conditions were pretty good, slightly tacky in most places, some avoidable mud/water in others.  I got lots of photos of the back of his head in pretty amazing scenery.
As usual, we talked about life, nature, or nothing at all.
Here we are dropping down to an aid station before the last major climb, the hill on the right.  The aid stations were so awesome.  All you had to do was hold out your bottle and someone would refill it for you.  Lots of food, snack, and drink options.  Friendly and enthusiastic people were there to help you with whatever you needed.
On the other side of the climb.
Unfortunately, Dan's feet had swollen so much he now had pain running downhill.  We hiked alot of the steeper stuff down.  He needed no encouragement to keep going.
The mountains were inspiration enough for me at least.
As we descended, the air temperature warmed considerably, and the plant life around us changed.  As we entered the valley, things seemed larger and leafier.
That guy I mentioned who ran by us earlier?  We now passed him.  I patted him on the shoulder, and said in passing, "You can do this.  You're pretty close to the end."
"I can do this.  I'm pretty close to the end," he said in return.  He seemed pretty zonked, I hope he made it. 
In the lusher and flatter canyon floor. 
We finally made it to the dirt road.  Since the turn around comes at 48 miles, you have to do four more from the start to make 100, and the road is maybe a mile longer than that.  This has to be hellish, though things are flat and generally trending downhill.

The road that never ends.  Until it does.
I suggested to Dan that we run one of the downhills on the road.  He replied, "Downhills hurt.  Uphills are hard."  We kept walking.  Some little kids were giving out popsicles, which seemed to motivate.  We started running.  We reached pavement and kept running.  Finally saw the bridge near the end of the course and kept running, picking up speed.  He was so close. 
We rounded a corner to applause, and I pointed to my friend who had now run 99.something miles and started clapping myself.  He deserved it all.  One final turn and the finish line was in sight.  I dropped back a few paces, but stayed with him until the end, where I gave him a big hug and my congratulations.  It was impossible not to get swept up in it, and I was so incredibly happy for and proud of him!
It was a pretty awesome experience.  Thanks to Dan's family for being so warm and inviting.  Thanks to Nora for taking the longer, overnight, wet and much more difficult section of pacing.  And thanks to Dan for having me along.  Anytime you need someone in the future, let me know and I'll be there.

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