This is the second year in a row that I have volunteered at the Duncan Canyon aid station at mile 24 of the Western States 100. Our club, Quicksilver, has the responsibility/privilege to provide all of the expected aid to the racers at mile 24. The club turns this into a really fun event. The fact that Duncan Canyon is actually quite remote makes it even more fun. Generally, to be able to help out on Saturday morning, you need to camp out the night before. The ridge we camp on is a beautiful place that overlooks the mountains in the high country and the French Reservoir. Each year the club has a "theme" where we dress up and try to make a festive atmosphere to greet the runners. This year we had a "Hoe Down". Being from Kansas gave me an edge on to what that might actually mean...
Last year it was a cool year at Western States. When we camped on the ridge it was heaven! Nice and cool, no mosquitos, fires allowed. It was simply awesome. Until the next day. Sometime during the night the rain storms came and drenched us pretty good. Then it stayed cold, wet, and miserable, all morning long. Most of the time the volunteers huddled under the various canopies that were set up to try and get some warms and stay out of the wet. I got to be one of the parking coordinators for the first couple of hours, so I missed the front runners coming through the aid station. It was my first year, so that is just the way it works. But one of the highlights for sure is watching the top runners in the sport bringing their "A" game to the big show. After parking coordination I got to help out filling bottles. That is when things get exciting.
This year was a hot year. Total contrast to last year. It was warm when I got there Friday evening, and the mosquitos were out full force. I had been looking into mosquito repellant and it seems like the effective stuff is DEET, but an unfortunate side effect of the comical is that it disintegrates synthetic fabrics. Basically everything I wear now is synthetic! Oh well, gotta learn to deal with them sometime. No fires allowed this year (which would have totally helped out with the mosquitos). Nonetheless, once the sun set, the party was into full effect. I had a great time mingling and hanging out with the club-mates, talking ultra-running until we passed out.
The morning starts at 7 a.m. and everyone chows down on some breakfast. There is the awesome scent of eggs and bacon frying, various pastries laid out, the coffee brewing, etc. It is a glorious start to an exciting day. At some point during breakfast the betting starts. Everyone is allowed to guess the minute when the first runner will come through the aid station. One dollar gets you in. Then the breakfast stuff gets put away and you get down to business setting up the various tables with gu-brew, water, and the various ultra-fare expected at the aid stations. We also set up a sponge-down station, fully stocked with ice water, to cool off the runners as they prepare for what might be considered the toughest part of the race: the canyons.
Somewhere between 8 and 9 the front runners start filtering through. This year I had the privilege of being a "runner handler". This entailed waiting in a line of other handlers until it was my turn to take care of the next runner coming down the hill. Basically you do everything in your power to make sure the runner gets what they need, as fast as possible, and get them through the aid station. This bottle gets water, that bottle gets gu-brew. Oh and can I get some ice in my bandana? I need to sit down for a second, get me a PB&J and some M&Ms... Do you have a med person? I have a few cuts that need taken care of. There are plenty of requests, and it is the job of the handler to coordinate getting the runner what they need.
We had an awesome MC this year. Usually our charismatic racing team leader, Greg Lanctot, is the natural fit. But he was unavailable because he was actually running the race. So in his stead we enlisted a tiny little girl, maybe eight or nine years old. She was incredible. We gave her the mic and stood her on a big log, and she stayed there for four hours, blurting out the most hilarious and entertaining stuff I have ever heard, all with an exaggerated country twang:
"This here is a hoe down folks! It's the best one I have ever been to. It's the only one I have ever been to!"
"Wow, look the those shoes! Those are the most colorful shoes I have ever seen."
In addition to the awesome MC, we had a state-champion banjo player (and runner), putting out some great stuff. I was impressed with his tenacity to keep picking away as the runners kept filtering through. It made it a special event for sure.
The final cutoff for the aid station is 12:00 noon. At that time, the race official, blows an air-horn and everyone still out on the course is disqualified and their tags are confiscated. This is a sad time and I believe our aid station this year claimed four victims. It is what it is...
After the cut-off we pack everything up and head our respective ways. I still had one more Western States adventure to go for the day: "Pacing Patrick Krott at the 2013 Western States 100". Which will be my next post.
Before I headed to Forresthill for pacing duties though I headed down to the French Reservoir and had a refreshing swim. It was fantastic and just what the doctor ordered for the heat...