For the ninth year in a row, I managed to weasel my way into the Last Chance aid station at the Western States 100 trail race. It's located at mile 43.3 in a remote area with no cell service.
There's not even a Starbucks.
It's all about the ice (not really)
A big change this year was how we got our ice. In the past, we would pick it up at the WSER warehouse in Auburn on Friday afternoon, drive it up to Last Chance, cover it with tarps and blankets, and hope for minimal melt loss overnight.
This year, they decided to drag an ice trailer up to Dusty Corners (the aid station before ours, about a 3 mile drive that takes a good 20 minutes), which would keep the ice nice and cold Friday night.
On Saturday morning, Amer and I headed over to Dusty Corners to pick up about 1200 pounds of ice.
|Like Hot Potato, but with 20 pound bags of ice and numb fingers.|
|Amer working out how many frozen margaritas he could make with that ice. ("Almost enough" was the answer.)|
|Delivered, covered, and ready for the runners. Or margaritas.|
Just before the runners made it to usMany of us spent Friday night at Last Chance, sleeping in tents or, as in my case, sleeping in our vehicles. The mosquitos were thrilled at all the company.
|"This is the easiest espresso maker ever" said Bonnie as she performed a complicated set of operations that resulted in a small amount of what I was told really was pretty tasty espresso (foam not included).|
|Larry and Megan daring each other to use the Leaning Tower of Porta-Potties.|
|Pre-race meeting. "Since there's no place to plug in the blender, we won't be able to make margaritas."|
|Most of the well over 50 volunteers at this aid station.|
The runners at Last ChanceAs is our recent tradition, the first runner was Jim, well ahead of last year's pace (which was well ahead of the previous year's pace, which was ahead of… you get the idea).
|Jim going to get his bottles filled with Hawaiian Punch.|
|Jim is a big believer in getting as wet as possible before heading out to the first of the canyons. I suspect he would do this even if there were snow drifts across the trail.|
|And he's gone. Less than a minute total, but he got his bottles filled, ate a bit, got soaked, and was gone. Very efficient, very impressive.|
|This thermometer is normally in the sun and normally well above 90º. Not today - the warmest I saw it get was the low 70s. That made convincing some runners that there really was heat ahead a challenge.|
|Runners grazing at the all-you-can-eat buffet.|
|Some volunteers got quite a workout trying to keep up with their runners!|
|First woman runner, Courtney, was not getting brain work done, no matter how much it looks like it in this shot.|
|Megan: "You want ice shoved where???"|
|My favorite runner, the Pixie Ninja, getting wet before heading out to a third place finish!|
|Jesse from Let's Wander Photography stopped by briefly to get a few shots.|
|Emergency Backup Sam, aka John, getting his Popeye arms on. (He told me later that all the ice was gone by the time he made it to the next aid station, Devil's Thumb, which is only 4.5 miles away.|
|Who knew pine needles could be so useful? (Well, maybe Bonnie.)|
|All Day Ken gets the most out of his sponge soaking.|
Just before the cut off, the final runner came through and made it out before the Horn of Doom was sounded. Happily, no runners dropped at our aid station this year!
This signaled that it was time to start tearing down this oasis we had set up, and try to get to the track in Auburn before the winner made it. (We are very isolated, with no cell service, so we know little about what is happening in the race. It's always a dash to get to cell service, reconnect to the outside world, and get caught up.)
Sadly, almost half of our ice ended up getting released to the wild.
|The mosquitos were puzzled. And sad that they had no place to plug in their blenders either.|
Before we leave Last Chance, the signs
|The trail just before the Last Chance aid station.|
|Click any of these pictures to see them larger.|
|General signs for all runners.|
|Oscar made a set of signs for some runners he knew in the race.|
|The signs I made for various runners, several based on requests and suggestions from others.|
|I really love this shot - thanks Reuben!|
At the trackOnce I made it down to the track (well after the first two runners, Jim And Jared, had finished in course record times), I noticed that the track was there, but the football field was missing. A chain link fence surrounded the inner perimeter of the track. This meant that the finish line medical area had to be moved from its normal position on the field. And to keep runners from running into each other, they actually were routed around the track in the opposite direction of normal (after a hairpin turn).
|We were assured the distance was still 100.2 miles.|
|View of the finish line from the stands. All that dirt makes it looks like there's going to be a rodeo.|
|First woman Clare has just entered the track and is about to make that hairpin turn to go around to the finish.|
|A herd of McKunes waiting for John to make it in.|
Meanwhile, the runners kept coming in to finish!
|The Emergency Backup Sam, along with the Real Sam, came storming through the gate.|
|The herd of McKunes migrating around the track, just ahead of the Golden Hour - the last 60 minutes before the race ends. John did not want to be a 29er.|
|Reuben, from that earlier sign selfie, and carrying a Singapore flag, made it to the track with lots of time to spare.|
What a weekend.
So much effort goes into to preparing for this race, and just like that, it's over. There were two runners that finished in the last 60 seconds, which made for an exciting end to the event.
|The hurriedly packed aid station stuff that I had to haul back.|
It's hard to explain why this event is so compelling for me - I often know at least a few people running it, and while I like to geek over the elites as they come through, the runners pushing the cutoffs are often the most interesting and fun to work with. You get a real appreciation for the effort and energy these runners are putting into this race, and a great understanding of what it really takes to cover 100.2 mountain miles in less than 30 hours.
But next time I WILL figure out how to plug in my blender.
That's it - move along…
PS: Here is a link to some pictures I put on FB: General aid station.