Western States 100 Trail Run


By Gordon Cherr


“The experience of suffering is like the experience of finding something unexpected and revelatory. When you find the outermost thresholds of pain, or fear, or uncertainty, what you experience afterward is an expansive feeling, a widening of your capabilities . . . . Suffering is essential to a good life, and as inextricable from such a life as bliss.”

-Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts.


“That sure sucked!”

-Scott Ludwig, sitting on his butt at Forresthills High School, after running 62 miles of the 2004 Western States 100, 11:15 PM, upon deciding to drive, instead of run, to the finish line in Auburn, California, 38 miles away.


Prologue: I am running somewhere between mile 40 and 50 of the Wakulla Springs Ultra last December, when Al Barker asks me if I might be willing to pace for him or Scott Ludwig, at the Western States 100, next June. “Oh sure, why not, what the f%ck…ok”. It is amazing what stupid things oxygen depletion to the brain will let you say or do.

Prologue: I am running somewhere between mile 40 and 50 of the Wakulla Springs Ultra last December, when Al Barker asks me if I might be willing to pace for him or Scott Ludwig, at the Western States 100, next June. “Oh sure, why not, what the f%ck…ok”. It is amazing what stupid things oxygen depletion to the brain will let you say or do.

Over the next few months we have a flurry of activity, making plans, reading about the race itself, talking to others who have “been to the mountain”, so to speak, what we can expect and what we might do to avoid the major pitfalls, knowing full well that you can prepare for just so much when you are running 100 miles on mountain trails through the Sierra Nevadas. None of us had done this, none of us had even been there before. As for myself, I would be running “only” the last 38 miles with Scotty, pacers cannot be picked up by any runners until Mile 62, at the Forresthills High School. Al will run with another pacer, Susan Lance-Parker, who runs and trains with him and Scotty, in Atlanta.

Trainingwise, I picked up my mileage considerably, averaging close to 50 miles/week, and had even attempted a hilly and technical (lots of miserable rocky trails) 50k trail run in March, in Birmingham, the Oak Mountain 50K. That one ended in dismal failure, with a drop at mile 21 after 5 hours, on a very hot day in a race where the attrition rate was nearly 40%.

I had even gone up to Asheville to pummel myself on the baddest mountain trails I could find, running 40 miles there in three days. While in Asheville, I also went to Black Dome Mountain Sports, where I bought the biggest can of “Whoop Ass” I could find. Whoop Ass is 17% pepper spray and an accurate shot in the face will knock you and even a big bear flat on its ass. I had once read about a woman being mauled and then eaten by a mountain lion on the Western States trail several years ago, and I was unable to shake the uneasy feeling I had about running the trail, basically in the dark, all night long. I had even seen a Florida panther late one Sunday afternoon while I was running out in the eastern end of Leon County about 4 years ago and not being on the preferred end of the food chain left me with a sinking feeling in my gut. Hell, if I was going to get nabbed by a mountain lion, I was going down fighting, so I bought this Pledge-sized can of Whoop Ass and found a secure place for it in my running pack. At least I would die with my running shoes on, like the proverbial cowboy still wearing his boots.

Coincidentally perhaps, the last night I spent in Asheville, I was watching CNN and Larry King, and of all things, his guest was a previously attractive woman who had been attacked by such a big cat in southern California last year. Thanks, Larry, that was just what I needed. Her face looked like it had been put into a meat grinder, which, in fact, it had. A four legged meat grinder who knew how to stalk and trail, and leap and those are the kinds of things my mind dwells upon when I have a few spare moments here and there. I’m sure your mind works the same way. OK, maybe not.

Thursday, June 24: I’m off to San Francisco to meet the rest of the crew, who are flying in from Atlanta. There is something very liberating about traveling by yourself, to places where no one knows you. You can be anyone you want to be, you are not weighed down by all the things everyone else knows about you. You are free of your stereotype, I suppose.

The flight from Tallahassee to Dallas Fort Worth is uneventful and I have plenty of time to lay over before my next flight. Eavesdropping is one of my specialties and I spy four attractive and well dressed women having a heated discussion in a bookstore, while in the airport. I wander down that way to find out about all of the hubbub, and they are arguing about Meg Ryan’s new tattoo and how disgusted they all are about that. One would have thought that the latest beheading in Iraq would lend itself to such loud and obtrusive conversation, or maybe the pros and cons of war in the middle east, but no, it is simply tattoos here in Texas. There are a lot of people walking around with T shirts which say “Don’t Mess With Texas”. Don’t worry, we won’t.

Talking about messes, the Men’s restroom on the E Concourse needs a sign that says “No Multitasking Allowed”. I mean, I enter to use the facilities and take a seat in a Handicapped stall. You gotta like the Americans With Disabilities Act and all that it has wrought, especially the handicapped commodes and stalls, which are larger than the first two apartments that I lived in when I moved away from home. And cleaner too. Anyway, everyone is using a cellphone and I sit there listening to everyone’s business. The guy “next door” is sitting there doing whatever and talking to someone about the calf being in breach position and that Bossy will need to see the vet, old Doc. Brewster. The floor in front of the urinals is disgusting and I think Burger King might have been right when it said that “It takes two hands to handle a whopper” because too many guys are trying to speak on the cellphone with one hand and trying to aim with the other and obviously it is too much for them to do at the same time. I never multitask in the bathroom and I tiptoe out as carefully as I can.

Eventually my flight leaves and I feel like we are taxiing all the way to El Paso before the plane finally takes off. Landing in San Francisco three hours later, the clouds are hanging languidly over the Oakland hills, and the bay area looks beautiful. I do note that on our pass over the Sierra Nevada’s, that either someone has a cash crop of cotton growing at altitude, or else there is still snow in the mountain passes. Hmmm…

Our rendezvous is not without its moments. Susan, Al and Scotty are at carousel 12 at Air Tran (remember that Air Tran is the old ValueJet, which, a few years ago, streaked into the Everglades at about 500 mph, straight down, and the gators had a field day with what few remains were ever found. So, they changed their name to Air Tran). I am at carousel 12 and arguing with them by cellphone that they are not there, when I look more closely at the Air Tran sign, and I notice that it says “Air Train”. Ooops.

Anyway, we rendezvous, and for a rental car, Al gets this big, impressive white Cadillac because it is cheaper than an SUV, and soon we are off to Truckee. Truckee is where we will stay for the next two nights. Truckee is about a 15 minute drive from the start of the race, which is in Squaw Valley, at the Olympic Village. It is simply beautiful in the Sierra’s, and our room has a lovely view of Interstate 80, and since the air conditioner refuses to work, we have to keep the window open all night. Now, there is no slacking of big truck traffic (where do you think the name “Truckee” comes from?) all night long on Route 80, and it sounds like raging dinosaurs are racing through the motel. Their headlights through the trees are throwing strange silhouettes on the wall next to my bed and I can’t sleep a wink. Scotty sleeps like a baby through it all.

Friday, June 25: More and more runners are checking into the motel. You can tell the out of towners like us. There are no elevators in the Truckee Inn and everyone needs to carry their bags up three flights of stairs. We are at 6000′ and every time we walk up the stairs we are out of breath for a few minutes. Not a good sign. Two guys come up the stairs and are wheezing and hacking, and it turns out that they are from Florida too. It sounds more like a smokers convention then a gathering for a monumental foot race through the mountains, but the dry air and altitude are taking their toll before the race even begins.

Throughout the day runners gather in the lobby and quite a few war stories are passed around. And a lot of good advice too, from those who have been here before. Most of the advice is to eat and hydrate like crazy, walk the uphills, run the flats and downhills as best you can. It will be hot in the canyons, probably over 100 degrees because the sun will warm the south facing walls and the heat will radiate back and will be trapped. I know that I will not be running in the canyons, instead running after the canyons have been surmounted and after dark, but Al and Scott are taking mental notes and they don’t like what they are hearing. Al has run the last 72 miles of the course and has heard and seen some of this before and he doesn’t doubt any of it, either. Scotty’s eyes are getting bigger with every tale, however.

Later we go to the Olympic Village because the runners and pacers need to check in and the runners undergo a short physical including weight, blood pressure and heart rate. This race is incredibly well organized with more than 1300 volunteers and professional staff of doctors, podiatrists and massage therapists. There are weigh-in stations throughout the course and the staff adheres to the “3-5-7” rule. If you lose 3% of your body weight, they will mention this to you and remind you to hydrate better. If you lose 5%, they will recommend you drop out. If you lose 7% they will pull you out. Actually if you lose 7%, you will not need to be persuaded to drop, you will be crawling or near comatose anyway. As one local columnist put it, it is hard to imagine running so hard, for so long, that your body actually eats itself, but that is what will happen if you don’t hydrate and consume a lot of calories along the way.

Maybe it is the altitude or the excitement, but Al’s heart rate is up around 80 bpm, and it usually hovers around 50, and he is concerned. Scotty is as laid back as ever. We drop some gear at the places mandated for drop bags. Al and Scott are going to drop bags at Michigan Bluff, which is at Mile 55.7, and we all drop bags for the south side of the Rucky Chucky, at mile 78+. The Rucky Chucky is a river that must be forded and the depth varies annually, some years waist high or higher, some years chest high, always cold and except for the superhuman among us, usually crossed at night in pitch dark blackness. There is a rope and people to help you cross but shoes and socks will be soaked, so this is a good place to drop a bag with dry socks and shoes and perhaps dry clothes and some food. In only one night I have noticed that the temperature drops here viciously, by maybe 35-40 degrees once the sun sets at 9 PM.

We hang around the Olympic Village and there is a small runner’s expo full of terrific gear, shirts, shoes, supplements, and as always, experienced Western States runners doling out good advice. Like, “don’t do it, you still have time to go home”. There is a meeting for the early afternoon, attended by the staff and all of the runners, support crews, pacers, and families of each. There are almost 400 runners alone. I am totally intimidated by what I see. Everyone looks to be about 30 years old and more fit than anyone I have ever seen. Veins are popping out everywhere, there are legs that look so hard that if you whacked them with a sledge hammer, the sledge hammer would shatter.

The high point of the meeting was to introduce the top women and men runners, names you have only read about. These women seem to tend towards the stocky and shorter in general, while the men are more lean and taller. I am hoping to meet or just see Ann Trason who is an ultra running legend but she is not here this year. That is good because otherwise all of the other women will be running for second place. There are runners from France, Australia, Canada, Norway and even a small contingent of three runners from Nepal (sounds good, huh? Well, all three dropped out along the way). AS for the men, while the women seem at ease with each other, the men are not so inclined. As the men are introduced one by one they wave to the cheering and applauding crowd of mere mortals. Then Scott Jurek is introduced. Jurek, from Seattle, has won the race the last 5 years and has said something about setting a new course record this year. I, myself, would avoid such brash statements in view of all the many things that can and do and will happen over 100 miles. While the other runners wave to the crowd, Jurek insolently goes down the line of other male runners, shaking hands with each one individually, and as he does so, he looks each one square in the eye. I am seated behind the staging area and I can see this clearly. It looks like he is staring, saying “OK, you’re toast” or “I’m gonna eat your lunch”, or “Tomorow I am gonna run your ass into the ground”.

I am surprised by this, Jurek is reputed to be a good guy, but you know what? It isn’t bragging if you can do it, and Jurek does it by running a new course record in 15:36, and he takes special pains after the race to explain that he could not have done it except with the competition offered to him by the other runners, especially Dave Mackey of Colorado, who hammered along with him for the first 80+miles. Mackey was second in 16:30.

Saturday, June 26: OK, this is the day and Scotty and I are up at 2:30 AM. We meet the others in the lobby at 3:30 and head for the start. There is a breakfast available there and runners are fueling up for a long day ahead. And a long night too. And then again, another day. There are three kinds of runners here as far as I can tell. One group that wanders around aimlessly with the deer in the headlights look, all by themselves. One group of supremely confident looking people, laughing and joking a bit too loudly with others. A third group who can’t seem to get out of the bathroom, whose nervous kidneys and bowels are already on overdrive.

There has been a clock erected on a scaffold-like platform over the start, and it has been counting down for nearly 24 hours now. There isn’t much time to go. The actual start is a M-F, 3.7 miles directly uphill, without switchbacks. The trail continues to rise 2500′ in the first 5 miles, to Emigrant Pass at 8750′. This stretch continues along the Granite Chief Wilderness Area (when they say “wilderness” around here, they really mean it), along the Red Star Ridge to Robinson Flat and Little Bald Mountain. There will be snow along this section, it wasn’t cotton as I had thought.

People are gathering now at the start. The enthusiasm and anticipation of the pacers and other crew members is palpable, runners are tense. The crowd counts down the last 10 seconds in unison, a bell sounds and they are off! Some of those crazy bastards are running up the mountain! The more sane heads are walking. Later, Al tells me that it took about 2 hours to reach the summit, 3.7 miles away. And that there already were spectators up there, cheering them on. I don’t know why, but I see people weeping at the start. Well, I do know why, they are worried about their loved ones, but there is strong emotion in the air. This will be repeated, magnified many times, at the finish, tomorrow at Placer High School in Auburn, 100 miles away. Time seems to stand still momentarily as we watch the runners snake their way up the mountainside in the dim morning light, but then the automatic lawn sprinklers come on, soaking some of us. The crowd disperses back to the Olympic village. For many of us there is a long and difficult day and night ahead…

Susan and I head out to Robinson Flat to catch the front runners at the first major checkpoint. Robinson Flat is “only” 24.6 miles into the race, but it is about an 80 mile drive. We eventually get there, and we get there early enough to drive up and avoid the throngs taking the shuttle bus. We do have to drive through Forresthills and Michigan Bluff, and the pre-race instructions are very clear that the speed limit in those towns is 25 mph and that it needs to be obeyed. Apparently, this is also an important day for the police departments there, and perhaps they are working with a budget deficit, so there are motorists lined up by the dozens being written tickets for speeding.

We get good seats on the ground near the aid station. Volunteers are running about like an army of ants, waiting for the front runners. Eventually, Jurek comes through with Mackey about 6 seconds behind. It is already apparent that even among the best of the best there are huge gaps forming. I really do not expect Al or Scott through for another hour or more after the leaders, but I want to make sure each is OK for now. There are many crews here, and as runners come through they are all calm and have specific requests for this food or supplement or another pair of shoes or socks. I do not know may people here but I see Rob Apple from Tennessee. Someone asks Rob something when he stops nearby, his wife is crewing for him. She asks him how he feels and he says that he feels fine, he can put up with the steep climbs and descents, but he complains about the heat, a notable comment to me as it comes from a guy from Tennessee. As for the first question, Rob notes that this is his 379th ultra, if he can finish it! I am glad to report that Rob and his buddy, Wesley Fenton (from Ohio) finished together in 29:11, and we were there in Auburn to cheer them in.

A few other runners come by, looking for their crews. Bethany Hunter, a noted ultra runner from West Virginia, is complaining to her coach, Dave Horton (a famous ultra runner in his own right), that she hasn’t urinated yet and she is concerned. Bethany dropped later at Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles). There were, I think, 370 starters and 278 finishers.

Still waiting for our runners, I start talking to a nearby fellow who seems to know Scotty. He turns out to be Don Allison, the editor and publisher of UltraRunning Magazine. A very pleasant man who has put together a fine magazine, we enjoy each other’s company for about an hour. Don knows many of the runners by name and is full of interesting anecdotes about them and the course, which he has run and completed.

Finally, Scotty comes by and seems to be his calm self. He doesn’t want or need anything, I tell him that I will see him at Forresthills, 38 miles further along, but we are not certain when. Many people have advised me about this and estimated times vary from 12-16 hours from the start, so maybe 5 PM- 9 PM. I just intend to get there early and hang around until he shows up. If he shows up.

To our relief, Al shows up about 30 minutes later. I am concerned, as is Susan, because Al and Scott were going to run to Robinson Flat together, but they haven’t. Maybe Al is slower than he wants to be, he comments as to how hard the course is, but otherwise, he looks good and is way ahead of any cutoff time and not in danger of being yanked from the race. There are some runners packing it in at Robinson Flat and quite a few more at Little Bald Mountain, another 4 miles up the trail. I don’t want to think about our runners tanking it because if either or both do that, Susan and I are going to have a logistical nightmare sorting things out with one car and having to leave that car later on at the finishline in Auburn, at Placer High School, while we catch a ride to Forresthills to assume our duties as pacers.

It is about 11 AM and we have hours to kill before getting to Foresthills. Of course, we are not sure how we are going to get there, but decide to leave the car and most gear in Auburn, and beg a ride to Forresthills. Actually, this is what most of the pacers do, and we eventually find ourselves at the Forresthill School. The scene there is one of measured chaos. There are hundreds of pacers and crew members, medical teams, a weigh station and people are milling about in tense anticipation. There is a big board mounted high on a telephone pole, with ever-changing print outs, telling us where the runners were last spotted, at what time, and who has dropped out. The drop list is interesting to me. Sometimes the runner is listed as dropping because of a particular injury or dehydration, sometimes he has dropped on “medical advice” or he/she didn’t make the cutoff time and was pulled from the course. Sometimes it says “unknown”. Now, “unknown” is simply shorthand for someone saying “f%ck it!” and being done with it.

I have been hydrating all afternoon and taking Succeed tabs every hour. The pacers are wearing out a trail to the bathroom, it is nerve-wracking not knowing when your runner is going to get there. I mean, each stretch from checkpoint to checkpoint is a varying distance and of varying difficulty too. Since we saw them last, Al and Scotty have had to traverse the canyons and the canyons are tough. There is a place called “Puckers Point” if you want an idea as to how steep that one is. Or the first canyon, Deadwood, which drops 2000′ and then ascends 1500′ to Devils Thumb. The second canyon, El Dorado, has a more “gradual” drop (this is all relative, folks) with a descent of 2600′, followed by an 1800′ climb to Michigan Bluff.

The canyons are known to be hot, with some race day temperatures measured as high as 110. Right now, I am warm enough in a singlet and shorts, but as the sun begins to set there is a chill in the air and I really want to get going. Where is Scotty?

Where is Al too? He has dropped off the charts at Last Chance (43.3 miles) but he is not on the drop list anywhere. We are worried that if he drops there, then the race officials will transport him back to Squaw Valley and how the heck are we going to get back there? We have all of his clothes in the car back in Auburn (a 17 mile drive and a 38 mile run) except for what is in his drop bags at Michigan Bluff and at the south side of the Rucky Chucky. I recall, ruefully, that when the race started early in the morning, the temperature in Squaw Valley was a less than temperate 38. Al, you may be in for a very long night.

Somehow, magically, Al appears at Forresthills, having been caught by Father Time at Last Chance. Some kindly soul gave him a ride to Forresthills where he knew he would find us. We get him fed and borrow a blanket from the medical staff and I give him my warm up pants. We sit him down and he looks fine, albeit rather tired. But maybe relieved to be done, no regrets I would say. I am very glad to see him. It is the last time I will smile that night for sure.

A series of discussions ensues. Susan wants to get Al back to Forresthills and to the car with his gear, and find him a place to sack out. I want them to stay in case Scotty doesn’t make it or if he does, he cannot go on. If he makes it and goes on, then they should leave and meet us tomorrow morning in Auburn, at the finishline, otherwise no one knows where any one else will be for certain. I am out voted on this because of an abiding belief that Scotty will not and has never dropped out of anything. They find a ride to Auburn and I am left to fend for myself with the dwindling crew of other pacers still waiting for their runners. I have appropriated the blanket from Al, but it is getting dark now, well past 9 PM.

I am watching the runners come into the aid station. Everyone is being weighed and his/her condition carefully assessed by a medical team. Most runners don’t want any help from the medical team, they just want to see their crews, grab some chow, hook up with their pacer and get the hell out of there. The runners are pretty calm but do not want to lose what little daylight and rhythm they still have. Most of the medical attention is to cuts or blisters, one guy is barfing his brains out, but after a few minutes, talks himself back into the race and leaves on his own, his way now being lit by his headlamp. By now, everyone is wearing some form of lighting apparel, it looks like a firefly convention of sorts.

One guy comes limping into the weigh station and he is very mindful of the “3-5-7” rule. He drops his pack and gets weighed and is sent on his way. He runs about 3 steps, turns and waves to the medical team, and while in plain view he reaches into his running shorts and drops about 5 lbs of rocks onto the road. He is out of there in a New York minute and no one makes any effort to stop him, rewarding his ingenuity if not his stubborness and bulldog determination.

I am freezing my butt off. There are about 3 pacers left at Forresthills. We resemble a pack of whipped dogs. 9 PM has come and gone, 10 PM, 11 PM, no Scott Ludwig. He was last seen at Michigan Bluff about 3 hours ago, and 7 miles back. The announcer is calling for more pacers, for runners coming in who are without crews. There are runners who are actually volunteer pacers, who get picked up throughout the day and into the night. Runners are straggling in, but under the 11:45 PM cutoff, and these folks are going to need some help to get through the night. Indeed, many of them do get through the night and make it to Auburn under 30 hours and collect their coveted Western States 100 belt buckle.

One young man comes up to me with his father, who must be 70 years old. Maybe he was only 50 when he started but right now he looks 70. He asks me if I will help pace his father. He is literally begging now but I can’t do it because I still don’t know where my runner is. Then a race official comes up to me and asks me my name and if I am pacing for Scott Luwig. Somehow, during this discussion Scotty has sneaked by me and no one announced him into the checkpoint.

Scotty is seated in a lawn chair and one look is all I need. He has taken a tumble and hyperextended his knee. He has slipped on some snow, crossing one of the higher mountain passes and has hit his head on a rock. Mostly he just looks spent, totally spent. I know that Scotty has never dropped from anything, not 100 mile road races, not from the 135 mile Badwater across Death Valley. But he is done. Finished. Let it be.

Sunday, June 27: It is past midnight and I am wishing this adventure over for now but I know better. We need a ride back to Auburn and we are lucky to secure one, but we do. Upon our return to Placer High School, I am looking for our car and the remainder of our crew, the car and crew are gone. Scotty says he doesn’t feel well, and he lays down and falls asleep on the concrete sidewalk outside of the high school track, he looks like a dead man to me. Well, I have to leave him there because I need some help.

The football field and track are lit brightly and there are tents here and there. Race officials are wandering about, people sleeping everywhere in sleeping bags under the starry sky, some in motor homes, and of all things, some of the front runners are finishing their Western States 100. It looks and feels like a scene from Apocalypse Now, I feel slightly disoriented, exhausted from being up for about 24 hours with no sleep, and I am about out of options. I am awfully cold and I know Scotty must be freezing in his wet running clothes, laying out there on the cold concrete. It would be a long story to tell, but just let me say that we were taken in by an angel of an ultrarunner, Joannie Bumpus, of Grass Valley, California, who gave us clothes and let us sleep in her van.

We eventually did make contact with Al and Susan, who, in her defense, had to travel nearly 30 miles further, to Sacramento, to find a room for us to finally crash. I vaguely remember grabbing some floor at about 4:30 AM, and it never felt so good. I was up at 7:30 and the scene was frightening. Scotty’s feet were hanging off the bed about 15 inches above my face. If you have never seen Ludwig’s feet, consider yourself of good fortune. Most of his toenails are black, his toes look like they have been hammered and shaped by some crazed artisan, they stick out in every direction imaginable at the same time. Some of his toes were covered in what appeared to be electrical tape, others in duct tape, that much was clear to me.

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast and drove back to Auburn. Runners would still be finishing their 100 miles. The scene at the track had changed drastically from the early morning, several hours before. Now it was colorful, almost like a country fair, the sky a deep blue and cloudless. There were hundreds of people, officials, crew members and families milling about on the infield. There were hundreds of others like us, seated in the stands. A huge buffet and expo were both going full tilt on the infield, alongside medical and massage tents. The clock and scaffolding at the start had been re-erected over the track.

Runners were making their way into the stadium, mostly singly, sometimes in small groups. They had come so far, had seen so much, had sacrificed all they could and many reached down and gave even more to reach that place. As each one entered his or her number and name was announced over the loudspeaker system, the announcer saying something about each, where they came from, who they were, and thanking them for the effort.

But then the most incredible would happen. As each runner entered the stadium and set foot on the track there began a swell of clapping and shouting and cheering that rose inexorably like a great unstoppable tidal wave. It grew and grew as the runner ambled down the backstretch, some slow, some fast, some hardly moving at all, the survival shuffle. But each and every one with their head held high, basking in the glow of the ultimate moment.

Some ran singly, some together with new friends made over a hundred miles as only runners who have faced down the impossible can share. Some entered the stadium with their pacers, many came in with their crews and families, who were literally leaping and shouting in joy and relief, anticipation and pride. Definitely for pride.

As runners came into the home stretch the noise became almost deafening at times. People rushed to the side of the track and screamed and clapped, forming a tunnel of humanity to the finishline for each finisher. Every leg was bronzed from the dust of the trail, the finishers shared that. And every head was held high, that was shared too. I stood in awe and in envy, clapping and shouting like all the rest. It was an incredible, emotional scene.

This was a day that started horribly and almost without hope in the cold dark of night, and which ended for me in bright sunshine and inspiration.

Monday, June 28: We ran a few more miles on Sunday to keep Scott’s streak alive. Actually, Susan and I had to run away from Al and Scott. Each had the dreaded Western States blown quads. They “ran” (I am being kind here, very kind) like men with no joints from their hips to their ankles, every step with an audible groan or moan. She and I did run out the last 4.5 miles of the course and back. We ran down to the “No Hands Bridge” which is about 300 feet above the American River, the scene was breathtaking and scary at the same time.
Some fool had placed an official looking sign on the bridge which said: No jumping or diving from the bridge”. Well, duh, I guess not. There certainly wouldn’t be any repeat offenders!

I did enjoy that run and wondered how so many had done this part at night without breaking some bones. We only ran about 8.5 miles and my quads were starting to hurt from one really nasty downhill stretch. Only 91.5 miles more and I would have the real Western States 100 experience!

We were up at 5 AM Monday for one last run. I dropped off Scott and Susan at the Best Western and headed out for a few more miles. I had been with someone for almost every minute over the past 5 days and I needed some time for myself. I was looking for something and it took a little while to find it, but finally there it was. I found a ravine which dropped quickly to the east, followed by a higher peak. I ran down on slightly sore quads and hammered the uphill to the highest point I could find. Out of breath I ran to that high point, and there it was as I had hoped. The Sierra Nevadas unfolded below me like an ocean. I saw mountain peak after mountain peak as far as I could see to the east, one range after another. Each series of peaks resembled a gentle ocean wave, one followed by the next and then another and another.
The morning sun had barely begun to rise, each mountain peak glowed with a glorious golden hue. What a trip.

Thank you, God, for so many blessings.
Epilogue: I am sitting in Applebees in the airport in San Francisco, ordering lunch. I bought a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle, and I am reading. Hmm, let’s see, no mention of the Western States 100, too bad…

Hmm, what do we have here? Page 27…”Woman mauled by mountain lion in Sierras”…oh, crap, where did I put that Whoop Ass?