Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crewing Badwater 135 - July 2011

I am not sure if I will ever attempt to run this race. I have to say the $1000 entry fee for minimal support puts me right off. I don’t see the need for it. For sure, the event costs money to host, particularly the medical support. But a grand? And that’s before paying for your own support crew which for most people is a necessity in a race like this. Though you have to give huge credit to the few who actually do the race self-supported. This year a lady pushed a cart the whole way. With only a few towns along the course, she needed to push gallons of water as well as food and other gear.

But regardless, I was thrilled to be able to crew for Divesh whom I met through Alicia, his then girlfriend and as of mile 22 at Badwater, his fiancé!! Luckily she said yes quickly enough that his knee didn't burn on the pavement. Only a few hours in, it was already well over 100 degrees.

We had 2 crews – myself, Chris and Maria were in one car and Alicia, Joe and Shelley were in the other. It was ideal having 2 crews so we could all get some rest. And Divesh got some fresh faces every couple hours. We weren’t on duty until Monday afternoon when they reached Stovepipe Wells (mile 42) so we drove down to the race start (2nd wave at 8am), got to see Badwater itself and taste the salt, then headed back to the hotel to lounge about in the pool and stay hydrated. The mercury rose to 117 and was even hotter in the early miles once the sun was right above the runners. The other crew came by in the afternoon to give us a heads up on when to be ready – and to deliver to engagement news! Once Divesh came by we hit the road.

Our plan was to have 1 driver, 1 runner, 1 re-stocker. We took turns every few stops. At this stage Divesh wanted someone to run/walk most of the time and the car stopped every mile for water, and every few miles he would eat. He rested every few hours but never for very long. He was absolutely the most low maintenance runner you could imagine. The 18 mile climb out of Stovepipe Wells at sea level to Towne’s Pass at almost 5000 ft was gradual at first but steeper as the evening wore on into the night. And the wind! Like a too-warm hairdryer in your face. Divesh was doing great though and keeping a consistent pace. Late Monday evening we switched crews and got some rest. We continued this for the remainder of the 135 mile course that takes runners from the lowest point in the US at 282 ft below sea level to the portal at Mount Whitney, 8,360 ft. For a number of years, the race was 146 miles long and finished at the top of the mountain, which at 14,505 ft is the highest point in the contiguous US. Every year, a number of runners still apply for permits to enter the park and continue their journey to the top (and then have to turn around and hike 11 miles back down to the portal – that’s got to be the worst part!!).

My favourite memories of the race are of watching the line of car lights wind down the hill from Towne’s Pass all the way to Panamint Springs and beyond. Perspective is everything in this vast desert and especially at night time it seemed like those cars were within easy reach when in fact the lead ones were more than 15 miles away. We switched crews somewhere on the pass. We got some rest and later drove out to Panamint Springs where we hung out for a few hours before our next shift. We had the privilege of talking with Englishman Jack Denness, the eleven-time official finisher and first ever 70-year-old finisher (in 2005). And better yet, he had a tradition of enjoying a can of Murphy’s at the finish line!

Day 2 dawned a little cooler now that we were further along the route and closer to the shadows of Mt. Whitney. It probably didn’t get over 100. I am not sure if we were on our second or third shift by morning. The nighttime is a little fuzzy almost six months later... but we were glad to be back on the road and happy to see what great progress Divesh was making. He was still in good spirits. His calves were the most thing bothering him and we would give him a quick massage every hour or so. Luckily Chris also has a big foot so he was able to donate his Hokas to the cause around mile 100. They seemed to work well even if they did look rather hilarious on skinny legged-Divesh. I was impressed by how good Divesh’s posture remained at this stage in the game. He was mostly walking but he was walking fast and strong and unlike others he was remaining fully upright. We continued our way towards Lone Pine at mile 122. After Towne’s Pass we’d lost a few thousand feet of elevation so that in the final 13 miles Divesh would have to climb 5000 ft. Again. But it didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm all that much. Well, maybe enthusiasm is the wrong word but he certainly wasn’t complaining. As we walked Divesh was able to give me the low down on the area telling me about their previous visits scrambling up some of the peaks that now lined our view.

We passed a few people along here as we made our way through the town and past the checkpoint. Once we got on the road to Whitney portal it was time for a final crew exchange. Alicia would pace Divesh all the way to finish from here. No doubt making a few wedding plans along the way! There are strict rules on just having 1 crew car at any one time so we hung out at a checkpoint about half way up the climb to cheer them going by. We took in a gorgeous sunset over the valley and then drove up the endless switchbacks to the portal. A totally difference scene at 8,000 ft surrounded by tall pine trees and the sound of tumbling waterfalls. There was some excitement just before Divesh finished as a bear was spotted hanging out by the campsite. But luckily he stayed out of the way of the runners and before long we spotted our guy rounding the final turn. We all joined in for the final hundred yards as Divesh crossed the finish line a few seconds over 37 hours, 33rd of 94 starters. Seriously good work for a first timer. All but 13 people finished the race. The cut-off is 48 hours.

There is an energy about Death Valley that I had not expected. A beauty that is difficult to explain because our natural instincts are to associate desert with bareness. This land is anything but empty.


Chris said...

$1000???? If we charged that much for Black Hills I could quit my day job! And I thought Western States was expensive...

Julie B said...

What a great experience. I'd love to try Badwater. I'm sure that 116 miles at FANS in July or 100 Miles at Leanhorse in 22 hours on a hot August day is no comparison. Still , I can't help but think I'd like it. Thanks for sharing!

Traci said...

Nick, Ries, and I love Death Valley. There are so many trails and things to see. We have been there several times and we are looking forward to a trip this spring.
Nice Blog!!

Jordan Hanlon said...

Sounds like quite the experience, thanks for sharing about the race it sounds like you had quite the experience. I really want to try Badwater at some point but probably won't be in the cards for a while. Best of luck in 2012.

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Hostpph said...

It is quite steep. I don't know why they are charging so much for it. They should take under consideration that not everybody can pay for it.

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