First off, I just want to say wow, and thanks. My blog has gotten a record number of hits over the past few days. I’m glad to have so many new readers. I don’t know if someone put a link to my site on the Facebook or what, but I’m thrilled! Welcome to my wild adventure of a life!
Without further ado, here is the continuation of my musings on the Grand to Grand ultra.
So this is the long day(s). Apparently we will be sleeping at our checkpoints which was a fact that I was not privvy to previously. I started out at checkpoint 2 and then the plan was to shuttle over to checkpoint 6 once all runners had been through. The day started with loading up the Mitsubishi SUV that Andy (the astrophysicist – who incidentally didn’t tie up the duffel bags properly and one ended up flying off on the highway; apparently some things do (don’t?) require a rocket scientist…) drove for the race. Our checkpoint was nondescript except for the fact that it had a picnic table situated in the shade. Which was chained to a concrete block – who the hell would steal a picnic table located 12 miles down a dirt road in remote Utah??? (Who the hell would steal 30 bagged lunches – movie reference anyone?) We had some time before runners would arrive so I started a new book about a family practice doc who enrolls in the military as a trauma doc when he is in his 40’s. I also got to take a hike up to a beautiful viewpoint. The lines of pastel cliffs never gets less awe inspiring. Andy was reading a book about quantum theory and I tried to wrap my brain around his explanation of string theory and other intimdating topics. Turns out Andy is a super cool guy and was part of the experiement that discovered that there is water on the moon. Not bad for a race volunteer…
Most of the racers looked pretty good coming through. We had the usual bane of my existence – f-ing feet. There were a few people who were pretty nauseous. And we had one gentleman who unfortunately had continued to take his blood pressure medications despite advice to the contrary and was, I suspect, quite hypotensive out on the course. He was dizzy when going from sitting to standing and his peripheral vision was starting to close in. After some rest, he was feeling better and wisely made the decision to DNF. Another very nice gentleman hurt his ankle and ended up dropping. He became a pseudo-volunteer the rest of the race to support his wife, and was always a pleasure to have hanging out at our checkpoint. Because we now had too many people to fit in our already overloaded car, we had to try to make arrangements to get another vehicle to come out. Which is tough to do when no one has cell phone service or radio reception. We finally were told that there was a car coming but they wanted to leave our DNF runners alone at the checkpoint to wait!?! That seemed like a horrible idea to me so I stayed with them. We were picked up by a retired airline pilot who must have had dreams of being a fighter pilot when he was younger because he drove like a maniac. But we got everyone out safely and got to see some really cool off-road jeep trails.
We eventually made our way to checkpoint 6. It was a beautiful vista of the cliffs in the distance. Our checkpoint was meant to sleep at so we had vast amenities: portable toilet, hot water, fire, tents, etc. Which was great for the runners but also took a lot of scrambling to get all set up. It was pretty relaxed waiting for the first folks to come through. It wasn’t until close to sunset that the leaders came striding in. The trickle continued until 3am. Thankfully we were delivered dinner and even firewood to help get us through the long night. Most people were exhausted but determined to finish. Maybe 20 racers spent the night with us. I finally laid down in the “on call” room around 1:30am. I spread my sleeping bag and pad out on the sand under the stars. The moon was incredibly bright and I could see the milky way scattered among the stars. Two shooting stars abruptly lit up the night sky. I think I finally dozed off for about an hour when Lindsey came trudging up from the previous checkpoint with the last runners. She laid out her bag next to me and was sleeping within minutes. I was surprised to wake up a little later with a very wet sleeping bag. Isn’t this the desert?
The checkpoint was bustling at 6am with runners trying to get themselves together enough for the next stage and the team trying to get packed up. After a little foot care, I was off to sweep. We left about 20 minutes after the final runners so we kept a hustle up for the next 6 miles. This was the sand dunes. Rolling red sand stretched as far as the eye could see. There was a particularly steep dune with tiny little footprints cut into it. It was hard work going through the sand and within 10 minutes I felt like there was a beach in my shoes. I took my shoes and socks off and hoofed it through the sand barefoot up and over and up and over again. It was one of those scenes where it was absolutely gorgeous and just so interesting to the eyes but the pictures just do not do it justice. It was great to see white styrofoam boxes at the next checkpoint which contained the makings of our breakfast burritos. There were two female races hanging out that were just a pleasure to hang out with. They had both made up their minds that they were going to finish, albeit last, and they were embracing their new position. We joked that they were definitely getting their money’s worth on that stage. We also came up with a brilliant idea for a running group called TIATB – The Idiots at the Back. They were cool and it was touching to see them walk into camp later.
After the checkpoint closed it was back to camp. A pit stop was made to get water at a campground. Everyone was pumped about a shower but honestly, after a few days, the dirt and grime no longer really faze me. Plus I had no soap, shampoo, or conditioner ( a must for this girl’s crazy hair) not to mention any clean clothes so a quick rinse off was the best I could do. Once I got back to camp (which had incredible views by the way), I was once again greeted with a full medical tent. At one point, I pulled my cot out into the shade next to the medical tent and tried to sleep but despite my exhaustion, it just was not happening. So it was back into the sweltering medical tent to continue to treat our runners. We worked through the evening with a quick dinner break. Luckily we were able to close down the tent early (by not turning on the lights, shhhhh, don’t tell) and we were closed for business by 8:30pm instead of 8:45pm. It felt absolutely amazing to put on my jammies and crawl into my sleeping bag. After 5 minutes of reading, I was fast asleep. I’m so glad to be through this long day.
Finally beginning to feel that this race will indeed eventually end. The morning started early once again to the sounds of that song with the “hey, hey, hey” in it. Come on, you know which one I mean. Another breakfast was provided by the cowboys and we hit the road. We had to stop at the gas station but unfortunately I had no idea where my wallet was so I reveled in having 4G internet service instead of getting any snacks. Our checkpoint was actually right below the highway and the entire day was accompanied by the shush of cars driving by. It seemed a bit out of place but it was quite the luxury to have phone service and internet all day. Checkpoint set up went smoothly and soon I was reading my previously mentioned really interesting book.
Runners started rolling in a little sooner than expected and for the most part everyone looked great. I think that once people get past the really long stage, they are mentally in a much better place. Everyone knows that they will finish. It would be silly not to really after going through the suffering of a 50+ mile run. The time at the checkpoint actually went by relatively quickly and then there was a big hurry to get ready to sweep. The last 3 runners in were either part of the “challenge” (shorter distance race) or going to stop at that checkpoint because they had previously DNF’ed. So we were about 45 minutes behind the last racer.
The sweep started with a tentative walk through a tunnel. It was blessedly cool and dark in the tunnel. It didn’t last long though and soon we were squinting and sweating in the blazing desert sun. We clambered up a rock face with the assistance of a rope and then walked uphill through the sand and rock and sagebrush. The trail turned into a deeper sand double-track. We went up and up and up. I hadn’t realized that the entire sweep would be uphill so it began to be disheartening to see red sand winding up ahead us at each turn. Every time that I am actually out on the course I always have a new respect for what the runners are able to power through. The reward for the sore feet and quads was 360 views of craggy rock formations in shades from light tan to pink to deep orange. The relief I felt when I saw the next checkpoint was short-lived when I heard the shout, “Is there a runner in front of you?” Someone had been unaccounted for. After a lot of back and forth on the radio it was finally determined that there had been a clerical error. The runners in matched the runners out. But somehow in the confusion I got tasked with sweeping again. So my sweaty pack went back on and I went back out. I do love to walk though, I always have. The sun faded into greys and blues over the horizon. The air cooled quickly. The sounds of camp came into earshot and I could not wait to sit, take my pack off, and dump the beach of sand out of my shoes.
The only good part about being out so late is that the medical tent is pretty much closed when you get in. So I only touched a record breaking one pair of feet today! Great success! Lasagna and garlic bread never tasted so good. Thank goodness for the cooking cowboys. There was a lot of witty but slightly delirious banter doled out in the medical tent among the docs before bedtime. I was so thankful to get to crawl into my sleeping bag. 2 more days left. I can make it. I think.
It feels like we are on the home stretch here. We had a nice little checkpoint today with trees and actual grass. This place was going to seem like the Hilton to our weary runners. It was another hot day but blessedly cool in the shade. With a little TLC, all runners continued on past our checkpoint. It seemed like the day just flew by. Before I knew it, I was donning my pack and headed down the dirt road to camp. It was a short (and flat!) section to sweep tonight and we came into camp as the sun was setting. All that’s left is a mere 7.7 mile trek in the morning. Then on to town where luxuries such as cold beverages, showers, flush toilets, and alcohol exist. It is always so satisfying to be wrapping up another race.
Stage 6 – the finish!
Yay! Another race on the books! I had the pleasure of hiking to the finish with Jennifer Starling.
Jen is an ER physician based in Denver who has previously completed a wilderness medicine fellowship. She is great company and I can’t believe my good fortune of having her as my co-medic in Cambodia later this fall. We had a blast cracking jokes and taking pictures as we made our way to the Grand Staircase. The hike was challenging but ridiculously scenic. We never caught up to any runners since we were after the last (ergo fastest) wave of racers so it was pretty cool having the whole place to ourselves. We were met with cold pizza and an empty cooler at the finish but that’s okay. Soon we would be able to eat or drink whatever our grubby little hearts desired in Kanab. I caught a ride to town with Andy and a few other volunteers.
Finally! Back at the Best Western! It was kind of a rush to pick up bags and shower and try to get somewhat organized before our big grand finale banquet. But we got it all done and soon a group of unrecognizably cleaned up docs were jumping on the short bus to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The dinner venue was super nice! We all gorged on the awesome buffet and then danced it off to some bluegrass music. Not a bad way to end a race. After only a few days back at my apartment in Syracuse, it’s off to another adventure. Stay tuned!
Our awesome medical crew:
From left to right: Josh Mularella (previous Upstate fellow, medical team leader for G2G, has a great website to check out: expeditiondocs.com), Jennifer Starling (see above), me (duh!), Jenn Kruse (previous military doc, recently graduated from Upstate’s Emergency Medicine program, all-around awesome gal), A-a-ron Reilly (also previous military experience, completed the wilderness fellowship in NM, was always looking out for our medical team), and Lindsey Pryor (current (and best!) ER resident at Upstate, an absolute blast to be around at all times)