Last weekend, Salmon hosted the Beaverhead 55k and 100k Endurance Races. A bunch of friends volunteered to run an aid station and sweep part of the course on their mountain bikes, and Hank and I piled in a truck to join.
The night before the race, we crawled two trucks along the spine of the continental divide, making it to the aid station location under the stars. In the morning we woke up early to set up the station, treated to one of those summer mountain sunrises, all pinks and oranges. At 6:30 AM the first racers arrived, only a few hours into a full day of moving forward.
It's funny, in sports like fly fishing and rafting, how accustomed we get to our gear. We scoff at our guests when they don't know the difference between a paddle and an oar, forgetting it's weird niche knowledge. The whole ultra running scene reminded me of this. The dixie cups of flat Pepsi, the intricate light-weight hydration systems, the lycra gaters over their trail running shoes - it was fun to watch athletes at the top of their game do their athlete thing. After the last runner passed, a group back swept back toward the prior aid station and Cas, Laurel and I started biking toward Lemhi Pass, plucking flagging from trees and fences as we went.
Thirteen miles and a few hours later I was hot, tuckered, and even more in awe of what humans can train the human body to do. If biking it was hard, what did running it feel like? We snagged our rig, loaded our bikes, headed down the pass, ate a giant ice cream cone, drove back into town, dropped off the dogs, changed clothes and headed back out to the finish line just in time to see some of the 100k runners we had met nearly 12 hours before finishing. Woah.
At the finish line, I had to laugh. The runners, shooting the shit under the shade tarp, were just like a bunch of guides sitting on a sweep boat at Indian Creek or mountain bikers perched on the tailgate at a trailhead. I've never quite understood why people ultra run (so much pain, so little endorphin filled downhill?) but after being around it for a day, I would guess some of it is the community of people cheering you on as you hit the finish line. That, and the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment of enduring something really hot, really long and really difficult. I mean, I wouldn't know, I opted for the ice cream cone mid-afternoon instead of the scree field. But cheers to all those (like Dara and Katie, pictured below!) that took the hard route.