Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Badwater 2008: A Blistering Pace, Part One: Pre-Race

I'm not sure how I'd describe Badwater in words. It's sort of like a wedding, with bridesmaids fawning over you and all the arrangements, jitters, and anticipation. It costs as much as a wedding too!

On the other hand, it could also be described as something like stabbing holes in various parts of your body, roasting it over an open flame, then peeling all of your skin off, strip by strip.

I don't know how to put this all down in anything less than a novel, so I'll get started, breaking it up section by section, chronologically from pre-race to post-race. Get yourself a cold drink with ice, crank the AC if you have it, and follow me down the long white line...

Leaving Home
After packing my car full of my stuff, I was relieved to find that I had just enough room left over for Ken's gear and the extra coffin cooler. It looked like I was headed for a week's vacation at the fat farm, though, with my stash of Slim Fast!

My neighbor wandered over while I was packing the car and wished me luck, and got a good laugh out of my odd-looking assortment of gear and food.

I left town Thursday afternoon early enough to avoid rush hour in Denver and drove to Eagle, CO, where I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn. I wanted to chill out by myself for the night and get a good night's sleep. It was kind of a weird place. All those sweaty hairy dudes from the sauna seemed to have followed me there. The place was crawling with men. Campers, pilots, military guys, oil field workers, and who knows what else. I stopped at a Mexican restaurant near the hotel and got my favorite comfort food, chicken enchiladas with green chile and refried beans, took it back to my room and barricaded myself in there.

I slept great and woke up early Friday morning for the short drive to pick up Ken in Glenwood Springs. I arrived in the parking lot of his condo and we loaded what was left into my car, which was jam-packed.

We hit the road by 8:15 and after a stop in Grand Junction so Ken could go to the bank, we started our endless drive west. We stopped a lot, we were both trying to get hydrated so there were frequent breaks, plus we needed to stop in St. George at the Wal-Mart and get a dozen or so things that were still left on the list. We called Steph after the trip to Wal-Mart and headed for Las Vegas, which we hit in Friday evening rush hour. It was hot and smoggy and the traffic was horrible, but we finally got through it and headed west to Death Valley.

All the fires near Santa Barbara and other places in California were making the sky hazy and we worried about the valley being smoky or hazy during the race with poor visibility. It did clear up by race day though. The sunset was spectacular near Death Valley Junction. We stopped by the kiosk near Zabriskie Point and got our park pass. One thing done, a million more to go...

We arrived in Furnace Creek at 170 feet below sea level in the evening after a high temperature of 124 degrees, after 12 hours on the road. We checked in, and we were exhausted. The locks on the door of the girls' room wouldn't work so I had to wait for security to come by and reprogram the key. I slept well again. It's always good to sleep well leading up to a race.

The next morning I sat around most of the day. We went to breakfast and talked with Chris Frost and a few of the other runners who had arrived already. It was really quiet at Furnace Creek. I was surprised how few runners were milling around. I kept a low profile. I don't like to socialize much or use much energy leading up to the race. I went to the gift shop to get a few things to bring back, and Ken and I sat out for a while in the 110 degree sun, entertaining ourselves by watching people and the birds who waited around for scraps from tourists.

We did visit the Borax Museum, which was interesting. Lots of old pictures and tools and magazine articles about the history of borax mining and the railroad from the early 1900s. It's amazing that people survived there before the days of reliable refrigeration. There was this one funny article from the 1940s or 50s that said, How would you like to take an automobile trip to hell? It went on to say, A trip to Death Valley would be just like that, only better... Not very sophisticated marketing efforts back then...

There was something weird with the clock in the room. When I came back after breakfast it seemed to be running really fast. I figured the housekeeper must have hit some buttons while she was cleaning. I reset it, then later it was fast by a couple of hours again!

Finally I sat there and timed it. The thing was turning over a minute every 53 seconds! I checked it on my watch several times. Hmmmm. Maybe we were really in a different world. Or maybe time is compressed below sea level? Very weird. Could be a good physics problem to figure out on the run. Anyway, I unplugged the clock because I didn't want it to mess us up. I had my running watch to use as an alarm.

Ken went for a walk and took some pictures, I sat in my room and relaxed, took a nap, and hydrated until Steph and Katy showed up around dinner time. It was uplifting to see them. We all settled in and I got another good night's sleep.

Sunday was a whirlwind of making signs, getting the crew vehicles organized, figuring out race day plans, and attending all the pre-race check-ins, meetings and briefings. Otherwise my job was to stay in the room, eat, drink, and relax as much as possible, staying out of the crew's way.

I worked on the signs, which didn't take much energy. At noon Steph and I went over to the check-in at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, where I had to bring my ID, my crew vehicle information, and waivers for all of my crewmembers. I got my number, race goodie bag & crew t-shirts, had my mug shot taken and taped interview done. I forgot that they would interview me on tape and I had no idea what to say on the spot. I said something like, I have the best crew in the world, and we're going to haul ass tomorrow, or something goofy like that. Later on the race director said something about how everyone always says they have the best crew in the world. Of course I fit into that category. I guess it was easy to spot a rookie.

We saw some of our buddies from Colorado, Nattu, John, Ed and Dale as we were waiting in line to check in. They were crewing for Bob Becker from Florida and Scott Snyder from Denver. It was fun to stand out there in the heat and feel the excitement and energy of all the runners.

Alene & Steph before the runner check-in

Ed Green, Alene, Nattu Nattraj, & Dale Perry. Ed and Dale are two towering giants from Colorado crewing for Floridian Bob Becker.
Alene entering the check-in
Alene handing crew waivers & paper-work to race staff. Bob Becker from Florida is on the right.
Luis greeting Alene before he takes her mug shot
Alene on tape
Alene & Rick N.
Alene & Lisa B.

We went back to the room where Nick had arrived and Ken, Katy and Nick were getting things organized and putting the signs on our vehicles. We had the pre-race meeting next, back at the visitor center. At the pre-race meeting, Chris Kostman (the race director) went over any revisions to the rules, pertinent information and showed a video from last year's race.

One of the things Chris said was that there have been flash floods in the area near the far end of the course, up by Independence, Lone Pine and Olancha and there was always a possibility that if the road got washed out, there might have to be a last minute course change. He told us about one likely scenario where we might have to go across a stretch that was accessible to runners on foot but not crew vehicles, where the crew might have to detour around and meet us on the other side. I tried not to think about it, I figured we'd deal with it if it happened.

Then Chris introduced all the race staff and called each individual runner up to the stage until we were all up there. One of the 2007 Badwater finishers who is from Hawaii has colon cancer and was unable to attend this year's event, so Chris made up t-shirts that said, "I'm on Don's team" for all of the runners and we greeted Don with an aloha from the stage.

John Hobbs from Denver, crewing for Scott Snyder

On the stage I stood next to Jamie whom I've been in touch with via our mutual blogs. We wished each other good luck in our races and I was pullling for her to win this year, she led for most of the women's race last year and she is in great shape this year and wanted it bad. She ended up having the race of her life, breaking Pam Reed's record by an hour and placing 3rd overall. I'm so thrilled for her accomplishment! She's had a rough time lately in her life, which makes her race even more admirable.

One of the race staff members was this big guy who looked like he could have been a football player, he was wearing a kilt! I told Steph, "you have to get a picture of that kilt!" I really liked the kilt.

After the meeting we went to dinner and held our crew meeting while we were waiting. We discussed the highlights of what I'd identified as the most important things for getting through the race successfully, and Steph guided us through it. I welcomed the crew to the puke-free zone and told them how I wanted to stay "in the zone".

Then it was back to the rooms. Ken was my foot care person on the crew, and he came over and helped me tape my feet so the tape would adhere by race morning. While we were taping, it suddenly hit me. It was all happening. All these months of training and preparation, and IT WAS HERE!

I got ready for bed and Katy and I had turned out the lights but were still awake and talking, and the phone in the room rang. I picked it up, thinking it was Steph calling from the guys room where she was busy getting last minute things together so she wouldn't keep us awake. But it was Felix! He was calling from Colorado to wish me good luck. He had finished his bike race from Canada to Mexico and was back in Ft. Collins. That was awesome to hear from him!

It took me a long time to fall asleep but finally I did and I slept soundly until just before the alarm went off at 5 am.
photo credits this post: Ken Eielson, Stephanie Willingham


Allison Horn said...

I'm in awe! Congratulations. I can't wait for more installments!

Fairbanks said...


What an amazing, inspiring and crazy cool blog.

I live in Fort Collins and saw a little thing about you in the paper that's what led me to your blog.

I'm a climber/mt. runner and reading your badwater post/year. has me so motivated I think I'm going to go for a long run right now.


Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Adam...have a fantastic run! Stay cool.