Scatter my ashes here...

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

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Don't Get It...

The decision has been made by the National Park Service in regards to the future of the Badwater Ultramarathon held in Death Valley National Park.

I have an opinion. It's all mine, not Chris Kostman's, or the race's.

In a nutshell, the way it would affect the race, on the surface, is that the park will no longer allow the event to be held in the summer months of July and August. There are additional stipulations too. All of which appear to be things that were already covered. Some apply to all events held in the park, not just this one.

I don't understand why they would want to have the Badwater Ultramarathon during a time, according to the bureaucrats' thinking, when the temperatures were cooler, where there would likely be more tourists and more traffic on the road.

Heat illness has not been an issue that affects public safety either. Most runners and crews do a great job with avoiding that. And the medical team, staffed with real medical professionals, has it handled and fixed in almost every instance, and if it's more serious, which is rare, are more than qualified and prepared to get the person the proper and timely care. They want to hold the race outside of July and August months. It can get just as hot in June and September. Some years in July it is only 110 degrees on race day.

According to my friend Sasquatch, who is a real live meteorologist, and a solo Badwater finisher, "June and Sept are not as hot as July and August, climatologically, but that doesn't mean it doesn't get hot other times as well. We're talking about 6 degrees of difference here."

Here is a climatological summary of the temps and precip in Death Valley, per month:
NOAA data courtesy of Dale Perry

There might be some race directors out there who don't have all their ducks in a row, but the Badwater Ultramarathon is meticulous about participants' attention to safety.

I've heard people saying it's the nanny state mentality. That these decisions were made by people who are too lazy to get up from their desks and walk across the parking lot, so they drive those big government vehicles half a block to the next building instead. There is some truth to these assertions. I worked for the Park Service one summer in college. I've seen it myself.

A bureaucrat comes along and forces a decision. Well, bureaucrats come and go, as is evident from the auditorium at Stovepipe Wells, where the dozens of portraits of former Death Valley National Park supervisors hang in the room where we always had the medical team set up. Perhaps in the future, someone will change their mind. And if not, there are alternatives.

Traditionalists will say that the race is not the same, it has to be held in the heat of the summer. I think this will push more people to do solos, something that could be more dangerous. I also think it could also result in people attempting more risky routes. The Park Service does not understand the mentality of ultrarunners. AT ALL. We are talking about people who, if told they can't do something, will do it times a gazillion.

A few years back, when Michael Popov died attempting to cross the salt pan, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Badwater Ultramarathon race.

Obviously the Park doesn't see it the way runners do. They see budgets and staffing, that's for sure. Parks are supposed to be for the enjoyment of the people. Which people? I wonder how Xanterra sees it, the company that runs the concessions and hotels and restaurants?

I'm not happy about it, but it remains to be seen what Chris will do and how the relationship between DVNP and the race will be going forward.

I'm thankful that I did the race when I did, and my road double when I did, and I'm glad I didn't put it off until my 50th birthday, which would have been this year, because it wouldn't have happened, at least not the same way.

But I feel horrible for those who have put so much effort into the event for years and years and have turned it from a tiny offbeat little gathering to a real, legitimate, world-renowned race and adventure that captures international attention. And for those who had running Badwater as a long term goal or dream for so many years and never quite made it while the event was as it was, until 2014.

There are some things worth more than money. There is no way I, personally, could put a dollar value on what my experiences have been as a result of being involved with that race in some capacity as far back as 2002. I am one of thousands of people who have participated in this event who could say, yes I enjoyed my national park, I experienced it in the way I chose to. I kept a lot of people employed in the park by doing it. Including the supervisor.

Times have changed. Thinking has changed. Power dynamics have changed. Priorities have changed. The helicopter bureaucrats have prevailed.

The only thing that is guaranteed is change. We will see what happens, stay tuned.

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