Sep
04

Radios, Weather & 100 Mile Runners

Last weekend the 17th annual Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run happened. Over the past some years, I’ve written a few columns about the runners and their connections with the outdoors and fresh air and the earth, and my admiration for anyone who stretches personal boundaries in an effort to understand what they might actually be able to accomplish.

I coordinate the hams, and Rich White coordinates the run itself and all associated volunteers. As with past years of this event, along with a couple hundred of Rich’s race and aid station volunteers, there were more than forty of us licensed ham radio operators helping track runners and avoid (or handle, if necessary) any emergencies. We all spend from six to 36 hours scattered in ham and aid station teams along the 100 miles of ridge and valley trail. We do this because it is always fun to play radio communications, and it is always an honor to support men and women determined to find their limits.

155 men and women were set to start the race. 99 of them completed 100 mile runs. This was the lowest percentage of finishers since the first year of the race. Once the last runner cleared our overnight Mineral Creek Aid Station (mile 74), Diane and I returned to work the last few hours of Net Control – at the Easton Fire Station. All Sunday afternoon, as runners found their way to the finish line, I couldn’t get “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” out of my head.

This, as you may know, is not an official creed for mail delivery folks, although it is often thought to be, since it is chiseled into stone at the Central Post Office in New York. Official or not, it seemed a perfect homily for this year’s runners.

The weekend was a perfect collision of runners, volunteers and unexpected weather. We anticipated rain and a bit of wind; we did not anticipate what UW’s meteorologist Cliff Mass identified as the worst summer storm to hit the Northwest in recorded history. At the center of the storm was the lowest pressure found to date on Tatoosh Island off the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Winds reached as high as 78 knots (right around 90 mph) in one location in the Puget Sound. Trees were down, power was out, traffic was stalled and there was local flooding. At some locations in the Cascades, four inches of rain fell. The storm impacted runners and the ability of volunteers (both hams and race folks) to get out of the Seattle-Tacoma area and to Easton. (Learn much more at cliffmass.blogspot.com/ and check out Monday’s entry.)

By the time the runners hit the Keechelus Ridge Aid Station (mile 60 – sometime between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.) the weather was having its way. Temperatures had dropped into the upper 30s and strong winds were blowing rain and sleet sideways. Somewhere in there, a number of runners were reaching a point beyond what they had trained to handle. A quick coordinated effort among hams and race volunteers got a couple dozen of them safely into vehicles and back to Easton – urgent, but not emergency, actions. Runners who stayed on the course made it off the ridge, down to Kachess Lake, around to Mineral Creek and then up onto No Name Ridge and Thorp Mountain. At various times, even with cutting edge headlamps, they could not see beyond 20 feet.

Things eased up a bit with daylight. By 6 p.m. Sunday 99 of them had completed their 100 mile run. As one woman observed, “Other than the high wind and low wind chill, and the rain and sleet, and mud and poor visibility and fear of missing a turn… It was a perfect night for a long run.”

There is something of deep value in supporting men and women determined to go full out – determined to get past a personal breaking point and whatever might be in the way, to make some new connection with life.

I’m not a runner, but I can return to a long-ago goat hunt high in the Colorado Rockies, a final five mile trail, and a second 70-pound pack of goat hide, meat and gear. After sixteen miles of rock stair-steps and trail, there was no way I could make it, but somehow I did. I think of a single rope bridge over a terrifyingly-deep chasm I could not cross, yet did. I remember falling off that truck, returning from a blissful, peaceful place to excruciating physical pain, yet somehow joyfully completing my Big Afrika Adventure.

Each of us, at some point, breaks through something that resists us, to find and explore the limitations of our bodies and minds – to fully experience this physical existence. I have long believed that the most astounding breakthroughs take place outdoors. The Cascade Crest 100 Endurance Run certainly fits that vision.

To paraphrase: Neither rain, nor sleet, nor wind, nor cold, nor gloom of night shall keep these runners from the completion of their appointed 100 miles.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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