“Do you ever get the sensation the RD is screwing with us?” I shouted.
“Every mile,” Superman responded. The howling wind made his answer barely audible. Fifty plus miles of running, climbing, nearly freezing to death, and basically slogging his way to the lead position of Bigfoot 100k had left Tim VanNorman exhausted, yet posed and somehow, still moving forward. We had entered the boulder fields that surround Mount St. Helens in the pitch dark. The reflective strip on Tim’s shorts danced in the ray of my headlamp, moving away rapidly. I was chasing Superman. Even after 56 miles of joy and hell, Superman was flying.
The boulders were sharp, each massive stone thrown into the field at random angles, inviting a tired runner to fall in and threatening to shift onto our dangling appendages. The rain was coming down in a haze. It was hard to see more then a few feet in front of our shoes. At points, we were making full jumps of faith between boulders. During one such jump, a 60-mile per hour wind, (gusts that had been plaguing all the racers that day), caught my rain jacket and lifted my 138 lb body clean off the boulder field. Why the hell am I out here, I thought to myself. This is madness. I have four small children. Why am I willing to risk my life over this? And why, oh why, do I love this so much?
When I heard about Bigfoot 100k, I had to be involved. None of us knew what would await the racers, volunteers, and pacers that day. The weather started out mildly enough. Through the first aid stations, the racers of our club, Silverdale RIOT, were looking relaxed and happy. As the day grew longer, the temperature dropped on the overpasses bringing snow and hail. There were wind gusts so extreme, Superman said he was certain his skin had been peeled off at several points. An aid station blew away. Tim was forced to hide in a Port-A-John with a fellow racer to avoid freezing. Dropped runners returned to the starting line, leaving the race vehicles looking mangled and spent. As the hours went on, I became more and more nervous. The number of runners still in Bigfoot 100k was down to less than 50% of the starting lineup.
The Blue Lake aid station volunteers seemed entertained that I appeared in full gear, anticipating Superman’s appearance. “You really think he will be first out of the trail?” they asked me.
“He’ll be here soon and yes, he will be first.”
The hours went by. Finally, a headlamp came out of the woods, bouncing in a familiar way. It was Tim. “Who is in the lead?” Tim asked. All the aid station workers fell silent. “That would be you buddy,” I said with a smile. Tim looked dazed. He’d hardly eaten a thing. “I am in a lot of trouble,” he said, looking at me wearily.
You got this Superman.
The last miles are often the hardest. Tim was on the verge of collapse. Hypothermia was setting in. I had flashbacks to my experience as a 12 year old on a 120 mile journey in the wilderness of Canada. I’d been out in the wind, rain and elements for over 5 days. It had been relentless, harsh and fantastically beautiful. I went back 2 more times over the years. I love this stuff.
“Whoo hoo!” I yelled, panning my light up over the boulder fields. Reflective markers dotted the rising hillside. The whole landscape looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. “You know, no one will ever believe this!” I yelled at Tim. “You’re right!” he yelled back. Our mouths and faces were covered with our buffs. When he turned to speak to me, I could only make out his eyes. Despite all of the day’s trials and his sheer level of exhaustion, Superman was having the time of his life.
Some of us are just wired differently. I think that’s why we do this. When asked to come out and pace, I jumped at the chance to become a safety net for my friend. I managed to keep us from going the wrong way, caught Superman from falling off a ledge, and annoyed the crap out of Tim reminding him to eat. But mostly, I was given the honor to witness an amazing human go to the brink of death and run that line with humility, dignity, and extreme strength. When the glowing lights of the finish arch appeared after over 18 hours of racing, in true form, Tim turned and said, “Thanks for the walk in the woods.”
Any time Superman.