It’s noon on a Friday in mid-July and I’m anxiously standing in the Avis rental rental car line in the heavily air conditioned Reno International Airport. I’m dragging a fully-loaded 70-pound ski bag, a bike box, and a duffel packed chock-full of equipment ranging from alpine touring ski boots to running shoes to my rack of climbing cams. For once in my life, I’m at least slightly envious of the scores of overweight tourists walking past me, rolling their carry-on bags out of the terminal into the sweltering heat and towards their complimentary casino shuttles. I’m not jealous of the fact that I’m having to lug around hundreds of pounds more gear than them, I got over that envy a long time ago. I’m not jealous of the fact that they’ll be leaving a few days later with lighter wallets and a pool-side sunburn. And I’m not jealous of the fact that their vacation package comes with all you can eat seafood in a restaurant that is 218 miles inland from the Pacific coast. I’m jealous of the fact that for the next 48 hours they know exactly what they are getting themselves into, and I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m getting myself into.
I first floated the idea of flying out to Nevada to pace my best friend, Linden, in his first 100-mile backcountry ultramarathon in April during a sunrise run with him outside of his home in Santa Barbara, CA. Like most of those genius ideas usually pan out, on that April day I didn’t actually think this one would be any different and come to fruition. But as is the nature of daydreaming about something that is months away, it becomes all too easy to exclaim, “Yeah! We should totally do that!” As the race date neared, I decided to follow through with my promise, pulling the trigger on a plane ticket to Reno, and justifying my decision by deciding it would be the prefect mid-summer break that would keep me engaged in training and satiate my thirst for stupidly long adventures that most sprinters on the World Cup would probably say no to. A week before my flight west, Linden informed me in a phone call that he hoped I would be able to pace him from mile 50 to mile 100, picking him up at the end of his first 50-mile lap and running with him from the early afternoon until, ideally, the wee hours of the morning. Up until this summer, the furthest I had ever run was 30 miles. I’m a fit guy, I enjoy running, and I know I can suffer through a whole array of different types of challenges, but I don’t care who you are, doing anything physically demanding for 12 hours is daunting, nerve racking, and is downright scary. Hence the anxiety I felt in the airport as I questioned my survival and at least partially longed for the normalcy that usually comes with a three-day stay in Reno.
Fast forward 24 hours. I’ve eaten a tub of quinoa salad from Safeway for breakfast, spent at least an hour meticulously taping my toes so as to avoid blisters, and gone through my running pack at least a dozen times checking and re-checking to make sure I’ve got a headlamp with spare batteries, a roll of white tape, a rain jacket, 15,000 calories in ClifBar ShotBloks, and enough ibuprofen to tranquilize an elephant. Like clockwork, Linden trots into the 50-mile aid station at 3 P.M., having just run his first 50 at exactly the pace he was aiming for. A smile is plastered to his face even though he’s just run for 10 hours in 93° F desert heat. I pour a cup of ice down his back, refill his bottles with cloudy electrolyte drink mix, help him put on a fresh pair of socks, and then we hit the road. Eager to take his mind off of the fact that he’s only half-way done, I launch into a two-hour monologue complete with all the best jokes I know, a run down of the morning’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me episode, and a rolling checklist of all the Sierra peaks I want to ski with him next spring after the racing season is over. Six hours and 27 miles later we flick on our headlamps, letting the last light of the sunset over Lake Tahoe wash over us. There’s a chill in the air without the California sun above us, but our chapped lips and sun burnt skin embrace the bite that has replaced the intense heat. The miles continue to tick away as we plod along the Tahoe Rim Trail’s rolling single track, each of us going through our own highs and lows (I know, his lows were much more warranted that mine). Several times, I stutter-step to avoid crushing the tiny translucent scorpions that litter the high desert trail and only become visible when your headlamp beam lands directly on top of them. The aid stations at mile 30/80, mile 36/86, and mile 43/93 come and go, their pots of mac and cheese and chicken noodle soup slightly emptier after we’ve vacuumed up a few thousand calories from each. Our legs feel good, our crotches have miraculously stayed dry and chafe-free, and the stoke among both of us has gradually increased with each passing mile. Finally, at 2 a.m., we come off the final, seven-mile descent and catch a glimpse of the lights at the finish line and the thumping of reggae music coming from the party that awaits us. With only a couple miles left around the lake where the race is staged out of, our spirits soar and we throw in a few whoops of excitement. Just for the hell of it, we churn out a couple 7 minute miles as the beams from our headlamps start pouring faster and faster through the winding single track. And then just like that, we’re done. Linden finishes 11th overall, with an incredibly impressive time of 21 hours and 54 minutes (the TRT 100 is one of the harder courses you’ll find anywhere). A friend of ours, Leland, who was running main support and logistics for Linden, would later tell us that he knew it was us on the other side of the lake because all he could see was two headlamps hauling ass along the bank, knowing we were probably the only two runners out there who would still be able to muster up the energy to finish like we were just completing a 5 km.
Every time I reflect on that weekend, I can’t help but feel a surge of pride. Not because we ran a long way. Not because we proved we were worlds fitter than all those tourists strolling through the airport on their way to the craps table. And not because we were able to dunk ourselves in the radiant blue waters of Lake Tahoe without the help of a wheel chair the next day. No, I feel a surge of pride knowing that like myself, my best friend’s idea of a great time involves doing something so out of the ordinary it almost seems stupid, and to a lot of people out there, it is stupid. But not to us. Both of us will remember this adventure for the rest of our lives, storing it away with all of the other ones we’ve embarked on together in the past and all of those still waiting for us in the future.