"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tales from an Aid Station

There's so many race reports coming: Superior, Wasatch, City of Lakes, World 24 Hour... and new records to talk about (American record for 24 hours is now over 170 miles!), but I want to give a little story of my day in the North Woods Friday. You can read about the first runners elsewhere - I have a story to tell about the last one to arrive at Tettegouche.

Peak 1525

I got to the start of the Superior Sawtooth 100 and eventually found Lisa Messerer, who let me borrow her Garmin Forerunner (mine's dead) before the race started. This gave me 5 hours to go climbing before I had to be at my aid station in Tettegouche State Park. There are four peaks in the area and I decided to do them in order of ease, so started with the one near Bean Lake, which is always photographed from the overlook on the Superior Hiking Trail.

I parked at the lot in Silver Bay and then followed the SHT to the Twin Lakes Trail (making wrong turns only six times), which is wide and goes right to the shore of the lake. There's a campground there and a path led along the shoreline, so I decided to follow it as far as I could. This is probably the most visited place in the area, so I should have expected the trail I found, an unofficial path along the shoreline that gets one within 1/4 mile of the peak - unfortunately, directly under a cliff (partly visible in the photo above). The shallowest incline to the top starts at a cove at the south end of the lake, so I backtracked and found what I'd earlier thought was a path to another campsite (about 0.61 miles from the peak), but which led exactly where I wanted to go. It was an easy climb up to a knife-edge ridge, where I had to bushwhack to each of four possible high points. There's a 300 foot drop to either side of a route sometimes only one or two feet wide. The views are spectacular, but I was getting vertigo unless I focused. If you're not afraid of heights, I'd recommend it.

Peaks 1475 and 1405

It's only a few miles from Silver Bay to Peak 1475, which I've driven past several times and considered climbing each time, forgetting why I don't. It's posted No Trespassing and it's a 1 mile very steep bushwhack, followed by another half mile to a secondary possible high point. I abandoned that one again and headed to the Beaver Bay aid station of the race, where I could head to Peak 1405. It's about two miles as the crow flies from there, but more than three to the start of the bushwhack and then almost a mile to the peak; I started off on the trail, trying to do it as fast as I could. Then I saw Steven Moore and Adam Schwartz-Lowe coming toward me. They were way under course record pace and I knew I wouldn't have time to climb and still get back to the aid station and set it up before they arrived, so I had to abandon it.

As I drove past the aid stations, I looked for Lisa's drop bags, so I could return the Garmin.

Aid station

Fortunately, when I arrived, Kevin Martin and another guy had finished putting up the marquee, so I wasn't going to be rushed, trying to figure out how to do it by myself. I organized as best I could, met the others who'd be working there as they arrived and explained how we'd do things (more or less; I'm more seat-of-the-pants than most about these things).

Things went well. We had the usual casualties, those who'd fallen and got injured and those who were underprepared. Then, with about 30 runners yet to report, we ran out of ginger ale, bananas and bread. By this time, the racers were no longer coming in large groups and everyone had figured out what to do, so I said I'd see if I could scrounge supplies from the earlier stations. What I'd forgotten was just how long it takes to drive between stations. When I got to Silver Bay, it had been packed up and hauled away already; for some reason, I thought the Beaver Bay station, which wasn't far, might not have been cleared yet - and, as it happens, Kevin and the other guy (sorry, I can't recall the name) were packing it. They had bananas, but I had to stop at a store on the way back to pick up ginger ale and bread. By the time I got back to Tettegouche and raced uphill carrying the stuff, there were only a few runners left on the course.


It was getting close to the cut-off time and only two runners were yet to arrive. The sun would be down soon, so it was time to clean and pack everything back into the Forest Ranger's truck that had been used to haul equipment to this remote station. As we were doing this, we got word that a runner had collapsed on the trail. Collapsed - not fell. Panting breaths and numbness in one leg. That could be anything, or nothing at all. The description told me it was Jesse, with whose finish at Ice Age a few years ago (made the cut-off by 1 second!) I'd regaled my station staff.

When he came in, he looked awful. Barely moving, barely vertical. They got him in my chair [by the way, tired runners want chairs with solid armrests, so they can use their arms to lift themselves - the light collapsible chairs everyone has can't compare to my 50 year-old deck chair] and, while they were talking to him, I observed from a distance, while giving a few instructions on stowing gear in the truck. Jesse's wife (Laura?) was there and I was hoping she'd be able to say, "oh, I've seen this before," but she was looking for us to tell her what to do. There was discussion of getting emergency help, of getting a vehicle up the hill so he wouldn't have to walk to the parking lot. But, I know Jesse and, as station captain, it was my decision; I had to see for myself what he really needed.

"Good to see you, Jesse, though I wish it were under better circumstances."

As I said this, the bent lump of flesh in the chair turned toward me, paused and said, "Steve Quick? Is that you?!" and he tried to get up out of the chair to give me a proper greeting. Suddenly, he was all smiles and animatedly telling me about how things were going. He was, miraculously, a thousand times better... but not good. He still had shallow breaths and I had to figure out what the problem was. I was guessing it was probably low blood sugar, which can do that, and he wasn't eating (he really wanted the chocolate milk they'd brought, but nothing else); that could also explain why he collapsed. Hyperventilating could cause tingling in his hands and feet, but it was just one leg. I was still worried that this could be something serious.

I decided we'd try walking down the hill, with me bracing him and another guy (sorry, never caught your name) coming along in case he dropped and we'd have to carry him. It was pitch black by this time and we were going down by the light of the cheapo headlamp I'd brought - which I had to remember to point on the ground where I wanted him to step, not where I was going. He was telling me about the trip he and Dan Mattimiro had made to the Grand Canyon, where they went rim-to-rim-to-rim. "A half hour from the top, a ranger made me stop and rest." So - this was not new; he'd just overextended himself again and far more than others would.

I can respect that. But then "it takes one to know one."

I asked where they were spending the night, as how far they'd go would decide what I'd tell them to do. They hadn't made plans. Okay, the picture came together at last; this was not planned well on his part. He was able to get in the truck without assistance and he was finally drinking the chocolate milk he'd wanted. Once they were out of the park they weren't my responsibility any more, but this wasn't a stranger I'd never see again. Essentially, I told them to do what I'd do - play it by ear, see how things go.

Then, as they were leaving, a sheriff and a ranger came wanting to know who had the radio they'd given me. Apparently, when I handed it to the ham radio operator while I tended to Jesse, he'd hit the panic button and sent out an emergency alarm... and then gave it back, without telling me. They took the radio away.

It took me three more trips up and down the hill to finish up that night, as I kept remembering details just as I was about to leave. Then, not having eaten all day, I abandoned the plan to spend the night on the North Shore and drove home, where I fell asleep (completely dressed) before I even thought about dinner.

Because of other things going on with me, that meant: three days, two meals, five hours of sleep... and a couple of stories to tell.


PiccolaPineCone said...

and how many miles & vertical feet covered in self propelled fashion in that time? did you finally get a good stretch of zzzzs?

Running with MTP said...

Although not perfect - The real (ish) time coverage of the 100M race was great!

I checked back often to see if 21 ... even was hoping 20 hours would be broken.

I think the live coverage always builds interest and excitment around a race and helps it to grow in the future.

I am hoping to be able to participate in 2013!

SteveQ said...

Mike, I don't know how much more that race can grow. At 130 starters, my aid station was swamped for a while. Of course, you're always welcome.

mike_hinterberg said...

Cool, I'd love to see a pic of that ridge along Peak 1525 if you have any or if you encounter any on the internets.

Regarding the fallen runner, how bad of shape was he on the trail and did he have a pacer? Obviously he was able to make it to the next AS. I am continuously curious about the dynamic that these situations present. On the one hand, a certain amount of terrible-ness is expected (vomiting and slow movement) and is blocked out by other runners as much as they're prepared to block it out themselves. OTOH, how does one judge on the trail if a person really needs help? (Especially when fellow racer's are fatigued and have delayed judgment).
I wonder about this in light of a nascent trend of downplaying pacers as being unnecessary and "cheating," OTOH those prepared to run solo might also be more prepared.

SteveQ said...

Mike, my camera got lost in the woods on an earlier trip; I don't know of any photos from the ridge - being afraid of heights, it probably seemd worse to me than to anyone else.

Jesse didn't have a pacer; it was the trail sweeps that told me he what was coming. The whole point was that I had to decide how bad off he was with no medical training; if I hadn't known him personally, I might have sent him to the hospital.