Volunteering Ultra Round III: High Lonesome 100

Every year I pop out to High Lonesome, I think to myself, in an imaginative voice, “I’m one step closer to my destiny.”

Then I park at Hancock Aid Station, try to breathe, and realize the inherent truth that is before me.

I choose life.

High Lonesome 100 is a hugely, insanely, bigly, addictive race to get involved in. In year one it started with supporting a friend, learning what mountains really are, and being exposed to a world in which I was left completely unsupervised for 48 years. In year two it started with offering up the race to my wife as a “happy anniversary” vacation, and also seeing the true family identity of the running community.

Also though; a very reckless seed was a planted through this whole mess. One that should be discarded, removed, burned at the stake, and then drowned in holy water.

I think I would like to run this race.

(I can hear you smacking your forehead with your hand from where I’m typing this.)

All of that means, heading into the 2019 High Lonesome 100, it was still about yelling, laughing, and forcing the conquering of Hancock Road, but it was a bit more also. It was an opportunity to learn more about the race, the runner, the logistics, almost a preparatory class of what I hope I will be….someday far in the future.

So…with that information upfront; allow me to (re)introduce you to High Lonesome 100; an ultra for volunteers.

Salida High School; July 25, 2019, 2:00 PM MST: Like all good stories, we pick up where we left off. With filling water jugs…so, so many water jugs. In fact, compared to last year, more water jugs were filled at High Lonesome in 2019 versus years past. Realistically, there’s a high chance that the snowmelt and such that prevented Hardrock, aided our water containers. Thankfully, two great adjustments were made this year, I met Kathy, an awesome lady that also filled water jugs with me. Also, thank you Salida High School for actually allowing us to fill up the jugs at your school, instead of jacking up poor Andrew’s* water bill just down the road at his house. Realistically though, the aid station ‘put together’ that took place on Thursday was so, so cleaner compared to years past. Most everything was set in their respective aid station pick up areas by 6:00 PM MST. I’m rather certain that’s a new PR for the race. Also, this year, being daring, I actually stood through the pre-race meeting that night. It was fascinating because I met some interesting people from back home, and also saw some faces that looked familiar from Instagram…like…Anna Frost and Clare Gallagher. This was the first year that I definitely stood around marveling at individuals, and thinking, “Whoa. This race is popular, the big kids are coming out to play. I should so stay from this…” (I also had not realized that Anna was not running but crewing, and Clare was pacing).

About the time I was wiping my jaw off the floor, John came over to me (course director), and asked if I would be willing to do something at one of the aid stations tomorrow. Naturally, I said yes (having no idea what it was). 

He asked me to put a few LED lights on the course by Hancock.

He asked me to attached little lights to posts and flags on the course.

People, I, Shawn the flatlander, was asked to mark the course at High Lonesome!

I went to bed that night, in an amazing AirBnB**, like a kid on Christmas Eve. For my ‘training run’ the next day I would be heading up Hancock Pass to attach lights, signs, and get a taste of that world.

Hancock Aid Station/Pass: July 26, 2019, 11:00 AM MST: After DESTROYING another breakfast burrito from Mo’s Burrito’s in Salida, it was off to Hancock Aid Station. The race was already afoot (heh), and just before noon my wife and I, sucking air and all, arrived at our destination. My first objective? Hanging lights on signs!

The instructions from John were very easy; go three miles up the pass, and then cross the snowfield, at the intersection place the signs, and then on your way back divide out the lights heading into the aid station.

That’s all I had to do.

All. I. Had. To. Do.

Amanda, a member from the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) joined me on my jaunt. Naturally, Amanda wanted to the run the trail, so did I. The difference was Amanda could run the trail, I could not. Heading up the path we posed for a photo that may/may not make it into Runner’s World or some other magazine (it was weird)? I’m counting off the flags, and playing in the snow, when we arrived to the snow field to cross to the intersection.

Bless the souls/soles of the runners that had to cross that awful thing when they’re already 45 miles into the race. We were about to start climbing, when I mean out of nowhere, the entire world lit up like a lightbulb about the go out, and followed by a cackling “BOOM!” across the sky.

Either Jesus was descending up on us, or being above tree line, we had walked right into a thunderstorm along the pass. That’s when it started raining….sleeting…hailing…and the world got weird. Thankfully, Amanda was with me and knew about getting down from the lightning. We dived into some trees as the temperature dropped and the rain continued. This was the moment Amanda told me about the times she had, had hypothermia in the mountains.

Cue the time I paced a runner during a severe thunderstorm in Kansas

We stood under the trees for about 45 minutes, thinking the storm would pass. Turns out they don’t do that, they just sit there like an unwanted house guest. At that point I, after dialogue, made a choice…no signage was going up the mountain because…lightning.

We would tag the markers with lights, but only going back down into the trees.

Understand that Amanda and I made a choice to begin our drop back towards the aid station. The moment we stepped back out onto the trail, God, Himself, cranked it up to an 8 and just brought all the lightning to the party.

Dearest reader; I would like to share with you that I, the ogre that trail runs for reasons of which we’ll never know, clocked a thirteen minute mile at 11,500 feet. With metal rods in my hand (for the signs I failed to put up) I came careening down Hancock Pass. The whole time I was telling myself two things:

1. I have metal rods in my hand. Is this where Caleb told the runners to throw their poles as far as possible away from their body? But if I do that, they’re going down the cliff, and then the race will get nailed for littering…SPEED UP!

2. You know, running with these metal rods makes me think that I’m holding poles in my hand. Yeah…I’m holding trekking poles, heading into Hancock in horrible weather…yeah…I’m doing it mom! *cue remainder of the daydream until stumbling over an ancient railroad tie.*

Upon arrival back to Hancock; Amanda and I were soaking wet from whatever hellfire had descended on us. I skipped over to my car to try the impossible…

But did you die? Not quite…

Completely change all of my clothes in the front seat of a Mazda CX-5. If marking the course, outrunning inevitable death, and playing at elevation wasn’t impressive enough…please let it go on record that at 6’5 and 265 pounds; I completely changed myself in the car without a single person being blinded and/or scarred.

Truly this day was full of miracles.

After the early excitement had passed; I got comfortable into my position at Hancock. Several weeks earlier Caleb had messaged me and asked if I would be willing to run communications at the aid station. Out here in Flyover land that means calling in, texting, etc…bib numbers and runners to make sure everyone is accounted for.

Out at High Lonesome though…the revenge of my high school astronomy class came back to visit. Once upon a time, for one of our finals in class, we had to communicate with a telescope across the world, angle it to a specific degree, and view the regions of a specific set star (yes, in the middle of a corn field this really did happen). At the aid station the following setup was created…IN THE ABSOLUTE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!

  1. Open up router
  2. Turn on router
  3. Angle router to approximately 43 degrees and face to the SE
  4. Connect wireless device to router
  5. Ensure that router is connected to satellite internet
  7. Good luck…

By the time the setup was completed; we had access to pinpoint location of runners being dialed in as they entered and left our aid station, with or without pacer, and also with all the nighttime gear they’re required to have on them (pants…optional).

This also meant checking CORSAR cards, which meant reading the names of people on those cards, which meant seeing the name Clare on one of the cards, trying to make small talk, and completely miss the sheer magnitude that I was talking (and failing at joking with) the EVER-LOVING WINNER OF THE 2019 WESTERN STATES 100!

…I am so ashamed…

I enjoy technology, but I felt like I was Cyborg working with a Motherbox for a few hours at the aid station (go ahead…look that one up, I’ll wait). I wound up near the entry point of the aid station, and Mark, the aid station captain, wound up on the opposite side. It became a night of just pure yelling. I’d yell the bib number coming, Mark would second that, he would yell the bib number leaving, and I’d second that…for nearly eight hours without stopping.

It was coolest, most tech-driven circus ever! Plus, we didn’t loose a runner.

Because of my location this year and times, I was able to see the leaders of the race. Something that wasn’t as common in years past for me. Meaning, I saw my friend Zach (he’s so fast!), and also got to see some of the pacers leaving out with them (like Kate, Zach’s wife, who is freaking fast). To feel really special, Kate even asked if I would drive their car back to start/finish (remember, one, single 100 mile loop). Guys, guys! The fast, cool people (AKA: everyone running) asked me to move their vehicle! I. LOST. MY. MIND! That’s like being asked to eat at the same lunch table as the athletes in middle school (this also meant that my wife would have the first hand experience of driving Hancock Road in the middle of the night…I didn’t want her ahead of time). By 11:00 PM MST, Darci and I had, had our rowdy fill of Hancock and politely bowed out for the evening. I took off in Kate and Zach’s vehicle, my wife followed me in ours, and unknown to us in these late hours…something had been left behind…

High Lonesome 100 Start/Finish Line; July 27, 2019 12:00 AM MST: Eyes glossed over, sleep being desired, and tempers being tempers at this time of night. We found ourselves a parking spot in the field that led to the start/finish line. Our shift started at 4:00 AM MST, so the two of us had a few hours to try to sleep.

Compared to years past, we came prepared this year, as we had converted the back of our Mazda into a bed with storage underneath the bed frame. Personally, I’m rather proud of the accomplishment as I am a person who rarely works with tools. As we started to climb into the back, exchanging pleasantries between one another, I started moving supplies around and I asked the one question that I dreaded the most…

Did you grab my Hoka’s off the top of the car before we left Hancock?

The response assumed my fears were true:

Your Hoka’s were up there? Why?

I officially owe an apology to the state of Colorado, National Park Service, CDT, High Lonesome staff, the marmots, and everything else that exists in places that I can only dream of being.

Somewhere, shrouded in the cloak of darkness, lies a pair of size 14 Hoka Speedgoats. Most likely destroyed, ran over, soaked, and quite ugly. Even more devastatingly is knowing that the custom orthotics that have seen the dark, humid, sadness of my feet in depressing (haha…I just got my own joke) conditions, were also lost in this travesty.

A moment for those we lost that were once closer to us.

May you find peace my dear Hoka’s.

These humans make me so happy! Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography

While my heart was heavy with my noted loss, the reality was that work was still to be done. It was at that time, my darkest, that there was a faint bobbing of light in the distance. A notion of something knew coming along the way. A refreshing reminder of the new day to come, the excitement of new life, it was…

…yeah it was none of those, it was just first place streaking through the night air.

In the years that I’ve worked with High Lonesome, I’ve never been in the front seat of the finish line. I’ve never seen the front runners finish up until this year. A few moments later after runners one and two had finished; I saw Zach cruising through the weeds. I would said, “I run with this guy!”, but it’s more like, “We were in the same town once, and I saw him run!” It was awesome seeing him finish third overall because truth-be-told he’s an incredible runner, and a person who for reasons unknown to me, recklessly supports my own weird dreams in the dirt.

From that moment it just became an eight hour celebration. People finishing, families crying, and…Caleb was nowhere to be found (he actually had gone out to get some much needed sleep). Meaning, while people were finishing, someone had to present the buckles to the finishers.

Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography

Truly a blend of insanity and desire swept over me, and the next thing I knew, I was out along the finish line fighting the fire ants, laughing in delusion, and handing out finisher buckles to some incredible people. It’s an amazing sensation when you’re not familiar with being around what you consider ‘elite athletes’. It’s an awe-inspiring experience to be that close to greatness, and to shake hands with those who dared to the be different, fight their own fight, and finish strong.

Yes, it made me want my own story and my own finish that much more.

In the early afternoon hours, dozing off and on through the midday sun (and learning that Laws Whiskey should be sipped, not shot…), the reality of my own endurance experience started to weigh on me. I’ll confess to you; I was becoming tired. I looked at my clock, checked in one more runner, walked up to Caleb and Kelsey (my awkwardness knows no bounds), shook their hands and began my Michael Bay, sans-explosion, lens flare directed walk to the car; dusty, tired, and with a beard in need for a trim.

The official photo of High Lonesome 100 Volunteer Ultra. Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography

Just the way High Lonesome should always be. Exhausting, rewarding, and truly its own form of paradise.

*Andrew is such a delight. He runs 7000 feet running store in Salida, Colorado. He’s also kind of insane, which is 100% cool in my book. Lately he’s been on a mission to get running and moving again, so his store had a competition via Facebook that said if you caught him not running for a day…he’d owe you free socks from his store. Andrew didn’t run at the finish line, I got free socks at his store afterwards. Thanks Andrew!

It was so cool!

**This AirBnB was absolutely incredible! This guy had ten foot tall doors through his entire house, we faced the mountains in the morning when we woke up, and he had his own library in his living room. Absolutely amazing…and no…I’m not giving out his location!

Bonus Story: Neuro Therapy

If you’ve made it this far in this reading; there are a few things that should be addressed: you are spending a lot of free time where you could be running, maybe I published this, this week because I know how many people are tapering, you and I both are in desperate need of more friends and better life choices.

It may be well known knowledge, but High Lonesome falls on the same week as my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and our anniversary. Crazy, right? Now, I’ll confess that I send poor Darci through a lot when we travel out west. I can’t seem to stop, and I nearly kill her in the process from exhaustion. Meaning, I owe her for her undying patience. This time around, I told her that I would book as a hotel at ‘the springs’ after High Lonesome. In years past that meant getting a nice hotel room for a few days after in Colorado Springs “the springs” prior to going home.

However, I was sneaky. This time it actually meant a few days at Pagosa Hot Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I mean, I wanted to go all out for her. The hot springs, the food, the room, the shower (A SHOWER!), and even massages. I was not going to waste this time with Darci, and I wanted her to feel super pampered and such.

Yes, I was trying to be sweet. Fight me.

When selecting what massage we were going to get, we both selected “neuromuscular”. It sounded intense, but also spoke heavily of how healthy and recovery based it was. So, we both signed up for 60 minute sessions. Mind you, this is after a few days of living in our car, being on rocks in the mountains, and being somewhat uncomfortable. This was going to be a delight.

I walked into my room, which looked more like a scientific exam room, shook hands with my massage person, nearly broke my hand, and she looked at me with those sinister, anime driven eyes and crooked smile and whispered, “Are you ready to be tortured?”

I thought she was joking.

She was not.

Crying and massages don’t tend to go hand-in-hand, but this lady absolutely wrecked me. I could feel her on my calf muscle going from a finger, to a knuckle, to her forearm, and finally her elbow.

60 minutes of torture just on my calves, hamstrings, and quads. I thought I was broken. I mean, I shook hands with Jesus at least twice during this session.

Upon her finishing, she looked at me, still smiling, and simply said, “Be sure to drink lots of water.”

Because drinking water will cure my dying soul that nearly escaped my body.

I limped back to our hotel room and laid down on the bed. My wife was already there as she had gone before me. She looked at me, a slight tear in her eye, and just laughed at me for a solid five minutes. We exchanged war stories, and recounted how we survived our experience with a “neuromuscular massage”.

The next day? I stood a little straighter, and walked a little more controlled.

Since then, I haven’t had a major physical breakdown even though I’ve been piling on the training miles as of late.

Neuromuscular massage: come prepared to die, but know that your rebirth will be worth it.

12/10 would recommend.

Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography


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