End of AJW’s Blog and Our WS Obsession

With the announcement yesterday that AJW is putting his personal blog down in a few days I went over there and found the guest post I wrote on May 6, 2008 so that it wouldn’t disappear forever.  For context, this was written after a 10 day training camp in Michigan Bluff.  AJW had joined us for the final weekend when we ran Twiet’s infamous Ice Cream Sandwich Run.  After harassing him pretty much non-stop about his blog he turned the keys over to me (literally, he gave me his password).  A few months after this guest post I started my own blog.   AJW’s blog has been a great source of entertainment for four and a half years and I will miss it.  Thanks, man.  I look forward to reading your regular column at AJW’s TapRoom on iRunFar.  OK, here’s the post.

Obsession with Western States 100

This is not AJW here, but rather LB, one of the “anonymous” Oregonians who has been friends with AJW for quite a few years. Last weekend I suggested he let me guest blog, and I was surprised when today he gave me the password and said have at it. Really? Should I write a post in third person pretending to be him? That could be fun. Should I tell you about the AJW that I know? Nah, we’ll just all keep our own view of the guy. Who knows, maybe when you’re around him he’s a quiet, shy, unassuming, selfless, muscular, fearful, self-effacing, weak-willed, athletic, self-sacrificing, following, modest, giver. Or maybe not.

Instead, I decided I’d write about something that he and I share in common: an obsession with Western States. Last weekend before the ICS run we were sitting in Michigan Bluff talking about the race when a guy we call Tapeworm, a skinny 2:26 marathoner who raced his way into States at Way Too Cool by outkicking Jurek in the last 1/4 mile, said reluctantly, “There is more to life than Western States…” The room went silent (which is a very difficult accomplishment when AJW, Monkeyboy, and I are together), and we all just stared at him. What? What planet do you live on? It’s May 2nd, the day before the ICS run, the 9th day of our 10 day training camp in Michigan Bluff, and less than 60 days before the race. What else could there possibly be?

AJW and me

My obsession dates back to 1978 or 79 when I was a wee bit of a lad growing up in Cool, California. I found myself inadvertently camping at about the 85 mile mark of the WS course. These guys kept coming by all tired and dirty asking us where the aid station was. I was just a high school mile and two-mile runner back then, but the allure of the event had captured me. For the next 20 years I found myself working at Dusty Corners, crewing, pacing, and sometimes just watching. Even before I ran the race for the first time in 2001, I would camp at Devil’s Thumb or Michigan Bluff or Driver’s Flat, and go for runs on the trail. When I would come home to visit my mom in Cool, I’d almost always include a run to Auburn from ALT. This year I’m going to attempt my 6th States, and at 44 years old I’m just as excited about the race as I was as a 16 year old.

So why does this race have such a hold on me, and why would I want to share this?

I’ve thought about the first question a lot over the years because I’m often asked it. The course is definitely a big part of it. The history of the miners and the booming towns is fascinating. Running through Deadwood and into Michigan Bluff it is easy to imagine the life of the miners who gave up easy lives elsewhere in the hopes of striking it rich in California. Some might see the greed of those miners, but I see the adventurous spirit. A willingness to put it all on the line to make a better life for their family. Look at the headstones at the Masonic Cemetery in Michigan Bluff sometime.

Headstone at Michigan Bluff

To the memory of my dear brother
Isaiah John McKee
Born Buller Penn
Sept 30, 1826
Stony Bar Placer Co. Cal,
April 1861
Aged 35 Years
To his assistance and encouragement
I owe my Profession and Success in
life. Noble, generous, and affectionate.
Sad the destiny that led him so far
from Home and Mother to die.
J Cooper McKee
Surgeon US
July 1874

Then there is the high country … the river canyons … the oak and pine trees … the bears, cougars, ticks, foxes and rattlesnakes … the trail is an authentic path through the Sierras. Start in Squaw; go to Auburn. Sure there are some other 100 mile courses that are point-to-point, but none that follow a less-contrived path. Yes, I love the course.

The training is also a huge part of the reason for my obsession. My wife and I have taken a 10 day vacation in Michigan Bluff for each of the last five years. Before that I used to camp in the area alone. For what? To train for WS. Classic group training runs such as the ICS (Cal2 to Swinging Bridge and back) and the Peace Run (Robinson to the River). Solo runs around ALT, Browns Bar, and No Hands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run Cal St. The camaraderie of the group we had for ICS last weekend was pretty cool. There were nine of us. We all ran our own pace, but we frequently regrouped at agreed upon places: Foresthill, MB, Pump, Swinging Bridge, Pump, MB, Foresthill store, the car. The faster folks had to wait for the slower folks, but nobody complained. There is also a group of runners in Eugene who train together each year for States. We meet regularly on Wednesdays for workouts. Each year we have one or two new folks, but there is always a core training for that race in California at the end of June. Yes, I love to train for States.

But the race is also a big part of the obsession. 1300 volunteers, many of whom are not, never have been, and never will be runners. The competitive field. The number of runners who peak for this race. The pre-race hype which is often too much. It’s exciting to watch the first timers, whether they are 19 hour runners or 29 hour runners. I enjoy racing with the veterans. Twietmeyer, Terry, Nielsen, Fitzpatrick, Trason, DK, and AJW … If you’re running the race this year, take some time to recognize how many people are out there to help you get through. Pacers, crew, aid station workers, etc. It is a staggering number at the river crossing alone. For me, this is the race that matters most.

So why did I choose to share this instead of doing the other 100 things waiting for me in my Inbox after a 10 day vacation? Especially when the race is getting harder and harder to get into, and as the field gets more competitive it gets more and more difficult for me to get into the race? Hmmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have shared that. Because, as AJW has told me, I’m a connector, and look forward to sharing the trail with you on June 28. Thanks, AJW, for letting me post.


Leave a Comment