by Karen Riddle
Badwater to Whitney, July 4, 2005, beginning in the heat of the lowly desert, low by elevation but not by design. The mysterious, passionate, wildly romantic heat. Mud flats cracked and elegant, salt water teasing the oppressed. Glints of brilliance sparkling in the distance, luring one to go further and further, into the isolation, without water and further and further one goes without realizing the persecution awaiting.
Six lonely runners began their journey in the slight shadow of a cliff, flanked by their crews, sometimes total strangers. Runners dependant upon their teams for hydration, sustenance, meds, ice, sage advice, cooling misting sprays, protective sunscreens, lights at night, anything and everything possible and impossible. Six rivaled runners called by the desert, with a yearning to fulfill an enormous dream. Runners who always follow their dreams, living their life to the fullest, committing themselves to their passion.
The desert called, the dreams called and the runners and their family, friends, cohorts, and sometimes rivals moved slowly and precariously away from Badwater, through Death Valley, first to Furnace Creek and then to Stovepipe Wells, towns with names descriptive of the harsh environment. Town names to mock those who dare to tread upon the trail between. Stovepipe held several captive for a while, in the appealing, alluring, cool pool awaiting, lowering body temperature from the head throbbing, mind altering, heartwarming heat.
On and on and on they pressed, some trapped and taunted and stolen from the race. Others anticipated more enticing names like Wild Rose, Townes Pass with the elevation promising freedom from the merciless heat. On to Panamint Springs, a refreshing break from the past miles and miles and Father Crowley, a guiding light in the darkness of bats and shooting stars. Poetry in motion, and poems read in the quiet, poems depicting the runner’s tenacity, the runner’s will, tears slipping as emotions were fought in this quest for adventure and endurance, which the poems enforced and encouraged.
The crews and runners fought fatigue, sleep deprivation that would later haunt and taunt some for weeks later. But, they must press on, with love and caring and wizened knowledge of what body and mind could do. On through the next day, different heat, different times, different challenges ahead. Wildly unpredictable, unexpected and totally incongruous traffic near Keeler, blazing the road, dangerously changing the runner’s rhythm. Pacers and crew watching carefully so their runner, their friend, their comrade is safe.
Past this distraction, on to Lone Pine, a gulp, a realization of the finish ahead, eagerness for the grand finale, though hours away, seemed so close, and yet remote. The final hill ahead, a mountain to climb, trekking poles in hand to aid the weary body, pressing forward to Whitney Portals, where the 135 miles had been accomplished, fulfilled, endured, suffered and won by all who chose this extraordinary and credulous journey.
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowing Evening – Robert Frost