Cascade Crest 100! I have to say, this was THE most fun I've ever had crewing. No exaggeration. I mean this, holy crap, this was nuts, absolutely nuts. Ben Gibbard, combined with either Justin Jablonowski or Max Ferguson (@WoodpeckerMax), it was the perfect combination of hilarity and intelligent conversation. Our quiet moments were few, but even then, they were comfortable or excitingly intense based on the situation. I felt perfectly at ease with a rock star sitting next to me all day. We had Ben do the driving in his beat-up Prius and he was totally cool with Roxy in the car and any time he would scrape or bump something, he would make a funny comment letting us know it really didn't matter to him. He'd lean way forward over his steering wheel, as though that'd get us somewhere faster. He was so into it. I wish I could just tell you word for word every bit of every conversation all of us had and all the times we laughed at something. It just flowed effortlessly and was continuously back and forth. No one dominated and everyone was interested in everyone else. All of us kept spontaneously saying, "I'm having such a blast!" Best. Team. EVER.
As for the race, man, it was good. Going into it, Gary was concerned about his energy level having just spent the prior week doing all things Squamish 50. His fatigue definitely showed for the first 35 miles or so. He came into the first crew spot at mile 23 not looking good at all and saying "This isn't the start I wanted." I think he was 5th at the time. By the time he got to 33, he looked haggard, pale and defeated. He said his legs had been seizing and cramping for the entire run. He insisted on sitting down and Ben, for some reason, brought over the lowest chair he could find. Who knows why, but we made fun of him all day for it. I crouched in front of Gary and then Ben, Justin, Rich (one of my bffs and the RD) all semi-circled around him. James Varner of Rainshadow Running came over in his coconut shell bikini and grass skirt and gave him a talk about salt tabs and made him take a few and I kept telling G that all I wanted was for him to get out there and enjoy his day--to forget about course records or placement, but to finish the race and try to enjoy the adventure of it. Then local legend James Kirby (who paces Jamie Gifford at HURT and everywhere else, they're besties) came over and flat out asked Gary if he wanted to finish the race. Gary said he did--that he felt like shit, he didn't know how he would do it, but he'd walk the entire way if he had to. Finally, Justin suggested that he take a poop. Then Rich said he should probably try taking a poop. Then Ben did and then I did and then it seemed like everyone in the vicinity started saying taking a poop would make him feel better. "F**k you, guys," Gary smiled and then got up and left.
We rushed off to Meadow Mountain, mile 42 and figured we'd have lots of time. Gary had slipped into at least 8th, if not farther back since he'd let so many people run by when he'd sat down (aid stations kept track of times coming in, not out). Seth Swanson came casually running through, patted Roxy’s head and I impulsively blurted to him that his daughter was beautiful. Seriously, like impossibly beautiful. I'd seen her squeal-giggle at the last aid station and I thought there was no way she was real and not a cartoon. He'd placed his hand on the back of her head so as to see her pretty face better, then kissed his lovely wife and quietly ran on. I kept saying, "He's so nice." To which Ben would respond, "But we will crush him" or "F**k Seth Swanson."
Anyway, 2nd-4th came through and we thought we had more time when all of a sudden, I hear Gary's Woooooo! Roxy perked up and oh my god, it was Gary! Yesss!! He was rallying. He ran right in and congratulated the aid station captain, Ultra Pedestrian Ras on his latest "thingermabob" and then starting inhaling the watermelon. Ras was seriously beaming at Gary and I loved that G had even remembered that Ras had just done some massive self-supported hike. Ras told me later it was his favorite congratulations he'd received. Gary asked for soup, and then more soup, then more, and on the 4th cup I asked if he could just take the whole pot, but thankfully Gary was ready to continue.
Now we had some time to reorganize. We took Justin and Roxy back to the cabin our friends Eric and Kelly had rented right in the middle of the course, so they could rest. We eventually made our way to Hyak, mile 52, where we met pacer 1 of 2, Max Ferguson. Max is the perfect level of adorable nerd and very funny and very fast. He's had a rough year, and just dropped out of Squamish 50 miler the week before, but he seemed pumped and excited to go with his pacer bib folded to read ACE. He fell right into step with the team dynamic.
Hyak always does a Christmas theme. Local mainstay, Eric Barnes even grew a short gray beard (which he claims is Gary inspired) to go with his Santa costume. Ben, Max and I had just put our chairs down across the pathway from one of those giant light-up, blow-up Santas people put on their lawns when all of a sudden, some drunk ~25 year old slams into the thing and falls to the ground, effectively flattening it. He gets up, laughing and starts walking away. Eric Barnes yells Hey and then the kid bolts. Well, Eric has a history of chasing criminals (long story of finding someone in his backyard who the police were chasing) and so Eric, in full costume, chased him down, grabbed him by the hoodie and yanked him to the ground. By this time, Rich had pulled up and was just in time to call Eric off (the actual quote is "Eric, disengage!") and they managed to get the kids, who'd dared the guy to karate kick the blow-up thing, to fork over $50 for it.
In the meantime, Seth had already sauntered through and we saw 2nd, 3rd, 4th and then GARY! He came in pumping his fist in the air and ready to get rocking. He took less time here than at previous aid stations, gathered some more clothes and he and Max and took off. Things were getting exciting! Rich was seriously jittery with stoke over seeing Gary so revitalized.
As I was gathering up our supplies, Ben walked over to me holding a water bottle with gels stuffed into its pockets. "Is this Max's?" he asked. Oh shit. It was. Max had left without his bottle or nutrition. Thankfully, they weren't too far away and there was a short cut through a field. Ben bolted off and caught them just in the nick of time. Disaster averted!
Ben and I went back to the cabin to gather up Justin. We had a bit of time and Roxy was all over me and I couldn't figure out why. She'd been fed and had snacks, but she kept bumping into me asking for attention. When it was time to leave, we started heading for the door and Roxy, thinking I was following her, very enthusiastically bounced to the bedroom. She thought we were going to bed and she was so excited about it. She'd been begging for us to go to bed. Such a sweetheart. I tucked her in and told her I'd be back later.
Kachess Lake is mile 68 and generally fairly busy as it's often where people start pacing. The previous-to-Rich RD, Charlie Crissman was there, so we got to catch up for a bit, and then Rich showed up again. Seth was in and out with little fanfare and then 2nd came in, then 3rd and then GARY! Gary was in 4th! Max came in ahead of him and barely even acknowledged us, he was all business. Gary was ready for some more clothing and there was a quick panic as we couldn't find one bag that turned out to be stuffed inside of another bag. I told Gary he was looking awesome and that he was in 4th now and he gave me this look with a full-on twinkle in his eye. My heart skipped! At that moment, I knew he was on the hunt. Then, Gary was ready to go. He did a final visual sweep of his Josie and the Rhino drop bag (a la Kelly, everyone get one!) when his headlamp blinked. F**k. We weren't scheduled for a change for another 1-2 hours and this one had only lasted 2 hours. Not good. But at least good that it happened at that moment and not 10 minutes later when he wouldn't have access to a lamp change. He grabbed his fresh lamp and I had to switch out batteries for our next meet up.
This next stretch of trail is known as The Trail From Hell. Rich now calls it the Trail From Heck. It used to be covered with downed trees and was very technical. A lot of those trees have been cleared and some of the trail, from what I understand, has been graded and made more passable. Most people take between 2-3 hours for this 10k stretch. The last 3 guys to break the course record have all done it in 90 minutes. I'd told everyone this was the trail Gary had been waiting for and even if he did nothing else out there, he would eat up this bit like he does a box of popsicles. Gary did it in 79 minutes, the fastest ever during the race, and that was with a casual walk up the hill drinking soup.
The drive between Kachess Lake and Mineral Creek, mile 74-ish, is about 40 miles. We knew it was going to be tight. Ben was laser beam focused and dealt with the highway construction's odd placement of their orange barrels like a champ. The drive takes you through Roslyn, of Northern Exposure fame and even the race's directions mention that it's a speed trap. We were stuck behind a very slow car when it finally turned right, Ben started to accelerate and in an instant, red and blue lights started flashing. Justin said he saw that we'd only been going 24mph in the 25mph zone, so we knew nothing was wrong. The officer put his face into the window and said Ben had a light out in the back. He took his ID and registration and Justin pointed out that the officer was obviously sniffing us out to see if we were drunk. The cop came back and said, "You all with the race?" This struck me as odd because we were one of maybe only three or four crews that had driven to Mineral Creek. Most people skip that spot because it is such a tight turn around. When we finally got to the spot, I told this gal we know in someone else’s crew that we'd been pulled over and she says, "Me too! He said I was speeding, but then let me go because he also said he really was just making sure I wasn't drunk. I told him I was with the race." It all made sense.
Mineral Creek is a quiet spot, since, as I said, most people skip crewing here. We hung out with one woman who was crewing who'd never been so far out of the city before and couldn't stop talking about the stars. The other crew belonged to Salomon Flight Crew member, Andy Reed of Alberta. His wife, Saira had her boys turn out their lamps and we all quietly stared at the universe. It was a lovely moment.
Jeff Hashimoto came through in 2nd. He's a local favorite as he's the cross country coach for a nearby high school. Again, a super nice guy who was hard to root against. But Gary was right on his heels. Gary, however, wanted a few minutes to sit. This time, we gave him a decently sized chair and started feeding him and putting more clothing on him. Within minutes, Gary was shaking from cold and we had to boogie him out of there. I made him drink some hot coffee and then Justin and he were on their way. I wish we had a photo of what Justin was wearing. He had on some crazy patterned tight spandex shorts, his SQ50 shirt and the wig Gary wore to pace me at Grindstone, all Justin's idea. It was awesome.
There wasn't much else for us to do now. Just wait and see. Ben had brought Red Bulls for us because as he said in an email, "They give you wings and whatnot." He and I had slammed Red Bulls together at Mineral and we were both regretting it as we'd compromised our ability to sleep with all that whatnot. Ben, however, fell asleep as soon as he hit the couch. Max, too. We got into the cabin and he disappeared, melting into a couch before anyone knew he’d gone. Me? No dice. But I rested for a few hours and then woke the fellas up to get going again.
Everyone was noticeably tired. Roxy tried to not come with us, but we all stumbled to the car and our energy started coming back. We had one last stop before the finish line. Silver Creek is mile 96 and pretty much a place where people drop all their things and go. Seth had already won in a smokin' new course record of 17:56, beating the old record by over 30 minutes. We set ourselves up and Roxy barked at a far off dog who was barking at her. Pretty soon, Jeff came flying through and barely paused at the table. Gary was about 15 minutes behind him. He wanted soup, which the aid station hadn't even started yet, so he side stepped like a crab looking at everything on the table and in his bag before he grabbed some chocolate and shot out of there.
We ran back to the car and rushed to the finish line. We saw Jeff come in, looking happy and proud. Gary made 5 minutes up, so was only about 10 minutes later. He ran that last section in only 34 minutes, which would’ve been another section record if Seth didn’t exist with his 29:50 minute split.
I gave Roxy the word and she rushed out to greet Gary in her loud, hilarious style we’ve all come to know and love. Gary came barreling through the finish line and ran straight at me for a huge hug, almost knocking me back! He was so pumped and so amped! He started thanking everyone and congratulating Jeff and Seth and was speaking faster than he was running and so loudly! I think he scared soft spoken Seth who I witnessed take a step back from Gary when he was babbling on. I reached out and did my "turn the volume down" arm brush and Gary glanced at me and laughed because he realized what he was doing. Then he started hugging everyone with great enthusiasm--big armed bear hugs. I told Seth to hurry out while he had the chance (he and his wife needed to go get their kids). Oh, it was so fun to watch!
Since then, we've both been catching up on rest and odds and ends regarding work, Trail Running Canada and Coast Mountain Trail Series. It's been a busy week with brains that just want to shut down and sleep. Every day is a bit better and I'm grateful we had the last couple of days off. Long weekends mean neither of us gets many emails. Gary's been living in his Cascade Crest blue hoodie (so jealous of it) and periodically picking up his buckle to admire it.
|CCC Crew with Ben way in the background|
driving back to Seattle
|Proof Ben Gibbard was there...|
...at least with Laura Houston
Photo by Laura Houston