Dear Western States,
You’ve been an indelible part of my life ever since your first imprint in 2001. The ink still stings from that episode but I have tried to persevere. By the time we crossed paths again in 2004, I felt a little bit more ready for a long-term relationship. For the next few years things were good, life moved along, and we found places for each other in our lives. The last few years, however, have been a bit more trying as we’ve adjusted to new circumstances and the heady days of youth have given way to the more measured ways of adulthood. And yet, the spark has remained and this weekend we’ll enjoy one more fling. It is likely not to be all that pretty but I hope it is one we will both remember for a long, long time.
It will begin in the pre-dawn light as we listen to the joyful playlist that RD Craig Thornley so graciously allowed me to create for the starting line. Hopefully, the music will both inspire and invigorate.
Then, the early morning exuberance of the climb up Squaw will ensue. This is a climb we have done many times together and it never gets old. We’ve shared it, over the years, with friends old and new. When we reach the top and turn around to take in the splendid view of Lake Tahoe before dropping in to the Granite Chief Wilderness, we will know that the day has begun.
The long rolling ridge running all the way to Red Star is where we have had some of our finest moments before the real work starts on the run into Duncan Canyon. This canyon is a place that has evolved over the years with several changes making it easier or harder with time but the brutal truth is, when you cross Duncan Creek and begin the climb up to Robinson Flat, you are giving us the longest climb of the day.
Robinson Flat is like the junior prom. Excitement is at an all-time high and the carnage is just starting to stack up. I have always loved this part of you because it is when you are your most capricious. Getting out of Robinson is hard but good. And, once we top out at the top of Little Bald Mountain, you begin teasing me, and, like any other guy, I love it and hate it.
The 13-mile descent from the top of Little Bald Mountain to the bottom of Deadwood Canyon is one of the sweetest sections of trail on the course. This is where you have always lured me in to a sense of confidence I don’t deserve. Here you’ve made me feel better than I actually am. And, ultimately, on the climb up to Devil’s Thumb, you’ve handed my heart right back to me. It is well documented that the descent to El Dorado Creek and the subsequent climb up to Michigan Bluff is the crux of the course for me. For us, this has been a place of transcendent acceptance. This is the place that has, over the years, given me the answers to the questions I’ve been too afraid to ask. And thus, by the time I reach the outskirts of Michigan Bluff, I know where I stand (and where I sit). :-)
From Michigan Bluff to Foresthill, the crossing of Volcano Creek is often a blur until the reality of California Street sets in. There, in the midst of dappled sunshine and smooth singletrack, you truly begin to strut your stuff. In many ways, on that long rolling descent to the river you are at your most beautiful, and your most dastardly. You tease me once again with smooth calm descents only to poke me in the stomach with ridiculously timed upward bumps.
The river crossing itself makes everything seem okay. We have been through the good times and bad times and our relationship becomes somewhat even as we cross the river. Even on the gut-wrenching climb up to Green Gate, we seem to maintain a truce. Then, the trail gives way to the run into Auburn Lakes Trail and Brown’s Bar. These are the trails that have made you famous and, again and again, over the last 40 years, here is where you tend to get the last laugh. I try to hold you at bay in this stretch even, from time to time, turning myself inside out just to win a pointless argument. Of course, you always win and we roll into Brown’s Bar with 10 miles to go, once again fighting the demons of the Western States Trail.
The descent down from Brown’s Bar is one of the cruelest places in your crazy little world. This trail, which has somehow withstood the Falcone/Twietmeyer/Zea assault on the technicality of the course, simply grinds my organs to a pulp and they are not smoothed over until shortly before the Highway 49 Crossing at Mile 93.5.
And, alas, it is here that we once again make peace with the world, and with each other. Running across the Cool Meadow is one of the great joys of my life and the long steady descent to No Hands Bridge is gentle enough to be manageable. Even the climb up to Robie Point seems much more tolerable after the heinous pounding you’ve inflicted on me throughout the day.
Then, finally, you open it up to me and it’s all me. The triumphant run through the city streets of Auburn and the last lap around the track make it all worthwhile and brings us back to a place of equilibrium. A place of peace. Home.
Then, just like that, it is over.
Western States, you know this but it bears repeating. I love you. I love your people, I love the idea that made you, and I love your sense of place. You inhabit a spot in my head and my heart that I never knew I needed. And, as we close this chapter in our lives, I can only hope that all you’ve given me I can somehow, some way, give back to you in time.
Brew’s Beer of the Month
My beer recommendation this month is from the Commonwealth of Virginia, AJW’s home state. Legend Brewing Company in Richmond makes a British-style Brown Ale that’s malty with notes of caramel and coffee, but is also light enough to drink year round. Speaking of legends, Western States is this weekend. Cheers to Andy and all the other runners who get to tackle the trails between Squaw Valley and Auburn on Saturday and Sunday! And remember what legendary ultrarunner David Horton says: “It never always gets worse.” You might kill a few miles thinking about that one, and once it makes sense I hope it helps you push through.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Well, you guys, this is it! It’s hard to believe we’re dawning on AJW’s final Western States. Whether or not he, as Dylan Bowman said earlier this week, Brett Favre’s his WS 100 retirement remains to be seen so, for now, we consider it 100% appropriate to roast the heck out of him. That way, he’s got the positive energy of our community behind him on Saturday. Let’s hear your best AJW story!