Homecoming Weekend

AJW's TaproomAs I write this article on the Wednesday evening before the 2019 Western States 100, I am sitting in the living room of my new home in Wilson, Arkansas, having just arrived here today from my former home in Staunton, Virginia. It is the 11th home I have lived in in the last 30 years. There are many reasons for this and there is no reason to go into too much detail about those reasons now, but the point is, for the better part of the last three decades, I have lived a life on the move. And, for better and for worse, I have liked it that way.

However, what this frenetic adult life has done to me and for me is left me longing for a home. Longing for a place where I know I belong, a place where everyone knows who I am and what I am about and a place where I can be my true, authentic self. Lacking such a place in my ordinary life, I dare say I have found that place in somewhere much more extraordinary, that single stretch of trail between Olympic Valley and Auburn, California. The Western States 100.

You see, for all the places that I’ve been in this wandering life of mine, there is one place where I have always been at home. A place that welcomes me with open arms as an equal and allows me to share in an experience that is, for many, once in a lifetime.

It is a place to which I am returning this week for the 20th time in the last 21 years. (I couldn’t bring myself to make the trip there in 2008 when the race was canceled due to fire.) A place that is as much a part of me as my ancestral homeland and my current hometown. While there are some in the sport who eschew the hype around the Western States 100 and at times chastise me for my obsession about what they see as a trivial event, I cannot help but cling to my belief that for me–and I admit this may be a singular endeavor–this one race means so much more than just a single day in life.

For me, and I think for a few others, Western States represents an ideal. An ideal built on the foundation of discipline, focus, suffering, endurance, and transcendence. An ideal that cannot only change lives, but can change the world. I have been to Western States 10 times as a competitor and this year will be there for the 10th time as a spectator. I fully intend to be there every fourth Saturday in June for the rest of my life.

For those who ask me why I would do such a thing, my answer is simple, because nowhere in my experience of life on this earth has our purpose and meaning been laid more bare. Nowhere in my experience has the essence of my humanity been challenged and stretched, and nowhere in the world, that I know of, has human experience been so viscerally exposed than on the Western States Trail. It is for those reasons, and several others as well, that I continue to return each June like a spawning fish. As one of the original race directors of Western States, Shannon Weil, said recently, “Wherever he is on the planet, Andy Jones-Wilkins always returns to Western States.”

And so, to the 369 lucky souls who get to toe that line tomorrow, I wish you godspeed. And for those of us following along, let’s pay homage to the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and celebrate what is, at least to this columnist, one of the great triumphs a person can have. See you in Squaw!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Founders Brewing Green Zebra gose

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Just last night I had the opportunity throw down a few Green Zebras and it is fantastic! It’s tart, slightly sweet, and brewed with watermelon and sea salt. If that’s not enough, this gose is also juicy. And, at 4.6%, a perfect day beer. Well worth a trip to the specialty beer store on this, the longest week of the year.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

Do you have any races that feel like a home for you?

There are 2 comments

  1. Arik Cohen

    Thanks AJW. Your work and words has inspired me for years. Culminating in my first 50 mile ultra marathon just two weeks ago. Which marks the beginning of what I hope to be a very long ultra-running career.

    I personally appreciate your obsession with the sport and WS in particular. After all, any sort of success in this sport is built on toughness, grit and obsession with doing what seems like the impossible often.

  2. Sam Bosworth

    I have run ultras every year since 06. Finished several hundreds but DNFed Western States twice. This has made getting into and finishing the race a worthy lifetime obsession I literal think about every run (and I run everyday). I have a feeling my version of homecoming will be more in line with Odysseus (20 or so really bad years of travel and suffering) that makes the homecoming all the sweeter. Just hope I can run as fast as Scotty when i’m that old:)

Post Your Thoughts