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Bigfoot 200 is an endurance run from south of Mount St. Helens to Randle, Washington. It is put on by a company that stages one smaller race here and a similar race at Lake Tahoe. The whole endurance running scene is quite colorful. Ham radio licensees provide much valued support since there is no telephone, no electricity, no cell service, and no Internet. The mountains prove a huge technical challenge for us, but we did it. 

Friday afternoon

Here I am in the Mount St. Helens blast zone. The trees that were killed and snapped in two in the eruption are like white skeletons all over the hillsides with little in the way of mature trees to replace them. Norway Pass Aid Station is a Sno Park—parking lot, vault toilet and water—maintained by the National Park Service. The aid station crew consists of Todd and his family and Todd the Medical Director. I designated them Race Todd and Medical Todd for the purposes of radios. Medical Todd is a fire fighter/EMT from Tucson and watches runners as they come through. Mostly he treats their feet. Our station is number five or six on the race and we have yet to see anyone. The aid station crew has a grill going and is cutting up fruit. There are about 60 runners that will come through here between about 9pm and 9pm tomorrow.

There are two other hams at the radio station. One is Tom and he got here yesterday to watch the meteor showers. I asked him how he got into ham radio and he said to track sasquatches. He then launched forth into a diatribe on sasquatches, Adolph Hitler as a hireling of the British Secret Service and Jefferson Davis as a hireling of the British Secret Service. Jim is the other ham.


Saturday morning

It got cold in the night. I went from tee and shorts to jeans, long sleeves, jacket, and stocking cap. The rest stop looks like a picnic buffet with gas grills and snacks. Around a fireplace are camp chairs where volunteers and runners can enjoy some warmth. All of this is under awnings.

The first runner arrived at 1am. They have headlamps and in the dark they walk rather than run. Some spent the night at the prior aid station and some stayed on the trail and even slept on the trail.

Our radio effort is over staffed so it was possible to get some sleep in the truck. I got cold a couple times and used the fire and then snuggled in the sleeping bag with the seat full reclined.

At dawn I enjoyed a breakfast burrito and fruit. Now we are waiting for the sun to come up and get us warm again. As I write this just before 7 we have about a third of the runners through. They have until 5pm to pass here before the cut off and things close down.

Runners and their crews are crashed out in cars, in a special tent for the runners, and just bedded down in the parking lot. These runners are an interesting breed, very spare, very focused, obsessive even. Most use two walking sticks and all have special packs that fit tight to their backs and contain a water bladder.

The night sky is amazing. I so rarely get to see the night sky with all the stars particularly after the 3/4 moon (technically waxing gibbous) went down. We didn’t see the meteor shower probably because of the clouds. I just stood under the stars and recalled all those nights as a kid looking up in wonder.

Saturday will be a lot of waiting around since the other two guys can handle all this. One guy could handle this. A difference between us is that they are all spread out with their camping gear, radios, tables, and antenna(s). I’ve got everything in the truck and am one minute from being able to drive out of here. If any runners need transport I may volunteer to make the trip so the medics aren’t taken off the field.

Saturday evening

I am at Klickitat Aid Station sitting around a collection of delightful people waiting for runners. The sun is in a clear blue sky and our principle concern is finding shade. Those in attendance include 1) medic from Cowlitz County, 2) a Romanian couple and their non-English speaking family who have set up the aid station with cook stoves, tables, canopies, and food, food, food, (they call me Meester Dave), 3) two moms in a new RV camp trailer, 4) a photographer “Ponch” who looks like the male antagonist in a telenovella, and a half dozen pacers, people who run and walk along with the runners. The aid station has a pile of “drop bags” with runners’ supplies. Sleep tents allow runners to rest. The women here are very fit 🙂 and inked.

My ham partners are Dave from Edmonds and Brian from Maple Valley. It is necessary to set up a cross-band repeater, a remote station in Dave’s truck at the top of the hill. It repeats our signals from the aid station to the main repeater which sends to all stations. Brian volunteered for hermit duty at the top of the hill to keep things going there like our radio progenitors on the rocky, stormy coast of Nova Scotia tapping out messages. Only Brian reads and tends batteries and a generator.

This is deep forest, unlike the blast zone. Thirty miles in from the main road on gravel. I got some great pics of Mount Adams in the dusk with the moon and again in the dawn. I slept in the truck overnight as well as in my own bed and awoke at 6:30. What an adventure.

The race is going slower than had been planned, but the runners determine their own pace. As a result there is plenty of food and passersby (this is a busy forest on a Sunday) are offered a taste. I suggested that these aid stations could be venues for cooking competitions. The runners are funny. They are so focused (obsessed?) that they know exactly what they want to eat and drink and it isn’t much. So we eat the rest. There is even beer (I have had just one since Friday afternoon).

I will be here until Monday evening. I haven’t decided if I will try to return to Seattle then or not. It’s a long haul down the road and then three hours to Seattle. I will see.

There no toilets at Klickitat. The facility consists of one shovel which I have dubbed the Unisex Rest Room. We take the shovel signaling that the facility is in use. On my visit I was treated to wild blueberries in front of me. What an adventure. There are a lot of people at the aid station and I make my administrative stops up at the top of the hill where Brian has a shovel and handiwipes. What did the Pilgrims do without handiwipes?

The Klickitat Aid Station is at a wide spot in the road where there are tents, RVs, canopies, cooking areas, generators and a circle of camp chairs around a steel fireplace imported for the purpose. A large tarp holds the drop bags, the supplies that each runner stages forward. As I write this the volunteers are sorting bags in the cool morning to ship forward. Things are quieter since there are not the family and friends of runners hanging around. We are waiting for about 22 people to pass through the station before the station closes at 8:30 pm. Anyone who arrives after that is pulled from the race.

The food and coffee continues to flow. The head of the aid station is an air conditioning contractor from Portland, a native of Romania. He has members of the extended family who do not speak English and work in the kitchen, chop wood and smile. He is Giuliano and his wife is Veronica, in charge of the kitchen. They call me “Meester Dave.”

I worked overnight. I went to bed in the truck at 9 pm and set the alarm for midnight. I relieved partner Dave who got my seat in the truck. Overnight was busy as runners came in out of the woods, their bouncing headlamps the first indication they were approaching. The medical director is a Tucscon fireman who focuses on their cognition and general health and spends most of his time on their feet. He undertakes a ritualistic examination of skin and toes and heels and applies carefully cut bits of tape and moleskin. It was cold and the fire was a lifesaver. At dawn Dave relieved me and I got about an hour and a half sleep. I’m stinky and scruffy. All day and into the evening I am changing clothes, shorts and tee when it gets hot and gradually going to jeans, long sleeves, jacket and stocking cap at night. I change my pants next to my truck. 

Our job is to send and receive lists of runner arrival and departure times and verifying their locations. Each runner carries a satellite tracker, but these are not foolproof. There are also requests for supplies and other administrative messages. 

I got done at 5pm Monday and got home at 9:30. I can’t wait until the next one. 

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