October 9, 2011
For those of you hardcore fans who read the Run While You Can website as well as ours, you will know by now that because of a major snow storm in the Sierras, Sam and his team have made the difficult to decision to forgo the PCT speed record attempt. As the storm approached last week, the team tossed around several ideas for a plan B, but even if Sam did forge ahead into the storm, with appropriate equipment and emergency support, his attempt would be too slow for record pace, and not mention, extremely dangerous. As Sam has always said, the ultimate goal of Run While You Can was never to break the record, but to use the record-attempt as a platform to raise $250,000 for Parkinson’s. The idea behind Sam’s traverse of the Pacific Crest Trail is about enduring extreme mental and physical challenges as a way of honoring his mother’s own struggles with Parkinson’s. So, while it was a difficult decision for Sam and his team to bypass 400 miles of the PCT, the essence of this journey remains. As Support Director John Bernhardt says, they ”certainly wanted to keep the spirit of the expedition alive,” and so, as an alternative to this stretch of the PCT, but in keeping with the spirit of the journey, Sam is currently running the Badwater Trail in Death Valley.
Badwater Trail at Death Valley
This 135 mile trail begins Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation the entire country (282 feet BELOW sea level), and ends at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states at 14,000 feet. As if this wasn’t extreme enough, Death Valley boasts the hottest, driest climate in North America. The Badwater Trail is certainly in keeping with the physical and mental challenge of the PCT, and brings new challenges as well. Much of the trail is paved, which is a completely different terrain than Sam’s body is used to. Additionally, Sam is upping his daily mileage to two 50-mile days, one 35 mile day, finishing with the Mount Whitney summit on the fourth day. Currently, Sam has completed most of the trail and is camping at the base of Mount Whitney as I write. Tomorrow he will attempt to summit and then head to Walker Pass to finish the last 650 miles of the PCT, where I presume he will drink a margarita and take a long nap.
A few days ago, Marion and I hopped in the RV, which we parked on Sunset Boulevard and have been anxiously feeding the meter for every two hours, and maneuvered our way out of Los Angeles out to Death Valley. The drive took a little bit longer than expected, like three hours longer, but it was important that we stop and buy cupcakes for John since it was his birthday. Plus, we were too enthralled by the amazing scenery to care. As a New England native, born and raised, the sand dunes and compacted rock cliffs were completely alien to me, or maybe I was the alien, since it felt like I was on a different planet. That you can see for miles, was a huge blessing, making our job of finding Sam on the trail easy. We didn’t have to worry about getting lost on the wrong forest road, bad walkie talkie reception, or even Sam’s spontaneous naps that foil our approximation of his arrival, because there was only one road, and Sam was going to be next to it. Even if he did decided to curl up and take a nap, we would still be able to see him. At this point, Marion and I started belting out Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks.
Storm looming over Death Valley
As predicted, we eventually found Sam, jogging at a steady pace and drove ahead to meet John and Eric, where we would film Sam arriving. Because Marion had promised Ben, Jeff, and Jon-Michael a full week off, which is completely necessary for the survival of this job, I worked the sound, and Marion worked the camera. After getting myself slightly tangled in the sound equipment, I managed to hook the lav mic up to Sam, while Marion filmed and interviewed him talking about the recent changes. As Sam was talking, dark heavy clouds rolled in overhead, and we heard thunder in the distance, preceded by flashes of lightening. Sam and Eric, who was to join Sam on the next stretch, agreed that being completely exposed to the storm in a wide open desert was not “prudent,” and decided to wait for it to pass. Since Marion and I had lot of work to do in Los Angeles we left the boys in their warm and cozy RV, and drove, through the storm, back home. After a productive week here, we are headed to Walker Pass, where we will remain on the trail until the Mexican Border!
Until next time,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran