Final days of Run While You Can:
Jim and Lucy arrive
Sam and Lucy get to talk
With the cameras rolling
Mother and Son embrace
A Documentary Film
Final days of Run While You Can:
Jim and Lucy arrive
Sam and Lucy get to talk
With the cameras rolling
Mother and Son embrace
October 12, 2011
Apart from rattlesnakes, runaway bandits, and the threat of death by dehydration, the desert is quite advantageous. For filming a movie of course. There is a reason why Hollywood films all of its movies here. It is desolate and expansive, which can serve a.) to provide the foundation to recreate almost any environment, or b.) as a compliment to showcase or enhance the tone of a film. We often rely on the latter because we don’t have the money to recreate Times Square, but we also benefit from a third advantage, often forgotten by the Michael Bays out there, which is visibility of the Pacific Crest Trail of course. Since the terrain has gradually changed from forest to desert, access to the trails and the success of our shots, have gotten easier. Not a lot easier, but easier. This day provides a perfect example of the aforementioned easy access.
Sam woke up at 4:45 a.m. this morning and began his 40+ mile day. We woke up a little bit later than that and found a place where the trail crosses an isolated road, and made it our destination, leaving a cloud of dust in our wake. The road to the crossing seemed to have been made by a roller coaster engineer complete with drops so steep you couldn’t see the the pavement until you were flying down it. Ordinarily, I might have enjoyed this, but when you are driving your house, there is a lot more at stake. Plus, it’s a rental. Gingerly, we drove our way to the trail, and scouted a location. According to the “dog collar” GPS tracking system, Sam was over 5 miles away, allowing us ample time to set up and eat lunch. The Garmin GPS device, normally used to keep track of hunting dogs, but for our purposes to “hunt” Sam, has been instrumental in our planning, since we are actually able to pinpoint where he is. Needless to say, many of our strategies have been unconventional, but mostly successful.
The location we picked out allowed visibility of half a mile of the trail, making Sam a little white speck when our lenses first caught him. Ben stayed wide with his camera and followed him as he charged along the meandering trail. As he approached, we wondered what it must be like to be completely alone all day and then suddenly, without warning, bump into a group of people silently filming/photographing you. Strange, I would imagine. After filming a quick break at our RV, Sam took off to finish the last 8 miles for the day, and we took the roller coaster route back down, in search of food and gas. After refueling, we made equally crucial purchases of neon sunglasses and local beef jerky, in order to demonstrate how we’ve fully adapted to the local culture. Sam was scheduled to leave at 2 a.m. the next morning, and given the excellent footage we’d captured in the past few days, we decided not to film him leaving in the dark, and splurged on a campground for the night instead. A pool! Electric outlets! Running Water! Level ground! These are the finest of luxuries, and they did not go unnoticed, or unused.
The next morning, Ben, Jon-Michael, and Marion woke up early to film the sunrise in the desert valley, and we met John and Eric later that afternoon at a trail crossing right next to Highway 58, where Sam would be coming in later. Like the Chevron station at Snoqualmie, WA and the impound lot in Ashland, OR, we made the side of Highway 58 our own by furnishing the gravel turnoff with folding chairs. Jon-Michael and Ben filmed the wind turbines, and barbed-wire fence along the trail, before capturing Sam arrive in the 90 degree heat late in the afternoon. Sam, now pushing harder than ever, has regimented himself to 50 miles per outing, punctuated by 5 hours of rest in between. He promptly went to sleep, to be woken up at midnight for the next leg. Our mission for the day a success, we shared some beers with Eric and John and ate chicken and rice for dinner. Having adjusted to the sound of 18-wheelers whizzing by, our decision to stay put for the night fit within our increasingly low standards, and I slept soundly. Our crew has become efficient and dynamic, a well-oiled machine. But just because we are close to the end, that doesn’t make the miles easier for us, or Sam. The days are still long and tolling, we are just more used to it now. The next day, we went back to LA for perhaps our final break, as Sam barrels towards the border of Mexico, like Thelma and Louise, with the fuzz hot on their trail.
Until next time,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran
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” MauranRead More
October 4, 2011
Sam and Sam
A “brief” recap of Donner Pass is in order. This day was monumental for us and our film, thus this blog post is of equal stature. I know it is long, but please, bear with me until the end, because if you don’t you’ll never find out what happens to the film crew dangling over hot lava! Just kidding, please just read.
October 1st put Sam at Donner Pass with Nelle Fortenberry, producer, and member of the Board of Directors of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and Michael’s son, Sam Fox – an ambassador of the Foundation, as well as several supporters from the Lake Tahoe area. Because Sam is donating the money he raises to MJFF, the foundation is including a segment of him in a video for their annual benefit, and hired our services to film it. The night before filming the segment, Nelle treated us to a delicious dinner at Stella in the town of Truckee near Lake Tahoe. Marion and I donned our best formalwear, (and by formalwear, I mean the last clean shirt I had), and reunited with our favorite support director, John Bernhardt, who, happily, has made a full recovery.
Storm’s a’brewin’ in Tahoe
The food was delicious, and our conversation with Nelle compelling. Mostly, we talked about Sam and the nitty gritty of the project and film, but Nelle also shared with us some of the exciting developments at the Michael J. Fox Foundation regarding groundbreaking treatments for Parkinson’s. She is excited about new therapies that will ease the suffering of Parkinson’s patients, significantly increasing quality of life. And she is hopeful that, with continued funding, a cure is within reach. Listening to Nelle speak so passionately on the real possibility of a cure for Parkinson’s reinforced the impact of Sam’s efforts and the role that the documentary can play in rallying people around the cause. Post-dinner, we talked strategy for the next day, then said goodnight and fell into our bunks. Exhausted, as always, from dealing with the usual twist and turn of daily events (“Sam’s here, no he’s here”), I desperately needed sleep. Unfortunately, Marion and I unwittingly chose the parking lot of a train station as our sleeping accommodations for the night, and were gently awoken by the sound of screeching horns and clanging metal every two hours as freight trains rumbled by.
Needless to say, I awoke at 6 a.m. the next day feeling fresh as the morning dew. In keeping with my Den Mother job description, I was delegated to go buy breakfast food for our visitors, so I forced myself out of bed, fueled by the prospect of hot coffee. After throwing bagels, donuts, and yogurt into the cart in zombie-like state, I started driving to Donner Pass, but was suddenly stopped by a road block assembled for another film crew shooting a car commercial. The road to Donner Pass coils around the mountain terrain like a paved python, providing an ideal environment to showcase the handling of a sports car to sell to thrill-seeking customers. It’s also just so darn pretty. Being in Tahoe reminds me that my job is awesome, and that at least I’m not one of those Production Assistants planted along the road with a walkie-talkie until someone tells them to move. I waited for the state trooper to wave me along, and kept my fingers crossed that a Ferrari wouldn’t drive through our shot further up the road.
Sam, Nelle, and the crew filming an intro segment
I met up with the rest of the crew, and we led Nelle and Sam to the location Marion and I had picked out to film the two Sams meeting. The scouting of locations is a delicate art, requiring tact, and the consideration of several factors. Throughout the filming of this documentary, we often drive or hike to beautiful and remote locales that require no effort to seem…well, beautiful and remote. But while Donner Pass is literally minutes from some of most dramatic wilderness I have ever beheld, it is also the location of a popular ski school, conveniently accessible to residents of the Bay Area via I-80, and surrounded by power lines (great cell phone reception.) Situations like this particular one, in which we need to depict Sam in a “wild” setting, to illustrate the ruggedness of his journey to the audience, challenge us to consider our surroundings more carefully than usual. This is not to say that we’re faking it or creating any illusions here folks, but we, as filmmakers, are given an instant before the viewer makes their judgement. Thus, the sound of a car going by, or the site of a telephone pole in frame is distracting to a viewer unfamiliar with the setting, and can jeopardize the credibility of the director, the crew, and especially, the subject. Even without the civilization factor, we want to film Sam in beautiful scenery in order to accurately, and aesthetically portray the PCT in our film. (Not an easy task, considering – some of you may have noticed -our subject is a moving target.) So, when we get the chance to film him in any kind of wilderness, we take full advantage of the opportunity, and when we film in a populated area we choose our shots with care.
When scouting locations for Donner Pass, Marion and I drove down to Tahoe a day early to look for areas along the trail that are:
b. protected from the highway
c. protected from the wind, and
d. are void of any eyesores like telephone poles or chubby sunbathing nude couples.
So money, baby
After some searching, we managed to find a location that fit all of these qualifications, and filmed the Sam and Sam rendezvous. Having just completed 70 miles, Sam continued to the parking lot to take a well-deserved nap. This gave us the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Johnston, senior director of research at Elan Pharmaceuticals, which specializes in neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, who also happens to serve on the Michael J. Fox Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. An avid trail runner, she heard about Sam and Run While You Can and decided to get involved by joining him for 100 miles after donations from her colleagues exceeded $5,000. Jennifer rightly anticipated that Sam would be mentally and physically exhausted, and made it her mission to keep him on pace. One of the most difficult aspects of Sam’s journey on the trail is that no one is there to motivate him, share his gripes, or even just talk to him, so Jennifer, with her seasoned knowledge of the trail and optimism was a welcome partner.
Sam coming in at Donner Pass
The Amazing Pacer, Jennifer Johnston
Back at the parking lot, a small group of supporters from the Tahoe area had gathered and cringed as Sam unbound his feet from the confines of athletic tape and soggy sneakers. While Marion, Nelle, and the film crew scouted another location for the interview, I had the privilege of meeting Run While You Can’s amazing supporters, who brought the most useful gifts: food and checks. Chloe’s friends Kate and Steve came from Reno with a box of pastries and a cooler of beer. Sam’s aunt, Cynthia arrived with a table full of snacks, including homemade beef jerky! Tattie, a Tahoe native, and member of the trail-running community, (aka. my new heroes after reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run (seriously, it will knock your smelly running socks off)), brought a check along with kind words of advice and encouragement.
Arriving at the Support Point
Sam’s hardcore fans
Towards the end of our fete in the dusty, windy parking lot, carrying a pie and gluten-free treats for Marion, Michelle Turley, wife of current PCT speed record-holder Scott Williamson, arrived. For Scott, who started two weeks before Sam, hoping to break his personal best, this is his THIRTEENTH thru-hike on the PCT, all of which have been unsupported. An unsupported thru-hike means that instead of relying on a support crew, he mails packages of food and other needs to himself along the trail, sleeps in a tent, and walks alone. While it is natural to assume a rivalry between a record-holder and an attempting record-breaker, Scott and Michelle have been nothing but gracious and supportive of Sam and Run While You Can, and we were all honored that Michelle stopped by. Good luck Scott!
Sam and Michelle finally meet
With our new friends in tow, we set up chairs by a small lake close to the southbound trailhead. There, Sam and Sam finally got to sit down face-to-face to talk about fears, hopes, dreams, challenges, and what it’s like having a parent with Parkinson’s. While Ben and Jon-Michael covered the setup, careful to keep Jeff’s hovering boom-mic out of frame, Nelle orchestrated the interview as MJF’s Sam asked thought-provoking questions. After the interview, we said goodbye to Sam and Jennifer as they made their way to Barker Pass, and filmed a few final segments of MJF’s Sam introducing Sam to the camera, in manner of Bear Grylls or David Attenborough. We were so appreciative of Sam and Nelle’s trust in our crew as well as their patience with not only the whirlwind day, but also with the actual gusty wind. After we wrapped on Sam, we packed up and headed off to Barker Pass, as the day faded into our rearview mirror and we began to plan for the next.
Nelle orchestrates the interview
Sam talks to Sam
Thank you for staying posted!
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran
September 28, 2011
Since we left the summit of Mount Etna, things have been a little different around here. With the addition of Jim Fox and his rental car to our RV caravan, things – sneakers, RVs, language – are a little bit cleaner, and we suddenly have to double the coffee we brew.
There are universal properties that all parents possess, and in times of need and desperation, those properties kick into high gear. The wonderful and supportive Judy Patneaude actually sent FOUR tupperware boxes of cookies to the nearest town for us to pick up (even gluten-free for Marion!). Ben’s equally amazing mother Joelyn picked us up from the airport and dropped us at the RV rental with a bag full of food. My own mom and aunts tenaciously comment and “like” our updates as if feeding us emotional comfort food, and now we have our very own Dad on the trail.
But it’s not just any dad, it’s Jim Fox.
After leaving Sam headed Southeast on PCT, we drove into Redding and made the Starbucks parking lot our home-base for the day. While I slaved away on a blog post for YOU PEOPLE, Marion had a conference call with people from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, who want to do segment on Sam and to use our crew to film it. While Marion made the RV a makeshift office, Sam Coale, a friend of ours, met up with us- yes we’re still in the parking lot. Sam, who is another Rhode Island local, but based out of LA has been hugely supportive of the film and volunteered to shoot some b-roll of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest for us. We basically showed him a map and some particular areas of interest, and he took off in his dusty Subaru. I believe he is currently filming shots of the wildfires in Oregon right now.
I used to disdain Starbucks for their overpriced coffee and mega-corporation status, but I am suddenly so grateful to be able to sit, unbothered, in our RV, and use their FREE wifi. Whenever we find internet, we gorge on it like starved Cheetahs, since there are always e-mails to send, bills to pay, blogs and photos to post, and research to be researched. But this is what life is like, filming a movie/fundraising on-the-go, and did I mention our subject is a moving target? So we graze whenever we find a spotty signal, and go crazy in a strip mall parking lot. So while my morals are questionable by supporting a chain enterprise voraciously, it seems like a fair trade for a few measly paragraphs.
After our day spent in a scenic Redding strip mall, we headed to the Scott Mountain Summit to meet Eric and Jim, and hopefully catch Sam coming in for the night. In between slamming on the breaks for the hairpin turns and sudden deer crossings up to the summit, I wondered what Sam’s condition would be like, as I inevitably do and assumed that he would be in bed by the time we reached him at 9 p.m. To my surprise, we found the trio sitting around a blazing campfire. Jim had treated the boys to filet mignon. Wrapped in bacon. What’s more, Sam drank 11 liters of water that day, and seemed comfortable and happy. The next morning, Jim woke up in the dark and hiked the first 8 miles with Sam, providing morale and support during Sam’s toughest time of the day.
It became clear that Jim didn’t just fly across the country to spend the night parked in an empty parking lot where an outhouse was a welcome luxury. Oh no no, Jim brought his A-game, as well as a couple tricks-namely bacon-wrapped filets-up his sleeve. Jim was a gust of East Coast wind that arrived just in time to push our momentum forward. As the halfway point of Sam and our journey approaches, we have physically and emotionally come so far, yet this only serves as a reminder of how much more is to come. I’ve learned in Christopher McDougall’s amazing book about ultrarunning, called “Born to Run,” that the true halfway point of an “ultra” (which range from 50 to 100 miles long) is when you have 20 miles to go. Fatigue and stress ultimately slow down the body, making each mile more difficult than the last. But Jim’s military efficiency and no bullshit approach, tightened the midpoint slack. For the record though, John Bernhardt, if you’re out there, you’re irreplaceable, we miss you, and we want you to be healthy and back soon!
The next few days were filled with lots of ups and downs (pun intended!) The “ups” consisted of the footage we filmed of Sam in the Castle Crags region, and a delicious breakfast in Dunsmuir, thanks to Jim Fox. The “downs:” an extremely frustrating attempt to reach Sam at a forest road crossing that was thwarted by the road’s condition and our unyielding RV suspension, as well Sam’s mentality, whittled away by fatigue. We were, however, about to receive another uplift, by way of a man named Condor.
Sitting around the fire at Ash Camp, later that evening, we met Condor, a thru-hiker, who had stopped there for the night. Eric gave Condor some snacks and a beer, and I gave him some of our spaghetti. In exchange, Condor gave us his stories. A few months earlier, Condor had made some major life changes and decided to hike the PCT, and since then he’d lost 100 pounds, and grown an impressive beard. He was too late to make it to the Canadian border before the snow came, but he didn’t care. Condor had made the decision somewhere in the Sierras to take his time to read and draw. Condor’s enthusiasm for hiking- even months later- had us all mesmerized. A few hours later, Sam came in, and we filmed the interaction between Sam and Condor, a collision of two PCT worlds; fast vs. slow; northbound vs. southbound; destination vs. the journey itself. One trail, two very different approaches. Neither was better than the other, but insight from the opposite perspective was an invaluable power for all of us, and we were all inspired by Condor.
The next night we stayed at David Wilson’s house in Burney. Wilson, a fan and follower of Sam, generously offered up his home and hospitality, and caught a glimpse of what it was like to film a man on the run. Sam was in by around 11 p.m. and we were up by 5 a.m. racing ahead of Sam to anticipate him on film. When Sam came in later that day, his interview was drastically different than those recently. He was chatty, upbeat, thankful, and even talked about the beauty and spirituality of the trail. It made me wonder if the recent conversation with Condor had cast a different light on his journey, and made him more appreciative of the trail. I’m sure that Jim’s presence, the conversation with Condor, and the kindness of a stranger, David, had a positive effect on Sam’s attitude, but unlike Condor, Sam is not stopping to read and draw, he’s got a trail to finish.
Until next time,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Amidst all the chaotic and ridiculous that exists here, we naturally tend to strive for some sense of normalcy. Despite whatever may happen from day to day, there are certain things we rely on, anchors, to keep us from drifting out to sea. These little comforts like books, conversation, a good dinner, and a little bit of booze, are constants we depend on when everything else is unsure and unfamiliar. When on the trail, I switch into a mentality I adopted when abroad in a foreign country; stay tough, sharp, and above all, positive. This attitude, in combination with certain material comforts, is absolutely vital to the survival and progression of this project.
After our new, old mediocre RV was finally delivered to us around 8 p.m. on Monday (9/19), we picked up some food, crossed into California (yay!) and drove up to PCT trailhead at the Etna Summit in the Klamath National Forest. We arrived there around midnight, and Eric told us that he was expecting Sam within the next few hours. We set our alarms for two hours later and crashed. Two hours later and still no word from Sam. Went back to sleep and woke up a few hours later to Eric attempting to radio him. Nothing. The rest of the night went like this, and we finally woke up at a decent hour, with no updates or news. The usual gamut of situations ran through my head, but no one was ready to say anything out loud yet. We all figured he slept longer than he planned and tried not to worry.
PCT 4 Lyfe
At 12:30 p.m. and still no word from Sam, we finally expressed some verbal concern. Eric decided to hike in and try and find him, while we remained at the trailhead with our walkie-talkies and cameras ready. We had books, chairs, water, and the weather was hot and sunny. If I closed my eyes, I might even be at Narragansett Beach, minus the film of dust on my skin and the smell of horse manure. This is what I mean by maintaining a sense of normalcy. Sitting outside in the sun and reading, I almost forgot what I was doing, and then quickly remembered my concern again about Sam and wondered where he was. It is this constant tension of recreating comforts and then suddenly being yanked back into very real and bizarre situations that is difficult to balance.
Sam gets in around 5 p.m.
At around 4 p.m., Marion returned from the town of Etna where she’d been on a conference call, and joined us waiting. At 5 p.m., after several hours of worrying, we heard from Eric on the walkie. He had found Sam, and they were headed back. As it turns out, the terrain was steep, the weather was hot, and Sam ended up sleeping much longer than we expected. All these factors contributed to a much later arrival than originally planned. But the bottom line was that Sam was fine. Feeling relieved, we all had dinner together. Eric made a huge bowl of delicious stir-fry, while our crew cooked up some beef fajitas, and there was beer and music. As a large tractor-trailer truck rumbled by, Eric acknowledged that we had made this parking lot our own personal space, even though it wasn’t. Yet within the confines of our small mobile home, we were enjoying a completely ordinary dinner.
This morning, Sam’s dad, the indefatigable Jim Fox, arrived at the trailhead. Like father, like son, never one to back down from a challenge, Jim flew to Sacramento and drove to Etna arriving at 3 a.m. just in time to see his son off. The arrival of Jim Fox to our newly constructed life on the trail seemed to further confuse our boundaries of typical and absurd. But instead of trying to constantly separate the two, maybe it’s best to combine them and redefine what we know as normal, and to bear in mind that our daily struggles are the result of a conscious decision we all made to pursue a great adventurer who is doing some good.
Until next time,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” MauranRead More
September 18, 2011
Well yesterday started out well. We spent the night at the trailhead and were told by John and Eric to expect Sam some time between 8 and 10 a.m. A few minutes after we had woken up and were savoring the final few minutes of warmth in our sleeping bags, we heard a knock on the door. A man named Ben from Ashland had seen the article about Sam in the local newspaper and came to catch a glimpse of him arriving at the support point. We told him that unfortunately he hadn’t come in yet, but he was welcome to wait with us. He said no thanks, but gave us twenty dollars and wished us luck.
A little bit later, after we’d pulled ourselves out of bed to make scrambled eggs and coffee. A woman named Marilyn pulled up, also hoping to catch a glimpse of Sam. She said he had heard about Sam in the local newspaper article as well as an NPR interview that just aired. Being a bit of a runner herself, she was helping out at a 100-mile race that was going on in the area. She also had to leave to help out with the race, but wished Sam the best.
Marilyn and John
Finally we heard a hearty “GOOD MORNING!” from the woods as Sam cruised in around 9:30 a.m., cheery and energetic. As he sat outside the RV soaking his feet and reading the article that was just published about him, another car pulled up, and a man came out to watch this strange little routine. As it turned out, the man owned a lodge down the road called Callahan’s. The lodge welcomes PCT thru-hikers who often camp on the lodge’s front lawn and are treated to free breakfast.
While we often receive support via Facebook, the film crew’s blog or Sam’s blog, run by the talented Eric DePalo, the physical manifestation of support right outside our RVs was truly heartwarming. When we are on the road, it is difficult to stay connected to the world that exists beyond the stretch of road or trail in front of us, and oftentimes our only way of reaching out is through the Internet, wherever can we find it. Posting pictures and blog updates into cyperspace doesn’t always confirm that people are watching or listening, and while we have tons of AMAZING support from our friends and families, there is something gratifying about receiving support from complete strangers; it shows that they are purely interested in Sam’s cause. It completely reinforces the fact that what we’re doing is special, and maybe even a little influential. Furthermore, it is such a testament to the kind of people who offer food and shelter to thru-hikers and provide support complete strangers in endeavors that they mutually believe in.
Because of our visitors, the morning had an upbeat tone to it, and Sam, who got a solid 5 or 6 hours of sleep the night before, seemed relatively well-rested and cheery. To add to our good fortune, there was a road that paralleled the portion of the PCT around Mount Ashland that Sam would be hiking that day. For us, this meant that we could drive ahead and plan our shots, instead of racing Sam on foot to a remote area outside of walkie range or something equally frustrating. It also guaranteed plenty of Sam footage, which we never take for granted. On top of Mount Ashland, we set up our equipment and waited with binoculars and walkie-talkies for a few hours. After some entertaining, albeit disturbing, banter between some deer hunters, we captured Sam emerging from the trees, and slowly drove RV down the road, as he nimbly made his way through a rocky meadow. We agreed to stop where the PCT crossed the road, so he could take a break and talk with us.
We sat on the dusty road, in the shade of our RV and offered Sam a beer and some candy. Beer, yes, candy, no thank you, he is so sick of chocolate and peanut butter. We talked about how Sam was so close to the California border, yet despite this achievement; he is not yet halfway finished with the entire run. Sam began talking about fighting off naps, the persistent rocks in between his toes, and his struggle to find motivation at this point in the game. We tried to keep the conversation light, talking about the classic, Not Another Teen Movie, but the talk inevitably steered back to how many more miles he had to do, and how tired he was. In these moments, it is really difficult to say the right thing and try and boost Sam’s mood. Sam encounters challenges that I can’t even relate to, so it’s dumb to say, “almost there buddy” or “it’s ONLY 1700 more miles, it’ll be over before you know it.” I’m slowly discovering that the best way to support him is by staying positive, joking around, and just giving him lots of food. At that point I just have to remind myself that Sam agreed to do this and all we can do is give him high fives at the edge of the trail. We did just that and told him we’d see him in California. In a flashback, the theme from Gilligan’s Island would be playing, a three-hour tour…we’ll see you in California…
Throughout this trip, we are concerned about Sam breaking down. When he is late, we’re concerned that he is injured and needs help. We never think, however, that the trusty old RV that we rely on to get us from support point to support point would be the one to break down. But it did. Whomp whomp. Guess we won’t see Sam in California. That’s right, our flashy, brand new RV (with hardwood floors!) decided to break down in the most dramatic way right in front of the inspection line at the California border. What an attention-whore. Not one to a let a little single-mode-of-transportation breakdown get in the way, I whipped up some mac n’ cheese, since it was dinnertime, and we ate. On the side of the road. At the California border. After dinner, we were towed to the nearest impound lot, where we were locked in, and spent the night. No worries, Marion and I watched an episode of Sex and the City, and fell fast asleep.
The next day, a mechanic arrived, told us to turn on the engine, and then to immediately turn it off. The clunking metal sound I told myself I was imagining actually turned out to be the sound of a busted engine. Dunzo. So now we’re in a hotel enjoying Internet, hot showers, TV, and above all, our own beds! With sheets! A new RV will be delivered to us from San Francisco and soon we will be on our merry way. To make matters slightly more complicated, as our RV was dying a slow, painful death, Sam’s Support Director, John was rushed to the ER with a nasty case of shingles. Brought on by the immense stress of keeping Sam safe and supported, John had to be on an IV drip for the past 24 hours and is now going home to San Francisco for a week to recover. While we will miss John and his wise words, I am confident that Eric can handle double duty for a few days. As we wait in the hotel room for the new RV to arrive, I will savor the last few hours of Internet, and take one more shower. Given these past few days, who know what will happen next, so it’s best to prepare for anything.
Hopefully headed for California tonight,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran
P.S. Check out the article about Sam in the Ashland Newspaper :
and the NPR interview:
September 17, 2011
The only constant on this trip is unpredictability. While we know that Sam is headed south on the PCT (hopefully), we can never exactly pinpoint where he is going to be and when. We use the “Sam Factor,” I mentioned in a previous blog post, which is a combination of his pace depending on day or night, the type of terrain, and nowadays, how tired he seemed starting out that day. This calculation gives us a window of opportunity to capture him in motion, but all these factors are pretty shaky making the margin of error pretty big (thank god I took statistics in high school, thanks Dr. Mikhail!).
So, two days ago, the morning after Sam’s portion around Crater Lake, we calculated that he would be at Devil’s Peak in the Sky Lake’s Wilderness around 1p.m. that day. Crater Lake, a 25 mile day, which was light for him (and unfathomable for normal people) was supposed to be one of his easiest days, but the crowd of tourists and paved road paralleling the trail proved to be extremely distracting for Sam. He says that this actually turned out to be one of the most challenging days and was mentally exhausting. Predicting that Sam might be starting a little later than he planned, we aimed to be at the top of Devil’s Peak by 11 or 12, giving us ample time to scout out the best place to shoot.
The 7-mile hike to Devil’s Peak was uneventful, yet beautiful as always and we enjoyed the part of the trail that took us across a field of rocks that were flat and brittle making it sound like we were walking across hundreds of ceramic bowls and cups. We reached our destination in 3 hours, just before 11 a.m. set up our equipment, and began to wait. Devil’s Peak is a rocky ridge comprised of these same brittle rocks, which are stacked on top of each other like thin bricks. We soon discovered that these thin flat rocks, when thrown off the ridge, shatter dramatically, providing endless entertainment. Every now and then, a thru-hiker would walk by, either amused or horrified as Ben and Jeff caused a mini rockslide. The rock-throwing/waiting carried on until around 2 o’clock, when a cold fog steadily rolled in. Still no sign of Sam, and we were picking up a Spanish speaking couple on our walkie instead. We decided to get footage of the area, and if he didn’t arrive by 3, we would hike down.
Wonder what we were talking about
As 3 o’clock approached, the wind picked up and visibility turned bad. We wrote a message for Sam on a rock with a sharpie, left him some mini Reeses and granola bars and hiked down. Half an hour later, we heard Sam on the walkie saying he had reached the beginning of the ridge. We were too far away at this point and continued down. Later, Sam said that he reached our message at around 4:30 and by that point it was really cold and raining. So because we didn’t have foul weather gear, we had made the right decision to leave.
The view before the weather got bad
Back in our RV a few hours later, Marion cooked a pot of chili, as we parked in a restaurant parking lot of a ghost town, and tried to pick up a wireless signal. It had been a long day and my sore hips and knees felt like our 14-mile hike had yielded disappointing results. As I tend to do now, I thought about how this would only be a fraction of Sam’s day, and while I am comforted by steaming chili and a plastic cup of wine, Sam often has to stop and sleep only for a few hours right on the trail. Sam arrived at the support point later that night refocused and determined to spend more nights on the trail and less in the RV. He believes that being deliberately uncomfortable will maintain his motivation and deter distractions. Now that we are close to the California border, and almost halfway, it’s important now more than ever keep sight of this goal.
Until next time,
Cecily “Crazy Legs” Mauran