Waldo: The Experience of a Lifetime
by Keah Taylor, Eugene, Oregon
Where’s Waldo 100K & Relay
Willamette Pass Ski Area
August 21, 2004
Growing-up was tough. I had heard about words like l-o-v-e, f-r-i-e-n-d-s-h-i-p, and h-u-g, and had seen them modeled on places like the television set, but had no experience with their meanings. So I looked down the road, and I began to run. My favorite thing was to lace my too small sneakers really, really tight so that I felt safe and secure, and pound the road into fantastic fantasies of people paying attention to me, admiring me, cheering me on, and loving me. As the years passed and adult hood progressed, the sneakers came on and off. On when there was not anyone around to beg and plead with to please just like me even a little, and off when someone grabbed the bait of extreme vulnerability–hook, line, and sinker. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that I just could not live this way anymore, and I needed to learn how to do the impossible–to like myself. For this unthinkable task, the running shoes would have to stay on. One of my most favorite and consistently reoccurring fantasies was the one where I run an exuberant amount of miles. C’mon, you know the one! You are running strong, looking great, waving at a disbelieving but wildly cheering crowd…
OK. So why not give it a shot?
Most of my training was on a treadmill, or on flat, black top surfaces. Whenever I tried to train on Ridge line, a local trail system, I gave-up at around 20 miles because I just didn’t feel good. The course description for Where’s Waldo 100K Ultramarathon read… “The course is on 98% single-track trail with more than 11,000′ of elevation gain and equal amount of loss. There are 3 major climbs of more than 2000′ each and 2 minor climbs of more than 1000′ each…” I had lots of miles on the treadmill and black top by now, so I should be ok for this, right? My new ultrarunning friend, Melissa Berman, who has been graciously giving me some experience with one of the words spelled f-r-i-e-n-d-s-h-i-p, finally gave me a forceful push. “Hey Keah, you NEED to get out on this course with me, and try it!” After a few training runs on the course, we contrived a plan. I would attempt to complete the course in 16 hours, and be back by 9:00 pm to receive the prize; a Where’s Waldo 100K hat. I studied the course religiously, and asked one of the race directors, Craig, lots of questions. I assured him that I thought that I could make the course in 16 hours.
Saturday, August 21- Where’s Waldo 100K.
We started at 5:00 a.m. Pitch black! I fall a lot on the trails in broad day light, so this was absolutely insane! I was scared as hell as I suction-cupped myself to some guy’s back who didn’t mind taking the lead. Whoever you are, guy, I really want to thank you! I would have killed me for running so close behind me! You handled me like a kind champ, and I really appreciate it!
In about seven miles, I knew that I needed to drop out. I felt horrible, and knew that I was in way over my head. At ten miles I reached the Gold Lake aid station. I was ready to drop, when the other race director, Curt, came over to me through the masses of other runners. “…How are you doing, Keah?…” I was stunned. He remembered my name, and knew who I was. A real, live race director was paying attention to me! To my disbelief, instead of “…I drop…” coming out of my mouth, “…Fine. Where am I going next?…” came out instead. In shock, off I went in the direction of his outstretched finger.
I managed to reach the kind folks at Fuji Mountain aid station. They were few, and so busy. My fingers were already really swollen, and I couldn’ t untwist the top off of my camelbak to get some fluid. Instead of getting angry with me, they patiently put all of their belongings and clipboards down to help. Thank you so much, the volunteers at Fuji Mountain.
As I continued on my way up to the top of Fuji Mountain, a beautiful, very strong looking woman was passing by me. She smiled so big and yelled, “…All right!…” at me. I voraciously threw my arms up in the air and screamed, “…Run for women!!!..” I have no idea why I screamed this at her. She cracked-up, and continued running. As I looked at the web site pictures yesterday, I hysterically started laughing. It was Ann Trason.
At mile 22.5, I reached the aid station at Mt. Ray. Before I entered the station, there was a man on a radio. “…Runner number 71 coming through. Number 71…”
I felt so important! This was just so exciting! As I entered into the station, people jumped-up and started clapping and cheering. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening to me!
The next leg to the Twins aid station was a complete nightmare. Halfway through it, I knew that at this station I would drop. Melissa would be there to give me permission to quit, and Bob, Chris, Bev, Randy and Mary would all be supportive. As I got to the edge of the station, an excited voice screamed, “…It’s Keah! Keah is coming!…” Everybody jumped-up and started hysterically screaming and clapping. A high-five to all was a must. I couldn’t believe it! Where did all of these people, who were not an actual part of my fantasy world, come from anyway? They gushed and fussed over me, and finally when Melissa held-up her fake gun, shot it, and screamed, “…Go!…”, off I went.
The Charlton Lake aid station came quickly. A man and a woman there paid particular attention to me, listening attentively to my requests, and helping me with all that I needed in the midst of people and chaos, being that this station was also the relay exchange station. It was so busy crazy there, that off I ran!
The run to Road 4290 aid station was like being on Mars! What weird terrain! Dilapidated Christmas trees, all in perfect rows, covered in sand. Never mind the weirdness; now I was starting to feel even worse, as if that were possible. Arriving at the 4290 aid station, one look at the volunteers reminded me of a line in a song by the Indigo Girls, “…he was wise, and dirty from the weather…” They were filthy, and so beautiful! One volunteer seductively asked, “…Would you like some melon?…” The cooler on the outside was covered with mud and dirt, but when he opened it up, there were the most voluptuous red and orange melons that I had ever seen, perfectly cut! He didn’t care as I ravenously thrust my swollen, dungy fingers into the cooler and started engorging myself. He then grabbed sponges and started dousing me with cold water, as I moaned and groaned in ecstasy. Because he told me that I Iooked great, onward I went.
The next aid station was a grueling uphill eight miles away. About three miles into it, I started crying. About four miles into it, I started sobbing. I thought about getting on my hands and knees, and crawling. All I needed to do was to make it to the top of the Twins Mountain. I was sure that there would be an ambulance close by, and the medics could start an IV on me. If they could get enough fluids into me, I might be able to avoid an emergency trip to the ER. When I finally crawled my way up to the top of the Twins, there was my beloved friend, Bud Proctor, wildly cheering for me. Bev, Mary and Randy were also there cheering hysterically, and Bev had in her hands a $3.00 bottle of specialty water. I rapaciously ripped the bottle out of her hands and immediately poured the whole thing on my head. As I looked at all of them, they were all beaming at me, I believe. Randy, who has a lavish running past, stated that I looked “…impressive…” Embarrassed, but secretly just so pleased, I told them that I had better get back to business so that I could make those time cutoffs. So down the mountain I ran. After passing through the Twins aid station a second time where my hysterically screaming personal cheering section greeted me once again, I made my way to the Maiden Peak aid station. These incredible volunteers had made a three mile uphill difficult hike into this place, bringing food and fluids for the runners. They desperately tried to downplay what was to come-up next; the final climb to Maiden Peak. “…It’s actually only 2.9 miles, instead of three…” I appreciated their efforts, but I knew that I was in deep Ca-Ca, coming up fast.
I have selectively blocked-out of my memory the experience of climbing up, and skidding down on my ass, Maiden Peak. Hysterical sobbing. That is all that I am going to say.
I finally made it to the last aid station at Maiden Lake. Even though the volunteers had been there all day, they smiled and cheered wildly as I arrived. I was so glad to see them, when it suddenly hit, after creeping-up on me since mile twenty. My body dumped, and I couldn’t move. I was done, and they knew it. They all watched me for a few minutes. Then she, with her big brown eyes, knew that she must deliver the news. “There are seven miles until the finish. There are no more aid stations.” They then all asked if there was anything that they could do for me. “Just tell me that I can do this,” I heard myself beg. “You can do this,” they all replied. “You are fine. You are ok.”
To my body’s own shock and horror, I thrust it forward. I limped, and then I started running, for the finish line.
About a mile into my seven miles, the inevitable arrived. I had not gone to the bathroom all day, and now I SERIOUSLY needed to urinate! I clumsily pulled down my shorts the best that I could, and tried to squat. It was immediately apparent that I could not squat very well when the urine started running down both my legs, and into my shoes. As I felt the urine seeping into my socks, I knew better than to ask myself what could possibly happen to make things worse.
I continued running, as it was gravely getting dark. I had no light with me. When I finally hit Rosary Lakes, it was getting pretty difficult to make out the trail. All I could do was run and cry, while stumbling on a trail that I now couldn’t see. Then I did the unthinkable. I reached down to my watch, and hit the light. Fifteen hours, and forty minutes. I let out a loud howl. If you ever think that you are having a bad day, rally this image to your forefront: A hysterically sobbing, urine infested thirty-five year old woman running blindly down a forest trail with her arms thrust forward, ready for impact into a tree that would bring her to her death. Not only was I going to die out here, but even more horrifically, I was not going to make the time cutoff! I ran this way for an eternity, until something told me to stop abruptly. I looked to my right, and slammed my hands up against it. I felt the indentations, and could just barely make out the bright yellow writing. It was the trail sign. The trail sign that started this mother blessed thing at 5:00 a.m. this morning. An elated “…YES!!!…” screeched out of my mouth as I turned the corner. And then there it was: The beautiful lights emanating from the ski lodge, which was the start, and now, the finish line. I heard voices screaming, “…There’s a runner coming! Runner coming!…” I could see all of my friends screaming and clapping! And then I crossed the finish line.
In Curt’s hand, was a red cap. In slow motion, he handed it to me. Fifteen hours, and fifty minutes. 8:50 p.m.
As I allowed my new friends to wrap me in blankets and clothing, and bring me food as I sat and babbled nonsense, it suddenly hit me like a brick: It was in extreme pain that I left this realm and world as a child for fantasies of kind, caring, and loving people. On this particular day, it was extreme pain that blasted me into the present, real world, where kind, caring, and loving people absolutely kept me alive.
Thank you, Waldo, for the real experience of a lifetime!