My Badwater 2002 Story

Click here for the perspective of Kari’s crew / pacer, Howie Stern.

Pre Race

Everyone says they had the best crew, but they didn’t have mine. So, they had great crews, but MINE was the BEST! Don’t tell them, but I could have finished in less than 48 hours. I was afraid Al Arnold would be sleeping and I didn’t want to cross the finish and not see his face (just kidding). Truthfully, seeing him at the finish was one of the highlights of my race.

Here I go, starting at the end. This is why I didn’t want to write a story. I have a hard time in everyday life. But after crossing Death Valley, being almost dragged by my wonderful husband, Phil, to the summit of Mt. Whitney on the Sunday after the race. This is really bad.

Here it goes. It all started back in 1994 when Angie Tapley, Denise Jones’ daughter, and I became friends. She told me about her MOM doing this nutty race across Death Valley and up to the summit of Mt. Whitney in JULY. Yeah right! I thought it was stupid to do something like that to your body. I wasn’t a runner at all. At the time, mountain biking was my sport. Runners all needed to go get themselves a mountain bike. Why waste their time running.

Then in 1995, Angie asked Phil if he could crew this guy, Whit (Rambach). Phil said “sure, sounds easy. Just drive in an air conditioned car, up a mile and give some guy water: “no problem”. Little did Phil realize what he was in for. Phil was Whit’s only crew person. So you probably know, if you have even stepped out of your car in Death Valley, in July, it wasn’t at all what Phil or Whit had planned.

After Phil got back with all his stories about the heat, Lisa (Smith), Marshall (Ulrich) and all the weird people, I had to go check it out for myself. I offered to crew for Ben and Denise in 1996. Then right before the race, after hearing all the stories about the crew getting sick, peeing and pooping, etc., in the desert, I got scared and called Denise to tell her I was too busy at work and couldn’t do it. She wasn’t happy. To make a long story short, I ended up going and have gone back every year except 1997.

Now about the 2002 Badwater race. First, this race is not about just me. It’s about a team of dedicated people: Rosie Roccoforte, Fred Shufflebarger, George Velasco, Howie Stern, Phil Marchant, June Mikes, Richard Marchant, Jamie Wiley and Denise Jones. My main team consisted of Rosie, Fred, George and Howie. The other loving people spent time driving, getting things like pizza, masks for the heaving smoke (thank you June), etc.

It is 5:45am, Tuesday, July 23, 2002, Badwater, California. I am so scared. Where is Adam Bookspan to play the National Anthem? It’s 5:58am. I am standing at the start and Marshall is pulling at my cover up and saying something. I cannot hear because my heart is beating so loudly. I just see his lips moving. I give him and Lisa a hug and we’re off. Leaving Peaches and Cream (the two desert tortoises who my wonderful friend Sharon brought to the start). Sharon is also known as the “Turtle Lady” (thank you Sharon)! I don’t remember much from Badwater to Furnace Creek. It’s still sketchy.

Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells

I do remember thinking, we lost George somewhere around the Devil’s Corn Field and my husband wondering why I was crying and saying “we had lost George because he was right in front of him. Rosie was smiling, changing my ice bandana and telling me how great I was doing. Fred kept everyone from going crazy. Howie was waiting like a race-horse in the gate at Stovepipe to get my sorry butt up to Townes Pass. Denise had loving words telling me to move my arms. Jumping in the pool at Stovepipe Wells was refreshing. I liked drinking the smoothie that Fred told me not to. Next was throwing up at Townes Pass because I didn’t listen to him. THANK GOD to Major Maples for his purple pedialyte (thank you Major).

Stovepipe Wells up to the top of Townes Pass

I remember so little, again, but here it goes. Throwing up; telling Major’s crew to make him drink the slim rite we had given them; Anita (Fromm) having the same ups and downs as I was having; Denise making me drink pedialyte and feeling so much better. Getting to the top and getting told to quiet down; people are trying to sleep? (I guess they didn’t like our poop talk; sorry whoever that was) Howie trying to make me run down. I think he could only get me to run a mile.

Top of Townes Pass to Panamint Springs

Here’s where we start really having fun. Howie and I are trucking along and all of a sudden, we see my friend Art (Webb), squirting himself with his squirt bottle that he was carrying and slowing down just long enough to give me inspiration. He told me I can finish this damn race, “just keep moving,” and off into the night he went, laughing and squirting. Howie and I got such a kick out of him. He is such a cool guy (I love you Art). Next, here comes someone who reminds me of Marshall on uppers. Christ Frost, he’s the same sort of space alien, just not as mellow. And right before him, we see his beautiful fiancé, Tracey, what a lady.

Then we got to the bottom. I crashed right on the white line just as the van was pulling away. Howie said “please get on the dirt and I’ll run up and get the van.” So, with a mound of dirt for my pillow and bugs crawling all over me (I thought), he ran a mile to the van where Rosie and George had already fallen asleep. George woke up and I guess started running back to get me. Howie said, “where you running to, she’s way back there. See that little light, that’s her headlamp.” That’s how they found me. Sleeping like a baby.

Panamint Springs to the Finish

When we got to Panamint Springs, they let me take a shower and nap in a bed for 30 to 45 minutes (they told me?). I truly don’t remember much going up to Father Crowley Point, except walking with Rosie and ripping my pants on the wrong side of the guard rail, upsetting George because I took off my freshly iced towel to wave it in the air so Anita could see where we were. I kept wanting to visit with everyone and my crew knowing that I was trying not to move. They wouldn’t let me talk to anyone (thank you guys, we would still be out there). I remember crying because I wanted my white rice (Angela’s secret weapon) and not being able to find it. Then I think I asked Fred if he was sure we were going the right way. I thought for sure, I was sick and had a temperature, so they would surely make me quit. Those sneaky sons of you know what’s, got the medic to check me at Darwin. He told me to get moving. We have that on video. It’s funny. I put my head in my lap (how does one do that?) and said I have to regroup. Then, Phil took over and we had a laughing fest for miles. The other runners and crews were wondering what was going on. That was fun. Then we had the long haul from before Keeler to Lone Pine with Howie and Fred ? then Howie and Rosie. This was so hard. It was smoky. I kept cursing out Chris Kostman, because I told him I wanted it hot and clear, not hot and smoky. This is where Howie said we have to pick up the pace. So he made me run to one stake and walk to one stake. It was hard, but we made up some time. Then Lone Pine, yeah! There was Phil, Denise and Nikita (Siberian Husky) waiting at 395. I still wasn’t able to visit though. Howie said “keep running one, walking one.” (I think he threw out all the beautiful rocks I had found on the trip).

They promised that when I got to Lone Pine, I could take a bath, eat and take a one hour nap. I put my flag out at the corner of 395 and Whitney Portal Road. Then I went to Denise’s (in the van, yeah). I took a bath, ate, had ?NO NAP? and hauled ass up the Portal Road. I saw lopsided Steve Matsuda and once again, they wouldn’t let me visit. I had my whole crew plus my great kid, Richard. Denise was present, telling me to keep moving those arms. Jones and Phil were there when we got closer to the finish line. Then I saw the finish and then Al Arnold. I then knew it was worth it to cross the Valley of Death. Just to see his face, with so much life in it. Thank you Al. Words cannot describe what this race has done for me as a person. I must thank Chris Kostman for keeping it going. Without Chris, many others and myself could not have fulfilled their dream. Thanks to Debbie Caplan, his beautiful lady. Remember Chris, behind every great man, there’s a great woman.

Thanks to Lisa Smith Batchen, my friend and coach. She gave me the strength I never knew I had. Not just physically, but mentally and spiritually too. Thank you so much, Lisa.

Ben and Denise Jones, I know I could not have done this race without their love and support. For taking time out of their busy lives to crew me on the training days in Death Valley. Words cannot express my appreciation, so I’ll just say thank you so much. I love you both so much.

And most of all, thanks to my family … Richard, Ashley and Phil … for putting up with fast food and no milk in the house … and one absent mother. I love you guys so much. Ooops, forgot the “whole” family, Lucy, Winnie and Copper, my dogs … for not being able to go for your walks because I had to do my gym workouts.

Love and Aloha, Kari

P.S. Sunday morning, my wonderful husband and I got to the summit of Mt. Whitney. It took 9 hours to get to the top (not fun) but that’s another long story.