A Badwater (Love) Story

2000 Badwater Ultramarathon Official Finisher

During the post race ceremonies, Errol Jones was gracious enough to call on me to say a few words about the race. Since it was on the spur of the moment. I hadn’t had time to reflect and say what I thought. Like how I learned where Errol got the nickname “Rocket.” I knew Errol from the 1996 Badwater race as well as other races and his many ultrarunning accomplishments. The saga begins at sun up on the second day coming down from Townes Pass a couple of miles from the midway point in the race, 67 miles, near the Panamint Valley floor. Earlier that night, Errol’s crew had stopped by me and asked if I had seen him so I knew he was in the vicinity. Just then, I turned around and he came running up behind me. He opened the conversation by saying that he was having a bad day. He was somewhat incoherent and that, in my best calculations, was it possible to finish the race in under 48 hours since we would be at the half way point in over 24 hours. He knew that he could finish the race in the allotted time but was concerned that he would be subjecting himself to needless suffering if he didn’t make the 48 hours. Well, I said I’ve had a bad day, also, but that we would probably have to get to Owens Valley to get a better idea. That comment met with a moment of silence. At that point, we changed the subject and continued on. Nearing the half way point, I ran over to my support vehicle and took a drink of something awful, turned around, and Errol was gone … like a rocket. I looked down the road and saw a tiny figure off in the distance. Then, one of Errol’s crew ran up next to me and we chatted momentarily. But, he said, I got to go and catch that guy and stop him or he’ll kill himself. With that, he took off and as far as I could see, Errol out paced him and beat him to Panamint Springs. I stopped briefly at Panamint where Errol had decided to take a break. Then continued on thinking, hoping that Errol would be catching up with me. At the Darwin turn off, I looked back over my shoulder and didn’t see him … nor a sign of his support vehicle. At the start of Owens Valley, where we were to recalculate our pace, I looked over my shoulder one more time, this time with a tear in my eye thinking, knowing that the Demons must have gotten him. If they didn’t, he surely would be hear by now. My thoughts changed abruptly when a vehicle stopped in front of me and out jumped Denise Jones. She came running over to me saying “you devil you … I knew I would see you running again,” and at that, gave me a big hug of encouragement. With that, I told my son who was crewing at the time … “throw away the Tylenol … I won’t need it anymore … the end is in sight”. On the way down from the finish line, there was Errol on his way up. I immediately stopped and offered what words of encouragement I could. It was a time of real joy. Like seeing someone come back to life. Like I really knew deep down that he would never quit. My congratulations to all who participated in the race.

A very special congratulation goes out to Erika Gerhardt. I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with her this past spring when Denise put he in touch with me because we live “next door” to each other … like Wisconsin and Minnesota and I might be able to offer her some tips on hot weather training in a cold climate. We also had an opportunity to do a 50-mile and 100-mile trail race together. In the months that followed, we spent much time e-mailing and brainstorming the Badwater race. I was very saddened the second night of the race when she stepped out of her vehicle and said that she was no longer in the race. The energy she gave me then surely helped me make it to the finish. The following day, I learned from Denise that she had encouraged Erika to go back out and finish the race. It was her attitude that the race is not over until it’s over that kept her going. After the post-race meeting, I went out and joined her on the course for about 5 miles. She had plenty of support and seemed to be having a grand old time. Early the next morning, I met her again briefly in Lone Pine, but had to leave not knowing the outcome. Later to find out that, with the support of Lisa Smith’s crew, she had made a photo finish … which I knew she would.