The name alone conjures up images of pain and suffering. Located at Mile 47 of the Western States Course, the Devil’s Thumb Aid Station sits in the middle of what many people consider the crux of the race, The Canyons.
When you arrive at Devil’s Thumb it is hot; brutally, mercilessly, unfairly hot. You have just completed an 1800-foot climb in 2 miles from the Swinging Bridge across Deadwood Creek. The heavily advertised 37 switchbacks do nothing to soften the blow of the intensity of the climb. Legs burn, salt stings the eyes, the stomach rumbles. A couple sections of the climb are hands-on-your-knees steep.
Thus, arriving at Devil’s Thumb, gives me a sense of relief, hope, and possibly even joy. If I have been smart up until this point and followed my race plan I will have arrived at The Thumb with food in my belly and a bit of spring in my step. As much as I have hated the 35-minute (or so) climb up to the aid station I now know that ahead of me lies 40 minutes of the sweetest downhill on the course, the descent into El Dorado Canyon. A quick Coke, S! cap and gel will send me trundling down the hill.
Furthermore, the people who work the aid station at Devil’s Thumb understand suffering. They have literally seen it all and are well prepared with cold drinks, salty foods, and cheerful attitudes. Even better, for the past two years members of the Western States Board have been at The Thumb when I’ve arrived and have given me some great energy. In 2006 it was Shannon Weil who gave me a hug and told me I looked great while in 2007 it was the compassionate Tim Tweitmeyer who said, simply, “Hey three names, what are doing so far back?” Needless to say, Devil’s Thumb is a place to get into and get out of. Fast.
I remember getting there in 2005 with three other guys and thinking that it was pretty late in the race to be running in a pack of four but as I waited for the scale with Richtman, Kerby, and Kulak I felt the brotherhood of the trail in all its glory. Then, I proceeded to run away from those three guys.
In 2006, I arrived at the Thumb with my mentor and good buddy Tom Nielsen. In the insane heat of that year Tom and I had resolved to run The Canyons together. Sharing an ice-cold Coke at The Thumb gave us the energy and the attitude to persevere together.
And, in 2007, I found myself again at the Thumb feeling great. I was in about 14th place at the time but something about the way I felt that day in that place told me I could do better. 10 hours later I ended up in 4th place propelled off the Thumb by the pull of the trail and the carnage that lay ahead.
Who knows what 2009 will bring? All I know is, I’ll be smiling when I pull in to the Thumb!
This is the 4th installment of the 2009 Western States Synchroblog Project. See what aid stations my other synchrobloggers are most looking forward to reaching.