Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Aid Station Are You Looking Forward to at WS?

That’s easy, Devil’s Thumb…

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.


Anonymous said...


Can I get in touch with your wife? I am trying to plan crew/family logistics for WSER and I would guess she has had lots of experience managing 3 kids along the course. We'll have our 6, 4 and <1 year old along with us & I need to start working out details. She can email me Thanks!! Can't wait for a great weekend. If anyone else reading this has insight, feel free to email me.

Jeannie (Kevin Sullivan's wife)

Damon said...

I'm looking forward to the Highway 49 crossing. In 2005, I got pulled there and I don't intend for that to happen again.

Scott Dunlap said...

You have some great memories here, AJ! I'm looking forward to seeing it for myself.


Anonymous said...

Browns bar was always my personal favorite. So clsoe to home and you go in and out of thsoe ltitle canyons and then blammo... music , fun and GU2O!

Joe Kulak

Theresa said...

I'll never ever forget pacing Clem Lacava in 2005 - we got to Brown's Bar right when the clock turned to 5:00 am and they were blasting the song "Yesterday". Clem finished strong and it was an honor to be a part of his experience.

Olga said...

Michigan Bluff. It's party time, and while many have parties, at this one you "think" you are done with climbs, and it's a tiny downhill, so you can get a smile on your face and put on a show for spectators. By the time I was on Cal Street I was in a "get 'er done" mode. Just passing by...

Burton said...

Michigan Bluff for me too. I've just rocked the canyons, and it's the first time I see my family since the start. I don't have them bother going to Robinson Flat. I love to come in with a smile and a woot. With all the carnage the canyons can dole out, it makes me want to show my family I'm still having fun. Give me some canyons!

Dr Andy said...

For me it is Robinson Flat. You are done with the canyons, the worst of the heat is behind you and while it is still along way to go, you can start counting down the miles to the finish. You've been largely alone for many hours and all of a sudden you are in the middle of civilization with people cheering and yelling for you. You get to see your support crew and (I know I'm a heretic for saying this) pick up your pacer.

In my first year 2003, I really struggled early and thought about dropping out but by RF it was cooling off, I wasn't losing time to the cutoffs anymore and I really started believing I'd do it.

4 years later, I got there at 6:25 and remember thinking I'd suffer as much as necessary for the next 10 1/2 hours to get that silver buckle

Honorable Mention: Robie Point where the work is almost over and you can relax and enjoy the last 1.2 miles