This is a long, amazing, thrilling story, so I will divide it into 2 parts.
As you know, I spent the weekend in Grande Cache, Alberta, with my brother, Aaron. Our plan was to do some camping and volunteer at the Canadian Death Race, a 125 km adventure race which involves summitting 3 mountain peaks and crossing a major river. Between us, our job assignments were course marshal, course sweeper, announcer and back-up relay runner, though I really didn't expect to be called on for that.
I was also looking forward to meeting Eric, who was doing the race solo, and his lovely wife, Michelle, both of whom I've known for some time via our blogs, but had never met in person.
We drove almost 7 hours to get there. Along the way, we saw two bears. One was a black bear that, unfortunately for him, was road kill when we spotted him.
Not so with the young grizzly that we saw just a few kilometres outside the town itself. That bear was also heading away from the road towards the bushes as we drove along the highway. We also saw elk and a few deer on our drive, too.
Just before we hit Edson, my cell phone rang. It was the race director, asking if I was still willing to be a back up racer for a team. I answered yes, without even thinking about it.
She told me I'd be running Leg 5 and I was to check in at Command Central for the race upon arriving at Grande Cache. I hadn't really expected to be called upon as a back up racer, and I didn't really know what to expect. All I knew was that after teams had registered, they couldn't add their own substitutes. So if a team member couldn't make it, their choices were for someone else on the team to pick up an extra leg, to forfeit completely or to accept a back-up runner assigned by the race director. I had just been asked to be one such runner.
We stopped at Edson for a quick break. By the time I'd made it through the 30-minute line-up at Tim Horton's, it had all sunk in and I was psyched! We looked through our race materials and figured out that I'd be running the last leg, which was 22 km during the night. I started wondering what it would be like to run at night on a trail and tried to mentally prepare.
We got to Grande Cache and went straight to the municipal camp ground where things went better than we could have dreamed. Not only did they let us camp there, which was a blessing, considering they were full and people were pitching tents any old place, because it was so full, they gave us a proper camp spot that had been booked by a worker who had left for the weekend. They said they were pretty sure he wouldn't be back and all his stuff was gone, so they let us stay there. We ended up with a beautiful camp site with a picnic table; cast iron fire pit with a grill and a hot plate; and on-site running water. Best of all, it was a stone's throw from the camp's bathrooms with hot showers and flush toilets. And there was free firewood included with the price. Score!
We set up camp and headed into town to check it out, find the hockey rink and recreation centre, which were the centre of activity for the weekend. It was also where I had to pick up my race kit.
When we got to Command Central, the race director was on the phone for a long time, pacing the bleachers of the hockey rink. She later told us that the tables and chairs for the runners' pasta dinner had not shown up and she was trying to find out where they were. In a few hours she was going to have about a 1000 hungry runners in the rink, looking for food.
She got things sorted and then turned her attention to me, only to tell me that the team who had requested a back up runner had decided to re-organize and no longer wanted a substitute runner.
Boy, was I disappointed. But oh well... You win some, you lose some. She did ask if another team needed a runner, would I still be willing? I said yes.
My cell phone had lost all reception in the mountains, but my brother's (from a different cell phone provider) still worked. She took his number and off we went.
Aaron looked at the map and just for fun, we went to check out the leg that I was supposed to have run, leg 5. This is an off-road race, so you can't really see much of the course from the highway, but we did see the hand-off point from leg 4 to leg 5. I was interested, but slightly miserable, since I'd gotten myself psyched up to run.
There was a meeting of the volunteers at 5:00 p.m. Aaron was scheduled to be a sweeper and I was scheduled to marshal and we were both slated to help out with the kids' race the day after the adult Death Race. We headed back to town for our meeting.
But before we went there, we drove around looking for the hotel where Eric and Michelle were staying. Couldn't find it, so we decided to head for the Legion, where the volunteer meeting was being held. Lo and behold, there was their hotel, tucked in behind the Legion.
I told Aaron we could just drop in on them for a minute to say hello, since I knew which room they were in. Aaron thought it was a bit weird that I'd call in, unannounced, on people whom I'd never met. He said, "You've never actually met them, right?"
I answered no, but we blogged together and we knew each other. Sort of. In cyber space.
I think he thought I was nuts, but he wasn't going to leave me alone to go into the hotel room of people I'd never met. He's my big brother, after all.
I knocked on their door and they were in! We exchanged greetings and hellos and they invited us in. We chatted for a while and I gave Eric some Canadian beer, saying we could toast to his success as a soloist when he was done.
Aaron was relieved to find out that not only were they normal people (or as normal as ultra runners can be), but they had excellent senses of humour and numerous stories to share. By the end of that visit, he took this picture of us in their room.
While we were there, his cell phone rang. He answered it and then passed it to me. It was the race director again. Another team needed a substitute runner. Was I still interested?
Would I still do Leg 5? Yup!
So, the plan was for us to go to our volunteer meeting and then for me to go pick up my race number. We said quick good-byes to Eric and Michelle, saying we'd see them later on that same night, for the pre-race meeting at 8:30 p.m. and off we went to the volunteer meeting.
Just before it started, Aaron's cell phone rang again. It was the captain of the team I'd been assigned to. They had somehow found out we were at the volunteer meeting and had come over to meet me. They were in the lobby of the legion. I went out to meet, Fred, the team captain and Patty, who would be running Leg 4. It was great she was there, so we could recognize each other at hand-off time. We exchanged phone numbers and said we'd stay in touch.
I was elated. And I also felt a sense of responsibility to this team I'd never met. They paid a lot of money to take part in the Death Race. And it was likely that they'd been training for months. I had found out an hour before that I'd be on their team. It's not a lot of time to mentally prepare, but I wanted to do it.
At the volunteer meeting we found out that Aaron had also been re-assigned. He'd been taken off as a sweeper and given the job of marshaling at the spot where I had originally been slated. My only job during the race was to be a back up runner, which was fine by me!
After that it was off to pick up my race number and ticket for the pasta dinner and go to the pre-race meeting. Aaron and I shared a plate of pasta, and we had dinner with Michelle, Eric and their friend, Terry, who'd also come up to run solo.
After that, it was back to the camp ground to get some shut eye for race day. Stay tuned for Part 2 with details...