My adventure friends from my Grand Canyon and Tahoe adventures have been trying to get me to join them in their adventure in the desert heat in June–Desert RATS. RATS is a six-day stage race that follows the Kokopelli trail from Loma, CO to Moab, UT over 148 miles.
I’ve heard everything from “it’s the most beautiful trail” to “it’s a slow death march across a scorched desert” and “it’s a long sufferfest with little redeeming value.” Tent camping with remote (or sometimes no) outhouses and no showers for a week. Plus, the cost of RATS is $1600 for early sign up too, not to mention the cost of getting there and hotels rooms on each side of the adventure. By far, the negative seemed to outweigh the positive. So much so, that I replied that the only part they mentioned that sounded interesting was making new running friends and sitting around afterwards sharing stories.
So, the suggestion was made to come along anyway as part of the crew. Skip the death march and sufferfest and just enjoy the rest of the experience. It’s no charge for the crew as long as they work and help as needed. That, and a chance to be with fellow runners was enough to sell me, so I signed up.
At the pre-race meeting at the Gonzo Inn in Moab, I scanned the room to try and learn more about the people I’d spend the next week with. The crowd was a mix of both men and women, aged from late 20’s to late 60’s. There were skinny people and not-so skinny people. But, I’ve learned not to judge capabilities by body type. You’d be surprised.
Monday, we took off for Loma. I rode in the car pulling the trailer of equipment. Two miles out from Loma, we ran out of gas. So, we flagged Sherry down (she’s the staff masseuse). One of the guys rode in the empty seat next to her, while I laid across Sherry’s load in the back, nearly pressed against the ceiling of her truck. The other guy rode inside the trailer we swapped onto her truck! After that sorted out, we went to the trailhead where we met the runners and sent them off before heading to the finish and setting up camp. Twice we lost the big tent as the wind picked it up and rolled it across the desert like it was a tumbleweed!
Tuesday, I was able to get a run in. I ran back up the trail towards the runners, who by that point were nearly delirious. Since I was going the opposite direction, many asked if I was ok or lost. I didn’t want them spending any extra energy worrying about me, so I’d tell them as they were approaching that I was just there checking on them. I was able to get 15 miles in and it felt great.
Wednesday was the short run day so I worked the finish line as the bell ringer. Not an overly difficult task, but very rewarding. It was fun cheering the runners in but I could have done without the bugs there.
Thursday was the long day. It’s a 52-mile stage. I really wanted to get a run in but wasn’t sure how. As I was standing at the start line with the group, it occurred to me that I could run the first 9 miles and end up at the first aid station I would have been waiting at anyway. Not prepared, but really wanting to run, I asked and was granted permission. With one bottle in hand, I stood with the group. Had to laugh when a woman freaked out that I couldn’t possibly run with only one bottle! I told her it was ok, I live in the desert and was used to it. I kept up with the leading ladies and had a great run. Nice confidence booster. I then spent the rest of the day working the second aid station.
Friday was a day off and we all just chilled out, not doing much. Saturday was the last day. After packing and loading the truck and trailer, I got a lift to the first aid station so I could run the rest of the 20 miles with the racers. It was a great run and I had a blast. Toward the end it was pretty warm, but I was cheered to the finish even though I was “just” a volunteer. I did a mock limbo under the finish tape for fun.
The trip was great and I met a lot of wonderful people who I hope to see again. I was able to get 45 miles of trail running in. It was nice to be on the other side, crewing and supporting, and learning how other distance runners strategize their races.