The last part of the note.
And so I kept moving.
It was shortly after this that Peter, one of the runners from Brooklyn came up behind me and we got to chatting. He was having difficulties with cramping and I told him about my stomach troubles. We moved along together for a short time before he was ready to pick up the pace. I wasn’t, so he said that I would probably see him at the aid station up ahead. I wasn’t so sure the way I was feeling. About a half hour later it turned out he was right. I got to the aid station, refilled my hydration pack, tried to eat a few pretzels and take a few sips of that orange Gatorade I had gotten to know so well and the two of us were off together with one loop left to go plus the out and back along the Esplanade.
Peter and I more or less decided we were in it together for the remainder of the race as we passed by the familiar theme camps, by some of the same people that had been watching us each loop and by some people that were seeing us for the first time. More comments. More conversation. More people on acid with beers in their system. More continuing on. The last camp you see on 2:00 before reaching the deep playa fence is a camp that I like to call Camp Heckle. They were there last year at the same place, on the outskirts of town, probably put there because of the wealth of complaints they get from year to year. Loud dubstep techno blasts from their speakers and a jerk on the microphone hollers out as many insults as he can think of towards whoever passes by. And being the freak runners that we were, we may as well have been running with a target attached to our clothes instead of a race number. In truth they weren’t as bad as last year. A year earlier in the exact same spot, the last words my friend Tyler and I remember hearing them say to us while making our way to the outer fence, echoing from the loud speaker throughout the desert was, “FUCK YOU, RETARD!” How do you respond to that? What do you do? Say something back to them? Or maybe sneak into their camp at night and puncture holes into all their water jugs? Naw. This is Burning Man. The world has been flipped upside down. You just smile, shake your head, and move on.
We finished the fourth loop and resupplied at the aid station. Keeping out of the sun behind a large art piece, a woman who had just finished the race was taking off her shoes and hobbling along. I asked her how she was doing and she said she was fine although her feet were really hurting. Having turned into an ultrarunning nerd the past year, I was pretty sure that I knew who she was but I wanted to ask what her name was just to make sure. “Kathy D’Onofrio” she said and I had been right. I asked her, “You won Western States twice, didn’t you?” For those readers who don’t know, The Western States 100 is the very first 100 mile foot race in the world and is known as the Super Bowl of American 100 milers which attracts the most elite distance runners not only from the US, but around the world. She had won the woman’s field in 1986 and 1988. Kathy humbly said, “Yes I did win Western States, but that was a very long time ago.” I told her I thought that was totally awesome and she thanked me and said, “But let me tell you something,” and she pointed her finger right at me and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You could win it too!” Time froze for a moment as I was taken aback by this, never haven really considered the notion. Before I could say anything she asked if I was finished with the race and I told her I had the out-and-back left to do. Her mouth dropped open and she gave me a funny look and yelled, “then what are you waiting for, GO GET EM!” And she started jumping up and down on her tired feet yelling over and over again, “GO GET EM, GO GET EM!” And with that Peter and I were off for the home stretch.
The physical pain was intense for us both. We’d run until it was too much for one of us and then we’d have to walk for a while. We reached the turn around point and gave the Esplanade one last hurrah. My stomach was really upset and I felt sick. The heat was oppressive. If I ran for more then a few minutes I would come close to puking. The wind kicked up and before we knew it we were in the middle of a thick dust storm. We put the bandanas that had been tied around our necks over our mouths to filter out the dust. I took a few breaths through it and immediately took it off as I realized it had been around my sweaty neck for the past six hours and smelt so bad I preferred to breath in the dust. I struggled with a few bouts of coughing. And then after all the way we had gone and how little we had left to go, Burning Man decided to throw one last obstacle in for us to navigate through. Blocking our path was a steady stream of several hundred fully naked men riding on bikes. There was so many of them it was hard to cross through to the other side. We had no other option but to carefully make our way across, fording the river of naked bicycle men, feeling like we were in the Atari game Frogger. After much concentration, we safely made it through, managing to avoid being hit by a bike or a loose body part and we kept moving. We trudged on together. It is unbelievable how great company is for an event like this, especially when you are suffering. Good conversation will take potentially hellacious miles and turn them into pleasant moments. I was very grateful for Peter's company and hopefully I’ll make it out to some of these North Brooklyn Runner events in the future. Finally we made it to the finish with a time of 6 hours, 27 minutes and 4 seconds and received a nice big finisher’s medal around our necks and a t-shirt to take home.