The search for common ground at Spain's elite Transvulcania 83K
A grueling descent toward the town of Tazacorte. Photo by Chris Hunter.
This article originally appeared in our September 2013 issue.
I heard a buzzing overhead and saw the flashing lights of a drone helicopter. Pants down around my ankles, squatting in pre-dawn darkness on the edge of a cliff on La Palma Island, I groaned and thought, You’ve got to be kidding me.
Before I came to La Palma, I’d heard a lot about the differences between the American and European trail-running scenes— how Europe embraces hyper-competitive mountain racing the way America loves football. In writing on his blog about winning last year’s Transvulcania 83K on La Palma, elite runner Dakota Jones, now 22, of Durango, Colorado, characterized European trail races as “steeper, more competitive and harder in every sense of the word ... with helicopter footage, prize money and high-profile media storms.”
But now that I was here, 30 minutes away from the start of the 2013 Transvulcania, the biggest difference I’d noticed—which Dakota had failed to mention in his blog—was the absence of port-a-potties at the start line. The other points he’d made were on the mark: I’d seen the helicopter camera zooming around that morning—a remote-controlled sort of hovercraft that soared over the crowd at the starting line. And, yes, there would be an €8,900 ($11,600) prize purse—not that I would have any stake in it. As for the “high-profile media storm?” As associate editor at Trail Runner, assigned to cover Transvulcania, I’d happily accept that designation.
But back to the issue at hand. In lieu of a proper toilet, runners flocked to relieve themselves on a rocky cliffside sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Fuencaliente lighthouse on the southern tip of the island.
As runners finished their business and migrated toward the starting line a quarter-mile down the road, the cliffside grew deserted. Having been immersed in crowds for the past three days—crowds at the airports in Denver, Chicago, Madrid and La Palma, crowds at the Hotel Sol where I was sharing a room with a colleague—I realized that this was the first time in days I’d truly been alone.
But no sooner had I popped a squat than the helicopter camera came whizzing over me, live-broadcasting my pre-race bathroom break on television sets all over Spain.
It wasn’t the only time on La Palma that I’d fluctuate between feeling completely alone—for better or worse—to feeling as though I had all the company in the world.