For the Hell of it - Page 2
Photo by Kyle Ormsby
For a fella ready to test his limits, David doesn’t look all that bothered or nervous. As always, his smile is big and shiny. He is clean-shaven, his face browned by so many days on the trail. At 30, he still has a full head of black hair that I’ve never seen combed. When we hug, his squeeze is genuine like a bear’s. His laugh is full and loud. Dressed in a zigzag-patterned, itchy- looking knitted sweater and a pair of blue fleece Patagonia pants that look like they were stolen off a Smurf, David is jovial as ever as he patiently explains to everyone the ins and outs of the run- ning route that he had highlighted on several maps.
David has done his homework. He had driven the five or so hours up to Death Valley from Los Angeles several times to scout the course. He drove every rutted mile he planned to run. On one reconnaissance mission, the unforgiving road ripped the muffler from the underbelly of the car. On another trip while scouting an impossibly steep section of road near mile 67, a rock punctured the sidewall of a tire. On this section, David explains, only his car will go. “I don’t want to mess anyone else’s car up.”
David has it all worked out. His mother will accompany him for the first few miles. Zach will take the sec- ond leg. Ed, the third, Ben the fourth and on and on in rotation until David either keels over from exhaustion or reaches his distant finish line.
Tonight in camp, no one relaxes. Everyone eats hastily, standing up. Chores are underway, cars loaded with food and gear. David scrawls instructions for four members of the group who have not yet arrived from San Francisco. There is chatter about David and how wild his run will be. Questions arise about what his body, ravaged by fatigue and beaten by the trail, will go through.
“Someone told me that my GI track will stop functioning around mile 70,” David announces. Everyone just nods, trying not to imagine what that might look like. But during the evening’s preparations, no one questions whether David can do it. And, perhaps oddly, no one asks him why he decided to run so far. No one questions his will or reasons. David said he wanted to run through the desert. We were invited along. And so we came.
I wake at 12:50 a.m., about three hours after saying goodnight to David. He and Ana are up. David’s mother, Helen, and his stepdad, Mike, and their two black dogs, Butch and Sundance,
are all crammed into a top-heavy Mercedes van that they borrowed from a friend back in Springdale. The van shakes as Mike, Helen and the dogs move about, arranging and rearranging supplies, their headlamps shining through the windows, making it appear as if a mad swarm of fireflies is trapped inside.
As I emerge from my tent, the crew from San Francisco arrives. They plan to hit the sack and break camp at 8 a.m., meeting the early morning crew around mile 35. Right now, though, introductions are made and shots of whiskey swilled—for most everyone but David.
We roar out of camp just after 1:30 a.m. I ride in the van with Zach, the dogs, Mike and Helen. I’d hoped to snooze, but Helen passes me a jug of coffee. I try to refuse, but the brew smells too good. I suck down a thermos full as we follow the dim taillights of David’s car into the heart of Death Valley.
It is a three-hour drive to the “starting line.” The highway is perilously steep and windy. It dips and dives and climbs. The van’s engine whines and chugs up the punishing climbs.