Apparently, it's quite common for crews to argue. I've heard some real horror stories. One Badwater crew member, whom I ran into at the Vegas airport coming home, told me about a fight on his crew, in which the two people started cursing and yelling at each other. Ken told me that he heard one crew became completely dysfunctional. Another friend told me that a married couple on his crew started quarreling back and forth until finally the husband threw a water bottle at his wife, sat in the van, and then refused to do anything for the rest of the race; imagine being stuck in a van for 60 hours with two people going at it like that!
As for our crew, things never got that bad, thank God. But, there were some trying moments. The thing you have to understand about crewing is that it is a continuous, never-ending job. You really don't stop working until your runner crosses the finish line, and even then, you still have to do all that post-race fun stuff like clean up. Bottom line: it ain't no vacation. Your concern as a crew member, your only concern, is to get your runner to the finish line. It's a high-intensity job.
Lynne, Meg, and Dennis were a great crew. I'm glad I got to meet and work with them. But, at first, I was very weary. All three of them knew each other beforehand and were good friends. I picked up on that right away. I sort of felt like an outsider. I tried to make conversation and be friendly, but for some reason, I just didn't feel like I fit in. The evening before the race, as we were organizing the van, Lynne - an Australian ultrarunner - told me, in what was soon to become her signature assertive tone, "You're going to have to work very hard. We are all friends here. We don't know you. So, that's just going to make it harder on you." My first instinct was that I did not like this woman. Who the hell did she think she was, telling me I was going to have to work hard, as if I didn't know already? And why in the hell would us not knowing each other make it harder for me? What difference did it make whether or not we knew each other? We had a job to do, and I was planning to do my best no matter what. I definitely didn't like this woman.
But, you have to put those personal feelings aside when you crew at Badwater. Such sentiments are irrelevant to the task at hand and they are unproductive. So, I didn't argue. I just did what I had to do. Lynne was a lot more experienced than the rest of us anyway. In addition to being a nurse, she crewed at Badwater last year. She knew her stuff. I respected that. I listened and learned. For 38 hours - the time it took Ken to cross the finish line - Lynne would give out orders. Do this; get me that; hurry and fill this with that; stop doing that and do this. It was exhausting. She wasn't very fuzzy and warm when asking for favors either, bless her heart. I felt like I was in boot camp. Factor in sleep deprivation, a disgusting feeling of being dirty due to lack of showering, and lots and lots of heat, and I was primed to tell her off.
At one point, she asked me to fetch her something. "Give me that thing," she snapped. I turned around every which way, furiously looking for what she was talking about it. "There!" She pointed. Where? I looked around. "Look where I am pointing," she said. "You need to learn to look where people are pointing when they ask you for something." I handed her what she wanted, shamefaced. A little later on, as we were going up the mountain, she asked me where the binder was. We had this binder that contained all our paperwork, including a map of the course. She wanted the map. She was in the passenger seat up front and the binder was right in front of her on the dashboard. I was in the back of the van. I pointed with my hand. "It's right there," I said. She turned this way and that, looking for the binder. Oh, dear reader, how time stood still! How desperately I wanted to tell her, "LOOK WHERE I AM POINTING! YOU NEED TO LEARN TO LOOK WHERE PEOPLE ARE POINTING WHEN THEY ASK YOU FOR SOMETHING!" Inside, I was screaming. How I yearned for this moment to finally shove her own bitchiness right back in her face! I didn't.
"It's on the dashboard," I said.
I told Meg about it later. She said I should have done it. But, the way I figure it, no good could have come of that. Aside from allowing me to let off some steam, it really would have been pointless. Lynne didn't mean to be a pain. Her primary concern was getting Ken to the finish line, just as it should have been. If she wasn't all warm and fuzzy when she asked you to pass her the water bottle, it was only because her mind was focused on the task at hand, not on being nice. Outside of the racing context, she was such an easy-going, funny person. She is a joy.
If there is one thing this whole experience has taught me, it's to be humble. Standing in the middle of the desert, towering sand dunes shimmering gold in the distance, you can't help but feel a tremendous sense of awe and humility. Look, I don't know everything. I am always open to learning new things. There are people who are infinitely more knowledgeable about this sport than I am. I want to learn from them. Open-mindedness is essential, not just in ultrarunning, but in life. You have to be open-minded. You have to be willing to listen to other opinions. Doubt is a virtue. It really is.
I went up to Lynne after Ken finished the race and I thanked her. I told her that I really enjoyed crewing with her and that she taught me so much. It was true. I really think I am a better runner today because of my experience at Badwater. And when I finally do this race myself, I will have that knowledge to draw upon. I would not have wanted to crew with anyone else.
When Ken crossed the finish line, I asked him how he felt. He looked a little perplexed at the question. He said he didn't know how he felt. "I can't tell you how I feel right now," he said. "I can tell you how it feels to train for 18 months for something, but I can't tell you how I feel right now." It was all a blur to him. He was so overwhelmed by the experience that he hadn't registered the scope of what he had just accomplished. He hadn't processed all the images. He needed time. I am kind of in the same boat. I don't know what to make of it all just yet. Badwater has been - and still is - my number one goal. For two years, I have constantly thought about this race. There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about it. Truly. The race means so much to me. It is hard for me to explain why. Now, that I have been to Death Valley and have seen the race take place first-hand, I can honestly say I am even more determined to run it.
I don't know what went on in Ken's head as he ran the "toughest footrace on the planet." I can only guess. What was it like to cross the finish line? What did he feel? I think it's different for each runner. Badwater means something different to everyone involved. And that is a beautiful thing. Each runner embarks on his own unique journey. Each runner learns his own set of lessons. Being a crew member this year afforded me my own journey and my own set of lessons. The other day I got an email from Ken, thanking me for being a part of his crew. I am the one who owes him the thanks. Not only is he an incredible athlete who accomplished something few people would even dare to attempt, but he was also kind enough to allow me the opportunity to participate in this extraordinary adventure. I am forever grateful. I can't wait to return to the magical landscape of Death Valley, the eerie and enchanted world of breathtaking natural beauty. The desert has captured my heart.
But, until I return, I will work on learning to look where people point when they ask me to hand them something!