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Friday, November 24, 2017

Chimera Behind-The-Scenes 2017

Chimera 100 (one-hundred as in 100 mile & 100k) has come and gone, and I think that I have finally recovered (& I didn’t even run it!). The weekend hit me hard, and I didn’t do the real hard work of putting this thing together -- 76 volunteers did the really hard work (not including all the HAM operators, timing crew and EMTs).

The way an event like this works is this:

The race director gets all the ducks in a row -- purchases insurance, permits, shirts (& other swag), all gear and supplies, and sets up runner registration, creates course, race book, etc., and basically orchestrates the overall picture, and of course, forks over all the cash. Then there’s a HAM coordinator who recruits volunteer licensed radio operators, schedules them at one of the 13 aid stations, does lots of other technical stuff that I am not aware of, and writes up a communication plan. In addition, there is a timing crew, who basically monitors every single runner during the entire race (a lot more technical stuff here too, because remember we are in the mountains with no cell service, there’s no Wifi or cell service, but somehow they manage to create a hotspot). Add to the group, a small EMT staff who has a base down at the Start line, but mainly roams the course. And then finally, there’s my part, the volunteer coordinator. I recruit and schedule the volunteers -- the aid station workers, sweeps and 4wd support, and oversee their time during the duration of the race. This is a huge operation, and I don’t know how the other planners and coordinators feel, but I begin feeling anxious about mid-week before the race. It’s then that I’m zeroing in on gaps in coverage, and trying to fill the last minute cancellations.

IMG_0005It all began Friday night for my family (myself, my husband and 2 of my sons), and actually much earlier for the race director Steve Harvey and his wife Annie. I believe they set up in lower Blue Jay campgrounds around Wednesday. Anyway, I had to teach Friday, and my boys had school, so packing was left all up to my husband (who had job projects to finish as well). We finally headed up the mountain around 4:30 pm, and it was bumper-to-bumper practically the entire way. We set up camp in the dark, and had a fully operational campsite around 7 pm. My youngest son and I spent the remainder of our evening putting bins together for the aid stations.



IMG_0009Being that this is a 100 mile race, the aid stations need quite a bit of gear. Firstly, every station received a non-food bin which included things like: trash bags, knives, bowls, plates, cups, cutting board, can opener, paper towels, table cloth, toilet paper, first aid kit, sun screen, bug spray and nets, CarboPro, a lighter, stakes, ropes, race details/station instructions, clipboard and pen, etc. Every station also received a second bin that included salty snacks (like potato chips, pretzels, and/or crackers), nuts, candies, cookies, bread, peanut butter, grape jelly, energy shots, raisins and other fruits (bananas, watermelon or grapes). Some of the stations bins also included cheese, tortillas, soups and broth. As a side note, 4 of the aid station captains did their own shopping, so their food differed from the other bins.

Once my youngest son and I completed the bins, we walked back up to camp and settled around the campfire. I went to bed around 10 pm. Through the night, my mattress slowly leaked, and I was pretty dang cold, remembering then why I have “extra blankets” on my camping list. Didn’t pack them because I thought I wouldn’t need them. Ummm, there was a reason they were was on my list.

I was up by 5 am Saturday. The first volunteers had already come and gone -- the parking attendant, arriving at 4:15, and the first aid station, a hike-in water-only station with a two man crew. A volunteer from the first full aid station had also arrived, and we loaded her car with the bins and a table to head down to nearly the bottom of the mountain, the location of the Hot Springs Canyon station (mile 12.5 for the runners).

Runners were off at 6 am with a volunteer sweep taking up the rear. The sweeps’ duties in a nutshell is to make sure that no one gets left out on the trail. They stay behind the DFL (last place runner), and they pull ribbons to unmark the course on the return. A sweeps presence at an aid station indicates it’s safe for the aid station to clear out. But it’s not necessarily always the case. Sometimes runners step off the trail and sweeps run past them. In that case, there’s usually some back-tracking to do. (Every station by the way has a list of all runners, so they know precisely who is missing). 

After all runners were off, we all had some quiet time, non-pressure time to get things situated for the next set of aid stations which would be located up in the remotest parts of the course (miles 47 onward, mainly along The Main Divide). Actually, mile 55 had already been taken care of earlier in the week. One of the volunteers had picked up all the gear at my home because that aid station is located in Trabuco Canyon at the Holy Jim fire station, a great deal away from race headquarters. I worked the Holy Jim aid station for two years at Chimera before I became the volunteer coordinator. It’s a lovely spot to volunteer, and what’s especially nice is that you don’t need to depend on someone else to get you out of the location. Still, it’s a long hard shift.

Aid station locations for the last 50 miles of the course:chimera main divide

7 am, Shift 1 of the 4wd support team arrived. They drove the gear up on the mountain for the first two stations (bins, stoves, Ez ups, tables, water, jugs, fuel, heaters, etc). They also delivered gear to The Candy Store aid station (mile 35 for the runners) which is located out on Highway 74, across the street from The Ortega Oaks Candy Store. The first shift went smoothly. No rush, no issues, just good easy times. Volunteers arrived for those first two aid stations on The Main Divide (Trabuco Trailhead and West Horsethief Aid Stations). I believe those first two stations up on The Main Divide were completely taken care of by the end of the first 4wd shift. By then, the Hot Springs gear had already been returned, and I was pulling things out of their bins to use at the Start/Finish line (a location the runners returned to twice before heading up The Main Divide). The volunteer crew for the Bear Springs station had even arrived, fully self-sufficient with their own 4wd vehicles and much of their own gear and food. I believe we just threw in the Ez Ups, a table, and the non-food bin. And they were off like magic!


My house:20171118_141409

So, around 3 pm Saturday, I really had no idea what was going on with the runners, because I was focused in on the volunteers and making sure they had everything they needed and were at the aid station location in time to set up. A new shift of drivers had arrived to replace Shift I. While they all worked together driving those furthest aid stations to location (Modjeska Peak and Maple Springs), I went to town (El Cariso, the small mountain town on Hwy 74) to have sandwiches at the general store with my family. Right before this time, I began having some physical issues that I’ll leave out of this blog so as to avoid TMI (Too Much Information). I will say that this issue was taking its toll on me and the night had hardly begun.

After our late lunch/early dinner, we arrived back race headquarters around 5 pm. I learned that the HAM radio operator for the W. Horsethief aid station was a no-show. I guess I take this job too seriously, or too hard, but no radio operator at a station in the mountains stresses me a great deal.  What if there’s an emergency, what if someone is hurt, what if they need anything at all? I had to rationalize with myself: Okay, okay, West Horsethief can get by -- they’re tough right? The next aid station is only 2.5 miles away, and we have 4wd support out there on the mountain and a truck with EMTs making the rounds. It’s going to be okay . . . it’s going to be OKAY.  (Breathe!)

Scene driving back from El Cariso:20171118_171324

But then, and I don’t know when I learned this exactly, but Modjeska Peak aid station was without radio contact as well! Deja Fricken Vu! Modjeska aid station was without communication last year, and I believe, even the year before that. And last year, the volunteers were left out there on the mountain way, way past their time to return. Modjeska is one of Chimera’s most remote stations, and under darkness, it takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive. Anxiety build-up big time for me. I kept my anguish inside (because I don’t want to make a scene and all -- besides, who the hell am I? I’m just the volunteer coordinator), but still, I was blown away. We had 5 women manning that station with no radio contact. I don’t mean to sound sexist, but I suppose that I am sexist, but I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of 5 women out on the mountain by themselves without radio support. Worry really began to dig in and coupled with my physical issues, I began to wear down.

Our volunteers on the other hand, I cannot praise them enough, the drivers especially, delivered what the volunteers needed -- extra lanterns, more fuel, more ice, missing EZ up sides, more sodas, more fruit, dinner for the volunteers. I would get requests via the HAM radio operators that a certain aid station needed something, and worked at making sure that it went up with a truck who was already on their way to do something else (drop off a volunteer, pick up a runner). Last thing I wanted is for a driver to leave camp with just one mission; we needed to double, triple up. When we said good-bye to a driver, we would not be seeing him (or her in 1 case) for another 2 to 3 hours, maybe even more. I carried a list of duties that drivers needed to attend to, and I was also careful to keep track of drivers’ locations and their final destinations, so that we could use them along the way, when and if needed on the mountain. Several of the drivers were also licensed HAMs too, which was an immense help in catching things that were needed along their routes.



Around midnight, we had only one driver show up for shift 3, and heaven-sent he was, as we sent him out on some long driving. Short on drivers now, I admit, I more than worried.  I had heard that one of the no-show drivers had indeed showed, and he was up on the mountain. But I sat with the HAM coordinator for quite some time, unable to locate this driver via the radio.  So, I supposed that was just mistaken information and we were indeed really low on drivers as I feared.

As I played everything forward in my head, I did not think we would have enough drivers to pick up our sweep on time at the furthest location (Maple Springs). He needed to be back at the Start Line at 7 am. With very few drivers at this point, there was no way that was going to happen. We did have a couple of drivers on standby who had been driving all day. But I had already secured their promise to head out at 3 am to go stay with the ladies at Modjeska Peak until their shift ended. Last thing I wanted was for these young women at Modjeska to be waiting for a ride back without radio contact. Those 2 drivers were taking a sleep break as I contemplated how to handle getting the through-the-dead-of-night sweep picked up on time. I was stumped. Discussing it with the HAM coordinator, he suggested that I end the guy’s sweep early at Bear Springs, that way he’d be closer for 4wd support to retrieve. The crucial part of the sweep (the technical single track) would be over, and the HAM coordinator and timing crew could monitor the rest of the runners on The Main Divide via radio. Okay good! So, before going to bed, I confirmed with the one driver at race headquarters that he leave now and arriving at the destination, pick up the sweep around 2 am, while checking on the well-being of stations along the way. (Turns out, he found a lost runner along the way, which is super cool that he was out there!)

Driver heading out for 2 am sweep pick-up:IMG_0065

1 am, I was so ready to go to bed. There were still these problems, but first I should state that it is EXTREMELY important to me that volunteers get shuttled back to the Start Line at the appropriate time, and that they are comfortable and safe during their stay on the mountain . . . anyway, these were the situations that were weighing on me at around 1am Sunday morning:

  1. A 3:30 am shift change at Trabuco Aid Station (one of the volunteers absolutely had to be back due to personal obligations -- and we had left him at an aid station hours too late on another year!) The way I knew it, with 2 driver no-shows, pick-up at 3:30 am was impossible.

  2. With the drivers we had, and how they were currently being utilized, there was no possible way to have a driver at the furthest location (Maple Springs) by the time their station closed around 5:40 am Sunday.

  3. A 6 am shift change at West Horsethief Aid Station was also not feasible.

  4. And lastly and most importantly, we had reports of a drunk and belligerent driver up on The Main Divide taunting volunteers and pulling down glow sticks that marked the course.

IMG_0057Back at the campfire with my family these things weighed heavily upon my mind. I was cold, I was tired, and I was pretty much miserable. With my coat zipped up past my mouth, I wept beside the campfire. I really didn’t know what to do. I know people will think that I took this too hard, and that I worried too much. And I guess I did worry too much. I have always taken my jobs seriously, whether it's been a paper route in the 5th grade, a waitress gig paid under the table in the 6th grade, putting together a marketing brochure in my late twenties, or teaching students high school Algebra so that they can pass their GED, I want to do it right! I don’t want volunteers to be afraid, or to worry, or to have any bad experience at all. I realize that is impossible to control, but still!

I want to say that my husband was a great help to me with my physical ailments at the time, and my family was very supportive. Though others down at the Start Line knew of my stress, I don’t think they really knew how hard I was taking it. I tried to hide it. I dried up my tears quickly, and came up with a few things.

First, I wrote out a note for the guys driving out to Modjeska Peak to hand to the non-radio contact station Horsthief. The note apologized for not being able to do a shift change as planned. We would be about 1 hour late (a new driving shift would make that possible). Secondly, I asked Net Control to radio Trabuco aid station to inform the shift who would change at 3:30 am, that we would not have a ride at that time. I advised that they get on the truck currently coming down the mountain that would arrive at around 1:30 am. I knew this would be okay, because the aid station (a wonderful volunteer, Whitney, had already mentioned that she could handle the station by herself during those hours because so very few runners would be coming through -- plus she had 2 HAM radio operators with her). I went to bed with a slightly heavy heart knowing that we could be a couple hours late picking up Maple Springs, but feeling much relieved that the Modjeska Peak ladies would have drivers by their side before I woke.

I did get some sleep that morning from 1:15 to about 4:30 am. My boys had pumped up my mattress again, and it had not fully leaked out as I slept. I heard a truck door slam around 4:30 am, so I knew it was time to get out and see what had entailed during my sleep hours.


I found Steve Harvey walking back to his truck, deliriously tired, for a quick nap. He staggered like a sober zombie. His wife, Annie, was asleep in a chair. The timing crew eyes were bloodshot. The HAM coordinator was down for a little sleep. Three runners had crossed the finish line for the 100 mile race, and several of the 100k runners had finished. The volunteers at Trabuco had taken heed to my message and took the ride out when it came by. I did not know much more at that point, except for the rumor I heard before I went to bed that one of our drivers had shown up and was up on the mountain was indeed true -- and so thankfully, there was one additional 4wd support out there during the graveyard shift as I slept.

At 5 am, the W. Horsethief shift change arrived. And then the 4th shift 4wd support arrived shortly after. We got the volunteers off to Horsethief, and my friend Hank a little bit later off to ITT (Indian Truck Trail) for his sweep portion. About that time, or a little later, things started to unwind to tell me the story of what occurred and how everything worked itself out. (Oh me of little faith!!) Suddenly, things began to look rosier. IMG_0076

To begin, that drunk driver, irate jerk, who was out on The Main Divide, well, he had been taunting the ladies out at Modjeska Peak -- the ladies that I worried about earlier. He even drove circles around their camp, hitting and demolishing one side of the Ez up. When one of our 4wd support, who was also a HAM, arrived and found out what was happening, he elected to stay the night there with them, ignoring the end of his shift and remaining with them until the end, and driving them and their gear back to race headquarters when it was over. Therefore, when the two trucks that I had sent out at 3 am arrived at Modjeska Peak, they saw they were not needed and drove further out to the Maple Springs aid station and provided transport for them. If you recall -- Maple Springs was the aid station that I was fearing would need to wait extra hours for a ride back. That additional driver that I did not know had arrived was busy on the mountain all night long, picking up a lot of the slack, making runs along the mountain all through the early morning hours.

We had one more shift change early Sunday morning, a long time volunteer and her husband went up to Trabuco to help out Whitney who had been “manning” the station alone since about 1:30 am. I have no idea how many runners had crossed the finish line by that time. I really had not been paying attention. I do know that Steve was there to greet each and everyone of them with a medal or buckle. Annie was awake now too, smiling and optimistic and lovely as always. It was time to take off my jacket, get out of my pajama pants and face the day optimistically like the graceful Annie.

With a couple of fresh drivers coming in, things were looking up. I saw Maple Springs and Modjeska Peak come down from the mountain. I heard the tales of the jerk driver, and just how worried they ladies were during his taunting. Next, the self-sufficient Bear Springs aid station returned, with lots of pictures to show of one of the best aid station ever! (They actually had rooms -- a kitchen, a living room/bedroom, etc). From then on out, it was a game of orchestrating drivers to get gear, dropped runners and volunteers at the remaining stations who were at that point still fully operational. Around noon or so, the irate/drunk driver was arrested in Santiago Canyon. Turns out, he crashed his car driving down Maple Springs Road, and two of our HAM radio operators helped him out of a ditch. Then they followed him, with the police eventually on the line.

4wd support:IMG_0084

Aid station volunteers after a night on the mountain (Maple Springs & Modjeska Peak AS):IMG_0082

About 2 pm on Sunday, I told my family that we could leave soon, so they started tearing down camp. I was wiped out. I mean really beaten up, and I truly wondered how I could ever do this again. I am not a good enough writer to relay just how much it tore me up to worrying about the volunteers. It was not fun. Not fun at all. And nothing bad happened, and everyone involved did their jobs perfectly. Still, I stressed.

On the way out, I finally got a taste of the race from the runner’s point of view when I saw a trail running friend coming in for a 100 mile finish. What a glorious sight. I teared up cheering him on – I believe this was his 3rd attempt at a finish, and just a half mile from the finish line it was his! And this is why all those volunteers sacrificed their time and comfort – they did it for him, and all the other starters of Chimera 2017.  I get a little emotional thinking about it. Like all the years before, I am in awe of all the people who did their part in seeing the runners make it to the Finish Line. They are the best! They really are. They are self-less, they are helpful, they are kind, they are optimistic, and they are wonderful. Smile

The Facebook Behind-The-Scenes Photo Album

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Post Dump

Chimera is just around the corner. My life is hectic, and stressful, and borderline chaotic. Haven’t even been able to run or make it the gym much, instead needing to rush home between classes to do lesson plans, write some Chimera emails, grade projects, or write a paper for an online class I’m taking. The entire back seat of my car is full of stacks of papers, notebooks, and more papers and more notebooks (not to mention two gym bags full of crap). To add to this chaos, my precious cat was killed last week (and she was so very precious to me), and that pretty much made me want to just stop everything. But I had to keep plugging on. It sucked. The only silver lining was that I felt so lucky that she was part of our lives for the short time she was. Best cat ever. Broken heart 

With Chimera around the corner, and the fact that I finally bought a new camera, I thought I’d write post to dump out my past two very much needed trail adventures. Wait – yes, I finally bought a new digital camera. And being nostalgic, I opted for the Canon Elph, which is the same make and model of the very first digital camera I ever broke (I smashed it on the rocks while running the Calico Trail run for the first time). Camera phones are nifty and all, but I really missed having a digital camera separate from my phone. They feel better in my hand than a phone.

Anyway, it was this past weekend, Veteran’s Day weekend that I hit the trails twice. First, was Friday, I went for a West Ridge run (with some hiking). I haven’t even downloaded my garmin yet, but I know that it totaled a little over 6 miles, because I’ve probably run that same route a hundred times.


The second trip out to trails, with a little bit of running, and a lot more hiking, was the following Sunday along Santiago Truck Trail. I got a late start, which is perfectly fine now that the weather is so mild. The mileage totaled a little over 7 miles and was much needed for my soul.

IMG_1414 (1)IMG_1422

IMG_1427 (1)

Looking forward to returning to the trails with Elph in hand.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Maple Springs in the Autumn

I have always loved Maple Springs Road, especially in the autumn. I think that I even have another blogpost named Maple Springs in the Autumn. Here’s what it looked like last weekend, on November 5:

IMG_1322IMG_1325IMG_1329IMG_1330IMG_1332IMG_1333IMG_1338IMG_1341IMG_1344IMG_1347IMG_1348IMG_1351IMG_1353 (1)IMG_135711 5a11 5Untitled-1