ABHILASH TOMY RESCUED

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC; this photo was taken at the time of Thuriya’s launch in Goa in 2017 (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC, who was injured badly after his sailboat, Thuriya, was rolled and dismasted in a severe storm in the Southern Ocean, was rescued earlier today (September 24), reports in the Indian media said.

Upon reaching Thuriya’s location, the French fishing patrol vessel Osiris dispatched a team (with stretcher) in a small boat, which successfully shifted the injured naval officer from his sailboat to Osiris. Abhilash is conscious but tired and dehydrated, a media report quoting his father, P.C. Tomy, said.

According to an update on the Golden Globe Race (GGR) website, at the time of the rescue both Indian and Australian maritime reconnaissance aircraft were circling overhead. Weather conditions were favorable. A radio briefing was held between the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre on Reunion Island, a doctor at I’lle Amsterdam (an island in the southern Indian Ocean not far from where Thuriya was) and the master of the Osiris before the French crew proceeded to the Thuriya in inflatable Zodiac boats to assess Abhilash’s condition and administer first aid.

India’s Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, has tweeted that Osiris will take Abhilash to I’lle Amsterdam. He is expected to reach there by September 24 evening. Later, INS Satpura – one of two Indian navy ships dispatched to the Southern Ocean following news of Thuriya’s dismasting and serious injury to Abhilash – will take him to Mauritius, the tweet said. I’lle Amsterdam is part of French Southern and Antarctic Lands, an overseas territory of France. I’lle Amsterdam has a good hospital with X-ray and ultrasound equipment, the GGR website said.

Thuriya and Abhilash were participants in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. Ahead of storm in the Southern Ocean, Abhilash was placed third in the race. Following the dismasting and severe back injury, Abhilash was unable to move and confined to his bunk in the Thuriya. At the time of writing, details of the injury were not known.

According to the update on the GGR website following Abhilash’s rescue, Gregor McGuckin, the Irish sailor and GGR participant who was sailing towards Abhilash’s coordinates despite his own vessel being rolled and dismasted, was still 25 miles west. Gregor was attempting to motor-sail to Abhilash’s help under a small jury rig and with neither self-steering (he has to hand-steer) nor properly working engine. He was in contact with reconnaissance aircraft and although not in distress has requested for a controlled evacuation, a decision commended by race organizers given he has 1900 miles of Southern Ocean to tackle in a damaged boat and at the present juncture, has rescue assets close by.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on Abhilash, Thuriya and GGR please scroll down or select from this blog’s archives.)

INDIAN NAVY AIRCRAFT SIGHTS THURIYA

Thuriya adrift in the Southern Ocean; mast broken (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter handle of Indian Navy and is being used here for representation purpose only.)

An Indian Navy P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft has located Commander Abhilash Tomy’s sailboat, Thuriya, in the Southern Ocean, reports in the national media said today (September 23).

It may be recalled that the vessel was rolled and dismasted in a recent storm. Abhilash had subsequently reported severe back injury and inability to move around.

He has activated the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and efforts have been underway to locate and rescue him. Thuriya and Abhilash were participants in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. It was Abhilash’s second such voyage. In 2013 he became the first Indian to do a solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sailboat.

Reports quoting an Indian Navy spokesperson said that the naval aircraft saw Thuriya adrift in the Southern Ocean, its mast broken and hanging alongside.

Further the official website of GGR informed that Australian authorities have dispatched an executive jet to the coordinates of the stricken boat. The aircraft will also overfly the boat of Irish skipper and GGR participant Gregor McGuckin, which too was rolled and dismasted in the storm. Notwithstanding an unreliable engine (likely due to fuel being contaminated when the boat was rolled and dismasted in the storm), loss of self-steering (he has to hand-steer now) and finding that the spinnaker pole he used to improvise a jury rig was bending in the strong wind, Gregor is attempting to motor-sail his way to Abhilash. The two are only 80 miles apart, the latest update on the GGR website said. Also expected to head Abhilash’s way is Estonian sailor and GGR participant, Uku Randmaa, who was 400 miles west of both Gregor and Abhilash.

Additionally, the French fisheries patrol vessel Osiris is heading to help Abhilash. Osiris has medical facilities onboard. Although he cannot move around and appears confined to his bunk due to the back injury, Abhilash has confirmed to race organizers that he can move his toes. In first responder circles, when assessing injury, the ability to move one’s body extremities is usually taken as a positive sign. Abhilash has indicated that he may need a stretcher when help arrives. Quoting Abhilash’s latest message to race organizers, the GGR website informed on September 22 (as an update to what it reported earlier the same day) that he can move his toes but is feeling numb and cannot eat or drink. The grab bag containing more emergency communication equipment remained difficult for him to access.

As per information on the GGR website, Australian authorities are also repositioning a search and rescue plane to Reunion Island to assist with the rescue efforts; this is in conjunction with the Anzac class frigate HMAS Ballarat, preparing to leave Perth for the area where Thuriya is. The Indian Navy has already sent INS Satpura and the tanker INS Jyoti to the southern Indian Ocean, where Abhilash is.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Please scroll down or select from archives for more on Abhilash, Thuriya and GGR.)        

2018 GGR UPDATE / THURIYA ROLLED AND DISMASTED IN STORM, EFFORTS ON TO RESCUE ABHILASH TOMY

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Efforts are on to rescue Commander Abhilash Tomy KC, participant in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR), after his boat, the Thuriya, was rolled and dismasted in a severe storm in the Southern Ocean.

According to information available on the GGR website, the incident has left Abhilash injured.

In a communication to race organizers on September 21, he said that he has a severe back injury and cannot stand up. At that time the Thuriya was 1900 miles south west of Perth, Australia.

In a subsequent update on September 22, GGR has quoted Abhilash confirming activation of the emergency beacon (EPIRB). The boat’s external YB3i unit continues to provide tracking information but the power line to the boat’s batteries has been damaged. The update which said Abhilash is on his bunk in the boat, said that he was using the portable YB3 texting unit – which is a back-up – for messaging.

The boat’s primary satellite phone has been damaged. There are additionally an aviation hand-held VHF phone, a second satellite phone and a second YB3 unit in Abhilash’s Emergency Grab Bag.

The Thuriya, soon after the boat was launched last year; view from aft. At this stage her mast wasn’t fitted; that happened later(Photo: Shyam G Menon)

But he cannot reach it given the state he is in, the update on the GGR website said.

Last reported on this blog, Abhilash was in fourth position in the race. He had subsequently improved to third position. Besides Thuriya, the powerful storm rolled and dis-masted the Hanley Energy Endurance, the boat in which fellow GGR participant, Gregor McGuckin was sailing. However Gregor is otherwise alright and following emergency repairs, was slated to sail towards Abhilash’s coordinates. He was reported to be 100 miles south west. Another GGR participant, the Estonian sailor Uku Raandma was also in range; he was reported to be some 450 miles away from Thuriya.

According to the media, the Indian Navy and Australian rescue authorities have swung into action to rescue Abhilash.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on the 2018 GGR please scroll down or select from archives.) 

VEDANGI’S QUEST / CANADIAN LEG NEARS COMPLETION

Vedangi Kulkarni (This photo was downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose only.)

Having completed the opening Australian chapter and New Zealand after that, Vedangi is close to wrapping up the Canadian leg of her journey, cycling around the planet.

Vedangi Kulkarni, who is attempting to be the fastest woman cyclist to go around the planet unsupported, has covered more than three fourths of the Canadian leg of her journey.

On September 9, her father Vivek Kulkarni informed that Vedangi had reached Ottawa, the capital of Canada. At that point she had covered 9020 miles (14516 kilometers) since commencement of her trip in Perth, Australia. This approximates to half the distance required for circumnavigation. It took her 54 days and some hours (but less than 55 overall, as per Vivek) to cover the distance.

On her Facebook page, the young cyclist wrote: How do I feel? Grateful! I feel grateful for the colourful sunrises and sunsets, the mountains and the flat lands, the tarmac and gravel paths, the beautiful trees, creeks, rivers and lakes, the howls of the wolves and close wildlife encounters, the pleasant temperatures and freezing cold, the thunderstorms and stormy winds and tailwinds, and above all, to the PEOPLE who have supported me however and whenever and wherever I’ve needed – family, friends and absolute strangers! You’re my invisible peloton and I value every single one out there wishing well for me.

The record Vedangi seeks to improve upon is the one held by Italy’s Paola Gianotti. In 2014 she completed circumnavigation unsupported on a bicycle – although not in consecutive stages – in 144 days.

According to Vivek, Vedangi had to attend to work concerning her Schengen visa for Europe, in Ottawa. For some reason in the journey so far, this particular visa had proved tough to obtain. On September 15, in a post on Facebook, Vedangi confirmed receipt of Schengen visa. She will now proceed to Halifax in Nova Scotia to complete the Canadian leg, Vivek said.

Vedangi began her passage across Canada in Vancouver. Earlier she had cycled from Perth to Brisbane in Australia (5631 kilometers) and put in an additional 1000 kilometers or so, in New Zealand.

As per information available on Vedangi’s website, her journey of 18,000 miles (approximately 29,000 kilometers) will be attempted in four stages. The first stage will see her cycling through Australia and New Zealand. The second stage will see her cycling across Alaska and Canada. The third stage spans Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and Mongolia. The fourth and last stage covers China and the trip back to where she started in Australia. Given the fact that all required visas cannot be applied for and obtained well in advance, the exact route of Vedangi’s expedition has to stay open to adjustments as her journey progresses.

Vedangi, 19, is currently a student at Bournemouth University, UK. She spent some part of her early childhood in Panvel (not far from Mumbai); later she attended Jnan Prabodhini school at Nigdi near Pune. Her family now resides in Kolhapur. The circumnavigation plan assumed shape sometime in September-October 2017. Vedangi’s circumnavigation attempt will take her across 14-15 countries, the final number depending on how the route is affected by visa availability. A film is being made on her journey. There will be a film crew meeting her at various points on the way.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

2018 GGR / RACE PASSING THROUGH INDIAN OCEAN

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

The 2018 GGR, which began July 1 from France, is now passing through the Indian Ocean, albeit way down in the southern hemisphere. The race with technology levels pegged back to what prevailed during the 1968 GGR entails a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. It is adventure, refined.

More than two months since the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) commenced from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, the race leaders are past Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar. They are well into the Indian Ocean; the region they are in qualifies to be Southern Ocean. As of September 13, 2018, they lay far out at sea in the southern hemisphere, south-south west from the Indian peninsula.

Among the world’s great capes, the next one for them to rendezvous with is Cape Leeuwin, Australia. Well past this cape at Storm Bay in Hobart, Tasmania, the participants will have a brief meet up with race officials and media. According to race rules, the participants will pass through a `gate’ and drop all sail on the boat if it is safe to do so. The entrant may moor, anchor, motor or drift but may not re-cross the gate to continue to Cape Horn until at least 90 minutes has elapsed. During this time when the nonstop, unsupported character of the race will continue to remain intact, the participants can pass on any photos, films, letters they may have. They will also have to display their `safety pack’ for inspection. The pack – it contains a portable GPS chart plotter – is meant for use in emergency and a broken seal (indicating the pack was opened) denies the participant any official ranking in GGR or GGR trophies. He / she can however continue in the event under `Chichester Class.’ Further instances of stopping anywhere or breaking the seal of the pack, will disqualify the participant from the event, altogether.

As of mid-September, of 18 sailors originally participating in the 2018 GGR, seven had retired from the race while one stood relegated to Chichester Class. Commander Abhilash Tomy KC of the Indian Navy – he is the sole participant from India and only invitee from Asia – was among those still in the race. At the time of writing he was in fourth position. He had made some significant gains in the preceding days. The race leader by sizable margin was Jean Luc Van Den Heede of France. He was followed by Mark Slats of Netherlands, Gregor McGuckin of Ireland and Abhilash in that order.

The 2018 GGR features solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. It is a repeat of the original GGR of 1968, which produced the first solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sail boat; the distinction went to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston of UK, who accomplished the voyage in the India built-Suhaili. The 2018 edition is unique for pegging technology aboard participating sail boats, to the same level as in 1968. No digital devices have been permitted. Navigation is done using a sextant. Abhilash is the first Indian to do a solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sail boat. The 2018 GGR is his second attempt at solo nonstop circumnavigation. For the race, Abhilash is sailing in the Thuriya, a replica of the Suhaili built in Goa at Aquarius Shipyard (for more on the Thuriya please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2017/08/11/2018-golden-globe-race-ggr-meet-the-thuriya/).

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

THE OUTDOORS AND THE LURE OF THE HIVE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

A recent Court order that bans camping on Uttarakhand’s alpine and sub-alpine meadows has left trekkers and the outdoor industry confused. Confusion can be clarified. Of worry is trends inspired by commerce, noticeable in some of the responses to the ruling. As life becomes hive, the question is: to bee or not to bee?

Recently a friend needed assistance in articulating what the outdoors means and I found myself writing so:

Wilderness and open spaces are not merely part of human heritage. They are fundamental to the evolution of our aesthetics. One manifestation of such aesthetics inspired by nature is our idea of freedom. For some inexplicable reason, open spaces and wilderness with few humans in it, remind us of freedom; alternatively whenever we think of freedom, we imagine open space. We periodically yearn to be away and alone in the outdoors because we wish to reconnect with dimensions of existence denied us in the human cluster. Thus much before the outdoors is industry or industry to be regulated, it must be acknowledged as a side of us we are bound to go seeking, allowed or not.

To mindsets like the above, regulation is self-regulation and that is inextricably linked to education and awareness. The goal should be to create better informed practitioners of outdoor sports and adventure activity.

I reproduce the above here because of a recent Court order in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and responses to it I noticed on the Internet; in fact, with reference to my opinion on the matter, less because of the Court order and more because of the responses. Towards the end of August 2018, the High Court ruled that camping should not be allowed on alpine meadows, sub-alpine meadows and bugyals. It put a question mark on trekking in Uttarakhand because many treks – particularly long ones – require camping overnight. The order also set a limit on the number of visitors allowed at these locations.

News reports following the Court order said that the Uttarakhand government will challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court.

I leave it to the experts to decide what should be done.

What distressed me was some of the reactions in the wake of the Court order.

One big player in the outdoor industry lost no time in positioning large companies as environmentally responsible and small groups and individual trekkers as potentially irresponsible. To me, such posturing is unacceptable because there are exceptions to every generalization. There are lone trekkers and small groups of hikers who conduct themselves responsibly. Similarly, there have been big tour operators who defiled destinations by running hikes with large number of people or handled their garbage irresponsibly. Second, this argument of big operators as the most responsible ones around and therefore ideal model to support flies in the face of why we choose to be in the mountains in the first place.

My gut reaction when I saw the tour operator’s observation was: don’t compulsorily push me into a group. I come to the mountains for relief from the human hive and you are simply extending the reach of the hive when you insist I be in a group. That is not to say I am averse to groups. I am a meek fellow. Except on a handful of occasions, all my treks and climbs were with at least a friend or two. I have also hiked with groups and been on commercial treks; in the latter case, enjoying the comforts provided for I can’t handle frugality perennially. All through my life I have picked and chosen from a basket of options. What I wish to underline is that there is an element of getting away in most outdoor adventures. Outdoors, wilderness, open spaces and such have historically been a valuable counterpoint – even source of counter narrative – to life by clustering. What is the fun then, in forcing everyone into groups in the outdoors too? Why limit our choices?

The unsaid truth is – hive and group are good for business (not to mention – they are also politically fashionable these days). Companies love seeing us arranged in silos and seeming ready-made market. Before we know, the silo is swung by capital, technology and social media to the convenience of those controlling it. Such hijack of individual is overlooked. The danger implicit in this imagination resembles the tussle between personal freedom and nationalism. If you are going to put resources behind empowering anything, it should be personal freedom because that is innately fragile and typically, stands alone. Even a school student, aware of bullies and bullying, knows which side to support as a matter of principle. Somewhere in life as adults, we seem to forget this. However – and thankfully so – not everyone forgets.

Years ago, when I was introduced to hiking and climbing in Mumbai, my seniors at the climbing club talked of a book that was deemed essential reading. Its name – rather aptly I would think – was Freedom of the Hills. I didn’t read this book (it is there still on my shelf) but I read similar others. More than reading I was lucky to be with friends who liked the outdoors and respected it. Point is – nobody recommended an Outdoor Industry Handbook or How to be Hive and in the Hills At Once as essential reading for novice. My seniors were clear – the hills meant freedom. And because they are precious as abode of that freedom, you tread responsibly, you care for it. We went in small groups / expeditions and years before the Court order of 2018, were already carrying our trash back. It is my request to policy makers that individual hikers and small groups should not be automatically branded as irresponsible. Sometimes we hike alone or in small groups because we can’t afford commercial hikes or we simply wish for our own space. What you should emphasize instead, is good education about the outdoors so that anyone – traveling alone or traveling in group – is motivated as individual, to be responsible visitor in wilderness.

A commercial trek should not be anything more than an option. Much the same way, going alone or in a small group, should always be there as option. You can’t impose one option on everybody. The solution should be – no matter what option we choose (and the option we choose will vary depending on our state and stage in life), the environmental standards (and safety norms) expected of a trek must be met. Educate and train – that should be the way ahead. The hive will always tempt us with business models suiting its logic. But remember this – you will know the value of freedom only when you lose it. Even as I am yet to read it, I just can’t get over the name of that book: Freedom of the Hills. So apt. But for how long? – I wonder.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)         

WHEN A YEAR DOESN’T FEEL ENOUGH

Grant Maughan (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

This is an article by invitation. The author, Grant Maughan, is a freelance super yacht captain and endurance athlete. Here, he provides us an overview of how 2018 shaped up for him and then takes us ringside to three ultra-running events he was at recently – The Last Annual Vol State, Badwater 135 and Angeles Crest 100. Hailing from Australia, Grant lives in the US. He maintains a packed schedule.

Sometimes a year just doesn’t seem like enough time.

After working on a ship in Antarctica for four months in late 2017 / early 2018 and doing no training I found myself north of the equator about a week after finishing in Cape Town. I was back in Alaska for the Iditarod trail Invitational 350 mile winter race, hooked up to my sled and a little gun-shy after my withdrawal from the event the year before at around the 200 mile mark with frost bite to my fingers and nose. This year, with a conservative approach I managed to finish the event in third place and qualify for the 1000 mile attempt along the entire Iditarod Trail to Nome in 2019.

Not two weeks later I had flown to Australia to renew my passport, then back to Florida, changed equipment and driven to Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee for my first attempt at the infamous Barkley Marathons. Considered one of the most difficult ultras in the world, in its 32 year history only 15 people have managed to finish the five loops, collect all the correct book pages hidden out in the mountains and returned in time to the “Yellow gate.” This year’s weather was some of the worst on record with bucketing rain, cold temps and mud like butter. I managed to finish one loop with all the pages in the required time. Doesn’t sound like much of an achievement but I beg to differ.

From Iditarod (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

A week after I had driven back to Florida, exchanged equipment again and was on a bus being shaken to bits on a mountain road through the Himalayas to Everest base camp in Tibet where I spent the better part of the next two months acclimating and working on climbing the North Col / North East Ridge route of the tallest mountain on earth. After a harrowing summit on May 19, I thanked my lucky stars to be back at base camp and packing for departure.

Not two weeks later I had flown back to Florida, changed equipment out and driven again to Tennessee for my first attempt at the Last Annual Vol State 500km road race. This event is also brain child of Barkley Race Director, Laz Lazarus and is considered an adventure across “small town America”. The route crosses the entire State and winds through country roads and quaint towns that most travelers would bypass on super highways.

Last Annual Vol State

What is the Last Annual Vol State race? Well, to begin with, it’s unlikely to be the last annual anything. Every year, more and more runners sign up for the 500k (314-mile) challenge. This year, 114 ultra-runners gathered for what is mostly a race across Tennessee — although it starts with a ferry ride across the Missouri River, zigzags across the Kentucky and Alabama state lines, and ends at a “rock” on top of Sand Mountain in Georgia. “That’s crazy… and confusing!” you might say to yourself. And you would be right.

Taking a nap during Vol State (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

Runners follow a labyrinthine course through small towns and farmlands, along backcountry roads and busy highways — and all at the height of a sweltering, sticky, bug-infested Tennessee summer (know what sweat bees are? If you don’t, you will!). The people are super friendly; the farm dogs, not so much. Runners have 4-10 days to finish, although the record holder did it in 3 days 7 hours. You can be crewed or “screwed” (which means un-crewed). There are no aid stations, although some kind-hearted locals took pity and set up “angel stations” along the way to offer food, water and a place to bed down (that MIGHT be chigger-free, if you are lucky). Screwed runners carry what they need or buy it along the way. Unscrewed runners have their crew do it for them.

All runners are free to check into a motel for sleep and a chance to test just how bad their chafing is in the shower. Many just sleep on the ground, where they drop. No fancy trackers — runners are required to call in twice a day with their position on the course. There are not many other rules, except you can’t ride in a car (unless a police officer makes you), and if you leave the course for food or a room, you have to go on your own two feet (no matter how much they hurt) and return to the course exactly where you left it.

King of the Road – that’s the title given to the first to reach Castle Rock by the Tennessee legislature (true story) on completion of the Last Annual Vol State 500km ultra.

Even though I was the first to get there, and proud of it, all of us who endured that long hot road across small town America at some point felt like a truck wreck. We came unstuck, went off the rails, strayed from our minds and asked ourselves questions too big to answer. But in the end we held that wheel in a white knuckle grip and kept on trucking.

Titles are not bestowed they are earned, and “King of the Road” will cost you more than a pound of fat.

I was more than a little relieved to finally make it to “The Rock” and the finish in 3 days 22 hours and 2 minutes.

At the finish line of Vol State (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

After 500 km of running across Tennessee under a relentless sun and humidity, cranky dogs and the close proximity of speeding big rigs on country roads I finally dragged my putrid body to a stop. One of the difficulties of this event is living in saturated clothing and shoes for days. It’s very difficult to stop blisters, heat rash and horrid chaffing…and that’s besides the endless miles of soul crushing tarmac.

My wife, Susan Jobe who was my solo crew, suffered as much sleep deprivation, stinky clothes and bleary vision as the runner. We traded the front seat of the car and a yoga mat for occasional cat naps on the side of the road, shunning the comforts of a hotel for reasons unknown – but could have something to do with my stubbornness?

I literally saved seven angry dogs by either running to the opposite side of the road to stop them running in front of traffic to come harass me, or standing on the road waving frantically to a high speed vehicle to stop before it vaporized a small girl’s dog in front of her as she screamed from the front yard.

I finished early in the day. So we slept the rest of it in a local hotel before packing the car and heading West for another 2800 miles to Death Valley, California for this year’s Badwater 135.

Badwater 135

This was Badwater number six for me and I can only describe it as the toughest finish I have experienced at this race.

With record setting temperatures this year it was brutal to say the least and took a heavy toll on racers. I was obviously fatigued from Vol State only about a week earlier and my feet were in serious disrepair.

At Badwater 135 (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

My slowest time ever at 34:52:30 and 22nd place didn’t bother me, heck I was just happy to finish this year. With about 30% drop out rate from the extreme heat it was one for the ages.

Whenever someone asks me what they need to know to run Badwater I always tell them they need to respect the first 41 miles between Badwater Basin and Stove pipe Wells. The arid atmosphere is going to suck every drop of moisture out of your body. You have trouble drinking enough to replace the loss and your stomach cannot process it all quickly enough. This year I saw total carnage along that section. Someone was throwing up only five miles from the start. After Furnace Creek I saw a female runner, totally unconscious, being carried to her crew car. A minute later the woman in front of me had a wobble, went off into the gravel and hugged a road post. Not a minute later a guy was projectile-vomiting a ten foot stream of fluid in great heaving growls that echoed off the landscape. It looked like a scene from the trenches of the Somme and we were only about a marathon into the 135 miles. I chugged along in idle, drinking like a fish and gladly peeing frequently.

Heading up Towne Pass my own problems started with my feet that had been taped up after last week’s race but started to fall apart. Blisters under the ball of the left foot started to fill again and the pad started to slew off the bottom. At the summit I had the foot taped up with blue painters tape so I could make the downhill section without the pad on the ball of the foot falling off. It was a slow, painful and unhappy trip down. Then the abominable heat rising out of the Panamint valley made me feel faint and out of it. At times when only a few hundred feet from the car I wasn’t sure if I would make it and thought I would collapse on the sizzling tarmac. It took many hours to get to Panamint Springs where I lay on a yoga mat fitfully for a couple hours.

Badwater 135; heading up Towne Pass (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

Unfortunately our crew had to resign here due to heat problems and I thought my race was over until serendipity arrived in the form of the famous Bob Becker*. The runner he had been crewing had just dropped. He quickly slipped into the program and I hobbled away to climb Father Crowley in a heat haze. When we arrived at the top I tried to start running and to my surprise ran many of the miles to Darwin. The 30 miles section to Lone Pine is very amenable to running and with the sun down I gritted my teeth from the foot pain and trotted along for most of those miles, sending the crew ahead to take cat naps.

A big problem I had during this year’s race was falling asleep: day and night. It was like my body’s protection mechanisms were just shutting me down. I spent untold 15 minute cat naps trying to alleviate it. Caffeine did nothing except make me drowsier.

It was a great feeling to arrive in Lone Pine at day break and get on the Portal Road for the final climb to the finish line. Susan and Bob each paced me up the laborious climb to the finish.
It was an epic year out there and total respect to everyone who was out there – runners, crew and staff.

Badwater 135 continues to be a benchmark of the ultimate grind-fest of road racing….whew!

Angeles Crest 100

After Badwater I decided that I probably wouldn’t run AC100 because my feet were falling apart and incredibly painful to walk on.

I did some Epsom salt soaks, cut off lots of dead skin, filed nails and applied rehydration crème.

From Vol State; time for some foot-care (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

To my surprise only a few days later we had driven north to a remote National Park in Nevada to hike climb a 12,500 feet peak and my feet felt “not bad”. We continued the sojourn by climbing another 12’ver near Las Vegas and I decided that though tender I might be able to make it through the 100 miles of trail in the San Bernadino Mountains near Los Angeles. So we redirected the car and eight days after Badwater I was at the start line of the AC100.

I took it easy and enjoyed the beautiful mountain and forest scenery. The trails were well maintained and I was surprised how good I felt. I made a huge mistake though just as the sun was getting higher and hotter. Some of the aid stations are 8-12 miles apart and just before the biggest climb of the race I filled only one water bottle instead of all three and suffered very bad dehydration coming down the other side. My mouth was so dry I could hardly open it.

At the next aid station I sat for half an hour drinking a couple of litres of fluid as I knew it would be difficult to get through the intense heat of the afternoon without trying now to catch up on hydration. The next aid was only five miles away and I did the same when reaching it. The next 30 miles felt okay but it was getting hot on the trails and with no breeze it was stifling. A couple of miles before the hallway point aid station I started to slow down, feeling overheated and faint whilst in heavy bush where the air was not moving. It felt heavy and pressing down on me. I sat at the check point and drank as much as my stomach could tolerate, filled every bottle and got going on a long eight mile section down in a valley.

The terrain was more complicated with a lot of rounded river rocks to navigate and sizzling temperature. About a mile from the aid station I felt totally drained and started wondering if I might have to drop. A final rock staircase up to the checkpoint had me wondering if I could even get up it. I knew I would have to stop for a while and get calories and a lot of fluid into me to be able to go on. I sat on a chair and the hard working volunteers fed me and replenished drinks. After more than an hour it was dark, I was chilly from wet clothes and I knew I had to either get going or call it quits. I started walking down the dirt road which led eight miles to the next aid. Eventually I loosened up and came out of my low point. I walked many miles though and kept drinking and eating.

After the 65 mile point the trail became more technical and there were some long downhill single tracks followed by more big climbs. At one point I lay down for ten minutes to try and stave off my sleepiness. My head was nodding lower and lower before I would stumble, just before I fell asleep. It was very annoying and again, even caffeine wouldn’t buck me up. I kept going though until the sky began to lighten and as the sun came up I felt a new surge of energy on reaching the 90 mile-mark. I ate and drank quickly at the aid station and headed off on a very long downhill with new vigour, going faster and faster.

I was amazed I was running so well after all the races and had no idea where the energy was coming from but I didn’t question it too much. I had another finish line to reach. I ran the entire ten miles and passed more than a dozen runners. I kept going hard all the way to the finish before collapsing in the shade with a cold drink and was extremely pleased with the way it ended. I came in 31st in 27 hours 46 minutes. Around 150 runners had dropped out from the heat; that left about 100 finishers!

Badwater 135; crossing Devils Cornfield (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

We ate and slept at a local hotel before again packing the car to drive over 3000 miles back to Florida. I lost more skin and toenails but that is the price you pay for ultra-running.

I have a few weeks to rest before flying to Italy to try the Tor des Geants 330km mountain race on September 9. I started this race last year but only made it 50 km because of a bad flu two days before race start. Let’s see what happens this year.

It’s been a big year but I feel good and haven’t suffered any injuries from all the activities. I have hardly done any training for anything, mainly because I haven’t had the time to. It amazes me what the human body can do.

(The author, Grant Maughan, is a freelance super yacht captain and endurance athlete. * In 2015 Bob Becker, then 70 years old, had become the oldest runner to complete the Badwater Double.)