Back in February my good friend and fellow trail-runner Kurtis started harassing me about running the Yakima Rim Skyline 25k. I don’t personally know the race director James Varner, but the reputation of his races is legendary. If you’re doing a Rainshadow Running event you’re in for a shit ton of climbing and getting the crap kicked out of you.

I gave it some thought until I realized it would be suicidal to run a beast of a race like this a week before my opening XTERRA event of 2013. So when a call for volunteers went out I jumped at the chance to sign up, support some friends, and head to the east side of the mountains for a weekend of sunshine and blue skies.

Saturday morning I hit the road for Ellensburg, caravaning over with my friend Roger Michel, race director for Evergreen Trail Runs. We set up camp in the Umtanum Recreation Area south of Ellensburg right at the start/finish. After saying hi to some familiar faces, Roger talked me into running the start of the course so he could do some pre-race scouting.

It didn’t take me long to sorta wish I was doing the race, but also to be glad I wasn’t. Holy shit this climb was hard! Under sunshiny blue skies though, who was I to complain? Up and up we went with the climb getting steeper the closer we got to the top. 2100′ in just over 2 miles straight up the side of the canyon on trails filled with sharp rocks in all sizes. Coming back down this was going to be fun. Near the top the wind became so strong I was fighting just to stand upright.

Heading up the first big climb on the course: 2100' in 2.2 miles
Heading up the first big climb on the course: 2100′ in 2.2 miles

We crested the top of the ridge and met another runner who was also out enjoying the beautiful weather and had volunteered as a race sweep. We struck up a conversation but didn’t stop long; the wind was too strong and chilled us to the bone. He joined us on the descent back to camp, which turned out to be an exercise in controlled sliding and staying off my butt. My little Merrell Pace Gloves just weren’t getting traction on the rocky terrain and with all the loose debris under my feet I felt like I was running on marbles. I can’t believe I didn’t crash.

Once back to camp the sun started fading and the air chilled quickly. Too lazy to head into town for food, a friend and I called in an order for pizza and found a place willing to deliver a few miles up the road… to the public fishpond. Yep. Funniest moment was the guy on the phone: “Ok, I’ve got your pizza confirmed for delivery to the fishpond. Awesome!” The pizza was excellent!

Ok, I'll incriminate myself. Yes, I love this REI camping cot no matter how much shit everyone gives me for busting it out at events. I guess between the cot and the pizza, yeah... Hey, I like to camp in style!
Photo: Roger Michel. Ok, I’ll incriminate myself. Yes, I love this REI camping cot no matter how much shit everyone gives me for busting it out at events. I guess between the cot and the pizza, yeah… Hey, I like to camp in style! And it was cold damnit!

When the wind died down we started a fire and before long we had an awesome group of folks gathered around laughing hysterically while telling funny tales of running and adventure.  It’s then that I realized just how lucky I am to be part of such an amazing community of people. It’s what I love most about trail running. The people are just so damn friendly, unassuming, unpretentious and some of the most amazing folks you’ll ever meet. Some were old friends, some were new ones we had just met on the trail that day. But everyone is here because they love it. And it shows.

Yep, that's right. We roasted some peeps and made some peep s'mores. Delicious!
Yep, that’s right. We roasted some peeps and made some peep s’mores. Delicious!

Funny enough, most of our group was volunteering rather than running. The ones who were running the next day were the early morning party crowd, staying up late and pounding beer after beer. Us volunteers? We hit the sack early since most of us had wake ups at the butt crack of dawn! I joked that I should have been running the event because I could have gotten another 2 hours of sleep! Ah, the irony.

Not surprisingly when I woke up at 5:15 the next morning no one was stirring, not even the few folks who said they’d be up at that time. It was tempting to bang some pots and pans and wake up everyone who kept me up partying into the wee hours of the morning but what can I say? I’m generally a nice person and believe in karma.

I volunteered at aid station Durr, the first and last aid station on the course that required a 90-min drive on rough Jeep trails to get to, hence the early wakeup. I met the other volunteers at aid station captain Brandon Sybrowski’s house in Ellensburg at 6am and off we went on a little off roading adventure.

Fpllowing Brandon to the aid station. Look at that view!
Following Brandon to the aid station. Look at that view!

I rode up with another trail runner and volunteer, Samantha, and we had a fun time talking running, life, and adventures. Again, so many good people in this community! Despite being jostled all over the truck by gnarly terrain the ride was gorgeous: views in every direction, beautiful wildflowers, and fabulous blue skies.

We set up our supplies and spent the better part of the day supporting, cheering, and helping out in any way we could. I was really impressed by how positive and excited all of the runners were despite the difficulty of the course. Even the slower 50k folks came into our aid station with a smile on their face. It really shows you just how amazing people in this community are. Everyone was having a kick-ass time.

Cheering on Kurtis
Photo: Jerry Missing Link Gamez. Cheering on my friend Kurtis. Actually, I was telling him how many times he had been chicked. “DUDE!!! You’ve been chicked like… 100 times!” I meant it with love.

Sometime around 1pm the wind started to pick up and by 2 had turned into quite a gale. Anyone who was still out on course sure gets my respect. Not only were they climbing massive hills, but they were doing it straight into a wind that was hard enough just to stand up against!

When the last runners and sweeps came through at 4:30pm, I realized that volunteering at a James Varner event is just as epic as running it. By the time we got packed and back down the jeep trail into town, it was 6:30pm: a full 12hr+ day. When I met Roger back in town at Subway I stepped out of my car and garnered a few curious looks. I guess I was pretty disheveled: crazy wind-whipped hair, raccoon eyes from the sun and wind, and dirt all over me. But damn was it a crazy fun day and a blast of a weekend. Despite his partying, Roger even managed a PR By 21 minutes and 1st place masters! A great day indeed. It’s events like these that make me happy to be a trail runner.

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