The Wasatch Back Relay
How to make friends with nocturnal wildlife and survive on energy goop and sports drinks for 24 hoursby Todd Cox
So, this is dark. I’ve seen
some dark stuff before, but this is really dark. Exceptionally dark.
Mind-bendingly, spirit-crushingly dark. The darth-vader sound of my
breath (in, in, out, out in time with my steps) is the loudest thing
I can hear. I try to concentrate on it, and not the imaginary bears
and moose in the darkness.
Somewhere or nowhere in the darkness.
I’m in East Canyon, Northeast of Salt Lake City, Utah. This is my second leg of the Wasatch Back Relay, a 170 mile, 24 hour race from Logan to Park City. The WBR is modeled after the famed Hood to Coast relay in Oregon. Originally conceived and scouted by Steven Hill, the WBR finally became a reality this year through the combined efforts of Steven and his son Dan, who acted as the race director. With 22 teams of a dozen people, 36 exchange points to police, and a herd of volunteers to supervise, they had a lot on their plate but came through with flying colors.
Outside Logan, Utah.
All this seems immaterial to me right now, chugging up East Canyon as hundreds of eyes blink in the light of my headlamp. The entire animal population of Utah is out to spectate.
The only thing piercing the darkness: the Petzl Myo 5 headlamp.
The Wasatch Back Relay is broken up so that each of 12 team members runs three legs of 3-6 miles each, which makes an otherwise daunting distance and time manageable. Consequently, there is an amazing cross section of humanity running, most of them faster than us. Teams range from the self-described “Average Joe” and “11 runners and a fat guy” to the inhumanly fast BYU and Weber State cross-country teams.
Two legs ago, Matt was running in a downpour with about three feet of visibility and almost tripped over a skunk. One leg ago Alex had to perform a flying long jump over a surprised porcupine.
I’m running on a combination of Carb-Boom Energy Gel and good old “Everything out here but me has claws, teeth, and horns” human fear. I finally reach East Canyon Dam and the road mercifully levels out.
I think back to just before Alex started his leg. Sitting inside the camper, getting my running Zen on, the screen window and open back door do nothing to disguise Alex’s quiet voice.
The Montrail Masai trail running shoe was one of the more popular footwear choices for tackling 170 miles.
“You guys,” he whispers, “I was just talking to one of the volunteers. Matt’s leg and mine are pretty easy, but Todd’s is the really bad one. Don’t tell him, so he doesn’t get psyched out, ok?”
The author and many of his companions opted to wear the all-time favorite Montrail Vitesse.
I stick my head out the back door, “I can totally hear you, dumb ass.” Hopefully he’ll never make the connection between me hearing him and my porcupine-voodoo-curse.
Back in the present, I’m running on the flats alongside the reservoir, but I don’t see the line yet. “Todd, is that you?” yells Scott Mason, our team’s ultra runner ringer. I turn my head and see his headlamp a good 200 feet above me. Oh crap, the finish line is up there.
The other prime shoe choice for the race: the Women's (L) and Men's (R) Montrail Hardrock.
Fortunately, I’ve been climbing for 40 minutes now up this stupid canyon, so the last little bit seems minor by comparison. I slap the wristband (the race’s baton analog) onto Brian’s wrist and he takes off. The fear chemicals finally start to wash out of me.
Never dismiss the importance of a good, comfortable sock during a run. The Bridgedale Trail Runner is one of the best.
I settle back in the camper amidst the piles of gear for the drive to our campsite. We have about 6 hours to sleep before the other team hands back off to us. Our superhuman camper driver, Dan Ernst, has been awake since the race started, carting us all over creation and cheering as loud as anyone. Nevertheless, he gets us to the campsite in one piece, throws on the E-brake and nods off in the driver’s seat. We’re all tired, sore and beat, but we aren’t done yet.
Sunset or sunrise? I can't remember...
Fortunately, our gear support was incredible. The North Face tech tees emblazoned with the Backcountry.com goat logo are awesome technically, look cool, and now smell bad. A brace of Petzl Myo 5’s, which are beginning to smell, have been keeping us in the light. Our Bridgedale uber-comfy socks and Montrail shoes are keeping our feet happy even as our feet keep them stinky. The massive amounts of Carb-Boom we’ve been sucking down don’t really smell like anything. In case you hadn’t gathered, after 16 hours racing, we kind of stink. Dan’s camper may never smell the same again.
The Wasatch Back Relay is simultaneously approachable and insane. The camaraderie was palpable, the scenery breathtaking, and the hijinks hilarious. Anybody with two vans, 11 friends and at least a mild dose of insanity can tackle it. Above all, the race is incredibly fun, and both veteran racers and total amateurs are sure to get a huge kick out of it. Check it out at www.wasatchbackrelay.com.