Monday, January 28, 2013

The Robert and Linda Mathis Memorial Run

 A foggy morning in Auburn, and a hundred or so runners gathered at the Overlook for the second Robert and Linda Mathis Memorial Run. This gathering has become a wonderful running event, and I can't think of better motivation to get out for some mellow miles on familiar trails with smiling faces.

A group of us carpooled down from Truckee for the 9:00 am start. Let's hear it for late starts in January! Jen Dicus read a heartfelt letter from Robert and Linda's families, and we headed off down the singletrack.

Helen, JP, Me

 The four or so miles downhill to the river were spent in pleasant conversation and concerted efforts not to slip and slide on our backsides down the mud. I was happy to keep the pace quite casual through this section.

After leaving the aid station at No Hands, I made the turn up K2. This is not the official course for the run, but I was pleased to see that every runner in my vicinity made the same choice for the big hill. I mean, why not, right? 

Down at the river, it had seemed we were actually below the fog. Halfway up K2, and it once again enveloped us. It lent quite a surreal atmosphere to the surroundings, and to be honest, I had a bit of trouble staying oriented. Since I'd veered off the marked course, this made me slightly nervous. Luckily, I could see a runner ahead who ran with the air of an assured local. I stayed close enough to keep and eye on him through the fog, and when he turned, I turned. Soon enough he led me into familiar territory, and we found ourselves at the turnaround at the Cool fire station. My strategy worked!

I made the return trip with two men whose names, in my usual fashion, I promptly forgot as soon as they were relayed to me. Sorry, guys! Nonetheless, they made great companions. We chatted about Miwok and Javelina as we picked our way down the wet trail. A light drizzle kept reminding me of my last race I did with Robert and Linda, on this very trail, and the memory kept me smiling. I decided to run strong up the climb from No Hands since I'm starting to get back into shape. The legs felt great, and all in all, it was a beautiful day!

The Truckee Carpool: JP, me, Geoff, Pete, Helen

There was a potluck at the end and an amazing slew of raffle prizes to be won. RD's and organizations really came through with impressive donations for the raffle! (Sadly, I came away empty handed, but a lot of my friends were lucky winners!)

And look who I ran into in the parking lot!

I think Auburn is the capital for serendipitous trail running experiences. Jamie and I made plans for our snowshoe race the following day (Our plan was to run slow!) and we all stood around snacking on a few of the potluck goodies before heading back up to Truckee.

Thank you so much to Jen and everyone who helped to put on this event. I think this is a perfect way to remember two wonderful people who were such huge contributors to this trail running community. I still miss Robert and Linda, but I think they would be pleased with they way they are honored - by a group of people getting together to enjoy a few miles on the trails.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

For the Ski Patrollers

I stand at the rear of a huge room in the lodge at the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. It is packed tight with people, sitting, standing, some of them standing on chairs. This is the memorial service for ski patroller Bill Foster who, after nearly 30 years as a patroller at Alpine, died on the job on December 24th.

I can’t see the speaker from where I am, but it doesn’t matter. Even when I can’t understand his words, I can hear his emotion. There are humorous stories to be shared, passionate stories, and personal ones as well. When his voice cracks, I hear the tears streaming down his cheeks even if I can’t see them. Tears spring to my own eyes.

I am here because my husband and many of my friends are ski patrollers. Even though I’m not a patroller, I feel deeply connected to this community. I feel the loss when I see the grief on the faces of my friends. And I can’t help but stand there, listening to the grief of others, and wonder what it would be like if it were someone from my own inner circle, if it were my husband.

“I can’t even contemplate that,” a patroller friend told me after the service when I confessed this thought to him. “I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I did.”

I nod. This makes sense to me.

It occurs to me that it is difficult for those outside the community to understand how complex and challenging the job of ski patrolling is. Every day, patrollers are expected to perform at top level in a myriad of different disciplines. Peoples’ lives literally depend on their work. They analyze weather data and dig snow pits to determine the avalanche hazard. Most patrollers are certified blasters so they can throw explosives to set of avalanches before people arrive on the hill, thereby decreasing the risk that a skier will get caught and buried in a slide. They are EMTs, giving emergency medical care on the hill, often in challenging conditions. They are search and rescue experts, moving quickly over varying terrain, using avalanche beacons, setting up complex rope rescues, and training and handling search dogs. They are masters of grunt work to get the hill set up safely – shoveling snow, setting up rope lines and signs, moving tower pads. All the while, they are top notch customer servants – answering questions and providing assistance to skiers at the resort.

It also occurs to me that a great deal of what they do is unrecognized by many of the people they’re there to keep safe.

On this evening, however, that feeling is quite the opposite.

The ceremony ends and people rise from their seats, making their way slowly to the edges of the room. I see one thing: an absolute ocean of red. Everywhere I look, people wear red jackets, a large white cross emblazoned on the back of each – the uniform of a ski patroller.

They have come from resorts near and distant to show their support, their respect. I meet patrollers from all over California, from Oregon, Utah, Canada. My husband tells me he just met a patroller from Chamonix.

These men and women share something unique because they spend their days doing the same things at different mountains all over the world. While many people don’t understand how risky and how multi-faceted their job is, they stand right now in a room full of people who absolutely get it. Bill Foster made the ultimate sacrifice, and even if they have to shove that thought to the depths of their minds in order to do their jobs, these patrollers know they face the same risks he did every time they go out for avalanche control or on a dangerous rescue. I know it, too.

All around me friends greet each other with hugs. There is sadness, yes, but there are also smiles. The beer flows freely and the volume in the room grows. A rock band takes the stage. I, too, greet friends I haven’t seen in many months. We catch up on each others’ lives, happy to be together but wishing for better circumstances. I look around for my husband and quickly realize I will never find him with nearly everyone in the crowd wearing the same jacket.

More than any other emotion tonight, I am struck by the sense of community present, and I am humbled by it. I can’t think of many other professions where people feel this connected simply because of what they do for a living. I guess that’s because it’s one of those jobs that’s far more than just a job.

Thank you, ski patrollers.