April 22, 2024
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The Western States Endurance Run is billed because the world’s oldest “official” 100-mile path race. And to place such an occasion on, yr after yr, takes lots of people and loads of consideration to element. Probably the most widespread spots on the epic run from Olympic Valley, California, to Auburn’s Placer Excessive Faculty stadium, is the Rucky Chucky checkpoint, at mile 78, the place the path crosses the American River just under class 6 rapids.

After a season with low snow, water stream charges will be managed by retention at an upstream dam. When the water ranges will be lowered, runners cross the river on foot, with cables and volunteers to assist. However for years like 2023, after epic snow within the Sierra Nevada mountains, stream goes over the dam and can’t be managed.

This yr, like different large snowmelt-induced, excessive river stream years on the American, rafts had been required to move runners throughout. Chris Thornley, the youthful brother of race director Craig Thornley, is accountable for all issues that should do with the river crossing.

“Since Craig took over 10 or so years in the past, he put me accountable for river crossing security,” Chris says. On race weekend, Chris makes use of his personal private raft, after which they hire extra rafts and rent guides from a neighborhood business rafting firm to drift runners throughout the river.

Craig and Chris would possibly know the course and the realm higher than anybody else. In 1978, once they had been 14 and eight, the 2 boys set out on a solo tenting journey alongside the American River. That yr they woke to runners shuffling by on their technique to the mile 85 help station. “We noticed this man come up working, he was tremendous soiled, and he was asking if we knew how shut the help station was. We had no thought what he was speaking about,” Chris mentioned. However the second caught with each brothers as a type of magical factor.

“Craig and I didn’t discuss that have till a lot later,” Chris mentioned. “We each bear in mind it being an vital second—witnessing the headspace that somebody was in after working greater than 80 miles. We each felt the identical manner.” Chris and Craig’s household went on to volunteer at help stations for years. Each brothers skilled each inch of the course and have since understood what these first runners they noticed as youngsters had been going by.

Apart from working, Chris has additionally been rafting and boating his complete life. He now has an skilled stage of water rescue expertise. “[For Western States 100] we run 4 rafts on the peak instances, beginning at about 10 P.M. by about 4 A.M. And we’re simply working 4 rafts in an egg beater vogue so we’ve a relentless stream.”

Chris ran Western States in 2006, and remembers that being a raft yr as nicely. “I needed to wait 40 minutes or extra for a raft, and I used to be in the back of the pack so it wasn’t actually about racing, however I used to be considering, I’ve to get in beneath 30,” he says, referencing the 30-hour cutoff time for the race. When runners exit the water they’ve 22 miles left to the end.

“So once I grew to become chargeable for the river crossing, I advised Craig it’s actually price the additional cash to have extra rafts. This yr the longest anybody needed to wait to get in a raft was possibly one minute.” The entire raft crossing solely takes two minutes, so it’s very environment friendly today.

Western states 100 raft at rucky chucky
(Photograph: Peter Maksimow)

What’s Extra Well-liked: Raft or Rope?

The primary time a ship was used to cross the river was in 1980. “It was an previous aluminum fishing boat,” Chris mentioned. “The captain of the boat in 1980 was Bob Suter. And since then we’ve used boats about 12 instances.”

After his a few years stationed on the river, Chris thinks there’s a fairly even break up amongst runners who would slightly cross the river on their very own versus being in a raft, and it often has quite a bit to do with the climate and the time that they’re crossing. Throughout a sizzling yr, the leaders would possibly desire to chill their core down and totally immerse within the river. However when you’re crossing at nighttime, when issues have cooled down considerably, being fully moist even for a couple of minutes would possibly take loads of vitality and depart you chilled through the ensuing miles.

RELATED: This Packraft Weighs Lower than a Pineapple and Is Excellent for Summer season Adventures

Athletes even have to consider chafing—in the event that they get fully moist, they typically lose the entire advantages of their lube. Along with being a raft and water security man, Chris Thornley and his spouse Stacy are the founders of Squirrel’s Nut Butter, an anti-chafing and pores and skin restoration salve firm.

“For the leaders, usually, they don’t actually care about being drenched or having moist footwear,” Chris mentioned. “It’s extra these later within the day and additional again within the pack which are type of completely happy to maintain their ft dry.” No matter whether or not it’s a raft yr or an in-the-water yr, Chris all the time has a stash of Nut Butter on each side of the river.

western states 100 raft aid
(Photograph: Peter Maksimow)

Having fun with the Experience

Throughout this yr’s race on June 24-25, Chris seen that many athletes appeared completely happy concerning the raft journey. “It was a cooler climate yr, and I had a bucket within the raft stuffed with river water, so they may quiet down with that. For lots of runners, I believe they felt prefer it was very cool {that a} boat took them throughout the river.”

Chris often movies his raft motion with a GoPro, which he did this yr as nicely, however he was additionally featured within the first ever live-feed of the race on YouTube. Though in earlier years he’s seen some athletes in darkish locations by the point they attain the river, this yr appeared usually very constructive, with runners in good spirits and completely happy to be there. Thornley forgot to put on his GPS watch to trace what number of journeys he made, however says it looks like not less than 100 crossings.

“Courtney [Dauwalter] was by far essentially the most current and coherent and completely happy and bubbly,” Chris says. “A variety of instances, particularly with the leaders, they’re grinding so exhausting. However Courtney stood out. She was clearly within the zone however so capable of present her appreciation. And never only for the cameras. It’s a real appreciation. And it’s magic. Everyone can see it.”

RELATED: Courtney Dauwalter Units Again-to-Again Course Information at Hardrock and Western States

When Issues Go Fallacious

In 2016, Jim Walmsley notoriously “took a swim” whereas crossing the river. When he arrived on the river it was not possible to maintain ft on the rocks, so he opted to swim with out the help of the cable. And he ended up being swept a brief distance downstream and exited on his personal. On the time, there was some dialogue as as to if Walmsley can be disqualified if he had been helped out of the water. (He wouldn’t have been.)

However that was a uncommon and by no means repeated occasion, partly on account of how briskly Walmsley arrived on the river. Two years in the past the race signed an settlement with the state that the water can be lowered early sufficient in order that runners would all have the identical expertise. Beforehand, the water stream had been left excessive sufficient for leisure customers to have a full day on the river, after which the water can be lowered within the night, across the time that almost all runners arrived. However Walmsley ran so quick that when he arrived in 2016, the water was nonetheless raging.

“We signed a 40-year settlement that claims decreasing the bottom stream will occur manner earlier [in the day] to permit these 14-hour of us which are crossing at 4 o’clock within the afternoon to have a a lot safer crossing,” Chris mentioned. And in years when the stream can’t be managed, Chris is on raft obligation.

The Way forward for the Crossing

Whereas this was a record-breaking yr for California snowpack, might an excellent larger snow yr change the river crossing totally? What occurs if the river stream is so heavy that Chris and the opposite rafters can’t probably row throughout?

“​​If we had wanted to do the crossing in circumstances like they had been on our Memorial Day coaching weekend, that may be very tough,” he says. “The stream was considerably greater—for positive double if not triple what it was for the race—and that truly would have been very difficult.”

In such a scenario, Chris says they must provide you with a brand new system for getting throughout the river. “We almost certainly must go to some form of tethered highline system, with a tether on the raft, as a result of in any other case you’d be pushed downstream.” Chris mentioned that as a result of the race is nicely into the season he’s not fearful about that type of factor taking place. “This was a record-breaking snow yr, so it will take one thing even past that.”

Local weather change is prompting increasingly more intense variations of all completely different sorts of climate, so large snow seasons most likely gained’t be uncommon, however for now, the runners at Western States are fortunate to have Chris Thornley ensuring they make it to the opposite facet.


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