Have you ever postponed doing something because your gut
feelings told you the timing just wasn't right? Over the years
I've learned to trust my intuition.
This morning I was planning to hike up Pike's Peak. I got all my
gear and supplies ready to go last night. We'd be out the door
in half an hour, drive to the trail head in Manitou Springs, and
I'd be on the trail by 6 AM to maximize my chances of reaching
the 14,110-foot summit before the usual summertime thunderstorms
It's not a good thing to be above tree line the last three miles
on the Barr Trail when a storm rolls in.
Been there, done that (in 1998) and it was not a pleasant experience to
shiver in the freezing cold under a rock overhang for an hour while hail fell and the
wind raged around me.
Definitely not a good day to climb Pike's
Peak! (middle of photo, in distance, on 6-2-10).
I've taken my share of risks with lightning on mountain peaks
before. Although I try to avoid that danger, sometimes storms
have blown in faster than I thought they would. So far, I've
been able to avoid any more than having my hair stand on end and
shivering from the sudden drop in temperature when it's begun to
sleet or hail.
We've been watching the weather predictions for the Pike's Peak
Region all week and
determined that the least chance for thundershowers in the
Pike's Peak area was today: "only" a 30% chance on the
mountain, and 10% in Colorado Springs. We formulated a plan for
Jim to pick me up at the top -- this is one of the few 14ers or
other big mountains in the USA that I can climb and get a ride
back down. Everything was set.
Nowhere to hide during a sleet storm on
Coney Summit, the highest point
along the Colorado Trail at 13,334 feet.
Problem was, when I woke up at 4:15 AM, fifteen minutes before
the alarms were to go off, I just didn't feel like it was a good
idea. I didn't have a bad dream about it, just a feeling of
futility. Mainly, I felt too much pressure to climb thirteen
miles with an elevation gain of ~7,400 vertical feet in a
fast enough time to avoid potential storms in the early
Neither my gut nor my heart were in it. No amount of logic could
persuade me. As much as I want to climb that mountain,
we turned off the alarms and went back to sleep.
Later this morning I hiked out at Red Rocks and watched the
storm clouds rolling in over Pike's Peak. My intuition made the right call.
Maybe next week will be better.
MOURNING THE LOSS OF A FRIEND
I must admit that part of my hesitance to get on the mountain
this morning is the recent death of one of our ultra running
friends, Dave Westlake, who lives in Sheridan, WY.
In his early 60s,
the mental determination, physical fitness, and training
necessary to successfully complete the difficult Bighorn
Mountain Wild & Scenic 100-mile trail race at least three times
since we met him in 2006:
Jim and Dave talk about the race at the
2006 awards ceremony. I believe this was Dave's
first BH 100-miler. He placed mid-pack with
a time of 31:27 hours (cut-off is 34 hours).
L to R: our VA friends Bunny and Gary
meet Dave in 2006
I vividly remember the first training run we did with Dave (next
two photos) from Dry Fork to Stock Tank and back because he
could name every flower I admired but couldn't identify!
Jim, Dave, and our ultra dogs at Dry Fork
on the Bighorn course (June, 2006)
Dave relaxes at Stock Tank after we stopped
for a snack.
Dave came by Jim's room at the hospital a few days later while
he was being treated for his rattlesnake bite. Dave worked at that
hospital in an administrative position and wanted to make sure
Jim was getting the best treatment available.
Over the years we enjoyed spending time with Dave when we hung
out in the area while we were training for the Bighorn races. We
shared trail stories and training tips. We congratulated each
other's successes and commiserated the DNFs. Dave and I
empathized with each other's knee deterioration and encouraged
each other to keep on doing as much as we could for as long as
Dave and Jim at the start of the 2007
Bighorn 100-miler; unfortunately, Dave DNF'd that year.
A few weeks ago we celebrated another of Dave's BH100
completions and Jim's success in taking over three hours off his
50K times from the Jemez and Dirty Thirty races. Unfortunately,
we won't have that opportunity any more.
Dave motors into the Dry Fork AS in the 2010 BH 100-mile race.
Dave finished this year's race a fine time of 31:36
hours, first in the M60-69 age group and 64th of 95
finishers. That's almost as fast as he ran it when he was four
I got a big shock a couple days ago when I clicked on the
Bighorn website. There in large letters on the homepage was the
sad news that Dave had died from a lightning strike.
stunned! Not our Dave -- that can't be possible!
As usual, I was behind several weeks on this journal. I was just
starting to write about our Bighorn experience and wanted some
information from the website. Otherwise, I don't know how long
it would have taken for us to find out about Dave's death.
This is what was on the home page of the Bighorn race
website on July 23:
In Loving Memory of David Westlake
Sadly, the race directors feel the need to inform you that
2010 Bighorn Trail 100 finisher Dave Westlake has passed away.
Dave was in the mountains training for his next 100-mile race
when he was tragically struck by lightning on Sunday, July 11,
2010. Dave was an avid supporter of the Bighorn Trail Run and
volunteered many hours to help make the race successful. We hope
you were fortunate in spending some time with him on the trail
and that you will cherish those moments. One of our best
memories of Dave includes his huge smile as he crossed the
finish line in his last race, the Bighorn Trail 100, 2010. The
number 863 will be retired in Dave's honor.
This is my favorite picture of Dave, taken at the awards
ceremony after the 2009 BH 100-mile race:
He finished the race in 31:53 hours that year.
He's holding his finishers' jacket and buckle in his left hand
and his second-place age group award in his right hand (out of
six M60-69 finishers that year). That
photo captures the essence of the Dave we knew: he could
be as much fun as he was serious.
This is his obituary
from the July 16 Sheridan Press
David E. Westlake
December 21, 1946 - July 12, 2010
David E. Westlake, 63, of
Sheridan passed away on Monday, July 12, 2010 at St. Vincent's Hospital in
Billings, MT. David was struck by lightning while doing what he loved most -
running in the Big Horn Mountains. David was a graduate of the College of St.
Scholastica in Duluth, MN, with a B.A., M.A., in Medical Records
Administration. His professional career included time in Oregon, Idaho,
Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming. His most recent employment was at the VA
Medical Center in Sheridan, WY. David was an avid ultra marathoner, gardener,
and outdoors man; previously he enjoyed long distance horseback racing; he
also helped with the Special Olympics horse riding program. David is preceded
in death by his father, John; and sister Deanna. He is survived by his wife
Chris, mother Peggy, brother Terry (Darla), daughter Denise (Kevin Nichols);
grandchildren (Naomi, Edith); nephew/nieces (Nathan, Alex Ann, and Sierra)
and stepson Adam Egerdahl (Jill). Service for David will be held at 10:00 am
on Monday, July 19, 2010 at Kane Funeral Home with Reverend Doug Goodwin
officiating. Memorials may be made to the Charity of choice. One of David's
favorite mantras was "The race goes not always to the swift...but to those
who keep on running." He loved life and will be greatly missed. Kane Funeral
Home has been entrusted with the arrangements.
WEIGHING THE RISKS OF ADVENTURE
ship in harbor is safe -- but that's not what ships are built for."
~ John A.
I've talked about risk-taking before in regards to pursuing
Risk is inherent in mountain trail
running/hiking, especially in the remote locations and high
elevations we love the most. There are any number of things that
could main or kill us, including lightning, hypothermia,
dehydration, HAPE or HACE, falling off a cliff, hitting our head
on a rock, impaling our chest on something sharp, drowning in a
creek or river,
being struck by falling limbs or trees, being attacked by
wildlife or a psychotic human, and a host of other gotcha's.
Hunkered down in a t-storm on Coney Summit
(CT Segment 22, elev. 13,334 feet) on 7-18-06
It's a lot more fun to go out for a run or hike if you don't
think of all the things that can go wrong! Be careful, but not
paranoid. Otherwise, how are you going to have any fun while
I don't think Jim or I deliberately seek out danger but
we've certainly found ourselves in some dangerous situations
over the years when we've been running and hiking. I'm afraid
I'm more likely to push my luck than Jim is. He'll turn back in
the face of a storm earlier than I will, for example. And I
don't know if he would have risked plowing through those four flooded
streams that I did on the Appalachian Trail! (Day 141 in the
The flooded Little Wilson River in Maine was
at least chest-deep on 9-17-05 when I crossed it on a rope.
It's still totally ironic that the closest I've come to killing
myself was on a stupid mountain
bike on a less-than-remote,
fairly flat and non-technical dirt road near Silverton,
I've also mentioned more than once that I want to live to be
100. Now that I'm on the slippery slope of my 60s, getting
closer and closer to whatever age I will die, I'm
beginning to have less interest in taking risks -- like making
that decision to not climb Pike's Peak today. The timing has to
I still want adventure in my life, however. I need that
excitement, that anticipation of discovering something new or
facing a new challenge and overcoming it.
I WILL get up Pike's Peak (in background, as
seen from Garden of the Gods),
but only when intuition and logic say it's the right
time. (photo taken 6-2-10)
Jim and I have both said we hope that when we do die, we're
doing something we enjoy doing. It's like one of my favorite
ultra running quips: "I'd rather die face down on the trail
than face down in my soup."
What "struck" Jim and me the most about Dave's death is what his
family noted in his obituary -- that he died doing what
he loved the most, running in the Bighorns. We are so sorry for
him, his family, and his friends that he died, but we somehow
feel better that he wasn't killed by a drunk driver or suffered
through a long, insidious illness.
Sixty-three is 'way too young to die, especially for a guy in
such good health. We will miss Dave's friendship and good cheer.
Rest in peace, buddy.
Next entry: over the Rampart Range to Farish Recreation Area
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil