2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  WEIGHING THE RISKS OF ADVENTURE & MOURNING
THE LOSS OF ULTRA RUNNER DAVE WESTLAKE

FRIDAY, JULY 23

 
"My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simples rules of thumb,
what we psychologists term "heuristics." These take advantage of certain
characteristics of the brain that have come down to us through time,
experience, and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the
environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts,
they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information."
 
~ Gerd Gigerenzer, author of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious
 
 

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 arrived.

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.  (7-18-06)

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 afternoon.

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, Dave had 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 we could.


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 years younger.

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.

We were 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
1946-2010

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 newspaper:

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

"A ship in harbor is safe -- but that's not what ships are built for."
~ John A. Shedd

I've talked about risk-taking before in regards to pursuing athletic adventures.

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 staying fit??

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 2005 journal)


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, Colorado.

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 feel right.

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

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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