It was still raining and the road was rather treacherous on my return. The entire road from the freeway to the camp (8 to 10 miles) is dirt but after 6 hours of rain, it was all mud and small lakes. It took a whole lot longer than I wanted but I was really in no hurry since my friend was not due for several hours. I took my time because I really did not want to break the car nor did I want to get stuck. I was glad to have taken his car because I do not think my minivan would have been able to get the traction on many of those muddy hills nor get through some of those small lakes. I got to the camp and parked up on the hill where we had parked before. That was a mistake. The majority of the parking is up on a hill above the Kentucky Camp and the road down is soft dirt making the whole walk down a wet muddy mess. I was not wearing decent shoes for this weather so this was not a fun experience. My shoes were soaked after just a few steps, fortunately, I was able to avoid the deep, soft mud.
I arrived back at Kentucky Camp early to cheer on the finishers. I found out that people could check on the progress of runners so I attempted to locate Louis. Turns out, he did not check in at Station 29. A little more questioning and I found out that he and many others did not check in at Station 33 either. I did not worry because they said that they located some of those who did not check in at 33. They said that a whole group came in at the same time and some just did not get recorded. At around 5 o’clock, I went to stand in the communication center to listen for word of Louis and the other runners. It was somewhat chaotic (not just for me, for the workers as well).
Between mile 33 and 46 there is a river crossing. This area is in the desert and when it rains in the desert the lower lands flood really fast with just a little rain in the mountains. We knew about the river but no one counted on 3 feet or deeper water at that point. At around 5:30 runners coming in were reporting that the river was getting deep and fast. 15 minutes later after investigation the speed and depth of the water, the acting director closed the race to anyone coming into Stations 33 and 46. The rain also opened up a river hazard for the area between Station 46 and the finish so they were told to hold all runners at those two stations. Runners were reporting being swept off their feet at both river sections and we were all getting worried. I also remembered hearing on television that another storm was supposed to hit sometime after midnight. At about 7, the workers and the director were all communicating with the aide stations and attempting to locate all the runners. There were about 17 unaccounted for at this point. The thing about all this is that Louis was the only one who had not been recorded at Station 29. The rest of the runners were seen or recorded at 29 and 33.
I am starting to wonder when they are going to call in rescue and I voiced my concerns. About 7:30 they decided to finally make the call. They finally got through to Cochise County Rescue. It turns out that the area we were in was in a different county from the running course. In fact, we crossed three counties. The dispatcher told the race communications coordinator that he would call the Santa Cruz County Rescue in on the matter. The communications coordinator told him that he was hoping to have a tri-county effort and the response was, “we will call Santa Cruz.” Turns out they are closest rescue with a helicopter. 45 minutes later they were still dragging their feet. Shortly after the call to Cochise, one of the communications operators was talking with the local fire department on the radio. The fire department dispatcher told us that they could not send out rescue until daybreak because the river could not be crossed by any vehicles. I (along with everyone else in the room) was speechless. After a few moments I spoke up. I said, “You have 12 plus people out there who are basically naked. It is cold and getting colder. The temperatures will approach freezing and there is another storm coming tonight. Those people do not have rain gear nor do they have headlamps. All of the night and cold weather gear was in their packs at miles 33 and 46. How many kinds of stupid do you need to be to figure that out? They will be hypothermic very soon and unlikely to survive until morning. The Communications Coordinator told the operator to call him back and explain the situation to them. their solution was to have the captain of the fire station go out to Kentucky Camp. He got there at about 9:15. Right as I was at my wits end.
I was finally putting the pieces together. Louis did not check in at 29. He did not check in at 33. Their sweepers found no one while looking along that first section of the course (no one thought to tell them to keep looking until they found the only runner who did not check in on that section of the course), but they were back by 6 or 7. At about 9, my conclusion was one of two things happened: a. Louis got lost. He turned back onto the first half of the course and got lost because there were no markers left to guide him. Or b. He got hurt. There was a steep slope on the southern side of that road I last saw him on and had he fallen, no one would have been around to see him. It was cold enough and he was tired enough that if he were hurt, he might not have been able to get back to the road. Either way, I was done listening to these people spin their wheels. I went back to the waiting room where the rest of Louis’ race team was waiting. I told them I was leaving to go get him and they tried to get me to wait. I said that I was not willing to wait anymore. I asked if Gus, one of the coaches and husband of the head coach, wanted to go with me. I figured another pair of eyes would be useful particularly if Louis were hurt. He said we could drive to where we last saw Louis but he was not thinking of going any further. He did not know that I was not going to come back without Louis. We went and told the acting director that we were going to go get Louis. As we were walking up I heard them say that a helicopter was being dispatched to the area. He said “I can’t stop you” and the only thought running through my head was “I was not asking permission and you could not stop me anyway.”
We left around 10. Fortunately, the rain had stopped at about 9 and the roads were not as soft as they were when I arrived earlier. I am fairly sure Gus’ knuckles were white more than once because I was driving a little faster this time. I was confident in the roads so I was confident in my driving faster this time. I also have a lot of experience driving at night. I delivered pizzas in an area with a lot of rural roads so I was a lot more comfortable than I figure Gus was. As we were driving out, we came across a fire department vehicle at one of the cross-sections of road. The firefighter asked for our names and I told him what we were doing. I gave him my phone number and he wished us luck. We got to the running trail about 20 minutes later. I slowed down and started honking the horn and yelling out Louis’ name while I was wearing my headlamp and watching along the sides of the vehicle. We drove like that for about a mile until I saw Louis on the driver’s side laying under a tree. Turned out, he was on the road across from the turn for Station 29. I was ecstatic. I was very happy he was not hurt. He said he had missed the turn off for the aide station and ended up going further up the road and turned back into the first section of the course. He said he ran for a mile and figured he took the wrong turn. He said he did this a few times and, all told, ran about 40 miles. As the sun started to set, he realized that he was in danger of getting truly lost. His saving grace was the adage that you do not do anything to make yourself more lost and just stay put. This was his best course of action because that is exactly how I found him. He was right where we had last seen him. He said he had fallen asleep about 20 minutes before we found him. He said he was not really worried because he knew I would find him eventually. I am humbled to have garnered such trust from anyone. I am blessed that I was able to find him. We never did see a helicopter. At one point I was going to call the news services in Tucson and perhaps see if they could send out a helicopter since this was a good news story if nothing else.
It turned out that Louis was the only one that was missing. All the other unaccounted for had shown up or had called someone to pick them up along the course and never checked in.
I feel that I was there to go get Louis that night. I had contemplated dropping out of the race as late as the week before. Something prevented me from doing so. It did not feel right to me to drop out of the race. Looking at how all that transpired I feel that I was there for one reason and I am glad to have been there for that reason. I am still looking forward to destroying that race next year though. 🙂