December 12, 2007
An Open Letter to Dr. David Horton
Dear Dr. Horton,
As you may remember, in December of 2005 I did some volunteering at Hellgate 100K and crewed for my good friend Dan Lehmann. As I recall, the temperatures at Headforemost were in the low teens, the ground was a sheet of ice. The overall conditions for both runners and crew were abominable. But the race went on and I could not complete my crew responsibilities and left the race at Bearwallow Gap. I couldn’t take it any longer. Crewing this race was too tough. I couldn’t imagine what the runners were enduring. I left in shame and vowed never to return to the race ever again. Not as a crew member or runner. So when presented with the opportunity to participate in the 2007 Hellgate, I asked myself why would I consider it? I don’t know. By nature humans are inherently greedy. I am reminded of that game show where contestants risk loosing exorbitantly large sums of money to randomly open silver cases in hopes of winning even larger sums of money. 2007 was a very good year. I have my prize and it is a blue Patagonia wind breaker. I earned it. So why would I risk marring a perfectly good running season by participating in Hellgate? I guess I am only human.
Dr. Horton, Hellgate is a very difficult race. Not everyone should enter Hellgate and not anyone should expect to finish Hellgate. I include myself in that assessment. This is evident in the very high drop rate (estimate 40%). I know some very accomplished runners who have not finished Hellgate. This year, we were lucky. The weather conditions were perfect and for that, I am thankful.
Hellgate is a Beast that spreads out over 66 miles. It will twist your mind, contort your body, digest your soul and if you are lucky, regurgitate your desiccated body close to the finish line at Camp Bethel. Some will be surgically extracted from the Beast at key portals with names such as Camping Gap, Headforemost or Bearwallow. Others pray to make it to these portals of safety so that their suffering can come to an end. I, at times last Saturday, had those very same thoughts.
Dr. Horton, Hellgate is beautiful in its nature. I witnessed lights on the heads of runners stretched out for a mile as I peered over an overlook below Petite’s Gap. I saw Christmas lights and heard Christmas carols at 3 am and was reminded of the beauty of the season. I saw the twinkling lights of Bedford and for a moment felt like the Grinch looking down on all the sleeping Who’s in Whoville. I ran on the Promise Land Course and at Cornelius Creek yearned for the wildflowers of spring and one of Mrs. Horton’s hamburgers. I ran past Headforemost and it was eerily dark and deserted and I felt very alone. I had a sausage and egg breakfast biscuit and it didn’t come from a window in the side of a brick building, but rather a lovely young lady who graciously filled my water bottle as I enjoyed her hospitality. I ran with old and new friends and reminisced about running with Neal at Holiday Lake or the time I pleaded with Christopher to give me his last drop of water on the Purple Trail. These discussions reassured me that I was not in a race against other competitors, but a race against myself. I could smell the leaves of autumn. The leaves spoke to me in a soft and gentle voice. “Bill, come lie down among us and rest your weary head if not for a moment, then at least a half hour”. And just when I was about to succumb to the call of these tempting sirens, I was bitten by a rock and cursed the ground as I picked myself up and assessed my wounds.
The night turned into day and the new day brought different challenges. Dr. Horton, Hellgate is long. But we know this, yet somehow we easily forget and become frustrated, angry, feel hopeless and defeated. Ask runners about their thoughts when traversing the short seven miles from aid station 8 to 9 and you may hear words such as “hate”, or phrases such as “wait till I can get my hands on . . . “ or other obscenities which shall go unmentioned. These challenges wear at our spirit and tempt us to make poor decisions. Temptation is like an opportunistic virus. It is always lurking at our feet waiting for the opportunity to invade our thoughts, infect our psyche and cause us to do things we will later regret. But with each turn and undulation we tick off another mile, fight back the evil thoughts and move one step closer to the finish.
Dr. Horton, I peered over Bobblet's Gap in great relief. I savor the memory of how I felt at that moment. Nothing could hold me back. The last three miles were very quiet and reflective. It had been a long night and a long day. You embrace every runner at the finish. As runners approached you some laughed, some cried and others were without emotion. I am sure that for each of us, Hellgate has a different meaning. For me, it was the opportunity to open one last silver case that contained a million dollars.
I would like to thank every volunteer, aid station worker, the medical staff, the gentleman who kindly handled all of our drop bags and with great appreciation to Mrs. Horton for her wonderful soup and sandwiches (I had two).
William M. Potts
2007 Horton Slam Finisher