bob 49

Bob Halpenny. Photo courtesy John Onate.

This is my friend Bob at the Devil’s Thumb aid station (mile 48) where he had just 52 miles to run to complete the 2016 Western States Endurance Run. Short of the type of asteroid impact that wiped the dinosaurs from the face of the planet, Bob Halpenny was determined to finish. It was my great pleasure to pace him through the night.

Bob gets things done. I’ve seen him tree a bear on the Brown’s Bar trail while out on a training run. I’ve seen him stare down rattlesnakes. He told me he once saw a mountain lion on Quarry trail. To the lion’s credit, she continued on, giving Bob a wide berth. Bob is someone you want on your side along the dusty, hot trails of Western States. Pacing Bob involves, more or less, just following him along the trial as he gets things done. I was taking notes the whole way.

I picked up Bob at mile 55.7 – Michigan Bluff – just after sunset at 9:07 pm. We headed purposefully into the warm and pleasant night which was clear with very little wind.

Time is a quiet sentinel during a night run. There is nothing to indicate its passage. No shifting of light, changing of colors nor lengthening of shadows. No landmarks but aid stations. Just a constant cocoon of light cast by our headlamps, at the perimeter of which is ever present darkness. And only the sound of our feet stirring up trail dust which sometimes glittered in the beam of our lamps.

Except for a few expected stumbles late in the evening, or perhaps early morning when our soporific bodies insisted we should be sleeping, we continued along our somnolent journey without event, stepping one foot in front of the other. The red eye of Mars guided us as did the glowing reflectors that marked the trail, sometimes looking like a runner headed the wrong way towards us. Occasionally I would remind Bob it was time to eat or drink, and also occasionally, from one or the other of us would come the question “doing alright?” to which the answer was always a brief “yes.”

Around 2:30 am, I was leading into the Ford’s Bar aid station when there occurred a great roar of cheerfulness from the Fleet Feet staff once Bob’s number was sighted on my pacer’s bib. “It’s number 191, Bob Halpenny,” I called out. Water bottles filled, a cup of soup and slaps on the back all around, and we were quickly back into that good night.

I cannot say whether we heard the river crossing before we saw it, but we rounded a bend and perhaps one-half mile ahead we saw lights strung across the river like stars. At 3:59 am, we arrived at Rucky Chucky, fueled up, put on life jackets and were instructed to keep both hands on the line. Glow sticks were placed at intervals on the river bottom, and gracious volunteers instructed us where to step and when to be cautious.

Upon reaching the far side of Rucky Chucky, Bob’s second pacer Wonkyo Lee, was waiting as fresh as the morning sun that would soon rise, breathing new warmth into the day and giving Bob the boost he needed to finish. Much to my delight, my wife Debbie was sitting smiling on a rock waiting for me. We had a two mile climb to go to Green Gate…

Polar explorer Roald Amundsen said that “adventure is just bad planning.” With Bob there is no adventure. What you get is experience.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas


Laura, Debbie, Kim and James at the finish.


Laura and Wonkyo Lee in Auburn.


Bob Halpenny on an early climb.


Bob crossing Ruck A Chucky.


Rick – 4 AM river crossing.