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Between knocking out 100-milers at three-week intervals and working 40 hours a week as a cancer researcher, Deby was scooping up belt buckles like Happy Meal trinkets. When she invited me on a weekend road trip to crew and pace her at Oregon’s Pine to Palm 100, I jumped at the opportunity.
Deby is droll, fierce and blunt. The last time a friend paced her, he wore an apt homemade bib: “Deby’s Bitch.” When her oldest son, Myc, met her at the Bigfoot 200 finish line with a bottle of champagne and a Dixie cup, she frowned and asked, “What am I supposed to do with that tiny cup?” before chugging from the bottle.
At Pine to Palm, I nailed my duties, or so I thought. I drove Deby’s car to crew her until mile 65. From there, I paced her to the end, romping through dense fir forests and sagebrush meadows, and an exhilarating, boulder-laden scramble up and down Wagner Butte.
Yet in the grassy shade of the finish line in Ashland, I realized I’d made a grave error. Before the race, when we’d discussed logistics, I’d reassured her, “Tons of people will be doubling back to aid stations after the race. Someone will give us a ride back to your car.
In fact, no one was going back up there. From Ashland, the Dutchman Peak aid station was a couple hours’ drive up a rutted-out jeep road. We were tired, stinky and stranded.
“This is not OK,” Deby said. “I need my buckle, my car, my champagne and my hot tub. That’s all I need.”
“Mmm hmm,” I said, nodding sympathetically. I busied myself with my smart phone, sure she’d be soothed with the visual evidence of my problem-solving efforts. Loopy from our all-nighter, I thought it semi-plausible that my fourth or fifth scroll through my contacts list might magically yield an acquaintance in southern Oregon.
My phone didn’t even have reception.
Deby began shivering. “You need to fix this,” she told me.
I glanced around at the dozen or so picnic blankets scattered about with tired runners and their families. It was like being in middle school again, pondering tables to join in the cafeteria, already ill with anticipated rejection.
“Excuse me,” I said to a nearby couple. “Any chance you guys are headed back up to Dutchman Peak sometime today?”
Blank stares. I moved on. As different runners and spectators filtered in and out of the park over the next hour, I continued my fruitless, increasingly desperate pleas for a ride. Deby’s facial expression told me it would soon be time for me to run back some 30 miles (even with shortcuts) to fetch her car.
Then a woman’s voice piped up behind us: “Did I hear you’re trying to get back to Dutchman?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed, whirling around.
The stranger smiled. “You’re welcome to borrow my car for a few hours.”
Thanking her profusely as she handed us her keys, Deby and I hurried off toward the parking lot.
“Oh!” the woman called out after us. “I think the tank’s low, though, so you’ll probably want to put some gas in it.”
“No problem!” we chimed in merry unison.
Deby said to me, “I’ll pay you back, but you’ll have to get the gas. I don’t have any money with me.”
Few moments in my life have humiliated me as profoundly as the one that followed—for I, too, had left my wallet in Deby’s car at Dutchman. We had no choice but to turn around and trudge back to the world’s most trusting, generous stranger.
“Not only are we dumb, we seem to be broke, too,” I said. “Any chance you could also lend us a few bucks for gas?”
She did. This story ends well, with champagne and a hot tub. Deby was happy. I was nothing but relieved. We toasted our dumb luck (emphasis on the dumb). Though I can hardly advise such reckless reliance on chance, I will say this: I know of few communities that look out for their own the way trail runners do.
If you ever need a ride, Deby and I will be there for you.
Yitka Winn is a contributing editor at Trail Runner. She lives in Ridgway, Colorado, and is available for pacing gigs.