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We stumble through the doors of the hotel at 5 a.m. “Good morning!” The young man working the front desk is well-dressed and chipper. I’ll call him Jim. Jim is a stark contrast to the three of us, who are unkempt, sweaty and haggard.
“How can I help you?” Jim asks.
I look at Glenn and George. Both are staring absent-mindedly at the ceiling. Their eyelids are sagging.
Friends for many years now and still the piss-poor planners that we’ve always been, we’ve failed to book a place to catch some shuteye following George’s 100-miler in southeastern Washington. Glenn and I served as crew. None of us has slept in 24 hours. We need to rest before the 200-mile drive back to Seattle.
I clear my throat and turn back to Jim. “We need a room.”
Jim nods. “OK. For how long?”
“Probably just a few hours,” I say. If Jim is confused, he swallows it well. His eyes shift slowly between the three of us, assessing.
“OK,” he says tentatively. While his computer boots up, he makes small talk. Noting our clothing—mud-caked shoes, tech pants, puffy jackets—he asks, “Where’d you go hiking?”
When none of us responds, he tries again: “Or … skiing?”
“Running,” I say. “There was a trail race here this weekend called the Badger Mountain Challenge.” Motioning toward George, who has slumped into one of the chairs in the lobby, I add, “He just finished it.”
“Congratulations!” Jim says.
George swivels his gaze in our direction and slurs something incomprehensible and urgent. A hotel worker who’s vacuuming the lobby looks at him with some alarm.
“What?” I call out across the room.
“Bbhshuurm,” he says again, more insistently.
Being what I like to call “ultra drunk”—that is, in the heavily sleep-deprived state one enters during and immediately following a 100-miler—is not all too different from being actual drunk. You stumble. You slur your words. While your mind might be tickled by the choices you’ve just made, your unlucky sod of a body whimpers, “What the hell did you do that to me for?”
At a race years ago, around mile 85 or so, I came across a runner so ultra sloshed that he’d passed out in a prickly bush on the side of the trail. As he came to, he sat up in a daze and remarked, “Seriously, this is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.”
Having just accompanied George for the last 50 miles of his race, I’m feeling practiced at understanding his ultra-drunk gibberish. In a flash of insight, I realize that the vacuumer’s look of concern was not for George, but for the lobby’s carpet.
“Where is your bathroom?” I ask Jim. Not being ultra sober myself, I must focus hard to enunciate my words.
Jim points behind us and says, “Down that way and to the right.”
I look back at George to see if he’s heard. He hasn’t.
“Down that way and to the right!” I yell. He nods wearily, pushes himself up and shuffles determinedly in that direction.
Jim clears his throat. “So, breakfast is at 7.”
When Jim finishes processing everything and hands over our room key, George is nowhere to be seen. Minutes go by. I curl up in a chair in the lobby and pass out. I jolt awake—embarrassed to see I’ve left a patch of drool on the upholstery—when Glenn mumbles, “You think I should go check on him?”
“Oh,” I say, giggling. I drop a profanity or two in my loud, graphic conjectures about what misfortunes George might be suffering. Jim peers over the top of his computer.
“Sorry!” I call out to him. I add, “The race was 100 miles,” thinking this will help explain.
Jim raises his eyebrows but says nothing.
I try to determine whether he’s more entertained or irritated. In the moment, I settle on the former, convinced we must be adding some flavor to his Saturday morning.
With the hindsight of ultra sobriety a few days later, though, I suspect the latter; drunk people are rarely as amusing to sober ones as they think they are.
I hear the sound of a toilet flushing. Glenn returns with a relieved-looking George in tow. Our vacuuming friend looks relieved, too.
“Happy sleeping,” Jim says, looking most relieved of all, as we stagger out of the lobby. Our hangover will be rough tomorrow—er, today—but unlike most, this one will have been worth it.
Yitka Winn has spent more time ultra drunk than actual drunk.