Friday, May 31, 2019

Beat turns 50!

I met him at the end of July 2010 in Columbia Falls, Montana. I was the sleep-deprived volunteer checking in finishers of a brutal mountain race called the Swan Crest 100. He was the mud-splattered ultrarunner galloping toward the arch. That was the first thing I noticed about him — he was actually running. Even at a distance, I could see his smile — the widest, brightest grin you can imagine. I'd already watched enough bedraggled runners limp across the finish line with shellshocked expressions to conclude that ultrarunning had to be the most unfun sport of them all. Who was this smiley anomaly?

Our first date has to be one of the greatest ever, in my humble opinion. It was so convoluted yet worked out so perfectly that even the most skeptical nonbeliever might begin to wonder if fate intervened. I was stuck in Las Vegas, finishing up a work week at Interbike, when Beat assured me over the phone that he was, in fact, sitting at a hotel room in Logan, Utah, preparing to race the Bear 100 the following morning. We'd chatted about this online for weeks, but I simply didn't believe him, because he had just finished his first Tor des Geants, an insane 200-mile mountain race in Italy, and the turnover between returning from Europe and flying to Utah was three days. I put a crowdsourcing sort of post on Facebook and managed to land a most unlikely ride with a friend traveling early in the morning from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, picking me up in Vegas at the necessary time of 5 a.m.

My friend was running late for his own appointment and had to drop me off at the pullout of an I-15 exit, where I hoisted my duffel full of casual business attire and Interbike freebies to walk two miles to my parents' house. They were in Germany at the time, so I broke into their house and cobbled together a running outfit — yoga pants and bedazzled sunglasses that once belonged to my baby sister, a jacket that was my Dad's, cotton gym socks and the cheap road-running shoes I brought to Vegas just in case the hotel had an elliptical trainer. Then I stole (er, borrowed) their truck and drove two hours north to Logan, arriving mere minutes before Beat strode into the mile-50 aid station. I was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt when I walked toward him. He greeted me with his wide smile and a terse question: "So, are you running?"

We hadn't yet talked about exactly how far I'd pace him. I'd only just started "practicing" my running, and my longest run at the time was eight miles. I figured I'd find him at the soonest possible aid station and form a plan. Instead, I rushed back to the truck, changed into my junk-show running outfit, and shouldered an Interbike freebie backpack filled with disposable water bottles and gas station snacks. Off Beat and I went together, into the night.

It was the most magical night. The moon was out, mountains jutted into a star-swept sky, and our feet carried us through astonishing swaths of space. We talked about anything and everything. We became sleep-deprived and shared our hopes and dreams. He stopped at a summit near his mile 75 and handed me a rock that he'd collected in Italy, then asked if I "wanted to go out." Awkwardly I replied, "Aren't we already out?" Awkward silence predictably followed, and I continued, "The Montana-California thing is complicated." "We'll figure it out," he replied.

The night wore on. Temperatures dropped to 21 degrees, and both legs went numb. Unfortunately I could still feel my feet. Every step felt like pummeling deep bruises with a two-by-four. I couldn't withstand the pain any longer, and started walking the descents backward. I was supposed to be Beat's "pacer" and begged him to run ahead. But he wouldn't leave me. He finished his own race at my slow pace, as I wrapped up 50 miles of my longest, by far, foot effort. And that's how I simultaneously became an ultrarunner and gained an awesome boyfriend.

Beat turns 50 today. In celebration, I wanted to share some of my favorite portraits from our years together:



Beat with his Austrian friend Norbert at the Headlands 100 in August 2010. He finished this race just one week after finishing the Swan Crest 100. How can you not develop a crush on a guy when photos like this are showing up online? Rawr. We struck a Gmail chat friendship following my comments on these early Facebook posts. Our Bear 100 "date" happened six weeks later.

Beat in Yosemite National Park during a backpacking trip in October 2010. This was probably only our second or third official "date," and Beat had relatively little camping experience at the time. We were slammed with heavy rain and then sleet the entire weekend. We camped in heavy fog just below Clouds Rest, huddled in a combination of my -40F winter sleeping bag and his 40F lightweight stage-racing bag to stay warm, cooked but did not consume ancient freeze-dried meals that had somehow actually gone bad, and sipped my special secret hot drink that involves melting a Snickers bar in boiling water. It was such a magical weekend.

Beat on top of Lolo Peak outside Missoula, Montana, in October 2010. This was one of our first big day outings, riding bikes from my apartment in town at 3,000 feet, wending up a long fire road, then stashing the bikes to hike the wilderness trail and final scramble to a 9,100-foot summit some 40+ miles from home. No big deal for this guy, who didn't even ride bikes at the time. I was so enamored.

Meanwhile, I continued to practice my running. One frigid evening, while jogging on a wide, flat fire road along Rattlesnake Creek, I rolled and sprained my ankle badly. Several weeks later, I could hike uphill without issue, but descents were still too painful. Beat wanted to go for a run, and we worked out a route where I could hike up with him while pushing my bike, then ride it on trails as he ran down. The uphill part was the steep face of Mount Sentinel, which gains 2,000 feet in two miles. I'd hiked it before, but forgotten just how steep it was. I faltered early, and Beat offered to carry my bike the rest of the way to the summit. That is when I *knew* it was love.

We committed to running the 2011 Susitna 100, a big leap outside comfort zones for both of us. My running experience was still in its infancy. Beat had never raced a winter ultra, and had limited cold-weather experience in general. This made a great excuse for him to continue visiting me in Montana for winter training weekends, where I'd usually come up with excuses to ride fat bikes.

Beat is an ideas guy. It's one of the most endearing aspects of his personality. He'll tinker in the basement for an hour or two, and emerge with incredible new inventions. Some of his early cold-weather innovations were quite hilarious, though.

We formed a duo team for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in Hurricane, Utah, in November 2010: "Swiss Miss." Still a mountain biking beginner and uneasy on the rocky desert singletrack, he completed seven laps — more than 100 miles — to match my ten, and we finished second in our category. The merging of our combined craziness was nearly complete.

Meanwhile, Beat continue to run a bunch of 100-mile foot races. I crewed for him at the HURT 100 in Honolulu, Hawaii, in January 2011. This "limp noodle" portrait captures that event well.

Then, in February, we raced the Sustina 100 together. What an intense experience. Temperatures dropped to 20 below with high winds on the Yentna River. I froze my hands while digging through my sled bag, rendering them unusable and requiring Beat to zip up my coat — a harrowing and humbling setback for me, who was supposed to be a relative expert in the cold. I was jittery and frightened for the rest of the hike up the Yentna, where the windchill was so extreme that it felt like walking into a fiery furnace. Selfishly I pushed ahead because I was terrified of stopping again. I could see Beat's headlamp moving behind me, and thought he was fine, but he wasn't — he had become sick and weakened.

He forgave me for this selfish move, and we continued side-by-side as I became sick and weakened over the next 30 miles. I had a huge meltdown — of course — near mile 70, sitting down in the snow and effectively refusing to move because "I had no idea running was going to hurt this much." (Really. Foot racing hurts so much more than ultra-cycling. This probably shouldn't have been a surprise to me, but it was.) Beat pressed ahead and left me alone. After my transgression on the Yentna and temper tantrum, I figured he was gone for good. Instead, about two miles later, I found him sitting on a bank of the Susitna River, a spot affectionately known as the "The Wall of Death." He had spread out his sleeping pad with a picnic of assorted candy and snacks, and invited me to pick a treat and sit down until I could put my head back together. *That's* when I knew it was love.

We finished the race together in 41 hours, after temperatures had again plummeted to 25 below. This is how I got Beat hooked on endurance racing in Alaska. It's all my fault.

The combined craziness was complete. I moved to California, and we continued our pursuit of intense experiences together. Here we are at my first trail-hundred attempt, the Tahoe 100 in July 2011, showing off our matching knee scrapes. I DNF'd — timed out amid excruciating foot pain at mile 80. Beat finished of course. He is one of the most prolific ultrarunners out there. I'd guess he doesn't even know how many races he's finished, but he has 163 results on Ultrasignup alone (a list that is missing most of his toughest events.)

In November 2011, we participated in a stage race in Nepal, where we both caught a death plague. I was deathly ill before the race even started, and the plague continued to completely empty my system for most of the week. Managing 250 tough kilometers in the mountains of Nepal on negative calories remains one of the hardest challenges of my life. Beat helped drag me through it, sometimes literally using my trekking pole as a tow bar, even though he was sick himself.

Beat with our now-departed cat, Cady. Another endearing aspect of his personality is how much he loves animals. Beat would be the type to live with a dozen cats if he believed he could provide a proper home for them. With our lifestyle and travel, we can't offer this to a pet right now. Instead, Beat adopted the hummingbirds that travel through our neighborhood each summer. It's gotten to the point where he goes through as much as 10 pounds of sugar a week, feeding hundreds of hummingbirds. He's currently developing an elaborate automated feeder to provide fresh daily nectar to all of these birds while we're out of town.

Beat with friend Anne Ver Hoef at the finish of his first Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2012. He traveled to McGrath under the most difficult conditions ever present in the 350-mile race, after finishing one of the coldest-ever Susitna 100s a year earlier. I wonder, sometimes, if he'd had an easier time in his early winter races, if he would have become so hooked. Beat thrives on adversity.

At the start of the 2012 White Mountains 100 in Fairbanks — which, yes, he completed on foot just a few weeks later.

Then, in 2013, he completed this first 1,000-mile trek to Nome. On the Southern Route, he battled intensely cold and windy conditions along the Yukon River and the Norton Sound. In this photo he's rounding Cape Nome with Marco Berni, an Italian runner with whom he traveled much of the second half of the race. This was the first I'd seen of him in a month, and he'd just been through a particularly trying final morning in the deep subzero cold. That smile ...

A few months later, Beat turned 44 during the 2013 Bryce 100.

In July 2013 we traveled to Iceland for another stage race. I had a great race here — cold, windy, barren. Iceland is my kind of heaven. Here Beat stands at the top of a wind-blasted escarpment that we climbed one evening after dinner, just for fun.

In 2014, we walked the Iditarod Trail to McGrath together. This remains my favorite experience with him — the intimacy and exhilaration of sharing this trail for which we both have so much history and passion. I admit I don't have a strong desire to attempt a walk to Nome with Beat, though — his pace would kill me.

The proud Senatori collecting his finishers' jacket after the Tor des Geants in 2014 (wearing a 2013 finisher's jacket.) A finish in this 200-mile, 80,000-feet-of-climbing mountain race in the Italian Alps is nearly impossible for most (including myself.) Beat finished every running from 2010 to 2016 before an injury took him out in 2017. I used to joke that Beat valued his Senatori status in the TDG more than he valued his PhD in physics. Of course this isn't true — he seems a little relieved that he doesn't have to run this race every year, anymore.

Finishing the Race Across South Africa with our friend Liehann in 2015. Beat proved he can ride a mountain bike thousands of kilometers, as long as "riding" also involves a hefty amount of hike-a-bike. With its tricky map-and-compass navigation and long stretches of off-trail bundu-bashing, RASA was the perfect bike adventure for Beat.

Beat on top of Flattop Mountain in Anchorage in March 2015. A friend's personal tragedy resulted in his leaving the Iditarod Trail at mile 600, after an intensely challenging 10-day march through deep snow and temperatures near -50F in the Interior. We reconnected while I prepared to run the White Mountains 100, which he ended up running with me for much of the distance. These experiences renewed our perspective on the incredible gift of partnership in both adventure and in life.

Beat during the Petite Trotte à Léon in 2015. I've made it clear how I feel about this race, and at this point would rather pretend he didn't participate. This 300-kilometer route around Mont Blanc is so much more difficult than most can understand, closer to mountaineering than running, and set on an extremely limited timeline that forces one's hand in precarious conditions. Yet he's managed to finish seven in a row, from 2012 to 2018, often just a week before participating in the Tor des Geants. He's probably going back this year, because he thrives on adversity. Le sigh.

Skipping ahead to the 2019 Iditarod because this post is becoming long, and also because the portraits begin to become redundant. Beat is a creature of habit in his own adventurous way. Although I often think I should boost myself out of my comfort zone to explore new places and modes of travel, I do love this about him, too. He knows what he loves. He sticks with what he loves. He doesn't waste a bunch of time chasing shiny but fleeting objects in the distance. And in the nine years I've known him, his smile hasn't faded. Happy 50th birthday, Love. Here's to many more adventures. 

11 comments:

  1. 50. He's an animal. Its great that you managed to find someone so perfect for you.

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  2. That is a great post Jill! So glad you found each other. Life is such a short journey, and its SO much better to be able to share some your favorite parts with someone. I wish my wife was outdoorsey, but sometimes opposites attract too. My time on bikes or backpacking is our alone time, and thats good too. Happy Birthday Beat! 50 is the new 30! (which Ive been saying for 8 years now). Except for the days it's the new 70...just have to keep those days to a minimum.

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  3. Congratulations! Normally I would say "welcome to the club" by which I mean the club of over-50's, the club of getting-grayhaired, the club of getting somewhat slower, the club fo starting to think about what to do as a pensioner. But to Beat, I will not. It does not fit.

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  4. Great post, great love story

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  5. Congratulations Beat! I admire your passion for life, that you live it and show it! You seem internally driven and I am thinking the next 10 year road ahead will be more intense and rewarding as you explore "Lotka's Principle" of self so to speak....IMHO.

    Thanks Jill for sharing this story!! It made my day!.....Have I said how cool this guy is?!?....Oh ya, I have... :)

    Jeff C

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  6. Happy 50th Birthday to Beat! You two make such a great pair! Want to know more about the automated hummingbird feeder for the same reason he's designing one if Beat's willing to share his idea. I feel really bad leaving the hummers without when we're away.

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    1. Unfortunately its a pretty involved design with a ton of custom parts and rather expensive. The main problem as you can imagine is that the nectar would spoil if one were to just make a lot of it. I am aiming for the machine to work for ~30 days w/o refilling, which translates to being able to dispense about 30 lbs of sugar!!! Initially I was just making more concentrated nectar and diluted it via some pumps but that still ends up being a huge hassle. The last design dispenses sugar directly into a magnetic stirrer. This has the advantage that I can automatically rinse the mechanism with water periodically, as sugar does not spoil (though it needs to be kept dry). Anyhow, you see where this is going. I will make a blog post about it when its done.

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  7. And I used to think that 50 was really old! Happy birthday Beat.

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  8. Thanks, Beat. It does sound pretty involved/complicated. I wish the nectar didn't spoil so easily, especially at high temps, because then I would just fill my feeders to capacity and they would last quite a bit longer. I never fill them very much at one time because the hummers don't drink enough before it's time to replace the sugar water.

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  9. This is really wonderful. I love it!!!

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  10. Great post about your crazy man, Jill! Clearly you guys "figured it out."

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Feedback is always appreciated!