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Peavine to Carson

The Why

One morning, after a run with a friend, I stood staring at the foothills around Reno. The wild lupines were blooming and releasing a wave of sweet citrus through the usually barren desert valley, and I couldn’t remember a time when I’d felt more at peace within the landscape I called home. ‘Fuck it,’ I thought. ‘It’s too beautiful not to do it.’

The ‘it’ in this instance was a celebration run. I was preparing to undergo one of multiple surgeries scheduled for my disease, and I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to acknowledge the incredible spring that the Sierra Nevada had been experiencing, I wanted to honor the place where I had grown up, and, most importantly, I wanted to celebrate the ability to run and move through the landscape around me—a gift with an uncertain future.

 ‘Fuck it,’ I thought. ‘It’s too beautiful not to do it.’

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Dercum’s Disease, an extremely rare and progressive autoimmune condition. The disease is characterized by a buildup of painful tumors along muscles and nerves in conjunction with chronic pain throughout the body. The treatment for the disease involves the surgical removal of the tumors, of which I have around 180, and that number is slowly growing as time goes on. Each surgery—including the one I was preparing for in a week—removes, on average, seven of the tumors, more if they’re clustered together. While not major surgery, it results in about 30-40 stitches followed by an extended period of rest.

Words: Logan Williams / Photography: Moe Lauchert 

With this procedure on the horizon—and with the sweet lemony scent of the lupines on the brisk morning air—I knew that I had much to celebrate. Not only had I somehow managed to give the doctors and their diagnosis the middle finger, but I’d also told my disease to go fuck itself daily through the simple, rebellious, and often painful act of running—an act I’m not planning on giving up anytime soon. I know that the pain from not running and experiencing the world in the way I’ve come to love would be more painful than anything the disease could throw at me.

I’d been dabbling with a route from the far northern edge of Reno to Carson and then maybe Tahoe. The course connected all the trails I’d grown up on and had run daily with an almost reverent fervor. On mostly trails and jeep roads, the route would take me from the base of Peavine Peak, around the western edge of Reno, up to Virginia City, and on to Carson City. I had some crazy and incredibly supportive friends and family who, at the last minute, told me they’d be there for me, and in my mind, it was now or never.

Before I go on, I want to thank the people who were there for this journey. To my mom, dad, Shawn Smith, Miles Brazil, Moe Lauchert, and Emma Dahl, your love and support on this day meant the world to me, and it’s this love and support that continues to humble and motivate me in all aspects of my life.

Peavine to Ditch

I began the day in Reno’s Rancho San Rafael Park at roughly 5 AM. I set off alone, and my last-minute makeshift crew sent me off with hugs and smiles. The morning light was bright enough that I didn’t need a headlamp, and it warmed the desert landscape around me. As I began climbing slowly up the winding single track from the edge of the park and into the foothills, my fiancé, Emma, called to hear about the morning. As we spoke, the sage around me quickly turned to fields of blue and white lupines, glacial lilies, Indian paintbrush, bluebells, and wildflowers. The kaleidoscopic range of colors was mesmerizing, and the miles began to quickly tick by. After an hour or so, Emma wished me good luck and, alone with my thoughts and invigorated by our chat, I continued.

At around mile twelve, I crested the summit of Peavine and took in the superb view of Reno and the remaining route snaking ahead.

At around mile ten, I left the single-track trail and hopped onto a jeep road leading to the summit. Here I kept it reserved, ‘running’ (read ‘shuffling’) my way to the top. My crew brought me water and fuel and some much-appreciated love and high-fives. At around mile twelve, I crested the summit of Peavine and took in the superb view of Reno and the remaining route snaking ahead. 

Once I was refueled and regrouped, I set off down the backside of the mountain and towards Verdi. Following the jeep road past fresh sage and mountain springs, I was taken aback by the beauty and quiet around me. The pines stood still, and even the fields of wildflowers seemed to be holding their breath. It was as if the world were readying itself for the oncoming heat and rain. In hindsight, this was perhaps my favorite section, for alone, I could soak in the sights and the sounds and let my thoughts flow with the stream by my side. After around nine miles of this blissful repose, I was popped out unceremoniously onto a four-lane highway. The sudden jolt back to reality came with a cloying wave of heat and humidity, and as the trail turned to asphalt, the next few miles became a drag. I followed the side of the road, knowing I’d soon meet my crew at the base of the Ditch Trail. 

Ditch to Whites Creek

The crew came into view alongside some train tracks on the outskirts of Verdi. Moe was smiling on the bike and ready to go, and Miles was gearing up to pace me. Shawn had everything ready in the back of the car and would drive to meet us at the next spot. 

I was happy to see Miles and Moe, knowing that this next section would be the hottest and toughest part of the day—not because of any technical terrain, but due to the monotony of a flatter and more exposed section. I cooled off, grabbed a bandana and some more fuel, and made for the trail, feeling better than I had expected to feel 24 miles into the day. Setting off, we turned onto a small connector road that took us quickly from the valley floor to a few hundred feet up the western foothills of Reno and to the old aquifer that wrapped lazily along the hillside. As we reached the water, we also reached the gravel service road that would carry us for the next ten miles. 

I dipped my bandana into the cool groundwater, wrapped it around my neck, and was grateful that my body had made it this far and that I was with people I loved. This carried me quietly over the next few miles. I listened to Moe and Miles talk and got lost in my own thoughts as the desert roses suffused the trail with the sweet scent of pine resin and tropical fruits. But as the day marched on, the heat continued to climb as well, and by mile 33, I was out of water, and we were slightly off course. We’d missed the small connector trail and were now navigating slowly through suburban neighborhoods. I fell back on Miles, who knew the area better than me, and tried not to think about the heat radiating from the blacktop. As Miles guided us out of the suburbs and back to the foothills, we passed a park with children and a mercifully functioning water fountain. I filled up, and after another mile or so, we were back on the scheduled route and just a few miles from aid at Balardini Park. 

The trail to Balardini was beautiful. Thousands of caterpillars blanketed the side of the trail, a writhing mass of fuzzy creatures that seemed to make the flowers and ground dance in the afternoon heat. Moe and Miles kept chatting and brought me out of the quiet and self-reflective state I fall into during these long adventures. As we talked and the single track quickly passed, I was filled with deep gratitude. The flowers around me were blooming, the sun was shining, and in that moment nothing else mattered. That’s one of the beauties of long-distance running: it distills life and allows you to treasure the moment.

At Balardini, I was greeted by my mom and Shawn. Everyone was smiling. My body was feeling good, and things were going smoothly. I slammed a Pedialyte, ate some food, and took off up the trail again with Miles. The following eight miles were hot—like, very hot. My body was not happy about the massive amount of food, and I was forced to slow down to let things settle. I was keenly aware at that moment that the run was reaching the point of becoming ‘hard.’ I was approaching the 50-mile mark—an elusive one for me over the last few years and one that I had been dreading. However, that moment was not yet here, and I quickly covered the miles to Whites Creek and my waiting crew. 

Whites Creek to Virginia City

Whites Creek was a beautifully modest trailhead. Cars were parked in a dirt lot, and the clouds were slowly starting to build and darken above. People were out, but there was a lazy atmosphere—a nice contrast to the battle that I was waging internally. I met my mom, Moe, and Shawn and was overjoyed to see a box of doughnuts in the backseat of the car. I took a seat, slammed a doughnut, did the usual aid station routine, and took off with Miles toward our next stop: Goni Road. 

The next section went by quickly. There were long stretches of pavement, a river crossing, and even some highway running, and it was on the side of the highway that I had the most important moment of the day: I had reached and passed the 50-mile mark

As someone who has run multiple 100-mile races and even gone over 170 miles in a single effort, the 50-mile mark should not have been such a landmark, but it was the number I had been afraid of most. Throughout the day, my mind kept going back to this, fearful that it would mark the end of the run. Last September, I stood at the starting line of the Run Rabbit 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I was in the best shape of my life and confident about the day. However, as the race progressed, the tumors began to hurt in a way they never had before. I felt as if my flesh was being ripped from the bone, and at mile 50 I decided it was in my best interest to pull. 

I felt as if my flesh was being ripped from the bone, and at mile 50 I decided it was in my best interest to pull. 

The experience left me with more questions than answers. For the first time in my life, I began to doubt my body’s ability. I was scared. I could no longer understand or trust the vessel I was occupying. My whole life, I had been able to push past things, to muscle my way through the toughest physical endeavors, even when it wasn’t pretty. But in that moment, I realized my body and the disease had made my future uncertain. So, when I comfortably passed the 50-mile mark, I almost cried with joy. I felt like I’d been given a second chance.

At mile 53, I picked up my pacer and close friend, Shawn, at Goni Road. The transition was smooth, the family was there cheering, and I was able to start the next section off with a smile on my face. Miles had been a godsend, and now I was excited to share this next section with Shawn. We’d spent nearly every day training and running together when I lived in Salt Lake, and after moving to Reno, I’d missed our friendship immensely. 

Shawn and I started slowly up Goni, leaving the pavement for a jeep road that would take us to the top of the pass and over to Virginia City, a historic mining town. The climb up the road was slow and painful but also blissful. It was the first time in a while that Shawn and I could catch up, and it rejuvenated me to connect again. As we chatted, I noted the thunderclouds and flashes of lightning in the valley below. The storm was close. At mile 60, we reached the crew and quickly changed into rain jackets as the cold wind picked up, warning us of what was coming.

We hopped onto the highway for what should have been an easy short stretch, but it wound up feeling endless. As soon as we hit the pavement, the clouds broke and it began to pour, and we were forced to lean into a violent wind as we slowly climbed into traffic. I the cold began to set in, and I was shivering with each step. The energy that had propelled me all day was being washed away with the rain and the plummeting temperature. 

A mile and a half into the climb, we reached the summit with thunder rumbling close by, and the earth shook as the rain continued to pour down. Drenched and cold, I was elated when I saw the crew car and my dad’s truck pulled over on the side in a turnout just ahead. I quickly made my way to the trunk, changed shoes, and crawled into the back seat to stuff my face with three doughnuts. The storm was right above us now, and coupled with the heavy rain, I decided to wait it out in the car. I closed my eyes and, minutes later, woke to the receding tail end of the storm.

Shawn and I took off towards Virginia City and spent the next three miles hugging the road on a small bike lane. As we reached our destination, the rain started to trickle in again and resumed slowly draining the day of its energy. 

Virginia City to Carson

After a brief stop on the outskirts of town to refuel and grab headlamps, Shawn and I made our way through Virginia City. We did our best to avoid the rain, ducking in and out of the wooden overhangs that covered the old and dilapidated boards that were the sidewalk. As we ran, we passed busy bars and restaurants, warm and hospitable places that stood in stark contrast to the day that had been unfolding.

When we reached the edge of town, we pulled off the main road and began climbing a quiet service road. By this point, we were moving together in a silence only the closest of friends can share. We’d forged this soundless void over countless runs. Nothing needed to be said. But I was struggling now, and I knew it. My stomach had rejected the three doughnuts and I was hyponatremic, leaving me puffy and unable to eat anything. In the heat of the day, my water had been on point, but moving into the cool evening had resulted in a surplus within my body. I was moving slow, but I was determined to continue.

My stomach had rejected the three doughnuts and I was hyponatremic, leaving me puffy and unable to eat anything.

As we labored toward the peak that would drop us into Carson City, a thick fog rolled in, white and blinding. We trudged slowly into the opaque abyss, with its icy hands running over our exposed legs and faces, and we kept our eyes on the few feet of road visible before us. Eventually, the fog began to retreat, and as the murk cleared, we saw the shadow of wild horses, a family of three that were as startled by us as we were by them. The protective stallion charged, stopping only a few feet from where we now stood, a wall of knotted muscle that forced us to retreat onto the only available road, keeping us in our place within the landscape of the high desert. 

Beginning our descent into the Carson City Valley, we saw off in the distance the storm we’d been caught in, its presence now hovering over where we were headed. The fog had heralded the transition of night, and making our way down the muddy road, we turned our headlamps on as the dark swallowed up the valley. Within a few hours, we’d reached the bottom of Goni Road and were officially in Carson City. There, we were met by the crew. My mom informed us that the rain had caused flash floods throughout the valley and along the trails we planned to cover. I sat there at mile 79 and considered what to do next. 

My original plan had been to run 100+ miles, but that hadn’t factored in the rain. To be honest, the main point of the day was to see if my body could run over 50 miles again, and in that regard, I had already succeeded. As for wanting the run to be a celebration, it had been that and more. I’d spent the day surrounded by the people I love most, and for that, I was grateful and happy—and I was elated that my body had made it this far. With that sense of contentment slowly sinking in, I told the crew I would run the next eight miles to my parents’ house, but then I would be stopping there. I had done what I needed to do. I didn’t need to go any further.

Shawn continued with me for the last few miles, and we slowly made our way along trails that had been completely washed out in the rain. We were tired but at peace, glad our day was ending soon. In the final stretch, we were joined by my parents on mountain bikes, their lights graciously illuminating the remaining way home. When we arrived, I entered the garage and collapsed onto a workbench. My legs were worn out, my feet wet and swollen, but my heart was full. 

I looked into the faces of those around me, and their eyes shone with weary joy. I beamed back at them, pleased with running for the first time in a long time. And in that moment, I knew that while the future might be uncertain, the present was truly a miracle and one that I would keep fighting for. 


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