PINEDALE – Powerful wind gusts barreled down from the Gros Ventre and Wind River ranges as teams struggled to set up base camp for the second annual Midnight on the Mesa on June 17 and 18.
Despite the incessant gale threatening to upend tent canopies and send them flying into the sagebrush, the small camp echoed with laughter and excitement as racers geared up for the 12-hour overnight relay to support the Friends of the Pinedale Aquatic Center.
“I’m just glad it’s summertime, finally,” said Walt Robertson, a member of The Hobackers. “We’re happy to be out here.”
Last year’s event featured the full gamut of Rocky Mountain weather – rain, wind, cold, heat and bugs, said Kaitie Mansell of the Wyo Wonder Babes. She and her teammates were decked out in tutus, capes and Wonder Women tees.
“It was the full Wyoming experience for sure,” said Kristy Smith, Mansell’s teammate.
A single thundercloud hovered far off in the distance. Otherwise, clear, bug-less skies greeted contestants this year as they gathered for the race to begin at 9 p.m.
The sun slanted toward the Wyoming Range, illuminating the snow-capped summits flanking Gannett Peak.
“We live in the most amazing place,” said Julie Kannier of the Meaty Ogres. “Why wouldn’t you do this out here where you can see the beautiful mountains?”
The sun eventually set, and by 10 p.m., runners and walkers strapped on their headlamps to detect cows or other obstacles on the two-track roads crisscrossing the Mesa, gearing up for the real fun to begin.
The long haul
Midnight on the Mesa is not for the faint of heart. To capture a top spot in each division, contestants average roughly 16 miles out on the trail, said Jessica Rice, a veteran racer from the previous year and member of the Winds Physical Therapy team.
In contrast to a marathon, Midnight on the Mesa is a relay, ran in segments on a 4-mile course, explained Rice. The first runner or walker on the team completes a 4-mile lap and hands the vest, or bib, off to the next runner to take their turn out on the Mesa while the others rest or prepare for an upcoming leg.
The goal is to tally the highest number of completed laps before the race’s cutoff point at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, Rice said. Rice and her teammates hoped to complete four laps, approximately 16 miles, per runner.
“It’s a challenge,” said Rice’s teammate Judy Vitolo. “But we did it last year and we survived.”
Other teams set more modest goals. The Meaty Ogres, for example, adopted their team name “because we’re mediocre,” said Kari DeWitt.
“We forgot to train,” she said.
DeWitt was the only member of the team who participated in the event the previous year. The Meaty Ogres’ overall game plan consisted of staying awake and finishing the gauntlet in one piece.
“Our strategy is just to say we did it at the end,” said Julie Kannier.
“We basically have zero strategy,” added Stacie Moses.
The Hobackers, new to the competition, were “not sure what to expect,” said Virginia Robertson.
“Our strategy is to just keep going,” she said. “One foot in front of the other.”
Major sleep dep
Midnight on the Mesa competitors typically stay up all night, with the exception of a quick 30- or 40-minute nap in the early morning hours, said Mansell.
“It’s like Christmas as a kid,” Smith added. “You wait until you get super tired and then you can get some actual sleep for a very brief amount of time.”
Rice avoided sleep last year and planned to follow the same plan in 2022.
“Maybe a little zoning out, but no actual sleep,” she said.
Each team made sure to include supplies and drew up plans to stay awake. The Hobackers “brought lots of coffee” and a few “nice cots to take naps” on, said Virginia Robertson.
Smith said the loud, upbeat dance music blaring from speakers at base camp helped, along with a Red Bull or two.
“The adrenaline from the race keeps you going,” added Mansell.
Kayla Hunzie, Mansell and Smith’s teammate, said the sense of camaraderie during the race kept her going all night.
“Everyone is coming in at different times, so it’s fun to be there and cheer them on,” she said. “That’s really how you stay awake.”
A race to remember
Fighting fatigue, logging mile after mile in the dark, slogging up Mount Airy, dodging wayward cows, ruts, cattle guards and whatever else might be lurking in the darkness takes the right kind of person. Each team expressed different motives for participating.
The Hobackers entered the relay for the challenge.
“We just want to see if we can do it,” said Walt Robertson. “We’re old as dirt, so we thought we’d give it a try.”
“I’m as old as coal,” added teammate Brad Owens.
For DeWitt, the event was an opportunity to soak up the beauty and atmosphere on the Mesa.
“It was amazing last year,” she said. “The sunset, the sunrise and the giddiness of running all night – it was really fun.”
Midnight on the Mesa also provided a chance for bonding, Hunzie said.
“We don’t get to see each other very often,” she added. “It’s a fun way to get together, hang out, be miserable, but enjoy the night. The sunrise was epic last year.”
In addition to proving oneself in a test of endurance, Rice said she wanted to support the Pinedale Aquatic Center.
“We love taking our kids there, so anything the PAC does, we pretty much try to do it,” she said.
And few races allow contestants to wear tutus and capes, the Wyo Wonder Babes agreed.
The participants each gave a hearty shoutout to the three volunteers – Morgan Faber, Tiffany Biffle and Ahna Vitt – who stayed up all night to coordinate the relay, keep everyone healthy and safe and make sure a racer did not inadvertently end up on the airport runway.
Faber credited PAC director Amber Anderson for her work in organizing the event. The Pinedale Lions Club served up a sumptuous breakfast for racers on Saturday morning.
12-hour relay race results
The Wyo Wonder Babes – Kaitie Mansell, Kristy Smith, Corey Rust and Kayla Hunzie – took second place, completing 16 laps in 11:39:56. Kari DeWitt, Stacie Moses, Julie Kannier and Trisha Heinrich of the Meaty Ogres finished third with 10 laps.
Moonlight on the Mesa – single lap race
Morning on the Mesa – kid's race