If good fortune is on Tim Twietmeyer's side, he'll successfully maneuver around the rattlesnakes, wildcats and brown bears that don't necessarily pay homage to the 400 or so runners in the Western States Endurance Run, which was scheduled to start today at 5 a.m. in Squaw Valley, Calif.
If he's really lucky, the 42-year-old father of three might avoid the renal failure that strikes some of the 400 participants while they wind their way up mountains, down canyons and across rivers for 100 miles.
And if the five-time winner finishes in under 24 hours--for him, a slam dunk barring injury or severe dehydration--he will earn the parting gift of a silver belt buckle with the inscription, "100 Miles, One Day."
No money, no endorsements. Just an etched piece of metal.
"My folks thought I was certifiably nuts the first time I told them about it," Twietmeyer said. "You're on the hairy edge of disaster. It's almost inevitable that you're going to dehydrate and fatigue, it's just a matter of how bad. The last 25 miles, your body's on the edge of explosion."
Warmer-than-usual temperatures this year will mean no snow at the starting line (elevation 6,200 feet). The nighttime traverse across the usually bone-chilling American River also will be a little less numbing.
But on the way to the finish line in Auburn, Calif., there are still plenty of natural hazards.
The snakes, in particular, are tough to see.
"They're the ones that catch you off guard the easiest," Twietmeyer said. "The bears are kind of stupid and just run off if you pass them while they're going through a garbage can. But I've gone toes to nose with rattlesnakes. Sometimes you can't help it."
Twietmeyer, an otherwise safe-and-sane software development manager from Auburn, most recently won the race in 1998.
Scott Jurek of Seattle won last year in slightly more than 17 hours 15 minutes, an average of 10:22 per mile.
The women's division has had less parity, with Ann Trason winning 11 of the last 12 races. She was the fastest woman last year and finished 11th overall in 19:44:42, a per-mile split of 11:51.
The last time Trason didn't win was when she didn't enter in 1999. The fastest woman that year was San Diego resident Suzanne Brana, a supervisor in the office of investigations for U.S. Customs.
"I don't talk about it much with people that are not ultra-runners," Brana said. "It blows peoples' minds."
Like the other runners, Brana, 43, will ante up $195 to compete in the Western States. Her goal--to finish--is achieved by only half the participants.
Brana made it to the 90th mile last year, but began to stagger off the trail because of dehydration. She sat out for more than six hours with medical personnel.
"My stomach shut down, so nothing was getting to my brain," she said. "It was a drama."
She eventually got up and completed the race in 28 hours 12 minutes.