Hit the trails for more than a few miles with Jack Wiley, and you’ll hear stories of his parallel journeys as ultramarathon trail runner and ultramarathon aid station runner.

His aid station passion grew to the point of having so much equipment he needed to purchase a pickup and camper to haul it down remote roads. He now takes his traveling oasis to races across the western U.S. every year, often with wife Carmen and his two teen kids in tow.

“I feel it’s my calling,” he says. “It’s my way to serve these runners and bring a little joy into their lives.”

I decided to get a first-hand look at Jack’s operation by joining him at the 141-mile aid station of the Bigfoot 200-miler last July.

On a warm Friday morning, we left Spokane in a pickup with a covered box stuffed with equipment and supplies, the camper hitched behind. Son Jason followed in their SUV pulling an empty trailer. Six hours later, we were in the sweltering heat of the high school parking lot in Randle, Washington piling the trailer with food, jugs of water, and other supplies. Then with vague directions that don’t take road closures into account, Jack recalls enough from previous years to navigate the sketchy backwoods roads to where it dead-ends at the forest.

The next morning, we faced the monumental task of setup. The main area was 30 by 50 feet, with a single huge tarp overhead that draped past the kitchen to provide a back wall. It stretched across to butt up against a 10 by 15-foot warming hut set next to a snack/drink station of the same size. Since this aid station was one of several sleep stations, four sleeping tents had been set up in an adjacent field.

The kitchen was a marvel of portable culinary technology with a large griddle, toaster, coffee pot, and—get this—microwave oven, all powered by a gas generator with a separate vegan area to the side. Then there was the jumble of coolers, disposable plates, napkins, serving bowls, and utensils.

The all-hours, on-request menu included breakfast burritos, burgers (meat and veggie) with all the fixings, cheese quesadillas, make-your-own sandwiches, and pancakes. Throughout the rest of the aid station was an array of fruit, potato chips, cookies, M&Ms, sodas, and energy gels.

Over the next two days and nights, runners glided or stumbled into the camp and were met with claps and shouts by anyone present. Many looked around deliriously and quickly stumbled into the warming tent for first aid for feet shredded by blisters and a common grumble, “How come I fall asleep while I’m running but I can’t fall asleep at an aid station?”

The next sixty hours were a blur of short sleep shifts and the smell of burger grease. Any self-pity was muted by the fatigue and pain in the faces of many of the runners.

The last runner left the station at 10:30 Monday morning. What followed was seven hours of washing and packing. We stuffed Jack’s belongings, jigsaw-puzzle-style, into the back of the pickup, and precariously strapped the race supplies and garbage to the trailer.

“This is the side of it no one sees,” Jack says as he strapped the final empty gas cans to the back of his camper.

Back at the high school headquarters, we dumped the leftover supplies then headed a mile back down the highway for a quick bite. As we crossed the street to the diner, a runner passed us, probably on the way to about a 30th-place finish. Jack doesn’t recognize the runner. They probably crossed paths during Jack’s sleep shift.

It’s okay. Whether they met face-to-face or not, he and Jack have connected in spirit, one runner to another, on opposite sides of the grill. //

Trail Ultra Volunteer Opportunities

Below is a non-exhaustive list of ultramarathon (50K or longer) trail runs in and near Washington that list volunteer opportunities on their websites. A more complete list of Washington ultras can be found at ultrarunning.com.

  • Capitol Peak 50 Mile April 27 / Olympia, WA
  • Snake River Island Hop 50K or 100K/ April 27 / near Pasco, WA
  • Spokane River Run 50K/ April 28 / Spokane, WA
  • Mt. Si 50 mile or 50K/ April 28 / Snoqualmie, WA
  • Lake Hills 50K / May 5 / Bellevue, WA
  • Tiger Mtn 50K / May 18 / Issaquah, WA
  • Vashon Island 50K / June 1 / Vashon Island, WA
  • Trail Rail 50 mile or 50K / June 8 / Mullan, ID
  • Race the Wolf 52K / July 6-7 / Sandpoint, ID
  • Mt. Spokane Vertical Challenge 50K / July 13 / Spokane, WA //