L'Esprit des Etats Unis! Half Dome Run without Water (1998)

[from the archives, via Steve Edwards]

L'Esprit des Etats Unis!

by Jacques du Monde - Foreign Correspondant

The French have long asked, "When will the Americans finally come to understand the meaning of alliance and fraternity? Since World War II they have been nothing but arrogant ingrates!"

The response came late one August afternoon in the Valley of Yosemite, California. Three Americans, in commemoration of the triple alliance formed in World Wars I & II, set out to show their appreciation in a particularly French manner. In honour of the French spirit, the three Americans, known as the Lafayette Escadrille, announced that they will attempt to break the record set by a fellow American in the 1960's for the fastest ascent and descent of Half Dome without water. It was the hardened American Warren Harding, known for his stoic first ascents of climbs and stout drinking endurance in the Mountain Room, who set the record on a hot summer afternoon. It was nearly 100 degrees when Harding set out on the Mist trail. The trail is 16.4 miles roundtrip, ascending close to 5000 feet. The trail begins at the valley floor, approximately 3900 feet. Harding finished the run in 3 hours and 55 minutes.

The team of three consists of California natives Steve "Manual Overdrive, or Manny for short" Edwards, "Hollywood" Hans Florine, and Todd "the Spitfire" Mei. They began their attempt on Monday, August 11, at 2:30 in the afternoon. The temperature would reach the mid 90's.

"I think it is important," commented Manual Overdrive, who is the record holder for eating 33 eggs in an hour while being dehydrated, "that the real hardship of the trail ascents be shown. Since I was a child, I enjoyed the Warren Harding films of the 1950's and 60's, but now it is time to capture the pure horror of it." True to form, Manual fell to the ground in convulsions after topping out and descending the steep cables. The lack of water caused both legs to cramp. Manual hobbled down, scraping the ground for grapes and spring water in order to replenish his strength.

"The honesty," said one spectator, "was too much. I wanted Manual to stop and give up, but he kept going, giving himself to every footstep until someone else needed him." Indeed, a woman who sprained her knee required the assistance of the spirited Manual to take her down the mountain in utter darkness.

"Breaking the record was not important," commented the retired Charles de Gaul. "What is important, as Churchill once told me, is the effort, the fight. Manual was like Laurent Blanc in the Cup 98. He was not there in the game, but he was there to push and inspire us all. Without that we could not have won."

"Sacrifice," said French spokesman Renoit Foudre, "was invented by the French at the Maginot Line." Indeed, thousands of French World Cup fans applauded the American.

Ten minutes ahead of Manual were Hollywood Hans and Spitfire Mei. Hans is known for his willingness to perform before fans and camera, and as the current record holder of the fastest ascent of the El Capitain, he is certainly well respected. However, Mei was a bit more skeptical. "Hans joined the team only 48 hours before the launch," explained a concerned Spitfire Mei, who was formerly the Eating tutor of Santa Barbara. "I mean the event is in celebration of the Alliance. When we run, we're running against Evil, against the Nazis. So I ask you, what kind of a name is Hans? It sounds bloody German to me! He's got blonde hair and stinks of the old elite race. I didn't want to run with him for fear that at any moment he might shank me with a bratwurst or something. But listen to this, proof came when like the movie 'Lifeboat,' directed by Hitchcock, Hans pulled out a canister of water. Remember how the German could row because he had a vial of water, well think about it. There's always some trickery, some form of a Fifth Columnist around."

Spitfire was referring to the fact that Hollywood Hans got primetime coverage with the fastest time, finishing 2 minutes ahead of the Spitfire at 3 hours and 36 minutes. Was it the water? Did Hollywood therefore break the record? Hans was not available for comment though several spectators did see Hans and Spitfire neck and neck over the last rise before making the steep descent down the granite steps. Mei appeared to cramp up and fall to the ground, no doubt to the cheers of jubilant French singing the "Marseillaise."

Hans was later seen hunched over in the Village market due to extreme exhaustion, or as some speculate GUILT. Mei retorted, "No doubt at this point, that German wishes he had a Spitfire - pure British effort and brilliance." Hans can be seen later this month attempting to run 14 mountain peaks in California, all over 14,000 feet, within 16 days. His teammates had very boring nicknames and cannot be mentioned here in this article.

As for Manual, he will be attempting to break the Spitfire's time of 3 hours and 38 minutes.

"Yes," said Manual, "I was shocked to see Hans with that water. I should have sussed the whole thing when I saw what he was wearing. While the Spit and I wore soccer jerseys and terry cloth headbands in honour of the World Cup 98, Hans wore bright fluorescent green shorts and was listening to Disco. That's pretty much like taking drugs to boost your performance. Where were the French officials then? Well despite that we all finished. Vive La France!"

Despite the controversy, the French loved it, singing as each one crossed the line, "Allez, allez, allez, allez...we are champs, we are champs." And who could forget the large blue and red rooster dancing at the finish line. Some call him Footix, but others call him the Spirit of France.

How beautiful.


El Castillo del Barrio

Santa Barbara, California - circa 1807