The heart warming story of Doug White, and his family, who have been tending to the Dusty Corners aid station for 21 years.
As the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, the Western States 100 Endurance Run is steeped in lore and legend. Athletes from around the globe hope to gain entrance into this tough-as-hell race to prove their mettle and toe the line alongside ultrarunning’s most iconic athletes. In fact, the list of past racers reads like a celebrity roster of ‘Who’s Who’ in trail running: Ann Trason; Scott Jurek; Kilian Jornet; Courtney Dauwalter; Jim Walmsley; Hal Koerner.
And Doug White.
You won’t find White, 65, near the top of the list, nor do most people recognize his name, even though he did successfully run Western States in 2001. This self-proclaimed “old guy” is a retired Navy captain who now spends most of his daytime hours teaching chemistry to college students. But for any runner who has made it to mile 38 of Western States and spent time at the Dusty Corners aid station, you probably remember White. His family has manned that same patch of race course for the last 21 years, turning Dusty Corners into an organized oasis that preps athletes for the quad-busting steeps undulating into Michigan Bluff. As with all good things, however, White’s tenure at Dusty Corners is coming to an end. The 2022 race will be his final farewell as aid station captain.
“I’m retiring because I’ve got so much going on my life, and I have to focus my priorities in other places,” White says. “It’s heart breaking for me to leave the race but that’s life.”
White first began volunteering at Western States aid stations in 1996. He figured his background in nuclear weapons would bring strong leadership skills and a knack for efficiency. But around that same time, his father, Douglas White, was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, his dad beat the diagnosis–but it came with an asterisk for White. “He said that the reason he made it was so he could watch me run Western,” White laughs. “And I thought, ‘Thanks a lot, Dad!’”
White honored his father and set his sights on a Western States ticket. When he qualified in 2001, Douglas White took over Dusty Corners as aid station captain, alongside his wife, Barbara. Together, the duo brought a slew of experience: Barbara White still holds the record for the most successful completions (33) of the 100-mile Western States Trail Ride, more commonly called The Tevis Cup. The senior White was there for one reason—to watch his son run the iconic race—but 2001 jump started more than 20 years of tradition.
For the next nine years, the family worked Dusty Corners together. In 2010, White stepped up as aid station captain, a position he has held dearly ever since. Unlike many other organized groups at the race, White isn’t part of a running club. It’s always been a family affair that takes as much of his time as it does his heart. Every December, he sends out an email blast to a carefully-curated list of past volunteers, most of whom are not runners themselves. After the holidays, he follows up again in January to create his volunteer roster. “It usually fills within a day,” he laughs. “But it didn’t used to be that way. We struggled for so many years to get volunteers, but now I have to turn people away.”
What’s the secret to his success? According to White, it’s twofold. The race itself has risen in popularity, morphing into a hyped-up event that excites those who will never put foot to trail. But White also believes that he has something to do with the prosperity of Dusty Corners. “I’ve made it an extremely fun place,” White says. “I’m a retired Naval officer and I’m a pretty good leader. It’s a long day for everyone but we call it our day in the sun, and it’s my job to get us all stoked up.”
Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Dusty Corners morphs into a small city of sorts; it sees anywhere from 800-1000 people throughout the course of the day. As a result, White often refers to himself as the “happy-yet-serious sheriff” thanks to the red tape he manages. Not only is it critical for him to monitor the happenings of every single athlete—“I swear to God we’ll never lose a runner because of me”—but he also handles parking issues for upwards of 300 vehicles, United States Forest Service inspections, and mental calculations for potential emergency evacuations in case of a wildfire. “I’ve got at least three separate routes in mind to get folks out of there safely,” he confirms.
It’s a lot of work, but White enjoys being the man for the job. But no matter how much White loves Western States and his tenure at Dusty Corners, it’s time to move on. After all, this was always a family affair, and his family needs him. A few weeks back (and hours prior to our conversation), White learned that his father is dying. When we spoke in early May, White wasn’t sure whether his dad would survive until race day on June 25.
“This whole thing was about my dad telling me to run the damn race,” White says through a choked voice. “But now I’ve got both parents down for the count and I need to take care of my mom.”
And so, 21 years after Douglas White first watched his son cross the finish line in Auburn, the White family’s time at Dusty Corners is coming to an end. It’s bittersweet for White, but he doesn’t plan on letting the emotion overshadow his final hoorah.
“We’re gonna go out with a bang,” he says. “I want to give it everything I’ve got and create one really special memory.
“Both for me and my dad.”