Enchantments Backpacking – 8/23-26/17

I flew back to Portland from Colorado on Monday night, then spent Tuesday shopping for backpacking food / gear and Tuesday evening we drove to Ellensburg, WA to stay in a cheap motel before taking off for a 4 day/3 night backpacking trip on Wednesday morning. I love piggy-backing adventures, but it was a whirlwind week, for sure!

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We started Wednesday morning at IHOP, fueling up before the next few days of consuming dehydrated meals and trail mix. We had to make a quick pit stop in Leavenworth because *someone* forgot their down jacket and had to purchase a new one! I won’t name names…

We arrived at the Snow Lakes Trailhead of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and after a final pack weigh-in (mine was ~33 lbs), last minute candy bar snack, and hearty sunscreen application, we were ready to get going. It was already a gazillion degrees and our destination was up.

Let me take a step back and introduce our backpacking party: Jesse & me, our good friends from Idaho, Lindsey & John, their lovely neighbor, Anna, and Lindsey & John’s 9-month old daughter, who I’ll call kid-O.

Photo by John

Taking another step back, let me explain the trip a bit more. We were backpacking The Enchantments, which the Washington Trails Association describes as: “an alpine paradise of granite worn smooth by glaciers, larches manicured by wind and cold, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek that tumbles and thunders between them. Seemingly everywhere, herds of mountain goats calmly wander by.” That is quite accurate, I’d say. Camping in The Enchantments is by permit only, and a lottery to boot. Camping in the “core zone” is an even harder lottery to win, but after years of trying, Lindsey & John’s names were finally drawn and they invited us to join the adventure (with the caveat that they would have kid-O along). No doubt, we’d be joining.

Back to the hiking. In all honesty, kid-O had more backpacking experience than I had (she’d been once that summer already and I had been exactly 0 times before in my life), but I was keen to keep up with the party. The trail was as beautiful as the pictures led me to believe. Unfortunately, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest were particularly bad this summer. Evening/night number one smelled of smoke and we could see it in the distance. Luckily it cleared up over the next few days, but hikers and campers with permits in the week after us weren’t so lucky. They had to be evacuated and lost the chance to use their permits due to the fires. We were fortunate.

The core zone was just out of reach for day 1, as hunger for everyone set in and we wanted to avoid setting up camp / having dinner in the dark. We called it a day at Nada Lake (~7.5 miles; 3,500 feet of gain). After dinner, Jesse & John strung up the food sacks, we stuck our feet in the cool alpine water, and then headed to bed.

Photo by Lindsey

The next day we had breakfast and took off again. After a few miles, we relaxed on the shores of Snow Lakes, saw our first mountain goat, had lunch and refilled water bladders in a gorgeous shady spot by Snow Creek, and eventually made it to the core zone. We had dinner / spent our second night in a rock shelter next to Lake Viviane and Prusik Peak.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo: Lindsey

Here is where the real adventure began. It was windy and much colder than our first night. I had on a merino bra, merino t-shirt, two merino long-sleeved tops, my down jacket, and my rain jacket. I had on a hat and gloves, merino leggings, and my hiking pants. I was freezing and desperate to crawl into my sleeping bag. The bigger problem, however, was that we had set up our camp in what was seemingly a mountain goat’s lair. We had 3 goats, and 1 particularly menacing one, circling us for about an hour. Jesse, John, & Anna bravely threw rocks, yelled, “sword”-fought with trekking poles, and other various methods of getting the goats to retreat, while Lindsey, kid-O, and I tried to keep warm and calm. Eventually it was too dark to continue fending off the goats and we all resigned ourselves to bed. We were pretty sure the goats just wanted to sniff around and find some of our salty snacks, but they were quite intimidating nonetheless.

The next morning, we all had a leisurely breakfast, were annoyed by another mountain goat (though this one was much more patient as we packed up camp), had a good little photoshoot, and took off back down the trail toward “home”.

“Look that way, kid-O!” Photo: Lindsey

After a day of downhill hiking, we ended up back at Nada Lake for our final night. We were there early enough that we could set up camp and hang out a bit, rather than just eating and calling it a night. Jesse & John decided to take a swim in the lake – by swim I mean a 3-4 second dunk accompanied with shrieks of shock and pain. That water was cold! I could only go in to my shins for about 30 seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore, so they were especially brave! But it was nice to freshen up and “wash” some clothes.

We spent the evening tying climbing knots, eating, doing dishes, and just lazing around. Kid-O played with her balloon, a cup, some rocks…and was having a genuinely happy time. With each night, Lindsey & John would apologize for kid-O being loud but I honestly hadn’t heard a peep out of her once. Granted, I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper but I was truly impressed with how easy-going she had been all trip. Oblivious to the work her parents put in to make the adventure a success for everyone, she played with her pinecones, tent stakes, and sticks without a care in the world. I, and every other hiker we passed those 4 days, was impressed.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Morning came, we all donned clean clothes, no longer rationed our food supplies, and we made our way back to the trailhead. Six friends, 4 days, 3 nights, ~20 miles, and nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain, we were back at the car. My final pack weight came in around 25 pounds (the lightest of all of us..!).

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Google Earth / Lindsey

We headed to Leavenworth for some real food, beers all around, ice cream, and bittersweet good-byes. It was funny how after just a few days of being disconnected in the wilderness, I was annoyed by the amount of vehicle and foot traffic once we were back in town. I didn’t want to turn my phone on, fearing what world news I had missed. While I looked forward to running water and my own bed, I gave into the cliché of feeling like I could survive on less.

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Pikes Peak Ascent – 08/19/17

Pikes Peak Ascent will always be a bittersweet memory for me – I’ll start with the sweet and if you make it through this novel of a post, you’ll find the bitter.

This event entry was my birthday present from my parents and I was eager for the challenge. I spent all summer hiking with my friend (whose great idea it was to begin with and signed up first) to prepare for the relentless climb, torturous early mornings in the altitude room trying to acclimate to activity in the thin air, and months of excitement of conquering my first 14-er.

Mt. Hood

I boarded my flight to Denver on Friday morning, landed and picked up my rental car, enjoyed the 75 MPH speed limit on the Colorado freeways, and found my way to the race expo in Manitou Springs. I picked up my packet (which consisted of a bright orange plastic bag and my bib. End of list.) and then headed out to the Colorado Springs airport to pick up my friend. We hurried back to Manitou Springs to pick up her packet and then wandered the streets and found a cute bar for our pre-race grub. The entire town was ready for the race and I loved how supportive everyone seemed.

Our hotel room for the night was a hilarious, “cozy” place – you just had to like leopard print! Our bizarre, yet helpful front desk clerk showed us the place and we called it a night; 5:30 AM would arrive soon enough.

We hurried through our early morning continental breakfast and threw our stuff in the car. We had about a mile walk to the starting line as our “warm up”. We bid the Harley Davidson gang adieu and took off. The race officially started at 7 AM, but runners were sent off in waves every couple of minutes. We were going to start around 7:20. I met up with a friend from Denver briefly (she would be running the full marathon the next day), had a little photoshoot, and at long last, we began our race! (P.S. See all my race day photos here!)

The golden summit in the background is the destination!

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Course from Google Earth / Pikes Peak website

It was a slog right from the gate. Funny enough, one of the steepest sections of the entire course is on the pavement right in town. It’s known to be one of the world’s toughest half marathons, and it proved that to be true early on. We slow jogged as far as was sensible, then the hiking commenced. As expected, once we hit the singletrack it was a bottleneck. It was hard to pass and also hard to be passed. My friend and I didn’t talk much – we just listened to the complaints of other racers, took in the increasingly beautiful view, ate and drank as needed, and just…were. The trail was truly stunning and made me fall even deeper in love with Colorado.

The minutes ticked by and seemed to quickly turn to hours. We were leap-frogging with a few runners, which eventually became mentally exhausting. We also were typically by-passing the water stations, as they only had water or Gatorade. No food.

We made it to the first cut-off point (Barr Camp; 10,200 ft; mile 7.6). We were supposed to be there by 10:30 AM and we rolled in around 10:25. Eep! Here they had grapes, Goldfish crackers, bananas, oranges, pretzels, and a few other food items. Plus more water and Gatorade. And Search & Rescue. And, we discovered, a helicopter. Really, there was no way to get off the mountain save for a medical emergency. Everything had been hauled up by horses or humans, which is impressive. While I lament the fact that there was no Coke (because I am a spoiled ultrarunner now), I can appreciate the difficulty in providing aid stations for this course.

Note the time on the clock..!

After a few minutes, we left the aid station to carry on. We had to make it to the next cutoff (A-Frame; 11,950 ft; mile 10.2) by 11:45 AM. Here is where the going got really rough and I had to have the conversation with my friend about how we’d continue. We both accepted that I would carry on without her, so after a brief check-in about supplies and planning, I took off. I had to hustle and my anxiety carried me up the mountain. I passed so many racers; some walking hands-on-knees, others sitting on rocks looking defeated, others giving it their all. I felt great, but it was warm and the trail was steep. Unfortunately we were nearly above tree-line and we could hear the finish line announcer, despite having 3+ miles to go. It was a total mind-fuck.

Eventually I came up to the A-Frame aid station and was shooed away by the volunteers. “You can’t stop here!” “Keep going!” “There’s no time!” “Just 4 more switch backs – you only have 5 minutes!”. I was both accepting of the fact that I didn’t have time to stop but also miffed that the timing chip wasn’t before the aid station. It seemed ridiculous to turn runners away (honest and encouraging, sure, but it was poor planning). I dug as deep as I could and ran those switchbacks, desperate to make the cutoff. I passed an older gentleman digging deeper than anyone, shouting in agony, and I burst into tears for him. The intensity of that moment was so much, and so pure as we both raced toward the technology that would determine our race fate. I crossed just in front of him and slowed to a walk to assess what was next. I looked to the top of the mountain and could see the building at the summit. I could hear the announcer. And I could see the steady stream of racers inching their way up the mountain. So close, yet so far.

Tuning back into my own surroundings, I noticed dozens of runners sprawled across the rocks just after the timing chip. Clearly they dug deep enough they needed to rest before the final push. Feeling fine, I took a mental shrug and joined the single-file line to the top.

From here it was straight up on the left, straight down on the right, switchback, and reverse. I could see Manitou Springs and the beauty of Colorado beyond it. We were all going slow enough, it was easy to snap photos and enjoy the view.

The only way to pass others was if they sat down. It was a bit of a lost cause to try to squeeze around someone because the next person was just as slow. We passed more Search & Rescue volunteers, another aid station (with food and at this point I was obsessed with eating green grapes and couldn’t get enough), some kazoo players (whom I didn’t care for, but appreciate the light-heartedness of the moment), and scrambled over endless boulders. At some point, when it became necessary to start using my hands to help with the scrambling, I began to notice blood on all the best hand holds. I was equal parts concerned and annoyed, as it added an additional layer of difficulty to the task. Finally, the infamous Golden Stairs (i.e. the 32 switchbacks to the summit where every step is literally a step). I heard the announcer say “Just 4 more minutes until the official timing ends!” and I panicked. I could make it, but not behind the slowpokes in front of me. I picked up the pace and my “On your left”s held an aggressive edge. I “sprinted” to the finish line and collected my medal. What I later learned was that the finishing time cutoff was 6 hours and 30 minutes from your start time, so I actually finished with 15 minutes to spare, but at the time, I was certain I was cutting it close!

The finish line was lonely for me. I didn’t get to cross with my friend, as we had planned for months. Jesse wasn’t there, and I knew no one else around me. It was such a big event that there was no race director to shake my hand, no volunteers serving food to joke around with, no one I recognized from the trail for a moment of solidarity. There was no finish line music, the food was just MnM’s and grapes (and more Gatorade) and the line for the shuttle bus was 13.1 miles long, so I just quietly took in the accomplishment. I physically felt great, like I could just run back down had it been marathon day. I enjoyed the views from 14,115 feet, had some kid push sand on my head as I rested against the building in the shade, and ultimately just collected my drop bag and stood in line for my ride back down.

The first 1/4 of the drive was in a 10-person van. With 8 other sweaty runners and an overzealous driver, I started to feel sick. We were soon at the drop location and I boarded a school bus. The infamously winding road was beautiful, but I had to keep my head down so I could keep my grapes down. I watched the altitude on my watch drop until I felt better: ~9,000 feet.

The view from Pikes Peak (on the other side)

Back in Manitou Springs, I texted my friend that I had arrived, hoping she would be ready to meet up and recap the day. Still feeling a bit queasy, I found a shady spot in the grass to lie down. After about 15 minutes I moved to the adjacent park with still no word from her. I was distracted by a deer family for a few minutes and texted Jesse about the race. At this point I’d been back in town for about 30 minutes and after some mental math, realized I hadn’t seen or heard from my friend in over 4 hours. I tried to call her, to no avail.

I wandered over to the race tent and found two ladies with radios and a list of runners. I asked how I might go about finding my friend, whom I was certain did not finish (DNF). They suggested she may have just returned to the hotel room, which I found to be an utterly useless answer and was extremely frustrated. As I continued to explain why that was unlikely, my friend sidled up next to me, asking what the problem was. “Oh, thank GOD!” I said, hugging her. “What the hell?”. “I just got down…” she explained. Confused, I asked what she meant. She told me that she made it to the A-Frame aid station (mile 10.2) but not within the cutoff period and they wouldn’t let her continue to the summit so she had to walk back down. Instead of a 13 mile day, she had a 20+ mile day. I couldn’t believe it. In hindsight, I can understand the reasoning, but to this day I am still baffled about how such a huge event is so unprepared (and subsequently how runners are taken by surprise) for those who do not make the cutoff.

The icing on the cake is that in order to receive a race shirt, runners must cross the finish line, get the coveted “black Sharpie X” on their race bib, ride the shuttle back down, and pick it up at the expo tent. I got my X at the top and picked up my shirt back in town without a 2nd thought, but as they turned my friend away at the aid station, she received the “red Sharpie X” and therefore could not receive the shirt that she not only paid for, but also deserves. (Note: the shirt does not say “Finisher”). To make matters worse, the shirt could be purchased in the gift shop tent. I was blown away at the audacity. They did, however, give her a token for her efforts.

All in all, I am proud of my accomplishment that day (and my friend’s. My goodness). I hope to return to repeat the course with Jesse one day – but not for this particular event; I found it to be completely elitist. Perhaps I am being overly defensive of my friend and a bit unfair to the event, but for an expensive race on public land with basic aid, a lackluster finish, and withholding race tees to those who DNF, I’d argue that if you’re not on the podium, the race doesn’t give a shit about you.

We took off from Manitou Springs and headed to Colorado Springs to my friend’s sister’s fabulous new house. We got all cleaned up and re-capped the day with each other and everyone else. After a beautiful dinner, we spent the evening relaxing and called it a night.

Sunday was spent with more family and my friend’s mom so sweetly saved the Sunday newspaper for me – my name was featured as a finisher, which was fun.

On Monday (eclipse day), before I left for the airport, we took in a hike at the Garden of the Gods and I got to see a rattle snake in-person for the first time! Have I mentioned how beautiful (yet terrifying) Colorado is? Colorado Springs stole my heart with their pink highways, red rocks, cute and clean city…oh, and their affordability! PDX, I love you, but I also may have to leave you.

We took in a bit of eclipse viewing (which may arguably be my favorite memory from the entire trip) and then I took off to meet up with some friends in Denver before finally flying home.

I wish I had a more diplomatic view about this race. My experience was exactly what I expected from such a large, internationally known event where I was a solid back-of-the-pack-er. And I can appreciate that events like this are not designed for the last place runners. But as the day unfolded, the way those who did not / could not make it to the summit were treated rubs me the wrong way. “Get yourself off the mountain” – fine. Tactless placement of “funny” signs as they were coming back down – OK.  But give ’em their damn shirts.

Misc. Summer Fun!

My mom, sister, and nieces visited for a weekend in late July and we had a little excursion up to Ape Caves, then hit up Target for back-to-school shopping, and the market for some fruit and face painting!

Jesse and I did some summer training in Forest Park and another quick trip to Silver Falls (on the one day it kind of rained all summer).

We also went with a friend to an all-day outdoor climbing class. We learned knots and anchors and had a nice little climbing session. Almost makes me wish I loved running less so I would make more time for climbing..!

Lake Michigan Loop + Canada – 7/20-24/17

The minute I turned on my cell phone on the plane from SFO, I had notifications that Jesse & I would need to travel to Canada that week. That night, we had flights booked, dog-sitting arrangements made, and 2 days later we took a red-eye to Chicago. As we all know, last minute flights are either horribly expensive or ridiculously cheap. Facing the former, it was going to be hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly directly to Chicago, rent a car, and drive to Canada. So the adventure began.

One terribly turbulent flight later, we arrived in “The Windy City” in the middle of some sort of monsoon weather. We were soaked just running from the door to the car, a mere 50 meters or so. Butting up to Thursday morning commute traffic, we hit the road to avoid any rush hour mayhem, heading east toward Michigan. Eventually, the hunger set in and we stopped at some random town for a basic breakfast in a tiny diner. We continued on in the rain for a while longer. Eventually when it cleared, we stopped at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and accidentally napped under a tree for an hour or so. When we awoke, it was blazing hot and the sun was out. We attempted a brief hike while we were there, but neither my mood nor my attire were right for such a feat. We aborted that mission and hunted for some lunch instead.

Tempting, but we passed on this place..!

Finally, we had to start making up some time, as we had an entire state to drive up. A few hours down the road, we made another pit stop in Grand Rapids. We stretched our legs in Millenium Park and watched the turtles, grabbed some iced coffees, and began again.

The final stop was in Traverse City for dinner and the sunset on Lake Michigan. I fell in love with the cleanliness of the town, the water, and the summer-y vibe. I look forward to returning with more time on our hands.

We made it to our family’s house in Canada late and just slept. It was nice to no longer be moving.

The next few days were filled with family, ice cream and Tim Horton’s, hugs, laughter, and memories. We scrambled the shore of Lake Superior one afternoon, skipping rocks and looking for critters.

Our drive home was through Wisconsin, to complete the loop. It was a fun game to compare America to Canada and even Michigan and Wisconsin to each other and to Oregon. We stayed one night in Green Bay and wandered around Lambeau Field briefly. I always love being in the heart of Packers country!

The next day, back to O’Hare and back to PDX (after a frustrating and confusing delay at the airport where we boarded and deboarded the plane due to “mechanical” issues?).

How was California? – 7/15-17/17

One of my closest friends lives in the Bay Area and I had yet to visit since she moved there, so I booked a flight and went. I guess adults are allowed to do that and it’s quite lovely.

I arrived early morning and we picked up some fresh bread, stone fruit, and veggies. We made an emergency vet visit, and then grilled an array of appetizers for the perfect summer dinner. It was hot, much to my chagrin, and that evening we walked along the water through the most impressive dog park I’ve ever seen.

On Sunday, we went for a hike/run up Mt. Tamalpais and got a little turned around. Giving up, we ended up down in Miur Woods to beat the heat. The redwoods were beautiful and I enjoyed our mini California adventure. That evening we had some pretty incredible pizza from Berkeley and watched Wall-E, because why not?

The next morning I was back in Portland. It was such a lovely girls weekend; I need to make these more regular, for sure.

Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon- 7/9/17

As you know, I am a trail runner through and through, which means I typically gravitate to the woods, to the mountains, and to small-time races. I walked up to the Fueled by Fine Wine race feeling out of my element, as almost 1,000 runners gathered in the small park in Dundee. I had been hemming and hawing about bringing my own hydration and my friend encouraged me: “You may benefit from it. Those hills...”I have my own hill challenge on my schedule in August, so I’ve been filling my weekends with power hiking and my weeknights with hill repeats. I brushed off his comment, feeling full of myself. Before I even hit mile 5, his words were on loop in my brain. “Those hills“. Indeed.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 8.07.30 PMIt’s been a warm summer in Oregon already and the race started at 7 AM from a park and it warmed up quickly, as we immediately ran up a pretty good incline. Running through vineyards is not exactly shady, so the sections of road in the trees were coveted.

2017 FBFW Half

The first aid station was right at mile one and I zipped by. There was plenty of aid throughout the entire course (as well as port-a-potty access), with water, electrolyte drinks, gels, and at one point I saw some gummy worms and Reese’s peanut butter cups! The volunteers were all so happy, helpful, and encouraging and I wish I could thank them all personally. We ran quite a bit on paved roads, which was a nice way to make up some time. Though the hills never quite let up, it’s much easier running on pavement than through lumpy grass amongst the grapes! Mt. Hood and (I believe) Mt. Jefferson watched us all morning long. When the downhills arrived, I greeted them with gusto! Arms outstretched like a 5-year old, I sprinted down (while secretly hoping I wouldn’t crash and burn). Perhaps my favorite part of the run was at the Lange Estates Winery. We just ran up a grueling hill and came into their aid station, where they had a sprinkler running! I wasn’t the only one who lingered under that puppy! It was a refreshing way to gear up for the hill ahead: 10% grade!

2017 FBFW Half2017 FBFW Half

This was the last of the major climbs (this was from mile 8-9, approximately) and we were generously met with another aid station and a sight for sore eyes:

2017 FBFW Half

The sign was a bit premature, as we had a few little climbs to make yet, but essentially, it was time to pick up the pace. The race ended on a downhill, so I mustered a sprint finish, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed toward the shady grass to relax with some post-race snacks and to enjoy the rest of the morning before the hot drive back to Portland.

2017 FBFW Half

2017 FBFW Half

Saddle Mountain – 7/8/17

More training, more hiking, more trails, more friends, more views, more adventure.

We hit up the coast range this time for a repeat of Saddle Mountain to beat the heat. I brought my running buddy and her son, as well as Jesse and RileyDog. Not a cloud in sight, we hiked for a few hours, then headed the rest of the way to Seaside for brunch by the ocean. Not a bad Saturday!

Mt. St. Helens – 6/24/17

Me: **calls sister**
Me: “Wanna climb Mt. St Helens this summer?”
Her: “Sure, why not?”

My favorite adventure partners can be described in one word: keen.

This was back in January. Permits for Mt. St. Helens go on sale in mid-February and we roped our mom in as well. We picked our weekend (just before my mom’s birthday) and I was on the website the minute permits were available. Three secured. Let the training begin.

The months flew by and I admired (though not without monitoring, judging, and offering “helpful” tips) my mom & sister’s training from afar. They both live on the flat prairie in Idaho, so getting in any sort of hill training / proper hiking called for creativity.

After months of preparation and scheming, the weekend arrived and we spent the day making snack packs, gathering gear, planning, and not sleeping. Typical pre-adventure prep.

“Are we seriously leaving at 2 AM?” the newbies asked.
“Yes, seriously. Set your alarm.”

We weren’t too far behind schedule. I wanted to start the easy hiking section with headlamps to get up above the tree line before the heat of the day (it was going to be upwards of 85 F that day). We had headlamps at the parking lot but by the time we signed in, refilled pack bladders, and emptied human bladders, it was light enough to forgo them. We were starting once again from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park (i.e. the winter route) as Climber’s Bivouac was still closed from the harsh winter.

The initial forested section was beautiful as always. We helped a random guy with an inhaler, were swarmed by mosquitoes, completed a small water crossing, and finally had a view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

We were all in such good spirits and were taking it pretty casually, enjoying the adventure and the views – Mt. Adams to the east and Mt. Hood to the south, per usual.

We reached the snow and put on our YakTrax / MicroSpikes. To save weight, we left the crampons behind and I’m glad we did. They would have been a bit overkill (though we did see other hikers with them and they did have a slight advantage). The steep became steeper and the going got slower. We ended up behind ‘Dolly and friends’ and had to do some passing maneuvers. I even gave up one of my hiking poles to a guy without any, as he was struggling a bit. “I’ll just get it at the top” I told him and we carried on past.

“Okay, we’re going to pop up to the false summit and Mt. Rainier will surprise you. Take a photo, but don’t linger because we’re going to carry on”, I ordered my team. Luckily, they obliged without arguing and we traversed over toward the true summit, away from the crowds. We had a gorgeous spot with a view of Rainier, plus the crater and Spirit Lake, (which aren’t visible from the false summit) to ourselves. We enjoyed our lunch here for about an hour.

We made the traverse back over, I collected my pole and gave a brief lesson about glissading, and we started our descent. My mom went first and her giggles could be heard the entire way. It’s funny how easily childhood rushes back when you’re sliding on your butt! My sister went second and I followed. The glissading conditions were perfect – it makes for such a quick descent.

My winter-y St. Helens hike earlier this year ended with horrible sunburn so I did extensive research on the market’s best sunscreen and made the shameful Walmart run to buy some. I was devastated to learn that I lost my bottle during my glissade! I had been diligent in everyone applying every hour on the hour, too! Fortunately my mom had some as well, but now I’d have to make the dreaded return to Walmart to replace the bottle for the rest of the summer. *sigh*

Eventually, the glissading came to an end and we were back on our feet. The dust and rocks were slick going downhill and it was tricky to find stable footing. There were only 2 mishaps, but in our crew, we don’t fall and tell so you’ll have to just guess who took them!

In the last mile and a half or so, my eyes started to become quite irritated. I wear contacts (as do my mom and sister) and they were smart enough to bring drops. I put some in and we continued down, hoping the intense eye watering would clean out whatever was bothering them. It wasn’t immediate, but we carried on.

Back through the water, back through the woods. We hit the parking lot, pulled off our shoes, signed in, and hit the road. I was looking forward to my dad’s cast iron cooking back at home!

About 5 miles up the road, my eyes were in so much pain I pulled over and asked my mom to drive us home. I ripped my contacts from my eyes, tears streaming. I threw them out and the world went blurry (seriously, I have terrible eyes). I wrapped a shirt around my head to shield the light, hoping that would help. After we hit Vancouver, my sister offered her glasses to me and somehow we have remarkably similar, if not identical, prescriptions. I was impressed.

It was hot back in Portland. We sat on the patio with my dad and Jesse and had dinner, ice cream bars, and a daily recap. I am so incredibly proud of my family for their summit. They worked hard and it was a perfect day.

Maybe Mt. Adams will be next?

Mary’s Peak 50k – 6/17/17

The 50k distance has become my standard distance, so I was excited to get a free entry to the Mary’s Peak 50k.

It was graduation weekend for many schools in Corvallis, so I didn’t bother trying to find a hotel to stay in the night prior. I just woke up at 4 AM and made the ~2 hour drive from Portland to Blodgett that morning. I arrived around 6:45 AM (the first shuttle bus was leaving at 7:10 and the second/final was scheduled to leave at 7:20). I had plenty of time to pick up my packet, run my swag back to my car (after the volunteers graciously let me exchange my shirt for a more appropriate size), use the porta potty, chat with race director Mike, and relax in general. I took the 2nd shuttle bus, which was running just a few minutes behind schedule.

I chatted with two guys on the bus about the Portland Marathon controversy and how they came upon Mary’s Peak as their first trail event. About 15 minutes into our 20 minute shuttle, we came to a game of chicken with the first bus coming back down the hill. Our driver had to do some anxiety-inducing maneuvering to make it past (meanwhile, the 50M runners were trying to run down the same road and had to navigate around the buses). We all made it in one piece, but we had a bit of an adventure before we even made it to the start line! The poor runners on the first shuttle bus had been waiting in the chilly forest for us for almost 40 minutes at this point.

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Once we all arrived, the RD gave us the course breakdown, provided his personal cell phone number in case anyone needed anything at all, and impressed us with his knowledge of the forest. Soon, we were off! The first section was a lovely downhill on the forestry road we just ran up and it was tempting to sprint, as downhills are my favorite. We made our first turn onto gorgeous singletrack and I could feel the day beginning to warm up already.

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The course was muddy and slick and the singletrack was rolling with a net gain. After a few miles, we popped out onto the forestry road again for our first aid station and had a good 7 miles of uphill ahead of us to the top of Mary’s Peak. It was grueling and after a few minutes of breaking away from the pack, I found myself alone for most of it. No sign of any other runners, no other hikers or bikers, no photographers, no volunteers…just me.

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Eventually we turned onto singletrack again after a forestry road gate and the true hill climbing began. The trail was stunning; the trees and underbrush were thick and lush, the switchbacks relentless. A few of the 50 milers were on their way down and I was greeted with “good job!” and “keep it up”, which always feels nice.

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After many slow uphill miles, we popped out onto a meadow and finally saw some volunteers. A man with a dog told me “Just that way, then you’ll circle back to me in about 6-7 minutes.” “Challenge accepted!” I told him (for the record, it took me exactly 10 minutes to make it back). Mary’s Peak would have given 360 degree views of the coast range and valley, but sadly we were pretty clouded in. There was also a radio tower, loads of wildflowers, and an empty picnic table. I didn’t linger.

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After passing back by the volunteer, it was less than 1/4 mile to the aid station. Here, I grabbed an Oreo, a few chips, and a cup of Coke – standard ultra fare. The 50 milers went south and I headed north into the woods. This section was easily the best part of the race. It was singletrack perfection in the moody forest. The temperature was cooler in the fog and the switchbacks provided a nice mental challenge. I picked up the pace and booked it for miles. Eventually I caught another runner and thought “I’m so glad to see another 50k-er!” She grunted and let me pass, making it obvious she wasn’t up for chatting. Shrug.

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The course popped out at the very first aid station and then backtracked along the first singletrack section we ran up initially. It seemed to be uphill both ways, to me. From here, I ran with 2 other ladies who were up for some company. We hit an intersection of forestry road and another girl joined us. From here, our group was enjoying the solidarity as the course continued it’s rolling nature. Although it was net downhill, any sort of uphill was rough and [for me] unrunnable. I felt like I power-hiked most of the course. We were all vaguely aware of the cutoff time and at our next aid station, we inquired about what time the cutoff was and if we were at the proper aid station for it. No one seemed to have a clue what we were talking about, which was a bit disappointing. We weren’t in jeopardy of missing it, but it seemed reasonable that the volunteers would have this information. I grabbed another Oreo, poured myself another cup of Coke, ate a few more chips (I was wishing for some refreshing orange slices at this point in the day), and we all took off again.

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We came up to a section of the forest that was clear-cut and we found an unmanned water station. The day was starting to really heat up, so we all refilled out bladders and bottles and caught up with a guy who had clearly taken a bit of a fall earlier in the race. And then there were 5.

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Winding through the forest, we took turns who was pacing, who we were chatting with, and who jumped at the snake(s) first! I was grateful for the company. As our various strengths became obvious, members of the pack went on ahead and/or took up the rear. I ended up finishing the last bit of seemingly endless forestry roads of the race with a girl my age from Albany and I enjoyed getting to know her more. We came into the final aid station, joking and cheery! The volunteers told us we had about 4.5 miles to go. I looked at my GPS watch, did some calculating, thanked them all, and we took off. We ran down a pretty gnarly section of forestry road (dried mud ruts) and eventually came to the infamous “gate”. “Good, only about half mile to go!” I said as I photographed the wildflowers. After a few more steps, we came upon a depressing sign telling us there were, in fact, 1.7 miles to go. Disappointed, we discussed whether it was my watch that was horribly inaccurate or if we were given misinformation from the aid station. In any case, we plodded along, laughing at the noisy rooster, cooing at the barking dog, and curiously looking at the strange castle/church/mansion in the middle of the forest.

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Because Mary’s Peak doesn’t mess around, the final stretch was uphill. We “sprint” finished and were treated with finisher pint glasses, watermelon, all-you-can-eat spaghetti, all-you-can-drink soda, massage chairs, and general relaxation at the finish line.

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I hung around for about 45 minutes, laughing with other runners, enjoying the beautiful afternoon, and watching the other racers (in both the 50k and 50m events) come across the finish line.

 

Mt. Defiance – Starvation Loop Hike – 6/11/17

The Oregon Hiker’s Field Guide gives these details about this hike:

  • Start point: Starvation Creek Trailhead
  • End point: Mount Defiance
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4940 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult (and that’s only because we don’t have anything harder)
  • Seasons: June-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

“And that’s only because we don’t have anything harder.” Apparently this is the “hardest” hike in the Gorge. I hadn’t heard about it until about 2 weeks prior. In an effort to keep up my hill training, I slapped it on the calendar, rounded up my best adventure buddies, and off to Defiance we went.

There are 2 things I have PTSD about: sunburns and poison oak. I have become terrified of both and will go to great lengths to avoid them. This hike was sure to bring both and I was prepared: long pants and SPF 70. The downside to this? It was freaking hot, which make both a terrible idea.

The first section of the hike was exposed, steep, and noisy, due to the freeway. We just came off the flat and paved path, enjoying a quick waterfall before starting up the trail, so I was spoiled from the gate. The struggle in the heat was real and I told the boys to go on ahead so the pressure was off to keep up.

Eventually we hit the woods and felt the nice relief of a breeze. There were a few pockets with a view and took the opportunity to rest and enjoy them.

After cooling down (and slowing down slightly), the hike seemed less daunting. I received a text message from Jesse that he made it to the summit and warned us of the “fork in the road”. When we came upon it, the choice was obvious: ‘more difficult’.

We hit some snow and eventually the summit (it was tempting to cut up the gravel road to the radio towers, but my inner hiker stuck to the singletrack). Our view was a bit clouded and there were a few other groups up there, but we sat and enjoyed our lunch, mapping out the route down. We looped back around the ‘easiest’ way, just to mix things up, and decided to descend on Starvation Ridge, rather than just back down the way we came.

Quick pit stop at Warren Lake

This was easily the best part of the hike. It was a steep descent (after a bit my left knee started to argue with me about the decision we’d made), but it was quite a cool ridge in the middle of the trees.

Our group of 4 was all hiking together at this point and we spent the bulk of the time trying to figure out which plants were poison oak. We came across one hiker who shared his “wisdom”, but as we continued on, we still weren’t convinced.

The switchbacks down to the car were unrelenting, but we had such a good mix of terrain throughout the day I was happy to enjoy it all.

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It was an all day excursion and I was glad to check it off the “to-hike” list. Also, no one suffered any poison oak outbreaks…win-win!