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.

 

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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!

Mailbox Peak – 6/3/17

I love this photo. Everything about it is my favorite. Laughter. Girlfriends. The moody Pacific Northwest. Novelty. Precariousness. Pink. Adventure.

I heard about Mailbox Peak from a woman at the Green Monster Duathlon a few months ago. She told us she uses the hike as a training route and I knew I had to visit it. My favorite Washington ladies and I had been planning this hike ever since and the day finally arrived. I added one of my best Portland friends to the mission and at a very dark 4 AM, we made our way up to the trailhead some 3 hours away.

We took up the last of the parking spots at the trailhead and started up the Old Trail. “Non-trivial” is going to be my description: 2.5 miles and 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

The actual trail wasn’t always obvious and we took turns being the trailblazer, not wanting to claim responsibility for getting the group lost in the woods! It was foggy and cool and I wasn’t complaining. It was steep and root-y. I was amazed at how different this forest in northern Washington looked from other nearby hikes I’d been on. I enjoyed every grueling second of our ascent.

After passing the intersection of the Old and New trail (and teasing the man with the enviably luscious locks), we hit the rock scramble and I scoffed. “These are basically stairs!” we all thought. The path was clear as day and easy to navigate. The trip reports warned of it being a bit technical, so I was surprised at how basic it seemed.

Eventually, the boulders turned to rocks and then turned to stones and then pebbles, and indeed the hiking guides were right. It was a short but vertical climb to the summit.

As the photos show, we were socked in all day. Our views should have been of Seattle, Rainier, and various other mountain ranges all around. Just a few hundred yards from the summit we stopped to see just the tip of Rainier peeking out. Within about a minute it was gone and never popped out again.

We reached the top, elbowed our way through the crowd to the mailbox, wrote our letters to Santa, took a few photos, then plopped down to eat some snacks. I was thankful I put on some bug spray at the car, as we were swatting mosquitoes away.

The mailbox’s contents are ever-changing. This particular day there was a Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, a hiker’s log, stuffed animals, some foreign currency, a water jug, and many other random items. It is such a unique destination and a fun way to leave behind a piece of yourself at the summit.

On the descent, we took the New trail, which was much less rough, but twice as long and had relentless switchbacks. It was a beautifully maintained trail and I was wishing I could run (or sprint) all the way down.

At some point, I had to pee so badly I couldn’t stand it. The new trail was relatively busy, so I hussed up the side of the trail behind a tree, telling my buddies to keep watch. No sooner had I dropped my pants, did a fellow (male) hiker come walking up and then sat down on a tree stump directly in front of me, just feet away from my “watchwomen”! Mortified, I aborted my mission and jogged down the hill. “You people had ONE job!” I teased. Laughing, they were distracted by a bag of candy. I think the male hiker was more embarrassed than I was. “I didn’t see anything, I promise!” he assured me. I conceded I’d have to wait until we were out of the woods (no pun intended).

It was such a lovely adventure and after reaching the cars and changing clothes and shoes, we picked a nearby brewery to convene for lunch. Over a few homemade chicken strips and french fries, we planned our next ladies hike. I can’t wait!