A story in pictures. Spring in the PNW is incredibly refreshing.
You remember my 50k buddy Sybil, right? We finally got around to running together again and planned out a weekend on Mt. Rainier. Well, it was less of a weekend and more of a Sunday-Monday adventure. But then I started a new job on August 1st and it turned into just a day trip. But still – it was a fantastic day!
I woke up insanely early, as running tends to require, and drove 3 hours to the mountain to meet up with Sybil & Belia for a day of exploring the Wonderland Trail.
I was in awe of Rainier the entire time. Mt. Hood is a great mountain right in our backyard but Rainier is Hood’s bigger sister and I fell in love instantly. Driving into the park had a very grand feel to it; the top of the mountain barely visible, expansive forests and valleys, and other daunting peaks cropping up along the way. I guess that’s why it’s a National Park!
Our route took us from Fryingpan Creek up to the Panhandle Gap and as you can see, it was not a beautiful sunny day! Our views were limited but the trail (and the company) were spectacular!
It was a decent hike up to Panhandle Gap; around 3,000 ft of climbing in 5.5 miles. We traversed some sketchy snow patches, fun bridges and water crossings, and enjoyed the marmots scurrying about. Although we were climbing, it cooled off quite quickly and hats, gloves, and jackets came out. It didn’t stop of from playing in the glacial pool, though!
We ran most of the 5.5 mile descent and it felt great to get in some mountain running with my badass lady friends.
As you know, I like to do races in far away places. It’s so much fun to explore new areas by doing an event but this time, I chose one close to home. Sadly, a “close” trail run still means 1.5 hours away, but at least it didn’t involve significant travel beforehand.
Per usual, the weeks leading up to the event were filled with training runs, rest days, cross-training, and lots of food. Jesse didn’t run this one so I was training alone. My long runs were sometimes wonderful and sometimes lonely but then I got lucky and found a fabulous new running buddy to make the miles go by faster. Her first 50k was the weekend after Mt. Hood so it was easy to coordinate training days. I am grateful for her company and willingness to adventure! I didn’t know how I was going to run so far without her at this point!
Jesse drove me to the start line to see me off (he then spent the morning on his mountain bike nearby). I have become so fond of the Go Beyond Racing events and this was no exception. The course skirted Timothy Lake, went out on the Pacific Crest Trail for 7 miles, then turned around and circled the other side of the lake to the finish. With 6 aid stations and only about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it was a relatively “easy” run. Even more so given that it was gray and drizzly…the ideal running weather. Sadly it meant no view of Mt. Hood, though.
I started strong (arguably too strong) and felt great. I had to stop to pee around mile 2.5 and lost my place in the pack, but easily fit back into my groove and kept going. The miles ticked off so quickly, the aid stations coming and going and I barely felt the need to stop. As always, the aid stations were excellent and the watermelon was an incredible treat! I grabbed some Oreos for the road and carried on.
I know better than to power up the hills during an event. My heart rate is invariably high already and I’m still learning how my body reacts to “pushing it” in a race. So I hiked (as did everyone else around me, so it felt like a legitimate decision). My heart rate would recover and I’d run again, still feeling strong. I sprinted into the turnaround aid station at mile 13 and heard someone yell my name.
I was certain Jesse wasn’t going to meet me there and I didn’t know of anyone else running it, so my confusion was justified. Soon my friend Shane emerged with a clipboard; he was volunteering at that far aid station! We hugged it out, recapped the first half of the race, and off I went. It’s always a nice burst of support and encouragement to see a familiar face.
The way back to the lake was a beautiful descent and I ran along with a guy who was doing the 50/50 (the 50 mile version on Saturday and the 50k on Sunday). I was in awe of him and he was rocking it. We chatted for a while and then I felt strong enough to pick up the pace, leaving him behind.
I entered the “stiff leg” phase coming into the aid station at mile 17. I crouched down, stretching my hips out. Internally and emotionally I felt amazing. It was only some fatigue in my legs slowing me down at that point. When I left the aid station, I was alone for long periods of time and I felt happy. I enjoyed the trail, the moody grayness of the day, and the sound of my heart propelling myself forward (in every sense). Those are the moments I run for.
I came into the mile 21 aid station and had some oranges and chatted with the volunteers for a few minutes, grateful for their high spirits. When I took off, I could feel something…off…in my left knee and I was pissed. After a few more minutes, with every centimeter of incline the pain screamed under the outer side of my knee cap and I was left walking the hills.
I kept leap-frogging with two guys who had given up on running completely. One guy was from Texas and it was his first 50k, but he was happy to leisurely finish. I didn’t find the peace and solidarity from these two one might hope for and I could only focus on how my leg was failing me. Eventually, after some stops to stretch, some lakeside cursing, and enough walking to screw up my goal time, I ran into the last aid station, leaving them behind, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised that there were only 4.7 miles left and not 6.5 as I’d thought, and the sweet volunteer checked in on my health when I stood up quite uneasily. I shook it off and got to going.
I don’t remember how I got through those last 5 miles. They took days, I’m sure of it. I ran and walked and hiked and ran, none for very long. I worked on returning to my positive state of mind with every pain-free step, reminding myself that I’d only run this distance once before. It was reasonable that my body was mad at me!
I started to recognize the trail again from having passed over it that morning, hearing the faint sound of cowbells and cheering. The course markings became closer together, the campsites more frequent. The trail ended with a slight downhill and I “sprinted” over the finish line: 6:35. There was Jesse, caked in mud, waiting in the mist. I ran into his arms and then doubled over out of breath, the tears of a proud runner filling my eyes.
The race director gave me a pint glass and a congratulations and then I bee-lined it to a camp chair. After a recap of the race and Jesse’s mountain bike adventure, we shared a burger and he took me home. Race days are the best.
(P.S. My knee is fine. I don’t know what it was that day; if it’s a problem in the future I’ll deal with it. Until then, I am chalking it up to “Well something had to go wrong that day…it couldn’t have all been perfect!”)
A few years ago Jesse climbed Mt. St. Helens (as a winter ascent) with some friends and while we looked through the incredibly beautiful photos, I began cultivating an interest in mountaineering myself. The summer hike of St. Helens seemed like a good place to start and I added it to my to-do list. The problem with the summer route is that everyone and their dog wants to do it and because it’s by permit only over 4,800′, it’s hard to do.
For 2016 though, I had it dialed in. I had a calendar reminder set in February to get a permit on the day it opened before they sold out (it only takes a few hours before they’re gone). Still, by the time I logged on, the weekends were all taken. So we picked the Monday after Jesse’s birthday, hit “add to cart” and called it good.
The months ticked by and Jesse’s birthday arrived (we were incredibly busy: a few concerts, a pavlova, dinner, a waffle date, bouldering..!) and then Mt. St. Helens day was here already! Crap!
We dropped off the dog at his friend’s place, drove to Climber’s Bivouac, and were on the trail by 7:15 AM. Along with the other 100 permit holders.
It was a beautiful, clear day. Blue sky, a light breeze, a good temperature. Up and up we climbed; the boulders relentless, Monitor Ridge unforgiving on the quads. Mt. Hood stood tall behind us and Mt. Jefferson just beyond that. Mt. Adams to the right, wearing a cloud as a toupée all day. After a few hours, we reached the top and Rainier was there to greet us.
We traversed over some snow and ice to a less crowded spot where we could see into the crater. It was steaming a bit and we enjoyed our lunch overlooking Spirit Lake. We met an interesting ecologist who filled us in on the mountain goat population in the region and then began our descent.
“Aren’t you going to play in the snow with me?” Jesse asked, sitting down, ice axe at the ready. With several onlookers encouraging the glissade, I caved and down we went. On our butts we slid, laughing all the way!
By “all the way” I mean only a few hundred meters. We didn’t make it very far – the snow was wet and heavy; not ideal. Not wanting to risk ending up in the wrong valley, we returned to the trail for more boulder scrambling.
We chatted with other hikers as our paths crossed and I was surprised at the number of people who were sad-faced about the day. Many said they’d never do it again and that the view wasn’t worth it. It’s a difficult, all-day adventure to be sure, but I hope after they got home, showered, reminisced about surviving, and posted all of their photos on social media that they changed their minds. I am proud of all of them for summiting that mountain!
We ended our own adventure around 3:45 PM. My boots were shed immediately (small toes still intact, but just barely) and headed for home. Monday peak bagging: done.
(To the the tune of Hank Williams’ ‘On Top of Old Smokey’ – sing along!)
On top of Mt. Bailey, all covered with scree
To find some adventure, I went with Jesse
To summit Mt. Bailey, we stomped through the snow
We skirted the crater, and swatted mosquitoes
We followed blue blazes, and made our way to the top
“We’re nearly there” he’d say, and I tried not to stop
The day was so pleasant, warm with blue skies
I’d gaze east to Mt. Thielsen, with awe in my eyes
We traversed a few snow fields, Jesse cut us a path
I was nervous at first, “I’ll do what with this axe!?”
We had snacks at the summit, and took in the view
“I love this”, I told him, “adventuring with you”.
Back in December, I did a thing. A big thing. I had worked on it all summer and all fall and I was scared and ready and uncertain and excited and terrified and confident and wanted to quit and skip it and dominate it all at once.
I ran my first 50k. Months of training…endless miles and countless hours of trail time lead to the last thirty-one on that rainy Saturday. I knew I had to be really brave. I had to tell myself that Jesse had been here a dozen times and I shouldn’t be so nervous…that I wasn’t the only “newbie” to the ultra scene that day…that I had to trust my training. But above all else, I had to enjoy it. That’s the point, right?
“The race always hurts. Expect it to hurt. You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt. You train so you can tolerate it.” –Mark Rowland
And that’s the truth. I hurt, but I loved every second. It was beautiful, and awful, and awesome, and hard, and painful, and so rewarding all together. The love of distance running I managed to acquire culminated that day.
It was a crazy stormy weekend in the Pacific Northwest (i.e. a typical winter’s day). I also have a knack for choosing races that are far away – this one was northwest of Seattle on the Puget Sound at Deception Pass State Park and was put on by the popular Rainshadow Running. Months prior, I set my alarm for midnight to be able to secure a spot on opening day (it sells out ridiculously fast) and Jesse decided he would join me. We didn’t run it together; it was important that it was my own race, but I was sure glad he was there with me.
I was dressed in a ridiculous amount of layers compared to others at the starting line (short shorts and tank tops were featured.) I had two layers of merino, my heavy rain jacket, gloves, and a headband. I didn’t know what to expect and knew I could always drop stuff at an aid station.
Our race briefing included a warning of 60 mph winds (“Don’t push anyone off the cliff edges and be careful on the bridge”). It touched on us runners being sheltered for most of it (“…but be aware of falling trees around you!”), and if things started getting really sketchy, we’d all be cut off (“…after the bridge we’ll send you back, making it a 13 mile day, instead of 31”). “Awesome”, I thought. Thirteen miles sounded way better than 31…but wait! I had trained for this! This had to happen! Please don’t cut me off!!
And then it began. The course was a series of a thousand lollipops, so I often got to see Jesse as I was headed out and he was on his way back, which was fun. I found a good pacer early on (she was training for a hundred miler…go figure) and some other lovely people to keep me company for a while. I soared past aid station #1, feeling strong. I tried to look brave for the photographer, hiding my windblown misery. I stopped briefly at aid station #2 for a cup of Coke and took off again. I wore my heart rate monitor and tried to use that as my guide for pace, knowing my sustainable heart rate for long runs is around 175-180 bpm. It was consistently in the 190s or above; I couldn’t get it down without walking, so I gave up on that pretty early. Race-day adrenaline? Under-trained for all the hills? Too late for that nonsense at that point…
After leaving the aid station, I was by myself for a while, crossing the bridge for the second time alone. I never saw Jesse again, but I caught up with a few other runners on the other side and we chatted the miles away (one guy, also from Portland, and a woman from BC). We then had a serious climb to do. It was not runnable, it was a slow hike. I was again alone and starting to get pretty mentally exhausted from the slow progress. A woman caught me at the top, we exchanged some comments about the vertical challenge, and then I left her behind, eager to embrace the downhill.
The course popped out of the woods and onto the road briefly, coming into aid station #3 (which was also #4 and #5). I stopped for more Coke and some oranges, and debated losing some layers. Throughout the run I was miserable on both sides of the spectrum, outrageously overheating and shockingly cold, often within minutes of each other. I ran in all my layers for the whole thing. This first stop was at mile 14-ish and I felt pretty spent already (this course boasts about 4,500 ft of climbing overall). The rain had picked back up and I was needing to dig deep at this point.
I walked over to a spectator and pet her dog for a minute, psyching myself up for the 7 mile loop ahead of me. I walked a lot of this loop. I was alone a lot. I wanted my headphones…I wanted Jesse…I wanted the finish line. It was a muddy, sloppy mess through thick forest; I had to navigate some downed trees and had to remember to eat something (I had some Gu chews during this loop, which was my only nutrition besides the Coke and a few orange slices from earlier. Note to self: eat!). I finally made it back to the aid station and I just kind of stood under the tent, arguing with myself about quitting. The woman who met me at the top of the hill earlier, Sybil, showed up and we began chatting again. “Do you want to run the rest together?” she asked. “YES PLEASE!!!” I could have hugged her. We ran the 2nd seven mile loop (actually ran it!) and having her as my running buddy saved my first ultra. I will be eternally grateful for her company (you can read her blog post about the event here).
We reached the aid station again after those 7 hard miles and realized we were last. They were already picking up the course behind us. My spirits dropped. “But you made the cutoff!” the volunteers told us! We were going to finish. We were last, but at least they didn’t pull us from the course like they had to so many others. Which meant only 4 more miles to the finish line.
Those 4 miles took years, it seemed. My whole body was screaming. My shoulders hurt from my pack, my hips were sore, my feet were spent. We ended up catching up to another guy and even paused for a photo op with the bridge in the background. We’d been running all day, what’s a few extra minutes to capture the moment, right?
I whined to Sybil that I needed it to be over. We felt lost and so far away, as the miles ticked off and we couldn’t see the end in sight. We could hear cowbells and cheering, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Pretty soon we ran into the photographer again (both surprised and thankful he waited for us!). We ended up with a “sprint” finish (whatever that means after 30+ miles) and we found the end.
Finish time: 7:48. Second to last and proud as hell. The cutoff for the event was 8 hours. I had done it. I didn’t set any records, but I had just become an ultra runner. I burst into tears.
It was almost dark at this point and Jesse emerged from under a tent (near the pizza, of course). He was soaking wet; I was surprised he hadn’t changed into dry clothes. “I didn’t want to risk missing you”, he said and my tears of joy flowed harder. Then I turned to hug Sybil and to thank her for the support and company. I certainly hope to run with her again in the future; at an event or just for fun. She’s super inspirational!
We went into the hut for the after-party. There was a live band and infinite food: sandwiches, pizza, chips, cookies, fruit, beer, Coke, hot chocolate…whatever you wanted, they had it. It was an awesome spread, so many stoked runners and volunteers, and warmth. I was shivering…but I was elated.
Jesse and I drove to our friend’s house in Seattle where we stayed for the night. I peeled away my socks and the beautiful white tile became speckled with mud. I laughed to myself and then showered for what felt like hours.
My legs didn’t function for days. I avoided stairs and tried to move as little as possible. I (surprisingly) didn’t have any blisters, though a few toenails turned black, as expected.
Everyone asks “So, when’s the next one, crazy lady?”. I now respond with: “July”.
Holy moly, our hike to Table Mountain was almost two months ago already!? Seriously, where did September and October go? Ugh.
In any case, it was a big adventure and I highly recommend it for excellent views of the Gorge and surrounding mountains!
Our plan was to meet Jesse’s colleague and his hiking buddies somewhere on the trail since they were doing the shorter version and started a little later than we did. We began at the Bonneville Trailhead and ran past Gillette Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail and took the west trail up to the summit. (I couldn’t get enough of the PCT. So, so pretty!)
It was a beautiful (almost) fall day and the views at the top were spectacular, albeit slightly windy. We found a secluded spot to eat our “lunch” (Nutella and Cookie Butter sandwiches, mandarins, applesauce, and granola bars) and enjoyed our rest while we waited for the others.
The others made it to the top about an hour later and we chatted while they had THEIR lunches and then we all began the descent together. Our hike ended up being a lollipop and we had a good time sliding with the scree on the way down.
When we reached the fork where we parted ways, it was getting pretty late in the day and Jesse and I were losing daylight. We had about 7 miles left to go and so we ran.
Eventually we pulled out our headlamps and were reaching the end of our energy levels (and Jesse’s headlamp was reaching the end of its battery life) so we slowed to a brisk walk. We were about 3/4 of a mile from the car and encountered a hiker setting up his sleeping spot. He had “skipped town” and was “headed to Canada” he told us. He made me nervous.
Back at the car after a 10 hour day, I was stretching my legs out and I noticed glowing eyes in the bushes watching me. I was on edge already and was certain it was a mountain lion so I jumped in the car and and we sped away toward the city lights.
I’m busy working on our Table Mountain adventure post (I am having some technical difficulties), but in the meantime, enjoy a recap from our Brown’s Camp Loop run/mountain bike from a few weekends ago.
I was the runner this day and Jesse was on his bike. The route was a figure 8 shape, totaling just under 17 miles in the beautiful Tillamook State Forest.
We went our separate ways and planned to meet at the car after a few hours. The trail began with a steady incline and after a few minutes I ended up catching up to Jesse!
I had logged quite a few miles throughout the week and was feeling, well, weak. Around mile 5 I took a detour to have some snacks, rest, and see University Falls…
…and around mile 7 I gave up completely and returned to the car, making it an 8 mile day. Some runs are just plain lousy. At least it was a scenic walk back!
Jesse, of course, had the car keys so I lounged on some big rocks, rehydrated, and enjoyed the sunshine (as much as I could over the roar of the dirtbikes and ATVs racing about). Jesse showed up just about the time I started getting cold – perfect timing!
The Providence Bridge Pedal is a massive cycling event in Portland where all types of people get on all types of bikes and clog up the bridges of Portland. I mean, enjoy cycling over the bridges of Portland. This year there were around 20,000 cyclists – Jesse and I included.
We signed up last minute with some of Jesse’s colleagues / friends and, of course, chose the longest route available, which includes all 11 bridges. It was quite cool to be able to ride over the Fremont and Marquam bridges, which are normally only accessible by car, and the newest bridge, Tillikum Crossing, was opened that day for the event and for the public to enjoy before its official opening in September.
We rode our bikes from home, hopped in line for our wave’s massive start, and off we went. It was chaos and slow riding at the start so we skipped the line for several bridges, heading down to Sellwood to kick things off and worked our way back to the city.
The event had a few pit stops along the route that included water, juice, and donuts. Because it wasn’t even 7 AM yet, I would have traded those items for coffee, but was grateful for the treat nonetheless.
We concluded the event by devouring some burritos by the new bridge and then Jesse and I rode home. For us it ended up being about 50 miles in the saddle.
When we got back home I was ready for shower and a nap, but I had to skip the nap because I had completely forgotten that I was going to the Bernie Sanders rally with Brittany! She showed up about half hour after we got home and we went to show some political support for the Presidential candidate. It was a crazy Sunday! #feelthebern
The event was so large it had to be moved from the Memorial Coliseum to the Moda Center – there were about 20,000 people inside and about 9,000 outside. It was his biggest turnout to-date. I’m glad Brittany talks me into being politically involved!
My love turned the big 3-0 this year! (It’s not exactly the cake I had planned for him, but it was delicious nonetheless. Even though I only got a tiny slice and he took the rest to work to share with his colleagues…)
It has become a tradition for us to do a hike on his birthday and this year we picked Saddle Mountain and Netarts Spit. We weren’t up quite at the crack of dawn to beat the heat, but had a decent start regardless. Portland has been uncharacteristically hot this summer and this day was no exception (which is how we ended up at the coast, rather than on Mt. Hood).
Saddle Mountain is a relatively short hike, but it gains about 1,600 ft in 2.5 miles, so it’s a decent trek.
It wasn’t overly crowded on the way up and there were just a handful of groups at the top when we arrived. It wasn’t a perfectly clear day, but clear enough to see Mt. St. Helens and Astoria/the coast. We enjoyed some PB&Js and headed back down. The trail was much much busier on the way down. And it seemed everyone had their dogs with them!
We made our way to the coast, stopping at a cute pizza place for lunch. We ended up on the beach and gave up on finding the actual trail for the Netarts Spit hike and just walked in the sand for miles. There were thousands of broken sand dollars and zero people. It was windy and cold – a typical day on the Oregon Coast and exactly what we were looking for. On the way back home, we made the obligatory stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for some curds and taffy. And no, they didn’t make it home with us!