Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wondrous Wonderland, Tribute to Dr. DT

I’ve heard glorious tales from the Wonderland Trail since coming to Seattle, and after climbing Rainier last year, circumnavigating the mountain at some point was an inevitable necessity. The Wonderland Trail is an approximately 93 mile trail that circles Rainier and offers indescribably glorious views pretty much throughout, and rewards you with something like 22,000 feet of climbing in the midst of the loop. So we threw together some quick plans, pulled out some maps, and set out on yet another mountain adventure. Brock Gavery, Miles Ohlrich, and I comprised our small, lean team of 3, and after some exciting car troubles before leaving Seattle, we eventually got on the road down to Rainier.

We headed first straight down to Longmire, which we would be hitting the next day at around the 60 mile mark. After a bit of waffling trying to figure out what to do with our minimal drop bags of food resupplies, bivies, etc., we ended up finding a nice tree in the woods and just tied them up, well out of reach of very short baby bears. We said goodbye to the bags and headed back out of the park for the long drive back up and around to Mowich Lake (about 2.5 hours). After getting a nice relaxing and delicious dinner in our bellies at an inn in the woods, we made it up to Mowich Lake right around nightfall. I recognized the roads approaching the area but couldn’t seem to figure out when I’d been out there before, then eventually realized this was right around the start of my first 50 miler some years ago (the Rainier to Ruston race), so that was a fun memory. At Mowich Lake, we threw up our tents and crashed for a very short nap. After a few hours sleep, we were up and at ‘em at 11:30pm. I found a crumpled train ticket in my pocket and remembered the fun day in the park and on the train with my family in D.C. last weekend and smiled remembering my brother’s 3 year old’s supreme joy as we rode the train. We broke camp, Brock brewed up countless batches of Caffe Vita’s deliciously dark Luna

coffee in the French press as we all gathered our gear and made last minute adjustments. Right at about 1am, we were on the trail cruising along nicely in the cool night. The sky was clear and awash with a sea of stars, and the start of our adventure began under an already glorious backdrop despite not being able to see Rainier just yet.

We got in some solid running miles in the dark, but the majority was fairly slow going as we were all still pretty fatigued after such a short nap. The nighttime always proves difficult mentally, and this section held true, but we pressed on. We had only one short section where we lost the trail in a large drainage basin and stumbled around for a while in the rocks before regaining the trail proper and moving along. We moved steadily and seemed to hold on to our goal pace of 3 miles an hour despite occasional stops, getting water, etc. The sun began to creep up over the mountains around us, the headlamps switched off, and our spirits rose as we soaked in the spectacular mountain backdrop surrounding us. Just as the sun popped out in earnest, we fittingly reached Sunrise Camp and stopped for a short eating break. It was a quick cruise from there down to White River, where we put in a little bonus mileage trying to find the trail, but ended up back on course and moving right along.

On the long climb up to Summerland, Brock was leading our small tribe of 3. With our heads down slogging up the climb, one moment I could see Brock trudging onward just ahead of me and suddenly I saw him turn abruptly and run back at me looking none too calm. A beautiful big black bear was paying us a close visit and wishing us a good morning. He was right on the trail munching some leaves, and boy was he stout. Fortunately he seemed more interested in a vegetarian diet for the day. After making lots of noise (which he didn’t seem to mind at all…), he ended up crossing to the other side of the trail and munching on a tasty new tree. We nervously went ahead right on past him at a now “safe” distance of perhaps 4 feet… I was at the back of the pack now and nervously kept glancing back and talking to the bear as we continued the climb to Summerland. The bear was content with his leaves though, and we made it to the top unscathed. We stopped for a short breather and regrouped. Then onward.

The stretch between Summerland and Indian Bar is one of the more spectacular sections of trail. It’s one of the higher sections of the trail, and the terrain is very open and has the feel of high alpine country (and has plenty of incredible Rainier views of course). There was a short climb out of Indian Bar, and then a really long, cruising section all the way down to Maple Creek where we made up some serious time and had a lot of fun. The trail got a bit rougher shortly after Maple Creek and the lengthy climb up to Mirror Lakes was somewhat mentally defeating after such a fast fun section. We eventually emerged at the top and went by Mirror Lakes with an unfortunately completely cloud-shrouded Rainier hidden somewhere behind. After a short piece of road, we began our last chunk of trail for the day down to Longmire. At this point we knew without a doubt we’d make it to the Lodge in time for dinner, which was a great feeling. The restaurant closed at 8pm, and we were well ahead of schedule, so visions of cold beer and hot food began dominating our thoughts. We were all hurting in different ways and in different places, and all ready for a relaxing break. As we got into Longmire, Miles graciously volunteered to go retrieve our food resupply bags from the woods, and Brock and I headed into Longmire. We all awkwardly took mini-showers in the sink and it felt good to clean up. After layering up with all the clothing we had, we headed into the restaurant for some refueling. Fortunately they allowed us in despite our stench and appearance. With all 3 heads bobbing throughout the meal and darting menacingly close to falling straight into our food from exhaustion, we slowly made our way through many plates of salad, pasta, lamb, bread, soup, cold beer, and blackberry cobbler. After reaching Longmire at about 5pm, after dinner we headed back for the woods and quickly bivied where we landed. We had a luxurious 4-5 hours of sleep and were up again at 12:30am. Packing up was quick and easy, though getting going without endless fresh pots of Vita was not so easy, but we were on the trail again about 1am.

We all tried munching some caffeine gum we had picked up at the gas station the day before, but it tasted pretty awful and didn’t seem to help too much. But we trudged on through the night and the miles clicked away slowly but surely. As we climbed out of the South Puyallup River valley, the sun came up again and our spirits improved quite a bit. This morning/night was considerably colder than the night before so we stayed layered up even a few hours into the morning. A few miles before Golden Lakes, we spotted another big black bear right near the trail, but far enough away that he wasn’t an issue- just fun to look at as he lumbered around the mountains. We met a friendly ranger at Golden Lakes and he assured us it was an easy and fast 6 or so miles down to the Mowich River before the 4 or so mile climb back up to Mowich Lake. With that, Brock led us on a breakneck charge down the mountain to the Mowich River and we blazed into there feeling excited about being so close to completing the loop. We had another quick breather there and then embarked on the climb back up to Mowich Lake. It was slow going, but we emerged back at the Mowich Lake Campground not too much later, and we were done. One incredible adventure on the Wonderland Trail, done in about 36 hours with a solid 7 or so hour break in Longmire included.

We couldn’t have asked for more glorious and perfect weather this weekend, and this is a truly pristine and incredible classic Pacific NW adventure trail- a definite must-do for anyone even remotely interested in it. Being in such a vast beautiful outdoor playground makes me feel small, humbled, and grateful for all that we have and the many blessings we take for granted each day. Brock and I had been talking about a Wonderland run for a while, and after the untimely and unfortunate death of ultrarunning legend Dr. Dave Terry last week, this gave us the impetus to head out for a tribute run. Brock ran the Wonderland with DT several years ago, and his encouraging words and motivation kept Brock going then. Although I never had the chance to officially meet DT, I have heard countless great stories about him over the years, and his impact on the sport of ultrarunning will long be remembered. This was an incredible adventure and it was a pleasure to honor Dave Terry in our own small way out on some glorious singletrack where he will be long be remembered. Rest in peace Dr. Dave- you will be missed.

...More pics/video to come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy, busy, off to Rainier

My apologies for my lack of blogging of late- it's been a busy few weeks since Cascade Crest. I'll post more soon (next week), but the brief summary is that I attempted the Plain 100 2 weeks ago, then flew out to D.C. for the North Face Endurance Challenge. I had an amazing time out there running the half-marathon with my big brother. Today I'm headed down to Rainier for another fun trek. My buddy Brock and I are running/speed hiking the Wonderland Trail to circumnavigate the mountain this weekend. It's about 95 miles and should be absolutely spectacular and amazing. I'll take plenty of photos and video for a fun feature presentation documenting the event, so check back next week for sure. Happy trails to all!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

3rd Time’s the Charm

This past weekend’s Cascade Crest 100 was a fantastic adventure and a weekend full of classic, beautiful Pac NW running in the Cascades. A huge thank you to Charlie Crissman and the army of amazing volunteers that worked incalculable hours putting on a flawless jaunt through the mountains for all of us crazies out there on the course.

Well, I went into this race feeling pretty good and with high expectations of a strong finish, hoping my 3rd time out here would indeed be the charm. I’d say I succeeded in that regard on all counts. Sure, I didn’t run quite the time I was hoping for, but I had a wonderful time out there, saw some spectacular scenery, and couldn’t have asked for more. In ultrarunning, regardless of your preparation, when race day comes, you never know for sure what you’re going to get. Throughout the race, I felt generally ok all day long, but never reached the level of feeling great and really cruising strong. I kept the Prefontaine spirit alive once again, shaving a nice solid mustache the morning of the race. Reactions were mixed as always- ranging from friends who loved it, to strangers who were a little uneasy, to my wife who is definitely not a fan.

After catching up with some friends at the starting area on race morning, the gun went off right at 10am. I felt good, and couldn’t hold down Pre’s spirit, so I took off immediately at an unreasonable pace. I didn’t look back, so I’m not actually sure how fast I was going relative to everyone else, but it felt fast, it felt good, and I owed it to Pre. (I definitely got many comments post-race wondering if I’d gotten stung by a bee at the start or something though.) I heard foot steps behind me right around mile 3, and was really surprised to turn and see Phil Shaw beside me. This was his 7th time to run this course and he has always been known to run very conservatively (aka, smart) the first half of the course, and then steadily pick people off as he cruised the last half. So seeing him going this fast this early was definitely a big surprise. We had a nice chat for a while going up Goat Peak, but he soon pulled away and that we be the last I’d see of him! Over the next sections, I met a few new folks, and also caught up with friend Rod Bien a bit, who ran a super strong race as well. Then I ran alone for the rest of the day, which actually suits me just fine. The weather was pretty ideal- overcast and cool, but not really rainy. Not being able to see the spectacular views made for less distractions too I suppose. However, my biggest mental distraction presented itself rather early on and didn’t cease until nightfall, and that was the wild mountain blueberries. They were everywhere, and I had to force myself not to just sit down in any given patch of berries and take a lengthy break of gobbling them down. I stayed strong though and managed to avoid the constant temptation. With everyone else running so fast, I came through Tacoma Pass a good bit ahead of schedule so I managed to miss my crew there, which was just fine, but I did miss giving my wife a kiss. I loaded up on food at the aid station and was off again. I just kept going fairly steadily, was happy to see my wife and crew at Stampede Pass, then moved on. Some of the aid stations seemed much farther apart during these sections than I remembered, but I eventually reached them. I was also picturing one upcoming aid station that I could vividly remember for many miles, but it never came. I’m not sure what race the aid station I was picturing was from, but it certainly wasn’t this one. I reloaded again at Olallie, was tempted by Scott McCoubrey and the SRC’s pirogues, then pushed on to explore the new reroute section. I was a bit apprehensive, knowing that this was exactly where I got so lost 2 years ago, but was sure it would be overly well marked since it was a totally new section. I was definitely correct on that. It was incredibly well marked, and it was a super fun new section. I love the cruising section right out of Olallie, and then we turned up and over to Snoqualmie Pass, where we then turned down a ski run that made for a nice gnarly steep descent down to the forest. This was followed by a short road section in to Hyak, where I could see the Christmas lights glowing. The reroute was really fun and I hope it sticks around. I know the section through the tunnel is much easier, but the miles of dark tunnel really creep me out whenever I go through it, so I was a big fan of the change.

It was great, as always to reach Hyak and see my wife, pacer, and friends. It was also really nice to finally reach Hyak with it still being light outside. After a shoe change, eating a lot, my first of many coffees to come in the night, grabbing my hydration pack, and BD poles, I was off on the road with Carl. Carl was raring to go and felt good. Brock joined us for the first stretch of road, jogging backwards and pumping us up bigtime as I walked briskly and stuffed sandwiches and cookies in my face. Once I was done eating, Brock headed back to Hyak and Carl and I settled into a nice quick pace cruising through the road section. The next dirt road climb up and down was fairly uneventful. My poles gave me great power and a nice partial rest to my legs on the long climb, and then the trip down was pretty quick. We stocked back up at the next aid station, and entered into the “Trail from Hell.” I actually really like this section, and we got to the other end at Mineral Creek eventually. Carl had a tough tumble and hurt his ankle pretty bad, but pushed on strong. We then began the long climb out of Mineral Creek, and soon someone (not sure who) ran by us going up the hill- really impressive push. We saw Kirsten and Carl’s girlfriend one more quick time after a short bit, then settled in for the long climb up to No Name. No Name was hopping as usual and they had an incredible system set up. They had a menu posted a ways out with a walkie talkie attached to it. You just radioed in whatever you wanted, and they had a delicious grilled ham and cheese ready to roll for me when we arrived. Awesome. We were pretty quick there, saw a few folks, then carried on to the cardiac needles. There are definitely some significant climbs in this section but it overall wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it. Carl motivated me by yelling “yop” several times at full force a la Dead Poets Society. I was amazed at how quickly we arrived at Thorpe Mt. With that aid station, you reach the aid station, then have to do a short up and back to the top of Thorpe. Carl and I both dropped our hydration packs while we did the out and back, which was a really nice short breather. Then we were off again, and I assured Carl it was all downhill basically from here (that’s how I remembered it…). Well of course between Thorpe and French Cabin we still found a couple fairly significant climbs, but soon enough the sun was rising and we were coming into French Cabin. Tim Stroh cruised past us like a gazelle and looked awesome. I ate quickly at this station, had some of the best bacon of my life, and we were back on our way. One more teeny climb, and we were for real on our way mostly downhill to the end (this time I was actually right, though Carl was rightfully reluctant to believe me). I love those last 12 miles and we smoked them pretty hard, which felt great. The views coming down were great, and before we knew it we rolled into Silver Creek. I warned Carl that I’d just be dropping my poles, my pack, my jacket, and then I just wanted to cruise really quick. I think he underestimated my quickness in the aid station though, as I was taking off down the trail while he was still trying to suck down some Mt. Dew. It didn’t take him long to catch me though. After getting lost on this last section also 2 years ago, with the course so well marked this year, it was very easy to stay on track and kind of fun to be on some more new territory for me this year these last miles. Once we hit the pavement, our legs weren’t too happy with how they felt, but we bounced back and cruised on strong to the end. 21:47 and good for 8th place this year. What a day. I was beat. Carl was beat. Kirsten was beat. But we were all happy. And I was so hopped up on caffeine I was certain I wouldn’t sleep for a week.