Saturday, December 31, 2011

Run, Hike, Live, Love: 2011 in Review

I did a lot of running, hiking, living, and loving in 2011. It’s been an incredibly full year full of goals met and beautiful serendipity.

Run:
I ran 10 ultras this year. I was in the top 10 women in 8 of them.  Top 5 in 5 of them. I ran my first 12 hour event and was the women’s winner with 64 miles. I ran my first 100 miler and placed 4th woman. I learned so much about racing. About my body, both in training and in competition. I confronted fears of running alone at night and of running the 100 mile distance. I’ve been injured, recovered, and injured again. I have completed 2,000 miles of running this year despite a nagging injury the last 2 months. I’ve more than exceeded the running goals I had at this time last year and it is with great excitement I head into racing year 2012.


Hike:
My backpacking trips were limited this year due to my training and racing schedule, but the ones I managed to do were glorious reprieves from the miles of running and the monotony of civilized life. I heard wolves for the first time. I reveled in the primal fear that rushed through my body and the thrill of knowing that I was in the presence of a majestic and endangered beast. I finally wandered the trails of Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta and glimpsed the vast rugged wild that reminded me of my days in Glacier…and my moments in Alaska. I blasted through miles of the Paysatan Wilderness to reach a remote destination that had called to me from the corner of my map for years. I frolicked in the setting sun—free, wild and in madly in love with mountains, sunshine, and the journey.

Live:
I set out this year to confront my fears. To discover the straw men and differentiate them from the legitimate concerns. I started the year by leaping into an icy lake. I faced the loss of a precious relationship, family members, fears of mountain lions, and of challenges of distance and time. I have chronicled some of these tests here, and others are simply things that must remain internal. With this blog post I reach my writing goal of 1 blog per week (52  total). I made my first “real” quilt. I got a promotion at work and have a bin full of composting worms. I've been taking every chance for adventure and life that has come my way.  I have reunited with my desire to live. To be madly in love with life and embrace it wholesale. Fears are always going to be there, but they don’t have to stop you unless you allow them.

Love:
Though the year began with the dissolution of 4 years of marriage and the end of a 7 year relationship I am not hopeless or resentful of love. Love is an emotion, but it is also work and commitment. I've learned to love myself more this year than any other. I've learned to love my faults and my weaknesses, my triumphs and abilities, my contradictions and my life. I've learned that it is possible to fall in love again even after your heart seems irretrievably broken. Love is a beautiful, powerful thing. It can propel. It can destroy. It can uplift. It can bog down. It can trap you…or it can set you free.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deception Pass 50k

Deception Pass 50k was a last minute decision for me. I've been injured. I think with PFS in my left knee, but I need to go to an ortho and find out for sure that nothing is seriously wrong. I've barely run any distance runs in the last 6 weeks and today my body reminded me of that. My hips, knees, glutes and hams were all quite painful and my legs were dead and tired feeling.
Luckily, the course was beautiful and lots of friends were out there running today to keep my mind off it. The morning began with a lunar eclipse that I watched while scraping frost off my car. The more painful moments of the race I spent daydreaming about running Western States 100 since the lottery was going on at that time. I felt out of practice with long runs and I sweated too much in the beginning and ended up very dehydrated.
I crossed the finish line and immediately friends told me "You're in!"
In what?
WESTERN STATES!

So now I'm marking the original 100 mi race (with the attendant prestige) on my race calendar for 2012 and thinking about my knees, my hip, and leg pain, my proclivity for dehydration in races and my weakness in climbing.

I clearly have a long way to go in the next 7 months.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fear, Freedom, and the Future

I used to be terrified of heights.
Somewhere between my tree climbing childhood and adolescence the thought of getting on a ladder became nearly incapacitating. One late night I prayed. And prayed and prayed. Please make me not afraid. Of heights, of death, of the unknown, of so many things. I was so exhausted by fear. That night something changed. I felt calm and reassured. The crushing weight of anxiety was lifted and I chose to embrace it.
Daily I chose to be unafraid in small ways. I began to seek out the things that had terrified me. Little by little I gained the confidence that I could live without fear.

3 years later I stood on the edge of a 50ft cliff. Lake Powell, deep and vast, sprawled below me. Others were jumping. My stomach was in knots, but I tried to pretend that I was unafraid. I had to convince myself. I walked to the edge and looked down. Oh God...
There is a normal level of fear when confronted with falling into space. There is also irrational fear that can take you over.
Deep breath. This is a normal feeling. You can overcome it. Deep breath. Three strides and I was plummeting.

In the new surroundings, dark and heavy, I was frozen. My limbs reached spasmodically for purchase. Then, the emerald glimmer above gave me a new path to follow. My arms and legs fell into sync, every fiber and all my focus were on that beckoning shimmer. Arid desert air filled my empty, burning lungs as I came bursting from the darkness into the light. I was free. I was exhilarated. Clarity. I suddenly understood baptism. The way it feels to conquer fear. The words, "Take up your mat and walk."

Sometimes the door to the future slams so loudly you don't hear the window down the hall opening. You rail at the door until completely spent. Slumping to the floor, staring back at your past, you notice the flutter of curtains. And when you reach that window you may find that it is ground level. The future is easily accessible.

But sometimes it reveals wide, empty space. You have to take a deep breath. Swing your legs over the sill...

Trust...

and Jump.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Day Adventurers

Amelia Earhart.
Sacajawea.

Their stories are American lore. Long before I was an adventuresome woman-in-the-wilderness I was enamored by their lives. I read a steady stream of their biographies throughout my childhood...and even won some awards for various essays I wrote about Sacajawea in middle school. From my earliest days I wanted to be like them. I wanted to discover and adventure and go places other people didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't. I used to climb the trees in my yard and stare south, wondering how far I could walk in one day if I just went. All day. Could I make it to Lansing?

Today I know I could make it to Lansing (42 miles away) and probably much further. But I still wonder, in their time would I have been as they were? Let's face it, running a race on a well marked course where people hand you food and water is pretty tame. Even thru-hiking, where you can buy supplies every few days, is nothing like bushwhacking across a continent...or flying around the world.

In the days of Google Earth, there are few untrammeled places left in this world. It would be difficult for me to find an unexplored place to go. Most feats have been accomplished. There truly isn't anything new under the sun. Perhaps that is why I do what I do. I have to turn the discovery, the exploration of the unknown, inward.

I'm not the fastest runner. I'm not the best at orienteering. But, I know my limits. And I'm also willing to push those limits...all the time. I want to know what it feels like to be broken; and I want to know what it's like to reach that point and continue on. There is an unknown wilderness inside each of us. These "what-we're-made-of" places are seldom reached–just like the dark recesses of rugged mountain valleys. It is a choice to go there. It takes courage to enter and attempt to find your way to the other side.

I've realized that today, to be an adventurer like my heroines, I can't simply pick a place on a map. Going there will not make me an adventurer. Instead I will find the place on the map and tackle it in a way that will force me deep into myself. My challenge will be my own, no one else's. What is hard for me will be easy for some, what I find simple would teach others great lessons.

I think of Amelia readying her plane, studying her maps. I imagine Sacajawea walking long miles yearning to see something familiar. Today I find that the terrain is simply the catalyst for true exploration and courage, but...

Perhaps it has always been so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Where Your Thoughts Are, There Your Heart Will Also Be"

I went along to "help", but I was really just a pig-tailed tag-along in overalls–with bare feet. He slowed the tractor to a crawl and the growl of the engine lessened enough so that his voice was audible. "Now, don't tell mama this cause she knows you get upset about these things, but when we die this is all yours." My dad gestured to the forested acres and toward the house, barely visible in the distance. Tears welled up in my eyes at the thought of my parents dying and the world became a blurred mass of tree shapes and golden light. But I didn't cry. I nodded resolutely and said "Ok" with all the solemnity I could muster. I knew, even at such a young age, that I was being entrusted with something important. My hero was confiding in me and I never told my mom about the most meaningful moment that has ever passed between my dad and I. Not even to this day.

Needless to say I was crushed when last year, in light of my now ex-husbands adamant statements that we'd probably donate the land to the state or put it in a trust when I inherited it, my mom said they were planning to change their wills and give the majority to my sister. Again, I said "Ok" and didn't cry–until I was alone. My forever home was no longer mine. In its stead were 14 acres of wild mid-west forest. A few weeks ago I wandered through that land–slowly–traveling trails I'd covered hundreds of times. I absorbed it, etching it upon my mind. I will always cherish that land in my heart.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
When you dip below the clouds over Michigan you are greeted by an even patchwork of forest and field. The cities are perfect grids of lights and pavement. Every time the plane begins it's descent and I glimpse Lake Michigan and the familiar flat land I feel happy, safe, home. When you sink beneath the clouds over the west something completely different awaits. The world below is brown and crumpled–wrapping paper 5 minutes after Christmas frenzy. White cloaks the highest peaks, jewels of water glimmer from impossible perches. A feeling of adventure overwhelms me.

I finished my book an hour into my westbound flight. Skymall is only interesting for about 45 minutes. Luckily for me the sky was clear as we cruised the plains and I had a window seat. Soon the rumpled foothills began to give way to something more beautiful.

On my recent visit home, my mom had told me her thoughts after seeing me off on my southbound CDT thru-hike.
"When we flew out of Kalispell I looked out the window and saw those mountains in every direction. And I thought to myself, 'My BABY is going to walk over those.'"

I looked down at the Montana Rockies sprawling over the landscape and recalled her words. Mountains–snow laden and jagged–formed a veritable fortress against passage in any direction. Except I knew better. For a few minutes I traced a route from Glacier far in the distance southward and thought of my mom. I could see her, face pressed to the tiny window, staring at the labyrinth of topography below. Tears in her eyes, she prayed softly. Then as they faded to the distance she would sigh and lean back against the seat–still praying.

My eyes filled with tears at those thoughts, but also with the thoughts of what I saw. Where my mom saw hardship and danger I saw beauty, challenge, and freedom. Happiness. The best moments of my life. My heart ached to be there in the midst of those peaks.

The Rockies gave way to thick forests and flatter land. I watched the Columbia meander its way through Washington. Its enormous, sinuous being called out to me. I've seen its headwaters. I've walked across it near its merger with the sea. I've driven along it. My electricity is probably partially generated by its strength.

Then the Cascades swelled up from the land. I analyzed the topography of the volcano we were heading straight for. Its impossibly deep valleys and pure white crown told me it was Glacier Peak. I mentally traced my many routes in its shadow. Northward I smiled at the sight of Mt. Baker crowning the chain. I spotted the valley where Lake Chelan lay, even without seeing the water. My eyes read the mountains of, home(?), like a topo map. The plane banked and I glimpsed Rainier. We circled. Descending.

I had been practically sobbing over the Rockies. Again my eyes were overflowing. The mountains. My heart is in those mountains. These ones I've walked through. I've run through. Perhaps losing the home I'd been entrusted with wasn't the way to see it. Instead, knowing that I would always have a place gave me the fearlessness to embark and possibly fail. Like training wheels my Michigan home guided me to go and find myself. To fall in love with a foreign place. Home is where the Heart is. The tires touched tarmac.

The time was right for the training wheels to come off.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Race Recap: Bad Apple Ultra 12 Hour

I know. I know. I said my race season was over for the year after Cle Elum. Well, I did take 5 weeks off, but I jumped right back in with both feet when I went to Michigan for a family visit with my first timed event–Bad Apple Ultra 12 hour.

A timed event is different from my usual ultras. Instead of running a pre-determined distance you run a set loop repeatedly for a pre-determined time to see how many miles you can rack up. I had never done a timed event before, and in fact I swore up and down I would never do one. "So boring. Why the hell would I want to run in circles all day? I like going places!"

I took up ultra-running when I moved out west so my family has never seen me run. Shortly after booking tickets home this fall I did a quick search for ultras in Michigan–just on the odd chance I'd find one. And I did. Find one. And it was a timed event. No way. Uh-uh.

Wellllll....

It took me a week of mental arguing, but I signed up. For the 12 hour. 12 hours of running in an apple orchard. A flat, Michigan orchard. 4 miles...over and over and over. Dear God, what have I done?

Fall was perfect in Michigan this October. I reveled in the crisp days and clear starry nights at my parents farm. There was cider and family. And in the middle there was a race.

I awakened at 4am and drove the 40 minutes to Greenville, dodging deer with my mom's new pickup truck. It was cold and raining lightly as I gathered with about 20 people under the awning. Shortly after 6am we headed out for our first loop. The dark orchard sprinkled with headlamps was quite fun. I was near the front of the group and ran a couple loops with a guy from western Michigan. As dawn began to break a cloudburst of sleet and cold rain drenched me. My hands were icy, but I took comfort in the fact that I was able to click off my light and run through a gray shadow world. The orchard and forest were like a grainy old photo and I was a flash of pink winding through it.

"4 loops before you caffeinate." My goal was 60 miles for the day and I didn't want to start the music or the Coke too soon. Little rewards when I reached certain goals helped me focus. 16 miles down, I can start drinking Coke. 10 am, 20 miles done. Ipod. 24 miles, ditch the jacket. 28 miles drop the tights. 32 miles amino acid supplement. 36 miles...40 miles...

The sun was out. The fall color was brilliant. Blue skies punctuated by fluffy white clouds. The orchard was busy with families and workers on a gorgeous Saturday. And I was running. Running, running, running. I settled into a rhythm early and kept it. My legs were like pistons operating on their own. My mind would wander, then check in, wander and check in. I had my 3 short walking distances (probably totaling less than 300ft per lap) and my one spot to stop and decompress my lower back and stretch my hamstrings for 10 seconds on every loop. Aid station: Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke, run 4 miles, repeat.

44 miles... 48 miles... 52 miles....

The monotony didn't kill me and make me want to quit as I had feared. Like any ultra my attention was driven by the things to look at along the way–natural beauty, people, where I was putting my feet–and internal maintnance: Do I need electrolytes? Am I warm enough? Calories? Pain? Is it serious? Too slow. Too fast. I can't stand to listen to Rihanna right this second...
In between my mind wandered to many topics and the miles passed with surprising speed. The onset of pain in my legs and hips and knees and feet began around mile 32 and increased with every mile. But pain is part of running long distances and I learned long ago how to triage and block out anything that wasn't going to put me out of commission once the race is over.

56 miles...
I rounded the corner, with the aid station in sight and saw my dad and my niece coming toward me. This made my day and reinvigorated me. My dad has never come to any events like this before and seeing him there made me feel like I could keep running forever if it would make him proud.

"How many miles you run?"
"56" (big dumb smile on my face)
"You in the lead?"
"I think so."

My niece fell into stride with me and I waved at my mom as I came into the aid station. Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...
Megan and I ran through the golden afternoon. She'd run her cross country regionals that morning, so I'm sure she was glad her aunt was moving slowly! The euphoria of seeing my family faded quickly and the pain came rushing back. Without my ipod cranked to help distract me I was nearly overwhelmed, but Megan helped me maintain my pace as we chatted our way to my goal of 60 miles in 12 hours.
I hugged my dad and stood in the "recovery stance": hands on thighs, hunched over and trying not to collapse someone said, "5:30! You're good! Go around again!"
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Do I have to?" I was done mentally.
"Well, no..."
The guy I'd run the first 2 laps of the morning with shouted, "Do it!!" I think some of the other races and race volunteers echoed the sentiment. I'm not sure because something inside was already clicking over. It was a chance to really push myself.

Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...

I put the ipod back in and headed out. Megan didn't feel she could run another lap with me and it was probably for the best. I was tired and cranky inside and I didn't want to talk. Just run. Like I had been doing all day. By the time I was a mile in the pain had receded, beaten back into submission by my dogged determination to not let it conquer me. The mind has to be as strong or stronger than the body to run ultras. Running 4 miles more than I was mentally prepared to do was training my mind more than my legs or lungs. I was smiling as I passed the half way aid station. I was smiling on the descent and climb that followed. I was basking in the sunset light streaming over the fields as I headed down the home stretch. I was smiling when I came into the finish for the last time.

I can't say that I loved the timed distance, but I did love this race. It was well run, a great course and delightfully low key. My family was able to attend and I was able to push my boundaries–running nearly 2/3 the 100 mile distance in less than half the time. The orchard was not flat, the terrain wasn't hard packed. The views were not boring. I didn't get sick of running the same loop, in fact the rhythm was almost meditational. I am certainly glad I did it.

64 miles, 12 hours (and a bit), 1st woman, 3rd overall

Monday, October 17, 2011

Water

I left a bottle of water in the car overnight this weekend. When I got in to drive to my run this morning I took a gulp.
It was jarringly cold.
Instantly I was reminded of the many times I've scooped water from the earth on cold mornings–my fingers burning then numb, the cringing as it froze my throat.
I battered the quarter inch of ice on the frost swirled lake surface with the heel of my hand. I longed to quench my cottony throat after a dry camp. The mountains of Colorado were quickly becoming inhospitable. 
Too I remembered cold springs gushing trailside above Sierra City relieving me from the crushing heat of California. The welcome numbness of ice water in my hand-held bottles as I ran down Suntop during White River 50mi.
In my car, I shivered as the icy liquid snaked its way through my body, settling into my stomach like dread. I  blasted the heater and the chill slowly dissipated. I drove to the run, but couldn't shake the memories. There is something beautiful about drawing your sustenance straight from the ground, whether it be huckleberries, morels, or water.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Value of Rest

I'll admit I am not the foremost authority on rest. I would even imagine many of my friends and family would claim I have no idea what rest even is. I definitely have struggled with the application of the concept in the past, however the past year has taught me some lessons.
I read once that Scott Jurek takes several weeks off of running at the end of his season–some weeks he doesn't run a step. I was amazed. I chalked it up to his seeming superhuman abilities to be able to stop running and not lose fitness. This tactic certainly wasn't for mere mortals like me.
A year ago this weekend I ran the Baker Lake 50k. It was the culmination of a summer of 100+ mile weeks–a combination of running and backpacking. I went out hard and was running in second place (women's race) until somewhere around mile 20. Then my right knee began to hurt. A few miles later, so did my left. I was out of water. I could feel my leg muscles cramping. My electrolytes were out of whack as well. I was in more pain than I have ever been in while running. I caught sight of my friend Joel and for the next 5 miles I focused on not letting him get away from me. When we reached the road, about 1.5 miles from the finish I could no longer keep up. The pavement was too much and I could barely walk. I forced myself onward and was nearly crying as 5 women passed me. I still managed a PR, but it was without joy.
My injury lingered, as my early blog posts demonstrate. Over time I began to wonder...what about rest? Being forced to take 4 months essentially off from running was miserable. This year I feel has been easier, even though I have raced far more...and far further. I think it is because of my taper and recovery periods. Being injured has taught me the value of rest.
Now, I am winding down from 5 weeks of rest at the close of my season. Aside from the Cle Elum 50k, my longest run in that time has been 7 miles. My longest week, 10 total. I have run occasionally, and only when I felt like it. I haven't worried about gaining weight or losing fitness. I've rested my mind and body from the demands of constant training and racing. I allowed myself personal grace–it is ok not to run. It is ok to run. I haven't felt like I'm forcing myself to rest. I simply have allowed my body and mind to dictate when and how far, rather than the schedule I have written on my calendar with a bold, black sharpie.

Will an extended rest at the end of a challenging season make me a better runner?
I don't know.
But, it's worth a try.

I went for a 7 mile run on Tuesday and you know what?

I was excited to run.

My legs were sore initially, but I settled into my rhythm and everything was beautiful. I wanted to run forever. I wanted to run fast, then slow. I wanted to jump over rocks and run across park benches. I wanted to run every hundred mile trail run there was. Joyous. Relaxed. Rested. I was all of those. I am now enjoying the last few days of leisure before I begin to amp my mileage back up. I am eager to run. I can't wait for next weekend's ultra adventure. It's just the beginning of another round...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Am Winning

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the ALDHA-West Gathering at Lake Wenatchee. It's been 2 years since I last spent time with "hiker trash" and I honestly didn't know how much I had missed it until yesterday.

It's been 5 years since I finished my Triple Crown. With the passage of time and more and more of my life becoming devoted to running and work, my identity as Anish–as a thru-hiker–has waned. I haven't been out for over a week in more than 2 years. I have no thru-hiking goals in the near future.
This year I have been struggling with the question: Who am I?

Am I a thru-hiker? A bad-ass backpacker who puts in long days, long weeks, and long months?
Am I an ultra-runner? A hardcore trail runner who logs races every month, long runs ever week and tops out with 100 mile events?
Is it possible to be both?

I have been feeling torn this year. With my dedication to training for Cascade Crest I hardly went hiking/backpacking. The runner in me was fighting the backpacker in me...and winning. The two times I went out with my pack nestled against my spine, imparting a sense of comfort, the backpacker sent the runner into retreat. Self-sufficiency in the mountains was winning.

At the Gathering I got to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. It was different being there alone. I've always gone to hiker Gatherings with my partner of over 5,000 miles. It didn't take long to realize that I fit in here, even alone. There is a way of looking at the world that only thru-hikers have. Being surrounded by those who affirm my unorthodox outlook has made me confident and calm. All is well. I can make my life my own every day. Just as in the past when I went into new adventures without fear, I no longer feel trepidation about what is next–either on trail or in life. I started my journeys on trail walking, then I started running. I am a hybrid. Who cares that many ultra-runners are not backpackers and vice versa? With a pack I'm faster. In hundreds I don't get tired as quickly. 17+ hours on the feet isn't unknown to my body.

Do I want to focus on running?
Do I want to focus on backpacking?

I want to do both. I want to be in the mountains. I have realized that I can do both. There doesn't need to be a war within: Anish is a runner, too.

Thru-hikers know how to savor every moment, whether it's hailing or a blue bird day. Blisters the size of Texas can be funny. Filthiness can be a badge of honor. They know that in the midst of commercialized, consumerist, over-stimulated society that the things that truly matter most are easily loaded into a small pack. They know how to simplify. Wholeness is found when you are no longer inundated with the need to gain and attain. A friend at the Gathering has a catchphrase when he is out on the trail: "I am winning". It's funny, but it's also true. Those who can leave fear and insecurities behind, who can step out of societal norms, to find something more fulfilling are winning. They are winning healthier bodies and minds. They are winning victories for decreasing their carbon footprint. They are winning at life by returning to something humans have always done: walked over rough terrain for days on end. They are winning over the repression of what is natural by satisfying the instinct to travel and use the body physically.

As a thru-hiker, as a runner, as someone who derives her greatest joys from the attendant bliss of the steady rhythm of footfalls on trail tread I know that I am winning...at life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cle Elum 50k Race Recap

Cle Elum should have been in June. In June I was ready to run 50k and make it count. 3 weeks after Cascade Crest I wasn't.
The trip started out on a rough note. I took the long way around–which ended up being the epic-ly long way around (8 hours!) and hit a deer on the way. Kevin and I finally crashed on the ground beside the car a few miles from the start at 1 am.
Race morning traffic woke me up at 5. 4 hours of sleep is plenty, right?
I was excited to see my friend April from Corvalis and as the race started in the overcast morning she and I ran together. We chatted and people passed us as we turned onto trail. We walked uphill and April commented, "I think we're last."
We continued on and I eventually got ahead of her. The climbing was ongoing, although I was frequently surprised by downhill sections. I had intended to take them easy because my knees have been having issues since Cascade Crest, but they were steep and the thick dusty dirt was soft...so I ran them harder than I intended.
I reached the ridgetop and was met with cold wind and spluttering rain. So much for the sunny side of the mountains! By this time I had passed a decent number of people and was excited to see a lot of friends, both running the race and volunteering, at the midpoint aid station. After some food and a water refill I set out, running with two friends. We climbed some more (all told I heard this course had 7,000ft of elevation gain which I was glad I didn't know beforehand!) before setting out on a set of long, loping switchbacks that carried us deep into a valley. I pulled ahead of them and settled into a steady pace at the bottom. What I didn't know is that the entirety of what was left was completely runnable.
About mile 20 I realized I was almost done. "Wow! This is short!" Running 100 miles certainly skews your thinking.
With only 5 miles to go I realized that if my friends hadn't caught me by now, they might not if I didn't slow down. So my competitive side surfaced and I ran hills I would have otherwise walked. When I reached the final descent I killed it. My knees didn't much like the rough treatment of me bailing downhill so fast, but oh well. I reached the finish in 6:23 and placed 4th (in the women's race).
Now, for some much needed rest, recovery, and Chardonnay!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tatoosh Buttes

On my map of the North Cascades and Pasaytan Wilderness–in the lonely northeast corner where the wilderness trails off the page–lie the Tatoosh Buttes. I noticed the exposed bumps and long ridgeline about 3 years ago. The long approach down the Middle Fork of the Pasaytan River kept me from exploring. I needed a 3 day weekend to go there. Labor Day weekends passed. 4th of July is always snow laden at 7,000 ft. Finally, I decided to just go. If I didn't have time to travel the cross country ridge of Ptarmigan Peak and Dot Mountain, then so be it. With a departure from the NW looming I felt the Tatoosh Buttes were a lingering piece of unfinished business for me.

I got sidetracked with wine and friends on Friday night. Oh well, I'll just drive over in the morning. It's only a 21 or so mile hike in....

I started hiking at noon on Saturday from Slate Pass. It was hot. Hot, like 90 degrees hot. I loved it. The wind whipped my hair around my face (since in my rush I'd forgotten a hair band) and my skirt around my thighs. I felt like a bird soaring on the updrafts as I descended into the wide, u-shaped valley of the Middle Fork. Thick forest carpeted the valley below me as I floated through boulders and scree, banking wide around the cirque and then plunging below tree line.

The trail along the Middle Fork is wide and gently undulating as it gradually descends toward the confluence in the north. I sailed along, passing the way points, widely spaced 5 miles apart, in what seemed like effortlessness and in an impossibly short time. The trail narrowed and became more overgrown as I cruised northward until I veered off toward the Buttes. I followed brushy trail as it wound through a massive burn. I forded Lease Creek and began climbing.

Climbing...up and up. The late afternoon sun was intense. The landscape was littered with the carcasses of  burned trees. I could see nothing except the hill I was climbing, until–near the top–I rounded a corner and came face to face with the panorama of the Buttes, Tamarack Ridge, Ptarmigan Peak, Dot Mountain, Mt. Largo and Mt. Carru.

Snow tinged and bald, the ridge beckoned me ever upward. I reached the Tatoosh Buttes near sunset and enjoyed the alpine eve. I threw my bivy down on the ridge where I could simultaneously watch the blood red sunset and the full moon rise. As I dozed off in the bliss of being solitary in the wild I heard a faint clanging of metal and what I thought sounded like a whinny. Apparently equestrians were camped somewhere in the krumholtz below...

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

I sat bolt upright in my bivy. The wind had died and darkness had fallen. The full moon illuminated the world in silver and I stared around.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAA!

I quickly dragged my bivy behind some krumholtz and lay quietly trying to figure out what the invisible was. The metal clanging punctuated by very animal like sounds had me stymied...and scared. I briefly thought of packing up and hiking down by light of the moon, but I made myself stay put.

"Heather, there is nothing out here that can hurt you. There is nothing out here at night that wasn't here in the day."
Yeah, but it might not have been awake.

Quiet.

After I dismissed the outlandish: ghosts of miners, drug traffickers, sasquatch...I turned to the likely: not bear, or cougar, or wolf, or coyote. Maybe elk? But what is the clanging? Wild animals don't have metal...

Forget your context...identify the sounds.

I lay quietly and listened. The clanging and animal noises came again, much farther away.

That...sounds...like...a cowbell...

BWAAAAAAAAA!

And that was definitely a cow.

I began laughing–A COW!

The incessant yapping of a coyote awoke me just as orange tinged the sky. I rolled over and drank in the early light on the mountains. I packed quickly to get away from the annoying barking. As I walked I studied the myriad horse hoof prints on the trail and discovered, blending in with them in the thick dust, cow tracks. I hadn't noticed them the day before, but now they were obvious. A cow, complete with bell, had managed to find it's way deep into wilderness and well over 7,000 ft.

The miles passed quickly and soon I was ascending up and out of the valley. The trees thinned and opened and I flew upward, driven by the sun, and wind, and sight of the snow patched pass above me. I paused to look back and smiled.

Good luck, cow.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Foraging

Myriad chambers of converted sunshine resist then give way to tongue and teeth. Sweet, earthy, complex flavor rolls across my taste buds. With sudden clarity I Remember.
I've tasted this berry many times before. My small hands stained violet, darting amongst the thick, thorny stalks pulling the black caps out by the fistful.
Plunk,
Plunk,
Mmmmm.
Two in the bucket, one in the mouth. My dad nearby–plunk, plunk, plunk. He doesn't taste any.

"I've eaten this berry before! This is a black cap! At least, that's what my dad called them."
I'm standing along the roadside of San Juan Island, just outside Friday Harbor, 20 years later. Kevin has just given me a "native" blackberry. The complex and different flavor is not the same as that of the broad-leafed blackberry growing right alongside–intertwined with–it. Despite being on the other side of the continent the flavor is unmistakable. Dozens of humid, sweaty, prickly days spent in the bushes of rural Michigan can not be forgotten.
Oil City. The name comes to me as we pedal onward. My dad would take me there picking berries in the heat of summer. I always had to wear sweat pants and long sleeves. I whined and complained about how hot it was to no avail. My dad himself was covered in Dickies–navy colored pants and long sleeves–with leather boots. He never complained. The thought of rich berry pie ala mode was enough to sustain and reward.

April. A month of cold nights, foggy mornings, and blazing afternoons that made morel mushrooms spring from the earth like Jack from his box. I'd follow my dad into the woods with mesh onion bags. We'd stand in the semi-shade and stare quietly at the forest floor. Then, after an eternity of me thinking, "There aren't any mushrooms" one would appear. As I'd stoop to pick its deeply crevassed crown I'd see another, and another, and...they were everywhere. Dad and I would troop home with bulging bags. Mom would wash them in salt water, coat them in flour, and fry them to oh-so-good-ness...

Young adults these days are returning to the farm, whether in urban gardens or literally going into agriculture. Foraging is hip. Finding food from the wild is the topic of classes from community to higher education. I see the ads in my local co-op and think about signing up. The moment on San Juan Island yesterday stopped me in my tracks.

I've been a forager my entire life.

We just never called it that. I was blessed enough to grow up in a place where people have not completely lost a connection to the land. My parents grew a garden that took up half an acre. My summer evenings were spent shelling peas, snapping beans, and husking corn by the wheelbarrow load. Berry picking. Mushroom hunting. The venison steaks on the grill courtesy of my dad. We grew the trees, cut them down, cured them and heated the house in a never ending cycle. The seasons were marked by the chores and the opportunities outside. Much of our food came from the bounty of the wild, or from the hard work of my parents hands.
I now know why I have dozens of pots littering my porch, all stuffed with herbs and tomatoes. I know why digging my hands into the earth and picking berries on my daily run leaves me, not only with dirty nails, but with a sense of peace. Foraging isn't arcane knowledge. It's a way of connecting to the world you live in. There is something so innately right about stopping along the road and wading into those pickers for that One. That perfect, juicy bit of ripeness that is suspended just a tad out of reach:

It's exactly what humans are meant to do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Re-Cap

A fellow thru-hiker and friend posted this as her status on Facebook two nights before Cascade Crest. It references a thru-hiking tactic and it made me remember the times I had to just "give it 100 miles": 

"I believe in the 100-mile rule. If you feel like giving up, give it a 100 miles. Something wonderful is bound to happen that will change your mind and give you emotional fuel. It works in hiking and the rest of life, also." 


This thought rattled around in my brain as I got the last minute details together, solved car problems and dealt with a new and mysterious leg pain. "Just give it 100 miles". When thru-hiking that's 3 days. 3 very full, wondrous days. Days that you look back at the end and can't believe that it was only that morning that you were crossing such and such meadow, that you lunched on that panoramic pass, etc. Every mile is packed with life and adventure, wonder. Every minute full and seemingly longer than a minute. And I was about to take the distance of 3 of those over-flowing days and cover it in one go.

The morning of the race I got ready, just as I have for the other 13 races I've run. The ritual has evolved and I was ready in a leisurely manner within an hour. At the starting line in Easton, WA runners swirled in eddies of excitement, nervousness, or anticipation. I chatted with friends and leaped around, jumping with joy and excitement. I had no idea what it was going to be like to run 100 miles, but I certainly knew that it would be an adventure.

And I love adventure.

As 10am drew near we gathered for the singing of the national anthems of Canada and the US. As the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner were being sung I realized I'd forgotten my electrolyte tablets for the first 33 miles. It was already 70 degrees and arid. There was no way I could leave Easton without them.

"3 minutes!" the race director called.

I sprinted to Kevin's truck. I found the hide-a-key, unlocked, rifled through bags, dumped stuff everywhere and generally made a mess. Found the electrolytes. Shoved about 30 into my pocket, relocked, threw the key–sans holder–into it's hiding place and sprinted to the starting line. I settled comfortably into the center of the herd of 140ish runners just as we all began to chant "10...9...8...7..."

A few seconds later I was jogging across the starting line. The thought that flashed through my head was, "Is this really happening? Am I really going to run 100 miles?"

I jogged slowly, no sense in rushing. We start with a 3,000ft climb or thereabouts. It was already hot and sunny. And there were 99 miles in which to make up time. I chatted with a friend, then he pulled ahead. I listened to the conversations of 2 doctors and 2 other friends until they too pulled away. As we left the aid station at mile 4 and began to climb, I fell into line behind the doctors again and hiked steadily uphill. I listened to them, and to the people behind. The gap between our train and the one ahead widened. At some point we reached a rolling flat, then a downhill. It was hard to move slowly behind the people ahead. I passed as people stopped to pee. Eventually I caught the group ahead. They were climbing slowly, ever so slowly. In fact they teeter tottered with each step up. I stayed behind for a while, but eventually it was too much. The trail widened and I went around. A few moments later a voice behind me echoed my thoughts about how slow was too slow. David, as I would discover his name was, has run Leadville and we fell into amiable conversation as we moved along. We paced slowly. 

"This race really begins at Hyack. We just have to get there first," he said.

We rolled into the Cole Butte aid station. Then he got a little ahead. I caught him on the downhill road a few minutes later. We ran the road, then at the bottom, walked up the road. In and out of Blowout Mountain aid station. Then it was up, up and up on trail. I was ahead of him, but by the time we hit the PCT he'd caught me. I cheered at the sight of the PCT emblem and yelled, "Home Sweet Home!"

The PCT was beautiful rolling miles. I pulled away a bit and found myself alone with memories of thru-hiking. Of the Heather that passed through here in the pouring rain 6 years ago. At the time I was wet and cold and miserable. All I wanted was warm food. Dry things. A shower. The restaurant at Snoqualmie Pass. I'd been hiking for 4 months through burly terrain and mercurial weather. I was not imagining I'd cover these miles again on a hot day. I certainly never thought I'd be running them.


And yet, here I was. My heart was light and full of joy. The sheer joy in running trail, climbing over logs, and covering distance was all that mattered. Views came and went. Tacoma Pass aid station was a riot of cheering and energy. A volunteer gave me a wet wipe to wash my face and my-oh-my was it so good to remove that grime! David came in before I left. I said, "See you up the trail" and was on my way, munching a handful of grapes.
From there the route climbed. I don't know how far or how long. It was hot and open and the views of Rainier dominated. I hiked just ahead of Austin, a military man who was also doing his first 100. We chatted. The time and miles were dissipating. Eventually he passed me. I rolled into Snowshoe Butte aid station a few seconds behind him. I ate and got water and set out. He wasn't far behind initially, but after a while I realized I was alone. For the first time I put my headphones in. I'd been moving for 9 hours.

I cruised along as the sun dropped in the sky. I came across a clearcut that was familiar. I'm certain Remy and I had our shittiest, wettest, worst night of camping ever there. I paused at some decayed logs and drank some water. I was fairly certain it was the spot. Another mile. Another memory. I ran on.

On and on...then a powerline. This was familiar too. Forest. A second powerline. The late afternoon light was turning my world to pure gold. I threw my hands out and let the warm wind ride over me. I think I laughed. I know I thanked God for the moment. Beauty.
More forest and then a third powerline. A few moments later I was in Stampede Pass. I rummaged through my drop bag. I got my flashlight. I ate, I drank. I was climbing steeply out. I continued to listen to music and the miles are a blur. I felt great. I was enjoying the run like none other this year. All was well. Dusk fell. I arrived at mile 41.

Junk food was no longer satisfying me. I was hungrier than I thought I'd be. There were grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't eat animal products for a myriad reasons. But I also know that the body is a machine that needs fuel. Without remorse I ate one. I refused the meat ravioli as well as the turkey sandwiches, but cheese got me through this race. Without the calories and fat I wouldn't have made it. I'd reached my limit of cookies, and grapes are just not enough to fuel 100 miles of sustained effort. 

I got my flashlight out and left the station in the deep dusk. I crossed a small creek and started up the climb. I tried to take a drink...from my flashlight.

I'd left my water bottle at the aid station.

I ran back, "You guys are so awesome, I just had to come through again!" Laughter. "I'm going to need this!" Grabbing my water bottle. More laughter.

I went without my light for a while until I started stubbing my toes on rocks. It was decidedly dark. Down I ran under starry skies. Up I climbed. I circled meadowed valleys. Not that I could see them, but I remembered. And more than remembered, my senses just know trails and where trails go and what they go around. My feet found their way along the PCT without much assistance from me as they had all day. I was vaguely aware of PCT markers along the way, but only after my brain had already processed their information and sent my feet the correct direction. Months of following those metal markers is firmly ingrained, much as migratory instinct, in my soul. I wondered if I saw white blazes what would happen. Which instinct would be stronger. 

I passed quite a few people in the dark. The PCT emblems were lost except for the occasional flicker as my light sought them out at creek crossings. Somehow I knew right where to aim the light to discover the familiar blue, black, white and silver trefoils. I thought back to the first dusty miles on the PCT earlier in the day, how I'd hugged a tree with one. And how I'd blown kisses at others. I really did miss thru-hiking.

But this adventure was in full swing and it was reminiscent of a thru-hike in that its scope was outside the realm of normal comprehension. Pierogies at the next aid station rocked my world. I wanted to fill every pocket with them, but I didn't. I ran down, down, down. Finally, the course veered off the PCT and descended steeply to a sharp right turn onto...
Trail? Not quite. A dirty, bushwhacked boot pack led into trees. Ribbons of light and motor hum were just below. I-90 was rushing by. Hyack was near. I thought of David. I was almost to the "start of the race." Within a few minutes I knew why the "Ropes" section of the race was so legendary. The course descended straight down a slope. The dirt and rocks were loose. Ropes were strung like garlands through the thin trees. I sat down unexpectedly. Laughter. I clambered along some more. Another surprise plop onto my butt. More laughing. I was having fun! Then I popped out onto a wide, gravel railroad grade. The John Wayne Trail. Just ahead was another hallmark of the course–the Tunnel.

The tunnel is exactly that–a two mile long tunnel where the railroad punched through the mountain. Now abandoned by the railroad, the John Wayne Trail follows this tunnel, and therefore, so does Cascade Crest. 

Running through a long, dark tunnel at night alone is eerie. Especially when the fog rolls in around you. Derelict high voltage paraphernalia littered the walls. My favorite was one conglomerate of wires and metal that had a jointed paper skeleton enmeshed in it. I laughed at that. Soon the novelty of the tunnel wore off and I just wanted to get to Hyack. The long runnable section was somewhat annoying. I wanted an excuse to walk. Someone passed me. I passed 2 people. Then, I was in a parking lot. I turned left, following the glow sticks.

I realized I needed to pee, which I hadn't done for 30 miles. It was a welcome thing. I had been somewhat worried about my hydration. The dark, empty parking lot was great...I simply squatted where I was. No need for bushes.

After running along, and then under, the interstate I was excited to see Hyack aid station. Remy was there cheering and holding signs. He helped me change out flashlight batteries. I gulped down potato soup and grilled cheese and Vega. I dumped grit and rocks that I'd been carrying since the first climb out of my shoes. 

"I've never run this far before." 

"You're doing fantastic! You've passed a TON of people!"

"Yeah, well, you just can't top the thru-hiker endurance!"

I had jumped and danced my way in...I did the same thing out. 

This was where the race began.

I walked the flat road out of Hyack for a half mile or more. Then I felt the food settling and my mind gearing up for the next 47 miles. I began to run. It was almost 2am.

The gravel road up to Keechelus Ridge was not steep, but it was a climb. I turned my music on, breathed the starry night deeply into my lungs and hiked fast and steady. I've termed it "Anish hiking." Those who've been with me on a backpacking trip will know what that means. I reached the ridgetop aid station all hunger and energy. Soup. Grilled cheese. On my way. Another 7.5 miles of gravel road switchbacking down into the abyss of night. I saw dots of light below as runners and their pacers moved through the darkness. I realized I wasn't scared of the night. Even alone. Most everyone had picked up a pacer–company for the last miles of the race–at Hyack. I hadn't. I wanted to face my fears, as I've been trying to do all year. One at a time I've taken them out and looked at them. It's terrifying. But, I've found  that the more often I uncover them and stare at their ugly faces the less scary they are. Thoughts of mountain lions did flitter through me, but I wasn't scared. I did shine my light into the bushes and behind me now and then, but mostly I was free of worry. Coming down from Keechelus I looked up at the stars and was thankful for the night.

Arrival at Kachess Lake was 3:03 am. I was only 3 minutes behind my friend Candice. Remy again changed my batteries, hugged me, cheered me, and watched me eat soup and grilled cheese and vega. I was soon on my way down the Trail from Hell. I had 50k to go.
I caught a man and his pacer a short distance onto the trail. The Trail from Hell is so named because of it's lack of maintnance, resulting in steep, narrow, loose trail littered with deadfall. As I came up behind him he exclaimed, "How are you moving fast on THIS?!"

"Oh, I'm having fun! It's like a jungle gym!"

I clambered up and over and dropped down to hands and knees to crawl under logs. I laughed and huffed and puffed. I passed group after group. Signs began beckoning me toward "Heaven"–the theme of the next aid station. I balanced on a log across Mineral Creek. I left Hell and arrived in Heaven at 5am.

Another friend was there, waiting to pace a mutual friend of ours. He found my drop bag for me and advised me of the vegetarian options. I swapped my flashlight for my headlamp. Grilled cheese, soup, cookies, go.

Up the road to No Name Ridge I went. Mint chewing gum in my mouth. My teeth felt gross from the junk and not brushing. My tummy was a little gross from the junk and the 72 miles I'd already covered. The gum made both much happier.

I strode along at a strong Anish pace uphill, snapping bubbles with my gum. Dawn was breaking. The horizon grayed, then became gilded. I caught up to Candice. She looked tired, but she was still going. We had a little less than a marathon to go.

Ever upward. That's how the road felt. I enjoyed the sweet fragility of dawn. The fleeting moments when the light is perfect–lavender, gold, gray, pink, inexplicably all at the same time. Snowy, jagged peaks were revealed. The ridge with multiple spires that I would soon traverse did as well. 

At the top I reached the aid at mile 81. I jogged in, whooping and doing a little dance. Friends were there. I did not at that moment want anything sweet. No cookies. Not even the pancakes because they had chocolate chips. I asked for black coffee. Lots of it. I spied a cup of orange juice and excitedly brought it to my lips.

"That's a mimosa!" someone warned me.

I paused.
"Oh, what the hell."

I gulped it down and did the same with the coffee. I crammed croissants into my pocket. They weren't sweet. Neither was the string cheese which i pocketed. It was time to hit the Cardiac Needles.

The Needles are spikes on the ridge. Steep up and downs known on the Appalachian Trail they would be known as PUDS (Pointless Up and Downs). Up, up, down, down. Steeply. Repeat. So goes the next 8 miles of Cascade Crest. At the top of the first one I noticed my head was spinning. "What the..."

Champagne hits hard when you've run 80 miles.

I'd caught up to the friend I was originally running with at the start. He and his pacer encouraged me. He also told me I was running in 4th place among women.
"What?! Holy..."

"The woman ahead of you is pretty tired..."

"No. Don't tell me that."

I fought to put that out of my head as I passed by them. I'd read that the first two needles are the worst. From that I inferred that that meant the rest weren't hard at all. That is completely wrong. In retrospect I hit the first needles and Thorpe mountain much too hard because I misinterpreted that statement. Thorpe is an out and back up to a manned fire lookout to fetch a small piece of paper, proving your ascent. I dropped my pack with the aid station workers at the base and garnered my paper. By the time I got back my extra energy was sapped. I forced down a cookie and headed out. A woman came in as I was leaving.

I was hungry. I was tired. The needles were relentless. I saw a bear. I kept moving.

"Embrace the brutality"

"These are just PUDS, Anish, suck it up."

"Keep running. She's right behind you."

"I need a fricking caffeine IV."

I talked my way along. Finally I put in my music to help me pace.

"God, please let this be the last needle. Cause, if there's another one I think I'm just gonna sit down and cry."

At long last I saw French Cabin aid station below me. I'd volunteered at French Cabin last year. As I bombed down the switchbacks I recognized Jennifer, who'd been there last year, and she recognized me. We excitedly greeted one another as I devoured food. I don't even remember what. Recalling the strategy of another friend of mine had used at Badwater I requested that they fill my water bladder half with coke and half with water. That was as close to a caffeine IV as I could get. 

The next 7 miles or so were the longest of the race. It was mostly all downhill and normally I would kill the descent, but this morning I was jogging. I kept telling myself to run, aloud, but my body would only go just so fast. I refused to walk. She was right behind me.
Several times I had the feeling of waking up. Alertness would suddenly wash over me. My eyes would focus sharply and I had the distinct feeling that I'd been running for an indeterminate amount of time with my brain "shut off". Every time it happened I sucked desperately on the coke and water. Would this never end? 

At long last I saw the aid station. I was in and out in a matter of seconds. I literally dropped my backpack, grabbed a full water bottle and a handful of grapes. I was running along a dirt path. I passed a man and his pacer. The route turned to follow the sandy swath beneath power lines. I could see a white subaru parked at the end and knew it had to be Remy. I ran along. He dumped water on me as I passed by and turned onto the road. 3 miles.

It was hot.

3 miles.

Gravel and dirt gave way to pavement and my pace increased.

2.5 miles.

I crossed above the interstate.

I choked up and fought it back. 

I hope Remy tells Kevin I'm on my way.

2 miles.

I increased my pace. I was digging for how much I had left.

I wasn't sore. I was simply running.

1 mile.

I began to recognize Easton. The race was ending.

I was strong.

I turned off the road and was running parallel the railroad tracks. I could see the finish.
I'd imagined this moment many times in my head in the last year.

But I'd never imagined the thought that was in my brain right now in the reality of the moment:

"If I got some water and food I could keep going. I don't physically have to stop."

A friend high fived me as I went by.

I turned the corner.

I could hear the applause and the race director announcing me.

10 yards.

I was smiling.

I jumped and spun across the finish line.

100 miles.

20,000+ ft of climbing.

26 hours and 39 minutes of forward motion.

Adventure, pure and simple.


39th OA (106 finishers) 4th woman.


I felt fantastic nearly the entire time. I will not say it was easy, because it wasn't. But I won't say it was hard either. It was something other than that. It was an event I lost myself in. The first 8 hours passed without me even noticing. So did the first 70 miles or more. It was effort, but it was bliss. 

I can't wait to do another one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Angel's Staircase Sweep Recap

I was planning to reprise adventures in the Sawtooth-Chelan area the next weekend in the same general area as the Angel's Staircase 25k, 50k, and 50 mile races. I figured it would be fun to backpack most of the course (plus a bit) and see friends running through. That plan got modified when Kevin asked me to sweep the 50 mile course with him.

"No, no, no...I don't want to go that far in a day. My body needs a break. And I want to sleep under the stars."

"But on the other hand, I could sweep a gorgeous course...."

"Oh well, tapering is over rated, right?"

So, I devised a compromise.

We backpacked our overnight gear to the top of the saddle adjoining the Staircase. From there we continued on with daypacks as sweeps. I stopped and waited at a pass so I wouldn't be doing the entire 50 miles (although, I ended up doing 46 in the end anyway). I laid in the sun on Deadman's Pass and basked in the beauty of the mountains. But after nearly 2 hours I was beginning to wonder where Kevin was. The sun was sinking inevitably westward and we still had 25 miles to sweep.

He arrived sweaty and cranky from carrying heavy signs and a water jug through less than optimal trails. We grabbed some food that the aid station crew had cached for us below the pass and headed out. The trail wound through beautiful meadows and forests and the light played on the peaks. The mosquitoes were abysmal. It was nearing evening when we reached the nearly empty water cache and were able to finally stop carrying the 5 gallon jug. We filled our water rapidly because the mosquitoes were feasting on us. Then we ran.

Long sweeping switchbacks into the valley.

From the pass above the cache and beyond we watched as purple dusk cloaked the eastern hills of Washington. Stars began to ping the blanket of sky. We'd been going for 15 hours and we had 15 miles to go–at a minimum–before we could shortcut to our camp. Welcome coolness covered us as we moved along. We eagerly awaited the next aid station so we could get much needed water and food. It was fully dark when we reached an unsigned junction and for a moment we were confused as we walked tree to tree with our headlamps, looking for weather beaten Forest Service signs. We determined we were only a short distance from the aid station and continued on the trail bending right. About .2 later I stopped.

"If there was no race sign at the junction, then that means the aid station workers took it. If the aid station workers took it, that means they packed up and hiked out already, down the other trail. If they're gone then there is no food or water for us. And there is no one for us to give these signs too."

With that realization we looked at the dozen or more re-bar signs in our hands and turned around. There was no way we were going to carry them 10 more miles!! We got back to the junction and stacked them along the trail for the race director to come get when he packed out the water cache later. Then we continued on.
The forest was dark and silent, except for the occasional sound of creeks. We made noise for bears as we trotted along. We were tired and starting to get sore. We were out of water and food, cranky and dehydrated. Finally we reached the junction to Cooney Lake.

We dropped the signs we had in our hands. There was no way we were going to finish the course tonight and backtrack to camp...our original plan. We'd take the shortcut past Cooney.

As with most accessible back country lakes there were myriad social trails and campsites networking the area and we soon dead ended. It was late and we were tired and we could see the ridge where our warm sleeping bags and a Nalgene of water were. But no trail connecting the two. After a few minutes of detective work I located the trail and we were on our way again. The climb was short, but it felt steep after 17 hours of moving. We shut off our headlamps and climbed by full moon light. Shooting stars raced across the sky. All was silent and wild.

The top of the pass was windy. Since the weather was good, we hadn't brought a tent so we put on every stitch of clothing we had. This included me wearing my rain jacket–and Kevin's swim shorts over my wool pants! We huddled in our sleeping bags. I made a wall from the bear canister and my shoes to block the wind from putting out the stove. Even that wasn't enough and I coiled around it, trying not to catch my sleeping bag on fire. Unfortunately, the efficiency was still diminished by the wind and we ate half cooked pasta before falling asleep.

4 hours later dawn turned the horizon to fire and illuminated the North Cascades with the joyous glow of a new day. We peeked from our bags and I managed to take a few pictures. So beautiful...so beautiful...so....

An hour later I awoke...roasting. The sun was firmly above the horizon and the wind gone. The desperate layering of last night was now cooking us. We quickly packed up and headed down to Cooney Lake, picked up our signs and continued. Thankfully, a couple miles later the final aid station had left us some water. We filled and ran...the mosquitoes!!!

About 2 miles from the finish we met the Race Director coming up and we gratefully let him carry some of the signs and water jugs. When we reached the end he cooked us some veggie burgers and even had managed to save 1 beer from the racers for us to share.

It was certainly not the adventure I'd been planning, but it was "good hundred miler training" ;)