Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ultra Pedestrian Wilderness Challenge 2013: Devil's Dome Loop

I signed up to participate in the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge 2013: Devil’s Dome Loop. That is what brings me here on a Sunday evening–driving upriver in deep dusk, thinking existential thoughts. Moments from the PCT are replaying themselves on my mind’s movie screen. The radio proclaims, “Nothing scares me anymore” and I sing along–a phrase I can wholeheartedly agree with amidst a sea of vapid lyrics. I drive onward winding up into the mountains, arms straight, elbows locked out. I am on a mission, not just to run a course, but to run away from the life I have come home too. The mountains, my dearest friends welcome me with knowing, grizzled faces. They’ve seen the likes of me one too many times.
I fill my water bottles in the dark. The darkness calms me. The mountain night fills my lungs, soaks into my skin, permeates my psyche. I feel the stress of everything outside this place and moment falling away. I find an amazingly comfortable camp spot beneath ancient cedar trees just a stone’s throw from my car, but the roar of the creek is so loud I cannot sleep, even with earplugs in. Oddly, I miss the pure exhaustion of the speed record that allowed me to sleep anywhere the moment I was horizontal…

5:30 comes and I find myself eating an almond butter sandwich in the pre-dawn light. I don’t bother to unzip my sleeping bag or turn on my headlamp. I realize it is the most natural thing in the world to me. As will packing up and moving forward when I’d rather be sleeping.  At the trailhead I throw my tent and sleeping bag into my trunk. A man walks over and asks if I am doing the UPWC as well. I say yes and he holds out his hand, “Arya.”

I take it and stumble over my own name. “An…Heather.” He walks away. I push the button on my Garmin and begin my day in the gray light. Anish…I almost introduced myself as Anish. Shaking my head I wonder semi-seriously not only if I am experiencing a mild form of PTSD, but if I am at risk for split personality disorder. The cobweb of nightmares in my brain dissipate in the sweat and blood pumping power of the switchbacks up…and up…and up. I forget the faux pas with my name. Who cares anyway? Anish is Heather. Heather is Anish. I am home. Home. Home. Home….it pounds through my veins and I smile as I bound through the huckleberry laden parklands. The sweet odor of fermenting berries drifts around me like the mist. I relish the fact that I am free of my backpack and only carry a couple of handhelds and some snacks.

The climb up to McMillan Park breezes by. Over and over I am amazed at how effortless it feels to run through the mountains on narrow trails. My body must be recovered from the PCT for it to handle the 41 miles today as though it was nothing. I don’t push. I simply revel in the beauty of the wild and my body moving through it, just as I did for 2 months prior. Vaguely I am aware that I am reaching landmarks in what feels like a short amount of time, but it doesn’t really matter.

Onward I fly, uphill, downhill, over the rocks and through the brush. I bomb down from the ridge to the cusp of Ross Lake. I am sad to enter the forest and leave the sunny high country behind.


Yet when I cross the bridge and consult my watch I see that my easy run has been less than 11 hours long (10:46…plus 3 minutes or so of fumbling with the Garmin to make it stop recording). I whoop and stride back into the sun drenched parking lot. I guzzle water as though I will never drink enough again. I rip my shoes and socks off and throw my pack into the car.

Then, I go lie in the glacial creek and absorb its power. Rejuvenated, I leave home and return to the building in which I live.

Bonus! I am pleased to discover that this fell out of my pack and was awaiting my return to my car: