A Year Behind or a Year Ahead?
Two years ago was full of life changes. Not just the typical “I met someone new” or “I lost some weight” type of changes. 2016 for me was pivotal in so may ways. I could say I finally found myself, after I thought I already had.
Then along comes 2017 in a whirlwind of more discovery, growth and strategic steps towards personal goals. One of the things I was really proud of in 2016 was that I started writing again, even if mostly just for my adventure blog. Each adventure would go by this past year, I’d make a few notes, and never complete my entry for a multitude of reasons.
October came along and I just kept thinking “I’m a year behind! How am I going to catch up?” Six hours in to my first 50k trail run, I started some heavy reflecting on the past year. Why am I doing this? I am doing this! I never thought I could do this! Look how far I’ve come! This year has been amazing and hard and rewarding and painful! I thought about writing, what to write, when to write, who I wanted my audience to be, what my voice was… then I came to the realization that I’m not a year behind – I’m a year ahead in so many ways!
I decided I’d write a little synopsis of my past year’s adventures, including one lesson learned from each trip, and then carry on into 2018 writing about whatever meets my fancy. Take a seat, my friends, and settle in for a story of Sierra’s Traverse through 2017. I hope you’ll join me in 2018 and many years to come as well.
Bandon to Port Orford
June is always that transition time in the PNW, trying to find somewhere without snow for the first fastpacking trip of the year. The Oregon Coast seemed like a good plan, and there was that write-up someone had of this trip along the coast starting at Bandon, ending at Port Orford, for a total of 30 miles along the Oregon Coast. We also had read the report in Backpacking Oregon that made the trip sound “fun”.
If you like long walks on the beach, I highly recommend this trip in the two day trek we completed it in. And by long walks on the beach, I mean literally 17 miles of hiking in the sand with the weight of a fastpack, with 12 miles of that sandy stroll having pretty much the same view. Not to say it wasn’t a beautiful view… but variety is the spice of life. After the 17 miles in the sand, the remaining 13 miles were lovely, with Hobbit-like forest trails and views of lighthouses and beautiful cliffs with ocean waves crashing below.
I wouldn’t say I would ever do this trip again, but I am thrilled to have a few stories to tell about the experience. The best is probably when my three companions and I had to strip naked to wade (or in my case, swim since I was too short) across two rivers flowing into the ocean. The seals nearby did not seem amused. Why naked, you ask? When you still have half a day of hiking in cold, windy temperatures along the beach, wearing wet clothes is not that appealing. And when it’s that cold and windy, you really don’t give a crap about modesty so long as you can be dry and warm again as soon as possible.
Lesson learned: Setting expectations with your partners (hiking, running, and other) is the most important piece of having a successful trip. I was honest that this trip made me nervous, and I wasn’t confident on my ability to read a tide map or hike along the ocean. Thankfully I was given patience and impromptu lessons on ocean hiking, which gave me the confidence to keep going, when otherwise I would have thrown in the towel at the first river crossing.
Along comes July, and the hunt for the first backpacking trip in the mountains with minimal snow was on. Necklace Valley gets it’s name from all of the alpine lakes that are so close to each other in the valley – all of which have names after a stone. It was still too early in the year to be able to explore and see all of them because of the snow, but maybe next year we’ll go back later and not have to wade through freezing water following the trails along the side of the lakes. Due to snow melt, the lake water levels were well above where the trails were cut in. Luckily we only had to get thigh deep at the worst, and no stripping or swimming was involved.
Lesson learned: It’s totally worth carrying the extra 2.2 pounds of a liter of boxed wine up into the mountains. (especially when your friend carries the wine!) For a simple, non-technical backpack trip in, wine with dinner was definitely fun!
Spray Park Loop
Also in July was Spray Park Loop! This is probably one of my most favorite long day runs I’ve completed to date. This 17 mile loop starting at Mowich Lake in Mt Rainier National Park has it all. Don’t expect to get a PR on this route, as I kept stopping to take pictures. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the entire run, other than that fun slog up Ipsut Pass.
Lesson learned: Make sure to fuel yourself before you start up a pass. Serious bonking happened with the intent of “I’ll save that chocolate for when I get to the top as a reward!”
August brought Klahinie Ridge, along with all of the forest fires. Next time I’ll do this loop in a day run, but this time was spent with a friend over a two day backpacking trip. I may have underestimated the number of passes we had to go over on this trip, but thankfully my friend was a good sport and kept going without complaining. I think the views, even with the low visibility due to smoke, made the trek with unexpected elevation worth every step!
Lesson learned: Make sure you are well aware of your partner’s abilities before starting a trip, and always triple check your maps and route for not only direction, but elevation as well.
Ragnar Ultra – Crystal Mountain
I’ve never been someone into organized, commercialized races, and have preferred to spend my race entry fees on races that support the trails and community. I had seen this advertisement, and thought it looked fun, as there’s something to be said for camaraderie also. When I brought it up to a friend, I was told they knew about the race, they were already planning on doing it with mutual friends, and they thought I couldn’t do it because “they were doing the Ultra version”, which is what I was interested in.
Months later, and only a few weeks before the race, I was asked (by this same person) if I wanted to join the Ultra team. Someone had bailed at the last minute, and they needed a 4th participant or else they would have to withdraw, and lose money. Of course my initial response was “eff you” and “you said I can’t do it”. Another friend on the team called me, explained the course, encouraged me, and I decided to help out and try it.
Yes, I was the slowest on the team. But I finished. Many teams didn’t finish. 32 miles and 7400ft of elevation gain/loss in 24 hours. In fact, if I remember correctly, out of 13 Ultra teams, only 7 finished, and out of those 7, we won our division, which was the co-ed w/ two women/two men.
Lesson learned: Running on trails in the dark isn’t that bad, and never let anyone tell you what you can/not do. And certainly don’t let it bother you if they do.
Heather Maple Pass
Along comes September, and finally exploring one of the most popular hikes in the North Cascades. It’s been on my list for years, but at only 7 miles I never could justify driving all the way there for such a short run. Having a longer traverse the following day made for a great excuse to check this off the list! Plenty of time to drive up to the Cascades, find a place to camp, and run/hike this amazing loop without trashing yourself for the next day’s adventure. After completing this loop, it would have definitely been worth the drive. Views are literally picture perfect, and the smoke from neighboring forest fires hadn’t yet rolled in.
Lesson learned: Don’t miss out on an epic hike just because you think it’s not “worthy” of a drive. There’s a reason this route is so popular, and it is well deserved.
Easy Pass to Colonial Creek
The day after Heather Maple Pass Loop was a 24 mile run from Easy Pass to Colonial Creek. Smoke came in overnight, and visibility was terrible. Easy Pass was not easy, though the remaining 20 miles were mostly flat, soft, and in the forest without views. Highly recommended for a training route, as I’m told the views atop Easy Pass are outstanding when smoke-free, and who wouldn’t want 20 miles of easy trails to run?
Lesson learned: Communication and honesty is key, before, during, and after any adventure. Plans to meet up with a friend for the traverse failed, making the trip one of the most awkward runs to date due to everyone in the party being upset at each other. Life is short. Trails are long. Confirm plans, follow through, and stop to say what’s on your mind. Don’t wait months to resolve a friendship.
Copper Ridge Loop
The last fair weathered weekend before winter started to settle in atop the mountain ranges ended on the Copper Ridge Loop in the North Cascades. The plan was to fastpack the 34 miles and 9k of elevation gain in two days. This was accomplished, but the first day required 24 miles due to lack of permits at the more reasonable camping sites.
This loop had it all, panoramic views, ridge running, fire towers, wildlife, river crossings, suspension bridges, and even a cable car to cross a ravine in. It was probably the hardest traverse I’ve completed, and worth every step.
Lesson learned: If you have reservations about the route, timing, and technicality of the trail, speak up louder. Just because one person in the party says “It’s fine”, doesn’t mean that it will be fine for you.
A perk of my job is that they send their employees to a tropical location once year for an annual meeting, and you have the option to extend your stay if you pay for your own accommodations for the additional days. This year, I decided to stay an extra 4 days in Maui.
This island has it all, and I’m in love. Beaches, culture, food, forest, and a crater. Being on Maui felt like you were able to go from the beach to the moon and back in the same day.
Lesson learned: Jellyfish stings hurt. Even little tiny ones. Warm compresses are for stings from the ocean (jellyfish, etc), and cold compresses are for stings from the land (bees, etc). The old tale of peeing on a jellyfish sting has nothing to do with urine. It has to do with warm liquid flowing over the sting. Warm water works just as well.
Cougar Mountain 50k
The last weekend of October was my very first 50k (31 mile) trail run. I signed up on a whim, just out of sheer curiosity if I could. It was on Cougar Mountain, which I know oh-so well after living near there and running almost daily through the mountain. I felt like it would be a good “first” for me, since I was familiar with the course and would know what to expect. My goal was simply to finish and not get injured.
I finished (nearly last) and had no injuries. It’s crazy to think that only a few years ago I could barely run 3 miles without stopping, and on this day I moved (not necessarily running the whole time) for 8 hours, over 31 miles and 7k of elevation gain.
Lesson learned: We are capable of a hell of a lot more than we think we are sometimes. We just have to have the curiosity and drive to try.
Wrapping Up 2017
Of course there were many more day adventures, runs, and lessons learned in 2017. If I was to list them all, it would be more of a book than a blog entry. My first bikepacking experience inspired me to plan more adventures on my gravel bike this coming summer. The few shorter races I ran made me want to run more, if only for the camaraderie and opportunity to meet new people. New friends have inspired me in so many ways.
I’m definitely more of a year ahead than behind coming in to the New Year. I can’t wait to see what new adventures and learning comes in 2018! Cheers!