I wrote this in August 2019 on my way to Italy for UTMB (previous post is my race report). With the 2020 Hardrock 100 just over 20 weeks out and sitting at the top of the waitlist, I have been thinking about my training that has been going well and what I need to do. Overall I feel good but would love to try and do something as amazing as my experience last July. I hope you enjoy!
Sometimes we need to make the best of a situation that’s less than ideal. That is what I did last July when I had a business meeting on JULY 4th and 5th in Stevenson, Washington. Traveling on a holiday is something that is extremely rare for my job, but fortunately my kids are all older and missing Independence Day wasn’t as big of a deal as it might have been a few years ago.
Given the location of the meeting, I did my usual research on the area and potential trails in May. Initially I was very excited when I found a 41-mile loop of Mt. Hood with approximately 10,000’ of climbing. Despite the allure of an awesome adventure, I then became dissappointed as I realized it would not be a wise decision, given my plans to run Hardrock (one of the toughest 100 milers) on July 19th. However, once Hardrock was cancelled for 2019, I knew I wanted to attempt this route to better prepare me for the other major race on my calendar, UTMB on my birthday, August 30.
I started to research the course as well as the agenda for the meeting. I learned the welcome reception was at 7pm on the 4thand hoped that would give me enough time to drive 1 hour from the trailhead back to the hotel… if all went well. As I learned more about the course and all the snow they had this year, I realized I might be cutting it close. Fortunately I used STRAVA, a running app, to find some runners out there who ran parts of the loop. The feedback suggested that it was possible but highly dependent on the forecast and how much snow remained on certain sections once I got out there. Fortunately the weather looked good but that’s never a guarantee in the mountains, not to mention a few others things to worry about as well.
Dark and Unfamiliar Beginning
Arriving at an unknown trailhead at 4am with a giant mountain dominating the night sky and 40+ miles of uncharted trails is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. The first few miles tend to be the worst on a run like this as a flurry of thoughts and anxieties tend to go through my head, from “Did I remember everything?” to “What about all the recent stories of mountain lions attacks or bears?”. Fortunately, reasoning prevailed and I continued on trying to enjoy the little time I had with the stars and glow of the moon off of Mt Hood before the sun began to rise.
It was a beautiful morning and at the beginning the trails were soft, easy, and I quickly began to relax. As the sky and surrounding landscape began to light up, it was a perfect time to thank the Lord for the opportunity and pray for his guidance and protection on this journey.
Going Counterclockwise Around Mt. Hood on the 4th
Some of the posts I read suggested going clockwise since the finish would be easier. I chose the opposite direction for a few reasons. The main ones were that since I was doing this alone and would be starting in the dark, I preferred having the first miles be easier, as well as being on more well populated trails later in the day in case I was struggling (the second half of the run on the west side has many more accessible trails that people use). Fortunately, things were going great, and with the help of GPS maps on my phone, navigation was easy with the exception of a couple of water crossings.
Mt. Hood is spectacular, and as I continued along with the sun slowly rising, I couldn’t decide where to take a picture, as it was all so beautiful. Finally, I came up along a ridge that I knew would be a beautiful spot. I had brought a little American flag and took a picture to send to my family to wish them a Happy 4th and let them know I was ok.
By mid-morning, I started running into other hikers who were making their way around Mt. Hood as well with much larger packs. However, these folks were or had been out there for a few days making their way around. One couple from the UK asked about the trail I had just come from and where I was going. When I told them I was looking to do the complete loop in less than a day, they were super encouraging but also acknowledged that I was crazy!
The Trails & The Finish
The trail around was absolutely beautiful and had everything from soft sand to technical rocky areas. There were some steep climbs but relatively tame compared to some I’ve seen in the San Juan Mountain range on the Hardrock course in Colorado. There were many amazing views of Mt. Hood and tons of spectacular waterfalls.
I felt strong through most of the day and, with the exception of a couple of mishaps, thought I would finish well ahead of schedule. However, 40 miles is 40 miles, and after about 25 miles, I was clearly getting tired from the effort and possibly the travel from the east coast less than 12 hours earlier. In addition, I began to understand why many prefer to go clockwise, as the last 10 miles were no joke. As I struggled on that last section, the anxiety that I felt early on returned. This time it was more about making the reception for work, the main reason I was out there. I was losing time and feared not only getting back late, but then to walk into the hotel dirty, smelly, exhausted, and bumping into one of the attendees.
Some Highlights: Pink Snow, Running Downstream, and Water Filtration
I had to cross several sections of trail that were covered with large snow fields. While most of them were uneventful, I was glad I had my hiking poles which saved me from sliding down into some steep descents! In retrospect I probably should have put my micro-spikes on my sneakers but was fortunate that my poles were enough to keep me safe.
Some of the snow fields looked pink, and I was curious as to what was causing it. At first I thought maybe an animal was killed and that the red blood looked pink when the snow melted. However, as I realized this coloring was more pervasive, I tried to make a mental note to look it up the following day. That never happened, but coincidently a few days later there was a report about pink snow being seen more recently as a result of algae and I serendipitously learned it is known as watermelon snow.
One of the more memorable parts of the day was just under halfway when I had gotten comfortable with the water crossing. Prior to this point, I always used both hiking poles to stay safe and in some cases, not completely submerge my shoes in the water. However, at this one particular crossing, I initially thought I’d be good with one pole and carefully began to make my way across. I realized this wasn’t smart, so I stopped and tried to pull the second pole out of my vest halfway across. Needless to say, I dropped it and found out that it floats… and moved quickly in small rapids! I quickly jumped in the water and made my way to the bank where I ran as fast as I could for maybe 200 meters before it got stuck on a rock, long enough for me to jump in and grab it. So much for dry feet!
Despite the wet feet, I was lucky with all the water crossing I encountered, as none were truly dangerous. The day did get a little warm, and while I had a full pack for food and safety, the most important item was my new water filtration system that I had purchased exclusively for this trip. I had been with others who filtered water while on long runs but whether it was the H2O in the Northwest or just my excitement at doing this by myself in the wilderness, the water tasted amazing!
Making It Back For The Reception
I had been running for over 13 hours, which included many stops for food, filtering water, pictures, and talking to some really cool people out there enjoying Gods beauty. It was after 5pm when I got back to the car and immediately began the 1 hour drive back to the hotel. People sightseeing on the roads and my fear of getting a ticket kept my speed down (relatively speaking that isJ) but I was starving and still had to get to my room and get cleaned up.
I arrived at the 7pm reception a fashionably late but no one noticed. This was an important meeting, as I was trying to establish new relationships with many of these surgeons. Fortunately, it only took one doctor to ask me a series of 3 or 4 questions about how I had spent my day. Within minutes I had over 10 customers around me listening to my journey. The result was that the day not only surpassed my physical expectations, but I also had a very successful professional night in the beautiful northwest!
Looking forward to more adventures in 2020!