What is all of it for?
The training. The running. The stretching. The eating.
It's for days like Saturday. When I turned 30, I was pregnant and while that was an amazing feat, I knew that turning 40 would stir up the desire to go big or go home. I know myself.
Last fall, I messaged a few runners and coaches in my area with some ideas about a 40-mile run for my 40th birthday. It was on a Saturday, after all! The idea of doing a circumnavigation around Wy'east (Mt. Hood) came up, but my birthday is too early in the season for the rivers and glaciers to be safe for passage.
I ran a few races in late winter/early spring and something in me just shut off and shut down. I had ZERO desire to try and go 40 miles. 30 miles seemed long enough. I decided (that's the key word) that I didn't want to be a cliche, running 40 miles for 40 years. I decided to be funny and run a local trail called the "4-T" (see what I did there?).
In a parallel running universe (that frequently overlaps with mine) another friend had reserved a condo at the base of Wy'east for mid-July. She planned to complete the circumnavigation for her 40th birthday. She extended an invitation. Spoiler alert: I accepted.
What came next is the unexpected gift of jumping into something beyond perceived capabilities. What came next is the expansion of core beliefs.
In the last couple of weeks leading up to our big adventure, I would see Wy'east (aka Mt. Hood, but I find myself drawn to using the pre-contact names for natural landmarks whenever possible), from Portland, and it would look bigger and bigger every day. I juggled thoughts of doubt and belief equally. I mean, who runs around an entire mountain in a day?
The answer to that is: more people than you think, and I certainly know a lot of them---so when 9 other women showed up the night before to prep for the big day, my confidence came into view again. I decided to have fun.
The biggest thing I have learned this year is how much power we have to decide for ourselves whether or not something will be hard. Will we quit or will we keep going? Will we even start?
Well, we definitely started. I, along with 9 other women, hit the Timberline trail at 5:25am, just as the sun was coming up, knowing full-well that the sun would be setting as we made our way back to our starting point.
The incredible thing about doing the circumnavigation is that there are views pretty much ALL THE TIME. We had to keep ourselves moving/not take too many photos. We also had to keep in mind the many river crossings that would be rising as the sun melted the glaciers during the day.
The first few were not too big of a deal. Once we got into the afternoon melt, it was a different story altogether. The trail conditions were primo, soft, reasonable blow-down (fallen trees, etc..). The rivers swelled and raged, and made me REALLY glad I had been doing a lot of cross-training. Forget about wading or running. Crossing the rivers required leaping from boulder-to-boulder (on tired legs)
After one of the more challenging (dangerous) crossings, we had the biggest climb of the day between Miles 24-30, up to Lamberson Ridge. From up there, I felt I could see all of Oregon! We had already been out for 11 hours, and I knew we still had actual glaciers to cross, so again, not so many pictures, just lots of digging deep and moving forward. At altitude.
The glaciers were actually quite a relief, nice cool snow, and luckily, really easy to traverse the day we did it. I guess easy after 12 hours of trail running becomes a relative term, but let's just say I was dreading them a bit, and I did not need to spend any mental energy dreading them once it came to crossing them. I have heard many other worse stories. For us, the rivers were BY FAR the hardest. The glaciers seemed like a cake walk.
At what was meant to be our second to last major river crossing, I managed to emerge from the forest into the river canyon with a hilarious tumble down the lava rocks. I felt grateful at least a few people got to see that. I had only fallen one other time all day, so I was glad to have made it 33 miles with so few injuries. The crossing was the most challenging of the day (of course). We all made it across. It was another boulder-leaping ninja warrior deal. We were all ready to be done. All of our maps said the trail was 40 miles. The more we talked to hikers coming from the other direction, the more we realized that it was closer to 42 miles.
We made it all the way to mile 38 (2 more miles? 4 more miles?) when we made our first, last, and only wrong turn of the day. Someone had posted a sign "TO LODGE" at a junction, which we took to mean Timberline Lodge, where we were headed. We took the junction to the left and headed downhill towards what we assumed was out last river crossing of the day, White River, which of course has not one, but two separate branches to cross. We noticed that we were heading away from the mountain, and not toward it, not toward water at all. Backtracking, and hiking uphill, we found the juncture again, and proceeded on the trail, at this point realizing we'd be finishing after sunset.
The light faded quickly, the headlamps came on, and we finally reached the White River Canyon. Assessing a river's depth and turbulence in the dark is not something I am particularly skilled at, so we took this one realllllll slow. It is 2 miles up a "vertical beach" of lava silt and sand to reach Timberline from this point. It took close to an hour. It took courage and strength I wasn't sure I had. When 16 hours on the trail turned into 17 hours on the trail, I had all kinds of mixed feelings. The night sky was to die for. Everything hurt. The lodge kept flickering in and out of view. There was peace, even in these painful, exhausted moments. Finally, finally, the sound of the Salmon River headwaters, meaning the climbing was done, and it was a short walk down to the parking lot.
43.4 miles. 10,000+ ft of elevation gain. 17hours and 10 minutes.
Some people want stuff for their birthday. I pretty much just want to see what I'm made of. I want to see what nature is made of.
Strip it down to one foot in front of the other, sending kindness out into the universe.