Running alone in the woods is funner than it sounds! (UPWC Chinook Pass)

This isn’t very polished, but I wrote it for the wonderful Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge, which is one of the coolest events I’ve ever seen.

It’s embarrassing, but the night before I tried the ultrapedestrian Chinook Pass route, I felt really nervous. Even though no one would be there, I hadn’t told many people about my plans, and I could still technically succeed by just walking the route, I really wanted to try actually running most of it. And that felt foolish. You can’t run 32 miles, my brain told itself somehow. Even though you’ve run nearly that far before and chrissakes you walked without sitting down for 30 hours that one time.

In a rare confident move, I had made plans that evening that sort of implied I intended to take 8-9 hours to finish the route, so I woke up at 3:30 in Seattle and drove to the trailhead. I was a little inefficient at getting my stuff together and some roads were closed on the way there, though, so I didn’t start until 6:15.

The first stretch was along the PCT, which was very runnable. I decided to go this way because it involved running down a lot of very gradual downhill and steep uphill rather than the other way around. I figured I was better at power hiking up steep things than I was at running down them or running up gradual hills. Immediately after starting, I somehow took a wrong trail (which I didn’t realize yet) past some lakes and wonderful rocky wildflower-filled terrain. The sun was low in the sky and bright red through the smoke, and I couldn’t see much else in the distance. The flat sky looked like a Tycho album cover.

I ran for what seemed like forever down the PCT, passing some thru hikers and noticing the slow change in trail fashion since last year. I really didn’t see many people, though, probably 7 or 8, including a woman who was literally laying in the trail trying to reach some berries and who encouraged me to jump over her. I saw a view of Tahoma for just a moment, white and unreal through the haze.

I still hadn’t gotten to the first turn and it felt like it had been forever, so I stopped and looked at strava. That’s when I realized the first mile or so of my run had been a slightly wrong route of comparable length. Plus, I’d already burned 40% of my phone battery by turning the flashlight on somehow. I felt so dumb about these things, I seriously considered turning around. I had been feeling a little lukewarm about the endeavor in part because of the smoke, but when I stopped tracking to save battery I was a little floored I’d somehow put away a third of the distance and elevation gain in 2 hours. So I figured I might as well chance the thing.

The trail had stopped being as rocky and alpine and passed some lakes in a forest. I couldn’t even see the other side of the little lakes, the smoke was so bad. It was beautiful, in a way, and made the light very interesting, but it was hard to breathe. Grouse waddled along the trail, standing their ground to stare at me until they flew away loudly at the last second. I got a bit confused with all those little paths people tend to make around lakes, but eventually got to the intersection for the first turn.

At this point, the trail went downhill in earnest, and I think I took it a bit too fast. There were more lakes, and no people on this part. After a couple of miles, I got to the patrol cabin. I was grateful for the real toilet seat in the privy and the very very soft moss I found for toilet paper. The cabin was locked, and I remembered there was supposed to be a shelter log somewhere but didn’t find it. I didn’t look for long, but I did fill up on lake water.

After this, the trail was soft and fun and went downhill at the ideal grade for easy running. The hours flew by, and I saw a lot of chipmunks and no people. Eventually, I started to see the road. I saw a trail crew close to the road pulling some rocks out of the trail. No wonder it felt so well maintained!

I went to the waterfall on the other side of the road to take a break and assess my ankle, which had started to feel a little iffy. It felt better after sitting for a little while, and it didn t look weird, so I decided to ignore it. I ate a snack even though I didn’t feel hungry. A family looked at me strangely as I laid down in the pine needles for a second.

Then I picked back up and went along a little more solitary trail before getting to the Grove of the Patriarchs. I had heard the name before and was excited to learn what it meant, but it turns out patriarchs are just very big trees. They were beautiful and mossy, though, and the smoke was lending them a fairytale elderly tree spirit vibe. I felt kind of rude trying to dodge all of the tourists from the nearby trailhead and was relieved when the east side trail forked off to the left.

Around this point, I was having a hard time running, both because the trail was frequently uphill and because I was tired. I would rationalize with myself about running for a few minutes at a time on the flatter parts in exchange for walking whenever it was steep at all or rocky (at this point I had decided not to chance rocks too much with my delicate ankle). The vague upness meandered through many small delicious streams and mossy forest for a while, and then it really started to go up. It was really quite steep, which was on some level a relief because I knew at least no one would be running this part.

Still, I can confidently say that was one of the hardest 1k feet of climbing I’ve ever done, an amount of gain I’d usually hardly notice and never think to complain about. Turns out, running is more tiring than walking, which honestly was somehow news to me. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I was back in rockier alpiney terrain, with Indian paintbrushes and other wildflowers and views of the road on the other side, cut out of the cliff.

I intersected the road a couple of times and walked next to it for a while, which was a bit infuriating. The last bit of trail was very pretty and meadowlike, though, so I arrived at my car relieved but also not especially bored. I got back to the trailhead after around 7.5 hours, then I walked slowly next to tourists along the mile or so of the PCT I’d missed at the beginning, crawled past curious eyes into my van, turned on the fan and laid there in my bed eating blueberries for a while. I still couldn’t see anything for the smoke, but it had been a great day.

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