I awoke to pine cones pelting the ground around me. Every thirty seconds or so I would here the thwap of a pine cone (Doug Fir cone actually) hitting Yitka’s tent or our car parked just behind me. I was laying in my sleeping bag looking up at the tree tops in the early morning light hoping the squirrells weren’t pissed at me and weren’t going to drop one right on my face. It was early. How early, I had no idea because my phone (clock and alarm) died in the night. I had a race to start at 7am and was too anxious that I would miss the start if I fell back asleep. So I laid there and enjoyed the summer morning mountain air.
Just before 7am a ragtag bunch of crazy people gathered at the starting line of the Angels Staircase 60k. James, the race director, warned us all that this was going to be a tough course with no real option of dropping for any reason because its all super remote and not near any kind of trailheads or roads. He also warned us that he encountered a momma bear with two cubs on the course the night before the race. Comforting.
A countdown and then we were off running into the North Cascades. Going up, the course starts with a 6,000 foot climb in the first 10.5 miles to the top of Angels Staircase. The course total is 10,000 feet of gain. As we ascended into the mountains the grade was often much more runnable than I was expecting.
I took a moment at the top. The breeze felt great on my skin. I caught my breath and smiled. Then down the backside deeper into the wilderness.
The meadows and alpine forests were gorgeous. I got into a nice groove and it felt great to be running and not climbing anymore. Most of the race I was running by myself. No one in sight, just me and the mountains. The stretch between the Staircase and the next big climb was the high point in the race for me. At times I felt giddy and happy and would laugh and run fast through the single track just for fun.
At one point I came around a bend and saw three barefoot guys dressed fully in homemade buckskin clothing. One had a handmade traditional long bow. They looked hardcore. I really wanted to stop and hang out with them but all that came out was “wow, you guys are cool!” as I ran past them.
Next I came to this lake.
Then the next climb swithbacking up a steep ridge.
I cruised down the long descent. Again, it was a much more runnable grade than I was expecting. Time dissapeared into the mountains. I hit the 24 mile aid station feeling pretty good but starting to feel a little tired. One last big climb then smooth sailing down the mountain back to the start. In theory.
I was testing a new prototype hardcore trail Luna we are working on and it was performing beautifully. I was excited about that. Excellent rock protection, traction, and security. At mile 26 I put on some toe socks to mix it up. Socks can be nice in steep trail terrain. It allows you to cinch down the laces a little extra without them biting your skin.
The next climb proved to be a doozy. I ran out of food super early and was feeling calorie deficient. The climb was also just on the edge of being a runnable grade. I would start running then shortly realize it was just a little too steep to run. So I ended up hiking a lot of it. I was really feeling tired and hungry on this climb. The eight miles between the 24 mile aid station and the 32 mile aid station felt like a long way. At one point an awesome woman gave me some peanut butter pretzels and a GU. They were so good! It really hit the spot.
Its easy in retrospect to forget how hard things were at the time. But I was really struggling through that section. It got me thinking a lot about the Bear 100 and feeling nervous for it. Even on the descent I was having to walk some of the more technical spots because I just wasn’t feeling confident in my state and ability to not fall. My lack of pictures for the second half of the race atests to my state of being.
But I finally made it to the last aid station at mile 32-ish. I ate food and felt immediately better. The next 6 miles were all down hill back to the start. I cruised down the hill running at a nice pace all the way down the mountain. I sprinted across the finish line with a great guy named Cameron who I caught up with in the last mile.
I didn’t get a pick of me crossing the finish line but I did get a pic of Zombie Tom crossing the finish line. Good job Tom! Here is a pic of me on the course instead.
The course was beautifully brutal. A great frolick in the mountains and training for the Bear. Rainshadow Running puts on the best trail races. Period.
I had a great time with Tom, Yitka, and Tony all weekend. Thanks y’all for being awesome! Thanks James, Candace, Rainshadow Running, and all the volunteers out in the mountains! And thanks to the beautiful mountains.