I’ve had a hard time getting into writing this report. I have no idea why. Most reports come easy to me, but this one - hope. My buddy, Marlene, called it “runner’s block” as opposed to “writer’s block.” Heh, heh. Anyway, I’ll give it my best shot.
First and foremost, the McKenzie River Valley in Oregon is absolutely spectacular. I had never been to that part of Oregon before, and it’s not an exaggeration to say the beauty that surrounded us took my breath away.
Karen, Vale, and I took off early Friday morning to make the 6-7 hour jaunt north. Who’s Vale, you ask? Vale (the informal version of Valencia) is a former foreign exchange student who lived with Karen’s boss’ family five years earlier. She was back in town for a 3-month visit and jonesin’ for a chance to get out of Dodge for a weekend. So when Karen asked if she wanted to crew for us on this run, she jumped at the chance, having no idea what she was getting into.
The ride north was fairly uneventful - with the exception of the elk that scared the pee-waddelin’ outta us. I should interject here that we were traveling in Karen’s brand new, less than 1,000 miles on it, Subaru Outback. The fog was intermittently really thick and sort of thick, and at one point, a few miles outside of Orick, we came around a corner and two bull elk were on the highway, standing in the right-hand lane - the lane we were driving in. I think I squeaked out, “Elk!” and Karen deftly maneuvered around them, but suffice to say that woke us up better than a cup of coffee ever could have. (It also necessitated a quick check of the underwear.)
After lunch in Springfield, we headed east toward the McKenzie River Valley with Vale at the helm. We had planned our arrival early enough to find all aid station areas - or so we thought (more on that later), including time to hang out at Sahalie Falls, which are absolutely beautiful. I cannot express enough the beauty of this river. It’s crystal clear, and no matter the depth, you can see all the way to the bottom. And we were going to have it as a constant companion during our run the next day!
Particularly spectacular were the Sahalie Falls, which is where the start of the race would be held. We took quite a few pictures here as we wanted to ensure Vale had plenty to show her family and friends when she went back home.
Karen had made reservations for us to stay in a cabin at the Holiday Farm Resort, and what a neat place this was! You could spit from the deck into the river, and the cabin was like a little home away from home. Very homey and comfortable with every possible amenity. The only thing it lacked was a oven and a dishwasher (of the automatic type), but nothing that a good grill and someone else to wash dishes wouldn't fix. ;o)
After a great meal at the main house across the road from the cabins, we settled in for the night and an early rise the next morning.
It was chilly at the start, but the weatherman called for a really nice day in the valley, with temps anticipated to reach the 70s. (Fashion Report: Black shorts, white tech shirt with purple piping, removable sleeves, and the ever present when racing hot pink gaiters.) The runners gathered around the RD for some last minute directions, Vale was taking photos, the horn sounded, and we were off.
We had just turned onto the trail when I had to pulled over to the side to make some adjustments to my running vest. Ensuring I wouldn’t be stepping in front of anybody, I hopped back on the trail and joined the conga line of runners. Within a short distance, the trail began climbing along the river. The roar of the water was so loud, you could barely hear yourself breathing. Suddenly, I hear a very quiet, “Excuse me,” in my right ear that scared the holy crap out of me so bad I actually let out a guttural scream. I let the guy by while he apologized profusely and I told him it was okay, that I had been in my own world. Remember - I thought I was the last person. This guy must’ve started late, and with the river being so loud, I never heard him coming. Talk about an adrenaline rush! That certainly carried me along for quite awhile.
Again, this part of Oregon is simply gorgeous. We ran through sections with lava fields on our right and a stunning lake, Clear Lake, on our left. No motorized water vehicles are allowed on the lake, and it is definitely a thing of beauty. I couldn’t help but stop a couple of times to take in my surroundings. I had also caught up with Karen by this time, and we ran into the first aid station together. Vale was dutifully ringing the cow bell as we came into sight, and it was a hoot hear this. She was unsure at first about the bell, but ended up thoroughly enjoying herself. At the end, she commented that people told her they liked hearing the bell and had thanked her. I told her it’s because out on the trail, sometimes it's hard to tell where the aid stations are until you’re almost on top of them. The bell lets you know your close and provides a real mental boost. I loved hearing that bell. It's even better when you know there's someone on the other end waiting specifically for you.
At the first aid station, we had to make up mileage by completing a .25 mile out and back past the station. I lost Karen on the “back” part as I desperately needed to use the outdoor loo. Vale had all our goodies for us, so I grabbed half a chicken/avo sandwich, a chocolate donut, and a Mojo bar, thanked her and headed back in the direction from which we’d come. And this is where I made my first mistake.
I forgot we were going all the way around the lake. There was no other runner in sight, so I ended backtracking back over a bridge and was making my merry way in the wrong direction. THANKFULLY, I ran into the last runner from the regular starters. Him: “You’re going the wrong direction.” Me: “Nope, I’m just the last of the early starters.” Him: No. You’re going in the wrong direction.” %^&*#! I thanked him, and with a sick feeling in my stomach and another adrenaline rush, hurried back along the trail. If by chance that guy is reading this - THANK YOU! If we hadn’t had our encounter, my race would’ve been over.
Soon, and seemingly out of nowhere, the second aid station appeared. And here’s where I made my second mistake - the biggest trail running brain fart of all trail running brain farts. AS#2 was not where I expected it to be, so for some stupid reason, I didn’t think this was the actual aid station. Heck, Vale wasn’t there. Ends up the station was a 20 minute walk from where we thought it was going to be, and poor Vale wasn’t able to make it in time. She was so upset, she almost started crying, but pulled herself together and got to the next station. Me - I don’t know what the heck happened to me. Even when I went past the start area (albeit on the other side of the river), I kept thinking the 2nd AS was somewhere up ahead. I wasn’t wearing my Garmin, just a watch. I ended up losing all sense of mileage. On top of that, I was continually pulling over to the side to let the regular start runners go past me, and the trail at this point was littered with rocks and tree roots - all of which combined to make me feel like I was going really slow. The whole thing was extremely disconcerting, and put me a real funk.
No other early start runners had been in sight for what seemed like forever, so it was quite surprising when I came up on Karen and a lady she’d been running with for awhile. We commiserated with one another about the rocks and roots, and Karen was as chatty as always, but I could not pull out of my funk. I just kept wondering why, why, why was it taking me so long to go 12 miles? It . . . just . . . didn’t . . . make . . . sense. I didn't say anything to Karen because, well, because I was in such a frigging funk. (I did say I was having a total and complete brain fart, right?)
After maybe an hour and a half or so of wallowing in my self-induced misery - the cow bell! The cow bell! We’re coming into the 2nd aid station! I had completely run out of food, and there was smiling Vale with our bag of goodies. As Karen and I were re-supplying, a guy says, “Welcome to Mile 18.9.” (3rd AS) Me (incredulously): “We’re at Mile 18.9?” Him: “Yep.” I'm thinking, "What? Are you kidding me?" I couldn’t stop smiling! So instead of only going 12 miles in 4 hours, I’d gone 19. I was so frigging happy! And from this point on, folks, life was good!
Karen and I left the station together, but I lost her when she had to stop for a bathroom break. The trail at this point was extremely runnable the rest of the way, and I was able to put it in cruise control and totally enjoy myself. Vale was at the remaining aid stations smiling, ringing the cowbell, providing me with sandwiches and donuts, and I also munched on the aid stations’ brownies and watermelon. (I've come to LOVE watermelon when I'm doing these runs. Little nutritional value, but when nothing else tastes good, it helps to get me eating again.)
The last aid station before the finish line was manned by the local high school cross-country team. The young guys and their coach were so attentive and nice. The coach gave me a handy wipe, few details about the trail ahead, then smiled and sent me on my way.
Now, since the previous two aid stations, I had been playing leap frog with a young woman who I figured was from the regular starters. I would leave a station ahead of her, but not too long afterward she would catch up with me. I would try my best to keep her in my sights, but she would slowly move a little further ahead of me. It was quite the cat and mouse game, and it helped me push myself a little harder than I otherwise might have, and continued through the last 10+ miles of the race.
The trail finally popped out on a road, folks were there to send us in the right direction (left and up the hill), and realizing I could finish this run in less than 8 hours, pushed myself as hard as I could up the hill without puking. Ms. Leap Frog was in front of me, and I refused to let her too far out of my sight. The road finally crested, and I flew down the last quarter or so mile and crossed the finish with a grin plastered across my face. Vale was ringing the cowbell for all she was worth and grinning from ear-to-ear, as well. I said something about having hoped to finish in less than 8 hours, and the RD manning the finish line said, “You finished in 7:39.” Woo Hoo! Ends up it was actually 7:42, but that’s okay. Considering how I mentally blew up at the beginning, I was ecstatic with my finish.
Karen came in about 20 minutes behind me, choosing to stay with a woman who was struggling. The lady had finished in a great time the previous year, but had had a baby a few months before and was running about 20 pounds heavier. She thanked Karen over and over for running with her, but you know what? That’s what we trail runners do. I’ve done it before, and people have done it for me. We help our fellow trail runners in their times of need, and it’s a good thing.
The young woman who I played leap frog with? We talked while I was waiting for Karen. Ends up she was determined to finish ahead of me, so when I was using her as a reason to push myself, she was using me for the same reason. We both got a good chuckle out of it.
And Vale - she ended up having the time of her life! Absolutely loved crewing for us, meeting people, cow belling runners into aid stations. On the way home, she thanked us for giving her the best weekend of her summer.
We had a great weekend. I will definitely be going back to this race, if for no other reason than the simply stunning scenery.