Three weeks before Bigfoot 120 (a remote point to point race from Mt. Adams to Mt. Saint Helens on 99% single track) Gwen and I trekked 75 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We ran for 25 hours in torrential downpour, strong winds, and low temperatures. I struggled with hip pain week’s prior and by mile 35 my hip throbbed and I was in immense pain. I suffered the next 40 miles, one foot in front of the other, counted down the miles and the minutes until we finished. The adventure was both physically and mentally tough. I figured there would be no way to participate in BF 120. I spent the next 19 days resting, attended five acupuncture appointments, five massages, and two physical therapy sessions; in hopes to recover before Bigfoot 120. I hemmed and hawed for those 19 days not sure if I was going to race but planned on driving down to the race with Gwen regardless. On the drive from Seattle to Lone Fir Resort, Gwen and I chatted about my hip (she is a PT) and she gave me different scenarios and none of them sounded like I’d be doing more damage. My plan was to stop at mile 43 if it was too sore to continue; I packed a full set of dry clothes in a drop bag.
Gwen and I had a very relaxing morning, numerous cups of coffee, mouth-watering guilt free scones and breakfast…..then it was time to drive to the check-in/race briefing at Marble Mount Sno-Park and also where we’d catch the shuttle to the start. The start was located 90 minutes near Mt. Adams. Van Phan was a rock star; she was the volunteer driver and bought pizza for all the participants in her van.
The start was totally uneventful; only 30 individuals started. Gwen and I stayed together for a few miles then she took off running. I was very cautious about my hip; I wanted to start off slow and steady and hike all the uphills. After a few miles into the race, I saw four or five runners (including Gwen) turn around. They haven’t seen a confidence marker in a long time (a marker on the trail that lets you know you are going the correct way). We hiked back up and took another trail but still no markers. I took out my GPS and we were off track. We turned around and ran downhill on the main trail for about 10 to 15 minutes and realized we are off course again then we saw the top three runners running back toward us. I stopped and looked at my GPS and it concurred, we were off course again. It was going to be a long race if the course continued to be vandalized! As we approached the correct turning, a handful of runners from the back of the pack placed sticks and logs at the turning in hopes the few people behind them would notice and would not continue down the wrong trail. Anxiety ran high, runners were frustrated, and our few hours in daylight had now turned to dark.
Lewis River Horse Camp – AS #1 (20.6 miles)
I arrived at the first aid station after dark. I tried to be quick so I wouldn’t cool down. As I left the aid station (an out and back) I saw Gwen as she arrived and hoped we would run together through the first night but I never saw her again. I shuffled for a while and then came to an intersection with a sign; I couldn’t tell which way the arrow was pointing. There were two trails and the sign stapled to a stump was in the middle of the two trails with a pair of running shoes and an empty Nalgene bottle. Jerks! They vandalized the course again and as a joke the vandals left a pair of sneakers and an empty water bottle. I headed up the trail and did not see any confidence markers. I ran into Matt and he stated we were going the wrong way there were no markers. We headed back down to the intersection and ran down another trail that eventually dead-ended with a big “closed” sign taped across it. Matt and I hiked back up the other trail for the second time and stopped to look at my GPS when a runner went flying past us. We were only a few feet from the intersection and the correct trail. Only hours into the race and I had been off course three times and added more miles to an already long event! Ugh!
Road 9327 – AS #2 (28.8 miles)
I arrived a few minutes behind Matt and Willie at the AS. I chatted with the volunteers, grabbed some food and headed out. After I started running again, I realized I forgot to change my headlamp batteries. A 4pm start made it difficult to keep track of time. Willie and I leaped frog a couple times on this section. It was a pretty uneventful, easy to follow, and the nighttime temperatures were pleasant as long as you kept moving.
Elk Pass – AS # 3 (43.8)
My friend, Van Phan volunteered at this AS and she made some delish hash browns and quesadillas. I changed my headlamp batteries again, grabbed a bunch of food and headed off. This would be the last aid station I would see Willie and anyone until mile 95ish. I ran the next 45 miles without seeing another 120-mile racer; I did see a handful of 100km racers whose race started on Saturday morning.
Norway Pass – AS # 4 (55 miles)
I arrived at Norway Pass and the aid station crew was spunky. They all stood up and cheered and I was a bit embarrassed with their enthusiasm – you would have thought I was winning UTMB or Western States. It gave me so much energy and made me feel so special! They were so helpful, energetic and sweet. I looked as a guy wrote down my bib number and there were only two bib numbers written down ahead of me. I was pretty stoked to be in 3rd place overall. It was early Saturday morning and I had some coffee, asked the HAM radio guys what time Gwen checked in and out of Elk Pass. It was nice to know Gwen was still on track. (After the race, I’d learn she was checking in on my status, too).
Coldwater Lake – AS #5 (73.6 miles)
The weather started to drastically change during this section of the course. It was mid-day. It started to rain and the winds started to howl. In addition, there was a lot of overgrowth on the trail that soaked my clothes. During this section from Norway Pass to Coldwater Lake the race topped out at its highest point -Mt. Margaret. After the summit, the trail traversed for a bit then dropped down into a big bowl, I saw a herd of elk and as I got close they all scattered. Pretty cool. After a bit more rolling hills the trail dropped down to the lake and I could see that I had another mile to the AS. The aid station crew again was absolutely wonderful. They reported that Johnston Ridge aid station had been blown away.
They had an array of homemade cookies, hundreds of decorated cookies but at this stage the last thing I wanted was sugar. They gave me soup, coffee, and lots of praise. The hike out of Coldwater Lake was on pavement, the only section of pavement in the race. The storm was not in full force yet, it was torrential rain but the winds were just about to become gale force. Gwen went through this section a couple hours after me and she reported that runners turned around because the limbs on the trees were snapping off. As I climbed up Johnston Ridge, the storm really started to hit 35-45 mph winds with up to 50+mph gust. The wind was nearly blowing me off my feet then the sideways hail began pelting my face. I found a tiny bit of shelter behind a bush and changed into a Smartwool long sleeve, layered with my Outdoor Research Aria down vest then my OR Helium Jacket; I threw on my Outdoor Research Aspire rain pants over my running tights. As I continued up the ridge, the wind roared, the hail pummeled me, and each step took twice as much energy. The thought crossed my mind that they might call off the race but without lightening involved I figured they would let us continue.
Johnston Ridge – AS #6 (81.2 miles)
I had been dreaming about mile 81 since leaving Norway Pass. This would be my only crew for the entire race and Corinne was a total gem. I was so excited to see her. As I arrived at Johnston Ridge, the storm was in full blast (about 3pm on Saturday). I took off all my clothes and changed into dry clothes except my rain pants. I think Corrine put them in the aid station van for me to try and dry them. I crawled into her car and wrapped myself up in blankets and sleeping bags. The car was being hammered with rain and wind; I felt like we were in a car wash. I tried to sleep but was shivering like crazy. Corinne cranked the heat and I eventually fell asleep for a few minutes. I didn’t want to stay for more than an hour. Corrine was awesome; she gently woke me up and I was stoked that I actually fell asleep! This was the first time I’ve ever slept during a 100 miler but this was the first time that a 100-mile race started at 4pm requiring running through two full nights. I was so thankful for Corinne not only did she have my bag of dry clothes, she bought me a hamburger and she picked up all my gross wet clothes off the pavement.
She walked with me to check me out and I headed out into the storm wearing my Outdoor Research gear: Aria down jacket, Aspire rain pants, Revelation Jacket, balaclava, gloves and my Smartwool long sleeve, Ibex wool bra, Northface running tights, Drymax maximum protection trail running socks, and Atlas gloves (rubber gloves Gwen bought me). I was so bundled up that after running for a few hundred feet, I had to stop to take off a layer. But, once night arrived, I used every single piece of clothing in my pack including my ER space blanket to keep warm.
Windy Pass – AS #7 (89 miles)
I arrived at Windy Pass. The AS was an expedition style tent. I sat down in the chair and searched for my extra batteries. I started to panic thinking they didn’t make it into my pack. But, I found them after a few minutes of searching and put them within easy reach knowing it was going to get dark soon and I would need them handy. I looked around the tent and saw a puddle of water and thought….omg these guys had to be freezing. The wind was howling. At least I was moving, they were stationary it must of been a very long, cold night for them. I left Windy AS and the volunteers walked with me and pointed to where I needed to go…up and over that ridge in roaring winds. Yikes. I started hiking up and luckily the ridgeline was not that far, I was up on the ridge in no time. The ridge had logs that acted like stairs; at one point I ducked down and held onto the log because the wind was howling so hard that I thought I was going to be blown off the mountain. I wanted to get up and over before dark. I hiked and hiked and darkness came. Not a soul insight, I was still in 3rd place overall even after taking an hour at the last aid station. I decided since my hip can start hurting at anytime, I would power hike and that is pretty much what I did for the rest of the race but not necessarily because of my hip but also because of darkness and technicality of the course. I was nervous going into the second night solo because of the vandalism the first night. I did not have a SPOT tracker and I forgot my PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) at home. The race was super remote and the aid stations were miles and miles apart and hours and hours from one another.
After I descended down from Windy Pass I made a big navigational error. I couldn’t find the markers. I had been going for 92 miles and racing for over 24 hours I was tired. I arrived at Plains of Abraham at dark. I did not see the markers and ended up hiking deep into the gully. I couldn’t see a trail; I was tripping over volcanic rock. I took out my GPS and yep –I was way off course. I turned around and found the last known marker and tried again. This time I saw one in the distance. I came to the marker and didn’t see another one. I decided that this is where I needed to scramble (at the briefing they talked about picking your way through part of the course, I thought this was the section…NOPE!). I ended up traversing on a pumice slope, the wrong way. I traversed and realized there is nothing to hold on to and I was slipping. I looked down and one wrong move I’d tumble down into a bed of volcanic rocks. It was dark, I was tired, and I had been awake for over 36 hours. I tried not to panic but I was – besides aid station crew and a few 100km runners I had not seen anyone in a very, very long time. I very cautiously traversed off the pumice slope and then back to the last known marker and started again. My adrenaline was off the hook. I was wide awake and cursing myself for not paying more attention.
I found the last known marker and I started to descend the pumice slopes, crossed a river, crawled up a bank because the trail was washed out and continued on. I saw a headlamp in the distance! Seriously, there was someone else out here! Awesome. I tried to speed up to catch the runner and when I did I was stoked. He was moving pretty slowly, I passed him and then turned around and asked if he was okay and did he need anything. He replied he was fine but his feet hurt. Then…he passed me and we leaped frog through the river crossings until it was natural for us to stick together. He needed to stop and eat and I was thankful because I needed to change my batteries in my headlamp but didn’t want to stop because I had been racing solo this whole time and it was nice to finally see someone. He ate, I changed my batteries and we continued. A few hundred feet later, I slipped off the trail awkwardly into some bushes and he (Phil) came back to help me. After hiking for a few miles we heard a voice. We were both tired and I was cranky (we didn’t talk much because my ears were covered by my wool hat plus two hoods and with the wind howling and the rain violent we couldn’t hear each other). But, in the distance we heard a guy hollering at us. We couldn’t make out what he was saying. We thought he was saying we were off course but he was yelling that he was off course. He said (I think) he was about to push SOS on his SPOT because he couldn’t find the trail. He joined us and we all made our way down to the Toutle river crossing.The trail was completely washed but there was a fixed rope to help us get down the vertical bank to the river. Once we were all down, we walked up and down the river trying to find a safe spot to cross; in the middle of the night. We finally found a spot we felt safe and the two guys went first then I followed. I was almost across and slipped on a rock and my right leg plunged into river. After making it to the bank we could not find the fixed rope to climb out of the ravine. We finally found it and later learned the river had swelled so much that it washed away all the markers. We climbed up the rope and continued on without saying a word. We were all too tired to talk plus with the wind we had our heads buried and were in death-march mode. At one point, we stopped to look at my GPS to make sure we were on track. I was grateful to have run into Phil and thankful he led the rest of the way to Blue Lake Aid Station. I felt if I did not see him and Ray, I would have crawled through that section with the tricky navigation and tons of river crossings. We finally reached Blue Lake Aid Station.
In a perfect world, we would have seen this view instead of the one above
But, instead….this was the view
Blue Lake – AS #8 (108.1 miles)
Awww…I was so happy to see the AS volunteers. I cannot express my gratitude enough, light-hearted, helpful, and funny. I took off my down jacket and my raincoat and wrapped my space blanket around my torso. Opened more packages of hand warms and put two in my bra and two in my right glove. I lost my right orange rubber glove while scrambling (I told Corinne at the finish line that I bet Gwen found it on the course & she did!) They encouraged me to sit down in front of the heater and warm up before heading off. I ended up staying and bullshitting with the guys at the aid station for 25 minutes. It was a highlight. They tried to fix my trekking poles for me, they were both broken, and they helped me clear out all the soaking wet half eaten food from my pack (gross). I was sleep drunk at this stage and the crew was cracking me up; they were hilarious. Phil and the Ray planned to stay longer at the aid station so I said good-bye at 2:05am and headed out – only 12 miles to go!! But, those 12 miles took me five hours! The last section was the much talked about lava fields that required boulder hopping, in the dark, while holding onto one trekking pole that would not fold (PITA) all while trying to locate the markers. On a positive note it had stopped raining and the sky was crystal clear and sparkled with stars. The stars started to look like course markers as I picked my way through the lava beds. I leaned against a tree and spent some time stargazing and dreamt about watching the sunrise.
I trekked along, going up and over enormous volcanic boulders and finally the boulders started to peter out into a trail. I was relieved to be off the lava bed but a few strides later another lava field! After volcanic rock hopping for nearly a mile I looked forward to running the rest of the way to the finish only to find the trail was off camber, rutted out single track. My Suunto Ambit watch died I had no idea how much farther. I was hallucinating at this stage – I saw a camper van covered with elk horns, a random guy sitting in a lawn chair and other random vehicles that did not exist. Then finally I saw the big blue blown up arch and knew that I was finished! It was Sunday morning around 7am; it took me 39 hours! (The race started Friday at 4pm).
Corinne was one of the very few people at the finish line to greet me; so awesome and so unexpected. No one else was up, I think Van Phan might have greeted me, too. I don’t remember. Garrett one of the RD’s gave me a high five (I think) and wrote down my bib number. The finish line was empty, uneventful, and quiet. Only a handful of people sauntered around. I sat for an hour with a blank stare; a wool blanket wrapped around me and ate pizza. I finally motivated myself to walk to my car and change my clothes. I did not want to sleep because I wanted to see Gwen finish but we were able to radio the last aid station and figured out roughly what time she’d finish. I took a snooze in my car then rallied back to the finish line to see Gwen finish!
Finish – Marble Mount Sno-Park (120 miles)
An epic weekend. The point to point single track trail was absolutely amazing; it had a lot to offer: steep technical sections, pumice fields, river crossing, washed out trails, lava beds, and sweet single track. It was a pity Washington State was hit with the remnants of hurricane Oho. The pictures the race director loaded to her FB page prior to the race were stunning.
The next day, Windy Pass volunteers caught a glimpse of Mt. St. Helens that they didn’t even know what right in front of them; absolutely stunning. (See pic above). All the hard work and endless organization that went into this remote single-track race, it was a pity the weather ruined it for the majority of the runners. 30 runners toed the line and 7 finished.
The 100km started on Saturday morning running 68 miles of the same course and 41 runners toed the line and only 13 finished.