Thru-skiing the Methow Trails:
Friendship, Flying, and Floating Through Time
Friendship, Flying, and Floating Through Time
|Kathy Vaughan & Lisa Eversgerd|
The stars twinkled overhead as Lisa and I pulled up to the Suspension Bridge parking lot off of Goat Creek road in the Methow Valley near Mazama. We were about to begin a thru-ski of the Methow Trails, a 200k adventure through the largest Nordic ski area in the country. Just four days prior, Lisa and I had been pulling out of the Highlands Sno Park lot after a long ski together, when I poked my head out the window of my car and called out to her “You know, Methow Trails has a 200k Challenge.” The seed had been planted and that was all it took for the idea to flourish in our minds. We both went home and after warm showers, that night we each started scheming on how to take on that challenge.
For those of you who read my blogs regularly, you will already know of some of the adventures Lisa and I have done together over the last couple of years. (Mother Mountain/Northern Loop, Windy Peak, Winter Adventuring, Devil's Dome) Two winters ago, we decided we wanted to ski all 50k of the Highlands Sno Park trails in one go. We had an awesome time doing that and were impressed with the diversity of the trails in the park and what a wonderful journey it is to ski that distance in one push. We did it once more together that winter and Lisa celebrated her birthday by skiing it with her husband an additional time in harsh conditions. The following season we again skied what became known as the Highlands Challenge, a couple of more times together. Ras skied it once with our ultra running friend Cam Painter, and confirmed the fact for himself that he prefers running and hiking over long distance skiing.
Lisa and I also enjoy skiing the snowmobile routes throughout the area that are groomed for the snow machines a couple of times each season. Lisa printed out the maps for us and we tackled several of these routes last winter, choosing routes each time that were an ultra distance. We were ready for something bigger.
Lisa and her husband Jason had just gotten a new camper. They had only spent a few nights in it themselves. Jason and Ras are each really supportive of these adventures we do together which only helps encourage us and allows us to thrive. Jason lovingly sent us on our way, sharing the “Palomino” for our ski trip. This gave us a home base, aide station and support vehicle all in one. It was key to our success, giving us a place to make hot coffee, heat up soup Lisa had prepared ahead of time, change into dry clothing, dry out wet boots and other gear, sleep and warm up by the extremely efficient heater.
On our 2 ½ hour drive to the Methow from our homes in the Okanogan Highlands, Lisa and I loosely discussed some of our plans. We decided to start on the Valley Floor, ending these trails in Winthrop where her friend Michael lives. We would stop by his house when we arrived in Winthrop and see if he would help us out with some shuttles. We hoped he would ski some kilometers with us also and maybe bring another friend of their's along, Alissa. They had all worked together for the Forest Service during the previous summers. Their company would be nice on the trails and it would feel good to have some support in the area.
We stopped at Hank's Harvest Foods in Twisp and picked up Clif Bars and Nature Valley Granola Bars for the trail, both good energy foods, vegan, low fat and simple. I had also baked some banana, apple sauce, raisin, and chocolate chip bars which would be good with coffee when we warmed up in the camper. I made a garbanzo bean spread which included tahini, green pepper, garlic, cumin and chopped onion. This was a high protein food we could have on crackers or with the freshly baked bread I had bought at Main Street Market while Lisa fixed her soap display there. Lisa makes and sells wonderful, natural soaps with essential oils through her company Fairy Slipper Botanicals. She brought a bar along for us to use too during our adventure and for apres-ski showers.
Michael was a really helpful, fun, cool guy to meet and he was more than willing to assist us in any way he could during our 200k attempt. He is a groomer for the Methow Trails and thus was also a good source of information about some specific trails. We made a plan with him that we would ski to his place from the Suspension Bridge parking lot in the morning, after having skied all of the Valley Floor Trail System. We told him we didn't really know exactly how long it would take us, but we would plan on getting there sometime after 9:00 a.m. We planned on getting on the trail by 4:00 in the morning, in order to make it to his place in Winthrop by then. We did not know yet exactly what we were in for.
As Lisa and I drove to Mazama from Winthrop, we decided that we felt like beginning our ski that night. We knew we had tons of skiing to do and we were anxious to get started. We would quickly get the camper set up and then get changed into our ski gear. We decided to go out for about 5 hours. We took a couple photos by the trail head sign and began our adventure at 7:08 p.m.
Lisa and I each had a set of lighter weight skis with us as well and these had partial metal edges, but would still fit into the groomed tracks. I had learned some track skiing technique from my friend Grace who taught lessons at Sun Mountain several years ago. With light weight poles and proper technique, you can get going quite fast in the tracks on flat trail and make very good time. Unfortunately, Lisa and I were not able to do that this first night out on the Valley Floor trails, rated mainly Green (the easiest trails in the system). The next rating up is Blue and the hardest trails are Black. All of the trails throughout the entire Methow Trails are very well signed with a large map of the whole system, the rating of the trail and a tasteful & rustic looking sign with the trail's name. It makes navigating through each of the systems in Methow Trails very doable. With Lisa's experience supervising trail crew for the Forest Service, she became our map reader and lead navigator. She did great.
We were lead by Orion's Belt, the little dipper, various planets and other twinkling stars into the beautiful night. As we traveled along quietly, only the sounds of our skis could we hear. Lisa and I saw Christmas lights strung on trees in front of lovely homes and lodges. The lights were strewn along roof lines in the distance and when we could see many of these lights grouped together, we could tell we were approaching one of the various places where visitors can stay when skiing in the Methow. If it had been daylight hours, we could have gotten a bite to eat or a soy latte at the Mazama Store. We skied by the Freestone Inn, North Cascades Base Camp,and the Timberline Cabins and were in awe as we passed. The lights felt so magical and inviting and we continued to glide along as if in some sort of fairy tale.
Although we were moving along well, it was taking us longer overall to rack up the kilometers, the “k's”, as we began to call them. We wanted to ski every trail in the park, knowing that when we skied out n' backs it would make it so that our total k's would add up to more than 200. We didn't think this would make a huge difference as we set out on this first night. It didn't take long before I first spoke up, about 3 ½ hours into the night and still quite far away from the Palomino. I pointed out the out n' back trails we were doing were really going to affect our skiing time and energy out put. I suggested maybe we alter our goal. Lisa was on board with me. We are almost always in sync with each other, one of the many reasons these endurance outings we take on work so well. We decided we had to let go of the goal of doing every single trail. We wanted to still go for 200k, but we might also end up just seeing how many k's two Okanogan girls could do while skiing the Methow Trails. The following day was The Backyard Ski day, one of many events the Methow Trails holds each year. Included in the weekend is a Ski for Free day, the main reason we had chosen this weekend as the time to go for the Challenge.
We were stopped at one of these large wooden map intersections while having this talk. We snacked and pried the tops off of our frozen water bottles so that we could have a drink. It felt good to be able to adjust our goal as needed, and we both skied on, along the Methow River, with new thoughts in our heads about what we might be pursuing over the next day or two.
With the Goat Wall to our left, we skied through an open meadow. Aspen trees lined the outer meadow on the other side. We stopped for a moment, turned off our headlamps, and looked up at the night sky. It was spectacular. Everything was so still and with the loud skis now stopped, we could hear the river running off in the distance. There was not another soul around. It was a very special moment and I knew then that the night skiing would likely be my favorite times on the trail during this 200k Challenge.
We skied on and on through the night, following the map and still skiing all the trails that we could, unless it was an out n' back. We finally came to a spot where we could get back to the camper for the night by skiing along Goat Creek Road for a few kilometers. The county snow plow driver had bladed a flat path, maybe for walkers, skiers or even snowmobiles to travel along safely. This was a nice path for the most part, although it was strewn with some large clumps of frozen snow here and there. Lisa made especially good time along this path and made some distance on me. I lost the gleam of her headlamp a time or two, but before I knew it, I could see she had turned off the path and was at the back of the camper, a welcome sight. I looked down at my watch which I had set to run the time we were out and it read 7:50. Nearly 8 hours after leaving the Palomino for a 5 hour night ski, we were back to it's welcome coziness.
We changed into dry clothes to sleep in. Lisa heated up potato soup and we both pulled out our maps. I had even brought my trusty calculator so that we could add up our k's and we each had a chart provided by the Methow Trails, where you can tick off the trails as you ski them. Lisa tallied up our k's for the night and we came up with 38k. In later figuring back home with a fresh mind, I confirmed 41.3k for that first night out.
We decided to sleep for 5 hours and then wake up and drive to Winthrop rather than ski there. We needed to sleep and we didn't have enough time to do that and ski the 4 hour trip into Winthrop along the Valley Floor. Plus, I think it would have taken us a lot longer than the 4 hours we had estimated. We both fell asleep immediately and slept soundly. We woke up and had coffee and some snacks to get us going. We arrived at Michael's and he and Allissa were waiting for us patiently on the front porch. We filled them in our long ski from the night before and then we left the Palamino at his place in Winthrop. We all drove together up to Cub Creek Parking for the Rendezvous System, where they would join Lisa and I for a couple of hours.
We chose to ski from the Cub Creek parking lot at 2,720 feet, up the longer of the routes that climbs to Rendezvous Basin, the 5.5k Cougar Bait trail. This trail is rated Green, but it does climb steadily. We were distracted during the climb by visiting with Michael and Alissa. They were on skate skis and had to slow down to wait for us as we shuffled along uphill on our skinnier skis. We had both chosen to use our lighter weight skis today, knowing that our heavier skis had slowed us down the night before. But even with these, our speed was not what it could have been if we had been skate skiing on super light, non-metal edged skis. They were kind though and very supportive of what we were undertaking. Michael took some photos and said he would post them on the Methow Trails Facebook page. We didn't think much of it at the time, although we were glad he was helping us take some photos for memories of the trip.
We continued onto the Cedar Creek loop, deciding not to ski the steep route up to the Heiffer Hut. I have skied into the Rendezvous Huts to stay with lady friends for about 10 winters now and so am quite familiar with these Rendezvous trails. Lisa has come on these trips several times as well, and so we together decided that skiing all of the spur trails up to the huts themselves would add on a lot of additional k's and challenging ascents and descents. We decided we would skip all of these throughout this system.
At the intersection of where the Cedar Creek Loop ends and joins up with Cow Creek, Michael and Alissa said goodbye and descended one way down it while Lisa and I continued to climb towards the pass in the other direction. We chatted happily, enjoying the day. It drizzled on us lightly for the whole climb, but it only felt cold if we stopped. Once at the top of the climb at the Rendezvous Basin at 3,981 feet, we had a snack and put on our down puffy jackets for the first 2.4k descent that would then continue on and on, until we reached the Mazama trails at nearly 2,100 feet, once again along the Methow River where we had skied the night before.
After having pushed and glided the night before along Green trails and having begun this day with a big climb, the downhill was so welcomed by us that we shouted with glee as we began to fly down the steep slope. The speed was just right and I felt like a kid zipping along the snowy trail. I began downhill skiing as a teenager and those same feelings I felt then return to me when I get on a fun downhill as an adult. By the bottom, my toes were cold, but luckily we had some more short climbs and flat trail with more foot movement, before reaching the crazy long Black 9.2k downhill stretch to the valley. We had never been on this trail before and we had heard about it. We were about to find out for ourselves. Fawn Creek it's called. There used to be a shelter along this trail, but it was no longer being used.
We traveled along the Rendezvous Basin trail, it having it's own fairly steep downhill section, until finally reaching the start of Upper Fawn Creek at 3,834 feet. We would descend all the way to 2,074 feet. I took the lead. We had agreed with each other that we would take it as slow as necessary to feel in control and that we weren't in any rush. We knew there would be some sharp turns and who knows what else. Drop offs on either side? Icy patches? Debris in the trail? We kept our cool and began skiing down. Our bigger skis would have been good for this now, but overkill for the big climb we had already done and for the rest of the way along the Valley Floor into Winthrop. We have lots of experience on these skinnier skies though, and we did feel confident as we dropped lower and lower. We stopped when we needed to, resting our quads and the arches of our feet, both on fire from the intense snow plowing it took to keep our speed in check.
Suddenly, although it being nearly dusk, I saw a skate skier coming uphill towards me. She looked amazingly strong and so skilled on her skis. She was carrying a large backpack and I assumed she was skiing in to one of the huts, although she would still have a good climb ahead of her in order to reach one of them. I pulled off to the side of the trail to get out of her way, giving me a good opportunity to rest and allowing her all the room she needed to keep in her rhythm. I let her know there was another gal behind me. She had a dog with her, but it was impressive and shocking to see that the backpack was actually a child carrier and in this carrier was an older toddler, about 3 years old. A heavy child. An adorable, red cheeked, dark banged youngster riding up Fawn Creek on it's mother's back.
I skied on, snow plowing and pondering the strength of this woman and what she might be training for. Finally, we came to the bottom of this long downhill stretch and cheered out loud. We were so relieved to have completed this and now we knew we had a ton of trail ahead to get into Winthrop, but nothing would be as challenging as that descent for the rest of the night. We still had a Black trail called Goat Creek Cutoff, but it would be short and sweet. And it was. I loved this section! It dropped us right down on the wide valley trail again. It was time to push and glide through the valley, just as dark was coming on. We got out our headlamps. A few other skiers went by, on their way back to their cars after a day of skiing. Our day was just ending too, but we had a night ahead of us. This is when the endurance athlete part of us would have to kick in. This is when your mindset changes and you are stoked with what you have already accomplished, rather than looking too far ahead at what you have left. This is when you go through your mental checklist to make sure you are taking care of all of your needs so that you can keep pushing forward. Keep sipping water. Keep nibbling food. Keep positive. Stay in the Now. Adjust layers as needed. We both used chemical hand warmers in our gloves almost the whole time we skied. This gave us a constant source of warmth and a way to keep our hands toasty whether they were wet from perspiration or the snow, or just a long down hill when they aren't moving much. They are so easy to carry in your pack. We each would have 1 or 2 extra packages with us, in case of an emergency situation where another heat source would be good to have. Once opened, each pack lasts seemingly forever, but at least 10 hours.
We had skied 31k and we now had 26.1 to go. We could do it. We had done these kind of distances together before, both on skis and trail running in the mountains. We would think of it in little chunks at a time. We were headed towards the Rolling Huts and we thought there was a chance that they might still be open and we could get a hot coffee. If not, we at least knew that the trails were all Green for a long time now. Push and Glide. That is all we had to do now, for hours.
It was so pleasant along the river now. The snow was softer than the night before, but we could now get in the tracks and this helped it seem like so much less effort. We moved along pretty fast in the tracks, making good time. The Rolling Huts was closed. We felt good though and were in such a flow that neither of us cared at all. We kept going, skiing by Brown's Farm, out in the open meadows for a long distance and then back into the trees for a loop that gave us tons of little ups and downs. We decided to forgo the Black Bob Trail, wanting to just keep making good time. We could see from the gleam of our headlamps that it was a steep climb and it didn't take much convincing to pass it by. We had plenty of steep climbs ahead that were not out n' backs. We would let this one go. It was 2k and we could make up for it somewhere else. We skied past the Wolf Ridge Resort and continued along the valley. This section was easy, but it did feel at times as though we skied on and on forever through these open meadows.
Finally, we could see the lights of Winthrop in the distance and skied past the Power's Plunge trail that comes down from Sun Mountain, 9 miles outside of the town, up in the higher elevations. We knew Michael would be coming out on the groomer soon and thought it would be funny to see him. Push and Glide. Push and Glide. Before we knew it, we were skiing towards the ice skating rink and it's flashing lights. Bright lights from the groomer were ahead as well, and so we stopped off to wait and say hi to Michael. We didn't know if we would surprise him or not. We thought he might have been expecting to see us somewhere out here. It was fun to say hi. He couldn't believe we had just skied 57k, but we had. Our total was now 95k. It was feeling possible. We were doing it.
We took off our skis and walked over the bridge towards Michael's home to hop in the Palomino. We had decided to drive up to the Gunn Ranch Parking and sleep for 5 hours before finishing up the Rendezvous trails. We still had about 39.5k to do in there, including an out n' back on Gunn Ranch itself, which we had never skied before. We knew all of the rest of the trails and knew we would have some good climbs and super fun downhills. It would be a challenging time completing this system, but we were really ready for it and excited to keep ticking off the k's.
Lisa heated up the chili when we got the camper all set up at Gunn Ranch. We studied our maps again and refueled. We got our packs ready for the next morning and finally laid our heads down on our pillows, setting the alarm to wake back up at 2 a.m. After these trails were finished, our plan was to drive back to Michael's and leave a drop bag there. We would leave warm clothes for after we finished and some bedding to catch some sleep before heading home. We planned to drive the camper to the Chickadee Trail Head in the Sun Mountain system, using it as our home base there while we skied all of Sun Mountain. When we were done with the Sun Mountain trails, we would ski the 2 Black trails that would take us back down to Winthrop and the small section of Spring Creek Ranch trails we would have remaining as well. This would give us exactly 200k, according to our figures we had been keeping all along. Michael would then drive us back up to the Chickadee Trail Head to the camper. We loved our plan and it all seemed so doable now.
We awoke to the sound of the alarm at 4:00 AM and were up and drinking coffee by 4:30. It did take us a while to finish getting ready and wake up enough to head out into the morning, dawn now approaching, to begin skiing for the day. When we finally did, the air felt good and fresh, not too cold. We knew we would start with a 5k climb which would heat us up almost immediately. No one else was around, once again, and we felt the quiet and solitude as we began climbing towards Grizzly Way. I have great memories of staying in the Grizzly Hut, and it was nice to be over here again, climbing towards Grizzly Mountain and reminiscing about the time I stayed in the hut with Ras when we packed our own gear in. I had also spent several nights with my friend River there, learning to play cribbage and relaxing with a hut all to ourselves.
We passed the Grizzly Hut spur and continued towards the Cassal Loop, a fun, fast Black trail that I love. We climbed the shorter part of the loop and descended the longer side. We were soon on the Rendezvous Basin trail and would climb back up the 2.4k fast descent we had taken the day before. This was an out n' back that made sense to do and we had no other choice. We decided to use our mp3 players for this climb, the first time we had listened to them. We had saved them for just this situation, when we would need a boost. It worked just right. I found the climb to be really pleasant and go by quickly. I felt strong and I knew we were making good progress. At the top, we would have a quick snack and then hit the Cougar Mountain Loop, another one of my favorites. Lisa and I have skied this together before when staying at the Gardner Hut with our group of friends from our area. We knew it well and couldn't wait for the fun downs.
It was just as awesome as I remembered it and from there we turned onto Little Cub Creek for a fast and exhilarating run. Little Cub Creek is such a blast! I have had some of the funnest groomed downhill runs on this trail. It lifted our spirits to the hilt and gave us the energy boost we needed to then just turn around and begin climbing towards Rendezvous Pass, now on the Cub Creek trail, just inside of Cougar Bait, which we had climbed with Michael and Alissa early the day before.
The climb seemed relentless and for the first time, I felt tired as I pushed uphill. I pulled out a granola bar to help give me the energy I needed and continued to climb. I did not want to feel overwhelmed. I knew once at the top of this climb, it would be a fun and easy downhill along the Rendezvous Basin, the third time on it now, plus the Gunn Ranch Road would be smooth sailing. Just keep on climbing and then it's all easy from there.
Sure enough, topping out at Rendezvous Pass was a big relief. The downhill wasn't as fast as it had been the day before, as the snow was softer and skied-out. It was fast enough though, and soon we were on Gunn Ranch Road. Lisa sped off ahead in the tracks, while I kept up a slower, yet steady pace and continued to descend. There were some flats and very short climbs mixed in. The snow was slow and the trail got busier. Many folks were out skiing in this area on this sunny afternoon. I saw a brother and a sister, skate skiing uphill while their dad classic skied in the tracks. They all looked pretty experienced. I liked seeing the family out together. Two guys flew by me downhill on skate skis, coming up from behind fast, totally engaged in conversation and having a good time together skiing as friends, like Lisa and I. I liked seeing this too. There was a couple, stopped off to take pictures of the mist hanging in the distant mountains and of the river valley far below. Then I could see the final descent towards the lot and the camper awaiting. Coming up hill toward me was a group of Fat Bikers with their dog. The trail was wide enough for us to go past each other so I kept up good speed, while totally in control, to ski by. Lisa at this time was already at the camper and had the heat turned on. I skied up to the camper door as she called out “Woo Hoo!! Good Job!!!” We had just conquered another 39.5k.
The sun shone in the camper door, so we kept it open. All the skiers were finishing up now, glancing in the door, wondering what we were up to. We knew we didn't look like all the others. We wore skirts and sweaters, hand-me-down ski pants that were too big and patched up, hand made wool mittens and hats. Only my gloves were Swix and my socks and sweater were Smartwool, but neither of us looked the part. We stood out a bit. And now, set up in our camper in the parking lot, it seemed we had piqued folks' curiosity. I thought they were maybe a little jealous that we were enjoying hot soup and coffee, after having only finished skiing a few minutes ago. We felt blessed and lucky to be enjoying this trip, having the Palomino, and being physically and mentally tough enough to take on what we were in the middle of doing.
It turns out, people were thinking it was pretty cool what we were out there doing. Michael had posted a picture of us in our skirts on the Methow Trails Facebook page, including a short explanation about what we were doing. It became a popular post, and Lisa's adorable sweater skirt in particular, became the talk of the trails. No one could believe what we were attempting. Michael told us no one had ever skied all 200k before in one go. That was just the fuel we needed for our fire. There was no option now. We were doing it.
One of the keys to our success on these long adventures that Lisa and I set out on, is our team work mentality on the trail. We look out for each other. We decide together on routes, layering options to have on the trail with us based on the weather or time of day, and when to stop for brief pauses to make adjustments or have a snack. We like to have open and honest communication and to check in with each other about how we are feeling. We keep it positive, but are honest if something is really affecting us and we need to address it. We make sure the other has their headlamp with fresh and extra batteries, dry gloves, or whatever it is we think will be necessary as we are gearing up. We stay together, only allowing short distances between us and waiting at all intersections. I really love and appreciate this about doing these kinds of things with Lisa and we were right on the same wavelength throughout this whole trip.
After finishing our soups, we battened down the camper and took our coffee cups with us into the cab for the drive back down into Winthrop. We were still on target for our plan to leave drop bags at Michael's and then head up to Chickadee Trail Head in the Sun Mountain system. We would set up the camper, put on our night skiing gear, and head out into the cold darkness once again. Sun Mountain, here we come!
It was 7 at night when we headed out to the Rodeo trail, the only Black trail on the Blue side of the Sun Mountain trails. We had noticed that Sun Mountain has a predominately Green side and a predominately Blue side. We decided to ski the Blues first, so we could finish on tired legs with the Greens. We wanted to get Rodeo out of the way. It formed part of a loop trail, the other side being Blue. It was one way, so we had to descend Rodeo. It was the first time on all of the trails that I had felt on the verge of being out of control. It was hard to check my speed on the short, but icy and scary, little hills that swooped up as soon as you hit the bottom. My local ski trails at Highlands have a miniature version of this, but this was crazy on my skinny skis. Lisa was much braver. I took my skis off for one of them, walking off to the very side so as not to damage the trail. I side stepped down another. My heart was racing and I felt a little trembling in my hands. My adrenaline was going. I was nervous. I mentioned this to Lisa, saying I felt pretty strange. It was dark, we had skied a total of 137.9k. My energy was at a low point. I likely needed to be taking in some more calories.
Kindly, after we completed that first loop, she led me over to the Green side and soon we were easily gliding along the Wolf Trail and I felt at one with my surroundings once again. I was not fighting off discomfort, but flowing with ease. We talked about what our weddings had been like, and all kinds of other stuff. We did short, fun little loops and ticked of k's. We heard the groomer off in the distance and were assured that he was fixing all of the Blue trails up. They would be beautiful by the time we hit them and were ready for some more fast downhill. The Blue side had a Black trail called the Inner Passage; our route called for us to climb one section of this and go downhill on another section of it. We preferred they be freshly groomed and were happy to hear the welcome machine off in the distance. At times, we caught glimpses of it's bright lights.
We climbed to the Sun Mountain Lodge, a huge retreat alongside the trail. It was lit up brightly and some cars were coming and going. Folks can dine there and were still out for the night. Others were wandering through the lit up outdoor walkways. The trails near the lodge, not surprisingly, were in horrible shape: newbies falling, snow plowing through soft snow, ruining tracks and making a mess out of things. The area near the lodge is very exposed and the warm day's sun had made the snow very soft. It was now firming up and all the boot tracks, snow shoe prints and burmed up snow was hard to navigate. We had to do a lollipop loop up there. Some parts of it were fun, but for the most part, we just wanted to get out of the heavily trafficked area.
The Sunshine Trail was pleasant. It overlooked the road that takes cars up to the lodge. We could see cars going by and the groomer's lights again. We just had to ski down this trail to the Beaver Pond Trail and we would be back at the camper once more, another 24.4k completed. We talked about our plan. We decided we needed to sleep a little bit, but not for too long. We had 48.2k left to ski. We would have it then. We wanted to keep our momentum going. We were feeling really good about things. A 2 or 3 hour rest was all we wanted. We definitely wanted to get warm by the heater, put on dry socks and dry out our boots. We could hear the groomer right by the camper once we were settled inside of it, so we knew we had the best possible scenario before us. We would have fresh groomed corduroy we could make first tracks in.
I had some hot chili and coffee. Lisa had hot tea and we both studied our maps once again. Lisa had figured out a way to do all of the various loops we had left to do, which would include repeating some sections of trail. We didn't mind though, as we needed the k's from this side to make our total. As it turns out, this whole section was super exciting. We started out with a hard climb up Thompson Road, but soon we were on Meadowlark and Blue Jay, going wonderfully fast down hill, on fresh groomed trails, feeling free and high as a kite. It was probably our favorite time on hills. Those hills were just so fun! And doing them in the dark! It doesn't get much better than that.
But then suddenly, my mind got so tired. My stomach felt woozy. I worked to stay alert and awake. I kept going like that through these trails, pushing on. It's a familiar feeling. I've had it in a 100 mile trail running race I completed and I've had it on many unsupported trail runs with Lisa and Ras. I experienced it when I thru hiked the 800 mile Arizona Trail last spring. Lisa has experienced it too and it was time to tell her that I was getting the drowzies. She suggested that we pull out our mp3 players and I agreed that some good raggae dancehall music would wake me up. It turns out, her player was dead and so she couldn't listen, but I went ahead and used mine anyway, as it was important for safety reasons that I wake up. Normally, we would only use our mp3 players if the other one was too, out of fairness. I also had two peppermint candies with me and, as mint is a stimulant and even the smell of it can help make you more alert, I shared one with Lisa and off we went.
This worked and soon we were at the base of the dreaded 1.5k Black climb, gaining 500 feet, up the Upper Inner Passage trail. We took off our heavy outer layers as we knew we would get sweaty and we didn't want to get wet. We still had a down hill ahead of us. Fast downhill gets you a little cold if you are wet underneath. We didn't want this to happen. Being overheated also inhibits your ability to climb efficiently, forcing you to focus too much on the discomfort of your body temperature. The puffy layers do not allow as much of a good range of motion for a consistent, steady climb. We gave each other positive vibes and encouragement for what was ahead and snacked on our trail food. Finally, we started the climb. Much of it was herring boning, which is a real energy zapper. It was hard to push and glide because the snow was glazed over with ice. The skis would not grip to the surface well and it took adaptation, from a very slight herring bone in sections, to an extreme one in others, to get the climb done.
Before the climb while Lisa and I were regrouping, I noticed something unusual happening in the sky. It was getting lighter, very faintly. I had forgotten that we were skiing towards morning hours. So much of our skiing had been in the dark, that I was confused about what time of the night this darkness in particular was. Was it evening dark? Was it still 3:00 in the morning? It felt so strange. By the top of the intense and difficult climb, it was light. I was spent. I felt so exhausted from that push. I couldn't believe it was light out now. Lisa got there a few minutes before me and had changed into a dry under layer. It was so good to know she was feeling the relief of the climb being done just like I was. We had the ski down Thompson Road to the camper left, before our final 17k into Winthrop. We were most certainly going to finish our 200k Challenge now. Nothing was going to stop us. I became overwhelmed by emotion and tears filled my eyes. I couldn't help it. I had taken my skis off and walked away from Lisa towards the wooden trail sign for Thompson Road. I stretched and looked up towards the blue morning sky. It was so pretty out. I let the tears flow and told Lisa I was really emotional for some reason. I pulled myself together and bundled up into my down puffy jacket again for the fast downhill ahead.
Lisa and I took off for a 3.7k, 840 foot descent in the cold temperatures of post dawn. It felt so good to let loose on this freshly groomed trail. We made incredible time. We skied a short loop through the Overland trails and were back at the camper for our turn-around in no time. We had steely focus as we got ready for the final stretch. We would start out on the Cabin Trail, taking us by Patterson Lake Cabins. Then, we would hit the Winthrop Trail, a Black drop to 1990 feet. We were ready to pull this thing off. We could smell the oats in the barn.
We drank water and snacked while changing into clothes for the final ski of our Challenge. We didn't need much in our packs now and we took with us only what we knew we would use. We had our drop bags at Michael's to change into warm clothes as soon as we finished. I mixed up an Emergen-C electrolyte pouch in one of my water bottles, as I was feeling a little shaky. It tasted good to have a lemon lime flavored drink in one of my bottles. I snacked on tamari rice cakes and slurped down a gel. We blasted the heater to dry out our gloves and warm up, then exited the camper for one last time.
The Black section on the Winthrop Trail was super fun! It had tight hair pin turns and lots of fast stuff. We dropped nearly 400 feet in 2.7k. We hit the Blue section and made our way to the fairly boring, yet nicely groomed trails in the open meadows near Spring Creek Ranch. There were a few other skiers out there. It was quiet and peaceful. My heels were quite sore in here. Lisa and I had both used moleskin at Michael's and then put heavy duct tape over the top of that. This helped, but our heels were both well worn and sore at this point. I stopped at one point in this section to check on how the tape was holding. It felt all bunched up. The tape was holding fine and seemed to be a good fix. My heels were just shouting at me that they would like the long ski to be over.
We dropped down to the Valley Floor for the final time on the Black Power's Plunge trail, this time a 200 foot drop in 2k, and skied up to where it intersects with the Methow Community Trail. We could see bibbed skate skiers coming along fast and it was then that we remembered that there was a race going on. A guy shouted out to us, “Are you the ladies skiing all of the trails here in one go?” We said yes and smiled, skiing on our way as he called out “That's great! How much further do you have?” When we answered that we just had to ski into Winthrop (just under 5k), he hollered congratulatory calls to us, as did the rest of the skiers there with him watching the race. It felt good and it was then that we realized the post with our picture had spread the word of our endeavor.
We skied off to the left of the groomed tracks to stay out of the way of the racers. They would come flying up from behind and blast past us. It was all open trail and we could see the racers for quite a distance after they went by. It was a mental push at this point. We were tired and all the racers and the bystanders (byskiers, if you will), were overwhelming. We felt out of place. My heels hurt on each push. For some reason, the lightness of the skate skiers form and gear seamed to emphasize the weight and heaviness of my own. Cowbells were sounding as folks with homes along the trail rang them with encouragement for the racers on their home stretch.
Now away from the friendly man in the red jacket at the intersection who called out to us, no one knew what we were finishing. One younger skier, still a boy, turned to look back at me after passing. I wondered if he liked my UltraPedestrian patch, was bothered by my clunky skis and out of place clothing, or remembered me from Gunn Ranch the day before, as it occurred to me that he might be the brother from the sibling pair I'd seen skiing there with their dad. A man came skate skiing towards me and stepped in front of me to get out of the way of the racer. I had to stop skiing for him. He called out to the racer, encouraging him and saying “Great work! You got this”, or something like that, something like I call out to fellow racers when I'm running an ultra marathon. But the man who'd stepped in front of me didn't seem to want to look at me. He got back across the tracks as quickly as he could after the racer passed and skated off in the opposite direction. I smiled anyway. I always do.
Lisa was way in front of me now. I could see the ice skating rink once again, this time approaching it in the daylight, this time for the finish. Cow bells were ringing and spectators were cheering for the racers as they crossed the finish line. The irony was thick in the air and I shouted out to Lisa when I saw her stopped at the final sign “We did it! 200K Challenge! We're Trail Champions!!” Sixty-five hours and eight minutes after beginning our quest we had overshot our goal by more than six miles for a total of 211 kilometers. We gave each other a big hug, took off our skis and walked across the bridge into the small town of Winthrop, an anti climactic ending to an epic adventure.
Or so we thought. Barely off the bridge, a car pulled off and a woman waved to us frantically, yet in a friendly way. I figured it was someone else in Winthrop that Lisa knew, someone from the Forest Service. It turns out it was Kristen Smith, who works for the Methow Trails. She was so excited to see us. She made us feel so special and so good! She took my heavy skis and carried them to the Methow Trails office, which we were now in front of. She invited us in to warm up, have some food, a beer (which we declined), anything we wanted. She gave us cool Methow Trail trucker caps in twinsie colors and Sock Guy wool ski socks with the Methow Trails emblem on them. She took our picture and filmed us in an interview, still “endorkphined out” from the amazing experience we had just had. Lisa and I were gracious and shy, overwhelmed and happy, relieved and spent. Kristen was really kind and she confirmed that we were the first to have ever skied the entire 200k Challenge in a single push.