2012 Highland Halloween Hundred Trail Un Run
It quickly became known simply as “H3”. I decided to host a Middle of Nowhere Trailrunners group run from the big house I live in with my husband Jason, better known as Ras, the last weekend of October. I named it the Highland Halloween Hundred Trail Adventure and came up with a variety of distances for runners to choose from-a 20 mile out n'back starting our house ; a 40 mile out n'back from the same starting point; an 80 mile out n'back; and offhandedly, I threw in the 100 mile option for hardcores. My friend Tonya Hoffman responded almost instantly and said she was in for the 100-this was now a true mileage option. This was getting exciting. Time to plan some logistics. Ras is busy with the work that he does in the fall and told me he wouldn't be able to help out much with the planning; he might not even be able to participate in the run. Haha. I should have known better because within a week's time, he was offering a 120 mile distance option and making arrangements for our free “Un-Run” to be on Ultrasignup. He would be running the 120 mile option himself. I was happy to have him on board. I had included the word “Hundred” in the name of the event because the 100 trail is the name of part of the course for this run. The run begins literally out our front door and down our ¼ mile, fairly rugged driveway. At the bottom of the drive, runners hit a gravel road for another ¼ mile before turning left up a forest service road that doubles as the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail. This continues on a gradual 900 foot climb for about 4 miles before reaching a small divide with Haley Mountain on the right. The trail drops downhill from the divide and after 1 ½ miles, bottoms out at a large parking area called Wilcox Trailhead. Here there is an outhouse and Ras' silver Subaru, complete with a course marker, fresh water and drop bags for the runners. This is where they start on the actual 100 trail.
This trail has only recently gotten maintenance and become an official part of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. Our daughter worked on the trail just a couple of summers ago. It is a unique and lovely trail. It is mainly mixed single and double track. It follows the highlands for a few more miles before beginning a rolling descent through forest and ponds. The trail eventually goes through rocky areas, narrow and magical, now covered with autumn leaves. I have been through this section and seen a rattlesnake and seen bear in the forested sections. Once I saw a mama moose and her two young ones in a meadow. This is wild country. Another favorite sighting was a herd of Big Horn Mountain Sheep I saw with my friend and running partner Shona Hilton in the early spring, running uphill so effortlessly. We were in the lower section of trail in canyonlands, high scenic rock walls and shrub grasses all around. This initial 20 mile section of trail ends at the floor of the Okanogan River valley. I would drive to this trailhead with the runner's drop bags. I would also set up an aid station with 2 hot soups I had made, vegan chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin bars I baked, Halloween candy for the spirit of things, coke, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chips and oranges. Runners done with their adventure could catch a ride back to our house with me.
Ras & I were really happy to see the names accumulate on Ultrasignup. Friends were sending us messages on Facebook that they planned on attending. It was coming together and we were honored to be hosting such an event. Our friends and solid 100 mile running gals Van Phan and Deby Kumasaka had signed up for the 120. Jennifer Hughes had signed up for the 40, but would consider adding distance. My friend Tonya decided on the 40 miler and her husband Allen Skytta the 20 miler. Our friends Tim & Angel Mathis were undecided on their distance, but in the end, their story is one of courage and a true sense of kindred spirit for other runners on the trail achieving goals.
Thursday evening Ras and I parked the silver Subaru at the trailhead and put out some course markers. The next day, I spent in the kitchen doing what I love, cooking & baking vegan food to share with other people. It would be fun to give sustenance to these runners that would be out in the elements that Mother Nature had provided for the weekend.
Snow was at the top of her list and the entire area was blanketed with it. It was uncharacteristically early, although snow lies on the ground here in the Okanogan Highlands for most of December through April. Our home is at 3,500 feet in elevation. I had pictured runners enjoying nice dry trail , surrounded by autumn colors and fragrance. I knew it could be cool, but the snow was really quite a surprise.
We warned everyone of the conditions and that the forecast was for more of the same. Everyone showed up. It became very real on Friday night as I watched the fit runners carry in bins filled with supplies for running ultra distance. I had rooms ready for everyone, chili in the crock pot and a good fire going in the woodstove. They had all driven through rain, snow, wind & fog from mostly the Seattle area. It took at least 6 hours to arrive and the run in the winter-like conditions was on everyone's mind.
After a fairly typical pre-ultra run restless night of sleep, Van, Deby, Ras and Jenn were on the starting line at 7:00 a.m.
The conditions were harsh, at best. The darkness of pre-dawn met the runners as they left the warm coziness of the lodge. I took a picture, tried to blow a cheezy whistle I had found and cheered as they took off into the lightening sky. This first time out, the runners went through our property on a course Ras had marked the afternoon before. It was snowy and slow going, but finally the runners hit the forest service road. Shortly, they saw our neighbor out on a very early morning walk with her young husky dog. She must have been surprised at the sight of the four runners!
I took the drop bags to Ras' car at the trailhead and then hiked out towards the runners with camera in hand. I could hear them before I could see them. The snow was deep and the fog was as thick as a good pot of split pea soup. Deby threw her arms up in the air and was surprised to see me. They were finishing their first 5 ½ miles in deep snow and they were in great spirits. They did what they needed at the car and then took off on the start of the 100 trail, a 14.8 mile stretch to the valley down below.
I drove slowly home through difficult visibility and on icy roads to meet Tonya on her way out the door. She was getting ready to start the 40 mile out n' back solo. She was dressed warm and had everything she needed. I went outside with her and ran the first stretch through the snowy trail on our property. And then she was on her own.
When I got back to the lodge, Allen was getting ready to split some firewood. He was enjoying the woodstove and the memories it brought back to him of growing up in the country. I cooked up some African Peanut Soup for some more variety and Allen helped me load the car with the supplies and drop bags we would need to take to the trailhead in the valley.
As we pulled up to the trailhead, Allen pointed out the runners in their bright rain jackets up high along the rocky trail. They had already hit the bottom and not seeing us, were on their way back up. I was bummed to have not gotten the timing right for their aid, but nevertheless, Allen was a huge help and we set up the table, soups and snacks within minutes. They saw us and soon Van, Deby, Jenn and Ras got what they needed from their drop bags and had some hot soup. They drank soda and coffee and shared their stories of the snowy trip down the 100 trail.
Allen joined the group as they took off for the 2nd time that morning. I would see them again at the lodge. For now, I would wait for Tonya. I made sure the soup was still hot and that she could access her drop bag when she got to the car. Soon I heard a hoot and there was Tonya, scampering down the trail like a mountain goat, a huge smile on her face. It was so great to see her and I served her some soup. She sprinkled her cheez-it crackers on top and this was a perfect way for her to get ready for her return trip to the highlands and the warmth of the lodge. I was impressed with her positive cheerfulness, confidence and sense of adventure. Soon, she was off.
I loaded the car and drove up the hill. I must admit, I felt sad that I was not out running myself. At Baker Lake 50k, just a few weeks before, I had rolled my ankle twice and finished the race. My ankle was still tender and with the snowy conditions, a long run wasn't possible for me on this day. I had planned this run in part because I had wanted to run that trail once again before snow really flew and I would switch mainly to cross-country skiing. I thought it would be fun to share the trail with others and thus organized this event. But, life happens. I decided I would go on a shorter run when I got back home. I had enough time before the runners arrived to enjoy some time on one of my regular running routes, the forest service road that everyone would be running down later that evening.
Angel & Tim were due to arrive that night. They would get to our house around 9:00. I was really looking forward to it. But before they would arrive, Van, Ras, Jenn and Deby got to the lodge. They were all cold, hungry and tired. Ras' hands had gotten dangerously frigid and he made the decision to not return to the trail. Van and Deby decided 100 miles would be bad ass enough. Jenn decided to go out for one final 20 mile stretch making her total distance a 100k.
It was now very dark and raining relentlessly. The ladies showed great strength and motivation as they left the lodge into the night. I will hold that image in my mind when I need to draw from the experience of tough ultra runners I personally know. I feel honored.
Ras was relieved and filled himself with hot soup. He planted himself by the woodstove and stayed there warming himself for what seemed like hours. Allen arrived, then Tonya. She ran a great 40 miler solo, in the snow, with huge bear prints everywhere. They each enjoyed some hot soup and drinks also and greeted their dog who waited for them patiently.
Ras and Allen reconnected after having spent some great bonding time on the Wonderland Trail together in September when Ras completed the Only Known Time for a Double Reverse Wonderland Trail Run.
Soon our dogs Jesse and Puzzle began to bark and this told us of Tim & Angel's arrival. They came in and visited and were soon off to bed. They would go with Ras and I to the valley in the middle of the night to meet the runners. They would then join them on the trail by headlamp and run through the night until dawn. Wow. They had just arrived from Seattle, would ride down in the dark to some unknown trailhead and then start out on this 20 mile adventure in snow. Angel had not run in the night before. I really admire the bravery and willingness they showed to do what would help Van & Deby most. A very kind and selfless couple, for sure. I am happy to know them. All weekend, I was overwhelmed by how blessed I was to be spending time with all of these special folks.
Allen & Tonya nestled into bed by the woodstove and Tim, Angel Ras and I piled into my car at midnight to drive into the valley with drop bags and hot food. It was very cold at the trailhead. We bundled up in blankets and visited some, finally resorting to piling in the car and letting the heat run for a while. Soon, headlamps were moving rapidly down the canyon trail and the ladies were making their final descent to the valley floor. Jenn had completed 100k!! She sat on the the ground in elation and began to dream of reading a book by the fire after a hot shower, soup and some sleep.
In the morning, Shona would arrive to go on a run with me. Our plan was not fully in place yet, but when she got to our house, we could clearly see how we would fit into the picture. We would start Deby & Van out on their final out n' back to complete their 100 miler. They would have 15 more miles to go and knew where that turn around point was already. According to their Garmins, each out n' back had actually been 42 miles, rather than 40.
We got some great group pictures, Deby took a short rest, Van had some potato soup and a quiet moment and soon we ladies were on our way up the forest service road. Due to the deep snow on the trail through our land, the runners had been using the driveway to access the forest road. I will forever have different feelings about this forest road I run, ski and bike year round. Spending time on it with Shona and these two impressive ladies, was as special as it gets. They were hurting, tired, had stomach problems . A good amount of snow was still on the road. They hiked and ran up this grade and then danced down the steep, snowy down-hill as soon as they hit it. They are so used to moving well when they can, they just took off so fast. They got what they needed from the silver Subaru aid station for the last time, and then Shona and I said good-bye.
But they were not alone. They had two big, blonde labradors with them. These two dogs had joined Angel & Tim, following them all the way to our house. Ras chased them off, but they showed up again on the forest service road as the ladies climbed it their final time with Shona and I. They actually enjoyed the company of the dogs. The dogs turned around regularly to make sure Van & Deby were still coming along behind them.
When I got back from my pacing adventure I enjoyed some food myself. I wanted to shower and think about what to make the ladies for dinner after they completed this amazing journey. I decided on spaghetti and salad. Soon I heard hoots and hollers and called out to Ras that the ladies were coming in the home stretch. It was such a blast to see them run through our yard with tired, yet bright smiles on their faces. They joined hands and thrust their arms into the sky. These two ladies just completed the First H3 and with their finish, earned First 100 mile Women, First Overall, and First Masters, as well as setting the corresponding course records.
I am inspired by each ultra runner that came to this event. Ras and I want to do it again next year and we've heard a few folks say they'd like to come back. Maybe a winter storm will come through again. But maybe the sun will shine during the day and a crisp, clear sky at night will reveal a full moon. Whatever the elements, they will be the perfect back-drop for a Halloween un run, just spooky enough.