Baker Lake 100k Fat Ass Trail Run:
Fourth Time's A Charm
Fourth Time's A Charm
By Kathy Vaughan
Kulshan Campground was packed with big trucks and fishing boats. Ras and I found a spot in the corner of the campground, under some huge trees. It was dry and protected from the rain showers that were coming down now and predicted for the following day as well. Our friend Lisa, my adventure bestie, would be meeting us soon and we wanted to have our shelter up before she arrived. The next day we would be running a self-supported 100k, or 63 mile, run along the forested Baker Lake Trail.
Baker Lake 50k was my first race ever. I ran it for the first time in October of 2011 and have run it each Autumn since then. Two winters ago, Terry Sentinella, having taken over as the Race Director for the event, decided to offer a 100k or 50k Fat Ass run on the course. Runners had the option of running the course twice to total the mileage for the 100k, and they could choose to do it any time during the month of December. He offered a medal for the 50k finishers and a buckle for the 100k finishers. Ras and I chose to run it and ended up taking a 50k finish instead of our planned 100k. As it turns out, running this trail just two months later than race day, is a whole different story. You can red the trip report here.
In July of 2015 he offered an option of running the 100k Fat Ass again, choosing not to offer a 50k option this time. Ras and I finished the 100k. You can read about our adventure here. This past December, Ras and I again attempted a 100k winter run along Baker Lake, and again had to stop at 50k. The temperatures were in the single digits, the creek crossings were icy and dangerous, and we felt like it was too dangerous to continue. You can read that trip report here and watch the video here.
Ras and I were determined to get another 100k finish. I had talked up this trail to Lisa over and over again. I did not have to twist her arm to get her to run it with us. This would be Lisa's first 100k trail run, although she has run lots of ultra distance runs with me and she and I finished a 200k winter thru-ski together on the Methow Trails last year. Here is the link to that blog. I knew she was more than ready to run this course, strong and solid.
Lisa pulled up outside the shelter and called out to us, inside staying dry and preparing for the next day's run. I gave her a big hug and some small pieces of drift wood to use in her hand made pine needle baskets. She and I used to live only fifteen minutes apart from each other in the Okanogan Highlands. Now, Ras and I are living near a beach on Whidbey Island, working for a weeding service this summer and saving money for a thru-hike in the Southwest we are planning for the Fall. It's hard not living so close to my good friend, but sharing trail running adventures together as much as possible and exchanging little gifts of our natural surroundings, helps to keep us connected. Lisa brought me fresh, organic greens from her farm and some homemade green curry paste for Ras.
We spent the rest of the evening preparing for our run and talking through the logistics. We would start at the Baker River Trailhead the following morning, driving our car down to that end at about 3:30 a.m. We would then run back to our camp in order to use our shelter for our “aide station”. We would all have a supply of dry clothing, food and water to use the two times we would reach it for our turn-around. From the Baker River Trailhead to our set-up shelter in the Kulshan Campground would total 15 ¾ miles each time. This is the opposite direction of the official Baker Lake 50k course, but Terry has allowed us to run it this direction for an official finish. This allows us to leave a camp/aide station set up in the campground safe and protected, whereas there is no camping allowed at the Baker Lake Trailhead end of the course. A Northwest Forest Service Pass is required at that trailhead and the camping is $22.00 per night at Kulshan.
The rain spattered on top of the shelter, waking me up before the 2:45 alarm sounded. I got up and started making coffee. Ras shut off his alarm and snuggled down deeper into the sleeping bags. He didn't seem too anxious to get out into that weather and I wasn't feeling ready for it yet either. Lisa came inside, after having slept in the back of her truck underneath a dry canopy. We all got ready and drank our coffee, making a thermos of it to have in the car for the finish of our first 50k.
We loaded our gear and ourselves into our car. Then we drove down to the Baker Lake Trailhead under the dark and rainy morning skies. There were many cars and trucks lining the thirteen mile Forest Service road that led to the trailhead. I wondered if it was just a normal busy summer weekend in the little campgrounds along the lake, or if perhaps it was going to be a busy fishing day on the lake. From the number of boats, trucks, and fishing conversations I had already observed in Kulshan Campground, I figured it was probably the latter.
Arriving at the large lot, we decided to wait out the downpour. I hopped out and got the envelope for the Northwest Forest Service $5.00 fee for the day. Before I knew it, all was quiet in the car. We ended up sleeping for several more hours, waiting for the sheets of rain to stop coming down and getting some additional rest. Ras and I were tired from our weeding job and Lisa had spent hours the previous week working on the garlic harvest at the organic farm she owns and operates with her husband Jason. We all needed more sleep and had decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of this time waiting out the rain storm to catch up on our rest. We were about to expend a lot of energy over what we figured would be about 17 hours. We had no idea what was really in store for us. Running around out in the middle of the woods wouldn't be nearly as much fun if we had anyway.
I was starting out in my Altra Lone Peak 2.0's and had a pair of the Altra Olympus 1.5's, a max cush model, for after the first 50k. I knew my feet would be feeling the mileage then and the extra cush underfoot would feel good. This is something I've been doing for about a year now, when I run long distances and have access to a shoe change. The balls of my feet have been getting sore much sooner into a long run since my Pigtails Challenge 150 mile finish Memorial Day weekend this Spring. I haven't been putting as much time into stretching and rolling out as I should, and I've been suffering the consequences. I've had a couple of other awesome runs since Pigtails, and each time I've gotten crazy sore feet, especially my left foot, which has affected my pace. I had high hopes that this run on the Baker Lake trail would be better. Not long into the run, I could tell that I would have foot pain again.
I led the pace and we all moved along the wet trail, quietly settling into the long day ahead. I felt calm and peaceful amongst the gigantic old growth trees, the thick blankets of moss and the huge ferns surrounding me. The rain felt good against my face and I stayed plenty warm enough. I saw quick movement on the trail, tiny insect like things crawling or hopping rapidly to and fro. I finally stopped to get a closer look and could see that they were the tiniest frogs I had every seen. They were the size of the little insects that flit about on the surface of ponds and behaved in a similar way. I was amazed at what I was seeing. There were thousands of them and as we ran along, we continued to see them for about a three mile stretch of trail. The weather had been so dry for weeks and now these heavy rains were drenching the earth. It seemed to me that the wet conditions must have been forcing the polliwogs to suddenly continue their natural process, on a very large scale. Ras and Lisa were just as puzzled and amazed by this occurrence. Soon though, we were out of the little ecosystem where this was taking place and there would be other wonders to experience.
The sun peaked through the clouds a time or two as we ran this first leg along the lake. I had given Lisa some trail beta and we were now reaching Anderson Creek. A slippery, off camber, log bridge spans the swiftly moving creek. I remembered the second year I ran the 50k here when two guys in the race helped a line of women across, holding our hands as we stepped off the slippery log. I thought it was sweet of them. Later in the race, another guy, who I later came to know and become friends with, Ryan McKnight, grabbed my hand to keep me from falling off the trail into a shallow ditch as we passed each other. Again, I was impressed with the nice camaraderie. I love the trail running community for all of the support, positivity and encouragement given each other.
Now over the bridge, it was just a short distance to the road that leads downhill for 1 3/4 miles to the dam crossing and the Kulshan Campground. We discussed what we would need to do at the turn-around. We wanted to make it as quick as possible, knowing that our later stops would likely take longer as we got deeper into the miles and needed more time to eat and rest.
Ras, Lisa and I left the campground a few minutes after 1:00 in the afternoon. I wasn't happy with the pace I was keeping and I knew it was a slow start. We should have been leaving the camp well before 1:00, but there was nothing to do now but look ahead and I vowed to myself to move faster, no matter how much foot pain I was having. I wanted everyone to have a good time and not to feel slowed down by me. As a slower paced runner, I'm often in the back-of-the-pack, although I've been moving ahead just a bit in the pack. This has felt good. I have been happy with my Spring races, how I performed and persevered through challenging distances. I'd finished 1st and only female at Rock Creek 100k in April and 2nd female at Pigtails Challenge 150 Mile. I knew I could finish this 100k, but I also knew it would be a challenge. I was ready for it.
We had a fun climb after crossing the dam as we hiked towards the single track along the lake. We were in good spirits and laughed as we climbed. It felt good to have nearly 18 of our miles now completed. I planned on taking some ibuprofen and changing into my Olympus once we reached the car to help with the discomfort I was having in my foot. This gave me something to look forward to and a way that I could try to deal with what was happening. A big part of finishing ultras is problem solving. Quitting can't be your first option. Evaluating what tools you have available for yourself and choosing which ones to pull out of the box is how you can keep going. I had tools available and I was going to use them. I wanted to earn that buckle and enjoy more hours of trail time with two of my favorite people.
Finally, we got to the big bridge where Glenn Tachiyama and Takao Suzuki take pictures of the racers on the official race day in October. There were no photographers here now. There was no one to cheer us on to the big lot at the river trailhead. Running and moving for all of these miles and all of these hours, comes from within. It doesn't come from trying to prove anything to anyone other than oneself.
I started trail and ultrarunning at age 44 to prevent any type of depressive episode from happening when my only daughter left for college. I ran off nearly 50 pounds and did so with only about ½ of my pancreas. I've had three hospitalizations during the time I've been running, due to pancreatitis. I keep on pursuing this lifestyle though, following a low-fat diet and taking pancreatic enzymes daily to prevent further attacks from occurring. I play the game the way I find interesting and fulfilling. I sometimes use terms to describe the type of run I am attempting or pursuing for the purpose of distinguishing it from another type of run. This self-supported 100k was entirely different and way more difficult than the organized and supported Rock Creek 100k I'd run in April. I aim to inspire others and encourage others. I know it's possible for someone who sets their mind to it to pursue this way of life also.
The first stretch back out, along the bottoms of the Baker River, were easy and pleasant. We all moved along at a good running pace and it felt good to be starting our 2nd 50k. We all had our music or book plugged in, choosing to use distraction for the first miles. It was fun to have my favorite raggae tunes playing in my ear, while I soaked up the last of any remaining light in the forest. We were quiet and focused as we moved along the trail. My max cush underfoot felt awesome. The anti-inflammatories had kicked in and I felt very motivated as the miles melted away, into the night.
The trek back toward Kulshan seemed to take forever. We were all sleepy on the trail and getting the drowsies. We decided that once we got back to Kulshan, we would lay down for an hour and sleep. We would then get up and have coffee, hot soup and Lisa's cold Asian salad, loaded with veggies and flavor. This would give us the energy we needed to finish this 100k run. We were too tired to stay awake on the trail and it slowed our pace to a drunken-like stumble at times. We had already laid down on the trail for numerous naps and we needed to just fall soundly asleep for a spell. This helped me tremendously during Pigtails. I knew it would help now.
I was the first to awaken. I don't know if I heard the alarm go off or not. I just knew it was time to hop back up and get on the trail. The clock was ticking and even though our finishing time was already going to be outrageous, I didn't want it to be any slower. My original goal had been to finish faster than last summer, but that goal had been squashed many hours ago. We were looking at a 30 hour finish.
I went to the back of Lisa's truck and called out to her. She was soon inside the shelter, finishing up her preparations to get back out there for our final leg. Ras hadn't stirred yet, but I knew with the noise Lisa and I were making, he would be up and getting ready shortly. I made coffee for everyone and we changed into layers appropriate for the new day, a sunny morning, the rain long since having stopped.
Everyone was ready pretty quickly and we began hiking out of Kulshan camp, loosening up our sore muscles and our tight feet. We hiked at a good clip and mixed in running on the less steep section of the road. Before we knew it, we were at the single track section and moving towards Anderson Creek, Anderson Point, and Maple Grove Campground. We were all fully awake now and no one needed to stop for a nap. We had our first view of a small portion of the flank of Baker. The temperature was warm, but not hot, perfect for a run in the woods.
My mind was full of thoughts of the finish, of a good meal, comfy clothes, a buckle. Lisa led the way and kept a good pace. She called out breaks ahead of time and we stopped briefly at Maple Grove and Noisy Creek Campgrounds for short rests. Our focus was on the finish though, and we knew we had it now. It had been a fun, challenging, adventurous time along Baker Lake and Baker River. We had shared many laughs; kept each other company in the night; conversed about a myriad of topics, all the while running & hiking 63 miles, for the fun of it.
To run with Lisa, Ras and the frogs; to hear the wind rustle the leaves and cause the trees to squeak together eerily; to move through the quiet of the night, hearing the birds sing as they awaken for the day; to test my limits of physical and mental endurance: I feel like I'm thriving, living at my fullest, during these long runs. I am at my best and I'm challenged to keep the strength in me; to not melt into my worst. There are highs and lows along the way. I take away the feeling of peace and gratitude when I leave the trail. I share this essence with others I encounter through my blog writing, my stories I tell to those I'm around and; my eagerness to teach others how they too can experience the joy of moving along a trail in the wilderness.
1. Vegetarian Bean & Rice Burritos – 4
2. Black Cherry Clif Blocks
3. Clif Bars – Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Toffee Buzz, Carrot Cake
4. “Tings” Baked Corn Snacks
5. Indian Spiced Cracker mix by Bhutan
6. Black Bean Soup by Trader Joe's
7. Chia Seed/Lemonade Drink
8. 2 baggies of assorted gel candies/sports gel chews
9. Dark Chocolate covered raisins
11. 1 Energy Drink
12. 2 packages Stonewall's soy jerkey “Wild” flavor