Friday, November 24, 2017

Zero Limits State Of Mind #01
photo by Ras /
The Beauty Of The Fail

by Ras Vaughan

Ninety-Eight Days All for Naught

n June 11th, 2017, Team UltraPedestrian achieved the biggest fail of our careers. After 98 days and 1300 miles on the trail pushing our minds, bodies, gear, finances, and relationship far past their limits, we were forced to admit that we would not be able to complete our goal of becoming the first people ever to yo-yo the Grand Enchantment Trail. (Yo-yoing a trail means traveling it from one end to the other and then back again, thus completing the trail twice in a single push, once in each direction, like a yo-yo running out to the end of its string then returning to your hand.)

The GET runs east and west between Phoenix, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, for approximately 770 miles. But the GET isn’t an official trail: it’s a route that links together existing trail, unmaintained trail, two tracks, roads, bushwacks, and cross-country sections that traverse both vast deserts and vertiginous mountain ranges. It’s an incredibly difficult and indelibly rewarding route. Being in the heart of the American Southwest, the Grand Enchantment Trail presents a very limited window of opportunity in the spring and fall, between the freezing snows of winter and the blistering heat of summer. On our final day on the trail, when Kathy inadvertently left her sleeping pad in the direct sun and it melted we knew that our window of opportunity had slammed shut.

Our GET Yo-yo attempt was the second in a series of four desert trail yo-yos that we planned as part of our multi-year Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project. This included the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which we had successfully yo-yo’d between September 18th and December 20th of 2015, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Oregon Desert Trail, and the Hayduke Trail. Each of these trails is approximately 800 miles long in a single direction and traverses some of the most challenging and unforgiving terrain in North America. We were attempting them in order of ascending difficulty, and we were under no illusion that our success was a given. These are extremely challenging routes, and there’s good reason why no one had ever yo-yo’d any of them before.

Not only did we aspire to being the first, but we planned to do it in “Feet On The Ground” style, not hitchhiking into resupply towns, not accepting rides of any kind, and not using public transportation or any other form of conveyance (we even avoided elevators in motels). Our goal was to cover every step of the way under our own power and on our own two feet. In or minds this would be the highest ethic we could attain, the best style, the fairest means, but it could also be summed up rather simply as, “cray cray is as cray cray does”. We had invested months evaluating the physical, mental and logistical challenges involved in the overall project and had concluded that it was Humanly possible. We wanted to find out if we were the Humans to do it. …

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photo by Ras /

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Methow Winter Ski Retreat

Challenge, Ceremony, and Connection:
A Methow Winter Ski Retreat

By Kathy Vaughan

photo by Kathy Vaughan/
     I had a full week off from my weeding job and the organized annual cross country ski trip in the Methow would begin on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Lisa and I would begin tallying kilometers skied, towards accomplishing our 2nd Methow Trails 200k Challenge (skiing 200k of the Methow Trails in a single season). By Saturday night, allowing us five days and four nights, Lisa and I hoped to have this challenge conquered. I devised a plan to drive to the Okanogan Highlands to visit Lisa first, in the small town of Chesaw, on Saturday.  This meant an eight hour drive over a mountain pass, and on mostly snowy roads after that, until I reached my friend Lisa’s home, almost at the Canadian border. Near Lisa’s place, Ras and I own a five acre piece of land with a creek and a cabin. Since I was driving over the mountains anyway, I wanted to check in on our place, do some skiing off of the groomed trails, enjoy some time with Lisa in her hand built sauna, and hopefully get in a long run on a snow-plowed country road. Lisa had offered to let me stay in her guest cabin on her garlic farm. She had it heated up and all ready for me, despite the bitter cold weather they had been having. This sounded like the perfect way to turn this whole pre-Rendezvous Huts time, into a winter retreat.

     Conditions of Steven’s Pass looked sketchy from reports, so I decided to take the longer but lower, and safer route. I drove off the north end of Whidbey Island and took I-5 south to I-90 and headed east. It would take longer, but it would allow me to take the lower in elevation pass through the Cascades, Snoqualmie. Stevens Pass was more direct but was requiring traction tires while Snoqualmie was bare and dry thanks to it being 1000 feet lower in elevation. Conditions were quite a bit better, although still wintery.  I also decided to avoid Blewett Pass and eventually turned north up through Soap Lake and Ephrata. A long, solo drive like this in the winter, was a big mental challenge for me; one I was determined to overcome. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     When I finally pulled up at Lisa’s, I could see smoke coming from the sauna chimney. Her husband Jason had been getting the sauna heated up for us already. I stepped out of the car into the shockingly cold air and immediately realized how serious the goal of skiing 200k this coming week was. I reached back into my car and fumbled for gloves, my warmest hat and my down puffy. Any time outside looking for gear in my car was going to be a challenge. I was happy I was as organized as I was. 

     Lisa led me back to the cabin that farm volunteers and guests use when visiting she and her husband Jason on their organic farm. They grow mostly garlic, but also enough fruit and veggies to preserve and keep them eating their farm food all year round.  The small cabin was warm and cozy inside. I was going to enjoy having this space to myself for the next couple of days, and yet also being able to sauna and ski with my Adventure Bestie. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Lisa, Jason, their dog Lucy and I all had a great backcountry ski the following day on the acreage around their home. We spent about four hours skiing through the growth of huge spruce, pine and aspen trees. We skied past a creek with a restoration project in progress. A small black bird called a Dipper was pecking at the frozen banks of the creek. The bird’s presence was a good sign of the habitat being hospitable and offering the nourishment that it needs. That made us all happy.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Back at Lisa and Jason’s, we enjoyed a dinner of Lisa’s homemade veggie curry. We took another sauna at the cord wood structure they built themselves down by the same creek we had skied past earlier in the day. The whole experience was just what my spirit needed. And this was just the beginning of the week. 

     The following day, Lisa had to work at the small country store about three miles away. I had a hard time deciding whether to run or ski and so I decided to do a route that would incorporate both. I also wanted to visit Lisa at the store later in the day. Jason planned on making us vegan pesto pizza for dinner and I definitely wanted to work up a good appetite for that! 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     I drove to a pullout on a nearby country road. From here, I could ski and run a loop that would probably take about four hours in the deep snow. I got my Nathan VaporAiress pack loaded up with a few extra layers, some snacks and my Altra FKT’s I’d been wear-testing. The shoes are now on the market and called the King Mountain instead. They have the burliest tread on any shoe of Altras and I’m crushing on them hard right now. The deep snow made the skiing slow in my Fisher OutBounds. I skied through this Grouse Preserve for many winters, when Ras, Angela and I lived in our cabin. My plan today, was to ski through the preserve to the road, where I would cross over to our snowed-in driveway that leads back to the cabin, and change into my running shoes. I would have a couple of miles to run, on snowy country roads, before completing the loop back at my car.  I was filled with gratitude that I had the opportunity to ski/run this loop, and was also filled with nostalgia and an appreciation for how far I’ve come with my adventuring. Skiing solo through this preserve land used to be a pretty big deal.

    I stopped by the small store to visit with Lisa on my way back to her place. It was fun to experience the rural culture. While Lisa is working, a worn table near the pellet stove becomes a center of Highlands discussions. Her coworker and two other local ladies, one whom I’d known for years, were at the table when I walked in.  Geared up with my Zoned Heat jacket and tights, my King Mountain running shoes, and other pieces of warm gear I was still wearing post-loop adventure, I became a curiosity. I answered the questions about all the gear, while ideas of how to put together a shoe drive of some kind in this area danced through my head. I’m still working on this one.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     That night, Lisa and I did some baking together and finished packing for our two hour drive to the Methow the following day. It was time for the Rendezvous Ski Hut portion of my getaway to begin. I said good night to Lisa and headed back to the guest cabin for my final night there. I brought all of my gear bags inside to make final preparations and then fell soundly asleep.

     The Following day Lisa and I skied up from the Cub Creek Parking Lot with a group of ladies. For many years, I had joined an eclectic group of Okanogan women on a Rendezvous Ski Hut Trip. River Jones had been the first to invite me along on one of these special winter outings. We normally stayed in either the Gardner Hut or the Grizzly Hut, and this year Grizzly it would be. There would be seven of us: Lisa, my adventure bestie from Chesaw, where Ras and I have a cabin on five acres; Melanie, a retired R.N., fun, fit and feisty, who has been on all of the hut trips I’ve been on over the years; Rise, also a retired R.N. who had worked with Mel for years, and brings her guitar to sing soft, soulful tunes in the background while lively lady chatting is going on; Dani, a spirited, young mom of two, a lovely, athletic lady and a good cook; Cassandra, a sweet, soulful mom of a teenage daughter, a grad student and an all- around beautiful & caring woman; and a new friend to me, Erin, a warm gentle healer, easy to be around with deep blue eyes. All of us have partners, so this lady time getaway was very special. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     The group of us skied Cougar Bait to Cub Creek, 1.7k & 3k. We took Cow Creek to the Rendezvous Basin for 5.1k. Lisa and I had split off at this point and we continued down the Rendezvous Basin for 2.4k to Grizzly Way for 1.1k to the Grizzly Hut spur trail for .5k. We were staying at Grizzly Hut for three nights and would ski back to the parking lot on Friday.  Later, after a wonderful Apple, Squash and Ginger Soup dinner by Dani, Lisa and I went back out into super cold temps, likely below zero, and very strong winds. We took the spur trail and Grizzly Way to Gunn Ranch Road where we skied an out n’ back to the Gunn Ranch parking lot for an additional 11k. We then returned to the hut for some sleep. Our day’s total was 27.7k.

     I woke up hungry on the second day. Cassandra made a savory breakfast of polenta, fresh garlic and stewed tomatoes. It really hit the spot. Lisa and I hung out at the hut with the ladies, visiting and sipping coffee. We all left together to ski the Cassal Hut Loop by way of the Rendezvous Basin and then Cassal Creek Loop to Cassal Hut spur. We ate lunch there and then headed back out the spur trail, Cassal Creek Loop, in the opposite direction, the “Black” descent to Rendezvous Basin. Lisa and I said goodbye to the other ladies here and continued on our way to do the Cougar Mt. Loop. This loop offers lots of curvy, steep downhill stretches and I couldn’t wait to ski those. I was wearing my larger and heavier Fischer skis. Lisa was in her lightweight skis. We continued on Rendezvous Basin Trail for 3k to reach the basin where Cougar Mt. Loop turns off. We skied the 4.6k loop and connected to Cow Creek. Cow Creek took us back to the Rendezvous Basin and back to the Grizzly Hut for dinner.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

      It was our turn to prepare the shared meal and we were making Pad Thai. Lisa led the cooking and I chopped, diced, made the salad and set the table. The ladies loved it and it was delish. It hit the spot. Lisa shared chocolate covered dried mango for dessert. 

     After dinner, it was time for Lisa and I to head out for our night ski. The moon was bright enough to ski without headlamps as we had the night before. Some of the ladies joined us initially. Our plan was to ski the Grizzly Way Loop, 5.2k. I overdressed and got very sweaty underneath. This made me feel irritable and uncomfortable, not to mention nervous about being wet. It was super cold outside, single digits or colder. I got overwhelmed by our goal of skiing 200k in these temperatures. This was my first ski of the season and it was a huge goal I was undertaking. Hanging out in the warm cabin with the ladies sounded much nicer, and easier. I voiced some of my stresses to Lisa, verging on having a meltdown of sorts. I kept coming up with rationalizations as to why I was feeling pessimistic. She didn’t let me give up on the goal. She was assertive, yet kind. We went back to the hut with the ladies and I changed into dry clothing and made an attitude adjustment.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We went back out and skied the Cassal Hut loop again, in the opposite direction. We skied the Grizzly Way Loop a total of three more times too. This was instead of our initial plan to ski the Fawn Creek Trail down to Mazama and back. This had felt overwhelming to me. Lisa also encouraged me to change into my lighter weight skis. I needed to have faith in my skiing ability. The lighter weight skis give me only slightly less control. I can ski well in my Karhus and they allow me the ability to ski in the tracks, using less energy and going faster. This all worked well that night and we had a lovely ski. I never got wet, cold or uncomfortable again. I could go fast in the tracks and my feet felt so much better in my boots. It was awesome and a game changer. We had skied 34.4k that day and it was time for some sleep.

     On our 3rd day, Lisa and I had coffee and a quick breakfast with the ladies before heading out to ski the Cassal Hut loop. We planned on connecting with the group somewhere during their ski trip to the Rendezvous Hut.  We met the ladies as they were skiing down the spur trail from the hut. Ben, the owner of the Rendezvous Hut system had built a fire up there, but the hut had not quite warmed up. We skied back out to the bottom of the spur to touch base. They were all cold so we said a quick goodbye as they headed off towards the hut. We decided to ski up to the Rendezvous Hut to take advantage of the warm fire Ben had built. We figured the fire would be warm by the time we got up there, and it was. We both were very grateful for the warmth the stove provided, and that we were able to come inside and enjoy it. We pulled up a bench in front of the woodstove and ate our lunch.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

      Our plan from here was to continue on to the Heiffer Hut and then get back to our own hut in time to have dinner with the ladies. This route is called the Cedar Creek Loop. It is unique in that it passes through a couple of creek drainages where cedars are growing. This is unusual to the forests of the Methow. I love the rich fragrance of the Cedar Creek drainage as the trail dips down into it, making a sharp curve through the dark, thick forest. A total accumulation of 14.7k would get us back to the bottom of the Rendezvous Hut spur trail again. We would then have the 2.4k descent to the Grizzly Way and 1.6k to the hut.  The Cassal Hut loop was 12.4k. This would give us a total of 29.5k.  

     The home cooked soup made by Mel was a delicious cream of broccoli soup made with cashew milk. Rise put together a lovely veggie platter, complete with avocado slices. A big green salad was also served. The next plan was to head back out for a full moon ski with the ladies. We skied the 5.2k Grizzly Way Loop. Lisa and I planned on continuing on without the ladies,after heading back to the hut for boysenberry pie and a full moon ceremony. Erin, Cassandra and Dani had organized a sweet little ceremony to honor the Full Moon and the New Year. We washed our hands in warm hibiscus water, made our own individual intentions and heard poetry from Cassandra. We stood together, in the moonlight, ski sisters so to speak. 

     Rise, Mel, Lisa and I really appreciated the younger ladies in our group, creating this fresh youthful energy. Our group represented the 30’s, 40’s 50’s and 60’s. When I first began joining the Rendezvous Ski Hut trips, I was the youngest, listening to stories of menopause and the wisdom of the ladies older than me. Now, I was the 3rd from the oldest. Menopause was behind me and I was sharing stories from the perspective of being the mother of a homeschooled 23 year old daughter, now serving in Madagascar in the Peace Corps.  Our group ski was the Grizzly Way Loop for a total of 5.2k. Then Lisa and I headed out to do the Gunn Ranch Rd out-and-back again, a total of 14k and an awesome ski. The whole valley was lit up by the moon. It was stunning scenery as far as the eye could see. For the day, we got 44.9 kilometers.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     The final morning in the hut had arrived. We cleaned up after ourselves, visited and had a pot luck breakfast. Then we all skied out together via Rendezvous Basin, Cougar Mt. Loop to Little Cub Creek to Cougar Bait, 15.4k. It was one of the best skis I’ve ever had downhill on cross country skis. Little Cub Creek is always a blast, but this time was pretty epic. I love this downhill trail with little curves and extended down; so, so fun!! I was super cold at the bottom and half way down started stressing out that I had left my car keys in the hut near where I had been sleeping. I grabbed my burlap bag, which had been overturned in the snowmobile ride, and frantically searched through it. My keys were buried in the bottom. “Yes!”, I cried out dramatically, thrusting my fists up into the air. I warmed up my car and changed into my Altra NeoShell Mids. I was just about ready to leave, when Cassandra walked over with my Fischer skis. I had totally forgotten to grab them from the pile of our gear Ben had snowmobiled down from the hut. They had even been right near my other gear, including my burlap bag. I had skied down on my Karhus and not even thought about my other skis. I thanked her and thought to myself that I had better focus a little better, considering the key thing and the rest of the ski challenge to pull off in a day and a half. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     I followed Lisa into Winthrop. I left my car in the Barn parking lot and she drove us in her camper to Twisp, where she had some soaps to pick up from a business there. We then drove back to Winthrop to get my car and dropped her camper off at the Ice Skating Rink parking lot, where we would wind up at the end of our night ski. I drove us up to the Chickadee parking lot in the Sun Mountain trail system. This is where would do most of our night skiing. Our plan was to climb up Thompson Rd and ski down Meadowlark to join back up with Thompson Rd. We would then ski to my car, warm up, and have a few snacks. We would ski from there down the steep trail to the valley floor and into Winthrop.

     Once in the Chickadee Parking Lot, Lisa and I had a few organizational tasks to do before getting started for the night. It was very early evening, not yet dark. We could make some good progress up the Thompson Road climb before the sun set. The moon would light our way again later. But for now, we each settled into our own space, within our heads and on the road. There were two sets of tracks, one on either side of the wide corduroy trail. The conditions were good for the climb. We had 6.1k of persistent uphill to the pass at 3,650 feet in elevation. We started out at 2,620. 

     Layering properly was challenging, yet important for the entire time Lisa and I had been out skiing. The bitter, dry cold felt biting on descents. For uphill skiing though, it was surprising how few layers were needed. “Be Bold, Start Cold”, as the saying goes, was hard to implement in the single digit, and below, temperatures. Ras had lent me his puffy down jacket, as it is easier to stuff into a pack than my own heavier weight puffy. As it turned out, this was my layering savior. I was able to put it over the top of my Nathan VaporShadow pack. When I started heating up from the climbs, I could take it off easily and wrap it around my waist without having to stop for long. Each time Lisa and I stopped, we had to tend to each task quickly so as not to get cold. If we were stopped long enough, I could unwrap it from my waist and easily remove my pack, stashing it under the outside stretch cord, or stuff it into the open top. Ras’  jacket was ample enough on me that it fit down over my legs, helping to keep them warm too. The hood could stretch over my own big ear flap, furry hat and be pulled up over the top of my two merino wool buffs. Easily pulling hoods and buffs over your face while moving is an efficient layering technique in the cold, especially with wind as a factor as well. I use all of these face and head layers while trail running, fast packing and cross country skiing.  

     I listened to some music while climbing Thompson Road. The distraction and beat of the music helped. I enjoy listening to Reggae Dancehall, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs. I had a few new tunes such as Elliphant and Major Lazor’s new tune “Too Original” and Elliphant’s single “Only Getting Younger”, featuring Skrillex. Before I knew it, I was catching up to Lisa at the pass and it was time for some downhill. We would still have some gentle contouring along the Meadowlark Trail and even a few short climbs, but for the most part, we were going to have downhill for the rest of the night’s ski.

     Sometimes expectations of what kind of terrain lies ahead can interfere with my mental comfort level. There were some fun stretches of down mixed in with climbs and some gentle contouring for a long way. Lisa gained some distance on me and I skied along in the dark through dense trees, feeling alone in a mostly good way. I got glimpses of Lisa’s headlamp, as we did need them on this night for the first time during our ski challenge. Reaching the intersection with Thompson Road, Lisa and I connected with each other quickly, before beginning the 2.6k, 500 foot drop back down to the Chickadee Trailhead.

    Lisa took off fast. Her light skis had no drag and she flew off before I could really even get going.  I pushed and glided in the tracks to gain some speed and then skied out of them back onto the corduroy once I got momentum. I started skiing fast. It was exhilarating. Lisa was nowhere in sight and all around me was dark. I focused on the smooth trail ahead, trusting that I could open up on this well- groomed path. I was so relieved to have that climb done, to be getting back to the car. The ski into Winthrop would be all downhill and flat track skiing. I could do that any day. “Focus now, fly downhill, cover your face, wriggle your toes in your boots, wriggle your fingers in your gloves, you’ve got this.” These mantras floated through my head as I skied fast in the dark. 

     Then it was over. There was Lisa at the signed intersection, waiting for me so we could take the gentle trail back to the car. My eyes were watering from the fast skiing, the cold air, and for some reason, tears. I was flooded with emotion. I was happy to be getting closer to realizing our goal. I was full of adrenaline from that final downhill. I was stoked to be reunited with Lisa and so near the parking lot. We skied off together towards my car.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Once there, we took some time to get ready for the 8.8k ski down to Winthrop and Lisa’s camper awaiting us at the Town Trailhead and Rink. Now I was completely relaxed and ready for the rest of the night’s ski. I ate some food while in the car, putting on some dry layers at the same time. Lisa and I left the comfort of the warm car and headed towards the Patterson Lake cabins.  The lake itself was blanketed in snow. The cabins were lit up and smoke was coming from their chimneys. It smelled good. We skied quietly past on the groomed trail and then took off our skies to cross the road. 

     We skied the Winthrop Trail with it’s fun S curves all the way down to the Methow Community Trail. We had 4k to ski through the fields, past a few homes, along the Methow River and into the skating rink parking area. Lisa and I turned off our headlamps once down the steep sections of trail. It was a beautiful night, skiing along peacefully, pleasantly. I got in the tracks and effortlessly cruised through my surroundings, at one with the cold winter scape.  Throughout the many hours of skiing I had been doing, I had often been able to enter this “zone” and it is one of the reasons I am drawn to hard endurance efforts such as this. This is when I feel alive. This is when I am at my best and feel the healthiest. One more day, and Lisa and I would be completing the Methow Trails 200k Challenge for the 2nd time, doing it all in a single big push. I don't think anyone else has done this. It felt exhilerating. 
     I skied up to the waiting Palomino camper, and took off my skies. The empty lot and the starlit sky amplified the feeling I was having of limitless possibilities.

       Lisa and I awoke at what felt like the spot where a winter wonderland turns into a pretty intense winter landscape; the final lot that one can drive to before Highway 20, or the North Cascades Highway, is closed to thru traffic for the season. The avalanche threat is too real for the Department of Transportation to keep this highway open during the winter. A post with a sign and a flashing light warns travelers to go no further. This is sad for me, because The Methow is only about four hours away from where I currently live, via this highway. Instead, I had to drive twice as far to access this magical paradise by way of I90 to get through the Cascade Mountain Range, and then miles and miles of snowy highway north, through central Washington.  

     The Subaru Lisa and I had seen the night before was still parked near us in the otherwise empty lot. There was a tarp laid out neatly beside the car with bins spread out on it. A mat was by one of the side car doors to step out onto without being directly on the snow. Whoever this was, they had camped in the snow before. They knew what they were doing. I got out of the camper to get into my own car at one point, and saw the guy who had been sleeping in the Subaru the night before. He was bundled up for the frigid temps and had on big down booties to walk around on the snow. He was casually eating breakfast at the folding table he had set up, the stove going with a pot of boiling water steaming on one of it’s burners. This was an impressive scene and Lisa and I discussed it. I assumed he might be catching one of the heli-ski rides we were hearing overhead. This area was known for it’s fabulous backcountry riding and it was possible this guy was hitting the slopes. He was gone before Lisa and I hit the trail.

      Our first destination was Doe Canyon. It was quiet and bitter cold. We bundled up and headed for the gentle climb into the canyon. I was looking forward to the ski out, mostly downhill for about 2k. It felt good to be starting our final day on the Methow Trails 200k Challenge. We had worked diligently and persistently to get to this point. We knew we had it if we just stuck to our plan and kept on skiing. We would be done before it was even too late at night. But now, as we skied along peacefully in the morning surroundings, I was in a wonderful zone and felt as though I could ski forever. I was unfamiliar with the trails in this upper Mazama valley floor. Lisa and I had skied it in the night when we completed the Methow Challenge two winters prior. An old wooden sign read “Old Growth Grove”. This all felt new and kept me pushing and gliding forward, looking all around so as to not miss anything. I saw where trees had been broken off at nearly the same height, everywhere I looked. I thought that possibly an avalanche had caused this, or a strong windstorm. Either of these events were possible in this rugged, mountainous zone. I soon saw a large wooden sign that said “Cassal Avalanche 1997”. This explained it all. I skied on, looking at more trees, broken off, as far as the eye could see. It was impossible for me to imagine the enormity of what had occurred here 20 years ago. 

     Finally through the avalanche zone, we were in an open, sunny meadow. I felt so grateful to be amongst such pristine, winter scenery, in the sunshine, accomplishing a huge goal. Lisa knew there would be a bench up ahead and we planned on taking a short break there. We had not been able to stop outside for any length of time during our entire ski. We would now have a chance to sit down and soak in some sunshine while having a bite to eat. It was all that I had looked forward to as I skied the last section to the bench. I took off my skis and plopped down on the dry surface. It felt so good to have the rays of sunshine fall on my outstretched legs. This was a wonderful moment.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd/

     A few more kilometers, and we would be at the Mazama Store. We wanted to fill our water bottles here and possibly get a hot drink or a snack. It was incredibly crowded and felt like the scene of a movie. Everyone was dressed just perfectly in cross country ski attire, LL Bean or Patagonia apr├Ęs ski wear, and anxious for something from the counter in the store. We used the restrooms and filled our waters then left for the solitude of the trails once again. The route was cruisy and pleasant as we skied the final four kilometers back to the parking lot. We saw a few other skiers, but for the most part, we made our way easily along the route. We had a short climb that rewarded us with a little bit of fun downhill. We skied through a tunnel underneath the Highway. Cold, hungry and happy, we got back to our vehicles. We began to warm them up as we took off skis and boots, changing into dry shoes for driving. 

     Lisa would drop her camper off at the Mazama parking area. This is where we would complete our Methow Trails Challenge. I would drive us to the Gunn Ranch parking area where we would begin our night ski. We would ski the 5.5k on the Gunn Ranch Road, and then connect with the Rendezvous Basin Trail. But first, we wanted to be sure we were ready with everything we needed in our packs for night skiing. We were finishing our hot drinks and snacking in my car at the Gunn Ranch parking area, the car running so the heat was blasting and keeping us warm in the cold early evening air. Lisa and I both have a fondness for this road; it would be our third time skiing it in this challenge. It had been so intense and windy our first night out. Now, it seemed inviting and familiar. The gentle climb of the road would warm us up quickly once we left the comfort of the car for our final ski of the challenge. Our bellies were full and we were bundled up appropriately. Our headlamps were ready, although most nights out we had not had to use them as the moon had lit our way. I locked up the car and we headed up the trail, the clear view of the valley below us. We were quiet, our thoughts internal as we glided easily up the trail. All of the usual landmarks helped lead the way. I noticed the pond for the first time. Aspen lined its outer banks. I remembered the salamanders Lisa and I had seen here during another ski challenge at night. It had surprised us to see them on top of the snow. Now, seeing the pond, it made only slightly more sense.

     We hit the intersection with the Rendezvous Basin Trail and took a left. Now it was time to gently cruise along, the main climb over with. We would have a 2k climb after some of the descent, a bit later on. We both figured that this would help to warm us up again after having gone downhill for a while. We skied along, nostalgia flowing through me as I remembered skiing all throughout here with the ladies earlier in the week. We had so much fun together. I saw the arch covered in snow that Dani had fallen in love with. I stopped to marvel at it once again and soak in the energy. It was so quiet. We were so alone out here. Everyone was tucked away in their warm huts or in ski lodges or personal residences down in the valley. It was even kind of crazy, but in a very magical and wonderfully intense way.

     The downhill finally came. Lisa took off ahead, flying on her lightweight skis. I lost sight of her headlamp. I kept a courageous spirit and skied along, alone in the dark, downhill. I flew fast at times, and at other times not as fast as I would have liked. Sometimes I could see Lisa’s light if there was a switchback in the trail. The descent was long, about 9k in total. I knew we would connect again, but for now, it was just me and the dark surroundings, my bright light leading the way. I loved the feel of the cold air, biting at my cheeks. I adjusted my wool buff around my face as needed, pulling it away if I wanted the air and covering my cheeks if it got too biting. Down, down I skied. Dropping lower and lower towards the valley floor, I could see the lights from homes down below. It looked so cozy and inviting. The lights were further away than they seemed. And now, suddenly, the climb was here.     

     I struggled a bit mentally with this. I got too warm, but didn’t want to stop and adjust layers. I climbed as strongly as I could, but I could not catch up with Lisa. It was not a big deal; we were each in our zone. This was kind of the crux of it all, the final climb after so many previous ones. I glided along pretty easily, the skis taking to the conditions quite well. I wasn’t backsliding or having to put much effort into moving uphill. It was just a long climb, deep into this ski adventure.

     Finally at the top of this 900 foot climb, it was time to push and glide and work some speed into the take off. I wanted to fly fast down the final descent. I wanted to feel the speed and have some fun curves on the way. This was it. Once in the valley, there would be no more long downhills. Once in the valley, it was time to just get in the tracks and push mindlessly along. The challenge would be over, and likely my skiing for the season as well. It was bittersweet. 

       The lights from the valley got closer and the cold bit harder into my face, my fingertips, my toes. I could see Lisa’s light far below me on the trail now, or was it a light from a cabin? Some lights looked close, like I was skiing right by a ski lodge. Others looked so far away, like I was not progressing downhill like I thought I was. And now another short, steep pitch to climb. The herringboning seemed like a technique long forgotten. What had I started doing with my skis? I hardly thought about it. Lisa had disappeared over the crest a while ago.  I flew down the fun black diamond trail called Goat Creek Cut-off and saw Lisa checking out the sign at the intersection below. The descent was complete. We were back in the Mazama Valley.

     I shivered and we cheered together. I told Lisa the easiest way back to the car from here was good for me. She led the way and we twisted and turned on easy trail for about 4k back to her Palomino in the lot in Mazama. Christmas lights lit up the small town, most homes lit only with these and some dim lamp light. It was just magical. I can’t stop thinking about it. I have to live there and ski all the trails all winter.  Yeah, I would work a little. But I have to find a way to ski Methow Trails, more. For now, I will reminisce of another Methow Trails 200k Challenge, completed in thru-ski style.  

     Lisa and I began the Methow Trails 200k Challenge on Tuesday, January 10th at 11:15 a.m. and completed it on Saturday, January 14th at 8:48 p.m.
We slept three nights in the Grizzly Hut in the Rendezvous Trail System and one night in the Palomino during the challenge.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gearing UP for Ultraneering

Gearing UP for Ultraneering

photo by Gavin Woody / Ultraneering.comby Ras Vaughan

Big Impossible Sounding Ideas

There’s a particular type of ill-advised, hare-brained scheme that resonates with me on a fundamental level. When an adventure of this sort first presents itself, whether via outside influence or internal genesis, I experience both a physical and mental response. The physical response includes the sound of blood rushing in my ears, chills up and down my spine, sharpening and narrowing of my vision, and racing heart. Mentally my response is along the lines of, “That sounds impossible. I have to give it a try.” I’ve come to think of projects of this sort as Big Impossible Sounding Ideas.

As intimidating as they may seem at first conception, I’ve learned over the years that Big Impossible Sounding Ideas can be deconstructed into smaller and smaller component parts. Those parts can then be evaluated and explicated until a way is found to make each of them possible. Then all of those little possibilities can be reassembled to make that Big Impossible Sounding Idea not only a possibility but a reality. This is a process which can take months or even years to run its course while my brain chews on the problem, evaluating information, formulating and reformulating plans, and passively letting possibilities bounce around my skull to see if any of them take root. And once I decide that something is humanly possible, the all-consuming question for me then becomes, “Am I the Human Being to do it?” That’s exactly how things played out when I first heard about Chad Kellogg’s idea for the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop.

The Cowlitz Connection and the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop

In 2015 Richard Kresser and I attempted a project I had dreamed up to combine the 93 mile Wonderland Trail around the base of Mount Rainier with a traverse of the summit. It’s not hyperbole to say that Mount Rainier is responsible for making me the man I am today, and I find myself continually drawn to it, persistently pursuing new ways to experience the mountain as completely as possible …

Read the entire article on the Altra Running Blog.

photo by Ras/

Monday, January 9, 2017

Run Like A Kid

Running Like A Kid

By Kathy Vaughan

photo by Ras/
     On Christmas day, Ras and I took the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend to spend the day with my sister Julie, her husband Benoit, their two children and my parents. We exchanged gifts and I was soon ushered upstairs by my niece Amelie to play a game away from all of the activity downstairs. I followed her lead. Her twelve-year-old brother Benji was already upstairs. They had been playing together pretty well on their own earlier, but it was time for a little adult guidance in their games. Let’s just say we bonded that afternoon.

     One thing led to another and before I knew it we were making arrangements to spend a day with Amelie the following week, back home. This sounded like a blast. Amelie is seven, the age Angela was when Ras and I took her on that first thru-hike of the 93 mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. We didn’t plan on attempting that with Amelie on this first outing together, but my mind did start to put together a day of trail adventure that would be appropriate for her.

     Amelie was spending the week in nearby Anacortes with my parents. The plan was for Ras and I to meet up with my mom to get Amelie for the day, and then return later in the evening. I had messaged my mom and told her to make sure Amelie wore the warmest clothes she had with her. We planned on spending some time outside. 

     When she hopped in the car with us, she looked bundled up and adorable, Ugg boots on her feet and a fluffy turquoise scarf that matched her coat, clearly borrowed from my mom and smelling of her familiar musk cologne. Amelie was a shy at first with her aunt and uncle, but after about ten minutes, she listed off every layer she was wearing. She had a hint of pride and eagerness in her voice. I could tell she was up for an exciting day with Ras and I. 

     We had to head back to our house to get a few gear decisions finalized. The sweet little girl said “It seems to take longer to get ready than it must take for the adventure itself.” A very astute child, indeed. But soon, we were on our way to Ft. Ebey State Park, just a couple of miles from our home. There, we could spend some time on the beach, the bluff trails overlooking the water, and in the forest. Living near many beaches, I knew she had spent a lot of time playing along shorelines. I wanted to let her explore the singletrack trails in the forest. We parked at the beach. Ras strapped his Nathan Ice Storm waist belt around Amelie’s tiny middle so she could carry her own water and tuck stuff away as needed in the zippered pockets.  We headed up the steep bluff trail that would lead into the forest. 

photo by Ras/

     It was fun right away to feel the pace she was comfortable with and how the order would play out on the trail. I first took the lead with Ras in the back. We were both wearing our Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mids, and had great traction. Amelie hiked fast up the steep climbs and soon wanted to be in the lead. We had everything with us to enjoy a picnic in the woods. Ras had all kinds of gear in his larger backpack; the Jet Boil, coffee and hot chocolate packets, cookies and other snacks, a sleeping bag and pads to sit on, and our tarp tent. We could set this up under the trees and stay warm for the picnic.

     The day was gray and cloudy, cold but not raining. We moved at a brisk pace for almost a mile, before Amelie wondered about some of the little openings in the trees off of the main trail. We looked back into a couple of them, but encouraged her to go just a little further before we stopped. We pushed on a little bit before coming to a closed off campground. There were campground roads that would be easy to follow or wooded spots to set up our picnic. Amelie wanted to be back in the trees and we found a perfect spot to set up a mini-camp.

photo by Ras/

     We heated up water for hot chocolate, coffee and soup, and enjoyed hanging out in the quiet woods. Some trail runners went by and didn’t even see us. They looped around, passed us a second time, and still did not see us, amusing Amelie. We were in a good spot.

    The hot chocolate was ridiculously hot. In an attempt to cool it down, I watered it down too much. I was worried that I had and sure enough, when Amelie took her first sip, she said “That just tastes like hot water.”  And thus the hot chocolate idea was a fail. I mixed it in with my coffee and had a faux mocha, or, as we call it, a Fauxcha, instead. 

     Amelie wondered if we could start a fire accidentally by using our Jet Boil in the woods. I got a piece of cedar and took a lighter out of my trail supplies kit. I showed her how hard it was to light the damp cedar. She loved the fragrance of the smoke as the cedar smoldered. It is a spiritual experience, bringing in the scent of the ancient, most natural incense. She wanted to smell more of it. I taught her about wafting the smoke towards her, and using it in an intentional way. I told her she could send good thoughts to her best friend back home, or to her mom and dad. The teaching opportunity presented itself. Her unselfconscious joy in the cedar seemed to match the intent of the moment. I wanted her to fully experience any elements of nature as they appeared. I told Amelie how I had used the cedar smoke to repel mosquitoes on a backpacking trip once. The insects had been making it hard to even eat at the time.  

     But now that the picnic was out of the way, it was time to use our consumed food as energy to head back out on the trails. We had talked with Amelie a little bit about what we take on our three month thru-hikes. She was interested in what we ate and we talked with her about how much energy we now had from what we had just eaten. 

     On the trail once again, Amelie stopped and turned back to look at me. Her huge blue eyes were trying to express something to me. I wished I knew what she wanted to convey. Was she still having fun? Had she gotten enough to eat?  She hiked on and then again stopped and turned back to look at me with those eyes. 

photo by Ras/

     I said, “What’s up?” 

     She said “I want to run.” 

     I said “Okay, let’s run!” 

     She was shy about leading the pace and wanted to get behind her uncle. We said she could be in the middle of us, but not last in line. This was okay with her. I took off running and could hear her foot falls behind me. I thought of her running in her Uggs and that they might be getting a little muddy. I hoped my sister wouldn’t be too bummed, but I knew a sweet little girl was having a good time. She had on one of my cross -country ski hats with flowers on it. It was falling down over her eyes a bit. Her cheeks were flushed. She was getting warm and wanted to pull off the hat. We stopped and helped her get her jeans off, leaving her with just comfy leggings on for the run. I took off my warm down puffy pants, so I now had on just tights with my lightweight Altra Performance Skirt over the top. We were warmed up and ready to go.

     All three of us had a blast. We had downhill switchbacks to navigate and rooty, flat stretches to cruise. There were gray skies and muddy trails, a combo making it hard to differentiate what the surface was actually like underfoot. Amelie went around me and got out front. She flew down the hill. She hopped over roots and made the quick switchback turns with ease. Her coat flew open. Her cheeks got more flushed. She lifted her feet high and stretched out her legs. She turned around every so often to make sure we were still behind her. We were.

photo by Ras/

     I worked to keep up with her speedy kid energy. I focused on running like a girl. Yeah, I said it. I wanted to run like a girl. I let loose. I opened up. I leaped over roots and took turns fast. I laughed and even squealed. I glanced behind me once or twice to see Ras, just to smile at him. I knew he would know what I meant by my looks. We were both having fun. He had on a huge pack full of our picnic supplies. But he was running with youthful vigor too. His locks were flying and he was full of joy at playing a part in helping Amelie to have a blast in the woods. 

     I felt such love for this guy, going along with the plan for the day. He wasn’t just playing the willing partner, it had been his idea to pack up the tarp tent and all the gear to have our special camp scene. He and I really enjoy sitting down in cool spots when we are out on the trails. It is part of the overall trail life experience for us. We get joy from it and include it on all of our longer trail runs and hikes. Our endorphins are flowing in these times. We can talk about our dreams and goals while in these inspiring environments. All of the home life realities are put to rest.

photo by Ras/

     It is important to me to stay fit and trained enough to run an ultra distance any day of the week. I am not a fast runner or at an elite level. I just enjoy trail running. In order to pull this off, I have to stay somewhat disciplined in my day to day life. I aim to run or hike a minimum of 40 miles a week, unless I am resting from a long adventure or an ultra race. I definitely allow myself rest after a big push, but I do stay focused on getting in the miles each week. I fill out my Nathan Training Log each night. Once I was able to complete my first ultra in 2011, I have never wanted to not be at least at that level of fitness. 

     I think about what I eat, sticking mainly to low fat, plant based foods. I enjoy sweets and coffee and occasionally eating out, but I mostly eat healthy meals that either Ras or I have cooked.  When I’m not out on the trails, or resting from long runs while doing a variety of low-key activities (stretching, hand-sewing trail totems, planning my next thru-hike on the Grand Enchantment Trail for Spring, reading, writing blogs, coloring in my new book, or cooking), then I’m doing hard physical work in yard care. I’ve also added in HIIT several days a week. I’m active and focused on building this life of full time adventuring daily.

     To spend the day with Amelie and Ras, not thinking about the time or the pace or the miles, was a blessing in every way.  We all benefited from the time spent together in nature, breathing in the fresh earthy scents from the forest. The wind was blowing hard, gusting as we all hiked a section of trail that was close to the choppy water. It was thrilling and made us all smile as our cheeks got whipped with the wind. As we ran together, I felt like a kid. It was refreshing to be amongst such youthful joy and honesty. I enjoyed being playful. It was a good reminder to me. On the trails, set all the seriousness aside. Let out that inner kid and put some playfulness into it. Open up your pace and relax on the downhills. Leap around and over stuff with no thought.  I found out I run better when I run like a little girl.

photo by Ras/

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Twenty-Eight Miles To Go

Twenty-Eight Miles To Go Before I Finish

By Kathy Vaughan

photo by Ras/
     The rain began just as dusk started to set. It was Saturday, and I had been running around Lake Youngs since 6:00AM Thursday. I was starting to feel a little bit tired. I still had many miles to go, though, and I would continue to push on through this rain storm. I saw that underneath a huge cedar tree the ground was still dry. I tucked beneath it for just a minute to make a few adjustments before I continued. I put on my rain shell and pulled my hood up over my head. I turned on my headlamp and once again set out into the rainstorm. It came down in sheets, although the rainfall felt light against me. I leaned my head back so that the cool rain could hit my face. It felt good to have the moisture soak my skin and rejuvenate me. I ran the flats and downhills, pushing to get back to the dry shelter at the main aid station. 

     I wanted to rest during the storm if it was going to continue. I had completely forgotten that I had asked my friend Susie to join me for this last night of the race. She would be waiting for me when I got back to the aid station. I would only have time to change into some dry clothing and head back out onto the course. This would be my last night out there. I needed to move well and get some loops done as quickly as possible.  

     Each Memorial Day Weekend for the last five years, ultrarunners have gathered at Lake Youngs Trailhead Park in Renton, Washington for the Pigtails Challenge. Van Phan, an accomplished local ultrarunner, began the race in 2011 so that she could take on the challenge of running 200 miles. She ran the race while directing it that year, and it has continued to blossom and grow. The 200 mile distance starts on Thursday morning at 6:00, the 150 mile runners begin on Friday morning, and Saturday 100 mile and 100k runners start. These distances must all be done by 2:00 on Sunday. A 50k is also held on Sunday, with the same cut-off time. 

     The loop is 9.4 miles long with 900 feet of elevation gain on each loop. Runners reverse direction on the loop after completing each one, checking in at the main aid station first, by running a short lollipop stick trail to reach it. I was running the 200 mile race and began with a 2.6 mile out-and-back. I would then have to run 21 loops to complete the distance. Having completed both the 100 and 150 mile distances here on this course, I knew a little bit about what to expect. This time I would run 5 more loops than I had in the 150 distance. I felt pretty confident that I had it. 

     I lined up with 8 guys at 6 a.m. The other female 200 mile racer had not arrived. I felt a sense of excitement. If I could finish this race, I would be the only female finisher. I even voiced this excitement to a few of the other runners and some volunteers. Terry Sentinella, the Race Director, counted down the Start, and off we went. 

     Ras stayed with me for the out-and-back. We chatted happily, feeling a sense of relief that this race was finally underway. After months of training, philosophizing about and preparing for this race, it felt good to finally be on the course. 

     I planned on checking in at the Main Aid when I got done with the 2.6 mile out n' back, and then heading out again right away for my first loop. I wanted my turn-arounds at the main aid to be quick and efficient. I planned on handling the first 100k as if it were just that; a 100k race. I wanted to just keep going, without sitting down or taking any kind of significant rest until after I had that first 60 some miles completed.

photo by Takao Suzuki/

     I knew that I would fall behind all of the guys pretty early on in the race. I reminded myself to “run my own race” and not let what everyone else was doing effect how I was feeling. Two hundred miles was a lot of ground to cover; there was no reason to rush this early. Patience with the process would help me to the Finish like it did last year when I completed the 150 mile distance on this same course.

     About a half hour into the race, I saw Amanda (I later learned she goes by Mandee), the other female 200 runner. She had arrived late and was now in the race. She looked strong and happy to be out on the course.  She was also nearly 15 years younger than me. I now had a little competition. She seemed to be going out pretty fast, so early on in the race. While still running my first loop, Mandee came towards me again. It didn't make sense. She should have run the out n' back, checked in at the main aid and then headed out to do her first loop in the counter clockwise direction, like everyone else, even though she started late. I shouldn't be seeing her coming towards me; she might catch up to me and come up from behind, but not towards me. I stopped her just briefly to ask if she had taken the wrong direction after the out n' back and she just answered a short “ No”. I let it go and again reminded myself to run my own race. It did occur to me that she was having a rough start, and as far as competition goes, this was in my favor.

     By evening, some of the other runners had begun to slow down a little bit. Mandee was limping quite dramatically from what appeared to be a calf strain. She seemed pretty stressed out about it, but was still smiling on some of the loops. She was still going quite fast, sometimes power hiking, but we were staying pretty close in our loop finishes. Van Phan paced me for a loop. It was wonderful to have her company and we ran a pretty fast one. We visited about upcoming goals, how this year's race was  going, compared to the past year's races, and about all kinds of other things. It meant a lot to me to have Van offer to run a loop with me when I had seen her at set-up first thing in the morning. 

     Van offered to bring Ras and I a pizza without cheese to have in our shelter, knowing we would be getting hungry as the night wore on. The volunteers at the aid stations were getting tuned into the special needs of all of the runners and the first night we were on our own for vegetarian fare. By the second day, there was black bean soup with avocado & corn chips; veggie burgers; veggie dogs; butternut squash soup; bean burritos and vegan pizza. It was pretty awesome having so much food to keep us all fueled. In addition, I had Honey Stinger Waffles, both Caramel and Lemon; Honey Stinger Energy Chews; Expedition Espresso Trail Butter pouches; Picky Bars in several different flavors including Smooth Caffeinator & Cookie Doughness; several cans of vegetarian soups; instant Starbuck's Via coffee pouches; and some Kickstart drinks made by Mountain Dew. 

     Kathleen and the Mann's, Jules & Mihaela, arrived at the same time to run a loop with me after Van said goodbye. I enjoyed having the evening company, but I told them from the beginning that I would enjoy hearing them visit, but they shouldn't expect me to chime in too often. I said they could lead the way when they wanted to. I was ready to settle into some more “in my head” kind of running. I wanted to run all the flats and downhills, and power hike the uphills. I set out on the loop with these three pacers with a cup of soup in hand, a Mrs. McDougall's Pad Thai with peanut powder sprinkled over the top.  It tasted delicious and I sipped it as quickly as possible as I hiked. I didn't want the pacers to get cold or feel like the progress was going slowly. It was good for me to feel the slight bit of pressure. This was still only the first night. I was also beginning to visualize going out solo on the next loop and what I would need in order to do this. I already had my headlamp out on this loop and would be turning it on soon.

     We got around the loop. By the end I felt done with having company and was ready to head out solo. I like everyone that was spending time with me on the trail, but I didn't want to engage in any conversation. I wanted to listen to my mp3 player and just move for some miles. When we got back to the shelter, Ras was there. He offered to join me for the next loop, and this was perfect for me. I felt safer having him with me, now that it was getting late at night. I was getting sleepy, but it was too early to sleep yet. We would get one more loop in together and then probably both lay down for a couple hour nap. We had some food at the aid station as we sat in chairs. It was fun to visit with some of our friends and other people in the trail running community, as we sat for a little bit. Maudie and Brandi, two young woman ultra runners working at the aid station, took my shoes off for me and fetched my Altra Lone Peaks from our shelter. I had developed a blister that I had successfully taken care of earlier. I now wanted the open mesh, foot shaped toe box of the Lone Peaks. I had been wearing the Altra Olympus 2.0 for the max cushion on the mostly packed gravel trail. Then I changed to the Paradigms, also with a comfy max cush. It was now time to change things up a bit, as I had planned. I also had 1 more pair of 
Altra Running shoes in my arsenal: the Lone Peak 3.0's which I was wear testing and allowed to wear in a race format. I was wearing Injinji toe socks. My feet were holding out quite well, aside from the one blister which was now under control.

     It felt good to have the girls massage my feet and get me all set up with the Lone Peaks and gaiters I could now wear again. The Paradigms don't have the Gaiter Trap, so my gaiters work better with the Lone Peaks. Maudie and Brandi set me up by the heater and fed me, and then sent Ras and I on our way when we were done with our night time adjustments. It was great having the crew help and I feel so appreciative of the supportive community that was around for the whole weekend. I was now ready to get a good night time loop in.

     Instead, I got out on the trail and felt slow and sluggish. It was fun to be out there with Ras, but I lost some motivation. I drudged on, feeling ashamed that I wasn't moving faster and showing Ras how well I had been doing. I had moved without sluggishness up until now. This was not good. We stopped several times to just sit, once on The Bench of Temptation and another time at the midway aid station. I knew this wasn't ideal, but it at least confirmed that it would be helpful to take a nap in our sleeping bags when we got back to the main aid. Our shelter was all set up for this nap time, complete with an alarm clock and instant coffee (to be made using our Jet Boil) at the ready. As soon as we got back, we checked in at the main aid and told them we were both napping. We asked if they could wake us up in two hours and they were happy to do so. I also set the alarm, put cozy, soft fleece socks on my feet and fell asleep before I knew it. 

     I awoke to the sound of the 150 mile racers getting ready in the start area. They were full of excitement. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and made coffee. I wanted to get back out there right away. It was light out and time to be moving. It wasn't as hard as I expected it to be. I was soon out on the course and moving pretty well. I felt motivated again and was happy to think about the miles I had completed. Ras had told me Heather “Anish” Anderson would be showing up and wanted to join me for a loop or two. This was awesome news and I was very excited to be having Heather join me. Heather holds the speed record for thru-hiking, in a self-supported fashion, both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. [Note: in the intervening months since the 2016 Pigtails Challenge, Heather set the Fastest Known Time for the Arizona National Scenic Trail in self-supported, feet-on-the-ground style.] I got through the loop as fast as I could, expecting Heather to be there when I got back.

     Sure enough, she was, and she was just the pacer I needed. I was getting deep enough into this now that I needed someone to help me with some numbers. I knew I just had to keep going, but I wanted to make sure I still had time to rest again that night, make the cut-off and take the time I needed between loops to be ready to head out for another 9.4 miles. She knows all about spending time on the trails going after huge goals. She knows what it takes to stay motivated and to be able to figure out splits, pacing and the importance of fueling properly to get it done. Not only did we have a blast chatting, we had a lot in common to talk about; but she was great at helping me feel confident that I would be able to get this mileage done within the allotted time.

     Heather stayed with me for 2 loops and then it was time for her to say goodbye. I made a quick turn around as she first helped me with everything I needed. We had discussed ahead of time what I would need to do before my next loop, and she set me up before saying goodbye. Then I was out there again, on my own. The rain began on this loop, only increasing in intensity as the evening wore on. I got around the loop, grabbed more coffee, hot food and rain protection, and then headed out again into the weather. 

     I got out there on that gravel path and made it around another loop. When I got back, it was time for another nap. It was Friday night and I was getting mileage done. I only had another day and a half of this race left. 

photo by Takao Suzuki/
Race Director Terry Sentinella briefing the runners starting Saturday morning.

     I awoke Saturday morning to the loud and enthusiastic 100 mile and 100k runners. The rain was still coming down. It was damp and a bit chilly outside, as I made my way to the outhouse and to see just what was going on in the start area. It was busy, that's for sure. I needed to feed off of this energy and get back out on the course. I made myself a cup of coffee in my shelter while I put on new layers and prepared for going out in the rain. I would wear my Gatewood Cape and take my hot coffee with me. I just needed to start getting around another loop. I needed to wake up. I felt so sleepy and slightly unmotivated. The busier trail would be a challenge for me, although I would be seeing some friends like Kathleen Leonard and Arya Farahani. I looked forward to this.

photo by Takao Suzuki/

     I got out on a loop and felt almost like a zombie. The rain was really coming down. I had to get to the point where I was awake and actually running. This pace would not cut it. I drank my coffee as quickly as I could with this in mind. I would have to try taking off my cape at some point, as it was hindering my ability to move very efficiently. It was actually keeping me too cozy and making me feel as though I were inside of a warm tent. It wasn't until the midway aid station that the rain let up enough for me to take off the cape and get going again. I was at least making some progress though, and I did not let it discourage me. I was now awake and it was time to move faster.  When I got back to the main aid, I took some other layers off and got back out on the course with food and music. I was motivated to get some miles done.

     I kept going all day, making progress and staying not too far behind the rest of the 200 milers. I felt good and ate well. I was happy to have food to eat each time I came through the main aid station. I had heard that Mandee had a rough night out on the course and Terry made the decision to pull her out of the race at 150 miles. He awarded her a buckle and she went home to sleep. She had given it her all, and then some. That girl has heart.

     I got in one last loop solo, as the dark of night came on for the last night of the race. It felt good to be at this point, although I was beginning to feel quite drained, physically and mentally. Pushing myself to move with any speed was becoming very challenging. I knew it was getting to the point where I was getting close to the cut-off, even if Terry was allowing me to at least be on my last loop by the cut-off time. I had a pacer coming on, Susie. I hoped that this would help get my motivation level back up and help give me the push I needed to complete the mileage and earn the buckle I so desired, the buckle I had trained so hard to receive. 

photo by Takao Suzuki/

     I had asked Susie ahead of time if she might like to pace me for a loop or two. We had met at Evergreen Trail Run's Echo Valley 50 Miler a couple of years ago. I enjoyed her energy and wanted to get to know her better. She had given Angela a tent when she needed one for an internship she did in the Sequoia National Forest one summer. She has a cute daughter named Addy and, both of us being moms, I figured we would have some things in common to talk about. She had invited me to join her for a Wonderland Trail challenge she had last summer. I was unable to make it work. This was a chance for us to finally spend some trail time together. I warned her, it may get ugly. “Dress warmly”, I said to her in a facebook message. “I could be doing more hiking than you might expect.” 

     Susie had already been waiting at the aid station about an hour by the time I got back around the loop. She came into my shelter with me and we started talking about the strategy of getting back out there into the rain, into the dark, into the deep miles. She was game and would do whatever it would take to get me around some loops that would take less than 3 hours each. She had chatted with Ras, and he encouraged her to help get me moving a little bit faster. I was feeling so lazy. I didn't want to try to get in any “fast” loops. I didn't want to quit, I wanted to finish. But as Susie later confessed to me, I wasn't communicating that to her. 

     We took off into the night. It was probably about 10:30 on Saturday night, the final nighttime hours of the race. Susie reminded me of this. This was the last night I had to be out in the dark, cold, tiring hours of the middle of the night. I would get so tired I was staggering around on the trail, like a drunk. I wanted to curl up anywhere and just take a nap. It was so hard to keep moving when my eyes were shutting and I was having little, short dreams. They were just flashes, but when I awoke for whatever reason from my sleephiking, I knew I had just had a little snippet of a dream. This was a part of pushing forward and using my endurance experience. This was not the first time I had gotten “the drowsies” on the trail, and it would not be the last. I had to keep going now. I could no longer afford to take a nap. I divided a 5-Hour Energy into two doses, taking one right when I realized with Susie that I had the drowsies, and then taking the second part of the dose when we got to the aid station. Sometimes these doses worked, sometimes they didn't. It was worth a try.

     Susie and I stopped at the midway aid station, where Brad Hefta-Gaub was kind enough to share some of his coffee from his thermos with me. It tasted so good. I sat in the comfy camp chair, sipping the coffee and listening to he and Susie talk about different things. I just listened. It took too much energy to say much. I was just wanting to wake up and feel more motivated, but enjoying the chair. “Beware of the Chair”, they say.

     Susie and I got up and said good bye to Brad. He had been a big help out at the aid station in the middle of the night. It was good to share his company for a little while. We continued on around the loop and then struggled around for another. It would get light on this loop. We were both looking forward to it. 

photo by Takao Suzuki/

     I know I was terrible company, all drowsie and whiney. Susie was a good sport for sure and tried to motivate in all the ways that made sense. She reminded me that if I dropped, I would really feel terrible about it afterwards. She let me know that I had enough time to finish, especially since Terry was being so supportive in giving me some extra time to do so. Of course, the cut-off had already been extended from previous years when others weren’t able to finish it. Seventy-two hours had been the previous cut-off; beginning this year, it was eighty hours.

     We made it around the loop. I felt a little more awake once the sun rose and the sky was light once again: the final day. Fewer runners were on the course. My feet hurt and I had some piercing pains in my calves, my knees and my feet. These shooting, piercing pains would come and go. I felt pretty beat up. Susie had to go when we returned from the loop. We said goodbye and off she went. I curled up in my sleeping bag for what I hoped would only be a few minutes. Ras came in from his loop and only had one more to go. I had three more to go. He offered to stay with me for a loop. I could get up right then, pull myself together and go out with him. I could still finish this thing off, but it might not be until 5 hours or more after the cut-off. I didn't have a pacer. I didn't know if I could stay awake or keep motivating myself. 

     Ras needed to get going again and so he did. I stayed in the sleeping bag; torn as to what to do, feeling defeated and needing to turn that corner in my mind. I had sheets of paper with motivational quotes and inspirations on them. I had a chart with splits and mileages remaining all written out by hand. I had done the work ahead of time, but here, in the moment, I was unwilling to do the work it took to finish. I was unwilling to have others wait for me as I pursued a goal. I had thus far not been able to keep a good enough pace to keep me in the game with the others. I was too far behind. I gave up and stayed crumpled in that sleeping bag, until finally I went out to the main aid and admitted my defeat. 

     It was up to Terry whether nor not to award me a 150 Mile Finisher's Buckle. He gave me the choice of whether or not I wanted to accept it. I did. I now have two of those. Next year I'll be back to earn my 200 Mile buckle. I know I can do it. There is something special about the Pigtails Challenge, Lake Youngs and all of those involved that keeps drawing us back, year after year.  As I think of it now, Memorial Day Weekend 2017 can't come soon enough.