A week has passed since our little scare in the mountains but it really rattled me enough to write a quick post about our experience. Basically, in a nutshell, Joe and I went out for what we thought was going to be a 21-mile loop through the Columbia River Gorge that involved some good climbs and descents...probably like a 4 hour run or so. Specifically, we headed up the Herman Creek Trail at 8:30 am and took just enough food and water for that mileage. Based on the mild weather in Portland and at sea level we both wore shorts and thin water resistant running jackets with hoods. I had a beanie cap, some thin running gloves, and some knee-high Smartwool socks, which turned out to be a life saver, almost literally.
Long story short we expended a lot of energy as we powered up through the mountain. I felt that I was kind of rationing out my energy output based on how far we would be running. I was also rationing out the small amounts of food that I had, which were three Gu Roctane Gels, three Medjol Dates, and 20 oz. of water. We started off running up some beautiful mossy trails in the foggy mild morning at a pretty solid pace. As we got higher and higher the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and snow started to fly. It reminded me a bit of when I used to live in Colorado and the weather would change so rapidly coming over the continental divide.
(one of the many waterfalls we passed on the way up the Herman Creek trail)
(rocky section on Herman Creek trail as we started getting higher)
We made it to the top where it was really ripping with wind and snow and we ducked into the hut seen below. Picture this hut below without the sun...and snow and wind blasting through the windows while we danced around inside. We made the brief stop and agreed to head down the ridge to get out of this mess.
We bombed down the ridge and started hitting some deep spots in the snow which actually slowed us down and demanded a lot of energy. We finally made it down to another intersection and again agreed to take a pretty obvious route. By this point we knew we were not going the planned route but thought that we could get to a similar destination with similar mileage, etc.
The miles kept ticking by and we were getting really, really cold. Joe's ankle was bleeding from his legs crashing through the ice. Even though we dropped down a ways it was still dumping snow. We trudged along the forest road for a few more miles before we made the wise decision to turn back and re-trace our steps, which were quickly being covered by the rapid precipitation. It was a tough pill to swallow because my Garmin said that we had already traveled about 19 miles and now we had about 14 to get back to the car.
Normally 14 wouldn't be that bad but I burnt up so much energy getting to where I was that it seemed like 100 miles away with some tough climbs. It became such a mental game and Joe reminded me to stay positive. We finally made it back to the hut and I was in extremely rough shape. Rougher shape than I have ever been in on a run, whether it was a race or training. I mean even in ultras when you're really hurting you have aid stations every so often where you can nourish your body and mind. We had nothing and we couldn't stop either because it was so cold. The combination of energy depletion and hypothermia is a dangerous and scary place to be. I kept thinking about the climbers and hikers that never get found out there, and I had to focus on one foot in front of the other and staying strong.
As we headed down toward the car I could barely see. Not because it was dark but because my vision was blurred big time. The only comparison I have for this is when you get really, really drunk and you have to close one eye to focus in on something. Also, I was losing coordination in my legs. As I slowly made my way down I fell a couple times, re-grouped, got into a zone, and then I was brought back to the pain and suffering again and again.
The last few miles took me a long time as I had to stop and walk. I had nothing left but I wanted to be finished so badly. It was starting to get dark and I couldn't believe we spent nearly 8 hours out there. Thankfully, Joe ran ahead and warmed up the car. I collapsed into the warm passenger seat and devoured calorie after calorie in my bag. I was trembling violently but so thankful to be sheltered.
We both learned a few things that day and it was an experience I'll never forget. Mother Nature is so powerful and we humans are so small and helpless in certain situations. It's important to bring a little map and compass and sometimes maybe a little extra food. However, it was great ultra training...but I don't recommend purposely doing this! I have much respect for the mountains and the power of the human body and mind.
Here is a brief video about the psychology of ultra endurance events. Is it all about suffering?
That run capped off a 91-mile week for me and after a day off on Monday I was able to get back into training after I finally warmed back up ;o) I started tapering down a bit for Orcas Island 50k on Saturday. It looks like it's going to be a fun event up there and I am feeling like I'm getting some good fitness back.
Well, I always do this...I say I'm just going to write a quick post and there I go rambling and yapping on forever! ;o)
Joe Grant captured our experience nicely and in better detail on his newly formed blog. You can read his account by clicking HERE.
I'll finish with a great quote I came across via Jimmy Dean Freeman's page by William James. It goes like this:
"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."