Orcas Island Trail Festival

Let’s start at the very beginning. Flashback to December, 2016. I’m at the Trail Running Film Festival in Brooklyn.  An indie film, the Orcas Island 100, stole my attention away from anything I had watched prior to and after the film that night. The people in the film reminded me of the trail community in Pennsylvania.  A good community of salt of the earth folk. I left that night with a fire in my belly. Upon arriving home I started looking up everything that I could find on the web.  Within a week, I signed up for the Orcas Island Trail Festival.  I had no idea how to get there, how long it would take, where I would stay, or if I would know anyone else running.  The only thing that mattered was that I wanted to experience this race first hand and see how the west coast community, if at all, differed from its eastern counterpart.

Heading West

Fast forward to May 11th. I flew out for Washington State to embark on my next journey.  Getting there didn’t go as smooth as I had anticipated.  I booked my flight to Seattle, but still didn’t know how to get to Orcas.  It wasn’t until after I watchef this episode of GNGRBTS, a webcast put on my Ethan Newberry, that I figured out that I would need to rent a car and get to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.  Had I known these logistics, the ferry would have been booked first, then the flight.  There was a 5 hour layover from flight to ferry. Hindsight is 50/50. It all worked out in the end and I arrived at the ever amazing island.

The next day was filled with sailing lessons, eating lots of fresh fish, a short hike on Mount Pickett to preview part of the race course through Moran State Park, and catching up with Lia, a fellow east coaster turned west coast transplant. Lia became my comfort keeper from the moment we re-united.  Lots of girl talk as we drove around the island, bib pick up, and the most amazing food at the Westsound Cafe and Kingfish Inn.  The food really was out of this world.

Race Day

I hadn’t experienced nerves like this in a long time.  Specifically in the form of, “What the hell am I doing here?  These people all have mountain legs.”  I kept chuckling with a nervous laugh everytime I looked at or talked to Lia.  She was awesome and kept reminding me that I belonged there.  Yes, I did belong.  This race was being used as a long run for the World’s End 50k in June.  So in essence, my goal became to enjoy every single moment.

Before I knew it.  Game time and my blood was pumping.  8am, go.

IMG_4973

These forests were tough but absolutely stunning. There were no flats at all on this course. Even the most horizontal trails still had some sort of incline or decline.

There were four major climbs, split between Mt. Pickett and Mt. Constitution, to keep runners honest. I was humbled by the longest climb. Over two miles ascending straight up Mount Constitution. As you start to see the sky peaking through the dense tree tops the course veers into a winding downhill around the mountain only to then switch into another steep incline before you reach the crested the top. Make no mistake. Summiting that mountain was a gift. The view at the top took my breath away. The Cascades and Mount Baker were visible off into the distance.

Looking back on the race now, I couldn’t have imagined how different this experience was going to be in contrast to my previous races.  So much respect for all the racers, staff, and volunteers. Amazing course. Well marked. Incredibly supportive people at the aid stations. The excitement and roaring claps as you get through the finish line was the icing on the cake. Perfect race day. It all ended with local IPA around the campfire later that night. Sharing stories amongst the locals about the east and west coasts.

IMG_4998

Going East

The next day was spent traveling to Fidalgo Island down to Widbey Island.  Lia’s family caught up with us and we hiked around Deception Pass.  More food to fill the belly.  I loved that we ended up at the French restaurant, Prima Bistro.  You see, the last race Lia and I raced together was at the Love Run in Philadelphia.  Afterwards, we ate French food. This was absolutely the perfect way to end the weekend.

One more ferry ride to Seattle. I dropped of the rental car and took a short bus ride to the main terminal. Flying red eye for the night.  I dreamed of the pacific northwest.

Final Stats

26.2 miles, 6,200″ ascent, 6h56m.

IMG_5107.JPG

 

Advertisements

Quest For The Crest on the Appalachian Trail

There I go falling in lust with another mountain. Off to summit the highest peak on the East Coast mainland as a good dose of trail medicine. The Quest For The Crest took 46 hours out of my weekend and a road trip to North Carolina. Add doses of belly laughter, getting chatty with the locals, and eating ridiculously good food. I took in all the southern hospitality and charm of the lower southeast.

Friday.

Aimee pulled up to my condo around 5:30am so I quickly scrambled to throw my bags into the eco rental car. We had a 10-hour drive, took back roads, and had loads of excitement to get us through the drive. The car was all dressed up with our finest art. When you represent the race and your running crew it draws in fun comments from total strangers. At one point we stopped in West Virginia to stretch out and buy some goods. So how do you know when you’re in foreign territory? When the guy parked next to you says something sweet in a deep southern drawl, you smile, and spend the next few minutes trying to decipher what he said. I love it.

 

With stops included, we arrived at Albert’s Lodge about 12 hours later. My senses were on overload. Everything was big and beautiful. The backyard opened up to the Appalachian Trail. The extra large room and kitchen area was easily half the size of my humble condo back in Jersey. On the advice of the staff, we walked up the street to J&J’s Grill On The Green, a Bavarian restaurant. By happenstance, we also met and chatted it up with Marian and Stephanie, two local NC gals who were running the same trails for Saturday. Good food, great company. I ate perfect grilled trout, spaetzle, and red cabbage paired with an IPA made in Boone, NC. The name slips me.

Saturday. Race Day.

It’s 4am and my nerves have me wide-awake before the sun has risen. The RD, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum, calls this the hardest trail race on this coast. Over the past week the mountain has been topped off with snow. We have been warned to crawl on all threes. Aimee and I drive over to a local school for bib pick up and keep switching between more or less layers. Last call for the bus and we’re one of five who get pulled off for lack of space. SWEET! Guess who gets to ride over to the race by Run Bum himself?

 

Stellar props. Sean is so down to earth and chill. He shares a few adventures and points out the summit we’ll be chasing. And I’m thinking, “um, thanks for scaring me even more” as I turn my head skyward to peek at the densely tree lined crest.

I’m waiting for the race to start in a small gravel parking lot surrounded by sky high trees and am surrounded by peace. A seemingly small-sized crowd of trails runners were gathered around chatting. We shared stories about our commute with two guys from Ohio and Florida, respectively. One flew as the other was diverted on his drive down from a massive mudslide. We also had the chance to wish Marian and Stephanie good luck shortly before the start. After a bit, Sean gave us a few tips and we took off for the climb.

The Climb.

My ascent clocked in at about 3,000’ of vertical gain (give or take) according to Strava. I started my watch about 30 min into the race so my numbers are all messed up. That made me anxious. I was able to maintain a slow and steady run for about the first mile. The second mile strategy changed. My run changed to a bear crawl. At one point my right calf became numb and I had to climb backwards for a bit. This seemed to correct the issue. My heart was beating out of my chest and I focused on controlling my breathing without losing pace. It was difficult to find a steady pace with all the changes in terrain. Towards the end of the second mile I began yawning and focused on taking deeper breaths.

The Crest.

There were two other women who closed in on the crest around the same time I did. We shared jokes. It hurt to laugh, but I just couldn’t stop. Laughing was so incredibly important since I was on the verge of total physical exhaustion. And then the view opened up onto miles of fabled mountain. Stunning. The cold wind gusts prevented me from stopping much and at the same time I wanted to lay and gaze into the clear sky. This is the privilege of mountain exploration.

The Descent.

Have you ever had the chance to run downhill for miles, uninterrupted by loose rocks? It was easily the best trail run downhill. I felt as light as a feather and bombed through the last few miles with ease. My thoughts were focused on avoiding a face plant. As I passed two runners my confidence grew. On the last turn the noise of a crew cheering grew louder. I splashed through the final creek crossing and high fived the RD.

Final Stats: 7.5 miles. 6,200 feet of elevation change.

 

Post Race grub at Pig & Grits was delicious. Oh my goodness. You just don’t get food like this up north. Pulled pork on a fruit salad and Root Beer in a mason jar. Served by the nicest waitress in the thickest drawl. I giggled with my head down. Was it possible to clone her and bring her back to Jersey? Speaking of home, I opened my door at 3am. Just shy of 46 hours.