You may wonder what a surfer is doing writing about trail running.
This summer, my family traveled to Oregon and the NW tip of the Washington coast in search of waves. On our first trip, the waves were perfect for my daughters: small, clean, and fun. By the third day, however, there was no surf. Nothing. The ocean was as flat as a pancake. So we built sand castles and swam and painted “love” rocks and rode bikes. In other words, we had a great time but didn’t do much surfing. On our next trip, at Neah Bay, the waves were two feet and the tides were wonky. I surfed a little but there wasn’t much to surf. On our third trip the waves were double overhead and punchy. I paddled out at Short Sands, my longboard drawing some looks, and watched the horizon for a half hour before I realized whoa…what am I doing out here? The waves were a little more intense than the mellow point break I’d been grazing on all spring. I caught one wave that closed out, then after another half-hour of paddling back out without gain, I gave up.
In the Pacific Northwest, it is often this way in the summer. So what did I do instead of surf? I planned a whopper of a WAP.
Yep, a Wild Ass Plan. To get me through.
I first wrote about WAPs for the Patagonia catalogue back in 2003. It was short, sweet piece about how we need wild & crazy plans to get us through. In WAP #96 I talked about how Kurt wanted to buy a van so we could access remote waves and take naps whenever we pleased. Our friend, Rick, wanted to move to Mexico, and I wanted to quit my job so I could write the next Great American Novel. My WAP this summer was to hike/run the Enchantment Lakes Trail, a 17-mile, 6,000 feet of gain trip through high-alpine paradise. The Enchantment Lakes basin is a place I’ve wanted to visit for decades. Life and (now) a finicky spine have thwarted my plans to backpack into this wonderland, so last summer I wondered if maybe I could run it in a day. A really long day.
Turns out, it’s possible. I read a lot of “real” runner’s blogs. Here’s one if you’re interested in tackling this feat yourself: http://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/enchantment-lakes-backpacking-guide. There’s also a more narrative one here: http://blog.cairnme.com/post/94473033594/how-to-trail-run-the-enchantment-lakes-in-a-day
I’ve been training for this hike/run since last summer. I ran my backyard trails and occasionally got out in the Olympic Mountains for longer, more remote runs. I tried to push my mileage and got comfortable with 10 miles, then 13. I added elevation, I learned to run with a small backpack. I read about what foods are best for long runs, and sampled many terrible and indigestible bars (oh, the tummy aches…) Finally, the date of our run approached: Aug. 19th. My friend, Bajda, and I camped the night before in the Snow Lake trailhead parking lot, in Kurt’s and my van. Under normal circumstances, this would have been perfect. Little did we know that many, many other runners/hikers/freeloaders would also be using the parking lot for a campground and would be arriving at all hours of the night.
I was nervous about the next day, so I was already not in a mindset for sleep. I’d roll over, then a car’s headlights would wash over us, and I’d be awake again, worrying that our big van was blocking someone’s entry or exit to the parking lot. Then I’d have to pee. Then I’d start worrying. Would I let Bajda down by being too slow? Would it hurt too much by mile 13 and they’d have to send a team in to carry me out? Would I get diarrhea and get dehydrated and have to poo without toilet paper in the fragile, alpine environment where there’s no trees so everyone would see? And then, another car’s headlights would sweep over my half-closed eyes…
Turns out, there was no need to worry about any of those things. The van was fine, no D, and Bajda and I found an easy, swift pace. In fact, I felt in tune with Bajda in a way that was so easy I began to feel like we were communicating without speaking. It was joyful and relaxing and grounding. This, coupled with the amazing physical challenge and the stunning landscape, made the experience unique and special. And necessary.
I’ve come to realize that because I live in the NW and I can’t ditch my obligations (kids, work, friends, family) whenever there’s a quality swell, I need to channel my adventurous goals in the directions that I can control. Trail running requires no swell report, no gnarly, long drive, and no guesswork. Mountain biking can get muddy, and isn’t as much fun in the rain, but I can still head out without having to consult a tide chart. I still love to surf and would do it everyday if I lived in, say, Capitola, but I live instead where it’s wonderful for so many amazing reasons. I surf when I can, and dream about it every day.
The trip through the rock-scape alpine was so delightful and pretty I still can’t quite put the experience into words. It’s there in my mind, though, and I’ve been revisiting the memory often. I haven’t even been able to run again because I want to savor the sounds of the water moving over the granite slabs, the soft mountain breezes, and the vistas of spires, walls, and chain-link lakes flashing like sapphires in the sunshine. I’ll run again, and it won’t be anything like it was in the rocky alpine, but running still connects me to nature and it’s so quiet out there. Solving the worlds problems seems like a snap.
I hope there’s a WAP out there, calling for you.