Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: the Pacific Northwest

What started out as a running trip with friends morphed into a celebratory trip with my recently graduated daughter where running was only a portion of the plan.  We still had some targeted runs, with one pretty epic on the docket, but without Elizabeth in tow, looking for something in the 20 mile range, we were a bit off the hook with regard to making the trip entirely about running.

Which turned out to be a good thing, as my achilles has been causing some leg problems of late, with both knees arguing with me, with a right leg hamstring, tendon calf tightness that would set in about 20 minutes after any kind of run no matter how short or how easy.  I had even resigned myself to the voodoo magic of the neoprene/velco patellar compression band in hopes things might clear up for the trip.

But to no avail.  The knees and leg were bothering me before we left NH and certainly did not improve on the 5+ hour flight to Seattle.

However I was determined to handle, or at least attempt the three main runs we had cooked up, even if that meant the next day was a non run day to recover.  Our first order of business would be a 4 mile run along Lake Crescent just outside of Port Angeles out on the Olympic peninsula to a place called Devil’s punchbowl.  All the descriptions mention it as a great place to swim with fantastic scenery.  The trail follows what was an old timber railbed had been turned into a stone dust multi-use path which was wheelchair accessible.  Considering my leg was crampy exiting the car daily, it seemed like a great place to test things out and worse come to worst, I’d have some pretty easy walking on the way back.  I tightened the knee strap and headed off.

It was only moments before Amelia was out of sight, cruising along at a much faster rate than I had interest or ability to go.  As she vanished from sight less than a mile in, I came across a tunnel through the rock outcropping, the first of two on the trail.  The first one was about a quarter mile long, enough to be pitch black in the middle, which for whatever reason is captivating to me.  Regardless, my enthusiasm about the tunnel led me to missing the sign for the punchbowl itself.  

After reaching the three mile mark with no indication of this punchbowl, I gave Amelia a quick phone call, told her we somehow missed it, and turned around.  Upon reaching the tunnel this time, already knowing what to expect, we found it easily, slipping onto the side trail that led us to the spot.  While the water temperature was similar to Hampton in June, it would be a sin not to jump in, which we did from the pedestrian bridge, but did not linger too long in the lake.  Quickly shoeing and strapping up, we were back on the trail for the mile plus run back to the car, no limping thus far.

The trip encapsulated seven days of activities and over a 1000 miles of driving.  After the run into the swimming hole, we went to the Pacific Ocean, did some beachcombing and ended the day with just under 30,000 steps.  It was probably good I was walking that much, no time for things to seize up entirely.

However, the next morning was tough.  The right leg was severely tight, making even walking difficult after a car ride.  We had a big driving day ahead so we opted for an off day, knowing the next day we had another important run that included some pretty good elevation on some technical terrain that I couldn’t afford to not be on my A game for.

We had made our way from the Olympic Peninsula to the Columbia River Gorge, looking to run into a plunge pool waterfall two miles into the backcountry.  We set off again, Amelia again to the fore and out of sight almost immediately.  The legs were working but the terrain was sloppy at best and I spent a lot of time concentrating on the footing, keeping the pace as even as possible as we climbed up the basalt plateau with every step.

Finally I rounded the corner with Punchbowl Falls looking me square in the face.  I had been in here before, about 30 years before on a hike with friends which is how I knew it was potentially runnable.  On that summer July day we were able to jump into the lower falls section from the head of it, dropping 20 or so feet into the plunge pool, climbing back up on a giant spruce tree angled into the pool.  Not sure it was the same spruce, however it occupied the same spot, we unfortunately decided against the jump as the river was rushing at June levels and not those of later in the summer.  Drowning in freezing cold meltwater did not seem like the best option.

While coming back out was certainly easier, due to the technical nature of the trail along with the additional hikers on the trail, my pace in and out remained the same.  All things considered, I was feeling alright and had some hope building as we still had our biggest run ahead of us.  The plan in two days we would be driving 11 miles in on forest roads to the Lily Basin trail, where we would climb out of the treeline, running along alpine ridges among the peaks of the Goat Rocks Wilderness area to Hart Lake.  The time of the year was ripe for alpine wildflowers and I’ve longed to run alpine meadows with the view un-obscured by trees.  I felt things were looking good for this run.

It was hard to argue with the weather we had on this trip, at least until Saturday and the Hart Lake run.  We woke to intermittent rain still committed to the run.  I had hoped to give it a go, running  as far as made sense, and turning around whenever we decided.  But as we made the 45 minute ride up the ridge to the trailhead, the rain turned to sleet, and then to snow as the temperature dropped from 46 to 33.  When we finally reached the trailhead, with snow accumulating on the sides we started to think otherwise.  Twelve point turning the car around, we got out, ventured a look up the trail, as the flurries turned into a full fledged blizzard, and we retreated back to the car, then down the ridge, not knowing how well a rented Kia Forte handles off road terrain in three inches of snow.  While we missed out on what could only have been an epic run, the ride back to pavement was pretty thrilling on its own.

And that turned out to be all the running I would do on the trip.  We got to see some spectacular views at Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Multnomah Falls, Hurricane Ridge, Rialto Beach and the Hoh River Valley, missing runs on the Wonderland trail (too much snow) and Hart Lake.  But what we didn’t miss out on was time together, talking about life, the road ahead, and the big transition that we both will be going through.  She, headed to Dartmouth as a freshman in the fall, is at the beginning of her journey.  Me, freshly retired from coaching, will be powering down of sorts for the first time, with just my regular job during the week and my weekends free.  I’ll be in a position to take a weekend ride up to Hanover, meet her for lunch, and talk about what’s going on in her life, without running being the central theme.  And I kind of like that concept.

I’ll see you out there.

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