PCT Bunker to Bonneville 50k

Let me start by saying that we really wanted to run the McKenzie River 50k, which was this past weekend (Sept 8). I stayed up til 12:01am the day of registration opening just to make sure that Ann and I got in. But entry was still a lottery, and neither one of us made it. We buried our disappointment (after many bitter comments) and moved on-- we planned to either do our own 50k again, or find a nearby race right around the same time.

After a bit of deliberation, we found the perfect race. Only one week before the McKenzie on a lovely trail (the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT), a nearby start in the Columbia Gorge, a small number of runners (150), and put on by a rad-sounding running club (go Columbia Gorge Running Club!): the B2B 50k.

A gorgeous day at the top of the course: Three Corner Rock
We registered and were content. Fast forward to three weeks before our race. I got an email from the McKenzie 50k stating that I got in. What the what?! Sure enough, Ann got one, too. I wish they had told us there was a wait list, although I wonder if that would've made a difference. Because then I discovered that B2B runners got free entry to the showers and pools at Bonneville Hot Springs Resort, where the race ended. A long run and then a hot soak? Yes please.

We left Portland at 6am for the 7:30am start at Panther Creek campground near Carson, WA. We got a little lost, but when we found it there was no mistaking a group of crazy, fit-looking people in bright running gear. Yassine Diboun, an awesome local vegan ultrarunner, was even there, which made me giddy. I admire his love of running and his kind nature, and I've always hoped to see him out on the trails.

My view for the first 5 miles: Ann's back
The race director gave a quick run-down of the course and how the poker aspect worked (you pick up a card at each rest stop, with a chance to get a wildcard by doing the extra climb up Three Corner Rock at the 20 mile aid station). She really won us all over, though, when she said "I don't give a shit who wins the race. It's all about the beer!" Yeah, I think I'll be back.

And then, with little fanfare, we were off.  The first five miles we were stuck in a small pack, which was odd. There was a pair of women at the front, chatting away; a man in front of us, and then a few people behind. Some hardier folk barreled past us on the single track, but Ann and I waited til the first aid station at mile 5 to break away. It was very odd to be on an isolated trail with so many people. Especially listening to strangers gab. Usually it's just us!

Ann at a bridge
The second five miles was quite a climb, with a bit of walking. It was awesome to reach the 10 mile aid station, greeted by people dressed as zombies. One guy was even a cross-dressing zombie-- another volunteer said she chickened out on wearing her costume, so the guy wore it instead. We later learned that those people had to hike in with all of the supplies; can you imagine? I like to think they made the trek in zombie gear, spooking some PCT through-hikers. These are the kind of amazing folks at trail races, especially the long ones. Costumes and pickle sandwiches!

Ann at another bridge
After that climb, the next six-ish miles were rolling downhill, and we were passed by a speedy woman we had passed as she walked the uphill. She said she'd see us again on the uphill, and surprisingly, we did see her again.

The next aid station was around mile 16, and what I remember most is a scruffy PCT through-hiker-- who went by the name "Bucket"-- sitting on the ground next to the food table, asking "What are those pills?" They were salt pills. He said he was hoping for pain-killers.

Ann at the 20 mile aid station, at the base of Three Corner Rock
The next section was the one I feared most. After the first uphill, this one was to be shorter but steeper. I kept conserving energy, waiting for the big steeps. Well they never really came. We had a fun little 3/4 mile out-and-back to the 20 mile aid station on a trail so hedged in you could call it half-track, and then suddenly we were up and out at the top of a mountain with a clear view all around.

Someone coming the other way had recommended the watermelon, and one of the volunteers cut me a huge piece to eat as we climbed Three Corner Rock (for the view and the wildcard). That was the best melon I've ever tasted in my life. The climb wasn't too tough-- there were remnants of an old concrete path, and it was easier than you'd think after 20 miles of running. The view was stunning. We saw Mt Hood, Mt Adams, Mt Ranier and I think Mt St Helens. I didn't realize until later that we could've climbed up to the tippy-top, although I'm not sure that would've been a good idea on tired legs.

South view (with Mt Hood) from Three Corner Rock panorama
After cresting the highest elevation of the course, we were giddy. We expected 7-8 miles of downhill, and then 3-4 of flat road to the end. The trail was stunning, with wild blueberry bushes lining the way, dried dead pine trunks like spires rising from the bear grass, and clear blue sky surrounding us.

North view (with Mt Adams) from Three Corner Rock panorama
Now the course was marked beautifully, with pink ribbon tied along the way and each mile marked with a ribbon written with the mileage as well as the mileage written out on the ground in flour. So I remember very clearly hitting mile 22 and the distinct uphill turn the route took. The next mile was brutal, lots of long, difficult climbing. Then came the rocky sections-- crossing what looked like a gravel-fall, painful rocks underfoot, out from the cool canopy of the trees in the hot sun. From about mile 23 to 28 were rocky. Really, it was 23-25 or so that did me in. My feet hurt so much that I had to take my mind off it by giving the rocky trail double middle fingers as I flapped my arms in pain walking (yeah, let's be honest here) over the sharp rocks.

Amazingly plentiful wild blueberries around mile 22
Soon after the 25 mile aid station, we seemed to join civilization again with a section of the PCT at Table Mountain, a popular day hike. Finally, we had some downhill, but it was steep and rocky, and so slow going with our tired, ungainly legs.

Neat rock formations and Mount Hood
Just when we thought we couldn't take it anymore, we were out of the trees again on an open, rutted gravel road. The course turned and came out on a paved road. We saw the 30 mile marked on the road, and then, surprisingly quickly given that our feet still felt indented from the rocks, the 31 mile mark. And that's when I was exceedingly glad that I had happened to see something the day before that casually referred to the course as being 31.6 miles, because nothing else had mentioned that very important fact that this was actually more than 50k. While six tenths of a mile doesn't seem like much, I assure you it is more than enough after running 31 mile, expecting to be done. Having already mentally prepared, we took deep breaths, pushed on, and suddenly there it was-- the finish!

The mighty Columbia River in the distance
Sadly, we didn't win the beer. We took showers at Bonneville Hot Springs Resort (with all sorts of terrible screams and grunts; the chafe wasn't even as painful as trying to raise my feet to clean them. Ouch!), and I took a quick dip in the pool. Unfortunately my phone had died, and I had forgotten to leave a car key, so our perfect plan of meeting up for a soak and then a beer in Hood River was marred. Still, it was a spectacular day and a wonderful race that I didn't want to end (except for the ROCKS). Bring on the next 50k!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Wallowas

Doing the (North) Nasty and then some

Yellow Jackets, Bears and the route from Salmon River to Timberline Lodge

Hiking the Dolomites - Alta Via 1

David's 40th Birthday Doughnut Run