it was a sunday.
it began with an earthquake that caused a massive landslide on the north side of the volcano. this, in turn, triggered an explosion that cleaved the peak by 1,300 feet.
left behind was an ashen wasteland that scientists thought might take years to recover.
according to exhibits at the mount st. helens science and learning center, life began to reassert itself in the blast zone almost immediately. it started with the bacteria, then up the chain of plants, insects, birds, and small mammals.
now, 38 years later, the forests in the area are lush, the lakes are biodiverse, and the terrain is laced with trails established by elk, deer, and humans.
and though evidence of the 1980 cataclysm is everywhere, it's part of a much broader landscape that is one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for a trail race.
i'm proud of this one.
the backcountry rise 50k is freaking hard.
but it's also spectacular, dramatic, wild, and megatons of fun.
even as the course was making a tasty snack of my legs, i was thinking about signing up for next year (when i wasn't telling myself i was never going to run again, that is).
it was one of the few times i've had type 1, type 2, and several other types of fun/not fun simultaneously.
there's about 8,000 feet of elevation on this course, most of it within a 19-mile span. you would think those 19 miles would be crushing (and to some degree, they are). but the scenery is so gloriously distracting that you almost don't notice the price your legs are paying.
the first five miles meander along the northwest shore of coldwater lake. the aid station at mile five seems superfluous, but if you blow past it the next aid is at mile 13, after 3,000 feet of climbing. the next aid after that is mile 24-ish--all of which is to say, it's not a terrible idea to top off and fuel up a bit at coldwater creek.
but that's me.
if this stretch had been the highlight of the day's scenery, i wouldn't have been disappointed. but it wasn't even close.
the lakes (snow, shovel, panhandle, and obscurity), are tucked beneath and between towering walls of rock. the trail winds past and above the water, and it seemed like i stopped for photos every five minutes. (full disclosure: my pre-race plan included a good 45 minutes for gawking and picture-taking. fuller disclosure: i'm not really a "pre-race plan" kind of person.)
ascending steeply from the grizzly lake aid station, the terrain starts to feel a bit other-worldly. the trail, in places, barely clings to the edge of sharp drop-offs. these are tough spots if you're generally afraid of heights, or if you develop a sudden-onset case of acrophobia (either would be completely rational in this situation).
still, you climb and climb some more. you look where you want your feet to go ("the inner half of the trail"), not where you don't want them to go ("into empty space"). you try to stay ahead of your hydration and you will your stomach not to turn itself inside-out...
...and finally you reach bear pass, where you immediately forget about where you just were because of where you are now. staring down into a rugged valley and across a pristine-blue lake and up the moonscape-flank of a still-huge and active volcano.
but it's fine, because you mean it reverently.
at this point in the report it was tempting to say, "we ran some more, and it was still hard, but nothing really stands out, and then it was over. the end."
thank goodness for the photos, which tell a much different story. starting again...
at this point, there was plenty more amazement to be had.
the rolling trail is a ton of runnable fun, if you like that sort of thing, and the terrain evolves over several miles from an alpine lakes vibe to something more like the phoenix mountain preserve (minus the cacti).
after a sturdy climb to the johnston ridge observatory (aid station three), i actually thought i was back at the science and learning center (where the race starts and ends). this would've been weird, since the course is a loop and the map clearly shows aid station three is nowhere near the science and learning center. had i thought it through, that is. which i didn't. because i'm an idiot.
|...aaand we're done.|
on a different day and on a more complex course, this could've ended poorly.
instead (after the totally expected brutal climb in the last mile), i just went ahead and finished.
many, many thanks to jeremy long and the daybreak racing team for this truly special event. backcountry rise is an instant classic, and those of us who got in in the first couple years will long remember how lucky we were.
jeremy donated an entry to this race for a fundraiser/auction at seven hills running shop--which i was fortunate enough to win. by far, the best auction result ever. cheers, jeremy, and i hope to see you at the volcano next year.
backcountry rise 50k
3/13 (M 50-59)
songs stuck in my head the entire time: "fortunate son" ~ creedence clearwater revival; "polk salad annie" ~ tony joe white