by Britt Starnes
Buckle Bagging Part 4
August 23-24, 2003
Seeing Suzi Cope’s <30 hour buckle from the Wasatch Front, I wanted one. Hearing of Mark Dick’s finish, I figured I could have one! However, a business conflict got me focused on the Cascade Crest 100 in Easton, Washington two weeks earlier. Tammi is from Seattle, so a vacation was in order to see old friends and the planning for “me” to cover 100 miles in the Cascade Mountain Range began.
It has been a real treat to spend some miles on the trail with Suzi this year. She is always entertaining, a wealth of knowledge, and highly experienced. So while running Laurel Valley 40 Miler together in preparation for CCC100, someone asked us as we ran and chatted together, “How long does it take to get ready for a hundred mile run?” Before I could answer, Suzi shot back, “About three years.”
About three years? About three years? And then it began to sink in. It had. Three years of experience, wisdom, and trial and error. Three years of time on the trails had brought me to a spot mentally (and physically) where I knew I could start and finish, with buckle in hand, any hundred mile run in the country.
So it was easy to adjust to the thought of running what some are saying is a “mini” Hardrock two weeks earlier than I had planned to run Wasatch.
Tom Crull and I ran Baldy Peaks 50k for practice. Billed as the hardest 50k on the market I thought it would closely resemble the terrain of CCC100. I was right. Then Suzi, Jib and I ran Laurel Valley just to sharpen the saw. I was ready.
The race began in Easton, WA. About half way in between Seattle and Yakima at a wide spot in the road called the Parkside Café. Suzi had procured a quaint little B & B within walking distance of the start/finish called the Silver Ridge Ranch. We arrived Friday to the Cope’s scouting report of the nearby area and began to settle in, me moving stuff in and out of different drop bags and Samantha carrying them off to play with.
With a leisurely 10am start we all had a great breakfast at the Café. Tammi and Samantha were in tow with Samantha wearing her NTTR finery. Pre-race instruction was had and the field of battle pointed out. I was set.
Tom, Randy Gehrke (RD) and one of Tom’s war buddies got the flag up for a Boston rendition of God Bless America and we were off!
We ran across I-90 and then UP Goat Peak. And I mean UP. 8 miles up! This was NOT the Seattle climate I had in mind when I thought of which hundred to run instead of Wasatch. I had envisioned dampness, with no dust, and moss hanging from every tree, ferns swaying underneath. No. This was high desert. This was dusty and hot with switchback after switchback, after switchback. 8 miles worth!
And so it went for 4 hours and 16 miles. I slowly began to realize this is to be my rhythm for the next 28:04. Walk up hill for ~2 hours, run down hill for 2 hours. Up down, up down, up down. It never stopped, which suited me. Just as my “walking muscles” would play out, I would crest a ridge, hill, or mountain and the running muscles took over. Perfect.
Just after the 16 mile A/S on a steep switchback going up, I see a runner coming at me. It was my fellow NTTR member David Hardin. Praying HE was going the wrong way and not me, we met. Prayer answered. David had gone UP the Pacific Crest Trail. (PCT) My muscles on the other hand were telling me it was time for some downhill running.
Pranksters had removed the ribbon marking the trail we were on where it “T”ed with the PCT. David had taken the road less traveled.
I told him to clear it from his head, lots of time to make it up and we began a mostly down hill 17 mile run on a bridal path, David ever pulling away as we twisted down into the undergrowth.
The PCT was cool! Soft needles, wide, no roots or rocks, downhill grade, shade. It was time to test the engine.
I was beginning to settle in. My mantra on auto-play: “Take what the mountains give you” I said to myself over and over. Running most of this section, I powder into the Tacoma Pass A/S at 26.6 miles and to my delight, find Tammi and Samantha.
Being “Prego” (again) with Jr, I had left strict instructions for her to take it easy and NOT come out to the A/S. You can tell who is running this household! It was great to see them though. I was feeling well. I stuffed my pockets with groceries, tanked up on fluids and hit the trail on the other side of the road.
More PCT! “Take what the mountains give you” I tell myself as I press on to the Stampede Pass A/S at 35.5 miles in. A major A/S with the first of my four drop bags, I pick up my lights for the night. This 10am start has whacked my “day math” as I cannot believe I am picking up lights after only 35 miles! But with the next major A/S and drop bag at 55.5 miles and several miles away, I am prepared.
Much to my surprise as I arrive at Stamped Pass A/S, I spot the whole NTTR crew there! Michael and Suzi Cope, David’s wife Karisa and of course Tammi were waiting, along with the little ones, Jib and Samantha.
It was great to see them! Samantha, having seen me at the 24 mile A/S, “appear” and “disappear” out of and into the trees, was catching on. She was so excited to see me! A soup and sandwich and a kiss to the crew and I was gone, with my goal to be upright and running strong at the Kachess Lake A/S mile 70, where Suzi and Jib would pick me up and pace me the last 30 miles.
It was lonely as I left. Alone. Looking back, seeing them there waving to me was depressing. Knowing that most of them (except Suzi) would have had a full nights sleep, breakfast, a shower and possibly lunch before I saw them again.
But my “missing them attitude” soon turned to pure joy as darkness began to creep in on the lower parts of the Cascades. Ya see, I love to run at night! I consider myself a great night runner. Seems I cannot tell an incline from a flat at night so I tend to run all but the steepest sections. Plus, I am a night person and enjoy being up all night especially if I am feeling good and making progress. I was and I was.
As darkness settled in, I was pushing. I was trying to get as many miles in as I could before the lights had to come out. Running on the rocky sections, roots, through waist high ferns, pressing on.
Just as darkness fell, I came in to the Meadow Mountain A/S (mile 42.5) to find David sitting in a chair, eating. I said, “Everything tastes better on the trail, let’s get out of here,” and within a minute we were gone, sandwich in hand, to the base of a massive assent. We could look way above and see a light, behind several more as we made our way to the top, switchback after switchback, one foot strike after foot strike
David’s energy was down, even at a walking pace he was slipping behind. (I was to learn later that he truly had slipped and taken a tumble down a mountain side) I continued to feel great. No blisters, lots of energy and night running. Doesn’t get any better.
Thoroughly enjoying myself and paying no attention I look up and there is the Olallie Meadows A/S. (mile 49) Pirogie Central! They were so good! They boil them, and then lightly fry them in peanut oil. Yum. I had two, put two more in my pocket for a snack later, told Karisa, “David is not looking well” and then proceeded to powder my way down to a section of the trail I had been looking forward to for months, the Snoqualmie Tunnel. A 2.5 mile long (abandoned) railroad tunnel through Mt. Snoqualmie. But first I had to get to it!
Randy told us during the briefing of a section where we would have rope “assists” to help us slide down from the John Wayne Trail we were on to join this rail bed and trail. The slope is VERY steep, like straight down! The first rope (I thought at the time it was the only one) was the longest, perhaps 30 yards long. I grabbed hold and began the military decent, hit the end of the rope in seconds and thanked God Randy had tied a not in the end of it! I regrouped and slid another 10 yards to the next rope. Another straight down controlled fall. And then another! Just sliding/rappelling down. Hitting bottom, I dusted myself off, got my bearings and proceeded to the entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel.
As I approached the tunnel and entered, it was exciting! The musky smell in the air and the sound of dripping water carried me back in time. I thought of how many people, famous people, villains and the like, had been through this tunnel in its “hey day.” This was the original east/west rail route for the Santa Fe/Pacific Railroad Company. When I got to the center of the tunnel I turned off my lights and paused in the darkest of dark. Unbelievably dark. I listened to it creak and moan against the strain of a million tons of mountain sitting on top of it. I lit the ceiling with my handheld flashlight and saw the soot of a thousand coal and diesel trains covering the arches and wondered what this old tunnel has seen and heard.
I exited the east side in about 30 minutes and within a few minutes I was approaching the Hyak/Snoqualmie A/S. (mile 55) This place looked like a triage from the Holocaust! I closed my mind to what I saw. I must do my thing. I must leave. NOW!
Runners were everywhere, wrapped up in blankets, sitting in cars, in the A/S motor home. Some were shivering, sipping soup, trying to summon the guts to go on. A couple of guys I had run (walked) up Goat Peak with are here. They will not go on. They are done. I am not! The buckle waits.
Randy (RD) steps out of the nice warm (It was not that cold if you were moving) motor home and said “You’re killing it.” Those words were so comforting and made me feel good. I made sure I had re-supplied everything I needed out of my drop bag. Fresh socks, E-Caps, more Hammer Gel, more Clip II, Jelly and I was gone. Left eight people in that A/S right where I found them. Found out later only Jose Wilke made it out.
The next section was the hardest on me mentally. 6 miles up, alone on a gravel road. Easy but boring and slow going. But I knew at the top I would have 8 miles down. Down to where Suzi and Jib were to meet me.
I topped out at the Keechelus Ridge A/S (62 mile) A/S just as someone was throwing up outside the tent. The warmth of the tent was calling me, “Come on in and rest a minute,” “You have plenty of time to spare,” “It’s warm and comfy in here.” But I was in the middle of a great work and I could not come in! Time in the A/S: < 2 minutes.
The next few steps started me on an 8 mile down hill towards Kachess Lake A/S. (mile 70) I knew Suzi would be waiting and I would be there soon. I powdered down, down, down, running every step of the next 8 miles, taking what the mountains gave me.
Great silhouettes of the Cascades surrounded me on all sides, as if I were in a giant bowl. Where is this light coming from? Then all of a sudden a Crescent Moon, tip first, slowly rises above the ridge, glowing a bright orange and gives answer. Awesome!
Nowhere else. I thought of how few people in the world saw what I just saw at 3am in the morning. I thought of Tammi, comfy asleep. I thought of Suzi, already awake and headed to Lake Kachess A/S. Thought of what was coming up, 5 Mile Hell, and for me, for a lot of reasons, what would turn out to be the greatest 30 miles of a hundred I have ever run. I pressed on; arriving 3 minutes off Suzi’s predicted arrival time. It was 3:57am Sunday morning.
Suzi and Jib (especially Jib) are eager. Jib had his red Photon light on his collar and was so glad to see his Uncle Britt and get off leash. Suzi, buried in her “I am sitting around in the woods at 4am waiting on my runner gear,” gets ready. I have some soup and re-stock.
I am blinded by a flash of light. When I regroup, I find it is Suzi with the first of many documentary pictures. The tracers in my vision subside and we are off to 5 Mile Hell.
And hell it was. Very “Barkley-esque.” (See photos) Suzi is reveling in it, reliving old memories and telling old stories of Barkley as I am changing my mind about sending in $1.57 for Barkley entry. Especially when I hear the WHOLE course is like this one section.
Blow downs everywhere! Huge ones. Little ones. No trail and no idea. But little by little, the trail made itself known. The path of least resistance to a distant glow stick. Straight up. Straight down. 5 Mile Hell. Jib is the only one smiling.
Slowly but surely we make progress and “false dawn” begins. We see Kachess Lake start to appear into the vast black hole that had been following us on our right side the last few hours. My walking muscles are getting walked out! When do I get to run again? I want away from this lake!
As it finally ends with a very fine tree bridge crossing of an inlet, the Mineral Creek A/S appears. I have a turkey sandwich. Yeah. 7 miles of gravel road up a place called No Name Ridge waits. I leave the night gear and light; load up on groceries and leave.
I am feeling like running, but this section is uphill and a long way, so it must be power walk time. I run anything that looked or felt flat. Suzi falls behind. Jib, his cool little nose touching my calf is up for anything. They get a ride from an “ultra groupie” to catch up. I am making good time and feeling great. I see “fodder” on the trail ahead. A pursuit begins. I smell blood. (It has been many hours since I actually saw another runner.) He sees me and we play “keep away” until I pass him just as we come into the No Name Ridge A/S at 81.8 miles.
The “lovely” that gave Suzi a ride is waiting to pace someone. She says “Here comes that tough son of a bitch.” This fires me up and I only hesitate a minute at the A/S before I depart for the Cardiac Needles.
Taking my usual approach to this race, I do not get too anal about what is to come on the course, splits, cut-offs and crap like that. For me, this inhibits the beauty and fun of a run like CCC100. I wish I had actually counted the number of needles in Cardiac though!
I knew it was plural, so there would at least be two. It was 5! With an additional, unnecessary side trip ½ mile up Thorp Mountain for a playing card (Randy said a drawing would be held for one free entry, I didn’t see it) Why? Why did I have to climb Thorp Mountain? Back down to Thorp A/S, no Coke! The wheels are starting to come off.
In addition, I had three more “cardiacs” to go. This was beginning to feel like the 100 mile run it was. So close to home but oh so much to do.
Nothing seems tasty now. I slow my eating for the first time in 25 hours. I need my Coke, now! None. We schlepped down to French Cabin A/S, some three miles away and tank up on Coke and prepare for what is left of the remaining Cardiac Needles.
Things are not good. At ~85 miles the lights dim and stayed there for 10 miles.
During this “spell,” I saw a huge Elk (NOT!) lying in the shade right next to the trail tying to avoid detection. Then, several minutes later, just in time to save Jib’s life, I stopped running turned around, grabbed Suzi and said, “Quick! Get Jib on a leash, there is a wolf!” (Again, NOT!) Then the “lovely” that said how tough I was passes me with her runner, the guy I had proclaimed as fodder, and they promptly disappear into the trees ahead of me. The balloon is empty.
One more up through a saddle and we are now in a section Michael and Suzi have hiked up the Friday before the start, Silver Ridge Drainage. I am at 90 miles and running downhill through “hanging meadows,” old growth forests and Jelly Bean Plants. (NOT Hallucinating!)
It was great! Suzi was able to tell me every corner, downhill, and dust patch left to the finish. I am tired, cranky and thinking Suzi is the paparazzi! Is this a 100 mile run or a photo shoot?
She only made me re-cross one tree bridge for a photo and the results are fantastic! Suzi “collaged” it all, with caption. Cool. Way Cool. I will treasure it for the rest of my natural life. Thank you Suzi.
With the volts up and the motor running, we descend through Silver Ridge Drainage headed for the barn. (Literally, as the B & B is a dude ranch of sorts.)
Jib, who has been my constant companion for 30 miles, is nudging his cool little nose on my calf as if to say “Ya did it,” “Ya did it,” “I knew you could do it!”
Randy (RD) had asked us, as a tribute to Scott McQueeny, who died at the finishing line of the McDonald Forest 50k, to run across the finish line backwards. This was to honor Scott’s backwards run of the entire Portland Marathon in honor of his daughter who had cancer.
And so it was, with 100 yards to go, I turned around and trotted across the finish line of the Cascade Crest 100 backwards, in 28:04.
The buckle and the Purple Heart Box are mine! They are gorgeous!
I grabbed Samantha and Tammi, hugged them and for the first time in 28 hours and 4 minutes I sat down, powered down the engine and let the focus fade away.
Victory is so sweet. So precious. So few people can do what ultra runners do. To start a run of 100 miles on foot through arduous territory and “know in your knower” that it will be done is something that pierces every other area of your life. It removes the boundaries on every other thing you do.
I am proud to know that I know my limits and have ignored them!
President, North Texas Trail Runners Club