Mountain Lakes 100 provides a satisfying step up in challenge

29 Dec
And we’re off! I wore my Mountain Hardwear rain jacket for 20 miles… and a garbage bag for many more!

Since I started running ultramarathons about 8 years ago, I’ve continued to push my boundaries, progressing to more difficult courses and longer distances. After successfully completing a 100-miler on a friendly (read: relatively flat) Midwestern course, I really wanted to tackle a mountain 100-miler.

In February 2021, I was finally feeling better after struggling with plantar fasciitis for 3 years. On a lark, I signed up for the Mountain Lakes 100, which takes place near Mount Hood in Oregon. I’d been on the wait list before, and I hadn’t made the admissions list. When the names were drawn this winter, I was number 6 on the wait list! I pretty much knew I’d be in.

The Mountain Lakes course lies south of Mount Hood and much of it is run on the Pacific Crest Trail. (This year’s course was a bit different than it had been in the past, being rerouted following colossal fires the year before.)

The course features 11,000 feet of vertical and has a 30-hour final cutoff. It starts on Saturday at 8 am, and you have until Sunday at 2 pm to finish. Most of the course is single track, and several times, you pass one of Oregon’s most beautiful places, Timothy Lake.

The race itself is the payoff for months of hard work. Since getting the good news in February, I’d put in more than 1,000 miles of running, the vast majority on trails.

I finished the 54-mile Ozark Foothills trail race outside of St. Louis in April, logging 15 hours in the rain, slip-sliding along the muddy trails – and cracking or breaking a rib in a fall. As it turns out, the extra time in the rain was good preparation.

My wife, Barb, and I found new trails all over Iowa. We’d run some on Saturday, enjoy a night of camping, then do them all over again on Sunday.

In July, for the first time ever, I logged more than 200 miles in a month. I slogged through back-to-back long runs, night runs, early morning runs. I ran hill repeats, trying desperately to match the vertical I’d find in the Cascade Mountains outside Portland. I practiced my race nutrition, and I practiced with new poles.

By September, I was as ready as I could be.

At least I knew I wouldn’t have to compete with the infamous Pacific Northwest rains. Despite the reputation of persistent precipitation, Oregon’s rainy season comes in the late fall and winter.

And that goes to prove just how much I really know. After literally months of dry weather, the rains set in for two days – Sept. 18-19, the race days. As I posted on social media, oh, well, it just adds to the challenge!

The rains rolled in just a few hours before the 8 am start, and they continued off and on for the entirety of the race. The trail filled up with water in certain areas, and in other places, it poured down the slopes like a small river. But unlike the Missouri dirt, the duff in Oregon did not get slick – and that was a blessing.

From the start at the Historic Clackamas Ranger Station, the route wound its way north, past Timothy Lake, reaching a turnaround near Frog Lake.

It’s funny how an ultra resets your perspective.

In training and other races, reaching the 31-mile mark can seem like a major milestone. Normally, I’d be beat by that time. At Mountain Lakes, it seemed more like the start of the challenge.

With a 50K in the rearview mirror, I found myself back at where it all began. Now this aid station served as the last chance to get resupplied by your crew before the (more or less) halfway point. And with night approaching, I grabbed my headlamps and poles, swapped out my shirt and coat and headed out.

The rain, which had let up for a bit, returned as we started to lose daylight. So I pulled out my super high-tech rainwear: a 35-gallon garbage bag. I got a few odd looks as I pulled into the first few aid stations wearing a garbage bag. But as the night progressed, the aid station volunteers were handing out garbage bags, too.

The Mountain Lakes course never gets too high – topping out at about 5,200 feet or so. But as the rain and wind picked up, it was plenty cold. My watch recorded temps in the low 40s, but the wind chill was substantially lower.  

I had been running with a new friend, Sean Remington, since early in the race. We were keeping the same pace, and we both enjoyed the extra company on the dark, lonely stretches of the course.

As we neared the Pinheads aid station (mile 49), we crossed an open stretch – and the wind and rain chilled to the bone. After a longer-than-usual stop to enjoy the propane heaters, we couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer, and we headed back out.

Course profile

The conditions seemed even worse – or maybe it was just leaving the shelter of the aid station tent. But we discussed hypothermia as a possibility. “Let’s give it another mile,” we decided, and by the time we had been on the trail that long again, we had warmed up. Plus the out-and-back turnaround was only 7 miles away.

Seeing my crew – wife Barb and friends Kristi Stein and Kathy and Mike Klauser – buoyed my spirits considerably at Olallie Meadows (mile 57). Dry clothes, a new headlamp, chicken soup and a Coke can do wonders for the spirits, particularly at 10:30 at night and 12 ½ hours into a race.

Sean and I kept a steady pace throughout the night. I had my watch set to give me an average pace for the race, and the average pace for my current mile. It would take an 18-minute average pace for 100 miles to beat the final cutoff, and throughout the night, we stayed in the 15:30/mile range.

The 5 miles from Warm Springs to Red Wolf were some of the most physically taxing. Not only was it 2 or 3 in the morning, but the climb seemed never-ending.

At mile 83, I picked up my pacer, Gretchen Ammerman, who worked with me in Lincoln City. She proved to be the perfect partner for the last miles: she was encouraging, patient and, when asked, would carry on a conversation to keep me awake.

There were two times that I had doubts about finishing: trudging uphill near the Warm Springs aid station and limping along the last 20 miles. My feet had been soaked for 24 hours, and I had developed some major blisters on the balls on my feet. Upon finishing, I’d find out that there were blisters all over my toes, too, but the pain from the bottoms of my feet masked that discomfort.

I’m never a fast runner, but I had slowed to a shuffle in those last miles. But, as long as I kept moving forward, a shuffle would be enough to meet the last cutoff. I had spent too many hours training and I had shared my goals with too many people to be stopped this late in the game.

As I neared the finish line, I dreamt of executing the ultrarunner’s equivalent of a mic drop, shouting, “I made it! I’m retired!”

But as so often happens, the pain and doubts of the last miles fade, and instead of “retiring” from ultraruns, I’m signed up for another 50-miler, and I’m mulling ways to meet another audacious goal.


I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to make an ultrarunner. Without my wife’s help and encouragement, I’d never meet these crazy goals.

And I have some of the best friends. Kristi Stein drove all the way from Phoenix to lend a helping hand. Kathy and Mike Klauser endured a camping adventure just so they could follow me around the woods and make the effort bearable. And I’d tackle another big race just to spend more time on the trail with Gretchen.

Thank you all.


A big shoutout to race directors and Go Beyond Racing owners Renee and Todd Janssen.

The 2020 fires left so much uncertainty about the 2021 race, but they were persistent and flexible, and pulled off a great race on a slightly revised course.

I got a kick out of the pre-race video on the race’s Facebook page. For months, the weather had been ideal, and in the week before the race, the rain forecast was freaking out a number of runners. Renee calmly reassured everyone, emphasizing that our pre-race preparation would carry us through to the end.

We were so impressed by the Janssens that Barb and I are returning for the Wy’east Wonder in 2022.

If you get a chance to run a Go Beyond race, do it.


You don’t finish one of these big adventures without being a bit self-centered. Barb found a way to turn this on its head.

She used this 100-mile race and the 100th anniversary of the Keokuk Rotary Club as an excuse for a fund-raiser. I’m the CEO of the Hoerner YMCA in Keokuk, and she created a fund-raiser that would benefit the local YMCA and the local Rotary club.

Her hustle for pledges and persistent marketing generated $2,200 for Rotary and more than $14,000 for the YMCA!

A Year of Living Adventurously

25 Jan

It’s been a grand 14 months on the Oregon coast, but my time in the Pacific Northwest soon will end.

I moved to Lincoln City, Oregon, in November 2015, and Barb followed a few months later. But a new job, family and friends are calling us back to the Midwest. Barb has already re-settled in Keokuk, Iowa, and by Super Bowl Sunday, I hope to be beside her again.

If you want to fully explore a place, get yourself a VW camper van. That’s what we did. And we saw as much as we could of this great state in a few short months. Most of those adventures — and the friends who accompanied us along the way — are captured in the video above. Some of the other adventures can be found in other blog posts.

Oregon has magnificent trails for running, and I hate to leave them behind. Although I saw many of them, there are many left unexplored. I hope to return to do more someday. There’s another 100-miler I’d like to do. But those adventures will have to wait.

We’re keeping the Eurovan Camper. We plan to explore more places in the Midwest. I’ve got my eye on a few epic runs there.

Part of the adventure for me is a change in occupations. The job that brought us back to Keokuk is Barb’s. She’s been named market president of the bank she left when we headed to Oregon. But I have no firm plans. I’ll see where life takes me.

For now, there’s one more issue to publish at the News Guard, and then it’s back to Iowa. The good lord willing and the creeks don’t rise (or more appropriately in this case, the snow doesn’t fly), I’ll be watching the Super Bowl in Keokuk.

Look us up if you’re in the area. But be sure to call ahead — there’s a good chance we’ll be out exploring the Midwest in the Eurovan.

Run Oregon: Kings Mountain, Tillamook State Forest

13 Nov

Do you want to run a negative split on a trail run? Then the Kings Mountain trail in the Tillamook State Forest is for you.

Of course, that’s because the trail to the summit is straight up, and the return trip is straight down.

The trailhead starts at an elevation of 735 feet (according to my Suunto watch) and the summit sits at 3,245 feet, a gain of 2,510 feet. There are very few spots in that 2.6-mile stretch where you’ll enjoy a level or downhill spot. And in fact, there are some places where it’s steep enough that you’ll be hoisting yourself over rocks with your hands on the ground, boosting yourself up like you’re climbing a ladder.

kings-mountain-elevation-profileBut reaching the summit will give you some great views of the surrounding Coast Range. On the October Saturday that I ran, it was rainy and overcast, but many of the surrounding mountains could still be seen.

I had considered doing the loop from Kings Mountain around to Elk Mountain and then down the Wilson River trail back to the start. But if the portion up to Kings Mountain is steep, then the trail just past the summit is REALLY steep. The rain was leaving the rocks and dirt slippery, and I bailed on the idea of running the entire loop about three-fourths of a mile past the summit. The trail looked like it would be fun, but I just didn’t feel safe.

kings-mountain-locatorGetting there: If you’re coming from Tillamook, the Kings Mountain trailhead parking lot is just east of mile marker 25 on Highway 6, the Wilson River Highway. If you’re coming from the east from Portland, it’s about three-fourths of a mile past mile marker 26. It is also located about 3 miles east of the Tillamook Forest Center.

Staying there: Several campgrounds can be found in the Tillamook State Forest. This recreation guide lists them, as well as locates the trailheads.

 

Hike Oregon: Matthieu Lakes Trail

26 Oct

The only thing more stunning than the panoramic view of Oregon’s volcanic mountain peaks from the Dee Wright Observatory … is the view of the Sisters that smacks you right in the face as you crest the PCT near South Matthieu Lake.

The observatory sits atop McKenzie Pass in the Cascade Mountains, along Oregon Highway 242 about 15 miles west of Sisters, OR. Overlooking the lava flow that poured from nearby volcanoes thousands of years ago, the observatory was built of lava rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Towering over the lava fields — both eerie and awesome on their own — is one of the most spectacular displays of mountains in Oregon. On one side, the Three Sisters — North, Middle and South — loom. On the other side, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack, among others, sit in the middle distance, while in the far distance, Mt. Hood can be seen on a clear day.

The peaks of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson can be seen from the PCT on the way to South Matthieu Lake.

The peaks of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson can be seen from the PCT on the way to South Matthieu Lake.

We began our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail that crosses the lava fields. Find that trail by going about 200 yards west of the last observatory parking lot and on the south side of the highway (the PCT does cross the road).

The trail winds across the lava field — amazing in its own right — for about a mile. Shortly after leaving the lava field, the Lava Camp Lake trail meets the PCT. Take a right on the PCT to head to the Matthieu Lakes loop. In a half-mile, you’ll reach the junction of the PCT and the North Matthieu Lake trail. We followed the PCT up to South Matthieu Lake and returned on the North Matthieu Lake trail.

The trail makes a steady but middling climb for about 2 miles, when you’ll see the peaks of Washington-TFJ-Jefferson to the northwest. Soon, you’ll see North Matthieu Lake below. And just a bit further, you’ll clear the trees and face the Sisters. Just a bit further on the trail and left at the next junction will bring you to a stunning view of the North Sister towering over South Matthieu Lake.

Matthieu Lakes Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness

Matthieu Lakes Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness

To reach North Matthieu Lake, backtrack to the junction and follow the North Matthieu Trail to the lake below. After exploring the lake, follow the trail back down the mountain, returning to the start of the Matthieu loop. The trail stays close to the lava flow, and on the October day when we hiked, the trail was occasionally flooded by runoff, but these spots were easily skirted.

Instead of re-crossing the lava field to reach the observatory, we took a right at the PCT-Lava Lake trails junction. It was a short walk to the Lava Camp Lake trail parking lot, and a left turn returns you to Highway 242. We walked the shoulder to return to the observatory parking lot.

It was cloudy the day of our hike, but the sun was burning through the clouds at the same time we were emerging, lining the ridges of the snow-dappled Sisters in bright light.

Getting there: The Dee Wright Observatory is about 15 miles west of Sisters. It’s 22 miles east of the Highway 242/126 intersection — a narrow, winding climb of 4,000 feet or so — or 76 miles east of the Eugene intersection with I-5. Highway 242 is not open all year, and the narrow road is devoid of shoulders over the pass.

Staying there: Several campgrounds can be found on the west side of the McKenzie Pass, most at lower elevations. But we stayed at the Forest Service’s Cold Springs Campground, just 4 miles west of Sisters. It featured pit toilets, water and cost $12 a night. 

Three Sisters from the trail above South Matthieu Lake.

Three Sisters from the trail above South Matthieu Lake.

Hike Oregon: Metolius River

25 Oct

A crisp, sunny fall morning was perfect for a leisurely hike along the Metolius River, which magically emerges from a spring just south of Camp Sherman in central Oregon and flows nearly 30 miles before entering Lake Billy Chinook.

We were among the first visitors to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery on an early Saturday morning in October. We toured the hatchery grounds a bit, marveling at the fish and watching them swarm the pellets we fed them.

wizard-falls-fish-hatchery-locatorAnd then we headed to the trailhead, located adjacent to the visitors parking lot across the lane from the hatchery. For the two miles from the hatchery to Gushing Springs, we had the West Metolius River Trail practically to ourselves. The well-maintained and generally flat trail stays within view of the river the entire way. At times, it’s right on the river bank; at times, it’s slightly uphill from the river. But there are gorgeous sights the entire way.

A sign at the hatchery said the river stays at a fairly constant temperature of 50 degrees year-round, thanks mostly to its spring-fed origins. Plenty of fishermen were getting ready to test their luck on the river, which was prominently marked for fly fishing only.

At the Head of the Metolius, roughly 6 miles south of the hatchery, the river flows from the hill-side springs at the rate of 50,000 gallons per minute. It’s an amazing sight to see forest understory at one point and a full-flowing river just yards away!

And Gushing Springs, its white water flowing from the springs, surrounded by the yellows and greens of the fall foliage and making the short drop into the blue-green pool of the river, was one of the prettiest sights we saw all weekend.

Following closely on the heels of our most recent organized trail runs, we made a leisurely hike out of the 4-mile round trip. But the trails could easily be run instead of hiked, and a trail on the opposite bank could be added in for a 6.5-mile loop.

Getting there: Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery,

From the junction of Highway 20 and Forest Service Road 14, follow the Forest Service Road north just over 10 miles to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. Cross the Metolius and park in the visitors parking lot. The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot.

Staying there: We camped in the Eurovan at the Forest Service’s Smiling River Campground, about 4 miles south of the hatchery. It is one of several Forest Service campgrounds in the area, and there are a couple of private campgrounds in Camp Sherman, too. Smiling River had pit toilets and water hydrants. In October, the campgrounds were all just one-quarter to one-half full, and we got our choice of riverside spots. I would guess that all the campgrounds are very busy in the summer. Cost was $14 for the night.

Gushing Springs emerges from the hillside about 2 miles south of the hatchery.

Gushing Springs emerges from the hillside about 2 miles south of the hatchery.

 

 

Run Oregon: Pioneer-Indian Trail, Mt. Hebo area, Siuslaw National Forest

28 Feb

The clouds were rolling in at the summit.

The clouds were rolling in at the summit, which sits at 3,153 feet — a climb of about 1,400 feet from the Hebo Lake Campground.

There were some wet, sloppy areas along the Pioneer-Indian Trail on my late February run, but this is definitely a trail worth visiting.

Hebo, Oregon, is just 30 minutes or so north of Lincoln City, and the trail takes off from the Hebo Lake Campground, just a few miles further up Forest Road 14.

The Pioneer-Indian Trail runs 8 miles from the campground to South Lake, which offers dispersed camping. I ran just 5 miles of the trail, making for a 10-mile out-and-back workout. I’ll have to run the entire length of the trail another day. The trail never strays too far from Forest Road 14, and many folks leave vehicles at both ends to avoid the out-and-back hike.

Mount Hebo vertical

Mount Hebo elevation profile

From the Hebo Lake Campground, the trail climbs steadily for 4+ miles, winding through Douglas fir that were planted in 1912 after a massive fire. The trail is mostly single track, covered alternately in rocks, roots and forest trash. Hikers do share part of the trail with equestrians.

I saw just a couple patches of snow, but they say that the roads can become impassable due to snow in the winter. Traffic signs say the road is not maintained in the winter. Officially, the high point is 3,153 feet, although my GPS registered 3,159. The campground was situated at about 1,750 feet, which means the trail averaged a 6.5% grade.

Forest Service map, Mt. Hebo area trails

TRAIL MAP

Lincoln City to Hebo map

LC to HEBO

The top of the mountain features a long, open meadow; the temperature dropped noticeably, and there was nothing to stop the wind.

The trail itself gets its name because it was originally the route for Indians and then settlers to cross the Coastal Range from the Willamette Valley.

On a clear day, you can see the Cascade Mountain Range to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west or Tillamook Bay to the north. But there were enough low-hanging clouds during my visit that the view was limited.

Getting there: To reach the trailhead at Hebo Lake Campground, head 24 miles north of Lincoln City to Hebo. Turn east on Highway 22 and go just .2 miles to the Hebo Ranger Station. Turn right before the Ranger Station, and take the winding Forest Road 14 a little more than 4 miles to the campground. On the day I visited, the campground was closed, so I parked along the road, and ran to the trailhead, which was only about a quarter mile.

 

 

Steady rain changes trail, but training run still possible

15 Feb

Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

It’s amazing the difference a little rain will make on an Oregon coastal trail.

I made my second visit to the Cummins Creek Trail in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area in the past month (the first run can be found here). I had planned a different trail run for Sunday, but there was a fairly steady rain overnight — nothing heavy, just the typical Coastal Oregon rain. And since it was still raining in the morning, I decided to revisit a trail I did know rather than risk a trail I didn’t know.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

It misted or sprinkled on me throughout the run, but for the first hour or so, the trails didn’t really show any negative effects. Under the towering pines, the forest floor was needle-covered and soft. In flatter areas, the water accumulated in a series of small puddles. But in the steeper sections, the elevation change resulted in water running down the middle of the narrow, rocky, single-track trail.

In fact, one area (shown in the photo above) had turned from a rocky trail in January to a shallow, rocky stream in February. Faced with a 20-yard stretch of rushing water, I wasn’t sure how I’d get down the trail and stay dry. But I found a nearby branch — like a walking stick — and I thought I could pick my way across the high spots. And that worked for about two steps, until the branch shattered, plunging me into the running water. Oh, well. If you’re worried about getting wet, you’re in the wrong place.

I’m learning more about the navigational abilities of my Suunto Ambit2. If you can find GPX versions of your trails, you can download those onto the watch, and let it guide you. TrimbleOutdoors has been a good source of GPX files; I had to sign up for a trial membership to download a few, and I haven’t yet decided that I want to pay the $30 annual membership. AllTrails.com might be another good source, but it, too, has a membership fee.

Cape Perpetua vertical

Cape Perpetua elevation profile, Cummins Creek loop

 

A trail runner in Oregon striving to be an Oregon trail runner

1 Feb

Running has been a big part of my life for a dozen years or so, but in the past two years, I’ve become hooked on trail running. I love the variety of the trail itself, the challenge of the elements and the beauty of the outdoors.

Until two months ago, Keokuk, Iowa, was my home base. I spent countless hours running the hills along the Mississippi River, and recently, I added the trails at Geode State Park, which offer some fun single-track around a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run several 50-mile races, including one in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and a 100-miler, as well as a number of marathons.

But my new home in Lincoln City, Oregon, will take my training to a new level. Today’s run in the Drift Creek Wilderness illustrates the difference in the two locales. A 7-mile trail run around Lake Geode in Iowa resulted in about 875 feet of vertical — 125 feet per mile. Today’s 7.5-mile run on the Horse Creek North Trail was good for 1,700 feet of vertical — 225 feet per mile.

Horse Creek vertical

Horse Creek elevation profile

Geode vertical

Geode Park elevation profile

And while the total vertical is one thing, the sustained ascents and descents are an even bigger difference. The trail around Lake Geode constantly rose and fell, but it was difficult to find a sustained climb of more than a half mile. Contrast that with Horse Creek, which dropped — and subsequently climbed — 1,400 feet in 2.25 unbroken miles.

If you’re training for a mountain trail race, which is my favorite kind of race, you need to prepare for unrelenting climbs or descents.

The first time I ran the 50-miler in Wyoming’s Bighorns, I was unprepared for the vertical. The first 18 miles is a steady downhill, and one climb rose 3,000 feet in about 3 miles. You can’t train in Iowa for those conditions. The following year, I added plenty of repeats on the biggest hills that I could find, but it was still a poor substitute.


So while I explore the many trails of Oregon — and particularly those in the nearby Oregon Coast Range — I’m learning many lessons that will help me become a true mountain trail runner. Today’s lessons included:

  • Being ready with a back-up location. I had planned a run around Olalla Reservoir, owned by the Georgia-Pacific lumber company. But when I arrived, I found the gate was locked and a sign warned off visitors due to a low water level at the reservoir. Uncertain if the prohibition extended to the surrounding trails, I headed off to another location.
  • Following a route on my GPS watch. Last week, I missed two turns while running the trails at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This week, I had downloaded the GPX file for the run to my watch. The Horse Creek trail is an out-and-back trail that is easy to follow, but it still gave me a chance to work out the kinks in following a route on my Suunto Ambit2.
  • Embracing the rike. Yes, “rike” — part run, part hike. There’s no way I’m prepared for a 2-mile uphill of 1,400 feet. And frankly, after a 10-week layoff in training, I’m not even ready for an uninterrupted run of 6 or 8 miles in the mountains. But a steady rike keeps me on the trails and extends my distance.

I’ve taken a number of hikes in the surrounding mountains since my arrival in mid-November, but today’s run was just my second true trail run. And all I can say is: Bring on the Oregon mountain trail runs and the lessons that come with them.

For an animation of the run, which also includes some photos along the way, watch this:

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