Every year around my birthday I try and seek out some sort of fun adventure. In the last few years there has been a cross country train trip, an extended Airbnb stay in Buenos Aires and long races in the mountains of Montana and through the Arizona desert. This year the plan was to find something a little closer to home.
One of the many things I love about the Portland area is the availability of great public transportation. I often take buses and trains to help with the logistics of long runs. So when I heard that there is now a bus that goes to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood, I thought it would be fun to use it to set up a big adventure run.
It was a cool and crisp autumn day when I caught the first Mt. Hood Express bus of the day. From the suburb of Sandy it’s only $2 and a little over an hour for the ride up to Timberline Lodge. I arrived just as the sun was rising along the east ridge of the mountain. At the same time in the opposite end of the sky, the full moon was dipping into the horizon. The rays of the rising sun turned the moon an eerie blood red color. It was an otherworldly experience and felt like some sort of sign. Whether good or bad was yet to be determined.
If you’ve been following this blog you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Pacific Crest Trail. The plan for my birthday run was to hop on the PCT at Mt. Hood and run the 50 miles to the Oregon/Washington border, where the Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River. Yoshimi would meet me there at the Thunder Island brewpub to enjoy a celebratory burger and beer (and give me a ride home).
Everything I needed for the day I’d have to carry with me, except for water which I’d find along the way. Because of the pre-dawn chill I was wearing all of my clothes and my little running pack was filled with a random assortment of energy bars. For the first ten miles the PCT shares the route with the Timberline Trail, which goes around Mt. Hood. The Timberline Trail was my first big adventure run in 2012 and is pretty much responsible for getting me hooked on trail running.
Fall is the best time of year to run. The kids are back in school, the tourists are gone, the weather is cool and the rains have yet to arrive. I was almost 4 hours and 20 miles into this trip before I saw anyone at all–a backpacking couple sitting beside their tent and starting the day with some warm drinks. They seemed to be enjoying the peace and solitude as much as I was.
The sun had now warmed things up a bit, so I stripped down to just a T-shirt and shorts. The next section passes through the Bull Run Watershed, which provides all the drinking water for the Portland metropolitan area. We are lucky to have some of the cleanest, best-tasting tap water in country.
I bumped into a guy at the abandoned Indian Springs campground. He was thru-hiking the PCT, having started at the Mexican border in May. We hiked a few miles together and he had some crazy stories to share: walking hours through the Mojave Desert without any water, being confronted by a family of bears in the Sierra Nevada and postholing through knee-deep snow in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
He also said that the popularity of the Cheryl Strayed book, Wild (and the subsequent movie with Reese Witherspoon), has caused a massive increase in the number of hikers attempting the PCT this year. During his first few weeks he passed many people struggling under ridiculously large backpacks and later heard that 95% of the hikers attempting the hike this year dropped out within the first month.
It was fun to hear his stories, but I had to get going and cover the last 15 miles to the Bridge of the Gods and a fresh hopped IPA with my name on it. At this point I split off from the PCT to take the more scenic Eagle Creek Trail. While visiting my sister in 1999, we hiked part of this incredible trail together and it helped to convince me that this is where wanted to live.
Eagle Creek is one of the most popular trails in the Portland area and on this beautiful fall day there were swarms of hikers. During the first 9 hours of my run I could count the number of people I saw one one hand. But in this last hour, there were easily more than a hundred. It was a shocking reentry back into society. However at that point I was running on fumes after having already eaten all of my food. It was the thought of a big burger that pulled me through to the end.
I got to Thunder Island before Yoshimi arrived and secured a table overlooking the Columbia River. My quads were trashed from all the downhill running and I had trouble lowing myself into a chair. A woman at the next table looked over and asked how far I had run. When I told her that I started from Timberline Lodge, she just shook head and said, “That’s too far.” It is a long way to run in one day, but I can think of no better way to celebrate my 46th birthday.