Frölicking trails since 2010

Frölicking trails since 2010
Frölicking trails since 2010

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Hunt - Circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helens

Sometimes in order to find yourself, you need to lose yourself first.

My decision to run around Mt. St. Helens had a lot to do with re-building my self-confidence and taking time for some self reflection. I'm sorry for not following up on my original invites to friends, but I felt like running this one alone. Having already ran around it once last October, I felt competent enough to safely manage my food, water, and energy. And yes Mum, Teresa and several friends knew where I was and when to expect to hear from me.

My route would start at the Marble Mountain sno park and run clockwise, following the Volcanic 50 course exactly.


Knowing how exposed and how hot the day was going to be, my water supply consisted of two 22 oz handheld bottles and a full 2 Liter bladder (and a water filter for re-filling). My pack was probably the heaviest I've ever run with, and my legs/shoulders kept reminding me of it. Within the first three miles, I almost face planted twice and already took a wrong turn. Hmm, I better start drinking my water to lighten my load...

Varied Terrain
As soon as the views were omnipresent, my pack felt lighter and my legs were running easier. The wind of its beauty was catching my sails, and sometimes blowing silt in my face. The views were absolutely phenomenal, whether you were looking at the exploded mountain, or the infinite forest of the Cascade Range. The terrain on the mountain was incredibly varied, and it constantly goes from running on the moon to running in a forest to running in a desert and back to running on the moon. Incredible. The power of the mountain was obvious even from the South side, and that wasn't even the blast zone.

Neil Armstrong landed here once.
My emotions were giddy as I navigated the terrain, excited to run around at my own leisure. Rock hopping, rock dodging, tree jumping, slope's a real playground. Certain sections of the trail are the pure definition of technical, especially the lava rock fields that turn into a sketchy game of hopscotch. Most of the rocks are fixed, but sometimes I found one that had me rocking like a hurricane. During the Volcanic 50 race, I can see these lava rock sections being very interesting for many of the runners.

Ascending and descending through the forested Southwest corner of the mountain, I finally reached the Toutle River. This was a good opportunity to play around with my water filter and take lunch (about 13 miles into the run). The river is skinny and shallow, but the river channel is HUGE! The photos below give an example of what it takes to scramble in and out of the channel to reach the trail on the other side. It's gnarly and extremely tough to get a solid footing in the sandy-silt.

Toutle River
The climb out of the Toutle River channel


Fallen Trees on the Northwest side of the Mountain
The climb out of the Toutle River basin is one of the longer climbs of the route, and it gets frustratingly sandy near the top. Regardless, the views are fantastic. After reaching the top, it's only a few miles to the epic blast zone. The terrain levels off, and it becomes rather fun with rolling ups and downs through a rather moon-like terrain. The crater of the mountain slowly creeped into view, steaming with the evaporation of snow. Dead trees that were blasted by the eruption were still petrified and pointing away from the mountain. Rocks were everywhere, and vegetation was scarce.

The Crater
Tracks: Brooks Cascadias
Tracks: Rogue Racer
All of a sudden, I noticed something on the trail. There were several types of footprints, but these were all too familiar. My trail running experience helped me conclude that I was following a pair of Brooks Cascadias and Rogue Racers. From what I could tell, the Rogue Racer was the leader, and they were hiking the hills. Immediately, I went into hunting mode. My pace increased, and my eyes were pealed on the lunar horizon of the blast zone looking for them...I could almost smell them. Every hiker on the trail told me they were only a couple miles ahead. "You'll never catch them! They're booking it like the bible!" one hiker said to me. Don't ever underestimate the Jbob, I said with my eyes. As I reached the Oasis of drinkable groundwater, I finally spotted the runners in the distance. Only a matter of time now. The natural spring was bursting across the trail and provided a great opportunity to fill my bottles before beginning the chase. No water filter was used, and I'll keep you posted on the consequences of that decision later this weekend (many sources claim the water is drinkable straight up). The natural spring is half a mile East of the Loowit Falls trailhead, bursting out of a rock just above the trail. See photo below.

Green Oasis in the desert. The Natural Spring on the North Side of the mountain,
about half a mile East of the trailhead to Loowit Falls. It's obvious,
and you can see the water bursting out of a rock.


Hot Damn! Brooks Cascadias (Josh Owens) and the Rogue Racers (Josh Marks)
After hiking up Windy Pass, I caught up to the runners as we were reaching the bottom of the descent. Lo' and behold, it was Josh Owens and Josh Marks! These guys ran the Mt. Hood 50 miler and Marks paced Owens at the Waldo 100K, both races that I volunteered we recognized each other pretty quickly. Both Joshes are in training for the Pine to Palm 100 miler in September, and this was their first ever circumnavigation around Mt. St. Helens (and the next day they would summit). They let me tag along, and they made great company considering I'd been chasing them down for the last 5 miles. The hunt was over.

One of my favorite shots. Photo by Josh Owen.

The trail was flipping awesome, weaving in and out of silty channels, popping into random forests and fields of huckleberries. Of course, there was one last section of lava rocks that slowed us down a bit. Such is life. The rock hopping was a bit less enthusiastic after 9 hours of running/hiking, but we eventually cleared the final technical dance with the mountain. This is where we departed. Josh and Josh started at the climber's bivouac, so they had three more miles to go on the Loowit trail. It was an honor to run with these men, I had a blast getting to know them. After we parted ways, the final 2 miles of downhill were gradual enough to bomb down...thus completing one of the funnest runs I've ever done...about 33 miles in 9 hours and 30 minutes.


Course knowledge will go a long way in the Volcanic 50 race on September 15th. For those running it, I highly recommend wearing gaiters and some sort of hat or sun visor. The course is mostly exposed, and can get pretty hot. And get intimately familiar with the course map, it'll help. Be prepared for every kind of terrain, including a few river crossings (ones where you can't avoid getting your feet wet). My conservative pace got me around the mountain in 9 hours and 30 minutes, mainly because of technical trail, photos, water filtering, and general frolicking. It's a slow course, so be prepared for a long day. Cheers!


The mountains are calling...bring your dancing shoes.

Vanity shot.
Mt. Adams from the east side of Mt. St. Helens.

Much Love,


Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Stories of Life after Heart Surgery

It's easier to learn patience when you don't have a choice...

For those of you who have wondered about how my running is going since my heart surgery, here's what I've been up to for the past several weekends. This blog is more informative than it is humorous, but it's okay.

Heart Surgery - July 12

Long story short, I had an ablation done to cure my Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. Essentially, the doctor performed non-invasive heart surgery to destroy an extra electrical pathway in my heart. Here's a link to a more detailed blog on the condition.

Baptisms in California - July 21-22

Ten days after heart surgery, I ran 10 miles in Rancho San Antonio...and there was a grin on my face for every mile of it. The Plantar Fasciitis (PF) in my left foot was incredibly sore afterwards, but I was ECSTATIC to complete my longest run in 5 weeks. My heart was fixed, seemingly, and for the first time in years I could actually get physically excited about running without worrying about my heart beating like a hummingbird drenched in Red Bull. Emotionally, this was a huge day for me.

My Niece and Nephew at Baptism that same weekend. Adore it.

Mt. Hood 50 miler - July 28-29

Timothy Lake
Waking up on race day, I rushed to the start to see off the early and normal starters. My assignment was to help work the Red Wolf Aid Station at miles 34 and 45 (it's an out and back course), and so I had a few hours to kill before needing to be set up. So I went for an easy 14 mile run around Timothy Lake, carefully monitoring my foot as I ran. It was a very tranquil run, and my foot was only mildly sore afterwards.

We Nspire each other
Volunteering at Captain Marta's aid station was one of the best and proudest things I've ever been a part of. These weren't just random runners that I was helping, they were my close friends and training partners who have had a profound influence on my life for the past 2 years. There was even a thru-hiker by the name of 'Raisin' who hung out for 15 minutes while we served him tons of Marta's 7-layer dip. The only thing that would have made the day sweeter is if I were able to see everybody finish. After personally seeing the adversity that many of the runners were facing throughout the race, it would have made me proud to witness their hard work pay off. That's why this video brings tears to my eyes sometimes. And Gail has earned my full-hearted respect for what she had to endure that day, God bless that woman.

Waldo 100k Training - August 4-5

The Sisters and Waldo Lake
Larry "The Strap" invited me to join him for a low-key training run weekend along the Waldo Course (thanks Larry!). HIS plan was to do the first 30 miles Saturday and the second 30 miles on Sunday with the group. MY plan was only to complete the first 30 miles of the course on Saturday and then do my own thing on Sunday. This 30 miles would be my longest run since April 15th and my first run over 14 miles since May 19.

My Heroes
The climb up the ski slopes of Willamette Pass were filled with tender steps, but once my foot got warmed up everything was feeling fine. It was a fun group  with some awesome runners, and the run was enjoyable despite being one of the hottest days of summer. Then while we were all baking on the top of Mt. Fuji, Ken Sinclair mentions something about drinking an ice-cold Orange Crush...and that's all I thought about for the next 20 miles. Damnit. After we finished our run and got back to the campsite, a miracle happened...for the first time in 4 months, I wasn't limping after a long run. My left foot was a little sore, but it wasn't feeling inflamed! Going to bed, I had high hopes for Sunday morning...

2:30 a.m. - My goal was to make it to the top of Maiden Peak so I could film a time lapse of the sunrise. Carrying two gallons of water as an 'aid station' for everyone running the 2nd half of the course, I hiked 3 miles before stashing the jugs in the bushes near the junction with the PCT. Then it was time to race the sun to the top of the mountain (I beat it by an hour). For two hours I watched the sunrise, soaking in the relief that my foot wasn't stopping me anymore from reaching the most beautiful places on earth.

After getting back to the campsite for breakfast, I joined LB and Jeff Riley for some trailwork. Despite hiking with a heavy-ass chainsaw on my back on-and-off for the next several miles, my foot stayed strong. My total mileage for the weekend was 45+ miles, and for the first time in 4 months: Advantage = Jason.

Scenes from the weekend:
Pothole Meadow
Sunrise from Maiden Peak
Sunrise from Maiden Peak
Loading the saw with Jeff Riley

Squamish 50 Mile Race - August 10-13

Heading to Canada!
ROAD TRIP! Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford were Race Directing the inaugural Squamish 50 mile run, relay, and half marathon. This was a great opportunity to volunteer while exploring some of the trails in the area, and I had a blast! Gary had me marking the course over a super fun section of trail that weaved in and out of some quick ascents/descents filled with fun technical terrain. After I finished, he had me course mark another 10 miles of gravel roads and gnarly mountain bike trails that ran like a technical roller coaster. Running the trails was probably more fun than biking them, in my opinion. After finishing the course marking, my reward came in the form of 2 beers from Howe Sound Brewery, 4 slices of pizza, 2 hours of sleep in the back of my car, and more course marking with Gary at 1:00 am. Holy shit, that was fun! I don't think I've ever experienced a race that was so well marked. The race was a HUGE success, and the amount of work that the RDs and Volunteers put in was absolutely amazing. The course was tough, but it made the runners even prouder to finish. The views were absolutely beautiful, and the forest was full of life. Congrats on a job well done, Gary and Geoff!

After volunteering all day at the race, I definitely felt hungover the next morning despite not drinking any beer the night prior. In search of a scenic run, Gary sent me up up up above Squamish until I drove into Garibaldi Provincial Park. The first section of trail was an extremely draining long gradual sheltered 3 mile climb, but I kept on trucking in hope that the views would start to get better. And OMG, after the first 3 miles it instantly became one of the most scenic runs I had ever been on! It either felt like running in the Alps or somewhere near Edoras. For the first time in a looooong time, my spirit was renewed.

Scenes from the Trip:

Mosquito Repellant, Lady Attractant 
Taking a break before marking
10 more miles of the course.

Cool trail sign

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama. Thanks for hanging out, Glenn!
You always make me look DAMN!
Imagine this view almost 360 degrees.
Shot from my run in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Road trip back to 'merica

Waldo 100k Race Weekend - August 18-19

It wasn't that bad.
First off, I would like to congratulate Craig Thornley and everyone else who helped organize the race. This year was particularly special considering the re-route due to the Bobby Lake fire. This added at least 3 miles to the already tough course, but it kept the race from being cancelled. Also, a HUGE thanks to the firefighters who helped contain and control the fire, saving more than just the race. True heroes.

Hooray for car camping. I woke up in the passenger seat of my car just 10 minutes before the start of the race (4:50 am) to cheer on some friends of mine. Larry "The Strap", Scott Wolfe, Joe Uhan (pacer), Mike Davis, Larry Stephens, Kathleen Egan, Glenn Tachiyama (crew), Anne Crispino-Taylor (sweeper), and maybe a couple others. As soon as the race started, I went back to my car for a 3 hour nappy-poo.

My assignment was the Maiden Peak aid station at mile ~52...aka the Spongebob Aid Station. After hiking 3 miles into the aid station with our supplies, we had everything setup and ready by 11:20am. The first runner wasn't expected until at least noon, so we all hung out and I ingested a footlong Subway sandwich. Soon after, a man comes up the trail with course markers and hands me a bunch of ribbons to help mark 3 miles of the course to the top of Maiden Peak (as the Queen requested). Sure! As I ran up, I realized that Subway was a poor choice. Miraculously, I made it to the top without a spew.

The Queen and someone doing
a lantern dance for the finishers
in the distance.
Running back down to my aid station, I saw the Jacob Rydman and his pacer Joe Uhan in first place. Soon after was Timothy Olson running up the Maiden peak trail, looking A LOT fresher than Jacob did. Then there was Jesse Haynes and Yassine Diboun, both working together and competing for 3rd place and the final Western States slot. Then I arrived back at the aid station and helped aid the rest of the Waldo runners as they prepared for the final 12 miles of the race. Despite the hellish climb that awaited all the runners, every single person who came into the aid station was grateful and extremely well-natured. I was proud of every single runner who managed to smile, swallow the pain, and keep going. It's often a highly underestimated course, but many persevered despite their expectations. My hero of the day was Jeff McAlpine who had a very rough day, but managed to conquer the longest distance of his life...and smile while doing it. And congrats to everyone else who finished or dropped, for it takes courage just to get to the starting line. My heroes.

Photos from the weekend:
Talking Spongebob

Taken from my run on the PCT
South of Hwy 58, the day after Waldo.
I have no idea how far I went.


So yes, my heart is fixed. Yes, my plantar isn't preventing me from running like an animal. Yes, after a depressing couple of months, things are starting to look up. But for how long?

Life happens in waves. Inevitably things can come crashing down just as quickly as things seem to be getting better. There's no such thing as a rock bottom, because things can always, ALWAYS be worse. But then again, life can sometimes be a real SOB. For example: The last time I said the words "how can things possibly get worse?", I found out I needed heart surgery. Haha, Life, you crazy son of a b*tch, you!

The only way to prepare for the lows of life is by learning to take NOTHING for granted. It's easier said than done, and I definitely take too many things for granted in my life. But for now, the ability to run without pain has been a dream of mine for the past 4 months, and I've FINALLY crossed the threshold. Chances are, I'm going to get injured again. Chances are, I'll see darker days. Chances are, life will challenge me in ways unimaginable. So while I'm healthy and happy, I'm going to take advantage and always remember the suffering I went through to get back to where I am now.

I'm grateful for my family, friends, and the opportunity to volunteer and aid for so many inspirational runners. You've given me so much spirit when I had so little. Thank you, everyone. I Love you all.

For those of you who are injured, head up. Be the meaning of courage.

Matt Carrel posted this on Facebook one day...

Much Love,