Western States will have many elements that I have very little experience with. First, there’s the 100 miles, more on that later. I do very little trail running, very little hill running and very little night running. So, when I found out about a group of runners in Corvallis that run up McCulloch Peak, in McDonald Forest, and then back down. I thought, trails, hills, night, Wednesdays in Corvallis, that sounds perfect. Ah, the best laid plans.....
I’d been nursing a tight lower back for a few days, I had voices in my head and outside my head telling me I probably shouldn’t, but the emails inviting me to come run seemed so nice and genuine and, I'm stubborn and self centered so I decided to run anyway. The "group" meets at the Oak Creek Trail Head at 5:30 on Wednesdays and hikes/runs up to the top of McCulloch Peak and then back down. I misjudged how long it would take to get there and arrived at 5:40 which is dark! There were several cars in the parking lot, and only one trail visible, so I figured they may have a 5 to 6 minute head start on me. I'll take off and either catch them on the way up or meet them on the way back. About a quarter mile up the trail I came to a “T” with trail going in either direction, I guessed left, went another half mile ish and came to a fork, I guessed left again and ran for a little bit until the trail turned into a bushwhacked trail at best! “This can't be right” I ran back down to the fork and took off right. It might be worth noting, at this point, that not only was it pitch black but very foggy, and there were glowing eyes in the woods. I went up the right fork for a while and the trail just ends. I see a little bushwhacked trail and follow it for a while but it's really overgrown. It seemed doubtful that 5 to 8 people ran through here, but I got down on my hands and knees to examine the tracks in the mud just to be sure. Deciding they hadn’t gone this way I turned around and ran all the way back to the original “T”. I remembered that there was a little kiosk at the trail head, and thinking maybe there was a map and that I was sure it was less than a quarter mile back to the trail head, I headed back. Yes, there was a map, but, it's really small, behind glass with condensation and I have no glasses on. There was no way I could read it. I run back up to the “T” and head right, which is slightly downhill, get to another fork, one way goes up, the other down. I choose up! For the first time I'm now on a serious uphill, with switchbacks, so I'm now convinced I'm on the right trail and start to calculate how long it should have taken them to get to the top and at what point I should see them coming down and give myself a time to run to. I get to that time and still haven't seen a soul. Well, I’ve seen eyes, so, without departing into an meaningless discussion on whether woodland critters have souls, I decide to run for another 5 minutes and if I still haven't seen anyone, I’ll head back and call it good. 5 more minutes and no sign of anyone, 'cept the eyes in the woods. I turn around and run the downhill switchbacks in the foggy black, successfully making it back to trailhead. No falls, a few stumbles, no running off a cliff and no badger attacks, and also, no cars in the parking lot except mine. So, by process of elimination, they must have gone right and then right....and then who knows?
I did get and hour and 40 minutes of peaceful solitude, running with the woodland creatures.....just not quite they way I'd planned it.
I made sure I wasn't late to meet the Corvallis, run in the forest at night, group. I was about 10 minutes early, and introduced myself to each as they arrived, 10 of us in all, plus 4 dogs. They were all good looking runners, and very nice and friendly. A few from the group are running Western States this year. We started off down a forest service road, NOT on the trail that I started on last week, so I had no chance of ever going the right way last week. The ascent, for them, was a mixture of walking at a pace I couldn't match and running. I ended up running much more of it than the others because I just couldn't walk that fast. 1,600 feet of elevation in 4 miles was a grunt, to say the least, but the clear skies and a full moon were amazing. On the way up I noticed that the batteries in my headlamp were dying and the light was getting dim, it wasn't really an issue going up because the pace was slower and I could use the light from others mixed with mine to see my footing. We took about a 5 minute break at the summit, looked at the stars and the city lights, which was really cool, then headed down. It didn't take long on the descent to realize I had a problem. A, they were flying town the mountain, B, I couldn't see well enough to keep up. I was staying within about a 100 meters, occasionally losing sight around turns. At one point on the way down I saw lights in the woods to the right of me at about the same elevation. I remember thinking that if that was them, they must be further ahead of me than I thought, because the trail must have turned back somewhere, so I picked up the pace as much as I dared. My light was almost dead by this point. The next 15 minutes was a surreal combination of, "I don't remember hearing a creek beside the trail on the way up.......oh, that stump looks familiar.......I don't remember a deep muddy section like on the way up.....I'm heading downhill and obviously east.....I'm at least going the right direction".....and then, an orange gate and a road. Sulpher Springs road to be exact. I have no idea where I missed the turn, although it was obviously just before I saw the “lights in the woods". There were two houses a little ways down the road, so I headed that direction to see if I could get directions to the trail head. Having made it to something resembling civilization, heading back into the forest didn't seem like a wise idea. The first house I came to was inhabited by a very nice man named Gene, who was a retired Timber Faller, I'm not sure what that is, exactly, but he mentioned it about 24 times, so I remembered. I asked how to get back to the forestry station and he said it was about 4 miles and gave directions that really didn't seem correct. As I was debating following, what seemed like flawed, directions or heading back into the forest he offered to drive me to the trail-head, which I took him up on. This meant several stories about logging in the old days and asking me if I knew several people, I didn't know any of the names he asked about. By the time we got to the trail head, all of the cars were still there as were a few of the runners, they seemed genuinely relieved to see me safe and informed me that a group of 6 had headed back out to look for me. My first instinct was to head out looking for them, but was wisely advised to stay put. I thanked them and told them they could go, that I would wait for the rescue party to return.
Then things got really strange. 2 guys with mountain bikes showed up, they were heading into the forest, on bikes, at 8:00 PM. We asked them to let the search party know that I was back safe, if they ran into them. Then a giant semi truck comes pulling up this dead end single lane
road, explaining that he was coming from Albany, looking for hwy 99 and got lost, making my getting lost look damn near normal. This was a HUGE truck, the kind that looks like it could house a small family in the cabin. He then proceeded to spend the next half hour trying to turn the truck around using the driveway of the forestry station. There was no way he was going to make it without a bunch of cars being moved. Cars that belonged to the people in the search party. Eventually 4 of the search party of 6 returned, explaining that all had figured out that I had run down to Sulpher Springs road so the other 2 were going to go that far looking for me and then head back. We were able to move enough cars for the truck to get turned around and he, at least, was rescued, though I have no confidence that he'll get where he hopes to go. The 4 left a note on one of the cars of the 2, said that they were heading home, and that I should feel comfortable doing the same. I had told Jeanne I should be back to my car by about 7:15, the trail head is out of cell range so she didn't get any word from me til almost 8:45. She was, justifiably, worried. I owe a huge thank you to everyone, but especially Frank and John, who not only stayed out on a very cold night looking for me, but were very gracious in responding to my apology email and inviting me out to try it again.
I know this isn’t very suspenseful but, I made it! I didn’t get lost, I didn’t fall down and it was so much fun. We started out in heavy fog, which makes the headlamp less of a light and more of a vapor machine, but about half way up we rose above the clouds and it was clear, warm and unbelievably beautiful. As it turns out, the trail that I thought I missed last week, wasn’t even correct, I actually got off course even before then, so had I decided to double back, I may not have figured it out. This is, and will be, a great weekly workout for me in preparation for Western States, provided I can stay unlost until then.