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“It definitely sucks!” responded Dave.
We both then smiled and laughed. It wasn’t a “this is hilarious” kind of laugh, it was more of a “we’ve done everything we can and all we can do now is laugh” kind of laugh. We were more than fifty miles into our adventure, we still had close to twenty miles remaining, and nighttime darkness was quickly approaching. We limped on.
Everything was going according to plan through forty miles. Minor hiccups had been quickly resolved with duct tape, a little walking, band aids, and burrito pace*. It was fantastic! We were running the PCT. We were out in the mountains and it was perfect. The weather was cool but not cold, overcast for most of the day but not rainy. My mind reminisced of trail times of old and dreamed about spending more time in the mountains. Our new Sawyer Squeeze Mini water filters were making water easy, and our idea to pack frozen burritos and eat them as they thawed complimented our immense ration of Power Gel. We even coined the phrase *burrito pace*. We determined that if we couldn’t comfortably eat a burrito while running, we were breaking 100 mile run speed limits.
The idea to run a major chunk of the PCT was hatched months ago. Dave and I are both preparing for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race in Steamboat Springs, CO in September. I’ve raced sparingly this year and Dave is attempting his first 100. This would be a perfect test run. Second, thinking this could potentially be the last summer in Seattle for Julie and me, I wanted to have a big adventure in the mountains while still living in the Pacific Northwest, and Section J of the PCT was an ideal summer adventure.
Logistics quickly came together as they often do with these silly things. When someone says, “hey, I want to do this whacked out, crazy adventure”, people tend to flock to help them do it. We got a ride to Stevens Pass, and were dropped off at the trailhead at 5:30am Saturday morning. The run proceeded south on the PCT toward Snoqualmie Pass, a 74 mile section with around 17,000’ of vertical gain. Our friends Dan and Arya planned to head north up the trail from our destination so they could run the final miles in with us and take us home. Everything came together so smoothly, so what could go wrong?
“I’ve got to pee”, Dave said, “I’ll catch back up in a minute.”
I walked ahead, eating another gross Power Gel. A couple minutes went by. I stopped to listen for signs of Dave. Nothing. I looked down the switchbacky trail for a glimpse. Nothing. When Dave finally came limping into view, it was obvious something had gone wrong.
“I literally stopped to pee, and when I started jogging again, it felt like I just started cramping up. It won’t go away, and I can’t run on it at all.”
Thus began our 30+ mile limp to Snoqualmie Pass.
We were cool though. We walked along, talking through our options, not getting emotional. We had maps, some warmer clothes, burritos, and gel. Plus, if it was a cramp, maybe it’d go away and we could start running again. The fact of the matter was that we were 41 miles into a 74 mile section with few exit points and no road crossings until our destination 33 miles ahead. We knew the primary mission was to simply keep going.
Dave’s leg never got better. It got worse. As his leg tightened up, making movement more difficult and awkward, the sun began going down, making it colder and more challenging. The pace slowed. Thirty minute miles became something to cheer about. Eventually our watches died, and it was probably for the better. I hope to never get so excited by a mile split as I called out, “27 minute mile Dave, we’re moving!”
We continued to make the best of it. There was humor, intentional or not. “Can you reach into my pocket and grab my burrito?”, Dave says. “Quote of the day”, I responded as I got the last of our rations out of his Salomon running vest. We never got snippy or grumpy, and we rarely stopped moving. What was originally looking like roughly a 16 hour adventure was now looking like it would eclipse 20 hours.
We worried about our friends that were expecting us. We had no way to communicate. Dave’s phone hadn’t had a signal all day. Finally with just over ten miles remaining, on a windy, exposed, rocky landscape, we got a signal, but only enough for getting out one text message. “We’re ok, running a little late”. I laughed and said, “Dave, we’re not running late, we’re walking, really slowly!”
We passed the next few hours in the dark sharing stories about our past. We said “this sucks” countless times. We also realized that this was a unique life experience, and in a strange way, one to cherish. I said, “As long as we have memories, we’ll never forget this day.” Dave agreed, as he hobbled along toward the finish.
We eventually stopped talking as the distance to Snoqualmie got into single digit territory. We were both fatiguing. Food supplies were minimal (and we were both sick of eating gels). Our feet were sore from rocks, and we were generally exhausted.
Dave picked up his pace to 26 minute miles, pushing it in for the final mile. We spotted the parking lot, and then Arya’s headlamp. It was 4:30am, nearly 23 hours since we’d left Stevens. We were finished.
We told the 90 second version of the story to Arya and Dan and then hopped in the car. All anyone could do was laugh and smile. Ridiculous.
It felt like a victory and a major accomplishment. We tested ourselves, not in the ways we’d expected, but in valuable ways nonetheless. We problem solved. We stayed positive in the face of adversity. And we kept going. These are aspects of endurance sports that are tough to teach and train for and as much as the experience sucked, we both knew that it was a unique moment filled with learning and joy.
**We found out a week later that Dave had a Baker’s cyst in his knee that ruptured, dumping fluid throughout his knee complex and into his calf, causing pain all around and limiting mobility. The good news is that nothing is torn or broken,
so hopefully he’ll be back running again soon and thankfully, Dave is back running as of yesterday!