Saturday morning, 4:00 a.m., JP, the kids, and I headed to Squaw to hike up Mountain Run to see the start of the Western States 100. The excitement was electrifying, and I was super proud of Stephen and Avian (8 years old) for charging up (in the dark) 2 miles with over 1,000 ft of climbing, to cheer on the runners. I’ve lived here for 15 years, and despite my fascination with Western States, this was the FIRST time that I had gotten up to witness the start (aside from when I ran the race last summer).
Afterwards, we ran back down to the village, with the sunshine casting a gorgeous glow on the ample wildflowers.
On the way down, we came across Cowman A-Mooha, who posed for a pic with the kids.
The kids left with JP, and I met Betsy at the base of Squaw and we started our run at 7am. We weren’t exactly sure where we were going, aside from that we would end at some point in Truckee, in about 9 hours – there were many options. JP would crew for us at Donner Pass, and give us a ride home afterwards, wherever that might be. Paul joined us up the Granite Chief Trail to the junction of the PCT.
Betsy and I cruised casually along some of my favorite sections of trail, in particular, between Tinker’s Knob and Donner Pass. We were blown away by the traffic though – it felt like high season in Desolation Wilderness (which is anything but desolate).
Betsy had her first crash of the day coming down towards Sugar Bowl. A bit unnerving for both of us, considering her car accident on Thursday, fractured foot just over a month ago, and of course her broken leg after a fall in the Grand Canyon when we were together 2 years ago. She’s a tough girl though, and brushed off the dirt and blood and we continued on.
JP and Stephen met us at Sugar Bowl Academy with a full aid station spread of food, drinks, and first aid.
We had only come 15 miles (plus the early morning hike in Squaw), but I was starting to really feel like crap and the next 10 were a STRUGGLE for me. I don’t know how many times I thought, I am so glad I’m not running Western States right now…I’m so glad I’m not doing a 100 this year… We followed the PCT until the Warren Lake Trail intersection, and decided to head up to the pass between Castle Peak and Frog Lake Overlook.
Betsy was moving strong, seemingly unaffected by all her recent injuries, and I was struggling to keep up until I took a few ibuprofen and came back to life. Betsy decided we should add a little adventure to our run and hit a private trail that would take us down near Frog Lake (private), and then over to Euer Valley (partially private property), from which we could climb up to the ridge by the Drifter Hut (Tahoe Donner XC area), and then down to Negro Canyon for a ride home. She actually made a joke at one point about one of our friends being afraid to go through this section of trail, but we both agreed we weren’t afraid of a little private property!
Turns out the joke was on us, as about 22 miles into our run, we had an encounter with the private property owners (on 4-wheelers), with guns in their holsters, ordering us to remove ourselves from their land. I smiled and tried the sympathy tactic, pointing at the pass we needed to crest in order to get to our ride, and pointing where we had come from, but they would not budge.
Betsy tried running around them, but they sped ahead and cut her off. I got her to back down and we headed further East, into Euer Valley, to attempt to connect to the Tahoe Donner trail system, and find our way up to the ridge where we could drop over the other side into Negro Canyon. As we got about 1 mile from the private property section, we heard gunshots which continued for the next 30 minutes. I half joked that they had shot the mountain biker we saw (our only other human contact for the last 3 hours of the day).
All was going well (aside from Betsy’s 2nd crash of the day, with more bloodshed) until the trail we were on ended abruptly, with a sign warning us that we were now (again) on private property. F—.
Instead of backtracking and finding another trail, we brilliantly decided that the trail was probably just beyond this mess of manzanita, and if we continued going up, we would hit it.
It was somewhat tolerable at first, like the above photo shows. But then at times it was over our head deep – and I don’t know how many times I thought no wonder some people get lost and just give up and die. We stayed positive though, trying to laugh at our predicament, a few curse words here and there as the dead branches dug gouges into our legs and arms. At one point Betsy gave out a little squeal, and I got excited that she could see a trail, but it turned out it was just a 5 foot wide section of dirt. She was just excited because we had 5 feet of freedom for a moment.
We really had no choice but to continue climbing up the hillside, in the hopes that eventually there would be a trail leading towards the Drifter Hut. It took us at least an hour to make it through the manzanita jungle and onto the trail again, at miles 29-30. The last 20 yards seemed to be the most unforgiving, and when Betsy busted out of it, she laid down on the trail and kissed the dirt. “That felt like Vietnam in there”, she said as we started up again.
We were elated to be actually running again, and the final cruise down to Negro Canyon was really enjoyable. JP surprised us with 2 ice cold IPA’s at the finish, and we sat around for a bit while he updated us on all our friends’ progress at Western States. It was a day I’ll never forget.
My total mileage for the day was about 37 miles (since 4:30 a.m.) 8k+ feet of climbing. Loads of fun.