Category Archives: hiking

Isle Royale Part 6 – 21 mile run on the big island

It was day 4 at Isle Royale National Park, a trail running mecca spread over 400 islands with over 165 miles of trails and 99% designated wilderness, and my sister Lynette (the Ecologist for the Park) and I had plans for a 21 mile loop on the main island.

Monday morning, August 14, 2017, Lynette and I set out in her boat, the Universal Special, to head from Mott Island to the big island, for our “big” run of the trip.

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Captain Net

We discovered that the Universal Special was capable of going faster than 7 miles per hour when not loaded down with 5 people! We easily skimmed across the channel towards Daisy Farm, our start/finish for the run.

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Rock Harbor Lighthouse
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a few of the 400 islands that make up Isle Royale

From Daisy Farm, we took the Mt. Ojibway trail up 1.8 miles to the fire lookout. It was a surprisingly good climb to start the run.

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Lynette heading up towards Mt. Ojibway

Just after reaching the Greenstone Ridge Trail, we heard a terrible racket from some sandhill cranes:

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Lynette climbing up to the top,
Mt. Ojibway fire lookout. She pointed out a nearby radio tower that she and her colleague Leah had built by themselves, which meant they hiked in all the building materials from the boat. 
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One of many inland lakes as viewed from the fire lookout on Mt. Ojibway
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Lynette heading back down

From Mt. Ojibway, we headed west on the Greenstone Ridge, the trail that bisects the entire island, about 44 miles across (that Lynette and I plan to run next summer).

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Crossing many boardwalks

We followed the Greenstone Ridge Trail for about 6 miles to the East Chickenbone Trail, which we would follow down and around Chickenbone Lake.

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Boggy
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Me running towards Chickenbone Lake
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Lynette on a slightly overgrown section
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Lynette stopping for Thimbleberries

Around mile 9.5, our halfway point, we turned left on the Indian Portage Trail, which led us back down towards Chickenbone Lake again.

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A perfect spot for moose, but we didn’t see any on this run.
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so many fun things to look at
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The sun came out as we neared Chickenbone Lake again

The Indian Portage Trail led us along two more lakes, Lake Livermore around mile 11.8 (as we crossed the Greenstone Ridge Trail), and then LeSage Lake at 12.5, before reaching Lake Ritchie (where we would filter our water), at mile 14.3.

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so many lakes

Before Lake Ritchie, each time we passed water, I asked Lynette if we should stop, but she insisted on Lake Ritchie (there is now an algae bloom at Lake Ritchie so the water is no longer safe to drink).

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so much green
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Taking a break at Lake Ritchie

At mile 15.3 we left the Indian Portage Trail for the Lake Ritchie Trail, which would lead us back down to Daisy Farm, our starting point.

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making our way back down to the boat

We completed our 21 mile loop, which had about 2600′ of climbing, and some fairly technical (rocky and/or overgrown) trails, in 5 hours.

21 mile run

elevation profile- 21 mile run

No speed records were broken, but we took our time, running casually and stopping frequently to enjoy berries and scenery.

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Daisy Farm dock after the run

We had a celebratory beer with our sandwiches on the dock just as the raindrops began and the glassy lake became covered in perfect little ringlets.

After returning to Mott Island, my mom and I went out for a hike, and saw our friend the bull moose. I chased him down the trail for quite a ways but couldn’t get any clear photos. Lynette and my dad went fishing, after making ice cream with Avian and her friends. Avian said “thanks, I’m out” and didn’t come back until after 10pm.

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my mom on the Mott Island loop
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Mott Island trail along Lake Superior
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little island off Mott Island

It was a beautiful end to an incredible day on Isle Royale.

Next up, Part 7-  Edisen Fishery, Bangsund Cabin, and Rock Harbor.

(for more stories on my visit to Isle Royale, see parts 1234, and 5)

Isle Royale Part 5 – Three Mile Hike

(for more stories from my trip to Isle Royale, see parts 123, and 4)

It was Day 3 on Isle Royale National Park and although I’d already had 7 moose sightings (on solo runs), my parents and daughter were missing out. Lynette took us by boat to Three Mile, where we tied up to the dock, and headed out on a 3-mile loop.

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The hike started out along the rocky, blueberry covered shore
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It was slow-going, because I couldn’t stop eating the blueberries
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Heading inland, towards a lake. Speaking in whispers, or not at all, in hopes of seeing moose.
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There are many long boardwalks through the boggy sections.
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Lynette educating us in the swamp
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bees love Isle Royale
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My mom, Rose, climbing through a cave that was part of the trail
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not a moose, but still pretty sweet

We reached an inland lake, and the whispering ceased. We would need to be really quiet if we wanted to see a moose.

I heard a distinct sound – like something heavy moving through the water. I waved to Avian and Lynette to stop – shhhh – look – Lynette led us very quietly down an animal trail that led to the water, and sure enough, Avian saw her first moose, standing next to an island in the middle of the lake, taking a drink. It probably goes without saying that we would have missed this moose entirely if we hadn’t been very softly creeping through the forest, on full alert.

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Moose hanging out at an island (35x zoom)
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(this is how far we were from the moose- it was standing in the water in front of this island)

My parents also saw the moose, before it got in the water and swam across the lake (I later learned that moose can swim at a pace of six miles per hour for 2 hours at a time!). I took about four pictures of the moose and then my camera battery died before I could get any more. Technology.

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quiet contemplation

We continued down the trail, frequently stopping to check out sounds, hoping for more moose. The entire length of the lake, we were serenaded by the haunting call of the loon, which became louder and clearer the closer we got to it. This peaceful one mile walk along the lake was one of my favorite hiking experiences ever.

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The writing on the wall, in one of the primitive cabins on Isle Royale.

We returned to the boat and headed back to Mott Island.

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Me and Ave, on the return to Mott Island
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Avian helping Captain Net secure the boat for the night

Lynette and I had big plans for the next day – we would boat to Daisy Farm, then run a 21 mile loop. Avian would get to hang out with her girlfriends, and my parents would have some down time for hiking and relaxing. Next up: Isle Royale Part 6 – 21 mile run on the big island

Isle Royale Part 4 – Raspberry Island

(for more information on Isle Royale, see parts 1, 2, and 3)

Sunday morning, my parents, sister, daughter and I set out in the Universal Special from Mott Island to Raspberry Island.

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Lynette (captain) and Ave on the Universal Special

The old boat was taking on a lot of water, and the bilge wasn’t really working, so my dad and I took turns using a hand pump to bail out the water, then racing up to the front of the boat (where I took this pic) so the back wouldn’t sink. The boat could only go about 7 MPH with all of us in it. All of this made for a bit of an exciting trip to Raspberry Island, which my sister had said was her favorite place in Isle Royale.

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Captain Net bailing water while Buckshot takes the wheel.

We pulled up to the dock, and it was apparent we had the entire place to ourselves. We set out at a very leisurely pace, thoroughly enjoying and appreciating the diversity of the island.

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Raspberry Island Trail
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Avian on Raspberry Island, checking out Lake Superior
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These flowers growing among the rocks, at the edge of the big lake, are anything but delicate.
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The old man and the sea
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My dad is pretty agile at 76 – very inspiring
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Fireweed on Raspberry Island

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I could spend all day here

After checking out the rocky shoreline, Lynette led us up the trail and into the Boreal forest.

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Avian, Lynette, and my mom, Rose, on the Raspberry Island Trail
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Indian Pipe, Avian and Lynette
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Indian Pipe

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My dad went missing for a short time, but we soon learned what he had discovered. The name of the island doesn’t lie.

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Trail snacks. Raspberries on Raspberry Island.

After wandering around the perimeter of the island, we took an inner loop trail through the bog.

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Lynette and my mom, Rose, in the enchanted bog
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Lynette teaching us about the carnivorous plants
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Flower of the Pitcher Plant, a carnivorous bog plant
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Canadian Bunchberry
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Hawkweed (Hieracium)
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moss everywhere
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Wild Iris

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We completed our 1.5 mile hike on Raspberry Island and headed to the big island to look for moose (see Isle Royale, Part 5 – Three Mile hike).

raspberry island map

Isle Royale Part 3 – where are the moose?

After Net and I returned from our Paddle-Run-Paddle adventure, we found Avian playing with her island friends at the dock.

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Clearly, she hadn’t missed us.

We regrouped with my parents and decided to head out for a Mott Island Loop in search of moose.

It was great fun; however, no moose. After dinner, I decided to try another loop. This time, heading out solo, I focused on treading as lightly as possible, and just listening to the sounds… Isle Royale is so peaceful and quiet, you can distinctly hear my favorite sound: the call of the loon.

About 1.5 miles into the run, I heard a soft crunching noise down a ravine – I stopped, and crept to the ledge – to my absolute delight, there was a moose, standing about 20 feet back from the water, snacking on some brush.

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moose down by the logs

The trail would lead me down near the moose. I contemplated this, and decided it was still best to continue, but as I went down the steep embankment, I saw that the moose was not alone… there was another one, much smaller, but still quite huge. Lynette had told me there was a mother moose and her twins on the island… and yes, there was the other kid! I crept down the trail towards them.

The sweet little (huge) family seemed to realize I was there, and ran off through the woods.

 

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twins following their mama

It was then I realized that moose, despite their enormous size, can run pretty fast. I looked it up – moose can run 35 miles per hour. They can also swim 6 miles per hour for two hours at a time.

I was feeling pretty high on adrenaline-  I saw not one, but three moose!

I continued on my way and soon after came across a huge bull moose, standing right in the middle of the trail.

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Whoa. Ok, so the mama and twins didn’t scare me too much, but after seeing how fast they could run, I started wondering what kind of damage this Big Guy could do. Lynette had told me moose don’t usually charge people until Sept-Oct, and she had mentioned climbing trees as a way to safety. I was surrounded by trees, but none looked very climbable.

I decided my only option was to keep going, so I talked to the moose and walked towards him, hoping he would move over. He eventually did.

The run back to Lynette’s was accompanied by a gorgeous sunset, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family what I’d just experienced.

Next up: Part 4: Isle Royale – Raspberry Island

 

Isle Royale Part 2 – Paddle-Run-Paddle

(also see part 1 – Getting to Isle Royale)

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Coffee on Lynette’s deck before our day

After the best night of sleep in a LONG time, followed by coffee and a quick breakfast, Lynette and I packed our running gear in dry bags, and walked from her place across the island to set out on our adventure.

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Net introducing me to kayaking. Ours would be a short paddle each direction, but she has done multi-day trips with this thing.
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Lynette totally catered to me; carried the kayak into the water, stood over it so I wouldn’t capsize while trying to get in and out; and she completely eased any hesitation I had.
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Following Lynette away from our island towards the big one

Our goal was to beat the Ranger III before it came back from Rock Harbor to Mott, so as to avoid the wake. It worked, and we were treated to glass-calm waters.

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Once on the big island, we stashed the boats and transitioned into running gear.

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boat shoes to running shoes

As Lynette had warned me, nearly every backpacker we met looked stunned to see us running- they thought we were studs, and told us as much. What they didn’t realize, was how easy running was compared to what they were doing; we were carrying minimal gear- just water and a few calories, not to mention the fact that we were sleeping in real beds at night with indoor plumbing, electricity, a kitchen, and so on. But, we enjoyed the praise and didn’t correct them.

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Lynette crossing a marsh

It was pretty special to have a running tour of the island with The Island Ecologist as my guide. Lynette pointed out flowers, plants, and my favorite, raspberries and thimbleberries, which we gobbled up along the way.

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Thimbleberries

She also introduced me to some of the island’s carnivorous plants.

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Insects beware

From the boat, we followed the trail along the lake about 3 miles to Daisy Farm campground (a walk-in or boat-in rustic campground), then continued up to Mt. Ojibway (1143′ above sea level), which has a fire lookout to climb (and guess who had a key?)

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Lynette looking for moose
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so many lakes

From Mt. Ojibway, we followed the Greenstone trail to Mt. Franklin. Along the Greenstone Trail (the 42-mile trail that crosses the entire island), Lynette pointed out a plant that is endemic to Isle Royale- it only grows in one, 8-foot long section, on this one part of the island.

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the trail was slightly overgrown in places
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Mt. Franklin, photo taken by backpackers, who thought we were pretty cool
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Looking out towards Canada from Mt. Franklin
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Lynette running down trail from Mt. Franklin

From Mt. Franklin, we went down to the Three Mile Trail which eventually led us to the water.

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The trails, although faint or overgrown at times, were very well marked at intersections.

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a perfect spot for moose to hang out, but we didn’t see any here
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back down along the lake, headed towards our boats

We reached the boats in about 3 hours- our loop was 12.2 miles with 1,234′ of gain, and lots of stopping and exploring along the way.

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After the run, the water felt so good

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Lynette leaving the big island
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that’s me

We put the boats away and headed back to find our family.

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We took Siskowit Mine to Daisy Farm to Mt. Ojibway to Mt Franklin to Three Mile and back down to complete the loop.

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Next up – Isle Royale Part 3 – where are the moose?

Isle Royale Part 1 – Getting There

Isle Royale National Park (pronounced “I’ll Royal”), a pristine (99% wilderness) archipelago comprised of 400 islands and 200 inland lakes, is located way up north of where I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), in a very isolated section of Lake Superior. Isle Royale is the least-visited National Park in the lower-48 – only 3 parks in Alaska have fewer annual visitors.  Isle Royale is a trailrunning mecca, with 165 miles of pristine trails throughout the 45-mile-long island. The park is also ideal for backpacking, hiking, camping (accessed by boat or on foot), kayaking, and fishing.

Isle Royale location map from National Park Service

The rest of my family has spent significant time in the park- my brother, Marcel, helped with wolf-moose research under Rolf Peterson during grad school, which is where Marcel met his future wife, Anne, who was also doing research for her Phd; my parents have visited several times, and my sister landed her dream job there last fall, as the official Ecologist for Isle Royale National Park. Thanks to a Christmas gift from my sister (tickets for the Ranger III, the ship that takes visitors from Houghton, MI to the island), I was ready to finally make it happen.

Best Christmas present EVER!

Part 1 – Getting to Isle Royale

Isle Royale is only open to visitors from April 15- October 31 – it’s the only National Park in the U.S. to completely shut down in the winter. From what I gather, late June through August seem to be the most ideal time to visit: the trail crews have had time to complete their winter clean-up (the trails can be obliterated by the harsh conditions of snow, ice, and wind  – more than 1,600 trees had fallen across the trails this season), and the moose generally don’t start charging people until September-October.

Isle Royale is in a very remote location – for Avian and I, travelling from Truckee, CA would take more than 20 hours – including 7 hours of air travel, 7 hours of driving, plus 6 hours on a boat (we could have increased the air travel and decreased the driving time, but more than half of the flights going into Houghton are delayed or cancelled, so it seemed more logical to fly to Milwaukee and have my amazing parents pick us up there instead).

Since my sister is a park employee, and my dad is a senior citizen, we were given a state room on the ship, which was truly a luxury, considering how long the journey was.

Avian and my dad, Buckshot, departing Houghton
Avian having breakfast on the Ranger III, which has an adorable cafe with real food!
My mom and Avian in the state room
Avian on the Ranger III

The first couple hours were fairly smooth, but as we got further out into Lake Superior, the waves picked up, and I was grateful for the Dramamine AND the state room, where we all hunkered down to sleep it out.

Avian on deck, as the waves began to pick up

After a few hours, Avian excitedly announced that she could see land  again- we’d arrived at Mott Island, Isle Royale!

Most visitors would continue on the Ranger to Rock Harbor (on the big island of Isle Royale), but we got off at Mott Island, where my sister (and many other park employees) live during the season.

Ranger III unloading at Mott Island
Mom, Ranger Net, and Ave at Mott Island (she’s not actually a ranger)

The park employees were wonderful with unloading our luggage and later delivering it for us – we were really treated like royalty (thanks, Net!)

Obligatory family pic with the official sign

We walked across the small island, and through the charming cluster of park service buildings, which Lynette had accurately described as a summer camp for adults.

A dorm for employees – they also had shared kitchen areas (aka “The Kitchens”), a rec room, exercise room, and a sauna
Phone booth. Because there is generally no cell service on Isle Royale

Lynette took us for a walk to see her boats – she had a boat for personal use (thanks to Uncle Dick and Aunt Sharon; she had a lender for the island) AND she was captain of an official park service boat!

Lynette blew us away with her new knowledge and expertise.

crossing the bridge from Mott Island to Caribou Island, where the boat is parked
Net’s boat for the summer, aka the “Universal Special”, as my dad lovingly called it, after a family junkyard/auto repair shop where my brother and I had each worked for our favorite uncle and gotten our first cars (which were not in pristine condition, much like her boat)

We crossed the island (about 1/2 mile from the boat dock) and reached Lynette’s summer residence- a beautiful duplex, surrounded by wildflowers, raspberry and thimbleberry bushes, and right smack on the shore of Lake Superior. She had electricity (thanks to a generator across island that we couldn’t hear), running water, a huge kitchen, an electric PIANO, a deck over the water… does my envy come across?

Lynette’s summer home
my dad on Lynette’s lakefront deck
Lynette’s kitchen, which is the largest one in the family…
Avian serenading us on the deck, with Lake Superior lapping gently against the shore behind her

After a snack Lynette and I headed out for a lap around her island. When she’d first told me the island was only 3 miles around, I wondered if I’d feel a little stir crazy. That wasn’t the case at all. The Mott Island trail itself is a 2.4 mile loop – right out her front door. The trail is very technical, and broken up into very diverse, spectacular sections. At first, we were running on a narrow trail through thick thimbleberry bushes, then the trail climbed a quick hill and we were high above the rocky shoreline, then a quick up and down and we were running through a dark, mossy, quiet and creepy section of the forest, another turn in the trail and we were running across smooth pebbles on a different, more spectacular shoreline, then another quick up and over and this time high on a ledge above the water with wild blueberries along the trail… the scenes went by so quickly, it was impossible to get bored.

I really believe I could run this loop all day long, repeatedly, and not tire of it.

a mossy section on the Mott Island Trail
Mott Island views from the trail
Mott Island trail

Before bed, we discussed the plans for the next morning- Lynette and I would take kayaks from Mott to the big island (about a 20 min paddle across), and venture out on a 12 mile run. I was nervous (scared of crossing the water!) but excited (going running on the big island!). Avian was looking forward to spending time with her new girlfriends, who she’d met as soon as we got off the boat (kids of park employees). My dad would accompany a park service employee on an all-day boat journey around the big island, delivering groceries to other park camps. My mom was looking forward to relaxing and hiking.

I fell asleep listening to the waves crash against the shore, so grateful to be in this magical place.

up next –  Isle Royale Part 2 – Paddle-Run-Paddle

Plowed running trails in Truckee

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Avian and her pup Beverly enjoying the Truckee River Legacy Trail, just west of the pedestrian bridge

The Truckee area has a variety of town-maintained trails for winter running. Plowed trails in Truckee include the Truckee River Legacy Trail (5 miles one-way), the Trout Creek Trail (1.5 miles one-way), the Brockway Road Trail (1 mile one-way), and Martis Dam Road (1.5 miles one-way). In nearby Squaw Valley, we have 2.3 miles of paved trails.

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Even after record-breaking snow, the Town of Truckee continues to maintain our trails

Truckee River Legacy Trail

The longest stretch of plowed trail is the popular Truckee River Legacy Trail, which connects Truckee Regional Park with Glenshire, five miles one-way. Free parking is available in the following locations:

1. near the Ice Skating Rink (10100 Brockway Road Truckee),

2. near the pedestrian bridge at the end of East River Street, downtown Truckee, and

3. in Glenshire, just before the Glenshire neighborhood on Glenshire Drive, approximately 4 miles east of Donner Pass Road.

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Ridiculous amounts of snow on the Legacy Trail. But, the path remains plowed.
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The Truckee River from the pedestrian bridge on East River Street, Downtown Truckee

Trout Creek Trail

The Trout Creek Trail connects Northwoods Boulevard near Coyote Moon Golf Course to Downtown Truckee at Bridge Street just north of Highway 80. This beautiful stretch of trail is approximately 1.5 miles one way, and also provides access to the trails leading to the Pioneer Center (not currently plowed all the way to Pioneer Center, but there is a foot path).  Free parking is available at the trailhead on the East side of Northwoods Boulevard, just north of Coyote Moon Golf Course. There is limited paid-parking at the Trout Creek Pocket Park on the north end of Bridge Street in downtown Truckee.

Make it longer: From the Pocket Park on Bridge Street, you can continue south on Bridge Street, cross the railroad tracks, turn left on East River Street, and cross the pedestrian bridge to access the Truckee Legacy Trail (it is about 1.2 miles from trailhead to trailhead). If you start at the parking area in Tahoe Donner and run out and back to Glenshire (or vice versa), you can get about 15 miles in.

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Trout Creek Trail near Downtown Truckee
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Trout Creek Trail, near trailhead at Northwoods Blvd

Brockway Road Trail

This shorter section (approx 1 mile) of plowed trail links Truckee Regional Park with The Rock (11253 Brockway Road). To make a 2.5 mile  loop, start in the Truckee Regional Park, head south on the Brockway Road Trail, turn left on Reynold Way (a residential street, so use caution here), turn left on Martis Drive, then turn right on Ranch Way to access the Legacy Trail under the 267 bypass. Turn left on the Legacy Trail to make your way back to Truckee Regional Park and complete the loop.

Martis Dam Road

Martis Dam Road (located in Martis Valley, less than 1 mile south of Schaffer Mill Road on Hwy 267) is closed to cars in the winter, and is currently plowed 1.5 miles one-way (they sometimes plow 2.25 miles one-way). This full-sun road has sweeping views of the Martis Valley, with Northstar to the south and the Sierra Crest to the west. Free parking is available on Martis Dam Road off of Hwy 267 before the gate.


Squaw Valley Bike Path

The bike path in Squaw Valley, with 2.3 miles of plowed trails, can be accessed from a couple locations during the winter:

  1. Free parking is available at the east end of the parking lot at Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Note- the first ¼ mile from the resort to the start of the bike path is along the heavily-used Squaw Valley Road, so exercise caution here.
  2.  From the parking lot at the  Resort at Squaw Creek, 400 Squaw Creek Road, Olympic Valley.
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Running under the Olympic rings in Squaw Valley
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Squaw Valley Bike Path, obviously, not this season

Trails are plowed once after each storm, but some remain snow-covered and icy in places, so use caution. Have other plowed options for running to share? Please comment below!

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Happiness on the Trout Creek Trail

Lucky 66.6 (or 67.8) on the PCT

The following is a photo essay from last weekend’s adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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We set out at 4:15am from the Pacific Crest Trailhead near Boreal in Truckee, CA. The goal was to complete [what we thought would be] 60 miles of trail down to Hwy 50 in South Lake Tahoe. Our estimated time was 16-17 hours, with a worst-case scenario of 18 hours. Stacie Riddle, Kathy D’Onofrio and I happily chatted in the dark for two hours, before Kathy turned around at Mt. Lincoln. She had just finished the Tahoe 200 (2nd female!) less than two weeks earlier, and only joined us for the first part. Stacie and I continued on to witness a beautiful sunrise on the ridgeline between Mt. Lincoln and Anderson Peak.
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Stacie, who ran her first 100 mile race one week before, the Kodiak 100 (which was “easy”). I wasn’t sure if she’d be ready for this kind of mileage, until I peeked at her Strava account and saw she already put in over 70 miles Monday-Thursday. Um, yeah, she was ready.
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Stacie running towards Anderson Peak, with views of the ridge we would be on in about 20 miles in the distance. Best not to think too far ahead though.
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Me, on the other side of Tinker’s Knob. No pics from the ridge because the winds were so insane.  Happy to be out of the cold in this pic.
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Dropping into Granite Chief Wilderness in Squaw
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Stacie climbing under the Granite Chief chairlift, with Lake Tahoe reflecting the morning sun
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Stacie running South on the PCT on the backside of Alpine Meadows
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The ridgeline between Alpine Meadows and before Barker was spectacular. Every bend in the trail offered another sweeping, breathtaking view.
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More views of the ridgeline with Lake Tahoe in the background. This is still on the PCT, a few miles before it merges with the Tahoe Rim Trail.
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I was surprised at how beautiful the section between Alpine Meadows and Barker Pass is – it was one of my favorite parts. Which was good, because this is where we realized that it wasn’t only 30 miles from I-80 to Barker Pass, it was going to be more like 33.5. Foolishly, I initially thought this must mean we were more than halfway – and it was only 26.5 miles to Hwy 50. Um, No.
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Fall colors on the climb up to Barker Pass.
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Barker Pass views
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Fall colors in Tahoe on the PCT/TRT
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At Barker Pass, about mile 33.5, we spent about 30 minutes hanging out with Helen Pelster, who ran the IMTUF 107 mile race the weekend prior (3rd female and 3rd fastest female time on the course). She brought my cooler with coke, water, and some food I had prepared before the run. Stacie and I were very happy to hear we had “beat” the boys, who started from the opposite end of our run, Hwy 50 in South Lake Tahoe. Sure, they started 2 hours before us, but we still thought they might beat us to the halfway point.
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Stacie and I leaving Barker Pass, over 9.5 hours into our run, ready for the 2nd half of our journey. Photo by Helen Pelster
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We found the boys! Peter Fain and Paul Sweeney, who proclaimed it was a lot slower going from Hwy 50 to Barker than it was going South – it took them a full hour longer than a previous Barker-to-50 run on the trail. We took this as a good sign – we had it the easy way! Unfortunately, they also let us know that it was another 33.5 or so miles to Hwy 50 – yikes!  Just as we were heading down the trail, the boys said “oh yeah, about your car… it’s not parked at Echo Lake. Go up the PCT another mile, and after you cross this crazy raging river, head left, and you’ll see the car” – we were too happy and high on endorphins at this point to really understand what they were saying. Raging river? what? must be joking. Shortly after we left them, we saw Jesse Wifely, who would join Peter at Barker to continue on to I-80. The rest of the run, they were on my mind – where were they? How long would it take them? Were they home in bed before we finished?
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The section from Barker Pass until the Meeks Bay turnoff was my least favorite. Too many trees and not enough grandiose views, in my opinion. It dragged on forever. And Stacie kept promising that any minute we would be out on the granite and back on the ridges – she lied. Here’s a boring lake that I stopped at to filter water.
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We finally passed the turnoff to Meeks Bay, and started seeing rocks instead of just trees. The terrain became significantly more beautiful.
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Stacie had remembered a lake near the trail – we were just about out of water, but passed by a couple streams anticipating the lake. We then found ourselves high above the lake we thought we needed, so we had to add an out and back, down and up, to our route.
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We saw several people camping here – preparing dinner, drinking wine, hanging out in warm puffy jackets. I was kind of dying inside, knowing that we still had 25 ish miles to go, and the going was starting to get tough.

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Filling our bottles with the Sawyer Mini filter. There was plenty of water to make it with about 2L carrying capacity and filtering more along the way.
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The miles became harder as we headed further into Desolation Wilderness

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The lakes in Desolation are over the top incredible.
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Stacie heading into the sunset
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Sunset over Emerald Bay
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I felt pretty grateful to see both the sunrise and the sunset from the PCT in one day. I wasn’t feeling especially grateful that we still had 20 miles to go.
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After about the 20th time I asked; Yes, we were finally heading up towards Dick’s Pass
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Dick’s Lake. Just before we reached the high point of Dick’s Pass, it became dark enough to get out our headlamps and put the warmer layers back on. It felt kind of crazy to start out the day running in 30 degree weather, then have it warm up to 80 degrees, and then drop back down to the 30s at night. Such is fall in Tahoe.
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Stacie coming down from Dick’s Pass into the darkness. As the miles barely crept by, it became exceedingly difficult not to get discouraged and negative. My watch stopped when we hit 17 hours and 56.9 miles. At the least, we had 10 miles to go, which could take 5 more hours at this pace.  An hour passed and I asked Stacie how far we’d gone now and she said 58.5 miles. Typically I never sit down during long runs, but now, I started sitting each time we stopped. Why not? We were barely moving. We might just fall asleep and die out here. I thought about how I only had 250 calories left for 4-5 hours. I reassured myself that I had plenty of reserves to survive, to settle the panic.
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As much as I was ready to be done (for the last 6 hours I was ready to be done), I still appreciated the beauty of the trail at night, and was entertained by the little illusions and tricks my eyes were playing on me. At one point, I had sat down to filter water and told Stacie to go ahead. As I jogged to catch up to her, I suddenly stopped, terrified at the cliff I was about to jut out on. I yelled “Stacie!! Stacie!!” There was no f-ing way I was going out on the edge of a cliff at this hour, feeling this crappy. I stopped. I’m going the other way. Just as I started back on the trail in the opposite direction I shined my light over the cliff (against my better judgement) and realized it was just a pond. There was no cliff. It was the blackness of a little lake that looked like a dropoff. I nervously laughed and caught up to Stacie. I can’t believe I had almost turned around and ran the wrong direction. I wanted to cry when I saw her.
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I had no idea how freaking L-O-N-G the trail was between Echo Lake and Lake Aloha. “5 miles” does not do it justice. The sign should instead say,  “2 hours of HELL”. One of our favorite parts was seeing the sign that said we were “Now Leaving Desolation Wilderness” Thank F-ing God. Along the way, we had been so excited to get to freaking Echo Lake. Now that we were here, we wondered out loud why in the hell did the boys park my car another mile up the trail, and not in one of these perfectly good, comfortable and happy parking lots near Echo Lake? We begrudgingly started UP the trail from the parking lot towards Hwy 50.
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After what seemed like forever, around 1:00AM, we finally heard the sounds of the river the boys had mentioned. It sounded like Niagara Falls. We got to the bank of the river and our conversation contained a lot of “What the fuck were they thinking?? There is no way we are going to get across this thing! WTF!?” I finally decided we should get some big sticks to self-arrest in case we were swept down. I told my plan to Stacie and she said “no way am I getting in that water, I’m crossing the log”. I looked up the river at the log perched about 5-6 feet above the raging river. I felt like I was in Bridge to Terabithia. I volunteered to go first – because the only thing worse than falling yourself is watching your friend fall. I had to be brave (totally against my nature here). I crossed with faked confidence. Then I had to watch Stacie cross – completely gripped. When she made it we hugged and yelped. We then wandered through the forest, a little neighborhood, and right around 1:15am when I was about to dial Peter and ask “where the f is my car” we saw it. It was the happiest moment of my life. (that I remember anyway).
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We made it!! 21 f-ing hours!! Stacie’s watch and phone combo came up with 66.6 miles. Mine added up to 67.8. I’ll call it 68.
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My feet felt like I’d just run 100 miles. In many ways, this effort was much harder than any 100 mile race I had run. During races, you go from aid station to aid station, with at most, 6-8 miles in between. There are other runners and camaraderie on the trail. Out here, it was just Stacie and I, and a smattering of hikers cozy in their tents, not offering us a beer or anything. On the 90 minute drive back to Truckee, while eating BBQ chips and drinking full-fat chocolate milk,  we discussed our adventure. We both agreed this was the “most epic thing” we had ever done. During the run, 20 hours earlier, we had laughed about someone using that term – now we had a legit use for it. We had done it. 68 (or whatever) miles in one day. And we decided we were glad the boys made us cross that fucking raging river at the finish. It just added to the adventure.
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The first section, Hwy 80 to just under Dick’s Pass. Hours 1-17, 56.9 miles
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Hours 17-21. Darkness. Despair. and ultimately… Joy. 10.9 miles

We later (Sunday night) found out the boys had all stopped at Barker Pass. Even though they were capable of running the entire thing at least 7 HOURS faster than us, on this particular day, considering we were the only ones who “finished”, we beat the boys. 😉

I’d like to thank Peter for putting this crazy idea into my head a few days ago, when I mentioned I wanted to do a 40 mile run somewhere (he said what’s 20 more?!), Stacie for being an amazingly fun and positive companion on the trail, Kathy for sharing the first 6 miles with us, Helen for being the best friend ever to give up most of her Saturday to cater to us at 7,700′, Julia for kicking ass at The Bear and then texting with me for company on my way down to Echo Lake (and celebrating with me on Sunday), and Lucas for the support throughout the endeavor from across the Atlantic. XO

 

weekend at the lake

This past weekend, JP took me on a surprise trip to a beautiful mountain lake. After a two-hour drive on a super rough, winding road, we arrived at our destination lake at midnight Friday night. Under a full moon, we paddled by canoe to find an island to call home for the weekend.

moon over the mountains. oh, and we saw a shooting star about halfway across the lake...
moon over the mountains. oh, and we saw a shooting star about halfway across the lake…

Skimming across the glassy water, I tried to make out the surroundings, but the reflections on the lake made it difficult to distinguish where the water ended and the mountains began.

Saturday morning, I awoke to find myself in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places imaginable.

Thank you for taking me here
JP planned and packed everything – after the busy week I had, there was no way I could have done anything to help, and he took care of it all. So grateful.
oh wow - look over there
waking up and checking things out
a room with a view
a room with a view
no shortage of drinking water no shortage of drinking water
our transportation for the weekend
our transportation for the weekend
A little after-coffee paddle
A little after-coffee paddle

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JP set up a little shade/rain shelter for us
JP set up a little sun/rain shelter for us
our island paradise
our island paradise
looking back at camp from my favorite sitting spot
looking back at camp
the prettiest raindrops I've ever seen
the prettiest raindrops I’ve ever seen
looking down at our little island from the mainland (where we visited to use the bathroom)
looking down at our little island from the mainland (where we visited to use the bathroom)

After breakfast, we paddled over to the East shore of the lake to set out on a “run” which turned into a hike with no trails or map.

After hiking up the long granite slabs we saw one lake after another.
After hiking up the long granite slabs we saw one lake after another.
another lake
another lake
more lakes
more lakes
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I was still happy in this picture
still happy
still happy

It was fun and challenging, until my greatest fears were combined – fear of heights, and fear of drowning, as our route took us down a creek which contained many series of waterfalls. I fell behind and got lost, finding myself in a creek with steep walls on either side, not sure how to get out. I blew my whistle frantically for about 15 minutes until he came back for me, and after about a 20 minute temper tantrum, I calmed down and was able to enjoy the rest of the hike, and didn’t even freak out when we found ourselves in further precarious situations.

JP and another lake
JP and another lake
the falls along our route
the falls along our route
back to our lake, but not quite at the right spot -
back to our lake, but not quite at the right spot –

After the 5 hour, 6.5 mile “run” turned “hike”, we went swimming, took a nap, and chilled out.

turns out I should have used more sunscreen
turns out I should have used more sunscreen
time to wake up!
time to wake up!

JP made us a delicious dinner of salmon and various salads, which we ate on my favorite rocks next to the only grass on the island.

the best spot
the best spot
chilling
chilling
JP
JP

After dinner, we went for a paddle around the entire lake, checking out the shoreline and meeting some of the other campers.

found this super cool stump in the water with it's own little forest growing on it
found this super cool stump in the water with its own little forest growing on it
me
me
cruising
cruising

JP did the dishes and we settled down to watch the sunset. FullSizeRender_1   FullSizeRender_2 FullSizeRender_3 FullSizeRender-36 That evening, thunder, lightning, and rain kept me up for most of the night, terrified. I was convinced the lightning was going to strike the metal pole in our tent. We survived though, and after another morning paddle around the lake, we packed up our things and headed back to Truckee. It was the perfect vacation spot, and I can’t wait to go back and bring my kids next time. FullSizeRender-39

Big Loop around Donner Lake – 35 miles

In my preparations for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 on July 18, I was supposed to run 35 miles on Sunday, wrapping up an 80 mile week- my biggest week in the training cycle. Gretchen agreed to join me, and we planned to run on the TRT course. However, the day before I came down with a bad case of pink eye – so we had to change plans, as we couldn’t ride in the same car together, or risk making any contact.

We decided to do a loop from Gretchen’s house instead – we could meet outside, and run together, hopefully without me contaminating her. We had each previously done a similar version of this run, Gretchen wrote a great post about it in 2011. I was grateful for 1) her wanting to run 35 miles with me 2) being totally flexible with changing the plans and 3) not being afraid of being around someone contagious. All characteristics of a true friend.

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map of our route

We headed North out of the Armstrong Tract towards Tahoe Donner, to catch that trail system up to the Donner Lake Rim Trail. We paused at the overlook to 1) enjoy the view 2) check our friends’ status who were still on the course at Western States 100.

As we descended into Negro Canyon, we were treated to a hillside covered in pretty manzanita. The only time I have ever found manzanita to be “pretty”. It even smelled good.

Gretchen heading down into Negro Canyon
Gretchen heading down into Negro Canyon

We followed the trail about 1/2 way down the canyon, until the right turn to head up towards Summit Lake. We were surrounded by a mixture of lush ferns, wildflowers, the buzz of happy bees, birdsongs, and butterflies as we made our way up to Summit Lake.

super tall flowers on the DLRT just before the PCT
super tall lilies on the DLRT just before the PCT

We made our way to the Pacific Crest Trail, with a stop at the rest area off of I-80, at mile 13, to refill water (and clean my eye and scrub with soap). Continuing South on the PCT towards Hwy 40 (“Area 60”, as a friend calls this (in between 40 and 80), we came across many thru hikers and day hikers alike. We had both forgotten how busy this trail gets in the summer.

We stopped at Hwy 40 (mile 18) to top off our water, as this next stretch on the PCT to Coldstream Canyon would be about 15 miles before hitting water again. We made our way up the PCT towards Anderson Peak, and were blown away by the wildflowers. We seemed to have hit this at the perfect time. In the week leading up to this day, I felt like I “had” to run on the TRT course for this long run, but I completely changed my mind when I was reminded of how incredible the trails were, literally, right out our door (or out Gretchen’s door- I live about 5 miles away).

We paused a couple times along this high ridge to look back at how far we had come. That is one of the best parts about this loop- you can see, from many vantage points, where you have been or where you are headed. And it looks really, really far away.

At Tinker Knob, we stopped to talk to a thru hiker, and had fun watching his reaction to describing the food he could find in Truckee. Gretchen thru-hiked the entire PCT years ago, and said she forgot how excited you get at the prospect of “real food”. I said I feel that way every time I run…

We reached the left turn down to Truckee at mile 25. The trail down through Coldstream Canyon is steep in places, with some loose rocks that doesn’t allow for the smoothest running. We made our way down, with hopes that we would find water at the Lost Trail Lodge. We started feeling raindrops on the descent, and even though I should be getting heat training in, I was grateful for the drop in temperatures and the gentle rain.

Gretchen dropping down towards Coldstream Canyon
Gretchen dropping down towards Coldstream Canyon
from the Coldstream Trail, looking West towards Anderson Ridge, where we had just been.
from the Coldstream Trail, looking West towards Anderson Ridge, where we had just been.

We reached the beautiful Lost Trail Lodge and to our relief, the water was on, and nice and cold. The last miles through Coldstream were fairly flat and runnable, and we cruised along pretty easily, ready for the run to be over. The road seemed never-ending, but when it did, we were dumped out into civilization again and the cars, freeway, and pavement were a bit shocking after spending most of the day in the tranquility of the trail.

The final 1.5 miles up to Gretchen’s house was a climb, runnable, with the rain coming down more consistently now. It was the absolute perfect way to conclude our day.

running up Richard's Blvd in the rain, with views of Donner Lake and the ridges we had conquered.
running up Richard’s Blvd in the rain, with views of Donner Lake and the ridges we had conquered.

When we reached the car, I realized that both eyes now had pink eye- joy. Gretchen and I typically hug at the end of a run but today was an air-high-five. “make sure you scrub your hands just in case”.

Elevation profile from our run
Elevation profile from our run