Sunday, August 28, 2016

Wonderland: Chapter Two

***If you haven't read Chapter One, scroll down below and then check out Chapter Two***

"Just tell me that tomorrow will be more beautiful," I said to my guide Abram as I lifted my head off the picnic table following the first day's run. "Don't tell me it's easier, just tell me it's more beautiful." I was looking for motivation to get up in the morning and subject my body to more punishment.

I can't remember that Abram ever gave me a definitive response. I do believe Alex said that the third day was the most beautiful. When I first tried to sleep I was pretty certain that I wouldn't be running the next day. Then after I got up when Caroline and Sean came in after one in such good spirits, I knew that I had to try and match their courage and get up and run the next morning.

One of the biggest problems I think I had over the course of that forty two mile day is that my body was never really rested. I actually was yawning at one point during the run. I had traveled all the way across the nation and hadn't had a decent nights sleep since I left home. And that is counting getting up at three in the morning in order to fly out.

When I first registered for this run I knew the time change was probably going to be a factor. I gave myself an extra day instead of flying in and immediately joining the group. I had also looked up the Seattle Mariner's schedule and when I saw my beloved Red Sox were actually playing in Seattle I knew I had to go.

My flight out went well. Well enough for having a family sitting behind me with three young boys. Five hours to San Francisco followed by a three hour wait before the flight to Seattle. The same family was on the plane to Seattle and I was seated next to them. The kids weren't bad but I was hoping for a little more rest, missing my own kids while not actually having other little ones around. The flight attendant gave the parents a special drink before we got into Seattle and I wanted to speak up and ask for a little something special myself.

As much as I did want to see the Red Sox play, I wasn't sure if I was going to be in the mood after travelling all day. When I checked into my hotel room, I took one look at my economy surroundings and quickly purchased some cheap tickets on my phone.

Thirteen dollars for an upper deck seat in right field. I paid more for parking, which wasn't a problem as the game had already started and I easily got into the park. A great ballpark and I sat near some Sox fans. We had a 4-0 lead when I decided to leave in the seventh, not wanting to deal with traffic and to get some sleep. After all it was now close to one in the morning my time.

Sadly the Sox blew the game, making me glad I left and I was asleep before the room got dark when I turned out the light. My body woke up on East Coast time and I took the opportunity to see a couple sights before I had to meet our group back at the airport sometime after noon.

I am a big fan of the book, Boys in the Boat, and went to the University of Washington to see the boat that was rowed by the gold medal US team in the 1936 Olympics. Ironically the night before PBS was playing a documentary about the event, which I look forward to seeing soon. Not far away was Brooks running shoe headquarters, of whom I contacted for a little visit. Not a very thrilling tour, as I did not get to see any secret technological advances but being a shoe geek it was still cool.

I really needed a nap by the time the group had gathered but it was quite fun getting to know new people with similar goals but different experiences. We drove for another couple hours to meet the rest of the group at Whittaker's Bunkhouse and Mountaineering shop. Yes, I did spell Whittaker  with two 't's instead of my way of one. The Washington Whittaker family is world known as climbers and I just had to buy whatever I could with the Whittaker name on it. I told the clerks I am a Whitaker with one T and that I joke with people you only get the other T after you have summitted Everest.

As I said before I  had a poor nights sleep thanks to the party goers and the local chickens. Now the day after arguably the toughest run of my life I was awoken by the polar opposite of chickens. I thought maybe I had slept very late when I heard Sean's voice not far from my tent, and even further confused as it sounded like he was talking with Caroline and Abram. Had they not bothered to sleep?

A check on my phone said it was a little after six and the two runners who had the roughest day were the first ones up. These people are either that hardcore or absolutely out of their friggin' minds! My body still felt like I just got done with my run, not only tired but filthy, sweaty, trailer trash feeling.

Hearing the tone of Sean and Caroline's voices made me decide that I should try and get my sorry behind out on the trail. Abram and crew made us some great breakfast burritos topped off with his homemade salsa and I was glad to finally put some calories into my body. I had very little to eat last night and I hoped breakfast would jump-start my body.

The day before Megan had said she wanted to get up and out early, and as we all moved rather slow I could tell by the look in her eyes that she just wanted to get going. I did too, but really didn't want to at all, but I listened in as Abram gave us some direction for the upcoming day. Headlamps were required of all runners along with a few other essentials he talked about the day before.

I was slow getting ready hoping my tent would dry out from the morning dew, but I had to pack it up still a little wet. I don't know who was actually first out of camp but it certainly wasn't me. I did convince myself to go and started out on what was supposed to be a twenty eight mile day around eight o'clock.

The trail quickly turned off from the lake with another great view of Rainer, which should have motivated me but I was already struggling mentally. The first mile was rather smooth but my legs were fatigued. I stepped out of the woods and faced a descent of close to a mile and it was much different than the other smooth tracks I zipped down the night before. It more closely resemebled a trail in the Whites and my legs were shaking.

I knew the crew would be taking sometime to get out of camp and if I wanted a ride to the next camp instead of running there I needed to make a quick decision. The sun was already beating down heavy on me and the dried sweat was soon covered with a fresh coat. That was it. I couldn't do it. I felt like I was going to have a bad day. I didn't want a bad day. The next day would probably be even worse if I had to put in  a similar effort as the previous day.

I wanted some sleep. I wanted food other than power snacks. I wanted a good day on the trail. That day would be the next I told myself if I did all those things that my body really needed. I pulled my body back up past the couple switchbacks I had come down and headed back to camp.

Perhaps freeing my mind set my body free as I was able to mostly cruise back toward camp. I ran into Sean accommpianed by Alex and told them my decision. They did try and talk me into moving forward but I was convinced I was making the right decision. Alex sent a satelite message to Abram that I was heading back and when I did get back to camp Abram received the message just as I got there.

We didn't talk too much about my decision except he did finally confess that the third day would be the most beautiful. I had described the previous day as being 'bruteiful' and that I needed to recover if I was to enjoy the beauty of the Wonderland.

I helped break down camp along with Nick and Lourdes and soon we were on the road for a couple hour drive. I rode with Nick and had a real nice conversation with him. He was a recently graduated grad student with writing aspirations living in Missoula, Montana. He had traveled a lot in his thirty one years and had plenty of material for an impressive memoir.

We stopped for gas and supplies in some unknown town. I grabbed a chicken sandwich and a chocolate milk and then was happily surprised when Lourdes bought us all Klondike bars. I also took the time to call Mo back at home, as I hadn't spoken with her since I was back at the airport meeting up with the group. She supported my decision and encouraged me to recover properly in order to enjoy the last day of the run. We probably had one of our best phone conversations in a long time, as I am not much of phone person. It was nice to know all was well at home, the kids were being good, Wild was happy as well and there was no need for me to worry that it would be better with me at home.

When Nick and I arrived at the White River Campground we began to circle around looking for Abram and our campsite. After going around a few loops we spotted him parked in a parking lot. "The campground is full," Abram told us. I was speechless at first but then Abram said, "But I've got a couple ideas."  He figured he would walk around the campsite and look to see who had some space in their site for a single tent and then talk to those people. I told him that he would have to do all the talking and I would help the others set up our picnic gear in a small space in the parking lot leading to the trail-head.  I was amazed that after a short while Abram already had a list of a few spots and was confident that he would be able to get more once more campers got back to their sites.

I spent the afternoon helping set up and having more good food. I also got to know Abram better and talked with a few other campers in the area. But most importantly I got some sleep. I set my tent up in the only level spot near some picnic tables, even though it wasn't a tent-site. I was prepared to move it later when Abram would help secure my spot in someone else's campsite but until then I was able to cruise off to dreamland for a couple hours.

While munching down some food Abram took the time to take out the map to show me what the next day was going to look like. He raved about the scenery and said the toughest part of the day would be the climb to get up above treeline but then it was mostly going to be downhill. There would also be a couple road crossings where he would set up an informal aid station and that if needed we could be transported from these spots. It was kind of nice to know there was an out, but I was happier to know that I was potentially be in a spot that I would remember forever while forgetting about the pain to get there.

The first of the runners were just coming in when I woke up around 4:30. The tri-athletes along with Scarlet. Slowly but surely the rest of the crew all came in and I did what I could for them, leading them to seats, getting cold drinks and anything else they might have needed. It felt good to help, and I was humbled by how strong a group of runners I was sharing this experience with. Not just tough physically but more important mentally. They had all run more miles in two days then some people do in a month, and most of them were already greatly looking forward to the next day, and so was I.

Dinner was once again fabulous, this time burgers and plenty of toppings to choose from. By the time dinner was over we had plenty of spots for people to put up tents. Abram told me just to stay put in my spot, as he had talked with a ranger who said they stopped patrolling the area after eight and no one had told me to move yet anyway. Sounded good to me, as I really didn't want to move unless I needed to.

One of the campers actually moved all their stuff into their friends site and gave over their site to us. So it was there that we set up for a campfire. Well it was a campfire until Abram came along and said we weren't having a campfire but a bonfire. Soon enough flames were rising high and all of us gathered around it's heat to hear instructions for our final day. We all listened very dutifully as our mouths were being stuffed by some awesome apple cobbler with fresh hand whipped cream. I was really excited about the final day and hoped that excitement wouldn't keep me up all night.

As I did lay down to sleep, I thought not only of the next day but of a couple people I met at the campsite that day. Actually both couples. One was an older couple who when I explained what our group was doing said we were doing it all wrong and that we should take our time. I tried to explain that's how I liked to enjoy the trails but they said they once did the loop in fourteen days. Normally it takes people ten and I thought it would be wonderful to take fourteen days in this area. The other couple were somewhere in their sixties and had a VW bus like mine. They were making their annual trip to this area to hike into the place where they were married thirty seven years ago. They did it every year, not always on the anniversary, but close enough to mark the occasion. I was also jealous of them. I was jealous of those who were brave enough to take on the trail for a second day. I needed to make sure I made the most of the next day. I didn't need people to be jealous of me. I needed to run the way I love to run, in a place that was more vivid than my dreams.

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