In February of 2017, I was faced with my second injury in 5 years of running. I attended phyical therapy (again...) and spent countless hours researching injury prevention. I moved most of my workout into the gym and acquired a new found love for yoga, mobility, and bodyweight strength training. I was absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the cause for my failures. I learned that the difference between "running" and "training" is vast and that the key to sustainable running was more of a balancing act between everything mentioned above and more.
After a stressful and grueling last few weeks dealing with moving into a new place, I was off to Foresthills, CA to participate in the Euchre Bar Massacre 50 miler, a fatass style endurance challenge. All of six months of research and training would build up to this horrifying off trail death march in which one must navigate through dense forest and steep and unforgiving terrain for 50 miles with 20,000 feet of vertical gain. It was my idea of a dream race.
CROSSING PATHS AT ROADS END
I spent my entire Friday morning packing since I had work in the evening, a shift I had mistakingly forgotten to request off and was forced to fit into the already tight schedule. I got off of work at 10:30pm and hopped in my car loaded with everything I needed to continually suffer for roughly 24 hours. Halfway to Sacramento, I started to yawn. It was only around 2:00 in the morning and I had not accounted for sleep deprivation to hit me this early. The race started in just 4 hours and I was on such a tight schedule that pulling over to rest meant I would not make it for the start time and yet, I was repeatedly falling asleep at the wheel. Although failure at completing the event was more than likely in any case, I wouldn't even get the chance to try.
...I was crushed.
The next morning I woke up in a Carl's Jr parking lot right in the middle of Nowhere, California. I stopped in to brush my teeth and use their Wifi for some quick research. The weekend would not be a complete waste of time. I got back in the car and started driving towards Kings Canyon National Park, where I had planned to car camp and wake up early Sunday to complete the Rae Lakes Loop. During the drive into the canyon, I found myself behind a large truck. A sticker on the rear window featured a red mountain goat and big black bold letters that read "Run Steep, Get High", an all too familiar slogan.
As I had suspected, the truck pulled into the "Roads End" trail head parking loop, where I was headed. I parked near the permit station and noticed a sign that read "No permit necessary for day hikes" and thought 'oh, the perks of being an ultra runner'. I approached one of the guys from the truck, who I had now confirmed to be an ultra runner from his white compression leggings. His name was Deon and he told me that his group was doing the Rae Lakes Loop as well. At this point, I was already excited to shamelessly invite myself on their trek, or at least run into them throughout the event.
"What time are you guys leaving tomorrow morning?", I asked.
To which he replied "oh, we're leaving in about 30 minutes".
I was a little confused. It was already 2:00 in the afternoon and leaving now meant that most of the journey would take place at night. The Rae Lakes Loop is known for its endless views of prestine back country landscapes. By joining their group, I was giving up the majority of my motivation for running in the first place. Deon directed me toward the leader of the group so that he could continue to prepare for their adventure and shuffled off to the restroom.
I walked over to the truck where the alleged organizer Nate Moore was preparing supplies. After a brief introduction, I asked why the group was starting in the middle of the day. He explained that Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc 2017 Winner François D’haene was in the early stages of setting the new supported fastest known time (FKT) for the John Muir Trail, a record previously set by Darcy Piceu just a month prior (Sept. 15-17, 2017). Nate had made estimates on François' arrival within a 2 hour window.
At this point, I caught the vibe of the group and decided that if they felt comfortable crashing a pro athletes speed record attempt, then I didn't feel bad for crashing their 'crashing party'. I would commit to running through the night with three strangers, for one of the longest endurance challenges I had ever attempted...and we were leaving in now less than 20 minutes.
We started out for the trail at 2:30 PM. The intention was to climb up to Glen Pass via the Bubbs Creek Trail and knock out the steep stuff, then coast down the Woods Creek Trail. The path was defined and water never left earshot for more than five minutes. A relaxed pace brought us to the John Muir Trail junction right at dusk and the fading views of the lower canyon would be the last of the evening. Nate suggested we take a break since his estimates placed François further South and yet the drop in temperature quickly suggested otherwise. Moments after we started moving, the Salomon team had arrived.
It was definitely a treat to share the trail with a professional athlete on such an arduous journey, but as François and his team passed, our compliments and cheerfulness were met with mostly silence. We followed them for an entire mile before reaching the Bullfrog Lake trail junction where a pop up aid station awaited the French masochist and within 15 minutes, our attempts at conversation were finally met with a plea for silence so that François could nap.
After refilling on water in a nearby creek, we made for Glen Pass (11,978 feet), the highest point of elevation for our journey and although we weren't able to take in any sweeping views of the surrounding Lake basins, the Milky Way was clearly visible in the night sky and at mile 17, it was all downhill from here.
PARADISE VALLEY, THEY SAID
I won't get into the details of the continued full mountain marathon we were still in for, but just know that there was a good balance between guessing who farted and asking if we were there yet. By 5:00 AM, we had descended what felt like 100,000 inconsistently sized granite stairs. Our quads were toast and the only thing that kept us from becoming hypothermic while wearing short shorts in now 30 degree weather was to keep pounding out a steady pace.
Nate and I finally arrived at Roads End at 5:30 AM while Deon and Sal rolled up shortly after. A celebratory beer was the plan, but none of us could stand the cold and mostly just wanted to leave immediately. After a quick goodbye, I parked my car just down the road and fell asleep in the drivers seat.
Overall, I had a blast turning a miserable experience of DNS-ing (DID NOT START) at a race I had spent six months preparing for, into a whimsical adventure with some new friends; a memory I will absolutely never forget.
Distance : 41.6 miles
Elevation gain (counter-clockwise) : 8,750 feet
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Class 1 marked trail for the entire route.
Trail includes several creek crossings, and I swear I smelled poodle dog bush but no reactions.
I mean...I dunno, do you plan on doing this in less than a day?...Then yes, it will be hard.
If you didn't already check out San Joaquin Running, check out their site for some great ultra marathon events and don't forget to subscribe to the youtube channel after you watch their Rae Lakes Loop video.