Bigfoot Part 5: a Chinookan Word for "Beyond"
Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Chain of Lakes to Klickitat (Mile 158.1, 3,927' gain - 3,900' loss)
Brent and I set off into the night and did not make it a single mile before sleep deprivation ensnared my mind. My eyes started to blur and my steps veered. I started to look for places to lay down. "I need to take a moment," I sighed, defeated. I kicked myself for not napping before I left. I curled up in my space blanket and lay on the forest floor. Brent set a fifteen minute timer on his phone and started a game of cribbage. This time I did not fade in and out of consciousness: I passed out instantly and woke up groggily. We re-packed my foil sheet and moved on. The night air was dropping in temperature. I ripped open a pair of hot hands with my teeth.
The trail turned a corner and disappeared beneath a river: the first of four deep water crossings. I stripped to my shorts and plunged in. No point in tiptoeing.
The icy water jolted me awake, at least for a little while. Nothing could ward the sleep demons off permanently and I continued to take ten and fifteen minute naps to clear my head, always trying to space them as far apart as possible but knowing I was doing a terrible job. I apologized to Brent. I was a mess. The night was moving impossibly slow.
We were leap frogging three other runners sleep bonking too. I learned quickly that it was important to find an insulated place to lay down, at the bottom of a climb if possible, because my body shut down and heartbeat slowed immediately when I dropped to sleep. I woke up every time shivering violently. This is a waste of energy, I kept thinking. But it was too late to get off the ride.
We were tackling a nearly twenty mile stretch with a mandatory out-and-back ascent of Elk Peak. The hours barely rolled over each other. We banded with Ashley and Nick and tried to stay alert and push forward as a team. I don't know if we took five naps for fifteen, but I remember the freezing cycle: hike until the world was a golden blur, curl up in my silver blanket, breathe into my neck to stay warm, stand up shaking to push deeper into the Sisyphean shadows.
We crossed a road and the trail switched into thin singletrack. A sign read Klickitat Horse Trails. Surely that must mean we were getting somewhere. We knew the section ended with an aggressive 2,200' climb. We started tackling switchbacks one at a time. We pushed through thick, cold morning fog. Then we pushed into clouds. Climbing, climbing, climbing. We pushed until the sky begin to lighten and I promised myself not to sleep anymore.
"Brent, I'm sorry.." I dropped into a tree trunk. I could not stay awake, "I can't do this."
Every time the trees were beneath our feet, the trail led up another razorback ridge into more giant firs. He pulled out his map and encouraged me that we had only four miles left, only three, only two and a half. It all sounded like too much. Another step was too much. I felt delirious, even in the daylight.
My head was a whirlpool. Nothing made sense. I was too tired for emotion. I started to think this was the end of my race. I would have to get to the aid station eventually, but maybe I should skip Elk Peak and turn in my bib. I did not have another fifty miles in me. It was too hard to make progress. I was broken.
I promised myself to get up. To try again.
I knew I was close to the final out-and-back pitch to the top but it never came. If we could just make it, the aid station would be less than a mile downhill. But I started to doubt if it existed. I doubted myself. More broken promises not to close my eyes anymore. My head was pounding. My heart was pounding.
I thought of my crew at the bottom. My friends who had trained with me, who were cheering for me, praying for me, caring for me, watching my tracker. I thought of the Triple Crown. Was I ready to quit already? After nearly a year of training? Once you call it a day, there is no coming back to the course.
My brain and body betrayed me, but my heart was still climbing the peak.
I got up.
No more stops.
The trail was nearly vertical.
I started to lead.
Typically I love to climb hard. I like to get into a rhythm and push. I looked up and saw the ends of the treetops. The summit had to be close. I focused on my breathing. Steady, even progress. I saw sunlight ahead. I saw the barren top. I pressed hard, fast. I can do this.
I got to the turnaround sign and fell to my knees. I was overcome.
After I coughed up all the water in my stomach, I got to my feet and realized I was standing on top of the world.
My shoulders began to shake. My throat tightened.
When we began to descend, I felt a sob starting deep inside my soul. I looked ahead at Brent and smiled through my tears, "Don't worry," I assured him with a laugh, "These are happy tears." My bottom lip quivered. "I've never," I started. My voice caught. "I've never been more proud of myself in my life," I said. Joy spilled down my cheeks.
We started running.
We ran until we made it to Klickitat Aid. Klickitat is a Chinookan word that means "beyond." I was pushed well beyond what I felt I was capable of, but I did not quit. I buckled under the strain, but I continued forward. I came off the trail, still crying, and my dad saw me and started crying. Maybe we all were. For the first time all race, for the first time in a long time, I let my guard down and rushed to comfort.
Part 6: The End is Coming (but not before a hellish trip, another deep cry on a log, and a surprise). Bigfoot had already become the hardest, most emotional run of my career.