I’ll admit it. I can be a bit of an impatient hiker. My impatience grows when I’m solo and repeating trails that have few redeeming factors other than the fact that they aren’t an indoor gym. The I-90 corridor and Issaquah Alps hikes are so easily accessible after work, but hearing cars racing by at 70 MPH and looking down on man-made structures everywhere removes the wilderness feel from the experience, thus removing the urge to slow down and take it all in.
I can handle slowing down on new trails, or in deeper wilderness, or when I’m with people. In fact, the first time I hike a trail I like to slow down and observe. There’s always new viewpoints to look out from, plants to ponder, bugs to inspect. But after a long day at work, it’s tough to make the decision to spend an extra hour and a half in the car and not get home until 9 or 10pm to hike along an uninspiring trail just outside of town. At that point it has become more about the exercise for me and far less about the wilderness experience. Which is fine. Indoor gyms crush my soul so it’s nice to have an “outdoor gym” to go play around in.
The problem I encounter is that I get bored with just exercise. Maybe bored isn’t the right word. It’s not like I’m hiking along wishing I was somewhere else or doing something different. But after a while something starts to naw at me. I’m alone with my thoughts. Just walking. For hours and hours. With little to take in other than familiar trails, radio towers, and the sound of cars far below. A change of scenery, or at least a change in pace, would be nice.
Since exercise became routine for me months ago I’ve been awestruck by runners. My own running experience has been pretty horrific. I’ve only run on roads before and I could never go longer than about 15 minutes before I felt like I was dying. And then my shins would hurt for about three days and I wouldn’t try to run again for months. So seeing someone run up the side of a mountain past my huffing and puffing self was inspiring. “People can do that?” I would think to myself.
One of the biggest values I hold dear is that if someone else is doing something, I can do it too. Maybe not today, maybe not even in a year, but with enough time and effort I can do it too. Trail running is no different. It looked fun and it gave me something to work toward. Plus, it seemed that trail running would refresh the excitement that used to come along with the “outdoor gym” trails. Hiking four miles to Rattlesnake Ledge and back isn’t exciting anymore. Starting on the opposite side of the mountain and running a 20 mile traverse to Rattlesnake Ledge and back is. Especially if it can be done after work in four or five hours.
To make my “outdoor gym” hikes seem worth it, I always carried a relatively large amount of weight, usually between 35 and 45 pounds in my pack. About two weeks ago I finally decided I wanted to give trail running a shot. I ditched the heavy pack and left for work that morning with my smallest pack, a water bottle, my Nano Puff jacket, and my take-everywhere-no-matter-what packing cube that contains a headlamp, extra batteries, first-aid kit, water filter, space blanket and a few other in-case-of-emergency type items. This was as light as I’d ever packed.
I had been planning to start at the Rattlesnake Ledge trailhead by Rattlesnake Lake and hike/run to the East Peak since I had never been further than the ledge. But at lunch that day I looked at a county generated map of Rattlesnake Mountain and discovered that the trail ran all the way from Rattlesnake Lake to Snoqualmie Point Park, an 11 mile traverse that could be turned into a 22 mile roundtrip adventure. So naturally that became the goal. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the whole thing right away but I wanted to at least scout it out, so to Snoqualmie Point Park I went. I left work quickly at 4 o’clock and made it to the park at around 5:15pm.
I removed all the cotton I was wearing and donned my synthetic clothes. I laced up my lightweight hiking boots that would suffice as trail runners. I strapped my pack to my back. And I started walking. The first mile went quicker than I was used to. I wanted to warm up before I started running but I was still clipping along a lot faster than I did with a heavier pack.
After the first mile or so I paused for a moment to remove the ear buds from my pocket. I plugged them into my phone, turned on a groovy playlist, and starting running. It was great. My feet touched the ground almost in sync with the beat of the music that pounded in my ear drums and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
I kept jogging when I could. Large uphills were and still are a little more than I can handle. But I flew through the gentle uphills and flat spots along the trail. Occasionally a view would open up and I slowed my pace to check it out. I stopped to chat with a couple folks along the way. The breaks were nice and gave me a chance to catch my breath.
Before I knew it I had traveled four miles to a spot on the trail that is currently closed due to logging activities. It had been 1 hour 22 minutes. Hmm. I spent five minutes at the viewpoint before turning around and taking off for my car. The way down would be mostly downhill, an opportunity to set cruise control and let gravity do most of the work. I made it down in 46 minutes. I traveled eight miles in 2 hours 8 minutes. Woah.
I realize that I didn’t set any land speed records that day, but the fastest I’d ever covered 8 miles before that was 3 hours 12 minutes. I cut off more than an hour from that time. I could probably cover 12 miles in 3 hours 12 minutes now! Not only that, but running along that trail brought back the runners high that used to accompany my hikes. It was challenging and exciting. And at times I really felt like I was flying.
It was like magic. What used to be an all day event could now be tackled in a couple hours after work.
The following week I headed to the same trail and covered an additional four miles, clocking a total of 12 miles in 3 hours 27 minutes. Unfortunately, I tweaked something in my left leg on the backside of my knee on that run. I think I pushed things a little too hard too fast. My brain was ready; my body… not so much. So I have been totally inactive for the past five days and it’s killing me. Live and learn I suppose. I cannot wait for this thing to heal.