On Saturday, June 20 I volunteered as a sweep for the Mary’s Peak 50K trail run. Being a race sweep means I stay behind all the runners, making sure they are safe and on the right course, all the while clearing the course of all the signs and markers.
I had looked forward to sweeping this race on my bike because since I started training for the Cascade Creme Puff Fritter 50, I’ve got the crazy eyes for long distance rides. Plus, race promoter Mike Ripley always creates an interesting and challenging course.
This experience ended up being different than I expected, and I learned a lot from both the long hours spent on the course and my riding/volunteering/training buddy, Clarinda.
I drove up Woods Creek Road to meet a group of very fast looking runners swarming out from the Mary’s Peak North Ridge trail head. An army of nicely toned legs and the crazy look of ultra-anything flew past me as I frantically pulled my bike out of the back. Yes, I was a bad volunteer that morning. I was running late and had parked my truck just moments before the racers took off.
After I got on my bike and checked in with Ripley, I joined Clarinda, and we set off for what was to be be a very. long. day.
A word about my friend Clarinda. After working in Minnesota for the past few months, she was back in Corvallis for a handful of days when she was asked to fill in last second as a volunteer sweep the following morning. She said yes, and I was happy to get to catch up with her and chat about what she’d been up to.
We took off down to the North Ridge extension trail. Whoops. wrong turn. Now we see the trail head. That was just a warm-up, we told each other. Haha, right? As we headed up the extension we ran into the 25K runners just bombing down the hill toward us. I always tell trail runners that they have it easier because I can at least sit down on my bike. Sort of a joke, but these guys in particular struck me as seriously aggressive and impressive.
At the end of the extension trail we were back at the parking lot and faced the biggest elevation gain of the day – North Ridge trail up to the top of Mary’s Peak. I think Ripley has fun planning his routes, because as a cycling and running event promoter, he seems to enjoy having his runners run up what is popular for cyclists to cycle down. Take North Ridge for example – rooty drops characterize this switchback-heavy technical climb. Most people choose bike up East Ridge. Buuuuut, this was not a race for mountain bikers, so a’slogging we did go, hoping to finally catch up with the slowest runners and feel like we were doing our job.
Multiple runner-free switchbacks later and reality was settling in – we had ridden only a few miles and climbed just a sprinkling of the 5,000 total feet of elevation. We stared up at Oregon’s highest coastal peak and started asking ourselves questions. Clarinda wondered why she had so readily agreed to this the night before. She pondered on her general tendency to agree to things. I wondered: did I trick her into doing this? Am I a total jerk? Am I going to break my friend? Will we ever see those damn runners? (Nope on the last one.)
My friend Chris calls this “Level 3 fun.” The kind of fun that is often only enjoyable in hindsight and includes a mixture of misery quests, getting lost, and in this case, realizing early you may be in over your head and there’s nothing you can do about. Just finish. Get your butt in the saddle and your feet on the pedals and seal the deal.
Our slog-fest up to the peak ended at a very busy parking lot; in addition to the 50K there was the Mary’s Peak Hill Climb Time Trial. I checked in with my fellow volunteers and then cruised over to the other event aid station. Oh yeah, new station with new treats. These folks did not disappoint, and offered me bowls of full-sized candy bars.
Non-bike related commentary: Different aid stations are much like different houses on your trick or treating route, and getting the full size stuff is like when your mom drives you to the rich part of town and you end up totally scoring.
After making an unappetizing electrolyte cocktail of Gatorade, Heed, and Nuun (taste buds < bonking), I biked up to the proper top of the peak. Riding a figure 8 pattern with a view that spans the Cascades to the coast, I cleared the trail and met Clarinda back down at the parking lot. We reminded ourselves that the hardest climb was over. Down East Ridge we rode, out of the Siuslaw National Forest and into the vast network of singletrack on mostly Starker Forest and other private land. I appreciated the opportunity to discover some pretty cool trails and revisit some that make up the Mudslinger XC race held every April.
Bagging Mary’s Peak may have been the hardest section, but our ride was far from over. After checking in at several aid stations, we realized we were never going to catch up with even the slowest runners. I guess when you sign up for a 50K trail run you mean business.
So, cruising along the course, we had a lot of time to chat and had established a nifty little system for clearing the all the signage: roll up to the tree/fern/green thingy, carefully extract the fluorescent pink and white ribbon from the branch/frond/green thingy, apologize to all fronds damaged in the process, pull the signs stapled to the trees, scoop up mini traffic cones, and cram them into a giant pack on Clarinda’s pack. Slam dunk. Do you know how many slam dunks you can have on a 32 mile course? So dang many. We rode a bit, we cleared a lot. Rode a bit, cleared a lot. This resulted in an interesting cadence and fewer apologies to the greenery as we yanked ribbon, roped off sections, and oh so many little orange traffic cones.
The rest of the ride pretty much followed this uneventful pattern. But the final stretch was most memorable for me. At 4:30 p.m. we rode an exposed, high grass trail called Mohawk that affords a beautiful view of the coast range. We stopped to eat and check in with people via text. Yes we are still alive. Clarinda and I had expected to be done by this time, but all in all we still had another 3 hours to go. As we made the final stretch down the gravel road to the finish line at the Blodgett school house, a truck came roaring up behind us. It was Ripley, rolling down his window and gingerly trying to find an acceptable way to tell two hard-working ladies that they were “balls deep.” Go ahead and say it, I told him. He agreed, and offered to help clear the rest of the course leap-frog style. Yeessssss please. To this day (7 whole days later) I see an innocuous little ribbon tied to a tree in the forest and I scream in my head NOOOO!
And that brings me to the point of me writing this post – after riding 10.5 consecutive hours with Clarinda that day, I was amazed by the smile on her face and her super positive attitude in the face of something challenging and frustrating and more than a little tedious. Hours before she had doubted herself, but she was totally fine! In fact, she went for a ride the next day. I don’t always reflect such positivity but she inspired me by her actions. Earlier Clarinda had questioned her tendency to agree to things, but her willingness to get out there is what makes her a good friend for me to learn from. At the end of the ride as we loaded up our bikes, she reflected on many things she learned that day: her limits are far higher than she thought, she isn’t so worried about some upcoming Oregon 24 Hour Race, and she knows a bit more about the right mix of hydration and nutrition on long rides. As for me, I was pretty happy to log so many hours on my bike, since the Fritter could take me nearly that long, and Clarinda’s positive spin left me in a pretty good mood. We never did catch those runners, though.