Excited for the miles and views to come, I layered on my running gear at the Silver Ridge Ranch in Easton. My tent was perched next to a enclosure for horses. Their grunts and movements broke the early morning quiet. While I debated whether to bring my Black Diamond z-poles or not and an extra water bottle, luckily I sided with carrying the extra gear. Soon I would need it.
The 50K course climbs out of Easton and rolls up and over local peaks: Domerie Divide, Thomas Mtn, French Cabin Mtn, Little Joe Lake, Thorp Mtn, and of course, Kachess Ridge (AKA The Cardiac Needles). I've been over the course before as part of the much longer Cascade Crest 100, but today we'd be approaching the trails from a different direction. Things would look less familiar. After a humorous race briefing from director Rich White, we were off.
Cut to six miles into the run, I was alone atop a ridgeline searching up and down for a course marker. "Nothing?!?", I retraced my steps and attempted to find the orange tape flickering in the wind.
I was along for almost an hour as I proceeded forward along the top of the ridge and down a scree field. I saw what looked like fresh steps from a runner in front of me so I proceeded forward, hoping I'd see a competitor just steps away. My search turned up nothing, so I turned back.
Rich had warned us to load the GPS track into our phones and watches, but I hadn't planned that far ahead. I trusted the printed map in hand and my wits to guide me.
It's a trail race. How can I get lost?
I had almost given up hope and planned to run back off the mountain and reverse my steps to Easton when I realized my error. About 5.5 miles in there is a sharp left atop the ridge. No ribbon was present, but a trail nameplate was facing the opposite direction. I matched it up with printed instructions and there it was: Domerie Divide Trail.
I picked up my pace but realized that I was now well over 90-minutes behind the pack, and would have trouble making the cut-off at the first aid station. Adding to my challenge, I was now out of water. While I carried three collapsable bottles in my vest, they were all sucked dry. I had plenty of food, but ZERO hydration on a hot, cloudless day atop a ridge.
I did some more math and decided that I could navigate to the 25K cut-off, and then run back to the start from there. No ultra, but I had bigger issues to deal with. Within a few miles, I was proceeding down the ridge and logging process along the singletrack trails.
Just as I was getting back to Easton, and the finish line, the 50K winner passed me. Matt Urbanski looked fresh and strong despite having traversed over 10,000' of climbing and descending.
I minute later I exited the woods and ran around the perimeter of the Easton airfield, the sun baking down on the asphalt and heating the air a dozen degrees above the forest. A minute later I crossed the finish, high-fived Rich and saluted the inflatable wacky waving tube guy.
This was the oddest race I've ever run, in fact it didn't even feel like race due to my trail misfortune. I ran with no one, got no aid and spent most of the day hunting for a trail that didn't exist. I ended up running exactly 20.0 miles, and am proud to claim first place in the unofficial Needles 32K.
Next year will be better.