My DNF is Bigger Than Your Finish: Bigfoot 200 2015-08-07

I’m 150 miles into the Bigfoot 200 and, remarkably, the only problem I have with my feet is that some asshole keeps walking on them. Over and over. Hundreds of thousands of times. Surely he’ll stop sometime soon, right?

The good news is that I have a brand new pair of running shoes, a full size bigger than I normally wear, waiting for me at the next aid station. The bad news is I still have to climb 2500′ feet up Elk Peak and a little ways down the other side before I get there. The climb isn’t particularly tough, at least not by Bigfoot standards, but it is full of maddening false summits, and I’m beginning to run low on patience. I find myself composing a Least Favorite Mountains List, Unabridged:

1. Elk Peak

I’m running with Heather, and at this point we’re pretty sure we’re the last two runners in the field. She runs out of water before me, so I share my last few sips with her. As we near the summit we can hear booming thunder from what we think is the next ridge over, but we can’t see the flashes to tell how far away it is or if it’s moving our way. By the time we reach the short, steep out-and-back to the exposed peak, there are dark clouds above us, but still no more than a few drops of rain, so we decide to leave our trekking poles behind and go for it. The approach is steep enough that on the way back down I’ll be grabbing onto tree branches to slow myself.

At the summit we can tell the lightning is still at least one ridge over, and I know from looking at the elevation chart earlier the Klickitat aid station can’t be much more than a mile away, all downhill. Still, it’s steep enough that it’s hard to go as fast as I want, and I’m thirsty enough that I’m starting to wonder if today’s the day I’ll find out what it’s like to drink my own urine. That thought is just starting to transition from a joke to a worry when I round a switchback and shout up the trail to Heather, “I see it!” A moment later my friend Bull is shouting my name as I come down out of the forest.

There was a certain rhythm to the Bigfoot 200: as the race wore on, each new segment would start out with a major boost from the aid station before it, but halfway through it would become its own distinct, increasingly epic, challenge. Difficulties came in all kinds of ways, but they came without fail.

Mile 30 came after several hours trekking through the blast zone of Mount Saint Helens, boulder hopping through a lava-rock talus field, then traversing steep canyons of ash as I circumnavigated the volcano. After crossing a series of shallow ashy washes, I discovered I was coming into the aid station from the wrong direction. This meant backtracking a mile to the turn I’d somehow missed, then running another five miles to complete that leg of the course correctly. This mistake only added two miles or so, but made for a couple of discouraging hours.

There’s a famous quote from elite ultrarunner Karl Meltzer: “100 miles is not that far.” And of course that’s bullshit, pure macho swagger. You can’t run 100 miles without some suffering, some risk, and a ton of commitment. After even having attempted a 200, though, he’s right. When you run a 100, you wake up, you start running, and at some point, you’re done. When you run a 200, you wake up, you start running, days pass, things change both inside you and out, you stop running whether or not you want to, and at some point, maybe, it’s done with you.

I got 90 minutes of sleep at the Coldwater Lake aid station at mile 46, the only full REM cycle I’d hit in the race, and left in time to enjoy the sunrise as I climbed out of the basin. The whole second day would be marked with spectacular alpine views (and the occasional stretch of treacherous footing). The second night would be marked by a light cold rain, and while it didn’t last long it soaked the long grass that stretched across the next few miles of narrow, rutted trail, soaking me with every step. This was the first major low point as I chided myself for ditching the rain pants from my pack at the last minute and tried to remember if I’d packed a change of clothes at the next aid station, mile 90.

Fortunately I had, and once I’d changed and relaxed in front of a propane heater for a few minutes I felt much better. I asked a race volunteer to wake me up after 90 minutes and went over to the sleep station to lay down. Unfortunately, they confused me with another runner and woke me after 45 minutes, and I got up groggy and confused, rushing to get out of there. I only made it a mile down the trail before I realized I needed more sleep. I pulled out my phone, set an alarm for 20 minutes, and was out like a light, but awake again long before it went off. For the rest of the race, the only sleep I’d get would be like this, in five to fifteen minute bursts on the side of the trail.

On the ride up from Oakland, I asked Bull why he runs 200s. He said it’s because he learns so much about himself. This would be his sixth in a year. I guess there’s a lot to learn, but not all of those lessons are easy, and not all of them are good.

It was the afternoon of the third day when I hit the Lewis River trail, a gently rolling path that winds its way through shady waterfall views and roaming packs of families and college students, none of whom can seem to understand why someone wearing a race bib would be moving so slowly. I couldn’t understand why the aid station would be taking so long to appear. When it finally did, I learned that I only had nine and a half hours to make it 19 miles, and over a mile uphill, to Council Bluff. I refueled and took off running, hooking up with another runner named Reed for four miles of steep rolling trails. Finally I realized I was overheating and sat down to rest, insisting Reed go on alone.

I was able to cover the next 15 miles in just enough time, blazing into the aid station ten minutes under the cutoff, only to learn that it had been changed after I left Lewis River. This meant I had plenty of time to rest up before heading back out. I should have used more of it.

The next section, even though it was relatively short and easy, was where things got bad. Even though it was not where my race ended, it was where I hit bottom. It’s because of what happened on my way to Chain of Lakes that I’m not sure 200 mile mountain runs like this are really something people should do. My experience might not have been typical, but from talking to other runners about what happens after three nights of running, it wasn’t too unusual, or even as bad as things can get. I’m still shaken up just thinking about it.

Sometime after sunrise, I made the left turn off a flat gravel road onto a narrow trail that marked the last two miles to the aid station. My sense of time was shot, but I knew that I was moving painfully slowly, and that for some time I’d been seemingly uncontrollably making strange sounds, grunts and hoots, as I made my way. Worse, I’d been talking to myself in a strange, antagonistic way that I felt somewhat disconnected from. The words coming out of my mouth weren’t a surprise, but they weren’t intended, either.

When I finally came to a sign on the trail saying there was one mile left to the aid station, I knew I’d missed the cutoff. I didn’t pull out my phone to check the time, I hadn’t done so for hours, and I couldn’t tell how high the sun was through the tall trees, but I was moving so slowly I had to be. It was decided. It was a fact, as real as if I’d just been told by the race director herself.

First I broke down sobbing, gutted that I’d come so far and now my race was over because I was just too slow. Then, for lack of a better word, I threw a tantrum, wailing and tossing my trekking poles around, tearing plants out of the ground and smashing them, like a badly behaved five year old. My rational mind was gone, worn away by 71 hours of continual effort and sleep deprivation, and I don’t much like what was left behind.

When I finally got to the aid station, I just sat down without speaking or looking anyone in the eye. I found out I still had two hours before the cutoff and, after all I’d just put myself through, I felt devastated. That meant I’d have to keep going and, worse yet, I’d have plenty of time to make it to Klickitat, where I’d have to keep going again. But after sitting, eating, and being around company for a while, I felt much better, and I wouldn’t go back to such a dark place again.

Sometime around mile 100 I realized my quads were starting to bother me for the first time, and I congratulated myself on how well I was pacing myself. If I was right and my pacing was good, my training was off. In either case, I was too slow. You can’t run a 200 mile mountain race with a 108 hour cutoff at a two mile per hour average and hope to finish. I’ve done great at tough 100s like HURT pushing the cutoffs this way, but in a mountain 200, the odds of nothing big going wrong over the course of four and a half days are practically zero. I came so close I can still taste it, but with the strategy and conditioning I started the race with, maybe that was the best I could ever hope for.

It turned out the real crux of the race would come after my bonus miles, after my frigid pants-wetting, after my long dark sunrise of the soul, after my least favorite mountain. If you talk to anyone who ran the late miles of Bigfoot 200, they will tell you about the horrors of the Klickitat to Twin Sisters leg: 5,000 feet of climbing, much of it in hands-and-knees steep bursts, over 17 overgrown, undermarked miles. I got to do it at night, alone, exhausted. Normally I enjoy this sort of terrain, but even at the moments when I was energized from a nap it was such slow going that I started to despair of making the 4:30am cutoff at Twin Sisters, mile 175.

At 4:00am, I realized that, without having seen any of the major course landmarks, the aid station could be half a mile or five miles away. I sprinted off down the trail, fighting my way through brush along a ridgeline, up and down steep rollers, finally coming to a stop halfway up a 30% grade at 4:30am. I hadn’t made it. They might have changed this cutoff too, or they might decide to let me through anyway, but either way I’d been too slow. I sat down to rest, and woke up twenty minutes later with my ankle hurting like hell. The adrenaline was gone; here came reality.

It turned out I was about three miles from Twin Sisters at a formation called the Cispus when this happened. A volunteer named Jim who had been walking another runner out from the aid station to the junction help walk me in, which was good, because even using my trekking poles as crutches I was moving about half a mile an hour. He confirmed that they had removed the cutoff; if I hadn’t made that last push and hurt my foot, I could have made it past Twin Sisters to the last two relatively easy legs of the course and a nearly guaranteed finish. Unlike when I’d convinced myself my race was over the previous morning, now I just felt drained.

Even though things did not go as planned, and I have serious reservations about putting the human mind through such stresses, a huge part of me is sad it’s over. I didn’t need to finish this one to experience incredible highs or to see miles and miles – hell, days and days – of unforgettable views. I don’t know that I could honestly recommend that anyone take on a challenge like this. I’ll be digesting this one for a long time. I’m also pretty sure this won’t be my last.

Thoughts on DNFing at Bighorn

I’ve been lax in writing up my race reports recently. Looking back, it all started a year ago when I finished Western States and realized I had surprisingly little to say about it: it went well, I had a great time, I’m glad I got to run States. Who cares?

If anything, I think it’s more important to reflect on and record the runs that don’t go so well, since these are the runs with the most, and most valuable, lessons to offer. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on my most recent DNF at the Bighorn 100.

1. Heat

I underestimated and underprepared for the afternoon heat. Most of my research led me to believe that nighttime cold was the biggest concern, especially with thunderstorms forecast this year, but the first day of the race was in the 80s and humid. I did no heat training in the last few weeks before the race. I felt relatively comfortable grinding up the first big climb, but I was not acclimated, and it cost me.

2. Hills

Over the last few months I’ve done tons of steep hills, but not a lot of long, grinding climbs. This helped me on the toughest part of the course coming up out of Footbridge on day two, but by then I was already too far behind.

3. Pacing

This was also a mixed bag. I started all the way at the back with the intent of taking it slow through the first long climb, but after a few miles I felt too good in spite of the sweat dripping down my face and tucked in behind a woman who was taking the initiative to pass slower ascenders, even though I knew better. Correlation may not be causation, but it’s interesting that we dropped together too, 70 miles and 25 hours later.

4. Altitude

The course wasn’t quite high enough (about 5000-10000 feet) to cause me altitude sickness, but it was certainly high enough to increase the amount of energy I burned, and I especially noticed on that first grinding 14 mile climb.

The long, hot, beautiful first climb of the Bighorn 100
The long, hot, beautiful first climb of the Bighorn 100

5. Salt

When I pulled into the Dry Fork aid station at mile 13, all of these factors combined to ambush me with the worst calf cramps I’ve ever had while running. I took a couple salt tablets from the water table, but somehow didn’t think to grab more for the trail. The cramping had subsided by the time I pulled into Cow Camp six miles later, though, so I didn’t think much of it and ran on through.

Maybe 200 yards out of the Cow Camp aid station, my foot caught a rock, and as I stumbled and tried to right myself not one but both of my calves seized up. As I rested in the dirt and thought about backtracking to pick up more salt, another runner tripped on the same rock and went down clutching his calf. Obviously whatever I had was going around.

6. Weight

My legs had recovered by the time I pulled into Footbridge at mile 30, but I was no longer as far ahead of the cutoffs as I wanted. I put on tights and a dry shirt, and loaded up my pack with nighttime gear.

Part of my plan for Bighorn was to test gear I’d use at Bigfoot 200 in August, so I didn’t want to go too light, but as I started the next long, grinding climb to the turnaround at Jaws, I spent some time thinking about where I could shave a few ounces.

Jaws, as I had been warned, was carnage. Runners who had arrived sometime before me were flagging down rides out or shivering by the fire talking about how there was no way they could make the next cutoff. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

7. Dolphins

About two hours and eight miles later, the leader of the fifty-mile race caught up with me as the rocky, rolling high country trail began to drop more steeply downhill. His race had begun an hour ago at Jaws. Not long after, the rest of the fast fifty-milers began streaming past me. Every last one of them was friendly and supportive.

I’d dreaded this moment. It had been bad enough stepping off trail to let all the faster, less doomed hundred-milers go by the other way as they came back from the turnaround before me. But now this, all these fast young muscular fucks, these, these sprinters–

A few days before this year’s HURT 100, I had the amazing privilege to be snorkeling in Hawaii near Kona when a pod of wild dolphins showed up at the reef and hung out for at least an hour thirty feet below us tourists. Every few minutes they’d come up for air, and if you timed and angled it right and kicked like hell, for a few split seconds it really felt like you were swimming with them.

That’s what it felt like, running down the mountain with these fast fifty-milers.

8. Liquid Lunch

When I bottomed out back at Footbridge, mile 66, I’d made up an hour on the descent. I ditched my night gear and began climbing three steepest part of the course, affectionately known as The Wall. From here the course ruled and gently ascended for seven or eight miles. I pounded caffeine and tried to stay focused.

In the hard push down the mountain, though, I’d had trouble getting enough food down, even in gel form. I normally avoid liquid calories like Perpetuum or Tailwind during ultras, preferring to keep things simple when I don’t have a crew, but they could have made a big difference here.

9. Dust

As my fourth or fifth wind died down, I rolled up on the dustiest section of the course, the same area my legs had been cramping the day before. I was able to put a stop some unpleasant coughing fits with my albuterol inhaler, but it thoroughly blocked my momentum. I now had a bit over two hours to go eight miles before the next cutoff, and I couldn’t seem to get started again.

10. Beware the Chair

When I pulled into the next aid station, still six miles before the 29-hour cutoff, I misread my watch and thought I’d somehow already missed it. It wasn’t until after I’d been sitting and resting for a minute that I learned I still had 90 minutes, but I no longer felt hopeful or motivated to keep going. In retrospect, making the next cutoff was unlikely, but certainly possible, and I wish I’d continued on as soon as I’d found out. Instead, I
hitched a ride on the back of an ATV once the aid station shut down for the day.

All in all, my biggest mistakes lay in underestimating the course and what I showed up expecting would be my tenth 100-mile finish. I know I’ll look back on the Bighorn 100 and remember the beauty of the mountains, but when I remember my disappointment, I hope to remember these lessons too.

On Fumes – Bryce 100 2013-05-31

One of the strange and scary things about hundred milers is how quickly even these monumental undertakings can start to seem routine. Bryce 100 was my third such race, and the third in only nine months, and I went into it excited, yes, but without any of the existential terror that accompanied my first two. Fortunately, all I had to do to cure this condition was run the thing.

I expected Bryce to be the easiest of my three hundred milers by a fair margin. Headlands had been my first, and I’d packed a number of big rookie mistakes into a rugged course with 20,000 feet of climbing and eked out a 32.5 hour finish just under the time limit. I’d been much better prepared for HURT, but it’s an extremely technical course throughout that never stops rising or falling, with a total of close to 25,000 feet of uphill gain. There were different estimates for the elevation gain at Bryce – not only was this the inaugural running, but there had been several late course changes – but the consensus seemed to be settling on the neighborhood of 19,000 feet, which I was sure I could handle well under the 36 hour cutoff.

More interesting would be the actual altitude of the course. The first eighty miles were all above 8,000 feet, with a peak elevation of around 9,500. I’d done some recent training runs at around 8,000 feet in Yosemite, and I knew the thin air could slow me down on long ascents, already a weak point in my running. If that was the worst of it, though, I figured I’d be in good shape, and hoped to finish in around thirty hours.

When race morning arrived, we gathered at a parking lot for an ATV trail about fifteen miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. For most of the race, we would be running above the park, farther west on the Paunsagaunt Plateau. Due to limited space at the actual starting line, we’d be shuttled up from the parking lot. However, there was only one school bus (that I saw) running up the bumpy dirt road, and more than two hundred runners who needed a ride.

With forty of my closest friends, I jumped into the back of a twenty-four foot U-Haul for the trip. I clambered up onto “Mom’s Attic” to make room for more runners, and threatened a quick stage dive. The truck started its way up the dirt road, and immediately filled with dust, looking for all the world like a crappy Burning Man art car. Fringe sporting event or conceptual art prank, on those trails my lungs would be full of dust by the next morning regardless.

Most of the first sixty miles were single track forest trails, so it took a while for the 210 or so starters (including forty 100K runners) to spread out. As soon we started to get some space between us, traffic backed up as runners all stopped to take pictures where the Thunder Mountain trail opened up to views of nearby pink rock hoodoos and the sweeping pine forest of the lower plateau. I commented to another runner that my time would only be improved by the fact that my phone’s battery had died overnight, but in truth I never stop to take photos during a race anyway.

I rolled my ankle coming into the first aid station at mile ten. I don’t know if it was here or later on that I hurt my foot, but by the next morning it would be a major problem.

Although I felt like I was pacing myself well, it only took a few hours for my legs to start feeling fatigued, which I attributed to the altitude. I never had trouble breathing, headaches, or worse symptoms of altitude sickness, but I simply wasn’t sucking in enough oxygen to give my my muscles all the energy they needed. Worse, after the first 50K we climbed to above 9,000 feet and stayed there for about five miles, and here is where I really felt the effects. Although the terrain was pretty easy, I slowed to a crawl and started to fall asleep on my feet, a feeling I’ve never had before so early in a race. I resorted to caffeine at the next aid station, far sooner than I’d planned, which meant I’d be stringing myself along on stimulants for closer to twenty-five hours than the maximum of twenty I’d hoped for.

Another descent, another climb, and before long I was summiting Pink Cliffs, the high point of the run. At 9,500 feet, I expected to have more problems with altitude, but the ascent and descent were short and sharp, which I dealt with better. In the meantime, I did my best to savor sweeping views across the plateau, Bryce Canyon, and on beyond Zion.

Coming into Pink Cliffs at mile 45. From the Bryce 100 Facebook page.
Coming into Pink Cliffs at mile 45. From the Bryce 100 Facebook page.

Ten miles later, coming back up to the Pink Cliffs aid station after the turnaround, the sun disappeared and the temperature on the ridge plummeted in fast winds. The high school class out volunteering would spend their night not only making soup for us, but struggling to keep their shelter from blowing over. Shivering, I changed into a pair of tights, a long shirt and a light jacket, and made the mistake of changing my shoes. The first pair still felt good, but I thought a new pair would feel even better – two miles later I regretted it, but I was stuck with them for the rest of the race. Maybe that’s what put my foot over the edge from aggravated to injury, but it’s hard to tell. Certainly, they were less comfortable and left me with a couple of raw spots.

As soon as I started moving again and dropping down from the ridge, I warmed up and didn’t have any more problems with the cold that night, even as the wind continued. Now and then it would pick up and send a dust devil skittering off like a trail spirit in the glow of my headlamp.

Shortly after sunrise I came up to the last familiar aid station before splitting off on the twenty mile finish leg of the course. I was handed a hot banana pancake and a cup of foul instant coffee (manna nonetheless) to eat on the go as I made my way up a dusty dirt road before beginning a long descent toward the next aid station, the King Creek campground where I’d spent the previous night.

Toward the end of this long dirt road descent, my foot finally gave out. I’d been feeling discomfort or occasional pain from the front of my left ankle now and then for I didn’t know how many hours, but as long as I was careful to land on the front of that foot it seemed okay. Now it was overtaking me, and I was slowing to a walk even on gentle downhills. By mile 85, the morning was heating up, and I found myself presented with an unexpected climb up the (beautiful, but in the moment resented) Keyhole Arch trail. For the first time in a hundred miler, I found myself doubting my ability to finish the course. I spent some time sitting on a log when I knew I could have been climbing, just waiting, for what I don’t know – for my foot to heal, for endorphins to go back to masking the pain, for myself to start caring again as much as I had only an hour before.

Once I started moving again, all I needed was to crest the hill for my problems to sort themselves out. I was able to really start running downhill again, free from pain and full of energy, excited by the familiar location of the campground and the knowledge that it signified the final leg of the course. Eleven more miles. After the day and the night I’d already been through, I could crawl eleven miles if I had to.

Except that the day was getting ripe, and hot, and the rest of the course was almost nothing but dusty dirt roads, free of shade. When I finally found a good downhill stretch, I started running hard again, but found at the bottom a water stop I’d forgotten was on the course, which meant I still had five miles to go. I pressed on slowly, resting a couple of times in the rare spots of shade, pouring out a little bit of water over my head as I went elsewhere.

Finally, when it seemed I couldn’t possibly be more than a mile from the end, I picked up and started running again. It must have been fairly slow, but to remember the actual mechanics of running after so much time on my feet is always amazing. Only that one mile stretched into two, then three. Thanks to the last course change, the final leg of race had turned out to be thirteen miles instead of the planned eleven.

No matter. I kept running until I saw the finish, and then I even managed to pick up speed, crossing that arbitrary line in the sand with everything I had left in me, arms wide in celebration.

Every time I run, after all, that’s the real point: everything I’ve got. In running all day, all night, and into the next day, I keep learning more about what that is.

It turns out sometimes that being hurt, being tired, feeling like the world and the sun are coming down on top of me aren’t so bad. I’ve just got to know where I’m going and remember to breathe.

Missing the Turn: Yosemite 11/23/2012

The day after Thanksgiving, while many of countrymen apparently were lining up to fight over consumer electronics, I took advantage of the extra day off work to wake up at 4:30 AM and drive straight to Yosemite National Park. My plan was to run that day, camp that night, run the next day, and then drive home. Depending on how much time I had on Friday, I would either go for a long but gentle run on Friday followed by a short but steep run on Saturday, or vice versa. Yosemite had a few tricks up its sleeve for me, and things did not work out exactly as planned, but for such a loosely planned solo trip I have no real complaints.

I made it to Hodgdon Meadows inside the park boundaries and had my camp setup by around 9 AM, but with one key element missing that would come back to haunt me later: no firewood. I figured I’d either swing down through the valley for dinner or stop at the Crane Flat gas station after my run to pick some up since gather wood at such a heavily used campground is a bit of a fool’s errand. Judging by the temperature at that hour, it was going to be a chilly evening, and I was definitely going to want a fire to sit by before crawling into my tent.

The good news was that with such an early, I’d be able to get my long run in that day. The route I had picked out would take me from the Foresta trailhead on Big Oak Flat Road up and over the sub-alpine shoulder of the north valley wall to the summit of El Capitán ten miles out, where I would have my lunch and turn around.

I started my day heading up switchbacks at 5,000 feet, through scrubland that was burned out twenty years back, with views of the eastern side of Yosemite Valley and the snowy mountains beyond. A couple miles later I was weaving through dense pine with a couple of trick stream crossings. cruising along but struggling a bit with the thinner air.

At four miles I came to the only major junction on my map. The trails here were clearly marked, both on paper and in the real world. I took the right branch, which was marked El Capitán. Unfortunately, there was another turn off to the left which I never saw (even on the way back, when I knew to look out for it) and the more obvious path I stuck to is not marked on any of the four maps I looked at that day, so I didn’t know to watch out for a second junction. By the time I realized I was headed toward the base of El Cap rather than the summit, I was worried about how long it would have taken to backtrack and finish out the run rather than continuing on and turning back at a good halfway point.

I had hoped to run on the North Rim Trail, but instead found myself descending 2,000 feet on Old Big Oak Flat Road, once the main route into the valley. As it has been so thoroughly abandoned, it looks as though the park service is trying to encourage reclamation of some the upper sections of the paved road. For me, this meant jumping and climbing over downed logs and whole trees for more than a mile, which look as though they will be left to mulch.

The reason Old Big Oak Flat Road can’t be used anymore is that most of a half-mile section was completely buried in rockfall in 1945. This doesn’t make for good hiking, let alone running, and seems like a good invitation for a permanent road closure. This is probably why they don’t bother putting it on any of recreational maps, which is why I wasn’t watching out for my turn off to the North Rim Trail.

Old Big Oak Flat Road
Can you spot both trail markers?

Even with all the downed trees and the growing suspicion that something wasn’t right, I had a great time cruising down the busted old road until I hit the wide, exposed, somewhat unnavigable and slightly terrifying talus field. I’ve been rock climbing and boulder hopping before, but this wasn’t clearly stable. There were occasional ducks to mark the general direction across the slope, but they were very hard to pick out in the monochromatic jumble. When I finally emerged from the rockfall, I popped out about sixty feet uphill from the road.

Old Big Oak Flat Road
I generally prefer trail running to road running to running sixty feet above the road.

On the way back I tried a different tactic, sticking with the road and ignoring the markers, which seemed to get me through with far less boulder hopping. However, it quickly became clear that I must have skipped the biggest section of scrambling by emerging into the woods below the road. After scrambling up a steep embankment, it seemed I was off by at least 100 vertical feet.

After all the unexpected climbing, both on my feet and all fours, the last leg of the run was harder and slower than I’d hoped for, and I finished the last two miles in the moonlight. I quickly changed into warmer clothes and headed back in the direction of my campsite, stopping only at the Crane Flat gas station. They were closed – there would be no firewood for me.

I was uninjured. I felt accomplished, but also exhausted. Yosemite and I had fought each other to a draw. Did I really need another day of this?

By the time I got back to my campsite it was 6:30pm, dark, and getting cold fast. I quickly broke camp, packed up the car, took some caffeine and drove back to Oakland. This might not have been the best decision at that moment, but at least I knew where all my turns would be.