"A blank spot on the map is an invitation to encounter the natural world, where one's character will be shaped by the landscape. To enter wilderness is to court risk, and risk favors the senses, enabling one to live well.

...The time had come to protest with the heart, that to deny one's genealogy with the earth was to commit treason against one's soul."

-Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Day on the Klickitat

Photos from a glorious autumn day fishing on the Klickitat River in southern Washington with Matt Wadsworth.  Read "The Cassius Clay of the Klickitat" to get the full story.  Enjoy!

The photographer/author Willie McBride (photo by Matt Wadsworth)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Cassius Clay of the Klickitat

More pictures here...

      It can be hard to tell the difference between a fish testing your bait and the sensation of that bait bumping against the rocks of a shallow river. When a fish does take a bite and the hook sets in though, there's no question what's on the other end of the line.  There is a pulsing energy in the rocks and flowing water but not the same kind you feel from an animal that suddenly finds itself fighting for its life.  The fish knows and you know; a collective consciousness is formed, two beings tethered together by a filament.

      I learned the difference quickly.  We had just pulled the drift boat over for lunch to the sandy shore of the Klickitat River in Southern Washington on a sunny, late October day.  Matt, an aspiring ultra marathon runner that I train and coach and my guide for the day, set me up with a bobber and jig and then went about preparing our midday meal on his small habachi grill that he had stashed in the bow of our watercraft.  We'd be feasting on Chinook salmon, caught by him on the Oregon coast, and quinoa and andouille sausage, all wrapped up in tin foil and ready to be cooked.  He also had two tall bottles of "Fish Tale" Organic IPA for us to enjoy.  An appropriate choice of beverage and a fine meal.

I began casting into the deep, swift-flowing current along the far bank.  The intention was to have my bait and bobber drift downstream while gently drawing it ever so slightly into mingling with the eddy line.  Fish would be there Matt told me, reveling in the swirling, undulating water, just out of the fast lane.

I'm not much of a fisherman.  It had been years since I'd fished and the last times were in small lakes and ponds in Kansas, near my father's house on the prairie in the Flint Hills.  We caught bluegill and bass and some other small fish I didn't know the names of.  I'd never fished in the true mountain west for salmon or steelhead, for exciting, "destination" type fish so to speak.  This was all new to me.  

It was with some surprise then that I cast right to the spot I'd intended.  Of course I attributed this to luck and the improvements in fishing equipment over the years, not my skill.  I'd take it though: luck, technological advancements or not.  The bait and bobber drifted down almost exactly as planned.  I let out line as it drifted on, to extend the life of the cast, careful not to affect the natural movement of the bait and give it up as fraudulent fishmeal.  

Nothing on the first pass.  I reeled it in and cast again.  Nothing.  

And again.  

On my third try it happened.  From the first instant I knew it wasn't the bait tap-dancing on the river bottom.  This was a fish, and with its bite came that split-second realization; like the flip of a light switch sending the world from black to blinding, or the sharp, shocking sting of a bee you didn't see coming. 

A quivering energy shot down the line, from the reel, through the ceramic eyelets of the rod and the autumn air, and into the shining water.  Matt looked over excitedly.  His one, overwhelming desire that day was for me to catch a fish, to experience the unique thrill he so loved.  He was far more eager for it than I was, bless his heart.  Matt didn't have an extra pair of waders so he gave me his mid-calf high waterproof boots.  I could only stand in the shallow water near the bank but it was enough, my position was fine.  I stood wide-legged and leaned back against the force as the fight began, while bright teal-blue gnats wove themselves through the air around me.

With 10 lb. test line I couldn't just muscle it in--the line would break--and, besides, it wouldn't be any fun.  It wouldn't be an artful dance, demanding patience.  Finesse had to be involved, gentle coercion of the submarine being.  Brute force would not be rewarded; the fish--or whatever the hell it was down there--would be lost.  

I took my time, enjoyed the give and take with this fellow animal.  I'd raise the rod skyward and then reel in the line as I dropped it back towards the water again, easing it toward me, slowly but surely--up and down, up and down.  It would get closer and then suddenly the will to live, the stubborn, searing, blood-boiling animal instinct for survival would send the line slicing through the glimmering surface of the Klickitat once more, away from me to the far bank, the great force on the line dissipating with audible "clicks" from the reel.

Matt came over and adjusted the tension setting on the burdened reel after seeing that the fish had a good, strong fight and was evidently not small.  There had to be give in the system or the line would break for the pull of this proud beast was far more than 10 lbs.  

No hurry.  The weather was perfect and we had plenty of time.  Another drift boat with two guys in it--one of the many on the 18 miles of water we traveled that day--floated past and looked on grinning while I toiled away. 

Like a boxer--the Cassius Clay of the Klickitat--the fish worked left, cut right; left then right, right then left; rising, diving, rising again.  Fighting hard, defying my pull.  My arms grew tired, I had to switch hands on the rod, adjust my grip, shake out my forearms and tiring biceps, adjust my stance, reset my feet in the sandy river bottom.  We were locked in this thing together.  Give and take.  I felt our kinship growing and my respect for it building with every passing second; 

If that goddamn fish could stand before me I'd look it right in its eyes and shake its hand (or fin or whatever) with the firmest grip; I'd give it a bear hug and say:  You're one hell of an animal, I'll respect you 'til the day I die, thrashing for your sweet life like that with a hook in your face.  

I felt I could empathize with its defiant spirit and could even feel it within myself, burning deep down.  If some unknown brute hooked me in the face and tried to reel me in I'd spit and kick and go buck wild even if it torn my face clean off.  That stubborn, searing, blood-boiling animal instinct for survival is all I mean.

As I inched it in Matt told me that when the fish saw the bank it would become filled with vigor again and jet away with everything and anything it had left.  He was right.  As soon as I had finally reeled it within a couple feet of the shallows it tore off with renewed fight, line slicing water; left, right, left.  Of course I had the advantage and it was only a matter of another minute or two before it had nothing left to give, no line to take.

Matt was giddy, standing ready with the net.  The thing was pretty darn big.  I reeled it in the last few feet and with the final pull, right as it entered our waiting net, the line snapped and the fish flopped down, defeated.  The buoyancy of the water takes a great deal of the weight of the fish off the line, so as soon as it was out of the water the heft was too much and it broke.  

There the fish was, laying before me, captured, beautiful and glistening with color.  We'd come for steelhead and this was a salmon, a Chinook, in good condition though spawning and therefore near the end of its life.  Not the best for eating, not the best for taking as it's about to reproduce, so we'd be robbing the ecosystem of a new batch of young ones.  Why do that?  Let the rivers restock, more for everyone later.  This gorgeous beast had come all the way from the ocean, up the great, wide brown Columbia to the Klickitat and then miles and miles north--upstream don't forget--to where we intimately interacted that late October day.  It seemed a shame to take its life after it had worked so hard, given such a monumental effort, all in the name of giving back to life.  

I knew I could keep it--permits would allow--but didn't want to.  I made the decision looking down into its half-shuttered eye, feeling the bond and admiration from our toils together; You're one hell of an animal, I'll respect you 'til the day I die.

Matt pulled out his Leatherman and worked the hook out of its mouth (barbless, as regulations stipulated.)  He ran over to the boat and got his camera and told me to grab the thing quick and pose for picture so we could get it back in the water.  I stood there with the Klickitat lapping gently against me and the fish at waist height, one hand around the tail and the other holding the bulk of it.  The picture was snapped and it was time to let the fine fish go; catch and release.  Just like that it was gone, let go, with a great swish of its scaled body, away to the depths, as far from us and our hooks as possible.  

       Take care, I thought, I hope I didn't hurt you too badly, and thanks for your effort, it was a hell of a fight.

Matt was overjoyed and I was pleased, thankful for the unique experience of it all.  We were both ready for lunch; we ate sitting there on the beach, drank our beers.  After that it was getting later so we packed up and pushed on.  We had miles to cover before the take out at the Ice House.  Not much more fishing would be done but that was fine by me, I was more than satisfied and Matt's one wish had come true. 

The sun lowered in the sky and highlighted the gorgeous land around us, the glowing, breath-catching colors of autumn.  My feet were up on the bow, no responsibilities left for the last few miles except to soak it in and relax.  

I said a thank you to the Klickitat and to all the fish, darting below us as we drifted on.  

Thanks for reading!

Check out the pictures if you missed them before...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cold Night near Warm Springs

I laid on the cot and drifted in and out of napping because I was tired already from the weekend.  Some of the runners who came through thought I was a fellow racer and that I was injured and dropping out.  I wasn't injured, just cold and damp and somewhat bored out in the dark woods under an event tent set to half height in the midst of a monsoon.

Bryce and Heather sat in chairs across from me; music played from the small speakers on the iPhone and the bourbon was gone.  The sound of the storm was constant and my sleeping bag was wet but it didn't matter anymore, I kept it around me regardless.  Miserable but fun...that about sums it up.  We were happy to serve the ultra marathoning, trail running community.  Crazy group of freaks that they are.

Aid Station #10--Little Crater Lake--at the inaugural Mountain Lakes 100 was our outpost in the madness.  We'd hiked the gear out from the cars on the thankfully short, 1/4 mile trail, passing the namesake Little Crater Lake (a stunning geologic oddity) en route, to assist runners on their day-and-night 100 mile journey.  Our station was at mile 60.6 so the runners (if they made it that far) would already be in the thick of it: raw and ensconced in their epic mental and physical battles and hopefully ready for more.

It was raining all day but the latter half of our ~7 hour shift was in a full on gale, a bucking and spitting typhoon.  We'd started our stint out there in the afternoon with the tent at full height, of course, to give us proper head room, but the weather steadily deteriorated and those cold Oregon raindrops began to blow sideways with vigor.  We shortened the legs and dropped it down to save our lives.

Luckily it worked.

The runners at that point (and all points really, since it was driving snow and rain at 6:00 am at the start of the race...12+ hours before) were shining, inspiring, drenched-rat style warriors, soul-shakingly impressive in their resolve and composure given the ferocity of the elements and enormity of the challenge.  60 miles in, "just" 40 to go.

We had a classic orange Gatorade style container on the table to fill the runners' bottles with water and a special, electrolyte-type drink all mixed up and ready to go.  Beside that was the normal array of aid station food: Gu, potato chips, gummy bears, Fig Newtons and so on.  Not "health food" but ultra running food...a somewhat strange bit of counter-intuition.

25 hearty souls made it through our aid station before things really came crashing down.  A headlamp came bobbing through the night, not from the race course but from the direction of the parking lot.  Scott's face emerged out of the dark as he crouched to enter our hovel.

"Race is over," he said.  Pulling the plug, just too gnarly.  Hypothermia was already strengthening its grip on an unjustifiable amount of exhausted, sodden runners, weary from now 14+ hours on the trail, all of it in ~40-50 degree rain.

"Break things down here and drive back to Clackamas.  And Todd wants you," he stopped and pointed to me, "to sweep the trail back to the ranger station and make sure there are no runners in that section."

Well...ok then I guess...looks like it's a wrap.  I guess my night is not over yet either, but then again it wasn't supposed to be.  

The plan had been to pace my friend and client--the famed Portland chef Gregory Gourdet--the final 30 miles to the end--through the mad 3-D aquarium that was the first major storm of the '13/'14 fall and winter season.  I must say, although this belies my fierce machismo and typically hyper-sensitive egotism, I was quite relieved not to have to do so.  It would have been so dark and wet and scary...and long! I mean, come on, 30 miles isn't a hundred but it's still a long way.

We packed everything up, broke down the tent and loaded the cars.  I stood at the back of my 4runner, sheltered under the raised back hatch and prepped myself for the short but exciting 6 or so miles back to the ranger station.  I put on some dry layers, filled my water bottle.  Besides keeping an eye out for ailing runners I was going to be taking down the orange ribbon course markers that I had put in place that very morning.

The day before Heather and I had marked the 30 miles from Olallie Lake (the start of the race) to Clackamas Ranger Station, all on the Pacific Crest Trail, past Olallie Meadows, the Pinheads, Warm Springs and Red Wolf.  We camped in the parking lot at the ranger station and then the next morning my friend Matt and I marked the 15 miles around Timothy Lake and the little out and back to the Little Crater Lake Aid Station.  After we marked around the lake we met Bryce and Heather and headed in to set up Aid Station #10.

That was all over, though just a few hours past.  The race was done.  Triage was in effect; I could only imagine what the big aid stations looked like.  I heard stories later: downed trees, fallen limbs crushing cars, haggard, zombie-like runners with blue lips wrapped in space blankets, looking like despondent, tinseled-Christmas ornaments, in need of medical assistance.  God bless their souls.  Dreams were broken and there was plenty of upset but the outcome later seemed good at least.  Spirits were high, the community came together and prevailed once again.  There were no hard feelings.

Storms come, races get cancelled, and sometimes it rains on wedding day.  The whole point of all this trail running, mountain stuff is that we put ourselves in the hands of nature, we let go of the reigns a bit and hand over the keys.  The uncertainty is the thrill.  The unknown is why we partake.  We're not control freaks.  You may be in your normal life, but not out there; you can't be.

I traveled those 6 miles on the PCT back to the ranger station and what remained of the dispersing circus of the dramatic night.  My head lamp lit the narrow trail that was flooded with water.  There were no "puddles" or even anything that could be classified similarly.  The footpath, for long sections on end, was a river; a 6-8" deep pool of brown, earthy ice water.  Wind whipped about, rain drove down, trees swayed wildly.  Movement was everywhere. The energy of the storm was clearly felt.

I grabbed the orange ribbon markers off the branches where I'd attached them earlier with clothes pins.  I swore though that people removed some or they blew away or something; I ran along and began to spook myself, fearing ironically that the trail marker himself was off-trail, somehow, someway lost on some other forest tread through the nameless trees.

Jesus, the PCT is pretty easy to follow.  I've been on this section of it so many times before...WTF?  

I was tripping though, literally and figuratively; the storm was getting to me but I was going along just fine.  The creaking, squealing, moaning, groaning trees added a ghoulish ambiance to the experience and helped urge me on despite icy feet and the challenge of running through the constant water.

I was reassured by my progress when I recognized and passed the eclectic camp of crazy men that I'd talked to earlier on the day; hunters and rough necks and the like--not that there's anything wrong with that. These guys were drinking when I came through the first time 12 hours before, and proudly pointed out the array of nudie-pics they'd stapled to the trees around camp.  I told them to watch out for crazy runner types on 100 mile runs through the woods and not take down any trail markers.  I'm not entirely sure they respected the latter request, though they seemed like nice guys.

When I came through the second time they were still stirring, no doubt more drunken than before.  I could only imagine--in my darkest mind--what sort of wild debauchery went down on that torrential night in the camp of pornographic conifers.

I moved on, happily.

I was nearly there at last.  Having run the Mt. Hood 50 and the Timberline Marathon each twice before I knew exactly how long to the end.  I was excited to get out of the storm, stop running, stop wading through icy rivers, get dry, eat food, drink beer hopefully.  I pulled up the last of the markers and coasted into the ranger station.  All of the aforementioned haggard runners had left already, escorted to warm vehicles by selfless friends and family.  Heather was waiting in my car, sitting in shotgun with the windows steamed up.

The very next weekend the weather could literally not have been better.  Absolutely stunning in every way, just ridiculous; blue bird and beyond.  Of course this prompted talk: was that section of the Pacific Crest Trail and its environs cursed for races?  The "100 in the Hood" race a few years before was a disaster and had covered many of the same sections as Mountain Lakes 100.  And with the Warm Springs Indian Reservation right there...it's hard not to ponder: did our "forefathers'" (whatever the hell that means) treatment of the Native Americans have something to do with all this?  Does the blood on our hands make for irate spirits on the Pacific Crest Trail between Olallie Lake and Mt. Hood, along the Warm Springs Indian Reservation?

Who knows... who knows?... 

Fate will be tempted for Mountain Lakes 100 Round #2 again no doubt and maybe with enough penitence well be able to pull it off.  As for the living peoples at least things turned out ok and the community grew ever stronger.

Thankfully for us all, there's always next year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Taking it Slow: The Zigzag Mountain Trail and Paradise Park

I raced the Mt. Hood 50 on Saturday July 28th and then did the Rim to Rim Against Nestle protest run in the Gorge on the Wednesday after that.  The tough, epic 50 mile course of the Nestle run (of my creation!) felt like a 100 miler due to my fatigue but was good training for my last two ultras of the year, the Waldo 100k on Aug. 18 and The Bear 100 on Sept. 28-29.

I needed to rest my body and give it time to recover; with Waldo only 2 weeks away I wanted to make sure I was good and ready.  I got restless though with a rare free weekend and the perfect Oregon summer weather and had to take advantage and get into the mountains.

I decided to go hiking and spend a night alone out in the woods somewhere.  Being in the mountains in any way--hiking, running, climbing, strolling, observing, sleeping out--increases one's fluency with them.  Mountain travel is a true art and familiarizing with all its facets and getting to know the land and the movements intimately is essential.  I vowed to just take it nice and easy, go old school, take lots of pictures, have no real agenda, play it by ear, sleep wherever.

My Monday was free until the afternoon so I chilled Saturday and left Sunday morning and drove east toward Mt. Hood.  I'd gone back and forth literally dozens of times about where to go and what to do.  It was ridiculous.  First the 3 Sisters area, then Olympic National Park, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Mt. St. Helen's area, and on and on.  My going solo definitely played a part in my decision making and I always considered driving times.  With so much so close, it's hard to justify driving three or four hours when you could drive one.  I ended up staying close and was, yet again, blown away beyond comprehension.

I parked at the Zigzag Mountain Trailhead just off the East Lolo Pass Rd. off Highway 26, 45 miles from Portland.  I packed up and set off climbing out of the bottom of the valley; a nice early start at just after 10 am.  My small pack weighed maybe 25 lbs. at most with one long sleeve shirt, a ~2 lb. 32 deg. sleeping bag, a headlamp, hat, map, cell phone, ID, cash, and food and water.  For the food I had some gels and the like but also real stuff: a couple prepackaged burritos, a Dave's Sin Dawg, and a stick of Olympic Provisions Salami (OMG! This stuff is SO next level.)  It was nice to feel still relatively light but have plenty to spend the night out comfortably.

The trail followed mellow switchbacks for three thousand feet, ascending onto the massive ridge system that runs all the way into Mt. Hood itself.  I'd eagerly scoped the feature on maps and was thrilled to be finally exploring the area.  Once up the main climb the trail is surprisingly moderate, rolling along the ridge line, in and out of the trees.  When it did pop out of the trees the views were incredible, initially to the south with Mt. Jefferson and Devil's Peak and the countless others in between and all around, and then in every direction, to Helens, Rainier and Adams to the north.  Wildflowers abounded.  No clouds, hot, 90 degrees, but perfect.  Mt. Hood looked really far away.  I had some epic schemes flitting through my head and visions of grandeur about going all night and doing a 60 mile loop around the whole mountain but those quickly dissolved as I was stopping constantly and taking my time to look at things and take pictures.  And I was hiking.  Things go much slower when you're not running.  I decided to follow the Zigzag trail all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail/Timberline Trail and then see what I felt like doing.  I already had an inkling that I might be tempted to head to Timberline Lodge for beers (and because I love that place, such a work of art.)

I was constantly blown away by the Zigzag Mountain Trail and the area right there to the west of Mt. Hood, with Cast and Burnt Lakes and the exposed, wildflower strewn high points and outcrops all along the ridge.   I finally saw a few people near the Burnt Lake trail junction (where they took a picture of me) but before that I had been completely alone, fighting through the spiderwebs across the trail all on my lonesome.  For real though it was crazy, spider webs and the occasionally quite large spiders residing on them were the theme of the trip.  I was seriously very thankful to have my trekking poles with me if only for the sole purpose of clearing my way on the trail.

After reaching the PCT/Timberline Trail I was, as suspected, hankering for a beer and not looking for the epic miles I'd briefly pondered.  After all I was supposed to be resting.  I would go to Timberline Lodge I decided, enjoy a beverage, some company, maybe catch some coverage of the Olympics, and then sleep somewhere around there.  In the morning I'd cut down the mountain on a shorter route to Highway 26 then hitchhike the short distance to the town of Zigzag and my car nearby.  That was the plan.

...And I did exactly that.  The last three miles of my day, on the PCT/Timberline Trail from the Zigzag Mountain Trail to the Lodge, were dramatic and beautiful, contouring in and out and the great and massive drainage below Mississippi Head and the headwaters of the Zigzag River.  I was buzzing off the brilliant sights and perfect early evening temperatures.  Blissful.

At the Ramshead Bar I drank two IPAs, ate a bread bowl of clam chowder, talked to some PCT through-hikers, watched Olympic beach volleyball and gymnastics, then headed back out of doors again, into the lovely night.  The talkative older character of an employee said there was a lightning show going on out to the south east and so I went to watch it.  I hiked up the rocky, scree slopes above the lodge and found a little perch near some trees, technically right on the ski slope, but out of sight of any of the lights of the lodge.  I pulled out my sleeping bag and crawled in and watched the storm flashing out there in the cool night.  I awoke to rain, as the storm apparently had moved north a bit, and had to move under the shelter of the tree in the middle of the night.  Pleasurable temps though.

I awoke to the ski lifts running nearby, taking folks up the mountain to carve up the snow parks and few runs.  There was a surprising number of people headed up at 7 in the morning, all dressed like it was winter.  I just sat and enjoyed the view, looking south at Mt. Jefferson in the early light.  I backtracked to the lodge to have some coffee and look at my map in the great room and decide which route to take down.  I walked in the back door and the coffee was all laid out right there on a huge table in front of the window with big white porcelain mugs lined up invitingly, ready to go.  What more could I ask for?  Well, there was no food prepared for me but I didn't even think the coffee would be free so I was already pleasantly surprised.  I sat and consulted the map and decided to retrace my steps on the PCT/Timberline Trail through some of the most dramatic parts of the day before, then take the Paradise Park Trail down the mountain.

It was a stunning morning.  Couldn't have been more agreeable to the senses.  When I reached my cut off to start descending I couldn't help myself and chose to add on the Paradise Park Loop (an additional 4 miles) before heading for home.  I had enough time and I was already up there and I'd never been on the loop before.  I mean what if I died the next day?  I had to take advantage while I had the chance...

I actually thought I had died and gone to my alpine mountain heaven...I can't say much more than that.  It is hard for me to comprehend that the trailhead to this literal paradise is less than 1 hour from Portland.  That fact makes me catch my breath.  The privilege of having that access is immeasurable.

I did the loop then headed down, running a little here and there, but still battling spiders and webs.  I finally saw hikers coming up and was thankful that they had just cleared my way, as I had theirs.  I reached the road and walked the pavement of Rd. 2639 for a mile or so to the busy Highway 26.  Thumb out, hot in the full sun at 12:30 on the side of the road.  Some cars passed and I started to have the normal doubts, what if I never get back?  But 2 minutes later a guy stopped and I hopped in.  Edwardo--super cool dude, soccer coach from Portland, been to the summit of Hood--told me about his weekend in Bend and we chatted and in no time he dropped me at the Lolo Pass Road and we said goodbye.  I walked the last mile to my car and then I was back, thankful for no broken windows.  I switched into flip flops, started driving and an hour later I was home, ready for work in the afternoon.

Another good adventure, dirt bag style.

Enjoy the pictures (there's lots...)

Thanks for reading and looking! Here's a wonderful video and song for your viewing and listening pleasure...