Forest Park “Tour de Nasty”

  • Date: January 27, 2019
  • Start: Firelane 2 pullout, Leif Erikson off Germantown Road, and Lower Macleay Park
  • Distance: 67+ miles
  • Duration: 20 hours (breaks and commute time between trailheads included)
  • Elevation gain: 13,550 feet
  • Type: Loops
  • References: runs4cache

The light from my headlamp cut through the dense fog as efficiently as a butter knife slices through concrete. Each exhalation into the cold, winter night air formed clouds directly in the stream of light, further obstructing the sight of rocks, roots, and other hazards on the trail. Aware of how tired my body was after 50+ miles of running, and unable to see more than a foot in front of me, I shuffled cautiously through our last route of the day, picturing myself hopping down the final set of stairs to Lower Macleay Park. Less than 15 miles to go…

I learned about the Forest Park Nasty routes a couple of years ago. They’re notorious for utilizing some of the steepest trails in the park. Many local runners train on them in the off-season to prepare for upcoming races and adventures. Our original goal was to run all of them in a week, but by the end of fall, that goal gradually morphed into the idea of running them all in a single day. Over the course of 8-10 weeks–yeah, it was a pretty last minute idea–we incorporated the various Nasty routes into our running schedule, completing all of them at least once (and most of them two or more times), with our final “big” training run consisting of three back-to-back Nasties in a day (36+ miles with around 8,000 feet of gain). Despite some lingering fears on my part, when the last weekend in January finally arrived, we were ready to give it our best shot.  

Flaming Nasty (16.67 miles; 3 hours 41 minutes, breaks not included)

(Note: We started the loop at Firelane 2, but the standard start is at the bottom of Firelane 1 off Highway 30)

We pulled up to the Firelane 2 trailhead shortly before 2 am. It was eerily quiet as we stepped out of the car. Despite the early morning alarm, we were actually wide awake, having gone to bed at 5 pm the day before for a luxurious 6-7 hours of sleep. We set off into the fog and down the first of many firelanes–Flaming Nasty utilizes Firelanes 1-5. With the relatively dry weather that week, we lucked out with a fairly non-mucky descent on what is usually a slopfest in the winter.

A few more ups and downs on Leif, Chestnut, Wildwood, and Morak brought us to Firelane 1 and the long descent to Highway 30. It was still early enough in the morning that the highway was practically empty. During our training run on Flaming a few weeks earlier, this section–Highway 30 to the Saltzman Road turn-off–gave us a lot of grief because Cassie kept trying to jump at the cars and trucks roaring by at 60 mph. We had to stop constantly–definitely not fun in the pouring rain–and Mack had to carry her a few times. This time, it was smooth sailing to Saltzman and we were off the road section quickly.  

Running along Highway 30

The climb up Saltzman is the longest, continuous stretch of this route (and potentially of all the Nasty routes!). It’s not particularly steep, but you gradually climb for nearly 4 miles up to the Saltzman/Firelane 5 parking area at the top of the Tualatin Mountains. It was uneventful and monotonous, especially in the dark. Reaching the parking area was probably the highlight of the route even though we still had a few miles left. It felt like the home stretch.

At the bottom of Firelane 4, with only 3-4 miles left, a familiar pain suddenly returned to my achilles. Each push off my right foot came with the sensation that the tendon was going to tear. My heart sank. I’d been dealing with the pain the past two weeks, significantly decreasing my mileages, wearing an ankle brace, and icing the tendon constantly in hopes of getting better before Tour de Nasty. I hadn’t felt any pain the first 13 miles, but here it was. How was I going to run 50+ more miles? We took it slow, only running the downhills after that seeing as the pain seemed to be worse when I tried to run on flat sections. I moved carefully and consciously, hoping it would subside. Despite having to slow down, we were still making faster time than anticipated and topped out onto Skyline Road from Firelane 3 nearly an hour earlier than our estimated time. We jogged along Skyline back to our car at Firelane 2 and promptly started the short drive to Leif Erikson off Germantown Road, the starting point for the next three Nasties.

North Nasty (11.81 miles; 2 hours 48 minutes, breaks not included)

The normally bustling Leif Erikson entrance off Germantown was silent and empty at 6 am. Sunrise was still about an hour away. I switched into my blown out, very broken-in Altra Lone Peaks (still wearing my ankle brace) and immediately felt relief in my achilles. I assumed the snugness of my “newer” Lone Peaks combined with the ankle brace had aggravated the tendon somehow. Excited to enjoy some *hopefully* pain/injury free running with this shoe switch, we began our second Nasty of the day.

Of all the Forest Park Nasties, North is our absolute favorite. It was the first one we ever ran, the one we trained on the most, and it’s situated in our favorite part of the park. All of its ups and downs and twists and turns was incredibly familiar to us, even in the early morning darkness. First light came sometime on our descent of Newton Road. We figured we’d make it just in time for sunrise on BPA Road, which opens up to views of Helens, Adams, and Rainier on a clear day. Unfortunately, it appeared that the fog we’d encountered on Flaming was going to remain prevalent so we ended up with a steep, view-less–but nonetheless enjoyable!–climb into the clouds.

Climbing up BPA Road in the fog

Aside from BPA Road, the back end of the North Nasty encompassing Firelanes 12 and 15 is the best part of the route. There’s hardly anyone ever on these firelanes, you pass through a very lush section of the park, and you get in some fun rolling hills (though none as stout as BPA or Newton). As expected, we didn’t run into a single person and enjoyed the soft spoken sounds of the forest waking up for the day. 

Daylight brought a renewed sense of energy and we pushed a little more once we found our stride on the mostly flat Wildwood Trail, which connected us back to Firelane 10. From there it was just over a mile of down and up back to our car at Leif. We finished shortly after 9 am, ready and eager to start South Nasty.

Firelane 12
Home stretch on Firelane 10

South Nasty (13.54 miles; 3 hours 10 minutes, breaks not included)

Despite our eagerness to keep going while we had momentum, we also had to recognize and respect the fact that we’d now run close to 30 miles already. It was time for a more legitimate break. Our friend, Alex, met us at the trailhead. He and another friend of ours, Aaron (who planned to catch up with us after we started), were joining us for this Nasty. Alex had brought a thermos of hot tea and shared it with us as we huddled beneath the trunk door of Mack’s car, keeping our bodies warm as we rested.

In the days leading up to Tour de Nasty, Mack had filled a small storage bin with our favorite running “nutrition” (Gushers, candy bars, GUs, variety of gummy candies, potato chips, cheetos, bottles of Gatorade to refill our flasks, and his homemade veggie burritos). It was our own personal aid station between each Nasty! As we repacked for South Nasty, we also forced down some of our aid station food to keep us energized for the next 13.5-ish miles. 

Although I enjoy the trails utilized in South Nasty, it’s probably my least favorite (or potentially tied with Flaming) because of precarious road running on Germantown. After taking Cannon Trail to the Wildwood Trailhead off Germantown, we ran up Germantown to the “unnamed” trail near the junction with Skyline Road. To be clear, this “trail” isn’t really a trail at all. It’s barely a social path. The only way we found it the first time we ran South Nasty was with a gpx track. It’s a short section, but it involves bushwhacking through Oregon grape, sword fern, and a variety of prickly, brushy plants. It’s not particularly difficult, but it is slow going. Once we entered the clearing at the top, we dropped down onto an official trail, Waterline Trail, and took it all the way to Leif.  

Aaron, being the speedy runner that he is, eventually caught up to us as we were descending a more technical section on Tolinda Trail. From there our quartet got back onto Germantown Road. The section of road running between Tolinda Trailhead and Bridge Avenue is my absolute least favorite of all the Nasties. There’s literally inches–okay, maybe a little more than that but it doesn’t feel like it–between you and oncoming traffic on Germantown, and to make matters worse, there are one or two blind turns in the road, as well as a guard rail that basically eliminates any space to run safely. 

The asphalt pounding continued as we turned up Springville Road, the first–really the only–lengthy climb on the route. In fact, the steepest section is actually the paved portion before reaching the gated, unpaved portion leading up to Skyline Road. Good company and conversations always make the tough climbs go by quickly though. I was grateful that Alex and Aaron were out there with us.

At the very top of Springville, we dropped all the way back down to Bridge Avenue via Firelane 7 and Ridge Trail. I felt especially nostalgic on Ridge Trail. It was where Mack introduced me to trail running for the first time when we lived in St. Johns a few years prior. It was where I fell in love with trail running. 

Hiking up Springville Road

Ridge Trail spit us back out onto Bridge Avenue, but the road section was short this time (and there’s a sidewalk available!). The final portion of South Nasty is a maze of sorts, utilizing the various trails off of Firelane 7. We started with the uphill stretch on Firelane 7A from Bridge Avenue, a sloppy, brushy slog up to Leif Erikson. After that it’s a series of ups, downs, and flats using Gas Line Road (not signed with this particular name), Firelane 7, Trillium Trail, Wildwood Trail, Oil Line Road (also not signed with this particular name; both Gas Line and Oil Line sort of bleed into Firelane 7), then finally a fun descent on Hardesty Trail. 

The two or so miles on Leif leading back to our car were probably the most pathetic of the entire day. It’s a very gradual uphill–so gradual it basically appears to be flat–but my legs had had enough. I leaned into my trekking poles and walked. Not power hiked. Just walked. We were over 40 miles in now, but we still needed to push through another marathon distance to finish. 

The elusive Firelane 7A

Skyline Nasty (10.92 miles; 2 hours 50 minutes, breaks not included)

(Note: We started the loop at Leif off of Germantown, but the standard start is at Skyline Tavern)

Three down, two to go! Now that we’d made it well past the halfway point, I had absolutely no doubt we were going to get it done. That being said, we were definitely feeling the 40+ miles we’d already completed, and fueling with sugary goodness for nearly 12 hours wasn’t exactly providing any long lasting energy. I could tell Mack was starting to recede mentally when he tried to pour Gatorade into a plastic Ziploc thinking it was his flask. Alex headed home with the intention of meeting us for the final Nasty later that day. Aaron decided he’d stick around for both.

Since we were starting from Leif rather than Skyline Tavern (to avoid additional driving), the route started off just like North Nasty for the first few miles, including the steep, rocky descent of Newton (which my knees were not pleased with by this point) and the long, arduous trudge up BPA. Although Skyline Nasty is shorter and flatter than its counterpart,–well, after you finish BPA that is–our overall pace was far slower. Even running the small ups on Wildwood became a chore!

Rock hopping over Newton Creek

Despite how slow we [me and Mack only; Aaron was cruising!] were moving, I just kept reminding myself that every step forward was a step closer to finishing. Aside from being a bit tired from being on our feet all day, neither of us felt like we were suffering and found it easy to smile, joke, and chat as we shuffled along. My spirits rose even more once Mack informed me we’d passed the 50 mile mark. For context, I dropped out over halfway through my first 50 mile race a few months prior and, since then, had a difficult time believing that I was cut out for such distances. Yet here I was 50 miles and over 13 or 14 hours into a gnarly 100+ kilometer “fun run.” I knew we still had a ways to go, but crossing that 50 mile mark felt even more special than knowing I’d complete nearly 70 in a few hours. 

Running on Wildwood for a change!

After finally crossing Germantown at Wildwood, we jogged out to the true start of Skyline Nasty, following Wildwood out to Waterline, then Waterline all the way up to the gate at NW Skyline. We looked longingly across the way at the tavern. The idea of grabbing some celebratory drinks and a bite to eat sounded so enticing, but we weren’t done yet. We settled for a couple of photos then headed back to the cars parked at Leif.

Selfie at the gate across from Skyline Tavern

Alphabet Nasty (14.77 miles; 3 hours 50 minutes, breaks not included)

It was still light outside when we pulled into Lower Macleay Park. Alex was already there and Aaron arrived a few minutes later. Although I’d been in shorts since the first Nasty, when I stepped outside of the car, I was reminded that it was indeed winter. I changed into running tights and threw on my Oiselle Vim jacket for extra warmth. We took our time getting packed up and refueled. The sun was setting soon and we knew we’d be in the dark for nearly the entire run. Why rush at this point? In conjunction with the cold, the 20 minutes or so spent driving to Lower Macleay left my legs feeling stiff. After a relatively longer break, we walked to the start of the trail, shook out our legs, and began the gradual climb up to Pittock Mansion. 

Darkness overcame us quickly. I switched my headlamp on even before we reached the Stone House/Witch’s Castle. I was amazed to see so many hikers still out on the trail, most of whom didn’t have a headlamp and still had at least a mile to cover to get back to Lower Macleay Park! To be fair, they probably thought we were pretty crazy, too. After crossing NW Cornell and getting on Upper Macleay Trail, we saw nobody else. The fog and moisture in the air was a nightmare to deal with and made running downright impossible (at least for me). Fully aware that I was the slowest in our group, as well as the least comfortable running in the dark, I had Mack run behind me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. Alex and Aaron always seemed impossibly far ahead, but it kept me and Mack moving. 

We enjoyed a slight reprieve from the heavy fog once we entered one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the park. (Rather than taking the trail all the way to Pittock, the Alphabet Nasty route actually utilizes the neighborhood streets!) I was even able to switch off my headlamp for a little while since the streetlights were so bright. We’d hoped to enjoy a nice view of the city lights from Pittock Mansion, but, as expected, everything–including the mansion itself–was obscured. At least we’d covered 3-4 miles already!

No views from Pittock Mansion

We were back on trails after Pittock. The majority of the running takes place on the NW 53rd Drive trails for the final 10 miles or so, trails that Mack and I are very familiar with since they’re the closest Forest Park access points from our place. We pushed our way up Holman (the trail that I used to think was an ass-kicker until I experienced BPA for the first time), jogged down Birch, Wildwood, and Aspen, then trekked through another neighborhood to reach the seemingly seldom-used Water Tank Trail.

Water Tank brought us to Leif and all the familiar routes branching off that Mack and I have run in this area. In an attempt to make the final miles feel less demanding, I reminded myself that what we were about to run now was, on a normal day, a “short” run for us. Up Wild Cherry, down Dogwood, up Alder, Keil to Dogwood, and, finally, down Wild Cherry. It was a constant game of catch-up the entire way,–how did Alex and Aaron always suddenly end up so far ahead each time I caught up with them???–and Mack was fading fast from sleep deprivation, but at the end we were all shuffling excitedly down NW Thurman together. On the Thurman Street Bridge, I looked down and saw the park. A wave of relief and finality rushed over me. We hobbled down the stairs and crossed our “finish line” on the last step. The park was quiet save our a little quartet making the rounds of high fives and “You did it!” A perfect, subtle end to our longest running adventure yet.

All done!

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