Wilson River Trail E2E2E

  • Date: January 27, 2018
  • Location: Tillamook State Forest
  • Start: Elk Creek Trailhead
  • Distance: 42 miles (only completed 39-ish)
  • Duration: 10 hours 15 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 3950 feet (one way)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. That was the only word (minus a certain descriptive expletive preceding the word “stupid”) racing through my head as we stumbled through the Tillamook State Forest in the pitch black. Our inadequate sources of light barely lit up the trail a few feet in front of us. I became more and more paranoid with each step, terrified that I would take a fall and injure myself, or that we’d have a surprise encounter with any of the nocturnal predators that lurk in the forest. The rain was coming down hard at this point, but it was fear that saturated me, seeped into my skin, resonating deep within my bones. Why had I thought this would be a good idea?

We started late in the morning just before 7 am. It seems silly to call that “late” since the sun had yet to rise, but 42 miles was a very new distance for us. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect but I anticipated needing the entire day. It was already raining when we started up the first hill leading out of the campground parking area. Once we were in the trees we were somewhat protected. Mack had me lead so he wouldn’t end up running too far in front of me. My legs were still getting reacquainted with this sport. Mack had been doing a fantastic job of keeping up his big mileage weeks over the past couple of months since our previous race in November. I, on the other hand, stopped running entirely for 20+ days in December and early January. I could blame that hiatus on my busy schedule but, at the heart of it, was lack of motivation and feelings of defeat. My hope was that Wilson River would light a fire under my ass and reignite the spark that had been missing from my most recent attempts to get back into it.

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A cloudy dawn in the forest

We weren’t greeted with sunshine, just cloudy skies and fog, but daylight allowed us to put away our headlamps and pick up the pace. Silhouettes and shadows were replaced with a sea of green. Sword ferns, salal, and Oregon grape blanketed the slopes while moss coated the trees and rocks. Despite being the dead of winter, the forest was already exhibiting signs of spring. Even from a few of the viewpoints from up high along the route, snow was nowhere to be seen as we looked out over the forested mountains of the coast range. At least it was one less obstacle to deal with. Although the trail itself offers some of the best (if not the best) tread for running, its constant undulating elevation profile makes it deceptively challenging. The first 9-10 miles alone (from Elk Creek to Diamond Mill) gain 3500+ feet!

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Lots of mini-falls and creek crossings

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One of the Lester Creek Pinnacles

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The Diamond Mill suspension bridge over the North Fork Wilson River brought an ironic sense of relief. We weren’t quite halfway through our end-to-end (and barely a quarter of the way done with the entire run!). I think the relief I was feeling stemmed from my memory of running the Elk-Kings 25K back in 2015. At this point in the route, there were less than 3 miles left to run. If only the same could be said about our current situation. We took a short snack break after crossing the deceptively slick bridge then continued on more mellow terrain past Lester Creek Falls (which we’d never noticed until this run), Jones Creek Day Use Area, and the beautiful Tillamook Forest Center. Another false sense of relief swept over me when the Wilson River Suspension Bridge came into view. If this were the Go Beyond Racing event, we’d be running across that bridge to a victorious finish, nourishing food and refreshments, and warm and dry clothes back in the car. On the contrary, all was silent. There was nobody and nothing waiting for us across that bridge. We were alone, and the comforts I was fantasizing about were miles away at Elk Creek Trailhead.

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Suspension bridge at Diamond Mill
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North Fork Wilson River (looking south from the bridge)
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North Fork Wilson River (looking north from the bridge)
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Just my luck…
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Lester Creek Falls
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Wilson River Suspension Bridge and Tillamook Forest Center

We enjoyed a few more miles of minimal climbing, taking in the views of Wilson River now that the trail was practically hugging it. The rain continued off and on, and the seemingly endless creek crossings left our socks perpetually soaked. Continuous movement was the only way to stay warm. There were some upsides though. I absolutely hate running in the heat (basically any temp above 70-75 degrees), so the cool 40-50 degree weather kept me from burning out too fast. In addition, the cold and wet kept potential crowds–well, Wilson River Trail never gets that crowded per se–at bay. I’m pretty sure I could count the number of people we saw all day on one hand.

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Particularly lush section along Wilson River
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Wilson Falls
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New favorite adventure running sustenance

The final stretch between Wolf Creek Road and Keenig Creek Trailhead saw another 1000+ feet of elevation gain over the course of six miles. It wasn’t much compared to that of the first 9-10 miles, but we were very much ready for a break (and to be halfway done). I was starting to feel a bit of pain in my right knee, which made the miles go by even slower and caused my level of stress to skyrocket. Thankfully, as soon as we hit Cedar Butte Road, the pain seemed to subside (or was just overshadowed by my immense excitement that the rest of the way was downhill). We flew down 1.5 miles of switchbacks before bursting through the trees and into the empty parking lot, exhilarated and exhausted. 21 miles down, but 21 to go…

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Wolf Creek
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Wolf Creek
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And more Wolf Creek
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Keenig Creek Trailhead = halfway done!

What goes down must come up. After a fairly brief snack break and some reluctance to begin again, we headed back up the switchbacks I’d been so ecstatic about earlier. Now I was groaning as I forced my tired legs to hike uphill. High spirits resumed once we reached Cedar Butte Road again and were able to pick up the pace. I took my final photos of our run–though I was still under the impression I’d be taking a couple more back at the car when we finished–shortly after we crossed Wolf Creek Road.

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Crossing the footbridges at Wolf Creek
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Yeah…can’t get enough of Wolf Creek apparently
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Still many miles to go

Reaching the Wilson River-Footbridge Trail junction (just over six miles in) felt like forever and definitely hampered my will to continue. It was already getting late into the afternoon, too. Sunset was about an hour away and we still had 15 tough miles remaining. I can’t speak for Mack, but my body started to shut down at this point. I shuffled along the best I could but ended up having to walk–more like crawl–at a time when we really needed to be moving fast.

The sun was already beginning to set by the time we reached the Tillamook Forest Center. At the pace we were going (because of me), I knew it would be hours before we reached Elk Creek Trailhead. Of course, we’d forgotten to bring along our Garmin inReach and had absolutely no cell service to call and let our emergency contact know that we’d be running very late. I could feel the panic start to fester in me (mainly because I didn’t want SAR called on us due to lack of communication). I even suggested to Mack that we bail at the Jones Creek Trailhead and run along Hwy 6 to Elk Creek Trailhead (which would’ve cut our remaining mileage in half) so we could return at a reasonable hour and get in touch with our contact. He thought it would be more dangerous, so we stuck to the trail.

It was completely dark when we crossed the North Fork Wilson River and headed back into the forest to work our way through the most difficult/strenuous section of the route. It was primarily uphill so I wasn’t running. Hell, I was barely able to power hike. Emotions began to pour out of me. I was angry and frustrated with my abilities, as well as the fact that we’d forgotten to bring such an important piece of equipment (that we’d specifically purchased for situations like this!). At some point it started raining again. We picked our way carefully up and down the trail, depending primarily on Mack’s handheld flashlight since my headlamp was completely inadequate. We ran whenever possible, but moving in the pitch black was slow going to say the least.

At long last,–literally, we’d been moving for over two hours since crossing the North Fork–we reached the junction with Kings Mountain Trail. Our trailhead was still nearly four miles away and it was already 8 pm. We decided to head down to Kings Mountain Trailhead (a short 0.1 mile away). Upon reaching the parking lot, every last ounce of energy that I’d sustained with adrenaline for the previous two hours suddenly left me. My entire body seemed to go limp. I could barely see straight or stand up. Mack headed down Hwy 6 in the rain to pick up his car at Elk Creek about 2.5 miles away. I was too drained to move and sat in the rain shoving Goldfish into my mouth. I finally picked myself up and spent the remainder of my time shut inside the toilet, shaking and shivering in the 30-something degree weather. This image, sitting in a trailhead toilet, beat down and unable to even complete the final 2.5 road miles to the car, felt like the epitome of failure in that moment. I sat dazed in the car on the way home, staring at the streaks of water splash across the window, dreaming of BBQ and pineapple pizza to take my mind off of my immense disappointment.

Arch Cape-Cape Falcon

  • Date: February 25, 2017
  • Location: Oswald West State Park
  • Start: Shingle Mill Trailhead
  • Distance: 11.9 miles (12.4 if we’d made it to junction with Cape Falcon Trail)
  • Duration: 2 hours 37 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

Between sickness, injuries, and work obligations, our last few weekends have been pretty low-key. As per usual, we (well, mostly me) were starting to go a little stir crazy. With sunshine and clear skies in the forecast this past Saturday, we decided to head out to the coast for another adventure/training run. Although our original plan was to run Arch Cape to Short Sand Beach (around 16 miles done as an out-and-back), we ran (no pun intended) into a small mishap and ended up shortening the route to Cape Falcon. Despite the disappointing alteration, we were grateful to have gotten outside to explore a new area of the always breathtaking Oregon Coast.

The route begins off a gravel driveway on Shingle Mill Lane in a remote Arch Cape neighborhood. Interesting place for a trailhead. After crossing the suspension bridge (which scared the crap out of poor Cassie), the trail immediately enters the forest and gains elevation. Our run was off to a slow start since neither of us had the energy to charge up that first hill. Mack mentioned later that his initial thought in that first quarter mile or so was, “What did she [me] get us into?!” Thankfully, the incline becomes more gradual, and after crossing Hwy 101 it stays relatively flat for a little while. Nonetheless, our pace remained on the slower side due to numerous blowdowns; slick, muddy patches; and tree roots that basically comprise a majority of the trail surface. After running the Tillamook Head Traverse back in December, these conditions didn’t really surprise us.

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Numerous downed trees on the trail

The section between Falcon Cove Rd and Cape Falcon is the longest stretch of the route (roughly 4 miles). It’s also the most beautiful. The trail pulls away from the highway, and the woods grow dense and lush. Every once in awhile we just had to stop, gaze up, and admire the towering beauties surrounding us. Forests on the Oregon Coast are hands down some of the most enchanting places in the Pacific Northwest. I grow fonder and fonder of them each time we visit.

After a flat section, we started uphill, switchbacking deeper into the forest until we were running along the cliffside and listening to the waves crash against the rocks below. Every once in awhile we got a glimpse of the rugged coastline beyond the trees. Up until this point, we’d been fairly cautious and alert while we ran because of the trail conditions, but here the trail became far less riddled with tree roots and other obstacles (save some overgrown sword fern). I thought we’d be in for some smooth sailing for a stretch, so I let my guard down.

I’m still not quite sure how it happened. I don’t know if my foot caught a hidden root or I slipped in mud. All I remember is falling face first and letting out a yelp when I felt my right ankle buckle beneath me. Mack gave me some space as I dragged myself a short ways up the trail to find a place to sit and compose myself. The pain was severe for a few minutes, but I hadn’t heard a pop, and my foot wasn’t bent at an abnormal angle, so I ruled out the possibility of a fracture. When the pain lessened, I stood up and put some weight on it. Although it wasn’t pain-free, at least it was possible. I took a few shaky steps and the pain subsided a little bit more. We decided to push on (slowly of course) since we were already pretty close to Cape Falcon, but in that moment I knew we weren’t going to make it to Short Sand Beach that day.

Shortly after my clumsy accident, we dropped down to a side trail that led out to an incredible viewpoint. To the south, we could see the Cape Falcon headland, our main destination (besides Short Sand Beach for the extra mileage). So close and yet so far (with a sprained ankle at least). Mack and I both knew that if we continued, we’d be in for another uphill stretch on the way back, and with my ankle in terrible shape, I’d risk straining it more. We still had to get back to the car nearly 6 miles away! After some brief deliberation, we decided to turn around and head back.

*I found out later that the headland was only a quarter mile away…Ugh! Kind of wish we’d kept going…

Taking in the view with Cassie

Now that we were heading back earlier than expected, we took the time to further enjoy our surroundings and take more pictures of the area. I could feel my ankle starting to swell, so these occasional breaks were helpful. Despite the discomfort, the pain wasn’t too bad and I was able to run a majority of the way back. We still had a lot to smile about. The sun was out in full force now, lighting up the moody forest with golden rays streaming through the trees, and we were getting some quality time together with Cassie doing something we love in a place that we love.

Sleepy dog

Tree roots galore

Before we knew it, we were back at the Oregon Coast Trail marker across Hwy 101. Less than a mile and a half to go! We power-hiked up the logging road, excitedly awaiting the elevation loss that would follow. I love completing long runs on the downhill. I always feel like I’m flying strong into the finish. Although I couldn’t bound down any hills with my swollen ankle, I still felt surprisingly strong and full of energy as we descended that final hill and crossed the suspension bridge. It didn’t really feel like we’d just run a tough 12-miler (okay, 11.9).

Trail marker after crossing Hwy 101

We packed up our things and changed into some dry socks and shoes. This particular run was a nice reminder that both of us need to buy new shoes. The uppers on mine are ripping away, letting in tons of debris when I run. It’s amazing to see how quickly we go through shoes now that we’ve started consistently running longer miles! We wrapped up our trip with a quick stop at Angelina’s Pizzeria in Seaside, our go-to restaurant whenever we’re in the area. Stuffing our faces with personal pizzas and garlic butter dipping sauce is always a good way to finish off a day at the coast. Not everything went according to plan this day, but I’d say we still managed to make the most of our long-awaited weekend adventure. I mean, it wouldn’t be an adventure if everything went perfectly, right?

Post-run snack in the car

Tillamook Head Traverse

  • Date: December 18, 2016
  • Location: Ecola State Park
  • Start: Tillamook Head Trailhead
  • Distance: 11.05 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 49 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 2234 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” Seriously though. The recent onslaught of winter weather here in Portland had us reconsidering our planned beach weekend, primarily due to the inevitably sketchy road conditions we’d encounter on the drive there. Not wanting to miss out on our next adventure run opportunity though, especially after our successful run to Opal Pool and Cedar Flats a few weekends back, we packed up the Crosstrek (which had fared very well on snowy and icy roads around Mount Hood the previous weekend) and headed out Saturday morning. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the Gearhart beach house, carbo-loading via Angelina’s pizza (Best. Pizza. Ever.), and awoke early on Sunday to begin our run.

With the exception of driving to Forest Park trails in Portland, the commute from Gearhart to the Tillamook Head Trailhead in Seaside was probably the shortest drive (10 minutes) to a hiking/running destination that I’ve ever had to do! We started up the trail around 9:45 am. The four miles to the main viewpoint are mostly uphill through a lush forest (reminiscent of Neahkahnie Mountain, also on the coast). As a hike, this would’ve been pretty moderate for us, but as a run, it kicked our asses. The trail conditions made it more difficult, too. Recent subfreezing temps had frozen much of the uneven, muddy surface. Instead of soft and squishy, it was like running through a sea of potholes. With numerous roots and deadfall thrown into the mix, it turned out to be quite the obstacle course. My ankles were definitely feeling pretty sore and sensitive by the end of it. On the upside, the weather was surprisingly sunny. Rays of light streaming through trees is one of my favorite simple pleasures in life. I got to experience it quite often on this day.

Trailhead in Seaside

The trail eventually plateaued for a stretch and we were rewarded with ocean views as the route snakes along the edge of a cliff. The pothole-ish terrain continued to slow our pace, but every so often we got to run on sections of boardwalk. The planks were icy, but it was still easier than running through ankle-deep holes. After a few more ups and downs, the trail switchbacks down to the log shelters of Hiker’s Camp, a sign that we were very close to the prime viewpoint. We stopped to admire the camp and peer inside the shelters. Just beyond the camp, the trail intersects a gravel road. Heading to the right would take us to the viewpoint. Of course, just as we were getting ready to make our way down , Cassie darted back into the forest, off-trail, to chase a squirrel. She’d been so well-behaved up until that point! I spent about 10 minutes bushwhacking through ferns, downed trees, and various shrubs (praying that I wasn’t exposing myself to anything poisonous!) to retrieve her. She remained on-leash for a good portion of our run after that little fiasco.

After scolding Cassie, we followed the road (1/8 mile according to the sign at the junction) to a clearing at the edge of a cliff. Although we’d just taken a break at Hiker’s Camp, we paused here for a few minutes to soak in views of the Pacific, the deserted Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (aka “Terrible Tilly”), forested cliffsides, and a secluded cove below us. I’m constantly amazed at the variety of natural beauty we encounter so close to our home in Portland. Last weekend we were playing in the snow on the northeast flank of Mount Hood. This day we were exploring the coastline, trading that sea of white for various hues of blue. I may not be a beach person, but I sure can appreciate the magnificence of the ocean.

We ran back up to the junction and considered our options for the final stretch to Indian Beach, our turnaround point. Both the gravel road that lay before us and the continuation of the Tillamook Head Trail to our right led to our destination. Although the gravel road route is shorter and (probably) far less technical, we opted to continue on the trail, which hugs the cliffside and offers more views of the ocean. It was all downhill to the beach parking lot, and the trail ended up being a lot less technical than our initial four miles. Upon exiting the forest, we had a spectacular view of Indian Beach. A few years ago, when I first moved to Portland, Mack and I spent a summer afternoon exploring this little beach. Although we didn’t walk down to it this time around, seeing it again brought back some lovely memories.

After all that easygoing downhill, it was time for another calf-burning ascent. The incline here is (or at least felt) a lot less gradual than the beginning of the route in Seaside. We alternated between running and hiking until we reached Hiker’s Camp. The trail continues to gain elevation after the camp though. I let Cassie off-leash again once we reached the switchbacks. Running is a whole lot easier when she’s not pulling me over technical terrain, and I was able to keep a more steady pace this time. When we finally reached the plateau, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we’d soon be heading downhill the rest of the way. The last couple of miles went by quickly. Although we weren’t able to fly down those hills because of the aforementioned obstacles, we still had a strong finish as we rounded the final corners and passed beneath the archway that marks the trailhead. We snapped a fun finish line selfie (making sure to include that cool archway in the background) before piling our muddy selves into the car and heading back to Gearhart for our reward: leftover Angelina’s pizza.

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Neahkahnie Mountain

  • Date: June 12, 2016
  • Location: Oswald West State Park
  • Start: North Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 14 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 1450 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

To celebrate the completion of successful end-of-year student recitals/concerts, we decided to get away for the weekend and take Cassie on her very first beach trip! Weather called for blue skies and sun, so in addition to our usual stroll on the beach and massive amounts of pizza, a hike up Neahkahnie Mountain was thrown into the mix.

*I don’t usually include photos unrelated to the hike, but Cassie got to see the ocean (for what we think was her first time) the night before and she looked so adorable!

Tillamook Head in the distance

We opted to start from the lesser used North trailhead (2 miles longer round-trip than starting from the South end), which is supposedly more varied in terms of scenery and terrain. We were not disappointed.

The first 15-20 minutes were spent in the thick of a luscious wildflower meadow overlooking the ocean. After spending most of this portion bushwhacking our way through the overgrown trail, as well as snacking on the salal and salmonberries that line it, we entered the forest portion of the hike. Since we started the hike relatively early, we had the entire trail to ourselves and enjoyed the peace and quiet. This sense of serenity was further enhanced by the fir and spruce trees shading us from the sun.

Similar to our recent Tom Dick and Harry Mountain hike, the elevation gain was moderate and the entire 2.5 miles felt like a breeze. The final push is a short, exposed scramble up to the rocky summit (although once we summited we noticed an easier approach from the southern part of the trail; the scramble was more fun anyways). The view of the coastline stretching south for miles and miles is definitely a reward that far outweighs the effort it takes to achieve it. It’s easy to see why the Tillamook named the mountain Neahkahnie, or “place of the god.”