Thursday, September 30, 2010

Remembering my grandpa

My grandpa was not the easiest man to get along with.
In fact, he could be a bit of a curmudgeon.
But we loved him for it.
Grandpa Gordon was fiercely opinionated, political, independent, and a bit anti-social. When he moved into University House in Wallingford after the death of my grandma, my mother encouraged him to join groups or try some new activities. “Holly, I am not a joiner,” he firmly told her.
By chance, my good friend Dan’s grandparents happened to live right next door to him at the senior living community. When Dan’s grandpa heard about the connection, he remarked to Dan, “Gordon Roberts? He’s not someone I’d have wanted to run into in a dark alley in his younger days.” Yep, I told Dan. That’s my grandpa.
But the gruff exterior merely masked a loving, strong man who learned to rely on himself early in life. I first began to really understand my grandpa in high school, when I chose him as my interview subject for an oral history project.
I’d never talked to my grandpa at length about his life before. When my sister, cousins and I spent summer weeks at their beach house on Appletree Lane, Grandma June played hostess. We sat with her at the dining room table, sipping Russian tea, eating bran muffins, and talking all about our lives. Grandpa retreated to his study upstairs. We accepted his solitary ways. Grandma was the social one; Grandpa was not.
But through hours of interviewing, I came to understand why he was the way he was. He’d left home in Wisconsin at age 13 because of an unhappy family life, and caught a freight train out to Seattle. As a young teenager, he found his own place downtown and a job to support himself. By necessity, he became tough.
At age 18, my grandpa married my grandmother, who he’d met in junior high school in Wisconsin. She took a job in Seattle supporting the war effort and he enlisted for the U.S. Marines.
The military branch seemed an odd choice, as my grandpa couldn’t swim and was terrified of the water. But, as he later explained, the Marines were the best. He wanted to be the best.
Though my grandpa was supposed to swim the long length of a pool to pass the Marines’ entry test, his swim instructor gave up on him and let him get away with just the short length. That was good enough for an assignment in the Pacific during World War II, where thankfully the worst injury he encountered was a crab bite.
During the war, my grandpa decided he wanted to obtain his high school diploma, go to college, and become a teacher. After taking the GED exam, he was instructed to carry his results by train to the test processing office. Don’t peek, they told him. Of course he did. The score was so high, it buoyed him with the confidence that he could do anything he wanted.
And he did. He went to college and became a community college high school math teacher. The profession suited him. On family camping trips to Kalaloch on the Washington coast, he made his four children count logging trucks by prime numbers. He loved mathematics, and he loved teaching.

The teaching track made both my grandpa and grandma – also a teacher – staunch supporters of education. They attended every graduation in our family, even flying down to Stanford for my scorching hot graduation day. They supported all of their grandchildren financially during school. Growing up, I never doubted the importance of a college degree.
If there was one thing my grandpa really understood, it was finances. Though he and my grandma made modest salaries as teachers, his skill in investing earned them a comfortable retirement. My grandpa shared financial planning tips with any of us who acted eager to listen. Though he treated himself with a Lexus and a waterfront home, my grandpa remained a child of the Depression, clipping coupons and washing out his plastic bags.
My grandpa also never hesitated to share his opinions. A staunch Democrat, he railed against conservatives and their agenda. He loved to debate, even on topics that would affect him very little, such as the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Up until recent months, when his energy lagged, my grandpa often sent me emails on news topics. He told me, “look for story in A19,” even though I’d long ago switched to reading the paper online.
He remarked often how happy it made him that I’d become interested in politics. Some of the causes I care about – abortion rights and women’s rights – were the ones Grandma June fought so hard for, he told me. He said, with tears in his eyes, that I was carrying on her legacy.
He also didn’t care much for religion. When we said the pledge of allegiance at any event, he omitted the phrase “under God,” and then told anyone willing to listen about how that part was never a part of the original pledge, and was added by politicians in the 50s.
My grandpa became an atheist, he told me, after my grandma gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. No god would wish that upon someone, he said. After his diagnosis with esophageal cancer two years ago, I asked him if he thought he’d see my grandma after he died. She’d passed away five years ago of Parkinson’s.
Of course not, he responded. Heaven is something people make up to make themselves feel better about dying.

The doctors gave him less than a year to live. He beat the predictions, surviving a full two. It hurt to watch his pain at the end. Esophageal cancer is a nasty disease. Eating and swallowing becomes so unbearable, patients often die of starvation.
In my last real conversation with him, just a week ago, he could barely eat and talked in a low croak. But his mind was still there. An intellectual till the end, he wanted to discuss the life of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson.
His body’s eventual inability to function frustrated him greatly. My grandpa worried about how much he hadn’t gotten done. There were books to sort, files to go through, genealogy research to complete. We told him not to worry. He did.
Last night, hours before he died, he scribbled out a note. It was about his Comcast bill. My grandpa, responsible till the end.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

White River

The photo (by Glenn Tachiyama, taken at mile 16.9 at Corral Pass) says it all. White River is a must for any Pacific Northwest trail runner!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One year later

One year ago, I was laid off from the Puget Sound Business Journal.
And what a past year it has been.
I decided to write this blog entry after I ran into a fellow former employee at the gym and we mused about an Essential Bakery reunion -- the spot we'd all met up at right after the lay offs. We both said, wow, has it really been a year already?
It has been, by far, the most interesting, unusual, and unstable career year since I left journalism graduate school in 2002. For the most part, that's a very good thing.
I'd been at the PSBJ seven years, which was about two years too long. I'm someone who craves variety and new challenges, and it really was time to do something new.
Something new ended up being a completely different industry. After a summer of running, biking, and simply enjoying a break from the office routine...

...I joined a small, fast growing board game company in Fremont. My connection with them had nothing to do with any board game industry experience. I row with a documentary filmmaker who shares office space (and a business partnership) with the board game company's CEO. When I stopped by to talk about future writing work for a documentary film project, the CEO and I re-connected. I'd interviewed him for the newspaper four or five years earlier, when the company was just beginning. If there's one gift the PSBJ gave me, it was a wide network of contacts. When you interview people in the Seattle business community for seven straight years, you meet a lot of new people.
I ended up signing on to write board game questions and temporarily fill in for their PR head, who was gone on maternity leave. For the next four months, I saw firsthand the creative, chaotic, and occasionally dysfunctional nature of a board game company. I traveled to New York to hang with board game partners Daryl Hannah and Hilary Shepard, who created a game together while bored on vacation in the Caribbean. The best part of the entire four months was helping create a Saturday Night Live game from scratch. Sitting in Lorne Michaels' office with the SNL writing team was a very, very cool moment.

The photo above is Daryl Hannnah being interviewed on the TODAY show in NYC

Once the PR head returned in early December, my full time gig ended. I continued to write board game questions on a contract basis (I know far too much about the MGM movie library) and started exploring other writing opportunities.
Trying to write what I really want to write has been amazingly energizing. It's easy to become complacent when you are tied to a job with benefits and regular paychecks.
Once you don't have that, it's time to experiment.
I'm working on a nonfiction book proposal on the psychology of extreme endurance athletics. I want to answer the question of, what drives people to do these things?
I'm working with an agent in New York who is interested in the idea but continues to suggest slightly different angles, so we've been going back and forth with a longer and longer book proposal.
Right now, I'm gathering more information for the science side of the book. (I also want to feature individual athletes with interesting stories, but I already much more detail for that side of the book.)
This week, I've been interviewing scientists on various aspects of endurance sports psychology. I talked to a researcher who studied hamsters given the choice of alcohol or water. 80 percent of the time, they chose alcohol -- until they were given a wheel and the chance to run. At that point, they abandoned the alcohol and began running all day. I find the addiction element of extreme endurance sports very interesting, and plan to write a future blog entry on that topic.

I'm getting the chance to try out freelance writing. I'll be writing a feature story about a local climber for a summer issue of the Seattle Times' Sunday Magazine, Pacific Northwest. I'm traveling to the TransRockies Run in August to cover the week-long stage race, which takes place in the Colorado Rockies. I'm pitching new ideas constantly. It's a welcome change of pace from business writing.

When I'm not working on my own projects, I'm blogging for the Washington News Council each week on media issues. (see The nonprofit received a Gates grant to embark upon new initiatives, and director John Hamer decided they should have more of an online presence. We launched the blog recently and are continuing to develop it. This week, I'm contacting journalists who have moved into other careers to see how they are enjoying their new paths, and whether they miss the newsroom. So far, the findings have been really interesting.
I'm also taking on corporate writing gigs to pay the bills and stretch my writing mind in a new angle. I just finished a case study for a Bellevue tech firm and I'm seeking out other similar jobs. Case studies, in many ways, aren't all that different from writing an article.
To this day, I'm completely uncertain about whether I can swing this financially. My father, who has been publishing books for 10 years, said he thought he'd be able to answer that question a year into his career as a novelist. Yet a decade later, he still doesn't know. My former editor compared the creative life to crossing a stream by jumping from one rock to the next and just hoping you find another one to land on.
If you're someone who craves security and predictability, this is definitely not a life for you. It's uncertain. But it's also very, very interesting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Orcas Island and Life in General

After quite the hiatus, Caroline and I returned to the trails this weekend for the Orcas Island 50K. The last ultra we actually raced together was Lost Lake 50K way back in June. As we tell Lost Lake race director Alvin, we are still haunted by that run. (In a nice way. Anyone who wants a challenge should sign up for that race this year!) We were coming off a streak of four ultras in two months (mainly because I was newly unemployed and actually had the time and energy), and we were tired and burned out before we even started the race. Add to that the course (tougher than any 50K I've done), and we were exhausted by race end.
I hung up the ultra hat and spent the rest of the summer rowing, while Caroline managed to complete her first 100 mile race, Cascade Crest. (And I'm still impressed by that feat!) I paced her for the last half of it. We reunited for a super casual Poker Run in Sisters in October, during which we took photos and breaks whenever we felt like it. I returned to the road to run the Seattle Marathon. And then we both went into a two month winter hibernation.

Poker Run: Good times in Sisters, Oregon

The year before, we'd taken the winter off and suffered through the mountain climbs of Orcas in early February. Next year, we vowed, we'd do regular long runs in the winter. Apparently we aren't the best at sticking to our ultra vows. We've put running on the back burner.
For both of us, the last two months have been unusually stressful and hectic on the career front. Caroline is an architect at Mithun, and she currently is managing a project in the San Francisco Bay Area. The job means she's been on an airplane every week. On the weekends, she tries to spend time with her boyfriend, Eric, and his three small children.
I've been embracing a number of writing projects in the last few months. After agonizing over the decision, I turned down a solid, full time job offer in early January. The move was risky, as I'm not sure whether any of the projects I'm working on will pan out. I'm putting together a book proposal, working on the early stages of a documentary film project, and applying for a Gates grant to work on a journalism project about family homelessness. It's quite possible that none will result in a paycheck. But I'm so happy to finally be working on writing projects that I care about, I decided to gamble. My father recently sent me a stat from the New Yorker that says you have to earn 2.5 times as much working for someone to achieve the same satisfaction as you do working for yourself. While it didn't say how they came about calculating that figure, I have no doubt that it's true in my case. I've never liked having someone telling me what to do, and there is not a single thing I miss about a boss or an office. Well, except for coffee breaks with my coworkers.
Aside from working on long term, more ambitious projects, I've also been finishing a contract project for a board game company. The gig, which is nearing completion, involves writing thousands of questions for a MGM movie trivia game and a Saturday Night Live game. It's been great work, but amazingly time consuming. It's made a definite dent in my weekend trail running time.
So Caroline and I signed up for Orcas with full awareness that we should have done a few more long runs over the past few months, yet confidence that we could slog our way through the course regardless. It's tough to say no to Orcas. The San Juan Islands are one of the most beautiful places on the planet. My parents live up there, guaranteeing a great pre-race meal and beds to sleep on. The Orcas race director, James, inevitably designs creative, steep, and interesting courses. Most of our friends in the ultra community were running it, and we always look forward to catching up with them. Prepared or not, we couldn't bail.
On the short drive to Camp Moran on Saturday morning, we decided that we'd try the early start for once. Most ultras offer the option, but as middle of the pack runners, we'd never taken it. But we figured the day would be more relaxing that way, and since we were already there, why not?
We were actually 15 minutes late to the early start, meaning we took off completely by ourselves. We ran solo for almost the entire day. We loved it. Neither Caroline nor I have ever enjoyed running in a huge pack of people, particularly on a narrow trail where someone is always passing or being passed. A group of two or three runners together is just about perfect. We ran through moss covered enchanted forests, climbed up Mt Constitution, and took in spectacular views of the islands and water. We enjoyed spring-like conditions, with sunny skies and temperatures nearing 60. Amazing for early February.

Caroline and I on Mt. Constitution. Photo thanks to Glenn Tachiyama, who shivered up there to get great runner pics!

The race unfolded with just two small hiccups. About halfway through, we came to an intersection with no marker in the forest. A very fast guy was passing us, and he seemed confident that we should go to the right. So we followed and ran along the lake to a self-service water stop just before the Mt. Constitution climb. At the finish, we learned that we were actually supposed to go left (the longer way around the lake), meaning we cut off about a mile or so from the entire run. Oops! Oh well. I felt I still got more miles than my body really needed, though our 6:24 finish time should probably be a little longer! We can look forward to that extra mile next year.
The second hitch came right after the aid station atop the mountain, with about one-quarter of the race left to go. My glute muscle seized up. I'm guessing the cold air up top had something to do with it. For the first time ever in an ultra, I considered dropping, because the pain was so intense and I worried about damaging it. For about 30 minutes of slow downhill running, alternating with walking, I was in total pain. I told Caroline to feel free to ditch me and run ahead, and she said, "Are you kidding? After what you saw me like in Cascade Crest? There's no way I'm leaving you." What a friend, right?
As we dropped in elevation, the temperature warmed quickly, and my glute stopped cramping. We ran the rest of the race easily and crossed the finish line together. The entire day was one of the most fun and enjoyable ultras we've ever done together. I am eternally grateful for having met such a compatible, quality running partner and friend.
One of our many conversations in the woods that day was our plans for this year. We decided we want to climb Mt. Rainier, do the Transrockies stage race as a team, and run a 100K. Caroline is also doing her first Ironman with her boyfriend in June, but I'm going to pass on that one. My other hobby, rowing, does not really leave a lot of time for two more sports!
At the Orcas after-party, our friend Matt Hart suggested we try Where's Waldo in Oregon as our first 100K. That sounded like the perfect plan (it's late summer, after Caroline's Ironman, which gives us plenty of time to ramp up the miles) until I received an email from the Miwok 100K race director this afternoon. She said that since I'm second on the wait list, and they'll likely take 10, I'm pretty much a sure thing for entry. In early May. Yikes! Sunday long runs, anyone??

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Enchantments Loop Run

In the last month and a half, I've lucked out with two equally amazing -- yet very distinctive -- visits to the Enchantments.
In August, I teamed up with ultra running friend Matt Hart (also a personal coach, see his blog at and his visiting nephew for a two day, one night backpacking trip. The entire time, Matt and I couldn't help but scheme for a return outing where we'd ditch the heavy packs and travel light.
This time around, Matt couldn't fit the jaunt into his work schedule, so I made plans to do the Enchantments ultra-style with another running friend, Tonya. We met while running a good part of the North Face 50K together in June, and we knew we'd be compatible long run partners.
Unlike my first backpacking trip, Tonya and I traveled super light, with just running packs and a handheld water bottle for each of us. We knew the Enchantments were loaded with rivers and lakes at every turn, allowing us to pump with our handy, compact MSR filter whenever we needed to. We forgot the emergency medical kit but did remember head lamps and light rain shells. (Neither were needed, thankfully!)
We decided to park at the Snow Lake trailhead and run the eight miles of road (four paved, four dirt logging) to the Stuart Lake trailhead first thing in the day to get the grind over with. Eight miles all uphill kicked off the day with an abrupt start. We were thankful for the climb, though, because we were barely staying warm at 8 am in tank tops and shorts. Even though the temperature would hit 80s later on in the afternoon, mornings are now noticeably autumn-esque.

The road part took just an hour and a half, and then we spent the next eight and a half hours on 20 miles of rugged, technical trails. As Tonya said at the end, "wow, we just ran a 10 hour marathon." We knew the day would be long from the get go. Ultra stars Scott Jurek and Krissy Moehl (the sorts who win races) had done the same loop in seven hours a month earlier, so we figured mere mortal pace would be about nine or 10.

Much of the middle part of the Enchantments loop -- particularly crazy steep Aasgard Pass -- features bouldering, straight ups and downs, and technical dancing on rocks that makes consistent running a real challenge. My legs look like a battlefield from a fall during one downhill running segment over a rock field.

I still can't decide how I'd rather experience the Enchantments. I loved traveling light and zipping past the slow, plodding hikers yesterday. (One man, upon hearing our route plan, told us, "Evergreen Hospital is the other way.") But I also felt we sped through a simply magical place almost too fast...and camping by Perfection Lake, among mountain goats and meandering streams, was an experience like none other. I didn't envy the woman with the overloaded pack struggling up Aasgard yesterday, but I did think her luggage (which included wine and butter for the fish she and her husband planned to catch that night) would make for a pretty sweet evening.
I sit at the computer now with very sore, slightly wounded legs, but I know I'll get back to the Enchantments again soon. I've heard wonderful things about the fall colors in October up there....

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cascade Crest 100

Keechelus Ridge Aid Station, around 3 a.m. Charles, Caroline and I.

Linda, Caroline, Jamie and I running down from Thorpe Mountain Lookout. Photo thanks to Glenn Tachiyama.

Last weekend, I ran the hardest race I've ever done -- and I only completed half of it.
It wasn't the hardest physically by any means. Though I ran 50 miles, I did it at a far slower pace than I'm capable of actually racing. But as a mental challenge, this proved harder than any other running event I've been in.
I signed on to pace my good friend and running companion, Caroline, for the last 50 miles of a 100 mile mountain trail race called Cascade Crest.

Many 100 mile runners enlist pacers to help them reach the finish line after they reach the point of incredible fatigue. A pacer provides motivation, moral support, and rational thinking at times when they may not be capable. Cascade Crest runners start at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and many don't finish until late afternoon on Sunday. That is a lot of hours in the woods.
I originally planned to run just the last quarter of the race with Caroline, and leave the third quarter for another running friend. I'm not a night person, and the last section would put me on the trails in the early morning, and not in the middle of the night. Also, I hadn't ran 50 miles since White River 2008, and hadn't done any long runs since June. I figured Caroline would be better equipped to conquer Cascade Crest if two pacers split the distance.
But over a conversation in the sunshine at the Harbor Steps last week, Caroline convinced me that I should run with her for the entire second half. We ran our first ultra together (White River, 2007) and have done almost every other trail race together since. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses. She felt our partnership would help her to the finish line.
So Saturday evening, as the sun dropped below the horizon, I drove out to the Hyak aid station to wait for Caroline. We guessed she'd be there around 11 PM, but planned for me to arrive at 9, just in case. The challenging terrain put her and another running friend, Charles, a little behind schedule, so I ended up hanging at Hyak until 1 a.m. As I grew more sleepy, the scene seemed increasingly surreal, as the aid station is decked out with Christmas lights, an enormous lit up plastic snowman, and helpers decked out in Mrs. Claus outfits. I tried to keep warm and awake with coffee, and my friend Rich (who was helping to organize the entire event) attempted to keep me pumped up for the run. (Conversation: Rich: Are you excited to start running? Me: (yawning) No. Rich: Have I told you yet how warm and soft the sleeping bag is that I'm about to crawl into? Me: I hate you.)
Caroline and Charles finally arrived, and after a quick food break, we hit the road, armed with flashlights and headlamps. I was immediately concerned by how slow they were moving and how out of it they seemed. We spent the next 14 miles on a dirt logging road, and I tried to come up with new tactics and motivation to keep them moving. Everything from, "this road is so flat right now and perfect for running" to "let's just try to run to that big tree" to "you guys are keeping such a good pace right now!" Caroline asked me again and again to, "Tell me a story, Heidi." I did my best to entertain.
We were moving so slow at times, I began wondering how I could possibly drag the two of them through a full 50 miles. The wind picked up on the logging road ridge, and I started to shiver, even with a long sleeve and rain shell. A few 100 mile veterans had promised me that the nighttime running was a magical, beautiful experience. I thought it would never end.
Things turned for the better once we hit the Kachess Lake Aid Station. We could see early glimpses of dawn, and the hint of light seemed to wake up both Caroline and Charles. Once we hit the "Trail from Hell," (which, for the record, does not deserve the nickname, as it's absolutely gorgeous -- just a bit rock, root, and log strewn), Caroline finally realized that she needed to kick it up a gear if she was going to finish the race before the cut-off. I wasn't sure how close we really were to missing the 32 hour limit, but I didn't bother to figure it out, since her alarm -- false or not -- seemed to finally give her some fire.
Caroline and I left Charles on the "Trail From Hell" because of her renewed motivation. She hated to leave him behind, but felt like she needed to keep pushing it.
For the rest of the race, we were a team of two. Before each aid station, she told me what she needed. While I collected all the goods and re-filled our bottles, she kept on going. Then, I ran carrying everything to catch up to her on the trail.
The last quarter of the race was the toughest either of us has experienced in trail running, and for very different reasons.
Caroline, who had already run 75 miles at that point -- more than she ever had in her life -- came close to breaking point. She was throwing up every 45 minutes or so. She never cried, but constantly whimpered with pain. Every now and then, the whimpering stopped, and she seemed back to her normal self, and then she started to hurt again. When we reached a climb, the pain noises grew louder, and I told her, "just remember how good you are climbing. Just like a mountain goat. Right up this hill."
For me, those miles were incredibly hard because I was worried about taking care of her and keeping her moving. I tried to figure out new ideas of what she could eat and keep down, but nothing -- not even saltines -- worked. I made her keep eating and drinking, though, because I knew that she couldn't finish if she had no calories inside her.
I talked to her constantly, telling her that I knew she was strong and needed to dig deeper than she ever had. Sometimes I'd tell her to look at the mountain vistas. I'd say, "look at how lucky you are to be running on this amazing trail. This is exactly the kind of trail you love to run on." I'd tell her, "your pace is so great. You are making such good time." When my legs hurt or I felt like the race would never end, I didn't say it. I never knew how incredibly exhausting 14 hours and 30 minutes of pure optimism could be.
Caroline finished Cascade Crest 100 in 29 hours and 44 minutes, well under the cut-off. She ran the second half faster than the first, which is definitely a Heidi running specialty. She ran through enormous pain. I pushed her really hard those 50 miles, but I knew she could handle it. She never once wanted to quit, and I never doubted she'd finish. When I asked her to try to do something, she did it. Caroline is one stubborn, tough athlete.

Charles, for the record, also toughed out his first 100. He finished before the cut-off, covering the last quarter of the course on his own.
Pacing was not a fun experience. It was, however, incredibly rewarding to help someone achieve their goal. I would only do it again for as good of a friend as Caroline.
As for running 100 miles myself? I can't say I'm bitten by the bug just yet. I saw a lot of pure misery out there, and I really did not enjoy running through the nighttime. I like to sleep. A lot.
Perhaps I'll change my mind down the road, but I'm not mailing in any application anytime soon. For the moment, I'm satisfied to sign up for a couple of 50Ks this fall.
So, just for the record, here are three lies that ultra runners tell. Perhaps this is done in an effort to recruit new members. Or perhaps this is because finishing a 100 miler seems a bit like childbirth (or so I'm told), where everyone seems to forget their personal hell after receiving their finisher's buckle. But as a journalist, I feel I need to put forth some cold, harsh reality.

The un-truths I heard many, many times before pacing Cascade Crest:
1. Running at 2 AM is really, really fun.
2. Everyone who sees or somehow participates in a 100 miler really, really wants to go sign up for one. You will want to sign up for one.
3. Pacing is the best thing EVER. You will want to sign up for this job as often as possible.
But there is one truth: this was an experience unlike any other. And I'm glad Caroline and I could share it together.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Enchantments: The Prettiest Place in the Whole Wide World

Above photos: Matt Hart, Me, and Josh Hart. Morning run from Perfection Lake to Prusik Pass. Photos thanks to Matt Hart.

For years, I've heard friends talk about hiking trips to a fairytale land just a few hours away from Seattle called the Enchantments. It's been on my "must see" list for ages, so when my ultra runner friend Matt Hart (see started talking about a weekend trip out there with his 17-year-old visiting nephew, it didn't take much for me to jump on the idea.
Matt originally planned the trip to start with a 4 a.m. Friday departure, enabling us to take full advantage of the weekend and nab a coveted Enchantments camping permit at the Leavenworth Ranger Station. Unless you've planned in advance and booked your trip in February, you have to show up for a lottery at 7:35 a.m. the day your hike begins. They only give out a few passes, so if too many people arrive, they do a random draw. Based on the popularity of the Enchantments, we knew we may have to resort to a Plan B and camp out elsewhere.
Plans shifted when I decided it would be unwise to take off my first Friday of employment. Then, nephew Josh "accidentally" fell asleep at his girlfriend's house Thursday night, and due to a dead cell phone battery, did not respond to his uncle's frantic phone calls or texts.
Though Matt didn't appreciate a night worrying about the whereabouts of the teenager in his care, the flake-out meant I could join, as the trip shifted to Saturday morning. We later learned that 15 parties showed up for the Friday lottery in Leavenworth. On Saturday, we were one of just a handful, and we landed a pass (Disclaimer: This is not meant as any encouragement to Josh to pull that one again.)
We pulled out of Seattle just before 5, with Matt and I fully fueled with coffee and Josh conked out in the back seat. 17-year-olds, it seems, can sleep anywhere and for many, many hours.
Once we'd obtained our coveted camping permit, we dropped off Matt's mountain bike at the Snow Lake trailhead, where we planned to end our journey. We then drove to the trailhead that leads to Aasgard -- a slightly shorter but gnarlier route up to the Enchantments. We planned to walk out Sunday on the less steep Snow Lake trail, and then let Matt mountain bike eight miles up a dirt road to our car. (I did not volunteer for this job.)
Since Matt and I are both trail runners, traveling with heavy packs and camping gear was a somewhat new experience that led to massively sore shoulders. We both decided we have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with backpacking. It's a whole lot slower and more cumbersome than scampering through mountain trails with a handheld water bottle, but camping in the wilderness kind of makes it worth it. Particularly in an area as enchanting as the Enchantments.
We powered up the steep Aasgard Pass route, with Josh keeping pace even in heavy hiking boots. (Matt and I wore trail running shoes. I'm not convinced anyone ever needs full hiking boots, as the trail shoes worked fine on the most rugged of rocks. Josh is swapping his boots for Montrails on his next hiking adventure with the uncle this week.) The route just kept getting more and more scenic. Turquoise tinted Colchuck lake, the dramatic, sheer rising rock of Dragontail, and then finally the valley of the Enchantments.
There's just no other way to describe the Enchantments than a fantasy land. Lakes, meandering streams, grassy meadows and wandering mountain goats make you feel as though you've stepped into a Disney film. I grew up hiking with my family every summer and have done so all over the world as an adult, and I can honestly say I've never seen a spot as scenic as The Enchantments.
We pitched our tents in the middle of the Enchantments, taking about 20 billion tries to set up Matt's new ultra light weight bivvy. I blame it on low blood sugar and frozen limbs. Or perhaps just poor tent design and instructions.
Though the sun shone on us all day long, a crazy wind whipped up come evening. To make it worse, Matt and I soaked our feet and calves in the glacial water of the lake, making our injury-prone runners' feet feel better, but giving me the permanent chills.
We finally put our camp together and Matt and Josh ingested mega-sodium freeze dried meals, which would later keep Matt up all night with a stomach ache. We decided to do quick evening hike up the base of Prusik Peak. On the way, we discovered an even better campsite that was sheltered from the wind and on the shore of a lake that would see the morning sunrise. I advocated for moving camp, and Matt and Josh were game. Once we had our new, slightly warmer home set up, we indulged in Matt's version of hot chocolate: the healthy stuff, Cliff Recovery, so we could all feel confident that we'd gotten our Vitamin C intake for the day.
Josh slept solid for hours that night, while Matt and I stared out at a brilliant full moon and stars because neither of us could. Matt's insomnia was due to the aforementioned sodium blitz, and mine was because I'd gone into cold mode, and once I get there, there's just no coming back. I ended up shivering all night, despite wearing a fleece hoodie, Matt's down jacket, a wool hat, and being in a sleeping bag and my own cozy little bivvy. Yeah, I don't get it either.
Since we barely went to sleep, Matt and I were up for an early dawn run through the meadows surrounding our campsite. It was one of those surreal runs, where you dance across stones perfectly placed in a meadow and wonder how you can possibly be in such a fantastical setting.
Thanks to Matt's new titanium french press, we drank strong, rich coffee back at our campsite, while Josh inhaled the rest of the sodium-laced freeze dried food. The saddest moment of the entire trip was when I spilled my second cup of coffee while trying to tape up my slightly ailing foot.
We hiked the rest of the way through the Enchantments and back out the Snow Lake trail, taking the last segment at a jog-walk pace. Josh managed to collect just one blister in his combat boots and complained not a single time. Apparently the Harts are a pretty hardcore breed.
When we popped out at the trailhead, it was already late in the day, and I told Matt I should just try to hitchhike rather than make him bike up a mountain for eight miles in the late afternoon sun. Thankfully, a pair of fellow male hikers were game to give me a lift and collect our car back at the other trailhead, expediting our leave back to Seattle.
Matt and I envision rallying a group of ultra friends for a follow-up come September or October, and this time running the rugged 20 mile loop with very little gear in a single shot. By then, the trees will be turning golden, and the Enchantments may be even more enchanting, as impossible as that now sounds.
Video below thanks to Matt.

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