My gait is awkward, stilted, unsteady and just plain tired. I do everything I can to minimize how far I have to walk and breathe shallow careful breaths hoping that my legs won’t buckle out from under me. When the support of a leg suddenly disappears  my right hand invariable shoots up into the air (for balance?) as I stagger before righting myself. It’s a drunken disco move. Counters and door jams and railings have new importance in my landscape.

This is not the first time a run or a hike with significant descents has left this way; and it’s always a strange experience to join the disabled and feel the sideways glances and looks in public. For me it is temporary, for others permanent. I am fortunate.  Frankenstein is my model, legs completely locked so my bones can support my weight and not my quadriceps which are useless as a result of bombing down the first collective 5,000 feet of descent during the Orcas 50k run last weekend. I can’t say I bombed down the last 3,000 feet of descent on the run –  those I hobbled down as payment for my earlier ambition.

Despite my complaining, it was a great run. If you haven’t been to the San Juan Islands – go! Run, don’t walk! But be careful on the downhills.  This was my third time running Orcas in as many years and I will be back. James Varner of rainshadow running always throws a good run.

I escaped from Seattle early on Friday in a futile attempt to beat the mass exodus. The sun was out and an incredibly rare forecast of sun sun sun for the weekend was pulling everyone out of the city. My journey north also marked the last road trip for my car. At 21 she is legally able to drink, and also about to be put out to pasture. Unsellable due to all the things that are wrong, she is also almost undrivable. In the back I carried my road bike and panniers with vague ideas of being able to continue the journey if the end came during the trip. In the glove compartment I had the title along with a blank bill of sale for a potential wrecking yard. She has been a good car but the time is near. If you need a 3,000 pound paper weight, I have one to lend.

My first stop was a thirty miles north of the city where I visited a tobacco store owned by the Tulalip Tribe; I bought ten cans of tax free Copenhagen for a friend who is in a remote mountain town in South America. When I was a kid we used to write fake notes from our parents that gave the store owner permission to sell us tobacco; all they wanted now was my cash. I bought a lottery ticket  so that I could day dream about being filthy rich the next day while running. A seven hour run gives you a lot of time to think.

My next stop was in Mt Vernon where my friend Scotty put me up for the night. I haven’t really had a chance to hang out with Scotty since we fast packed the Annapurna Circuit last fall, along with another friend Rich White. It was great to catch up with Scotty and I found myself staying up late reading ‘Little Princes‘ which is both hilarious and sad and deserves to be on reading lists everywhere.

A few hours later and I was puttering bleary eyed  in the very early morning toward the ferry in Anacortes. I  met up with Krissy Fagan who had spent the night in her truck at the ferry terminal.  Krissy has a great write up about her Orcas run. We also met up with Van Phan ‘Pigtails’ and quizzed her about her plans to organize and run a 200 miler in May – ‘The Pigtails Challenge‘.  I might be sitting that one out. Van is probably in the top .1% in the world of ultra runners with respect to the number of ultras she runs – usually one every weekend. Sometimes more.

The lodge at Camp Moran on the island was buzzing with people adjusting their fuel belts and various accouterments. I saw Rich for the first time since Kathmandu last fall and we laughed over some of the memories. A little later and we were off and running. It’s always funny to me how anxious some people are early in a run to ‘get ahead’ damn the consequences on narrow single track. Within a few miles we’ll be spread out and there will be ample space and time to go your own way at your own space. That said, I sometimes found myself getting antsy and trying to scoot around people.

It was a gorgeous day with sun light dappling the ground, views of the islands, mountain lakes, and the snow-capped Cascades in the distance. On some of the early downhills I let myself succumb to gravity and did not brake and slow myself as I usually do. Instead I flew down the descents at danger of wiping out on wet trails and slippery leaves. The real danger was hidden as 20 miles later my quadriceps would be ruined and instead of flying down any descents I would hobble like an old man. As I hobble now, three days later.

I ran mostly by myself, occasionally talking with others and meeting new and old friends. Climbing up Mt. Constitution I ran into  Seattle friends Steve, Rob, and Stephanie who were out for a hike. A little later I caught up with Eric Barnes who I know from many a run and we soaked in the views before arriving at the top with its patches of snow and aid station cheer.

The rest of the run was a bit of a trial. Lots of downs which tested my legs and finally a mostly flat ~two miles where I was able to run like a normal person with a strong finish. I didn’t look at the time during the whole run but was happy to see Pablo volunteering (thanks!) at the finish and happy when he said I came in a little under seven. Two hours longer than the mostly flat 50k I ran ~6 weeks ago tells what 8,000 feet of climbing and another 8,000 feet of descent can add. Inside the lodge was a warm feeling of post run euphoria mixed with fatigue and sore muscles.

One woman ran the whole race with two right shoes, having grabbed the wrong ones by accident. Another had fallen and disclocated her shoulder, only to reset it herself before finishing the run. Two others had to quit do to ankle injuries. My run was a comparative cakewalk.

Sitting in front of the wood stove with a friend, needing a hand to lower myself to a sitting position, I thought about the ups and downs of life and how we never really know whether a decision is a good one, but we forge blindly ahead regardless of what path we go down. Seems crazy sometimes.

Later, after some great micro-brews and string music, we were back in  Krissy’s Honda Element which resembles a small version of the space shuttle. Pablo had joined us and we found ourselves waiting at the ferry terminal on the island for a couple hours. Stretched out in the back, buzzed from the combination of  Boundary Bay Brewery IPA and lactic acid, I mistook myself for a comic before finally falling silent when Pablo came back from a walk with Häagen-Dazs ice creams bars.

The drive home was lonely and boring and tiring. I should have stayed overnight again at Scotty’s but my bed was calling me. I got home around 11pm, unloading the bike and my other stuff was a chore but bed never felt so good.

Three days later and I’m finally able to walk without fear of suddenly crumpling to the ground. I’ve rejoined the world of the able bodied and will appreciate it while I have it once again. Next time I will go a little slower on the downhill parts of the trail which look easy but can hurt you later; maybe a good metaphor for living life.


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