I drove east along the Oregon Trail and got lost in the nostalgia of sitting in the middle school computer lab, shooting pixilated deer, and praying that I wouldn’t drown while fording the river, only to suddenly die from dysentery instead. Damn.
I took the scenic route from Boise, ID to Ashland, OR and stopped to visit the John Day Fossil Beds and the Painted Hills. It was beautiful and well worth going out of my way. Late in the day I drove through Bend and continued south, searching for a gas station parking lot to sleep in as close to Crater Lake National Park as possible.
The next morning I was up before sunrise, entering the park from the north. I drove the entire 33 mile loop around the caldera rim stopping often to take photos from every angle. The nearby forest fires had filled the air with hazy smoke, but I was still able to see the cliff walls several miles across the vast expanse.
On the way out of the park I stopped at Mazama Village to look around. I knew that Pretzel, a guy I had hiked with on the Appalachian Trail, was hiking the PCT and in or around the Crater Lake area, but I didn’t think that it would be possible to catch up with him on the trail. As I walked to the main building I saw some hiker trash sitting at picnic tables nearby. I looked close, and…Pretzel! We chatted and caught up on life since the Appalachian Trail, talked gear, shoes, running, and trail life. He was heading off to go swimming in Crater Lake with friends and I drove south to meet my family in Ashland.
By the time I reached Ashland Mom and Tom were already there having lunch. I caught up with them until Tyler arrived home from a trade show. We all moved into Tyler’s apartment and toured the town. My plan was to visit Ashland during the 4 days Mom and Tom would be there and move on. But, as we all know, plans are made to be changed.
During Mom and Tom’s visit we walked around town, tasted the Lithia water, and took my van out to Emigrant Lake where I cooked a VanLife lunch for the family.
Midweek Mom and Tom left to drive back to Indiana and I stayed for another day to attend the Rogue Valley Runners Wednesday evening group run. Tyler and I joined several local runners and Hal Koerner as we romped through the hills above Ashland. It was hard to keep up, but we met some great friends.
Joe, one of the runners, is the Race Director for the Mount Ashland Hill Climb, a 13.3 mile run with 5,600 feet of climb from downtown Ashland to the top of Mount Ashland. The race happened to be that coming weekend and Joe mentioned that if anyone wanted to help make race packets he’d buy the beer. Naturally, Tyler and I volunteered. While preparing packets I was talked into running the race, so it looked like I’d be staying in Ashland for a few more days.
Saturday morning I toed the line with 250 other runners and we took off. I hadn’t been training for anything, but spending the last few weeks in the Colorado mountains had helped. I pushed hard and ran the entire 13.1 miles to the last quarter mile section without stopping. It wasn’t easy. I love ultramarathon running because when I round a corner and see a steep incline a wave of relief rushes over me…I get to walk. But not in this race. The whole point of this race was to run uphill, so I did.
The last quarter mile was a hand over hand scramble up a steep rocky slope. I crested the mountain in 2 hours and 25 minutes, good enough for 26th place. Back at the ski lodge parking lot Tyler and been volunteering with Joe, setting up the after party. I grabbed a beer from Standing Stone Brewing and talked with other runners as Joe put on a dance competition and other random antics that you typically don’t see at a half marathon finish line.
By mid afternoon Tyler and I were heading back down the mountain when I saw two PCT hikers looking for a hitch into town. Tyler pulld over and picked them up. They climbed into the truck and the conversation led to us inviting them over to Tyler’s place, and then them inviting 4 other hikers over. Well, that escalated quickly.
Within the hour there were 6 PCT hikers taking turns in the shower, 2 hiker dogs laying out on the back patio, non-stop loads of laundry, and plenty of cold beer pouring from the kegerator. A few of the runners from the Mount Ashland race wanted to meet up so we took our new roommates to Swing Tree Brewing downtown for a serious dirtbag celebration.
The next day Tyler and I helped Joe clean up the few remaining items from the race and grabbed some beers downtown. The hikers took a zero day, relaxing around Tyler’s apartment, continuing to do loads of laundry.
Monday morning we shuttled the hikers back to the PCT, and at noon Tyler left for the Medford airport to pick up Aunt Karen, Uncle Jim, and Grandpa who were coming to visit Ashland for a few days. I wasn’t planning to see them again this summer, but I also hadn’t planned to stay in Ashland longer than 4 days.
I quickly did a clean sweep around the apartment and by the time the family arrived it no longer smelled like hiker trash. They settled in and I got some work done, preparing to take a few more days off to visit with everyone.
I stayed at Tyler’s place throughout the week, tasting Oregon wines, working from coffee shops, and hanging out with family. A few of our Ashland running friends said they were running the Deadalus 5K on Sunday, so I decided to stay for another weekend. We registered the morning of the race and lined up for the start. I hadn’t run a 5K in years and had no idea what to expect. We took off and I tried to keep up with my friend Mike, but was working pretty hard just to keep him in my sights. I rounded the last corner and sprinted down the final hill, looking at my watch in disbelief. I finished in 5th place in 20:08, my fastest 5K since high school. Karen, Jim, and Grandpa were there to cheer us on and we headed back to Tyler’s place to relax.
The next morning Karen, Jim, and Grandpa were flying home to Arizona and we packed their luggage into my van. I was finally leaving Ashland as well. I had come to visit Tyler for 4 days, and ended up staying 19. It was a lot of fun, we had some epic stories, and I definitely enjoyed the town, but I was ready get back in the van and put some miles under the tires. Plus, I hadn’t seen the ocean in 2 months and the saltwater was calling my name.