I think Washington State doesn't like me much. Yesterday's weather was absolutely miserable, and I'd spent 5+ hours on the Wonderland Trail wondering where Mount Rainier was. This morning, I broke camp early and made my way out of the park, only to turn a bend and see this.
I imagined what yesterday would've been like had snow and fog been replaced by light clouds and sun. I turned a few more bends, and saw another picturesque view of the mountain. It was at this point that I also grew jealous of my friends who'd either climbed (Julie D.!) or were planning to climb (Victoria B.!) Mount Rainier. I was determined to get out of the state.
But not without seeing Mount St. Helens. After all, I was in the area, and it was on the way to Portland, my next destination. I was barely over 100 miles away from that famous volcanic mountain, but I knew that many of those miles were on windy, mountain roads. It took almost 3 hours to go that distance. After popping out of the forest and getting my first view of the valley, my heart sunk. This was what I saw.
I'd already spent 2 hours driving deep into the forest, so I decided to continue to the end of the scenic road, which was another 10 miles up the valley. I secretly hoped that I'd drive high enough so that I'd be above the fog and clouds. I reached Windy Ridge and saw this.
I was done. Done with trying to see mountains. And, more importantly, done with the state of Washington. I was now Portland bound! I retraced my route, and continued along the windy forest road to the main highway. The drive was so long and there were so many windy turns that my wrists started getting sore from all the pushing and pulling of the steering wheel.
Just 50 miles outside of Portland, Washington state redeemed itself. I passed through what I later learned was an unincorporated town called Yale. I stopped by Yale Park, marveled at Yale Reservoir, and even took a look at Yale School. (Can you guess where I went to school?)
Finally on good terms with Washington, I crossed over into Oregon state and into Portland. My friend, David Y., had already made arrangements for my arrival. The first thing I did was laundry. It's been almost 3 weeks and I've had zero opportunities to wash my clothes. I then washed my cookware, most of which was starting to get grimy. After showering, I decided to roam the streets a bit before David got back from work. I did the stereotypical Portland tourist things; I visited the Ace Hotel, took down an espresso from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and stopped by Powell's. (I'd been to all these places before, but why not go again?)
David arrived in the late afternoon. We caught up, got on a conference call regarding our high school, and then prepared for the run for the day: the Portland Stumprunners group run. The Stumprunners are the closest thing Portland has to November Project (query: why hasn't November Project established itself in this city?). A group of about 15 passionate, outdoorsy, runner types showed up at 7 p.m. outside the Peculiarium. Tonight's run destination was particularly cool; we ran to and across Tilikum Crossing, the new bridge across the Willamette River that allows everyone but drivers.
I had a blast. I think this was so for a number of reasons. First, I was running with a group again. I'd spent the last 2.5 weeks running alone. It was refreshing to run in a pack, and to chat with other like-minded runners. Second, I was running on flat road. My pace over the past few weeks has been incredibly slow. As just one example, I ran yesterday's 15 miles on the Wonderland at 19-minute pace. I couldn't even remember the last time I ran anything under 7:30 pace. It was nice to run unencumbered by dirt, rocks, and vertical. Third, as I've explained before, running is the best way to explore a new city. This was a workout, but it was a running tour, too. I got to see Portland in a new light (well, without light--it was after sunset).
We started at a relatively brisk pace, but casual enough so that we could chat. I hung with David and chatted with some of the runners. When we reached Tilikum Crossing, we stopped midway to take some group photos. From there, it was 4 miles back to the start. I decided I'd give my legs a spin, to rev the engine a little bit. The three of us in the front accelerated into a smooth but persistent pace. It was somewhat chilly, but I was now beginning to sweat. But it felt great. My legs were turning over quickly, and I could feel my stride lengthening as we picked up the pace. I was particularly surprised by our pace. We were cruising between 6:15 and 6:45 and I didn't even notice it. We'd done the last 3.5 miles at 6:35 pace--and it felt easy.
This little tempo piece at the end was reassuring. I'd spent part of the last few days wondering if all of this super-slow, super-long running would affect my ability to run fast. Lately, I'm lucky if I spend a couple miles under 9-minute pace. I know the rough terrain and the significantly higher time-on-feet account for some of that. But still. I wasn't sure I could run fast anymore. Tonight, I proved myself wrong. In fact, I think I'm getting into the best running shape I've been in for quite some time. I now plan to add a fall marathon to the calendar just to see what I can do on the road (on top of the Patapsco Valley 50K, which, seeing as it is "home turf", I want to crush).
After the run, a few of us met at Samurai Blue, a sushi joint on Mississippi Avenue. We nommed on sushi and beer, and chatted about Nike (practically everyone in Stumprunners appears to work at Nike). And after eating sushi, we ate ice cream, and continued chatting about Nike.
Then it was time to head home. I was staying at David's sweet new pad. I finished folding laundry, and we chatted about all of the things.
One of the other benefits of the group run was that I now know where I'll be running tomorrow. I'll begin by following David to the Nike campus for a quick tour. Then, I'll drive to Silver Falls State Park to do the Trail of Ten Falls. I'll make my way to Eugene to see the legendary Hayward Field (and maybe run a lap or two on it, if the cross country team will let me). And I'll end by setting up camp in either the Willamette or Deschutes National Forests.