Day 20: Silver Falls State Park, OR + Eugene, OR by Wookie Kim

Today was less about appreciating our national parks as it was a day to appreciate running culture.

Even though I'd gone to bed at 2 (David and I had lots to catch up on), I rose at 6:45, because I wanted to tag along with David and visit Nike's campus. After a cup of Chemex-brewed coffee and some delicious pastries from a bakery in the Pearl District, we were off to Beaverton. When we arrived, I was lucky enough to park next to the spot reserved for Michael Jordan.

I looked around and noticed that the section of the lot was filled with celebrity athletes--Dwayne Wade, Carlos Tevez, Kenenisa Bekele, Manny Pacquiao, Rafael Nadal.

David took me on a walking tour of the campus. I could immediately feel Nike's commitment to athletics while walking around the vast campus. Evidence of that commitment was visible, too--banners and plaques celebrating and memorializing past and present Nike athletes were everywhere.

Despite Nike's influence on sports generally, I was particularly interested in the visit because of Nike's role in giving birth to modern American running. Nike started out as a fledgling company that made track shoes in conjunction with legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman. It's now the sports behemoth that it is because of that unique beginning.

In the main entrance, there was a brief exhibit on Nike's running past. I particularly enjoyed the segment on Steve Prefontaine. Every serious runner admires Pre, not only for his sheer athletic talent, but also for his work ethic and spirit--all of which were simply unrivaled when he was dominating the world's running scene in the 70s. I thought back to my high school cross country running days, when my teammates and I would quote Pre and watch "Without Limits" the night before races.

In fact, I was on my way to Eugene, Oregon, to pay tribute to him by seeing his storied hometown track, Hayward Field, and running on the jogging trail created in his memory, Pre's Trail. After another cup of coffee in Nike's cafeteria, I bade farewell to David.

I headed in Eugene's direction, but I wasn't about to go there without doing a beautiful trail first. On one of the Stumprunner runner's recommendation, I decided to run the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park.

I've already noted how we have so many national monuments that often go unseen. The same goes for state parks. In fact, for various reasons, there are probably state parks out there that are even more beautiful and awe-inspiring than some of the spaces managed by the National Park Service. I can say with confidence that Silver Falls ranks pretty high.

The loop I ran--the Trail of Ten Falls--was 9 miles. Along the way, I'd get to see ten different waterfalls. It was an incredible experience. For 90 minutes, I practically chased the sound of falling water. The falls were so close together, but each had distinct character. Here are photos of nine of the falls (I accidentally missed the spur trail for one of them!):

What was particularly impressive were the falls that had trails that cut under and behind. I thought about how this had formed. I also wondered how several other features reached their present form, like one giant boulder that lay in the middle of the river.

I'm glad I made the stop. The trail was really easy to run on, and had undulations that felt good for my feet. I was also testing the Nike Terra Kiger trail shoes that David had given me. They felt good--perfect for non-technical trails like this one.

I'd made the circuit in just under 90 minutes. When I met the park ranger who'd greeted me earlier, he'd said it would take 3-4 hours. I bumped into him as I was heading back to my car, and he asked me how long the run had taken. When I told him, he couldn't believe it. I told him I was a trail ultrarunner. He laughed.

I now proceeded for Eugene. On the way, I stopped at Burger King and chowed on a Double Whopper meal--my first in probably at least a decade. I normally don't eat that kind of fast food, but for this trip, I'm okay with it (more on nutrition later).

I arrived first at Hayward Field. This is the University of Oregon's historic track and field stadium. This was Prefontaine's home turf. In fact, the prestigious Prefontaine Classic is held each year at Hayward Field and is named for him. Sadly, I was unable to get inside the field, but I had to take a photo from outside the main gate.

I'd already done a run for the day, but I felt an itch to do more. Specifically, I decided I'd drive over the Willamette River to Alton Baker Park, home to "Pre's Trail"--a 4+ mile, woodchip trail created in Pre's memory. He'd always loved running on the soft surfaces he'd found while traveling in Europe, so he'd set into motion a plan to create a soft trail in Eugene. Sadly, he died before that happened under his watch.

The trail was soft and springy, and I made a comfortable pace around the park. For the first time all trip, I ran without my fastpack; I had nothing weighing me down. I thought about Prefontaine--his spirit, mostly--and imagined what it would be like to run alongside him. It was liberating.

After finishing my run, it was already 6 p.m. I'd made a decision to stay in the area using Airbnb again because it was supposed to rain at night. I drove over to Springfield, met my awesome hosts, showered, and hit main street's Plank Town Brewing for a couple flights of beer and a delicious meal to go with it.

Today felt different. It felt like a day to go back to one's roots. Prefontaine was one of my early running heroes. 40 years after his death, his spirit lives on.

Day 19: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA + Portland, OR by Wookie Kim

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.