I arrived at the Sanborn County Park in the early morning on Saturday October 1st for the Spartan trail series 50 kilometer race. I was greeted by a couple of Black-tailed Deer at the entrance and they did not seem the slightest bit concerned about the line …
On August 21st 2022, I visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park for the second time in my life. I previously visited the park on a cross country road trip (visiting Ohio from Washington) on December 15th 2017. This time the pretense was the same, I was on the second day into a road trip helping my dad move from Ohio to Washington. The first time we visited we stoped at the Painted Canyon entrance and I did a quick out and back run, so this time we ventured further interior. I did a little research and tried to pick a route that I could finish in less than 90 minutes (in order to keep on our strict time schedule of 2400 miles in 3 days). As it turns out I found a very interesting 11.7 mile loop that also happened to be an established FKT route.
So after departing Fargo, North Dakota in the early morning, dad and I reached Medora shortly before noon. The town was very festive and fit the landscape perfectly and the park entrance was right on the other side of the downtown area. Interestingly enough the road into the park actually crosses over I90 and passes by several Prairie Dog towns. As we climbed further into the park we were fortunate enough to spot a couple small herds of American Bison. This was dad’s first time seeing Bison, which is always a very special experience.
We continued past Cottonwood and parked at Peaceful Valley Ranch where I consulted the map one final time and hit the trail in pursuit of the FKT. It was in the mid 80s but decided against taking any water or food because of the short distance. So I darted through Peaceful Valley Ranch, passing by horse stables until I reached the narrow overgrown Jones Creek trail. This trail paralleled the loop road and passed through sagebrush and grasses and with each turn I hoped I would not stumble upon any Bison. I crossed the road at mile 1 (6:18) and then continued east along the dry Jones creek bed out of the Little Missouri basin.
The trail was fairly mild and passed through undulating sagebrush steppe as it gradually ascended. There were excellent views of the iconic badlands formations. The trail occasionally passed steeply through the Jones Creek bed on footpaths that were clearly frequented by Bison. I reached the Lower Talkington trail in 3.5 miles (22:53). The temperatures began to rise as the sun was burning through the sky and even though I was only a third of the way through the run I was already wishing I had water. The Lower Talkington trail was probably the steepest and also the highest (2490 feet) portion of the course.
I reached the Talkington trail at mile 5.3 (34:55) after a sharp descent off the plateau. The Talkington trail began to parallel the loop road from mile 6.5 to mile 6.9. I then merged onto the Lower Paddock Creek trail at mile 7.1 (47:57) and managed to lose my way momentarily after passing through a dry creek bed. The braided Bison trails made route finding difficult, even with the frequent trail markers. Fortunately the remainder of the Lower Paddock Creek trail was easy to see far into the distance and had very little encroaching vegetation. I passed through an adorable little Prairie Dog town that were alarmed by my surprise visit. They warned their friends and scurried into their burrows as I passed through their domain.
As I looked ahead my worst fear about this route was going to come to fruition, there was a herd of several hundred Bison spanning the entire plain from the Paddock Creek valley up to the nearby hillside. There was no way that I could avoid passing through them unless I turned back. So I decided to drop into the creek bed to avoid the first group, but several more darted up from the valley, so I jumped back onto the high ground. I made plenty of noise to advertise my presence and the cows and calves ran away, however, some of the bulls stood their ground making a low growling noise. I kept as much distance as I possibly could but I was right against a steep sloping cliffside. I knew I could jump and slide if needed, but I hoped it would not come to that. I know that I was far too close compared to the recommended distance, but I really had little choice due to the herds positioning.
After 3 minutes of slow walking I made it past the herd and as soon as I got a safe distance away, I sprinted to the loop road. I realize that Bison are one of the most dangerous animals to encounter in the American west and perhaps the smartest decision would have been to just turn around, but in the heat of the moment I pressed forward and I believe that I was very lucky that I made it through unscathed. I think that making my presence known and trying to stay out of sight helped immensely.
When I reached the Halliday Well Road (mile 10.7 1:14:45) I heard some rustling in the bushes along the road and was worried that I spooked some more Bison, but nothing emerged from the vegetation so I continued my sprint pace. At mile 11.1 (1:17:10) I reached the pavement and turned up the pace in order to make it back to the trailhead in under 83 minutes. Once I hit Peaceful Valley Ranch Road I saw Dad’s truck and kicked it in to stop the clock at 1:20:14. I was greeted by Dad and the little pug/yorkie mix Gidget. Overall it was a beautiful route and the shortest FKT I completed to date. I quickly dried off and changed before we piled back into the truck to continue the road trip.
As usual I wished I could spend have more time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but in order to complete the road trip, we had to be on our way promptly after I finished my run. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after President Roosevelt (1901 to 1909) who used to own a ranch in between the north and south units of the park. He established the United States Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act which preserved 18 national monuments. Additionally, he created five national parks, 150 national forests, and several federal reserves which totaled over 230 million acres of protected land. Theodore Roosevelt National Park was not created until 1947, which honored President Roosevelt for all of his conservation efforts.
I find the Dakotas to be one of the most intriguing places in the United States due to the stark landscape punctuated by the badlands formations along with the iconic symbol of the Great Plains – American Bison. Paleontologist surmise that the Bison originated in Southern Asia during the Pliocene Epoch and crossed into present day North America via the natural land bridge. At their peak, the American Bison herds topped out over 60 million. As an avid hunter, Theodore Roosevelt recognized the importance of preserving the Bison herd and without his and others efforts, the majestic Bison may have gone extinct. In 1894, federal legislation was enacted to protect the Bison, with a $1000 fine or imprisonment for killing one of the animals. At that time there was only a small herd in Yellowstone National Park and a few owned by private individuals left in the United States.
In 1956, the park imported 29 Bison from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and were released on the south unit (46000 acres). The 29 animals increased to 145, and then subsequently 20 were relocated to the north unit (24000 acres). Today the park managers have set the herd size at 200-400 animals for the south unit and 100-300 for the north unit. I feel very fortunate to be able to see Bison on the plains considering our miserable species dropped the numbers to less than 300 by the end of the twentieth century. We are very lucky that a few individuals recognized a bigger picture beyond their own desires and stood against the majority who would take unchecked until nothing more remained.
In addition to Bison, the two units are home to Prairie Dogs, Elk, Mule and White-tailed Deer, Wild Horses, Pronghorns, Coyotes, Bobcats, Beavers, Porcupines, Badgers, Prairie Rattlesnakes, Bullsnakes, Golden Eagles and many other bird species. The prairie sustains over 500 species of plants, most notably the drought resistant grasses that appear to be a monoculture at first glance but actually consist of many different species such as Western Wheatgrass, Needle-and-thread Grass, and Little Bluestem, among others. In the absence of fire, Sagebrush and Wild Rose occupy the soil and provide less valuable forage. The annual grasses play an instrumental role in the balance of the ecosystem and therefore, fire is a natural and important aspect of life on the Great Plains.
In select areas there are forests in the park and they are typically Rocky Mountain Juniper Woodlands and Hardwood Forests. The Rocky Mountain Juniper Woodlands are most common because they thrive in the microclimates created by the north facing buttes. The less intense heat from the sun and slower evaporation of water allows the juniper to thrive and they in turn reduce erosion, provide resting places for Elk, and food for Solitaires, Waxwings, and Robins. In the riverbeds, hardwood forests consisting of Green Ash, American Elm, Box Elder, and Cottonwoods grow in addition to large shrubs which provide habitat for White-tailed Deer and Porcupines.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the unique geology. The formation of the badlands began in the Paleocene Epoch. While the Rocky Mountains were forming in the west (with the help of water and wind), sediment was being formed. Ancient Rivers carried the sediments (silt, mud, and sand) into the present day Dakotas and creating the layers of the present day Badlands features. In addition to the sediment from the mountains, ash from volcanos in Montana, South Dakota, and Idaho was accumulating in the rivers. These ash layers became bentonite clay. Then in the following epochs rivers eroded the landscape and carved valleys through the landscape en route to the Hudson Bay in Canada. However, in the Pleistocene Epoch the southward advance glaciers stopped the northern flow of the rivers and they were forced to change course to empty into the Mississippi River. This caused the creation of many new channels and sliced through the sedimentary rock layers which is the reason for the current look of the Badlands.
Whether you are intrigued by geology and the stark beauty of the Dakotas, or enjoy wildlife viewing, or simply want to do a side hike on a cross country trip, I highly recommend Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is something for everyone and it is important to stop and think about the importance of preserving our natural world so that future generations may also enjoy this landscape. Similar to the foresight of Theodore Roosevelt and many others, we must always think about what is most sustainable and best for our collective future, from prairie dog-to-juniper-to-human, because ultimately we are all connected.
The Sawtooth Ridge 50 miler was the hardest 50 I have ever run and it took place only 2 months after the previous hardest 50 miler I have ever run (Bloodroot 50). The race was initially scheduled for July of 2021, but because of the excessive heat warnings, the race was postponed to July 9th 2022. In a humorous turn of events the race had to be rerouted this year because of excessive snow… At any rate this would be my first run in the Methow Valley and I was excited to explore the area and challenge myself over difficult terrain.
Apryle and I left late in the evening on Friday July 8th and arrived at the start/finish area at Foggy Dew Campground near midnight. We quickly setup camp and immediately fell asleep. I awoke about an hour before the start of the race to the sound of the rushing waters of Foggy Dew Creek. The race got underway at 6AM and I took the opening miles very easy in a group of four people (Izzy Ray, Bruce Ronek, and Drew Mueller). We chatted as we trotted up the smooth gravel Gold Creek Road.
Generally speaking it was a very gradual runnable grade and we reached the aid station at mile 6 in about 1:02:28. I grabbed a few pieces of fruit and transitioned onto the Eagle Lakes trail. Here the group was whittled down to Drew, Bruce and myself. We ascended up through a forested hillside before reaching an exposed scree slope with beautiful views. I passed through another aid station and the trail continued up to an arbitrary turnaround point at mile 12.7 (7,367 feet). I reached this point in 2:23:57 and Bruce snapped a few photos and then we were off on our way back down the hill.
Bruce took off on this decent and I chased, leaving Drew behind. The following miles were a little tedious, I could not catch Bruce and I had isolated myself in a lone chase group. I made it back to the start of the out and back (17.2 3:02:00) and took the Martin Creek trail southwestward. At this point the descent ended and I began a gradual climb back up to the next highpoint on the course. The trail was smooth and switch backed through the forest. After a few miles the trail reemerged above tree line and into snowfields.
The next high point was near Cooney Lake at 7,047 feet (23.3 4:23:03). The trail began to descend again and Drew had caught up and the two of us began to pace together in an effort to pull back Bruce. We transitioned onto the Foggy Dew Creek trail at 25.9 miles (4:52:15) and I stopped to refill my hydration bladder and grab some snacks. The trail was more or less a gravel forest road and Drew and I set a good tempo. We reached the low point at mile 32.1 (2,935 feet in 5:44:38). We blew through the aid station since I had just filled up 6 miles earlier and the next aid station was advertised at mile 39. After crossing Foggy Dew Creek we began our second out and back, and I was feeling very confident to finish out the final 18 miles strong. On paper the last two climbs looked very easy compared with the first two climbs of the race. However, coach Apryle told me to not discount those last two climbs because they may look lower and shorter but the grade was probably going to be tough. She could not have been more correct, the third major climb was the toughest of the day and Drew and I were relegated to a hike.
The trail was steep, dusty, narrow and is not even shown on the map as being an official trail. It took us until 7:16:18 to reach the highpoint on the climb (36.7 and 5,923 feet). By our estimation it would be a ~3 mile descent and then an aid station before the return journey.
The ensuing descent was painful… The gradient was 15-20% and reached a low point at mile 39.6 (3,272 feet) with a small stream crossing. At this point I had been out of water for about 2 miles and we had already passed the advertised distance for the aid station. However, for some reason I did not fill up my water bladder at this stream. In this ravine there was no tree cover, only shoulder height shrubs (ceanothis, willow, and grasses). I saw dried Moose scat all over but knew that there would be no Moose to be found in this area in the current heat. The temperatures soared into the low 90s and there was no escaping the sun.
My breaking point was the steep little bunny climb up to another ridge (3,907 feet 40.4), it was only a 600 foot climb but I just sat on the trail for about a minute and Drew pressed forward. I began licking the sweat off my arms and draining my soaked shirt into my mouth. The salt actually tasted good but the sunscreen left a bad aftertaste. I went through short bursts where I ran but mostly I walked the descent to the aid station. I began eating tall blades of grass, this wetted down my mouth and actually tasted okay, it raised my morale and I finally reached the “39 mile” aid station at mile 42.7 (8:53:06).
When I got to the aid station I questioned my ability to continue because I was had stopped sweating, was dizzy and slurring my speech. However, I sat down in the chair and I quickly downed 1.5 liters of water in a matter of minutes. The aid station crew got me cool damp cloths to put on my neck and cooked me some food, while I transitioned to supine on the ground and propped my feet up on the chair. The aid station crew was amazing; they helped to shade me and filled up my hydration pack while I briefly fell asleep. Then I suddenly woke up and started to feel pretty good.
At this time a few other runners trickled in including Izzy Ray, who I shared some miles with early on in the day. I downed some more calories and started back out on the trail. I left the aid station at 9:33:49 elapsed meaning that all in all I spent over 40 minutes at the aid station in an effort to recover. Although mistakes were made leading up to my hydration/calorie deficit, I was proud of my composure and patience at the aid station. I made sure that I was excited to get back out on course before I left.
I was caught and passed by another runner – Timothy on my way back up the final large climb, but I managed to pass him back prior to the summit. It was nice to visit with many other runners on the way back up the mountain and was glad that I did not have to stop at any point on the way up. Once I reached the top of the last climb (49.9 11:51:31) I began to calculate how long it would take me to finish the race. I had already broken my new established record for personal slowest 50 miler, so any amount longer would only build on that.
I reached the last aid station at mile 54.2 (12:44:38) and was told that there was only 2 miles remaining on the forest road back to the finish at Foggy Dew Campground. I was elated to have survived such a strenuous race but still a little disappointed at my time and also that I was dropped by Bruce and Drew. However, I put in a surge to the finish line, closing out the 56.48 mile (16,558 vertical foot) race with a time of 13:01:18.
Thank you to Denis and the Everlong Endurance team for putting on a great race. It was a great course and I really enjoyed the challenge. Thank you to all the excellent volunteers for your help at the aid stations. Thank you John Berta for marking the course. Thank you to Bruce for snapping some photos of me on course. Thanks to Apryle for your support on race day and my training in general.
In the first days of October I journeyed over to Orcas Island to run the Moran Constitutional Relay with Team Run Determined. After a busy workday I was able to hitch a ride up to Anacortes with two teammates: Jayson Hefner and Bret Jorgesen. We arrived fairly late and settled into the house that Chris Gregory had rented for the team. We went for a short night run in the neighborhood talked over strategy that evening.
There were a total of eight legs on the first day and four on the second day. Our team consisted of six people and each person completed two legs. I was proud of our team’s performance and we handily took the overall win.
The race got underway at first light under cloudy skies from the Ecology Learning Center at Moran State Park on the west side of Orcas Island. We ran each leg with a small peg that we would insert into a corresponding receptor at each legs transition. It was awkward to switch from a full sprint to such a precision task, but we made it look – weird and harder than it actually was…
Leg 1 ELC to Mountain Lake Landing 5.9 miles 1207 feet gain and 717 feet loss
Bret Jorgensen took the win for us on this opening leg in a time of 43:22.
Leg 2 Mountain Lake Landing to Mountain Lake Landing 3.9 miles 528 feet gain and 528 feet loss
I took the win on this leg in a time of 24:09.
Leg 3 Mountain Lake Landing to Cascade Lake 4.4 miles, 535 feet gain and 996 feet loss
Chris Gregory took the win on this leg in a time of 29:40.
Leg 4 Cascade Lake to Little Summit 5.2 miles, 2260 feet gain and 680 feet loss
Sophie Blackburn took fifth in this leg in a time of 56:29.
Leg 5 Little Summit to Mountain Lake Landing 7.3 miles, 863 feet gain and 1959 feet loss
Troy Haeseler took the win on this leg in a time of 48:30.
Leg 6 Mountain Lake Landing to Mount Constitution 3.1 miles, 1724 ft gain and 192 ft loss
Jayson Hefner took the win on this leg with a time of 28:45.
Leg 7 Mount Constitution to Mountain Lake Landing 8.4 miles, 847 feet gain and 2385 feet loss
Chris Gregory took fourth in this leg with a time of 1:01:48
Leg 8 Mountain Lake Landing to ELC 5.3 miles, 579 feet gain and 1083 feet loss
Sophie Blackburn took second on this leg in a time of 39:32 to close out the day and keep us securely in first place after day one.
After a solid first day of competition, we headed back over to the team headquarters and we spotted a Northern Alligator Lizard, which was a real highlight of the day for me. This was the first time that I had spotted this very cool reptile of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the wildlife sightings the evening consisted of making a homemade apple pie with apples that we picked from a tree near the start finish area. Bret and I went to the store and found all necessary ingredients for a gluten free and vegan pie. This was my first time baking something that was gluten free or vegan and I was impressed by how easy it was and how tasty it turned out. Unfortunately, I was overtaken with a migraine and turned in early to prepare for the penultimate day two of competition.
We began day two at the same place we started and ended day one – the Ecology Learning Center. The weather was almost identical to day one, which was perfect conditions – partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 50s. Our team was well prepared to defend our lead in the overall race.
Leg 9 ELC to Cascade Lake 7.7 miles, 2041 feet gain and 1998 feet loss
Troy Haeseler took the win on this leg in a time of 1:01:50.
Leg 10 Cascade Lake to Mount Constitution 4.3 miles, 2211 feet gain and 185 feet loss
Jayson Hefner took the win on this leg in a time of 38:13.
Leg 11 Mount Constitution to Mountain Lake Landing 8.6 miles, 1854 feet gain and 3336 feet loss
I took the win on this leg in a time of 1:04:21.
Leg 12 Mountain Lake Landing to ELC 7.7 miles, 1246 feet gain and 1836 feet loss
Bret Jorgensen brought home the win in the final leg to secure the victory for Run Determined in a time of 53:59.
Day 1: 5:32:15 1st place with a slim 2:07 lead
Day 2: 3:38:23 1st place with a 25:58 lead
Overall: 9:10:38 1st place with a 38:05 margin of victory.
It was exciting to notch a big team win in my first relay since college track. I had an excellent time hanging out with the team and I appreciate Chris Gregory orchestrating the whole weekend. Thanks also to Troy Haeseler for helping me to get back home on Sunday.