By Jean Coulter
I am a 45-year-old, married woman. I have two sons, ages five and soon-to-be eight. We have a nice life, but I have anxiety. I wonder what I am going to do when I grow up. I wonder how I could be a better parent. I wonder how I could better support homeless people. I wonder how I could get more traction in my life. I wonder…
What is that creature up ahead? It’s off to the right and looks like a Tolkien magical stag with a rich red coat, velvet antlers, and wings. It has been dark for seven hours and my vision is sleepy. Earlier I moved through my actual sleep-running phase, missing a trail contour and running down a ravine. The swishing of tall, scratchy grass let my skin know we were cross-country; the real crack of some branches underfoot was also in my dream, and then my eyes opened. Whoops…giggle…it’s all good. There is also no mythical deer; as I approach it’s a large, gnarled tree trunk, twisted, brittle dry, and bare.
My LED headlamp casts a good cone of blue light in front of me. Outside this selective patch of illumination, the old growth forest is dense and very dark. I run through a clear cut and turn my lamp off to check in with the stars. It’s pitch black. This my favorite time of day – the cobalt night of 3 a.m. It’s an awesome darkness that I enjoy because I know that the balance of the evening is tipped towards the morning. I keep running, ignoring the ever-present hallucination that all the roots on the trail are snakes. I roll in to the backcountry aid station at mile 73 laughing and joking about all the snakes.
The logistics of life are such that I was not up for getting a crew and a pacer organized for a race located 1,000 miles away. I was actually excited for this, because I am self-conscious about asking people to give up their entire weekend to support me. I wonder if they are having a good time; I wonder if they need anything; I want to be a good host. My ever-suffering husband thinks all trail marathons start at 1 a.m. in the remote backcountry.
On Friday, I pack my carry-on and take the bus to the airport alone. I feel good, I feel open to the opportunity of what lays ahead. I make a friend on the plane as he shows me Mount Rainier and I can see the route through the Cascades that we will be racing tomorrow. I stay on a horse farm near the start; I meet kind people doing interesting things. The forest fire that caused a re-route of the course also makes for a sunrise of deep red and orange. The morning is crisp with hazy air. The light is soft compared to Colorado’s high-desert glare. I feel tuned in to good vibrations.
“3-2-1… Have Fun!” And we’re off. A gangly organism with 320 feet, bright-colored fishing vests abound, click click click of hiking poles. I notice the little totems and talismans that some have brought; my beaded leather patch of the Wolverine claw is on my shoulder strap. Without a crew or a pacer ahead, I am able to just run along. There was a spreadsheet, but I don’t need it now – I’m not going to be late for anyone.
Because I’m alone, I make friends on the course. I reach out within. I have my iPod, but my fellow runners are my new tribe and the earbuds stay tucked away for the day. Without crew, I had put notes to my Future Self in my drop bags – words of encouragement from the Other Me, and to do lists: take two Advil, eat something, make a friend. Husband sent a love note, Quinn and Shea sent shrinky dink totems for mile 51; I open a note from Quinn’s K–2 classroom for mile 80: YOU GOT THIS!
As day turns to afternoon and into night, and into dawn, and now to the next day, I realize that by not having a crew or pacer, I am able to be a part of this migration without any barriers. I’m not a closed unit, I’m wide open. I connect with the aid station volunteers – who know our kind better than anyone. I welcome their good cheer and stoke. I make more friends on the course. I find my Tribe. On this weekend, I don’t wonder – I do.
Thanks to everyone who makes Cascade Crest 100 what it is.