Earlier that morning, I made the hour and a half drive up the Columbia River Gorge from Portland. Rarely hard on the eyes, the highway to Dog Mountain gets exceptionally scenic at the Bridge of the Gods where, thankfully, I’d remembered my dollar toll fee to cross the river. 12 miles east of Stevenson, Washington, a well marked starting line beckoned directly off Highway 14. Friendly race staff supplied me with bib, conversation about the course, and before I knew it, start time was approaching.
At first I thought, maybe I’ll go twice.
Training called for 13 miles, so at that point I thought I might try to go beyond the single loop 10k. I now can’t stop cry-laughing at my naiveté. A quick pre-race briefing included pointers to stay away from poison oak, a review of the course, and reminders that the first post-race round at Double Mountain was on Go Beyond Racing. We were off.
From the trailhead it is, quite literally, all uphill. No shy little inclines, these are soaring switchbacks that require your most unrelenting upward momentum. Running without GPS (because I’ve convinced myself, probably wisely, not to keep score on this one), I was mostly ignorant that hitting the crossroads marking easy and difficult routes was just about mile 1. Even this early on, I was relieved the clear trail markers bear right onto the “easy” path. (Note the sarcastic quotations). As the trail steepens, what has passed for “jogging” (there they are again) on my part quickly devolved into what could only optimistically pass for speed hiking.
Our pack of under 30 runners had spaced out almost from the start line, so by mile 2, I was mostly alone and marveling at the elite runners who’d managed to run this. Presumably without ever stopping to double over and dry heave. Approaching mile 3, sucking wind and wondering how long it could go on, trees thin and the landscape makes it all but impossible not to stop and soak it all in. With views this good, I thought, I’ve got to be near the top. Another chuckle-sob as the trail turns and banks straight up again during which I half-thought I hallucinated the smell of bacon. I put on what little speed I had left to reach the race crew I’d spotted at the top and arrived to find a table full of Gu, water, and yes, bacon!
After eating some in a combination of questionable judgement and summiting relief, I was conflicted by wanting to linger just to look at everything, and the pressing need to get off that rock and find some waffles. Thinking I should probably try to dilute the bacon, a few glasses of water later I headed back for the trail.
The descent double backed just briefly before diverging onto another trail leading down the mountain to the west. Full of premature relief at not moving against all the gravity, I picked up speed and grinned myself stupid sprinting down the trail in a haze of endorphins. Going too fast to keep a responsible eye on the trail, convincing myself to take it easy became the biggest challenge of the downhill.
It was over too quickly. A few scrambles over short scree fields, narrow passes through brush, more incredible views, and the parking lot appeared through the trees. I had crossed the finish to cheers and snacks from friendly volunteers before I was fully prepared to be done. Though not nearly prepared enough to take that second lap. Maybe next year.
Final Thoughts – What Dog Mountain may lack in horizontal, it more than makes up for in incredible experience. I’ll be talking about how much fun I had and how nice the race crew and entire event was for a while. I’ll most certainly be back for more.