It was a cold, dark, and stormy morning in Portland, the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up with a warm blanket and hibernate forever. I knew the weather would be different where I was going, but it was still hard to pack up and leave the house that morning. My last race was just over a month ago, where I spent over 27 hours in the rain at Mountain Lakes 100. So you could say I was a little rain-adverse at this point (and maybe I still am).
As expected, the rain eased as I drove further Northeast through the Columbia River Gorge. I partly chose this race because of its proximity and consistently good late-season weather. The skies had cleared entirely upon arrival, revealing nothing but blue skies and white clouds on the horizon. Although slightly chilly, I knew that this was the perfect temperature to run in. I saw a blue heron take flight from the small pond just below the parking area, and it made me smile. It reminded me just how lucky we are to experience places like these! Today would be a great day. With my biggest race of the year completed, I didn’t have any significant goals for this race, which made Today even more fun. I could go at whatever pace I wanted Today and enjoy the scenery.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Coyote Wall is on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s roughly 4.5 miles East of Hood River and about 70 miles East of Portland. The rainshadow effect makes this area much drier and warmer than nearby Portland and the Willamette Valley. Coyote Wall is an argosy of natural wonders. It has become a destination for trail users of all kinds: hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, birders, botanists, and other weirdos that call themselves “trail runners.” I implore you to visit if you haven’t been. These races are a fantastic way to explore the area and extend your race season.
Once at Coyote Wall, the very first thing you notice is the impressive and looming features of the gigantic columnar basalt walls. The next thing that you notice is the flora. The Big Leaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum) had turned bright yellow and stood in stark contrast against the rocks. The race starts here, only a few feet away from the parking area. Although close to civilization, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.
This year the 55k race was small. Its conception was in the fall of 2019, with a pandemic-friendly virtual race following in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic made permitting difficult for many races, which was no exception. However, everyone was grateful that this race could return in person this year! I am very excited to see this particular race and Wonderland Running grow!
Fittingly, the race began with the race director, Sean Harrasser, dropping a single maple leaf. Most runners laughed hysterically as we all took off down the short section of paved road while weaving through some of the scattered basalt boulders. The pavement gives way to gravel after a short while; then the course turns left onto Hidden Canyon Trail. Runners were already spread out by this point, so there was no congestion at this intersection (or the rest of the race, for that matter). This trail immediately climbs upwards, providing some fabulous views below the Columbia River! There is a whole series of networking trail systems out here, and the course was (thankfully) well marked. More climbing, more switchbacks, more views! Singletrack, hills, footbridges, creeks, red-tailed hawks, coniferous forests, hills, meadows, hills, lava flows, poison oak, bald eagles, and hills!
Did I mention hills? There are a few of them! One of the most rewarding views was the climb up from Catherine Creek Aide Station, heading towards Courtney Road (miles 8-11ish). You crest a ridge and see that Mt Hood is standing tall and proud, in all her glory, over the south side of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s simply breathtaking (and you may want to stop here and catch your breath before heading up the next climb up toward Courtney Rd). After that, there’s an excellent long section of rolling descent (miles15-21) before the big climb out of Jewett Creek.
I felt pretty good and only needed water at the mile 21 aid station. I also knew the most significant climb was ahead of me. The Jewett Creek section was primarily forested, which helped me take my mind off the switchbacks. It was surprisingly both peaceful and grueling. Somewhere along this winding uphill section, a course marking arrow pointed right… seemingly off into the abyss. I stopped to see if there was a trail I had missed or if I was off course somehow. Upon further inspection, the back of the course marking arrow read, “Be still my Pseudotsuga menziesii heart.” The marking arrow was simply pointing at a large Douglas Fir tree. The arrow made me laugh so hard, and I was glad to have taken a moment to honor the tree and the surrounding area. Sometimes we can get so focused on the different aspects of the race (our pace, standings, fatigue/pain, etc.) that we forget to breathe in the natural beauty. This beauty is what you can expect from Wonderland Running: beautiful scenery, challenging races, and a touch of humor.
Many portions of the race were technical, with slower ascents and descents over loose, rocky trails. The race had over 8k of vertical gain, a challenging course. The terrain was very diverse, though, more so than I had expected. The diversity kept the run interesting, fun, and rewarding. The last 5 miles were pretty much all downhill. The downhill end was my favorite section because it made me forget about all the climbing I had just gotten through! The course loses about 2k of vert in the last two miles before hitting the paved road (last ½ mile) to the finish. While the descent starts fast and fun, the last portion is pretty technical. I was never so happy to see pavement!
It was no surprise that local Portland athletes, Rachel Drake and Tyler Green, took first and second place. But, while I was huffing and puffing an hour and a half behind them, I was told they had strolled through the finish line with ease.
Besides having five well-stocked aid stations, Wonderland Running supplied pizza to all the finishers and volunteers. It was indeed a fantastic experience, and I’d urge you to consider adding the 55k or 25k to your 2022 fall race calendar. Where else in the PNW can you run and expect sunshine and clear skies during the end of October?!
Checkout Wonderland Running’s website for more info, as well as other great races they put on: https://www.wonderlandrunning.com/
Additional Race-Day Photos:
These races take place in the ancestral lands of the Klickitat and Yakima peoples, who have lived here for over 10,000 years.
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