In 2019, Northwest Dirt Churners hosted the Nasty Challenge, a fundraiser for Forest Park Conservancy. Over five months, participants completed five Nasty routes (North, South, Alphabet, Flaming, and Skyline). We hosted a group run on each Nasty route every month. I was always asked at each run, “Who created these routes?” I always had the same answer; “I don’t know.”
A couple of years ago, I asked Larry (Legend) Stephens if he was the creator of the Nasty Routes. He replied, “No, but I know who did. I still have a beer or two with him every so often.” I told Larry I would like to meet this person, and last month, I finally did.
I spotted Larry and the man behind the Nasty Routes when I walked into Sinnott’s, a legendary sports bar in the Rose City Park neighborhood of NE Portland. “Shane, this is Geof.” “Hi Shane, nice to meet you,” he replied in an English accent with a Cheshire grin. Geof immediately started talking about the Nasties, but I wanted to know more about him first.
Geof Donovan started running triathlons in his 20s. He did his first ultra in 2007, the PCT 50 (now Mt. Hood 50.) “I have the slowest winning time ever in 2010 at 7:53!” His racing history is on UltraSignup.
Geof is also a scientist who loves maps. When running Waldo 100k, he told himself, “Jesus, this is steep.” He realized running the Leif Erikson trail in Forest Park was good for PCT 50 but not for his upcoming Big Horn 100. Geof started running in the Columbia River Gorge on the weekends to get more ascent on his runs. “How do you get hills on the weekdays or in the wintertime?” Geof asked himself.
“I’d mountain bike on BPA and knew it was miserable. It used to be looser gravel, so it’s even easier to do now. There are some awful trails in the park, with BPA being the worst.” In England, Geof would do fell running like the Bob Graham Round, where climbing and descending hills using some trails and going off trail. This was part of the inspiration for making challenging routes. “I wanted to connect all the hills north of Germantown. I ran with Larry a few times, and we made a few changes to my original route, like Firelane 12 and 15, to get it right.” That’s how the first Nasty was born. “I did the same mirror image for length and vert on the other side of Germantown. The hills were nasty, so right away, we named the North Nasty and South Nasty routes.” Very early on, Geof and Larry did the North and South Nasty in one go and did not enjoy that very much.
“I wanted to create two more Nasties on the other side of the park. These Nasties were a little harder to figure out. I used to run home from work downtown, so I knew the roads around the Pittock Mansion.” These roads and trails became the Alphabet Nasty. “I used to ride my bike up Firelane 3, and that was awful. So I wanted to combine that route with other trails, and that’s how Flaming Nasty came about. When designing the routes, I wanted to get rid of all the joy and make them shitty and horrible.”
Geof declares, “You don’t get into a rhythm at all on the Nasty routes. It really helped me prepare for Big Horn, which is the best race I ever had.” He finished tenth with a time of 23:45. Early on, Geof took Yassine Diboun on a North Nasty in the sleet. “He didn’t like running up BPA,” grinned Geof. Yassine also had a good race at Big Horn 100 that year. Now Yassine sends the Nasty routes to many of the athletes he coaches at Wy’east Wolfpack. Yassine and Larry also did a fundraiser running the Nasties.
“It was just a whimsical thing,” Geof claims. “Mainly, I did it for myself, and then I brought in Larry. I would have the routes 80-90 percent done, and then Larry would help me finish the rest. The routes took six months of 2010 to finalize. We also wanted to introduce people to new trails and roads in Forest Park.”
“Where did you come up with the name Nasty?” I asked. “It just kind of named itself. Take all the stuff in Forest Park you don’t want to do and push away the stuff you do want to do, and then you’ve got a Nasty. The North and South Nasties are named because of what side of Germantown Road the routes occur on. The Flaming Nasty takes place on many of the Firelanes in Forest Park. The Alphabet Nasty got its name because the trails used are Aspen, Birch, Wild Cherry, and Dogwood (ABCD.) There is also a polar extension of the North Nasty using trails and forest roads in McCarthy Creek Forest, Ennis Creek Forest, and Burlington Creek Forest on the other side of Newberry Road.”
In the Nasty routes, the downhills are almost as thorny as the uphills. For instance, it would be easy to make Springville go downhill and Ridge trail uphill on the South Nasty, but it’s the other way around. The roots on Ridge make it a very technical downhill. Another example is running down the stairs after Aspen Trail on the Alphabet Nasty when it logically makes sense to stay on the road. Instead of running up Germantown to Skyline, Geof made a bushwack trail to Willalatin water tower by Waterline Trail. It’s now called the No Name trail on Strava. “I wanted to make them as unpleasant as possible.”
Geof also created the Sick Nasty using the Marquam Park and Council Crest trails near OHSU. I told Geof that I created one out there called the Pill Hill Pavement Pounder Nasty and that other runners have created Nasty routes throughout Portland (Beer Nasty, Skyline Nasty, Marquam Nasty, Barbara Walker Nasty, and Pirate Nasty are some examples.)
Geof has been injured for a few years, so he hasn’t run a Nasty in a while. “How popular are the Nasties? Would you say most weekends someone runs one of them?” he inquired. “Extremely popular,” I replied. “On any given Saturday on Leif Erickson and Germantown, you might see ten people getting ready to run the North or South Nasty (or both!)” “I noticed Firelane 9 has a sticker that says Stay Nasty,” responded Geof. “I wondered if that was from the Nasties.”
“How do you feel being the Godfather of all of these runs?” I asked. “It feels delightful and worthwhile. If I can bring that level of unpleasantness into strangers’ lives and I diminish their joy, I feel that I have done something.”
“Do you know in science that there is a philosophical question that is math invented or discovered?” Geof asks me rhetorically. “Is it invented, or does it already exist? I would like to think I discovered the Nasties. They were always there, but they just needed somebody to map them out. I couldn’t be happier that people do them. It really tickles me. If you want an easy run, go do the Shamrock Run or the waterfront loop. Want a challenge, do a Nasty!”
“You can train for a mountain race in the city limits,” continued Geof. “How cool is that? It also teaches you discipline. You must judge your effort; otherwise, you’ll bonk really hard on a Nasty.”
As the interview closed, Geof swallowed his last sip of ale and smiled, “I like to think that I brought an absence of joy to people’s lives. That’s my gift!” Indeed, it is.
For maps and descriptions of Geof’s Nasty Routes, visit Runs4Cache site on Forest Park.
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