With a can of bear spray in one hand, a bear bell in the other, tears rolling down my face because my head, heart and body were all wanting to do different things, I stood at the base of the mountain I had planned to climb…scared…
My “plan” was to run 17.5km’s from my cabin on Timothy Lake to the Mt. Timothy Ski Hill Summit and run up and down as many of the ski runs as possible in memory of my Grandpa, who’s ashes are laid to rest at the Mt. Timothy Summit (at the top of the ski hill), and then run back home. There are 31 ski runs according to the map. I had no idea what the conditions would be like on the ski runs during the summer… all I knew was that I would just do as many as I could. I grew up in these mountains, summer and winter, I have been here every year of my life… I put on my first pair of skis here. I knew the way… there is only one way up… 928m to 1660m. I also knew that my exposure to wildlife and literal solitude way out in the backcountry alone would be something new for me.
I wasn’t afraid. I am not afraid of anything… scared though, yes I was scared but it wasn’t until I got off the main road and onto the dirt road turn off to head up the mountain that my official fight began.
I awoke that morning with a headache, I tried to ignore it, I got dressed, ate some fig bars for breakfast, grabbed my GoPro, put on my pack, tied my shoes and headed out the door at 6:15am. I had packed my 12L Salomon S-Lab Advance Skin pack instead of my 5L. Simply for the fact that I had planned for a long ass day on my own, no aid stations and a lot of gear for the backcountry. It was heavy… heavy enough for me to feel uncomfortable running. I ran down the street and turned the first corner to a giant rainbow curving in the sky. What an amazing way to start the day. I continued on down the old paved road for about 6km’s until the turn off to head up the mountain. Within the first 30 minutes of leaving the cabin I had encountered a rainbow, a big dude of a deer jumping out in front of me, a wolf and a giant bull cow who wasn’t happy with life it seemed… so we had to have a chat in order for him to let me pass.
I finally reached the turn off. I walked up the road a few steps, took my pack off, ate a bar and some chocolate covered espresso beans. When it finally set in… I was off the main road. I had no service, no contact with anyone, I was officially in the backcountry… alone. I put my pack back on… and as I looked up at the road ahead. I couldn’t move. My heart was pounding, I felt like I was already 10 hours into a run when all my senses become, what I call “hyper”, I just stood there unable to move. I started to cry. “I am not afraid. Just go.” I had some of my Grandpa’s ashes with me, he was protecting me. My heart, head and legs were in such conflict. I had never experienced this before. I still had a long way to go… “you can’t stop here because your scared!… Get up the mountain… nothing bad is going to happen grandpa is protecting you, your not scared…you love the wilderness…this is a smooth dirt road… run!”
It took me a good 15 minutes of just standing, staring up the road, to finally wipe my tears and move my feet. I strapped the bear bell to the front of my vest, it jingled with every step, I took the bear spray out of the front pocket on my vest and strapped it to my hand, read the “how to” instructions once more and I moved. I couldn’t help but be hyper aware of everything around me, every sound startled me, every branch that moved made me turn my head quickly to inspect. 99% of the time it was a bird or squirrel, the other 1% of the time it was just the wind. I started to notice deer tracks in the middle of the road so I followed them. At times I would stop… the bear bell would silence and I would just stand and listen. I am not sure what sound I preferred that awful bell ringing or the silence… which meant the possibility of hearing something else. I kept moving, following the deer tracks, making my way through the landmarks I knew… the sandpit on the right, the big steep turn, the cattle guard and then another sound… up ahead another deer. I stopped not wanting to startle it and to just observe. We stared at each other for a few minutes and then he jumped away as I moved forward. I went in and out of running and walking depending on the steepness of the road. I went in and out of wanting to through the bell into the bush to enjoying its tune. I reached a corner in the road named BEV’S BEND. I decided to turn on my cell phone, I might be high enough for some cell service I thought, and I was. There is a very small amount of spotty sections on the mountain where there is cell service, it doesn’t help much because everyone back at the cabin doesn’t have service but I was able to call the land line to let my dad know where I was and message Dayna to tell her how scared I was… then service was gone and before I knew it I passed Willies Curve, I knew I was close, then the Mt. Timothy Ski Hill turn off.
I don’t know why but as soon as I reached this sign I felt safer. I was in just get to the lodge mode. So I ran. I jingled loudly, with each step the bell hit my chest. Then I saw the red gate… I kept running. Ski runs up the mountain to the right appeared. Then the salt block and then finally I reached the lodge. I walked up to it. Laid on the front porch and let my body be covered in misquotes. It was 9:00am.
As I laid there, I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything or gone to the bathroom since I had started at the very bottom of the road turn off. I was so concerned with don’t stop moving and gripping my bear spray I didn’t eat and hardly drank. I knew already I was behind on calories and liquid for the type of day I was after. A good old PB&J and a salted watermelon gel got me up. My Sister, Dad and Mike were going to be driving the Quads up to met me here at the Ski Hill somewhere at around 10:00am, with extra food, water and supplies. I thought well you better get up at least one of these ski runs before they get here so off I went. I had no planned way of doing them and as I stood at the base I thought I’ll head up this big one in front first, it follows the chair lift and its one of my favourite runs to board down.
Right off the bat it was steeper and harder then I thought and what it appeared… or it was that I had emotional exhausted myself already getting here it seemed impossible to move up the run with any sort of speed.
I stopped to breath and turned around to this view. Hey cute rain clouds please don’t roll your way over here. Step by step I made my way up this steep 310m run. Ringing my bell. Depending more then I wanted to on my trekking poles but I made it.
Once again tired and feeling drained. I took a seat for another snack on an old bench at the top. Not caring how many misquotes were sucking my blood, I ate, felt tired, felt alone. This wasn’t feeling like I thought it would. I thought I would feel energetic, happy, excited. But I just felt confused, nervous, tired and alone. I looked once again for cell service but there wasn’t any. A few minutes later I hear the roaring of quad bikes… it wasn’t 10 yet… maybe it was other people quading. I was just about to put my pack back on when my sister and mike rolled up! I felt such relief. I told them how I felt scared. I felt so far away… I was. They stayed with me to eat another snack. We sat on the chair lift. Looked at the view and got eaten alive by misquotes.
I knew that Mike and Ash weren’t going to stay to long and or stay for the rest of the day with me up there. I just felt such a resistance to what I had set out to do… I had made this expectation in my head as to what I wanted to do… when really I had already succeeded. It felt different then I wanted it to. But of course the ultra in me is fighting saying get over it, it doesn’t always feel good, its never as easy as you think, just keep going don’t give up. I wasn’t giving up, this wasn’t a race… this was me and my grandpa spending time together. I didn’t like myself for thinking I don’t really want to run all the way back down there and then come back up again.
We saw something moving below near the lodge. I knew that there was no one else up there… there isn’t a care taker living there or anything. We watched as someone on a quad headed up the run I just ran up. Either he was coming to get mad at us for being up there or…. well we didn’t know. He ended up not coming to us and the sound of the quad slowly drifted away. A weird odd feeling of comfort rose as I knew the loud sound from the quad would scare bears away. So I took what I needed from my bear barrel full of extra supplies, grabbed a photo, told Mike and Ash that I was going to head back down and up again… I put my bear spray back into the vest pocket. I let them know when I was done I would be taking a different back road back home down the back side of the mountain instead of the exact way I came from. They left with an estimated time of me getting home between 4:00-5:00pm. They wished me luck and headed on their way and there I was again alone on the top of this ski hill. I decided to run down Easy Street because it is a run that crosses all of the ski runs so I could check out the conditions of the other runs.
Turns out… all of the other runs were easily categorized as “un runnable”… For some reason the main two runs, at the chair lift and the one beside it (the first one I took) and easy street were the only runs that the brush didn’t grow higher then my knees. I was disappointed, I should have known, every other run was over grown with trees, rocks, big logs and really rough un runnable ground. Seems like an obvious thought… of course runs aren’t maintained snow just piles on top of it in the winter. I knew they wouldn’t be “maintained” but I didn’t think they would be as rough as they were. So I headed down Easy Street all the way back to the lodge. I saw the man on the quad again. He was at one of the shops by the lodge… I headed over to say hi and just let him know I was out there. When I told him I was climbing up and down some of the runs he said “oh” did you park out by the gate… I said “no I ran up from Timothy Lake,” he gave me a funny look and said “well aren’t you energetic!”… “yea I guess so,” I said not feeling like I had much energy. I asked him if he was the care taker or what he was doing, he said no he was just volunteering and cutting down some of the brush growing on the main run. “Have a good one,” we exchanged and off he road back up the run. Well either I am going to die by a bear or cougar eating me or this man is going to chop me up with his saw blade I thought to myself laughing. Well cool, I’ve got some company and his loud machine is scaring off all the wildlife so lets head up this thing again. So I went back up the same run as the first time, however this time I headed to the left as this run connected to the one other clear run beside it. This time on my way up the cute rain clouds had made their way over and it started to pour but only for a few mintues. I reached the top. The rain stopped and it was sunny again. I stood. I looked out. Listened to the silence. My mind had shut off… I was in another world…I turned and headed around the back side of the mountain. Before I new it I was at my Grandpa.
Its not far from the top of the ski hill. Something took me there and I didn’t even think twice about it. I just ran to him. It was the first time I had been there alone. The previous day our entire immediate family went with my Grandma to burry his ashes here. But with all everyone around you don’t quite get to really take in the moment. I was here now alone. I started to cry. I gave him a kiss, told him I loved him and not to worry I would be back soon. I left running down the back road crying. I was running really fast, its all down hill from here. I’ve got my bear bell back out and I am shaking the crap out of it. This is where, the previous day, we had come across a big black bear on our way up to burry my Grandpa. I ran and ran and rang the bell. Until I reach the junction in the road. I looked at my phone I had service… I called the cabin and asked if anyone else was going to come up. My dad said sure we can come up… I told him I would met him back at Willies Curve where the trail head is. I met them there, my Dad, Sister and Mike. With some persuasion, I decided to take a trail back to the main road rather then run down the dirt road. The trail did cut off some distance but it was way funner and I finally was able to relax and put a smile on my face as I cruised down the rocky, muddy trail.
I made it back to the cabin. A 7.5 hour day that felt both like 2 hours and 20 hours at the same time. More exhausted then I have ever been after a run. Every part of my body hurt. I felt drunk. I finally felt hungry. I had put myself through the most uncomfortable situation I have ever been in. I felt accomplished and so unaccomplished at the same time. I didn’t do near the amount of ski runs as I planned to yet I just became so much stronger then I ever have been. It wasn’t about the distance or the elevation gained or even the time on feet… it was about learning to be fearless. To be scared, not afraid, but scared and get through it. Alone. I still haven’t quit decided if the feeling of something always being around me while I was out there was masked by my thinking it was wildlife, where it really was just my Grandpas presence. But now I know what it feels like. I will head back out there one of these days to get the rest of those runs done. Un runnable or not I feel they need to be ran.
What I carried with me in my pack: aka. Gear list:
- 12L Salomon Advance Skin Set
- My Hero4 GoPro
- Hoka Mafate trail shoes
- Black Diamond Carbon Z Trekking Poles
- Sungod Sunglasses
- 1 can of Bear Spray
- A first aid kit
- Survival blanket
- Bug head net – I needed a full body suit
- Norvan Arcteryx Rain shell
- Bug spray
- TP and Muff Wipes
- 2 Litres of water
- 4 PB&J Sandwhiches
- A veggie Samosa
- Salt pills and NUUN tabs
- Organic baby food fruit pouches
- NAKD Bars
- Swedish Berries Candies
- GU Salted Watermelon Flavour
- Cliff Shot Blocks
- A pocket knife
- Bear Bell
In the Bear Canister I had:
- Change of clothes and socks
- Another first aid kit
- A bladder in case mine broke
- More food all the same I had already
- More water
On the map below what I was able to run was #18 #5 #6 #32 and #1