We met at Takoda’s, a lovely little restaurant near Belnap Hot Springs. Then, with the help of Pam and Tonya (Don and Jeff’s partners, respectively), we discussed our water stop and rendezvous. Pam and Tonya would be along to offer support, and boy was it welcomed and needed!
After that, we drove up to our starting point at Trail Bridge Reservoir. Here you can pick up the MRT about halfway down its 26ish mile descent through the lower, western Cascades. The habitat is primarily fir, cedar and some pine, though hemlock , aspen and other leafy favorites are abundant. Under the canopy, lush ferns and broad-leafed elderberries lined our path.
Our first stretch took us about 4 miles through the forest and along the river. Our first stop was at Deer Creek, camping and hot springs abound! It was good to take in a rest and hydrate before we were back on our way.
Along the entire route were many roots and tripping hazards; proof of this came for me at about mile 7 when I just barely tapped a jutting root with the tip of my shoes and spilled out horizontally landing on my elbow and knee. Not to be alarmed though as I was just fine, aside from a nasty scrape that was more a badge of honor than an injury. Jeff and I talked about not taking the trail for granted, and I thought that sounded pretty smart. He said that when you relax and take your eyes off the immediate ground in front of you, that's when falls occur. He would know too; a veteran to the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) 50 K held on this very trail each year in the very late summer (usually early September).
A link to the run can be found here: http://www.mrtr.org/ Also, if you want to see a map of the entire course, click here: http://www.mrtr.org/files/map.pdf We ran the lower 14 miles, so just a little less than half of the MRTR...but I digress! Where did I leave off? Oh yes...
Just after the fall, we had our second support stop with Tonya and Pam at Buck Bridge. Luckily, Tonya had a first aid kit so she patched me up and sent us on our way again. Along this part of the trail, we crossed tributaries and climbed ascents, moving slower and with more caution than we had before. Also, Don had a few falls along the way and I was afraid I would trip again too so I was grateful for the slower pace. This part of the trail is familiar to me on a bike so it's a much different experience on foot. We passed the Belnap entrance road and I started thinking that we were almost done. Then I remembered that we still had to pass Paradise and we still had another small climb coming. I think this took a little wind out of my sails, but I still pushed on.
As we passed the ranger station connection, Jeff told us this was where the MRTR finished up, but we were still planning on putting in another mile up to the mountain bike staging and shuttle parking. I knew that my husband and kids would be there waiting and I knew that Pam and Tonya would be there with water and cheering. As I thought about this, this amazing trek through the woods--pushing myself in a way that I wouldn't have dreamed when I was celebrating my birthday last year or the year before that-- I was overcome with gratitude.
Someone should have told me when I was in my 20s how much I would love this experience. But you know, I don't think that 20 year old Rhonda would have been able to hear it, let alone believe it! No, I think the stage had to be set for this moment, this birthday of 43 years, and this glorious run.
I finished just a little behind Jeff and Don but I finished feeling good. I finished feeling like I could do it again, which made me wonder when I would. Would it be next week or next month? Maybe I would come back next year for the MRTR in September 2015. But whenever it would come, I would welcome the challenge with my whole being.
Thanks Jeff and Don for a great run! Thanks Tonya and Pam for helping us at our stops giving us the assurance and confidence that we could do it and that you would be there when we needed you. Thanks Dave and my girls for coming to the finish and cheering me in.
What a great birthday! I cant imagine a better one. Happy birthday to me!
Don Wheeler on the left, me in the middle and Jeff McKay on the right