“Editors note: The 2000 CLE ELUM RIDGE 50K RACE REPORT was written by Lou Joline for ATRA’s Trail Times Newsletter, Volume 5, No. 18 – originally published in Fall 2000. Have you run this race? Share your experience in the comments sections below.”
I knew that I was in the Pacific Northwest as soon as I stepped over the bronze salmon embedded in terrazzo at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. If you’re an out of state entrant in the Cle Elum 50K Trail Run like me, your journey begins here. To reach my final destination, the fisherman’s paradise of Cle Elum (rhymes with “free melon”), I rented a car at the airport. I survived ten miles of Interstate 5 traffic before heading east on Interstate 90. Soon after I reached the interstate I was marveling at my surroundings and took advantage of the roadside pull-outs to stop and gaze at some of the best scenery in the state. As I approached the summit of Snoqualmie Pass, there was a fabulous vista complete with Mount Rainier off to my right.
About 70 miles later, I arrived at the race packet pickup location, a little brewery in the destination town of Cle Elum. The town was reminiscent of a “High Noon” movie set and after picking up my race packet, I sauntered on over to the nearby Stewart’s Lodge to rest up for my next day’s effort.
A frosty morning greeted this year’s capacity crowd of 125 runners at the start line. What awaits us? Besides the usual rocks and tree roots, the terrain that we were about to endure offered an endless series of humps and hollows dug up by powerful knobby-tired motorcycles. When this isn’t a race course for runners, it’s a trail primarily used by motorcycles.
Race director Frank Fleetham gives us the command and we set off smartly down the one-mile section of paved road. I realize that we will soon be competing for a good position on the trail up ahead. With the Portland Marathon looming on my horizon just one week away, I fall in with the less ambitious runners. In the first half of the race we climb 6000 feet and are rewarded with views so stunning that many runners stop to enjoy the scene and some even have cameras with them to record the route. In the second half of the race we descend to a valley floor and follow a stream nearly all the way to the finish line. Our knobby-tired friends have created several mud bogs for us to navigate, but the stream crossings are sure to remove all traces of dirt from our shoes. I reach the first stream and step into an icy pool. Snow melt from higher elevations has created the chill and I’m fearful that I will not only freeze my toes but the shock of the temperature change is almost enough to cause my contacts to pop out.
Soon after one of the stream crossings, a swarm of bees flies out of a log giving me the incentive to go much faster. Another competitor and I run most of the way to the finish line hoping to avoid an unfriendly sting. By the time I reach the finish line, I see about two thirds of the field lolling in the afternoon sun including two fifty-year-old women and 67-year-old Mel Preedy (at Portland just one week later, I edge Mel out of first place honors). These are far better trail runners than what we have in Kansas City, and to prove it, when the day is over, almost no one has taken a bad fall in spite of 31 miles of very difficult footing. The race director seems to have a door prize or an award for everyone, and those who stay enjoy a meal of hamburgers and baked beans.
To come this far and not see what Washington has to offer would be a shame, so I head for Mount Rainier National Park and the Paradise Inn. Here, one mile high, is where you start the nineteen-mile trek to the summit, 14,411 feet above sea level. The round trip record is five hours and eight minutes, but for those of us who are not experienced at climbing on ice, it is suggested that we join a two day guided tour (price: $488.00).
Next stop is the Mount St. Helens National Park where a marvelous exhibit depicts, step by step, the famous eruption twenty years ago, that blew away 1200 feet off the top of the mountain. Surrounded by wilderness, campers are discouraged from approaching too close to the cone, for the volcano could come to life again at any moment. All the mountains out here including Rainier, Olympus, and Baker, are of volcanic origin, and any of them could wake from slumber to cause mayhem.
My rented Hyundai next heads east along the Columbia River to see the awesome river gorge, then west to the Pacific Ocean at Longbeach. It is the off season and the rates are great. If the sun is out you can still get a tan, and the vast and nearly deserted beach is great for running.
Next up the coast is the town of Forks and the Olympic National Forest. Here you will witness one of Washington’s rain forests where the rainfall totals nearly 200 inches a year. Kansas City, for comparison, gets 30 inches, and we only get that only if someone leaves the top down on a convertible. If you follow the road inland to the Indian village of Hoh, you can hike the twenty miles to the top of Mount Olympus. Just as at Mount Rainier, your equipment should be of the best, because much of your trip will be over glaciers and snow.
The trip just described would take a one-week bite out of your vacation time. For me it filled the void between Cle Elum and Portland just fine, with enough short hikes to keep the legs limber. You will see license plates from every corner of the country. They know that Frank Fleetham will only admit the first 125 runners and that they have no chance of getting into the race, but they come anyway just to see the sights!
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