It’s been a few weeks since I completed Wildwood End-to-End. The soreness has passed, but I’m still processing what it means to stare down a goal and face it one step at a time.
I started at the trailhead near the Oregon Zoo at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 17th and walked the first mile with my headlamp before the sun rose. These first few miles I’d practiced dozens of times, but navigating in the dark was a bit of a challenge. I missed an early turn, but realized and corrected it quickly.
As the sun started rising, I picked up the pace. Around 3 miles in I felt my big toe rubbing, so when I got to the lookout point at Pittock, I stopped, removed my shoe and socks, and applied paper tape around my toe. It wasn’t a problem the rest of the hike, so this was a worth both the time spent stopping and the added weight of supplies in my pack.
After first big climb to Pittock, there was a mile and a half descent to the Witches House, then almost immediately another even bigger ascent. I was grateful to do the most challenging parts of the hike on fresh legs.
The entirety of the hike, I did not listen to podcasts or music. Not only did I want to be safe and alert of my surroundings, but I also wanted be present to take in the entire experience. However, this meant certain songs (or rather just segments of songs) got stuck in my head on loop for miles on end.
Song in my head at mile 8: “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, inspired by a friend texting me that I was a hiking queen.
Very few people were out this early, so I kept my pace steady and smooth around 21 minutes/mile until mile marker 12 ¼, when I stopped at a bench for about 15 minutes to rest and eat my lunch (Clif bar, Cheez-Its and Oreos, because trail meals are indistinguishable from an unsupervised five-year-old in a gas station). Having practiced the trail in segments, I knew that 12 ¼ was my last bench until 22, so I made sure to get a solid rest in before the next 10 miles.
Song in my head at mile 15: “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi for being whooooaaaaaaa halfway there.
I felt solid through mile 16, then started to feel myself dragging. Fortunately my friend Bobi Jo met me around mile 18, and seeing a friendly face lifted my spirits and gave me a much needed boost. It helped to have someone to chat with and keep my mind positive, she helped me tie a strap on my backpack that was annoying me, and even brought me candy! She shared delicious Jet Planes, which are essentially the New Zealand version of Swedish Fish. She walked with me until the long awaited bench at mile 22, where I rested and caught my breath again.
My next pitstop would be at Germantown around mile 25, but the distance felt much longer than just three miles. Weariness was setting in and I started to feel overwhelmed by how far was still left to go. My pace slowed to almost 30 minutes a mile as I continued to inch forward.
Song in my head at mile 23: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver, inspired by my new favorite candy and a literal aching desire to finish by plane instead of hiking seven more miles.
Delirium from exhaustion was extremely real. Multiple times I was convinced I saw a hiker walking toward me, only to find out it was just a branch blowing in the wind. At this point I had been on my feet for almost 10 hours. I was well trained and conditioned, but approaching the end of my rope.
At Germantown, I had to cross an actual city road to stay on Wildwood. I didn’t have to wait toooo long for there to be a break in traffic, but given my delirium and unsteadiness, this did make me nervous. After winning this round of real life Frogger, I sat to rest and refuel before conquering the final stretch of the trail.
The next two miles were the hardest of the entire hike. Every inch of me was exhausted, and it was now after 5pm, so the trail was busier with after work runners and dog walkers. I crept forward a half inch at a time. Words from a friend brought me strength as I quietly said “Keep going, keep going / You can do it, you can do it” as a mantra as I moved my feet ever so slowly forward.
Song in my head at mile 26: “That Would Be Enough” from Hamilton. “Look at where you are, look at where you started / the fact that you’re alive is a miracle, just stay alive, that would be enough.”
As tempting as it was to quit, my friend Reilly had parked at the finish line and was running to meet me. I kept going forward holding on to hope of seeing her. Then like a vision around Mile 27, we connected! We chatted and laughed and the time passed so much faster with her. Bit by bit we counted down the quarter miles, each one a victory.
Crossing mile marker 30 was such a joyful experience, but the trailhead is slightly past 30. Again I was grateful to have practiced the trail to know this, so I knew I’d have to dig just a little deeper, like that extra 0.2 after 26 miles of a marathon.
Mercifully, finally, I finished.
Bucket list goal complete.
Sitting in the car, I could hardly function. I got a celebratory McDonald’s meal on my way home, inhaled it, hobbled into the shower, changed into clean PJs, and then collapsed in bed (and the next day walked approximately 12 steps from bed to the couch and back).
- My preparation – there truly was not a moment I felt unprepared for. I was sore and tired, but after 30 fucking miles, that was always inevitable.
- My outfit – the shorts, sports bra, tank top and long sleeve Oiselle shirt all felt fantastic the entire day with no chafing. Also my Speedgoat shoes were perfect for a long trail hike.
- The weather – a cool day made for absolutely ideal conditions: overcast and in the 60s. It was also a clear air day, which is not always the case during fire season in the PNW, and I managed to get the hike in before the days got too short to do it safely.
- My fuel, both before hand and the day of – I never felt under- or over-fueled, and everything I ate settled well. I had a bagel, pasta lunch, and veggie burrito dinner the day before, and bagel the morning of, then trail mix, pretzels, jelly beans, Clif bars, Cheez Its and Oreos mid-hike.
- Not much!
- I had significant chafing from my socks, as had happened with every single long practice hike. I kept trying slightly different combinations, and what I went with on Wildwood day was the most manageable of all the aftermath, resulting in no blisters on my feet, but I did have fairly painful chafing on my ankles. Nothing a little Aquaphor can’t fix, but definitely room for improvement there.
- I overpacked water and food, but I stand by this choice as well. I had friends planning to meet me, but an emergency could have pulled them away, and running out of fuel or water would have been significantly worse than sore shoulders from a heavy pack.
- I was in half marathon shape when I started this goal, so my base was already solid. I was covering 10ish miles running on a regular basis.
- With hiking, Time On Feet matters more than the distance itself – I’ve run multiple marathons that have taken 5-6 hours, but adding only 4 miles for a hike meant adding an additional 7-8 hours on my feet.
- On June 2nd, I had a personal day and went on a 6 mile hike that felt especially joyful. I have long toyed with the idea of hiking Wildwood E2E, but that day sparked something in me and the idea finally stuck.
- Every week I did either a 10ish mile run or a 10ish mile hike to ensure my hiking base was solid. From here I started doing some slightly longer hikes to 12-13 miles, and then began some stretch goals.
- On July 5th I hiked 15 miles, On July 21st I hiked 18.5, and on August 7th I hiked 22.6, covering the 11.3 mile Leif Erikson trail end-to-end and back again. Each of these took significant recovery time. I did some shorter runs and hikes in between, but I was extremely aware of the drain this level of training was taking on me. Long hikes are an all day excursion. Even more so than marathon training, these long hikes dominated the entire day, night before, and night of. On my original training plan I had planned on one more 25ish mile hike, but after Leif E2E2E, I knew I did not have another dress rehearsal in me and it was time to book the date.
- At this point, I was as trained as I could be, so I kept an eye on the conditions and scheduled the day!
Why did I do it? Part of it is my goblin brain that doesn’t like to go partway with anything. Knowing the whole trail was there, I felt compelled to hike it in its entirety.
Part of it is a sincere appreciation for this beautiful place so close to home, and taking it all in in one day was magical.
Part of it was the need for a goal without the structure of a formal marathon.
And part of it was simply because I can. There will come a day when my body can no longer hike 30 miles, but on this day I could.
I’m now part of an elite group, The Diamond Club as I’ve recently learned they call themselves. I will likely set another goal to chase soon, but for now I’m reveling in achieving this.