Otherwise Known as FR2LA 2022, a Birthday Adventure
from Forest Ranch to Lake Almanor, Ca
A Fastpacking Trip, Turned Snowshoe Adventure
1:10am. That’s what the time read in the car of our DNF pick up vehicle. I’d never experienced a DNF of my own, until this. Ironically, it was my own fatass style event that I had just quit.
I guess sometimes you kick some serious ass and sometimes you seriously get your ass kicked. Somehow, me and the two badass women I just dnf’d with, had managed both.
While we thought we were prepared, hindsight being the cliche it is, we also had the makings for trouble. We were up too late the night before, we started later than we should’ve (I’ll take the hit on that one, if you can even imagine), shoe choices were unusually poor - as were sock choices, some of the fueling options were questionable and at least one dumbass ran out of water 6 miles from the end (I’ll let you guess who that might have been).
Before I make this adventure out to seem completely doomed, let me tell you what went right. The weather was amazing & cooperative. As the ladies on Saturday Night Live would say “Sweatuh Weathuh”, which, to a runner, basically means it’s perfect. I packed two burritos at the last minute that probably saved my hynie because my breakfast was a disjointed mix of coffee and scarfing down granola. For most of the trek, I personally stayed dry (thanks Mom. You know why) and for most of the trek, we all were relatively warm. I was shocked that I hardly needed my ridiculous camel finger gloves, even when things started to go sideways at the end. Overall though, biggest thing that went right is that the three of us quickly figured out that we could solidly rely on one another. We found out just how important this was once we hit snow and needed our snowshoes.
For anyone who has ever snowshoed before, you might be a little confused as to why we needed each other. Clearly one can put their own snowshoes on, but if you have never tried putting on and taking off snow shoes while wearing a 25lbs pack, with nowhere dry to set said pack down or sit, I strongly encourage you to try this nearly Olympic feat. I’ll admit that Kirstin and Jody made a damn good choice with their Luna Snowshoes because not only were they able to put theirs on and take them off more quickly and gracefully than I could but, their snowshoes also stored easily in various configurations, externally on their pack. They were also incredibly lightweight. So, they had that going for them. Still, we all needed help retrieving the shoes off of our bags each time we decided to put them on and help putting them back on our bags when we happily got to take them off. Factor in the balancing act that is putting the shoes on with a heavy bag, and the 3 of us earned each other’s trust in about 2 seconds flat - especially when we would catch the other from a snowshoe tightening induced trust fall.
This was also the case for blister triage. Those little spawns of Satan began the minute we dawned our snowshoes. It was as if they actually came with the snowshoes themselves as some sort of sadistic free add on for clicking “buy it now”. Almost immediately I requested a halt in our forward progress because I’ve seen firsthand that blisters can mean a quick end to a great adventure, and I had a hot spot rubbing just above my heel. Admittedly, blisters are not anything that I had had any sort of personal struggle with previously, but I have been the blister popper and foot repair person at many an aid station and I knew I wanted nothing to do with that on my own person. It wasn’t long after we dealt with my (at the time) minor blister issues that Kirstin and Jody followed suit.
From that point on it was blisters. Blisters on blisters. Mole skin. Giant plasters over mole skin. Duct tape, over giant plasters, over mole skin…then, as supplies dwindled, patience was lost and more and more time past, just duct tape. Eff it. And all the while, every time we stopped, each of us took our place in helping the other. One grabbing the supplies out of the pack of another. One steadying the woman tending to her torn up foot so she wouldn’t tumble in to the snow. Then both women steadying the “patient” while helping put the cursed snowshoe back on. This process was repeated, at steady intervals throughout the entire 15 hours we were out there.
We trudged through though, grabbing snacks, socks and more snacks from one another’s packs for each other so that we didn’t have to waste more time taking them off. Something about passing mile 12 or so made taking that pack off feel like the biggest time sucking chore I could imagine. There was nothing to it for me really, and it would’ve provided relief, but it just seemed like too much. I certainly had the largest pack. I had decided to carry most everything I needed for the entire trek from start to finish so, it made sense that my pack had more stuff in it. Looking back, how ridiculous. I could’ve offloaded sore collarbones, a raw left hip and some sort of pseudo rug burn just above my butt crack.
My pack was great for hours (it’s a Gregory, with good reviews that has served me well on many backpacking occasions) and then mile 12 hit and that was that. I vaguely remember feeling this way on my hike to what Codan and I lovingly refer to as Mother Fucking Albro Lake. If my profanity here offends you, go hike up to Lake Albro and try not to curse like a sailor every time it’s name is mentioned. All that being said, I envied Jody’s pack and decided I’m not hiking more than 12 miles with a pack again unless it’s that one. For God’s sake, it even had room for snacks right there in the front. It’s like it was meant for this sort of thing (it was).
The three of us knew night would come early this time of year and during one of the sock changing, duct tape taping stops we made, we decided to also get out our headlamps. I love my LEDlenser headlamp. It’s small. I’s cute. It’s bright. It’s lightweight. The battery life is great. So it makes sense that I completely destroyed it the minute I put it on. Yep. Ripped the wires right out of their connection in an unfixable way. That’s what I get for being Hulk strong.
Luckily Kirstin had an LED flashlight from Loco Trail Camp (thank you @precisionpump ) that I could clip to my chest strap. It wasn’t perfect but it beat wallowing in my own dark, no headlamp misery. Me not having a proper light meant that as the navigator I had to rely on Kirstin and Jody to be my eyes. When I saw that any sort of split was coming, or that we needed to take, I would let them know and they would stay sharp and shine their headlamps left and right so we didn’t take a wrong turn or miss one. There came a point where taking a wrong turn/missing one felt like the worst scenario possible.
We were getting tired. We had been tromping through the dark, in our snowshoes since around 4:45pm. It wasn’t necessarily the dark that was creating the fatigue. It was more the culmination of the quiet realization that we were nowhere near our goal time to reach Day 1 Camp and the hours and hours we had been in constant motion, wearing our packs (I think I took mine off a total of 2 times from start to finish) and fighting for this slow forward progress. We had been walking in a single file line for miles, taking turns crunching down the calf deep snow at the front so that the other two behind didn’t have to spend as much energy just to repeat the task themselves. When the lead snow cruncher would get tired, they’d fall back and let another take over. I learned that it takes more effort to lift your snowshoed foot out of something like that than it does to compress the snow down in the first place. It’s like jumping on the stair stepper at the gym…for 13+ hours.
It takes more effort still to climb over fallen trees with snowshoes, something we did more times than I can count. It was comical at first, and then it wasn’t. My left leg doesn’t always work so great and about halfway through I had to summon all my Jedi brain body connection powers to get my leg to do what I wanted it to - which was, simply put, “to swing over the damn log/branch/stump”! My brain won every time but dang if my leg didn’t give it a run for it’s money.
Snow trekking is loud. Snowshoes make it louder still and nearly impossible to have any sort of meaningful conversation so, after a while, when we three were all too tired to continue the cycle of shouting what back and forth anytime anyone said something, we continued on in silence, with just the crunching reminder in the dark of why our feet would hurt so bad the next day.
There came a time when the snow subsided just enough and for long enough that we thought we could take our snowshoes off. They are even louder and more uncomfortable on dirt and gravel than they are on snow so when we walked snowless in snowshoes for about 10 minutes we collectively decided enough was enough. Every time we made this on/off decision we literally asked each other, is it worth it? Is it worth the exhaustive maneuvering required to get these stupid things off (or on), bending down with packs on, fiddling with straps and latches, in the dark, strapping them in with their cold, wet, muddy and dripping spikes and undercarriages. This time was a unanimous yes. Give our feet some freedom! So we did.
As we walked with a hint of pep in our step, I vowed not to put those devil shoes back on. We were somewhere around 6 miles from the end (we thought) and I loathed those things so much that I decided that I could manage the snow for those miles without them. After all, I had done it at the inaugural Loco 100k while laying the course, as did most of the runners running it that year. What could go wrong? Don’t answer that.
Then it began. Snow again. First patches. Then full terrain coverage. Still manageable, especially because my feet were dry, although at this point, I was the only one with dry feet. Then the snow got deeper. We had trekked through deep snow in patches early. We knew it was out here. This was different. It wasn’t just in patches and it was getting even deeper. Our snowshoes sunk down to our ankles, shins, mid calf and, depending on which one of us you measured it to, our knees. We were sinking deeper and deeper as we moved on. We knew we were going to have to put those wretched shoes back on and I knew my sacred vow against the devil shoes had to be broken.
The cycle began again, unpack the shoe, steady the woman, help slip the shoe on, secure the strap, walk on. This last time we put our shoes on, I cleared a foot of snow off the edge of a log and sat down. I hadn’t sat down since we started. Sweet relief. I couldn’t help but think about all the ultra jokes about “beware of the chair”. This snowy log, on the edge of a canyon, in the cold and dark was the most lovely chair I had ever sat upon and I could’ve stayed there forever. The thought crossed my mind that I could just tell my friends to go ahead without me. I’d catch up later. Or maybe even that I was done and was going to set up shop here and live out the rest of my days on that log. The fantasies that come to you when you are exhausted. I shook my #loglife fantasies off and continued on, never sharing these quitter thoughts out loud. How could I anyway, with our devil shoes making so much noise?
We rejoiced when my CalTopo map app said we were at mile 23, 24, 25…wait a minute. 25? Based on our location, that couldn’t have been correct. Too late. We had already felt the relief that being so close to the end can bring. Oh how we trick ourselves in order to not fall apart.
By some miracle we got cell service and messaged our saving grace, Chef Sara, who had lovingly made us a lasagna that she was going to meet us with in Butte Meadows…at 6pm. We text her when we made ourselves believe that we had only 5 miles left.
Us: We have about 5 miles to go. Let me know if you get this. 8:27pm.
Chef Sara: Got it! I’m still here at the finish line.
Us: Hit crazy snow that even was hard with snow shoes. We are good though! You still good to wait for us? We will hurry but it might be 2+ hours. We love you!
Chef Sara: Absofuckinglutely!!! I was going to wait until 10:30!
Us: Phew! Because you have Kirstin’s sleeping bag & the lasagna! Might not get cell service after this.
Chef Sara: Keep Going Girls!!! You got this!!! Now that I heard from you, I'll wait til I see your beautiful faces!!!
And she did. Until 1:10am. After we came out of denial and the cold hard truth hit us. After I ran out of water. After we hit constant shin and knee deep snow and our average pace dropped to a mile an hour. This saint of a woman waited for us.
The wheels were falling off.
We’re we in danger? No. I thought that then and, even after replaying everything over and over (as one does when they earned themselves a DNF) I still think that now. We were not in any danger to get to Sara. It would be slow and miserable but we were safe.
Would it be dangerous to continue on afterwards? Now that was the real question and a hard one to answer when you’d been in constant motion, uphill and moving up in elevation for 15+ hours. Would we be in danger if we kept going on to day 2 and 3? I thought about this during the whole rest of that miserable, crunching, sinking, hike.
My chest was getting that burn from the cold that a runner can recognize as the start of something yucky. Every time I coughed, I could taste blood. Still, we said nothing. We only spoke when we were verifying the correct way to go. Looking at the time and calculating that we would only get a few hours of sleep at this rate, I started thinking up ways that we could avoid setting up a tent. I had plastic sheeting. Could we just dig some sort of canoe shape in to the snow to insulate, lay down the plastic, our inflatable sleeping mats and our sleep systems and rack out? No. We couldn’t. Exhausted thoughts were taking over. Could we hike up to the porch of the Bambi Inn and take refuge there for a few hours? Why didn’t I just stay on my log?! And on and on this went until…HONKING! I heard honking!
I asked Kirstin & Jody if they heard honking too. WHAT They shouted. HONKING, I shouted back. WHAT, they shouted. H-O-N-K-I-N-G, DID YOU HEAR A CAR HONKING I shouted as loud as I could muster. NO! Was their reply. But I knew I had. There was light at the end of this tunnel and it was Chef Sara’s headlights! Sweet relief. We could sit in her warm car. We could eat lasagna. I could finally drink water! Chef Sara was our hero!
After all the greetings and dropping packs, I guzzled down as much of Chef Sara’s water as I could hold and then crammed myself and my pack into the front seat of her Camry. As she drove us to the camp spot, the ladies in the back were anxious to dig in to the Lasagna. I was suddenly very sick. To the chagrin of the backseat passengers, I rolled the window down. Dear Lord, please don’t let me barf. Now is not the time. I’m not a barfer so this whole experience was confusing. The consensus was that I drank so much water, so fast, that I made myself sick. Whatever it was, my world was upside down and on its head. I felt like I had drank a bottle of Jack Daniels and chased it with a bottle of Fireball. I am sure I did not appeal to either of my trekking partners as the ideal candidate to lead them on a multi day adventure, let alone someone to share a tent with.
It was Kirstin who spoke up first. She was going to spend the night out there with me but would be getting a ride back in the morning. She was out. Jody was only there for Day 1 from the onset so she had already gotten more than she bargained for. I couldn’t blame Kirstin. The summit was a good 1800’ in elevation above where we were already post holing knee deep in snow. We had over 25 more miles left of that horse manure, cow poop to tromp through and not enough time to do it, given our record breaking speeds of 1 mile per hour average over the last several miles. She also had ground hamburger for heels, taking the worst hit from the devil shoes.
We were out of water. I was apparently drunk as a skunk off an excess of the stuff and none of us knew how the hell we were going to put shoes on the next day, which meant we were doing this thing barefoot if we continued. That was it for me too. My insides cried but my mouth said, “that’s it then. I’m calling it.” That meant letting Genifer (who was meeting us Monday morning to do days 1 & 2) know that the trip she had planned for was over before it had even started. That was maybe the worst of it in that moment for me, taking away someone else’s joy.
What a bunch of conflicting feelings. Relief and shame. A quitter. I’ve never been that and I’ve been thinking about it since I said the words, “I’m calling it”. I’ve witnessed a lot of DNF’s. In some weird way, I guess I helped cause a lot of them, creating the Loco courses that some runners give their all on and quit before it’s over. Never have I felt anything but proud of the runners who leave it all out there, whether they make it to the end or not. If they end their race with nothing left in the tank, they have worked as hard as they possibly can. How can I be anything but proud of that effort?
I decided that instead of playing the what if game with myself and feeling like a quitter, I’ll give myself some grace. No excuses. I quit, plain and simple, but I choose grace to feel proud of what I did do. What the 3 of us did. It was challenging. It was something none of us had ever done before. The miles. Those we had done before, but 15+ hours, constantly moving forward, uphill, with heavy packs, gaining in elevation, snowshoeing and in the dark? Those things combined were all new to us and I’m choosing to hang on to that win.
The night we got back, I didn’t shower or brush my teeth. I took off my wet clothes and got in bed for several hours of tossing and turning because my legs just wouldn’t stop going. I’ve been starving and eating non stop since we’ve been back. None of us have worn proper shoes yet and it’s early Thursday morning as I write this. I don’t think I’ll be wearing shoes with backings any time today either. I’ve got blister pads covering my ankles and my collarbones. There are mystery bruises in mystery places all over my body. My left heel is cracked. All this and me and my blister sisters have decided we can’t wait to do it again, and this time finish what we’ve started. If you are interesting in joining us, keep an eye out. If we can coordinate dates to work, I’ll put a post up with an invite. We’d love for you join us in our next miserable adventure!