Standing alone in our tiny, two-room, bathroomless cabin in Winthrop on race morning, I took a step, felt a twinge atop my thigh, and collapsed, which didn’t seem like a great start to my Cutthroat Classic 2017 adventure. Even worse: it happened twice more before I’d even made my way to the start line. Less than a week earlier, seven friends and I completed a team total of 126 miles with 36,000 feet of climb at Crystal Mountain Resort at Ragnar Trail Rainier. I knew that racing back to back weekends was a bad idea, but I had been looking forward to seeing the view from the top and wasn’t going to let a skinned knee or my fear of falling get in the way.
In its 19th year, Cutthroat Classic is named not for what runners might think. Cutthroat is: a synonym for assassin, an adjective for “(of a competitive situation or activity) fierce and intense; involving the use of ruthless measures,” and a salmon species with a red streak along the base of its throat as shown in this photo.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site describes the Race’s namesake lake as, “at 4935 feet…chocked full of an abundance of easy to catch Westslope Cutthroat Trout that average about 7 inches.” “The Westslope Cutthroat Trout is…one of three subspecies of cutthroat trout that occur in Washington…[they] can be found in lakes and rivers east of the Cascade mountain range…prefer[ring] pristine headwater streams and alpine lakes.” Wikipedia explains its scientific name, “Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi. The subspecies was first described in the journals of explorer William Clark from specimens obtained during the Lewis and Clark Expedition from the Missouri River Great Falls, Montana. Cutthroat trout were given the name Salmo clarki in honor of William Clark, who co-led the expedition of 1804–1806. One of Lewis and Clark’s missions was to describe the flora and fauna encountered during the expedition.”
A cutthroat relative is currently in the news: Salmo salar or the Atlantic salmon. An NPR article Why Are Atlantic Salmon Being Farmed In The Northwest? answers concerned citizens’ questions about the recent accidental release of a pen of farmed Atlantic salmon in the San Juans: “between 4,000 and 185,700” Atlantic Salmon escaped their pens; “Most commercial fish farms raise Atlantic salmon” because they are “highly domesticated;” “Attempts to establish wild runs — outside of the Atlantic Ocean — have failed across the U.S.;” “farmed salmon…are treated with vaccines;” “This event is not that unique and so far no Atlantic salmon escapes have established self-sustaining populations or caused known damage to wild stocks;” “The Atlantic salmon bring with them pollution, virus and parasite amplification, and all that harms Pacific salmon and our waters.” But the sky is not falling, “According to a NOAA Fisheries report, escaped farmed salmon that carry diseases have a relatively low risk of spreading them to wild fish…because pathogens are already present in the water, and escapees likely won’t be infectious enough to contaminate healthy wild populations. Escaped fish also aren’t very fit, so they are often quickly eaten by predators.”
Three of the four of us racers stayed at the KOA in Winthrop on a tip. I don’t camp, so I didn’t get why anyone would want to go to such a place. Race morning, we Wave 3 starters watched as our Wave 2 (no walking) friend Erin took off from the Rainy Pass trail head in Mazama. She was right to choose it based on her predicted finish. By the time folks started, nobody knew who’d begun in the No Walking wave and who hadn’t. Concerned about falling, I watched my sister and Marci head off in front while I carefully picked my way along the trail, faux running behind a friendly young gal from Issaquah named Jenny, who sported brunette braids and reminded me what the race was all about by remarking on the amazing views at appropriate times.
Just before mile 3, our fearless leader Jenny dropped off, leaving me in the lead of a pack of about six runners. We slowly, methodically continued “running” for about two miles. Then I stepped aside, allowing my followers to pass by at one of the most scenic spots. I’d heard the summit was located at about the 10 K mark, and it was. The view from the top compared only to that of the Oregon Coast 30K in Yachats. I was relieved to begin the descent, running solo for about a mile before crumpling to the ground for a fourth time that day and acquiring a twin to my first skinned knee. A guy in a yellow T called back to ask if I was okay (I was) and continued. I slowed down even more, allowing the folks I’d passed on the way up to pass me back during the dustiest part of the course. I was relieved to hear finishers and spectators cheering, cross a wooden bridge, and breach the finish line at about Mile 11.
On the shuttle bus back, we connected with runners from Bellingham, possibly forming a complete Hood to Coast 2018 team. At race headquarters, it appeared that JoDee had placed 3rd in the 50-59 Division, so we left for lunch with an hour to go until the 12:30 Awards presentation. I watched her face as they called the 3rd place finisher…Bad News: a different runner! The race director suggested she be contacted immediately about any discrepancies, and she was. After asking about the Women’s 50-59 finishers, a volunteer handed JoDee an extra third place ribbon and mug while we awaited the official results, which wouldn’t be posted for days (JoDee placed 4th by 18 seconds). Our return was not for naught, Erin won a pair of $160 shoes from Winthrop Mountain Sports. I reunited with a woman I’d met at the Mt Erie Trail Run who agreed to join our Ragnar Trail Rainier team in 2018.
The joy of hanging out with old friends and making new ones outweighed my disappointment at not finishing faster. We resolved to return in two years to give the course another go, hopefully, with better results. As we prepared to depart our Winthrop KOA Campground the following morning, another spectacular sight awaited us: a hot air balloon in lift-off. The perfect end to a near-perfect weekend.