Ode to Eagle Creek

Before me green slopes made a wide ampitheatre, enclosing a frothy and pulsating lake into which, over many-coloured rocks, a waterfall was pouring. Here once again I realised that something had happened to my sense so that they were now receiving impressions which would normally exceed their capacity.

:: C.S. Lewis ::
The Great Divorce

Twister Falls
Twister Falls

April 22, 2017

I pulled into the parking lot early that Saturday morning, hoping to beat the crowds of hikers that would soon fill the trails. I sat on the tailgate of my car, trading in flipflops for socks and running shoes. I put my running pack on my shoulders, shut my trunk, and began the jog from the parking lot up the narrow country road to the trail’s beginning.

The trail was rocky and steep, winding slowly up into the canyon with an occasional chain bolted into the cliff to be a handrail when the trail became particularly precarious.

Despite the early hour, I encountered many hikers, smiling warmly as I asked to squeeze by them on the narrow trail. Pacific Northwesterners out in nature are another breed of nice altogether. We are all in our element, hardly believing that this is real life.

The sound of moving water was everywhere, from the flowing creek below to the fresh spring water trickling down from the walls of the canyon.

After a couple miles, I arrived at Punchbowl falls, a powerful roar of water pouring into a wide pool below. It had captured the attention of children, dogs, and casual day hikers. I looked down at the falls from a viewpoint on the trail above.

Further down the trail, I looked across the canyon to see  Loowit falls, 60 feet of spring water roaring over the ridge and down into a small pool, which then spilled into Eagle Creek.

I kept running, keeping light on my toes to protect my ankles from rolling on the rocky trail. Several creek crossings required careful steps on slippery rocks that peaked above the icy water. One log crossing made me flashback to grade-school balance beam exercises.

I crossed over the High Bridge to the west side of the canyon, and found myself running for a short while on packed snow.  Before I reached five miles on the trail, I crossed another bridge to return to the east bank of the canyon.

The trail became much trickier here, with downed trees and mud slides blocking the way. My progress slowed as I crawled under large branches, over trunks, and carefully across the thick fields of mud.

As the trail began to feel too treacherous to keep going, I heard the sound of rushing water ahead.

Around another bend, Tunnel Falls roared.  The trail reached halfway up the 175 foot falls, with a tunnel carved in the stone behind it. But the height and tunnel of this waterfall is not what made it feel so special. It was the power of it, the way it shook the ground beneath my feet, the way the mist of the water sprayed my face while I was still a fair bit away.

The strength of the waterfall captured something deep in me. I had only made it that far once before, and I remembered the way the falls quaked the ground around it, a terrifying and exhilarating experience.

I felt a deep pang in my chest. Fear. Awe. Awareness of my infinitesimal place in the world.

I felt something else too: a sense that this could not be all that there was. Nature reflects its Maker. Waterfalls reflect a danger, a threat, a power. They remind us that we are not all that there is. That we are here to witness, to appreciate, to respect, to protect.

Tranquility Thwarted

As I drove over the Sauvie Island bridge, I felt the stress of the day dissipating. The sun hung lazily above the horizon, sparkling over the quiet, still water below.

Breathing deep, I reveled at the ease of this escape. Sure, life kept knocking me down, but I was finding my moments to have those deep Brene Brown moments. You know: feel gratitude, find beauty, embrace vulnerability, live wholeheartedly. Tonight, I was going to find my peace.

You know what’s coming, right? Well, I didn’t see it coming.

As I pumped up my inflatable board, a very excited dog ran past me toward the water, his owner close behind.

“Looks like you’re getting quite the workout,” she remarked kindly.

I welcomed the excuse to stop pumping for a moment.

“It so is!” I said. “This is more of a workout than the paddling part.”

I had no idea.

Once my board was fully inflated, I affixed my fin and carried the board and new paddle down to the water.

My previous paddle had disappeared at Willamette Park a few weeks back, so I had just gotten this new one.  It conveniently broke into three pieces to fit in the back of my car.

I launched out on the water, and all anxiety dissipated. The glassy surface barely moved over the gentle current.

After paddling upstream for a mile and a half, I settled on my board to take a picture of the sun coming through the trees and blackberry bushes. Then I looked up the river and shot a picture of the Sauvie Island bridge. And then, feeling particularly tranquil and relaxed, I decided I would take a selfie and post it to Instagram.

I know, I’m not 16. I have no business taking selfies and posting them to Instagram, especially while on a paddleboard in the middle of a tranquil river. But, this is what I did.

After a few more moments of peace, I stood up and began the journey back. A speed boat came by, creating a huge wake that I paddled into perpendicularly to keep from falling. Then I turned my board back up the river.

On the second stroke, I dug my paddle into the water, and the blade slipped off and very quickly began to sink.

I held the handle of my paddle in confusion, watching the blade disappear into the dark depths. I groaned, cursed, and stood there helplessly.

After another moment of despair, I tucked the handle of the paddle under the board’s straps, laid flat on my belly, and began to paddle with the technique somewhere between a surfer and a Labrador. The shore passed by slowly as my arms and shoulders began to burn.

I shifted to my knees and bent over to paddle again. The sharp pain of a charlie-horse hit my right foot and then my left. I plopped back to my belly and paddled some more. And some more. And some more.

Finally, I reached a long wooden dock behind the line of houseboats. I carried my board and gear for what seemed to be a very long time, shifting the board between my left and right arms as the weight felt immense to my already exhausted muscles.

Walking up the steep ramp to an open parking lot, I decided to deposit the board in the “loading area” and run back to find my car.

I chuckled at the ridiculousness of the situation as I walked back along the road. Taking selfies mid-paddle to showcase all that peaceful tranquility…. I almost deserved losing my paddle!

I plucked a blackberry off the bush lining the road, relishing in the warm sweet flavor as I tried to regain my sense of tranquility and appreciation for the beauty of that warm, summer night.

I reached my car and drove back to the parking lot where I had left my board. As I pulled in, I saw a man with my board under his arm being followed by a woman and younger girl.

“Oh, that’s my board,” I said through my open window, pulling into the spot beside them.

“You can’t park there,” a second man told me, stepping between me and the family. “That is a not a parking spot.”

“Oh sure,” I said. “I’ll move into that loading zone spot as soon as they’re not standing in it.” The family was staring at me dumbfounded, perhaps debating whether or not they were going to relinquish their treasure.

“You can’t be here at all,” this man continued, his voice becoming a bit edgier than before. “This is for tenants only. You’re not a tenant.”

“Oh no, I’m not,” I responded, stepping out of my car. “You see, I got kind of stuck. I lost my paddle out on the water, so I had to get back to shore and then carry my board to here. I just ran to get my car and then came back to pick up my board.”

At this point, if it was not already obvious, I really had no idea what was happening. In typical Oregonian naivete, I tend to assume everyone is nice and has the best of intentions. I don’t think this particular group had the best of intentions. This I did not know. Yet.

“You can’t just leave your stuff here,” the man said, his voice becoming angrier. “We were going to throw it away.”

I looked over at the other gentleman who had at this point put down my board. He looked rather startled by this declaration, but then he adjusted his face and nodded. With my board now on the ground, he turned and walked away, his family following behind him.

“Oh, well, um, sorry about that,” I continued. “It really was a bit of an emergency.”

“I don’t need your attitude,” he scoffed. “Coming in here acting all entitled like you can just be here. I’m taking your board up to the road.”

“Wait, what?” I asked confused. What was this? His response took me so off-guard that I just stared at him, dumbfounded.

“You are not welcome here,” he continued, lifting my board and stomping through the shrubbery that separated the parking lot from the road above. He dropped my board on the gravel shoulder along the road and marched his way back down to the parking lot.

“Um, okay,” I said, getting back in my car. As I pulled up on the gravel shoulder, he continued staring at me from the parking lot below for a moment until finally walking off. I deflated my board, not sure whether to laugh or scream. I rolled it up, placed it in my trunk, and pulled back onto the road.

The pink sunset reflected across the glassy water as I called my mom.

“Hey Mom, you know how I said I wanted to go paddleboarding for some tranquility tonight. You’re never gonna believe what happened…”


First, I think I met the only rude people on all of Sauvie Island that day. Do not judge that magical, happy island by this particularly odd event.

Second, the kindness of Portlanders was completely restored the following day when I went back to Gorge Performance to return my half-paddle. They empathized with my dramatic retelling of the blade slipping from my paddle, and Bob Reuter even offered to give me a replacement paddle though I was only returning a handle.

As I retold my story to Bob, first losing my paddle a month earlier and then becoming stranded the day before, he paused and looked at me with a side grin.

“Wait, where did you lose your paddle?” he asked as he began scanning through the Stand Up Portland Facebook feed. “When did that happen?”

“Willamette Park, about a month ago,” I responded.

“Well, we just might…” he began as he scrolled through a month’s worth of posts from happy Portland paddlers.

And then, there it was. A post from Nattie a month earlier, with a picture of my paddle hoping she could find the owner, a girl on an inflatable board.

Bob and Nattie have restored my faith in all things nice and kind and Portland.

Endurance, Part 2: That Time I Tried to Run 30 Miles

I imagined it would feel like this…

Running mile after mile in a meditative state, drinking in the brisk spring morning as my legs carried me forward. By the end I would know I had survived, persevered, struggled, and succeeded.

I would be brave enough. Strong enough. I would be able to endure loss with more grace. I would prove to myself and others that I had what it took to carry on no matter what happened.

And, in part, it did feel that way.

But really, it felt nothing like that at all.

On that April spring morning, I settled on my couch with a cup of coffee and a toasted English muffin piled high with fresh avocado. This was it.

I had spent the past several months disappearing onto the trails, finding solace in the quiet pounding of my feet and the rhythmic breath of my lungs. My favorite run had been a 15 miler after a snow storm had pretty much shut down the city. The trails were transformed, a white blanket insulating the forest to a piercing silence that almost hurt my ears.

It had been the longest run I had ever completed. And now, several weeks later, I was attempting to go twice as far. Winding through Portland’s Forest Park, the Wildwood Trail is 30.2 miles long with 3973 feet of elevation gain. And today I was going to try and run the entire thing. The thought of it sounded brilliant and completely ludicrous.

I filled my Camelbak with water and stuffed the pockets with snacks and my headphones. Per my ultra-running buddies, this sport was about eating as much as it was about running. For the only time in my life, my goal was to consume as many calories as physically possible.

My body would be burning around 600 calories per hour. Outside of simply trying to run for hours on hilly trails, I had also been trying to train my stomach to consume calories while in motion. My stomach was not keen on this whole arrangement, but we had come to a compromise of 180 calories per hour of the easy-to-digest energy gummies and goo.

“Your shoes are filthy!” Alica declared as she walked into the lobby of my building, her red hair pulled back in a pony tail.

“I know it,” I smiled, tightening the laces. “I’ve had many muddy runs in these shoes.”

“Dude, I’m so nervous. Are you nervous?”

I shook my head. “Not really. I’m almost excited.”

“Really? I couldn’t fall asleep last night, and then I woke up this morning feeling all nervous.” We looked at each other and laughed. “I’m more nervous than you.”

I grabbed my change of clothes and Camelbak, and we made our way out to her car.

“I took the water to the drop point,” she told told me. “I wrote your name all over it to ensure that no one would take it.”

“Sweet! Thanks,” I replied. I had originally planned on doing this all myself. I was going to wake up early, drive the water to the drop off point, and then take the train to the start of the trail to begin. When Alicia heard this plan, she immediately intervened, insisting on delivering the water for me, driving me to the trail head, and running with me for the first few miles.

“I totally eyed a park employee ,” she continued, giving me a sideways glance. “I was afraid he was going to take the water, so I hid from view and waited around to make sure he left it there.”

I pictured her crouching behind the tree, ready to pounce on any would-be water thieves.

“It’ll be fine,” I said assuredly.  Running out of water in the middle of a wilderness trail run could be somewhat disastrous, but who would dare touch the water of some poor misdirected soul attempting to run all 30 miles of Wildwood?

At 10:00 A.M. we began our slow jog up the trail.

We started at Hoyt Arboretum, the trail weaving back and forth up the hill to a viewpoint at the top. The early morning mist hid the valley, with the dark tops of trees piercing through the white fog on the distant slope.  We passed through the cherry orchards and down along the archery field that was flooded with spring runoff water.

Those first three miles flew by as we talked about all the little bits and pieces of life. Nearing her turnaround spot, Alicia suddenly declared, “Do you realize how great your life is right now?”

“Huh?” I asked confused. As of late, I had taken great pleasure in declaring that my life resembled a melodramatic country song with all sorts of heartache including the recent death of my dog.

She continued: “You love what you do, and you’re well-respected. You have a zippy new car. You’re tall and healthy. I mean, look at this run that you’re about to do.”

“Um, wow,” I stuttered, unsure of how to respond. “Thanks.”

“Yep. Now have a good run!” And with that she turned around and headed back down the trail to where we had parked.

As I continued down the trail, the real gift of her words set in. Rather than letting me get in my head for the next 5½ hours, spinning melancholy stories of woe, Alicia made sure I set off on this journey knowing that I had enough, that I was enough.

Over the next hour, I checked off the miles with ease: mile 4, cresting the ridge by Pittock Mansion; mile 5, passing by the remains of the old stone house; mile 6, rising above Balch Creek; mile 8, scaling over a large fallen tree that blocked the trail.

As I came to the water drop near mile 10, a familiar SUV caught my eye. Alicia popped out and ran over to me.

“I just wanted to make sure no one took the water,” she declared, pulling out the jug covered in black Sharpie script warning certain doom to anyone who would dare steal or throw away my water.

“You’re amazing!” I marveled, as I slipped my pack off my back and opened the mouth of the bottle to refill it.

“How are you doing?”

“So far, so good,” I declared. “Really wish there was a bathroom out here though.” I winked, and she looked horrified.

“We’ll see you in a few more hours,” she smiled.

“Pizza!” I exclaimed and was off down the trail again.

At mile 11½, I began the steep switchbacks sloping down toward another creek, followed by a climb back up on the other side.

At mile 13¼ I realized I had just completed a half-marathon, and yet I was not yet halfway done with this endeavor.  My ankles hurt, my hips ached, and the arches of my feet began to burn. The pain isn’t going to go away, I realized as each step felt a little less comfortable than the last. It is just going to get worse. But you have to keep going. You have to keep going.

And then I rounded a corner and came face-to-face with Shawn, a buddy from my trail running group. He was with a small crew that were running the same route, but in the opposite direction. We paused and laughed at the chance encounter, took a selfie, and wished each other well. A little bit later, I ran into Marcia. Then it was Maciej, Neil, and Brian. Those friendly faces of fellow crazy runners pulled me out of my head and kept me pushing down the trail.

By mile 15½, I was halfway there. It would be harder to turnaround and go home, so I had nothing to do but keep moving forward. I put in my headphones, and ran to the beat of my favorite power ballads from Rachel Patton, Beyonce, and Katy Perry.

The trail had flattened out, but it continued to wind along the curved ridge, in and out of ravines, over the spring water brooks. I opened a new tube of Shot Bloks and popped one in my mouth, dreaming about the real food waiting for me at the end.

At mile 20, I sent a picture to my family to prove that I was still alive. My 3 year-old niece responded with a text full of celebratory hearts, smileys, grapes, watermelons, and ambulances. That last one felt pretty spot on.

The miles felt longer and longer apart. When I passed mile 24, I was now setting a new PR with every step forward I took, and my achy muscles knew it.

As I neared mile 25, a familiar tall figure came running toward me.  He reached out his arm as I nearly collapsed into his hug.

“You are farther along than I expected you to be,” Nick, my brother-in-law, declared as he started jogging with me. “You’re doing great.”

Those words were balm to my exhausted body. Two days earlier, I had been at my sister’s house for dinner.  As I explained my final plans for this crazy run, Nick had pulled my sister aside, concerned that my plan of running alone on remote trails for that long was perhaps not the best decision. Rather than stopping me, he determined that they would simply need to join me for those final miles where the trail was steep and my body was tired.

Knowing that his presence meant I was getting closer to the finish, I felt adrenaline start to kick in.  I stood a little taller and my stride grew a bit longer. We rounded the corner to where my sister was waiting for me with fresh water and happy cheers.

As Erika and I continued down the muddy path, Nick drove their car to the end of the trail and jogged in to meet us for the last several miles. They delighted in informing the casual day hiker that this crazy girl was about to finish a 30+ mile run. They distracted me with funny anecdotes about their kids, and I gladly shared some of my energy gummies knowing that I would not be needing them for very much longer.

Running on delirium and adrenaline, we laughed and hammered out those last miles.

As the low buzz of traffic grew louder, I knew we were nearing the end. I looked through the trees and saw my friend Lex standing at the top of the last hill. Knowing she had a newborn baby at home, I couldn’t believe she was there. Later I found out that she had left her baby with grandparents and had stood there for 45 minutes, wanting to make sure I had a picture capturing the moment when I finished this crazy dream of mine. Her cheers gave me that final inspiration to run strong to the very end.


For a long time, I have had a fear that I will get very sick some day. The disease itself does not trouble me nearly as much as the thought of being alone, of being unable to take care of myself, of shriveling into a puddle on the floor.

Whenever that voice of fear and isolation whispers in my ear, I lace up my shoes and hit the trails, running farther and farther, reassuring myself that I am strong enough to do this alone.

After so many long, solitary training runs, I had set out to complete this run to prove somehow that I was brave enough, resilient enough, strong enough. Running Wildwood end-to-end was my ultimate statement of internal strength: I am capable of doing this all by myself, and therefore, I do not need to fear being alone.

But this ended up not being about my personal endurance at all.  Completing this run did feel amazing. But the real strength came from some special people who came alongside me when I didn’t even realize I would need them:

Alicia, telling me I was enough from the very start,
My trail running buddies, reminding me that I was not on the trail alone,
Nick and Erika, carrying me along with humor when it felt impossible to keep going,
Lex, giving me a safe destination and celebration for what I had done.

I really was not strong enough to do all this by myself, but that is okay because I was not alone. I have never been alone.

And all those voices of fear and isolation telling me I will one day die alone? They have been drowned out by pounding footsteps of the community beside me.


When I was a little girl, I thought life was a dance.

Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella each seemed to flit and float through adversity, always looking exquisitely beautiful. Once she caught the eye of her prince, he would sweep her into his arms and dance her toward happily ever after.

I twirled around in socks on our cold kitchen floor, embracing my life as a dance.

When I was a teenager, I thought life was a game.

If I played harder, smarter, better, I would win. If I followed the rules, created strategic allegiances, and gave it all I’ve got, then I would find my place. I would be noticed, valued, loved.

But everyone was not playing by the same rules, and the rules kept changing on me. Allegiances crumbled. Winning was lonely.

When I was in my twenties, I thought life was a social media contest:

Pinterest-inspired weddings in front of old barns with mason jars and tea lights and white flowers,

Facebook-filled collages of houses in suburbia and cute children saying adorable things,

Instagram-captured trips to exotic places, adventurous endeavors, and ancient buildings next to blue skies and cappuccinos.


But then some of the marriages fell apart. Long commutes in traffic gave less time to enjoy the houses in suburbia, and children are sometimes imperfect (shocker, but this is what I’ve been told). And I found that sometimes those exotic trips were remarkably lonely.

Now I’m in my thirties. I have a long way left to go.

Much of life stopped making sense a while ago. So many people have been taken from this earth too early. So much loss. So much more to lose. The suffering spreads farther, lasts longer, and will not cease.

Life has become an endurance race. Not running to win or lose. Not running from anything or toward anything. Rather, running to take it all in, to breathe deep, to ponder the reality that I may not be passing this way again; it’s best to try and take it in right now.

Breathing is hard sometimes – those mountains can be steep and long.

Breathing is easy sometimes – my lungs delighting in the fresh air and the strength of my legs pulling me forward.

I will keep breathing. I will keep pushing. I will even keep dancing.

More than anything, I will keep enduring.

Forest Park, Portland, OR