Celebrate your life with a milestone run

A few months ago I started to think about what I was going to do to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. The first thing that came to mind was running thirty miles. To me, it was a no-brainer. To my friends and family, it was crazy. I’ve never run more than a marathon before, but this distance on this particular day was bigger than any race I had completed or was going to start. “Running thirty miles on my thirtieth birthday can only happen once,” I thought. So the seed was planted and there was no stopping it. I don’t get excited about birthdays, but I was elated about how I was going to celebrate this one. I enthusiastically told my friends and family about my plans, and they cautiously asked questions about it with an hints of skepticism in their voices. However, I was determined to welcome in the new decade the best way I knew how, running.

The next step was where to do it. After telling one of my college roommates about my plan, he mentioned a run that goes from the bottom of Desolation Wilderness to the top. Running the thirty miles on trails seemed like a much more entertaining option than on pavement, so I liked the idea. I often spend time backpacking through Desolation, so I know how beautiful (and how rugged) it is. Desolation Wilderness is the home for over 30 miles of the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail); the trail slices the wilderness area in half lengthwise, navigating mountain passes, and mosquito valleys. The most challenging part of this run was going to be the elevation. Our planned route was from Echo Lakes(7525′), over Dick’s Pass (9360′), and on to Barker Pass (7650′).

Friday morning, I woke up at 3:45 am and made coffee for three friends who would be running with me and driving the get away car (the course is point to point). We made it to the trail head by 6:30, and started running up the trail in 40 degree, sunny weather. After a few hours we made it to Lake Aloha and my boyfriend and I said goodbye to our friends who would run back to the car and drive it to Barker Pass, where we planned to meet up with them at the end of the day. After watching them run away, we continued on up the pass to Dick’s Peak. We had been to Dick’s before, but with 20 miles behind us, the views were that much better.

The rest of the trip was OK. I know, right now you’re thinking, “but you were in the Sierras above Lake Tahoe – how could you say it was just OK?” Here’s how, the trail wandered through a high alpine pine forest on the side of a ridge-line. There weren’t any of the big vistas that flanked the trail we had just run through, instead we plodded through mile after mile of the same thing: muddy trail, no scenery, plenty of downed trees to climb over, and a whole lot of mosquitos. Compared to the first part of the run, this section of the trail was so boring that we started to call it “nature’s treadmill.” What made it worse is that from Dick’s Pass the finish line actually wasn’t just 10 miles in front of us, we soon found out that it was more like 15. After each mile marker we started to think that we were in the runner’s version of groundhog day.

Eventually we made it to Barker Pass to find Ben and Haley waiting for us with fresh water, cold beers, and homemade cookies. We had run 35 miles in the mountains, and were very excited to go get a slurpee from 7-11.

During the run we got lost when the trail was covered with snow that hadn’t yet melted, we felt the pains of running at altitude a little too much, And we did go a little crazy when the swarm of mosquitoes wouldn’t give us a break. But looking back on it, I would do it again.

Marking this milestone with a run was a great way to celebrate. I believe that challenging myself to do something difficult in the face of this major life event gave me double the reward. It’s not the typical way to celebrate a birthday, but it’s the best present I could have gotten myself. The next time I turn 30, I will gladly do a run like this again. Whether it’s a marriage, an anniversary, a graduation, a birthday, or even a new baby, I highly recommend this for celebrating your next life milestone.

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