The Route to GDR: A Series of Fortunate Events

The Georgia Death Race is a 68-74 mile point to point trail run deep in the humidity filled North Georgia Mountains with around 14,000 feet of vertical gain, and a race that many have declared feels like finishing a 100 miler. Follow along Ambassador Michele Dillon's journey of her training leading up to the race happening March 31st.

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Clare Gallagher: Igniting the Fire

By Michele Dillon

Picture Credit: Thomas Woodson

Picture Credit: Thomas Woodson

Clare Gallagher is an elite mountain trail runner who has been quickly making her name across the country with her amazing performances at super competitive races. She first broke into the scene by winning Leadville in 2016 as her very first 100 miler. She finished with the second fastest time for a woman in the history of the race. Another notable and more recent win for Clare was at the CCC 100k where she set the course record and became the first American woman to win, in a race that had 258 finishing women. Instead of just riding the wave of notoriety and going to interview after interview talking solely about herself and her racing, Clare has decided to use her voice to educate her fellow adventure lovers with topics that she is extremely passionate about with the hopes of igniting that fire within the rest of us. Foremost on her mind is climate change and it's not so distant effects on our future, people, animals and lands. Secondly, is protecting the public lands that we get to freely explore now but may not always have that opportunity. With choosing to be outspoken and spreading her knowledge, she encourages us all to start listening, educating ourselves, paying attention to our impact on this world and fighting to protect the things that we love. Clare was awesome enough to let me virtually sit down with her so that we could all better understand the importance behind these issues and hopefully motivate others to get started toward making their voice and actions matter.

Most people know you as Clare Gallagher, the elite trail runner. However, you are getting more and more well know known for your advocacy for protecting our lands and climate. Could you explain why you think it's so important to use your voice in your position as an athlete?

Running is not inherently altruistic. Most of us run to make ourselves feel good. Not to mention, in ultras, we require other people to forfeit time in their lives so that we can run stupid distances. It's all so weird and time consuming. That's not to say it doesn't have value, but I prefer to associate my running with issues more substantial than just running or a race. I honestly race better when I think of climate change or injustices of the world. I suppose that, too, isn't altruistic if I'm thinking of others' suffering in order to run better. Regardless, I justify my running by making it about more than just me. Who likes a runner who only talks about running? No one. Or at least, I connect with runners who also think that there's more to this weird obsession that putting one leg in front of another. Any trail runner who doesn't support public land protection or climate change mitigation efforts needs to check their privilege. Heck, I need to check my privilege every day. That's why I put myself out there with advocacy work.

Protect Our Winters is one of the many organizations you have a relationship with. How would you explain to a person who is trying to understand climate change and how they can begin to make a difference in this fight, whether big or small?

First and foremost, I think we need to be more aware of who we are voting for (and whether we are voting at all). We need to engage with democracy in order to help mitigate climate change, which is the human-caused warming of our earth, causing mass extinction, human starvation and conflict. It's an insidious crisis that's impacting the world's poorest people at the worst rates. We can begin to make a difference by voting for elected officials committed to policy to help mitigate climate change. It's rather simple. We Google election candidates every election and then vote for the people committed to making this world a better place.

Picture Credit: Ben Duke

Picture Credit: Ben Duke

Convenient consumption (fast food, single use cups/straws, etc.) is one of the biggest contributors to our world's plastic & garbage problem. You have a big passion for the ocean and coral reefs. Could you give us a closer look into how plastic effects our oceans? What are the steps you take to making your impact less?

I've committed to #stopsucking -- which means I say no to straws, plastic bags, or single use containers whenever I can. This is a great place to start. The "great Pacific trash island" is not an actual island of trash, is an enormous gyre of many (trillions) of microscopic pieces of plastic that have degraded over time. Those tiny pieces of plastic eventually get back to us because fish accidentally eat them and then we eat fish. Do you like eating trash? I sure don't. Not to mention, I don't like inadvertently killing marine animals from my luxurious life of single-use convenience.

You have spoken freely on your personal view of animal consumption and have also mentioned that you believe each and every one of us has to make our own personal choice when it comes to this and shouldn’t judge others for that choice. I fully agree and also feel like the first step to making any kind of change is understanding the reasons behind doing them. Can you tell us the reason why you personally choose to eat less meat and how you feel that impacts the environment?

It's pretty simple: eating veg is a very effective way to reduce one's carbon footprint. This doesn't even touch on the inhumanity of the meat industries across the world. Who needs a burger that badly? For me, I have to fly a lot for my job, but I can easily say no to meat. Boom: my impact is reduced so easily. I also save money and feel less like a jackass American jacked up on feedlot "finished" beef products.

As an athlete who chooses to eat less meat (and also deals with celiac) how do you make sure you stay healthy physically?

It's super easy: I eat a lot of fruits, veggies, rice and corn products. I eat when I'm hungry and don't eat (most of the time) when I'm full. No one needs to reinvent the wheel here. Americans eat way too much protein than we need because of our obsession with meat. We need to calm down and take notes on how other people eat across the world.

Climate change is a huge enough of a fight on its own, but you also have been a voice for protecting our public lands. Why do you feel like this is such an important topic to address and how can we educate ourselves further in order to fully understand the possible impacts?

Public lands are the most personal "issue" trail runners face at a day-to-day level. How would you react if your favorite local trail was closed off because it was sold to a private owner? What if a uranium mine was built there? Bummer, right? Trail runners are so privileged when it comes to access. We rarely are restricted from running on public lands, but the current administration is full-on assaulting what we have, and what the U.S. Dept. of Interior was designed to protect. Personally, climate change is a way more important and grander issue than public lands protection, but I see public lands protection as the gateway for giving a shit about the environment, period. Caring about anything is step one.

Being and staying informed is one of the most overwhelming parts of being an advocate for our climate and our land. What are the outlets you use to keep yourself fully informed and how often do you use them?

NY Times, my friends, I follow news outlets on my social media so when I'm scrolling it's not all pointless. Accounts like UN Climate Council, 350.org, Project Aware, U.S. Dept. of Interior, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Patagonia, and National Geographic. I also follow Colorado's Senators and my Representatives on social media. It makes me feel way more informed and connected to democracy. I love it!

How do you keep a good balance between being an elite athlete and being a voice for the things you are passionate about?

It's a daily challenge. Sometimes I get on a roll reading or writing and put off my run and then never end up getting out. Other times, in weeks of intense focus on a race goal, I'm less informed politically because I'm training so much and tired all the time. That being said, tapering before a race is often my favorite feeling in the world: I'm focused on a race goal and I am fit, but I distract my race nerves by delving into an issue. I can be super productive leading up to races! 

Picture Credit: Mike Thurk

Picture Credit: Mike Thurk

As someone who is fairly well-known and has the opportunity to speak out on these topics as part of your professional career, what would your advice be for those of us who feel like we may have a less important voice in this fight?

EVERY VOICE MATTERS. I would warn people from thinking that just people someone is more well-known or has a "bigger platform" is more powerful than anyone else. I fully believe that the best trail runner is one who loves the trails hard, and subsequently fights for the trails hard. Professional, novice, world-renowned or completely off-the-grid...WE ARE ALL THE SAME. EVERY VOTE, VOICE AND PAIR OF FEET MATTER! 

Who or what inspired you to finally make that first step into taking a stand on these topics? Any other advice you may have for those that are still trying to figure out exactly how or why to make that first step?

One of my brothers is a Green Beret. The other is a public defender. If I can't stand for protection of the earth, then I'd be a sad contributor to my family's dinnertime conversations. I'd also wonder what the heck I'm doing with my life spending my time dicking around outside only for my own self-fulfillment.

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CONTRIBUTER:

Michele Dillon

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Choose Mountains Ambassador - Colorado 

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"Care Free" - Ambassador Stuke Sowle

Winter continues to pile on the snow in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Our ambassador Stuke has taken to the lower mountains of the area to continue to improve his physical and mental conditioning for the larger adventures he has planned this summer. He takes us along on one of his most recent outings on Tiger Mountain on our blog.

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;

I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
— - Li Bai

 

I had originally intended to write about my newest method of transportation in the outdoors, cross country skiing, but when a trail runner I follow on Facebook and Instagram posted this quote, I knew that I had to veer off my planned course to write about the mountains in my backyard that I love so dearly.  

 

Just miles from the Seattle metro area lies an area called the “Issaquah Alps”.  The name was created by a local legend, Harvey Manning to describe the foothills surrounding the town of Issaquah that consist of Cougar, Squak and Tiger Mountains.  Now those of us who spend time on these hills know the name is a bit outrageous but obviously it stuck.  The mountains are rich in both natural and human history and in doing a bit of investigating for this piece I found myself quickly going down the research rabbit hole.  Fortunately I was able to recover quickly and promised myself that later on I would give this area a proper history.

This winter in the Pacific Northwest has been a boon for alpine and backcountry skiers.  It feels as though the snow hasn’t stopped falling since late November and it continues to pile up at the higher elevations as I write this.  It also has been a winter full of high avalanche risk that has kept me for the most part under the treeline.  I have seen a lot of frustration among fellow outdoor enthusiasts lamenting the inability to get to the places they love so dearly because of the onslaught of the white stuff.  As for me, well I just turn what is available. The Issaquah Alps.

 

After a couple of days spent on cross country skiing on the east side of the Cascades in the Methow Valley, I returned home to the warmer and wetter west side of the state.  The skiing had given my legs a bit of a rest in comparison to my usual regimen in the mountains.  I had one more day off before returning to work so I decided to head to Tiger Mountain and use those trails to focus on some gain.  I made the quick drive to Issaquah and parked at the Issaquah Trail center.  This small park contains a statue of Harvey Manning as well as some relics of the bygone logging era of the mountain.  Once packed up, I headed towards the mountain with no specific route planned.

 

Crisscrossed with over a hundred trails that total hundreds of miles, the Issaquah Alps are a paradise for those struck with wanderlust.  The flanks of the mountains are covered with a lush green forest that is gradually erasing all the damage done by humans in the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s.  Logging and mining stripped these mountains bare before conservationists intervened and convinced the powers that be to protect mountains.  Ten minutes out of the city, I was entering the forest at the bottom of Tiger Mountain, in another five minutes, most signs of civilization were gone.  My chosen meandering route up to the summit of West Tiger I was already warming up my legs.
 

The forest surrounding the trail was an explosion of green.  I so often hear from people who are visiting the state for the first time just how green it is here.  A byproduct of all that rain we are so famous for.  The trail is wide and gradual in comparison to what I am used to.  It is one of the busier trails on Tiger Mountain, but I found it to be empty on this cool morning.  I enjoyed the solitude and fell into a steady even walking pace.  About an hour into the climb, the mist was burned off by the Sun. Small splashes of sunlight danced around me as I passed one of my favorite characters in this area, a stump that so closely resembles a face. I give it a morning greeting as I pass by.

 

The climb steepens as I near the summit of West Tiger I. I ascend a trail that for whatever reason I rarely climb, Poo Top.  I realize as make my way up the trail that I am in the spot that almost three years ago to the day I came across a trail runner while I was hiking.  Burdened with a heavy pack, I was huffing way up the trail and looking up spotted the man gliding effortlessly down the trail.  As I moved to the side, he stopped and we talked for a few minutes.  He was such a friendly, engaging individual and I was taken with how physically fit he appeared for his age.  As I watched him resume running down the trail I knew that I had to give trail running a try.  I paused at this spot and smiled at the memory.  Grateful for the fortune of him and I crossing paths that day.

 

Soon I found myself on the summit of West Tiger I. With an elevation of just under 3,000’ it doesn’t seem like much, but when you start below 200’, it adds up.  I took stock of how strong I felt and decided to go forward with making it a day of climbing and descending the West Tigers.  I quickly traversed the summits of West Tiger’s II and III which are little more than highpoints on a ridge, then jogged my way down the very popular West Tiger 3 trail.  This trail gets crowded on the weekends and as such I generally avoid it but on this morning like earlier, it was relatively empty.  Built on what I’m sure is the remains of an old logging road, the non-technical nature of the trail allows me to really let my eyes wander as I jog down it.  After about three winding miles, I found myself at the base of the mountain once again.  It was time for climb number two of the day.

The steep Section Line Trail

The steep Section Line Trail


Cable Line. Those two words conjure up a multitude of reactions from local hikers and runners.  Varying from hate to love to a combination of both.  It is not so much a trail as I scar driving it’s way straight up and down the side of West Tiger 3.  2,000’ of climbing (or descending) in approximately 1.5 miles.  It’s steep, technical and I love it dearly.  Last year in the winter and spring months, I climbed the trail 40 times.  I did repeats, threepeats and even a sixpeat to test my mental and physical conditioning.  Cable Line prepped me for the long, steep scrambles that my summer was full of.  On this morning, she was in fine February shape, a mudfest from the start.  

 

My legs kept churning as I made my way up.  I crossed paths with a few hardy souls most of them descending.  As I neared the top of the climb I approached a hiker slowly making his way up. I cleared my throat to let him know I was there.  He turned to look at me and a broad smile flashed across his face.  He exclaimed, “Now there is a smile I really needed to see!”

Being a bit winded the only reply I could manage was a quiet “always”.  

 

Just as I hit the summit of West Tiger III, snow began to fall and by the time I had hit my second summit of West Tiger I it was really coming down.  I grin like a little kid on a snow day, reveling in the change of weather.  I then retrace my steps down the trails I had used to climb the mountain the first time.  This time much quicker as I am aided by gravity.  The miles melt by and once again I find myself at the base of the mountain.  Feeling strong I make a right at a trail junction and begin my third and final climb of the day.  

 

Having climbed 6,000’ already my legs start to feel taxed.  It is a feeling I am familiar with and I appreciate how they have adapted to my demands on them.  Minute-by-minute I climb through the rain, the temperature dropping enough in the altitude to turn the rain drops to snow once again.  My condensed breath is the steam from a locomotive.  My heart pounds in my chest, sweat drips from my nose. My quads burn.  It is at these moments I feel so alive and connected to these mountains.  Like Cable Line, this trail runs straight up the side of the mountain.  Unrelenting.  It is on trails like this that my bigger summer adventures are made possible.  

 

For the third time on this day I stand on the summit of West Tiger III.  I make a final traverse over the other two West Tigers.  With over 9,000’ of climbing in just twenty miles I decide to call it a day and reward myself with a long, winding descent through the lush forest on the northern side of the mountain.  These short steep climbs, followed by long descents remind me of riding a rollercoaster.  The trail and my feet become a blur beneath me and the trunks of the trees lining the trail flash by.  For small stretches of trail, I let gravity completely take over and I a feeling of flying comes over me.  Liberating.  My smile never leaving my face.

I am lost in the moment.  Completely immersed in Nature and the elements.  As it was once pointed out to me,  we are composed of these very elements and instead of shying away from them, we should embrace them.  Find the joy in the rain, wind, and the snow.  Be present and see and feel the beauty of each moment.  So many ask me why I return to these mountains again and again.  Now I know how to answer it simply.


Here, on these green mountains, I am carefree.  


CONTRIBUTER:

Stuke Sowle

Choose Mountains Ambassador: Washington

CONTACT INFO:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mountainsowle/

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Email: mountainsowle@gmail.com