A Washington Department of Natural Resources publication includes the article Paleogeography and Paleontology of the Early Tertiary Chuckanut Formation, Northwest Washington, “Residents of northwest Washington feel at home in a landscape where majestic forests provide a foreground for rugged mountain vistas-except on the many days when the panorama is obscured by fog and drizzle. Fossils in the Chuckanut Formation tell us that the area’s environment was once much different-5O million years ago, the region was a swampy subtropical flood plain.” Read the 13-page paper yourself to learn more about, “a scientific odyssey that began in 1841 when sailing vessels of the U.S. Exploring Expedition arrived at Bellingham Bay under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes.” Geologist James Dwight Dana collected “plant fossils from the Bellingham area, specimens that marked the beginning of paleontologic research in the Pacific Northwest.” The 40-year-old article may seem dated, but it’s like the blink of an eye in geological time. Saturday, 3 June, my friend and I, along with 104 other runners, ran along 13.1 miles of the trails located within Chuckanut Formation to complete the Chuckanut Mountain Half Marathon.
As runners congregated behind the bathrooms at the Lost Lake parking lot along Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham, we made our way to the back of the pack. The plan: be mindful, run just for fun, don’t take our pace too seriously. Just before 10 am, a volunteer provided pre-race instructions about the course markings: yellow signs with an arrow (go this way) plus pink flagging tape, or an X (wrong way) and sent us on our way.
We started out on single-track, keeping our places in line, but within a few minutes, reached the Interurban Trail where we chatted up a guy wearing a Ski to Sea t-shirt. Three miles later, runners transferred to a slightly narrower trail. An off-leash dog flew past me and continued down the trail to his people, so I screamed as I tend to do when surprised. Michelle’s uphill legs are faster than mine, so I insisted she take off and refused to talk to her if she didn’t.
A small group of runners separated me from my friend, folks trading spots at times as we all trudged up to the ridge. At the summit, Purple Shirt Guy stopped to take in the view. I photographed the forest from one of the course’s best viewpoints, then caught up with my friend.
This middle section was my second favorite part of the course, rolling hills with a net descent as we made our way down from the ridge. At Cleator Road, a volunteer sent us downhill with a lie, “No more climbing,” which, along with “You’re almost there,” and “It’s all downhill from here,” are lies well-meaning volunteers tend to tell. I didn’t believe him for a second. We sped down the road, pounding the pavement for one awesome mile. Gravity’s help ended too soon for me. At the Mile 9 aid station, Michelle stopped for water. I continued on wearing my still half-full CamelBak.
Although we had to climb during this section, the trails were wider and less technical than on the way up to the ridge. I tried to faux run rather than walk because I find it hard to start running uphill once I’ve started walking, even if the trail’s not very steep. At the bottom of a hill, two runners stood looking at their options. I stopped too. To the right, pink flagging tape. To the left, a yellow X/Wrong Way sign with pink flagging tape in front of a wooden bridge. Another runner arrived. The heroine of the race for me said that she knew we must go left towards the X/Wrong Way sign, pulled out the sign and headed down the trail in what we all hoped was the right direction.
The next part, before, at and after Fragrance Lake, was my favorite of the race because it was nearly all downhill with wide, soft, non-technical trails. The only negative was a number of hikers, all of whom were kind enough to stop and let us run past. We thanked them, apologized and kept going. I ran at least a mile on my own, took the wider trail once when there was more than one choice, hoped I was headed in the right direction, and breathed a sigh of relief when I spied a length of pink tape indicating that I was. With half a mile to go, runners return to the Interurban. Flagging tape guided me in either direction, but left seemed right, so I went that way. At Chuckanut Road, volunteers directed runners to the finish at Larrabee State Park.
This was the second time in as many races that I started out running “just for fun” and finished trying to fly. I took several photos during the first half, but from mid-race on, I stashed my camera away, unwilling to risk getting passed by stopping to take more. Race results showed my friend and I did just fine, but we want to be fitter, run faster next year. We stuck around for awhile to bask in the sun, enjoy the post-race food and listen to live music. In the past two years, I’ve completed three Bellingham Trail Series races. I loved the trails and the views of Deception Pass Half and the challenge of the Bellingham Trail Half’s chin scraper, but this course, Chuckanut Mountain Half, is my favorite of the three.