Forest Park: Freak of Nature

Conquering the 30-Mile Wildwood Trail in One Epic Day

A runner sets out to complete the entire length of Forest Park's trademark track.

By Ramona DeNies May 15, 2017 Published in the June 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Forest Park's Wildwood Trail makes for a 30-mile ultramarathon.

I’m shivering on the shoulder of Newberry Road at 10 a.m. sharp, high-kicking the air like I’m not scared. It’s October, and Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail, which starts (or ends) here, in the park’s remote northern corner, is a mud bath. Today, I’ve committed to running its entire length: a 30-mile ultramarathon. If I finish, I’ll join a club that includes the professional greyhounds at the Nike Oregon Project as well as the truly insane: those training for ultra ultras like Death Valley’s 135-mile Badwater. Some consider the Wildwood a local rite of passage. Crazy as it sounds, I’m finally going for it.

For the first 10 miles, all is quiet, with precious few hikers: a replenishing forest hush and distant rattle of downy woodpeckers. That Zen ends when I face-plant just past the Trillium Trail; by the time I stumble through the rock-studded creek crossings between Firelanes 7 and 1, my feet feel like broken glass, and my knees hiss under a thick mud plaster. I let myself cry a little as I struggle up the Nature Trail, praying I’m near 53rd Drive, where my support crew has snacks. I’m just running for the snacks now.

The sun is high in the sky when I spot my dad, with a buffet of candy bars on his car hood. From here, it’s just 10 miles to trail’s end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but three of those miles are brutal: a cobble-pathed descent to the Audubon Society and the short but thigh-shredding climb to Pittock Mansion.

I rally, cursing every switchback as I jog past the Japanese Garden and into Hoyt Arboretum. With two miles to go, I’m almost gliding: through a wedding party on the Redwood Deck, around the Archery Range. I catch sight of trail’s end alongside a knot of fellow thru-runners—also wildly elated. The welcome party and noisemakers aren’t for me, but I’ll take them. Because after six hours, I’ve made it.

Just eight months later, I’m ready to do it again. 

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