Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens relates the story of Eucles, the Greek who ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens bearing the news that the Athenians had miraculously defeated Xerxes' army. After declaring, "We have won!" Eucles promptly died of exhaustion.
Last week bio major Ethan Linck '13 ran almost four times further, jogging 93 miles around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland trail in just under 27 hours, the fastest unaided solo run ever recorded on that trail. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale!
Ethan has been running cross country and track since high school, but got interested in 'ultra-running'—punishing long distance runs—at Reed, inspired by the heterogenous terrain and the strong ultra-running community in the Pacific Northwest. On his running blog he describes building up to the Wonderland trail: summer frustrations with similar runs, growing confidence in his own fitness, unexpectedly beautiful weather, and senior anxiety about leaving Oregon with so many adventures unexplored. All this led to the question that has pushed so many Reedies to do something outrageous: "Why not?"
It's fair to say that the Wonderland trail occupies a legendary status among Northwest backpackers, hikers, and trail-runners. Encircling Mount Rainier, its 93 miles encompass a staggering 22,000 feet of elevation gain. Its profile looks like a mutant hacksaw blade.
The night before was preparation and anxiety: a backpack full of Powerbars and five-hour energies, a Burgerville meal sitting heavily in the gut, sleeping alone in the back of the car, which was parked at the trailhead. He woke up at 5:45 am, swallowed his misgivings, and set off on his expedition.
He ran as the sun rose, as the sun set, and as the sun rose again. Having resolved to run the trail unsupported, he faced a real dilemma when a passing backpacker offered him a homemade powerbar. Unfortunately, accepting it would violate the code of the unsupported run, so Ethan had to "dig down deep" and turn it down. He pressed on and—with a little help from the punk band Fugazi—finished strong.
Back at his car, Ethan writes, "I laughed at myself a little wildly and stared at my feet, liberated from their bonds and tattooed in dirt and scabs." He then drove back to Portland in "brilliant sunlight" to return to Reed and his thesis on the molecular phylogenetics of the Louisiade white-eye. Figuring out what that means is almost as hard as running around Mt. Rainer. But not quite.