Oregon Outback Bike Tour and the OC&E Woods Line State Trail

(Sorry about the lack of atrial fibrillation content in this post.)

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I am considering participating in the 2014 Oregon Outback bike tour. I love the concept of the Oregon Outback tour – it is a 360 mile unsupported bike tour, most of which is on remote dirt roads (and trails) in the barely populated Eastern part of Oregon (commonly referred to as Oregon’s Outback).

The best part is that the beginning of the ride, the first seventy five miles or so, is on the OC&E Woods Line State Trail – a 100 mile long Rails to Trails project that is a long, narrow Oregon State Park.

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OC&E Trail

I live near and use the OC&E trail a lot and have trained for about twenty (?) marathons on it, and frequently ride bikes on it as well.

I’ve logged thousands of miles on The OC&E – not really because of the scenery, but mostly because it is nearby, the ideal surface, the mile markers every 1/2 mile, and because it is a place where I can run with my well-trained dog off leash. Plus I’m totally used to it.

I have a ton of photos in my Flickr set.

The trail was originally a logging railroad, beginning in 1917, and was used by Weyerhaeuser to transport logs and lumber from Bly, Oregon (where they once had a sawmill) and areas East of Klamath Falls to their main mill and the main railways in Klamath Falls. As everybody know the logging industry isn’t what it used to be and the railroad was shut down and “rail banked” in 1992.

I can give a little background on the development of the trail – I was part of the original group that developed the trail back in 1992. There were about nine of us that were part of an organization supporting the trail and we had plenty of opposition. Most notably there was an opposing group consisting 150 well organized adjacent land-owners that fought the establishment of the trail. They gave a number of reasons for their opposition, including a lot of concerns for privacy, and worries about potential criminal activity on the trail; but I always felt the real reason was that if the land wasn’t rail-banked the adjacent land-owner would get all the land back for free – that’s a strip of land 100 feet wide and about a hundred miles long.

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Ringo on the Roof

I never really thought the trail would happen. There were other groups opposing the trail including a group that wanted to leave the rails in place and build a recreational railway – train rides for tourists. We never even bothered opposing that idea because we knew that Weyerhaeuser had already sold the ties and the rails for the highest price ever to a salvage company – 4.5 million dollars (1992) and the excursion train people would have to buy them back from the salvage company. I don’t think they had anywhere near that kind of cash.

Probably the least pleasant group opposing the trail was the Nature Conservancy. They own a large portion of the Sycan Marsh where the Woods Line portion of the trail passes. This is the most remote and least used portion of the trail. The biologist’s concern was that the train tracks, which are on a raised ballast, divide the wetland into two distinct eco-systems with slightly different gene populations – certain creatures couldn’t cross from one side to the other. I never quite understood why that was a problem, but evidently it was. For some reason we thought the Nature Conservancy would be in favor of a recreational trail – after all they are a nature conservancy, and who doesn’t love nature, the great outdoors, hiking, etc. – but no – they wanted the entire rail ballast removed and NO TRAIL.

I have never actually been on the Woods Line section of the trail. To this day that section of the trail isn’t used as much as the sections near town.

When I saw the photos of the tour directors of the Oregon Outback wading through the water in the Sycan Marsh I immediately understood the purpose of those breaks in the trail – that must’ve been a compromise with the Nature Conservancy. Now the little creatures can frolic and canoodle with the little creatures from the other side of the tracks – brilliant!

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Taking a Break

Anyway – given all the opposition to the trail I never really believed it would happen; but it turns out the trail became a reality in 1992. The way I see it the real powerful people in the world (like the railroads, the power company, telecommunication companies, etc.) liked preserving the right of way so they could rebuild railroads, or put up power lines, or communications cables, or whatever, without much problem. That’s the goal of rail banking – to preserve the right of way for projects like railroads, pipelines, telecommunications – and little community forums and debates are, I believe, just for show – big companies run the world. It makes sense – after seeing the level of opposition the adjacent landowners raised for the trail on existing right of way it would be unimaginably difficult to build, say, a pipeline through that property if they owned it – it would take years of lawsuits and expensive land purchases. One hold-out landowner could cancel an entire project. Rail banking makes it less complicated.

And in the case of rail banking outdoor enthusiasts benefit. And the community can benefit when folks like the Oregon Outback group or Cycle Oregon decide to use the trail.

I was fortunate enough to tour the trail via one of those trucks that rides on rails after the railroad was closed but before the rails and ties were salvaged. It was a wonderful day and a chance to see the entire route in one morning with a picnic lunch in Bly, Oregon to boot. Our group did a similar tour of the Woods line portion but for some reason I missed that one. I still want to get out there and see the large treacle that remains from the railway days.

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Jan and Her Sister-in-law

The trail has quite of variety of personalities. The first one and one half mile is unpaved (last time I was there) and passes through an industrial area, including some switching yards and some transient camps. This area is infrequently used by joggers, etc.

From the 1.5 mile marker to the 8.5 mile marker the trail is paved and first passes through a commercial area of Klamath Falls and then the “South Suburban” area. This is the most densely used portion of the trail and local people walk their dogs, roller blade, ride bikes, jog, walk – you name it. On a nice day I’ll encounter dozens of people on this section; I frequently ride my road bike on this section but generally don’t run there because I prefer to run off pavement plus I like to run with my little cow dog, Ringo, off leash.

My favorite and (personally) most frequently used sections are the section from Reeder Road (6 mile marker) to about the 13 mile marker (past Olene,Oregon) and of course the Switchback Mountain section near Sprague River, OR.

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Ten Mile Marker

Olene is a “town” that has about three or four houses and one store. There is a nice parking area there that I use as a headquarters for long runs (like the twenty mile runs that are part of a marathon training program). I will do a number of “out and backs” starting in Olene and use my truck as a resupply depot to refill my hydration pack after ten miles or so, and also restock things like carbohydrate gels and electrolyte supplements.

Horse riders often like to park their trailers here and start their trail rides in Olene, including people with tiny miniature horses they use to pull little carts.

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Little Horses

Another good starting point is the picnic area at Switchback Mountain near Sprague River, Oregon. This is a unique section of rail trail – the train would do a “double Y” switchback in order to get over the mountain – as far as I know it was the only railroad in the United States that did so. This is the only hilly section of the trail and for that reason is a great place to train if a hilly race is in my future. Plus it is adjacent to “Devil’s Garden” which as one might imagine is an area of spooky lava rock formations – a fun place to explore. Switchback Mountain is thirty-five miles from Klamath Falls so it only works as a starting point if I have enough time to drive that far.

The actual quality of the trail surface is quite variable and runs the gamut from exquisitely paved to extremely overgrown and rocky. The highly used areas are generally very peasant to run on – but once the trail gets past Sprague River, Oregon there are a lot of hazards including large clunky chunks of ballast rocks, overgrown weeds and sagebrush, and of course cows.

I have been chased, once, by a young bull out there. Mostly I encounter herds of cattle that just stare and refuse to move, or else they follow me after I pass. In general they don’t mind me, but it’s my cow dog they could do without.

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After Work Ride Near Olene

Other animals along the trail include the usual suspects for our area – jack rabbits, coyotes, badgers, deer, antelope, mountain lions, bears, turkeys – but primarily cows and horses.

A friend of mine recently ran (in sections) the entire OC&E including the Woods Line. It was an all Summer project for him. He said he met quite a few cows out there. I have ran or ridden most of the OC&E excluding the Woods Line.

I’m attracted to the Oregon Outback ride because I’m intrigued to keep going, to break past the limited area that I’ve been running and explore the entire state beyond the OC&E trail – all the way to the Washington border – wow. Sounds like a great adventure.

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Running My First Marathon While In Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

Not my first marathon, of course, I think it was my fourteenth marathon, and maybe not even my first marathon in a fib.

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Pre-Race

I should really re-title this as something about running my first marathon when I KNEW I was in atrial fibrillation. I recall one particular marathon, a couple of years ago, where I started out great and after twenty miles I totally fell to pieces. I would have quit if it hadn’t been a trail marathon with no easy way to DNF – I still had to get to the finish line. In retrospect I realize this was not “hitting the wall,” which I don’t generally tend to do, but I’m pretty sure I went into atrial fibrillation at that point. I don’t mind suffering but that was absurd. It was like eating your favorite food and inexplicably finding it tastes like $&!T.

That was before I even knew I was going into a fib, and I was probably still going in and out of a fib – but ever since May 12, 2012 I have been in persistent atrial fibrillation (meaning that I am always in a fib and have no expectation of NOT being in a fib).

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Lining Up At The Back For This One

In May of 2012 I was actually training for my first 50K (31 mile) race (Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run, Buffalo, Wyoming) and I had been doing a lot of long runs – looking at my training log I see that I had already done six twenty-milers during my training for that race.

I asked my electrophysiologist, who I hadn’t yet seen for my appointment, if I could run the 50K and he said I shouldn’t; so I was effectively grounded as far as the 50K was concerned.

But being the incorrigible distance runner that I am I rationalized, “Well I didn’t specifically ask about running a regular marathon. I‘ve been running 50-60 miles per week for a couple of months – I sure wouldn’t want to waste all that training, would I?”

I looked at the online marathon calendars and discovered that there was a regular marathon (26.2 miles) that same weekend, and only a five hour drive – the Vancouver USA Marathon in Vancouver, Washington – just across the river from Portland, Oregon.

I admit that I was scared – this was unknown territory – running a marathon while in atrial fibrillation. Would I be able to complete it? Would I drop dead? Would I suffer like an animal, I mean, would I suffer even more than running a regular marathon?

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Along The Course

In a lot of ways the course for the Vancouver event was a lot safer than the Wyoming event. The Bighorn was up and down remote canyons in the Rocky Mountains whereas the Vancouver USA was a flat course through the suburbs of Portland. If I needed to drop out of the race, or if I needed medical assistance, that would be simple – go ring a doorbell.

But naturally I was still nervous when I started out. My plan was just to get through it. I decided not to try to beat anybody, to keep it slow and steady, and to walk up the few little hills that were part of the course.

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Marathons In All 50 States – EIGHT TIMES!!!!!

As stated previously the experience of being in persistent atrial fibrillation is different than that of going in and out of a fib. Persistent a fib isn’t as bad. I’m slower but stable. People who suddenly go into a fib in the middle of a race often find themselves unable to continue – it can be devastating. I know – I think it has happened to me (see above).

At any rate – I started running with the eleven minute mile pace group and hung out with them for most of the race. Eventually I realized that running this race in atrial fibrillation wasn’t that much different than any other marathon that I have done – except for being a bit slower. When I was into the final miles I was surprised that I felt fine – clearly much better than the race described above. I think my plan of keeping it slow and walking the one or two hills worked out – I had very little suffering.

Crossing the finish line was an emotional experience and even though I was there all alone I broke out in sobbing tears. Tears of joy, I guess, because I had finished the marathon and I hadn’t died! It really was just about like normal and I started wondering – just how many of these things had I done in fib?

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Large Man Crying At Finish Line

If you’re a runner in atrial fibrillation and you are reading this I want to make sure that you realize that I am NOT saying, “Go run a marathon in atrial fibrillation.” I am simply relating my personal experience. I am just one individual and, naturally, your experience is different. I stress that it is important that you agree with your cardiologist regarding running and atrial fibrillation. This blog is just my personal story – it isn’t peer reviewed and I am not a cardiologist.

By the way when I finally saw my electrophysiologist he cleared me to continue running and did go on to complete my first 50K four months after the Vancouver USA Marathon. At this point I am comfortable with distance running in atrial fibrillation and am not (too) afraid of dying out there – but that first marathon in (known) atrial fibrillation – well – that was huge.

My next event, incidentally, is the Bizz Johnson 50K in October.

Race Report – SOB Trail Run July 27, 2013 (Siskiyou Outback Trail Run)

The SOB Trail Run has been one of my favorite runs and I think I have five T-shirts from the past ten years.

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Pre Race

Today was my first time running it in persistent atrial fibrillation.

I’ve always been impressed with how well organized the race is, the quality of the course, and the low price. The 15K is still only $25 (that includes a finisher medal but no T-shirt – a T-shirt is extra). There are three events – a 15K, a 50K, and 50 mile race. I’ve only ever done the 15K but several of my local running friends did either the 50K or 50 mile today. The 50 mile has 7000 feet (2133 meters) of elevation change – that’s crazy!

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Along the course on the PCT

I think all the races start with the same nice 1/2 mile or so on a road that allows everybody to get sorted out as far as pace is concerned before getting on the narrow singletrack of the fabled Pacific Crest Trail. This is a good idea – races that start right off the bat on singletrack, like Haulin’ Aspen Marathon and 1/2 Marathon in Bend, Oregon – tend to develop bottlenecks because passing is so difficult. The truth is that passing is a problem on the SOB – I tend to be faster going uphill (as compared to the slow people I run with) and end up passing people who walk up the hills – but I’m relatively slower going downhill, especially on technical terrain like the PCT, and most of the people I passed going up want to pass me going down; and the 15K course is up / down / up / down.

After several miles of this the race transitions to a fire road and then re-enters the PCT for the last few miles.

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Amber and Nathan after the 50K

The race is fairly high elevation – starting at 6500 feet and climbing to about 7000 feet (??). I don’t notice it much because I live at 4200 feet and regularly run at similar elevations, but people coming from coastal cities will definitely notice the rarefied air.

As far as running it in atrial fibrillation was concerned I had the typical slow start – it takes me a mile or two to warm up now, and then I felt my normal self again. I didn’t even look at my time and I didn’t wear my Garmin 305 – why? I walked only a few particularly steep sections and other wise (slow) ran the entire race.

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Along the Course

As usual the start/finish line was great – nice people, good music, lots of post race food. I forgot to pick up my post-race swag bag so I don’t know what I missed there. I wish I would have checked the start time for today’s race because I ended up arriving about an hour and a half early – but I can’t think of a better place to hang out that Mount Ashland on race day.

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Race Hang Out Headquarters

Next Event – SOB Trail Run – Ashland, Oregon July 27, 2013

Here is my Race Report SOB Trail Run July 27, 2013

I’m signed up to run the 15K at SOB (Siskiyou Outback) Trail Run July 27, 2013. This is a terrific event and I have done it several times in the past – I’m not sure but I think I have maybe four T-shirts from the event. This will be my first time running it while in persistent atrial fibrillation. So far I have completed one 15K, one marathon, and one 50K while in (known) persistent atrial fibrillation – but of course I suspect that there have been other marathons when I was in a fib but didn’t know it.

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SOB Trail Run

The races begin at the parking lot of the Mount Ashland Ski Lodge and go up from there. In addition to the 15K there are also 50K and 50 mile events. There’s no way I’m in 50K shape right now.

The course for the 15K includes a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Running on the PCT

This will be my first time running the SOB in atrial fibrillation – but I’m not too worried about the elevation – not after trekking in the Andes last week at 4600 meters (15,000 feet).

This event has always been very well managed, inexpensive, with great music and great food and plenty of raffle prizes. Wait for me at the finish line – I hope to see you there.

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Post Race