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Introducing the Winthrop Traverse

The following is Sam Naney‘s account of his individual journey during the Bellingham Traverse in 2013 and as part of a Winthrop team creating a similar experience in the Methow. Giddyup!

But before I let you loose in the wilds of Sam’s words, I would first like to say how excited we are at Recreation Northwest to be branching out to the Eastside and extending our series statewide. With the fantastic support of the Methow Valley community and the leadership of Sam, Alison, Mike and all associated, we are confident that this will be a great destination race that will kick off our 2014 Traverse Series with style (and some toughness). Welcome to the Traverse World Winthrop! ~ Todd Elsworth

Without further ado, Introducing the Winthrop Traverse, Sam Naney:

The Pacific Northwest for many years has boasted a slew of multi-sport events: the Stoker Relay in Okanogan, the Ridge 2 River in Wenatchee, the Ski 2 Sea in Bellingham…the list goes on and on. It seems that adventuresome athletes in this part of the country aren’t content in competing in just one event; they need five or six to test their mettle.

SamNaneyBellinghamTraverseThe Bellingham Traverse was my first foray into soloing one of these races. As race director for the upcoming Winthrop Traverse in June of this year I felt it’d be a good research project to get my hands dirty in these events. At the time I was a few months away from the beginning of my ski racing season and Olympic qualifications in cross-country skiing so I felt my fitness could handle whatever the organizers threw at me. And oh, what an event it was.

The Bellingham Traverse starts where it finishes: at the Boundary Bay Brewery. You can begin your adventure with the pleasant thought that when finished, you’ll have a cold brew and hamburger waiting for you, to recover your tired limbs.

Out of the start the first leg is a 5.5 mile run along the Greenways and up to the parks of Lake Padden. The pace was quick; many of the team runners were former and current competitors at various levels, and my fellow soloists (“Chinooks” in Traverse parlance) were no slouches, either. I steadied myself for the long effort ahead but stayed with the leaders to the exchange point for the next leg: mountain biking. Now, I’m a decent mountain biker but decent is in the language of east-siders (of the Cascades, that is). Over here, our trails tend to be more flowing, with long climbs and decents but lacking in many of the highly technical features which the “wet-siders” of Bellingham consider de rigueur. Over there, multi-foot root drops, muddy and steep switchbacking trails and sidehilling are all part of a day’s ride. So, as I started into the second leg on my hardtail single-speed mountain bike, I quickly found that I was reaching beyond my abilities. I struggled to stay with the leaders as they confidently charged the climbs and launched the descents (apparently the “Expert” cautions in the course descriptions weren’t exaggerations…), and found myself pushing harder than I intended in this, the second leg of six.

I finally rolled in to the exchange of mtb-road bike with a few cuts and scrapes and about a thousand calories emptier, and jumped onto my road bike for the 18 mile circumnavigation of Lake Samish. This course was beautiful; winding along the side roads of Bellingham and along the lakeshore I recovered my stamina and caught my breath from the mountain bike challenge, and realized how very cool this event was shaping up to be. The beauty of multi-sport races is that they allow you to cover a lot of ground, and varying terrain. Still to come I would have another run, and a paddle across Bellingham Bay. In what other day would anyone combine all these activities into one long endeavor? What a treat, to be sure.

Finishing up the bike leg I rolled to a stop in the transition zone and met my wife, who helped me down a few sport gels and don my running shoes (again) for the shorter, three-ish mile run through the woods. I won’t elaborate on this one, only to say that despite the fun trails the run provided, my exertion in the mountain bike leg caught up to me and halfway through the run I found myself hugging a tree, grimacing with discomfort as my entire lower body cramped from fatigue. I recalled then what one of my competitors remarked as I was dropping my mountain bike at the exchange zone before the race. “Get ready; you’re gonna cramp, get tired, feel good, then cramp again before the race is done. It’s great!” Perhaps I should’ve lent more weight to his words.

Anyway, I stumbled my way out of the woods and to the shore of the bay, where again my ever-supportive wife waited with more gels, my life jacket and paddle, and boat which I’d borrowed from Recreation Northwest Executive Director Todd Elsworth, who graciously offered me a sea-worthy craft to navigate the bay. Here I really found my stride again, as I paddled off amidst now countless other Chinooks, Coho (tandems) and “Chums”, or relay team competitors. We all exchanged brief words of support as we went by one another, confident that the end was near and feeling the growing elation at the great effort we’d soon conclude. And as I wound around the bay toward my take-out point, I grew more excited at the prospect of providing a similar experience for east-siders in our own Winthrop Traverse. The course will be different, as will the feel and flavor, but the end result is the same. You struggle, you perhaps find yourself at a low point with fatigue, then you pull through, perhaps with the help of your teammates, to find the strength and excitement to carry you through to the finish line.

At this point I’d like to hold a sidebar to pique your interest in the upcoming Winthrop Traverse. This year we’ve built the Winthrop version of the series to give people an exciting taste of what the east side of the mountains can offer in terms of scenery and terrain. The staging area for four of the five legs (run, mtb, paddle, road bike) is Pearrygin Lake State Park, a popular camping and watersports venue about five miles out of Winthrop, our western-themed town which serves as the central thoroughfare of the Methow.

At Pearrygin we’ve created a unique exchange grounds: the run, mountain bike, and paddle legs will all start and finish in the same location, allowing ample and exciting spectating opportunities as well as a convenience for Chum, Coho and Chinook competitors to stage their equipment and move easily through the transitions. The Run leg follows a course which has been established for regional high school cross-country meets, and incorporates rolling terrain and lakeside vistas across its 5km length.

Transitioning into the Mountain Bike leg, competitors will ride first double-track, then single-track south along the lake shore and into the surrounding hills, climbing up into the slopes which overlook the beautiful Sawtooth mountain range. With a moderate technical rating, the mountain bike leg will provide some fast, rolling terrain without the steeper drops and tight maneuvering which the Bellingham course boasts.

Upon their return to Pearrygin mountain bikers will tag off and the Paddle leg commences, entailing a clockwise 4 mile circumnavigation of Pearrygin Lake, hugging first unpopulated and undeveloped lakeshore and wetland areas, the paddlers will then circle back and pass by the swimming areas and boat launch to return to the transition area.

High-fiving the paddlers, the Road Bikers shoot off, riding first up the steep (but short) access hill to the park before cruising down the pavement to East Chewuch road. From there it’s a six-ish mile gradual uphill cruise along hilly terrain and riverside woods to a turnaround point at Falls Creek. The bikers will return on a parallel roadway on the west side of the Chewuch river and will meet their team at the Winthrop Forest Service Visitor’s Center, on the outskirts of town for a total of 20 miles.

The final Team TREK leg completes a 1.5 mile downhill course which takes competitors right through the heart of downtown Winthrop and across the Chewuch bridge to the Red Barn and Winthrop Park, our finish line location and site of the Traverse after party and fun. Local beer, great food, and swapping of race stories will abound!

Now back to last September in Bellingham. As I exited my kayak and began the short 1.3 mile “Team TREK” (teams complete this leg together; in my case I just had the dancing hamburgers in my peripheral vision to accompany me), the significance and wonder of the Traverse series really sunk in. Having seen and travelled through the multifarious climes of Bellingham over the course of a few hours I saw what hopefully many others see and recognize as infinitely important: a unique and necessary interplay of population and nature. I believe people must regularly see this interaction to understand and appreciate how valuable our natural areas are to our way of life, both in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide. The Traverse series aims, and hits the mark in providing that glimpse. Along the way you get a whole heap of fun and at the end, a cold beer or two. Cheers!

– Sam Naney, Winthrop Traverse Race Director 

Contact: Winthrop Traverse CREW

As co-founder and executive director of Recreation Northwest, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play.

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