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New trail running festival aspires to build community

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Aspire Adventure Running guide Alex Giebelhaus on Church Mountain. Abram Dickerson photo.

Festival 542, coming to the end of the highway this fall, will allow runners to make connections and run from a mountain base camp.

By Oliver Lazenby

As trail running festivals continue to pop up almost everywhere, the North Cascades is the latest to join the fun. The first North Cascades Fall Trail Running Festival and Symposium – or Festival 542, if you’re into brevity – will take place from September 12 to 16 at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway.

Hosted by Aspire Adventure Running, the festival offers three days and four nights of organized and informal runs, local food and nightly educational programming from a base camp surrounded by trails – the Mountaineers club’s Mt. Baker Lodge.

Abram Dickerson, founder of Aspire, is workout out the logistics and safety net for the festival. At $600 a spot, the festival isn’t cheap. But attendees should have nothing to worry about but running in the forests and meadows of the North Cascades once they arrive.

“What we’re imagining is that we’ll bring people together in the evenings, and during the day there’s a whole variety of runs that a person can do from base camp,” Dickerson said. Aspire will also run a shuttle bus to other trailheads on the Mt. Baker Highway.

Meals made from seasonal, local ingredients will bookend each day, and light food will be provided on the trails. The company is lining up naturalists, historians, athletes and archaeologists for educational talks and discussions in the evenings.

Dickerson hopes the festival will strengthen the local trail running community by offering runners an opportunity to form relationships.

“Those connections are one of the great things about the trail running community yet forming those connection takes time.”

“I’ve found from races that there’s people who identify as trail runners who come out to trail races but it takes a long time for them, especially if they’re new, to make connections,” he said. “Those connections are one of the great things about the trail running community yet forming those connection takes time.”

The festival affords more time – and downtime – for fostering those connections. Dickerson’s seen the impact of time on relationships through his business; on multiday trips, people tend to leave as friends.

Aspire was started in 2015 to guide trail running trips and has fine-tuned what makes a trip successful, Dickerson said. One of the most important factors is location, and that knowledge informed his choice of base camp for Festival 542.

“We’re really selective in terms of the courses we pick,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to be able to work with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to operate in the North Cascades.”

Though this is the festival’s first year, Dickerson is already looking to the future.

“We’re hoping this will be a placeholder event in the regional trail running scene,” he said. “There’s just no better time to be on the trails than in the fall. Huckleberries are ripe, the mountains are dusted in snow, the temperatures are crisp and cool but yet it can still be sunny.”

To sign up or learn more, go to aspireadventurerunning.com.