If you can see Mt. Baker, you are part of The Experience

Trail Running in the North Cascades

Photo by Tony Moceri.

Story and photos by Tony Moceri

The feet in front of me deftly navigate the rocks and roots as they scamper up the trail. Quickly, the trail running shoes I’m following reach another switchback and leave my view momentarily while I slog around the corner. With the gradient increasing, I pick up my feet just high enough to keep from tripping. Up and up we go with no sign of slowing down, let alone stopping.

I was told that when the trail got steep, we would hike instead of run, but it’s clear that “steep” is not a universally agreed-upon measurement. I try to dig deep to prove I can keep up, but really, I’m just hanging on for dear life. As I consider if my vomit would attract bears, I say “uncle” so that I don’t have to find out.

The person I was chasing was Dale Nelsen, and I was doing so because of all the cool places his legs take him. Nelsen’s social feeds are worth following for the beautiful viewpoints and fun races he regularly posts about. He tags so many locations that I could not figure out how he got to them all, so I asked him to show me. It wasn’t until I was ready to pass out when I realized the way he got to see all these places was simple. He just ran.

Tony Moceri (left) and Dale Nelsen (right). Photo by Tony Moceri.

Nelsen wasn’t some star cross-country runner in high school, and he was never a professional racer. One day, he just decided that there were so many cool things to see, and he could see them faster if he ran. Without a running background, Nelsen started by going on some jogs and slowly added to them. He now finds himself logging impressive amounts of weekly miles, all in the name of reaching another viewpoint.

On the day we went out, we headed to the Cascade Pass Trail, which is approximately 20 miles outside Marblemount in the North Cascades National Park. This trail that begins with a shady switchback trail eventually opens to views of rocky peaks. As we hiked along the path flanked by rocky slopes on either side, we were greeted by a black bear enjoying a sunny morning. We nervously walked below, pausing just long enough to snap a couple pictures and wonder if we could outrun the other people on the trail should the bear decide the humans looked appetizing.

As we made our way along the trail, we reached an obstacle of slippery snow across the path. A slip in my running shoes, which lacked traction, would not have resulted in death, but would have been quite the ride to the bottom, with some large boulders to greet me at the end. While I was undoubtedly ill-prepared in the footwear category, I felt that Nelsen was the one who lacked preparedness the rest of the way.

While I had a full bladder of water on my back, accompanied by a granola bar, dried mangos, and trail mix, Nelsen had only a little Gatorade and a package of Sour Patch Kids. I didn’t realize that what he lacked in his backpack, he more than made up for in fitness and toughness.

As he flew up the trail, I asked for breaks to sit down, eat a snack, and hydrate. As his fluids got low in his hydration pack, he shoved in some snow or drank from a creek flowing down the hill.

While I suffered from fatigue and the onset of a sunburn, it was impossible to not be in awe of my surroundings. We were greeted twice by a family of mountain goats and saw multiple marmots warning us with their high-pitched calls. We gazed down at picturesque Doubtful Lake and up to the peaks that seemed to go on forever.

Photo by Tony Moceri.

Photo by Tony Moceri.

On our way down, we ran a bit more so I could get a taste of what Nelsen’s runs are like. Normally after our 10-mile hike, I would be heading for the couch, but Nelsen was in a hurry to return to go on a trail run with another group. This was all before a weekend that would include three races, one of which was a triathlon.

While many of Nelsen’s runs are solo missions exploring the local trails, he also loves being around the running community. He is an ambassador for the Run Super Series, an organization putting on races all over Washington. In these races, ranging from 5 kilometers to 50 miles, Nelsen finds himself racing people of all levels and teaming up to complete relays. While his hard work and consistent training now allow him to tackle long miles and steep trails, this wasn’t always the case. He started off with a jog and built from there. He sees running as something anyone can do. They simply just need to get out and go for it.

While there is no doubt that his dedication to running has contributed to his growth in the sport, I will give away his secrets to give everyone a shortcut to success. At the end of any long run, he finds the nearest gas station and refuels with milk, an energy drink, a pepperoni stick, and some chips. He also always has those Sour Patch Kids along with him for a boost of energy on the trail and one of his famous pictures with them prominently displayed. X