Looping through the woods following a merry trail of Christmas decorations provides an invigorating start to the New Year. Traditionally covertly held the first Saturday in January the Western Washington Fat Ass clings to the playful festive spirit of the holidays a little longer and brings PNW trail runners together to run off the excesses of the past weeks and celebrate the year to come.
An honour log of runners is kept at the start, and finish times entered on completion, and while some do choose to hammer out their loops (one for the 25k, two for the 50k) chasing course records or personal bests, it’s a real back to basics, low key, no fee, no aid, no frills run and not a true race.
It’s the pleasure of power hiking a steep climb wedged amidst a long line of other journeymen without feeling that desperate racing urge to call out “On your left!” No compulsive urge to perform a frantic quick foot dive to gain an extra position along the snake’s back.
No, it’s not a race. It’s a procession. The W WA Fat Ass experience as we weave our way single file through the narrow switch backs evokes images of ritual line walking calling from an imagined prehistoric past. We’re coming together en masse to beat the bounds of Tiger Mountain.
The New Year’s run resonates with a celebration of time passing and rebooting, but any hasty trudging I did up that mountain wasn’t due to any pressures from seconds ticking away and sand trickling out of reach. It was purely to keep up with an enthusiastic dog keyed up by the energy of a legion of runners on the march. Passing maneuvers were performed more out of a need to relieve ankles from Zennor’s encroaching hot breath than any pressing desire to summit ahead of others. Submitting strangers to her heavy panting at their heels for too long seems impolite.
For as many runners as we nosed past on the uphill, we must’ve willingly then let near double that retake us on the other side. Easy come, easy go. Running with Zennor is a pleasure, but it has its challenges. Barrelling downhill trusting balance and instincts suddenly becomes a little less fun when attached by the waist to a speedy dog upon whose half feral brain that trust must be placed.
The fat ass resonates with themes of change and overcoming a challenging journey. An easy grade along the swamp trail is a good warm up and runnable but crucially on a winter’s day it’s hard to know what to expect once we turn up trail and into the mossy, leafy, forest proper. I curse running in tights but was glad for them as the temperature dipped. Hard packed trail strewn with pine needles began to be dusted with icy sprinkles. Being on guard to hop over the odd frozen puddle gradually turned into joyfully skipping along plush snow lined troughs until the mountain turned more dastardly, and we found ourselves trying to maintain footing on steep slopes bearing a full thick coating of snow and ice.
My dog is a 4×4 beast and had no problem picking her way up and down the mountain side while I attempted not to slip and slide after her. Occasionally, without warning, she would dart across my path and dig her muzzle into the bank to delightedly sample a nose full of delicious fluffy white stuff. I had newly acquired yaktrax dangling from my pack but I’m lazy and subject to inertia, and struggled on determinedly until common sense eventually prevailed. With traction installed following in Zennor’s paw prints was unsurprisingly less treacherous and summiting each of the three blindingly white glazed peaks into clear skies, and crystal views was a thrill. Standing in awe and solidarity with friends was demanded atop each summit visit.
Friends! Most importantly, the fat ass journey is undertaken with friends. Part of the delicious attraction of the 2015 W WA Fat Ass is the multiplied camaraderie of being out on the trail with a swarm of like minded souls, and soaking in the atmosphere and sights, smells, sounds, and challenges of the run with them. I had many friends out on the mountain. Some I already knew, some I have yet to meet. I ran most of the way with Michael and Scott for company, except for when I didn’t. We started and finished together, we took selfies together at the infamous Bootleg Christmas Tree, wondered together over mysterious tracks in the snow, yet over the course of 25k we also ran our own journey, our little party ebbing and flowing along the trail.
Three nights ago I stayed up late. Throughout the day I watched the rest of the world roll into 2015 before the firework explosions illuminating the iconic space needle finally had their chance to declare the new year in the Pacific North West, but despite the fantastic display it felt like a damp squib and I went to bed highly dissatisfied. The W WA Fat Ass was a much more fulfilling way to celebrate the New Year.