Saturday August 17th, 2019
Distance: 100k · Ultra
In the beginning, there was an Oregon Trail Series of ultramarathons – sadly, it was lacking in any distance above 50 miles. Being envious of our neighbors in the state to the south and a certain famous 100-mile race, the Northwest ultrarunning community began making noise about Oregon putting on a 100-mile or 100km race. Route ideas included the Eugene to Pacific Crest Trail (E2PCT) – which, upon further examination, turned out to be less than inspiring – something in McDonald Forest in Corvallis,or the Umpqua River Trail. Craig Thornley, a Willamette Pass Ski Patrol volunteer, made the suggestion of starting and finishing at Willamette Pass as it had the necessary facilities and was fairly centrally located, right on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Meanwhile, Curt Ringstad, a longtime Bend ultrarunner with a knack for creating great training routes, was inspired to commit to Craig to be a co-RD after a 22-mile run around Waldo Lake, followed by a dip in those pristine waters.
Then the real work began: finding a route. There were beautiful trails, lakes, and peaks surrounding the area, but connecting the best and making the route accessible for aid proved to be challenging. After many ideas turned out to be unrealistic or unfeasible in light of impending Forest Service restrictions in the Waldo Lake basin, Curt was encouraged to look at the maps for less popular trails and came up with a new course he thought might work. However, when the crew went out to locate all the trails that were depicted on the map, they found that several had disappeared in the field due to neglect. With a lot of hard work, trails were re-discovered and cleared.
The resulting course is mostly single-track trail with more than 11,000′ of elevation gain and an equal amount of loss. There are three major climbs of more than 2,000′ each and two minor climbs of more than 1,000′ each. The highest point is 7,818′ at the top of Maiden Peak and the lowest point is at Gold Lake, about 4,900′. According to Curt, “The recon missions were epic suffering. Trying to find the Lost Ribbon and Leap of Faith trails in the heart of mosquito season was incredibly difficult, but one would never know it now. But my real ‘aha’ moment was when I excitedly called Craig from the summit of Fuji after my first ascent. It was so beautiful at that moment that I knew we really had something worth doing, and I was super motivated to scout out every inch of the course. Now when I am out there, it is always striking to me how cool it is that we managed to tie these super loops together. It’s something for the greater good. A legacy. But without Craig’s organizational skills, the course would have only existed in my mind.”
Meanwhile, Craig was putting said organizational skills to work, communicating and getting permits from the Middle Fork Ranger District, striking up an agreement with the Willamette Pass Ski Lodge owner for use of facilities, and getting sponsorship from SportHill in Eugene and The North Face Outlet in Bend. With the help of his medical advisor, Laurie Monico, they enlisted the services of Matt Dillon and his group of volunteer Ham Radio operators to provide communications during the race. The proceeds from the race (after expenses) were dedicated to the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol, an organization that Craig has been with for a number of years. The patrol would be the main source for volunteers and medical and SAR infrastructure.
The name of the race was decided on when it was clear that runners could only ever “see” Waldo Lake from the high peaks and never arrive there. Craig’s wife, Laurie Thornley, warned him that someone might come after him regarding the use of the children’s storybook name, but he decided to chance it. Wanting to add some flavor to the normal prize structure, Craig and Curt added a premium for the racers, The “Find Waldo” award would go to the first runner to reach the top of Fuji Mountain (mile 16), but to win the prize the runner had to complete the race.
And thus, Where’s Waldo 100k was born. It was included in the Oregon Trail Series, and with the fair warning, “It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly,” the first race was on the calendar for September 28, 2002. A two-person relay was included to get the numbers up.