Reported by Rickey Gates on the RedBull website (which also has many excellent photos):
A series of waves came crashing in on Dylan Bowman’s ankles. Then his calves. And then his knees, pushing him into the boulders where the coastline chokes down to a thin corridor of passable terrain. He was 50 miles into a one-day attempt to run the grueling and remote point-to-point Lost Coast Trail, which, up until this point, had only seen one other serious effort, when the possibility of getting stranded (or worse) became a reality.
Given the remoteness of Mendocino County, California’s Lost Coast, the fatigue present in Bowman’s legs and the encroaching tide made a scramble for higher ground to wait out the tide increase with every passing minute. That is if a scramble is even a possibility.
“While soaking wet, tired and cold,” Bowman said afterward, “that was a hard thing to consider after 11 hours of running.”
Despite this, on March 8 Bowman arrived at the northern terminus of the Lost Coast in 11 hours, 12 minutes and 8 seconds, shaving nearly an hour and a half off of the previous Fastest Known Time (FKT).
On June 15, 2014, Leor Pantilat and I set off from Mattole Beach at the northern end of the Lost Coast under clear, blue skies. After 13 hours, 47 minutes we arrived at the southern end — Usal Beach — having overcome the challenges of rocky beaches, thin trails and a tide race. Our reward was the experience of traveling through the unmatched beauty of the Pacific coastline.
“I wanted to do this route from the moment I learned of its existence,” Bowman said. “Once the route was established, it seemed to me to have the potential to be one of the truly iconic FKT routes in North America.”
Like many top level ultrarunners, Bowman incorporates FKT attempts into his training to prepare him for in-competition racing.
“FKTs allow runners to put in a race type effort on routes that would never allow an actual race to pass through due to permitting and land use issues,” he said.
Well-established FKTs include such formidable efforts as the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier or the full length of the John Muir Trail (210 miles). Perhaps the proudest of them all is the double crossing of the Grand Canyon along the South and North Kaibab trails in northern Arizona. The 42-mile out-and-back route has seen both the men’s and women’s FKT dropped several times over the past decade. And although the FKT can only be held by two people (Jim Walmsley and Cat Bradley), the “big ditch” has become a pilgrimage for thousands of ultrarunners over the years.
While each of these runs present their own individual challenges, the Lost Coast adds the element of water into an equation that forces the runner to recon with the unforgiving metronome of the earth’s rotation.
“Timing the run to avoid high tides is something that I found intriguing,” Bowman said. “While the sheer remoteness and beauty of the route is something I found irresistible. I'd put the Lost Coast in the same category as these iconic routes as a must-do outing for adventure-minded trail runners.”
Though settlers, loggers and developers have been trying to tame the Lost Coast for over 150 years, what’s resulted has been little more than the running of fingers through the long, tangled hair of an unkempt land — a land with a propensity toward being untamed. With over 100 inches of rain per year, nature is quick to reclaim trails, roads and homesteads left untended. Redwoods grow hundreds of feet tall, mountain lions and bears roam freely, great white sharks patrol the coastline and every so often an unsuspecting person is swept off their feet and pulled into the cold, deep blue.
Even Highway 1, stretching over 600 miles along the California coastline, known for its engineering feats of overcoming steep headlands, deep gulches and eroding cliffs, was finally directed 30 miles inland by the massive upheaval of headlands presented by the wilderness known as the Lost Coast.
“It’s one of the most spectacular single-day runs that you can do,” Bowman said.
An ultrarunner’s season is full of highs and lows — hard miles, injuries, fatigue and the monotony of consistency. Known to many in the community as “The Perpetuator of Stoke,” Bowman maintains a unique ability to approach those challenges with smiling exhilaration. For the first 32 miles, as the trail wound its way northward through redwood groves, herds of Roosevelt Elk and secluded coves, Bowman said, “My body felt good and my enthusiasm was high. I think I was smiling ear to ear the entire time.”
As the miles added up and the weather deteriorated, “leaving me exposed to freezing rain and graupel for a couple hours,” Bowman encountered the darkness that the human mind can visit when faced with such adversity. “My low point came when I was forced to climb over a deceptively long and very slippery boulder pile while the encroaching waves crashed against the rocks,” he said.
When Bowman asked if I would join him on the second half of his run, I recalled my own dark miles on the Lost Coast. But I also knew that those dark miles are outweighed tenfold by the inherent beauty of where land meets sea.
Bowman adds the Lost Coast FKT to an ever-expanding list of impressive performances, including a recent win at the 100-kilometer (62-mile) Tarawera Ultra Marathon in New Zealand which he won in 2015.
On April 27, he will toe the line for the 104-mile Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF) to wrap up his winter/spring season. As a previous winner of the race (albeit on a shortened course) Bowman will be going to Japan in top form.
“I think the Lost Coast was a perfect training day for my upcoming race,” he said. “It's a good opportunity to test the fitness while having a long day out for time-on-feet training, which is really valuable in 100-mile racing.”
As for a return to the Lost Coast, Bowman admits that it’s already back in his head.
“Now that I've done it,” he said. “I think a sufficiently motivated and fit runner could cover the Lost Coast in 9:15 to 9:30 with good conditions. I'd love to give it another try soon.”