Racing Bigfoot in the Shadow of Mount St. Helens
Imagine running a 200+ mile race in four days, over impossible terrain, with only six hours of sleep.
Some of us think our jobs feel like that!
But in fact, this is exactly what Joe Galioto did, along with 58 other athletes who completed the Bigfoot 200, an extreme endurance run that traversed Mount St. Helens in Washington State.
When Susan Galioto inquired about our AirBNB property in Lewis County, Washington, it was a head scratcher. Based in New Jersey, she wanted to reserve the house for nine days, but for about half the time, it would be empty. She then told me the reason: her husband was coming to participate in The Bigfoot 200, and for the duration of the race, he would be on or near Mount St. Helens, one of the most active volcanos in America.
I did some checking and found out some interesting facts about Bigfoot 200:
- Just under 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) of ascent
- More than 96,000 feet of elevation change
- 203.8 miles long, non-stop, point-to-point
- Start: Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Mountains; Finish: Randle, WA in the Big Bottom Valley.
When asked if there any races as long or difficult as the Bigfoot 200, race director Candice Burt responded, “Yes. There is the Tahoe 200 and Colorado 200, and other difficult races that are even longer or have extreme weather, like snow or heat. [But] it is my opinion that the Bigfoot 200 is the most difficult 200-miler in the United States.”
Prior to a reservation, it’s important to communicate with our AirBNB guests in real life or by phone. It helps us anticipate issues that may arise, but in addition, it’s a chance to get to know interesting people like Joe and Susan whom we’d otherwise never have a chance to meet. As the race time was growing closer, we nailed down the logistics of getting them the keys and directions, and I mentioned that there is no cell phone service beyond the town of Morton except for Verizon. Fortunately, like us, they were Verizon customers.
The Horsfall House is a 100 year-old farmhouse filled with a sweet spirit.
My husband, David Horsfall, and I purchased the property 25 years ago, when we realized our two young sons were growing up in the city, and had no experience playing in the woods, building fires and doing things that we did when we were kids. There are trails running through the 22 acres of forest, and there are meadows surrounding the house, which is just a few minutes from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s an easy drive to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, and a great place to get acquainted with nature.
A couple of days before the race, Joe flew into Seattle, then drove two hours to Randle to familiarize himself with the area, and to train and explore. He arrived at the property on September 4th and described his first reaction:
When I first drove up the drive and parked by the house and got out of the car, I felt this incredible surge of energy and emotion, I felt like I belonged there. Not sure if you’ve ever had an experience like this, but it is powerful. I didn’t even go in, I just walked around the property, the house and to the shed and then finally the front porch where I entered. It was like I was revisiting a place I had been before and I was just walking around checking to see that everything was the way I remembered.
Before I unpacked the car, I called Sue and asked if there was any way she and the boys could fly out, I knew it was crazy and far-fetched (but hey, running 205 miles in the mountains was somewhat far-fetched too) — I just felt like I was “home” and they should be there. That they would love this house and property as much as I did, and I was only there for five minutes.
Whenever he is asked how he trains, his typical response is “run lots,” which is funny and obvious, and not far from the truth.
He is a NASM-certified personal trainer, USAC cycling coach, and RRCA running coach, but stresses that regardless of events he enters (and the required training), the needs of his family take priority.
About his preparation, Joe says,
“I make up workouts that don’t require as much time, but attempt to duplicate the same stress my body would be feeling late in a race. Additionally, strength-training, back-to-back training runs and strategic races such as the “Running with the Devil,” hosted by the NJ Trail Series, which consists of running 1.5 miles up-and-down a ski slope for 12 hours, all play a role, but most important of all is mindset — I’m a firm believer that with the proper training and a positive mindset, you can achieve your goals.”
Joe reached the “downtown” Randle area early Sunday morning, and as he walked fast towards the White Pass High School finish line, many people driving by slowed down to say “hello” or congratulate him. He saw the race director, Candice Burt, along with members of her team; photographers; runners who finished earlier; friends he’d met only days before — all clapping and cheering. He continued to fast-walk until the final turn. Filled with feelings of pride, euphoria and gratitude, following a grueling four-day challenge, he began to run. Arms pumping, knees high, he sprinted the last 100 meters and crossed the finish line with his hands in the air. There was never a doubt!
Before heading back to New Jersey, Joe had several hours before he needed to get to the airport. So he made a trip to Alki Surf Shopwhere David and I were working that day.
Selfie of Joe, Terri and David at Alki Surf Shop in Seattle, WA
Hearing about Joe’s connection to our home, and the exhaustion, hallucinations, and pushing himself to extreme limits to reach the end, was amazing and awe-inspiring. David and I felt fortunate to meet him, and honored to play a small part in such a remarkable achievement.
A Spot satellite tracker enabled family and friends to track Joe’s progress
The course was out of cell phone range, so it was critical to be able to have a way of letting others know his location. Joe wore a Spot satellite tracker, which enabled family and friends to track his progress, and if he had needed it, provide emergency responders a way of finding him. Each dot in the photo represented his location. If you see it on the web site, you would see tailed information (such as time of day) when mousing over the dots.
Mount St. Helens crater
Joe approached the Johnson Observation area just prior to sunset, and was treated to the beautiful sight of the Mount St. Helens crater, awash in alpenglow.
Unexpected beauty along the race path
Along the Lower Falls section of the Lewis River (approximately 110 miles into the race), the view of the waterfalls was just incredible.
The first section of the race ended in Blue Lake 12 miles away, but required an awesome traverse of the Mount St. Helens’ blast zone boulder field.
Fixed ropes to scale a steep wall
Climbing out of the canyon and heading towards Windy Pass (approximately 20 miles into the race), required the use of a fixed rope to scale the very steep incline.
And as for Bigfoot? He wasn’t spotted.
Photos and captions by Joe Galioto