Alpenflo Trail Running Camp: Patience, Piece of Mind, Perseverance, and Pointing in Random Directions

At the beginning of the summer (or riot time, as I am now referring to it), I parted ways with my full-time job. I’ve been more than vocal about this on social, as well as this blog you’re reading right now. Now, as hippie / gemstone / universe-guiding-me as this is going to sound, and whether or not parting ways was 100% my idea, the job was simply not feeding my soul any longer, and heading out on my own was a necessary step for my life. 

“Hey Will, maybe it’s time to shut up about all this.” I mean, yeah, it is. But it’s the set up for a little story of self-discovery and maybe the best summer ever, so cut me some slack, ok? 

Let me start over.

photo: steve mortinson

Over the past few months, I found myself with some extra time on my hands. After a brief stint of finishing Lost for the 4th time (I really still don’t “get” the ending,) I channeled whatever idle frustration I had into simply running. That was sorta it. I figured running is my time. 

  • It’s my time for working through whatever negativity is bopping around in my head. 
  • It’s an uninterrupted solo-exploration of the world around me, that last as long as I deem. 
  • It’s my very visceral experience through pain, elation, success, and failure.
  • It’s semi-justification for eating all the pizza I want (blah).
  • It’s a daily test to see what my body and mind are capable of when they both start hurting.

A days turned into a few months (and I got tanner and tanner in the Portland sun), I realized there may be a little more to this running thing than just something I like to do. It started to become more of my identity and, dare I say, passion. I stopped fucking around with scattershot approaches to life, and honed efforts only on those pursuits that truly kept my internal flame going (I’ve never said that before, and I probably won’t again.) 

And it was through this part of the discovery and realization process, as well as lazily scrolling through Instagram, that I serendipitously found the Alpenflo Trail Running Camp: “a [four-day] multifaceted running camp with three key elements – adventure, connection and education.” (short bio lifted from the Alpenflo website.) 

photo: steve mortinson

At any other point in my life, dropping responsibilities as an adult to go to summer camp would have seemed as far-fetched as … well adult summer camp. Can’t really think of an analogy at the moment. But here I was, with time on my hands, a newfound passion for serious running, and an incredible opportunity to explore my own capabilities, as well as push out of my comfort zone, further. 

The Planning and Buildup

Part of what made up my mind about attending this particular camp was the fact that Territory Run Co. and Alpenflo teamed up to offer scholarships for a few hopeful campers. That alone made me not just want to attend, but be a part of a community that shows so much support for one another. (This reads as a biased opinion, but I assure you, it is not. This is merely how it looked from an outsider’s POV.) 

photo: steve mortinson

After reaching out to and chatting with JT Lehman, the bright mind and all-around nice guy behind Alpenflo, I registered for camp, making a new commitment to myself and my passion. 

The next few weeks were a bit of a blur. But between the sheer thrill and WTF-ness of getting ready for camp as an adult, I remember the printing out of the Alpenflo preparedness checklist, the excuse to go to REI for more than just a “casual browse and I promise not to buy anything,” justifying ordering window screens from Luno (which may go down as one of the best non-running purchases I’ve made in 2022), getting to know the other campers (and counselors) via pre-trip/week-of zoom meet up, and logging a shit-ton of miles in Forest Park to “prepare.” 

Given the blended proposed itinerary/concrete plans of:

  • – 3 nights of sleeping in my car
  • – 4-5 runs, including two “shakeouts,” 2 mid-distances, and the Elkhorn Crest E2E (a total of around 40-50 miles and 4-5K feet of climbing over 4 days)
  • Not being sure what the access to bathrooms/showers may look like

I prepared the following “survival kit” (excluding toiletries and clothes, etc.):

  • 15 gels (10 roctanes, 5 maurtens)
  • 2 bags of trail mix
  • 2 (full) tubes of Nuun tablets
  • 15 tubes of Liquid IV
  • 6 coke zeros
  • 6 NA beers (Sober Carpenter & Wellbeing IPAs)
  • Reese’s potato chips big cup X2
  • 4 smart bars (almond butter) 
  • Water, and more water – one of those big water things on the bottom shelf with the tab on it, and 4 full water bottles (not knowing if I had any access)
  • Toilet paper and a shovel (TMI, sorry but yeah)

All that was left to do, really, was prepare for a solo 4.5 hour drive through the Colombia River Gorge and vast parts of Eastern Oregon. 


photo: steve mortinson

Alpenflo, “Little Alps”, Blood, Drinking from Streams, and Friends4Ever

Despite the website details, the zoom call, the reviews from prior years’ campers, the short back and forths with JT via email… I had zero idea what to expect. And of course, I was the first to arrive at Antone Creek Lodges, our basecamp for the long weekend. So, a little calm before the storm. 

Before long, the “official” Alpenflo shuttles showed up with the 7 other campers, and 3 hosts; JT, Susie Rivard, and Steven Mortinson. Now, usually, I would assume, there would be that awkward “uh hey oh yeah um sup I ❤ running” convo as everyone sorta gets acclimated to the new surroundings. But for whatever reason (maybe the long drive, maybe the way JT made the camp accessible and welcoming before run #1, or maybe just the fact that we knew we were “all in this together,”), there was no awkwardness, and it honestly felt like we were already sharing body glide. 

photo: steve mortinson

We got settled, snuck in a quick (and wildly dusty) shakeout, and reconvened for the first of the educational sit-downs: A navigation basics course, complete with map overview, finding true north, and essentially getting a taste for how we’d be finding our ways over the course of the next few days. 

We were also treated to a little photography basics course lead by co-host, Steven Mortinson. I particularly enjoyed this session, primarily because it was the most unexpected. I mean, it was listed on the Alpenflo website, but when you think of trail running camp, you don’t immediately associate “photography how-to’s” with it. There was just something tangible and escapism about it: A brief reprise from thinking only about running, maybe. 

photo: steve mortinson

Our first “real” run gave us more of taste of what we were actually in for at Alpenflo: a semi-steep, view-filled, compass-lead, camper-lead (kinda) 9.5 mile sunset jaunt around Anthony Lake and up to Dutch Flat Saddle. Equal parts challenging and scenic, it was the perfect level-set for how the rest of the weekend was to play out. 

Back at camp, we settled in for the homemade taco bar, ate, cleaned up, and headed to bed. 

I’d like to insert here that all the meals; the breakfasts, the lunches, the dinners—it was all communal. While JT and co. supplied all the actual provisions, it was up to us as the campers to help prepare, set out, and clean up each meal. This detail made the whole experience feel more… I don’t know… authentic? Real? Something like that. It just brought the crew together, like a a good rug does a room

photo: steve mortinson

Day 2

Day 2 was maybe my favorite, besides Day 3, and Day 4…. But yeah, I liked Day 2 a lot because it was the first day we all woke up in the same place and were sorta equalized by the setting. It was also the chance to see how everyone else does their morning routine. Early risers and first-to-coffee vs. the gradual see-you-when-I-see-you… 

Day 2 was also the option day: A shorter run to Crawfish Lake, or a longer out-and-back to Dutch Flat Lake. Opting for the longer option, JT lead our group, taking us through what I didn’t believe, at times, was an actual trail. 

photo: steve mortinson

Herein lies another aspect of what set Alpenflo apart—while JT and his gang of hosts almost always knew the way, he fully let us take the wheel and guide, perhaps even getting us lost on game trails (I did this multiple times), before subtly course-correcting the crew and getting us where we had set out to go. It’s a level of trust shown by the guide that instilled a shit-ton of confidence in someone perhaps newer to trail navigation. (I admit the extent of my trail running navigation came from studying the Forest Park map prior to this.) And sure, one of these game trail “oopses” lead to me slipping off a downed tree, slicing my hand and putting a small hole in my quad…But it was all part of the experience. 

Again, this run included epic 360’s of the Little Alps/Elkhorn Mountains, hitting the lakes down low, and stream discovery for some of the coldest & freshest water (for those with lifestraws.) It also included my smashing my dome on a felled tree that I 100% did not see. “Was that someone’s head??” Yes it was, Cate. Yes it was. (Spoiler alert: No concussion.) 

Up, down, out, around, back, and down – We were back at the van sipping on cold beers (both regular and NA), and ready for a bite back at camp. 

Back at camp, we were traded to the third of the educational experiences by way of a little strength training session with Matt Walsh, a Portland-based physical therapist. This dude was, for lack of more eloquent word, awesome. He schooled us a bit on the achilles, myths about stretching before or after runs, dug into our injuries (not physically), and got to the root of why we were all runners in the first place. Super eye-opening as I don’t often ask myself why I do this at all. I more just listen for those nuggets of advice along the way like, “If it’s not fun, why are you doing it?” 

Dinner. Sleep. 

Day 3

The first shakeout, the sunset cruise, and the optional long/short were all just buildup for the 23-mile Sunday va te faire foutre known as the Elkhorn Crest E2E from Marble Pass to Anthony Lake: 4800 feet of vert, minimal water, no turning back once started, and ….hot. 

Here’s the last “what sets Alpenflo apart” aside for this piece: JT and co. knew I wanted as much of a challenge as I could handle. I came to camp to push myself to 100% and past in every way I could. That said, the van carrying us campers stopped about 2 miles prior to the Elkhorn Crest trailhead at Marble Pass. It was here JT, Steven, Susie asked if I’d like to “run from here:” an 2000 feet climb over that 2 miles. I said yes, said my goodbyes to the others, and headed up… and up… and up. 

photo: steve mortinson

It was also here that I got a chance to run 1:1 with Steven Mortinson. Steven is one of those people that just makes you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. We had a few miles together before we caught up to the rest of the group, and in that time, we just…. chatted. Like we’d been friends for awhile. Races, family, injuries, other interests… It was just one of those moments that, in the moment, I knew I would remember as one of those life moments. The unexplained, “this all makes sense.” Plus, right out of the gate… right when we hit the Elkhorn Crest Trail, I ate it on a root. And wouldn’t you know it? Steven got a picture of it. (Cool, Will. Super cool.)

What followed was one of the most challenging yet self-realizing experiences. TBH, I hate running slow. It’s hard for me. I like to brag that I have two speeds: running and not running. But this trek across the Elkhorn Crest schooled me in the aspects of:

  • Knowing when to walk
  • Pausing for moments of reflection
  • Fueling
  • The importance of water (yes, I know. Shut up.)
  • Knowing where you are in terms of North, South, East, West
  • What to pack for a long trail run

This. This E2E was why I came to Alpenflo. It was something that, had I done this solo, I may have punted on. I had to figure out not if I could do it (I feel confident in my ability as a runner there), but how I would do it. 

photo: steve mortinson

Also the views. I can’t describe them with any justice, so I will let Steven Mortinson’s shots do the talking. 

I broke off from the pack with about 12 miles left, wanting to see what sort of times I could log on my own. The amount of energy and strength still left in my legs after all the climbing was a surprise to me, and I felt like I was flying through the rest of the Crest. All in, I logged 26.6 miles at an 11:44/mile pace. And maybe one of the strongest senses of accomplishment I’ve ever felt. 

Once the entire group finished up, we mobbed over to my new favorite place in the world, the Starbottle Saloon at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, for some crispy foamers (people still say this, I hope), and a little trail-trauma bonding… mainly just stories of “holy shit you busted open your leg!” and a roundtable of “rose, thorn, bud.” 

photo: steve mortinson

Back to camp. Eat. Sleep. 

Day 4

Ah it was coming to an end… but not before our last “shake out.” I use quotes because while this last run was only around 3-4 miles, it was also a straight-up 1K climb. Now, the fact that we ran to the most serene and idyllic lake of all time 100% made it worth it, not to mention the impromptu cliff diving and following beach run. 1000% the best way to cap off the weekend of trail running. It was also during this shakeout that I finally got to run 1 on 1 with Susie Rivard, recent Waldo 100K finisher, Portland Marathon winner, and Olympic Time Trial qualifier. I sorta had to pinch myself a bit as we cruised up and down the trail to Van Patten Lake. It’s not like I knew Susie before this trip, but knowing what I knew, and running with a person of that echelon felt fucking cool. 

photo: steve mortinson

Back at camp, we made perhaps the best breakfast burritos ever, save for those my father-in-law makes, and packed up, readying for the long haul back to Portland. 

Bittersweet at best, we said goodbyes, reveled in a few more memories, and I piled solo into my rig as the rest of my new friends loaded into the Alpenflo vans and pulled off. Before I hit the highway and realized that reality faced me as I headed west, and that “summer’s over, man,” I took a long moment to look back at the mountains we had just climbed, drank a deep inhale of the Eastern Oregon air, audibly thanked my legs for what they just went through for the sake of my mental health, and headed home. 

photo: steve mortinson

Lessons Learned

Admittedly, I’ve had a summer unlike any other in my life. With a role elimination from my previous company at the beginning, I spent the following months training for a few races here and there, and generally seeing what I could put my body through, and how far I could take my running. When the opportunity to partake in Alpenflo Trail Camp came up, and given there was a potential scholarship at play, I threw caution to the wind and decided to go for it. 

photo: steve mortinson

What I learned was primarily:

There is never a right time for testing yourself. Conversely, there is never a wrong time. There is just now. You’ll never plan, with certainty, what tomorrow is going to throw your way. The only thing that is guaranteed is right now, and how you use your time in this moment. The rest will figure itself out. 

In my case, finding myself with this free time wasn’t planned. But how I used it was. And my plan to push myself to the limits of my physical, and corresponding mental, abilities came to fruition when I took myself 100% out of my comfort zone and attended Alpenflo. 

I came home a happier person with a better understanding of who I am as a runner and as a person on the whole. 

I will recommend Alpenflo to anyone asking whether or not it’s worth it. 

Adult summer camp, man. Hell. Yes. 

Also, for those wondering (and still reading), the following is what I actually used from the survival kit I packed:

  • 2 gels (2 roctanes)
  • Ate both bags of trail mix
  • 1 (full) tube of Nuun tablets
  • All the tubes of Liquid IV
  • 6 coke zeros
  • 6 NA beers (Sober Carpenter & Wellbeing IPAs)
  • 2 of the 4 smart bars (almond butter) 
  • Water, and more water – seriously, I couldn’t drink enough out there
  • Was able to use the cabin’s facilities 

Final Remarks

photo: steve mortinson

Huge HUGE thanks for JT, Susie, and Steven for the most excellent and expert guidance, conversation, and hospitality. You made me, and I am sure all the campers, feel like one big, happy family. I come away from this with not just some new people to follow on Strava, but with friends I will actively seek out as running buddies, and friendly faces I can see around Portland. 

Also – shout out to Brett and the Territory Run Co. crew for helping fund portions of the scholarships. You helped unlock and and make accessible some life-long lessons and memories. (Also I got a sweet Territory X Alpenflo hat out of this camp.) 

Interested in potentially attending Alpenflo Trail Camp next year? Well, it may present itself in a different format, so bookmark Alpenflo and their IG to keep in the know. That’s where I’ll be.

See you next summer.

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