“What I enjoy most about the Oregon desert are the wide open spaces, it’s so fascinating. Since I grew up in Switzerland, I find it very exotic. I’ve always been places with houses and fences, and the desert is a different world; I thrive in that. It can make you feel very small and in your element.” – Christof Teuscher
If wide open spaces were the measure of a trail’s merit, the Oregon Desert Trail would rank among the top long distance trails in the world. The vast oceans of sage that end in little known (and even lesser traveled) mountain ranges like the Peublos and Trout Creeks, offer an almost untapped landscape to explore. As ultarunner Christof Teuscher discovered during his attempt to run the route last fall, the act of completing the trail is almost secondary to the real core of the adventure: the joy of discovery.
Christof wasn’t able to complete his run of the 750 mile route last year due to a tendon injury, but the drive to complete the challenge has him training and preparing to have another go at the trail later this summer. “I chose to run the Oregon Desert Trail as a personal challenge, he explained. “I wanted to find out more about myself and my limits, and it’s right in my back yard.”
Christof is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Portland State University, and is very new to the world of long distance running. Just three years ago he accepted a friend’s challenge to run a 50k race. “I was naive, and said yes,” he laughed. “I like a challenge, especially since I hadn’t run for 20 years because I thought I had a knee injury. When I started training it was really rough, but I realized I didn’t have an injury, and in fact I was pretty decent at running.”
The revelation that he was good at running long distances prompted him to run longer and longer mileages, and he started to wonder where his limit was. In addition the challenge of lightening up and carrying minimal supplies was an exciting proposition. “You don’t carry a lot of stuff, and you get see a lot of things in a short amount of time. I can do a loop in half a day that others will backpack in 5 days. I can get around to places I never would have gone to before.”
When he heard about the Oregon Desert Trail a few years ago and realized it was in his back yard and traversed some regions he had already visited like the Steens Mountain and Owyhee Canyonlands, he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to run it. “It was my dream trail,” he said.
“I had never done anything longer than 120 miles at that point,” Christof explained, “and it was clear this was a big risk. It’s not so much the distance, it’s the fact that you never rest, and the smallest little thing can become a really big deal, then it gets magnified the next day. I was worried from the beginning that an injury would happen.” He hadn’t quite recovered from a 120 mile race he had run a week before starting the ODT last year, and soon realized that could be a problem. “I trained very specifically on the trail, but you can’t really simulate real conditions,” he said. “I had never run more than 2-3 days in a row before, but you prepare, you give your best, and there are a lot of uncertainties.”
Christof made it 9 days and 371 miles into his adventure before an Achilles tendon injury prevented him from continuing, and even though he wasn’t able to complete the challenge he set for himself, all was not lost. “It’s not just about doing the trail,” he said. “That’s almost the smallest part of the whole adventure. While I was preparing for the run and doing recon trips, I got to really know the trail and the environment. Being out there, whether I’m successful or not, that’s the smallest thing. You discover yourself, amazing places, and generous people. That’s all part of it.”
This year Christof has approached training for the run differently. “My goal was to run all the sections separately this year. Last year I didn’t do the planning the right way like considering the trail surfaces and my speed over the cross country sections. I’m much better prepared this year. I know the sections better, know the difficulties, and trained on surfaces like sand, and with heavier loads. Running with a heavy pack puts a different strain on your body. I hope this year I’m in a much better position with more specific training, and now know what to expect.”
“I think the ODT materials are excellent, and don’t think there is anything else I could use out there. I didn’t have a single bad experience, and the communities I experienced were amazing. When I was by Plush last year and couldn’t run any more, every single car stopped to see if I wanted a ride (except the out-of-state plates). They asked if I was ok, did I need a ride, etc. I don’t think there is anything that could be better.”
Christof is planning to take 18 days to run the Oregon Desert Trail this year (current start date is slated for mid-July). Those interested in following along can do so on his website, and reference his track log to see real time progress.