WHATCOM — Saturdays or Sundays are for going out and about. Out of their home, out of their cars, and often outside of comfort zones to lands with the bluest of skies, the freshest air, and memories unsurpassed with groups of special friends.
Whatcom County residents Twila and Doug Wiebe are now in their 60s. They met back at Blaine High School – classes of 1978 and 1979 – married and had their two now-grown children in the early days of their marriage.
Now the two of them still enjoy both the work life: he farms grass hay, she as a property appraiser at the Whatcom County Assessor the past 30 years. They also made time to explore, travel, and have adventures together.
While the Wiebes both enjoyed being active early on, they saw those types of activities as being best for people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. So they switched gears together and headed further out and further up.
Actually, Twila Wiebe laced up her tennis shoes and hit the road first of the two of them at age 48. One of her friends was doing marathons “and I thought I could do it,” she said.
Twila begun by jogging and running, listening to podcasts of runners, reading material of people in the know.
Other runners went to local shops such as Fairhaven Runners and BBay Running for shoes and camaraderie. The two stores “aren’t competing with each other,” she said. “In Whatcom County runners are very supportive of each other.”
Twila made a goal: she would start with small races, but do a marathon by age 50. The first race was the Bellingham Bay Marathon which features views of Bellingham Bay, San Juan Islands, and North Cascade Mountains.
The USATF-certified run, which is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon (which she hasn’t done yet) has options for a 5K, 10K, a half and a full marathon.
The Group Support
Running alone was a bit lonely. While at an early race, Twila met two friends who ran together. She knew it was time to quit or continue. The friendship spurred Twila to not give up. The Wiebes talked of mutual running goals and formed a group which others would then join.
“We were middle-to-end of the pack running group,” Twila said. “People have come and gone from the group.”
Doug Wiebe joined several years later.
The pair moved from roads to going up and down trails to spare Doug’s sore knees.
The Wiebes’ running friends have become extra family.
They also see over the holidays, go on picnics with or out to dinner.
The dozen or so runners, ages 40s to 60s, are willing to take turns planning the different details to go beyond the nearby mountains: arranging flights, renting vehicles for the group, and finding places to stay.
In the Wiebe Facebook group they find new trails, and returned recently from the 2022 Spring Rim-to-Rim (south to south) run.
At the Grand Canyon, the North Kaibab and Bright Angel trails go beyond their station wagon stops at viewpoints.
Instead the Wiebes see up close and personal with ancient ruins and rocks, and fossils while descending 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon, then climbing 4,500 feet in 9.6 miles back to the top.
After that, Twila and Doug continued to explore by a six-day rafting journey in the canyon known for seeing water falls, and cool water that varies between rapids and smooth water.
They also finished two 50K races in Utah – and explored Antelope Canyon – and close to Quincy, Washington at Ancient Lakes.
Since Twila and Doug own a vacation home in Mexico, it’s easy enough to visit it and explore in nearby states in an RV.
Soon the Wiebes will scale back life on the farmlands in west Whatcom County.
Into enchanting areas
Any favorite trails? “Everywhere has its beauty,” Twila said. She also mentioned a number of local spots, such as trails around Deception Pass, closer to Mount Baker, and in the Chuckanut Mountains
One that came to mind though was The Enchantments. Twila has been there three times. “It’s amazing,” she said.
The Wiebes determine, along with friends, which weekend day to go based on the better weather since they want the better views.
Within Washington is The Enchantments, in the Central Cascades Mountains near touristy Bavarian-inspired Leavenworth.
The 18-mile trail each way has a gain of 4,500 feet to reach 7,800 feet, and being within view of a region with more than 700 alpine lakes.
Regarded as one of the most magnificent places on this earth, according to the Washington Trail Association, is an alpine paradise of granite worn smooth by glaciers, larches manicure by wind and cold, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek that tumbles and thunders between them.
Seemingly everywhere, herds of mountain goats calmly wander by.
Superlatives simply don’t suffice, and you quickly find yourself resorting to otherworldly comparisons, just like the early visitors who bestowed place names like Aasgard, Sprite and Leprechaun on the fairytale surroundings.
Because this is considered an environmentally fragile area, permits are released via a lottery system, to limit the people coming within the magical space.
The most fit of hikers start early in the day and finish it in that day, but it is a very long day from before sun up and after sundown.
Tips for runner wannabes
“I was interested in getting outside,” Twila said. She has found being part of a group can highly motivate you. “Being part of a group is helpful. They count on you to show up … Even when you are older you can still do stuff, but slower. It takes more recuperation and rest time.”
Four years ago, Twila had surgeries on both of her feet, known as metatarsal osteotomy or bunionectomies. Twila said she may need more surgery.
“There’s life on the other side (of surgery),” she said. “Pay attention to what’s sore … what’s really hurting. Runners are notorious for ignoring pain. It’s common but you don’t want damage.”
Twila invests in good running shoes. She usually has six pairs that she rotates as she runs four times throughout the week. Each pair, Twila said, is good for around 500 to 600 miles – or six months of wear.
Rather than sitting on the couch or in a chair at work, she mixes up her training throughout the week: running on the track for speed, running in the countryside and building stamina, and also working out in the gym for strength.
While Twila thought in error that pursuing running was simpler than other sports, regarding needing little to no equipment.
She encourages people to prepare for the journey such as learning to utilize available digital tools that not only can ease the planning, but possibly save a life if injuries or illnesses occur far from roads and medical helps.
“Be safe and not get lost,” Twila said. While some may be used to reading paper maps well, not everyone has that skill and what if something happens to that person?
While being part of a group provides social opportunities, it also does more than that: “No one is left behind.”
Twila said that last year at The Enchantments, one of their group members had a medical problem. “It took four of us to get him down,” she said.
All they knew was he was exhibiting confusion and fatigue and had great difficulty getting along the trail on his own. They tried typical things such as hydration and nutrition, but he was having a bigger problem they wouldn’t understand until he was finally in medical care – kidney failure.
Since usually two people in their group carry the more expensive satellite phones, which give coverage when typical cellular phones lose theirs, they were able to call his wife and make arrangements with emergency personnel.
Twila says allow and encourage everyone in the group to have a role.
“We’ve learned everyone has responsibility and is more invested and more interested to have it happen,” she said. “It also lightens the load and everyone has a good time.”