Training at Fort Ebey State Park

Fort Ebey State Park is a WWII fort sited commandingly along the bluffs of western central Whidbey Island. A short ferry ride or a round the horn drive, both taking about the same amount of time brings you to the edge of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound allowing vast views of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The run followed the 10k and half marathon route of the upcoming 02/16/2014 Northwest Trail Run Fort Ebey Kettle Run. 4 hours and 49 minutes, 20 miles and 4,075 vertical feet later, both TV (they ran 10k) and I were more than content to hike up yet another bluff to sit (me), pee on every single bush in sight (TV, not me) and take in the beauty of a setting sun behind the Olympic Mountain Range.

The State Park itself is a converted WWII fort on the front edge of Puget Sound which was part of a triad of coastal defense forts built to defend the West Coast. Built in 1942 and finding it’s name from U.S. Army Col. Isaac Ebey, 1818-1857 who was stationed on an island in Ebey Slough to the east of Whidbey Island, the fort once housed two six-inch guns during the war. Thankfully the guns were never called on to fire to attack or defend incoming enemies and used only for target practice. The guns were eventually removed and scrapped and all that remains are the foundations, the deep concrete armory hidden in the bluffs and a few strategically placed low lying bunkers which are encountered along the run.

Tt50 - 2014 0128 Fort Ebey State Park

The day started early and I was out the door and on the road by 7:30am with both TV in tow. After an obligatory early stop at Starbucks (come on, it is the Pacific Northwest after all) a tall americano, an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich and a stashed morning bun that I’d get to after the run (is it an afternoon bun then?), I pushed through the thick fog allowing maybe a quarter mile of visibility at best. What did people do before smartphones and maps apps? I guess I know since I’ve used atlases on many a cross-country drive, but you can hardly find a decent detailed printed map anymore.

Timing the ferry perfectly, I paid the toll and barely even made it to my lane with a rolling stop before boarding the ferry for the short 20 minute ride to the southern point of Whidbey Island. We (really just me) listened to an Elevation Trail podcast. TV rounded the front seat not oblivious to the surrounding cars, but a little confused that we were moving, but not “moving.” They know when we’re off to somewhere for something fun and today was no different. It’s not every day they get a few bites of egg and cheese for breakfast handfed to them in the front seat of a car. Spoiled.

The temperature read 28 degrees when we arrived, but stepping out of the car, it somehow felt warmer. TV didn’t seem to notice as I put their harnesses on. The fog still lingered, but the forecast called for a high of 48, blue skies, and sunshine later in the day. It would take 4 more hours for that to transpire, but (thankfully?) I was still out on the trail and had time to soak it all in.

We bolted for the Bluff Trail, stopping to take in the vast view of…the fog, but knowing the coastline was just below us by the sounds of the water washing ashore time and time again providing a soothing monotonous yet distinctly unique sound of water on rock. Immediate singletrack carved into the side of a 60 degree sloped bluff makes you want to run fast (or maybe it was TV pulling on their leashes).  The stimuli of the water, the steep drop-off, and an eased trail, brings you alive whether you’re walking or running. How lucky we are to have the opportunity to run in our part of the country! For this day with these two terriorists, I couldn’t have been happier!

The 10k and half marathon route are one and the same for the first 3-4k skirting around the southern banks of freshwater Lake Pondilla before splitting, but eventually rejoining and finding the bluffs again and ending back at the start. We followed the 10k route, stopping to set up camera shots, routefind, fuel and drink, and stopping again at the bluffs to engulf our senses in the expansive and slowly lifting fog. After returning to the car, TV curled up in the front seat again for a little dog nap and I stocked up on additional fuel and refilled my water. I hadn’t planned on a bonk run, but decided I would take as little fuel and calories I could just to see how far I could go without feeling completely uncomfortable. For the 20 miles, I ate two Honeystinger waffles, drank one 26oz bottle of HEED, one 26oz bottle of Perpetuem, and two 26oz bottles of coconut water.

I took off on my own this time following the half marathon route, my pace quicker sans dogs, the temperature 10 degrees higher, the sun starting to break up the soupy fog, and knowing the beginning of the route. The half marathon route actually leaves Fort Ebey State Park and winds it’s way for the better part of the route through the adjacent Kettles Park which disappointingly has no actual stovetop kettles visible.

Kettles Park actually gets its name from the topography left by the retreating Vashon Glacier at the end of the last ice age. As the ice melted and broke off, large chunks buried in the land and after melting, deep hollows called kettles pockmarked the land leaving the trails ever rolling and hilly, but never long and steep and all runnable.

Where Fort Ebey State Park’s trails are well marked at every fork in the trail, Kettles Park lacks this same attention to detail. However because the trails are shorter and more interconnected, it’s ok to lose your way (which I seem to always do even though I tell myself and occasionally others that I’m a good navigator – apparently that’s only with a smartphone and a maps app) because you’re never more than a quarter mile away from some marked trail. As long as you have a trail map, you should be alright. Shorting a few sections of the route and adding a few sections, I managed to hook back into a section toward the end of the run that I’d run earlier that morning and moved back into the State Park. The fog had finally succumbed to the sun which had moved past noon and was slowly making it’s way through the crisp blue sky nestling itself to the tips of the Olympic Mountains to the west.

I stopped by the car, picked up TV and we found our way halfway up a bluff to take in the magnificent scenery before working our way back down to the meadow where I used what little energy I had left to throw a tennis ball as far as I could as many times as required. Apparently I should have taken them on the half marathon route instead of the 10k route as I’m pretty sure they covered that amount chasing that yellow ball. All of us tired, we piled back into the car making the drive back home this time around the north end of the island and back to the highway completing our loop.

Fort Ebey State Park provides breathtaking views of Puget Sound and the well groomed singletrack trails provide a great surface to run as far as your legs will take you. The rolling hills provide enough elevation to make it challenging without immediately bringing your hands to your knees, slouched over trying to climb up steep slopes. Bring your camera and stop to record the view when it presents itself. It’s worth sacrificing some run time to appreciate the surrounding landscape and seascape. It’s impossible for you to regret it.

2 thoughts on “Training at Fort Ebey State Park

  1. I like the song on this video.
    “Falling can be Deadly”…awesome sign.
    Impressed with the spot where you have the dogs, the camera, and are hydrating all at once. Well done.


    1. Thanks for your comment!

      If you look closely, you’ll see I grimace ever so slightly as I’m dropping the bottle because I’ve just rolled my ankle. I started a slight limping gallop for the next half mile.


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