Ras Vaughan, also known as UltraPedestrian Ras, is a backpacker who became a back-of-the-packer. But twenty years ago Ras couldn’t even cover a mile on the trail without being doubled over with debilitating back pain, gasping for breath. Reaching a weight of two hundred and sixty pounds at his heaviest, Ras was what you would call, “Indoorsy.” It wasn’t uncommon for him to eat a half gallon of ice cream or a family sized bag of tortilla chips and a two liter bottle of soda in a single serving. He was eating himself to death, and would have succeeded if not for his wife Kathy, who kept encouraging him to go hiking with her. One day she proposed that as a family, with their 7 year old daughter Angela, they hike the 93 mile Wonderland Trail, which encircles the base of Mount Rainier. That first thru-hike was an incredible challenge, and it took them 21 days to complete it, but it flipped a switch inside Ras. He fell in love with the trail and with the experience of testing his mettle in beautiful and challenging places.
Having seem trail runners on the Wonderland, Ras and Kathy were amazed by how easily they seemed to cover amazing distances, and they themselves aspired to being able to do so. They made changes to their diet, eliminating eggs and dairy, and began living a more simple life off the grid in rural Northcentral Washington, in the Okanogan Highlands. Days of long, hard physical work and evenings spent hiking and running gradually conditioned both Ras’ body and mind until he turned to the trail running race scene to begin answering the question marks in his head. Could he run 25k? In 2010, at the Spokane River Run, he answered that question with an emphatic, “Yes!” That was quickly followed with the successful completion of 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile races. When Ras heard of a new 200 mile race being organized in Washington in 2012 he thought to himself, “That sounds impossible. I better signup.” With his successful completion of the inaugural Pigtails Challenge 200 miler, Ras started looking beyond supported races to challenge his concept of what is possible. In late summer of 2012, Ras became the first person to complete a Double Wonderland, running the 93 mile Wonderland Trail clockwise, then resupplying and completing the trail a second time in the opposite direction. His goal was to experience the trail in as complete a manner as possible, taking into account how the character of the trail changes depending on the direction of travel.
Without knowing it at the time, Ras had begun a movement: Only Known Times. Rather than trying to put up the Fastest Known Time on an established route, Ras focused on putting up new routes or iteration of existing routes that had never been done. In 2013 Ras became the first person to complete six crossings of the Grand Canyon in a single push. In 2014 he became the first person to cross the state of Washington on foot completely unsupported, carrying all of his gear and food from the very beginning, with no resupply, carrying all of his trash to the end, only taking water from natural sources, and only eating from the supplies he carried, eschewing foraging. (This stands as the longest unsupported foot journey ever completed according to this unsupported ethic.) In 2015 Ras, along with Richard Kresser, traversed the summit of Mount Rainier in unsupported style, including carrying 40 lbs of mountaineering gear for 35+ miles in a route they dubbed the Cowlitz Connection. In the fall of that same year Ras and his wife Kathy became the first people to ever yo-yo the 800 mile long Arizona National Scenic Trail, for a total of over 1600 miles over mountains and through deserts, enduring a range of temperatures from a sweltering 110 degrees when they began at the south end to 10 degrees and snowing during the second leg of their journey. In July of 2016 Ras, along with Gavin Woody, completed the first Kettle Crest 15, using the 45 mile long Kettle Crest National Scenic Trail to link together bagging the 15 named peaks along the Kettle Crest. Later that July Ras, again with Gavin Woody, became the first known people to complete the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop. The route, designed by legendary Seattle speed climber Chad Kellogg, included two traverses of the Rainier summit linked via the Wonderland Trail in opposite directions, this forming a sideways figure eight, or infinity sign.
Ras has also completed more than 45 ultramarathons, including six 100 mile races and six 200 mile races. Ras is happiest when he is on the trail pushing his limits with his beloved wife Kathy as Team UltraPedestrian.
When I’m not training or competing, I love to: When I’m not training or competing I’m thinking about it. Moving through beautiful and challenging places under my own power is just about all that I think about. Even during a Fastest Known Time/Only Known Time attempt I have ideas occur to me about possible future projects. So even when my body is at rest, my mind is on an adventure, working out possibilities, parsing out logistics, seeking big, interesting question marks in hopes that I might be the answer to them.
My “go-to” Nathan product is: My go-to Nathan product is the Journey Fastpack (coming Spring 2017). I’ll use anything a Speedshot handheld for short training runs, and a Fireball or VaporCloud vest for a race, depending on the distance and amount of aide, but the Journey Fastpack is what really gets me where I want to go, deep into the wilds, way up above treeline, and far beyond my own perceived limits.
Something that very few people know about me is: Something very few people know about me is that in the days leading up to a big adventure I often awaken in the middle of the night with my heart racing and panicky thoughts of impending failure speeding through my head. In trip reports and interviews and giving public talks I may come across as unquestioningly confident, but I face the same internal doubts that everyone does. Having those doubts is okay; the important thing is not to empower them. Don’t form attachments to your doubts, just let them move on through your mind and continue on their way.
A good title for my autobiography would be: Stubbornness Trumps Skill And Training. I’m not a gifted athlete or an extraordinary physical specimen of any sort. My very fascination is not with what exception athletes can do, but with the amazing and extraordinary things of which average Human Beings are capable. Human Beings have an incredible well strength from which they can draw under the right circumstances. This is what enables mothers to lift cars off their children, and complete stubbornness, the absolute refusal to quit, is one of the keys to learning how to access that hidden well of strength.
My favorite moment or achievement to date is: The Unsupported Washington Traverse I did via the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 was a huge mental breakthrough for me. I crossed the state of Washington from the Canadian border to the Oregon border completely unsupported, carrying all of my gear and food from the very beginning, with no resupply, and carried all of my trash until the end. Additionally, I only got my water from natural sources and didn’t forage, eating only from the stores I carried. It was the first project I did where I felt like I was really pushing the bounds of what is humanly possible, and it still stands as the longest distances ever covered by foot according to a strict unsupported ethic.
But the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop that Gavin Woody and I completed in July of 2016 is my favorite accomplishment so far. We took on a route designed by legendary Seattle speed climber Chad Kellogg. He dreamed up the idea of an Infinity Loop on Rainier: traversing the summit, then looping back to the starting point via the Wonderland Trail, traversing the summit again, and then looping back to the starting point on the Wonderland Trail in the opposite direction, so that the route traces a sideways figure eight, or Infinity sign. Chad was tragically killed in a climbing accident on mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia before he could ever attempt his Infinity Loop route, so it was an honor to be a part of bringing his dream route to reality. Gavin and I completed it as two unsupported loops with a resupply in the middle. It was a blend of Ultrarunning, fastpacking, and mountaineering. We had to carry climbing harnesses, helmets, and ice axes for the entire 93 miles of the Wonderland Trail because we needed them for the summit traverse and glacier travel. We did the whole project in insulated running shoes and used lightweight hiking crampons for the mountaineering. It was a paradigm-shifting melding of disciplines that has opened my mind up to all sorts of crazy new possibilities of extreme minimalism and alpinism.
The toughest moment I’ve ever experienced in a race is: The last 185 miles of the of the inaugural Tahoe 200 in 2014 were some of the hardest miles I’ve ever covered on foot. It’s not that it was a particularly technical course, as challenging as it was, but I’m normally a very meditative, flow-based runner. For or some reason I could never get into the right mental state at that event. I had absolutely zero of the floaty, effortless miles that usually characterize my running. Each and every mile took a concerted effort both physically and mentally.
I live on Whidbey Island because: it’s close to both my mother and Kathy’s parents. Our parents have reached the point in their lives where Kathy and I can be a help to them around the house, so it’s important that we be nearby to do that. It’s also a great jump off point to access all the amazing ground that Washington State has to offer. In just a couple of hours we can be in the North Cascades, or the Issaquah Alps, or Olympic National Park, or at Mount Rainier. The Pacific Northwest presents an amazing assortment of adventure possibilities, and we’re well positioned to make the most of them.
One thing I hope to achieve this year is: One thing I hope to achieve this year is to advance my skills in off-trail travel and navigation. Linking together existing routes, especially for peak-bagging projects, is something that has really captured my interest at the moment. I need to step up my skill set so that I can take on these challenges in not only a safe, but a creative way.
The event on my bucket list is: The one event on my bucket list is the Barkley Marathons. To be candid, not many races capture my imagination because there is no question mark to them, other than how quickly one can complete the course, rather than IF one can complete the course. But Barkley has the resonance of a Hero’s Quest, and I would love to test myself against it one day.
My pre-race superstition is: My pre-race superstition is more of an irrational fear than a superstition, per se: fear of oversleeping. I have to set three alarms the night before a race, especially if I’m spending the night away from home, otherwise I’ll wake up every half hour to check the time and make sure I haven’t slept through my alarm and overslept. It makes for a very stressful and restless night, which is certainly night an ideal way to prepare for a race.
Nathan helps me run stronger and run longer by: Nathan helps me run stronger and run longer by putting all the tools I need for an adventure right where I can access them with ease. Whether it’s two liters of water on my back, 750 ml of drink mix in a bottle, a tube of Trail Butter, trekking poles, a puffy jacket, or a climbing helmet and ice ax, I know right where they are and can access them in an instant.