Weekend Warmup: The Last Darkness

There are three kinds of runners. The Urban Runner is the affectionate name I use to describe those city dwellers armed with all the gadgets, gizmos and latest fitness clothing, whose stride that suggests that five kilometres might be the extent of their excursion. There are Runners, categorized by the svelte silhouette as they glide along in a tatty pair of running shoes that could tell a thousand glorious stories. And there are the Once Weres, who eagerly recount their glory days to anyone who so much as mutters the word run.

The Last Darkness shows Runners Jeff Browning and Jesse Haynes feeling every breath of their run across the Owyhee Canyonlands. Their lean legs climb in perfect economical gait, one after the other with rhythmic precision. A reminder of sessions I once ran, relishing every blank thought that ripples through the mind.

The remote Owyhee Canyonlands feel akin more to Patagonia than the American West. A place without development, where the Milky Way still shines clear. The pair’s goal is to run the final 275km of the Oregon Desert Trail.

Haynes and Browning slosh through a canyonland river.


Trail running might be what Browning and Haynes are known for, but out here, the beast of the desert ensures that not only running lies ahead. Adventure lurks, too.

Their plans change. Navigating the Owyhee River forms one such change, and ultimately creates an adventure within an adventure. Plenty of the course is also not even trail. Some sections require bushwhacking, and only a GPS determines their location.

More sloshing. Photo: Patagonia


The Owhyee River is not a meagre stream but a steady flow of rapids able to take out an incautious runner. Only a few years ago, the river claimed the life of Robert Desmarais. So remote is the area that the Desmarais party had to continue for three more days downriver before they could head home. Cautiously, Browning and Haynes find the most passable section and swim across shirtless with their dry bags.

Owyhee Canyonlands are considered an Oregon treasure. Almost the size of Yellowstone National Park, desert rivers cascade through the red rock canyons. For Browning and Haynes, the four-day adventure “beats them up” like that of a Runner making the most of the earth. In the end, it’s the land that won. But that’s exactly how it should be. Runners continue to push the boundaries between nature and human capacity, while Once Weres merely write about the accomplishments of those doing so.