The ugliest, most beautiful trail I run: Tulsa’s Powerline Trail

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the saying goes.

Hikers, backpackers and trail runners will often recall some of their favorite trails, citing the beauty of the woods, the views or some other aesthetic quality that gives a particular path its appeal.

One of my favorites, by these standards, ain’t pretty. But it’s a beauty in my eyes.

I like to run trails at Turkey Mountain in southwest Tulsa. It’s a great workout running rocky, hilly trails through the woods that are common to this part of the state.

But there is one path within Turkey Mountain’s trail system that has grown on me lately.

It’s called the Powerline Trail. It got its moniker simply because it follows a set of power lines strung on tall, blue steel towers that run north to south through a clear-cut part of the area. The trail is actually an old jeep trail, different from the other single-track trails on Turkey Mountain.

Since it runs through a clear-cut in the woods, it lacks the tree cover and scenery common to the rest of Turkey Mountain. But it has something else that, as a trail runner, I appreciate very much.

As I said, it’s hilly. Very hilly. More so than any other trail on Turkey Mountain.

If you were to run or bike its path, you’d start out on a flat run, then go up a couple hundred feet in the first quarter mile. That section of the trail has been named “Lipbuster” by mountain bikers, most likely because of the ease at which a cyclist could dump over his/her handlebars descending this very steep section.

Once you get to the top of Lipbuster, it flattens out for a brief moment before descending into a ravine. Some sections of this are steep enough that many runners will slow down and walk for fear of losing control, but for me, this is the best part of the run. That controlled-chaos moment where you find the sweet spot between control and abandon makes you feel like a kid running through the park, exploring the hills without a care in the world.

Near the bottom of the trail is a reminder of how easy it is to crash and burn on the Powerline: an old, rusting hulk of a wrecked car that had long since been abandoned by whoever had last driven it. I don’t know its story, whether it was a joyride gone wrong or if it was dumped here by a car thief or something else. All I know is that at one time, it had been painted white.

When you reach the car, you’re confronted with the fact that all that elevation you just lost over the past three-quarters of a mile or so now must be regained to reach the end of the trail. It’s a more gradual climb, but it’s steady and unrelenting. Side trails ducking into the west side of the park beckon, but I ignore those to continue up until reaching the top. It’s there you are rewarded with a clear view of the skyline of downtown Tulsa.

From here, you have choice: you can follow one of the main trails to the east side of Turkey Mountain (there are three here, cleverly named Ho Chi, Hi Chi and Lo Chi by the aforementioned MTB set); turn west and lose yourself in the extensive and less frequently traveled trails on that side of the mountain; or go back the way you came.

Doing a there-and-back, you see that the second half of this little jaunt will be tougher, not because of the energy you just expended, but because going back south means you will actually gain more elevation than you did going north.

This is particularly daunting in the summer, when the temperatures are in the high 90s or even the 100s and there are no trees to provide any cover of shade.

But the challenge of it beckons just the same. It’s hill repeats on steroids, a loop that is about the length of a 5K. The uphill sections blast your quads and strain your heart and lungs just as much as the downhills force your mind to pay close attention to every footfall so you don’t careen down the hillside like the mashed car I mentioned earlier.

Because few people run it, the Powerline also gives you that extra gift of suffering in solitude. Gutting out a tough workout with only yourself to motivate you, to drive you onward, is one of the secrets to building strength and toughness to push through races and mountain ascents. In that aspect, the Powerline has become a tool for me, helping me take my running game to a higher level.

She ain’t pretty, but that Powerline Trail is a beauty to me.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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7 thoughts on “The ugliest, most beautiful trail I run: Tulsa’s Powerline Trail

    • For sure! Parts of this one are steep and no fun when wet. But I love it. If I’m going to train hills, I go there. Quarter- to half-mile gains really blasts the legs. I try to incorporate at least a section of the Powerline Trail every time I go to Turkey Mountain.

  1. The gift of suffering?! I actually know what you mean. A pounding heart and screaming legs are nirvana at times. We climbed Mt. Becher and it was sheer plodding-hell. Loved it.

    • For sure! It’s in that suffering that goal are attained. A race won, a summit reached, a milestone secured. It’s weird to think of physical suffering during training as a gift, but in terms of payoff down the road, it really is. Sometimes the sufferfest is the best time you can have.

  2. I love that line “gift of suffering”. I just got an ad for a women’s mountain biking clinic at Turkey Mountain the first weekend of November, it looks like a very cool set of trails. I’d do it if the clinic lasted longer than the one way drive for me.

    • Might still be worth doing! Make a weekend of it. Go to the clinic one day, stay the night, then hit the trails on your own the next day.

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