t's the vista from which settlers looked out over the domain that would one day be known as Beer Town, USA. It's locals' daily exercise challenge, countless dogs' dusty stomping grounds, and a site of many a July 4th fire.
It's also the place where Carol Smith got her life back. Regular Source readers will recognize the sunny smile of Smith, known to her many fans as the "Butte Lady."
Climb the incline at Bend's highly visible, 479-foot prominence on the regular, and chances are you'll run into Smith. With a bright personality and a sing-song voice that greets every Pilot Butte visitor with a "Hi, honey," you can't really miss her. Smith started walking the Butte about "15 or 20 years ago," she recounts, when she and her husband were both bedridden, suffering from the effects of fibromyalgia. Doctors didn't know what to do.
"We decided to start walking up Pilot Butte. We had just moved to Bend," Smith told me when we met for coffee at a local Starbucks. (Her choice.) I had to wait a few minutes to greet her, because in typical Butte Lady fashion, she was chatting up a mom and child who were settled into a Starbucks sofa. She was—of course—inviting them to attend the upcoming Pilot Butte Challenge. Also in Butte Lady fashion, she greeted me with a hug. It was our first meeting.
"It took me 45 days to get to the top of Pilot Butte, from the bottom to the top. My husband had to have someone sit with me at the top of Pilot Butte because I was so weak," Smith says of her first days on the Butte.
When she told doctors that hiking had been helping her with her migraine pain, they simply told her, "Well, you better hike more," Smith now recalls.
"So then I was hiking 20 miles a day, and that helped take my migraine headaches away," Smith says. "Then my husband dared me to go 18 times to the top in one day. It took me all day to do it, but I did it. I just went up and down."F
rom those experiences, a love for Pilot Butte bloomed. Smith and her husband, Bill, served as park hosts for Pilot Butte State Park for a number of years. They also took on the organization of the Pilot Butte Challenge—a "race" in which entrants, firstly, challenge themselves to actually get to the top. From there, the idea is to race yourself, attempting to beat your time from the year before, Smith tells me. The race website describes it as "a casual hike for some, a grueling race for others, and everything in between." Last year, participants were as young as four and as old as 98. (The now-99-year old, Art Vinall, has already registered for this year.)
After a number of years organizing the event and being the face of the Pilot Butte Challenge, Smith is not retiring—but she is passing on many of the organizational duties to another friendly face.
A chance encounter—on Pilot Butte, of course—led to a fast friendship between Smith and George Pierce, owner of Pierce Footwear, a world champion duathlete and a relatively recent transplant to Bend.
"Eventually, I met George," Smith says. "I went home and I told my husband, 'I met this man and his name is George! Bill says, 'George who?' I said, "I don't know, but he seems like a really nice guy and I think I can trust him."
After Carol Smith suffered a recent stroke, the Smiths knew it was time to get more help with their nonprofit, Pilot Butte Charities, an organization with a mission to raise money for maintenance and improvement on Pilot Butte.
ierce, the new "Butte Dude" (disclosure: we made that name up during this interview) will run the organization, with Smith retaining her "Butte Lady" status and maintaining the organization's social media profiles. It was a swift move, but Pierce says he's up to the challenge.
"I was looking at the board, I had just gotten into town, I rolled up there and brought my son with me," Pierce says. "They (the Smiths) came over and said, 'Do you want to do this? We've got this race coming up.' I said, 'Okay, I'll do it.'"
When it comes to promoting health and fitness, Pierce has some skin in the game—which also includes plenty of giving back. His company recently provided 2,000 pairs of free athletic shoes for the athletes at the 2017 Special Olympics in Austria.
Of the new organizational structure, Bill Smith says it's a great fit. "When I was sick and when Carol had a stroke, George kept encouraging us. When we got to this point, we needed someone to really be in charge because I'm so unpredictable and I was the one who really had a handle on everything. George is perfect."
"I am so blessed to be able to hand this torch over to him," Carol Smith says, "because I couldn't trust anyone else."
19th Annual Pilot Butte Challenge
Fri. Sep. 29
Pilot Butte State Park, Bend
First wave 5:45 pm
Register at PilotButte.org
$20 adult/$15 youth and senior