The Wild Oak Trail: An Unsupported 100+ Run
This is my tale of my weekend spent in the mountains of Virginia. It was a long time coming. I had the proverbial “white whale” to kill, previously making 100K of progress on this trail. It had been on my mind all winter long. I spent the month of January out in the cold on training runs, to set myself up for cold conditions in Virginia.
Traditional TWOT is the first Saturday of February. Runners hoping to complete all four loops generally start on Friday. I knew, with my 8 + hour drive each way, I needed to finish on Saturday in order to rest up to drive home on Sunday. I drove to Virginia on Wednesday evening, stopping about half way, with the idea to start my first loop about noon on Thursday.
This is not an easy trail, especially when you repeat the loop four times.
I started up the trail at 1130, a half hour early, but I wanted to utilize as much daylight as possible. It was a great loop. All my pictures come from Loop One. I was snapping pictures and updating my status on FB and texting to let my pacers know where I was.
It was cold. I believe it was 28 F when I started. I make sure I kept my face mask on, to help warm up my breathing passages.
This is on Little Bald Knob. I was relieved to find out there was not much snow. Maybe two or three inches on the top of the Balds, which was firmly frozen down to the ground.
This is the famous sign at the turn, for the three mile descent to Camp Todd. There is also another trail, much wider and more visible, that you could blunder down also!
Uneventful loop. I got to FDR 96, Mile 17 on the Loop, two hours ahead of my planned schedule. I am able to text my pace. Kathleen arranges to come out from the TWOT Lot (renamed Camp David, since David Snipes manned the aid station there all weekend long) backwards to meet up.
Kathleen Cusick has volunteered to pace me on Loop Two. Kathleen is much faster than me (ie, she WON Hellgate) and I have cautioned her to wear warm clothing, she will be going slow.
We start Loop Two, counterclockwise again for me, up Grindstone and then Little Bald Knob. Kathleen keeps going ahead, and then coming back for me, which is fine, we both need to move because it’s that cold out. Kathleen pointed out the half moon and all the stars, and all I could think of was how cold it was going to be with no cloud cover.
My hydration system consisted on bottles, stashed in my old UD Wink pack. I was using the Wink pack because it had the most room to stash items in. (This was my Hardrock pack.) I wasn’t carrying a bottle because I was using my Black Diamond Hiking Poles.
It had already become a hassle and annoyance to stop, take the pack off, and drink. It also chilled me each time that I stopped. On the second loop, I was getting behind on eating and drinking.
Kathleen turned, as planned, right before Camp Todd, and I told her I was going to regroup and get calories and food in.
I had planned calories well. I had many different items to choose. I had items I knew might freeze, like candy bars, but I also had honey-roasted peanuts, cheese crackers, items I knew would not freeze.
What I didn’t count on was trying to eat these items, with a dry mouth, as I moved along. For any ultra runner, it just doesn’t work. So I had been eating more gels.
Boost! I drank a can of Boost, 240 calories, at Camp Todd, and took a can with me. I drank a bunch of water. As I climbed up Big Bald, I felt pretty good. I was giving myself positive self talk-with the climb, I was toasty warm. I even told Antonniette that when I ran into her on the trail.
But 240 calories, into a caloric deficient person, who is now climbing 2000 or 3000 feet, in twenty degree weather, doesn’t go too far. I drink the other can. I am looking forward to more Boost at FDR 96.
I think I got to 96 about 5 am Friday morning.
My water was frozen. My Gatorade was frozen. My sweet tea was frozen. I am well, devastated. How freaking cold is it that my stuff is frozen???
I can get a little dribble out of the water. My 4 oz bottle of cranberry juice is not frozen, so I add that to my bottle.
No food looks good. I stuff more gels under my shirt to keep them warm enough to use. I move on. I am very cold. But climbing up Hankey Mountain, like when I climbed up Big Bald, should make me “toasty warm” again.
I hate Hankey Mountain.I start climbing. But I am not getting warm. There is a little breeze-not much, not like 2012 gusts, but as I need every bit of warmth, this isn’t helping. I can only climb about ten steps and I have to pause. I am panting, out of breath. I can’t really tell if it is my asthma, my heart rate, or my body in that horrible timing of the day, the lowest ebb, right before dawn, but I am moving so slow.
Of course, I am getting colder and colder. I slip chemical handwarmers into my gloves, as I can’t feel my thumbs. But now my thighs are getting cold. My thighs never get cold, I can feel the cold on the outside. I’m getting genuinely concerned for my well being.
But what’s the alternative? There is none. I go on. I’m looking forward to getting back to my vehicle, warming up, and QUITTING.
There is just one flaw in my plan, my pacer named Bradley Mongold.
|Me and Mongold, MMT Finish 2013|
Mongold paced me at MMT 2011 and 2013. When you sign up with Bradley, you know you are going to finish. Mongold agreed to pace me for Loop 3 and “maybe” Loop 4. But I had already quit. Now I just needed to get rid of my pacer.
The phone had died, so I just needed to get back to the vehicle, plug the phone in, and hopefully see that Bradley wasn’t coming. He had warned me that he had some business to conduct on Friday, so he might be later that planned. My best case scenario would be a text from him, saying he couldn’t be there until Friday afternoon, and then I could tell him that was fine, I was hypothermic and stopping after two loops.
I pass the sign that says FDR 95 4 miles, and it seems to take five hours. I cross the suspension bridge. I think about cutting the course and going down the road…but of course, I don’t.
I get into the parking lot-renamed Camp David, for David Snipes handling the aid station there all weekend long-and it’s the worse sight ever. My vehicle is open, and Mongold is there, ready to start Loop 3.
Not a cliff-hanger, but a logical place to break up a long tale. Part Two will be out later today!