Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bugs and Buds

Spring Azures and a bunch of other butterflies are out already. These guys endured the frost and were found thawing out on a log.

The colors of Dogwood, Redbud, Maple and Poplar contrast the sky over Shenandoah.

Daffodils off the side of the Dickey Ridge trail.

Shenandoah valley cattle and a spring storm brewing in the distance.

You always wonder why they are called the Six Spotted Tiger Beetle until you really see them up close. This guy posed for a picture which is not usually the case, but I was psyched to get a shot of one.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Four Plus Success

The Training
Last Thursday I was prepared for a long miserable day. Jury duty and taxes, ugh. Turns out, taxes aren’t due till APRIL 15! Jury duty got canceled. It was 9am, sunny, 72 degrees and I had the day off, so hhmm, how could I still make myself miserable?

I had rock climbed on Old Rag all the previous day so I was definitely running a deficit in the calorie and hydration compartments, but I figured I would be alright for a run. Dad agreed to pick me up in the afternoon so I pounded a large greasy sandwich, coffee, a whole bunch of OJ and packed my running pack - 9:30am and it was time for a long training run.

My goal was the run the entire stretch of the AT through Shenandoah’s north district (28miles) and to finish at Thorton Gap where dad would be at 3pm. The first climb is 6.5 miles and 2000’ to Compton peak and all that food was just a sloshing around the whole way. Gurgle gurgle, walk a few paces, this is the warm-up. Burp. By the top I was dripping sweat, my stomach was fairly knotted and I was well on my way to a long… miserable day. Miles of blazing hot, leaves off the trees direct sun and record high (80 degree) temps and I found myself laying prone on the overlook pavement. I was waiting for dad at my bail out finish line. Dehydration got the best of me. Even after refilling my pack at a good quality spring and drinking directly from another, which might be defined as, well, questionable I was still toasted .

I’m coming clean to all those I told I completed 26 miles - it was 24.5 ok, but forget about that, I have a true success to talk about!

In the car on the way down the hill I fought the urge to vomit. Long distance running sucks. Four days later I was preparing for the longest endurance event of my life.

The Real Thing

The FOUR STATE PLUS challenge as I define it runs about 40 miles on the Appalachian trail then hit’s a bit of road to cover PA, MD,VA, and WV under foot power (the Four State). Pashaaa, people have done that lots of times. I would then bike 62 miles on the C & O canal tow path to Georgetown, finishing in a fifth jurisdiction, the wannabe state of Washington D.C., giving the event its golden star PLUS tacked on to the name!

A lot of the motivation to do this came from my friend Jeremy who thinks the whole event has never been done, stating flatly; “anyone who likes to suffer that much has packed up long ago and moved to somewhere with better scenery”. Motivation is a funny thing, one that can get you in trouble quick. Like two years ago when I first tried the Four State Plus, it was a disaster, a Four State Epic Fail, the plus part was that I didn’t freeze to death (you can read about it here if you like). Boredom (and a festering epic fail pride wound) probably motivated this try. Jeremy offered to drop me off in the early morning as he did two years ago in the hopes that he would again, see me fail. My loving sister would pick up my broken body at the Georgetown finish line. The forecast was for possible showers, a cool fog in the morning, clearing and 75 in the afternoon and possibly perfect for a long run. I bought groceries, ate and drank up and despite my horrible long run a few days before I felt no lingering soreness. Time to go for it!

Jeremy dropped me at the Pen Mar parking at 6:10 am. Although the park is called Pen Mar based on its state line border location, as Jeremy pointed out, when you look at the map you notice that the real PA state line is actually just a hair (maybe ¼ mile) north of the park on the AT. I thought about walking back to the real state boundary… and it’s really the thought that counts.

The first few miles are rocky, misleading, and following the previous nights thunderstorms, very wet. After 2.5 miles the warm up culminates in a steep, large, boulder talus climb of 700 feet to High Rock. I decided after my initial Four Plus Failure that it was in fact NOT bad judgment but rather THIS section of the hike which was my nemesis. This section had led to my near catastrophic first attempt, my defaced dignity and six months of an aching groin. This time I would walk! I would do it in the dark, and as a warm up, but I would curtail my nervous excitement and force myself to walk. As I jogged some of the initial easy stuff I wondered what consequences might befall me today for my bullheadedness.

Once I made the ridge there were some large puddles as well as some sections where the trail had just directly become a stream. I did my best to keep my feet on the damp side rather than the soaked side. Unfortunately one of the downsides of wearing my tried and true trail runners is their gaping holes. When I got to the stream crossing next to Raven Rock road just five miles into the run the rock step crossing was totally under water. It seemed my feet were doomed to wetness, but nevertheless I pulled off the medium wet right shoe and sock and the mostly wet lefts and risked cut feet rather than sopping ones at the end of the 30 ft ford. It seemed a good decision! For the rest of the day my feet slowly dried as I ran through the cool fog and lucked out with the rain.

I’ve learned through experience (even recently) that food and hydration contribute directly to how you feel during a run I now have enough experience to know I should eat and drink only the things that work for me. I should eat the things that don’t leave me nauseated when I burp or put me under urgent poo distress. Endurance events are battles of attrition where if you don’t eat or drink enough you will eventually just lay down and die, so I planned to eat as much as I could. In the bag was a peanut butter and honey sandwich, some trail bars, lots of fruit snacks and peanut butter M &Ms, one small Gatorade and lots of water. I ate and drank at the first inkling of hunger or thirst felt for the most part good! I refilled water at a good spring 16 miles in and ran on, completing the most difficult parts of the run by mid morning.

At around 27 miles my knees were really starting to hurt. It wasn’t like a bad broken hurt but more of a deep seated soreness. I guess I shouldn’t have fallen from the tops of so many boulders, or maybe I jumped off too many large cement staircases as college freshman, or just maybe I shouldn’t have run 24 hard trail miles five days ago. Whatever it was I kinda wanted to cry, I was alone in the woods and in pain and I wanted a way out. Music! The battery on the phone was good so for the first time of the day I plugged in the ear buds. It was Citizen Cope “Blame it on Zeus and Apollo, and Adonis, but what you done here is put yourself between a bullet and a target and it won’t be long before you’re pulling yourself away.” Thanks Cope, it did somehow help though, and pretty soon I was shuffling at a slightly faster shuffle.

Somewhere around mile 30 I came upon some college age backpackers and stopped to say hello. They were mid way through their third day on the trail and stated that they were covering the entirety of MD on the AT. I tried to hide a smirk and said “cool, well enjoy the rest”. Maybe it’s that smirk that motivates people (me) to try and do stuff like this. The feeling that I can do something others can’t is a motivator, then again maybe they are just not dumb enough.

The last ten miles of the run felt very long, but coming down the steep section next to Weverton cliffs was definitely the worst, my knees were on fire, and the shuffle was degraded to a hobble. The run was almost over now and although it was rather hot and sunny now, the final section was flat. Well, sort of… the purest style of the four state would continue along the AT through Harpers Ferry in WV, cross a bridge over the Shenandoah river and then head up a final steep mile to Loudon Heights and the VA boarder on the AT. Instead I decided to cross the earlier, Sandy Hook bridge over the Potomac into VA on route 340. I would then do an easy one mile on the road and cross the second 340 bridge (the Shen in the opposite direction) to touch my fourth state, WV. It’s really the thought that counts.

Although I was unwilling to, shall we say, go the extra mile for the run I was on my way to the next leg, the 62 mile bike, ugh! I fueled up on cool water, bright orange cheesy pretzels, one cold Red Bull and a neon blue Gatorade. So I guess my form fell apart on the food thing, but what can I say, the heart wants what it wants!

I forgot the padded bike shorts but this thing was already sort of about pain so at 3:30 pm I hopped on the bike and went for it. My knees felt immediately better and I was cruising along on the tow path in mild amounts of pain. I was just distracted biking along, looking at the turtles, throwing back some fruit snacks, arranging a pick up via the cell phone and occasionally hitting the odd muddy pothole. Bliss. For about twenty miles life was good.

The final forty-two miles I must admit things got kinda ugly. Bending forward on the bike made my butt hurt. Somewhere deep inside me a green peanut butter M&M reacted with the catalysts of Red Bull, Fierce Gatorade and White Chocolate Macadamia Cliff bar resulting in an evil toxic sludge only to be rivaled by the raw sewage smell of the tow path itself during its last 25 miles. I put my head down. The flies around dusk got so bad that I felt like I was breathing them in with every mouthful, unless I breathed through my nose which would make it happen less, but is a worse feeling for sure. I had one little fly crawl around my eye for what felt like miles but it was getting to dark for the shades. My sweaty arms and legs were speckled like a dirty front bumper. I put my head down all the more. I wanted to be done. I pounded it out. There was a bumpy detour somewhere near Great Falls complete with staircases which I had to carry the bike up and down and at some point I had to get out the headlamp.

The evening finished nice, cool and clear as I coasted to the paths’ end in Georgetown (further than the D.C. boarder, I know) and at 8:15pm, 14 hrs 5minutes after I started I had made it. It wasn’t pretty and I’m still a bit sore two days later but I guess there’s a chance I’ve learned something about myself, nonetheless I’m proud of what I accomplished.

A trail-side waterfall next to Raven Rocks.

The stream I had to ford five miles in.

A wet nasty section of trail I had to cross. I only took pictures that would make the event look epic (in case I bailed)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Warm Winters' End

Last night in the north end of Shenandoah the crickets were loud! Yes, its still technically winter, but it has felt like a spring minus the rain for a month now. The early flowers (like the Round Lobed Liverleaf above)are now popping up everywhere, even at the higher elevations where the leaves are still down. Some of the hibernators are out early as well, so it's time to start being aware of the snakes out there again.
I saw the below pictured Garter snakes about a week ago, which should not have come as a surprise since they are the northernmost living snake in the world and it was 70 degrees out!

The recent climbing has been awesome. Spectacular leafless views, great temps and a few first ascents thrown in!

Noticed the above Poplar tree on a recent trip and decided I had better take a picture before the leaves obscure what happened to it. The tree was struck by lightning at the very top and the bark was exploded off the side as the electricity traveled down the trunk. There were pieces of wooden shrapnel hundreds of feet away!
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