Loose Ends

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Here and there, October 10, 2022 — Just closing the loose ends. We burned a bunch of firewood and mowed down some pizza at Sara’s farewell this past Saturday.

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Recall from the previous blog that I dropped off Sara and Lane Early at the Mason-Dixon line in the rain so they could hike the 41 AT miles in Maryland.  They finished at their predicted time.  Lane and his wife Colleen have been the caretakers at Blackburn Trail Center all summer.

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Poured some Prosecco to toast Sara’s long service as one of our ridgerunners.  Though my daughter says it’s fake news, she did take cover behind the glass door.  Not sure she had much confidence in my ability to safely pop the cork.

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In the bad luck department, Sara’s dad hit a deer on his way up from Alabama.  He’s supporting her current adventure biking the C&O Canal – about a 250-mile bike trek through history. 

He says it drives ok, but only has one headlight.  Glad he was already thinking of buying a new one.  Meanwhile, he’s driving her van, not his, which is safely stored in my garage until they return.

Next up:  Hoodlums on Saturday with encore appearances.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

It’s all about the food

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Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA, July 21 – 22, 2022 — Ridgerunners travel on their stomachs just like armies do.  We gathered at Blackburn earlier this week for the second time this season to prove the point.

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The spacious kitchen with its tandem sinks and dishwashers naturally draws crowds, especially at dinner time.  Wendy Willis, one of our split season Michaux State Forest ridgerunners, is more famous in one of her other lives.  She owns a Mexican restaurant in Winchester, Va called Sexi-Mexi. Click here: https://burritobar.sexi-mexi.com/

This year she’s been feeding us at Blackburn to the point that her scrumptious cooking has become the raison d’etre for showing up.  Rest assured, no one is late.

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As we stood at rapt attention, Julia Child would have approved of how Wendy coached us through the tostada bar she conjured from a magic cooler full of delectable ingredients.  The mob gathered salivating, ready to pounce.  The secret red poblano sauce was worth holding hostage.  Trust me, we took no prisoners.

As ridgerunners are apt to do, we talked long into the night on Blackburn’s enticing wrap-around porch brightened by the moon and a string of low wattage bulbs.

It ain’t over yet.  It was bright-and-early o’clock, but my eyes were glued shut tightly as I snoozed away.  The sound of sizzling veggies in an iron skillet popped my eyes open.  It was fritatta’s under construction. I sprinted for the coffee pot. Count me in!  Afterwards I could hardly stand up from the breakfast table.  Yum!!!

So far it’s been an fantastic year.  The hiker class of 2022 is awesome, the ridgerunners outstanding and the calendar pages turning too rapidly on what will be my final season in this role.

While the fritattas were in the oven, John Cram repaired/modified my poorly designed Zpacks ultralight pack.  In another life, John is a sailor and sail maker.  His expertise and magic sewing machine did the trick.

Stay tuned.  It ain’t over yet.

Sisu

Michaux State Forest

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Stuffed bear at Michaux State Forest headquarters.

Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania, June 1 – 5 — Contrast is the name of the game.  This year the predicted rains never came.  Last year it never stopped raining.  This year the temperatures were in the low-80s.  Last year hypothermia lurked around every corner as the rain-soaked thermometer registered in the high 30s.   In both cases, the hikers were in good spirits, the rocks were happy, and so were we.

Ridgerunner recruiting this year has been a proverbial bear.  Qualified seasonal employees are in short supply.  Thanks to a stroke of luck, two ridgerunners will share the season in Michaux.  Chrissy has the first part.  Wendy has the second.  Chrissy will return to close out the season.

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After meeting the the state forest rangers, we encountered our first blowdown almost straight out of the door. We quickly hacked a path through the branches leaving the bigger stuff for the chainsaw folks.

Our first night was spent at Tom’s Run Shelter.  The crowd was convivial.  We saw several people using bear canisters.  Everyone took advantage of the bear poles to protect their food.  Given the increasing number of bear incidents, this is an excellent sign.

With early morning temperatures in the low 60s, hot coffee is still a welcome treat.  That season is about to end as the summer heat and humidity sets in.

Our section of trail in Pennsylvania is only 37 miles long.  It packs some respectable hills, so it’s not a snap. 

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A line of thunderstorms was expected to pass about lunch time at Birch Run.  Several hikers ducked in for lunch and some decided to stay.  Fortunately the storms never materialized.  We pressed on for a total of 18 miles to Quarry Gap, probably the most famous and aesthetically pleasing shelter on the trail.  It is famous for its flowers and kitschy decorations.

Sadly one of the twin shelters at Quarry Gap got bonked by a blowdown.  Most shelters are built like bunkers and can withstand a significant hit.  This was Wednesday.

By mid-day Saturday repairs were well underway.  The PATC north chapter mobilized to sneak repair materials in via the “secret squirrel” side trail.  By nightfall, almost like new.  Photos courtesy of the PATC north chapter.

Meanwhile, other members of the north chapter were organizing at nearby New Caledonia State Park to prepare a trail magic feast featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salads desserts, and soft drinks!  After the work day, the crews descended to polish off the fixin’s.

Ours wasn’t the only trail magic.  A well-intended generous soul left water near a road junction.  We left it overnight, but cleaned it up on our way back to New Caledonia.  Trail magic should not be left unattended, even if it is water which, unlike food and sugary drinks, does not attract animals.

A hiker’s favorite sign.  This is trail magic done the right way.  This guy comes out several times a year to cook hot dogs and serve snacks at the Old Forge picnic area.  He retrieves his signs when the day is done.  I loved his dogs last year and my dreams were fulfilled that he’d be there again this year.  Before we left, the pavilion was full of hikers.

Our chunk of Pennsylvania has its scenery.  Eponymously named Rocky Mountain is our signature site.  In other places pine needles carpet the straightaways.  

Houston, we have a malfunction.  I’m still adjusting to switching to ultralight equipment.  This Zpacks frame has had its issues.  One reason the gear is lighter in weight is that it simply is not as rugged as the heavier traditional equipment.  In this case, the design is flawed.  Now both sides have been repaired with zip ties.

Graffiti continues to be a problem, although not nearly as bad as it was last year.  “Sunshine” seems to be this year’s problem child.  The first instance is in PA.  The second is in NJ.  We’re looking for you girl. “Pyro” last year’s biggest jerk has been painted over everywhere except in this one spot where someone seems to have had a sense of humor and maybe is trying to message others.

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Literally rubbing out graffiti can be a sport.

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The patrol ended with the last piece of microtrash at Penn-Mar, aka the Mason-Dixon line.

Sisu

Breaking News.

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Appalachian Trail and Annapolis Rock, Maryland, April 1 – 7, 2022 — This just in:  The end is near if seven months away counts.  This will be my final season as the PATC ridgerunner lead.  After that, Dan Hippe will take responsibility.  We want to get it right, so Dan will shadow me until November 1.  Then it’s his show.

Dan is a recently retired geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  He has extensive backpacking and outdoor leadership experience.  As I told one of my friends, “He will take good care of the troops.”  Of that I am certain.

I originally promised five years.  We’re now in year eight and new blood is due.  It’s also best to get off the horse before you fall off.  Not sure that would be anytime soon, but to be fair, it’s time.

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Meanwhile Dan has been out there helping as we prepare Kasey Kohlmeier for her season.  Here we broke up an illegal fire ring at Black Rock.

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If the last is the saddest day of the ridgerunner calendar, then the first is the most promising.  The new season is fresh and the possibilities are endless.

We gathered at the recently renovated “barn” to haul the caretaker tent and other gear up to Annapolis Rock.  There we spent a couple of days learning the ins and outs of the caretaker’s responsibilities.

The site is up.  The sunset spectacular.  My new tent is sturdy.  The REI-donated tent and the rain tarp survived the strong winds over the next several days.  Count success where you find it.

The usual mess at Black Rock.  It is a popular spot, mostly with locals.

Hiking back from Black Rock we found an unfortunate man who face-planted, suffering a bloody nose and some ugly wrist abrasions.  He passed concussion protocol, so we encouraged him to stop by AR where we patched him up.  We also found a heart rock someone had propped against a tree and fresh bear sign.  Of course the view of Green Briar Lake never disappoints.

On the way out we destroyed an illegal fire ring at group site 3, locked the tool box, noted damage caused by the ATVs belonging to the first responders and held up our trash collection as a trophy.

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After a couple of days off, we were at it again.   This time from Penn-Mar/ Mason-Dixon line to the Raven Rock Shelter. The forecast was ominous – two inches in less than 24 hours.  But, we got a dry start up the rocky approach to the shelter.

Along  the way we cleared six blowdowns, some small like this one.  Others in the six-inch class.  We stopped at the hot mess known as High rock.  It’s county property, not the AT.  Someone said it’s a rock with Tammy Faye Bakker make up, a generational reference to a TV preacher couple only a Boomer would appreciate.  Of course privy maintenance was front and center.

Stopped at the Raven Rock overlook.  Yes, there was a fire ring.  Found another spirit tree.  Someday I’ll do a blog on those.  I have dozens of photos in a folder.  Paid homage to a fallen soldier.

The rain pounded the area overnight and as we hiked.  In total two inches worth made a river out of the tread.

The stream crossing at Raven Rock Rd. was a bit iffy.

When we stopped at the Pogo camping area we discovered the South Mountaineer trail crew had delivered the prize of prizes.  The old pit latrine is GONE!  Earlier this week I sent these photos to the 13 people who have previously been ridgerunners in Maryland during my tenure.  Nobody cried over this stinking portal to hell.  It’s been replaced by a composting privy up hill.  Privy photos by Dave House.

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Have to own up.  I slipped on a wet rock and smacked my hand.  It’s all good now, but it hurt like hell at the time.

Sisu

Summer Specials

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Appalachian Trail, June 14, 2021 — Trail life is more than hiking, snagging trash, and cleaning out fire pits. Occasionally you meet people who can tell you stories and celebrate life.

The trail also has a cast of characters.  No, this isn’t Gandalf though he would be a good stunt double.  He has been maintaining Pinefield hut for 30 years with an list of stories long enough to put Amazon’s inventory to shame.

You will recall Chris Bowley started in mid-April.  Sunday he helped the Crapper Crew empty the compost bin at Pinefield Hut in Shenandoah National Park.  He also cleaned the trash out of the fire pit.  All in a day’s work.

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Flash forward to last night.  One of our ridgerunner almuni was in the area.  Kiki was one of our 2018 Maryland ridgerunners and ridgerunner alumni are royalty.

Kiki Dehondt and Kiera Johnston are recently engaged to be married.  Certainly a celebration was in order.

Witt and I cooked hamburgers for them at the Blackburn Trail Center.  We served the burgers with champagne and craft beer as a special treat.  More valuable from a thru hiker’s perspective, they got to take hot indoor showers!

Kiki and Kiera have known each other for 10 years.  Ironically, Kiera was also known as Kiki when she was a child.  Just yell “Kiki!”  They’ll both come running.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that thru hiking was her idea. They’ll soon be in Maryland where surely Kiki will introduce Kiera to all the friendly rocks he met when he was a ridgerunner there.

On deck:  A ridgerunner alum is about to make an encore appearance.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

The Maryland ridgerunner starts.

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Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, April 1, 2020, — It’s that time of the year when mid-Atlantic ridgerunners begin their seasons, but how times have changed.  This year we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  That changes everything we do.

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The new reality is grim.  Safe social distance is the only way we can reduce the rate of infection so that our hospitals are not overrun with patients requiring critical care.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland.  Greenbriar lake in the distance.

The popular trails are overcrowded to the degree that hikers are at risk; especially so at the signature locations.  Most of them are relatively small sites and visitors are incapable of maintaining appropriate social distance from one another.

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Wes’s orientation at social distance.

The club, after much deliberation, honored the Maryland Park Service’s request to hire one ridgerunner for the April – October season.  Normally we have two in Maryland, a second one for a shorter season from Memorial Day – Labor Day.  This year the Conservancy withdrew its share of funding, so the club and the state of Maryland could only afford to pay one.

Collectively we are concerned that if we withdraw from the trail we will not know what’s going on.  Even if hikers are banned, people will still be out there.

Our first principle is to keep the ridgerunner safe.  Among other factors considered, we learned that, with the enormous noro virus outbreaks over the previous several years, not one ridgerunner has ever been infected.

Since the virility and vectors of transmission are similar, we reasoned the ridgerunners could keep themselves safe by observing the proper protocols.  The ridgerunner also lives alone.  No one is to enter his apartment until the state gives the all clear.  He has a N-95 mask and gloves.  Moreover, he will not sleep in the field until the governor lifts his ban.

Even the uniform has changed.  No AT ridgerunner patches or hats.  Only PATC livery.

To sum it up, normally we hire six ridgerunners.  This year we plan three.  One in Maryland, one in Northern Virginia and one in Shenandoah, if and when the park brings on its seasonal employees.  Already the season’s start has shifted from April 8 to May 10 at the earliest.  Should the park close, it might not reopen in time to have a season.

The good news is that there are fewer hikers on the trails.  On March 23 Tina and I hiked this section and the lot was full.  On April one, it was empty.  On our first hike to Annapolis Rock we counted less than half the number on March 23.

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Wes discovered the true synonym for ridgeruner is janitor.  The day started as expected.  Plenty of trash to collect along the way.  This is near Pine Knob shelter.  The tin can spells rookie.  If you pack it in, please pack it out!

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Naturally there were illegal fire rings to break up and what’s a ridgerunner without a frying pan found on the trail?

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Leave No Trace principles say take only pictures and leave only footprints.  Rock stacks are not on any list of allowable behavior that I know if.  Sometimes it’s fun to see how far you can throw them.

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We have ridgerunners to help protect the environment and property.  Not sure the sentiment here was to resist park service rules or the current federal administration.  Either way, graffiti is unwelcome.  A little  Elephant Snot  will make short work of this.

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After picking up four gallons of trash in and around Annapolis Rock, we drove to Gathland State Park to point out the back trail to the Crampton Gap shelter; then on to Weverton Cliff to end the day.

One ridgerunner on duty.

Sisu

Road Scholar Closeout

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Last “Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States” Road Scholar group for 2019.

Maryland and Virginia, October 26 – 27, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail year has a rhythm.  It’s base line begins to pulse the first week in April.  It’s then that our ridgerunners in Maryland and Shenandoah National Park take the field.

Then comes third week in April when the Hoodlums trail crew, like brass and strings, liberates its tools from cold storage to repair the minor chords of winter.

By Memorial Day, we’re in full swing with all the elements – ridgerunners, trail work, and leading hikes – in motion.

Halloween week is the coda that signals the off ramp from our three season journey.  The last ridgerunner on the entire trail completes their season then, and the Road Scholars close out their final hike with us.

After that, it’s not necessarily silent.  The Hoodlums might have a November encore, or not.  We might do some winter hikes, the Gang of Four continues to march, but it’s improvisational.  Everything else after that is meetings and budget-related stuff designed to make it all possible again next spring.

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Washington Monument State Park, MD, the starting line in Maryland.

The start of Road Scholar hike on Tuesday was crisp with a little knife edge to the wind.  Mary Thurman was all smiles.  At 5 p.m. her season would conclude.

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Fox Gap battlefield site where a docent explains civil war ammunition.

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Picking and eating wild grapes along the edge of the battlefield.

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Trick or treat?  The Maryland trail crew was working just ahead.  They left plastic Halloween bones to fool Mary.  Didn’t work, but everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter.

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We always inspect the shelter for trash and discarded gear.  Size 38 waist trousers anyone?  We deduced that the guy got soaked in the rain and didn’t want to carry heavy wet pants out, so we did it for him.  They’ll be washed and tossed into the hiker box at the Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry.  The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor.

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White Rock viewpoint.

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Season over.  Mary hightailed it to a mutual friend’s house in Virginia Beach.  Safe travels my friend.

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Lunch the following day at Sam Moore Shelter in Virginia.

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Mother Nature is signaling that it is time to turn the page.

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The AT in Washington Monument State Park, MD

Adios.

Sisu

 

It’s a wrap for the last ridgerunner standing.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 18, 2019 — It’s that time again.  Our longest ridgerunner season is running out of altitude and airspeed.  The sprint to the finish line is underway.

Friday, Mary Thurman and I struck the caretaker tent, packed it up and hiked it down the mountain to the ridgerunners rustic apartment at Washington Monument State Park. There it is interred in a closet for a long winter’s rest.

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At first we thought something had gone terribly wrong. The tarp protecting the tent from UV rays was in shreds.

Had a bear attacked it?  Vandals?  Actually high winds the previous night destroyed the sun-weakened tarp which had valiantly done its duty.  Now dead, its dumpster-destined remains are nothing more than worthless weight on the hike out.

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Mary was relieved to find the tent intact.

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Packing up.

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Tool box locked.  Site secure.

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It was a brilliant day on the rock.

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Farewell visit to the viewpoint.

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Reflecting on how the season opened last April with Sabine Pelton who patrolled Shenandoah National Park.

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Out-a-here!  The final two weeks will be spent on patrol or tenting in one of the Annapolis Rock tents sites.

Until next year.

Sisu

FKT Attempt: A Champion’s Story

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Witt flying through Beagle Gap.  Note the stove I used to make coffee.

Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2019 — “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

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Witt Wisebram is an Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner from Atlanta, GA.  His resume includes the hiking triple crown – the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Witt holds or has held the FKTs (Fastest Known Times) for the Arizona Trail, the AT’s 100-mile wilderness in Maine, and the AT’s Four-state Challenge.

You can look up and learn more about FKTs here:  FKT website

Yesterday Witt attempted to earn the record for the FKT on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

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The course is 103.2 miles on the Appalachian Trail beginning at 2,220 feet in altitude at the south entry kiosk, rising to 3,837 ft. at Big Meadows, and ending at 2,334 ft. at the north boundary.  The elevation profile looks like saw teeth whose bite can sap a runner’s strength like a crosscut sunders logs.

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Sunday night prep.

While the planning began for this “supported” attempt began weeks ago.  It got serious Sunday night when Witt and his support team positioned themselves in Waynesboro, VA to launch a zero-dark-thirty assault.

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Final checks.

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Overnight rain meant slick trail, at least until the sun burned it off.  Lingering clouds delayed the BMNT (Beginning of Morning Nautical Twilight) start by nearly 20 minutes.  Five thirty a.m. was launch time.

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While Witt burned up the trail, the support team set up to wait.  The tote contains calorie-dense foods, spare clothing, blister treatment, and spare gear.  A cooler in the car chilled water.

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After set up, we’d wait until the man himself dashed into view.

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Water bottles exchanged.  Snacks delivered.

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Potassium-rich bananas help prevent muscle cramps.

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It’s always handy to have a physics professor friend document your record attempt.  The sheet marked mileage, aid stops, miles in between, expected pacing, actual time, and any variance.  Sabine even made a column for bears seen (6).

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Witt was on or ahead of pace even after the sun burned off the friendly cloud cover.  Here he is crossing the Skyline Drive bridge at Swift Run Gap at the the boundary between the park’s southern and central districts.

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Waiting quietly for Witt had its pleasures.

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The aid stops were plotted where we could get easy access to the AT, generally 3-5 miles apart.

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Reginald the snapping turtle was our mascot.  Sabine’s life-long friend, an astronomer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, happened to be in town and joined us later in the day.

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Leave No Trace principles apply, especially when the athlete and his support crew are ridgerunners.  Witt exchanged is old wrappers for new snacks at each stop.

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As the day wore on, the mountains and the sun took their toll.  Mother nature is not sympathetic.

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As nightfall approached, we could tell Witt’s tank was emptying.  He had stumbled just prior to this stop and tweaked a muscle in his upper back.  His pace had been slowing since mid-afternoon.  When he sat down at this stop I knew his run was in grave danger.

We discussed ending the attempt.  Witt was concerned that continuing might but him in position for a long painful recovery.

We quickly planned another stop 1.5 miles up the trail at the Timber Hollow Overlook on Skyline Dr. where a final decision could be made.  Sabine joined Witt for safety and support.

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The thousand-yard stare tells the end of the story.

For safety’s sake and Witt’s health, he made the decision to stop his attempt, just short of the 70-mile mark.  Elapsed time:  15 hours, 21 minutes and 48 seconds.

Witt made a brave and intelligent decision.  This was his first defeat.  I hope it’s not his last.  Adversity helps us learn and grow.  It offers perspective and coaches empathy.

Note I did not say failure.  While the outcome on this day was not what Witt expected, he performed like the champion he is and will continue to be, only After this he’ll be a little bit better.

Sisu

 

 

 

Stories from the Trail

Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA, July 18, 2019 — The Secret Lives of Ridgerunners was turned into a podcast.  If you recall, that post (Click here for post.)   was a quick look behind the scenes when the ridgerunners hair was down.

IMG_3935You may also recall that author and podcaster Gary Sizer was a guest.  That’s Gary in plaid.   After dinner he produced an episode of his podcast “Stories from the Trail” from a free form discussion he and the ridgerunners had on the porch.

Click to give it a listen if you really want to know what goes on behind the scenes: “The Secret Lives of Ridgerunners.”

Sisu