I happened to check last year, Day463. This time it is almost the same. I had my training etc, but it was so satisfied. I wrote a short version hopefully captured what I wanted to say. Here is a much longer version of what I mean having a good life, that is, to be out on the trail and run.
Happiness is brief and hard to grasp. Often time, stuff at work and life drove me to insanity. Respite comes when I am out at the trail all by myself. Sometimes, I don’t even know why I am out there. But being out there seems to calm me and solves all my present problems. True, it is an avoidance mechanism, but one that works.
Last week, I was at the Wild Oak Trail. I mentioned it a few times before and wrote about it maybe couple posts back when I went out to the trail few weekends ago, but in the end called it quit after going 7 miles in.
This week, I went back out. It was the TWOT official race day. The 200 mile race started on Wednesday. The 100 mile started on Friday and the 25 mile version took place on Saturday. As mentioned before, I got to know both the RD (Race Director) and a 200 mile runner. It was like meeting my idol or a heavenly being. Never in my life, I thought I would meet someone like that. Not only do I get to know them, but the exciting part is they know me now. I was wondering, oh, is that how they said we should make connections back when I was in college.
Anyway, I like this race for a weird reason when I had my first backpacking trip back in 2017. That time, we encountered runners running loops around us. I believe they were practicing for the Grindstone. Yours truly will also be running the Grindstone this year, and hence the reason why I was at the Wild Oak this weekend.
My friend and I finished the loop too in a single day with a 40-lb bag on back the whole way, because we made a dumb decision of not stopping before nightfall. We ended up doing the whole thing without camping at all. However, we met a runner who looped us couple times that day.
On surface this seemed like easy because we were able to do it in a day. However, it was not so. This was the hardest hike I did in 2017 and even subsequent years, the loop has not gotten any easier. Sure, they flattened and straightened the trail at a few places, but over all, it is still 8000 ft of climbing in 26-ish miles in one loop. Runners do multiple loops to have their fill.
At the time I was not a trail runner. I didn’t start running seriously on trails until 2019, when I did the JFK 50, and that was not even a true trail run. It was not until 2021, when I did Laurel Highlands, I could say I dabbled into trail running. 2022 was the year of MMT, and that I have fallen completely into this mountain running thing. You can say, I went hardcore.
When I learned people actually race on this trail, I wanted to do it too. Full disclosure, I haven’t able to truly run on it yet (actually it’s ability-challenged, not an opportunity problem). I applied last year to run in it, but I did not get in. I did not mind, because I did not get into many other races too. It was no big deal.
Couple weeks ago during a MMT Training run, I met the TWOT race director and also one of the guys (Tony) who was running in the 200 mile race of this year. It hyped up my interest once again.
This weekend, I went out. I did not want to interfere with the actual race, so I only planned to show up afterward, thinking they already should be over.
I messed up with my math and arriving at 7:30 pm, which was only 35 hours into the 100 race. Their last person finisher did not arrive until past midnight (40-ish hours) and that is a very good time. It might have taken me more than 48 hours to do them if that even possible.
I saw a blazing camp fire. I walked to it, but for some unexplained reason, I did not recognize the RD, and was thinking he was Tony, and was there just relaxing after the run.
It was then two runners came in finishing their 100 mile run. RD told me two more runners were still out on the course, plus another one doing a fun run. It was then I realized I goofed up. RD handed out awards. I said my goodbye.
RD was seriously thought I was going to run that night, because why not, everyone who showed up there is capable of doing it. I had no intention though to run it even as a “fun” run that night. Since, I think it is rude to bandit his race. The race was supposed to have no aids, no crew, no spectator, no pacer, no bailing, no rescue, etc. It was a hardcore, you by yourself and the trail. I did not want to spoil the atmosphere by running and meeting other runners. They deserve their bragging rights of being along in the dead of night while everyone is sleeping.
So I hiked up the opposite direction to the first peak on Grindstone Mountain, orginally I was aiming for Little Bald, 7 miles away, since there is a nice open place to camp. After a mile hike, I came across a camp site on Grindstone. I totally forgot this spot. It was perfect. By then it was around 9 pm. If I had continued on, I would not have reached Little Bald after midnight and by the time I could sleep, it might be 1 AM or later. And planning-wise would have ruin my next day event, had I continue to Little Bald..
It was a good choice to stop early because temperature was dropping. The night was beautiful. The stars were bright. I set up my tent. It took me a few tries because it had been a while since I went camping. I already ate, so I did not need to cook. I hung up the bear bag, not that I needed to, but rules are rules (not like bears would be arpund in the winter). By the time I finished everything, it was past 10 pm. I crawled into my sleeping bag. Then I remembered I had to use the restroom. I didn’t want to get back up. I cursed at myself of not doing it earlier before getting into the tent. I tried to sleep. I know I have good bladder control and in the past I had slept through the night without needing to go.
After couple hours, it became worse, like I was about to explode. I had to get up even though it was freezing. It was not any colder, but still getting up was not fun. I put on my clothes, layered up, added a jacket, gloves, wooly hat, socks and shoes. Actually, I couldn’t make it to the socks and shoes. l had to rush out the tent barefoot and tried to find the nearest tree and almost didn’t make it because I felt it was leaking out while I was still in the tent. Cursed at myself. Hobbled to the nearest tree but couldn’t reach it and quickly pulled down my pants, doing it off the cliff, finished my business and crawled back in for a good night sleep. Again normally, I could hold till morning, just not this time.
Next day, was pretty much a normal day. It was a beautiful day. It dawned early. I woke up around 7 am at first light. I actully slept in a bit, but knew I had a long day, I got up. Cooked breakfast. Packed the tent. Ate. Ate while packing up. Here I am mad at myself for forgetting my spoon here and did not packed it out. I knew when I left I should do a person-equipment check and police the place, but I did not.
I had an excuse because during packing, I had a strong need to use the bathroom, and this time, it was number 2. I quickly got out my cleaning kit (toilet paper and stuff), digging tool, and rushed off to the side of the mountain. Luckily the ground was easy to dig. But I couldn’t get it deep enough. I think 4-5 inches is the requirement, a cathole. After like two inches, I hit rock. It just had to do, I was about to burst again and there was no time to find a new spot with deeper soil. Pulled my pants down and did what I had to do. I was alone on the mountain with a good view of the valley below. After I done, I covered it with dirt and put a rock on top. The rock was probably over doing it, to prevent people or animal of stepping on it. Of course, I still packed out my used toilet paper.
I am proud of myself. This is the second trip that I actually digged a hole. Note, I thought I was so smart to stop at a rest area before arriving at TWOT and used the facility first. Little did I know, that I needed to go again so soon. When you need to go, you need to go.
By the time I got down from the moutain, everyone (runners from the previous night) had gone home. I saw they cleaned up well. The fire ring was gone. They took care of the ashes. They poured a bucket of ice over where the fire ring used to be. The ice were still there when I arrived. RD said he left at first light, so I think maybe 7 or 8 o’clock. It was now 9 AM. I put away my camping things. I put on my running hydration pack. I still planned to run on the trail, since that was the whole purpose of me being there. Camping was just incidental. I had drank all the water while on the mountain that night so I needed to refill my hydration bag with water I had in the car.
I wanted to run on the mountain, to do a loop of the Wild Oak Trail. I wanted get some early training for the Grindstone 100. This time, I was three hours ahead than I was there two weeks ago. I was hoping I could do the loop in 10 hours and finish it by 7 pm that night. In hindsight, I was mad at myself that I didn’t start the run even earlier like at 7 am instead of 9 am.
I started climbing up on Grindstone again, this time without the 30 lb pack. For some reason, I like doing this trail in counterclockwise direction. It was so easy now in the morning. At night, I stepped on every puddle there because I couldn’t avoid them, but in the daylight I could see them clearly and it was easy to step on the rocks.
It took me almost the same as last time to reach Little Bald. It was noon by then. I was 7 miles in and already used 3 hours. I hoped to reach Camp Todd by 1 pm. Note there were a lot of blow downs. It took a bit time to navigate past them.
When I got to Camp Todd, the River was too wild to cross. I could cross it, but it would be hell. And why risk being swept by it? I wanted to keep my feet dry too. RD said if I go to the right I don’t have to wade across the river. So I went back up on the trail and saw where the trail the split and followed that for about half a mile and indeed, I avoided the river crossing, except I was now half a mile out. It put me on the road. I ran down the road was not too bad. By the way, I met a cyclist and a runner on this section. Later, I met two more hikers. These were all the people I met that day.
From Camp Todd, I hiked up to Big Bald continue on a counterclockwise direction. It was not the hardest climb but it took a lot effort. One of the thing I regretted was I did not fill up my water at the river crossing. Now couple miles in I felt I wouldn’t have enough water to finish the loop and I was not even halfway in. Meaning later on, like the last four hours, I would be very thirsty. From memory, there wouldn’t be any water until the very end.
Luckily after I got passed Hiner’s Spring, there was a trickling of water flowing on the trail. I squatted down, literally crawling on the ground to filter water. It was slow going but I made sure I had a full bag before setting off, plus I filled up my tiny 8 oz gatorade bottle I had. This was a miracle of water flowing from a rock.
I think I got to Big Bald by 3 ish. It was a bit late. Big Bald is like the halfway point. I would have liked to get here by 1-ish. However, I felt the trail should get easier on the second half. I remembered from memory there should be some flat sections soon where running is possible. I believed I could still finish by 6 pm that night with only 13 miles left. I, in the past, was a strong runner on flat easy section. Today though, I was still nursing an injured foot — it’s gotten a lot better, but on occasion, it still hurts, so I couldn’t go at my usual speed.
Running down from Big Bald was fun. It was where the shin scrapper section is. It was steep. I loved it. Of course going up on this was not fun. The guys cleaned the area well before the race. I think I was on the Dividing Ridge. This part was known to be wild and had thick overgrowth filled with torns. Yet, I did not get tangled up with bushes. It was mostly downhill. I got to the second road crossing. To me, it was kind of boring.
After crossing the road, the climb was not tough initially because they put in a lot of “dumb” switchbacks. It used to be straight up. Now it was gentle up hills for hours. I think it was around 6 pm I got to the top of Hankey Mountain. To my surprise, the last quarter mile up before the Doswell Trail was the hardest. The view was incredible.
I knew I was behind schedule. There I started downhill but there was still a bit of climbing left though not hard. The sun was setting. I was wishing that I could get to the fire road before nightfall.
The trail on the this section was runnable. I think we had 4-5 miles. It took me forever, but I knew I was on the Lookout Mountain at the time. The sun was already set but I still could see without having my head lamp turned on. It got cold. I put on my jacket and gloves.
Silly me at this stage, I was hoping to get off by 8 pm. In my rush, I got “lost”. In my mind, I believe the next turn should be on the left. I was running down the fire road and it had been a while but still no turn in sight. The road splits, one goes up and one goes down. In my mind, I knew the turn was on the left after a short climb. And at the time I saw the blaze to the right but it looked purple of my light. I immeditately discounted it, thinking it couldn’t be right. For some reason, I refused to stop to checking the map, because I was so certain the next turn is on my left.
I went down to the left. Sun had set by now and complete darkness had set in. I turned on my headlamp. My spider sense started taking over, saying this road doesn’t look right. It is too wide and I started hearing rushing water, meaning I was near the base. At that time, I came to my sense to pull out the map. I know in the wild, you have to humble to trust your 9th or whatever sense you got. Sh*t, I was no longer on the road where I thought I was on. I figured where I made the wrong turn and how far down I went, maybe half a mile or so.
At the time I had a choice. I could continue down on the road. I saw it would reach a camp at North River. From there I could use the roads and get back to my car. Or I could backtrack, climb back on the mountain, make the correct turn, and continue on the Wild Oak Trail.
I weighed the pros and cons. Down on the road was new to me. I could get run over by cars, since people drive fast here and likely they wouldn’t see. Plus I could get lost again on the road. The distance between taking the road and trail is about the same. Road might seem a bit longer. I estimate might be 9 miles on the road, but with trail, I probably only have less than 5 miles left. I felt I would be safer taking the trail. Also the whole purpose coming out was to run on the mountain and not walk on the road. So I turned around and started back up the mountain. I had decided to keep to the trails. No matter how long it would take, I would go back up on the mountain. Besides, that is the runner motto, if you get of trail, you have to return back to where you got off without getting a ride on a bear or a yetti, or having a spaceship teleporting you back.
I was actually happy when I got back to the top of the ridge. Stars came out the second night. I heard wild animal calls, not sure if those were cats or dogs, or raccoons, but it got me moving fast and at the same time excited.
I saw the town below lit up. This always give me encouragement, knowing I will be down there soon. It was just five miles away. It might be Harrisonburg. At the time I thought was Harrisonburg but now it couldn’t be.
A runner called this section the Rock Garden, an apt name. We kick rocks because it was the most rocky part. It was mostly downhill. I hopped around. A few times I almost slipped but I recovered. I was proud of my balance. Yes, the whole purpose out here is for my feet to know how to do it even without light. My lamp was dimly lit. I couldn’t see much.
Eight o’clock passed. Definitely, I should be down by 9 pm, I encouraged myself. The trail went on unendingly. My water and snacks were out by now. Eventually, I got to a bunch of switch backs. I knew by now, I was definitely descending. I messaged my mom and friends, letting them know I would be fine and would be off the mountain soon.
The descent probably took me another hour. I had to step on a few puddles near the end. I cursed myself for not seeing the water before feeling it. Oh well, I was so close to the finish, a little wet feet wouldn’t matter. My throat was dried and hoarse since I hadn’t spoken the whole day. I had some blisters at least on my left foot. I almost tripped several times. Yet I was so close. I heard the river once more and came to suspension bridge. Basically at most quarter mile left. No way it would be a mile to my car.
I reached my car around 9:30. The first order of business was to change my shoes and put on dry socks and put on some clothes and a jacket I had in the car. By the time, I left the lot was closer to 10 pm. I was trying to get to the nearest McDonalds, however, they closed at 10 pm (though google was saying closing time was 11 pm). Anyway, it was a long way home. I did find a McDonalds at the next town over, and wolfed down a double quarter pounder in like two bites and was still hungry. Anyway, I was happy. McDonalds was my happy meal to celebrate a successful trip. Next order of business was to get back home.
What I accomplish on this whole trip: I camped out. I lost my long handle titanium spork on the mountain, the one I had for over last 5 years. It was specifically designed for reaching into Mountain House deydrated food packages. Oh well.
I had my run done. It was the hardest “25” miles run I ever did, ended like 27-28 miles from the extra milrs I put in. Rock-n-the-Knob and Catoctin 50k were not as hard compare to this one. This was more like a 32 miles or more. And it took me over 12 hours. This was a run and not a hike. My exact time was unknown. My friend Caroline told me later that she did this loop in 8 hours in her younger days (of her fastest loop) and she even did two loops once. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing more than one loop, much less 8 loops for a 200 mile run on this trail. It was hard even for a single loop.
Of course because my friend said she did it in 8 hours, I have to get my time down to 8 hours, to be badass.
As for other events, I ran the Holiday Lake 50k. A lot can be said about that race. And before that I ran a 5K last weekend, “for the love of it.” I could write about that too. Out of the three events, I enjoyed my time at the Wild Oak Trail the most. Also, I like the driving.
What it means to be alone. What it means to be great. I don’t think I am that high up there. I met people who exceed me by heads and shoulders. There was a lot of thinking. In the end it was jist pure joy doing what I like to do.
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