Wild Oak Trail BP

Day 281

It was a wild and wonderful weekend. On Friday I was supposed to be headed down south to Roanoke for a tripple crown hike/camping trip (McAfee, Tinker Cliff, and Dragon tooth) but God (or the hike lead) had a different plan. Plan was changing from the start. I was supposed to run the Ultra High Bridge 50k but instead I went for this trip. In the end, it was not meant to be.

As we were headed down to Roanoke, my hike lead was not feeling it. Instead at the last minute, we changed our plan to a nearer location. I don’t force her or mad at her fo a change of plan. Hiking any where is the same to me as long as we are all happy. The new location would still be just as hard, It has about 30 miles of hike and around total 8000 ft elevation change.

This place is less well known for backpacking. It has become a mountain bike trail and trail runner heaven. Ho and behold, as we pulled into the Wild Oak Trail head, the parking lot was packed. We got out, what to do and thinking what was going on. Normally, no one comes to this place after dark.

The guy who was tending at the parking lot quickly approved us to explain they were having a race going on for the weekend. We could stay and park on the side of the road as long as our car tires are completely off the road.

We were camping at the trail head with a race that was ongoing. The race started at 8 in the morning / or at night (I don’t remember). They were running 100+ miles). The trail has a 28-30 miles loop and they were running it 4 times. Through out the night as runners passed through the parking lot (an Aid Station as well as the starting and ending point) we heard cheers and applauses. Needless to say we had very little sleep.

As for me, I was trilled. I have read about races at Wild Oak. There was the Grindstone 100 and this was the hot TWOT. To finally be at ultra 100 miles race was heavenly. It was like shaking hand with celebrities. I might do the cold TWOT next February.

The next day we proceeded with our hike. My friend and I did this loop about three years ago. That time was my first backpacking trip (my friend disagreed) but I had plenty of memories from it because we did the whole thing in one day with a full pack on our back (and we were very miserable). This second time around we did it in a more relaxing way. Instead of hiking 28 miles in one day, we only hiked about 16 miles on the first day and finished the rest on the second. We camped somewhere in the middle. It was a good campground. I built a fire and tended it until backpacker midnight (when the sun went down and got completely dark) and I put it out and on the next day I bravely put my hand in the ash to make sure the ambers were completely out. Water was not plenty but still I pored water on the coals (I could pee on them, but I don’t think the ladies in our group would like that).

The next day, we finished the loop except we put in some extra miles after being confused by the signage and map. They changed the trail and the change was not on the map (at least that what we think). We had to rely on intuition and logic to get us ou of the place thanks to a very experience hiker in our group. He had a great sense of direction, otherwise we would still be looping at where we were lost for couple more times! Hey we all have our phones and gps, but none of us could make head or tail exactly where we were. We were lost for about an hour. I learnd some important old school navigation skills (love Sharron!). You don’t need map or signs if you use your head.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got out of the woods by early afternoon. I was in good shape. I ran this loop back in June and hiking it was not a challenge at all. It was no doubt considered one of the harder trail to run or hike, but splitting it into two days was really too easy.

Don’t ask me how I don’t remember the trail even though I was on it as recently as couple months ago. My friend I should start remembering stuffs. Haha! I really don’t bother remember unimportant stuffs.

Another thing I did differently on this trip was I carry a 28L bag (like a normal school backpack) and it was small and light weight. I was very light on my feet. It was a bit too heavy to run with, but I could have. I didn’t bring a tent but slept under the stars. It was cold at night but it was not too bad. The temperature was around 50-60F (around 10-15C). Couple times I was awaken by the cold and I had to move around in my sleeping bag to warm up (I slept in my undies). I didn’t bring long johns; didn’t need them. My friend said I must have a higher body temperature. I had my downs sleeping bag though, and that kept me warm enough.

I surprised myself to be able to pull off being minimalist on a camping trip. It can be quite dangerous because I could have frozen to death.

game on

Day 280

Though I don’t have much to say, this weekend instead of running the High Bridge Ultra (50k) I will be heading south and west for a backpacking trip. I will probably the last one until Patagonia.

I will be packing tonight once I get home. I have a bit of running to do beforehand. The weather has turned cooler now, and we might face near freezing temperature up on the mountain. I will have to dig through my stuff to pull out the winter/fall gear for the trip. Also the food situation is not good. My mountain house dehydrated food packs won’t arrive until Friday. I am thinking I might have to run to Walmart tonight to get some food otherwise I might be hanged high and dry.

I hiked the the McAffee, Tinker Cliff, and Dragon Tooth loop previously but that time I was a completely noobie. This time around I should know what to pack and have a little bit more sense of direction.

For the trip, we are leaving from Arlington around 6:30pm. I think it is a 4 hour drive. We have to hike couple of miles into camp, so we probably won’t arrive until midnight.

The next day, I heard we are planning to do 18-20 miles, to the other side (North Mountain). On the last day we might skip Dragon Tooth, but still there will be something close to 15 miles before we are out of the woods. It will be 30+ miles total.

I am ready.

Near miss

Day 153

If I don’t write about this, I won’t be able to move on.

Over the weekend I and several others headed to West Virginia Roaring Plain which is southern part of Dolly Sods Area.

The trip was a one night camping and the next day a 15 miles hike. We camped at the trail head. Apparently there is a nice big area in the woods for our big group of 7. We brought along several newbies unexpectedly.

The trail was technical and we have never been there before. Even experienced hikers had hard time finding and staying on the trail, so we read from the trail notes we brought along. It was my first time encountered such a challenge. It was beyond my level. I was given several chances to locate the trail during the hike and I failed to find it before others did.

I had a GPS unit but it didn’t really help to stay on track because the resolution was not high enough. If it was off by 50 meters, that is a big distance in the woods. I always know we are near a check point but we are never right on the check point at places where we should be turning. So every time we lost a trail we scattered around to search for trails. The GPS was of no help. There are many false trails too. Plus, my GPS North alignment was off by I think 30 degrees. So wherever it says to go in one direction, I couldn’t trust it. Which direction is the real direction whenever I looked up from my unit, I would ask myself. I had to use my phone compass to confirm. It was good still to have the unit because at least I could find how far I have walked and where I was on the map. However in term of picking the next direction to walk to reach the next checkpoint, the unit was way off, it was all pure skill from my hike leader, that we found the next point. She did spectacularly there. Also a handheld GPS is not like a car GPS, it updates at an interval, and what shown on the screen was the last update, which could have been five minutes ago. I could have forced an update on the position but there is usually a delay. I couldn’t trust it.

We lost the trail a few times. The worse was we had to look for an oak tree to make a turn at a rocky outcrop. We couldn’t find the oak tree. We passed it by a few time. I think we spent an hour there going round and round. We even backtracked for a mile. I got blame for this since my coleader at the time didn’t know she was backtracking but everyone else knew. She blamed me for not telling her.

At last someone, my coleader’s friend (he was an experienced hiker) pointed out the small oak tree we passed already several times. The light bulb lighted in us. We knew then we were on the right track. My leader then fan out to search for the next trail (teepee trail) we supposed to take and found it. That was the most difficult trail to locate. The reason was some of the carne were knocked down so we couldn’t find it. The trail was way up and out from where the oak tree was. It was unexpected.

The rest of the hike was pretty easy. We got to the forest road (FR 70) and entered a next forest where the trail was wide and blazed. There were only three miles left to get back to our car. Unfortunately we hiked very fast then and the newbies (or one of the newbies) couldn’t keep up. We didn’t worry because my leader’s friend was the self-designated sweeper (last of the group) to catch any the stragglers. Unfortunately near the end our sweeper friend couldn’t figure the way and they had to backtrack to FR70.

By the way, I am normally a sweeper on most hikes but my leader wouldn’t let me be one on this. She wanted me to be next to her to keep an eye on the trail. I ended up usually in the middle position (4th person down) in the group.

For us, after didn’t see them coming out the forest we went back in to search for them. Later we decided to send a group home first, while two remained to wait at the trail head. While I left the mountain we got the text message from ones who separated and their intended heading, which was a miracle in itself because the cellular signal was poor/non existent in the area. So we went back to pick them up. Of course the ones who got lost in the forest were not happy, even though it was a happy reunion for us.

Everyone said there is a lesson to be learned. One, was to wait up and keep everyone together. I won’t disagree with that, but I don’t think that was the main lesson. I have been in many hikes where I was hiking alone and got separated from the lead (since I was usually the sweeper). I think the main lesson is communicate what is expected from the participants. Most newbies had a rude awakening that they might have died in the woods (if they were not able to come out). They were never expected to be alone and lost.

I felt that according to common outdoor rules and I learned this very early on in my hiking experience is to have a map and know where we are going. It is generally expect that we can find our own way out. I knew this because I got left behind on my very first hike.

Second is this, and we did well, is an inexperience hiker is to team up with an experienced one. That was the reason nothing worse happened. Our sweeper friend was confident even when lost that he could leave the forest in his own power without the need of a search party. He did. I was as cool as a cucumber except for the other new guy with him. He took care of the inexperience one.

Third is communication. My leader relied on her friend who took the rear, on any hikes it wouldn’t be a problem except on this he didn’t know the trail (and didn’t ask about it), though he should have. I think both he and my lead was overconfident. If we had taken time to show him the map and the way of the last segment of the hike he even if separated he still would able to proceed. We were trusting his common sense to find the way because the trail was easy compared to what we have been hiking the whole day.

Though his backtracking was a smart decision, it wasn’t the best. If he has remained in place our search team would have located him (with only say 30 minutes). He wouldn’t had to backtrack and ended up walked an extra 6-10 miles out. The backtrack costed 4-5 hours. They were like only half a mile from the car when they got lost. They backtracked because they think we ourselves were lost. Any way a lesson learned.

My friend who led the hike was quite shaken from the experience, mostly dealing with everyone blaming her for the fiasco. I felt yes things like this can happen and people can get separate and lost. But also those going on a trip should be prepared with the necessary tools like maps and compass, and knowledge of how to use them. etc. None of them printed a map out. They have themselves to blame.

As for me, I am not that much being bothered. I just have to remind people that they have to be responsible for themselves on the next trip I lead. True people are not really blaming me any way, I am just a co-lead. They blamed the lead.

By the way, I learned my lesson of bring a map and compass after being left behind in the woods the first few times, when I went hiking with my current leader. I always was able to find my way out by luck! And usually I got left behind at an ‘easier’ section. That said.

Update

Day 142

I am on medication and my body is still very weak. Most symptoms are starting to go away. I knees are weak. Sometimes it is hard to go up the stairs. The inflammation of my back is gone now. I am no longer sore anywhere on my body. My sore throat has gone away. My jaw hinge is no longer hurting. All kind of weird stuff that was happening before are gone. One of my ear is still block from time to time. My balance is off.

One thing though I am still very weak. I get out of breath easily and my heart too races too frequently. It is getting better.

I tried to do some hiking today even though my friend protested against it. It was supposed to be a 9 mile loop at the Little Devil Stair. It is not an easy hike but not a too hard a hike either (rated one of the most difficult in our area) but runners run on this trail. I did it couple times before. To me it was easy. You climb it like stairs. Imagine it is a 100 stories building, like the empire state building.

The trail started off gently for a mile and then shoot straight up for a thousand foot climb. Something like that. I did the first mile fine. I was strong. Then came the climb. I think I got to 3/4 of the way up when I became very weak all the sudden. I was out of breath and breathing hard. My heart was racing. We took a stop for me to rest up. I got my breathing under control and calmed my heart. Then we continue on. We didn’t get more than 20 steps, my vision started to go blury. My hearing too. I was disassociating all things around me. It was like I am floating. I could hardly focus. I couldn’t hear what my friend was saying. Everything was muffled. Something about I should sit down.

I sat down. Luckily that stopped me from fainting. I felt I was on the verge of tumbling over. I told myself I got to hold on else it will freak my friend out. She was very worried about me already.

She asked if I wanted to turn around. That choice never occur to me. I knew we were almost to the top yet, the last quarter mile seemed impossible for me to go on. I felt if I took another 20 steps the same thing might happened again.

I told the group I can manage to get down the mountain by myself, but they were worried. So the whole group walked with me back down the ravine. I was grateful but embarrassed.

I made it down and back to the car. I never imagined I can be this weak. I felt I can do it. Yet, when my body run out of energy it just shuts down and it was very scary. When I am not moving I felt I have enormous amount of energy and I can take on anything. However, once I started to move, my energy quickly used up.

I then waited at the car as some of them tackled the trail again. They did the shorter version (5 miles) and ran down the last 3 miles. I wasn’t sad. Just a bit disappointed at my body is unable to keep up.

Random thursday

Day 126

1. Post-Marathon Blue again. I am beat on today run. I am more out of shape than I thought. Whether it is post marathon blue or what not, today run was horrible. I ran with two guys, the same two guys I have been running with. I think their names are Jack and Chris. We are usually about the same pace. Today though they seemed much better. They had to wait for me. Normally it is I who wait for other people. I felt they were like couple minutes faster. I couldn’t keep up at all. They beated me on the flat and downhill and uphill. I thought I would beat them on the uphill portion since that is my strength. Nope! Then I thought I would beat them on the distance since I am a distance runner. Nope. I gave up on the sprint. They dominated the whole thing. I guess I have been eating too much junk food and drinking too much sodas. Or it is really post marathon decline.

That’s life. I don’t want to believe in post marathon blue but I have run 9 marathons and each time is the same. I am suffering mentally and bodily after finishing a marathon. Life just don’t go well the following few weeks. Even my best hope — in running, I am doing poorly at it. Why even run, right? So much suffering for what.

I forgot what I want to write.

Passion. At church last night, there of course was some major lessons I can apply to running. However, I don’t remember what they were. I kind of zoned out in the middle of it. Something about the river of joy inside flowing out once you believe. Ah, once you have been with him, it will be known. It can’t be contained. Pastor looked at me and immediately identified me as a marathon man. When did I even tell him I ran a marathon? We are identified by our passion. We can’t not talk about it.

A Funny story about the hike I did. Last Sunday, I was hiking from camp to camp and the Sunday was our longest hike still. I think it was between a 18-20 mile hike. The machine (phone app) said we did 27 miles – it was way wrong. But it was a long hike.

We started out at 7 am on the dot. We actually woke up at 5 and packed our tents and had our breakfast and leisurely got our things together. There was supposed to be a heavy thunderstorm and damaging wind in the middle of the day and we wanted to reach to our camp/ a sheltering place before it hit. We knew that the half way point has a shelter. So we were hiking at a relatively fast pace around 2.4 – 2.6 mile pace. I think we hit the 10/11 mile mark by 11 o clock. This was with the full pack. 35-40 lbs. I didn’t have time to weight mine.

I was calculating that we should get to camp by 4pm. My friend thought otherwise and was aiming for 3 pm.

We stopped for ‘lunch’ which was pretty much just meant taking out our lunch from our pack and continued to hike with the lunch in our hands. I was fooling around looking for a place to pee. The sky got dark and wind blew. We were back on our way without eating (my friend finished hers before I even had mine ready). I had on my rain coat and rubber pants with my sandwiches in my hands.

Boy did the last eight miles a hard hike. The two ladies pretty much disappeared from sight on the getgo. Occasionally I got a glimpse of them like whenever we came to a hill and I was able to look up and saw them way up top while I was at the foot of it.

I started to day dream. It might be a coping mechanism because I was about to pass out. It didn’t help because I was falling even farther behind. Then I abandoned all thoughts. I only think of one name, my friend K and instead of looking at the ground I strained my eyes to look straight ahead like I could almost see her way in the distance. I was probably half a mile behind by then. I kept chanting her name in my head and I was like a train. A machine. I caught up with them on the last mile and passed them.

We laughed about it when we got to camp. The storm didn’t hit us but to a place like 30 miles south of us (Ohiopyle). I was all drenched from head to toes not from the rain but my own sweat. My friend looked at me and asked if I had on a different pants because it was darker.

They were dark because of my sweat. I knew if I would stop sweating during the hike, I would go into shock/heat stroke. We laughed about it because I was really foolish/and stupid because I could have taken off my raincoat and pants and would have able to avoid all the suffering to the point of passing out and would have hiked even faster still and might have kept up with them. It never occurred to me to take off my jacket on a 90 degree day. My only thought was if I died I wanted my last thought to be my friend’s name. It was really stupid. Haha. Guys are dumb they say.

Laurel Highlands

Day 125

My friend led a four days hike on Laurel Highlands. We went south starting from the end point mile 70.

Notable things:

-we had three people going. It kept the trip interesting

-we had a little bit of storm (like 10 minutes) and we were able to stay in a shelter until it passed. The other time we were already in our tents.

-though stormy weather supposed to last the whole weekend but we happened to avoid most of it. The storm went 30 miles south of us.

-we stayed one night at a state park before heading to Laurel Highlands. We car camped and had a good meal on Friday night in Hagerstown, MD

-sleeping locations were pretty good. We made reservation for our campsites. Not many other people showed up and we basically had the place to ourselves.

-we didn’t complete the entire 70 miles but we did 40 miles. Given another two days we would be able to finish it. We plan or hope to do the rest in the fall.

Overall, we had good time.

I learn fire doesn’t just burn on its own, it will go out if no one tends it. Fanning is important to keep it burning.

Impression

Day 103

I have been to many great hikes. Last weekend was one of those perfect hikes. In term of work out, It was about there. I wasn’t totally exhausted but I got blisters, probably from getting my shoes wet. I got chaffing, probably from wearing cotton clothing. My hips was bruised from carry the weight of the sack, my friend was saying what do I carry in that thing. I brought more than enough food to eat. It was just perfect but my friend had the Friday meal ready for me. She also gave me ‘brownies’ that was good for lunch. We hiked out early on Sunday. So I saved three meals. I had about three meals left over.

One thing I learned was I need to get the system down. I have been out a dozen of time but it still feels like 4 or 5 times. I still don’t know what to do or how to pack. It took me too long to organize or get dress in the morning. Twenty some minutes to take off my clothes or putting them on is way too long :). And I only had one set.

Routines. Routine is good. I need to get myself down on routine. Like what to eat and how to cook. Even boiling water took me longer than my friend who cooked her entire meal.

Bearbag. Yup. I forgot how to do the PCT style hang. It took me too much time getting the robe over the tree. Got to remember to bring a small pouch to put a rock in to throw it over the tree. It was just unbelievable. There were many things I felt I know, but actually doing them, they felt like the first time.

I slept great. I love sleeping next to the creek and also on the ridge.

Another thing I appreciate from this hike was it was a preview of the run I will be doing in two weeks. My run will be on the road but it will have similar elevation change as the hike was. I will be running on Blue Ridge Parkway.

The whole hike was generally peaceful. I had no great alarming thoughts. I was feeling generally calm and happy. My life was peaceful. In the past, hikes provide me a mean of escape, this time, I was not running from anything. It was as pleasant as a walk in the park.