Day366 Wild Oak Car camping

I ended up going to Wild Oak. This place has a lot of memories for me because it was there where I got my teeth cut for my first backpacking experience.

My hiker friend back into 2017 planned the trip to go there for like over half a year. I didn’t know her then. However, every time she decided to go, something happened, she had to reschedule 7-8 times. From her write up of the trip, it was supposed to be a super hard trip and it was to be done in the winter with numerous water crossings (she mentioned like twelve). Unfortunately for her but fortunately for me, the trip was postponed till mid summer, when it was just me and her. Like most trips we did, instead of canceling again, she decided to move it forward.

So I got to do the trip with her, and my first ‘real’ bp. There were only two river crossings. One of them has a bridge to walk across! We ended up didn’t backpack at all but hiked the whole thing in a day, partly my fault, since I was super excited about my physical endurance having just done my first marathon early that year. I was ready to show the world what it like to walk 26.2 miles. It was one of the toughest hikes I did, with a full pack. We were supposed to drop pack and camp midway but our hike was super fast and by evening time, we thought we had only couple miles left (it was like 10 instead because they remade and extended the trail and added like 4-5 miles, and we were using an old map). We laughed at it every time it is mentioned, because it was so stupid, to carry a heavy pack and did not use it and for 28+ miles no less.

Since then I have gone back to this place year after year. Last year, we were there during the Columbus Weekend and we happened to encounter a race happening that weekend. If you know anything about me, a race is like the reason for my existent. I almost couldn’t control myself to run with runners instead of backpacking that weekend. So I said to myself, I got to come back this year to run with them.

There is a tradition for this race, not sure since when, maybe for 10+ year, the Virginia Happy Trail people would come out here to fatass this trail – that is to unofficially race on the trail but without requiring signup or payment. If you remember I recently did the ‘VDM’ with them last weekend. All their races are kind of weird/informally done like that. They are really too old school for my taste, especially with the no-signup thing of a year in advance. I think because it is on government land, they are not supposed to have an organized race, but they got around this by having a group of informal private citizens that happened to gather during a particular weekend. Now the race is no longer tied to Virginia Happy Trail (I think to avoid being sued), but people still informally come on Columbus Day Weekend to run it.

So this year, I decided to go there on Columbus Day weekend to run. I ran on the trail by myself last year when I had the Lyme disease. I think I did it in 8 hours, which was pretty good (I think is the par for the course). But this time I did it in two laps. The first was on Saturday at 3pm and I didn’t finish until midnight, which took about 9 hours. In the morning the next day, I ran another lap, started at 9 am but didn’t finish until 8:30 pm. It took 11:30 hours.

The Virginia Happy Trail people didn’t show up in force though. They decided to have it the next weekend instead, which I think kind of nice to us the holiday visitors because the parking lot was kind a small (can only hold about 10 cars). There wouldn’t be enough space to park if everyone showed up.

I ran into three other people, who were also running the whole loop. They were fast. I think it probably took them under 7 hours. They ran in clockwise direction while I did the loop counter-clockwise. We met up around 2 pm. I was at mile 11, about 1/3 of the way while they were probably at mile 17 or 18 (2/3 of the way). I told them I probably wouldn’t get back to the parking lot until 8 pm. I had 6 more hours to go, while maybe only 3 more hours for them. Lucky! Though secretly I was hoping to finish by 6 pm (at the 9 hour mark). I didn’t want to be caught on the mountain in the dark on a cold and rainy day.

But as luck and my ability would have it, I ended up spending seven more hours out there. They told me hope I can descend before dark. It was good I tossed a small handheld flashlight in my hydration pack before setting out, thinking just in case but likely I wouldn’t need it. The last hour coming down the mountain in pitch dark was something I don’t want to do, but ended up doing. The light from my handheld was just barely enough to lit the few steps in front of me. It has barely enough light to see anything. I think it was the fog and my beam was not penetrating it. I think there was maybe just a candle worth of brightness. It flickered on and off and I was praying hard, please have enough battery to last the trip down.

The trail was not easy. It was not the hardest trail there is but they have enough steep uphills and downhills and there are portions that are rocky and technical. The first climb was over 7 miles! The last descend was 5 miles long! Quad killer indeed. Ankle and knee killers too. It was not a hike for the average city folks.

I rolled my ankle twice on the first lap around at mile 8/9. On my second lap in the same place I rolled my ankle twice again. I tried to stop to find the stone or root that tripped me. The sad thing was that part of the trail was gentle and smooth. There were many places that were rougher or tougher. I usually roll myself at the easiest places. The part that is hard to accept is on my second lap, I had my poles with me – this kind of rolling shouldn’t happen because my weight should have shifted to my arms. I had to pause to consider should I quit, since hiking 8 miles back is easier than doing 20 miles forward. I decided to risk it by moving forward (sunk cost fallacy). Luckily I didn’t roll again, but that was a pretty gusty decision.

One thing I did that almost put my life at risk was the tropical storm Delta (down graded from Hurricane Delta) arrived at our area that morning. I knew about the rain and wind. I packed a rain jacket but at the start of the run, I felt I don’t need it and left it behind. It was not raining then. When I did the first lap (in the evening), I was not cold. I was hoping the temperature would remain constant. But on the second lap once the rain came, and temperature dropped, I was freezing. I was halfway through by then distance wise, with the time around 3-4 pm. I was thinking how I wish I have my rain jacket with me. I might go into hypothermia and it was late Sunday. If something bad happens, no one will be on the trail to rescue me until maybe next weekend. I got to get off of this mountain myself before my body freezed.

Throughout the run, I dared not think of the time remained to the parking lot because even if it takes an hour, it was just too long to accept. I was focusing on the distance instead. I was at mile 15, and in my mind I told myself just need to get to the next peak which was like 3-6 miles away. I knew the trail is about 27-28 miles long. I kept thinking in that line to give myself hope.

Maybe the cold and tireness affected my thinking. I got lost on the next peak, Hankey Mnt. When we went there as a group, we got lost there too. The night before though I didn’t get lost because – my hiking friend told me she fixed the sign and I found her small beaten fixed sign and followed it down. With full confident that I wouldn’t get lost again on Hankey in day time I ascended (I could bypass it that peak if needed). However, when I ascended I found the campsite my friend told me about (something I didn’t see the night before), but her sign I didn’t find. In place of her sign I found a new and official trail sign clearly marked ‘WILD OAK TRAIL’, so I took the left turn there. I thought it was a left. This is where the confusion came in. Apparently by taking the left I ended back up at where I was about a mile away. Exactly, how on earth did I hiking backward on the trail without realizing it! I think though the backtracking was on the *old* trail except it was newly blazed or earlier I was on the old trail while ascending! I blame the forest park people, why blazed an old trail. They got the sign confused there. I was at mile 18 earlier. However the extra backtracking added an extra 3 miles (an hour more).

If anyone is reading this and planning to hike The Wild Oak Trail, don’t ascend the Hankey Mountain, leave the Wild Oak trail take the Betsy trail instead to go around it instead because there are some confusing signs up on the top that would loop you back around. The funny thing is they don’t blaze the other side of Hankey Mountain where Wild Oak merged into Betsy (or Betsy into Wild Oak Tr), so even if you are on right trail you won’t know it until five miles later. So just avoid ascending Hankey altogether.

I kept telling myself only one more peak to go (Lookout mountain at mile 22). It took maybe 7 more miles before I got there (and that was about 3 hours later). The time then was 6:30 pm, that was original my goal to finish by. However, I was not upset. We get there when we get there.

I was pressing for time. I didn’t know how long it would take to descend Lookout mountain. My guess was 4 miles. I know it would get dark by 7 pm. The mud was slick and I was not wearing my trail shoes but the normal road running shoes. So basically I was skiing, sliding, and slipping all over the places. Based on the previous day, it took me an hour and half to descend. So I tried to do it again this time as fast as I could. But I didn’t have a bright flashlight on me this time. The one I had I could hardly use to see. I kind of make out a shadowy path in front of me.

At one point I almost went over a cliff. Thank God, I stopped in time. That was mostly my fault too. The previous day, the city light below the Lookout Mountain was beautiful, and I tried to see if there were any light (It was foggy). While trying to look, I walked straight out into the edge because the path has curved at that point.

Over all it was a good experience. I had 27 miles the first day and 30 miles the second.

I brought my tent but too lazy to use it. I slept in the car both nights, a real definition of car camping. The first night, I sleep in the flat bed of my truck. I was not afraid of bugs. The second night was rainy and I slept inside. The backseat only fits half of me. I slept in like hammock position, V-shape. My head was up and my legs were up. I didn’t get much sleep. I left the rear window opened for air.

I think I was not supposed to sleep/camp at the trailhead, but there is no one around to enforce it. This was kind of reminescene of the first trip where we had a tent but ended up didn’t use it.


Day304 feeling defeated

I am feeling a bit deflated. Maybe it is just a natural progression after a long weekend trip.

I drove up to PA to meet with couple guys who were running a section of the Laurel Highlands Trail. None of the people in my group was running the whole thing that day but after I got home, I saw on Facebook some other people did do it, the whole 70.5 miles.

The 8 mile section we did was tough. We only did it once when originally we (mostly me) wanted to do it twice and at night with very little of sleep (in a delirious state).

The run was harder than I anticipated. I hiked the trail before and I thought I have improved a lot since then and I could take on running it. How hard can that be? It was hard.

I ran with couple hard core ultra guys. Those guys didn’t even sweat and I was out of breath the first mile. Then came the climb. They could run uphill but I could only run downhill. I got a blister on one of my toes from it. Dang it. Later on at the last three miles I rolled my ankle. Did it twice. Run was over for me. What a disappointing end, as I hobbled back to the car.

One of the guys, he was the fastest in our group, and the guy who invited me to run with him, shared about his DNF (Failed to finish) of his last race at the Black Forest Ultra. He said he tried his best and still could not make it to the last cut off time. He was over by a minute. He shared how he was in a funk since then.

That kind of put things in perspective for me. I don’t want to fail in a race. This guy I thought he is my idol and fast and there is a race out there, and he couldn’t make it. The race he failed was also one I wanted to do.

I am trying to find the motivation in me to run. My past weekend trip helped me to see how much more I must train to get ready for the real thing. The weekend was like a practice run and my wheel came off. The real race will be taken place sometimes in September – the race date hasn’t been set yet due to the coronavirus.

camping hikes running

Run report

Day 228

Last week was low mileage for me with a total about 9 miles. Lowest so far after having 50+ for last three consecutive weeks, but I figure I needed the low mileage rest.

As usual, Monday was a rest day. After three weeks of running, I was grateful for Monday

Tuesday: 4. Easy run with group. The weather is getting warmer. Legs were heavy.

Wednesday: 2nd rest day

Thursday: 5 miles. Also was a group run. Legs were still heavy but a bit better than Tuesday.

Friday: 0. traveling

Saturday-Sunday: *3-4ish. I would like to say it was supposed to be a run but turned out more a backpacking hike. Saturday, hiked 24 miles and Sunday 12. I won’t count them running though my body was sored from the activity.

~~~~Long version~~~~

The highlight was I went to Laurel Highlands to check on the trail, which I will be racing on it in June. The trail was not extremely hard, definitely runable in most section (‘groomed’ trail some say), but it is considerably a step up from my last ultra due to hilly terrains. It was not the most technical terrain I have seen, but I will be killed by a thousand cuts. It is flat on the elevation profile but it is anything but flat. 70-mile is not an impossibility but it won’t be a cake walk. People said to train for it as if it is a 100 mile race. One suggestion was to do 10k ft of hill climb per week. I intend to do just that.

Due to the trail being a point to point (not a loop), it was difficult to plan the training run logistically. I decided to ‘play it safe’ because of the cold weather and I camped at the race to-be checkpoint #1 (Mile 18) and intended to study the trail from mile 18 to 0. I was very tempted to run the whole thing in a day, knowing my ability I can do 18 miles any given day, however because of the remoteness and ‘what-ifs’, I decided to backpack by hiking it instead. It was definitely a wise decision.

I was much weaker than I anticipated. Even with just the hike, it exhausted me. If the previous weekend running in the woods an indicator, this weekend’s message was loud and clear: I was in no condition to ‘trail run’ it. I might call it running, but if I couldn’t put up 3 miles an hour, it was anything but running. On race day, doing 3 miles an hour will not get me to the finish line under 22 hours. I am not alarmed, given I have about 12-14 weeks left, I could train up for it.

The first night there was just straight camping. I hiked around for an hour looking for camp but that was just my stupidity of not studying the map before hand. I figured the camp was only about half mile at most from the parking area and I could bump into it. You can only go north or south on the trail, how hard can it be in finding the camp? I walked first north the back south and turned around went back north (I was so near then before turning around!) and explored some of the side trails, while really needed to use the bathroom! Yes and it costed me an hour wandering around in the middle of the night. The camp was really half mile away (South). It was 2AM by the time I close my eyes. My hiking leader would be laughing at me if she knew (she didn’t go; well if she had gone, I wouldn’t be in a jam).

Camped in the snow on the first night; happy to arrived

The next day, bright and early, I decided to take my pack to camp#2 (at Mile 6), which is about 12 mile hike. Trust my plan, I kept saying to myself. Luckily, the snow on the ground was not much and they were fresh, about quarter to half an inch of snow on the ground. It didn’t make running impossible but the cold was a big factor for me to play it safe and decided to hike it with my pack instead of dropping the pack at where I parked and running the thing. Indeed, the ground was icy in part and I took too many falls to the ground myself. I left my trekking poles at home when the time I needed them the most was now; I had micro spikes in my pack but I was too stubborn to put them on — again my hike leader would shake her head if she saw me, like for all these years of camping and I still haven’t learned.

Tiny shelters (huts) down in the valley. I had the whole campground to myself at my second day camp site

I arrived at the second camp by noon, exhausted, and also not haven’t eaten breakfast. I dropped my pack, set camp, ate and by 2 PM then proceeded to hike/run the remaining six miles (to Mile 0) on an out and back.

reached mile marker 0

They say these six miles would be hardest in the race in term of elevation gain. It is probably a joke to those on the west coast that we complain about a thousand or two ft of elevation gain over couple miles, but to us here it is hard running! Everything is relative.

Indeed, I could hardly run it. I came across many runners on the trail in this last (first) section and one of them has ran the Laurel Ultra a few years back. He said, he knew of no one who would run up it, specifically on Spring Hill.

Next morning, woke up with body pretty much in a bad shape (bad meaning I didn’t want to run). I felt I couldn’t walk another mile. I asked myself, do I want to repeat to run to mile 0 and back, since it would be a perfect day for running it. It was much warmer and snow had melted. It would make great numbers for my runner log.

I pretty much knew the answer. I can’t find any resolve to beat my body any more but to hike (crawl) back to the car. I could definitely do it if I had to, but it would be pushing myself beyond uncomfortable. I knew it was not happening. It was really pointless to stay another night if I am not running it. Also I only had carried one day of food with me on my pack and I ate them the day before…unless I go back to the car. I always had more food in the car. But if I go to the car, why not just go home. The hike back was literally a crawl for me. That’s a wrap for the weekend.

someone’s snow graffiti
hunting parking lot – it advises runners/hikers to wear bright orange color clothing. PA has a lot of public hunting grounds. Larel highlands trail runs through some.
around mile 13-14

course preview

Day 188 JFK prep

There are a lot things to say. The most important was I was out on the trail running again. I haven’t run that much due to various reasons. Weather, scheduling conflict, and probably plain laziness.

I ran on Tuesday. Didn’t do it on Wednesday because of church. Thursday was because of the weather and I had to fix my car (it had a recall for defective airbag). I finally took it in to have it serviced. Friday was my nephew’s birthday. Normally I do my long run on Friday!!! And skipping it really hurts. Yet it was for my nephew. Also I am just lazy trying to find excuses to skip out on my long run.

So today, I had my run. It was out of this world awesome. I woke up at 3 again 3 in the morning to make it clear. I left the house a little before 6 and drove to Harper Ferry, a place north and west of where I live and where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland meet.

It is a beautiful place and has historical significant, just don’t ask me what it is. It was mentioned in my history book.

I got there just in time before my shuttle leaved. I was there because a volunteer has offered to shuttle us to Boonsboro about 30 minutes from Harper Ferry, where we would run the first portion of the course for the JFK 50 mile race later this month. We would run from Boonsboro to Harper Ferry on the AT (Appalachian Trail).

I love trail running and just not doing it enough because mountains are so far away. I know I only live about an hour away and I am complaining that it is far.

I am awesome on the trail compare to many city runners because I go backpacking and hiking frequently. My feet just know where they are supposed to land and I don’t have to look at the ground. I run on uneven surfaces as if I am on the road. And I am strong on hill running. I can run miles now up steep hills because I am an ultra runner! It is like I am in my element when a race takes place on a mountain. Best of all I don’t easily get lost.

I am bragging of course. But most runners because they are coming from road running, are very careful about where they are stepping and so would miss the trail or get off to a wrong trail (because they don’t look at where they are going). This is no lie. At the very first mile onto the AT, there is a side trail leading to a camping shelter for backpackers. Many runners would inadvertently ended up at the shelter because they were too focused looking down. The JFK has been around for years, and so over the year, the path to the shelter were widen by lost runners! I can’t help but laughed when I saw the situation. Our driver has warned us not to end up at the shelter.

In fact the whole AT trail in Maryland are widen (and eroded) by us runners. What can we say? We even made the AT feels very flat in Maryland.

Though I think I will do well in the JFK 50. I will run conservatively. On the trail portion, I will walk (keeping a 16-18 min mile). Then on the Canal portion, it will be a normal marathon. I hope to run it in 5:30 (5 and half hours). The final 10K, I will just have to endure through. The whole race will probably take me 11 hours. People are telling me to break the race down with a 2 mile warm up, a half marathon on the trail, then a normal marathon gravel, and a final 10K on road, and a 2 miles cooldown walk/run.

It was so beautiful this morning. I crossed into Harper Ferry before the sun was up but as we ran, it was just gorgeous. The trail were filled with laughter and people. Look the leaves are turning!

Where is this? It was maybe 3 or 4 miles into my run. It was so cold. I was freezing. Temp was around 32 or 33 (yup freezing). Luckily there were no wind. I ran in two layers until the sun was up and I got rid of my outer layer. After the run, It took me 6 hours to warm back up. Yup, I crawled in my bed after a nice long and warm shower and stayed in bed after. But I love the cold so much. Yup, up since 3 AM.

I met Kathy, Wendy, and Amy on the trail. Kathy though didn’t finish. She might have gone off the wrong trail. I waited for her for an hour at the end but she didn’t come out. I then left after Wendy and rest arrived.


Sunday reflection

Day 118

I like to spent Sunday to reflect on and review what the past weekend has been. It has been a normal weekend. There were weekends when I had a plan like a race or a backpacking trip. This weekend started with a plan and as the day approached, the plan kind of unraveled. It was not a bad weekend but it could have been even better.

Originally, it was going be a hike on Saturday with a group of people. It was another hike for noobies. I was looking forward to it. Then the hike was placed on my shoulder and one by one people dropped out. It is typical that people drop from an event, speaking from experience. I don’t think it was just because I was leading it that people were dropping out. In the end it was me and another dude. I was counting on him not showing up because over the week he never reached out about ride and where to meet.

I ended up doing the hike by myself. It didn’t bother me a bit. It was better that way because I could hike faster by myself. When I got to the trail parking lot, it was full, so I did some exploring driving a bit farther down the road and found another lot. There was no cell signal to contact the other guy about a last minute change of location. The other lot was secluded. There were only two cars there. I checked one of the cars out and it had an ultra trail running sticker on and I know there must be probably a trail around and the driver was probably running on it.

I pulled out my map of the area and saw the trail connects to the AT (Appalachian Trail). I had all my running gear with me and I was planning to run on the trail any way if no one showed up. I put on my Nathan 7L camelpak (don’t know the real name/ it was quite big, it holds 2L of water, I don’t use the water pack though). I packed my lunch and snacks and water. Put on my trail running shoes – Salomon 3. The trailhead was around the bend on the other side of the road. As I started, a hiker just finished his and I asked how long it is and he told me 4 miles to the AT. It was much less than that (I think about about 2).

I started running. The trail was kind of nice to run on. The uphill portion was gradual. I ran and walked. Actually, I am quite out of shape for uphill. I could only run a few minutes before I was out of breath.

At the top at the Pass Mnt Hut, I came across a thru hiker (one who attempts to hike the whole AT, about 2000 miles), Lost-n-Found. He started two weeks ago from Harper Ferry doing Flip-Flop, now SOBO (South Bound). He did part of the north bound portion last year. We talked. At the time, I didn’t recall his YouTube channel, but afterward, I think I saw some of his videos before. It was very cool to chat with him in real life.

I got to Mary’s Rock and stopped there for lunch. I only had a sandwich and I was rushing to start that I didn’t put any spread.

Mary’s Rock was kind of cool. I was there maybe two winters ago but that day was very cold and I didn’t go out to the outcrop, and I didn’t know how beautiful it is. I took some pictures. It was foggy but I love the rock formation.

The original hike was calling for 6 miles and Mary’s Rock would be the turn around point. I felt it was still early, around 11AM and I could put in more mileage. I decided to do my ‘weekly’ long run. I checked my map, if I want to get to the original parking lot – BuckHollow (one that was full), and come back, it would add 15 miles. Currently I had done about 5 miles up to Mary’s Rock. Twenty miles would be the total. Sorry if my math doesn’t seem to add up.

Surprisingly, I got to the BuckHollow parking lot at 1pm. I ran out of water by then, but I had with me a Sawyer water filter. I replenished my water by the stream. I love drinking from the stream! I took a different route back, using Buck Ridge instead of BuckHollow. Boy that hill was tough. It is two miles straight up. The photo doesn’t do justice how steep it is.

I forgot how hard it is to run up this hill. It was maybe a 2000 ft change in elevation. It was tough. I gave up running up that thing after maybe five minutes. Even walking up on it, was tough. I calculated that with my current pace I wouldn’t be back to my car until 7 pm. K and I in our previous hikes here, saw runners running up and down this as if it was flat!

The hill goes on forever. My friend K, named this hill the Heaven Hill because you will see heaven once you get to the top. I got back to Mary’s Rock, sometimes after 2. I stayed at the Rock a bit, having my fruit cup. It was beautiful. I was very hungry then. The two slices of bread I had earlier did not provide enough calories. Rain started. As I got off Mary’s Rock, I ran into lost&found, the thru-hiker I met earlier. We chatted some more. He told me he got some trail magic from someone.

Rain was on and off with some drizzling. I picked up my pace.

Running downhill, I came across many people. I rolled my ankle several times, mostly on my right ankle (the stronger one) this time. It didn’t hurt but it put the fear in me to not run too fast when I’m tired. Doing downhill was easy, but every time when I came to uphill, I was too tired to run.

I got back to the car by 4:30, way ahead of my expected time. It was my longest trail run practice thus far, totalling 20 miles and took eight hours to complete. Not spectacular. If it were my 50k race, I would get a DNS (did not finish within the specified time).

The trail is not smooth and it is rocky on some parts. It is worse than running on concrete, but it was very beautiful. Wild flowers were all around.

I enjoyed running on the trails a lot. It was very peaceful. It wasn’t easy. Mentally, it was very satisfying. I don’t remember what went through my mind, however, I felt it was a time well spent with God. All my problems from life disappeared at the moment (escape mentality), though I think I can deal with real life now because of the run.


Long run

I am more tired today than last weekend when I did the marathon. I went out for a long run today. I wanted to do a three hour run. I started at 1:30