This was one for the record books. With an incredible 18 participants, you knew it was going to be epic.
We all trickled into our prearranged campsite that conveniently straddled the Virginia/West Virginia border by various means. We had the shuttle setup and the bailout vehicles in place; everything was good to go for the next day.
Everyone dispersed and settled into their cowboy camps while Michael and Jen got some interviews. I was feeling pretty unsure of myself; something I’m not accustomed to. But settled into my hammock and got a solid 4 hours of sleep. I awoke sometime after midnight to see the first of the headlamps flicking on. About an hour later most people were up and ready to get going. Worry about finishing in the rain was the main motivator.
I figured I was unlikely to get anymore sleep, so said the hell with it and got up myself. I hit the trail at 1:52am. My legs felt squishy on the descent, but I set a fairly reckless pace anyway. I passed a few people on the way to Harper’s Ferry, and was passed by James who rocketed down hill. Then I was on my own after catching up with Shane at the railroad bridge.
I stumbled my way through the morning darkness despite my double headlight setup. It got worse when my main lamp inexplicably started to die. I messed up a turn when I couldn’t find the blazes in the dark, but didn’t want to stop to change batteries. I started to feel more like myself by the time I approached the Washington Monument and caught the sunrise in the open fields.
I only stopped briefly in the park to top off my water, then pressed onto the I70 check-in where Michael and Jen were grabbing some footage. They told me James was just 10 minutes ahead. I was feeling reasonably ok, and set a decent pace onwards to Wolfsville to try to catch him. My lack of physical conditioning started to catch up with me on the rocky ridgeline, however, and my pace rapidly dwindled. My left foot felt like it had been beaten with a sledgehammer. Max cruised by me somewhere in this section.
When I finally got to Wolfsville to check in, I was feeling pretty shitty but never considered bailing. I kept up a slow pace which led to some unfortunate chafing. I caught up to Max briefly at the stream crossing just before the second to last climb. He had taken a short break to vomit and was spraying down the rocks with his hydration bladder in an effort to clean it up. We started the next climb together but he quickly left me in the dust. I was looking on to Raven Rock and the descent from High Rock with dread.
After crawling over the climb, I tackled the fracture hell that followed. I did reasonably well at following the terribly blazed path by correcting the previous two years’ mistakes in route finding. I rejoiced when I hit the soft path that announced Pen Mar was just ahead. I knew I was really slow when I couldn’t overtake a couple of day hikers meandering up the path! I emerged from the tree line to find James, Christy, Max, Jen, and Michael. Max had smashed the record with an 11:30ish run, and James edged out my previous record at 13:12. I managed 13:37, which I’m ok with, all thing considered. After having my 3rd completion memorialized by Michael at the PA line register, we returned to Pen Mar and I immediately started eating brownies. Joan and Nala appeared to help cheer us on. One by one, other finishers began to arrive, though I am fuzzy on the order: Dy, Russ, Dave, Sophie and Trevor. Gen cruised in with another incredible time of 11:50ish. He had wisely chosen to sleep in until 4am.
Ali (who had planned to exit at I70), Carrie, and Alex returned with all the bail-out cars, and Jen arrived with 6 pizzas which were quickly devoured. A thru-hiker rolled up headed southbound and gladly accepted our offer of pizza and beer. Sometime after dark, Evan and Andrew emerged from the darkness, and those who hadn’t already, started making their way to camp in PA.
I passed out the moment my head hit the hammock and never heard the arrival of Brian, Shane, and Steve. My phone died in the night and I didn’t stir until Andrew woke me up at 7:30! All the threatened rain amounted to little more than a few brief showers, so we had a dry walk back to Pen Mar and our cars. Then it was off to Mountain Gate to devour a breakfast buffet.
Congrats to all the finishers! This event is always fun, but also gruelling. Everyone is to be commended on getting to the finish. Max! takes the Gold, with Gen and James getting the Silver and Bronze. And EzBake extends his record of consecutive finishes to 4! Those who bailed all made it to an exit point in fine style, which is still one hell of a long day. Champagne and medals for everyone!
Stay tuned for the upcoming documentary, which should recount the suffering in great detail.
There was also more serious talk of a yo-yo attempt next year as we drove to Harper’s...we shall see!
*Notes to self for next year:
1) Get your shit together and carry less weight! My last minute packing (and struggle to find my gear) led to some wasted lbs going with me. I had my full expedition first-aid/repair kit, and unnecessary layers. Overkill.
2) Carry less food. I finished with even more food than last year, and ate less. Plus my usual snacks seemed to sit in my stomach. Probably need an all-sugar diet for next year. Stuff that rapidly absorbs. Light and easy snacks to pound. I never felt tanked out from lack of calories, but also had a slightly slower pace than last year.
3) Better headlamps and batteries. Stick with the Eneloop AAA's. Regular batteries started crapping out after 4 fours in my main headlamp. My old lamp (which was on my hips) doesn't throw much light, and it's worn out hinge made it point straight at the ground most of the time.
4) Train. It was nice to know I could do the event with no training and poor health, but it really didn't feel good. I enjoyed the walk less than usual as a result. Fortunately I don't plan on rehabbing any more houses or moving anytime soon...
5) Less bouncy pack. I love my Zpacks, but it is a bit of overkill for this. Already talking with Gen (Yama Mountain Gear) about acquiring a prototype of his latest running pack. Should let me move faster with less random rubbing due to half empty bag.
6) Keep my normal walking rate. Walking slower than normal leads to chafing is undesirable locations.
7) My protein shake was a bust, as it exploded in the back of the Forester at the trailhead. Next time I'll just get single serving chocolate milk and freeze it. Much simpler. And if one bursts I don't lose the whole dram.
8) Miraculously I had no blistering beyond where I based my feet throughout the day. Rockplates for my Altras would be a tremendous addition.