What can we say about Maine? After a month worth of rainfall in the first 9 days, the rivers were swelling to promote the “High Water Warning” signs.
Our drive to Millinocket, and Baxter State Park on August 4th was interesting to say the least.A cloud as black as Zip’s ass was dumping hail and heavy rainfall over the region. We were optimistic though and proceeded to our Leen-To at Kathadin Stream Campground.
Marit Fischer, our Backcountry star drove Matt Hart and I to the Abol Trailhead at top speed, we started our hike at 5:15 and made the summit at 7am. We started the Assault at 7:08.
The sky was clear with only a few dusty clouds, we had hoped to see a trend like this for the next few days. Old Mother AT teased us a bit as day 2 was to be the next round of consistent wet weather. Perhaps a good idea after seeing these nasty clouds, would be to get some good health insurance in case we experience a deluge of rain?
Although the weather was messing with us, we continued to make our miles the first 3 days. We were thrown to the ground, soaked to the bone, but still got through the misery.
Day 4 was our run into Monson, where the Kennebec River had swelled to 6’ above flood stage. The ferryman was closed that afternoon, so we hunkered down and called it short at a mere 29 miles. Now we are behind due to weather.
At 830am Matt, Marit, Karl Senior and I walked down to the river crossing and waited for the ferryman to arrive. He was reluctant to take us across as he had never seen the river swell this high….ever. We went for it, and in textbook style he paddled us across, unfortunately he had to wait for a northbounder to help him get back across so he could close the river crossing for the day. To his benefit, Matt and I passed a northbounder only 10 minutes from the river. Our gracious ferryman made it back, then closed the river.
Matt and I crossed numerous rivers waist deep, but again, we were pressing on. The only problem is we are now a full day behind our itinerary due to the stopping at the river. Now with the itinerary MOOT, logistics became more difficult for crew to efficiently get us into NH on time.
We reached the Mahoosuc Range a day late, but I was still encouraged as I was still ahead of AT’s (Andrew Thompson) record run. 8 days through the Mahoosucs is still very aggressive…we’re still on track
Maine was brutal, but behind us now. Only one day behind, I’ll take it after that start and the weather. I had no complaints other than the trenchfoot I contracted, but that’s another story…we still made the miles despite the pain.
New Hampshire starts in Gorham, only 23 trail miles from Pinkham Notch and the Presidential Range. The rain had subsided a few days ago and the trail was improving in terms of water, it was still rooty, rocky and ugly to say the least, but without a river flowing on the trail, it seemed a bit easier.
Matt was on his way home now, and BC.com Photographer and fellow trail runner Tommy Chandler has taken over for Marit. I was alone for the rest of the AT. I have no problem with that, but it was certainly nice to have Matt along in Maine to get through the 300 miles of wilderness and swollen rivers.
Because of the logistics being changed after the Kennebec, I had to decide what to do next with the Presidential Range and the rest of NH through Franconia.
The short day from Gorham to Pinkham Notch figured to be the best bet, as I would rest before day 10’s adventure.
As we know I deciced to go “Big” and go over the Presi’s and all the way to Franconia in a day. I started at 4:07, went off trail for 40 minutes in the Great Gulf, but still made it to Crawford Notch by 1pm. The next 26 miles was tough. Being able to fill water at Garfield Hut saved me from filtering, and I reached the summit of Mt. Lafayette at sunset. I stopped for a 10 minute break then proceeded to descend to the RV. It took two hours to descend to the support where my dad was waiting. 18 hours and 10 minutes later, I was eating and sitting comfortable in the RV. I made it and was still 23 miles ahead of AT’s record, but at this point, I was tired and the next morning was a tough one.
With a 7am start, swollen feet, sore legs and very little mental drive to get going, I proceeded to tough out a 16 mile section to Kinsman Notch, and then the elevator shaft climb to the summit of Moosilauke. Still pressing on I made it to Glencliff then another few miles to the RV. Tired, sore and bummed at how my feet felt, all I could do was deal with it for now.
My wife Cheryl and Backcountry Athlete Wrangler Jonny Atencia have now stepped into crew, giving Karl Sr. a break and sending Tommy Chandler back to SLC. They arrived at the RV at 3am, only to be awakened at 430am to get me on the trail.
The remaining sections of NH are much easier then earlier. There are still many mountains to summit, but the terrain is less technical and jogging is slightly easier.
The next larger town is Hanover, NH, where I was greeted with BBQ chicken from our next BC.com crewmember’s family, the Barrel’s. It was a nice change. I ate most of it. While I was still feeling effects from the Pinkham-Franconia run, my mileage was backed off a bit and was drifting backwards towards AT’s run.
Still my feet are blistered and the trenchfoot continues to plague me forcing me to run with a slightly different stride. Unfortunately this worked against me even more as I was forced to STOP at VT. 11/30 due to extreme tendinitis in my left shin. This is what actually stopped me, not the trenchfoot or blisters.
Now knowing the record will be out of reach with 4 “0” days, I decided to wait out the injury, figuring this will be a good way to see the whole trail and learn logistics. Jonny and I were enjoying the Magic Hat Ale while making good conversation with thru hikers that passed our RV in the parking lot.
My first day back was a 17 mile day only walking…with poles. My wife accomplanied me on this leg and it was nice to be out there with her. Without the poles I don’t think I would have made it. This leg was the only option after VT 11/30, the reason I did not go anywhere the past 4 days. The following day I walked 18 miles only to stop with more nightmare pain. I stopped for a few hours, had some lunch, and soaked my legs inthe river. I was frustrated to say the least, then just said “screw it”, stuffed my feet back in my shoes for another 23 miles of walking with poles…I had nothing to lose. 41 miles later I was able to rest again. This was a Saturday and after finishing, my goal was to be able to run by the following Thursday…10 days after the initial injury.
Sunday was a walker, (only 34 miles) but Monday I was able to jog a bit and was encouraged a bit from there. My tendinitis tape job was helping, thanks to Justin Barrel, who found this technique endorsed by Tim Tweitmeyer. Had Tim not had his endorsement on this I probably would not have done it…Thanks Tim! Vermont was almost behind me.
Massachussetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey
On the map, these 4 states appear to be a little easier. Maybe easier than Maine and NH, but no easier than Vermont, the relentless steep hills continued. The footing wasn’t too bad, more like the trails here in my Utah backyard.
Still my feet are ruined and just getting out of the RV every morning was hard. I hobbled daily for the first hour before the ibuprofen and endorphins kicked in allowing me to run. I don’t think the crew enjoyed watching me leave every morning.
I hooked up with Randy Miller in NJ and ran an entire day with him. He kept me moving and it was an extreme pleasure to have him along. Randy showed up just in time at 515am with a dozen donuts and a 6-pack of NJ’s finest ales.
Buzz at La Sportiva had larger shoes on the way, but were sent into western Pennsylvania. I still had a few more days to stuff my feet in shoes that were now a little small. It hurt, but I did it.
Pennsylvania is another state that looks relatively flat on paper. I had run here many times on the AT and knew flat did not necessarily mean easy. The rocks in Pennsylvania are endless and slow running to a halt, even when it’s flat. Old Mother AT knocked me back again as I crashed on a sharp rock and took a direct hit to my sternum, bruising it slightly. I was now back to walking as taking a deep breath was out of the question for a few days.
My next day gave me an 18 mile section of smoother terrain, but I was forced to walk it because of my chest. It seemed over the last 2 weeks, every time I found some smooth terrain, something was stopping me from running. The starts were not lined up. They were all over the place, bumping into each other.
After a nice dinner at Aunt Dorothy’s, Dr. Woodstock (a.k.a. Billy Simpson) showed up and took over for the driving for the rest of the adventure. Billy was a godsend as he started on his repair of my feet. From duct tape to moleskin, Billy taped my feet each morning at 430am. It took 30 minutes a day, but my feet were actually healing from here.
Billy thru-hiked the AT in 2007 and kept informing me the trail would get smoother once I reached Virginia. When I finally reached VA, it was still rocky, and I was frustrated, then a hurricane made it wet, and my feet were ruined again. Mother AT kept throwing things at me. Sean Andrish and crew accompanied me on this section in northern VA. I wasn’t in the best of moods at the time, but we made the best of it. They kept informing me of the smooth terrain ahead. I stopped after 41 miles, with infected feet, sore feet, blistered feet, and a racked brain.
I woke up the next morning near Front Royal and decided to make the trip to the ER in Front Royal to get an antibiotic for the infections.
A few people at whereskarl heckled me for only running 34 miles that day, but the infection had to be resolved. I returned to the RV at 10am, and still got in 34. I was happy with it, the naysayers didn’t understand while sitting in front of the screen.
The trail was now smoother and my pace could increase slightly. Shanendoah NP was ahead. It’s smooth and beautiful, but after a stellar 60 mile day, my brain farted and mental issues started…once again, smooth terrain and I was going nowhere fast. Just another area I lost lots of miles. Remember the record is out of reach….way out of reach, so without a carrot in front of me, why should I go nuts making big miles? My brain checked out for while.
I still continued. I contemplated going home, but knew going home would be failure, finishing is a success, even if Chump Warren Doyle says it is not. A record would be icing, but this year the cake had no icing. That’s OK, learning logistics is a huge benefit for my next attempt. I tried to continue to stay positive. All I could think of it to stay positive as the trail ahead only gets better.
Virginia is around 400 miles long, and mostly buffed singletrack, buffed smooth, but very hilly in Dave Horton’s neighborhood. Big climbs and long descents is what I am used to.
My feet were now improving, finally with the size 11.5 I had on. My normal size is a 10!….It was working, not to mention the stellar new tape Buzz at LS sent us.
Continuing thru VA, the next goal was to not get “chicked”. Jenn Pharr-Davis finished here great thru-hike in 57 days 8 hours and change. I needed to average 40 a day to beat her.
It’s not about men beating women here, in the world of Ultrarunning, we joke about getting beaten by a women. It’s all in good fun. Realistically Jenn had a much better run than I did, so hats off to her!
Virginia is now over and 40 miles a day seems easy at this point, they seemed like rest day.
North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia
After all this mess, my feet are finally almost back to normal. We tape daily, but the pain is almost gone, and I am able to run pain-free…finally. It was now time to enjoy the trail. And Smoky Mountains National Park lies ahead.
I knew I had Jenn beat if I just kept plugging along, plus I could just go big the last day if I was in a pinch. Smoky Mountains National Park is beautiful, the weather was perfect for me. Typically these mountains are shrouded in clouds and visibility is nil, for me it was clear. Finally Mother AT was being kind to me. I think after all this it was time for me to have some fun with her. Finally with 305.8 miles left, I made it a point to finish in 6 days, putting me in the 54+ day range. Staying ahead of Jenn was now not a problem, as long as Mother AT did not play any more games withme. I never count Mother AT out, she can be relentless.
My 53 mile day in the Smokies was one of the better days I had the entire adventure, good positive energy all day. I finished early, got some rest and was now prepared to finish it off, cuz’ I was informed it was “all downhill” from Clingmans Dome at 6600’. There were still hills to climb.
My few days in the 40’s put me behind in finishing the last 305 in 6 days, so I had to go for broke. It really didn’t matter if I made 6 or 7 days but once I finally got to Neels Gap (30+ miles out). Why stop now.
Mother AT tried one more time to knock me down when Bee stung me on my left calf. For most people it’s not a big deal, but I swell pretty hard when I get stung and stopping that evening was out of the question as my foot would have swelled overnight into a softball. I figured this was the sign to continue and go 82 miles the final day.
I had some issues that final day and had to stop with 8 miles to go to lance 4 blisters, more tape and a Percocet to kill the rest. It worked for then and Springer Mt. was finally at the day’s end at 4:20.
A shot of “Clear Liquid” (acquired a few days back) and few beers on the walk up brought it all to an end.
It’s all surreal right now, the long green tunnel finally shed some light.
My last thoughts on the record….and is it breakable? It is stout, and hat’s off to Andrew! It is breakable for me if the stars line up, but not by much.
Here’s what slowed me down:
- Weather in Maine stopped us at the Kennebec, messing up our itinerary. This one day stopped our day 18 miles short, but in reality it knocked us back an entire day as we could not start until 9am with a ferry crossing…and the logistics to make up miles were not there.
- Blisters, blisters, blisters. This is part of the deal, and it didn’t really slow us, but was mentally frustrating. That I dealt with fine
- Trenchfoot acquired in Maine, along with infections cause by it were forcing me to pull my left toes upward while running. I think this is what caused the tendinitis in my left shin. FOUR “0” days. That ruined it completely. The following week we had a 17, 34 mile day. That counts for another lost day.
- Two nasty bee stings…..didn’t affect me, one in my arm left my left wrist swollen for a week, but was not really a slowing factor.
- Minor Mental Breakdown in VA. 19, 29, 34 mile days was hard to handle when the terrain was smooth. Mother AT kept knocking me back when the terrain was runnable. Another 1.5 days lost there.
- Logistics with an RV. I knew this from the start that it might be an issue. There were many days I could have gone a bit further, whether it was 3 or 8 miles. Not knowing EVERY road hurt us some.
- Crash and bruise to my chest. It forced me to walk and go less miles as I could not take in a deep breath for a few days. 8. My feet were a constant challenge throughout until Dr. Woodstock got them back in order with 2 weeks to go. I still got miles in but with better feet, it could have done a little better.
- I figure I lost about 25 miles due to wrong turns or mismarked blazes (only a few of them that cost me time). The day I went the wrong way in Pennsylvania I can try and blame the idiots who made those signs. But only I can take the blame. I still made my miles that day at 46 but in reality ran 55 which whooped me for a few more days.
- Are these excuses…..hardly! They are just the reasons I’ll go back and take another run at it. It is simply motivation.
We made a few mistakes out there, and learned a lot. When this goes down again, I can now say now matter what goes wrong, I know the entire deal. After only a week I can’t wait to get back there. Stay tuned for that. It’ll either be 2009 or 2010. Now I’m gonna rest….and have another beer…..