Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Run Across Maryland - Pen Mar Park MD to Harper's Ferry WV

August 29, 2015

Every other year a group sets out on The Appalachian Trail from Pen Mar Park in Maryland on a trek known as the Hike Across Maryland. It's held the first weekend of May in odd numbered years. It's something I've wanted to do since I learned of it, but a combination of not being able to make my schedule line up and being allergic to hiking in groups, I've never been there. With that said, I've held onto the idea as a fun to-do list item.

With no racing in 2015, this year seemed perfect to complete the 41ish mile journey to Harper's Ferry West Virginia.  Earlier in the year I had proved my navigation short comings and fell short on an attempt to thru-run the 140 mile Horse Shoe Trail. This trek was my only other real adventure I wanted to attempt before the year turned into 2016.

I've had some good running miles this year even with the fact that I've been running simply for the love of it. Heck, in April I logged 232 miles and May gave me 260 miles. For me those are strong months. After that though, vacations, injuries and really the want to be lazy and enjoy summer with Janice and the dogs got in the way of those much needed long runs on weekends. [I don't feel like it's a long run unless it exceeds 20 miles and I hadn't done that since the July 4th weekend.]

When Janice's softball seasons wrapped up (and by the way, her co-ed team won their league's championship), I threw a dart at the calendar, wiped the dust off of my Appalachian Trail guide books and maps and I decided I was all set to give Maryland a shot. Considering I would be running point to point and water sources in August are questionable I needed Janice's help with resupplying me, not to mention the fact that I would need a ride home. I picked a few points along the way that I felt my hydration bladder would need to be refilled and entered those coordinates into our Jeep's GPS. I also found all the known AT road crossings in Maryland and compiled a bunch of other info in hopes of Janice being prepared to find me and also not get lost. With a start time of 7:00am, I guessed that I could finish in under 10 hours.

I rolled out of bed at 3:30am and got to the business of coffee, some nut butters on toast and a Premier Protein Bar for breakfast. I was hoping to leave around 5:00. Due to a couple of early morning timing stumbles and feeling guilty about waking Janice up, we didn't get on the road until 6:00. No worries though, there would be no race director in Pen Mar Park to tell me that I was too late to run.

For me one of the most important things leading to a successful and fun run is that one last perfectly timed visit to the bathroom prior to starting. A few years ago I had backpacked northbound from Pen Mar to Peter's Mountain and I remembered lovely restrooms at the park and of course my brain had told my bladder and belly all about it. We arrived at Pen Mar and I was all set to visit John, only to find him padlocked. For a park that once had a roller coaster, carousel, miniature train and railroad station, a 450 seat dining hall, and a kickin' dance pavilion, their bathrooms are now padlocked at 7:30am on a Saturday. A mad dash was made to a nearby Sheetz and all was right again in my gastro-intestinal world. 

2015 - Heading Southbound to Harper's Ferry
(Obligatory Photo)
2008 - Heading northbound to Peter's Mountain
(Obligatory Photo)

With an obligatory photograph and a kiss goodbye from my crew, I was running southbound on the trail at 8am. I had not researched the terrain, I had looked at the elevation profile and saw no killer ascents and I of course knew it was just shy of 42 miles to the ATC Office in Harper's Ferry, but I didn't know about the rocks. Being a Pennsylvanian and constantly hearing backpackers whine about our Appalachian Trail rocks, I assumed that certainly the Maryland mileage would be all buffed out and perfect for running.
A few rocks
The first 8 miles or so heading southbound looked just like PA with a climb to High Rock Overlook that was extremely Pennsylvania-like. To add to the climb, at the top; some genius had spray painted the white blazes black and that was enough to send me slightly off course and back-tracking for a short time. I was surprised by the rocks, but it was my own dumb mistake to not know this ahead of time. I also really didn't care though, sure I was going slower than I guessed, but I was exactly where I wanted to be. [Just a note: I have backpacked all of the AT in PA and NJ northbound to Bear Mountain NY and seeing the NJ and NY rocks and now these in Maryland, I'm even more perplexed as to why Pennsylvania gets the bad rock rap]

Vista near High Rock Overlook
The rocks here were covered with grafitti

I crossed a road at about the 8 mile mark and on the other side I nearly ran right into Janice. She had parked the Jeep at the 10 mile mark and set out to meet me. I told her how the rocks had slowed me and apologized for taking so long. She said, "I messed up and I've come too far. You may want to take the key and run on without me." I did that and soon found the Jeep at the Wolfville Road parking area. I drank a couple of ice cold Gatorades and gobbled down a Clif Bar snack. I refilled my hydration vest and stashed the key for Janice to find. I was nearly where the parking lot spur trail rejoins the real trail and there was Janice proudly bounding down the trail, showing off her trail running prowess and Fitbit dominance. Another kiss goodbye and I was moving again.

3 blazes to guide you across the field
(near Wolfville Rd)

The toughest of rocks seemed to be behind me now. Don't get me wrong, they didn't go away, but the trail had become noticeably kinder in portions as I continued southbound. In true AT fashion though, there was one short stretch I recall where the trail was a very runnable double track toddling across the mountain face and with no rhyme or reason the trail took a sharp turn sending you up to the rock strewn ridge. A trail builder's idea of humor I guess. It was a gorgeous day and as I approached Annapolis Rocks, the trail became busy. Day hikers, rock climbers, dog walkers, U.S. Marines training with packs as big as me and suddenly the solitude of the trail was gone and it now was more like running through a Bass Pro Shops.

I was sucking down a Clif Bar gel while striding up a rocky climb only to see Janice approaching me again and again she was a pretty good distance from the Jeep. She gave me the key and off I went and this time it was down a pretty gnarly descent with loose rocks and a bunch of people to contend with. All I could think of was, "wow, she came up this hill, through this mess?". Soon enough, Janice joined me at the I-70 parking area. It was getting hot and humid and the front of the Jeep was in shade so I took a seat on the bumper and enjoyed another cold drink before hitting the trail again.

The Confederate flight south into Maryland from Gettysburg.

When you're bumbling along for hours you have a lot of time to think and muse on stuff without interruption. I had a Pogues song about Gallipoli stuck in my head and while it's down tempo may not have been conducive to running, it seemed perfectly in sync with all my thoughts about the Civil War activity that occurred in this region, namely Lee's retreat from Gettysburg. The Confederates and the Federals divided by South Mountain and now the Appalachian Trail cruises right along its spine.

I also thought a lot about Scott Jurek and our very own thru-hiker, Jeff Lister (aka PA Trailrunner) and thought, "man those guys must've ripped up this section" as I stumbled along. In one rocky stretch, I came upon a woman with just one hiking pole and as we came closer I realized it wasn't a hiking pole at all, she was blind. She was moving nearly as fast as me and I quickly concluded I had zero right to complain about the terrain, my rock pity parties were officially over for the day.

The beginning of the day was a Caterpiller and Inch Worm fest, they seemed to be dangling from every tree. I think I single handedly transported a couple hundred down the trail as they adhered to any part of me they came in contact with.  

After Crampton Gap, my mobile meditation session was joined by thousands of buzzing Mosquitos and Gnats. Horse Flies were landing on me three and four at a time. With those pests joining my journey I was quickly missing all the sticky hitch hikers. Day dreaming can also get you lost, on more than one occasion I was moving along only to realize I had missed a turn. I'm convinced there are more blazes going northbound than south, based on the fact that when I needed to find a blaze more frequently I saw them over my shoulder than up ahead.

Grasshopper in Sunshine


I had told Janice about all the historical stuff along the route. She not only took all these cool photos of it, but she also met me at the Washington Monument, Dahlgren Chapel and the Reno Monument. Seeing her so frequently at points like that is a real lift when you're plodding along in the heat and humidity.

The Washington Monument was closed due to a recent lightning
strike, but it's beautiful vista was still open for business

Me and the Dahlgren Chapel

Dahlgren Chapel

The chapel's ancient steps

The Reno Monument

When we parted at the Washington Monument she had told me she'd see me in 7.4 miles or Gathland State Park. I reached Gathland State Park to see the ruins of an old building, a beautiful memorial to war correspondents and I even saw a woman in a blue sequined dress hop out of a limo with a Mariachi Band, but I didn't see our orange Jeep or Janice. Pleasant autumn-like weather had closed out our week at home and today summer had returned with humid temperatures in the 80's. We had been doing so well and here I was thirsty and hungry and my faithful crew was not there. I had cell signal so I called Janice and of course got her voicemail because she didn't have signal. A kind man who was there Geocaching with his family apologized for overhearing my phone conversation, but kindly pointed out a water pump I hadn't noticed. I was saved. I was putting my pack back together when Janice called. She was already at Weverton Road, the next stop after this one. I had the location and coordinates for Gathland State Park on paper, but forgot to put them in the GPS so her friend Garmin had taken her right to next stop and skipped this one. I told her I had found water and assured her that I was ok and I'd see her at Weverton Road. She pledged she would find a road crossing and meet me.

War Correspondents Memorial Arch

I left out of Gathland State Park thinking about what she said, remembering that this last stretch had no road crossings, zero. I had thought that I would need to get some food in me and maybe even carry a bottle to have extra hydration on this last leg. At the other meeting points, each time I cameled-up by drinking extra while filling my hydration vest. I did use the water pump to fill up, but I took off without drinking extra and I of course hadn't eaten or had that planned extra bottle. It sure was good to see Janice after descending to Weverton Road. I had run out of water about a mile earlier, my watch battery died and so did my cell phone battery, which those two things mean almost nothing really, but they mess with your mind. [I'm not real pleased with the battery in my Suunto watch, I had it on the 12 hour mode and it died at 9.] Of the whole journey, I wanted to take one photo and that was at the Weverton Cliffs. Nope no photo with a dead cell phone battery. Enough of the negatives, Janice had bought peaches from a farmer and gobbling down a Peach was second only to seeing her. At Weverton she told me about a guy she met and that he knew me. After comparing notes I realized she had met Bert Salter's brother Dennis who I met three years ago as we all three left the 59 mile aid station together at The Laurel Highlands Ultra. Unknown to me, Bert and a friend had left Pen Mar two hours ahead of me. It's funny how paths cross sometimes or almost cross as in this case. Leaving out of the Weverton Road parking lot, she told me to "Run!...Fast!", I told her I had "run", but I didn't have "fast".

On my last visit to the C&O Canal Tow Path, I was DNF'ing the C&O Canal 100 so some pretty negative memories came to haunt my run to the footbridge across the Potomac. I was certain I had turned the right direction on the tow path, but blazes are all, but non-existent and this time of year all the trees are leafed out so I couldn't even see any reference points, like the foot bridge I so wanted to simply appear before me. My watch wasn't working so the short jaunt along the canal filled with the most amazing green algae bloom was somewhat of an anxious mind challenge. After winding my way through the tourist clogged footbridge I finally arrived in Harper's Ferry. I saw and followed a few blazes, but soon came to a spot where I didn't see the next one. After a brief scan of the area I realized I needed to look up. Harper's Ferry covers a significant hill side and the trail was now sending me up, up a flight of beautiful stone steps. Those steps led to more steps and so on. The steps seemed endless and when they did end, the steps turned back into a dirt path that continued to mostly climb until it reached the side trail to the ATC Office, which yes you guessed it climbed more stairs. Again, more trail builder humor I suppose. When I reached that fabled old stone building the ATC calls home, my butt was kicked.

It took me just shy of 12 hours to traverse the 41+ miles, so yeah it was a slow day and a long one for Janice, driving, parking and waiting. I couldn't do this stuff without her, it's just that simple and I'll never be able to thank her enough.

My original plan was to have a nice dinner in Harper's Ferry, but the dogs were home alone on a longer day than planned day. Instead,  with a quick change into clean dry clothes I was loaded into the Jeep with a couple of cold ones and with only one stop to pickup Pizza and Stromboli we were home in time to catch Reverend Horton Heat on WITF.

Now it's back to fitting long runs into my weekends, 2016 will be here sooner than I know. :-)


Stuff I used:

Altra Lone Peak 2.0
Injinji Socks
Superfeet Insoles (THANKS Superfeet!)
Zensah Ultra Leg Sleeves
Brooks Sherpa III Shorts (discontinued - my favorite for their pockets)
The North Face Mountain Athletics Sleeveless Shirt (discontinued - got it cheap at the Hagerstown outlet)
Adidas Compression Shorts
Boco Gear ClifBar Visor
Nathan Endurance Hydration Vest (discontinued)
Platypus 2 Liter Hydration Reservoir
Spot Messenger
Suunto Ambit2 S

Energy Gels
Shot Blocks
Organic Energy Food
Electrolyte Hydration Drink
Mojo Bar
THANKS Clif Bar!

Tailwind Nutrition (300 calories at the I-70 footbridge)
Gatorade (all day - THANKS Jason!)
Huma Gels

Premier Protein Bar (THANKS Premier Protein!)
Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter
Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter

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