I had anticipated the event for months. Previous adventures lasted for seven days. Tough, to be sure. But this one was a fourteen day undertaking covering nearly 600 trail miles. That's a lot of ground to cover. I was pleased with my training, comfortable with my newly-acquired skill with trekking poles, and looking forward to pushing the limits of what is possible for me, a 55-year old woman who is given to grand ideas despite an aging body.
|Troy, Eric, Rob, Anne, Me at the TN/VA border|
Alas, my fears were unfounded and the group trip was pleasant enough. I knew Anne Lundblad well, having adventured with her three years prior on the record-setting South Beyond 6000. Of course, I knew Eric Grossman, the mastermind of the event, but not very well. He always finished hours and hours ahead of me at races. We really didn't have much of an opportunity to interact. But I did not know Rob French and Troy Shellhamer other than through Facebook encounters. I wondered how the group dynamics would play out.
Once we returned from the trip to the border, the rest of the afternoon was spent between an attempt to relax in the near-100 degree heat and restless preparation for the first forty-mile stage. I got little sleep that night in anticipation. The plan was for me, the slowest of the group, to start at 5 a.m. so that our finish times could be close together. Others would begin at 7. Not. Eric beat everyone out of the gate with the rest of use close on his heals. The promise of record high temps, I suppose, caused the change of plans. The more time spent in pre-sun hours, the better.
Thankfully, fellow runners, Beth Minnick and Jennifer Nichols, took things into their own hands, twice meeting the runners at road crossings. They came bearing snacks and drinks, a very welcome site! Good thing, too. Streams and springs, normally running full and free, had been reduced to a trickle, if even wet. This would take a huge toll as each stage developed over the next few days.
That first day was memorable for the rocks. Big ones. Little ones. Slabs of rocks. Pointed ones. Flat ones. You name it. The going was tough and slow. The heat made it seem even more difficult. I was ecstatic to finally see a couple of the acclaimed wild ponies. But eventually, with time and patience, Rick and I ran into camp, howbeit hours behind the finishers. Supper was waiting and the evening dance of eating, refreshing, setting up camp, and getting packs filled for the next day would be rehearsed once again.
I set up my hammock and climbed inside. But not for long. The winds came up and a storm was brewing. I quickly threw the rain fly over my sleeping cocoon as the first drops fell. I had stayed warm and dry in a storm before and felt confident I would be safe and sound. Problem was, I didn't properly secure the rain fly. The driving rain, punctuated with howling winds, the sound of limbs breaking, and loud claps of thunder, found it's way under the fly. By 1 a.m., I was cold, drenched, and shivering, not having slept a wink. What to do? What to do? It was a wild dash for the support van where James was sleeping in the loft of the Vanagan and Adam was drying off in the back seat after a similar soaking in his hammock. Curling into a ball, I spent the next few hours in and out of cat naps. By 4:20 a.m., I gave up. I stepped into the early morning darkness and wet, gathered my things, and took the first lonely steps up the mountain.