Next Run: Friday
February 14, 2014
Meet: 9 p.m.
Signal Knob Trailhead
The VHTRC Moonlight Run is another event that came about because of a weird conversation on the trail. The run starts about 9 pm and goes about 14 miles. You can't use a flashlight, but you can carry one for emergency use. We go slowly and keep track of everyone (usually). You should be home by daybreak on Saturday. Here is a map of the usual course. Here is the data on the phase of the moon from the Naval Observatory.
This run is not for everyone! It is cold, dark, and rocky. And we mean it. You can't use a flashlight. The first four miles of this course are very rocky. Don't come if that is not your type of run. Also, this is not a "training run" for anything. It is just a lark in the dark.
We have never cancelled the Moonlight Run for weather. We have had cold, hot, wet, and all kinds of weather in between, but have been pretty lucky. The weather report for this run was not good. It had the "I" word (ice) and the "R" word (rain). We pressed on with the run more from stupidity than wisdom.
The good news is that there was no rain, no ice, plenty of moonlight, and relatively warm temperatures. There was, however, mushy snow and high water. It was clearly the most physically demanding Moonlight Run and, perhaps, the least fun. The Moonlight Run is always an adventure. This was a special one. As Carolyn Gernand said, it was "Hell Frozen Over."
Fourteen runners assembled at the trail head. It was just above freezing and there was little wind. Plenty of light made it through the cloud cover to be reflected by the white snow. As the group trudged up to Signal Knob, the soft snow covered the rocks and removing their normal annoyance. The mush was like running in soft sand. We looked forward to the downhill from the Knob. That should be great!
It wasn't. The road from the top was slippery and slow. Feet were getting wet and cold. The going was tough. At Powells Fort Camp, we formed into groups to brave Mudhole Gap and the five stream crossings. Often, one can negotiate at least make one or two of these crossings on the rocks without wet getting wet feet. Not tonight. Each crossing was a scary stumble through fast moving cold water. Several stumbled and got more than feet and legs wet. Fortunately, the air was not cold. The snow, however, was cold and led to numb feet.
The logging road, normally an easy jog to the finish, was a long, slow slog. Running was easier than walking but it was hard to keep it up. At the beginning of the last trail section at the end of the logging road, many decided they had had enough fun in the snow and took the paved valley road for the last mile back to the cars. Two groups, however -- the Corris group and the Gernand group -- were pure and had another mile and a half of the mush.
The end was a great relief. The post-run social hour was especially sweet.
As usual, this reporter earned a Scotty. He had been doing pretty well, but when his foot slipped out from under him just one time too many on the logging road, the qualifying F word passed his lips. This performance was overshadowed, however, by an "un-Scotty" earned by an annoying soul who shall remain nameless. (I am protecting him because he gave me a ride last week.) You get an un-Scotty when you are disgustingly happy and cheerfull in the face of crappy circumstances. Such people are really annoying. We should probably name this award a "Gary."
The Moonlight Run has always been about doing something a little crazy, a little risky, but not over the top. This Moonlight run was not over the top. The soft snow and warm weather made for one of the safest runs we have had. But the fun factor was greatly diminished. There has never been a Moonlight Run where most participants did not, at one point, wonder why they were out there. But here, the "why are we here?" thoughts were pervasive and lasting. If this were what the Moonlight Run is always like, then we should never do another. But if this is the price we have to pay for the good ones, it is a small price and one we must pay.
Finally, it is important to record here that even though this run is "only" 14 miles, it is a major undertaking. These conditions were especially slow, but given the rocks, the night, and the usual weather, this is never a stroll in the park. On this occasion, the run took the fast runners about four hours and the slower ones almost seven hours. One of the latter has done JFK in just over 12 hours. No one should judge the challenge of this run or the time he will be out there by the distance.
The conditions were nearly perfect. There were about three inches of fresh snow on the ground. The moon was full and bright and the sky clear. Visibility was no problem at all. You almost needed sun glasses! It was a bit cold, however. (The official U.S. Weather Service term for the weather is "Butt Cold.") It was around 20 degrees at the start and 10 degrees at the finish.
The cold weather held down the field to about 22 people and culled out those who tend to get lost. The field sorted itself out on the long, rocky climb up to Signal Knob. The snow hid rocks and ice. It was the most pleasant ascent of Signal Knob in a long time. The view, as usual, was fantastic and the rest was all downhill. Unfortunately, there were opportunities to get wet feet on the way back down. Most, but not all availed themselves of those opportunities. While several claimed to have kept their feet dry crossing Little Passage Creek, others got wet feet (and in at least one case, hands) slipping on the icy rocks.
The major challenge at the finish was to take off one's shoes. Shoe laces were frozen (or was it welded?) shut. Mr. Sam was there, but he stayed in the cars to keep warm. There wasn't one big celebration but, rather, little knots of shivering runners huddled in cars.
This reporter received another Scotty over the last two miles as he fell not once, but twice. Of course, falling doesn't get you a Scotty. Saying "F___" as you go down does. At this point, another Scotty for Anstr is like another Buckeye on the helmet of a star Ohio State football player. Stupid. Maybe we need a new level of Scotty, sort of like turning in all your houses for one hotel when playing Monopoly.
As usual, the pre-run thoughts of "why am I doing this stupid thing when I could be warm at home and watching Seinfeld reruns?" turned to a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction on the ride home. We played in the beautiful woods at night. We had the woods all to ourselves. And we were with good friends.
When will we do it again? Opportunities appear to be November 7 (the full moon is actually late November 8 in our time zone) or February 6 or March 5, 2004 (the full moon is on the 6th in both cases.) We have learned that a day before the full moon is probably better than the day of the full moon and much better than the day after. See you then! ...Photos
What a difference five months makes! After probably our worst Moonlight Run in July, we had a great run on November 30. The weather was warm and clear. Unlike July, the leaves were off the trees and shadows were not a significant problem. We could see! Also, it was probably warmer at this run on the last day of November than it was in July!
Twenty-tree runners showed up for the event. After a last stop in civilization (the Mobil Station on Route 340), we went to the trail head and prepared for the run. Most just wore t-shirts and no one complained of the cold. We took a picture of the group with the moon--or a moon. Then we set out. Right away, things were different. The trail was runnable and you could see! People were a bit more scattered than other runs, but no one became lost. (One contingent did get in some bonus miles by taking the purple blazed trail off the logging road. That takes you to near the top of the Bear Wallow Trail, and adds at least a mile if not more.) There were a few falls but most people were of good cheer. (Exception: This reporter earned a Scotty. Males don't get a Scotty for using the F word--once. They do if they use it three times.)
At the end, people hung around much longer than normal. It was not cold and there was plenty of liquid refreshment. James had his talking beer bottle opener for the entertainment of all, and the group sang "Happy Trails." We then had group sex. [Fact checkers: Please corroborate this statement. Anstr may be fantasizing again. --Editor]
All in all, it was a great evening. This trail is tough and even dangerous at places. This is not for the uninitiated, and new people should know what they are getting into. But the rewards are great. Every trail runner should do the Moonlight Run -- at least once!
On July 6, 2001, 20 people showed up for the Moonlight Run. The weather was perfect. Clear, cool, no wind. It was even a bit too cool. Was this really July?
Driving out on I-66, we had our first clue that this different than the winter runs we are used to. The sun was in our eyes and it was bright! Upon meeting the group from Lakeridge that had driven straight there, we set out under twilight from the sun. The moon was not up yet. As we ascended the first grade of the Signal Knob trail, we entered tunnels of darkness. Boy, was it dark. We picked our way through the abyss relying primarily on our feet to feel the way. Finally, as we passed the first major switchback and headed south, we saw the orange moon rising from behind the Blue Ridge to the east. It was big and bright, but could not penetrate leaves. We continued to battle darkness all night!
The group collected at the Signal Knob overlook. The lights of the valley were clear and bright. From here to the spring at Powells Fort Camp is a straight shot going down a gravel road. No chance of anyone going wrong. But yet again, the VHTRC proved the validity of Murphy's Law. My exhortations that no one should go past the gate, came back to haunt me as three runners, the last three runners, stopped at the wrong gate. "I didn't mean that gate!"
Everything worked out fine, but we added an hour to our run.
Things were wet out there but the rivers were not particularly high. Little Passage Creek in Mudhole Gap was high enough, however, to prevent dry feet. We even someone who decided to take a swim! The final miles on the logging road were fine, but there was overgrowth along the road this time of year.
We learned some lessons from this run--lessons we should have known already. These lessons were:
All in all, it was another great run. We had a good group of middle-of-the-pack runners with no speed merchants or walkers. We stayed pretty much together and that helped the logistics and the camaraderie. We just need to go back when the snow is on the ground!
It was cold. It was scary. It was fun.
On Friday, Jan 21, 10 souls left form the Signal Knob Trail Head parking lot to do the VHTRC Moonlight run. Nine of the runners were veterans of the 14 mile-Signal Knob Trail–President Joe, Frank Probst, Gary Knipling, Paul Walczak, Jeanne Christie, Larry DeHof, Bill Wandel, Carolyn Gernand, and Anstr Davidson. The newbie was Jon Whitehead. John is a hiker but had no problem keeping up. The weather was no problem for him because, while he now lives in Winchester, he was raised in Maine.
The snow conditions were perfect for running. It was dry and loose. It covered the rocks though they were still there to torment the old men in the group. Best of all, the snow reflected the bright moon. There was no need for a flashlight! (Flashlights may not be used on VHTRC moonlight runs.)
The group stayed together pretty well on the way up to Signal Knob. As usual, the view as fantastic. Added to the normal lights of Strassburg, Winchester, and Front Royal, one could see the eerie glow of moonlight on the snow-covered fields.
This was not a night to dawdle on the top. It was windy up there. After the knob the run is almost all downhill and very run able. We split up as we motored down toward Powells Fort Camp. In the dark, most of us missed the official trail around the reservoir and took the wimpier road. I looked to the right and said to myself, "I have never seen that open field over there before!" It was the reservoir that, by the way, has little water in it. Anyone know what's going on? Who let out all the water?
On the way down the road, I took my altitude watch off my wrist and held it in the air. It has a thermometer which is very accurate when off the wrist. The temperature was 7°.
The reliable spring was going strong at Powells Fort Camp but I, for one could get no water. The tops were frozen on to my bottles and I sure was not going to touch that water with my bare hands! Little Passage Creek was not high so one could make the five crossings in Mudhole Gap without getting his feet wet–if he were careful!
That last five miles on the logging road and trail again went smoothly as we shuffled through the soft three-inch deep snow.
Back at the cars, we broke out the de rigueur chips and salsa. (The club's membership chair is complaining about the salsa spilled on the roof of her car, which she had kindly lent to this reporter. The spilt salsa froze and appears as if it will melt in about April. Right now it looks like barf.) Joe was the designated drinker. Gary showed us pictures of his visit to the Christian Science Reading Room in New Orleans. (He was down in the "Big Easy" meditating on morality and virtue before the Sugar Bowl.) We were home by 3 am. Our loved ones were either pleased that we returned safely or disappointed that they weren't going to collect on the life insurance policies. Not sure which!
This run like many, is like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer–it feels good when you stop! But it also felt good when we were doing it. One could dress for the cold, the views were beautiful, and the woods were all ours. There were no footprints, other than ours, in the snow.
Going wild in the woods is really what the club is all about. Sure it's crazy. That's the point.
Flash from the Past--the First Moonlight Run: In August 1993, we had the first Moonlight (then "Midnight") Run. It was on Mason Neck and mostly we ran on the golf course. This was one of the first events of the fledgling "Virginia Happy Trails Running Club."