November 2001 Moonlight Run
By John Dodds
If Bill Van Antwerp could keep his shoes tied, then I wouldn’t have ended up on the wrong trail last Friday. Yes, once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Blue Moon. You're probably thinking I picked the name of this article because the moon the other night was the second full moon of the month, and, hence, it was a blue moon. Not really. I picked the name because that's the kind of beer bottles Gary had in the back of his SUV that were clinking together all the way from the Vienna Metro station to the Signal Knob parking lot. It will probably come as no surprise to you all that Gary-quite inconsiderately-did not bring enough beer for all the participants in the run. Here's a photo Anstr took of the white blue moon.
The Ride There. We all met at the Metro station and picked teams to see who would ride with whom. As my luck would have it, I got to ride with Gary and Carolyn Gernand. As soon as we got on I-66, Gary set Carolyn up with the following, seemingly innocuous question: "How did you do at JFK?" After she gave her account, Gary followed up with this gem: "Did you see any Osage oranges?" I then had to suffer through an inordinately long explanation of how this tree is not very attractive, the fruit is big, green and inedible, and get this-it's not even an orange! Then it was Carolyn's turn as we started discussing the brightness of the moon and other astronomical phenomena.
According to Carolyn, it is possible to see five planets from Earth: Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus. Tonight we would see Jupiter and Saturn. In fact, the moon would pass in front of Saturn, i.e., Saturn would occult the moon. I asked if she didn't mean occlude? Nope, occult. She said it would happen at 12:40 a.m. They talked about Orion and its various stars, and Gary mentioned Canis Major (and Sirius within) and Canis Minor. Feeling left out, I volunteered-with utmost sophistication-that stars twinkle and planets don't. They just laughed and asked contemptuously and in unison, "What school did you go to?" Actually, it was my elementary school in Tien Mou, Taiwan. And I didn't really appreciate them dissing my elementary school. Then Gary asked Carolyn asked if she had seen the Leonid meteor shower. She said she hadn't because at the time she was hugging the white porcelain throne. I'd give you the reason but since she dissed my school, I'll let you use your imagination as to why she was in those circumstances.
Mobil Station. As we were about to leave the Metro station, everybody agreed that we would meet at the Mobil station as you enter Front Royal. This would be the place to get something to eat and to go to the bathroom indoors (for a change). Even though I've been a trailrunner for about two years, it still amazes me at the junk that we eat. Before I had left home, I ate a PB&J sandwich and two chocolate donuts. I don't like to eat a lot right before I run. Unlike Bob Coyne. At the Mobil station, he bought and the largest tunafish sandwich I had ever seen. Whoever caught the fish that went into that sandwich I am sure violated some international fishing treaty. Then there was Joe Clapper who walked near the ice cream freezer, and a Klondike jumped up into his hand. Of course, he then had to eat it and thus pay for it. And ultrarunners are not the neatest eaters either. A number of them were eating out of a bag of pretzels, and one dropped a pretzel that shattered on the floor. There were pretzel shards everywhere. We then gathered in front of the counter for a group photo. I believe the police right now are still analyzing the film from the surveillance camera. You will note from the photo that it is Mary, not Gary, who is holding the bottle of Blue Moon beer, thus preserving the plausibility of denial on his part. I, of course, was unaware what was going on in the row behind me.
The Trail Briefing. I missed this as I was still getting ready over by Gary's SUV. The others who attended probably paid about as much attention as I did. Joe gave the briefing and I heard him say that he would keep it short because people couldn't remember any more than three things. I thought he was being overly optimistic.
The Run. I was having so much fun with the ride out, the Mobil stop, and the Signal Knob parking lot banter, that the run itself was sort of a let down. Yeah, sure, there was the stunning moonlight, the incredibly warm temperature, the fantastic trail, the scenic overlook from the top of the mountain down on the lights of the towns below, the camaraderie, etc. Big deal.
One good thing about a trail run is that there is no fixed rule that you have to stay in line and all run together. And that was the case on Friday night. Just through happenstance, little groups form, break up, and form again. That way you get to run with a number of different people. For example, on the way up to Signal Knob, I was with a group that included Jim Moore, Bob and Gary; then I ran with Nick and Joe. But let me stop for a moment to share a secret. Bob said a bike trail now goes from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, and Jim started asking questions as if he might want to run from DC to Pittsburgh. But he said don't tell Rebecca. So, I don't want any of you telling her either.
On the way down from Signal Knob, I ran with Russ briefly as I had to slow down due to a strained Achilles tendon. I ran for a while by myself as a number of runners passed me, and then I came across Bill Van Antwerp who was tying his shoe. I decided I would run with him. He was on my first VHTRC trail run at MMT and this would be like old times. We came up to the group that was waiting to go down the trail through Mudhole Gap. We all started down together but soon thereafter we formed into groups. I was with Bill who led the way, then Mary, then Denise, and then me.
I talked to Denise for awhile. I found out very quickly that this was only her second trail run. That being the case, I was not able to discuss at the outset the kinds of things that ultrarunners talk about to break the ice: frequency of urination, the color of your pee, what was the worst case of diarrhea you ever had on the trail, whether you've ever had sex with a goat, etc. Only having broached these subjects are you then ready to tackle the more personal topics, such as where do you live, what kind of car do you drive, etc.
Our Guide. Bill and Mary were just ahead of Denise and me, but we caught up to them at a trail junction. I shined my flashlight on the tree and said the blaze was pink. Bill said, "That's it. Let's go." And off we went up the pink trail with Bill taking the lead. The wrong trail. After some time, Mary had doubts that we were on the right trail. As I did. But she voiced her concern. Like this: "I don't remember this from last year." And I kept saying to Denise, "Neither do I." So as not to raise any fears on the part of the group, I would say things like, "Bill, are you sure we're on the right trail?" And he answered, "If we're not on the right trail, then I know where we are." I'm not exactly sure what that meant but we kept on. Later I said, "Bill, we may be lost, but at least the visibility is really good." And he said, "I'm not lost. But I better be careful what I say or I'll end up reading it in one of your reports." And I thought there was a damn good possibility that that was going to happen. Even Denise got into the act. At one point, Bill said that we only had to worry if the trail went uphill to the left. Since at the time we were in fact were going uphill to the left, Denise asked (sotto voce), "You mean like this one?" Bill didn't hear that remark. Despite all this, Bill would not admit that he was lost, and I do have to admit that he did exude a feeling of confidence. Finally, we came to a sign that said "Passage Creek 1.1 mile" and we knew then that we were at least heading in the right direction. Soon thereafter, we triumphantly entered the parking lot and were greeted by the others thusly: "Hey, where have you guys been?"
The pink trail is not the right trail. We turned off the road too soon. The pink trail intersects the blue trail, which goes to the white trail into the Signal Knob parking lot. We just got a little more distance than we planned for. And Bill did know where he was going (sort of).
The Parking Lot. Due to the warm weather, people hung around longer than usual. I saw two people each with one arm outstretched upwards and looking at the moon. I went over to them and asked what they were doing. The answer: "If you hold your hand up and block out the moon, you can see the planet close to it. It's Saturn." "How do you know that?" I asked. "Because Carolyn told us." It figures.
And of course there was this puerile exchange between Peyton and Gary when they shook hands in the parking lot:
Gary: Your hand is warm.
And guess what? They both came to a party together the next night. So we'll just have to see if this relationship blossoms into something beyond the handholding stage.
And I would like to mention something else that is bothering me. And that is the talking beer can opener. Let me just say that Jim Moore earned his. Now Anstr has cheapened it (if that's possible). I mean if you can just go out and buy it, then you've really taken the essence and meaning out of it. I can tell you that Jim as well is just appalled by this state of affairs. I think the VHTRC Board of Governors should hold a special session to establish guidelines on the awarding of this coveted prize.
The Ride Home. On the ride back, Carolyn had a confession to make. It seems that at 12:40 a.m., the moon had already occulted Saturn. During the run, she realized that 12:40 was actually Universal Mean Time, i.e., Greenwich Mean Time. That meant that the occulting had occurred earlier at 7:40 when we were still at the Metro Station. Gee, thanks, Carolyn. We missed it all because of you.
Next Year. I think that Gary, Carolyn and Bill should be required to run together next year. Who knows what'll happen then? So, mark it on your calendars, and until then-HAPPY TRAILS!