(Read Chris's Report)
This is the story of how Chris Scott and Anstr Davidson became the first people to run the 71 mile Massanutten Trail in one shot. It took them 27 hours and 51 minutes. They started on Sunday, April 7 and finished on Monday, April 8. This article is long, but so was the run!
The story starts in 1985 at the first Massanutten Mountain Massacre 50. I was running behind a guy wearing a t-shirt with a fish on it and words about "eating people." I ended up running with this guy for most of the race - until I dropped off the pace and he pulled away.
This was the first time I met Chris Scott. Since that time, Chris has been my running buddy and tormenter. Chris has that charismatic leadership ability that others use either to build homes for poor people or invade Poland. Chris does neither. Chris leads people off into crazy adventures on trails. I like to think that sometimes I can have a moderating influence on Chris's crazy adventures. For example, discussions between Chris and me led to the "moonlight runs" and the notion of a "scholarship" at the Bull Run Run. But for the most part, I am at the mercy of Chris's next wild idea.
You might think that you could, as Nancy Reagan counseled, "Just say no." You can't say no to Chris. You can try, but it won't work. So this is how this misadventure started:
CHRIS: Hi buddy, guess what we are going to do?
ME: Whatever it is, "we" are not doing it. I am sure you will have a lot of fun. I am not in shape.
CHRIS: We are going to do the Massanutten Trail (MT). We will be the first ones. We will start on April 7 in the afternoon, go all night and finish on Monday. No one else will do it then. They are all either injured or doing Bull Run and won't do it until later. This is our chance to be the first to do it.
ME: Chris, I am out of shape. That is a long way. I am NOT doing it. I will crew for you.
CHRIS: You know you are doing it. We will be the first ones!
ME: No, Chris.
CHRIS: I have an extra water pack and Brookstone light for the night.
ME: I am not doing it. If we did, however, we would put aid at...
And the rest is history. Here I was, running down the same Massanutten Trail that I met Chris on many years ago. He has hooked me again.
Chris and I began from the Signal Knob Trailhead parking lot and went clockwise. The MT is a ring trail in Massanutten Mountains around Fort Valley all of which is in the Shenandoah Valley. Most of the trail has been there for years, but last summer, the Massarock Crew built a short section of trail to complete a 71 mile ring. The ring then became a goal to be achieved. It was there, it had to be done. We were the idiots doing it.
We had been on almost all of the trail at one time or the other. Now we had to put it together. It was a cool day. Even though Chris was wearing shorts and would wear them all night, I wore tights all day. It was sunny and beautiful. We ran the easy mile to Elizabeth Furnace and started up Shawl Gap being careful to stay on the orange blazed trail near the furnace lest Ed give us crap about taking the wrong trail. (That's an inside joke.) At the top of Shawl Gap, we ran into David and Christopher Etter and Steve Platt. We said "Hi" and casually mention that we are doing the entire MT. They didn't seem impressed enough. They took a picture that we could use if anyone doubted us.
We pushed south on the east ridge of the MT. Past Sherman's Gap that is (or was, anyway) of Old Dominion fame, around the eastward bend in the trail where the pines and view of the South Fork's meanders is so great. We will see the meanders of both forks of the Shenandoah River on the same run. Into Little Crease. I have drunk from this stream before and planned to this time, but I had plenty of water so I passed up the cool clear water. At the top of Veach Gap, we did some math. I had just said, "You know, for walking a lot, we are moving pretty fast." Chris had agreed. But our time to the top of Veach divided by the milage led to the conclusion that we were a bit behind schedule.
We had to do the east ridge without aid. Bill Van Antwerp had agreed to help us. He had come by my house in the morning and we gave him all our stuff. He was to meet us at Camp Roosevelt - 25 miles into the run -- for our first aid. So from the top of the mountain, I pulled out my cell phone and called Bill, giving him a 5 PM ETA at Camp Roosevelt. That turned out to be just about right.
The east ridge is very pretty. It is thinner on the top than the west ridge so that much of the way, you can look down on both sides. It is rocky and, for the most part, you go straight over the top of each knob. There is a lot of up and down. We agreed that finishing on this long stretch would be very bad and make a counter clockwise run of the MT very difficult. We had not done Signal Knob yet.
Running the east ridge of the MT impresses one with the genius of the Massanutten Mt. Trails 100 trail. The parts of the MT that you don't do at MMT are pretty bad. Between Indian Grave Ridge and Habron Gap basically sucks. You don't do that at MMT. South of Habron, however, is pretty runable in places. You do that in MMT.
Except for a lot of crows, we saw no wild life. Seventy-one freaking miles and no animals. We were left to looking at their poop. "What's that, Chris?" "Looks like a dog to me."
We arrived in Camp Roosevelt to a warm reception by Bill. He had chairs for us, all of our aid and a smile. I was surprised that despite my poor training base, I felt pretty strong. No big sores, feet feel all right. Everything was fine at this aid station. That would change!
We gorged ourselves with food. My experience is that various foods have saved my butt but no food has done so consistently. The soup that brought me back from the dead last time, makes me puke the next time. So to be safe, I bought $60 worth of food at the Safeway so I could have everything. We ate about $15 worth of it.
We pressed on through Duncan Hollow. The first mile of this trail is runable and we cruised. But you turn left and have a long gentle uphill. I hate gentle uphills. You feel guilty walking and it went so slowly. Despite the fact that most of the rest of the trail was dry as a bone, there were still wet spots in Duncan Hollow. We passed the Peach Orchard Gap intersection where MMT turns right to go to Gap Creek. Again we saw the genius of the MMT trail as the MT goes into gypsy moth damaged areas with rocks, no trees, and overgrowth. At the end of Duncan Hollow, we went over the ridge that goes out to Strickler Knob. This ridge used to be the highest point of the old Old Dominion. I remember going over this pass with Edith Bogenhuber in the last OD I did in 1988. There was also blood on those rocks that year from some runner ahead of me.
We went downhill pretty easily to the bottom of Waterfall Mountain. This was the turning point. Up until now, the run had been fun. It stopped being fun. This was also the first time that Chris really started pulling ahead. As I stopped a couple of times to suck some air on the accent up Waterfall, Chris got out of sight. As I finally reached the top, Chris was waiting in the twilight. We ran the next mile to the road on the new trail. The new trail is great and eliminates the steep downhill of the old trail.
We arrive at the Crisman Hollow Road and Bill at about 8:15. It was getting dark and Chris broke out his Brookstone lights. They ended up lasting all night and were great! I was not doing well at this point. I had energy but was sleepy and was getting cold. I finally had one of the chocolate milks I had bought as an afterthought. That hit the spot. Chocolate milk is this runs magic potion. We set off on to Kerns Mountain. The climb is not bad and we were on our way north. We passed half way somewhere in here and every step was taking us in the right direction. In the dark, we gave up trying to do much running. It was a long walk now.
As we stumbled along in the dark, we saw flashlights ahead, coming toward us. Who was this? It could only be someone trying to be first to do the trail before us. Damn, I shouldn't have put that notice of our attempt on the web. If this bastard started where we did, he has already caught us and will kick our butts on the second half. Who wants to be out here for second place? Who was the second man on the moon? It turned out that the lights were just houses in the valley below. The angle deceived us.
As we went along, we noted that we had to step over a lot of fallen trees. Chris had been the head of a group that had cleared this section of trail earlier in the year. What did you guys do? Have a party out here? When we got to the section that my group had done, we noticed that there were still down trees. So we decided that just maybe a storm had come through after we cleaned it up. It turned out that there were several blow downs over the entire course. Only one or two were any problem at all, but several required raising a sore leg higher than it was really eager to do.
We got to the top of Jawbone Gap. I took a rest and sucked down my fluids because the aid station was less than two downhill miles away. We went down the hill and on to Ed's Trail, the trail we built. It is in pretty good shape. We were proud. Soon we were at Moreland Gap and another meeting with Bill at about 11:30.
|Sig Knob Parking||0||9:40 AM|
|Shawl Gap Top||3.0|
|Veach Gap Tr||8.7|
|Little Crease Shelter||8.8|
|Top of Veach||9.7||1:00 PM|
|Indian Grave Ridge||14.6|
|Camp Roos||25||5:10 PM||Aid|
|Crisman Hollow Rd||34.3||8:15 PM||Aid|
|Moreland Gap||40.7||11:30 PM||Aid|
|Edinburg Gap||48.7||3:30 AM||Aid|
|Woodstock Tower||56.9||7:45 AM||Aid|
|Mudhole Gap||62.5||9:45 AM||Aid|
|Bear Wallow Tr Junc||65.4|
|Paking Lot||71.1||1:31 PM||Finish|
Bill had the stove out and was making grilled cheese sandwiches. Grease, cheese, fat -- all the important food groups. All the things we needed and hot. We were now in sync with the MMT trail. The MT finish from here is only about four miles shorter than the MMT finish. I remembered being here the year I ran MMT. I got cold then so I was very careful this time. I didn't sit down (as Scotty says, "Beware the chair!"), but moved around and got out of there. It was a cold evening and my body thermostat had gone haywire. I lead Chris out. We went the easy mile, crossed the road and entered the valley of the shadow of death, Short Mountain.
It is difficult to describe how bad Short Mountain sucks. You have a mile of rocky uphill to the rocky, twisted top. Then you stumble along for about 400 miles. But at least we had some companionship. As we stumbled along, we discussed just about every subject under the sun. At least it was not boring. Toward the end, the trail gets better and goes downhill. We passed two logs that had been marked "VHTRC" by a person I will not identify but whose initials are "Gary Knipling." I earned several Scottys, but surprisingly, Chris did too. He was bitching about this trail. He had never done Short Mountain. I decided that you can't earn a Scotty on Short Mountain because everyone gets a Scotty there. Has anyone done that trail without using the F word???
Despite ourselves, we made fair time into Edinburg Gap. We found Bill and tanked up. It was 3:30 or so in the morning. At this point, we knew two things. We would finish. There is only one more hill and we knew the trails ahead like the back of our hands. But we also knew that it is a long way. We would not finish until afternoon. By hindsight, this was the last "bad" aid station. The other two would be warmer and our spirits would be higher.
As we left Edinburg, we did the last "real" hill. (Signal Knob is just a road and not that steep. We haven't done it yet!) We get to the top of the hill and it's all down hill now! Except a funny thing has happened. Our feet were shot. I had energy and I was not even sleepy. But my feet hurt and even walking was not fun. It's a long way to Woodstock Tower. But we finally got to the tower and Bill's aid. About halfway there, the sun had come up. While we get our second sunrise spurt, we can't use it because our feet were trashed. Additionally, the mirages increased in the light. That log looked just like a railroad trestle! And it was daylight. I was very used to seeing strange things at night. This was the first time that sunlight did not cure it. We were not playing with full decks.
Woodstock seemed to take forever to get to. We knew that when the trail crosses the ridge and is on the west side that we would be close. But close is a relative term. That last mile goes on forever. No surprise why, we were walking.
Bill had brought hot coffee (for me) and hot chocolate (for Chris). He took the western way to this point and went through civilization. "There won't be anything open." "No, Bill, there is a big-ass Sheetz right on Route 11 in Woodstock. It will be open." It was warmer and the sun was up. We sat in the chairs and enjoyed life. We had it knocked now. We could just mail in that last 14 miles. I needed an equipment repair as my feet felt like hamburger. I took off my shoes and socks and determined that, yes, there were still feet there, and no, they did not feel very good. We left Bill in good spirits.
The next portion of trail is one of the easiest to navigate. We moved pretty well and I even kept up. We passed the scene of one of my greatest nature observations when I was marking the MMT trail and stumbled upon a turkey with about 20 of her chicks. This is also a good section for grouse. But the otherwise easy section ends with the very unpleasant straight down into Powells Fort Camp. We arrived and found Bill there. He was been at every place he was supposed to be. Never late. What a guy.
We tanked up for the last eight miles. It's all downhill now. Four road miles up to Signal Knob and then four miles all downhill to the finish. It turned out that we had never done this stretch of trail in this direction and this trashed. It was the worst part of the run.
The push to Signal Knob was a long walk. Not bad at first, but it got hot and the last mile is pretty steep and, if anyone ever measured it, would be at least 1,000 miles. We said bad words about the Forest Service's sign at the Bear Wallow intersection that said it was a mile to Signal Knob. That was far more than a mile! Finally, we dragged our tired, wasted feet out onto the Signal Knob overlook. (Truth be told, Chris dragged his tired, trashed feet out there at least five minutes ahead of me.) The view sucked. It was hazy and there was not much to see. Additionally, I left the camera on so the battery was dead. No picture at this photo op. We were officially unhappy campers.
We had seen that a vehicle had gone up the road ahead of us. Each puddle across the road had wet spots on the other side. When we passed the tower that is at the top. They were working on the tower. It's a public television tower and they were installing high definition TV or something like that. Never knew what that tower was for!
The last four miles were not pretty. It's terribly rocky, it was hot, and we wanted to finish. We bitched and moaned about it. We were not being good. We usually run this section in the dark at the moonlight run. At those times, we are fresh, going uphill, and can't see all the rocks. There are billions of rocks on this trail! Finally, however, we got to the big hairpin turn that is a mile or so from the end. The trail gets better and we could run. The last few yards took forever, but finally we reached the trailhead and finished at 1:31 PM. We did it. It was over.
The sun was hot and there were no leaves on the trees. It was hard to find a cool place to crash. Chris had a bottle of champagne that I had a sip of. He later drove us home. Glad it was he. I fell asleep several times on the way home.
I found some shade and reclined on the ground. It felt good. My feet did not. When I got my shoes off, I found few blisters. My feet were just sore from the pounding. It took almost two weeks for my feet to get better again. I hobbled a lot in the meantime.
By hindsight, Bill's willingness to help us was a lifesaver. We could have done it with caches but having him along gave us great flexibility especially with clothes. Also, his smiling face was a real picker upper.
Doing this trail all at one time is probably not a realistic or even admirable goal. While there will probably be some who will (or at least could) beat our time of 27 hours 51 minutes, few will do much less walking than we did at night. A much more pleasant way to do this would be in the daylight. Do 40 miles, go to a motel, sleep all night, and do the other 30 miles the next day. One might actually enjoy that.
The next great challenge would be to do this run solo, unsupported. If you try that, please be sure you know the trail and what you are getting into. And good luck!
The MT is a great resource. A lot of people have contributed to its construction and maintenance over the years. Thank you to all of those people. It's wild, lonely, and the best kept secret around. I strongly recommend you do it - just not all at the same time.
Wait, it's the phone. "Chris? We are doing what???"
Now Read Chris's Report
Massanutten Trail Description | Trail Milages