Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
MMT100 Wild Animal Report
By John Dodds
I have been in self-imposed exile (Iím writing this from the island of Elba) from all things running since MMT100. But I could stand the isolation no more and finally logged back on to the VHTRC website to see what was going on. I also checked on the MMT100 site to see if anything was added and was delighted to discover and read Gary Kniplingís somewhat fanciful MMT100 Wildflower Report. Frankly, the pictures were spectacular, and the list of the wildflowers led me to ask myself the following question: "How can there be 45 flowers on that list when I and everybody else I talked to saw maybe 3 or 4 different kinds of flowers during the race?" There are several plausible answers:
- Gary is making this stuff up.
- Wildflowers are invisible to the naked eye if your eyes are more than 2 feet above ground level.
- Gary is making this stuff up.
- Me and the other 100+ plus runners are blind as bats.
- Gary is making this stuff up.
Having endured running with Gary off and on from about 5:45 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday of the race, I thought it would be in the public interest to let you know how his report was concocted. Then, using similar literary techniques, I will tell you about the wild animals I encountered during the race.
This article is primarily for ultrarunners, and its main point is that ultrarunning is fun. I know this is a hard concept for ordinary citizens to grasp. I know you have all had a conversation that goes something like this:
Citizen: What did you do over the weekend?
UR: I ran 100 miles in the mountains in Virginia.
Citizen: Wow! How did you do?
UR: OK. Until mile 80 when I got diarrhea and lost my visionóbut I still made it. Took me 35 hours.
Citizen (sneering): And you do this for FUN?
I donít know about you, but itís at a time like that when I have the urge to thwack John Q with a bat up the side of the head. But being of a pacific nature, the urge quickly passes.
Runners have different reasons for why they enjoy running, and itís clear to me that one of the reasons Gary likes to run is seeing wildflowers. And making up race reports even though he doesnít see that many flowers.
The perceptive reader of Garyís report will notice his caveat at the beginning of his list of flowers: "as far as I remember, anyway." I know some of you donít know Gary well, and I only ran with him for the first time a couple weeks before MMT100, but I quickly observed that Gary canít remember squat. I can prove this with a couple examples, which Iím sure he will not dispute.
First: Shortly after the race was over, Gary said to me, "John, do you remember Mike who ran with us on Kerns Mt.? I called him Mike the whole time, and his name is Ron." And I said, "Frankly, Gary, that doesnít surprise me because you couldnít remember anybodyís name that day." During a long run, itís pretty common to see-saw positions with other people and have occasion to talk to them several times. Gary would typically ask them their names and where they were from. Later on when he would see them again, he would try to impress them by showing them he remembered their names. Like this: "Hey, arenít you Tim from California?" And the answer: "No, Iím Eddie from Ohio." Gary never got one personís name right the whole time I ran with him.
Second: Before the race, I made up a written schedule with names of the aid stations, distances between aid stations, cumulative distances for the aid stations, projected times between each aid station, and time-of-day arrival at each aid station. I hate to admit this, but I had actually memorized all this information before the race. And even though Gary knows where every rock and tree is on that course, he canít remember distances or times. "John, what time did you say we were going to get to Gap Creek?" "As I said the last three times, Gary, itís 2:15 p.m." Or: "John, how far now to the Visitors Center?" I will spare you other examples. At one point, Gary said he liked having me along because I was his personal statistician.
Now let me ask you: does Gary strike you as the person who can see and then remember the names of 45 wildflowers with names like Ox Eye Daisy and Bastard Toadflax?
Iím not saying that Gary is making everything up. On occasion, he does seemingly spot a new flower. But you know what? It seems that he only points out a "new" flower when you are running behind him and want to pass him. Hereís how it works. Gary, "Mike," and I had just turned left off the ridge of Kerns Mt. and just started down the grassy trail. Sensing that I was about to pass him, Gary suddenly stopped, bent over, and said, "Hey, look at this. Havenít seen one all day. Itís vetch." One thing trailrunners have to be careful about is not running too close to the runner in front of you. If the lead runner falls or stumbles, the following runner could be in trouble. Likewise, itís possible for the following runner, if too close, can fall or stumble and knock down the leading runner. So, you have to avoid trail-gating. With Gary coming to an instantaneous stop from time to time to point out some obscure, almost-invisible flower, you have to be careful not to trail-gate. Anyway, like idiots, "Mike" and I stopped to peer down at these microscopic flowers. Iíd say, "Mike, you see anything?" Mike (lying on the ground): "I think so. These little blue things might be what heís talking about." Weíd look up and Gary would be 100 yards down the trail. It was shortly after discovering the vetch that Gary knocked me down the tank trap where the trail comes to the road.
So, by pointing out a few flowers to establish his "credibility," Gary then embellishes his report with the help of Bernardís Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Whichófinallyóbrings me to my report on the wild animals of Massanutten.
I hesitate to ask the question that is on every VHTRC memberís mind, but here goes: "If Gary can spot 45 wildflowers at Massanutten, how come heís never seen a bear?" Kinda weird, huh? I think he takes a lot of ribbing about not seeing a bear. I also think itís getting to him, based on my experience running with him that day two weeks before MMT100. I was running in front (for a change) when I heard a noise to the left; turning my head, I saw a large black shape. My mind was racing, and I thought: "BEAR!" My second thought: "Garyís finally going to see a bear!" A split second later, I saw the deer run away, and I realized that the black shape was a large, charred tree trunk. By the time Gary was able to breathe again, he admitted that he initially thought it was a bear, too. He suggested that we should tell everybody we actually saw a bear, but I told him that that wouldnít be right.
I know I might be going out on a limb here, but speaking of bears, I donít think Courtney Campbell handled his MMT100 bear incident properly. I donít mean the part about eluding the bear; Iím talking about what he later told people. From what I heard, he just started yelling and screaming and kept running. Apparently, that was enough to shoo off the bear. Iím sure that is the truth, but thatís not exactly what we here in Virginia need. If people think that just hootiní and holleriní is going to scare away a bear, then theyíre going to say things like: "Virginia bears are a bunch of wusses." Which reflects badly on us ultrarunners because we have to portray our sport as being "adventuresome." [To dispel any belief that Virginia bears are less than ferocious, the bear pictured above is Ursa Virginius.] Anyway, Courtney should have scratched hisself with a branch (maybe a little light bleeding) and run to the next aid station exclaiming that he Ďrassledí a bear. But he seems to be the kind of runner who lets his actions speak louder than wordsóthe rest of us arenít so fortunate. [The accompanying photo shows the correct placement of scratches when youíre simulating the swipe of a bear claw.]
Homo Sapien Dementius
Before I move on to some of the animals I saw, I would like to mention a particular Homo Sapien at the race who likewise gives ultrarunners a bad name. His name is Peter Moore. Despite a serious wounding and a profound loss of blood, he risked his life to finish the race so he could wear an inexpensive (although nicely detailed) belt buckle. The story Iím about to tell must never be repeated to a non-ultrarunner who will think we are all crazy. This will just be our secret, ok? I first met Peter at the 2000 HAT run. I was queued up with other runners so we could daintily tiptoe our way across the rocks at one of the stream crossings. I believe I was third in line when this tall individual (Peter) came crashing by, took two steps in the stream itself and then headed up the hill on the other side. I learned that day that there was more than one way to cross a stream. I later ran a bit with Peter, and we actually had a normal, enjoyable conversation.
Anyway, at MMT100 I was at the Woodstock aid station when I glanced over and saw Peter sitting in a chair with his leg bleeding. There is bleeding and then there is bleeding. And Peterís was of the latter type. You could see the surging motion of the blood coming out of his leg. It brought back fond memories of when I worked in college as an operating room orderly at the county hospital. I used to shave people before surgery and was proud of my recordóI never cut anybody so badly that I couldnít stop the bleeding myself. In Peterís case, I wasnít sure how they were going to stop the bleeding. Someone was wrapping a big gauze pad around his leg, but I didnít see how that was going to work. And it didnít. Not to draw attention away from Peterís plight, but for me it was just damn distracting to make the last two major climbs of the course (Menaka Peak and Shawl Gap) in my distressed condition and see drops of blood on the rocks. I fully expected to see Peterís body lying on the trail around the next turn. The accompanying photo shows Peter showing off his wound. Remember: donít tell this story to a non-ultrarunner because it will give us all a bad name.
Here are some of the wild animals I saw, and as Gary would say, "as far as I remember, anyway."
- Antelope (Duncan Hollow)
- Beaver (reservoir near Powellís Fort)
- Cheetah (Routes 608-613-619, early morning, unusually attired for a cheetahó-wearing black shorts and white singlet)
- Deer (Milford Gap)
- Elephant (Short Mt.)
- Fox (Stephens trail)
- Giraffe (Woodstock Tower)
- Hyenas (Visitors Center)
- Jaguar (Skyline Ranch parking lot)
- Mountain goat (Bird Knob)
- Polar bear (Passage Creek at Elizabeth Furnace)
- Prairie dog (Stephens trail)
- Sloth (bearing resemblance to runner #26, especially in last 25 miles of the race)
- Turkeys (119 in number, all trails)
If you didnít see these animals, then you are too much focused on the trail itself, and next time you will have to be more observant. You might even consider slowing down. As one famous trailrunner said, "Stop and smell the bear poop." Also: some of you might be thinking that I am overstating the race tactics exhibited by "Tanya" Knipling during MMT100. That is not the case. In fact, it has now come to my attention that he may have borrowed another tactic from the real "Tonya" by hurling a hubcap (from an old Nash Rambler) at a competitor in the most recent Bull Run Run 50. The runner in the accompanying photo has apparently filed a protest with the Race Director surrounding this incident, and it is still under investigation. "Tanya" became a suspect because of his reputation and when questioned, he gave the following self-incriminating answer: "I didnít mean to actually hit her."
I hope that by reading the MMT100 wildflower and wild animal reports, you will be inspired to get out to Massanutten throughout the year and to run the MMT100 next May. It is a truly a great eventóyou never know what will happen, what you will see, and who you will bump into (literally).
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