By Jaret Seiberg
[Editor's Note: On July 8, four pioneers attempted the first version of the Montgomery County 100 Miler. This is a report of their effort.]
First, let's be clear. Bob Coyne and Ed Schultze are crazy. They came up with the idea of running 100 miles in Montgomery County. I am much less crazy as I only agreed to go along. Brian O'Connor is just an idiot (in a good way, of course), but I'll explain the reasons for that later.
I should start at the beginning. Bob and Ed came up with this idea last summer. We would run 100 miles through the parks of Montgomery County. The intent was the use some of the less developed parks in the northern section of the county to form a loop with the Greenway trail.
Bob and Ed made an exploratory effort last year, but this was to be the summer when we got the run completed. Everything seemed perfect. We had a route, with re-supply opportunities throughout. We even would go past a Dunkin Donuts toward the end. What could be better?
So I meet Ed at Bob's house and we drove to Brian Connor's house near Little Bennett park. Did I mention yet that it had rained more than three inches the prior night as the remnants of a hurricane swept through and it was pouring when we arrived at Bob's house? Ed was responsible for driving us to Brian's. It took twice as long as it should because of the heavy rain.
Still, we set out only an hour behind schedule. Our plan was 13 miles in Little Bennett, cut through the back roads to Damascus, use a bike path to get to the start of the Greenway, and then run the Greenway around Clopper Lake to the C&O Canal. From there we use a few roads and several more parks get back to Bob's house. Overall, the course had about 12 miles of roads. The rest was in park land. Probably 70 miles of single or double track.
We were laughing about the rain, but leaving Brian's house I was amazed at the condition of the trail. It seemed to drain great. I thought this would be a breeze.
That was a really stupid thought.
The only dumber thing was what happened next. I put the trail map away and told Brian we needed to do about 13 miles, ending on the eastern part of the park. I figured he lived here so that should be a breeze.
Here was my miscalculation. Brian is an idiot. Or maybe I should rephrase that. Brian lacks even the small amount of common sense that the rest of us enjoy. As you read on, I'm sure you will agree. So Brian is leading our little group and within a mile we get to a stream crossing. I wish we had pictures, but we didn't buy the camera until later. This small stream was a raging river. Ed went first and was swept nearly 200 feet down stream. Bob went next and was pushed 150 feet down stream as was Brian. Going last, I thought I might make it. As the current pushed me I reached for Ed's hand but missed by about three inches. I grabbed a tree branch 100 feet down stream and hauled my self to shore.
This is a good time to plug Hefty brand storage bags. They keep everything dry, even when submerged in a swollen river.
We run about ½ mile more and Brian finds another mega river crossing. We wade through the still water on the trail about 15 feet from where the stream/river starts. It already is chest deep and we are swimming. Somehow Ed and Brian swim to a log just before the swift water and climb up. I take a slightly different course to get to the same log. Bob tries to get there, but gets caught up in the fast moving water. He lunges up and grabs the tree with both arms as the river pulls his legs under. Fortunately Brian and Ed pulled him up and we all make it across.
At this point I took out the map and demoted Brian. God only knows what his next stream crossing would have looked like. I couldn't take too much more of this. Brian had clearly gone crazy and wanted to kill us. I couldn't let that happen. Plus we'd only gone three miles. At Brian's pace, we'd spend all day in Little Bennett.
Using the map, we ran a series of loops through the less river swollen sections of the park. In fact, a good chunk of the park was not covered in water. It took effort to find those two river crossing. I guess Brian deserves credit for that. Regardless, we survived and exited toward Damascus. The road section was not exactly fun, but it was a necessary evil to get to Damascus, our first supply station.
We made a spectacle of ourselves at the Weiss Market, before heading to the high school and the bike path. Within a few miles we were on the Greenway. I figured the worst was past us. The bike path was not flooded and I figured the Greenway should be draining. After all, it stopped raining around 8:30 a.m. and it was now 10:30 a.m.
That was another really stupid thought.
The first few miles were great. But than we got some flooded areas. Most were ankle to knee deep. The crossing of the river was amusing as the rope became disconnected. Still compared it our earlier crossings it was pretty tame.
Unfortunately the trail just kept getting wetter. Around five miles into the Greenway, we hit the first of many mile-long sections where the trail was under water. Usually we were knee deep. Sometimes waist deep. We could see the river to the right and we were lower than it. Only a high bank kept us out of it. Yet the gaps in the bank allowed the river to flood the trail.
We got to Rt. 355 and the 7-Eleven at lunch time in pretty good spirits. We refueled with slurpees and other delights under the watchful eye of a county police officer who stared at us from his cruiser as we ate. Brian left us at this point for a family commitment, but promised to meet back up with us later. (Clearly, he turned out not to be an idiot but rather was the smart one in the group.)
I figured we conquered the worst of it as I recalled much of the next section as high ground. That was true as we rounded Clopper Lake and crossed Riffleford Road. Then all Hell broke loose. The trail entrance at Riffleford was flooded with waist deep water. We were getting sick of this so Bob and I headed for high ground parallel to the trail. Ed stayed low. We met up about a half mile later. Trail remained underwater. We followed it in very deep water until we tried to bush whack again. This failed miserably as even the slightly higher ground was flooded. Getting back to the trail required crossing some chest deep water, but we found the trail as it runs along an earthen beam at this point. That was great for a quarter of a mile. Then we were back in the water. A short swim toward the shore and we begin sloshing again. At this point, the water situation got worse as it appeared the trail became part of the very fast moving Seneca River. To avoid that danger, we bush whack up through briars for about 30 minutes. We finally find a trail around a pond and see houses. We agree to hop a fence and make a dash for the road. We hop the fence, but can't find the road. We hope another fence, and still don't see it. Finally we find the road and run 1/3 of a mile to the trail head. This 2.9 mile section took us in excess of two hours.
We moved pretty well for the next two sections, given the flooded trails and bushwhacking. Still, it was slow and hard work. Brian returned to us at the Mill armed with cheeseburgers and coffee. I was ready to anoint him a saint.
At this point, we digress for a trail story. A female park ranger pulls up and starts flirting with Ed. At the same time, a middle-aged woman in an expensive car arrives with her golden retriever. She proceeds to throw a tennis ball the in the middle of the river and sends the dog to fetch. The dog gets washed 200 yards downstream. He barely gets to shore. She then calls him to swim back to her against this raging current. The dog barely survives. Last we saw, she planned to head downstream thinking the current would be less. Clearly, not everyone is born with a brain.
Now back to our story….. Ed and his ranger split and we head down the trail. Brian drives to Riley's and starts north toward us as he can't leave a car at the Mill. Bob, Ed and I hit Rt. 28 and proceed for a mile in knee to waist deep water. When we get lucky, it is only ankle deep. At one point we use a floating bridge rather than try to swim across an especially deep section. At another section we had no choice. It was chest-plus deep.
At last the trail hit higher ground and we met up with Brian for about three more miles to Riley's. Most of it was dry, though we certainly had a fair amount of wadding.
I was beat at Riley's and reluctantly DNF'd. I was going to continue to the VFW and then call for a taxi. But by dropping at Riley's I was able to drive Brian's truck to the end, which would help him and prevent Bob or Ed from having to take him to it in the morning.
For the entire drive to Ed's house I second guessed the decision. But ultimately it was the right call. We needed 14 hours and 20 minutes to do 52 miles over normally very easy terrain. My legs were beat up and I was getting cold from being so wet for so long. Plus, I wanted to be in good enough shape the next day to take my son and daughter to their first Red Sox game.
Later I heard from Ed that they bailed at the VFW, about eight miles from Riley's as both were fighting blisters and the general trauma of the day. This was especially unfortunate for Brian, but all say he was a great sport about it. Plus he asked me to note in the report that he was the stud who got the girl. So, whatever girls were hanging out at the VFW at 11 p.m. were Brian's for the taking.
The second effort of the MC 100 did not go quite to plan. But the three (or four if we can con Brian into it) will be back for the third attempt. It shall be done!