The Ring

By John Dodds

John and Gary Finish the RingSome call it The Ring. Others call it The Ring Thing. Those who have completed it like myself, call it "The Stupid-Ass Ring" or some other affectionate term not suitable for printing on this family web site. I ran The Ring with a select few on September 7-8, 2002. The psychological aftershocks have subsided somewhat, and I'm now ready to tell you about it.

Lords of The Ring. On April 7-8, 2002, Chris Scott and Anstr Davidson became the first to complete The Ring (the 71-mile circuit in the Massanutten Mts). This feat is reminiscent of the other famous mountain duo--Hillary and Norgay--who summited Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953, a scant 49 years earlier. Since that first ascent in 1953, over 4,000 have attempted the climb, and only about 700 have actually made it to the top. (We would say that the finish rate is about 18%.) No matter how many people have made it to the top of Mt. Everest, the two best remembered are the first two. And that is how it should be for The Ring. Scott and Davidson. You can read their semi-literate accounts of their journey on the VHTRC web site.

Sure, go ahead and pay $100,000 to go to the top of the world. Go join that exclusive club of 700 like-minded people. But if you want a real challenge, then you should head out to Massanutten Mts. to attempt The Ring. As far as I can tell, there are a lot more rocks at MMT than on Mt. Everest. There is no entry fee for The Ring. There is a toll, however; it is both physical and psychological. But once you complete it, your name will be forever enshrined in "The Fellowship of The Ring."

"Don't Say We Didn't Tell You So." That's what Chris and Anstr told us at breakfast in the restaurant after we had completed The Ring. Let me just clear one point up right now. They lied to us. Here's what they said beforehand:

"If you're intrigued and otherwise losing oil from your crankcase, you're a likely candidate for this idiocy."

"A dumb drill of astronomical proportions."

"Just plain stupid."

"We are not promising ANY aid. None, nada, zilch."

"I would also like to repeat my view that running around this circle in one shot is not fun."

As for the last segment coming down Signal Knob: "Try it going DOWNHILL, WASTED, IN THE DARK. It should suck."

Being a somewhat experienced trail runner, I didn't see anything in these words that would give us fair warning of what we were in for.

Misery. About a week later I saw someone who said to me, "I heard you had a miserable time running The Ring." And I said, "Oh, you heard about the huge blister on my heel?" "No," he replied, "I saw that you ran with Gary for 22 hours." Hard as that may be for most of you to comprehend, that was indeed the case.

Getting in. Once I had made up my mind to do this run (see next paragraph), there was the slight matter of getting permission to enter from Anstr. I had seen the list of entrants to date, and it was fairly clear that I was not of their caliber. The list was a veritable Who's Who of excellent trail runners. So-and-So Champ, So-and-So Record Holder, etc. When I called Anstr about this, he asked me if I had won anything. I told him I hadn't won any race. Well, how about winning anything, he asked. It took me a while, but I finally did remember that I got a penmanship award in the third grade. He said that was enough. With that credential, I was on my way to admission to "The Fellowship of The Ring."

View from the TrailWhy? Frankly, I can't exactly remember why I did this event. I think it had something to do with Gary constantly bugging me about it. He said it would be fun and we would all run as a group. I had to remind him of the people who were running and asked how it was physically possible that we were going to run as a group. He never did seem to have an answer, but he did keep on saying that we would stay together as a group. In one of our later conversations, he said there would be no problem with aid because Chris and Anstr would be roving in cars. He said I would only have a problem if I got four hours behind the lead group. At which point, I asked him a fairly simple question: "How can I get four hours behind if we are all committed to running together as a group?" I would soon learn that although still waters run deep, VHTRC commitments do not.

The pasta dinner the night before. Everybody knows that you have pasta the evening before a big run. Unfortunately, there was no pasta on the menu at the Mexican restaurant Chris and Anstr had chosen for us in Front Royal. I wasn't exactly sure why we were eating there except Chris and Anstr kept mentioning margaritas. I knew I was in trouble when David Horton looked at his meal and said, "I've never eaten this before a run before." I was afraid to look to see what he had ordered. I myself had the beef enchiladas.

Running as a group. We started at the Signal Knob parking lot and stayed together for quite some time. Maybe a good 40-45 minutes, I'd say. We ran to Elizabeth Furnace together and for the most part stayed together going up Shawl Gap. After that, the group, shall we say, splintered. And then the splinter groups splintered. Until it was just down to Gary and me. I think we were at about mile 15.

Chris. It's hard to describe how tough The Ring is, but when one of the race directors breaks his arm, you know it's a tough run. Frankly, I think Chris broke his arm on purpose so he could be the center of attention. Part of the lure of this run was the following words from Chris on the web site: "Anstr and I, as 'hosts,' will probably just drive around the course, drink beer, eat grilled cheese sandwiches, and laugh at you. Doesn't that sound like fun?" It certainly sounded like fun to me. Imagine my extreme disappointment as Gary and I ran into Camp Roosevelt to see Chris sitting there with his arm in some kind of sling. He wasn't doing any of the things he promised us he'd do. He just sat there moping. I never did see him again that day; I found out later that Joe took him to the hospital. Can you imagine that? Here we are in the middle of a brutal run, and he is so selfish that he goes to seek medical treatment for himself.

Anstr. Was playing mind games with us because he was actually helpful. I had packed a large crate full of stuff as well as a cooler. This was supposed to go in cars several of us planned on having. But the night before the race after I had packed all this stuff, I learned that Anstr would be driving a vehicle around carrying things for us. So, at every "aid station" I would find my crate and cooler unloaded from the vehicle and placed neatly alongside all the other coolers, bags, etc. I had fully expected Anstr to harass us (and was actually looking forward to this), and here he was (uncharacteristically) being quite helpful. It made me wonder. At the risk of tarnishing his reputation, I should tell you that about 1:30 a.m. at Powell's Fort, he actually helped me put a Bandaid on the heel of my foot.

Rocks. At Massanutten, the rocks are relentless. At breakfast the next morning, I told Chris that I thought that The Ring was tougher on the feet than MMT100. The reason is that there is no respite from the rocks. With the exception of the section coming out of Powell's Fort, you are always on the trail, unlike MMT100 where you get to run on the roads from time to time. Even though I had put blister block on my feet before the run, it was at Kennedy Peak (about mile 21) when I had to add more. I found out the next morning that Kennedy Peak was not on the course and was asked why Gary and I did it. I had told Gary that I had never seen Kennedy tower before, and not knowing that it was optional (Gary didn't tell me), we went up there. I hate to disillusion any reader, but "tower" is a stretch when you look at what's up there. I've seen taller backyard decks.

The BlazesThe rocks started to take their more serious toll in the early evening. The bottom of my right heel started to hurt as we ran along Kerns Mountain. When we got to Moreland Gap, I put duct tape on it. It didn't help much. In fact, it got worse going up and across Short Mt. And worser as we ran on to Woodstock. At that point (this is about 5 hours later), I had a pretty major problem. We finally made it to Woodstock. Fortunately, I had a sponge in my crate, and I cut a piece of it to fit in my shoe. I cut a hole in the center of that piece of sponge so the blister would fit in it without touching the bottom of my shoe. I thought that was all pretty clever. It would have been cleverer had it actually relieved the pain. Truthfully, though, it did help. Or at least I pretended it helped. After this repair and shortly after leaving Woodstock, my shoe started to rub the skin off the back of my heel at the top of the shoe. As I ran on to Powell's Fort, it felt like someone was constantly cutting my skin with a knife. I suppose I could have stopped to take care of it but decided to press on. After a couple hours of this delightful experience, we made it to Powell's Fort. That's when Anstr helped with the bandaid. Gary, who was on the verge of hypothermia when we would stop at the aid stations, was not real concerned with my problem. In fact, he just got up and left and said (uncaringly), "Just put vaseline on it." So, I did that, too, and limped out of Powell's Fort (which is how I usually leave Powell's Fort in the MMT100). Fortunately, we had only three hours to go.

I later discovered that the blister on my heel was 2.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. I worked on it every day after that (trimming away the dead skin, putting lotion on the thin layer of remaining good skin so it wouldn't crack and bleed, etc.) as I was going to be running a "benign" trail marathon in two weeks and Arkansas Traveler two weeks after that.

Scott. Several days later I was in Metro Run & Walk and was talking to Scott about how miserable it is to run for so long on the rocks at MMT. We were commiserating about how The Ring was a really stupid idea. We both had bad blisters on our feet; at one point, Scott said "Take a look at this," and pulled off a shoe and sock. And I said, "Oh, yeah? Well, take a look at this." And I took off one shoe and sock. I think I won because I was still using bandages on my foot just so I could walk normal. I'm not sure what the customers were thinking, and I'm not sure what we would have done had been complaining about groin chafing.

Flashlights. As Art Linkletter used to say: "Gary says the darndest things." Here's an example. It was probably about mid-afternoon when Gary announced that he was not going to turn on his flashlight until we got to Woodstock. The only exception would be an emergency. At this point we were hours away from the nighttime and who knows where we would exactly be by then. But at least I knew we would not be at Woodstock. I told him that there was no way we could get to Woodstock before dark and that an emergency for me would be that it got dark. We were about an hour from Woodstock when Gary declared an "emergency" and turned on his flashlight.

Waterfall Mt. Going up Waterfall is always a treat for me. This was no exception. Gary and I hit it at 3 p.m. I remember the time well because we had been "projecting" our Waterfall arrival time as 3 p.m. for a number of hours. Sort of like the old days when people were guessing when Mamie Eisenhower would die. Anyway, Gary was in the lead and we were about a third of the way up when I spotted a wildflower. I told Gary to come look at it. He was about 20 feet above me and asked, "What color is it?" I told him he wasn't getting away with that. I made him come back down and actually look at it, which he did. I felt pretty good making him come back down Waterfall even if it was only 20 feet.

Hypothermia. To my surprise, Gary got cold when we stopped at night. This first happened at Woodstock. He got so cold there that he put on a long sleeve shirt (which he later had to take off when running). As we were later making the descent into Powell's Fort, we were talking about hypothermia. Gary told me the cure was to lie next to a warm, naked body. At which point I got a little bit leery and asked, "Uh, Gary, do you think you can make it to Powell's Fort?" I knew that Anstr would be there, and Gary had earlier admitted that he had the "hots" for Anstr.

"Is my turtle a girl or a boy?" This is one of the FAQs on a popular turtle web site. I checked it out to make sure that Gary had told us the truth. You see, several of us were running along when we came across a turtle. Gary picked it up to show us how you could tell if it was male or female. He pointed to the underside of the turtle and said if it had a small depression in the shell it was a male (which I believe that one did have). He said it would thus "fit" on top of the female. And here's what the web site says is one of the distinguishing features for a male: "Have a flat or concave plastron (better for fitting on top the female during breeding)" Pretty exciting, huh? At breakfast the next morning, I had this conversation with Barry.

B: John, did you get what Gary was saying about turtles?
J: What do you mean?
B: Well, as far as I could tell, it was all shell-to-shell contact.
J: Yes?
B: Well, I don't see how it works.

Well, we never could figure out that morning just how turtles "do it." I'll have to ask Gary next time I see him. (Maybe he'll have the $22 from Mike Bur that Mike owes me for the belt I bought him last summer.)

Was the descent on Signal Knob all that bad? No, it was worse. And what didn't help was the long climb up the gravel/dirt road to get to Signal Knob in the first place. Gary and I were not in the best of moods by then. Did we stop to admire the beauty of the stars overhead? No. Did we marvel at the lights down below as we sat on the rocks at Signal Knob? No. Coming down Signal Knob, we were actually verbalizing bad thoughts about Chris and Anstr.

And here's what else we were talking about: We're never doing this again. In fact, Chris and Anstr should have a rule that says you can't do it again. But I suggested to Gary that maybe we could be part of the crew next year to help others. "NO!" was the answer. We're not sure when we're ever going back to Massanutten.

Volunteers. In addition to Chris and Anstr, others came out to help. Frankly, I think they came out to see how much misery we would be in; these are the people that like to watch train wrecks. Noelle was at Veach Gap with brownies. Barry and Scott were joking about whether the brownies had some kind of mind-altering substance in them. I can tell you that was not the case as they had no effect on us at all. Shortly after eating the brownies, we made it back up to the top of the ridge and stopped at the Buddhist monastery where the monks invited us in for tea. Later in the afternoon, Noelle was also at Crisman Hollow Road with milkshakes. Bunny was at most of the "aid stations." Tom Corris and Bob Phillips, who had done part of The Ring, gave me encouraging words as I started up Short Mt. Jean Heishman, whom I think is a descendant of Clara Barton (Jean runs the Elizabeth Furnace field hospital in the MMT100), put out water at Milford Gap. I also seem to recall seeing Keith Dunn in a brightly-colored, tie-dye shirt, probably soon after brownie time.

Is this event for you? Why not? We all had fun. At breakfast the next morning, I told Chris that when the word gets around about how miserable this run is, he'd be lucky to get another 5 runners next year. He said he expects 50 next year, and I just stared at him. I truly think he's serious. There are a few people, however, I would like to see run this next year: my whining friends, Kerry, John, Jaret and Gena. I might even come back to drive around, eat grilled cheese sandwiches and laugh at them.

Final thought. I would just like to sum up this memorable experience with these simple words: I'm glad Chris broke his arm, and I wish Anstr had broken his arm, too.


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