by Gary Knipling

Wild Azalea
Wild Azalea

Mother Nature is always full of surprises – good and bad. The MMT nature experience started early in 2005 when Hans discovered a killdeer (bird) nest in a corner of the Skyline Resort parking lot when he pulled in with his camper Thursday evening. The extent of a killdeer nest is a shallow depression in any open area. Quick thinking by Deb & Steve and Marge & Stan Friday morning saved the nest with 4 eggs. The area was cordoned off with the aid of picnic tables and red ribbon to discourage use by cars or people. Both mom and dad killdeer help incubate the eggs and one or the other was on duty incubating the entire weekend to the enjoyment of runners, crew, and families. Hopefully the 24-26 day incubation is continuing successfully now.

The entire spring in the Massanuttens has been cooler and drier this year and that affected the number and types of wildflowers I saw on the course. The cool, dry weather for the weekend of the run was the best I can recall for any of the eleven years. Matt Estes and Sue Johnston combined their exceptional physical talent and reckless abandon with great trail conditions and each captured course records, 18:12.59 and 22:38.29 respectively. Congratulations to both on what is bordering on super-human performances.

In some MMT’s, I have seen over forty different species of wildflowers. Although there were plenty of beautiful wildflowers out there this year, the types were more typical of mid-late April rather than early May. For example, I saw no Stargrass in 2005. This is a pretty little yellow flower that frequently blooms right in the middle of the trail and is typically very common in dry or wet areas. There were only a handful of Pink Lady Slippers on the course this year. Scott Mills had marked one just past Milford Gap with a yellow ribbon to catch the runner’s eyes – thank you Scotty ! There was a cluster of Robin’s Plantain in bloom along Rt 613, a 15” tall daisy-looking flower with lavender rays and a yellow center. I considered this sighting in honor of MMT veteran Robin Kane who is currently through hiking the AT northbound and was as far as Port Clinton, PA the weekend of May 7-8.

The signature wildflower of MMT, Wild Azalea, was in bloom but not in the flush of other years where the pleasant odor along the ridge tops has made some runners wonder if they were at their own funeral. I stopped a few times to sniff individual blossoms, but you had to be close to enjoy them. Down along the roads near the South Fork of the Shenandoah River were pockets of the sweet smell from Autumn Olive flowers. The only other sweet smell I experienced was the perfume worn by Brian O’Connor’s (of USA Today fame) girlfriend standing near the trail at Elizabeth Furnace Sunday morning – a welcome change from smelling me and the other runners after twenty some hours on the trail.

Gary at Shawl Gap
Gary at Shawl Gap

The early aid stations of Milford, Habron and Roosevelt are always upbeat with runners breezing through. Sophie caught me less than a mile to Roosevelt and we had a good chat. I was surprised to see two fellow runners sitting in chairs at Roosevelt with ice bags on their ankles and bib numbers already turned in. Sophie left the aid station before I did but I hoped to catch her on the way up Duncan Hollow. As it turned out, I had the trail all to myself going up Duncan and up and over Peach Orchard Gap. About the time I could start hearing the water tumbling in Passage Creek Steve Pero went gliding by with his long down-hill strides. I knew the cool weather was playing into his hands and I wondered if I would see him again on the course. I didn’t, until at the finish line Sunday morning.

Kern’s Mountain was a bad stretch for me again in 2005. Several runners caught me here including Kerry Owens, Jay Finkle, Dan Lehman and Mike Dobies. I was bragging to Jay, Dan and Mike about the upcoming patch of the low growing, dainty lavender- colored Speedwell that I have only seen in one place at the south end of Kern’s in past years. When we got to the spot near the sharp left turn to go down to the road, the Speedwell was not there. I expect it will be in bloom the weekend after MMT, delayed because of the cool spring. I ran down the road (FDR 274) to the Visitors Center with Jay but couldn’t keep up after the aid station as he pushed ahead to finish in a great PR time of 28:26 out of his three finishes.

Bird Knob was once again one of the best overall areas for wildflowers, but bad for my ego. I leapfrogged with Mike Dobies, John Nichols, and newbies Greg Trapp and Andy Kumeda before getting back to the “pipestem” where you get to see those further back in the pack. Out of our group I was the last to work down through the rocky descent. Another couple of runners passed me before I hooked up with Jim Harris and we pulled each other into 211 East about 7:15 PM. There was a buzz of activity at 211 with many pacers anxiously awaiting their runners. As I sat down in a chair Tom Corris filled my hand with a full cup of cool clear water. I was enjoying a Yoo-Hoo and a second cup of soup, when up the slope roared Randy Dietz (of USA Today fame). Even with his cool shades on and approaching darkness, I could see fire in his eyes. I scooted out of the aid station and started up toward Scothorn Gap. I was looking forward to seeing the only place on the course I have found Columbine, and I barely made it by dark. I was happy to share the sighting with Travis Dill who had caught up to me just a hundred yards before the rock outcropping where the Columbine has found a suitable nitch to grow. When I finally got to the trail crossroads to take a left on Scothorn, I stopped to glide up. It was there that Randy and pacer John Dodds with Al Kershner in pursuit went roaring by. Randy went on to have a fantastic finish in sub-27:00 and the Seniors Buckle again.

Gary at Gap Creek
Gary at Gap Creek

At Gap Creek II, Chris & Michele tried hard to revive me but I was still struggling. Bob Combs and his pacer Joe passed me going into Mooreland Gap. I still had nourishment from Gap Creek II in me so I pushed through Moreland. I maintained my position across Short Mt and was really looking forward to seeing Anstr, Brenda, Jim & Lucia at Edinburg. There were 5-6 runners or more at Edinburg sitting in chairs or cars or wrapped in blankets. Among them was Ed Cacciapaglia (“Cappuccino”) and his pacer Rayna who had passed me coming down the slope into the aid station. I had my potato soup and half of an egg salad sandwich but was forced to eat it slowly because of a queezy stomach. I was starting to be worried about messing up Anstr’s aid station and was looking for a route to an open area of the parking lot to feed the chipmunks. My last request to Jim was a full cup of ice with just a little Mountain Dew, and I carried it out with me trying to fight off the shivers from sitting for a while. As I sucked on the ice cubes going up the hard climb to Powell Mountain, Brenda’s soup did its thing. At the top I felt renewed and started running and looking for moving lights up ahead. I passed several runners that I had been with up on Bird Knob many hours before. Just after the trail finally gets on the west side of Powell Mt. with two miles to go to the Woodstock aid station and just past the picture of Elvis (was it really there?), I saw two slow moving lights ahead. I was surprised to come up on my friends Sophie and pacer Mike Broderick. Sophie was obviously having a “down” time – she was beaten physically and mentally. I noticed goose pimples on her legs so she wasn’t able to generate much heat with her condition. Mike was keeping her moving, but barely. When offering to help, my assignment was to get to Sophie’s crew at Woodstock and ask them to come back with some food and a blanket. After getting to Woodstock, I was talking to Sophie’s husband Rusty and the Quivey’s about Sophie’s condition, but before they could mobilize, in came Mike and Sophie. There was firm discussion between Sophie and her entourage about the pros and cons of continuing. I knew Sophie’s attitude would improve once she warmed up and got some fuel and I was hoping she would keep her number on until that happened. I was chilling down from sitting and I knew I had to get moving again. I offered my encouragement to Sophie and told her I would see her at the Ranch before noon. On the way to Powell’s Fort I thought of many things I wished I had said to Sophie to get her back on the trail. I was so happy to learn at Powell’s from Dave Quivey that after a nap, food, warmth and prodding Sophie was back on the trail. She finished her first century run in fine style and with a silver buckle to boot.

Daylight on Sunday does wonders for the weary runners of MMT. I thought about how some runners were finished, showered and napping as I ate a handful of olives for breakfast at Powell’s Fort. The fresh orange juice was a welcome change from coke and Gatorade and I had three cups of the OJ with pulp. The full service breakfast menu offered by Marge and the Moore’s was tempting but I passed on that to maintain peace with my stomach.

I actually ran most of the way from Powell’s to Elizabeth Furnace and saw some runners I hadn’t seen since before Visitors Center. I passed again on breakfast at Elizabeth Furnace but I thanked the twins Janice and Jean and their husbands for being there for the longest stint of any of the aid stations. After getting up and through Shawl Gap for the second time on the course, it was so nice to finally see the bottom of the gravel road within a half mile of the finish. The final run across the field to the Ranch was a blur but the yellow flags guided me to our quest and the very best part of the entire MMT weekend: sharing trail stories with other runners and cheering for those runners still coming across the finish line.

I enjoyed comparing notes with Carolyn Gernand who helped mark and unmark trail starting Friday, and runners Sue Donnelly and JJ Rochelle who saw different parts of the trail in the daylight than me. With the protective statement of “as far as I can remember” the wildflowers I saw or heard about being on the 2005 MMT course (in no particular order) were as follows:

Congratulations to ALL of the 2005 MMT finishers in the most spectacular year of this event. There were a record number of starters, finishers, and the number of runners finishing in less than 24 hours (8). Matt and Sue have set lofty goals for any runners seeking to stamp their supremacy on the MMT course. The faster runners get their glory but the MMT is about persistence, character and the will to just not quit. Stan and his very faithful and experienced group of volunteers are the reason about two-thirds of the finishers gut it out to somehow find that finish line between 30 and 36 hours after the start. Every runner has their story and experience of the run. What other ultra run can a runner study their time splits to see where they compared with all other runners out there, and be reminded of just how good or how bad they felt in a particular section? Thank you, Valerie, for playing with the numbers for us runners.

There are just a few million more people now who know of MMT after the USA Today article. Be ready to sign up for MMT ’06 early when the applications open in December.

Until then, happy trails, Gary (#68)

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