2011-10-22 - Maryland Challenge, QSQB DNF

~40 miles @ ~17.3 min/mi

"He doesn't look like an axe-murderer," I reassure friend Caren Jew via my cellphone. I'm hitchhiking with a total stranger to get back to meet Caren, who is volunteering at the 2011 Quad State Quad Buster. It's dark, and after crossing Maryland on the Appalachian Trail ("The Maryland Challenge") I'm sane enough to drop from the race at mile 40. When I reach Harpers Ferry I carefully bend down to touch West Virginia soil, then reverse course to re-cross the Potomac River via the pedestrian bridge. On nearby Sandy Hook Road a gentleman offers me a lift to the liquor store parking lot on Keep Tryst Rd, where Caren awaits. (The "axe-murderer" bit alludes to 2007-01-06 - January Heat Wave, when Caren and I were running in the dark along Seneca Creek and were startled by an off-road pickup truck, which turned out to be driven by comrade Ed Schultze.)

"And I have a baby in back," says the kind man. He was hiking on the Maryland Heights Trail, carrying his infant grandson, and just returned to his car as the sun set. His wife recently had hip replacement surgery and can't do strenuous trails. "Sometimes I just have to get out someplace steep!" he tells me. We find Caren's car without incident.

Then Caren drives me to the official QSQB finish line where we cheer Alan Gowan as he emerges from the dark woods. We ride together back to Weverton Cliffs, the race staging area. Bob Fabia is cooking a gourmet feast for runners and volunteers there — he's recently retired and is focusing his energies on culinary arts now — but since I have to leave promptly to pick up son Merle at BWI Airport Bob gives me a spicy black bean burger to go, with cooked spinach and lentil toppings.

How did I get here? After meeting at Weverton Cliffs before dawn ~15 runners squeeze into volunteer vehicles and ride for most of an hour to Pennsylvania. At 7:15am we start running, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Within a couple of miles everybody else is out of sight ahead of me. Twenty small cattle, some with long sharp-looking horns, eye me at the meadow near mile 8. Big wet land-mines decorate the pathway. I accidentally turn off my wrist GPS unit for a few minutes near mile ~12 when rolling a sleeve down. A pair of chipmunks scurry away through the leaves.

"I'm entirely self-sufficient," I assure the volunteers as I arrive at each aid station. "You don't have to stay open for me." But even though I'm going incredibly slowly, they insist on hanging around until I pass through. My progress is ~1 minute/mile slower than it was last year in the 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster. Weather is great, but sharp rocks on the Appalachian Trail all seem to be standing on edge, covered by leaves. My aversion to falling and breaking bones is high. (See 2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization, Humerus Fracture, etc.) And this year I don't have Caroline Williams or Karen Taber pushing the pace. On the other hand, the uphill segments don't seem as steep as they were before. Perhaps my gradiometer has been recalibrated by the 2011-10-09 - Catoctin Trail with Caren last week, or the 2011-09-03 - DNF The Ring trek on Massanutten Mountain last month?

At mile ~18, the I-70/US-40 aid station, I catch up with Doug Sullivan who is schmoozing with Kerry Owens. Doug is doing the Mountain Masochist 50 miler next weekend, so he's proceeding cautiously today and only going ~23 miles. Kerry is taking over then and doing the last half of the course.

At Gathland Gap, mile ~30, the only question is whether I should stop when I get back to my car parked at Weverton (mile ~37) or continue on the easy final ~3 miles to West Virginia. It's much too late to consider the final ~4 miles across WV and into Virginia on the steep Loudon Heights Trail. To commit myself I foolishly tweet "#QSQB Gathland Gap - plan change, will stop at Harpers Ferry, Maryland Challenge, so kind Caren can go home and I can pick up son at BWI". Now the pressure is on. Pace improves on the Towpath. My watch and the GPS concur in the final verdict: ~11.5 hours to cross Maryland, ~40 miles total. And this year I didn't get lost once!

(see GPS trackfile for details) - ^z - 2011-11-07