2016-09-24 - Big Schloss Sweepers

~30.3 miles @ ~22.8 min/mi

Big Schloss Panorama

(click for larger image)
"It's the carrot — we're the horse!" Sirisha (Iris) Golla and I are climbing a heart-pounding super-steep trail, where contour lines on the topo map snuggle too close to resolve. Every switchback tempts us forward with a promise of the crest — and then the next corner reveals another slope.

We're official sweepers for the second half of the VHTRC Big Schloss 50k trail run [1] in the George Washington National Forest. We start behind everybody else at 7:30am, following paths around Rockcliff Lake and up toward Long Mountain. Soon the first-half sweeps, three fast young ladies, catch up with us. "Go ahead!" I tell them. "We'll find our way!" And we do, getting lost only once for a few minutes at a complex intersection. We pass a backpacker doing the loop as a three-day trek.

After enjoying 8 miles of wilderness at ~20 min/mi pace Sirisha and I reach Aid Station #1 several minutes past the official cutoff. We briefly and unsuccessfully sue for forgiveness, then acquiesce to Doug Sullivan and hitch a ride with him to AS #2. A ~4 mile hike up-course along Little Stony Creek, cheering runners along the way, gets us to the cabin atop Sugar Knob where the first-half sweep trio meets us. We now estimate that we're likely to be ~2 miles short of the full ~32 mile distance. So Sirisha makes me promise to run extra with her at the end if needed to reach her 30+ goal. OK, Ma'am!

Sirisha's ultrarunning backstory resembles mine: start with a local 5k, try a 10k, enjoy a half-marathon, punch out a few road marathons, then graduate to trail ultras. In her case, though, the progression takes less than two years! At the most recent Bull Run Run 50 miler she finishes a couple of minutes ahead of me, so our paces are quite compatible. So are our personalities, our vegetarian diets, our fascination with philosophy, and our optimistic attitudes. "It's all good!" is a mutual mantra.

As we prepare to descend from Sugar Knob super-fast Alyssa Springman surprises us by appearing from behind. She explains that she got lost driving to the start and began a few hours after everybody else. Conveniently though, she has been taking down the few remaining course-marker ribbons left by the sweeps to guide stragglers. Onward she runs!

Back at AS #2 we leave before the 1:30pm cutoff and commence plucking blue course marker ribbons from trees and harvesting red "Don't Cross!" ribbons that block wrong-way paths. The Big Schloss Cutoff Trail offers an average ~10% ascent to Great North Mountain, the border between Virginia and West Virginia. At the top we pause for selfies on Big Schloss itself [2], a sandstone peak that offers awesome vistas of Trout Run Valley and ridges where we struggled several hours ago. Then Sirisha leads us down-down-down a scree-covered slope. The song "Landslide" plays on the mental gramophone.

"Have a vegan no-bake chocolate cookie! It's got chia seeds!" Heather welcomes us to AS #3 with tasty morsels. Sirisha recognizes her as a kind Bull Run Run volunteer at the Marina earlier this year, and gives her a big hug. We meet Jim ("Rhymes with Bagel") Nagle, who started late and took multiple wrong turns, missed earlier Aid Stations, and is now quickly recuperating. He leaves ahead of us, well before the 3:45pm cutoff, and is soon out of sight on the final ~8 mile leg to the finish.

"Beware any trail with 'Mountain' in its name!" The yellow-blazed route to Tibbet Knob starts steep and gets steeper, with scrambles over jumbled boulder piles and across gnarly rock gardens. I roll my right ankle several times; Sirisha rolls her left. Hopeful vultures circle lazily overhead, anticipating a feast. "Not yet!" we tell them. After another pause for panorama pics we pass a pair of women tending their campfire and follow the trail to a dirt road. A chain saw lies on the shoulder next to a pile of fresh-cut sweet-smelling logs; nearby a pickup truck holds a cheerful couple. My phone's battery is dying, and I try without much success to recharge it. Doug Sullivan earlier suggested that pocket lint is a common cause of Intermittent Plug Syndrome, a hypothesis to test when I get home. Meanwhile, we continue to gather blue ribbons.

Tibbet Knob Panorama

(click for larger image)
Sirisha shares chikki, a square of sweet sesame-seed brittle that gives an energy boost. We discuss oneness and nonattachment, religion and reverence. In the woods again, as the sun sets a peaceful silence settles over the land. It's a holy time.

In the final miles we catch up with Jim Nagle, limping rather badly but still making relentless forward progress. "Fourteen Boston Marathons!" he tells us, when we ask about his running history. He's a triathlete, active in the Reston Runners Club, but suffering today from dehydration. "Want to hear something gross?" he asks. We're trail runners, so the answer is obvious. Jim describes major knee surgery in clinical detail. Neat!

We deliver Jim safely to his truck, sign him out with Race Director Kirstin Corris, confirm that no runners are missing, toss a mountain of course markers into the trash, and turn in a fistful of blue flags for reuse. Sweeper Mission Accomplished! Veggie burgers and pasta salad fuel my drive home. Sirisha's GPS reads safely over 30 miles; we fist-bump salute a successful day. She insists on giving me more chikki plus a package of gulab jamun, a sweet Indian dessert. Thank you!

(trackfile) - ^z - 2016-10-24