Smokey and The Pundit: Another VHTRC Training Run

By John Dodds

Some days get off to a good start. Some days don’t. July 4th didn’t. I was going to meet Gary Knipling and Russ Evans at the Vienna metro station at 4 a.m. so that we could head out to the AT and run at first light. I only had a 10-minute drive from home to the station, and I was running a little late. Which accounted for my somewhat excessive speed on I-66.

By the time I realized that the unmarked car parked in the dark on the shoulder was a state trooper, I was already going by him. I was hoping that maybe he didn’t think I was going all that fast-a hope soon dashed when I saw the flashing blue lights in my rearview mirror. As I stepped out of the van into his spotlight, I wanted to appear to be a law-abiding citizen, one who was unaccustomed to traveling fast. Wearing a running shirt with “FLEET FEET” emblazoned on the front did not help in this regard. Since this was July 4th, I would try the patriotic theme. He asked me for my registration. I didn’t have it. I told him that I had just registered my car at the Pentagon the other day and left the registration at home. Which was true. He asked to see my driver’s license. I gave him my military ID card. I said “oops” and then handed him my driver’s license. When I told all this to Russ and Gary later, Russ said I had played every card I had.

The trooper said I was going 77 miles per hour and then asked me what I thought was an unfair question: “Did you know how fast you were going?” In my mind (such as it was a 4 a.m.), there was no right answer. If I said “yes,” then I would be admitting to reckless driving (he had been kind enough to inform me that driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit was reckless driving). If I said, “no,” then I would be admitting to not paying attention (which probably violated some Virginia traffic code section I wasn’t aware of). All I could muster as an answer was: “Well, I must have been going too fast if you stopped me.” To my surprise, that worked because he let me go without giving me a ticket.

The Non-Browntown Browntown Loop. Last July 4th, Russ, Gary, and I ran the Browntown Loop on a very hot, muggy day. The Browntown Loop was invented by Chris Scott (in fact, Chris asked them to build a town there, so when he did the run, he could call it the Browntown Loop). [This is untrue. The Browntown Loop was invented by the OD horse people and passed on to Ed Demoney who introduced it to us. Chris did not invent everything! --Editor] The run starts at the Jordan River trail head on the east side of the mountain, goes up and over the AT, down into the valley on the other side, through the thriving metropolis of Browntown, and then back up to the AT. You then run along the AT for a bit, then turn south on Skyline Drive back to one of the other trails for the descent back down the east side. Since this was Russ’ first run in the mountains while recovering from a stress fracture, we all decided to not make the descent into Browntown. Sans Browntown, our distance was 18 miles. (There are two old, small convenience-type stores in Browntown and both are open on July 4th; these stores are lifesaver on a hot day because you can get cold drinks. Last year, Russ and Gary split a nice cold Yoo-Hoo.)

Gary and the Bear. As you all know by now, Gary saw a bear on his Shenandoah National Park adventure back in June. He is a more relaxed runner now. Last year when we did the Browntown Loop, it was like we were on a great bear hunt. He was constantly stopping at every noise he heard. “No, Gary, that’s just a squirrel thrashing in the woods.” Then there was a cut-off, fire-blackened tree trunk disguised as a bear. This year was completely different. A noise in the woods was, well, a noise in the woods.

Having said all this, I would like to comment on Gary’s bear sighting. Keep in mind that I was not there. Besides Gary’s word, the only independent proof we have is the photograph on the VHTRC web site taken by someone else. I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I didn’t really see a bear in that photograph. I’m reminded of UFO sightings. The only people who see UFOs are usually driving a pick-up truck (usually with one fender painted a different color and the windows won’t roll up) on a deserted, rural road in the middle of the night. The photographs they take which are their “proof” are not exactly Pulitzer-prize quality. The so-called flying saucer looks more like a dinner plate taken with the dining room lights turned down. Anyway, I do actually believe Gary saw a bear on the deserted trail in the middle of the night. Not because of the photograph but because while we were running on July 4th, a bear sighting was not his all-consuming passion as in the past. To me, that was a clear indication he had seen a bear.

Nicknames. During our ascent up the mountain, we stopped at a trail junction just below the AT. I looked over and saw a shelter with 3 people there. I looked at it long enough, and Gary asked if I wanted to go over; I said yes. In retrospect, this might have been a mistake. If you know how long Gary takes at aid stations in the MMT100, then you can imagine what it’s like to visit with thru-hikers on the AT. During our extended stay, Gary asked them what their nicknames were. They were Turtle, Senior Chief, and Who Cooks. I actually learned something that day-I didn’t know hikers got nicknames. Sure, Air Force and Navy pilots had nicknames, but thru-hikers? Apparently, hikers get their nicknames early on, and the names are given by other hikers. As we left, I thought how come we trail runners don’t have nicknames?

Easy run? This run was Russ’s (are there too many s’es here?) idea. [Strunk and White says you form the possessive by adding "'s" even if it ends in "s." --Editor] He had just started running and had actually been on a 7-mile run. He kept insisting to me (to entice me to go) that it was going to be a very slow run. We were going to take it easy. Since this was my first trail run after almost killing myself on several long runs in the May-June timeframe, I thought this was a good idea. Gary, who was only with us because Hardrock had been canceled, was primed and ready to rock.

We made the ascent up to the AT (with a detour to Big Devil Stairs) in fairly good order. And we weren’t doing too badly on the AT. Then Gary decided to speed up, and Russ decided to keep up. Before too long, I was running by myself. And thinking: “I thought this was supposed to be an easy run.” They were both waiting for me at Skyline Drive. We pretty much walked the short Skyline Drive portion. Gary led the way down the mountain on the Marshall trail. I kept asking Russ how fast we were going as it didn’t seem that this was taking it easy. Gary then started streaking ahead and then slowing down to let us catch up. When we got to the top of the Jordan River trail, Gary decided he had had enough of us and took off. This is not the easiest section to run, and Russ, for the first time displaying good judgment, decided to finally take it easy. By this time, my thoughts were focused on the lime Tostitos and salsa waiting for me at the car which was now only about 15 minutes away.

He doesn’t know everything. On one of the trails, I stopped to tie my shoe and came eye to eye with a wildflower. I asked Gary what it was. He didn’t know. Can you imagine that? Normally, he would just make up some name but not that day. He said he’d check on it-I’m still waiting.

He may not know everything, but my kids think he does. Several days after this run, we went over to Gary’s for a canoe ride. At water’s edge, Gary told my kids he would look for a black water snake that might be sunning itself. He brought along gardening gloves to catch one; sure enough, there was one, and Gary caught it. It was a big one, and my kids were thrilled. Unfortunately, you could tell from the color of one eye that the snake was blind in that eye. I had never heard of a one-eyed black water snake, although I had heard of a one-eyed trouser snake.

Trinkets. Now that I’ve been doing this ultrarunning stuff for a couple years, I’m getting my fair share of trinkets. At Kettle Moraine recently, I got a small, round copper kettle (a tad larger than a baseball). My daughter, age 7, liked it. When we were at Gary’s, she saw a silver bowl (probably made in colonial times and worth a fair penny) and asked: “Did Dr. Knipling get that in a race?” I had to explain to her that you could actually buy nice things like that and that Mrs. Knipling likes to have them on display. I also told her that Dr. Knipling likes to keep his good race stuff safely stored away in drawers and that that was ok with Mrs. Knipling.

Next year. Now that we’ve run on the AT the last two July Fourths, we all agreed that we’d do it next year. Well, at least we agreed that next year, we’d think about it. Maybe it would be the start of a tradition. By then, we might even have nicknames. Maybe you would want to come along. [Maybe we would, if it weren't a state secret. --Editor]


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