By John A. Dodds
(See also the 2004 Ring Results and Reports.)
I’m still working on my report from MMT last spring, but Sophie keeps bugging me about my Ring report, so of course I just had to drop everything and write this report.
In my much-heralded report of The Ring in 2002, I expressed my doubts as to whether anybody would continue to sign up for such a dumb event. Here’s an excerpt from that report:
At breakfast the next morning, I told Chris [Scott] 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.
Well, guess what? More runners sign up for The Ring as each year goes by. Which explains why Chris is an ultrarunning legend, and I just write stupid reports.
I know what you are already thinking: how can his report be “much-heralded” if I’ve never seen it? That’s because Anstr doesn’t have a link to it from the official Ring site. It just sits there collecting dust in the Forum section (along with the other 30+ articles I have written; one day I hope to have something better to do). I think if more people read that report, we’d have fewer people running The Ring.
Having completed The Ring in 2002 (Member #7 of the FOTR), I am disqualified from running The Ring again. But I have been back the 2 years since then. Let me tell you about last September.
Jalisco’s. Dinner at Jalisco’s the night before is now a tradition. Apart from Gary’s date, my main memory from Jalisco’s is when we were in the parking lot ready to adjourn to Gary’s place (Massanutten Lodge), when Sophie announced to the group with a pained expression on her face that she couldn’t go with us to the Lodge because Vicki was waiting for her back at the hotel room they were sharing. Although that situation alone raises certain questions, the main question on my mind was why wasn’t Vicki at Jalisco’s. Apparently, Vicki doesn’t like Jalisco’s. But all that has since changed because I saw Vicki at Jalisco’s this past Sunday evening, which was the second night in a row she ate there. Not only that, she admitted to me that she really liked her dinner the night before (cheese quesadillas); however, she did say the chicken quesadillas she had that night were not as good as the cheese quesdadillas from the night before. What does all this mean? It means that you might see Vicki more often at Jalisco’s (Tom: please make mental note).
Massanutten Lodge. This is the name of Gary’s cabin in Fort Valley. What is surprising is that after an evening of revelry at Jalisco’s, Gary is able to lead a convoy of vehicles into the bowels of Fort Valley in the dark without anybody getting lost. I’ve heard that some people are reluctant to go to the Lodge because there are rumors that people drink a lot and that orgies last until 4 in the morning. I’ve been there twice and can say that that’s just not true – the orgies are usually over by 2 a.m. After all, this is Virginia.
The Philosopher. One good thing about the Lodge is that you learn interesting things about people. An example is Scott Brockmeier. I didn’t know he is a doctoral candidate in philosophy. And few people realize that I’m somewhat of a philosopher myself. For instance, last March when I ran the first third of Russ’s reverse ring that doesn’t really count as running The Ring, I posed the following question to the group (Russ, Mike Gholson, and Bill Sublett): “How come when you come to a place in the trail where you can see everything it’s called an ‘overlook’, but when you can’t find something, you say you’ve ‘overlooked’ it?” Pretty deep, huh? I heard later that the group was glad that I ran only the first third of the course with them.
Why was I there? Although I wasn’t running The Ring, I had a full day planned. First, I ran from Elizabeth Furnace to Camp Roosevelt. Second, I brought my kayak with me, so I then went kayaking in the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Third, I was working the night shift.
The Night Shift. After finishing kayaking, I headed to Edinburg Gap and got there after dark. I had to be back in Fairfax County at 8 the following morning to pick up my kids, so I couldn’t stay all night. Some of you may think that The Ring gives the appearance of being well organized. And you are right – that is how it appears. But that’s not the way it really is, especially at night. At night the runners get farther apart meaning that the volunteers have to constantly adjust to provide aid for everybody. You see, there are no fixed aid stations. So, you might be at Edinburg tending to a couple runners and somebody has to drive ahead to Woodstock to meet the faster runners. But everybody can’t leave Edinburg because there are still runners who haven’t arrived there. It gets worse for Powell’s Fort because runners get farther and farther apart as the night wears on.
So who makes all this work? One might guess that it would be Chris and Anstr, the Lords of The Ring. And you would be wrong. It seems that Sam Adams and some of his closest relatives tend to diminish Chris’ and Anstr’s, shall we say, leadership abilities. It’s the volunteers who have to step into the breach. That’s why the volunteers have such interesting conversations like this at Edinburg, for example:
Vol #1: Runner X left here 2 hours ago, and I have to go to Woodstock to meet him.
Vol #2: OK, you can take one of the stoves for soup and hot chocolate and leave the other stove here.
Vol #1: I’ll need some bread, turkey and mayo, too. Then I’ll have to press on to Powell’s Fort.
Vol #3: When Vol #2 heads for Woodstock, I’ll stay here for the later runners. But you have to leave me some more coke. And I need the cheese this time. How can I make grilled cheese without any cheese?
Vol #1: Anybody see the growler Mike Dobies gave us?
I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but somehow it all seems to work out even despite some runners – like Sophie.
Sophie. Sophie gets her own paragraph because she has bugged me so much to write this report. She showed up at Edinburg Gap (without her running partner Quatro who was still struggling up Short Mt.), sat down in a chair, and announced she wasn’t going on until (1) Quatro showed up or (2) someone volunteered to run with her. I thought both prospects were rather dim. At the time, I was busy cooking hot dogs for the volunteers as I viewed my first obligation that night as taking care of the volunteers rather than the runners. Little did I know that Gary slipped Sophie his hot dog. Sounds a little prurient, doesn’t it? Gary and I talked about the possibilities of being Sophie’s “pacer” to Woodstock. I didn’t really want to do that because I didn’t feel like running after having just eaten two hot dogs myself. I also pointed out to Gary that whoever did run with her to Woodstock would most likely get stuck running with her to the end since she still wouldn’t have someone to run with. And I couldn’t do that since I had to be in Fairfax by 8 a.m. Gary wasn’t sure he should do it because he was concerned about how to get his car moved ahead. Gary finally gave in and decided to run with her when someone said he’d take care of Gary’s car.
Sophie has already written about how she threw up the hot dog on the way to Woodstock. Days later, I told Gary that I felt kind of bad that she threw up the hot dog I had made (even though I had made it for Gary), but Gary said it was probably all the mustard he put on it that made her sick. I felt better then.
Paparazzo. When Sophie and Gary showed up at Woodstock, Sophie of course had to tell us that she had thrown up the hot dog, had taken a nap on the trail, and wanted to take a nap there. Always prepared, I brought out a folding cot from my van so Sophie could lie down. I also gave her my daughter’s purple bear so she could sleep. Which might have worked if it hadn’t been for Paparazzo, who also goes by the name of Keith Dunn. For some reason, Keith decided to take 63 pictures of Sophie, only one of which is reproduced here. As a result, Sophie got absolutely no rest whatsoever. I did have one good idea though: somebody should design a camp chair that folds out into a cot – we could call it a “sleep sopha.”
I know some of you are asking what’s a Paparazzo. Here’s where I get to explain what I learned the past couple days. We all know (even me) that paparazzi are those annoying photographers who chase after celebrities. What I didn’t know is that the word “paparazzi” comes from Paparazzo, which is the last name of the photographer in the film La Dolce Vita. Pretty neat, huh? Before the other day, I thought “paparazzi” was Italian for photographers.
Knipling Kurse. I had to hang around Woodstock for a while but then had to leave so as to be able to meet Gary and Sophie at Powell’s Fort. They arrived a lot later than anticipated. Apparently, Sophie had to have a few rest breaks on the trail. Knowing what it was like to finish this run going down Signal Knob, I went over to Gary and said Sophie was in for a difficult time. He agreed and said she was going to suffer. A few minutes later as we were sitting around in chairs, Gary looked at Sophie and said, “Sophie, you are going to suffer in this next section.” A couple days later, I was thinking that having run every step of the way of The Ring with Gary in 2002 and having a somewhat difficult time at night back then, I got to wondering whether Gary seems to have some kind of adverse effect on people. You know, like some kind of curse. If you happen to run The Ring next year, you might want to think about asking Gary to run with you if that opportunity presents itself.
The Sisterhood. Let’s not mince words here: how come when two or more women get together they call themselves the sisterhood, and when two or men get together, those same women call the men a “bunch of horny bastards”? Maybe Scott Brockmeier can answer that philosophical question for us. It’s true that the Sisterhood had some annoying traits. Like staying at aid stations forever. For example, they were at Camp Roosevelt casually lounging around in their camp chairs for so long and showed no signs of moving on that Anstr got up and abruptly announced, “F…it; I’m leaving.”
But having said all that, let me make this point very clear (and this is my own personal opinion): the Sisterhood ran this event the way I think it should be run. They didn’t turn it into a race. They all stuck together and had what seemed to me to be a most enjoyable time. Vicki, of course, deserves a lot of the credit. Although not well known just yet, I’ve heard that their experience will be made into a movie. Clint Eastwood, who as Rowdy Yates was the trail boss for a while on the television show Rawhide, will play Vicki.
The Perfect Ring. Lets’ face facts: Chris and Anstr devised The Ring for the amusement of the so-called “volunteers.” The problem now is that the volunteers have to actually do something – like help the runners from time to time. One day (hopefully), The Ring will be run where the runners provide their own support (as in the case of the Sisterhood) or where the runners just have to fend for themselves (see photo below). Only when the “volunteers” are relieved of any meaningful obligations can they truly savor the experience of The Ring by sitting around drinking beer, eating grilled cheese sandwiches, and harassing and laughing at the runners. Until that day comes –