I've been waiting for some time now for Jaret to write a report on his first training run in Shenandoah National Park. I don't think it's going to happen. In fact, I think Jaret is still trying to forget that day. Good thing I have a pretty good memory even after all these weeks. Our day started at 5:30 a.m. when Gary, Jaret, and I met at McDonald's in Gainesville. Gary and I like to start the day with an egg/sausage/cheese McMuffin. And those greasy tater things. Jaret passed on the food.
The best laid plans. I spent quite a bit of time mapping out a course for us. The idea was to start at the Old Rag parking lot, run back down the road, go up Nicholson Hollow trail and then veer left up the Corbin Mt. trail for a nice easy climb to the Old Rag fire road. We would then come down the road for a bit and then make a left on the Corbin Hollow trail for a nice descent. Then we'd be ready for a tough climb up the Robertson Mt. trail on the way to Skyland. Gary nixed that idea and wanted to begin by going up the Robertson Mt. trail which we did because Gary always gets his way.
Robertson Mt. Trail. I suppose if it hadn't been raining, things would have been better. It's a tough trail no matter how you judge it: either by the steepness or the amount of Jaret's whining. I, of course, accepted no blame because I had run this trail before and knew it was hard; that's why I wanted to do it after we had warmed up on other trails. When we later got to the Old Rag fire road, Jaret informed me and Gary that it had taken us 56 minutes. And we figured that was about 32 minutes of running time because Gary stopped to look at every wild f lower on the way up. Now, I'm pretty well used to this eccentric behavior, but I sensed that Jaret was not. As we neared the top, the trail does not actually go to the summit (if you want to call it that). However, there's a little trail that goes off to the left, and I asked if they wanted to go to the summit. Without any discussion, Jaret made the turn and mumbled that since we'd come this far we might as well go to the "f------ summit."
Shit happens. I have to mention that some of you might find this section somewhat appalling. If you don't think you can take it, I suggest you skip to the next section. After we reached the summit, we started down the trail. Gary was in the lead now, and we were moving pretty well. Until he came to an abrupt halt. Wouldn't you know it, but right there in the middle of the trail was a big plop of bear shit that had been rained on for several days. It was nice and soggy. Gary spotted a little white object in it. He bent down and poked it with a small twig. He thought it might be a tooth. So - he picked it up in his fingers and started wiping off the bear shit with the same aforesaid fingers. After he got it fairly clean, he picked up the twig and started "looking for more clues" as he said. He did find another piece of bone which, once again, he picked up and cleaned off with the same aforesaid fingers. He tucked both objects in his pocket, and we resumed our run. Shortly thereafter, I turned to Jaret and said, "See, I don't really make stuff up in my reports. It all really happens."
Trash bag gang I wore a trash bag from the start because of the rain. As we approached Skyline Drive (we were headed to Skyland), the wind picked up a bit and Jaret got a little cold. I told him he could probably buy one of those emergency ponchos in the store at Skyland. When we got to Skyland, Jaret headed for the store. I went downstairs to the bathroom and then went looking for the supply closet which I found. Two trash bags later, I came back up to the lobby. Jaret told me there were no ponchos in the store. The trash bags were huge. I had a small pair of scissors with me, so Gary "tailored" the trash bag for Jaret once he had it on. Most people in the lobby were somewhat amused by all this. Gary decided he wasn't really all that cold after all so he didn't use the other bag. Two elderly women walked by us, and one of them said we were the "trash bag gang."
Skyland fire road. For some reason that I still can't figure out to this day, Gary wanted to run down the Skyland fire road which sort of goes nowhere. And we did because, like I said, Gary always gets his way. I think I lost a couple toenails on the way down. We got to the boundary of the park and Gary kept running which by now was a gravel road. If I hadn't stopped him, we would have been at the Shenandoah River in another 8-10 hours. I said to him: "Gary, running on a gravel road is a lot of fun, but I was wondering if we could go back in the park and run on single-track trails." He came out of his daze (or whatever he was in) and said that was a good idea. The end of the run was uneventful as we came up the fire road back to Skyland, ran along the AT for a short stretch, and then came down the Nicholson Hollow trail back to the cars.
The finish. We all have our different ways of celebrating a finish. The options include shaking hands, holding hands, high-fives, etc. As we came in to the Old Rag parking lot, Gary put out his hand to shake Jaret's hand. Jaret mumbled something (I thought I heard the words bear shit) and refused to shake hands. What a weenie. I gladly shook Gary's hand, and the fact that I was wearing gloves had nothing to do with my decision.
Chunky. There's nothing better than finishing a long run and opening a nice cold bottle of Yoo-Hoo and eating a Chunky candy bar. These are Gary's favorites. I brought along one of those king-size Chunky bars that we could all share. Common courtesy would dictate that I just pass the candy around and then each of us could break off a square. But you don't really want to do that when somebody has been running his fingers through bear shit. So, I broke off a square first and gave the square to Gary. I then handed the candy bar to Jaret.
Purell. Once we had eaten, I remembered that I had a small bottle of Purell hand sanitizer in my car. Jaret said he uses it all the time. So, I offered it to Gary. "What's that?" he asked. I was a little surprised that someone in the medical profession hadn't heard of it. Once I explained it to him, he decided to try it. Two days later I picked up a fact sheet at the Pentagon health clinic on hand hygiene. Here's one fact: "Alcohol-based hand rubs reduce the number of microorganisms on skin, are fast acting, and cause less skin irritation." Let's hope so.
Parting of ways. Gary and Jaret had driven from McDonald's in Gary's car. I drove separately because I was headed over to Massanutten to see how Mike Bur was doing in the OD 100. As it turned out, I was his "safety runner" later that evening. Anyway, as Gary drove away, Jaret rolled down the window and as they went by me, Jaret said, "Thanks for serving the Chunky." I wasn't sure Jaret would ever run in the park again. But much to my surprise, right in the middle of the picture of the group that did the Browntown Loop is Jaret-and smiling, too. You'll notice that Gary and I didn't do that run. Which probably accounts for Jaret's smiling and such a large turnout. Since that memorable day in SNP, the three of us have each run a 100-mile race. We wouldn't be able to run 100-milers unless we get out and do the kind of runs we did in SNP that day. For me, I have a more enjoyable time in those runs than I do in the races.