Elizabeth's Fat Ass 50km Report by Stephanie Wilson
So Confucius say, If you run in the fast cold river, it is good to have friends.
As I drove to the Signal Knob parking lot that morning the thought did occur to me: were we going to be stuck there trying to drive home later? Passage Creek was inching close to the road in the early morning and waterfalls were pouring down the side of the mountain into drainage holes next to the asphalt. While I took note of the measure of the water, I was more focused on running through all the details I had to tend to in order to get my fanny over to the start on time. I was so proud that I was actually arriving before the start for this race but I still was half dressed, shoes thrown somewhere in the trunk, pack unpacked, etc. This might have been why I was completely taken by surprise during the first mile or so as we were jogging a slight climb when the trail suddenly turned into a cold water stream coming downhill at us from nowhere. It was counterintuitive. Just as abruptly, we then came upon a turn to the right forcing us through a swift moving calf-high stream of water. All of this was quick and came without warning, and was a prelude to the rest of the day. As the race progressed we got used to the water, cavalier, and jaded by the end: “that ain’t no big deal”. Sometimes it was no big deal and we plowed right through; sometimes it was a deceptively bigger deal than it appeared and we stepped down into knee-deep water, reaching for balance, and me personally, reaching for a cleaner version of Steph-mouth.
What generated all the stories for the day was clearly Mud Hole Gap Trail where we were required to cross a tributary to Passage Creek as it wiggled its way across the trail five times. The crossings came one right after the other along the trail. With the water level well high and reaching up to the top of your legs, and running down at top speed, I can tell you it’s very difficult to make your way across even with a heavy stick for support. Others would be able to tell you what it’s like to make your way across using freestyle (front crawl), or side stroke/doggie paddle/back stroke derivative. I heard that Caroline Williams waded her way through solo. I don’t know if that is true, but wow. That water was scary-looking.
My Team coalesced at the first crossing when Laura and Gary came upon Marlin, Jim, Ted and I rooting around for sticks. Another fellow joined us to make us 6 strong and from there we proceeded to cross with a method we fine-tuned using sticks. Each crosser would find a good sturdy stick and begin to carefully make his/her way across. The rest of us would stand by and hope for the best (an essential part of our crossing method.) Those already on the other side would hold out a very long branch to the crosser who would then grab on once they were close enough and then pull themselves ashore. For the most part it worked fairly well. I heard other groups used methods of holding hands and crossing together. I’m curious about how that worked.
Our Team worked together like this five times. Marlin and I actually cheated because he came up with the brilliant idea of bushwhacking from Crossing Number 2 to 4 through thick bramble, enabling us to bypass two of the crosses, which was officially cheating, I know, but which qualified us for The Barkley and now we’re thinking of doing that next year with Emily Grossman. But as it turned out the bushwhacking also enabled Marlin and I to be at the receiving side for our Team just as they were coming across, and folks, that was a good thing.
Honestly, I loved every minute of it, but only because with each crossing my Team came out unscathed. Several of our members did take nice cold baths though, and their legs and arms had that special pink hue when finished, much like the area on your injured leg looks after 10 to 15 minutes of ice massage. Luckily no one was swept downstream or body-wrecked onto hard rock.
All of this meant I was free to consider the day an incredible excitement, which it was. Marlin, with whom I ran much of the day, said to me, “Stephanie, you’re going to think I’m lying but I’ve never seen water like this in the Massanuttens.” This was only my second time running there. What luck! I continued the remainder of the run with Marlin, Ted, Jim, and sometimes Victor and Jack. At the very end, I must say, Jill’s gluten-free banana cake happily kept me at the last aid station while my running partners took off to the finish. It was worth it. That was the best darn cake I’ve ever had. My buddy Jim came up and pushed me to the end, which was: The Chili Table: the most important part about the finish.
Best Chili. Best Cake. Seven plus hours running through flooding snow melt up mid-thigh and it was all best.
By Stephanie Wilson Dawkins