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    Registered User JEBjr's Avatar
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    Default Matt Kirk's Shennadoahs FKT Journal entry

    I know I read this a few years ago and can't find it now. Does anyone have a link to when Matt and his friend ran the Shennadoahs. Hoping to fast pack Rock Fish Gap to Front Royal over a few days in June and would like to read his account again.

    Thanks,
    James

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    The Longest Day on the AT


    Friday, March 12 2004 @ 06:51 PST
    Contributed by: mkirk
    Views: 1,384

    The thought of a shenandoah Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR v2) popped in my head not long after the idea for a Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR). I let it sit on the backburner for nearly two years, occasionally bringing it up at various ultra gatherings only to be told that it’d be impossible.

    Immediately after a successful SCAR with Scott Brockmeier last March, SCAR v2 started to garner more and more of my attention. I brought up the idea to Scott in November, hoping he would want to join in an attempt. He was running incredibly well and just getting stronger and stronger. Also, we worked well together thru SCAR, pulling one another along. It did not take much prodding to get Scott stoked for an attempt— not surprising really, since I already knew he’s insane.

    After studying school, race and moon calendars, we decided that the attempt should take place on March 7. This left four months to train. Coming off of a fall slump, I knew I’d have to work hard to catch up to Scott’s training level. SCAR v2 was the perfect antidote to the inhibiting inertia that infected me. Training began in earnest.

    My folks offered encouragement from the get go, this kept the dream alive. I knew we could rely on them for crucial support. Also, our good friend Mike Day was really interested when we told him about the attempt during a January training run out at Uwharrie. The core team for the challenge was assembled; fitting that it was the same “victims” from the original SCAR! We were really fortunate to also have Scott’s better half Kathryn fly down from Minnesota to offer indispensable help.

    As the date for the attempt quickly approached, I grew concerned that I was not up for the challenge. Scott and I had been talking quite a bit about the adventure and agreed that it would definitely be harder than the Smokies traverse despite the fact that we would have access to aid every four as opposed to 40 miles. Try as we might, we could not ignore the daunting distance and elevation gain thru the shenandoah.

    We embarked on a 31 mile training run thru the northern segment of the park two weeks out from the challenge. This ended up relieving much of the pre-run anxiety as we found it easy to stay on pace for almost one-third of the traverse despite icy conditions. In retrospect, I think this run gave us a false sense of confidence. The section we ran was easier than the rest of the traverse. In my opinion, Scott and I seemed to lose a little too much respect for SCAR v2 on our reconnaissance.

    As we tapered, the final plans and preparations were made. Scott decided to turn his station wagon into the “Suburu Cornucopia” burdening it with as much food as we could cram into the back. We assembled quite an impressive menu knowing well that during a long run, cravings evolve, but fueling remains critical. When I first caught a glimpse at the amount of food we had procured for the attempt, it looked to be about the same quantity we had for the 36 runners at the Sauratown Trails 50 mile last year!

    Scott, Kathryn, Sierra the dog, and I drove up to a fun run near Catawba, VA early in the morning on March 6 to help out and hang out at the second aid station with all the cool folks of the VHTRC. We met up with my mom who was also helping out at the station and my dad who was running the scenic 35 mile course that both Scott and I regretted having to miss. While hanging out in the parking lot, I found a lucky penny on the ground lying heads up. I pocketed the penny.

    We hung out with all the fun-loving running folks for a few hours and then drove to a motel in Luray, where we met up with Mike and Melinda Day. After an early “last supper” of spaghetti, we got to bed around 4:30 PM. I slept for perhaps two of the five hours before it was time to head to the start. Scott confessed that he did not get any shut-eye. It’s always hard to get to sleep before such a big event, not to mention that this nap was in direct violation of our circadian rhythm!

    My folks arrived at the motel for the night as Mike, Melinda, Scott, Kathryn, Sierra and I all prepared to head off to Jarman Gap at 9:30 PM or so. The drive to the start was a surreal experience. We were all an entangled mess of nervous, somewhat bleary-eyed energy rocketing 70 mph towards uncertainty. I felt tired. I once again felt unprepared and weak: was that a spasm of pain in my knee just then? Am I rested enough? Is my IT band stretched?

    As we pulled into the brightly moonlit parking lot of Jarman Gap, the southern terminus of the SNP, the fear and doubt surging thru my brain was replaced with excitement and awe. We waited for midnight in our vehicles making last minute preparations and then hiked up a couple hundred yards to the AT and shivered in the cold breeze for the final countdown. While the last precious seconds of freedom from the clock were slipping by, I took the time to glimpse down at my left shoe and caught a glimmer with my LED light. The lucky penny was firmly wedged in the lace loop of the tongue.

    We seemed to float for the first dozen miles because everything was perfect. The air was pure and clean, the temperature was cool for running, the trail was smooth and gentle, the forest was open and still, the sky was clear and calm, the moon was full and bright. We ran some without using our lights. I asked Scott and Mike if there could possibly be anything they’d rather be doing at this moment; I felt truly happy and grateful to be experiencing the night in such a perfect way.

    Kathryn and Melinda provided flawless support thru the nighttime hours. Perhaps the first couple stops seemed extraneous to them as we cruised right by at 5 mph. We quickly secured a one hour cushion on the 4.1 mph pace needed for a 24 hour traverse. The fast pace and general excitement made it difficult for me to start eating early like I should have been doing. I munched on some fruit and a couple slices of spice cake before dawn thinking that I’d start to slam some calories once my stomach caught up to me.

    I was more awake and alert during this period than I anticipated and even foolishly decided to expend precious energy goofing off. I pushed ahead on Blackrock Mountain and climbed up a pile of huge boulders on the open summit to wait for Scott and Mike in the moonlight. When Scott came running around, I jumped out from high above and started roaring like a bear. Scott was unimpressed, so I retreated to my position and waited for Mike. When he came around, he too was unimpressed. I kept roaring though until he decided to look at the nut ball at which point he rolled his ankle for the second time during the night. I really felt guilty about my shenanigans and vowed to focus on the task at hand.

    Soon after the Blackrock incident, Scott, Mike and I took a wrong turn on a fire road and followed that down a gradual hill off the ridge for what must have been at least half a mile. I had not seen a blaze in a while and was growing a bit concerned. I was racking my brain, trying to remember this section from the previous two times I hiked thru the park, but it had been a while. Mike also had a suspicion that we were on the wrong track. I finally said something to Scott who was leading at this point without a light. Thankfully, we decided to turn around sooner than later.

    This is the section where reality set in with a vengeance. Mike decided to take a sleep break at the next aid stop close to 18 miles in and Scott and I quietly pushed on aiming to hammer out at least a marathon before dawn. We did not talk much and just kept ticking off the miles as quickly as we felt we could and should. For the first time, I thought about the distance we had left to cover and felt a slight pang of despair. I had expected this, but not so early on. I retreated inwards to focus on my breathing and my foot placement, seeking solace in a meditative state. This was the only way I could make it. Needless to say, I was not much of a conversationalist for the rest of the run!

    The day blurred with dawn. We were 28 miles in and counting; our sole focus in life was to build on the buffer we had over the mandated pace. I was still waiting for my stomach to catch me, but knew I shouldn’t wait too much longer, so I started forcing food. I thought about the Suburu Cornucopia and all the food that would probably be left after the run. The pace did not seem to accelerate in the daylight like we were anticipating; this is probably because we were already moving along pretty well. Also, we were hitting some hard long climbs and steep jarring descents.

    My folks came out to check in on us at around 48 miles. We appreciated seeing them and it gave me a little boost. By this point, it was getting quite warm out, at least for Scott and me. I took to pouring cold water over my head at the stops. My mom asked if I was doing it to wake up or to cool off. I said both. The enormity of the task at hand lay before us in all its glory. At scenic overlooks, I averted my eyes from the northward stretching shenandoah crest. I did not want to see what lay ahead.

    My dad joined in on the “fun” to pace us for 20-30 miles around Big Meadows. I envied his lightheartedness. He was very helpful on the trail: running ahead to snap photos and lightening up the mood with cheerful conversation. It was great to have him along for the run at this critical point when both Scott and I were no longer thinking very clearly, especially when we missed an aid stop between Big Meadows and Skyland. This really did not surprise me. Prior to the run, I figured we’d miss at least one of the 24 stops. It’s easy for someone not familiar with the road or trail to drive right past the obscure junctions, particularly the ones that don’t even cross the road. Also, from the runner’s standpoint, it’s easy to glide right by one of the countless side trails and overlooks not bothering to stop, bend over and read the small labels on the concrete posts.

    So both driver and runners missed a stop extending this section to over six miles. For me, this was not too terribly disconcerting as I was not eating much at the stops and since I was carrying a water bottle filled with homemade juice and some gels. Scott on the other hand was running low on fuel and knew he needed food and water. My dad gave him his water bottle and ran up the road to locate my mom who was crewing at the time. We pushed on to Skyland. Scott ran on ahead eager to get to aid as I fell back a bit. I was losing more and more energy and would need to continue forcing food into my stomach, not a very pleasant experience.

    At the Skyland aid stop, I came up to Scott sitting down. He did not look all that great… But he did look better than me. Everyone urged me to take some protein, so I ate some smoked salmon and some baked potatoes dipped in salt. I also started hitting the IB profrin. We were now on familiar terrain: the section we ran two weeks ago. We knew about the upcoming long downhill to Thornton Gap; and even in our detached state, Scott and I understood that the hardest climbs were now behind us. But there were too many miles left to go. I told Scott that this run was going to push me to my limits. He nodded in agreement. I felt shredded at this point and was skeptical that I’d have what it would take to finish.

    We climbed the gradual hill to the shoulder of Stony Man, the highest point along the AT in the park, and then it was time for a long downhill. The trail was no longer covered with snow and ice, instead there were loose rocks. This made the downhill running far less pleasant than what I had been dreaming of for miles and miles leading up to this stretch. We passed by the next aid stop; as usual, I grabbed a few grapes and a slice of pineapple, not wanting to eat any more. There was a long downhill coming up very soon and I knew my stomach would be tossing and turning. We dodged quite a few day-hikers climbing up to Mary’s Rock from the gap. I was thrilled to see people out enjoying the day; it reminded me of how fortunate we are to be able to get out on the trails, a realization that quelled my self-pity— at least for a while.

    We pounded our way down to the aid at Thornton Gap. I drank some mountain dew and took a meager handful of solid foods. Scott agreed that we should push to make it to Elkwallow Gap, 80 miles, by 6 PM. We took off with this goal in mind. Right as we crossed the road headed up Pass Mountain, Mike and Melinda drove by. They were back from a nap at the motel and graciously brought with them a veggie lover’s pizza. That sounded really good, and I used it as incentive to push hard 8.6 miles to Elkwallow where I hoped I would finally be ready for the feast!

    I pulled ahead of Scott and my dad on the long climb. I decided to wait for them at Elkwallow and pushed on, passing the intermediate aid. Going 8.6 miles without stopping took its toll and I felt exhausted. Fortunately, I had two gel packets and drained both of them as I worked hard to come into Elkwallow right at 6 PM. I sat down and ate a few small cut up slices of pizza. I was thrilled to be able to stomach them, so I ate a couple more as my dad, Mike and Scott came running in to join us. Scott looked desperate for calories and I felt bad about pulling ahead on this stretch, thinking that I had forced him to make a fueling mistake. He did not have to say much, I could see that he was hurting.

    For the last 60 miles, I was almost sure that if either one of us had to drop, it would be me. I felt as though I was on the brink of a disastrous crash for that long. The prevailing daydream in my head for the last 18 hours had been a vision of Scott and me running down the last hill together. I was so convinced that Scott would finish that I decided to selfishly focus on my own survival. Now these fundamental assumptions were crumbling, and in a dazed state, I chose the pathway of denial.

    For the first time during the run, Scott looked as though he was hurting more than me, yet I refused to think that his finish was in jeopardy. I waited a little while at the stop for him to drink some chicken broth and contemplate eating some pizza. Meanwhile I loaded my hydration pack with water, a bottle of mountain dew, my flashlight and a wind shirt. With the vanishing daylight and increasing wind, it was getting really cold. I put on a long sleeve shirt and a pair of nylon pants. Finally I was really ready to go and told Scott and Mike that we’d all stick together on this upcoming climb and take it a little slower if need be. Scott was a little hesitant to get going so soon, but I was certain that we needed to keep moving and that he would start feeling better on the climb.

    As we hiked 1000’ above the gap, the weather really started deteriorating. I felt a stinging sensation on the left side of my face as a cold hard wind blasted us with sleet. It was like a barrage of BBs. I was getting chilled and my hands were hurting under a thin pair of gloves. Mike had on a wind shirt and shorts, and Scott had on even less. I ignored the two inches of snow on the ground, choosing instead to study the copper shine of the lucky penny on my shoe. I was exhausted; but more importantly, I had passed the point of no return. Too much energy had been invested to quit. I decided to keep moving forward as long as I could. During this 2.5 mile stretch however, Scott made the heartbreaking decision to stop. The lights of the vehicles suddenly appeared from out the maelstrom.

    I sat in the back of Mike and Melinda’s warm truck beyond the reach of the cold wind and stinging snow. I stared at the wrinkled pace sheet that I pulled from a back pocket and thought over and over how far we had come. I was still able to do this! We were ahead of pace. I came too far to stop now, so I wouldn’t. My body wanted to stop, but it had been wanting to for a while, so what’s five more hours? I was oblivious to what was going on outside my head at this point. I was certainly shocked to hear that Scott would not continue with me; but in my delirium, it did not fully register. All I knew was that I wanted to continue, but could not do it alone in this weather.

    It was too dangerous for someone in my state to set out alone into the cold snow, wind and dark night. I was really pushing myself further than ever before. I noticed how I was so fatigued that I was drooling uncontrollably on occasion. Also, there was a point not far back along the trail where the pain and endless miles caused me to spontaneously burst into tears for the first time on a run. I did not know when I’d reach my breaking point where I simply couldn’t go any further. If this was in the middle of the trail alone at night in this kind of weather… That would not be good. Fortunately, Mike Day was willing to continue with me as a safety runner, and the rest of the crew thought I should push on as long as I felt I could.

    Mike and I got creative with clothing. I wrapped some lycra tights around my neck and borrowed a pair of gloves to put over my other pair. Mike borrowed a wool hat and some other gear. Finally we were ready to set out once more. It wasn’t too difficult to find our way thru the snow and over the next mountain. By the time we got to the aid stop, we had lost some elevation and the storm had abated. We were now warm, so we shed all of the extra clothing we had taken with us. I drank some more mountain dew and took a bite of some sort of food, and then we were off again. It felt good to be moving, I was so thankful to have Mike with me. We were getting there. I couldn’t wait to be done!

    Soon, there was only one major climb left. I was finally able to keep track of the remaining miles with the fingers on both my hands. Mike and I pushed on to tackle Compton. Compared to other climbs thru the park, it’s pretty mellow; but on this night, it was never ending. First of all, it seemed to take forever to reach the base of the climb. Its mysterious silhouette, like a giant shy hunchback in the dark, reluctantly drew nearer as the trail meandered aimlessly. More than anything, I just wanted to be heading down the other side of this hill. We eventually begin climbing and climbing and climbing. It was almost ridiculous, where was the end? There! Down we went on some steep rocky switchbacks to Compton Gap.

    This was the last aid stop, less than six miles remained. But I was still worried about finishing. We had two hours to cover the distance, but I knew of the upcoming rocky parts that would slow us down. Off we went again without wasting time. Mike and I cruised for the first couple miles on a fire road. It was painful to move that fast, but I knew that it was the pace to break 24 hours, and so I stuck with it. We were now on the steep rocky descent out of the park. The going was slow even though we were headed downhill. This was not the place to slip and fall. It was harder to concentrate, so I eased the pace to make sure I did not trip or stumble. Mike patiently stuck with me.

    The descent seemed to go on and on, and then we had yet another small climb. I think Mike was also expecting the finish long before we were even close. I was on the verge of collapse, but with every step forward, my confidence grew. I looked down once more at the penny on my shoe to make sure it was still with me. We were now on the final downhill, the homestretch. I strained my eyes to see the lights of the vehicles waiting at the trailhead. Suddenly there was a flash in front of us and then another. I wondered if it was lightning. The crew was snapping pictures of us and cheering. Done: 23 hours and 20 minutes! I could hardly stand up for the obligatory finish photos. I felt ready to lie down and die. I turned around and shook Mike’s hand. Without him, I knew we wouldn’t be standing at the finish.

    Everyone was so happy to be done with this crazy day. I could not believe the amount of energy at the trail head. I felt truly grateful to have such an incredible ultrarunning family looking after me. Scott came up to me and put his arm around me. I knew he really wished he could have finished, but I was already sure that he’d get another chance. My dad and mom helped me get into the back of their station wagon to lie down. It looked like a hearse! I fell into a fitful sleep as we drove back to Luray, scarred once more.
    "Though I have lost the intimacy with the seasons since my hike, I retain the sense of perfect order, of graceful succession and surrender, and of the bold brilliance of fall leaves as they yield to death." - David Brill

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    Registered User JEBjr's Avatar
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    Thanks so much, Rush!

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    Participated in the Front Door to Mail Box Ultra Mega Adventure Cross-Country Scramble Challenge Fun Run Trot Marathon in sandals today.

  5. #5

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    His is awesome! Question: currently AT within SNP starts/ends at Jarman Gap and not Rockfish Gap on the south side?! And starts/ends near Possums Rest on the north? Is that correct?!

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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    His is awesome! Question: currently AT within SNP starts/ends at Jarman Gap and not Rockfish Gap on the south side?! And starts/ends near Possums Rest on the north? Is that correct?!
    we ran from Jarman gap to 522, which is a few miles north of the SNP register near possumís rest for a total distance of 99+ miles.

    To answer your question on the south start of AT in SNP: to be sure, the south trail register is near Rockfish gap, though when Scott and I were researching maps, we saw the AT crosses the delineated park boundary at Jarman, so thatís what we went with on this challenge. Hereís a map: https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/upload/south.jpg

    Crazy to think that was over 13 years agoÖ

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    This is on my to-do list and appreciate the data. May not squeeze through in 23:20 though.

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    Registered User -Rush-'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JEBjr View Post
    Thanks so much, Rush!
    Anytime JEBjr
    "Though I have lost the intimacy with the seasons since my hike, I retain the sense of perfect order, of graceful succession and surrender, and of the bold brilliance of fall leaves as they yield to death." - David Brill

  9. #9

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    Challenging myself to do this in 2018. Did you all access Jarman Gap from Skyline Drive?

  10. #10

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    Looks like Jarman Gap Rd and Bucks Elbow Mountain Road draw near the Trail... per Google, anyways. Not sure if it is VA611 or not. Any ways thanks for any advice.

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    If memory serves, there is a small pull off/parking on the east side of the Skyline Drive with a gated service road leading 50-100 yards up to the AT at Jarman Gap. Helps to know the Skyline Drive mile mark.

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    Matthew - How hard do you think this effort is to complete in an unsupported fashion?

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    Quote Originally Posted by matthew.d.kirk View Post
    If memory serves, there is a small pull off/parking on the east side of the Skyline Drive with a gated service road leading 50-100 yards up to the AT at Jarman Gap. Helps to know the Skyline Drive mile mark.
    Yes I was just there a couple of weeks ago. Mile post 96? It's less than 10 miles from Rockfish Gap entrance.
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Matthew - How hard do you think this effort is to complete in an unsupported fashion?
    Hey chknfngrs: I'm assuming you mean self-supported and plan to utilize waysides, campground stores etc.? The answer then would depend on target pace. Based on your previous posts, it sounds like you won't be chasing sub-24 (which would be very challenging in my opinion), but perhaps 48 or 72 hours?

    It seems to me that many thru-hikers (most of them self-supported) find the SNP to be a pleasant stroll in 4-5 days thanks to the relative abundance of resupply options. But once you cut that down to 2-3 days, you're bound to miss a few resupply ops due to passing them during closed hours. I still think you could hit at least a couple, so food weight could stay below 5lbs and total pack weight below 10. Then it's just a matter of how confident you feel with back-to-back 35 to 50 mile days.

    The good news is that if you allow yourself some buffer time, you can fall back on daily mileage and grab more food at waysides. Nice to have those resupplies.

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    Most definitely not interested in sub24. 48 hovers insanity too but more likely. Much thanks and respect for your input!!!

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    Whatís it called if I carry everything I need, is that unsupported? Like, alpine style? Too many labels and not enough walking

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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Whatís it called if I carry everything I need, is that unsupported? Like, alpine style? Too many labels and not enough walking
    That's right... On both counts

    Unsupported, you can pull water from streams etc. but need to carry all your calories. This obviously gets more challenging the further/longer you go. At some shorter range in distance, unsupported could arguably be more advantageous over self-supported. By not having to fuss with resupply (even if right along the trail), you save time, not to mention reduce some stress. The Shenandoah is an interesting study as it seems to be right in that grey area.

    Happy trails!

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    Do you still run these days?! Seems the older I get the more I enjoy the solitude it brings. Time away is more of a treasure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Do you still run these days?! Seems the older I get the more I enjoy the solitude it brings. Time away is more of a treasure.
    Absolutely! These days it's on flatter terrain, shorter distances and I'm more often pushing a baby jogger along pavement, but I'll take it. My current goal is a sub-60(minute) 10 miler. There's a local 15K coming up at the end of Jan and I'm going to start with trying to go sub-60 at that one. I'm pretty slow still, so this will be plenty enough of a challenge. I do dream of longer adventures...

  20. #20

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    Totally awesome. This years FKT syndrome has me dreaming up my own challenges, like the SNP. In 2018 I am going to try your SNP traverse as fast as I can, which is going to be fun. And thinking of entering my first half marathon. Excited by you guys who run! Running is cool!

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