Thursday, October 23, 2014

Running Amok or: How I Learned to Overcome Adversity in Style

It’s been a long week Dear Readers.  And this post is getting out to you late on Thursday.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to fire up the old creative gin for another post tomorrow so I better make this one count.  Prepare yourselves for a rambling discombobulating trip report.
I’ve briefly mentioned the 10,000 step challenge going on at work.  I’ve been put on a team with the quirky middle-age tech geek in the office.  Can you say ‘borderline autistic’?  I knew you could!  I imagine he has some Hollyfeld-esque machine cranking his Pebble© around in perfect gaited circles in the steam tunnels beneath the office.  Seems last time we had one of these challenges he racked up an astounding one meelion steps.  Rule of thumb says that’s 100 days at a 10,000 mpd average.  Or roughly 600 miles of walking.  I’d see the guy walking laps around the building in the pre-dawn hours before work all the time.  I just can’t imagine how he got that many miles without hacking the Pebble© or cheating with a walking machine.
So this go round I decided I would stack the odds in my favor.  I’m still in decent running shape so I thought I’d just run every day.  I’d be competing against Betsy—who won the Iron Horse the past two years—and Chip, who ran the Iron Horse in a respectable 1:45.  They both run at lunch and Chip stated that one of his goals was to ramp up to 7 miles within his lunch hour.
My strategy was simple: run miles each day.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?
I was lazy Sunday so I had some making up to do.  On Monday I had a meeting in London.  I planned to have a running lunch before the meeting.  The obvious spot was where the Sheltowee Trace intersects I-75.  That plan involved the least amount of driving and additional time.  I would run south from I-75 along the not-quite-notorious Cromer Ridge section of the Trace.  Reportedly Cromer had been afflicted with the same tank traps and downed tree roadblocks as the White’s Branch section of the Trace near home.  I was curious how long the section was and to what extent it had been destroyed.
The trailhead is in the boonies despite its proximity to the interstate so I was able to stand outside my car and change into my running clothes.  The skies threatened rain, but it seemed like it would hold off long enough for me to squeeze in the run.  I locked my doors, stowed my car key and phone, and headed into the unknown.
The initial section was wide gravel road.  In fact, I could have driven another three quarters of a mile down the road with no problems.  If I had that would have made the run that much better, as I could have gotten further down the trail, but we’ll get to that.  After the initial road section I came to a turnoff to the south and immediately came to the terminus of the navigable road.  There was a sign informing potential users of the “project” that had been carried out on the NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL just ahead.

First let me just say I am all for restoration. But I am also a big proponent for trails through our public lands.  Why have public lands if the public has no access to them?  They might as well be private if that’s the case.  Private lands tend to be better managed from an impact standpoint anyway.
The sign at Cromer states that the work was performed under a grant from the EPA.  Now, I’m not one to badmouth the EPA (I like breathing clean air and drinking clean water more than I like driving or using electricity), but I do like to give the USFS the rough side of my tongue for its persistent efforts to break up and destroy the Sheltowee Trace.  The fact that taxpayer dollars were used to eradicate a section of a long distance National Recreation Trail is contemptible. 
In his account of thru-running the Sheltowee Matt Hoyes writes that Steve Barbour (Sheltowee Trace Association) referred to this section as the “steeplechase”.  That’s an apt description.  While the road is still technically open to foot traffic and presumably to mountain bikes it is not a pleasant section to hike or run.  The USFS has intentionally downed trees and dug tank traps at frequent regular intervals for a full 0.8 mile.  They did the same thing on White’s Branch on three different sections of road/trail.
Intentionally felled trees between tank traps

This was the initial barrier.  Those pipes are full of concrete.  On a narrow ridge this is basically enough
to keep out ATVs and dirt bikes.  The remainder of the destruction is not really necessary.
I did okay running through the section.  I averaged 11:58/mi for the entire 6.5 mile run, but going and coming I ran through the destroyed section at 14:38/mi and 16:06/mi respectively.  My legs looked like hamburger afterward from the thick briars that have choked the trail since human traffic has been cut off through the area.  That’s a major factor in trails disappearing in this ecosystem.  Thick briars are typically the pioneer species that take over open areas on the Cumberland Plateau.  Even in trafficked areas they’re hard to keep at bay.  Where foot traffic is sparse they take over completely.  And if not briars then small scrub pines that become too thick to wade through will take over. 
To me it seems like varying agencies in the federal government are trying to fracture Kentucky’s longest trail.  Maybe it’s not a conscious effort to close the trail, but I wouldn’t rule it out
Anyway, I was talking about running
After I escaped Cromer’s bad section I ran along another open gravel FS road for a short distance before the Trace dove into the forest as a singletrack trail.  I was ready to turn back at that point, but I decided I had to run some of the actual trail, so I dropped off the road and into the unexpected but idyllic Sheltowee section ahead.  I watched my time and distance and once I knew I was more than 5k out from the car I turned back and climbed back up to the road and the ridge crest.  I was reluctant to turn back, but I enjoyed the lonely section of trail I found.  It was obvious it didn’t get a lot of traffic either, but it was a well-built and enjoyable section to travel.  I wish I had made it to a logical termini, but I'll connect through to KY 80 next time I'm in the area.  I wasn't far from where I had my last Sheltowee MTB ride.
I fought my way back through Cromer and found my car unmolested.  I changed back into my meeting-acceptable clothing as rain began to fall.  The timing was perfect.  I then headed out to an ironic meeting about signage along the Boone Trace from Cumberland Gap to Boonesborough State Park
I will say that I was able to run through the steeplechase stupidity steadily and in some ways it was fun.  I can’t imagine facing those obstacles as a long distance backpacker with a traditional load on my back though.  From a bikepacking standpoint it would be a frustrating obstacle to overcome, but considering it’s less than a mile in length I don’t think Cromer alone would deter me from riding through that area.  White’s Branch is a whole different story because you already have to detour around Natural Bridge Fascist Park…I mean State Park, and the detour routes that would put you at the park boundary have been destroyed in the same manner.  It would be a few miles of bushwhack-a-bike and that just sucks
Tuesday night Bean had her last home cross country meet.  Once again I was corner marshal in the creepy woods.  At the request of the coach I dressed as the grim reaper and some other parents decorated the woods with spooky yard decorations (like a bunch of headstones).  My son found a piece of rope, tied a respectable noose, and hung it from a tree near the course.

"Death by Cross Country"
We opted not to scare the elementary runners and focus our efforts on the middle and high school races.  Bean came in ninth in her race and did her mile in less than ten minutes.  We were all stoked about that.  And then the elementary kids came over into the woods with me in my costume to scare the older kids.  At one point I had all the elementary kids laying in the cemetery like they were dead, and I called out to passing varsity runners that if they were tired we still had plenty of room for them to lay down and “have a rest.”  I also called out to some of our team that I would come after them if they didn’t run faster.  I got a lot of chuckles and only one horrified reaction that I know of.  It was darn hard to see through that hood
Yesterday the creeping reality of a head cold finally caught up with me.  I’d been ignoring it since Sunday but finally nothing would veil the fact that I was running down and needed a break.  I stayed home and did very little on Wednesday.  Even today I’m not 100% and doubt I’ll clock in the requisite Pebble© results.  By running about 6 miles I can really boost my numbers, but I have to do it every day.  That’s hard to do.  Our team is still in first place, but I’m way down in the standings.

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