Living a Dream Part 2: Cross-Country Road Trip

Free to Go

I closed my studio, Jerome attended his last day of school inservice, our house was packed up and rented, we had $5,000 in our vacation fund and 2 1/2 months to spend it. We were free to do anything except stay home.

Second Thoughts

We had been saving for and planning this trip for nearly 10 years and yet we still had to ignore the daily urge to call the whole thing off. Leaving the familiar and comfortable, opening ourselves up to financial failure and social judgement and relying on the cooperation of our temperamental pre-teens made the whole thing feel like a huge mistake. There were several times when we were getting ready to go that we understood why most families don’t do this kind of thing.

When I asked my Face Book community what they would do in a similar situation not a single person replied “I would drive across the country to hike several hundred miles in remote wilderness”.

But on June 21 we loaded ourselves and all of our doubts into our 2012 Mazda 5 to do just that. It took us three weeks to drive 4,000 miles from Blue Hill, Maine to Lone Pine, California where we planned to start hiking north on the Pacific Crest Trail.

General overview of our route from Maine to California. We wanted to avoid big cities and big trucks and took a route that allowed for easy camping and off-highway exploring.

Sleeping

We camped, stayed with friends and family and spent three nights in hotels (Bozeman, MT is oddly devoid of public camping and Las Vegas would probably welcome public camping but was an inhospitable 110º when we arrived). We relied heavily on the crowd-sourced freecampsites.net to find safe, quiet places to camp.

Camping in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness south of Bozeman, MT. Fourth of July and no reservations or fee required.

Eating

We cooked most of our meals. Variations of corn tortillas, refried beans, cheese, scrambled eggs, and salsa, pasta with ground turkey, frozen spinach and sauce and those family-sized pre-made salads in a bag. We stocked up on groceries for 4-5 days at a time though our small cooler had to be refilled with ice every other day. We brought a frying pan, saucepan, mixing bowl and spatula plus our camping stove, bowls and utensils and it all fit nicely in a box behind the kid’s seats.

Car camping at a shelter with a much needed bug-screen near the Appalachian Trail in Gorham, NH. Cubby the bear is trying to get into the bear canister. She never did figure it out.

Entertainment

Since we were heading into a month-long backpacking trip above 10,000 feet, we needed to get in shape. We tried to run or hike every day. Some days were a flat sight-seeing stroll and some days were more strenuous all-day hikes. We have an America the Beautiful Pass which for $85 covers admission to all National Parks and tons of other public lands. It’s a total bargain when compared to the cost of any other tourist activity for a family of four. Our two big entertainment splurges were an afternoon spent at an indoor water park in Sandusky, OH and a half day white water rafting outside Yellowstone. Georgia loves the water and those two days were pure delight for her.

The importance of Co-Piloting

Jerome drove while I juggled notebooks, guide books and my iPad in the passenger seat planning our driving route, fun things to see and where to camp, plus planning for the PCT hike (resupplies, trail conditions, where to leave the car, stream crossings . . .) Several times I had to force myself to look up and enjoy the view, and several more times I was requested to read a Wikipedia page aloud to the driver. Like every time we crossed a state line, or drove by iconic Americana such as “the world’s largest cow”.

Meanwhile, in the back of the car . . .

Thankfully, 11 and 13 are great traveling ages. They are happy to sit in the car for a couple hours at a time reading or listening to books, improvising outfits for their stuffed animals, applying fake nails, and putting considerable effort into improving their 9 cubic feet of personal space. They don’t have digital devices and of course there was boredom but it rarely devolved into full-on sibling attacks. Stuffed animals (animated by only too willing parents) make great mediators and almost every bad mood can be fixed with a spontaneous highway dance party.

Road-tripping on a budget can be stressful but I it helps that our family is comfortable sleeping together in a small tent, cooking with a camp stove and bathing in rivers. The key is to focus on the excitement and freedom of the adventure, not the limitations and stressors. The stress is real but as I tell the kids “we’re not going to make it less stressful by stressing about it”.

Car dance party on the way to Bozeman. While almost running out of gas.

We did our best to have a full, if not perfect, cross-country experience. We ran out of gas, we ran out of cell service (newsflash: there are huge swaths of this country that don’t have cell or data coverage), our phone charging cable quit right when we needed directions, our car exhaust system needed welding, there were some really weird left-over dinners eaten at really weird rest areas, there were horrifying hoards of mosquitos and no-see-ums (and a plague of giant crickets), scary thunderstorms and tornados and our AC doesn’t work on the uphills. But truly the most tragic trip moment was when Cubby, our dear stuffed bear, was accidentally thrown out and lost forever. RIP Cubby the gender-educator bear.

Photo Journal of our road trip (Maine to Las Vegas)

Section 1: Blue Hill, Wilton, ME, Gorham, NH, North Wolcott, Smugglers Notch, Burlington, Killington, Claredon Gorge, VT
Wilton, ME. Our first stop on the trip was to to visit my cousin Clarissa and her sons. Milo came with us on a hike up Mt. Blue where we narrowly escaped getting struck by lightening. We also did some damage to our low-riding rusted-out exhaust system on the rocky drive to the trailhead (which is why it needed to get welded back together in Las Vegas).
Mt. Washington, NH. We hiked up via the Lion’s Head Trail from Pinkham Notch. According to the Mount Washington Observatory there were 80mph gusts on the summit that day.
North Wolcott, VT, where Lucy was born. What could be better than catching up with an old friend in a field of flowers while the kids play in the pond?
Smugglers Notch, VT. We hiked around the caves in the pouring rain and proved that there is no such thing as truly waterproof rain gear.
Killington and Clarendon, VT. An example of Jerome’s least favorite way to cook a meal – squatting in the trailhead parking lot. It was a hot day and the hood of the car is open so the car can cool down after coming up the hill. We hiked a couple hours here before driving south to swim in Clarendon Gorge.
Section 2: Ithaca, NY, Sandusky, OH, Ann Arbor, Naubinway MI,
Ithaca, NY. We took a tour of the “new” Cornell Lab of Ornithology and it was amazing. I worked there when it was still a bunch of trailers. Even the girls were impressed with the beautifully painted Wall of Birds.
We also hiked and swam in a few of the gorges that make Ithaca gorgeous.
Taughannock Falls State Park, NY.
Sandusky, OH. After we spent the day at an indoor water park we found a little patch of nature to hike and eat at. This is a typical road-side scene for us.
Ann Arbor, MI. We visited Jerome’s family for a few days and enjoyed a restaurant meal – a gourmet vegan one at that!
We also took advantage of the inside space and grandparent entertainment services to prepare for our PCT hike. Here we are re-packaging the 120 freeze dried dinners that we bought in bulk from an apocalypse survival website.
Mackinaw Bridge, headed north to the Upper Peninsula. There was some debate about whether Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are truly two different lakes. This is a typical family driving scene for us . . .
St. Ignace, MI. We camped at this R.V. campground on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was pouring rain and we were very excited about the covered cooking pavilion and how it could double as a dance pavilion. Making up dances is an important part of road-tripping.
Section 3: Sand Point Beach, MI, Duluth, Glyndon, MN, Bozeman, MT
Sand Point Beach on Lake Superior. Jerome’s happy place.
Leaving Duluth under an odd cloud. Duluth and Fargo looked like big industrial waste piles to us. Sometimes you have to actually live somewhere to appreciate it.
Buffalo River State Park, Glyndon, MN (I borrowed this photo from Wikipedia). We camped here and went for a long walk through the prairie. The birdwatching was fantastic.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Western North Dakota.
Prairie dogs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The kids got lots of lectures on how prairie dogs and Bison were two of the keystone species of the historical western landscape . . .
Spanish Peaks, MT. Driving across the Turner Bison Ranch to get to our trailhead.
Lee Metcalf Wilderness, MT. We spent three days backpacking in the Spanish Peaks area where we acclimated to altitude (~9,000′), and practiced the sun protection and snow travel techniques we’d need for hiking in the High Sierras.
Shooting Stars and Lucy meet for the first time in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Learning to plunge step and self-arrest wth ski poles. In the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Section 4: Yellowstone area, Victor, ID
Gardiner, MT. After backpacking in the Spanish Peaks we spent the morning white water rafting on the Yellowstone River. (We’re the front four paddlers.)
Yellowstone National Park. It was amazing! I spent some time working as a field tech in this area in the mid 1990’s and didn’t see half the wildlife then that we saw on this trip.
Badger! In Lamar Valley, Yellowstone NP.
Wolf pup from a den near Tower Junction (Yellowstone NP).
Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP.
It was much easier to find camping in Yellowstone National Park then just outside of it. Many of the park campsites are open to walk-ups and only cost $15/night. (Salsa not included.)
Victor, ID. We visited a friend I co-taught NOLS courses with long ago and spent a lovely morning with her six year old daughter hiking and building fairy houses. Maybe because it was a high snow year, the western wildflowers were spectacular this summer.
Section 5: Lava Hot Springs, ID, Zion National Park, Silver Reef UT, Las Vegas, NV.
Lava Hot Springs, ID. Somehow the kind R.V.er who posted this site on freecampsite.net failed to mention that the train goes by several times an hour. All night long. This was the worst campsite of the trip.
Silver Reef, UT. Lucy loves historical sites and she was very excited to walk around this ghost town. Note that she’s reading us the self-guided tour off my iPad. Also note the temperature in the next photo.
Silver Reef, UT. Once we hit southern Utah the temperature soared. It stayed this hot (or hotter) until we started our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail four days later.
Las Vegas, NV. We spent two nights in Las Vegas because it was our last stop to buy, repackage and send off the 30+ days of food we would need for our Pacific Crest Trail hike. The hotel air conditioning was a bonus.

Coming up next . . . Living a Dream Part 3: Hiking 300 miles on the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail.

Living a Dream Part 1:

Preparing to leave your house and live in your car and tent for 2.5 months with your family

We signed off all things internet from June 21 – September 1, 2019 and it was delightful. We’ve been home for a week now and there has been an understandable clamoring from friends for details such as pictures and a slideshow and I apologize for not giving the most enthusiastic response.

There are two reasons for this, first, when you’ve been outside in the mountains all summer the last thing you want to do is sit in front of a slow computer with your neck bent just so and your butt going numb. The second is that my computer is ancient and hanging on by a thread and it has been very reluctant to wake back up after it’s summer nap. So for the moment it is easier to write and before I torture myself with the slllooooww processing of images, I’m going to start with this four-part story of our trip.

Lucy turned 13 a few days before we left

In the telling of a story you change it for yourself and for the others that took part in the original happenings. Because this story includes my kids, who will read this before you do, I want to be especially sensitive to what is told. This is a disclaimer of sorts, because if this were my own usual, no-kids-involved story telling it would likely take on the cynical, storm cloud humor that has been me from as early as I can remember. A conspiratorial, tell-all tone that could be interpreted as vulnerable but is more often seen as too personal, revealing, akward and even unkind. Instead, I will do my best to keep that side to a minimum and stick to the kid-approved, emotionally sanitized version. Just know that there’s nothing emotionally sanitary about a four-person family stuck together for 2.5 months.

So here goes with Part 1...

Seven Things to Do Before You Leave

Jerome finishing the threshold minutes before Sarah, Fiona and Sylvie arrived.

FIRST, if you plan to rent your newly built studio addition while you’re gone you’ll want to have finished construction on the house before the tenants move in. Preferably more than ten minutes before. But if they’re super awesome people they might be ok with you nailing down the floor, installing the bathroom mirror and finishing the plumbing a few days after they arrive. With their toddler. Because they are awesome.

A small sampling of the seemingly sacred objects that needed to be packed away for safe-keeping.

SECOND, if you plan to rent the main part of your house while you’re gone you’re going to have to pack up and move out most of your personal belongings, including the landfill that your children have called their bedroom for the past ten years. This will take more than a day and your children will question you about every seemingly sacred object and where it should go and your brain will have zero space to process things like planning a 500-mile hike.

Seamus saying goodbye from a safe spot after his last-minute shave.

THIRD, if you are leaving your pets behind you will need to set your tenants and pets up for success. Which means building an escape-proof  outside bunny fort (because free-range house bunnies are not loved by most people). This means that while your children are asking what do with their seemingly sacred single socks you will be digging a two-foot deep trench to bury chicken wire around the bunny fort while fighting off the 5 billion mosquitoes that picked spring of 2019 for their family reunion in your back yard. And if your cat’s butt needs to be shaved because he has long-hair grooming issues, try to remember to do that before you’re all in the car and about to pull away. 

FOURTH, if at all possible, quit your job more than 12 hours before you plan to leave. Or if your partner is a teacher pray for fewer snow days next time you do this.

FIFTH, when the fourth cup of coffee isn’t working and you still feel like crying and you can’t find your list and you’re recovering from pulling off a successful 13thbirthday party in the middle of construction, packing and moving, say yes to all the help. Let your friends come take your kids away to swim and feed them dinner, let your friends come over and throw out stuff and tell you where to put stuff, let your new tenants bring you more coffee and let your students bring you care packages filled with car snacks and exciting new games your kids have never seen.

Staying up late three nights in a row to sew Jerome a warmer down sleeping bag out of the down quilt we used on our 2002 CDT thru-hike.

SIXTH, the best cure for overwhelm is action. Empty the entire compost bin onto your garden, mow every inch of your lawn, sort your 30 year old collection of beads before you carefully pack it and repair all your gear right before you have to put it in the car. This will be far more helpful than any last-minute time spent on social media and when you get back you will not regret your efforts.

SEVENTH, make your leaving date absolute. We had our main house tenants moving in the day we left. If not for that it could have easily taken us another two weeks to get on the road. You won’t miss what you didn’t have time to do.

(Over) Packing

The Saturday morning before we left Jerome and I were discussing the need for a car-top carrier. I was opposed to one because like having a bigger house, it lets you have more stuff and I always want less stuff. But Jerome was concerned about the ease of packing and unpacking the car every night and the ability to keep things organized. So we did a quick search on Craig’s List and there, posted not ten minutes earlier, was a used car-top carrier that would fit our car. It was an excellent price and only an hour away. Score. Jerome was right, the carrier made the car-travel part of our trip more comfortable and convenient.  (And I was right too, we over packed).

Ready to go! (It was raining and the kids were not psyched about standing outside the car to take a photo).

And so, on June 21, following a summer solstice worthy flurry of activity and only a few hours of sleep, we said good bye to our kitties and bunnies, swept up our muddy boot prints and backed out of our driveway and into the pouring rain. 

Can you guess where the first patch of snow was on our trip?

Next up . . . . Living a Dream Part 2: The All-American Road Trip to see All the National Parks

What’s next

I’ve been told by my friends that I don’t need to explain myself. That I am free to close my studio, leave my house, abandon my pets and take my family hiking for two months. I appreciate those friends but maybe you (or I) want a little more explanation.

April 16, 1999 Campo, CA. at the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.

As always I can’t tell a story without providing an entire blog post’s worth of context. Our lives are imbedded in bigger stories and who doesn’t love a good story?

If you read my post about my 100 Mile Wilderness Challenge then you already heard about how 20 years ago I started hiking north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Campo, CA. While going through things this spring and packing up boxes to get ready for this summer’s trip, I found my journals from that hike. 

My best friend from college, Aubin, drove me to the trailhead and hiked the first two days with me. This is my diary entry from my second day on the trail:

April 16, 1999 Campo, CA

We awoke to beautiful chaparral scenery, lots of wind, and 15 border patrol chevy blazers whizzing by. We left Aubin’s car at the Train Museum, and walked up the road a mile and a half to the border and the start of the trail. Border Patrol had no interest in escorting us there, though they made sure to stop and let us know there were lots of “aliens” out there. Hence the 75 trucks on site and ready for action.

After the ceremonial pictures at the border (a six foot high metal fence) and then the trail monument, we headed north towards Canada, passing Mexican sardine cans, discarded shoes, and two pairs of underwear hanging from a tree branch. We saw a bobcat right off, sneaking through the sagebrush, and later, an enormous rattlesnake that I almost walked into.

For the first night on the trail we set my tent up a hundred feet from the trail in a sandy wash and awoke a few hours later to the sound of at least a dozen feet shuffling and the quiet murmuring of voices. We lay silent, listening to the band of immigrants pass by us on the trail. I admit I was scared. Drinking water, food, shelter and clean clothes are precious resources in this part of the desert and I wondered how desperate a group has to be to pick a fight with two gringas camping alone among the thorns. 

 And here’s the entry from my last full day on the trail. I completed the trail with a small group of hikers I had met along the trail during the weeks and months before. Though it is common for thru-hikers to have trail names, for some reason many of us didn’t use trail names that year on the PCT. 

September 17, 1999. Manning Park, BC at the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.

September 16, 1999 Near Manning Park, BC

Seven miles to the border, we are camped at the edge of a cirque surrounded by high walls of schist and granite. It’s our last night on the trail, and just as we were sitting down to a fire that Jason built, enjoying hot drinks and starting to tell our now age-old trail stories . . . Jim heard a thump coming from the direction of his camp set up under the trees about 50 ft away. Since we had been surrounded by curious and bold deer all evening, Jim decided to go investigate. In a few moments we heard “um, where’s my sleeping bag . . .” Well he found it and several other items scattered about the near by woods, all slightly damp and clearly chewed on by the salt-craving deer. When he retuned with the news, we were all already giggling uncontrollably at his bad luck when Packrat remembered that his sleeping bag was drying on the top of his tent, so off he went. Again a few moments later we heard a “yechk”, which of course sent us into another round of uncontrollable laughter. He returned with his sleeping bag so soaked in deer saliva (at least he hoped that’s what it was) that it weighed about five extra pounds. He attempted to dry it in front of the fire while we couldn’t stop laughing (and chasing away deer) for the rest of the evening.

So much happened between those two journal entries. But maybe most poignant is the memory I have of feeling “at home” during that trip.

Bringing it full circle: yoga on the trail.

I’ve felt it happen many times, a distinct shift in my nervous system when I live outside full time. Even in my 20’s, when screen-time wasn’t really a thing and cell phones and GPS were still rare, I observed a settling, organizing force envelope me and fellow travelers after about 7-10 days of wilderness immersion. It is an experience best described as the proper balance between alertness and ease.

I observed this shift in my child last summer when she spent five days outside at a small wilderness survival camp. For the previous two years she had been suffering the consequences of several concussions and Lyme disease, including chronic migraines, blood sugar issues and a perennially bad mood. She returned from that week smiling and laughing for the first time in two years. She does not love backpacking but she does love to share a tent with her family, run around barefoot and swim in any puddle or stream she can find.

I observed the same shift in my twin brother when he took to the Appalachian Trail only four months after having a brain tumor partially removed from his frontal lobe. When I hiked with him a few months into his trip he was more clear-headed, happy and organized then I’d seen him in years.

I’ve often wondered if other humans, like me, are barely surviving domesticity. It seems we need a lot of propping up to make it through this odd life style we’ve created. Is the glut of calories and safety from predators worth it? Surely there are people who can thrive in a wide variety of environments, but maybe there is a sub-group of people that do best planted in partly shady, mountain soil. 

 

My preferred habitat. It’s not that I don’t love humans, I just don’t love their landscape. I do love the alpine pond’s landscape. So elegant and simple!

That’s why ten years ago, shortly after we bought our house, I asked Jerome if, in addition to paying down our mortgage, he would join me in putting a small amount of money into a “Family Adventure Fund” every month. Depending on our jobs and expenses the amount varied but the rule was that we would never dip into the Adventure Fund. We would pretend it didn’t exist and figure out how to pay bills other ways. It sounds so rosy and well thought out so I’ll spare you the gory reality of marriage and shared finances (but maybe it’s helpful to know that none of us are immune to these realities).

For me that savings account has been a life-line. It’s not that I loathe domestic life, but I don’t thrive in it. I need to know that I can escape. That we are not stuck grinding it out just to show our kids how to grind it out. I need to feel that wilderness and mountains are a choice I can make.

With many 2-4 day trips under their belts, the kids have become competent backpackers and outdoorswomen over the last decade.

This past fall we felt clearly that it was time to make that choice. The time for our “Adventure” has come. The girls will be 11 and 13 which seems like a good age: young enough to still be willing to hang out with their parents and old enough to hike in big mountains.

What’s the plan?

We have a long-distance hiking permit to hike the Pacific Crest Trail north from Kennedy Meadows, CA (at the Southern end of the High Sierras) starting July 1. This will cover the John Muir Trail section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Whitney to Tolumne Meadows, and then north through some spectacular wilderness areas past Lake Tahoe and Mt. Lassen.

The details of the trip are still slightly fuzzy because there has been a ton of snow in California’s High Sierra’s this winter, but what we know so far is that we are driving west starting June 20, with a stop in Denver, CO to visit friends. Then onward to Davis, CA where we’ll leave our car and send our food resupply packages to points north.

The red line is the Pacific Crest Trail. The John Muir Trail runs concurrent with the PCT from around Mt. Whitney to Tolumne Meadows (near Yosemite National Park).

Yes we saved money, but this is still going to be a budget trip, which I think only increases the adventure part. (Ask me about that in four months).

Preparation and planning is one way to save money, so I’ve spent a ton of time looking at maps and inventorying our existing gear and outdoor clothes. Thankfully we already have most of what we need. Which, incidentally is not much, Jerome’s pack will be the heaviest with a base weight of 13lbs, while the girls will be carrying 5lbs before their food and water is added. I did buy us four lightweight, waterproof, used down coats on Ebay (Jerome has been happily wearing his purple one to work every day). And a bear canister, which is required in many of the areas we will be passing through.

Next up is food preparation. Aren’t you curious how one feeds a family of four on a long-distance backpacking trip? I know I am. 

Big Changes

25 Years of teaching yoga come to an end

I started teaching yoga shortly after I took my first class. Back then (1994) there weren’t many yoga teachers and studios were happy for students to substitute teach classes. I’ve always loved to teach and it was a natural fit for me. I taught yoga as a back-up job through graduate school, while working as a National Park Ranger, as a new mom, while working at a land trust and while studying Ayurveda. At times it was my primary job, like when I ran the Johnson Yoga Studio in Johnson, VT and hosted the Vermont Yoga Conference (2004-2006). And it has been my primary occupation since I created Blue Hill Mountain Studio four years ago. Over the years I became Maine’s first certified Anusara instructor, taught two year-long 200hr teacher trainings, led retreats to Costa Rica and traveled far and wide to teach specialty workshops. In short, I have had a highly successful and satisfying career as a yoga teacher.

Jerome and me practicing the primary series of Ashtanga at Yoga Vermont (2000).

My yoga journey started with Ashtanga Yoga as taught by K. Patahbi Jois. In my late twenties I sought out a more balanced practice and spent a year studying with Angela Farmer. Then I began following John Friend and Anusara yoga. I took something from each style and I am indebted to all of my teachers for the skills they imparted to me. Take what serves, put the rest aside.

The Johnson Yoga Studio and Vermont Yoga Conference making the news (2005)

After a few major events in the yoga world I wandered away from any formal style or teachers in 2012. Disenchanted with what felt like a lack of integrity and transparency in the broader U.S. yoga industry I decided to focus on how to best serve the community here in Blue Hill. Many of my students followed me on this journey. I think some were disappointed when I dropped the Sanskrit, chanting and Hindu mythology from my teaching. Over the last seven years my classes have morphed into a familiar, mostly low-key routine that focuses on being present and at ease in our bodies.

With K.Patahbi Jois (1999). I was recently interviewed for the book Practice and all is Coming by Matthew Remski describing my experience as KPJ’s student.

It’s been 25 years since I taught my first class and over this last year I have found myself steering more and more toward other interests. So while I still have tremendous affection for the teaching and practice of yoga and mindful movement, my time as a yoga teacher, has for now, come to an end. June 15 will be my last Saturday morning 9am yoga class. I’ve been teaching this class weekly for ten years and I have so much gratitude for all of you who have joined me along the way, many of you since the very beginning. I hope to see you in the studio soon.

What’s next? I will be traveling with my family for the summer and after we return Labor Day I plan to teach Pilates classes at my new home studio.

You are all invited to a closing celebration on Sunday June 9thfrom 5-7pm at Mountain Studio. 

Blue Hill Mountain Studio – a special class for Jenny and Masi’s wedding.

100 Mile Wilderness Challenge

The Challenge: Can I hike Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness in a weekend?

The answer is YES and this September I became the first first female to start and record a sub 48 hour Hundred Mile Wilderness finish and First Female to set a Fastest Known Time on this section of the Appalachian Trail.*(See foot note)

The Stats

Start: 4:14am September 15, 2018
End 1:28am September 17, 2018
Total time: 45hrs 14mins (1 day  21hrs 15 mins)

The Story

Nineteen years ago, on September 18, at the age of 24, I stood at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, happy and tired after 2,600 miles and five months of hiking. In contrast to the character portrayed in Cheryl Strayed’s book/movie Wild, I was a confident and competent 24-year-old solo female hiker. Like Strayed I’d suffered my share of trauma and angst but worked out much of it on the Appalachian Trail five years earlier. By my mid-twenties I was a trained wilderness EMT, I knew how to eat and dress to stay warm or cool and I had a migratory-bird’s keen sense of direction. I could easily hike 30-50 miles a day for several days in a row and I had developed extra spidey senses around creepy men. Wilderness is my comfort zone. The human-landscape is my real challenge.

Northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Sept.18, 1999

Why am I even telling you this? Because I think it’s important for us to collectively change the narrative when it comes to women in wilderness. It’s 2018 and women continue to be underestimated and met with an annoying concern for safety and qualifications. Even now only about a third of thru-hikers are female and only half of those hike solo (1). Maybe it’s the current political events that have me on edge. Maybe it’s the persistent inequality of recognition of men’s versus women’s athletic endeavors. Maybe it’s women’s willingness to believe a false story about gender, and maybe instead of cautioning women we’d all be better off saying “Go for it, if anyone can do it, it’s you!!”

I guess the truth is, a small part of me is proud of the fact that I have, my entire life, persisted with little regard for the naysayers and I hope you will to.

Finding my way back to the trail (jump to the 100 Mile Wilderness part)

Soon after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I met Jerome and in 2002 we hiked 2,000 miles of the Continental Divide Trail together. A few years later we got married and eventually had kids and moved back to Maine. I took up trail running because it was a good way to fulfill my need for wilderness between nursing babies and supporting my family. As they got old enough to camp for a few days in a row we started taking them out first on canoe trips and then on hiking trips. For the last three years we’ve been section hiking Maine’s Appalachian Trail heading north 10-30 miles at a time.

While part of me is genuinely sated by spending long days winding from one shelter to the next, there is another part of me that itches to “see what’s just around the corner”. The hiking pace with my kids is slow, sooooo slow. Mind numbingly slow. I have learned to hike at least twenty feet behind my youngest daughter while going uphill. I sing loudly, take pictures, examine spider eggs, weird fungus and the trail map while she toils along at a steady, very comfortable 10-year-old-kid pace. I’ve also learned that 8 miles makes for a good family day on the Maine AT. One mile an hour of hiking plus lots of time for snacks, lunch and swimming. At this pace my kids enjoy hiking and that makes it totally worth it. They have become skilled backpackers and have learned to take hiker-culture in stride. As when they were introduced to a self-proclaimed alien hybrid who told them way too much about UFO culture. Or when the over-zealous fire-building Polish man taught them Russian swearwords.

As we’ve ventured down the trail together these last few years I can’t help but think about challenges that would fill my own need for distance and speed and still have me home by the end of the weekend. I started to fixate on Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness as an obvious target for this kind of adventure. This is the alternately beloved and dreaded terminal section of Maine’s Appalachian Trail that goes from Rt. 15 near Monson to the Golden Road at Abol Bridge (the southern border of Baxter State Park). In theory there are no good resupply points for thru-hikers in this section and people are advised to carry at least ten days of food to get from one end to the other. In reality Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson, among others, makes a brisk business of shuttling food and supplies to hikers at points throughout the Wilderness. Also, any north-bound thru-hiker that has come that far on foot from Georgia and takes ten days to hike the 100-Mile Wilderness is going willfully slow.

How fast could I do it?

I knew I wanted to fast-hike the Wilderness but I had no idea how long it would take me. I thought maybe I could do it in 36 hours . . . start Saturday morning, finish up late Sunday afternoon and be back home for dinner. (Silly me!) That Fall I saw that two runner-friends were doing just what I’d been thinking about – attempting to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness as fast as they could. I followed their progress on Facebook but they fell short by about 20 miles due to injuries and rough weather. Their attempt was eye opening in an inspiring and intimidating kind of way. (Incidentally, these same two women are headed out very soon to try again and I have no doubt they will succeed.)

When I began to more seriously research my project I looked to the Fastest Known Time website but was disappointed to discover that there were no women’s times listed for this route. Knowing thru-hikers and their smell-the-barn drive at the end of the AT I’m positive other women have hiked this section in only a couple of days and maybe in even less than 40-hours but no one seems to have documented it. Based on the men’s finishing times I decided I could probably do it in 40-48 hours – and I would document it.

It was also about this time that the Bangor Daily News published a very useful and inspiring article about Barry Dana hiking the wilderness: Penobscot Nation elder runs 100-Mile Wilderness in under 48 hours. 

My timing was a bit up in the air. I was going to run the Vermont 100 trail race in July which has a good amount of elevation gain (+18,000’). It would take me a while to recover from that but I didn’t want to wait until Fall when heavy leaf fall and cold wet weather would the make conditions more challenging. I decided to play it by ear and marked a few possible weekends in August and September.

The time is NOW!

Running with friends at Acadia is the best kind of training.

The Vermont 100 went perfectly. For the next six weeks I rested, swam, hiked and did some easy trail running. Then, at the end of August I went to Acadia to run 25-miles of Jennifer Britz’s 41-mile birthday trail run. She is a wonder woman trail runner and the fact that I was having fun trying to keep up with her meant that I was recovered from Vermont. It was also on that run that I met John Rodrigue who, fantastically, had run the Hundred Mile Wilderness a few years ago.

The stars were aligning. My ankle and hip felt ok, my heart arrhythmia wasn’t acting up and most importantly Jerome was psyched! We decided to go for it the weekend of September 15-17.

The following week my runner-friend Doug Blasius messaged me and asked when I was going to run my next 100-miler. I told him my plans about running the 100 Mile Wilderness to which he enthusiastically replied “Count me in!”.

Getting real about logistics

A few days later John, Doug and I met at my house to go over logistics. John was super helpful and even lent me his Spot locator beacon and helped me set it up so that I would be able to send out pre-set “I’m still hiking” messages along with my current location and time to a few friends during the run.

The best expeditions are planned by cut and pasting real paper maps.

Conspicuously absent from the meeting was Jerome but I had a few more days to get him up to speed. I bought a brand new Maine Delorme road atlas from Blue Hill Books and used it to map out the big picture (printed maps are the best!) and came up with seven potential logging road crossings for re-supply points. Most of the sections would be 14-20 miles long with two shorter 7-mile sections for the part I would be hiking through Saturday night.

I also downloaded all the topo maps and Guthook’s app to our cell phones since there would be no cell service for the duration of the trip. And finally, because my dearly beloved, incredibly wonderful husband is not known for his navigational reliability, I bought him the National Geographic trail map of the area and printed out the Maine North Woods Kathadin Ironworks/Jo-Mary logging road maps (repeat: printed maps are the best!) Put all together I was 75% confident that Jerome would be able to drive to the road crossings faster than I could hike to them. The trick was for him to stay within the Maine North Woods gated area and to not get shut outside the checkpoints after hours. I did call the Hedgehog Gate to ask if they thought my logging road route seemed viable and the man I talked to sounded equal parts confident and confused about what I was trying to do. Mostly he wanted me to know there’s active logging happening in the area and that the logging trucks have absolute ROW, and oh, we should probably have a high clearance vehicle because some of the roads were sort of washed out. I also talked to Hippie Chick (aka Kim) at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson and while she seemed less confident about our resupply plans they did have room for us to stay there Friday night.

Thrown into the logistical mix was that my sister Meg and her 16 year-old daughter Eva had just hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness and we thought it might be fun for Eva to join me for some of the hike. I was excited about the idea but also admitted I was nervous about how and where we could make it happen and if I could reasonably be responsible for her welfare after running all day and on very little sleep. We had a good meeting where I more-or-less made my sister promise not to kill me if I killed her daughter. I so didn’t need to worry. In fact, the next time Eva plans a trip I’m going to take my own advice and tell her “Go for it, if anyone can do it, it’s you!!”.

Planning the route with Eva and Meg.

Once I had the logistics down all that was left to do was to obsess over the weather forecast, paint myself an expedition t-shirt and make a sing-a-long worthy playlist. Oh, and find someone to take care of our animals and a place for my kids to spend the weekend.

This final but totally critical detail was miraculously solved by my friends Clara and Nathan who not only offered to take our kids for the entire weekend but also planned to spend the entire time, along with their own three kids, on a sailing trip. If you are picturing a large yacht complete with flush toilet think again. My intrepid friends thought taking five kids in a tiny motorless boat out to camp on a small Maine island for the sounded like a grand idea. I thought so too.

Which is how I found myself packing up my kid’s camping gear into dry bags while simultaneously packing my own extra clothes and gear into plastic containers. There was a headlamp shortage and some debate over who should get the nicer camping mattress

Finally Friday September 14thcame. I finished teaching, delivered the kids to their new guardians, left pet-care instructions with our ever helpful neighbor Robert, met Jerome at our house after school and together we drove up to the Bangor Airport where I had reserved a surprisingly affordable rental car with high clearance. (And New York plates.)

A car full of food ready to head north.

Doug met us at the airport so we could drive to Monson together. Our first navigational challenge didn’t bode well as we all drove in circles on I-95 attempting to rendezvous the three cars at the Odlin Road park and ride. But finally, all in one car together, our gear packed in around us, we drove west into a beautiful sunset.

We got to Shaw’s Hiker Hostel well past Hiker Midnight (aka sunset) and I felt bad creaking up and down the stairs making final checks on water bladders, watch chargers and gel packets. However, at least one thru-hiker was still awake and eager to talk to us about his experience getting through the 100 Mile Wilderness. He had the typical whipped-look that south bounders do only ten days into their 2,200-mile trip. He warned us that the first five days of our hike would be really hard and that there was no water along much of this section (which was particularly hard for him because he only had one kidney). If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a female thru-hiker it is that men are happy to advise and warn me about everything. Everything. In return they rarely ask any questions or solicit my advice. There’s so much I could tell them.

Before bed Jerome and I spent a little more time going over the maps and confirmed that the first place he would try to meet us would be 11 miles down the trail at what appeared to be a parking lot at the end of a somewhat sketchy looking woods road. It would require us to hike about 500ft off trail. We hadn’t been able to confirm the drivability of the road that intersects the trail near Long Pond Stream and this parking lot seemed like our best resupply option before the Katahdin Ironworks road 30-miles north.

If you are a more visual person here’s a compilation of video from my run/hike. It’s long, but not 45 hours long.

The hike begins


I slept reasonably well and woke at 3:15am to all three of our phone alarms going off. We made some tea and headed out to the trailhead just a few miles up the road. I was anxious to start hiking at exactly 4am. That’s how I am. But we didn’t get to the parking lot until a little after 4 and then there were last minute Spot logistics, photos to be taken and watches to be synced. Finally, at 4:14am Saturday morning Doug and I headed north.

The first eleven miles were easy moving. Of course as fate would have it I forgot to replace the batteries in my headlamp after the VT100. Yes I know full-well to start every new trip with fresh batteries as well as backups but knowing isn’t the same as doing. Fortunately I got lucky (again) and my headlamp faded just as the sun came up around 6:30am. We only had one minor trail-finding incident and that was crossing Little Wilson Stream before we should have. The Appalachian Trail is so heavily used that not only is the main trail well-trodden but so are the billions of side trails to stealth (and not so stealth) campsites and viewpoints. In this case upon crossing the river we came on a few sleepy thru-hikers just getting out of their tents who told us the trail was back on the other side of the river.

Food resupply box filled with sweet and salty calories.

Doug and I were mostly sticking together through this section and eleven miles down the trail, right on schedule at 8am we encountered the side road that we were to follow to meet Jerome. As planned he had left a gallon of water on the side trail to let us know he was there and sure enough we found him in the gravel parking lot watching Harry Potter on his laptop. It was a huge boost to know that our most sketchy meeting point had worked – we managed to get to the same place at the same time. I wanted to make the refueling pretty quick so I gave Jerome my headlamp and grabbed some water and a few more gels to get through the next 20 mile section. Jerome was eager to make Doug fresh coffee and I think he managed a quick sip before we headed back out.

Just as we approached the intersection with the AT a pair of runners crossed in front of us. Runners, not hikers. I said “Hey, you look like us” and they replied “Yeah, we’re running the 100 Mile Wilderness in a weekend”. Their t-shirts said Trail Monster Running which is the Southern Maine trail running group that gives out buckles to anyone who can complete the 100 Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours. It turns out the guy was Ian who happened to be the Trail Monster race director I had emailed a few days earlier to let him know I would be trying for under 48hrs and if I succeeded maybe I could have a buckle? The woman was Emma, his wife. They were clearly speedy and passed us right away. We saw them one more time purifying water at a stream and the next time they passed us they said “If we don’t see you again, good luck”. They were on a mission. Not that I wasn’t. I am always totally serious and committed to every race I do, but perhaps because I am slower and used to never winning I don’t take myself as seriously. I was looking forward to being the first women to record a sub-48hr finish, but I knew I would only be the first, not the fastest. So when I saw Emma was out there too I decided not to let it change my run, we were going to have totally different experiences doing the same super-cool thing and I would be super-impressed with anyone doing this regardless.

It was about then that I lost Doug. I had started ascending Barren Mountain and I was feeling really good. I love to climb, going uphill is my happy place. It’s why I have thighs that don’t fit into regular jeans, and it’s why I look for races with more hills not less.

Doug and I discussed our strategy before we started – what were our goals and how much would we stick together? I am definitely more comfortable moving alone on the trail which is why I’ve never had a pacer in longer races. But I’m not opposed to good company, especially if they are independent and self-sufficient. Doug is a retired merchant marine and all around good guy. He is a cheerful, easy-going runner and on the slower side like me. He was excited to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness in under 48 hours and like me he really wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible on the first effort. For me it was really important to finish under 48-hours and if at any point that seemed impossible I was willing to quit so as to conserve my energy to try again with whatever knowledge I’d learned from the first experience. Plus, Jerome and I had to be back home by Monday afternoon. With this knowledge we agreed to start together and if our paces diverged we would let the other person go ahead.

These are the emergency items I would carry with me the whole time: emergency blanket, water filter, medical wrap, Lueko tape wrapped around chapstick, penlight, body glide, Spot beacon.

Even so, not hearing him behind me made me worry a tiny bit. I continued up over Barren Mountain and somewhere before Columbus Mountain stopped to filter 1 ½ quarts of water. It was hot and really humid and even though I drank an entire gallon of water on this 20-mile section I was still thirsty. Lots of people bemoan this ridgeline because of how “hilly” and long it feels and it’s true. I thought I was at the summit of Chairback several times before I made it to the actual signed summit. However, I would argue that the beauty of remote Fourth Mountain Bog makes this section worth the effort. It was late afternoon when I made it to a part of the trail that I remembered well, a pretty mossy side hill and I knew was within a mile of the Katahdin Ironworks road. It was an hour over my estimated arrival time so I was quite happy when I saw Eva coming up the trail to greet me.

In addition to Jerome, Meg and Eva, I was surprised to see two of my favorite race directors at the road crossing. Valerie and Mindy are the race directors in charge of the Riverlands 100-Mile Endurance Run in Turner, Maine and are the chief reason for it’s great success. They were assisting Emma and Ian during their run and I can only imagine they would be the perfect trail crew for this sort of thing. Since their runners had already come through they were packing up to head to the next road crossing.

Now I began to worry about waiting for Doug. It was 5pm and I didn’t know if he had a headlamp, I figured he was at least an hour behind me if all was going well, and if not, that last boulder field would be hard to negotiate in the dark. Jerome said that after Eva and I left he would hike back up the trail with a headlamp to look for Doug but we didn’t plan much beyond that. It’s all fine and well to say you’re running independently but in the end it’s impossible to not feel responsible for your friends.

As I mentioned it was really humid and I was really sweaty. The consequence was that I was fighting off some chafing by using a sample packet of anti-blister stuff given to me at a previous race. It wasn’t working at all and was maybe making things worse. I changed my shorts, sprayed my thighs down with my regular product and hoped for the best. Eva and I left the road around 5:20pm, easily crossed the West Branch of the Pleasant River and headed out toward Gulf Hagas, West Peak, Hay and White Cap Mountain.

My hand-painted t-shirt.

Soon after we left Doug showed up. He was eager to continue hiking but Jerome wasn’t sure how he was going to logistically support both of us, now an hour apart. Doug was disappointed but he agreed it would be easier if he took on a support-crew role from here on out. This was the part we hadn’t thought through very well but what became obvious is that either two people would have to commit to sticking together or each have their own crew. I was bummed that Doug had to give up his own effort just because he was slightly slower than me but I also didn’t trust that my own pace was fast enough to finish in under 48-hours and so wasn’t comfortable slowing down to wait for him.

Eva turned out to be a fantastic fast-hiking partner. I could hear her taking long walking strides behind me as I “ran” ahead down the trail. She has an amazing spatial memory especially considering she had hiked this section in the opposite direction. She kept giving me descriptions of what was coming up, mostly detailed variations of “oh yeah, there’s another really steep part coming up”. In reply I rewarded her with some spectacular burping. It was like my digestion had a built in altimeter and as soon as we started going up I would start loudly burping again. I reassured her that burping is a good sign because it meant I was not likely to start puking.

After four steep, long climbs we reached the lovely summit of White Cap Mountain. It was 10:20pm, almost warm with a light breeze and the brilliant orange crescent moon was setting over the dark valley below. It’s moments like this that make me grateful for being able to get myself into these situations.

The summit of White Cap with Eva.

Headed back down the mountain Eva’s headlamp caught a flash of something white up on top of a boulder – it was the infamous White Cap Dalmatian dog statue. I don’t know how she was so calm when she pointed it out to me because that thing is super creepy! Equally creepy was the silent guy standing by his tent with his headlamp on watching us as we passed by Logan Brook Lean-to.

We hit Logan Brook Road ahead of schedule (just shy of midnight) and Jerome and Meg were still asleep in their cars. We woke them up along with Doug who I was happy to discover sleeping in a tent nearby. When he heard me he jumped up ready to run this next section. Before I could get going again I had to deal with the very painful rash that was now covering much of my legs down to my knees. Upon inspection it became obvious that I was having an allergic reaction to the free-sample stuff I had used earlier. I took the time to hose the whole area down with water, cleaned it with anti-bacterial wipes and covered as much of it as I could with sterile gauze. I felt some relief and hoped getting the offending goop off me would help. Eva was having a good time and feeling good so she decided to join me for the next 7-mile section as well.

The creepy Dalmatian of White Cap Mountain.

I don’t remember much about this section as it was dark and the middle of the night. There were a few blow downs but nothing as bad as had been reported. There was a 1,000 foot climb over Little Boardman Mountain but it must have been mostly smooth trail because I don’t remember it. Soon enough we were at the Johnston (Kokadjo) road crossing. I downed some hot ramen soup and was feeling fine – not sleepy at all even though the only caffeine I’d had was from a few gel packs and a bottle of Guayusa tea around sunset.

It was close to 3:30am and both Eva and Doug were happy to keep running. Especially since the next 7 mile section was supposed to be “all downhill” and very runable. Again, I don’t remember too much of this section though I think we did run a good bit.

I might know more about how I moved through these sections if my GPS watches were doing what they were made to but ridiculously they were both acting up. I had set the Sunnto to the less accurate but super-long battery life mode and I thought I had cancelled the auto-pause feature but early on in the run it kept auto-pausing and missing huge sections because my uphill pace was so slow. So I switched it over to Trekking mode which took care of the auto-pause problem but unbeknownst to me also switched it back to the highly accurate GPS track mode and thus killed the battery after only 20 hrs. The reason I brought along two watches is because lately my Garmin Fenix 2 has not been reliably storing data after long runs, plus the battery always dies after 12-15 hours. I had it on as backup and I thought it would continue to track even when plugged into a battery charger but that’s not what happened. The consequence is that I have several non-contiguous tracks that cover the span of weekend with varying degrees of accuracy.

Thank you Doug for bringing the camp chairs!

Regardless of pace, the sun coming up through the open woods was very pretty as we approached the Jo-Mary Road. It was about 6:20am and Eva had just hiked/run her first ever 50k over a mountain range through the night. She was was finally ready for some rest. Doug however was still fired up. More ramen soup and I stuffed my pack with Gu and Hammer gels and Square bars as the next section to Nahmakanta Lake was 14 miles and it would be midday before I saw Jerome again.

The first half of this section was lovely early morning running. We hit Antlers Campsite along the side of Jo-Mary Lake just as the lazier (aka faster) thru-hikers were rousing themselves. Happily I ran into a few of the thru-hikers I’d met while hiking with my family two weeks earlier, they were my kind of people – content and in no rush to finish the trail but moving along at a smooth, efficient pace. As they caught up and passed me I told them that my brother Turtle Traxx was camped ahead at Namakanta Lake doling out trail magic, including, he had promised me, freshly grilled burgers. They picked up their pace and I tried to do the same but as I watched them nimbly fast-pack ahead of me I tried to match their movements and I just couldn’t do it. 28-hours of continuous movement was starting to take a toll.

Somewhere around Twitchell Brook I lost Doug again. This is also where the trail started to feel incredibly tedious. It was hot, I was tired and with no notable landmarks I trudged on following the rooty, slightly uphill path along Namakanta Stream. Each twist and turn looked like the next. I was out of water but unsure how much longer it would be and if I should take the time to purify more. Without water my bars were too dry to eat so I was forcing down gels just to stay on top of calories. Every yellow or red-leafed tree in the distance looked like a possible man-made object signaling that the trailhead could be near. But no, just another pretty tree.

Finally around 12:45pm I heard the familiar cry of “Moose Poop!” coming from down the trail. It was my twin brother Leith (aka Turtle Traxx). Phew. I happily sat in his camp chair and enjoyed another pot of ramen while the thru-hikers sat around me enjoying the trail magic and a different kind of pot. Doug arrived just as I was heading back out and he decided to rest up so he might be able to join me for the final push. All I wanted to do was jump in the lake to rinse off and cool down. I must have been really thirsty because that’s usually the only time swimming sounds fun to me. Alas, Nahmakanta Lake seemed to be only ankle deep for at least a hundred feet out and the effort of taking my shoes off and wading out that far felt like it would take too long. So I simply splashed my face and continued down the trail. I was 74 miles in and had 16 hours to hike the final 26 miles. I was sure, barring disaster that I could come in under 48 hours. Still, applying the mental discipline I’ve learned from the last five years of running trail ultras, I tried hard not to think that far ahead. Knowing that I was going to be awake and moving for an additional 16 hours on top of the previous 32 would be more more depressing than motivating.

Ahead of me was the most maligned hill of the entire 100 Mile Wilderness: Nesuntabunt Mountain. I was winding my way slowly, too slowly past the lake, past Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, up the first hill and was just about to start the final climb to Nesuntabunt when I saw two hikers coming toward me. Not hikers, runners! It was Jenn Britz and John Rodrigue. They had been following my progress via the Spot notifications and came to meet me. Grateful for the conversation and company we were at the top of Nesuntabunt before I knew it. John insisted we hike to the viewpoint – which psychologically felt like a ½ mile side trail over huge roots and boulders but in reality was more like 100ft detour, and yes, totally worth it.  Katahdin’s summit was shrouded in fluffy clouds but I could see the low green hill of Rainbow Ledges in the distance and the fact that I could see it made it feel within reach.

Nesuntabunt Mountain overlook with views toward Katahdin.

We hiked fast down the mountain, winding around Crescent Pond for what felt like way too long. Up to this point my energy felt consistently good but now I noticed that I didn’t have anything extra – no actual running was happening, just steady fast(ish) hiking. I realized I was really hungry and found myself fantasizing about ramen noodles, big wads of bread and jam and cold cans of coke.

We hit the final road crossing, Pollywog Stream Bridge, a little after 5pm and I said goodbye to Jenn and John. In my head I wanted to be back on the trail by 5:15pm, but I had a lot to take care of. I put fresh batteries in my headlamp and packed a set of back-ups (go me!), my feet had just started to hurt but I ignored them, I slurped another pot of ramen, made a few “sandwiches” by mashing lumps of sprouted fruit-nut bread together with marmalade and stuffed them into a plastic bag to bring with me and downed the coke that my brother magically put in my hand.

The best part was that Jerome surprised me by deciding to run the last 17-mile section with me. Doug and Leith had him all geared up with their hiking poles and hydration pack but he wore his own ancient, wafer-thin, duct-taped sneakers and brought his own special, terrible sense of humor.

We headed out a little before 5:30pm, excited. This was it. I was going to complete this adventure and I had my best friend with me. The euphoria subsided after a mile when I checked my pace over what felt like super-tedious rocky terrain and then started doing mental math (remember, never do mental math during an ultra!). Oh man, 6 more hours? 8 more hours? If things smoothed out could I do it in 5?

Pollywog Bridge. Last resupply point!

So far my digestion had been fully cooperating but now nothing sounded good. My stomach was rumbling with hunger but I was literally too tired to want to eat. My pace slowed correspondingly. Which frustrated me more. We passed Rainbow Stream Lean-to and it wasn’t the first time that day that hikers asked us if we were “Doing that race?”. Apparently three runners heading north on the same day was newsworthy. But no, we reassured them, it was purely coincidental, not an organized event. They cheered us on anyway as we crossed the bridge waving our poles overhead. That was the beginning of the end for me. I started swearing and cursing at the rocks and routes, mad that I couldn’t move faster, mad that I wasn’t going to finish by midnight, mad that I had taken so many breaks earlier or hadn’t run when I could  . . . All of these were ridiculous self-sabotaging thoughts and none of them made the situation better. Thankfully Jerome saw through my black mood and happily skipped ahead narrating every delightful and non-delightful aspect of the trail. “Oh look, a flat section, time to pick up the pace . . . oh wait, more roots and rocks, sorry about that . . .”. Shortly after passing Rainbow Lake we turned on our headlamps.

I asked Jerome to take over keeping track of distance and time and he did his best to oblige his very picky, very grumpy wife. He kept saying things like “I think we can hit the beaver dam by 8:23, unless that’s where we are right now”.  When I asked him what mileage or time his watch said he wouldn’t tell me because he hadn’t remembered to start it until 30+ minutes after we started. Of course – because this really was meant to be the weekend of watch failure. Anyway, at this point what I really needed wasn’t a timekeeper but someone willing to tolerate my extreme negativity and to keep me from sitting down.

My brain was so so tired. Too tired to change my mood even though I knew that’s what I needed most. I knew that if I could just settle into my pace and let my mind go I would get there eventually and with time to spare. That started to happen as we headed up Rainbow Ledges, which un-coincidentally was also minutes after I had spied a snickers bar in Jerome’s pack and demanded he hand it over. That was the last thing I remember eating. I also ceased being able to talk or process anything complicated that Jerome was saying. By complicated I mean anything that required forming an image in my mind. We hit Rainbow Ledges at 10:18pm and saw the sign that says 6 miles to Abol Bridge. To the average runner six miles is an easy short hour away. To an ultra trail runner that has been awake for 40-hours six miles might as well be 600.

Jerome’s shoes at the end of their last hike.

It was about then that I started to have delightful visual hallucinations. There are lots of little animal holes tucked under the roots and rocks on and beside the trail and every time my headlamp caught sight of one of these holes I saw a small animal duck inside and then turn around to peer back at me. With every sweep of my light I was surrounded by friendly, cartoonish voles, salamanders, frogs and squirrels. It was cracking me up but I was too tired to explain to Jerome what was happening. There was also a (real) Barred owl calling from somewhere above Hurd Brook Lean-to and a giant (real) northern leopard frog on the trail.

During the last few hours of hiking the only mental process that felt manageable was inwardly chanting the two-syllable mantra given to me many years ago during an initiation into Neelakanta meditation. That and a single stark line from song Meg Chittenden taught to our community singing group last year: “Holy Mother full of grace awaken, all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken . . .” I don’t know why my brain chose these words but I clung to them as my feet moved forward.

At one point, after what felt like infinitely more hours of hiking I took the map back from Jerome to glean some morsel of hope, surely we must be getting close? I sat down just long enough to read that the next landmark was described as “Pass through an interesting area of large boulders and large hemlock trees.” I thought to myself “Right, because the rest of the trail is covered in average looking boulders and hemlock trees.” I tossed the map back to Jerome and kept an eye out for interesting large boulders. It was after midnight and I had become fixated on the idea that I really wanted to finish by 1:14am as that would make for an even 45 hours. But I also only had one speed.

THE SIGN.

Hurray! We finally hit the bogwalk that signaled we were within a half mile of the finish. We were both surprised to find we could easily run the lovely smooth wooden planks. It felt like a moving walkway and was quite satisfying after the last few hours of tediously rocky trail. This section is short lived however and for at least a few more minutes we were back to the drudgery of uneven trail. But then, there it was, THE SIGN.

We were here, finally, the end. I was going to get to sleep really soon!! We saw headlamps up ahead and called out “Moose Poop!” and got a resounding reply. Doug and Leith were waiting for us and had even put out the camp chairs for our arrival. I told Jerome to hit the Spot for one last recording but seems it never got sent. Plus his watch had died (yup) somewhere near Hurd Brook Shelter. So our best guess at my actual finish time is a time-stamped photo of me sitting in a chair perched on the side of the Golden Road which reads 1:28am Monday September 17. 45hrs and 14mins of continuous movement. I sat down in Leith’s chair as Jerome was pulling something out of his pack. He asked me if I swore that I had just completed the 100 Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours, perplexed I said “I think so?” and then he handed me one of the Trail Monster 100 Mile Wilderness Challenge buckles. Wow! Now that’s some pretty cool trail magic. Apparently Valerie and Mindy had given it to him the previous day and made him promise to keep it a secret. It was a really great ending, and even though I had started this whole thing as a personal challenge, it was super-fun to be part of a small group of recognized trail runners that have done the same thing. According to Leith, Ian and Emma had finished around midnight, giving Emma the Fastest Known Time for a woman to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness challenge and making us the first two women to do so in under 48 hours. I don’t know them but I was wishing they were there so we could celebrate together.

My desire for any kind of celebration waned quickly as I started to get very cold and shivery. I downed 40 grams of protein powder mixed in a quart of water and we drove to the Abol Bridge Campground where I had reserved a cabin for us. I took a brief shower to warm up and wash the crust off and then fell deliciously into my sleeping bag. I woke up an hour later in a cold sweat like I had just broken a high fever, which may have been the case. Adrenaline does weird things to a person.

Thanks for the finisher’s buckle Trail Monster Running.

The next morning wasn’t terrible though I’d only slept fitfully for five hours. The main issue was that my feet were swollen and throbbing and they really didn’t want to be below waist height for more than a few seconds. We said goodbye to Leith who was headed back into the wilderness and Doug, Jerome and I went into Millinocket for breakfast at the Appalachian Trail Café. It was their second breakfast but my first real meal in three days. I ate happily and well while Jerome napped in the car.

I knew the recovery from this would take some time but even so, no one ever knows what it’ll be like ahead of time. In this case my body felt ok. No major aches or pains, just general and profound fatigue. Monday afternoon we picked the girls up from their cross-country practice and all I could think about was how I needed to get us all into bed as fast as possible. But they were filled with hilarious stories from their own weekend adventure that had to be told. My brain could hardly form images as they chattered away at me but it was a delightful reunion just hearing the joy in their voices. Despite getting into bed at 6pm, I didn’t sleep much, still too much adrenaline. I taught for nearly ten hours the next day and though my feet weren’t quite as tender, I sat as much as I could get away with. The brain fatigue persisted for nearly a week. I was slurring words, forgetting names and slow to process the most simple questions. Also, I don’t know if this is a normal kid-reaction but my children generally go in for full emotional-neediness right when I want to check-out the most. For several nights that week both kids needed lots of listening and snuggling and reassurance about problems large and small. All week my brain felt tender and raw and all I desperately wanted was to curl up into a tight ball, sob, and be petted to sleep like a baby.

It’s been two weeks and I think I’m back to my regular self. I’ve been on several short runs and doing lots of yard work but no complicated mental math or logic puzzles. Eva bounced back after a few hours of sleep and went on to run a 13 mile trail race in the white mountains the following weekend. Doug also seems to have bounced back and has already been back on the trail hiking out and back on that last 17 mile section over Rainbow Ledges. It took Jerome’s feet a few days to recover from the bruising they took and it didn’t take him long to buy a new pair of sneakers. Yesterday we had a mini-reunion with Doug, Eva, Meg, Jerome and my daughter Georgia all running the trail races at Hidden Valley Nature Center.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and trust your friends when they tell you “Your kids will be fine . . .”

Overall the 100 Mile Wilderness Challenge was a true success. Spending time with Jerome and working as a team on this project was a real highlight. Having my sister and brother meet me out there and hiking with Eva through the night was also amazing. Doug, Jenn and John joining me for parts of the run brought out all the warm-fuzzy trail running community feelz.

I got lucky in so many ways. The weather was amazing. I didn’t have to deal with layering or changing as it was warm and clear the whole weekend and I wore the same t-shirt and two pairs of shorts the entire time. My digestion stayed steady for the first 40ish hours, I never slipped or fell, the trail was easy to follow and my crew navigated the backroads effortlessly! So many people helped along the way and so many happy coincidences made the planning easier. I hope to pass on my good fortune to Doug and any others who need support or information about hiking or running the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Long-live Wilderness, Adventure and all the people who make it happen!


Footnote
As I mentioned above Emma Barclay ran the Hundred Mile Wilderness the same weekend I did. She started 45 mins after me and ultimately completed it two hours faster than I did. Hence as of this writing she is the official holder of the Female Fastest Known Time for this route. Because I started before her I set the first FKT.

For data-nerds here are my resupply/checkpoint times (determined via Spot and time-stamped photos).

Checkpoint Spot check-in Time Aprox. Total miles Aprox. miles to next point
Monson 4:14am Sat. 0 11
Logging Rd 11 miles from start of section 8:35am Sat. 11 19
KI Road 4:55pm Sat. 30 14
Frenchtown/Logan Brook Rd 11:50pm Sat. 44 7
Johnston Road 3:20am Sun. 51 7
Jo-Mary Road 6:30am Sun. 58 15
Namakanta Lake 12:50pm Sun. 73 8
Pollywog 5:10pm Sun. 82 18
Abol Bridge 1:28am Mon. 100

Overtraining, Stress Fracture and Recovery

Overtraining

There’s a reason my blog entries slowed to crawl (came to a grinding halt) last winter. It’s because after the Millinocket Marathon in December 2017 the symptoms of overtraining that started back in September accelerated and left me literally, neck-deep in water. I knew my immune system was taking a hit after the Fundy Circuit 50k when I spent a month fighting off a nasty MRSA infection that colonized a patch of upper arm chaffing and spread out from there like a true believer in manifest destiny. I had to take antibiotics (my first in 18 years) and though it killed the MRSA it weakened my gut and thus my resistance to the seasonal sniffles. I also developed a skin itch that seemed auto-immunish and was keeping me up at night. I spent a lot of October, November and December feeling un-enthusiastic and run-down.

The hard part about being tired and run-down is that it becomes a vicious cycle. When one is too tired to shop for and prepare fresh food, needs cold medicine to get through work, drinks coffee to perk up and eats ice cream to self-soothe . . . one only tends to feel even more tired and run-down. You can only put-off nourishment and recovery for so long before your body starts shouting at you to “do something different!

In my case the shouting started just a week after I wrote my last blog post back in February. I was on a family vacation in the Bahamas and enjoying early morning runs on the sandy roads around the island. But my left ankle was acting up. Because I am me, I had brought a small travel foam roller with me and I tried using that to roll out my peroneus muscles along the outside of my shin. The way my left hip sticks out from dysplasia puts a good amount of stress on my entire left lateral line, from the TFL and ITB down to my outer knee, calf and foot. I try to manage it by keeping my hip and butt muscles strong but I’ve had issues in the past including torn ligaments, stress fractures and cysts.

Wunder Twins unite. (We like to be visible when we run on the roads in the winter!!)

This outer ankle pain felt slightly different then just a tight tendon and instead of responding to the foam roller by relaxing, the tendons seemed to react by getting really pissed off! Ok fine, I won’t roll, I’ll just go for some gentle trots.

The weekend we got back from that trip I went on a big hilly run and by the last mile the pain had a real burn to it, enough to slow me to a walk. The next day my twin brother was visiting and we’d been planning to do a training run together. I decided since it would be flat and slow I’d be fine. We ran 8 miles and by the end the pain was agonizing. I didn’t know it then but that would be my last run for eight weeks.

Stress Fracture

No one needed to tell me I couldn’t run, the pain was bad enough that I knew something was really wrong and just the thought of running made me queasy. My first line of medical support is chiropractor Sarah Lucey who not only patches me up but diplomatically accepts my rugged body use without openly calling it abuse. I hoped she could tell me if I’d broken my ankle or torn a tendon. She tried the old tuning fork trick and nothing happened, no sharp pain. Then she gently squeezed behind my fibula and I screeched and just about jumped off the table with pain.

The next step was an x-ray. I was grateful that I happened to see a doctor who also runs and was willing to take my injury seriously. It was winter and running and xc skiing are key parts of my mental-health plan and I was already getting very anxious. She wrote me a referral to an orthopod in Bangor and had my x-rays sent up to him. But she also warned me that stress fractures often don’t show up on the x-ray for at least two weeks after the injury as it takes that long for the rebuilding bone to reveal itself.

While I waited for my appointment with the orthopedic guy I started researching alternative work-out plans. I am not the kind of person that sees an injury as an excuse to sit on my ass. Not because I am virtuous but because both my brain and body need the movement. I don’t talk (or write) much about it but I’ve spent my life managing my mood and let’s just say there is a dark side and I’ve been there.

As I mentioned in my previous post I hired coach Lindsay Simpson from The Run Formula to write me a training plan for the Vermont 100. Ironically the plan she wrote started exactly one week before my ankle started hurting. But the bright side was that  I also had access to the Run Formula forum where I could ask coach Beth Schutt questions. I peppered her with several variations of “what do I do now!!?”. The answer was “pool running”. (I did try indoor biking but it hurt too much).

Having access to real runners and coaches when you are injured is really helpful. I still trolled about the interwebs gleaning a self-diagnosis and treatment plans but the reassurance of my coach regarding my training was invaluable.

Recovery

First, the pool running. I needed a foam buoyancy belt to keep me upright. I didn’t find any locally so I ordered one online (I used the “AquaJogger Active Water Exercise Buoyancy Belt”) and it arrived the very next day. Off I went to the Ellsworth YMCA to try it out. I couldn’t just swim outright because the pressure of kicking horizontally was quite painful on my ankle while running vertically (in the deep end so as not to touch down) didn’t hurt at all.

Dean Karnazes was really excited to run with me at the North Face Endurance Challenge. ( ;

I found aqua jogging to be tolerable, especially with a good Latin dance mix on my waterproof iPod. I also wore a low-end waterproof Polar heart rate monitor which doesn’t record data but was useful in keeping me moving fast enough. In theory your heart rate in the water is about 10% slower than on land because the water pressure makes your circulation more efficient. So for most of my water-jogs I was aiming for 115-135bpm and 160-180 strides per minute.

My online research resulted in some dietary changes too. This was not my first stress fracture. Over the last twenty years I have also broken my foot bones, the base of my femur, and a wrist bone. My maternal grandmother died of osteoporosis and though I have never suffered from the Female Athlete Triad my bone density could use a little help. I started taking Jarrow Formula’s Bone Up (calcium supplement) BioSil silica and collagen and CBD oil which has been shown to help bone building after a fracture. Certain acidifying foods are said to inhibit building bone mass so I cut out dairy, coffee and most sugar for two months. I don’t drink soda but carbonic acid is another known bone-leacher.

My recovery the timeline went like this:
Week 1
: Seek medical advice
Weeks 2-6: Replace all land running workouts with pool running.
Weeks 4-8: Added two 1hr indoor cycling sessions per week (pain-free).
Week 6: Confirmation with orthopod that I had stress fractured my fibula. His advice – do whatever you want as long as it’s pain free and no, you probably won’t be able to run that 50k trail race in a couple weeks.
End of Week 6: Ran 1 hour on an elliptical machine and walked 2 hours on a treadmill at full tilt to keep heart rate up at a 15min/mile pace.
Week 7: Re-introduced land walking 1-4 miles at a time, 20 min/mi pace.
Week 8: Started land running again! But not ready to run Traprock 50k that weekend. Instead spent school vacation with the girls and hiked for several days with a backpack 5-10 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Dull aching pain at night but nothing sharp.
Week 11: Back to regular land training but at a slower pace.
Week 12: Ran 20 miles at the Riverlands 100 relay. It hurt a lot. My pace was slow and even so I was totally exhausted by the finish. But my ankle felt ok and I was back out on trails!!

This is a video of my first celebratory trail run this spring:

Over all I ended up spending 35 hours aqua jogging and only a week inside on machines (I loathe running inside). I was able to run the 50 mile North Face Endurance Challenge Trail race in Wachusett, MA on June 9th, twelve weeks after the original injury. It was indeed a challenging race but I was happy with how I ran it. With over 10,000 feet of elevation gain, several steep boulder fields and very technical single track I had to hustle to beat the time cut-offs and I was the last woman to finish under the 14-hour cut-off  (14hrs 3mins). It was excellent preparation for the Vermont 100 and I could see why Lindsay had suggested it as my 50-mile training race.

I spent the next month hill training and by the time the Vermont 100 came around I felt totally ready. I’m not going to write a detailed race report here because the race was almost entirely uneventful in the best kind of way. It was hot and humid and I made some errors in nutrition that left me puking between miles 40-60. But the best part of this race was that I felt reasonably good and even for the last 10 miles I was able to run despite all the climbing and descending. I’ve wanted to do this race for a few years and it was satisfying to fulfill that goal.

Race summary for Fall 2017, or what comes after running 100 miles?

It took me a couple months to recover from running the Riverlands 100 in May. This was demonstrated by my less than stellar performance at the St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick REV3 Half Iron distance triathlon in mid July. My swim training for that race consisted of getting into the ocean once with my wet suit to stretch it out and I was probably the only participant thrilled to discover the swim would be shortened due to pea soup fog. The bike leg went reasonably well (because I was so excited to be biking and not running?) and when it came to the run I limped out a 2:20ish half marathon practically melting in the slightly above average temps.

Two laps in to Last Man Standing. It was so hot this summer I ended up running a lot in just my bra, or maybe it’s just that I’m finally old enough to not give a sh*t!

So let’s leave that glamorous event behind and jump forward to Labor Day Weekend when I ran the Last Man Standing with my cousin Samantha at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester Maine. I ran the same race last year and it was really fun. It’s a trail race consisting of 4.2 mile loops that you start on the hour every hour as many times as you want/can. Samantha’s goal was to run her first trail 50k and my goal was to get a solid day of trail run in. We had a great time and both called it quits after 7 laps.

Next up was another trip to lovely Canada for the Fundy Circuit. Another 50k trail race this time a bit more rugged. Alma, New Brunswick and Fundy National Park are really gorgeous and the race takes you on a full tour of all the landscape variations, from rocky rivers to placid lakes, spongy reindeer lichen forests and rugged coastline. I didn’t do as well as I hoped and ultimately I think I was a bit run down because I ended up with some weird ailments immediately following this race (mystery staph infections??). Here’s a one minute video summary of that pretty course: 

The highlight of this years MDI Marathon was that Lucy ran the 7mi leg with the MDI Historical Society relay team.

I took a few weeks to recover and then I turned my focus to The MDI Marathon. This one is always one of my favorites and a good one to measure my progress (or regression) year to year. This year I promised myself to run the second half of the race faster than the first half and while I did sort of start out slower than previous years I still went out way too fast! I ran the first 15 miles at a 9:05min/mile pace which is steaming for me and than quickly bonked. In part because I had stashed bottles of Tailwind along the course in a few strategic locations and when I went to recover them they were definitively NOT THERE. Super bummer. So I resorted to the Gu and Gatorade provided by the race and sort of perked up by mile 20 (and was pleased to discover that my stomach accepted these previously totally products). Even with the bonk I set a personal record, beating my 2002 Burlington, VT time by a minute or so.

A couple weeks later I headed to Pheonix, AZ for the Javelina Jundred 100K trail race because I love to run in the desert. I made a little video of the highlights from that race.

And finally, the Millinocket Marathon. Every road runner should top off their year with the Millinocket Marathon. It is a joy-filled, community celebration in the middle of winter in Northern Maine. What could be better? I realized within a few miles that my legs were not at all recovered from Javelina so I dropped my pace and enjoyed the rest of the run. I danced with the volunteers at water stops, chatted up the home-baked cookie lady, took a shot of Allen’s Coffee Brandy and politely turned down the Fireball and finished with pacing the horn-blowing kilt guy to the finish line.

What’s next? I’ve started training for the Vermont 100 which will be in July, though technically I’m still on the wait list for that. And I’m finally going to run the Traprock 50k in April. As part of my 100 training I found a new trail 50 miler in Massachusetts (The North Face Trail Series), and in a somewhat ambitious move I hired a coach from the Run Formula to write me a training plan through July. So far it has me running hilariously SLOWLY in order to keep my heart rate in my recovery/aerobic zone. So if you see me fast-walking about town you’ll know why.

After July? I’m going to fast-pack, run, hike or whatever the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine (the Appalachian Trail from Monson to Abol Bridge).

Fall 2017 Race Summary

It took me a couple months to recover from running the Riverlands 100 in May. This was demonstrated by my less than stellar performance at the St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick REV3 Half Iron distance triathlon in mid July. My swim training for that race consisted of getting into the ocean once with my wet suit to stretch it out and I was probably the only participant thrilled to discover the swim would be shortened due to pea soup fog. The bike leg went reasonably well (because I was so excited to be biking and not running?) and when it came to the run I limped out a 2:20ish half marathon practically melting in the slightly above average temps.

Two laps in to Last Man Standing. It was so hot this summer I ended up running a lot in just my bra, or maybe it’s just that I’m finally old enough to not give a sh*t!

So let’s leave that glamorous event behind and jump forward to Labor Day Weekend when I ran the Last Man Standing with my cousin Samantha at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester Maine. I ran the same race last year and it was really fun. It’s a trail race consisting of 4.2 mile loops that you start on the hour every hour as many times as you want/can. Samantha’s goal was to run her first trail 50k and my goal was to get a solid day of trail run in. We had a great time and both called it quits after 7 laps.

Next up was another trip to lovely Canada for the Fundy Circuit. Another 50k trail race this time a bit more rugged. Alma, New Brunswick and Fundy National Park are really gorgeous and the race takes you on a full tour of all the landscape variations, from rocky rivers to placid lakes, spongy reindeer lichen forests and rugged coastline. I didn’t do as well as I hoped and ultimately I think I was a bit run down because I ended up with some weird ailments immediately following this race (mystery staph infections??). Here’s a one minute video summary of that pretty course: 

The highlight of this years MDI Marathon was that Lucy ran the 7mi leg with the MDI Historical Society relay team.

I took a few weeks to recover and then I turned my focus to The MDI Marathon. This one is always one of my favorites and a good one to measure my progress (or regression) year to year. This year I promised myself to run the second half of the race faster than the first half and while I did sort of start out slower than previous years I still went out way too fast! I ran the first 15 miles at a 9:05min/mile pace which is steaming for me and than quickly bonked. In part because I had stashed bottles of Tailwind along the course in a few strategic locations and when I went to recover them they were definitively NOT THERE. Super bummer. So I resorted to the Gu and Gatorade provided by the race and sort of perked up by mile 20 (and was pleased to discover that my stomach accepted these previously totally products). Even with the bonk I set a personal record, beating my 2002 Burlington, VT time by a minute or so.

A couple weeks later I headed to Pheonix, AZ for the Javelina Jundred 100K trail race because I love to run in the desert. I made a little video of the highlights from that race.

And finally, the Millinocket Marathon. Every road runner should top off their year with the Millinocket Marathon. It is a joy-filled, community celebration in the middle of winter in Northern Maine. What could be better? I realized within a few miles that my legs were not at all recovered from Javelina so I dropped my pace and enjoyed the rest of the run. I danced with the volunteers at water stops, chatted up the home-baked cookie lady, took a shot of Allen’s Coffee Brandy and politely turned down the Fireball and finished with pacing the horn-blowing kilt guy to the finish line.

What’s next? I’ve started training for the Vermont 100 which will be in July, though technically I’m still on the wait list for that. And I’m finally going to run the Traprock 50k in April. As part of my 100 training I found a new trail 50 miler in Massachusetts (The North Face Trail Series). In a somewhat ambitious move I hired a coach from the Run Formula to write me a training plan through July. So far it has me running hilariously SLOWLY in order to keep my heart rate in my recovery/aerobic zone. So if you see me fast-walking about town you’ll know why.

Riverlands 100 – Maine’s and My first 100 mile trail race

Map of the out and back course.

The elevation profile of the course (or really, just one tenth of the course).

The week before the race I had a very rare (for me) moment of “keeping up with neighbor” anxiety. It happened when I saw my friend Melissa’s facebook post that featured a picture of her car fully packed with her well-organized race gear four days before the race. Her drop-bags were all packed and ready to go while I was still in big-time dithering mode. “How many extra headlamps and batteries should I pack? How many warm shirts am I going to need? Should I leave my raincoat at the 5 or 10 mile aid station?” Gear organization is a great, if unnecessary, way to channel pre-race-anxiety and though it does take a bit of time to sort everything out, the logistics of this race were as easy as they get. A last-minute trail re-route meant there would be three aid stations on the 20 mile out and back course. One at the start, one half-way out and one at the ten mile turn around. That meant runners would hit one of three aid stations every five miles and thus would never be more than an hour away from their gear or food.

Spurred on by Melissa I started collecting my gear into big piles. Starting with food I packed several small ziplock bags of cookies (about 200 calories each) that I could grab on my way through the aid stations. Mr. Muffin, our house rabbit, was particularly interested in the Fig Newmans and it took some effort to thwart his insistent snuffling. In protest he ate half of the piece of paper I had written my gear list on.

That night my brother called and casually mentioned how he needed the next batch of his Appalachian Trail resupply boxes sent out ASAP. So in the middle of packing my race gear I was also assembling and packing four priority boxes with a very precise combination of breakfasts, lunch, dinners, snacks and random, but very specific hiking supplies (like his favorite brand of wet wipes . . . OCD much bro?).

Jerome helps me pack my brother’s resupply boxes while I debate the merits of our headlamp collection.

In the process of packing my brother’s boxes I came across a pair of his spare rain pants. Oooo, those could come in handy during my race! I pulled them out and put them in my own pile of gear. (I might have also borrowed some of his spare headlamp batteries.)

By Friday morning I was almost ready to go but I had to work in the morning and I only had an hour to finish packing before meeting Melissa to drive to the race. I was frantically running around throwing all kinds of random things into my final bag – extra warm clothes, an umbrella, trash bags, Tailwind . . . even as I wondered “does one really need anything to run 100 miles?”.

During this final frenetic hour my girlfriends secretly dropped-off a basket filled with homemade snacks, chocolate, Epsom salts, inspiring poetry and tear-jerking notes of support. I discovered the basket on my way out to the car as I was finally getting ready to leave. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to be cared for and cheered on in this way. From a very early age, by necessity, I taught myself to be independent and self-sufficient, which probably explains why as an adult I don’t expect most people to support me or agree with what I do and I certainly don’t expect them to cheer me on!

Finally I was off. And I was only ten minutes late to meet Melissa. [Note: If you ever make travel plans with me please know that I will always be 5-15 minutes late. Pre-kids I was compulsively and predictably always on time, but a critically important part of my internal-timing mechanism broke with their birth and I find it nearly impossible to account for the irregularities of life with kids.]

On our way south to Turner we stopped at a friend’s house, a member of the Team Turtle Tracks relay team, for a visit. Doug made us coffee and showed us around his gorgeous “Maine, the Way Life Should Be” home.

Such a pretty tent site!

Then we were off again. We went to our campsite first to set up our tents. The site was alongside a river and filled with spring activity – birds, frogs and black flies. From there we drove to the pre-race dinner and picked up our race bibs. The dinner was a classic pasta dinner put on by the local ATV club. For many years I skipped these dinners because I either found the food unpalatable, indigestible or both. But I think it is a testament to my increasing resiliency that I happily enjoyed two big servings of pasta, iceberg lettuce salad and white dinner rolls. Then back to the campsite to for sleep. Which sort of happened. It was just so damn loud! Between the five (at least) barred owls hooting very near and very far away, the loons, coyotes and mysterious things (raccoons or porcupines?) mating or fighting nearby and the song birds joyfully waking up around 4:30, it was a busy night!

Ready to run – at the start with Melissa.

We “woke” up around 5 and headed to the start line for a 6am start. I drank the thermos of hot earl grey tea I had brewed the night before but didn’t manage to eat anything. It was foggy and only a bit chilly so at the last minute I stripped off my tights and long sleeve shirt and left them in my gear bin at the start line. And then, right at six o’clock, after the race directors did a roll call of all the 100 mile racers we were off. Like a herd of turtles.

Off like a herd of turtles!

The goal I had in my head over the last few months was to finish under 24 hours. But when I sat down the week before the race and worked out what that meant pace-wise for each of the five laps I realized I was being a little unrealistic. To make that happen I would have to try to run the first 50 miles in a little over ten hours, and maybe on a slighter flatter, faster course that would be possible, but it would still be an aggressive pace for me and I’d still have another 50 to go! So I mentally backed myself up and thought maybe 25 or 26 hours? I was still totally unsure of how fast I would be able to run in the dark and how much the short, steep hills would slow me down after the first 60 miles.

I wore these same clothes until 9pm when I put on calf-length tights. The weather was just about perfect for running.

I ran my first lap with Melissa in about 4 hours and 20 minutes. I tried to keep a nice easy pace and keep my shoulders and arms lose and I made sure to take in some calories even though normally on a 20 mile run I wouldn’t eat or drink much.

My second lap took 5 hours and this is when having my period and needing to stop every hour for urgent woodland bathroom breaks became a literal pain in the ass. This is also when the black flies started to get fierce. Fierce enough to keep me moving faster on the uphills where they could catch up to me. At the end of this lap my kids and cousin were at the start/finish line and it was great to see them! I teared up when I saw them running toward me, and my cousin’s support means so much! I think they were disappointed with how little time I spent at the aid station but I got them to walk back up the first hill with me while I drank some guayusa tea to get me through my third lap.

Walking up the hill out of the start/finish aid station with my family, headed out onto lap three.

I felt like I was moving well through my third lap and my digestion held steady past the 50-mile mark. The aid station volunteers were very helpful and helped me refuel and move on as quickly as possible. As soon as I got to the aid station I handed them my backpack so they could fill it with Tailwind while I grabbed a 200 calorie bag of cookies from my drop bag. I probably spent less than 3 minutes at most of the aid stations and only sat down a few times when I had to take care of my feet. I did end up getting one new weird blister between my big toe and second toe. It started to hurt quite a lot going down hill and was making me limp a little so I decided to pop it. When I took off my socks I immediately saw the problem – my shoes and socks were filled with abrasive sand. I popped the blister, sprayed it with Glide, put on new socks and had no further foot problems after that. I finished my third lap in 5 hours 20 minutes.

Things started to really slow down on my fourth lap. Jerome had headed out about an hour before me to run Team Turtle Track’s fourth lap but since he wasn’t out to break any records, he waited for me at the midway aid station. He tore his knee meniscus last December and had run a grand total of 10 miles since then, most of them the week before the race. It’s possible he’s lost a little perspective living with me. His main goal was to complete his 20 mile lap uninjured, and if possible, before sunrise.

I had told him to bring hiking poles just in case but he refused to use them and I ended up carrying them while we ran the next 15 miles together. “Ran” is a generous term. Around the 70 mile point I realized that I was running and Jerome was hiking fast next to me. Hmm. I decided fast hiking was probably the more efficient way to go at this point so we ran the flats and hiked everything else. It was about this point that Laura Perry, the first female, passed me finishing her final lap. She claimed to be hurting but she was definitely still running uphill! I finished that lap in about 6 1/2 hours and got Jerome back to his car by 3:30am so he could take a nap while I ran my final lap.

The fifth lap was really quite lovely, the cacophony of barred owls and loons started back up again and the sun rose around 5am. I took off my headlamp and stopped worrying about my impossibly slow pace.

I am often told “oh I hate running, it’s so boring!” and other people ask “What do you think about for that long?”. All I can say is I don’t think much. I used to get trapped in thought loops and I could spend several miles worrying about daily life and problems that I couldn’t do anything about in that moment (because I was running). But that slowly changed and now when people ask me what I think about I realize “not much”. I’m really pretty much in the moment, I do frequent body scans to see how everything is feeling and if I need any self-care. I listen and watch my surroundings, not too carefully to be honest, but enough to be tuned in a big-picture kind of way. For example I noticed the beech leaves unfurling throughout the day and the rhythm of bird song ebbing and flowing with the brightness of the sun. And I noticed a few of my favorite species of spring ephemeral flowers, the quality of mud (soil type, saturation , , ,) and the kinds of rocks underfoot. But none of it sticks firm and my mind just floats along most of the time. It really is quite medatative and soothing, not boring at all!

I stopped at the 90-mile aid station for some lovely fresh off the griddle pancakes and I headed out of that aid station feeling excited and ready to run! The running feeling lasted for about a mile. It had finally started to rain, at first a light mist but then, with ten miles to go it started to really come down. With five miles to go I paused at the final aid station and put on a dry shirt, my raincoat and my brother’s rain pants. I hadn’t eaten enough over the last 20 miles (it’s hard to eat at 4am!!) so my pace slowed way down and I was having a hard time staying warm. But with only 5 miles to go I knew I was going to make it. Having re-adjusted my goals several times I thought maybe I could finish before 11am? I scuffled along as fast as I could, cheered on by the fat raindrops dripping off my nose. I contemplated the last 98 miles, feeling good about how well I was feeling overall. I never sank into a negative mood and no single part of my body hurt beyond the bland, pervasive feeling of fatigue. I never felt sleepy-tired (which surprised me) but I was a little frustrated that I simultaneously felt so go and yet couldn’t move any faster but maybe that’s why I felt so good – my easy pace preserved my overall wellbeing for the past 28 hours of running.

The finish line! 28hrs 54mins and third women overall.

I happily ran down the final hill and finished at 10:54am. Jerome was there (awake!) to greet me and he helped me jump into our warm car where I awkwardly stripped off my wet muddy clothes and put on dry ones. He handed me a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup, which I happily slurped down. I was so tired and really just wanted to go back to my tent to pass out before the kids came back with my cousin but I also wanted to see Melissa finish, which she did 45 minutes later. I honked the horn and waved but couldn’t get out of the car because I was still so cold! This was her second successful 100-miler after having attempted three others previously.

I definitely felt a special bond with the other female runners out there and was so happy to see them lap after lap. The winning woman, Laura Perry, was so fun to watch – she has the really quick, short, efficient stride that many champion trail runners have and that I can only dream of. She finished seven hours before the rest of us. Yeah, you read that right. The rest of us women finished between 28 ½ hours and 31 hours. For most of us this was our first 100-mile race and of the nine women that started, eight of us finished. It’s inspiring to see other women who, like me, have clearly worked really hard to be here, who love pushing themselves and who are just as happy as I am to run alone through the night in the rain and on slippery, rocky trails. I was happy to be part of this small, cheerful, determined tribe of ultra trail running women.

Finishers buckle!

Recovery. We went back to the campground briefly where I took a quick, not nearly hot enough shower and then blacked out in the tent for half an hour. This was the kind of deep relaxed oblivion that some people use drugs to achieve and honestly, I can understand why.

Jerome woke me up in time to get to the awards ceremony where my cousin met us with the kids. This is when my low back started to scream in pain. It was the same place I injured it this winter when Jerome and I took the girls on a sea-kayaking trip to the Everglades and on the last day we paddled hard in or ill-fitting rental kayaks for five hours into gale force winds. The injury has nagged me ever since, flaring up painfully for weeks at a time. Now I desperately rubbed an ice cube over the joint wondering how I was going to sit in the car for the three hour drive home.

[Link to youtube video above: https://youtu.be/nCXcNPBTX5Q] I shouldn’t have worried. It turns out sleep trumps pain when one hasn’t slept for 36 hours. I woke up as we pulled into our driveway. It was 7pm and I said to Jerome “Ok, our main goal is to pull together a quick healthy dinner and get everyone to bed as soon as possible.” And then when we got inside, there on my counter was a gallon jar of homemade warm, creamy potato nettle soup that my friend and yoga student Deborah must have dropped off only minutes earlier. I was so incredibly grateful and that soup was so ridiculously good.

The hardest post-race event was getting up Monday morning, packing my kid’s lunch and getting them to school on time. I went to work until 4:30 and when I got home I crawled into bed and didn’t move for the next twelve hours. Not that my family let me sleep that whole time but at least I wasn’t on my feet.

The most surprising part of this race has been the lack of soreness or injury. My back has felt better than it has since February and I have no hint of plantar fasciitis. I did notice that my entire system was inflamed for at least a week. I felt puffy, my chin broke out, my fingers are numb from a nerve in my shoulder that gets pinched when there’s a little extra swelling. I haven’t been particularly hungry or tired since, though I have definitely been wanting more sugar and carbs than I did before the race. I’ve run about 15 miles in the last two weeks and gone on a few long but easy bike rides. Early this week I swam for the first time since last August. I plan to take it really easy for the rest of the month and I my next big race isn’t until September. Well, except for that half Ironman in July. And maybe a few smaller triathlons in June. But other than that, I swear I’m taking it easy.

Will I run another 100? This is really weird but somehow this race didn’t feel any more challenging or interesting than a 50 miler. There was the unknown of running for 24 hours (or more), and of what would happen after 70, 80 or 90 miles, but the truth is, nothing really happened. I slowed down but other than that my mental and physical state very much matched that of my 50 milers. This race was very simple logistically, which was great for being able to finish it, but not great for creating the sense of adventure and need for creative problem solving that comes with more complicated mountain races. I think for now I will focus on improving my 50-mile time and on finding more adventurous and scenic ultra trail races.

Everything you wanted to know about my upcoming 100 trail race

Wait, what are you doing this weekend?

In just four days I’ll be running the Riverlands 100 in Turner Maine, Saturday May 13-14th, 2017. It’s Maine’s first 100 mile trail race. No, I’ve never run a 100 miles before. And yes, people do this. Read on for answers to more FAQs.

I was never voted “most likely to run 100 miles”

I wasn’t the most physical kid, I had hip dysplasia so I couldn’t run, skip or jump without considerable pain and I also had the unsettling trait of turning bright red and sweating profusely with the least amount of exertion. Even my high school coaches would make me sit out rowing races with an ice pack on the back of my neck least I die of heat stroke.

In highschool and college I rock climbed, rowed crew and cross-country skied and though I ran to stay in shape, it wasn’t easy and I never loved it. Then in 1999, shortly after I had finished thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail my twin brother invited me to join him at the Honolulu Marathon.

[Side note: My brother survived childhood Leukemia in the 1970’s and today’s incredibly successful childhood leukemia treatments are based in part on the success of his test group. Which is why he chose to train for his first marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.]

So we ran Honolulu together. It was ridiculously hot and humid and I’m sure the two of us went through more frozen sponges than all of the other 20,000 runners combined. The following year we ran another Team in Training marathon in Dublin. And the year after that I ran the Burlington marathon and headed out a week later to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail. It was my third long-distance thru-hike and my body wasn’t holding up well. 2,000 into the CDT I had partially torn my ACL and worn down a lot of cartilage, plus had several stress fractures in my feet, nasty looking hammer toes and a very painful Morton’s neuroma. [A few years ago I made a short slide show about how I got into running, and more specifically barefoot running.]

What followed were some very dark years. Six years to be exact. I thrive on wilderness, solitude and movement and some days I couldn’t walk half a mile. Some days I could barely drag myself out of bed. The vicious cycle of injury and inactivity led to nearly debilitating depression and exhaustion. It was also during this time that I broke my wrist in such a way that I couldn’t climb or do much yoga (or cut bread, open a car door, carry fire wood, stir soup . . .) and the pain, as the broken bone slowly died and dissolved over the course of three years was often all-consuming.

Toward the end of this period I had two babies. I also worked as a Park Ranger at Acadia National Park so I got to be outside quite a lot. Getting out on the trails every day slowly started to work it’s magic. So so slowly. I walked back and forth to the end of my driveway, I bought a road bike. I taught myself to swim.

In 2010 I started competing in sprint and Olympic length triathlons. The only way I could comfortably run was barefoot and it took me a couple years to build up to running for an hour or more. By 2013 I was running strong (if not fast). My legs ached and my feet hurt but my knees and hips felt better than ever. That year I ran two 50k trail races, a marathon and my first 50 mile trail race. Running that far was a big deal for me. I felt like I had reclaimed by body, my confidence and my freedom. I’ve had a few set backs over the last few years, including a year of plantar fasciitis (well documented in early posts) and a resurgence of hip pain. But these set backs have also helped me home-in what kind of strength training and cross training I need to do to support my running.

Once you’re in shape to run 50 miles it’s hard to want to ease up too much. I really love the freedom. Have I already mentioned that? I love being able to run up a mountain alone and I love the comforting view of the ocean and forest of Downeast, Maine. In the last four years I’ve run five 50 mile trail races, eight 50k trail races, seven official road marathons and an uncounted number of training runs between 25 – 32 miles. Of these races my fastest times are pretty slow relative to the running world and pretty fast relative to the world of me. Since I’m not competitive with my race times I’m not very good at keeping track of them, but I just looked them up and here are my best times over the last six years: Road marathon 4:22, 50k 5:32, 50 mile 10:51.

And this brings me to the FAQ section of this post

How long does it take to run 100 miles?

Somewhere between 12 and 32 hours. (Zac Bitter holds the world record at 11:47)

People actually run 100 miles?

Yes. There are dozens of 100 mile races in the U.S., and many more around the world. There will be about 50 people running the Riverlands 100 along with me, 13 of those are women.

Why are you running 100 miles?

I first started thinking about the possibility of running 100 miles when I was thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 1999 and heard that there was this race called Western States taking place nearby. At that time I really enjoyed seeing how far I could hike in a day, and often hiked 30 miles and a few 40s too. The thought of a 100 seemed crazy but enticing. Then in 2002 when Jerome and I were hiking the Continental Divide Trail we hiked past Leadville, CO, home of the famous Leadville 100 bike and trail running race. Adding to the mystique locals told us about a nearby running cult that only eats red food the night before the race and their members always win it. (I’ve come to find out that some but not all parts of this story are true.)

So I’ve had a 100 miles in the back of my head for a while, occasionally testing the idea out against what my body, work life and home life could sustain. The big mountain races out west are the most enticing to me but I don’t see how I can effectively acclimate to the altitude of those races while living here at sea level. Plus, most of those races are in the summer which is my busiest work and family time. Then last spring while I was running the Pinelands 50K I overheard some runners talking about planning Maine’s first 100 mile trail race. Cool! I thought. I wouldn’t have to travel or acclimate or take time off from work . . .

Fast forward to this fall when I has just finished running the Vermont 50 miler. My twin brother was scheduled for brain surgery to remove a tumor that likely resulted from the huge amount of radiation he received during his experimental leukemia treatments nearly 40 years ago. He’s like a cat (or turtle) with nine lives. The dude has had more near-misses than anyone else I know. Has he ever told you about the time he fell out of the car while we were driving to school? Or when the canoe flipped over on a family canoe trip and he got caught under it and nearly drowned? And then there’s the knee replacement and heart arrhythmia. And being transgendered, which is a kind of near-miss and comes with its own assortment of medical risks.

This is the shirt I designed for me and the relay team. My brother is getting one too.

So there he was, getting the top of his skull sawed off and I decided, fine, if he can survive this I can survive running 100 miles. I hit the race registration button and here I am. Jerome jumped in too – putting together a 5-person relay team (Team Turtle Tracks because my brother’s Appalachian Trail name is Turtle Tracks). As I write this my brother is thru-hiking north on the AT somewhere in New Jersey, and if he doesn’t get eaten by black bears he’s planning to hike his first 20 mile day the same day as the race.

Ok, now back to the FAQs

How do you train for a 100 miler?

My intention was to run the bare minimum weekly mileage that would still give me a good chance at finishing this race. Many ultra runners run between 50-100 miles a week but my biggest goal this season was to not get injured. My average weekly mileage is typically around 35 miles and during the training for this race I only had seven weeks where I ran between 45-60 miles. Everyone seems to agree that the key to training for long-distance runs is to run “back to back long runs”. So for most of the weekends this year I’ve run something like 15 miles one day and 15 the next, or 20 and 10, or 20 and 20 or my favorite, 20 and 30 (ouch!). Also this winter I really upped my weight lifting, mostly to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t run too much (and thus get injured) but also because it’s fun to learn new things. I’m hoping all those squats and lunges will pay off in the wee hours of Sunday morning as I get tired and my form starts to fall apart.

What’s the course like?

How fast you can run 100 miles depends a ton on the trail conditions. How “runable” the trail is depends on if it is broad and flat or stoney, sandy, muddy or root-filled, how steep and long the hills are and what the total elevation gain is over the course. In this case the course is fairly runnable, with about 20 miles of rooty single-track trail, some deeper sandy sections, some mud and a total elevation gain of about 10,000 feet.

Where can you find 100 miles to run in Turner, Maine?

This race is at Riverlands State Park along the Androscoggin River. It’s an out and back course consisting of five 20 mile laps. That means 10 miles out, 10 miles back, five times. I like this format for my first 100 miler because it keeps the clothing/food/gear logistics simple.

Will anyone run with you?

Often people have a crew – people who get your gear organized and help you at the aid stations. Or a pacer – people who are allowed to run with you during the last 40 miles. I don’t have either. But Team Turtle Tracks will be out there running their relay laps and if I’m lucky they will run a few miles with me.

Do you really run the whole time?

No. The secret of ultra running is that most ultra runners walk a lot. Ok yes, there are in fact people who can run non-stop for 14 hours, but the rest of us mortals walk, power-hike and slow jog up most if not all the hills, and after 50 miles anything that isn’t downhill is uphill.

How do you stay awake?

I’m not sure. The longest I’ve ever run was 12 ½ hours. I’ve only been awake for more than 24 hours twice in my life. The first time was at a Grateful Dead concert in 1993 and the second time was when I was in labor with my first kid. Most people do run through the night though I’ve also heard of people lying down on the side of the trail for a quick cat-nap. I have some caffeinated Tailwind drink mix that I plan to use for the first time during this race.

Do you stop to eat?

Sort of. This particular race will have aid stations every five miles. Runners can stash a personal bag with drink mixes and food at the aid stations so in addition to the snacks the race provides I will also have the stuff I am used to, which is primarily Tailwind drink mix. I really try to minimize the time I spend at aid stations. I open up my water bladder, pour in Tailwind and water, shake and go.

I’ve tried many different food (fueling) strategies over the last few years and finally settled on Tailwind almost exclusively. The trick is to keep your digestion working even while you’re body would like to shut it down completely. This means sticking to easily digested starches. I typically start to feel pretty nauseous around the 12 hour mark, but on my most recent 50 mile run in Spain I still felt really good at the end of the race despite the fact that I was recovering from the stomach flu. I’m hoping that if I start to feel sick during this race I can simply puke and keep going. (Who knew that puking throughout my pregnancies would be great training for running ultra marathons?)

On slower training runs I have found that I can eat some very specific solid foods such as certain flavors of Cliff bars and certain brands of ginger snaps. Gu is no longer an option for me while running (though curiously I can still digest it when I’m biking). I often long for hot soup or bone broth but can’t quite stomach the instant broth they serve at races. I also find myself fantasizing about cheeseless vegetable pizza. Both of these cravings are telling me that I need more salt. I sweat a ridiculous amount my sweat is really, really salty so I try to take a couple of salt pills every hour.

Do you take painkillers?

I often take one Aleve about eight hours into a run which is when my hip pain gets bad enough to alter my running form. I also find I sleep better after a race if I’ve taken painkillers during the race. There are millions of very good reasons not to take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs) so I really try to minimize my use. That said, I’m expecting to be a very sorry mess for a few days – maybe even a week – after this race and I might have to up my use just to get to work.

Do you go to the bathroom?

In my experience porta potties are never located where you need them. But the woods always are. When it comes to peeing I am an expert side-of-the-trail speed peer. When it comes to #2 I carry two small ziplock bags, one with clean toilet paper and one for dirty toilet paper. I put some effort into reducing my need to poop while running by taking a larger than usual amount of magnesium citrate the day before, thereby helping to ensure a complete evacuation the morning of the race. Runners are notorious for their poop-horror stories so I’ll spare you any more details and let you google Runners Poop by yourself.

What about getting your period during a long race?

Yeah, that totally sucks. I’m always pretty frickin’ psyched when my period ends the day before a race.

What do you wear?

I tend to be unfinicky when it comes to running clothes and shoes. I think all those years of barefoot running toughened up my feet as I am not prone to bad blisters. My toes and toenails often blister but so far they haven’t caused me any pain while I’m running. I hope this still holds true at miles, 70, 80, 90 and 100. Also over the years I’ve accumulated several common chaffing spots on my upper body that can be incredibly painful if I forget to put Glide on (Glide is a silicone lubrication used by runners to prevent chafing).

It’s going to be cold (40s-50s) and possibly rainy so I’m planning to have a few sets of spare clothes in my bag at the aid stations. I don’t care about wet feet but I’m definitely concerned about getting cold and wet at night and not being able to move fast enough to stay warm.

Do people seriously injure themselves doing this kind of thing?

Of course. And people seriously injure themselves walking to work too. But you knew I was going to say that. So yes, here are a few common things that happen to ultra runners: Dehydration, over-hydration, hyperthermia and hypothermia. BIG blisters on the soles of your feet or heels that get deep enough to cause real and lasting damage. A somewhat life-threatening thing called rhabdomyolysis which happens when you break down muscle faster than your kidneys can process the waste (less common with slow runners like me) and musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains, strains, cramps and stress fractures.

Aren’t there more important things to be doing with your life?

Yes. But I can’t do them unless I take care of myself mentally and emotionally, and for now that means running. Plus, I am ridiculously lucky to have a job that allows me to spend so much time with my family and still have time to run and draw and yes, obsessively call and write my state senators and representatives to tell them what I think about health care, trans-rights, local food sovereignty and immigration. And if the world really does fall apart maybe I’ll be able to outrun it?

Do you really think you can you do it?

It is said that completing a 100 mile race is more of a lack of failure than a success. A few people have gleefully pointed out to me that in order to complete this race in 24 hours I only need to “run” 14 minute miles and how hard can that be? I agree, I think if everything else goes smoothly the running part isn’t the hard part. It’s all the other stuff, like wasting time at aid stations, trying to find your gear, getting lost, slowing way down because the roots/rocks are hard to see in the dark, not being able to digest calories, or letting your mood and attitude get negative for too long.

I have no idea if I can do it, but I am curious about what kind of adventure I’ll have trying.