Friday evening Kevin and I met Bob N., Bob D., and Rich at Bob N's camp in Jackson for a delicious lasagna dinner and a brief nap before heading over to Barne's Field for the midnight start of the 2011 edition of the More and More Difficult Fun Run through the mountains of New Hampshire. The temperature for the start was comfortable with just a light drizzle. High sustained winds were forecast for the higher elevations starting in the morning, but it looked like we had smooth sailing ahead for the first nighttime portion of our journey. I figured I would just take it one section at a time and deal with what Mother Nature threw my way the best I could.
I ran and fast hiked through the night over the Imp Face, Middle Carter, South Carter, Mt Hight, Carter Dome, and down into Carter Notch in dense fog over extremely slippery rocks and roots. There was a couple running together that I would catch up to now and then, but mostly I was alone. I could only see a foot or two ahead of me through the fog and that was only if I held my headlight in my hand down as low as I could reach. It was sprinkling lightly at times, but it didn't matter because the fog alone was thick enough to soak me through anyway. Luckily the temperature was very mild. I was completely comfortable and content and moving well. I was very happy to be so alone and feel so at peace running through the night time fog. I felt like I was in a little envelope. It was completely still and quiet, except for the sound of my feet on the ground... and the occasional thump when I slipped and hit the ground hard.
I climbed steeply up to Wildcat Ridge and traveled the slippery trail over Wildcat A, B, C, and D as the sun came up. This stretch is always longer than I think it will be. I was happy to reach the ski trails and start down. At the bottom I met up with Patty and Sara and together, we ran to the event's only aid station. I gave Kevin a kiss, had a piece of ham and cheese and a piece of French Toast, refilled my Camelback and started up the Crew Cut Trail with the two women. Unfortunately, we missed the first turn and ended up doing a few extra miles here. With that little off course adventure and an official re-route this year to avoid the slippery Huntington's Ravine, both women came up with just under forty miles on their Garmens by the time all was said and done. So that's what I ended up running this year...a forty mile 50K. These things happen.
The climb up Tuckerman's was annoying as usual, with all the touristy hikers climbing up from the Visitor Center in their inappropriate footwear and chatty demeanors. I can't help it, I'm a bit of a trail snob. Anyway, it was an uneventful climb until we started up the Lion Head and hit the heavy fog again and the first of the strong winds. I've read enough accounts of Himalayan expeditions to know that wind can blow a person off a mountain. OK, maybe it's not so likely in the White Mountains, but I stayed low and hung on! It was brutal. I was still more or less with the other two women and we all reached the summit building together. They said they were going in to sit down and regroup. I stopped just inside the door and told them I was going to refill my water and continue alone. The last thing I wanted to do was sit down in a heated comfortable building. I would never be able to get myself back out into the icy cold Gale. I later learned that all the runners who had arrived before us were still hunkered down in the warm building. Some of them had been there for hours, hemming and hawing about continuing!
Sara and Patty stood here trying to tell me I couldn't or shouldn't go on alone, I wasn't thinking clearly, it wasn't safe, ... when suddenly my good friend Craig came out of nowhere, gave me a big hug, and said, "ready to go?" Craig, with his long white beard, pony tail, bruised and battered legs, and lean mean build is a man who knows the mountains, and it shows. Patty and Sara seemed to feel better about me moving on. I gave them a cheerful "See you down the trail," and headed out the door with Craig. He paused and said "hold on a minute. All the guys in front of you are still here worrying about the weather. I'm going back to tell them you're continuing." Crag had hiked up to participate in the Northern Presidential portion of the run, as his knees won't allow him to do the entire thing anymore. He had found all the front runners hunkered down and had been working on them for a while, but no one was budging. Well, as soon as they heard this little 48 year old woman was going to continue, three of them immediately got up and resumed their journey.
The wind was so strong that it seemed to be trying to rip my contact lenses out of my eyes. I had to cling to rocks in the strongest gusts, just to stay on my feet. We could only see from one cairn to the next through the fog. But through all this Craig and I bantered back and forth and forged ahead. Slowly and steadily we fought the wind over Mt Clay, Mt Jefferson, and Mt Adams. Mt Adams was the worse. The wind was scary strong at the summit. We didn't even pause at the top. I hunkered as low as I could, hugging the rocks, and practically crawled over the top.
Just over the top we came upon a young man with a red beard sitting serenely on a straw mat on the side of the mountain. He had a book beside him and a joint in his hand. He looked at Craig, with his long white beard billowing in the wind, and realized that his Guru had arrived. "I have a question for you," he began. Craig politely stopped and turned his attention to Red Beard. "I've been reading and thinking and trying to figure something out," he said, choosing his words carefully. The wind roared and the fog swirled around us. Red Beard continued,"If the Galaxy is spinning in an ever widening vortex of matter, does it get thinner and thinner towards the outer reaches? And does the size of the stars effect the velocity in which they move?...That is the question." Craig answered him in a philosophical voice, "And that shall remain the question until you discover the answer." Red Beard nodded his head and said, "Ahhhh." As if that was the exact answer he was hoping for. Craig and I looked at each other, shrugged, and moved on.
At Madison Hut, I sat down for the first time in 15 hours. Craig timed us for 10 minutes of blissful sitting and eating. All too soon he gave the two minute warning and it was time to pull ourselves together and head back out into the wind. Up and over Mount Madison we went.
Then it was time for the crazy rock scrambling down Daniel Webster Scout Trail. In case you have never been on this trail, let me describe it for you. Picture sharp edged rock upon sharp edged rock, ranging in size from that of a microwave to that of a refrigerator. All these are perched precariously on an extremely steep slope. To descend this trail, one must carefully hop from rock to rock, avoiding the loose ones and avoiding the cracks between the rocks. I actually enjoyed this part last year. This year my body was stiff and sore from too many slips and falls and stumbles. It was slow and painful work.
I was traveling about ten or fifteen feet behind Craig, looking down at the rocks ahead of me and picking my route, when I heard a strange sound come from Craig. It was kind of a soft, "Oh". I looked up in time to see him launch head first down the mountain. I froze in my tracks and watched helplessly. Craig tumbled head over heels, slid almost to a stop, launched off a big rock, tumbled violently head over heels again, slid quickly a little way further down the slope, almost came to a stop again, bounced off another rock violently, did a third somersault, and landed sideways across the slope with his back against a rock about 30 yards below me.
I yelled, "Don't move! Don't move!" as I did a crazy semi-controlled careen down the slope. I grabbed one of Craig's trekking poles on the way down, thinking I might need it for a splint. When I stopped in front of him, he held up one finger and calmly said, "I'm going to pass out." His eyes rolled up in his head and he twitched for about 5 seconds, long enough for me to think, "head injury! How long will it take rescuers to get here? How will they ever get him off this rocky slope?" I yelled his name and Craig said, without opening his eyes, "I hear a voice." Then he opened his eyes and looked me in the face and said, "Hey it's Laurel!" as if he hadn't seen me in a year.
It took a while before Craig could get up. He had bumps and bruises and lacerations, maybe a few broken fingers, probably a concussion, but nothing all that serious. It was miraculous he wasn't hurt worse! Together, we hiked very slowly down the trail. Craig walked in front and I followed in his footsteps. When I finally got a cell signal, I called and talked to Kevin at camp so everyone would know we were going to take a long time getting there, but we were OK. Once in a while Craig would put his arms out and sway a little and I'd reach forward to grab his pack. Little by little, slowly and carefully, we descended this way. After what seemed like an eternity, we heard people coming up behind us on the trail. This made us both happy. I think we needed a little moral support, we were pretty shook up. It was Patty and Sara. I asked them to hike with us for a bit, explaining about Craig's fall. It felt reassuring to have other people with us, although I'm not sure how that would have helped if Craig collapsed.
Craig seemed better and better as we walked, so I told the women to go on ahead and finish. So they did. When we got close to the trail head I called camp and asked for a vehicle to come pick Craig up. He had said he only thought he had enough left to get out of the woods. There were another two miles of dirt road back to the campground. Kevin was waiting in his truck when Craig and I emerged from the woods. Believe me, I was ready to crawl into the truck with Kevin and Craig and call it a day. But Craig wanted me to run it in for an official finish, so I did.
This makes four MMD finishes out of five attempts. It was a difficult one for me, but I'll be back next year for the tenth running of MMD. Right now I'm going to relax on the front porch with a nice glass of wine and rest my weary bones! Next up, Maine Huts 50 Miler.