FROZEN SASQUATCH – January 17,2017
KANAWHA STATE FOREST, CHARLESTON, WV
Author: Tammy McGaughey.
With the back of my Yukon packed with 4, yes FOUR, duffle bags, I headed south to the hills of West Virginia Friday afternoon for my first ever winter event. With the predicted frigid temps, I wasn’t sure what I’d need, so I erred on the side of ‘pack everything’. I know, you guys are rolling your eyes…grins.
What a beautiful drive…all the trees flocked with the fresh snow. I had four hours (oh my) to enjoy it. Yes, quite a drive, but easy traveling Route 79 nearly the entire way.
About 80 miles out of Charleston, I pass a familiar vehicle…Ryan’s Prius. From there, we caravanned together to Roberts Running Shop for packet pick-up, where we meet up also with Denise & Jim. Cute little running shop where we were given our bibs and REALLY nice race shirts…Patagonia Epilene long-sleeves.
Next stop…the Hampton Inn, Southridge…very nice accommodations. Ryan and I meet up to study the course maps and description for our journeys the next day and then grab a bite to eat at Panera. I turned in early, sleeping soundly for the first 3 hours, then it was my normal pre-race night routine of waking every hour.
Race day…I rose (easily) at 5:00. Temps are 14 with a wind chill of 8…holy crud. So on go the layers…3 shirts, heavy polartec winter pants, 2 prs of socks. Later, I’ll add a down vest, buff and toasty beanie, and 2 prs of gloves. After a quick bite of breakfast at the hotel (mmmmm, oatmeal and fresh fruit), off to Kanawha State Forest, just 20 minutes away.
At race check-in, I chatted with Maryann Yarborough, native of the area, to get her opinion of trail conditions, and to catch up with her trail ventures. Then with more anxious prep, I decided to strap on the Yaktrax and gators. Ryan and I toed the line with minutes to go, looking for our northern comrades, to no avail. Off we go…1/4 mile on road to the trail…up a nicely sustained hill. This 50K course is a 15.5 mile loop that is run twice. And this first hill was a wake up call. I was with a group of about 10 runners who didn’t say a word…quietest group of runners I had ever heard, or rather, not heard. Man, they’re serious or maybe just trying to truck it up the hill, as I was.
We made it to the top then enjoyed some nice running. In fact this entire course was very runnable. And quiet!…wow, so beautifully remote…no traffic, no gas wells, no industry…just peaceful, glorious serenity.
Beautiful stretches of single track trail … Not very technical … and acres and acres of gorgeous forest.
The first loop journey was met with very cold temps and some light snow that coated my lashes with tiny ice crystals. I encountered other runners with icing problems too…icicles hanging from beanies, mustaches and beards. It was hilarious. My gels had to be chewed like gum. Stinger waffles had to be snapped into pieces before thawing them inside my mouth. My choice of gear worked just fine, except believe it or not, I was a tad bit warm with the vest on the ascents and I really didn’t need the gators. Snow was only 2” deep and thanks to the runners ahead of me, the trails were tramped down nicely. Still VERY glad I had the Yaktrax, especially on the fire and park roads. It’s nice that we can access our vehicles at the end of the first loop … i’ll regroup there.
We passed through 3 wonderful aid stations on the loop at miles 5.1, 8.5 and 12, a couple with fires…enticing, wonderful fires. I tried not to linger, as tempting as it was. Everything was frozen at the aid stations…can honestly say that I’ve never slurped a ginger ale slushy, or chewed rock-solid oranges…different, but good! Now, if we can just figure out a way to get that kind of treat during those hot summer events!
There were some challenging valleys to climb,
creeks included …
… and a really neat rock outcrop…
The runner above was so sweet and offered to take my pic … evidence that I really was there …
The trickiest feat was keeping my water bottles from freezing. Once the volunteers unfroze them with warm water, I found that keeping them tucked inside my vest prevented further freeze-up. The aid stations were nicely placed at miles 5.1, 8.5, and 12. Volunteers were spectacular, meeting every need. We were even greeted by Sasquatch himself before one of the stations…so fun!
The last steep descent before the halfway point was just that…steepest descent on the loop with switchbacks and more rocks than the rest of the course, but still not terrible. I found it fun bounding down the mountain…to my truck. First thing to go…the gators. I decided to keep the vest…my new-found ‘bottle insulator’.
Loop 2…here’s that first hill again…in my opinion, the most difficult hill of the loop. I didn’t have my 10 silent runners with me this time…just the quiet forest and me.
The sun made an appearance on this second time around … highlighting the nice fire roads we enjoyed as a respite from the hills … some creek crossings …
… cool icicle stalactites …
What a place … breathtaking …
I ran the 2nd loop virtually solo…and I loved it. Time to reflect, dream, and be thankful that I can participate in great events like this.
For some reason, my back was really stiff during the run…stopped many times to lengthen and stretch. Hammies and hips on the 2nd loop were feeling the miles too. BUT, the serenity of this slice of heaven camouflaged the discomforts.
The cold had taken its toll on my Garmin…battery was dying….darn, if I can just coax it along a few more miles.
Leaving the aid station at mile 27ish, I once again found the final burst of energy as I always do at the finish of a race. Dang, Garmin called it quits at mile 30.03. I continued barreling down that mountain to the finish line at the parking lot, to be greeted by RD Mike Dolan (really cool guy), who handed me the neatest finisher’s medal, and a hand-thrown clay Sasquatch cup for 1st masters female! What a unique award. Earlier that morning, Mike informed us that the course ran just a little short. So judging from where my Garmin died, I’d say the course was 30.5 miles total.
As mentioned earlier, the runners garb was really sweet…
Beautiful course … I highly recommend it, even with the 4-hour drive to get there. I had the pleasure of chatting with a few other runners at the finish about their journeys, and also giving GRT plugs and inquiring about other events. Also, there were really great goodies at the end … bbq pork, soup, tea, coffee, etc. etc. As always, I met the coolest folks throughout my adventure.
The longer I sat, the colder I got. So I said my goodbyes and drove back to the hotel, where I booked the room for a later check-out. Wow, so glad I did. Even though it was the most expensive shower I ever took (LOL), it was worth every cent!! I know I stood in there for 20 minutes, slowly bringing the bones back to life.
Now for my 4-hour trip back to Chicora, PA. I stocked my console with water, a Pepsi and Belvita crackers and took off. At the PA line, I decided to stop, stretch out the legs, and hit the restroom. A two-hour stint of driving was not the best idea…yah, talk about rusty lock-up. The trip into that restroom was slow and calculated, eliciting curious looks from other travelers. Then back on the road for another 2 hours…to my driveway, my glorious driveway…it was a great 2 days, but it also was soooooo good to be home.
It was 9:00 p.m. You’d think after rising at 5:00 a.m., running 30+ miles, and driving 280-some miles, that I would be exhausted. Not so much. So I did my usual maintenance…drinking tart cherry juice, stretching and rolling (a tad bit painful, but good), and enjoying a cup of turmeric tea. Oh yes, took a preventive Advil, too…grins. Finally at 12:30, I drifted off.
Life was good to me…safe travels, a pristine run in the WV hills, spending time with great folks…yes, LIFE IS TRULY GOOD.
Author: Tammy McGaughey