FKT: Chris Cantrell - Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) + C&O Canal Towpath - 2020-10-11

Athletes
Gender category
Male
Route variation
Standard route
Multi-sport
No
Style
Self-supported
Start date
Finish date
Total time
7d 23h 32m 5s
Videos
Report

FKTs BROKEN OR ESTABLISHED

1. Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) self supported 3 days 11 hours 58 minutes 44 seconds.  Previously held by Ray Rey at 99 hr 10 min (4 Days, 3 hours, 10 minutes)

2. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath (C&O Canal) self supported 3 days 19 hours 10 minutes 05 seconds. Previously held by Ray Rey at 6 days 13 min.

3. GAP/C&O Canal self supported and overall 7 days 23 hours 32 minutes 05 seconds.  No prior FKT.

 

BACKGROUND

I am a Marine Corps infantry veteran who has been running self supported long distance adventures since I was a child.  I have completed 2 marathons and 15 ultramarathons.  My first ultramarathon was a trail 50K I completed with a 30 pound ruck (backpack).  My 1st 100 mile race was the C&O Canal 100 in 2017.  I began planning the Fastpack to #ENDALZ in about September 2019.  I communicated with Ray Rey and Michael Wardian (current supported and overall C&O Canal FKT holder) about their experiences on these trails before I began my attempt.  I listened to and read quite a volume of material by or about Joe McConaughy during the planning and preparatory phases of this adventure. Prior to starting my fastpack adventure I notified Buzz Burrell of my intentions to fastpack from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC on the GAP and C&O Canal via email by providing the attached information document which summarized my plan and identified the key team members.

 

ATTACHMENTS

Photos

Itinerary Overview

GAP & C&O Canal Trail Maps

SPOT tracker data as GPX file

Garmin watch data files exported to GPX 

 

FACEBOOK PAGE COVERING THIS FKT ATTEMPT

https://www.facebook.com/CRDreadmillChallenge

 

NAVIGATION AIDS USED

GAP Trail App

C&O Explorer App

Paper map that comes with the Trail Guide (official, authorized guidebook for traveling the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath)

 

OVERVIEW

Day 1 (Oct 3)- 50 miles Point State Park, Pittsburgh to Roundbottom hiker/biker campground - 80% Walking

Tom Sofia from my safety team took me to Point State Park before dawn.  I took a picture at the medallion in the west end of the park which is generally considered to be the western terminus of the GAP.  I started my watch, stepped on the medallion and set out for Washington DC.  It was 05:55 a.m. according to my Garmin.  This day was pretty uneventful.  The first approximately 20 miles of this trail were disappointing as the environment was mostly industrial. Upon arrival at Roundbottom I found an empty adirondack shelter which I was able to have all to myself for the night. 

 

Day 2 (Oct 4)- 49 miles Roundbottom hiker/biker camp to Pinkerton Tunnel - Mostly walking with a 4+ mile run at the end

This day took me into Ohiopyle State Park which is one of the most beautiful forests I have ever seen.  The trail was well maintained and the weather was cool, but damp.  I stopped in Ohiopyle and had a hamburger at Falls Market Restaurant and Inn.  I enjoyed a visit with a Vietnam era Marine while I ate.  I left Ohiopyle and headed for the Lucky Dog Cafe in Confluence, PA where I had shipped my first resupply box.  I made it to confluence with no issues.  In confluence, I packed my new supplies, ate half a hamburger, drank a cold gatorade and was reminded by some cyclists that rain was forecast for later that night.  I headed out into the darkness as I was shooting for 50 miles.  Before reaching Fort Hill the rain hit and there was some lightning behind the front.  The temperature was in the 40s and I didn't want to get caught in a violent storm so I started running with all of my rain gear on.  Fort Hill turned out to be a paved road crossing the GAP.  There was a parking area, two houses with no lights on, and a long abandoned paintball field, but nowhere to take shelter.  It was raining sideways so I kept running.  I ran to the 849 foot long Pinkerton Tunnel.  I made camp in the middle of the tunnel.

 

Day 3 (Oct 5)- 19 miles Pinkerton Tunnel to Meyersdale, PA - Limping

This was a tough day.  My feet were in bad shape and my legs were shot after wrapping up 99 miles of fastpacking with a more than four mile push to get dry and warm.  Salisbury Viaduct is an amazing structure and I'll have to return and revisit it sometime when I am in a frame of mind that allows me to better enjoy it.  All of my clothes and gear were wet.  Levels of wet ranged from damp to outright soaked.  I knew I needed to get my gear dry or I would be in big trouble if I got wet again.  During my planning phase I had thought about staying in Inns and B&Bs during this adventure.  Knowing there were plenty of options I used the GAP Trail App to locate the information for the Trailside Inn in Meyersdale, PA.  I booked a room while walking down the trail.  Staying at the Trailside Inn allowed me to order pizza and soda to fight my calorie deficit and dry my clothing and gear in front of the space heater in the room.  I had hoped to use the dryer, but the dryer wasn't functioning properly.

 

Day 4 (Oct 6)- 32 miles Meyersdale, PA to Cumberland, MD- 55-60% running

About 6 miles outside of Meyersdale, PA I reached the Eastern Continental Divide (ECD).  The elevation drops 1,787 feet from ECD to Cumberland, MD over about 26 miles.  It's hard not to run when you have all that downhill.  Additionally, I knew I was ahead of Rey Ray's FKT and wanted to try to go under 3 1/2 days.  So, I just kept moving as quickly as I could.  In route to Cumberland, I was trying to figure out how I was going to traverse the C&O Canal without taking another 10 days to do so considering the blisters I had on my feet.  I called ahead to the Fairfield Inn and Suites where I had sent my next resupply box and booked a room so I could try to get my feet clean and appropriately treated with the supplies I had with me.  It was sometime after I was in my room that I remembered to stop my Garmin.

 

New GAP FKT

Start- Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 05:55.00

Finish- Tuesday, October 6, 2020 at 17:53.44

3 days 11 hours 58 minutes 44 seconds

 

After arrival at the GAP mile marker 0 medallion on the sidewalk outside the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad depot (13 Canal Street, Cumberland, MD), I stopped my garmin and recorded a video to post to the fundraising Facebook page.  I visited with some cyclists and a local man for a few minutes before restarting my Garmin to record my travel to the Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.  Upon arrival at the Fairfield Inn, I collected my second resupply box and headed for my room.  I showered, ordered pizza, and washed my clothes. 

 

One of the items in my resupply was a fully charged external battery to replace the one I had been using to charge my phone and Garmin.  I had gone to the post office with the battery in a padded envelope before I left  for this trip.  The post office sold me $6 in stamps and assured me that would cover the cost of shipping the external battery back to myself from Cumberland, MD.  So, I swapped out batteries and dropped the old battery off in the outgoing mail at the front desk.

 

Upon close examination of my feet sans tape and gel pads, I noted I was going to need more blister supplies.  The nearest pharmacy was 0.4 miles away and would not reopen until 9 a.m. the following morning.  In an attempt to preserve my self supported status, I decided not to seek other means of getting what I needed. 

 

Day 5 (Oct 7)- 34.5 miles Cumberland, MD to Stickpile Hill hiker/biker camp - Walking

I walked to Pharma Care West (64 Greene St, Cumberland, MD) and purchased mole skin, corn cushions, and allergy medicine.  During my walk back to the Fairfield Inn, I realized that I was going to have to do something different with my feet if I was going to finish in a respectable manner.  I arrived back at the hotel, tended to my feet, packed the rest of my gear and tied on my shoes.  Eventually, I mustered the courage to cut the toe box of my shoes in the area of my pinky toes.  I shook like a leaf as I did so.  This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made in my ultrarunning career.  I have no doubt this act directly and significantly contributed to my successful completion of this trek.  My stay in Cumberland was approximately 16 hours, but gave me the time I needed to consider the circumstances and put the right plan into action to finish well.

 

Still unsure of whether cutting my shoes had been the right decision, I started my Garmin and left Fairfield Inn along the trail which connects the GAP and the C&O Canal Towpath.  Upon arrival, at the C&O Canal I turned north to travel the short distance to the mile 184.5 mile marker instead of immediately traveling south to Washington, DC.  Upon arrival at the 184.5 mile marker (western terminus) I restarted my Garmin and headed for Washington, DC.

 

I passed through the 3,118 foot long brick Paw Paw Tunnel on this day.  I've been in dozens of countries scattered across 5 continents.  Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most amazing man made objects I have seen.  Additionally, outside of my spelunking experiences, I can say this is one of the few places on earth you can experience complete darkness.

 

NOTE: The customary Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC route along the GAP and C&O Canal bypasses the mile 184.5 marker which is the western terminus of the C&O Canal.  That's fine if you are just a casual traveler, but an FKT which claims to include both trails should require the individual to reach the terminal markers at each end of both trails.  This is the manner in which I completed this journey and I believe it should be the standard.

 

Day 6 (Oct 8)- 49 miles Stickpile Hill hiker/biker camp to Jordan Junction hiker/biker camp - mostly walking

One mile south of Stickpile Hill hiker/biker camp, I saw a bobcat on the trail.  He looked at me, I looked at him, and then he bounded back off into the woods.  I picked up my second resupply box at C&O Bicycle in Hancock, MD.  They have a hiker hostel behind the store they affectionately refer to as The Coop.  I sat in a chair outside The Coop and repacked my supplies while my gear dried out.  After getting everything packed back up, I traveled a short distance down the GAP to Buddy Lou's Eats Drinks & Antiques where I had a Buddy Lou Burger and fries and refilled my water bottles. Reaching the midway marker for the C&O Canal was a morale booster.  At the end of the day, I felt as though I had accomplished something.

 

Day 7 (Oct 9)- 36 miles Jordan Junction hiker/biker camp to picnic area at Dargan Bend Boat Ramp - mostly walking

This was a tough day.  I don't sleep well on my sleeping mat even after spending a week sleeping on it leading up to this trek.  I figured the pure exhaustion would allow me to adapt and sleep better however it hadn't.  The aching feet, sore hips, and constant dampness kept me from getting much sleep.  I seemed to drag on through the day and made far too many stops to tend to my feet. I ended with mileage that frankly disappointed me, but I had to stop. I felt like I couldn't walk another step.  I had really hoped to reach the American Legion in Brunswick, MD to resupply on this day.

 

The picnic area was not the best camping location you could hope for and it was made a little less desirable by the folks partying by the river.  I set up camp and crawled into my bed.  I was out of sorts about my mileage for the day until I realized I had covered 86 miles in about 36 hours.  

 

Day 8 (Oct 10)- Picnic Area at Dargan Bend Boat Ramp to Washington, DC (Mile Marker 0) 60-70% running.

The exhaustion had finally caught up with me and I got the best sleep of the entire trip overnight between days 7 and 8.  I slept in a little later as I had 10 miles to go to get to Brunswick and the American Legion did not open until 11:00 a.m.  A few miles south of Daragan Bend Boat Ramp, I sat on a wooden guard rail and looked at my feet.  It took three baby wipes to clean my feet and there was enough dirt between my toes to grow potatoes.  I took the time necessary to do what I could to maintain my feet, put my socks back on, laced up my shoes, and decided I would not take my socks off again unless I had a new or extremely intensified pain.  

 

Upon arrival in Brunswick (C&O Canal mile 55), I had to wait for a train to pass before I could cross over the railroad tracks and get to the American Legion.  What are the odds?  You travel 280 miles on foot and then have to wait on a train 200 yards from your resupply.  Once the train passed, I picked up my resupply box at the American Legion and bought two Cokes and two bottles of water.  I drank one of the Cokes and packed the other one for later.  I used the two water bottles to refill the water bottles I was carrying.  I cleaned up a bit in the restroom and headed next door to Boxcar Burgers to get a hamburger.  I've been to Boxcar Burgers a couple of times during hikes on the C&O Canal.  They have a burger with pickled beets on it which is pretty darn yummy.  I rested with my feet up as I ate.  I decided I'd take the trail ten to fifteen miles at a time with short breaks to stretch and elevate my feet and see how far I could push.

 

I stopped for a break at Nolands Ferry Picnic Area (C&O Canal Mile 44.6).  As I ate, I checked the weather.  There was a pretty solid forecast for rain starting midmorning the next day.  I decided it was time to push through and get home as I did not want to get wet again.  I know many think we veterans thrive on being tired, wet, cold and hungry; that is not the case.  I try to avoid these conditions most days.  I stopped to pump water and take a short break at Chisel Branch hiker/biker camp (C&O Canal Mile 30.5).  I was feeling good and moving quicker than I thought I would. I stopped again for a short break at Lockhouse 22 (C&O Canal Mile 19.6).  I put my feet up and used the edge of the bench to massage the soles of my feet.  I got moving again and it started to feel like this was really going to come together on this day.  According to the National Park Service website, Great Falls Tavern Restrooms (C&O Canal Mile 14.3) was the last water resupply available on the trail. Unfortunately it added at least 400 yards to my trip as the restroom is quite a distance from the trail.  I used the restroom, filled two of my water bottles and threw the other one away.  I figured I could finish this adventure on 1.75 liters of water and I didn't want the extra weight of another liter of water.  I pushed through to mile marker 10 where I celebrated moving into the single digits with the second Coke I had purchased at the American Legion.  

 

Several of the mile markers below 20 miles are missing.  This keeps you running scared at times.  I knew I had a chance to go under 8 days overall and really was trying to keep track of my progress.  At C&O Canal Mile 8, I called my friend Troy, who was on the safety team, and told him I was headed to the finish.  At mile marker 3, I checked in with Troy again to update him on my progress.  Troy said he was on his way and would meet me there.  I arrived in Georgetown and made my way towards Thompson Boat Center.  As I turned the corner around the south end of the building, there was Troy.  Troy captured my final 100 yards or so of my journey on video. 

 

It was finished.  I had done the thing I had set out to do over a year ago.  In doing so, I had raised nearly $2,000 to support medical research funded by the Alzheimer's Association.  Not the amount I had hoped for, but every dollar is a dollar they didn't have before.  God truly blessed me through this adventure.  I learned so much.

 

New C&O Canal FKT

Start- Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 10:17.00

Finish- Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 05:27.05

3 days 19 hours 10 minutes 05 seconds

 

New GAP/C&O Canal FKT

Start- Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 05:55.00

Finish- Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 05:27.05

7 days 23 hours 32 minutes 05 seconds

 

FINAL THOUGHT

Last night, my wife asked me why it was that I used the term "we" in some of my videos from the trail as opposed to "I."  Simple, although I was responsible for the actual physical effort to accomplish the feat, this was a team effort:

  • Mentors and advisors assisted in the reviewing of the overall plan and verifying I had the necessary equipment to safely take on the task
  • My family helps budget time and other resources, including funds, so I can prepare for and undertake these adventures
  • My youngest daughter handled social media and press responsibilities
  • The Allegheny Trail Association assisted with permitting issues
  • A forensic accountant I know assisted in designing a spreadsheet which facilitated calorie tabulation to ensure I packed the correct foods in the proper quantities to provide sufficient nutrition between resupplies.
  • I had a safety team which watched my tracker and checked in with me via texts and telephone calls to verify my location and ensure my safety.
  • My safety team dropped me off in Pittsburgh and picked me up in Washington, DC.

Thank you for your consideration of this effort as new FKTs.  I am available to answer any questions you may have.

 

Run far, be safe,

Chris Cantrell