The full Gerard (yellow blazes) has long been an ambition. I’ve circled most of the trail in various editions of the Oil Creek 100, but never included the furthest south section known as Wildcat. The Gerard is reported to be 36 miles in length. The prior FKT only had it recorded at 30 in 5:52. My day came in at 33.29 miles with 5,338’ of climb in 5:30. I wish I could explain the discrepancy which is not small at 3 miles more by my measure. But what to make of the difference between either of these and the reported 36 total miles? My explanation is that it must include some of the linked side trails (non-yellow blazes) to total out to 36 miles of trails in the system.
I left my house for the 2+ hr drive south at 5 am. One thing that I had totally neglected to do in preparation was check the weather. Lighting flashed in the distance and rain was encountered on the way down. It wasn’t raining in Titusville at the Jersey Bridge parking lot as I got my things together for the run. I was joined by Clyde Ferguson for the ride as he was planning his own time on the trail. Sharing my projected time of 5 hrs if it was actually 30 miles, but leaving an option to cut it down if the threatening weather came in I headed up the trail before 7:30 am in basically 100% humidity. By an hour in, it was raining heavy at times with lots of thunder and lighting accompanying the rain. I was far enough along and things were flowing well enough that cutting the run short never really entered my mind. In fact the rain became an asset in keeping me cool even with the added challenge of wet / slick rocks and mud / water on the trail.
It’s been a couple of years since my last time on the trails, one where I may have said that I needed some time away to return and appreciate them. Both like a familiar friend and natural delight, time away had made my heart grow fonder. It offers both great challenge in its technical sections and run-ability in others. It wanders through deciduous trees and large hemlock stands, over streams, past waterfalls, through meadows, beside remnants of the oil boom past (I ran 1 day after the anniversary of Edwin Drake’s first successful oil well), up and down hills, and through rock formations. I encountered only one other human soul during my time on the trail, a park worker cleaning the bathrooms at the Cow Run shelters (I think I may have scared him out of his skin as he didn’t expect to see anyone in the conditions and even remarked, “heck of a day for a run”). Other than that, it was just me and the surrounding flora and fauna. I scared deer, had to move a porcupine off the trail with a stick, chased birds that flew ahead of me, broke through more spider webs than can be imagined, and continue to be surprised that the loudest thing in the woods always seems to be the one of the smallest - chipmunks.
I ran unsupported carrying 1.5 liters in a hydration vest with 2 x 250 ml kicker bottles of coconut water. I used 2 gels, one package of cookies, and one package of endurance chews. The only disadvantage that I had was never having seen the Wildcat (southerly most section) of the trail and so had no idea of elevation, trail conditions, technicality, etc. I hit the very southern end of the trail in 2:38 about 16 miles down and a sign marking it to be 16+ miles back to the Drake Well. I knew portions of this eastern side were very runnable so I would be able to tick off some paced miles so remained hopeful of a 5 hr finish.
Over the remainder of the run the trail became increasingly wet as the rain continued to fall. All-in-all, it flowed well as I stayed upright through the entire run with no a single spill. This trail already had lots of my blood, sweat and tears upon it now adding Wildcat so that I can successfully say that I have seen and run it all.