I left Hyattsville around 3am and was in the Signal Knob parking lot around 5am checking and rechecking my UD adventure pack. So paranoid about having enough water due to Virginia's relentless summer humidity. Packed a 2L bladder and a 0.5L bladder, a soft flask that came with my bag, 2 handhelds, gels and chews, salt tabs/endurance caps, flow filter by sawyer with a back up o-ring and extra bladder caps. When I put the pack on I realized it was pretty heavy. Luckily, I have a pretty strong back and upper body due to road cycling and using power tools at work so I told myself it ain't a big deal. Carried all that I needed.
I felt good from the Signal Knob lot to the climb at Little Crease Mountain. It was humid and a little cool, but I was sweating a lot so I refilled my water at the stream by the Little Crease Shelter. I continued on. From Little Crease to Milford Gap I felt good and my legs felt light. The sun was up and I was on the ridge so I got a semi-view of the valley. Nice.
The trail after Camp Roosevelt and slow climb up to Duncan was more exposed than the previous section and the heat and humidity were beginning to take their toll on me. I detoured to the creek to sip on a lil can of pepsi and dip myself in to cool off. I walked for a while to make sure my stomach was ok and to let my body readjust. As I started climbing again, I watched a big ol' bear pacing around in the burn area/tall grass on my right. It was doing its thing and so was I. The climb up Duncan Hollow was pretty wet and muddy from storms the past few days and as I got to higher altitude there was fresh mountain run off dripping off the mountain and heading across the trail eventually pouring into Little Passage Creek. I filled up water in every container I had. I poured water over my head and neck to cool down and shuffled along. Without this runoff this run unsupported would have been impossible. I got super lucky. Ice cold, clear water coming out of the mountain was a blessing. Finally, I started running again up Strickler Knob to Crisman Hollow. I stopped to talk to a few VHTRC members hanging out at Crisman and continued on.
Kerns mtn to Jawbone felt smooth. I was rolling smoothly to Edinburg gap and it got dark. I hit the succulent spring at Edinburg gap and refilled my handhelds and flasks about 0.5miles from the trailhead. I was overconfident and didn't fill my 2L flask or 0.5L flask. I thought the cooler temps of night might cut the humidity. I was totally wrong. The humidity continued as the temperature began to drop. I started running again and tripped on a snaggletooth and fell left hip first into a huge sharp rock. I continued to shuffle. I started to feel all the pain especially in my feet. I stopped to pull out my extra socks and give my feet a break from the humidity and stomping. Unfortunately, it seemed most things in my bag that weren't in plastic ziplocs got wet. I just sweat so much in summer it's hard to keep things from shorting out or getting soaked when I run. My feet were half white and my spare socks would do me no good soaked. Every step I took on a sharp rock made me wince.
Next thing I know I'm in Woodstock. Shuffling along again. About 3 miles short of Powells Fort Camp and I ran out of water and had 1 gel left. I was so thirsty it was horrendous. I knew there was a spring on the fire road to Signal Knob and all I had to do was get there and I would rejuvenate. 3 miles of mind blowing, soul sucking, dryness of the mouth and body. I felt like I was wandering in the desert waiting for an oasis to appear. My feet were killing me and my hip was starting to swell up from the wipeout I took.
Finally, I got to the spring on the fire road before the climb to Signal Knob. I threw my hip under the cold spring water and chugged down water like it was my job. I noticed the area smelled of bear pee and turned around to see a big ol' spot of what was probably bear pee. I started getting cold. Really, really cold. The temperature had dropped maybe into the high 50s and I put on jacket. I put my arms inside and onto my core to try to absorb the heat of my body. Not sure there was a whole lot of heat left. I was shivering and worried about hypothermia, but knew if I kept moving I'd warm right up, so I kept on.
I pushed and broke out into a good stride after pumping myself up until I saw a pair of gleamy, linear eyes and then a second smaller set of eyes. I heard rustling and thuds. I realized I had bumped into the Signal Knob sow and her cub. I'm familiar with seeing their scat and footprints on that fire road but never came across them over the summer. They scattered into the trees to my left. I think my headlamp gave them fair warning of my presence and I followed up with "hey bear", clapping and walking backward up my favorite climb to the summit of Signal Knob. It was 3am-ish and I was tired. I didn't want to spend 24 hours on the trail or have my time be worse than my Grindstone time but I knew that wasn't what this was about. This was about respect for Massanutten, my childhood spending weekends with my friends who owned a hog farm in Elkton, chocolate sodas from the store, crashing a tractor into a barn, friendly Mennonite neighbors, riding ATVs and freshly picked Virginia apples. This was Virginia in its finest form and it deserved respect.
At the summit of Signal Knob, I made it a point to soak in the view of the lights coming from Strasburg and quickly remembered mama bear was lurking not too far down the trail so I oughta move on. I headed to the last 5 miles of trail to the Signal Knob lot. I knew the next 4 miles would be incredibly painful because my feet felt so raw and every step I took was onto a sharp Appalachian-style rock. So lovely. I had 4 miles of rocks to cross before I got to the last mile of trail that's relatively runnable. I kept on. Every step to the last mile was onto a sharp rock and so painful especially if the rock was sharp and angled--it just ripped the skin on my feet and made me grit my teeth.
About 0.25 miles to the lot I saw another sow and cub to my left. They scattered into the bushes and headed north. I hit the end of the trail and stopped my watch and strava on my phone.