[Admin Note: We designate this as "supported" because Lucas ran with others for part of the route. Pacing = support. However, for a run of this length we don't see that the style makes much difference.]
After an evening with some of our FKT cohort and truck camping in the shadow of Seneca Rocks punctuated by the call of a whippoorwill, we headed to the southern trailhead of North Fork Mountain Trail in Pendleton County, West Virginia for our nearly 8am start. The NFMT travels the length of North Fork Mountain ridgeline from where Rt. 33 crests the ridge near Franklin to where the North Fork of the Potomac long ago made its monumental cut east through the mountain bringing a dramatic end to the massive ridge near Hopeville.
At the trailhead, we got right to it. I ran with Tom Wood who had run a few miles at Seneca Rocks with Adam Casseday before our shuttle and with Todd McCormick who had come down from Pittsburgh the night before for the run. At nearly 4000 feet elevation, I felt the mild effects on my labored breathing and welcomed my companions as pace setters. However, about ¾ mile along, we came to a waist high tree across the trail. Todd went around while I hopped over and that was the last I saw of our group. My breathing regulated shortly afterward and I settled into a focus on the relatively tame trail surface of grass, rocks, white oak leaves and the long pine needles of the stunted fire-happy pines that thrive on this dry ridge. I ran this trail last November with Brad Wingler and Emily Huguenin in 2-6 inches of snow. The confidence of knowing the route let me get in the kind of groove that makes me remember why I run trails. It also dulled the urge to stop and take in the dozens of breathtaking views off to the west. The huge downhill in the final 3 miles propelled me through the rolling terrain like a powerful magnet.
I had with me two 8oz handhelds of water in the form of honey bear bottles which I find to be very ergonomic. In my pouch I had a gel, a small dark chocolate bar and my cell phone. I’d eaten/drank a large, hearty smoothie for breakfast and felt well-hydrated before the start, but my provisions didn’t leave much room for error on the trail on this hot day. After the first hiking climb around mile 8, I had some water and I finished my first bottle at the pipeline crossing. The next two miles was a steep, smooth downhill on the gravel access road. The trail picked up again at mile 12 on my GPS and 1:30 on my stopwatch. I still felt great for another 4 miles, carried along by the pull of the final downhill.
At about 2:10, a number of long climbs had me walking. I felt a little confused by the satisfied state of my stomach while my energy levels and focus were flagging. I ate my gel and finished my water and concluded that my smoothie had been a little too hearty. For a more vigorous effort like this, I could have benefitted from simpler, sweeter ingredients. I felt better after a few minutes but had a little chocolate for good measure. The one benefit of being forced to walk the climbs at the end was that I got to see and enjoy the lady slipper orchids lining the path. The last 1/3 of the ~24 mile trail was quite rocky, and in places where fire had swept through a few years ago, the grasses obscured the footing.
As I approached the final descent, my quads and calves were threatening to seize up and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to cash in on the drop off the mountain. I licked my salty arms to stave off the cramping and focused on not falling. There were a few false starts to the descent, but by the time I started down the real thing, I mostly felt better. I passed a bunch of surprised hikers on their way up to Chimney Top. Nearing the bottom, I was ready for the downhill to be over. At the parking lot, I stopped my watch and laid down in the shade. My GPS app read 3:10:21. I later learned that Bradley Mongold, a friend of Adam’s, had run the trail in 3:36 many years ago perhaps before the advent of the “FKT”.
My wife, Kat, arrived after a few minutes with water and snacks. As we waited for the rest of the group we walked down to the creek for a quick dip. In ones and twos, they arrived with their own stories and mishaps. Martha Nelson who arrived in 4:06 with her husband, Aaron Schwarzbard, established the female FKT, though tacking on a mile after a wrong turn at the pipeline will probably have her coming back for another crack at it. It became apparent that Tom was missing so when everyone had finished and we’d narrowed down his potential wrong turn, we drove up the road to the Redman and Landis trailheads with no luck. When we got back, he’d arrived having gone down and back up Redman Trail and ending up with 30 miles for the day counting his pre-run run with Adam.
Runners in this effort to establish FKTs on the North Fork Mountain Trail were Lucas Warner, Adam Casseday, Todd McCormick, Kate Hails, Tom Wood, Katie Wolpert, Aaron Schwarzbard, Martha Nelson, and Bill Young. This shindig was organized by Katie Wolpert. Thank you!!! Thanks to the shuttle drivers and to Isi and Garrett for some of the accommodations.