Trip Report: 4-State Challenge: "This is a beautiful day for hiking ... But this is horrible!!!"

Posted by Michael Martin on

44 miles in a single day of backpacking is, by any measure, a lot, and you'd have to be a bit crazy not to feel some trepidation starting off on a trip like this one. Last year, 8 attempted this challenge and 5 finished. I was among them and, though I was happy to run the event this year, I decided that I would leave my time from last year (15h) to stand or fall, and instead pace Shuttle. I'll just tell the story from my perspective and let others fill in as they like.

We spent most of Friday afternoon getting the cars set up, and then waited for Beast Mode at Pen Mar. The rain trickled down on us as we drove south to Harpers Ferry. By the time we started north from the tourist parking lot along the Shenandoah, the rain was coming down aggressively. Not ideal, as the iffy weather meant that we needed to carry more gear. Just tarps, but last year I had made do with a bivvy sack. The fog was thick enough so that we could barely see the blazes on Loudon Heights, the air was soup. Beast Mode, Shuttle, and I were perplexed that no one else was there. We reached the border, passed the Loudon Heights Trail, and pitched. The rain came down. Shuttle and I huddled under the Trailstar, drinking a few beers.

And this was my birthday?! Eventually, the others trickled in. Sophie, Pringle, Face Plant, EzBake, Wolverine, Savage, Blue Blazes, and soon-to-be-named Turbo. This was a mighty group of hikers. Sure enough, they had planned a little party for me: I celebrated as a disembodied voice from a tarp.

Early to bed, early to rise. The rain came down steadily, the alarm went off at 2:30am. Shuttle, EzBake, and I set off at about 2:50am. We made our way down from the heights in the rain and the fog, chased by the headlamps of the others. Across the Shenandoah, through the ghost town of Harpers Ferry, then the Potomac. A lead group formed, with Shuttle and I right behind. The red eyes of deer and foxes watched us pass.

As we turned to climb Weverton Cliffs, the wind and the rain came up. I paused to wait for Shuttle at the top. It became chilly, but we pressed on. Near the Ed Garvey shelter, my phone rang. Sophie, Wolverine, Pringle, and Turbo were in various stages of confusion along the C&O Canal, having missed the lefthand turn the AT takes. I thought it would be a tough day for them--not the sort of event where one wants to tack on extra miles. Little did I know.

The sun rose, we felt better, the sky cleared, and Shuttle and I plowed on, passing Gathland, then White Rock, Reno Memorial, then passing Dahlgren, Turner Gap, and the Washington Monument. Wolverine overtook us there, and there he uttered his famous line. He seemed determined to finish, however. I gave him the best advice I could, though I thought him rather behind. He had wasted a lot of time on the C&O Canal. Wolverine was not to be deterred.

Shuttle and I both confessed that we were chafing. We tried the various remedies we had brought along. I coined the expression, "By U-Turn's chafed and bloody balls," which we all found weirdly amusing. We strolled on to I-70. We had covered about 27 miles by 1pm, and were only about 90 minutes behind the lead group. Really, not so bad.

Shuttle decided that it was not wise to continue. We both wanted to go to the ADKs on Friday. I drank a beer. I had figured that, if Shuttle bowed out, I would continue, but the truth was, I just didn't feel like it. The chafing was better, but I knew that if I kept going, I'd finish after dark. It seemed like a lot of trouble for something I had already done. I drank another beer.

We decided we'd just fall into a support role. It was a gorgeous day and we spread our things out in the sun to dry. Pringle, Turbo, and Sophie passed us by. We drove to Wolfesville Road, and saw that the lead group had passed the checkpoint at 2-3pm. Off to Pen Mar for pizzas, and to the park at 6pm.

The Most Interesting Man in America was already there, passing out beers to the finishers. Face Plant, Beastmode and Savage had cut a little time off our best from last year, and I believe are claiming 14h36m. We shot the bull, laughing about Boudreau's Butt Paste. Obviously the sense of humor was quite elevated. EzBake pulled in, then Wolverine, then Blue Blazes, just as the last light was vanishing from the heavens. Pringle and Sophie called. They were stopping at Wolfsville, but Trevor had gone "turbo" and would keep hiking. We looked at each other. He was going to have a long night.

Pringle and Sophie arrived. Wolverine embarked to walk down to Mason Dixon line and sign in, as the rest of us went to the campsite. Little did we know that Wolverine would lose his way, once again. When we noticed, Beast Mode and I went looking for him, but he had missed the trail register. "What would I do if I were delirious with fatigue?" Beast Mode asked. Somehow, that didn't help. We gave up, figuring he had his gear, and we'd find him in the morning.

We all bedded down under a beautiful sky. Like last year, I cowboy camped. Turbo rolled in around 11pm, after what had to be a terrible ordeal on the Pen Mar rocks. As he went to sign in the book, he discovered Wolverine in that park, and brought him back. So, by midnight, a mere 21 hours after the start, we were all together again.

I awoke to Blue Blazes snapping photos. Wolverine had regenerated, so we limped back to the cars for breakfast at "Family Restaurant." And it was all over but the driving.

Congratulations to those who finished--Beast Mode, Face Plant, Savage, EzBake, Wolverine, Blue Blazes, and Turbo. And also to those who didn't quite make it--me, Shuttle, Pringle, and Sophie. I'm sure we'll do it again! This little ordeal is turning into a classic. As I said, it is not only a stunt, it is an impressively stupid stunt.


Will posted on

This was a proper challenge, testing mental and physical endurance. I was mentally prepared to blast it out, but had no idea what would happen to my body past 30 miles - uncharted territory.

After separating from the pack just after Harper's Ferry, EZBake, Faceplant, Beastmode and I blasted along the canal, and then Dave led us up the first climb in the rolling fog. After taking advantage of a rest stop, the sun was up and I stretched my legs - Kylie and Joffrey quickly caught up. We would hike together, swapping the lead until the very end - walking between a 3.5 and 4 mph pace. We banged out 20 miles by 9am, then took a long brunch break at the Washington Monument. Dave caught us up and continued on. We leaped frogged again, then crushed the miles to I-70 and the sign-in sheet at Jen's car just before 11:30. We ran into Dave again just after this, he realized he had missed the turn for the parking lot and doubled back. Somewhere around Annapolis rocks we encountered the lethargic copperhead snake attempting to sun himself.

We all still felt pretty good at this point - though it seemed like I was crawling up the hills. I blamed it on crappy sleep, or maybe I wasn't quite over the cold I brought back from Arizona. Nonetheless, we knocked about the next 10 miles to Dave's car in no time - where we had a good laugh at the pain rating sheet! After a final fuel-up break, we pressed on. We still had a fast pace going. Just after Raven Rocks, I had a dizzy spell and stopped for several minutes to regroup. Snickers to the rescue! Kylie and Joffrey pressed on.

The PenMar rocks made me want to scream - I've never felt unsure of my legs when walking over rocks before! They weren't responding normally, and extra concentration was needed. But after that I got my wind back and jogged the rest of the way, reaching the end just a couple minutes after Faceplant and Beastmode. Miles was a sight for sore eyes, and the pizza was everything I hoped it would be.

You guys are somethin' - I never would have even entertained the notion of a 40+ mile day a couple years ago!

Hua Davis posted on

Thanks for the Trip Report. Nothing to add just pure HAPPINESS[:D]!!!

Dave MacLuskie posted on

WARNING: Reading about challenges like this is a path to crazy things. I remember the first time I hit 20 miles in day. Then back-to-back 20's. Then you start thinking that 30 miles isn't so insane. Then 40. Once you go there things like consecutive 30 mile days seem entirely reasonable. It's a dangerous and wicked path. You've been warned.

My drive up from Yorktown was uneventful. My GPS led me astray on Wolfsville Road but thanks to the PATC map I figured out where the trail head was and arrived at about 3:30pm. I took a rather nice nap, played with a gregarious and very vocal grey tabby kitten at the trail head and waited for Sophie and Kylie to arrive. As the storm clouds blew in I distinctly recall setting my rain jacket on my bed so I wouldn't forget it. Oops! Fortunately I had a large trashbag in my trunk and I fashioned myself a rain coat.

Sophie and Kylie arrived around 7pm just as the rain started. Little did I know that navigating in the dark and rain was just beginning. We arrived at Harpers Ferry thanks to Kylie’s navigating and I caught head lamps as I threw on my pack. Will, Mimi, Hua, Trevor and Bryan had just happened to be walking by from parking at the further lot. They kindly waited as we got prepped and we across the bridge and up the hill on our way to Virginia.

I managed to miss a switch back on the ascent due to the heavy fog and low visibility and ended up lost for several minutes spinning around looking for a blaze or any sign of the trail in the fog. I anxiously awaited the headlamps from those behind me, back tracked a little and found the trail again. After reaching camp and setting up my tent I found my rain jacket inside my dry bag. I'm too clever for my own good sometimes.

I hit the sack shortly after Michael’s birthday celebration and had a lousy night's sleep. The morning wasn't much better. I managed to miss the trail at least once on the descent back into Harpers Ferry and was slow to pick up the trail through the sleeping town but got through thanks to Michael's corrections. I managed to slip on a rock slab and went down hard, landing on my left hip and elbow. I still can't sleep on my left side.

Blazing along the C&O Canal with Will, Kylie, and Joffrey was great. The subsequent climb to the ridge was less great and the foggy section was rather taxing but it was great to have company and backup to ensure I didn't miss the trail in the fog. It seemed like forever before dawn arrived and when it did it was bleak and cloudy.

As the sun rose the speedy crowd (Will, Kylie, Joffrey) disappeared up an incline at a pace I couldn't match. I wouldn't see them again until the Washington Monument. I finally got an appetite around 8am and started snacking.

I second guessed the blue-blaze after I-70 for the first check-in and had stopped to check my map when the speedy crowd ran by and informed me of my mistake. I back tracked, signed in, and caught Hua coming across the I-70 bridge and directed her to the sign-in. I was pretty happy about my chances at this point. I figured 3 hours to Wolfsville and 3 hours to the finish. That turned out to be a bit optimistic.

I lost a fair bit of time along the 9-10 miles along Annapolis Rocks to Wolfsville. It was a bit of a low point for me. The trail was mostly flat and fast but I wasn’t making great time. My feet were starting to feel it after 30 miles. A double snack snapped me back into focus just as I hit the rock garden section and much cursing ensued. The rapid descent to Wolfsville made me happy knowing I only had one more “section” to go. With my 3pm check-in I figured I had 4 hours before dark to cover 10 miles. That seemed reasonable so I topped off my water and hit the trail.

The first 5 miles weren't too bad. I made what I thought was good time until I hit the climb before Raven Rocks. I convinced myself that the blue-blaze at the top of the climb to the "scenic view" were actually Raven Rocks and was thrilled with my progress. Thirty or so minutes later when I passed the actual Raven Rocks sign I was less thrilled. I made good time to High Rock and was glad to do the rocky descent in the fading light. For the remaining two miles became a mental challenge. I was feeling pretty solid but the trail seemed to drag on. I resisted the urge to pull out the map and check my position. It wouldn't change where I was or how far I had to go so I focused on forward progress.

The park at Pen-Mar appeared rather suddenly and the cheers from the dark pavilion were surreal. I'm a bit incoherent about what occurred next other than eating many slices of pepperoni pizza. I apologize if I said anything stupid. After donning some warm, dry clothes I threw on my pack and hiked out to the mailbox across the railroad tracks and officially logged in. Done and done.

Big congrats to those who finished and to those who didn't. Everyone had a long day no matter where they ended up. There’s so much that can go wrong and so much to manage: feet, energy, stomach, chafing, fatigue, mental alertness. Hearing the stories from the others was a lot fun, especially the challenges that Trevor and Bryan ended up having.

Trevor Lowing posted on

How NOT to Start a 44 Mile Hike

I broke camp with Pringle at 3AM, rolling our rain soaked tents up and packing them away. By then everyone but Wolverine was gone. The fog was much better than the night before and Pringle sharp eyes kept us on the trail. We were hoping to talk to someone about navigating around the parking area to keep on the AT proper but Wolverine didn’t know and he was soon out of sight and hearing. After about 30 minutes we caught up to him again, backtracking from a wrong turn. On the way down that hill from the campsite we ran into him a few times – floating in and out of the darkness like a ghost. By the time we reached the road and bridge and crossed the Potomac, Wolverine was long gone.

We quickly found the AT entrance in the parking lot and started back up the hill toward Harper’s Ferry. By the third time I encountered a sign and turnoff for the Visitor Center I was becoming annoyed. Some brilliant person decided to intermix the blue and white trail markers. Colors virtually indistinguishable in the dark or under the glare of a LED headlamp. We headed down the wrong tail a few times but we finally reached the old town.

As we stepped down the sidewalk toward the old church we were quickly becoming confused. There was a clear trail marker next to the church but no matching marker down the hill on the cobblesone road. We walked to the bottom main street then back up to the church pondering our next move. Within a minute both Wolverine and Sophie met up with us. Wolverine had been exploring the town a little looking for the AT and Sophie had lost some time waiting by the car for someone who didn’t appear.

We all hiked down to main street and turned right and Pringle remembered where the AT exits town. Crossing that caged bridge out of town reminded me of a prison scene from Walking Dead. Some maintenance workers were already up inspecting the bridge. Shortly after the bridge we lost Sophie and Wolverine as they hotstepped down the canal road.

After a mile or so down the long straight road we began to worry as the markers became more and more sparse. As we crossed under another bridge there were two markers right after each other. We quickly marched past the second marker but that was the last marker we were to see for over a mile. We began to worry aloud as we continued to march down the canal road. With no clear white markers present, we began pondering the whether the white spots on the trees were faded markers or moss. Pringle suggested we continue-on but I pushed for turning back to the last clear marker. Following her judgment would have saved us a lot of time.

We hoofed back to the last marker, well over a mile. On the way we noticed a small turnoff for a camping site on the river but no clear AT markers. We consulted the map but it wasn’t clear exactly where we were. I called U-Turn and luckily he picked up the phone. After a brief consult we were off again to retrace the last mile or two of hiking north yet again. By the time we reached the left turn to cross the railroad tracks we again encountered Wolverine and Sophie who had missed the trailhead.

After crossing the road and entering the trailhead proper Wolverine grunted and quickly loped off into the distance and out of sight. Pringle, Sophie and I stuck together for the next 20 miles. At that point we were at least two hours behind where we should have been.

Water proved much less of a problem than we expected. The mild weather surely helped. The distance between Harper’s Ferry and the Washington Monument sped by quickly. We stopped at a small park along the way to top off water but most of the time was spent chatting and hiking. We encountered a few trail runners and tourists. The fall colors were everywhere and we were making good time.

We stopped at the Washington Monument to grab lunch, top off water and dry our tents. We had a wonderful time relaxing on a park bench and watching the campers go about their day. Somehow food always tastes better after a long hike. Tone of the camp managers gave us the boot because we were apparently eating on a picnic table rented by a Scout Troop. We quickly packed and left.

A short distance up the trail a nice lady from Arlington offered us food and drink thinking we were through-hikers. Trail magic. We accepted her offer and chatted over a cold Coke and water. She had a through hiker in the front seat who some of our group had met the prior night in Pen Mar. A nice bit of charity from a complete stranger. We started hiking again toward Annapolis rocks. We three were all in good mood as we chatted down the trail.

Shortly before Annapolis Rocks we met a southbound hiker. He was hiking the reverse of our route. He informed us that after the short uphill we were in for about five miles of nice trail. We were making good time.

By then we were rather late in the day. Perhaps 5pm. The temperature was quickly dropping. We thought we were near Wolfsville but it wasn’t for another hour. By then it was getting dark. Pringle and Sophie decided to take the car to Pen Mar. I texted Michael to say I was going “Turbo” and would see him soon. I had inadvertently given myself a trail name.

The next four hours were a bit of a mindgame. Someone mentioned that there were a few bad miles through Raven Rocks then relative easy trail afterward. After setting out I jogged the trail for perhaps a bile through woods and fields. Entering one large field I was lucky to see a few dozen deer bounding through the grass.

When I entered the Raven Rocks woods the ground became difficult to navigate. Rocks rocks everywhere. Too large to jog through in the dark. I had to slow down. At some point in the next 30 minutes I got turned around and found myself marching back out of the woods headed south instead of north. I quickly realized my mistake, cursed and turn around.

The next three hours were a constant scramble over rocks and around trees trying to guess where the trail was and searching for markers. Many times I almost convinced myself that I had gotten turned around again when a rock or tree looked familiar. I kept pulling out the compass to check. By then the temperature had dropped pretty far too. I hiked on.

When I crossed 491 I was elated. I had myself convinced I was through Ravens Rock. Then the train made a sharp turn uphill. No such luck. I started cursing at the rocks as I scrabbled over them. On a particularly bad scramble over a downhill covered in boulders I was convinced that I would run out of time. Eventually the trail leveled out but then it turned into an endless trudge through the woods I thought would never end. When my phone read 11PM I was more than a little desperate. I started to jog again. Shortly after I came out the Pen Mar campsite. Beast Mode gave me directions to the challenge end at the Mason Dixon line and sign in sheet. He also asked me to look for Wolverine.

After exiting the woods near the Pen Mar pavilion I called out to Wolverine and he answered. He quickly packed up and we headed downhill to find the challenge sign-in sheet in the mailbox. We had spent much of the afternoon looking around so we quickly found the sheet. We returned to the campsite, set up our tent and sleeping bags and started munching pizza.

In all I had been on the trail from 3AM to 1130 PM. I guess that makes me the slowest challenger :)

Beat that.

- Turbo.

Michael Martin posted on

Great reading! I think it's cool that we do so much writing about our hikes!

Joffrey Peters posted on

Yes, it's nice to hear the different takes on the day.

Up in front, things were buttery smooth. After Dave did the difficult work for us in the dark, Will set the pace for the day at a blistering 4.2 mph, and we just kind of toddled on from there trying always to move fast, and stop briefly. I mused that Snickers really ought to just cut out the middle man and put ibuprofen directly in their candy bars.

We took two longer breaks: one at Washington Monument to dry our feet, change socks, and eat substantial food, then another while giggling about the pain level sheet at Wolfsville Rd. After that, I felt so good that I jogged for a couple of miles. A bull in the open field mooed angrily at me. On the last of the rocks, Kylie took the lead and actually [i]sped up[/i] as we cruised to the finish. We searched for a little while for a Pen Mar sign that existed at some point last year, but eventually settled for a little note in the sign-in mailbox with our time of 14:34 (or something like that...what was the time you got, Kylie?).

Miles was The Most Loved Man In America, as he delivered beer and cheery Elmo fleece, then Michael and Jen arrived with pizza to usurp Miles' status. When the news of Trevor's "turbo" reached us, there was much amusement, and after a few laugh-out-loud quips from Miles, Trevor's trail name was sealed.

In the aftermath, I felt good enough to go for a jog in the night to look for Bryan, and the next day(s) felt totally fine, as though nothing happened at all...

/Beast Mode

Michael Martin posted on

So, the official time is 14h34?

People will be hungry to break that next year. Perhaps Trevor and Mimi will have a go.

Mignote posted on

I mean to jog the flat sections, but it would be wishful thinking to beat that time. Who knows :)

Michael Martin posted on

For what it's worth, the 15h time that Travis, Max, and I did, I do not recall us jogging a single step, and we effectively lost about an hour for water and taking a very long break at Cowall. So, I do think it is possible to get a 14h-ish time, just by walking.

I look forward to taking another stab at it, too, myself.

It's interesting because, this year, the rain made things harder in one way, but water was much less of a problem, and the cooler temps were ideal.