IO: Four-State Challenge 2015

Posted by Dave MacLuskie on

Got to Fly

So after two aborted attempts at this hike Karan was able to will the Four State Challenge back into existence. Never mind that November is too dark and too cold. Who needs day light? This was an all-Forester weekend after all. Adventure will happen!

I took Friday off of work to enjoy a relaxing, mid-day, traffic-free drive to PenMar. I was immediately dismayed that the bathrooms were closed and the water turned off. That didn't bode well for our water plans. Sharon had already arrived and was doing a bit of pre-exploration, checking out the Mason-Dixon line and, like any good assassin, taking a photo of her target. On the way to Harpers Ferry we hid the sign-in sheet at Wolfsville Rd along with a gallon of water. Ditto for I-70.

We did a quick check-in at Harpers Ferry Visitor Center then decided to head out for some food. I had barely taken a bite of what had to be a 2500 calorie sub sandwich when Karan called. He'd gotten off work earlier than anticipated and was coincidentally a couple blocks away deciding on a restaurant. He joined us shortly for a rare group pre-hike meal. With our bellies full we headed back to the visitor center, donned our packs and hit the trail. Darkness had fallen earlier than we expected so the trip was in the dark. The air temps of 70+ deg ensured we were all sweating by the time we hit the VA state line.

We were in bed by 7:30pm. An absurd bedtime for sure but we had a 2:30 am wakeup call. Unfortunately something loud sounded around midnight. I'm not sure what it was but I have to figure it was a bird, squirrel, or harbor seal. Whatever it was it had an airhorn. The conversation went something like this:

Karan (cautiously): "Dave?"

Dave: "Yeah?"

Karan: "Um.. What was that?"

Dave: "I have no idea... maybe a bird?"

Sharon: - slept through the whole thing -

After Michael's comment that he had thought about just showing up on Friday I half wondered if he hadn't hiked up there at midnight with an airhorn just to mess with us. The noise didn't return though.

Predictably 2:30 am arrived earlier than desired. We were packed up within 15 minutes and hitting the trail around 3am. The descent went quickly and soon we were crossing the bridge. Karan squeezed by and said his farewells. By the time Sharon and I crossed the bridge Karan was out of sight. We'd see him about 15 hours later. My memory from last year proved comforting as I deftly moved though the sleepy town of Harpers Ferry. Even the construction detour didn't phase us. Sharon and I enjoyed cross the train bridge while a long train rumbled by on the far set of tracks.

With temps in mid 50's I was comfortable in a short sleeve merino t-shirt. The temps stayed in the 50's pretty much all day. The sky remained overcast with a slight breeze. We had a bit of misty spit rain for 10 minutes or so but nothing of consequence. Really it was ideal weather for a long hike.

At one point before the big climb up to Weverton I noticed Sharon disappeared. I wait 5-10 min for her wondering what was up. She's apparently stopped for coffee and an apple. We established a no-wait policy after that. This is a hard core group.

We were each alone from this point out. Sharon and Karan had a group text message thing going but apparently you have to have your data plan turned on to get in on that. I cleverly had turned mine off to save battery power so I missed the chatter. The trail to Gathland State Park was rockier than I remembered. Last year the fog/wet lodged in my mind. I made it to Gathland at 7am sharp. The bathrooms were closed but the water pump was running. Phew! I was completely dry so topped off water, fixed my shoes and headed out. The slamming of a porta-potty door announced Sharon's arrival as I hit the trail.

The park near Washington Monument was (again) packed with scouts. The bathrooms and water were both operational and I took advantage. I dogged the climb out of the Monument area. On the descent to I-70 a crazy lady in a red shirt yelled from behind me. "I caught you!" I looked back to see her raising her arms menacingly and brandishing her hiking poles. It was pretty terrifying and I got a pretty good dose of adrenaline before realizing it was Sharon. Having satisfied herself in startling me she almost immediately stopped for some food and something she called "rest", whatever that is. I haven't looked it up yet.

I-70 sign in:

B.A.: 10:02am. "This thing is long. Podcasts help :)"

EZBake (in MacGyvers slot): 11:15 "Ugh"

MacGyver (in EZBake's slot): 11:17 ":)"

I didn't need water at the I-70 cache but signed the sheet and kept moving. I was determined to make good time on the flat trail after the climb up to Annapolis Rocks and did much better than last year. Even the rock garden didn't annoy me (quite) as much. I had the song "Got to Fly" running through my head through this section, especially the middle section. The curious can check it here: (The song is track 8, section in my head was around the 2 min mark. Firefly fans might enjoy the album in general).

Dave MacLuskie posted on

Wolfsville Rd sign in:

B.A.: 1pm. "Feet hurt! Podcasts rock man!"

EZBake (in his own slot this time): 2:05 "no more %&*^*(& rocks!"

MacGyver : 2:20 ":-)"

The next 5 miles seemed harder than I remembered. I began to dread each road crossing because it meant a big climb. Finally the steep ascent to Raven Rocks and the continuous ascent to the ridge. It was 4:15pm and I rushed to High Rock trying to get there so I could descend before it got dark. I made it by 4:47pm and cursed my way down as dusk settled. Fortunately I made it through the rough part and was on the annoying last couple endless miles before I had to stop and pull out my head lamp.

Karan greeted my as the AT drops onto the "road" by Penmar. He'd already setup camp, eaten dinner, and was half way through a novel. I bent my feet to my will and walked on to the Mason Dixon line, signed the book, then headed to my car for a liter of water I happened to have for everyone to share (as the water was turned off at Penmar). I caught Sharon's headlamp as I walked back to the trail and was pleased she was so close. She was also able to descend the tricky part of High Rock in the after glow of dusk.

Camp was established. Food was eaten. We were again in bed by 7:30 and I feel asleep pretty quickly. Morning arrived at a crisp 34 degrees. Everyone was quite mobile while we packed and I didn't see any limping as we walked to the car at 7am. We were soon back at Harpers Ferry then onto a Cracker Barrel in Fredrick, MD for some food before we went our own ways.

Ultimately Karan set a new DC UL record of 13 hrs, 26 min. Extremely impressive. He did NOT have the lightest pack.

Sharon's debut was an impressive 15 hrs, 35 min.

I came in at 15 hrs 15 min, about 45 min faster than last year.

Fun fact: Sharon picked up the sign-in sheets as she passed them (last to sign) AND the water caches. She came into camp with two 1-gallon jugs hanging off her pack. They were empty but it was a sight. I think it enhanced the MacGyver reputation for having an extra 2 gallons of carry-capacity and/or emergency flotation devices in the event of disaster.

For those looking to hike this be aware that available light is a real issue. Sharon clocked an impressive time and still barely made the tricky descent with available light. The traditional October time frame is definitely nicer as it afford an extra hour of light. Also, while the trail doesn't have a ton of elevation gain for the distance what it has is pretty steep. Much of the flat area is rocky and it's tricky to walk in the dark/covered in leaves. You could pick a much faster 40 mile stretch, but that isn't the point. Water turned out to be ok despite the parks being closed. With Gathland and Wash. Monument having water and being at key points the only real issue is the Wolfsville area. The cache there was nice to have. The creek wasn't running but had some small stagnant puddles. The creek next to Foxville Rd. and MD 491 both had water but the discarded dirty diaper sitting next to the 491 source confirms my reluctance to take water from sources so near a highway.

Sharon G posted on

Great write-up, Dave! You don't waste any time. A few random observations in response:

1. It always amazes me how being out in the woods enables me to be perfectly content with many hours hiking alone, without music or Podcasts. I don't even recall getting any songs stuck in my head this time. (Usually it's "Death March" by Frightened Rabbit.) I might have to get me some Marian Call. Thanks for the link.

2. I don't recall ever using the word "rest." It was always about food. And honestly, I think that's the only reason I didn't bonk. My stops were all for water, food, bathroom, or foot taping. Side note: The power of water, Starbucks Via, and powdered milk in a Nalgene bottle is simply amazing.

3. Although the lack of light slowed me down a ton, and my GPS track showed a lot of stopped time in the last hour while I looked for trail markers, I still think the cooler weather advantage outweighed the disadvantage of the shorter daylight time. Personal choice, I guess.

Karan posted on

I'll echo that too - Nice trip report, Dave and whoa - you wrote that so fast!

I did start the trip with the intention of attempting to break the record from last year. Last year's group definitely had tough conditions starting in the rain/fog and walking that extra half mile or so to where we started from this year. I was fairly confident that I'd be fine in the first 20ish miles - but beyond that, I wasn't too sure. Doing the Great Range Traverse, Black Forest Trail, Ramsey's Draft + Wild Oak Trail in the past few weeks definitely gave me the advantage of practicing long, hard days. Unlike Dave - who I believe hadn't done a 20+ mile backpack day since Massanutten Trip last year and Sharon - who hadn't done a 25+ mile backpack day ever until yesterday (please correct me if I am wrong). Considering that, I think the time you guys did it in is seriously impressive. Kudos!

I felt fairly solid in the first 25ish miles. I took one short break at around 18 miles to take all the rocky crap out of my shoes. My next break was at the I-70 checkpoint. After that, my body started feeling a little colder than it should have been. Sharon later suggested that I probably wasn't taking as much food/water as I should be. I did take a few breaks here and there - but I kept them very short, never more than 15 mins. It wasn't too bad in the end. The toughest miles for me were the last 2 miles - every part of my body was telling me to stop. I managed to make it to Pen Mar, took two Ibuprofen pills, felt much better, headed to the park (where the view is) and then eventually settled-in. Thankfully, my appetite returned after some time. It was great to see Dave and Sharon later - 15 hours after I saw them.

Now I have never hiked by myself for more than 6 miles on a DCUL trip. So I had prepared myself by loading my phone with podcasts and music. And although I've barely ever used headphones on the trail before, music and podcasts were my companions in the enduring hours. Some of the podcasts really took me to a different world - far away from the reality of what I was doing. I am glad I had them on. They made a ton of difference for me!

After I reached the Pen Mar mark, I pretty much swore myself never to do something like this, but today I feel different :).

44 miles is a lot - it gives me a sense of accomplishment. (It also feels so much better in kilometers - trust me, just try to convert that and see for yourselves) Finally after 2 years of hiking with DCUL, I've earned my "@" sign. Yay!

Dave MacLuskie posted on

"After I reached the Pen Mar mark, I pretty much swore myself never to do something like this, but today I feel different :). "

Mwahaha! That's how it starts.

I hadn't considered the extended "alone time" on the trail as something to overcome but that's a good point for folks attempting the challenge. It's not just the route-finding in the dark. Being alone with your thoughts can be tough as you get tired, fatigued, cold, and start passing designated bail-out points. (We had no bailout cars this time so there was less temptation.) Like a lot of endurance events, the mental challenge can be a real thing.

Hua Davis posted on

WOW!!! What impressive a job well done. Congrats to ALL !!!![:D]

Joffrey Peters posted on

Very impressive, Karan! That's fast. To break that record, one must either run, or not stop at all.

Karan posted on

Thanks Joffrey. My total break/stop time roughly added up to 60ish minutes, so I think that *technically* one could shave off a few minutes from my time just by reducing downtime, without running.