Upper Yough Rafting Trip 2005

I had decided to do some hiking on Big Savage Mountain over the holiday weekend but last minute decided to take advantage of the white water in the area. Through the magic of the Internet, quickly found a rafting company that led trips down the upper Youghiogheny River. This involved all of about 5 minutes of thought on my part and the trip included Class V rapids via a dam release.

I managed to finally clean my house Saturday morning , Memorial Day Weekend. I refused to allow myself out of the house until it was finished. The minute I wrapped things up it started to pour, not a good omen. I sallied forth anyway figuring the weather is usually vastly different on the mountain. I arrived Big Savage Mountain in two hours flat, but it was overcast and cloudy on my arrival.

I spent the night in the van on a very quiet mountain. I rose early on Sunday and hit the trail. The Savage Mountain Trail was a mess, overgrown with tree limbs and sticks willy nilly everywhere. I figure in 2 weeks the trail would be impassable. It was tough doing even 10 miles, I made sure I was off the trail by 3PM in case it showered. I ate dinner in Frostburg then decided to drive up to Garrett County so I wouldn't have to drive the next morning. I played a game of minigolf and climbed a small rock wall at Fun Land in McHenry. I found a very nice townhome community which looked like a very complex log cabin and spent the night in their parking lot.

I woke up early and decided to go to Swallows Falls and do some morning hiking along the Falls before I had to go to the rendezvous for the Yough trip. The rafting segment of the vacation turned out to be the high point. 3 rafting companies showed up at the parking lot to meet their guest at the same time. 2 outfitting companies' guides wore golf shirts and matching caps. 1 company showed up with a beat up old bus and a bunch of half-crazed hillbillies in it. I had forgotten the name of the place which whom I had contracted beforehand. I said a quick prayer to God to please please please let it be the hillbillies with the WV tags and it was. I was elated, I knew today would be a great day. When we arrived at the put-in the other two companies started reviewing safety rules with their guests. I was being smart mouthed with the company leader and he suggested I raft with Josh, a guide who was missing more than a few teeth and had hair down to his ass. Josh told his 3 guests to "get in the raft" and we took off with no safety review or instruction.

I was teamed up with Jen and Dan from Canton, Ohio. Jen and Dan had lots of rafting experience, Josh had a lot of rafting experience, I had none. Josh asked me about my level of fitness, I told him it was pretty good, although I was the oldest one out of the 20 or so people who were with us by at least 10 years. We began our trip down the river, things seemed pretty calm, I told Josh that I wanted to have lots of fun so he better make sure he doesn't let me down. Josh asked whether I felt obligated to go for a swim in the cold water so I told him I didn't mind getting wet. I could tell Josh was going to figure out how far he could push me. I found out that Josh's specialty was doing 360s on the rapids. We went through the first part of the rapids pretty well until we got to a place they call "Little Niagara". Josh had some big ideas on how we were going to get through it, unfortunately, they were a bit over our collective skillset. At one point I heard Josh scream "hold on" but it was too late. I found myself in the water and under the boat. I don't have gills so it was difficult to breathe.

I came up for air, looked down river and all I could see was white foam, much white foam. I saw the raft with only two people in it hurling away from me. Then I saw a big rock, then I slammed into the big rock, then I went back under the water and down some more rapids. I drank lots and lots of river water. I went down some more rapids, somebody tried to grab me but they let go. Then somebody else finally threw me a line and hauled my sorry ass into the boat. Now there were 3 in the boat, Josh the river guide, was still missing. We found Josh and got him in the boat, we all had a good laugh. Josh had bit off more than he could chew with his rafting ideas I guess. But that didn't stop him from being just as crazy for the rest of the trip. I decided that rather than do what Josh told me to do, I would decide when to paddle and when to hold on. I didn't fall in after that.

A good time was had by all and I really enjoyed the trip.

Hike Across Maryland 2005

In 2004, a local running store advertised a clinic for its customers. The clinic offered to analyze a runner’s stride, provide a free tee-shirt and also review one’s nutritional intake, all for $15. I was intrigued so I sent the store my money and signed up.

Upon arriving at the store at the scheduled time I noticed many seasoned runners, or, at least they seemed like they were because they were dressed like professional marathoners. I never thought of myself as an experienced runner but I was excited to consult with the gait analyzer, a nice fellow who was spending his time that day with each clinic participant encouraging them to keep their heels low, run a straight line, and keep the toes pointed in the right direction. When it was my turn to get on the treadmill, I rolled up my jeans and jogged for a few seconds while my step was videotaped. The analyzer beamed pleasantly and said, “You know what? Your gait is absolutely perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Some people are captains of industry, some are politicians, and others solve difficult global problems. I realized on the day of the clinic my only God-give talent is a perfect gait, I can put one foot in front of another better than anyone else! I certainly haven’t excelled at anything else in life.

I wondered how I could showcase this newly discovered skill. I decided to participate in the “Hike across Maryland” in May 2005 sponsored by the Mountain Club of Maryland. This event is held in the odd years, the next one is scheduled for May of 2007. This event required one to traverse the Appalachian Trail, starting on the Pennsylvania line and ending at the Harper’s Ferry Bridge, in one day. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to walk 41 miles over several mountains on a very rocky trail since I had never done anything like this before.

I tried to tell my mother about my intentions, though she didn’t seem to get the enormity of the situation. During our talk mom changed the subject; my father’s stomachache was a better topic. My best friend was assured that I would be raped in the woods by an errant psychopath, “The Maryland woods are crawling with prison escapees and homeless people, it’s not safe!”, she proclaimed confidently. I was grateful there was no significant other in my life; I didn’t want to argue about my plans with a man. I saw that I could forget about any moral support, nobody understood my need to do this. Heck, I didn’t understand my need to do this.

Christmas Day 2004 I ventured on my first training hike. I drove to Pen Mar, PA and set out to find the starting point. When I began my walk I noticed the trail was more treacherous than I had envisioned, the ground was slippery and my water tube froze. This was going to be much more difficult than I had suspected.

I recruited a few of my friends to participate in the event. I thought that the camaraderie would make my training a snap. Unfortunately, I was quickly saddened to learn my friends didn’t quite have the enthusiasm for this event that had started to bubble up in me. I then attempted to hike with a group of seasoned hikers but during our walks our yin and yang didn’t seem to be in synch. The group hiked fast, they talked a lot, it seemed like the forest was filled with chatter, resulting in a brain-splitting headache for me. My confidence wavered.

It was months until May and I needed to build up my endurance to complete the 41 miles on the mountain, yet 15 miles was pretty much my threshold at this early stage. I made the uncomfortable realization that I would have to train on my own if I was to be successful yet remain sane. Could a middle-aged woman with no athletic skills pull this off without anyone’s help?

The ensuing weekends were soon taken up with a training hike on Saturday and recuperation on Sunday. No longer would there be time to spend with my friends and family. This endeavor would be purely for my own personal benefit. I wasn’t going to even get a free shirt. Was I wasting my time? What if I failed?

To avoid boredom in the upcoming months, I designed a variety of training hikes. One was the Baltimore Marathon where I discovered new neighborhoods in my own city. Another day I walked 30 miles on the beach in Ocean City, it was empty and beautiful. I walked miles through the woods in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. I saw many beautiful winter vistas and landscapes. The mountain trails was littered with Boy Scouts learning to backpack, but I never saw a Girl Scout troop. In fact, I never met another woman walking alone in the backcountry either. I walked in freezing temperatures, in snow, in slush, in rain and even had a few nice days. I climbed the hills of Hunt Valley at lunchtime during the workweek not far from my office. I pushed myself so far that sometimes my feet blistered and bled.

My endurance improved with each week. I concentrated on climbing steep rises without stopping. I worked on my physical endurance making sure that I could walk the 13-15 hours that this event was going to span. I altered my food intake and learned to eat while I walked. I became faster, stronger, and leaner, my singular goal became to move as fast as possible on a mountain.

The event started at 5:15AM on May 7, 2005 where our group of 105 avid competitors, 25 women and 80 men started on the Pennsylvania line in pitch darkness. Hikers had come from all over the US and few foreign countries to compete, I felt extremely at ease among these people even though most had much more experience than I. We ascended on the first steep rise by the glow of our headlamps. I found myself moving far faster than I have ever trained. I maintained a steady pace allowing runners and speed hikers to glide past me. Through shear dogged determination and adequate preparation I was able to cross the into Harper’s Ferry after 12 hours and 45 minutes. I was the 6th woman to cross the finish line.

I still can’t think of a reason why I did this. I am pretty much the same person as when I started, although I now believe that I can achieve the impossible if I put my mind to it.

Mile 39 of 41 Hike Across Maryland Posted by Picasa