By Jeffery S. Bryan
Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Well the first thing you know ol’ Jed’s a millionaire,
Kinfolk said Jed move away from there
Said Florida is the place you ought to be
So he loaded up the Black F-150 truck and moved to Tallahassee.
Red Hills, that is.
Swimmin pools, politicos.
The Tallahassee Hillbillies!
Pitt vs. West Virginia. Panthers vs. Mountaineers. I bleed Panther Blue and Gold. Since the Pitt/Penn State matchup has gone into hiatus, there is nothing better than beating those hicks from Morgantown. How intense is this rivalry? Over the years even the stadium public address announcers have gotten in on the act. Several years ago, when the game was held in Pittsburgh, the stadium announcer stated over the loudspeakers: “Attention West Virginia Fans. Someone has left their lights on- will the owner of a tractor with the license plate E-I-E-I-O please go to the parking lot and turn your lights off.” And do you believe, he actually got fired for that announcement.
A couple of months ago, Gordon Cherr inquired about my interest in going with him to West Virginia to run the Capon Valley 50K which is located in the Yellow Spring, West Virginia Greater Metropolitan Area. I was hesitant at first but with plenty of leave time to burn and stress to reduce, I decided that it sounded like a good idea. What better opportunity to dust off all my old West Virginia jokes from college and to run another ultra on mountain terrain?
I circled Saturday May 14, 2005 on my calendar. This was going to be my personal version of the Backyard Brawl. To paraphrase the wise sage, Terry Bradshaw, “If you are going to go into your neighbor’s backyard then you better carry a big stick.” I knew that meant that I would need to get myself into shape for this event. I had recently half-assed my way through a couple of ultras and knew that wasn’t going to be the approach to take with this one. There was going to be some serious hills on this course and I wasn’t going to let them make me “squeal like a pig”.
Our trip got underway at O’Dark a.m. on Thursday, May 12, 2005. There was going to be some serious oil being burned as the trip is over 850 miles one way. We were going to be in need of millions of dollars just to get there and back. Where is Paris Hilton and her “Simple Life” when you actually need her?
Just because the 50K was in West Virginia, it didn’t mean that we actually had to stay there. Our destination and base of operations was Winchester, Virginia. A small town about 15 miles across the line. We arrived in Winchester, approximately 15 hours after departure. What a breathtaking ride it is through the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.
Friday was spent doing the usual pre-race preparations. Locating the start of the race, hydrating, fueling, and trying to locate the nearest restroom. We also discovered that Winchester is proud of its heritage as some kind of center of the Apple universe. I’m not talking about Macs and I-Pods. This town has giant six foot tall painted apples all over the place. Some painted with farm scenery. Some painted with famous people such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Even the mall was named after the apple.
Winchester also has a wonderful downtown outdoor walking mall in its Olde Town section. This mall spans several city blocks filled with eclectic art houses, the two Daily Grind Coffee Houses, the incredibly scenic Brewster’s Pub, and Winchester’s running store The Runner’s Retreat. The Runner’s Retreat is their version of Sportsbeat. It is locally owned by former elite runner Mark Stickley who ran for Virginia Tech in the early 80’s. Mark proved to be a very gracious and entertaining host during our visit to his store. Upon hearing that we were from Tallahassee, he quickly asked if we knew Larry Greene and Herb Wills. I told him that I was a friend of Herb’s and had only heard stories of Larry Greene. Mark shared with us how highly he thought of Herb and told us about their dual in the Metro Conference 10,000 meter championship (Mark actually won this race). He also told us a little about the experience of participating in the Olympic Trials Marathon of 1984 which Herb also attended.
Saturday morning came rather early. We had a 35 mile drive to make to the race start at Ruritan Park in Yellow Spring. When the directions include the language: “Cross the cement bridge, turn right on the River Road (just past the post office and general store) to the Ruritan Park on left” you know the place should not be that difficult of a place to locate. In fact, I was a bit surprised that the Tractor Store on the State Line was not even included as a landmark for which to watch!
The Capon Springs 50K course traverses the secluded mountain woods of Capon Springs and Farms. In consists of dirt roads, single track trails, grass fields, and more stream crossings than you wish to count. It has awe-inspiring views and the only known Hillbilly manned aide station.
The weather forecast was for temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Somehow, if Gordon and I decide to do the same ultra, hell like temperatures seem to be the norm. He could probably cause record highs in the Nome 50K in December!
Following the National Anthem and the release of the doves (homing pidgins in these parts), we were on our way down the road. The brutal hills came early and often. I was quickly joined on the road by Susie Kramer. Susie is a personal trainer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania whose husband just happened to graduate from Pitt the same year as I. It was a real pleasure to have some great company for the start of the adventure.
The first aide station we reached was located in the race director’s barn. I am totally serious. Leaving the barn, the trail became a single track meandering through some beautiful pines and slowing proceeding downhill towards the river. This section was only a little rocky by West Virginia standards and gently weaved back and forth across a stream. The trail bottomed out at the river which was 6.8 miles into the race.
Upon reaching the river, the trail made an abrupt left turn straight up. This section allowed us to use the wonderful hand/eye coordination for which runners are famous. The trail topped out at what can only be deemed a “shock and awe” experience. You came out of the woods on a powerline/firebreak where the trail disappeared completely from sight about six feet in front of you. The view in front was a huge mountain miles away with the firebreak running right up it. You couldn’t help to think what was about to happen next. There was no way in hell that I was going to run up that thing! The trail we were on continued sharply downwards on loose shale and other strategically placed loose rocks. This is where Susie and I parted ways. Pennsylvania is definitely a better place than Florida to prepare oneself for this part of the course.
After safely descending the mountain, the trail proceeded to take you through more woods and fields. My race was cruising along pretty good through these middle miles. According to the race photographer and aide station workers, I was placed relatively high in the field. Nothing else really eventful was occurring from my perspective. However, the temperature was slowly creeping higher during this period. The open fields and unshaded dirt roads allowed the runners to fully appreciate this. It was during this segment of the race that I encountered the “Hillbilly” aide station. The course took us right through this poor family’s front yard. They were decked out in their overalls and sitting in their rocking chairs on the front porch of a wooden house. Grandpa reminded me of Uncle Jessie from the Dukes of Hazzard and Dad resembled Ned Beatty. There is no telling what they thought of a bunch of people running this far on such a hot day. But bless their hearts. They had decided to do their part in helping with the event. They had Gatorade water coolers filled with ice water and coolers filled with bottles of Gatorade, Cokes, and Sprites. These were absolutely the coldest drinks that I received on the entire course. I’m sure that Grandpa would have offered up one of his Bud Lights if I had insisted. I thanked them for their hospitality and was on my way.
Somewhere between the 18.7 mile aide station and 24.4 mile aide station, destiny was about to occur. While with a group of five other runners, the evil spirit of former West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen caused us to be diverted off course. Our group took a 1 ½ mile sojourn straight up the wrong mountain. It was surely some kind of payback for Pitt’s thrilling last minute win over the Mountaineers last fall. We got about two thirds of the way to the top before encountering some woman on a horse. No it was not Lady Godiva! Our group quickly formed into a mob tersely interrogating the woman as to if she had seen anybody else come this way. Being of absolutely no help, the group by majority vote deemed it best to head 1 ½ miles back down this mountain.
At the bottom, we quickly discovered the error of our ways and proceeded down the correct trail. Reaching the 24.4 mile aide station well over 2 hours after departing the last one, I was competitively done. My fluids had been depleted and I was in a state of mild dehydration. Enjoying the rest of the course and just finishing seemed to be the best options available. The course was so beautiful it was hard not to enjoy the rest of the day. Also, thoughts of the post race food didn’t hurt to keep me moving down the trail.
Upon reaching the finish line, I was welcomed by Gordon. Unfortunately, his calf problem resurfaced after 18 miles and landed him on the buzzard wagon. I was really sorry to hear that he DNF’ed but his story about the trail-side medical treatment rendered by some fellow runner was hard not to find amusing.
Despite my extra mileage(free of charge of course), I must say that I am most pleased by the overall experience of this race. The scenery is wonderful. It is well organized, the beverages and food were plentiful, and the volunteers were friendly and made you feel right at home.
I took an extra day off from work today to recover from the race. I was able to get the lawn mowed before the spring shower came through midday. As I look out the window into my driveway, I really wonder whether a tractor would make a great second vehicle.
Well now its time to say good-bye to Jed and all his kin.
And they would like to thank you folks fer kindly droppin in.
You’re all invited back again to this locality
To have a heapin helpin of their hospitality
Hillbilly that is. Set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y’all come back now, y’hear?