Appalachian Crossing
What’s the deal with all these maps?”

 

“Hello”. “Bill, this is Dan. Hey buddy; could you do me a big favor? Could you run over to Blue Ridge Mountain Sports and see if they have a copy of National Geographic Topo Map number 213-17 and send it to me via Federal Express overnight next day air to Helvetia? It’s really important”. “Sure Dan, no problem . . . I’ll get right on it.”

 This story begins on an unseasonably warm January day in 2004 when I ventured into the Randolph County Mountains to the home of Dan and Jody Lehmann. Following a warm and gracious greeting, we proceeded with the customary house tour. “Wow! This is a great place you have here Dan. What are all these maps you have attached to the wall?”  Dan replies, “I’ve got this great idea about a run across the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve mapped the first 20 miles. I think I can connect up a route that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. What do you think?” Staring at the squiggly lines across a decoupage of loosely connected maps, I thought to myself, “This man is insane. I’ve got to get out of here”. “Cool idea Dan, sounds like a great adventure”.

 Important decisions should not be made in a time of emotional distress or altered mental status. Now I had no intention of participating in this “Journey of Days”, in fact I had sworn off any association with this event and formally announced my intention to be on vacation the week of August 27th, 2007. Subconsciously I may have scheduled vacation that week as an excuse not to participate in the AC Crossing full well knowing that while my spirit said “Wow! What a great adventure!” my body said, “I can’t run 30 miles a day in the heat of a WV summer.”  Well there are a few lessons I learned in college that sometimes I manage to forget and most of them involve alcohol. For example after a few beers the girls really don’t get any better looking and secondly, after you’ve had a few beers access to a mobile phone isn’t a good excuse to call all your friends and commit to anything.

 See, Lisa and I were in Pennsylvania to partake in the greatly anticipated Police Reunion Concert and possibly the electricity of this event got my mind racing and I casually mentioned to Lisa over dinner and drinks how exciting the whole AC concept sounded and I may have not heard her correctly, but I think she said, “You should do it”. Now the words, “You should do it” uttered from the mouth of my wife after four microbrews and a plate of pasta meant to me, “Honey you are a stud and if you want to jump your motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, I think you would make it”. So heck if Sting, Andy and Stewart could do it after 20 years, what’s stopping me? Good judgment is the only thing that is stopping me, but a commitment is a commitment. So Lisa and I went about drastically altering our vacation plans so that I would be in the parking lot of the Dollar General Store in Millcreek West Virginia at 7:30 am on Thursday August 30th, 2007. And so for better or worse I was there on that very morning.

 Still everything is a bit fuzzy and I’ not sure why endurance events seem to alter the Space-Time Continuum, but throughout the entire four day event* (*this was more than a run, being that we were camping, running, eating, drinking and generally on the loose in the wilds of West Virginia for four days) everyone kept saying, “Boy, yesterday seemed like last week. What day is it?” Now its two weeks later and the happenings of the previous weeks are like a faint recollection of a dream I had as a youth. And they say that time heels all wounds and that may be true. My blistered feet continuously remind me of the last 120 miles, but the skin is slowly peeling away like the pedals of a rose and through the miracle of nature, new epidermis is emerging. My knees are not so achy and I don’t grimace when I sit down at work. People have stopped asking my why I am limping and the number of pills in the bottle of Ibuprofen on my dresser table is about the same as it was two days ago. Looking at the photographs it appears that everyone was having a really good time and any semblance of physical or emotional suffering was neatly “Photoshop” edited from each of the runners faces. It would be tedious to write about the day to day, mile for mile events that happened during these four days. Instead I think I’ll try to write about what I remember.           

Day One

I remember talking about motorcycles with Stottlemyer, but in the back of my mind I had difficultly squelching the anxiety. It was warm at the start. I was worried that Ashley would have difficulty finding her way through the maze of loosely connected trails and overgrown weeds. I remember scratching arrows in the dirt and finally reaching the summit of Cheat Mountain. Someone said it was 14 miles to the next aid station and I thought that was a long way. I remember a very long climb on the Allegheny Trail after Johns Shelter and watching my GPS altimeter climb above 4,500 feet. I remember the excitement of reaching each aid station and mirrored excitement in the faces of the volunteers. I remember the difficulty of the last six miles and wishing it wasn’t so difficult. I remember being thankful for those who waited for me at the top of each hill. I remember Bill’s sunken temples and a cool mountain stream and the taste of hot pizza shipped in from Elkins over an hour away. I remember Mike and Tony working to keep a camp fire going and finally I remember the comfort of an air mattress.  

Day Two

I recall feeling very good, but concerned about the day ahead. The Sinks of Gandy was a fantastic diversion. I remember feeling a sense of comfort when everyone decided to stay together, but then feeling lost while bush whacking to the summit of Spruce. I remember thinking we were at the summit of Spruce, but I was wrong. I remember telling Jennifer that I was done for the day and she gently reminding me that I should continue on. I remember the beginning of the Huckleberry Trail and how much it reminded me of Highland Sky. I remember the bottom of the Huckleberry Trail and the right hand turn we almost missed. I remember Dan teaching us about the history of these mountains and the cool breeze that swept across us on the ensuing climb. I remember sitting on top of the rock pile looking back over the many miles we had covered and feeling a sense of accomplishment and relief. I remember a long down hill covered with stinging Nettles that were waist high. I remember rubbing my legs with mud to relieve the stinging sensation then falling and jamming my hand down on a rock and being pissed about the annoying discomfort. I remember a hidden water fall and almost being a victim of a major tractor trailer pile up on Route 33. I remember meeting 90+ year old Mrs. Yokum.  I remember lying down on a well worn single bed and not much else after that.  

Day Three

I remember low hanging fog, low humidity and sunshine. I remember the views of Seneca Rocks and German Valley and not being too worried about snakes. I remember a tent on the summit of North Fork Mountain and wishing I was having breakfast around a campfire. I remember running NFM in the wrong direction and how oddly comfortable the trail felt. I remember a cool breeze blowing across NFM. I remember Katie hiking through a field and sharing her water with me. I remember Randy and me running down a country road and using the 8 and 2 method and feeling like we were flying. There was a big buck laying in the woods along side the road and we jumped him. I recall the mid-day sun and feeling weak. I remember Mrs. Young handing me an ear of corn and a very large worm crawled out of it. I remember Jennifer helping me get organized for a rally to finish. I remember feeling great when I saw Ashley running up that hill and then feeling disappointed when we missed an important turn and had to walk back up that hill. I remember a guy sitting on his porch and him saying it was three miles, “mostly downhill” to the river. I remember Logar sitting on the tail gate of his truck drinking a beer and we quickly dispatched to the Young Camp. I remember inhaling a hot roll smothered in butter right out of the oven. I remember coon hounds at 3 am.  

Day Four

I remember feeling like this was going to be a great day. I remembered running Rough Run in November of 2006 and it didn’t seem like there were that many switchbacks to the summit. I remember the salty taste of Randy’s deer jerky. I remember wondering where Dan found the energy to run up hill.  I remember that it felt like we were running fast along the ridge, but it was taking forever to get to route 33. I remember wishing there were keys in that John Deer Tractor. I remember counting 7 cars passing us on Rt. 33. I remember bikers at our Aid Station, but didn’t remember how long it took to get to the Brandywine Lake Trail. It was warm on the ridge and I wondered why that father and his two daughters and dog were hiking up the trail. I remember running through the parking lot with Randy and being so happy to be finished. I remember the taste of a Big Mac and fries at the McDonalds in Harrisonburg.

Today

Now those maps make perfect sense to me. They are no longer just squiggly lines across waypoints on a Topo Map. That “ladder over the fence” or the “second red gate”, now represent fond memories of remote mountain trails, knee high Spruce trees, mountain streams, scenic vistas and 20 or so Mountaineers who spent four days together connecting the dots on a map in the mind of a man who knew exactly what he was doing and for that I am grateful.

William M. Potts
A.C. Finisher
 September 2, 2007