A passion for trail running, ultras, mountaineering, snowshoeing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gorgeous Fall Run in the 'Gunks at the Wagathon!

What's your idea of a fat ass run? Would a run where you don't even realize who the "organizer" (director?) is till the after-party qualify? Or maybe one where a bunch of shivering cold runners look around at each other until someone says "let's go" in order to get the show on the road (er, trail)?!

The 4th annual (?) highly informal event known as the "Wagathon" or simply "the Wag" took place this past Sunday in the spectacular fall foliage and near Indian summer weather of the Minnewaska and Mohonk Preserves near New Paltz, NY. By following a list of turns and trails the organizer, a great guy named Felix, posted on the web and circulated by e-mail, we all navigated a series of challenging, hilly, and very scenic single-track and carriage trails in self-supported fashion, with a considerable amount of scrambling thrown in for good measure! The "course" was roughly a marathon, but most of us (I hear we were roughly 30) missed at least a couple turns at some point, so in my case and that of others around me, I think we got in a good 28 or so. It was a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde, in the sense that the carriageways were quite runable if often steep, while the single track was often quite rocky and technical, and the scrambles were among the toughest I've faced on any organized run or race.

Friends Lisa, Garth, and I drove up to the event, along with our recently AWOL trail pal Melissa, who chose to do a shorter run/hike over part of the course since she hasn't been putting in as many miles lately (or maybe just wanted to soak in the peak foliage?!). After a god awful 5AM departure from the city, we met our friend Glen Redpath at the race finish area at 6:45 or so. His wonderful folks, visiting from Canada, were kind enough to ferry us in Glen's car and that of one other runner, Jim from CT, to the start in Cragsmoor, as the course is point to point.

The real highlights of the day were all the views--up to and down from the incredible cliffs, of the various lakes and ponds we ran by and looked down upon, of waterfalls, north to the Catskills and south to who knows which ranges and really in all directions, down from Mohonk Mountain (I think that's the name) of the spectacular Mohonk House, which looks like some transplanted European castle. Just gorgeous stuff! For much of the first 18 miles or so we were running near or right alongside incredible ridgelines. This was my first trip to these preserves, though I'd been to the general area, and I was blown away by its beauty.

This was one tough course! I think for Garth, me, and Lisa it more than served its ostensible purpose as a last long training run before Mountain Masochist (in VA on 11/7). Though mainly it was just plain fun! We got the runable very hilly dirt roads (carriageways), the slightly gnarlier versions of the same, and the hilly technical singletrack, all of which we'll face in a couple weeks on another course that also constantly changes up the surface (and piles on the climbs and descents!). Apparently, they had increased the single track quotient from previous years, when carriageways were more the focus. Fine with me! The early single track was quite muddy and at times under a few inches of water from the previous days' rains, though my Seal Skinz socks held their own. I particularly enjoyed the hand-over-fist scrambling in the Giant's Workshop, the section called the Crevice, and then in the climb up to Mohonk Mountain and the Castle around the famous "lemon squeezer" section, where you have to carefully hoist yourself up (after waiting a half hour in line with all the leaf-watchers and a group of boy or cub scouts ahead of us).

I felt pretty good. Early on when we got to single track for the first time I decided to move ahead of one group so I could try to hang with Lisa and Jim, who were moving at a good clip and seemed to have a good sense of the turns (Lisa having done the Wag before and knowing the Gunks well). Turns out I was right on the first count but not on the second---trying to be lazy on the navigation so I could just focus on the running proved to be a bad decision! We missed one turn and had to double back, adding maybe a half mile. Anyway, I breathlessly hung with them as best I could (thankfully there were occasional quick stops for route checks or bathroom breaks or photo ops!) on through the steep carriage trail that took us to a number of viewpoints.

Somewhere around mile 13 or so, though, we realized we had missed a turn. I pointed out to them that, though we had unwittingly cut the course a bit and bypassed a viewpoint called Gertrude's Nose, that it looked from the map like maybe we had cut off just about as much distance as we had added on with our earlier missed turn and backtracking. No dice! These guys were sticklers, insisting we go out and back along the steep, rocky trail down to Gertrude's, to make up for the "two legs of the triangle" we had missed. So I reluctantly followed them (still not wanting to take charge of my own navigation in an unfamiliar setting!).

The exertion of trying to keep up caught up to me, I found the faint blazes difficult to follow, and I fell back. As we came across runners going the opposite (correct) direction, I began to think, "this is crazy!" Once I encountered Garth coming my way, who I hadn't seen for 5 miles or so, I said to myself, "screw this, it isn't a race, and I'll easily put in more than the 'official' distance anyway!" So I hooked up with him, and we stayed together the rest of the day, sometimes briefly hooking up with others. As anticipated Lisa and Jim overtook us a few miles later anyway!

Like others, we had stashed water by one bridge (and really the only highway crossing) around mile 18, so that was our lone "aid stop." The rest of the course from there got pretty slow with all the scrambles mentioned above, and particularly with the long wait as people and especially kids got hoisted up the lemon squeezer (basically a hole in the rocks above you some 8 or 10 feet, with only minimal footholds between the opening and the bottom). I think we hit peak hour, on a peak fall day (it was sunny, breezy at times on the ridges, and probably hit mid 50s or so, but I kept on my long sleeve tee and vest and was fine).

Once we got through the lemon squeezer, got up to the top and the castle, and picked up our obligatory playing cards from the deck Felix had stashed there, we had to hightail it on the carriage trails (mostly downhill from there) over the last 5 miles or so. The day was getting late, we suspected we were the last ones out there (we had seen Lisa and Jim last going up to the castle), and there was the business of a beer and some German food to take care of at the "afterparty" at the Mountain Brauhaus (technically the finish, though we parked a 1/4 mile away at the Visitor's Center, and that was where the trail ended, and so did we).
I hit my watch at exactly 8 hours once we finally found the right lot among the many in a full late afternoon parking lot, which was just a bit more time on our feet than we had expected (especially given the good time we were making during the first half of the race, with its greater measure of carriageways). Somehow Glen had run the whole thing (and then some) in something like 5:30, and by the time we got to the restaurant was just leaving (beer in hand in the parking lot!) with his parents. One fast dude! And apparently two guys finished ahead of him (though rumor has it they may have been locals who took some judicious shortcuts?!).

Met some great folks from the New Paltz/Catskill area and CT during the outing. It was fun hanging out with them and enjoying a good Heffweizen and Schnitzel afterwards! The whole outing was really the epitome of the best of a fat ass event--great company, beautiful, challenging trails, an incredible setting, superb weather. Oh yeah, and no fees, no schwag, no official results or awards, no bitching--just good old-fashioned small-group trail fun! Thanks so much to Lisa for turning us on to this true gem of a event, and for organizing the whole outing for our NYC based contingent.

Can't wait for the next Wag!

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