This weekend will mark the start of my biggest outdoor adventure yet. No, I’m not going to scale K2 or speed hike the PCT. But for me, the girl who still views herself as the adolescent who settled for cross-country because it was the only sport without tryouts and the kid whose mom pleaded with her to “put down that book and GO OUTSIDE!”, my current undertaking is sort of a big deal.
On Saturday, June 30, as pro cyclists from around the world line up in Liege, France, five amateur runners from the Southeast will complete the Prologue of our own Tour (de Virginia, that is). For the next fourteen days, as Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins race through the Alps and the Pyrenees, we’ll follow the AT across Virginia from the Tennessee state line all the way up to Harpers Ferry, WV. Along the way we’ll cross Mount Rogers and wind our way through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and Shenandoah National Park. After the eight-mile Prologue, we’ll cover 34-46 miles a day with an average daily climb of 9,800 feet.
Child’s play, you say? True, we won’t be ascending the types of peaks that riders in the Tour de France summit, nor will we cover as many miles – or kilometers, as they like to say over the pond. Yet we also won’t have support vehicles riding along to change our flats (or provide fresh shoes). We won’t have nightly massages (or even showers). We won’t have throngs along the course, but we might run across a bear or two, especially running through the SNP, where the wildlife is so plentiful that AT speed record holder Jenn Davis has dubbed it the “Shenandoah Petting Zoo”.
What we will have are long hours of solitude, a faithful crew that will meet us at the end of each day with dinner, having shuttled our camping gear from stage to stage, and the good old fashioned heat and humidity of summer in the Southeast.
Although I’ve run lots of long races and cooked up a few adventures of my own, this will undoubtedly bring challenges unlike any I’ve faced before. Already I’ve found that dealing with the logistics of this type of thing can sometimes be the toughest part of the preparation. I’m all about multi-hour training excursions, but this time around I find myself thinking about how many iodine tablets and gels I’ll have to carry for 12-14 hour days and how many times I’ll have to stop to collect and treat water. I’ve had to learn how to run with trekking poles. I’ve practiced setting up and breaking down my tent as quickly as possible so that I can maximize my hours of rest in between stages.
When we reach the end of our journey, the historic Harpers Ferry, which coincidentally is where I spent many a day as a youth, checking out the wax museum and scrambling around Jefferson Rock, we’ll compute our total times to determine the winner. You might ask what the victor will receive – fame and fortune like the winner of the original Tour? (That is, until his title is stripped away due to a doping controversy.) No, the winner of our little Tour will receive a mounted black bear skull. I’ll bet there aren’t any pro cyclists who have one of those on his mantle!