Monday, December 7, 2015

Day 113: The Scott Jurek Story

June 28: The wind during the night was absolutely horrendous! While all of us knew that a storm was expected to roll in, none of us imagined it would be as bad as it was. Rain poured down for much of the night, but the wind.... the wind was insane. All through the night we heard trees crashing down and twigs hitting the roof of the shelter. One particular tree we heard crash down somewhere nearby and hoped it wasn't on one of the tents the group of Boy Scouts outside were in.

The wind was strong enough at times to blow rain fairly deep into the shelter. I scrunched deeper into the shelter. Even in good weather, I doubt I would have slept well. More than once I felt a knee rub into my back or a shoulder push into me. With 11 people crowded into an 8-person shelter, it couldn't be helped. We were all flopping around on top of each other during the night.

By morning, the rain had largely stopped and the wind had died down. It was still blustery and an occasional strong gust would blow through, but the worst had--for the time being--passed. Later in the day, another hiker who had a radio told me that they were calling it the "storm of the decade." I had to laugh because I remembered another "storm of the decade" a couple of years earlier during my Long Trail thru-hike. It would appear that Vermont gets a "storm of the decade" every year! To quote one of my favorite movies, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

But still, it was a big storm by normal standards, and its ferocity took us all by surprise.

Early in the morning, when it was still fairly dark in the shelter, Erica--the person who had started her thru-hike of the Long Trail the day before and had yet to get a trailname--was looking for something with a small light in a purple bag and, at first, I thought it was a black light. It wasn't, but the standard white light on the purple bag did look kind of like a black light and I suggested that should be her trail name: Blacklight. What an awesome trail name! I was kind of envious. *I* wanted to be called Blacklight! It sounds cool and sexy. Erika didn't immediately take to it and hemmed and hawed about using it as a trailname, but I think the idea of trailnames was still kind of strange and weird to her.

It's kind of a strange feeling running into Long Trail thru-hikers just starting the trail. They're still new to the trail, much like the AT thru-hikers in Georgia. Their feet are blistered and hurting, they're still finding trail names and getting the "lay of the land." Those who were heading south I'd congratulate whole-heartedly. I'm not sure most AT thru-hikers appreciated the sense of accomplishment those heading southbound were feeling, but having done the Long Trail myself, I did. I knew how challenging the trail was. It might not be as long as the Appalachian Trail, but they had a lot to be proud of. The Long Trail is not an easy trail!

And for those who were just starting their hikes heading northbound, I gave them encouragement. It's hard, but an incredible experience. The northern half of the trail is absolutely spectacular by comparison to what they were seeing here.

The trail was a little this morning!

After eating breakfast and brushing my teeth, I packed up camp and continued hiking. Many trees and branches had fallen across the trail during the night, and at one point I caught up with Jiggs who I "caught" pulling a large branch off the trail. When he stopped for a snack and I continued on, I started doing my own trail maintenance clearing the trail. We spent much of the day leap-frogging over each other clearing the trail. Some of the trees that had fallen were too big for either of us to move--they'll have to come in with chainsaws or cross-cut saws to get those later.

We'd taken a break at the Congdon Shelter when we met a guy running southbound on the trail, and he asked us if we knew anything about Scott Jurek. Well, we had all heard about him. He was trying to set a new speed record for running the trail. He started his thru-hike about a month earlier and occasionally I would hear about him passing an important milestone like Harpers Ferry. The last I had heard about him was when I was in Dalton and that he was expected to pass through within the next few days. So I knew he was getting close, but I didn't track his precise location each day. I didn't really care that much.

On the other hand, holy crap!!!! He only started a month ago and had already (almost) caught up with me?! (Keep in mind, this was now my 113th day on the trail!) That's just insane! It seemed like most thru-hikers I met didn't much like him or his attempt at a new speed record because he had a lot of support and sponsors, and people should be out to enjoy the wilderness and not go rushing through it. It's kind of a hypocritical response, though. I've heard day hikers accuse us thru-hikers as "rushing" through the trail as well. We'll get to some scenic overlook, or climb over Mount Washington, enjoy no visibility through the fog, then continue onward never looking back. There are places I'd have loved to lounge around at a nice viewpoint and read a book while a nice breeze is blowing through my hair, but I didn't because I didn't have time--had to get my miles in!

All those green leaves on the ground were blown off trees during the night.

While I had absolutely no desire to attempt any speed records, I feel very strongly that it's none of my business to tell other people how they should be hiking either. Going too slow or too fast--that's none of my business. I go at a speed that makes me happy, and if doing 50 miles per day makes Scott Jurek happy, then I'm not one to criticize. Good luck to him! The fact that he has a van following him along the trail so he doesn't carry a heavy pack or have to camp in the woods--good for him! I'm a little envious, to tell you the truth. But it would still surprise and annoy me when people I've known to slackpack at every opportunity they could would badmouth Scott's "supported" hike. Yeah, your hike is supported to. Should I be badmouthing it as well? Scott just has more support than most of us hiking the trail. But he was a hot topic of discussion at times so yes, I definitely knew who he was.

But in my opinion, hiking the whole Appalachian Trail is hard. It doesn't matter if you carry a 100-pound pack or hire porters to carry everything you need--it's still hard. So I had this strange feeling that while I could care less about Scott's record-setting attempt, I was really annoyed with all of the thru-hikers bad-mouthing him for making it a "competition" or because he was supported. So what?! How does that at all affect your own hike? I like the idea that anyone can hike the trail--it's open for everyone. Let's celebrate the diversity. Frankly, I don't want to share the trail with only people who are just like me.

Anyhow.... back to the present, when this runner going southbound asked us about Scott or if we had seen him. No, not as far as I knew! He told us that Scott was supposed to start his day's hike at Mount Greylock at five or six o'clock in the morning or so, and would pass through this area today and he was hoping to meet up with Scott and run with him for awhile. Jiggs and I shook are heads. "Yeah, we know nothing about that." Neither one of us even know what he looked like, but I'd imagine he'd have to be a lanky, stick-thin guy if he'd made it from Georgia to here in a month. He wouldn't be carrying a heavy pack, and he'd probably be moving rather quickly. But nobody like that had passed us and we told him as such. Given the time of day, we figured it was unlikely he'd have gotten here yet if he only left Mount Greylock that morning. If he averaged about 3 mph, though, we figured he'd be coming through within the next couple of hours.

The runner/fan continued running southbound, and one of the other hikers said that he heard that Scott was averaging 5 mph on the trail. I almost laughed at loud at this--that seems absurd! If he was averaging that speed and wanted to complete 50 miles per day, he'd only be running for 10 hours per day. I figured anyone trying to set a speed record ought be hiking at least 16-18 hours per day. Minimal sleep, maximum trail time! Truth is, long-distance hiking isn't about speed so much as it is about time spent walking. I'd have no hope of every doubling my speed on the trail, but I could easily double my daily miles by walking for twice as long every day.

Admittedly, trying to set an all-time speed record for the AT, speed is somewhat involved. Nobody will ever set a new speed record hiking at 1 mph the whole way, even if they walked 24 hours per day. But if I were trying to set one, I figured 3 or 4 mph would be enough to get the job done as long as you put in enough hours of the day. Some of the flatter, easier sections he might get 5+ mph, but some of the tougher, more difficult sections he'd probably do no better than 1 mph. I'm thinking a 3-4 mph average is probably what he was doing, which is about what the fastest thru-hikers on the trail typically do anyhow. (I average about 2.5 mph most of the time on this trail, but I'm not among the fastest of thru-hikers. Nor the slowest!)

Jiggs and I continued up the trail, leap-frogging each other as we'd clear more branches and trees from the trail. We started joking that Scott better appreciate our efforts to repair the trail because with all of the trees we removed, we'll probably cut at least two or three minutes off his time for today! =)

About a half hour after that first runner went past, a second runner going southbound crossed paths with us. "Have you seen Scott Jurek?" he asked.

"No," we told him. "He's still behind us... somewhere...." Off he continued running.

Yeah, Scott must be getting close. His fan club is tracking him down!

Probably another half hour went by when I got to a particularly large tree that had fallen across the trail. I wasn't sure if I could tackle this tree by myself. It was a BIG tree, but might have been just small enough for me to maneuver off the trail. It would have been helpful if Jiggs was there to help--between the two of us, I had no doubt we could get it off the trail, but he was behind me at the moment. He might catch up, but in the meantime, I was going to work on the tree myself.

I spent a couple of minutes wrestling with it when another runner approach coming from the north. He had a look on his face that I read something like, "What the hell are you doing?!" I knew he was looking for Scott--why else would he be in all that running gear? I'd only seen two other runners on this entire trail, and both of them were in the hunt for Scott. And I could imagine what he must be thinking when he saw me pushing around this giant tree--I was trying to sabotage Scott's record by blocking the trail!

"Hey, hi!" I told him. "Looking for Scott, are you?"

"Uhh, yeah..."

"He's back there somewhere," I told him, waving behind me. "You're the third guy I've seen running out to meet him. I'm just trying to get this tree off the trail."

He offered to help, which I was glad to accept because it was a particularly large and difficult tree. We got it pushed most of the way off the trail and he figured that was good enough and kept on his run. He didn't really want to help me, I could tell. He said that just to be nice. What he really wanted to do was catch up with Scott.

I managed to get the last part of the tree off the trail and continued walking. Jiggs would have been impressed if he had seen that I got that tree off the trail!

There was another tree whose branch broke and the large branch was dangling over the trail. It wasn't actually on the trail, though, and just dangled from the tree, swinging loosely. It was probably twice my height, but I decided not to mess with that tree. I was worried if I yanked it down, it could come crashing down on my head or otherwise injure me. I better let that one alone.

As I neared the road crossing that leads into Bennington, I heard talking behind me. I turned around and saw four runners: the three I saw earlier running southbound and one I hadn't seen before. Thin, lanky and obviously a runner. That must be Scott, I thought. He was also in the lead, which makes sense that he'd be the one setting the pace.

I took a photo of him as he went down the hill, and when he got close I said, "You must be Scott?"

He stopped and said that he was, and asked for my name. "Green Tortuga." Doing the whole trail, just like him. Well, maybe not just like him. =) He told me his trailname, which I've since forgotten because nobody ever referred to him by a trailname (not that I ever heard, at least--he was always just Scott, or Scott "Jerk.") He stopped for all of about 5 seconds--literally, 5 seconds--to talk, then continued down the trail. I hadn't really expected him to stop at all. We both knew we'd never see each other on the trail again, and he was trying to set a new speed record after all.

I had to smile while watching him go down the trail, though. He wasn't really moving all that fast. Maybe 3 mph, if that. If I had wanted to, I could have kept up with him--for at least a little, at least-- without too much trouble. Just as I expected, he's not fast--just probably putting in a lot of hours.

Several minutes later, I reached the biggest tree-fall I'd seen for the day. It was an enormous tree and the root-ball ripped a gigantic hole in the trail. Obviously, it was passable since Scott (and his new friends) weren't there, but I took about 20 seconds looking around trying to figure out how the best way to get around it was. Dang, that was an impressive tree fall! Definitely well outside of my ability to fix on my own. They would need a crew of people to fix this problem.

I decided to climb over the tree, which I did then jumped several feet down to the other side. I caught up with two other hikers on the other side who told me that Scott "cheated" and went around the tree. "I saw him cheat!" That made me laugh. Sorry, Scott! You've been disqualified because you went around the fallen tree and off the trail instead of over it!

And a few minutes later, I arrived at the road crossing for Bennington. Scott was still down there, at his support vehicle. A crowd of fans were nearby. He ate a little bit of something, and he stopped long enough so each of his fans could get photos with Scott with military-style precision. "Next person!" Bam! Bam! Bam! They must have been knocking out a person every few seconds.

I decided later that I'd brag that *I* caught up to Scott on the trail. Technically, I did! He was ahead of me, then I caught up with him! =)

Scott took maybe a ten minute break--it wasn't long--then he was off again to do who knows how many more miles that day. As soon as Scott left, so did nearly everyone else. Eventually there were just about half a dozen of us left. A few other hikers who just happened to be there, a trail angel, and a few Scott fans that lingered even after Scott left.

I lingered longer--I wasn't quite as rushed as Scott, after all, and there was a trail angel at the road named Steve who was giving out drinks and cookies to passing thru-hikers. He does that on a regular basis and told me that usually it's pretty quite and he'll read a book or something while waiting for hikers to arrive, but because of Scott's impending, it's been quite a busy and interesting afternoon. Jiggs needed to resupply in Bennington and arranged a ride from one of the Scott fans.

Viewpoint overlooking Bennington, VT. You can see Bennington Battle Monument near the right side of the photo.

Eventually, I too continued my hike. The trail immediately crossed a small river, near which I saw two guys taking down a video camera that had been stretched to roll across from one side of the river to the other. I stopped for a minute to ask them about it. They were there to record Scott's run for posterity and said they'd spent the whole day rigging it up so the camera would follow Scott running across the bridge. It was less than ten seconds of film, but they seemed pretty excited with the results. Now they were taking down all of the rigging. Sounds like a lot of work for just a few seconds of film, but I was really curious to see it. I didn't ask if they could show it to me--I'm sure it's all digital and they could play it--but now I kind of regret not asking. Maybe I'll see it in a documentary about Scott's run someday.

The rest of the day's hike was uneventful. I finished up at the Melville Nauhein Shelter which was packed with other hikers. I asked if they'd seen Scott run by--the trail was maybe a 100 steps off the trail and I doubted someone trying to set a new speed record would jog off trail just to say hi. He hadn't, but several of the hikers were disappointed to learn that Scott had run--quite literally just steps away--and they all missed him. One of the hikers there who I'd never met before said she had heard that he averages 7 mph on the trail. SEVEN?! Seems like the closer Scott is, the faster he goes! He might be an ultra-runner, but he's not actually running running! No one could sustain a speed like that on this terrain for a long period. Just not possible!

No, when I saw him, at best, he was probably doing 3 mph. And I told them as much. "He is human, you know!" =)

So that's my Scott Jurek story. He did succeed in setting a new speed record for the Appalachian Trail completing it in 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes beating the old time by about three hours. Three hours! From when he passed me, he'd be done in about two weeks. Me? Well, it was definitely going to take me more than another two weeks to finish the trail.... =)

As for the photos of him popping champagne at the summit of Katahdin.... *shaking head* That was pretty stupid of him. He's a roll model for a lot of people and flaunting the rules like that is inexcusable. He claims to have not known that alcohol at the summit was illegal, but as they say, just because you didn't know a law doesn't mean it's okay to break it. And much less when the whole world is watching? I don't know if he really knew the laws or not, but he should have.

Scott Jurek, heading down the trail along with three of his fans following behind.

This giant tree fall was a little beyond my ability to fix! I wound up climbing over the root ball (that giant pile of dirt). There's a large hole in the trail where the root ball pulled up. Everyone getting by either had to climb over that root ball or go around up slope around the damage.

Scott Jurek, surrounded by all of his adoring fans. =)

Steve (on the right) just wanted to give out trail magic to the passing hikers. He didn't sign up for the whole Scott adventure! =) "I just want to support hikers!"

Scott ran across THIS bridge! This very bridge! Mere minutes before I did!

The bridge isn't particularly noteworthy, except that these two fellows spent all day rigging up a camera to track Scott's run across the bridge. A lot of work for just a few seconds of video! They're taking it down now.


Mike said...

There was also an unsupported speed hike record set by a southbounder named Anish this year. I would guess that you crossed paths with her in southern Maine in early August. It ought to be an interesting comparison when that entry pops up.

Ryan said...

This might be a spoiler, but I actually met Anish during my 2003 thru-hike of the AT. She wasn't famous then! But the real spoiler is that I'm pretty sure I did see her near the end of the trail, but we never actually spoke since she arrived at the shelter at midnight or some crazy hour then left at 5:00 in the morning or some crazy hour. Because of her late arrival and early leaving, we never spoke so I never got her name and MAYBE it wasn't her, but I strongly suspect it was!

But long story short, I won't really have much to post about her....

Karolina said...

Did you know that Scott Jurek has Polish ancestors? 'Jurek' immediately struck me as sounding very Polish, so I checked information about him on the Internet.

Ryan said...

I did not know he had Polish ancestors. If I knew that, I'd have told him "Dnień dobry!" =)

Ryan said...

*grrr* Stupid typos! I meant Dzień! I swear! =)

MoonshineOverKY said...

The Princess Bride!!!!