The Wild Oak Trail. Wickipedia says “To complete the entire loop, various guides suggest devoting a day to each of the trail’s three sections.” Three days? Who has time for that? I had a day, at most, and realistically more like 20 hours to drive up, run it, and drive back to be home for family activities the next day. No problem! Especially because there are two times a year that this loop is part of a fat ass 100(+) miler….three days, that’s just silly. People loop it 4 times in 48 hours!
I left my house a bit before 4am and met my trail running partner in crime, Replay, at his place. After 4 hours of driving some back country roads we arrived at the trailhead. The parking lot was nearly full, it was a beautiful day, not too hot, not too humid, we were ready.
Sections of this loop cross over the Grindstone 100 course, so much of the first 10 miles I recognized from the Grindstone preview (I was unable to run Grindstone 100 due to a government shutdown last fall, read here.) The start of the course was pretty muddy and buggy, but as we ascended quickly the annoying gnats left us. The first 10 miles felt easy, and fun, and I kept remembering what it was like the last time I ran that section. (I also remembered the ever annoying black flies that pop up soon after the gnats leave!)
The 25.6 mile trail is broken up into three sections: FDR 96 to SR 718 – 10.2 miles, Camp Todd to FDR 96 – 5.2 miles, and finally FDR 95 to Camp Todd – 10.2 miles. Our loop came out to be closer to 30 miles, we missed a turnoff and ran downhill for a few miles before we realized our mistake and headed back uphill. If you would rather skip the getting lost part, there is a very detailed mile by mile account you can read HERE.
Elevations along the trail vary, from a low of 1,600 feet where the trail begins at North River Gap, to a high point of 4,351 feet on Little Bald Knob.
We hopped out of the car around 9:30, ready and eager to go. Replay had run the course earlier in the year (it was covered in snow at the time,) but he remembered most of the trails, so I deferred to him and was happy to let him lead.
It was a pretty hot day, but the climbs were nice and the views were well worth it! Almost all of the loop is spent running/hiking up or downhill. Some of the grades get as steep as 32% and the path is rocky and full of roots. Still it was so nice to be out in the mountains, and I was happy to be there. However, 10 miles into the run I realized the wet spot on my shirt wasn’t from my sweaty pores, but from my water pack. The mouthpiece had sprung a leak and had drained almost half of my water. I put a kink in my hose, and continued on, hoping that the what was left would be enough.
As the day wore on, I realized I was getting quite thirsty…and a tad grumpy. Not wanting to be a running bummer, I kept it to myself and pushed on. Replay signed up for his first 100, Bighorn and he had lots of questions. I was relieved to have all the questions to take my mind off the mentally low day I was having. Eventually I told Replay I was running out of water because my pack was leaking, and he was very nice to share.
We continued through the lady slipper trails, and past a small waterfall, and eventually crossed a wide (but only shin deep) river at Camp Todd. This is also, coincidentally, where I ran out of my own water. I didn’t want to hog his water, so the last 10+ miles were not my best.
I was hitting a low, when I suddenly heard Replay call out, “BEAR!” The bear was much more surprised than we were, and it took off down the side of the mountain. Even though we knew the bear had run off, it didn’t stop our hearts from racing, and we picked up the pace down the hill. Unfortunately after a few miles Replay stopped and announced, “I don’t remember this part at all, we missed a turn, we have to go back UP!”
Ok, I thought, back up, not just up, but up with no water…and possibly back up past whatever yummy the bear had been eating. I silently chanted, “please no bear, please no bear.” All the while feeling silly because I knew the bear wasn’t interested in us. Thankfully we came across the dog-legged trail crossing we had missed and found our way back to the car, bringing the day to about 30 miles, and 7.5 hours.
Usually I can enjoy my running trips to the mountains for exactly what they are; good training, and really nice views. I often end the day feeling satisfied and at peace having spent several hours away from civilization and with friends. This time, however, I left feeling a bit disappointed.
I felt very strong last summer on these trails, attacking the down hills, pushing the uphills, this time there was something missing. Bighorn 50 is just a few weeks away, so its too late to change anything for that. The fall will bring Grindstone, and the Barkley Fall Classic. Apparently in order for me to be competitive I have quite a bit more hard training ahead of me this summer!
Its good though, something fun for me to look forward to! 🙂