October 8, 2005 • Fort Valley, VA
15 starters, 12 finishers
As Chris and I sat on the porch of the luxurious Pioneer Motel, we saw a spider snare an insect in her web. The victim had thought it was a good idea to fly there. The spider carefully wrapped the insect in the webbing, sort of like that scene in the Return of the King, and injected venom into the hapless prey. But the venom did not kill the insect. The next morning, the insect was still moving. His agony was prolonged to the delight of the spider. And the whole thing was caused by the desire of the victim to do something that seemed right but turned out horribly wrong.
The insect’s misfortune was symbolic of the Ring. Fifteen victims thought they wanted to do the Ring. No one sought them out. Like the insect, they found the Ring. The Ring not only killed them, it prolonged their torture. But unlike the spider, the Ring organizers warned them. People, especially trail runners, are not quite as smart as insects!
A string of very good running weather was broken by rain. We awoke to very wet weather. It was a particularly bad day to pee on an electric fence. Fortunately for the runners, the rain was neither drenching nor steady. It even stopped by Saturday afternoon and held off for the rest of the run. The temperature was almost perfect so that, overall, it was a pretty good day for running.
The rain probably affected the helpers more than the runners. It was annoying to be wet all the time. But at Camp Roosevelt, the first official check point, we set up under the picnic shelter and made the runners come to us. That helped a lot. It did, however, make the Ring about 50 yards longer this year.
Speaking of helpers, right up top we have to put in a huge thank you to all of those who helped during the weekend. While there were only 15 runners, they got themselves very spread out. Three dropped out and needed rides. All needed aid. There was a lot of waiting around. There was a lot of driving around. At first, the waiting was fun. It was the normal Ring party. But as people spread out, and the party has to break up to service the many checkpoints that were open at once, the fun drops.
Many people gave greatly of themselves despite being tired, cold, and hungry. There is no way that the runners could have had all the fun they had this year without the volunteers. Thank you all who helped!
While we are talking about volunteers, we should not forget the folks who built and maintain this trail. While there are a few rocks they missed, they did a great job. Thanks to them also. (MT Dedication Ceremony [off site link]
Opps. One more thank you. Much of the aid and other sustenance that the runners received was subsidized by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. The success of the club’s big “events” allows it to support events like this. It seems like a worty cause.
No trip to Front Royal is complete without a visit to Jalisco’s. This trip was no exception. All but two of the participants showed up for the pre-run meal. Most loaded up with margaritas, all loaded up with grease, cheese, and refried beans, the staples of the menu.
Much as we go there, you would think that there would be a VHTRC table or discount. There isn’t. But we did luck into the usual back corner where they put all rowdy-appearing groups.
After the dinner, the group gathered by the restaurant’s street sign for a picture. Before we could take the shot, the world’s biggest pickup parked in the space in front of the sign. The driver, however, kindly let us stand in the bed of the truck for the picture.
Fifteen souls and assorted hangers-on appeared at the Signal Knob Trailhead for the start. It was dark and wet, but not cold. Most were lightly dressed and seemed unfazed by the rain. After a search for the official start/finish rock in the ground, the group was given the “go” signal. At precisely 7 AM, the runners started off on the trail and immediately took a wrong turn. A harbinger of things to come. It wasn’t too bad. They figured out their error, and got back on course with the back of the packers now leading.
The Unofficial Help
The Massanutten Trail on the east ridge goes more than 20 miles without a road crossing. Ringers are supposed to be able to make it for the first 25 miles without aid. But the essence of the Ring is surprise. So there were two check points over this first portion. Bob Phillips, Quatro, and Vicki hiked the rocky mile up to Veach Gap to give aid there. Then at Milford, where Jean Whitman had previously put out water, Gary and Brian took an ATV up to supplement that water with goodies like Yoohoo. The result was that the runners came into Camp Roosevelt fat and happy. That would end.
The Ring Gets Serious
For most runners, a major change in their fun meters occurs between Camp Roosevelt and the Crisman Hollow Road crossing. The exact point of the change is mid-way up Waterfall Mountain. What had been a lark in the woods gets real tough, real quickly.
As you arrive at the Crisman aid station, you can console yourself with the thought that the real fun is about to begin. After that check point, you have Kerns Mountain, Short Mountain, and the climb out of Edinburg for a one-two-three punch. It wasn’t pretty for many of the runners.
So what did the support folks do to help?
If it weren’t for the party, the Ring runners would be SOL. No one in his right mind would go out there alone and wait forever for runners to come by. The party takes care of that. The party flows from aid station to aid station. It ebbs and flows as the center of gravity of the field changes. It finally dies out as the support crews get so split up that they can’t keep a critical party mass at any one place. Additionally, at some point in the middle of the night most lose the ability to fit anymore beer or Knob Creek into their distended stomachs.
Every party needs a leader and, as always, the leader on this day was Gary. After taking aid to Milford Gap, he frankly didn’t do squat for the runners. But he supported the crews which helped the runners. Thanks Gary!
The Course Markings
The Ring is intended for those who know and love the Massanutten Trail and just gotta do the whole thing. You are supposed to know the trail. There are no course markings. You have to followt the blazes.
This year’s field demonstrated that it’s one thing to just know the trail and another to really know the trail. Several folks had trouble following the trail. No one got very far off course, but several were confused and spent a lot of time confirming that they were going in the right direction. One runner, in a move that made two folks at last week’s TWOT feel even better about themselves, wandered around and ended up going back along the course the way he had just come. It sounds crazy but you go up there in the dark. It happens.
Jeff Wilbur had a great run. He looked good all day and almost finished in the same day he started. His was probably the second fastest Ring performance. Steve Burton and the other folks behind Jeff ran well. Kerry Owens was the first female to finish. Her time was just a bit slower than Sue Johnston’s woman’s best Ring time. Kerry also proudly claimed the “First Drunk” award for the first person to finish who had been hitting the tequilla the night before.
One of the finishers was John DeWalt. John became the second and fastest 69-year old to finish the Ring. (Ed Demoney was the other 69-year old to finish.) It was appropriate for John to do the Ring. He used to come to all of our events in this area. He has done MMT four times and the old Trail Run Across the Commonwealth several times. He is most noted, of course, for finishing Hardrock 10 times.
John has not been around as much because he hates computers. He doesn’t know about our runs because he doesn’t receive any information from the Web. The Pero’s talked him into the Ring at Camp Hardrock. He arrived not knowing about the course. He had never been on the trail down from Signal Knob. At the end, that is all he could talk about. How bad that trail sucked.
The last five miles from Signal Knob down to the finish have a special place in the hearts of Ring runners. That is the part of the electric fence that folks just have to pee on to see if there really is electricity in the wire.
It is hard to comprehend ahead of time how bad it will be to go down those last five miles from Signal Knob. The trail is flat or downhill in the direction you are going. You have been on the trail before and it wasn’t that bad. So why does it suck? It just does. Trust me on this one. Your feet will not feel good going down that hill.
I am very proud to have been involved in the creation of the Ring. As usual, however, it was Chris who has put that unique stamp on the run. When the Massanutten Trail circuit was complete, it was obvious that it had to be done. That part was easy. But how to do it? Entry fees, aid stations, lotteries, sponsors? No, not this Ring. This run is, in some ways, a subtle protest of all things commercial and over-hyped in trail running. Maybe not a protest, but at least a demonstration that the best part about a trail run is free — the trail.
While Chris and I set the date of the Ring, the run has taken on a life of its own. Most of the aid and support was provided by others who, with no more than an e-mail, showed up to help. Why are they there? Because there is something appealing about watching these runners take on the Ring. Maybe it is the same thing that causes drivers to rubber neck to see bloody traffic accidents, but it is powerful none the less. The Ring is a worthy enterprise to participate in and even if it isn’t, it’s a nice place to drink beer.
Be sure to see all the great photos and commentary on Flickr: Sophie’s, Anstr’s, and Aaron’s.
Jeff Wilbur beat all run officials, crews, handlers, etc. to Powells Fort Camp, thus we have no time for him there.
Last updated December 28, 2019