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July 19th, 2003

Mike Cunningham

This was Mike's second Wakely.  According to some accounts, having to push Frank's chair over the Lamphere Ridge really took a toll on Mike during last year's Wakely.  So how did these guys reach the dam this year in just 11:01:51 - almost a half hour quicker than last year?  Well the results from the lab are in and it turns out that the sample taken from Frank's bloody leg contained unusually high levels of iron - yes it's true.  Mike and Frank had been Geritol Doping!  After a consultation with USA Track & Field officials (our sanctioning body) we are advised that there is nothing we can do about it... so their 44/45 place finish stands.  Kerry Newell is still fighting the decision.

Mike's account of his run has been reprinted below...


Youngsters Frank & Mike make it look easy as they approach the dam.


The Run to Wakely Dam, July 19, 2003 MC

Hamilton County, New York has 1,000,000 acres. Most of it is in the Forest Preserve. The year round population density is less than 3 people per square mile. There are more bears and deer than people. There are 20 leantos in the Adirondacks that had no maintainer for them at the beginning of this year. Nine of those are in Hamilton County. Three of them were passed on this run. Officially it is 32.6 miles of trail with no road crossings. Unofficially, taking into account the blowdowns and the relocation and the substantial understatement of the last five miles (at least one mile understated), the race is in the 34-35 mile range.

 Frank Dolen and I ran this last year. Frank said it was the toughest race he had ever run. I agreed, but it was also one of  the best times I have ever had running. It took us about 11 Ĺ hours to complete. For some reason we agreed to run it again this year.

 There was a complication. Because I am the low person on the totem pole at work, I could only get off half of the day before the race. Luckily it was the second half. The plan was for Frank to go and get a campsite early the day before the race. I would join him when I could get there. It is about a 5 hour trip from Connecticut. Neither of our wives wanted us traveling all that far by ourselves. The campsites are designated as primitive by New York State. This means that there is a cleared site, a picnic table, and an outhouse in the area. Betty would go up with Frank and camp with him. Jo-Anna would go up with me, meet her brotherís wife and stay with her for the weekend them meet me again on the way back.  

I mostly packed the car the night before, leaving only the water jugs to be filled on Friday. I got out of work, drove home, packed the car. Jo-Anna drove while I ate my lunch. We took a stop at a restaurant on the Taconic Parkway. Using the EZ Pass we avoided most of the delay getting onto the Northway. We didnít expect the traffic to thin out until Lake George, but we didnít get that far. Around Saratoga traffic pretty much just stopped. I checked the map of NY State. It looked possible to get off the Northway and get to Route 9, head North and possibly avoid traffic. 

There was a jam up on the connecting road to Route 9. A car had stalled out. That got pushed off the roadway and we headed on. We got to Route 9 and headed North. Traffic was jammed up there too. Finally we saw flashing lights. A wire had come down into the road and only one lane was open. Maybe there had been a tornado. When we got past that it was clear sailing. There was a sign showing the way to the next Northway exit but the next exit was directly at Route 9, this one was some distance away. If the Northway was still backed up, I would have to backtrack.  I decided to keep heading North as long as the road was clear. We got to the next exit and got right on with no tie ups. As it was now a half hour after we were supposed to meet my sister in law, we decided to call. If I had a cell phone, we could just call, but since I hate them, we had to stop. This stop took about 15 minutes and three calls. She could not pick up the call (itís not her phone), so we called her home so they could call her. Eventually we took off again. 

We got to the assigned meeting place about 50 minutes late. We off loaded Jo-Anna and her stuff and I took off. I was on a deadline. I wanted to set up my tent before dark. I could cook after dark, but I wanted to be able to set up.

 On Route 28 I saw a fox crossing the road. I slowed so I wouldnít hit it. This being my year of the fox, I considered it to be a good omen, but sped on. Eventually I got to the town of Indian Lake. 2.2 miles west of Indian Lake is the turnoff to Wakely Dam. Twelve miles down this road is Wakely Dam. The road changes from paved winding country road to gravel winding country road to graded unpaved winding country road. It becomes what is called an improved road with a speed limit of 15 miles per hour. In some places it is wide enough for two cars to pass. In the winter it is maintained as a snowmobile trail.

 I got to Wakely Dam and cruised around looking for Frankís car. I didnít find it. There were no Connecticut cars. What if Frank didnít get here? I had passed the edge of nowhere about 4 miles back. This was the middle of nowhere. What would I do? All of the campsites were filled. I looked around for Jim, the race director. I asked some campers at one site. They knew nothing about the race. I asked some others. They thought he might be in a certain spot. He was. He gave me my race number. He had seen Frank, but since all 12 of the campsites were taken (only two were last year), Frank had to camp up the road. This site was another 5.5 miles up the continuation of the road to Wakely Dam. It was closer to 6 miles. I had quite a neat time driving on the road. Having a SUV is quite a blast. I generally donít enjoy driving, but this time I did. Actually Iím thinking of moving to Inlet, NY, which is at the other end of that road. That way I can drive this road all of the time.

 Anyway I finally found Frank & Betty at the campsite, got my tent set up, cooked and ate my dinner all before dark. We all retired before 9 PM. We were going to have an extra trip back down the road to catch the bus at 4:30 AM. Last year we only had to go 50 yards.

 I was actually awake before the alarm. I got dressed & made breakfast. BETTY GOT UP AND MADE FRANK BREAKFAST!! This is before 4 AM. What a woman! We left about 4:10 for the dam area where we would meet the bus. We checked in and were told to wait in a van. We got into the van and I noticed that one of my water bottles was missing. I went back to the car but couldnít find it. I grabbed a regular bottle of water that I luckily found. I say luckily because I had taken all of the water bottles out of my car. I never did find that bottle.

 Well, we waited in the van. Frank noted that we each had our ages for race numbers and said that the numbers were really our IQs, so since his was highest at 77, he must be the smartest one there. Jim, the race director, was in the shotgun seat. When the bus hadnít shown up by 4:50, Jim decided that we should drive up Cedar River Road to meet the bus. We didnít meet it. We drove into Indian Lake. We drove to the rafting shop where we saw the bus parked in the back. There was no one in the building. There was no one in the bus. The keys were in the bus. We saw the brake lights come on. We saw the brake lights go out. Jim came out of the bus and asked if anyone could drive a school bus. One of the runners could and told Jim how to start it.  Jim still couldnít start it or thought better of stealing it. (This isnít entirely accurate, we had stopped at the shop, went down the road, turned around and went back to the shop, but I am condensing this so it will be shorter than War & Peace.)

On a good day the trip to the start takes over an hour. We arrived at the start at 6:18. The race director said he would start the race at 7 AM. It was in the 40s. Frank & I agreed that we could use the extra half hour, and if we hung around, we would be too cold to move and wanted to start soon. Jim agreed that we could start early and keep our own time. We started at 6:28. Everyone else started about 7:15. 

The first mile or two of trail is really good for rapid movement and we soon settled into a reasonably decent pace. We could have gone faster but both have enough experience to know that the faster you start the more you slow down. The trail seemed drier than the previous year. It was still muddy in places and there were lots of blowdowns. The trail also seemed to be better marked than the previous year. Due to the better marking and some familiarity with the course, we didnít have to do any backtracking this year.  

Since we were out in front having started early, Frank was actually leading the race for a couple of hours. Leading a trail race means that you are first into the spider webs, which have been built overnight. Frank offered to let me lead but I declined. I did tell him that if I suddenly shot past him it would be because a bear was behind us.

 The Northville-Placid Trail is generally a lowland trail. That means it doesnít climb up mountains (although the hills were tougher than I remembered), so that for the most part there are no great views until you come out to a body of water. For the most part you could be running in the woods around here. One thing that is significantly different is that there are no stone walls. This land was never farmed, although much of it was logged. In fact, the better sections of trail are the remnants of old logging roads.

 Gradually we were passed by most of the runners. We noted that the faster runners were carrying fanny packs with two bottles of water. We were each using the same packs that we used last year. I had an extra water bottle because I had gotten a bit dehydrated last year, but then I do drink a lot of water. This year I had gotten brave enough to weigh my pack before the run. After all I had run with it the year before. With empty water bottles and raingear (which I did not take on the run) the pack weighed six pounds. With water in all three bottles (which seldom happened) it would be about 8 pounds. After all ďa pintís a pound the world around.Ē (6+3-1 for those of you who need real numbers). 

We ran for hours, we ran up and down hills, we crossed streams, some even had bridges. We refilled our water supplies, we ate, we drank, we made merry. We actually stopped at one of the leantos and sat for a few moments. Unlike Appalachian Trail leantos these had no registers, so we didnít leave any notes. We passed the leanto near where I had lost my glasses last year, but found nothing. I also searched the area, but the grasses were so tall and dense that I found nothing. We went through the trail relocation and found it much drier than last year. There was only one short section where the mud tried to remove our shoes.

We were being passed by slower runners until one didnít want to pass us. He had gotten lost and just wanted to follow us. We let him join us, but he wasnít very talkative. After 8 or 10 hours Frankís jokes are as bad as Rick Asseltaís, but that is no problem because so are mine.

 The last several miles are interminable. It is supposed to be about 5 miles, but it must be closer to 6. At last we got onto the dirt road, which indicates 1.2 miles to go. Now you must understand that we had been running for over 10 Ĺ hours at this time. The next weekend we compared notes and each said that the other one started running faster so that when I say that Frank took off and I was hard pressed to keep up, he will say the same. I do remember that Jim, the RD, yelled at me as we were coming into the finish, saying that Frank was beating me. This is probably why Frank got credited with one second faster than me and so I was officially last.

 Frank later told me that I was the second oldest person running this race. That was pretty hard to believe, but he was right. Anyway afterwards we celebrated by staying up until about 8 PM.


 

 

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