Diane Van Deren caught the Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach Ferry this morning at 9:45, launching her 20th day on the MST Endurance Run. She’s now on pace to reach Jockey’s Ridge Friday at sunrise.
After the 20-minute ferry ride, Van Deren began her 75-mile day on the 20-mile Neusiok Trail, which penetrates the heart of the Croatan National Forest. In the dead of winter the Neusiok is one of North Carolina’s most enjoyable trails. The day after Memorial Day, with a muggy high in the low 80s and afternoon thunderstorms forecast, not so much. Fortunately, she’ll be able to draw on yesterday’s memorable Memorial Day for inspiration and distraction.
Yesterday began with trail guide Annette Bednosky again setting the day’s pace. Bednosky was Van Deren’s “companion runner” on Days 3 and 4 of the run, helping to shepherd Van Deren through 57 miles of challenging Mountains-to-Sea Trail terrain between the Pisgah Inn and Balsam Gap in the Pisgah National Forest. Bednosky returned to school — she’s a counselor at Ashe County High School in West Jefferson — then was back this weekend to help Van Deren push through back-to-back 60-mile days. Bednosky, also an elite ultra runner, was vital in helping Van Deren maintain a record-breaking pace.
Bednosky passed the trail guide baton to Connie Lewis and fellow running friends, Eileen, John and Ron who got Van Deren to the outskirts of New Bern. At that point, Van Deren was reunited with Tom Hurd, who, with Billy Gorman, were fitting Memorial Day companions.
Hurd had helped Van Deren through a particularly challenging Day 15. Challenging because of confusing trail and extensive road travel. (The MST is a work-in-progress; where progress has yet to occur, the trail follows a temporary route along paved roads. Van Deren, more so than most, is sensitive to traffic noise.) Hurd is in the U.S. Army based at Fort Bragg, and Van Deren said that was apparent in his focus to complete the day’s mission.
“He would hold the water bottle just so so I could get to it more easily,” Van Deren recalled the following day. “He said, ‘Now, if you need to you can put your hand on my shoulder.’ He’s such a soldier.” Hurd’s presence was even more comforting because he reminded Van Deren of her son, a Marine. So after racking up high mileage across the hot and humid coastal plain Van Deren was especially glad to once again see Hurd. Their passage through New Bern was especially well-timed. Hurd safely guided Van Deren over the Neuse River Bridge which can be daunting even in a car.
“There was not a dry eye among the crew,” reports MST Endurance Run coordinator Chuck Millsaps, “as Tom and Diane ran through New Bern’s highly decorated National Cemetery as the sun set on Memorial Day.” The moment was especially strong for Van Deren, who was joined by two friends from childhood back in Littleton, Colo. Holly had traveled from Washington, D.C., Stacy from Raleigh.
The long day ended around midnight, near the aforementioned Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach Ferry. Hurd and Gorman faced a 2 1/2-hour drive back to Fort Bragg, where they’d grab a couple hours sleep before reporting for training exercises at 6 this morning.