May 27, 2012

“Talk to me, Joe!”

After four days and 83 miles on the trail with Diane Van Deren in her quest to cross the statewide, 935-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail in record time, I knew what that meant: Give me some good news.

I knew the news was good, but I didn’t want to oversell it. I was relatively familiar with this section of the Falls Lake Trail, a 60-mile trail that is part of the MST, but it was 12:50 this morning, it was pitch black and while I knew we were close to trail’s end — and to the 600-mile point in Van Deren’s MST Endurance Run — I wasn’t sure how close. The last thing you want to tell someone who’s been on the trail for more than 18 hours and whose feet are on fire, is that you’re a quarter mile from done, when in fact you’re a quarter mile and a yard.

“Almost there, Diane!” I hedged.

Shortly, at 1:08 this morning, we emerged from a hardwood tunnel onto a short gravel road, walked downhill for 50 yards and were at the tailrace below Falls Lake Dam — the southeast end of the Falls Lake Trail and Van Deren’s destination for the day. She commemorated reaching 600 miles, fittingly, with a photo with trail guide and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Executive Director Kate Dixon.

Diane_Kate at 600 miles
“Hi Joel,” Van Deren said to a waiting Joel Fleming on her support team. “Directly to the hotel and to bed, please.”

Another day, another 50 miles.

On this, Day 16 of her hopefully 21-day expedition from Clingman’s Dome, which she left on May 10, to Jockey’s Ridge, where she hopes to be Wednesday, Van Deren burned through four trail guides: Halle Amick, president of the Carolina Godiva Track Club; Leah Carroll, triathlete, junior at UNC Wilmington and part time Great Outdoor Provision Co. employee; Dixon; and me.

While the trail guide’s main job is to keep Van Deren on course, they also help her “stay in the moment.” That is, to keep her distracted from the enormity of the task at hand, in part through keeping her entertained. More often than not, though, it’s Van Deren who does the entertaining.

Someone asks Van Deren if her mom was competitive. Van Deren laughs.

“I’d be in a competitive tennis match, be very focused and get upset, and my mom would say, ‘Honey, do you need some lemonade?’”

Later she recounts the end of her previous day on the trail, a day marked by wading through waist-high flood water and navigating a stretch overgrown with brush and brambles. “Last night Joel brought me Waffle House, a comb and a new toothbrush. I was in heaven.”

Van Deren’s journey resumed early this morning from the base of the Falls Lake Dam. For the next 200 miles or so, her expedition will be on country roads through the Coastal Plain, an area where the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has yet to find a permanent route. To avoid the heat of day and traffic, she’s contemplating shifting to evenings, possibly trekking overnight and resting during the peak heat of afternoon.