Wednesday, July 17

Sheltowee Trace Fastest Thru-Run/Hike Update

Matt Hoyes was unsuccessful in his fastest known time attempt on the Sheltowee Trace.  You can read his account HERE.  The short and sweet version is that he ran for four days covering 38, 37, 31 and 27 miles respectively.  With an infected big toe he called the race at the I-75 crossing.  I think that's still an incredible effort and nothing short of visionary considering the somewhat lackluster history of the Trace.
 
It sounds like he’ll head back out for another attempt in the future.  The staff here at the expansive Pavement’s Edge megacomplex will be eagerly awaiting the news that Matt is off and running again.  Maybe next time we’ll even be out ahead of him to cheer him on and to give our millions of readers almost live updates.
 
But that begs the question—since we’re all cyclists here at the Google-like compound—when will someone attempt a truly fast thru-bike of the Trace?  So glad you asked Legion of Readers!
 
While browsing back through the archives of the Mapping the Sheltowee Forum our research staff came across a few interesting discussions.  First was a thread titled “Bikepacking Sheltowee” from late 2008.  I wasn’t active on the forum then, and I wasn’t into cycling as hard core as I would become over the course of 2009-10.    
 
User chuckc1971 throws down the gauntlet to open up the discussion:
 
Has anyone done something like this? [bikepacking]
 
Now, that seems like an innocent question and not a challenge, but you’ve got to think about this from the viewpoint of someone who would think of being the first to thru-bike a trail like the Sheltowee.  If they mention it on a public internet forum then it’s either a public throw down or a personal throw down.  chuckc1971 was issuing a call to arms.  “Let’s go do this thing!” was the writing between the lines.  Based on the discussion that followed it is obvious that people have been thinking and scheming about a solid thru-bike effort.
 
Reports by chuckc1971 and his friend PR after an attempt were bleak.  Numerous flats south of the northern terminus due to briars, along with a host of other obstacles, caused them to abandon their attempt in 2009.
 
Little else was said on the matter for a while.  Until…
 
…late 2012, just before my job interview in Lexington, user Traildust, aka Steve Barbour, posted the following in a thread titled “Fastest Thruhike”:
 
At the ALDHA Gathering this past weekend, Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hiking Association, a couple young men who thruhiked the A.T. this past year asked me to confirm the fastest time hiking end-2-end on the Trace. Told them I believe as far as we know it is I.B. Me and it was 12 days.
 
If that is not right please let me know someone. They are planning a spring attempt at completing the ST End 2 End in 10 to 11 days which should be an interesting challenge.
 
Later in the discussion Steve gave his best estimation, as president of the Sheltowee Trace Association, of the situation:
 
To the best of our knowledge we have no data on anyone running the Trace or biking the whole Trace. Those that have tried to bike have run into tire issues as in flat tires. But someone has to be the first.
 
While it might seem Steve was unaware of Matt and friend’s attempt over the New Year holiday in ‘99-’00 I wouldn’t call their thru-bike a successful unsupported traverse of the trail.  At least, in the strictest sense as in an ITT style, they didn’t ride the Trace from one end to the other without support and continuously without detours.  And it's apparent that that's not what they set out to do.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish something noteworthy.  I applaud their bold ride and think they should be recognized accordingly.
 
We’re still waiting for a truly unsupported end to end single-effort thru-bike of the Sheltowee Trace.  Since I mentioned this on a public internet blogum what exactly does that mean?  I’ll leave the biking aspects of my grand scheme at that…to stew.
 
 
 
So how did I become interested in possibly running the entire (now) 315 mile trail?  I’m not a running aficionado per se.  I did enjoy running cross country as a teenager.  I’ve been a runner of road and trail at different times in my life.  But why the sudden interest?  And a fair question it is Host of Readers!
 
In looking at the long distances on the road that would need to be covered and also in the long sections of trail that are closed to bikes (particularly in the RRG and Natural Bridge areas), and faced with the reality that bicycle friendly trail conditions will vary from year to year, I came to the conclusion that attempting a really fast thru-hike, a FKT as Matt so succinctly put it, might bear the greatest potential for success over a bike attempt.  And whatever preparation would lead to a thru-bike would also support the possibility of a thru-hike/run.  I’d just need to up my running fitness.  A lot.
 
Thinking along these lines has led to some other schemes.  What about a supported multi-use thru-hike/bike?  Mountain bike the rideable sections of trail, both paved and unpaved, and hike/run those sections closed to bikes.  What about a road route that parallels the trail?  Endless possibilities.  Monumental challenges.
 
What I see as the main obstacles to a successful thru-run or thru-bike right now is that the trail is not consistently and equally maintained.  Some sections are typically neglected or not maintained for biking at all.  And then there is the fact that there are no well-established (marked) cycling detours around closed sections.  Two "closed" sections (Big Bend and Cromer Ridge) shouldn't be closed to bikes in the first place.  It wouldn’t take much to identify the best detour routes, but they’d need to be signed as well.  Since I’m dreaming big…
 
There are two ways to do this: supported and unsupported.  Then choose your method of conveyance: feet or wheels? (Wonder if anyone has horsed the entire route?)  Some would also say there is another component you can add which is to do it in sections and not as a single effort.  For the sake of a record traverse of the trail I don’t think that strategy can be considered.
 
So in the end what we should see are records for:
 
Fastest supported thru-hike/run
Fastest unsupported thru-hike/run
Fastest supported thru-bike
Fastest unsupported thru-bike
 
For a better idea of what is meant by unsupported refer to the Rules/FAQs from the Colorado Trail Race page.
 
And I would also add a fastest bike/run thru-effort.  By design that would need to be supported.  Someone would have to transport your bike ahead to the next rideable section when you took off running/hiking.  So therefore, it would only make sense that that kind of effort would have to be supported.  Oh, my scheming brain! What about a relay team effort--bike and run--for an all-out speed record?!
 
As my beautiful wife likes to say: Go BIG or go home.
 
Again, I’d like to congratulate Matt on his attempt.  It was a worthy effort and has definitely inspired me to begin working toward a successful thru-bike attempt within the next year to year-and-a-half.  I might just leave the running (at least at a record pace) to the real runners like Matt.

Addendum:  I think with an organization like the Sheltowee Trace Association, and with more interest in the trail and in efforts like I'm proposing I think that it will be possible to get the trail into shape and keep it that way.  But for  such a long line on a map in such a rainy and green place it takes a lot of people to keep trail traffic moving unhindered.

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