Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where's Karl?

The Keene and Meyerhoff families at the summit of Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

This day finds me jazzed to go running again. However, I am recuperating from many miles of mountain trails and my legs need a bit of a rest. How Karl Meltzer can do back to back 30, 40, or 50 mile days on the Appalachian Trail is simply mind boggling. Here’s my tale of meeting up with one of today’s great runners:

The day before we left on our family vacation to Maine and New Hampshire an envelope arrived in the mail from my sister who lives in Sandy, Utah. It contained an article about Karl Meltzer (also from Sandy) and his attempt at the Appalachian Trail speed record; 2147 miles in 47 days. He would be starting in Maine the day we arrive and would be passing through the same trails we would be on in New Hampshire a week later. After scanning his website (www.whereskarl.com) and talking to Michael Valliant I decided it would be worth the effort to try and meet and/or run with Karl Meltzer on part of the trail during his epic journey.

With our friends, the Meyerhoffs, we spent the better part of 3 days on and around Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. Our weather-luck ran out on the morning of our last day as we summitted Mt. Washington. The rain was relentless in the 40 degree air on top. Of the 8 of us five decided to take a shuttle down from the summit to the base. My oldest daughter wanted to hike down, no matter what the weather or how cold. So, my two daughters and I descended Mt. Washington via the Lion Head and Tuckerman Ravine Trails.

After three and a quarter hours we reached Pinkham Notch. Tired, wet, and weary we showered and refreshed ourselves, then set off to find Karl in Julius, our white Expedition. While in the observatory on the summit of Mt. Washington the park ranger allowed me to checkout the Where’s Karl website. After catching the latest blog entry and then checking in with Valliant via cell phone, we had a good idea of where to look for the Where’s Karl RV and Karl himself.

Our second place to look is was the jackpot; in Maine about an hour drive from where my daughters and I came off the AT. At the Grafton State Park AT trailhead we found the RV and Karl Meltzer, Sr, waiting for his son and Matt Hart to come off the trail. Karl Sr. was a very fit 65 year old man with a slight beard and glasses. It was obvious to me where Karl Jr. got his influence to be an athlete. He had last seen his son and running partner Matt at the last road crossing eleven miles up trail at 3:30pm. Karl Sr’s prediction was that the boys would arrive here at 6:30. It was now 5:30. I politely asked him if anyone would mind if I went up trail and try to intercept the runners; possibly attempt to run behind them. With permission from Karl Sr. and my family I donned my running gear complete with my wet Salomon trail shoes, Nathan fuel belt with 2 bottles, and the camera.

Nervous excitement overwhelmed me: How would I be received by these two highly accomplished trail runners? What would they be like after 33 miles today? Would I actually find them? Would I be able to keep up if I did? Would I feel the bond that is there between all runners?

Heading up the heavily wooded, rocky, steep, and muddy trail, I found myself constantly looking up-trail to see if my targets were bounding toward me. Karl Sr. said the boys moved at a fast hike; they weren’t really able to run on this terrain. This trail was easier to travel upon than the ones we just left, but there were only a few short sections where you could safely get a stride going, but not for more than 40 seconds at a time before you had to slow down again.

Like being really hungry at a restaurant waiting for the food to arrive, I found myself looking up at the “kitchen door” waiting for the boys to bound through. My time allotment was slipping away. I even tried our family’s trick of going to the restroom, only to return to the table with a hot meal waiting. I thought of how embarrassing it would be to have them pass by as I was taking a leak; but I was desperate for them to come soon. At 6:30, like a dutiful husband and father, I turned around at about 1.5 miles up trail. It was getting darker in the woods as the light was being swallowed behind a nearby mountain. I started to get fearful thoughts of bear and moose, and me alone, “Rise Up Runner found mauled in the wilds of Maine” would be the headline.

I crept down the trail stopping often to look back at the “kitchen door”. It was so quiet in the woods except for the constant flow of water in the streams. Then it suddenly happened! The kitchen door slammed open with such ferocity that I panicked. I was on the outside corner of a turn in the trail and they were coming from my left. They were flying!!! There was no hint of “fast hiking”, but a flat out sprint, much like Valliant on a downhill at Tuckahoe.


Ultra runners Karl Meltzer and Matt Hart near the end of a day of trail running and hiking as part of Meltzer's Appalachian Trail Assault of the AT supported speed record.

I fumbled for the camera which was caught in the Velcro back portion of my fuelbelt. I hit the “on” button before I got it out of the plastic baggie, causing more of a delay. They were closer now, and they saw me. I knew they had no intention of slowing for a picture, and I didn’t want them to. I managed to snap a photo as they were still running toward me. Horror hit me when the flash went off. “Oh My God, I’ve just temporarily blinded Karl Meltzer on the 7th day of his attempt of the AT speed record. He’s going to stumble and crash”. Instead, Karl and Matt smiled, and they both shook my hand without breaking stride.

Karl was covered head to toe in a baselayer, running shorts, and a light shell. He had high-tech electronic gear (maybe GPS) on his head and ears, and leather gloves on his palms. Matt was in more of a style like me with shorts, shirt, and his shell was tied around his waist.

I snapped another picture as they sprinted away from me. I then started to scibble after them with camera in hand. I was losing ground on them as the word “stalker” ran through my mind. “The hell with that thought”, and I threw caution to the wind and poured it on, coming up behind Matt within a few minutes. Roots, mud, rocks, and streams never went under my feet so fast. I was running with athletes who are at the top of the podium. They were finishing a 33 mile day though rugged country on steep mountainous trails. I was running the last mile of their day “fresh” (though I did have 5 hours of mountain hiking earlier in the day) at my sprint speed which I can only hold for short distances. None of us said a word until I said something about excusing me for not having a beard. That caused a chuckle as they glanced back at me.

Near the end at a pond crossing Karl stopped as Matt walked on. Karl turned to me a said something about “looking respectable” as he washed his feet and legs which were covered in mud and trail essences. We then walked across a boardwalk together talking. Aware of the hard wet week he’d had, I did well not to be too intrusive to the end of his day. Matt was waiting for us with his camera as he made Karl and me pose for 2 photos. Others from his crew gathered: Marit and Tommy, who were from the adventure’s sponsor, Backcountry.com, Karl Sr., and my family.

Like any good Public Relations engineer, Marit (a lovely tall brunette lady) intercepted me, asked me questions, then introduced Karl and Matt to my family. We talked with everyone for a few minutes, snapped a few photos, then pulled ourselves away in a timely manner while the crew did their chores and the boys stretched-out.

Wood Frog meet Speedgoat...Speedgoat meet Wood Frog...

As I was changing my clothes behind Julius, the WheresKarl RV and Kia pulled out of the parking lot. It was now 7:30 and we were an hour from civilization and FOOD. As we drove away from the AT we passed Karl’s Team as they were pulling into the campground for the night. We gave a toot of the horn and Karl Sr. gave us a thumbs-up.

Sam’s, a pizza joint, was our savior for dinner. I was famished; for those of you who don’t know me, I need to eat at regular intervals. The last honest meal I’d had that day was a tuna sandwich at 10:30 on top of Mt. Washington. It was now 8:30. While waiting for the food to come, I went outside to call Michael Valliant. While talking with “Tucks” I kept glancing at the kitchen door through the window. Somewhere in mid-conversation the food came pouring out of the kitchen. Twice in one DAY! Too good to be true.

--Michael "Wood Frog" Keene

2 comments:

Will Thomas said...

Thanks for the blog! It's great to see other people intercepting with Karl on the trail. I would feel the same way, if I stumbled across them out on the trail.

Joel said...

Bravo!
Great Post.
Great Post!
Glad you had fun.