Marathons, Mountains, Microbrews... and Marines

C'mon Marine!  Move your butt!  I barked at the young man, as we approached Iwo Jima.  Three mountain tops and 25 miles were behind me.  There would be no stopping until we saw the Marines raising the flag.   

No 50 States and DC quest would be complete without a stop at The People's Marathon -- The Marine Corps Marathon.  I fired up the Aztek on Thursday night and headed for Washington, stopping five hours later for a for a few hours sleep in a dark parking lot just before reaching Pennsylvania.  My first stop would be Mt. Davis, south of Somerset, PA, the highest point in Pennsylvania.  Pulling into Somerset, I found the appropriately named The Summit Cafe and stopped for breakfast. 

Bill sat beside me at the counter and gave me a little history lesson.  Only 4 miles away was the site where nine miners who were trapped underground last year.  A little farther was where the fourth plane crashed on 9-11

Mt. Davis, (3213 feet) is a half hour south, and Bill's directions got me there easily.  Crisp air and fresh snow awaited me as I approached the summit.  Castings mounted in the rocks at the summit give a short history of the state, and an observation tower takes you up another 50 feet or so for some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.  The USGS marker is very prominent (and kinda bent up) on the top point of a big rock.  I made a few photos, climbed to the top of the tower, and headed back to Route 233 for the trip to the next mountain. 

A few minutes later I was in Maryland.  At the border the speed limit goes from 55 to 40mph, and cresting the first hill you get a view of the Maryland State Police welcome station.  Of course I hadn't slowed down to 40 by then, so they wanted me to stop and visit.  The nice officer wrote me a note, and told me that a nice judge would like to hear from me.

Route 233 cuts the corner of Maryland and then into West Virginia to the trailhead for Backbone Mountain (3360 feet).  Of the three highpoints for today, this would be the only climb.  I parked alongside the road and followed a well-marked trail to a stone monument marking the state border, and could see Maryland's high point a few yards away.  The round trip took just less than an hour, only a mile in each direction.  Light snow on the ground heralded the approaching winter, but the sunshine and fall colors boldly stood their ground.

The road to the next summit wound through Davis, WV and right past the Blackwater Brewing Company, where a pint of Blackwater Marzon and a burger put an end to my search for a suitable lunch.  An hour later I reached the top of Spruce Knob (4863 feet).  Along a short nature trail, spruce trees pointed east, denied branches on their west sides by the persistent winds. 

Baltimore, MD would be my next stop at the home of Mark and Larysa Shell, some old friends who offered me a place to stay, and gave me a chance to play with their new baby daughter.  Late Saturday morning I bid them goodbye and headed to Washington.

Arriving at the expo hotel, I waited with hundreds of others in a long line in order to get in to the hotel, not realizing that this experience foretold the long lines and overcrowding to come.  Leaving the expo I drove back to the Capitol Mall area to spend the rest of the day on a foot-tour of the national monuments.  I stood at the feet of Abraham Lincoln and read his words on the wall.  Took a peek through the fences a the new World War II memorial, walked by the White House, and then around the Capitol building.  My final stop of the day was the Capitol City Brewing Company (of course) for some Pale Rider Ale and some cold-smoked salmon for dinner. 

Finally, marathon day.  The change to Standard Time gave me an extra hour of sleep before joining the 18000 or so runners at the Iwo Jima memorial.  Marines directed us through the correct end of the gear check tent, and out toward the starting line.  The corrals were organized by expected finish time but separated by location, and my quest to find the 4 hour corral was cut short by the starting gun.  I waited for a bit for the fast guys to get started, then went across the starting line.

The whole day would be an over-congested event.  Every water stop was organized with water first, then All Sport, and nearly every one was on only one side of the road.  Many bottlenecks awaited us, either on the occasional too-narrow street or where spectators crowded in on both sides, reminiscent of the Tour de France spectators who barely leave room for the cyclists to come through.  Jeff Galloway organized the pace teams, so at regular intervals a whole group of people would suddenly stop to walk for a minute.  Even between mile 25 and 26 the crowd was constricting the field.  All part of the adventure, yes, but still aggravating.

OK, I'm done complaining, as many great moments were to be had as well.  As the Star Spangled Banner was sung, being in our national capital among all the memorials and monuments gave it a special emotional impact.  Shortly after the start, we went through an underpass, and the runners started chanting U S A, U S A.  It was a patriotic moment. 

I carried a camera and took pictures as we ran around Washington.  The Washington Monument was visible from nearly everywhere on the course.  The Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Building, Smithsonian, Jefferson Memorial provided enjoyment and inspiration as we ran.

I hooked up with another Hash House Harrier and ran a few miles.  As we passed mile 18, he said "I'm looking for chalk on the road."  Somewhere around 19 or so would be an unofficial aid station.  Sure enough, we soon saw those familiar words ON ON written on the road.  Then an arrow.  The anticipation built until those immortal letters BN appeared --that's right folks--BEER NEAR.  We stopped momentarily for a couple small paper cups of beer just before the 19 mile mark.

After about 15 miles, the number of people walking grew steadily.  Apparently many use this as their first marathon, and many are under trained.  By 24 miles, it was hard to run sometimes because of so many walkers on the course.  I encouraged everyone I could, got a few of them running a little bit more, and was there to see many of them cross the finish line. 

Marines are some tough guys, but at 20 miles or more they're as mortal as the rest of us.  I passed a bunch of them, encouraging one at a time to come along with me.  One would drop off and I'd find another.  "C'mon Marine."  One ran about 4 miles with me, until I got my normal burst of energy shortly after mile 24, which is probably where the beer from the Mile 23 "aid station" kicked in.

We approached the 26 mile mark and circled the memorial of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.  It was doubly inspiring now, as it also heralded the approach of the finish line.  We circled it and finally saw then finish. 

I worked my way through the crowd, I grabbed the shuttle back to my car, took a shower in the parking lot with a gallon of water I brought just for that purpose, and got back on the road.  In Arlington I turned around in a parking lot that just happened to be that of Hops Brewery and Restaurant, so a quick stop to collect a glass from another state microbrewery, along with a pint of Thoroughbred Red Lager was necessary before finding my way out of town.  After a long journey interrupted by an hour and a half nap, at 3:10 a.m. I made my last climb of the weekend...

 ...into bed beside my wife.

  and the adventure continues....

Don Kern  
7 Continents, 49 states+DC marathons 
13 State Highpoints