The Wild Oak Trail 30M Run - Stokesville, Virginia
Elevation Range: 1688'-4351'          Elevation Gain:  ~8000'

July 2, 2016 - When Bear Claw Grizlap in the movie Jeremiah Johnson was asked if he'd ever gotten lost, stroking his beard in recollection, he reflected, "Lost, no, don't believe I've ever been lost. Mighty confused maybe for two or three days, but no, never lost." And that pretty much sums up our experience on the Wild Oak Trail during this all-day adventure. Even during our jaunt and thereafter, I don't think anyone would have changed a thing. We had just as good a time getting lost, even though we couldn't figure out why!

The Wild Oak Trail is a loop trail in the George Washington National Forest west of Staunton, just shy of the West Virginia border. It's a rugged, beautiful loop of more than 27 miles, consisting of three brutal climbs to as much as 4351 feet. While much of the trail surface is quite runnable, there are some rocky, difficult stretches that make smooth running challenging. The trail received a National Recreation Trail designation in 1979 as a series of older trails cobbled together. The trails date back to the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps built portions for forest fire control purposes. The entire trail is supposedly marked with white blazes painted on the trees with a few yellow diamonds. If you were running on a trail of a different color, trail guides indicated that you were not on TWOT. Used by horse riders, mountain bikers, as well as backpackers, the trail is reported to be easy to follow. But..........

But portions of the trail had recently undergone a rerouting and someone forgot to mention that the trail had not been updated with new or consistent blazes. Caveat Ambulor!!!!!!!!!!!

With the July 4th holiday upon us I reckoned correctly that camp sites might be hard to find on a first come / first serve basis, so decided to travel a day early to secure ample camping space for everyone before it was gone. Early Friday morning I secured three sites at the Lake Todd Recreation Area before the CG was sold out, then headed out for a recon run around Lake Todd and on the Trimble Loop Trail opposite the dam fortification. There I worked out some climbing bugs, gained some familiarity with the local terrain, and flushed a nice young hundred-pound bear that was probably napping along the trail; always a pleasure to see a bear. With the rest of the day off I caught up on some reading while defending the two vacant sites from invading weekenders and rule-following park rangers who were for the most part amicable.

Members of my tribe rolled in after six and before midnight with everybody settled and ready to roll by 0530 Saturday morning. The objective was to circumvent the area on the TWOT loop trail, return by dinner and enjoy camaraderie into the evening before heading out the following day for a subsequent adventure two hours away in West Virginia. By sun-up we were staged (below) and ready to write a new trail story: Julius Garcia, Jackie Ong, Gil Gray, Jessica Brundige, Travis Alfrey, the lean green runnin machine, Eric Marshall, Jeremy Jackson (fore) and Dan Paige (aft).

So we headed out behind Gil as he cleared the way through the morning's spider webs, confident that we were headed west in a counter-clockwise direction. The run seemed nominal and certainly jovial as everyone was in great spirits, following the white blazes through the first winding climb up the mountain (which turned out to be Lookout Mountain). After about ten miles of running, when we thought we were approaching our first aid station where our support team of Al Ong and Mary-Margaret Marshall with Jonah and Ceci was waiting patiently, we ran into a Y in the trail where our white blazes stopped with two choices of yellow blazes to follow. Nothing seemed to make sense. Following the advice of a knowledgeable mountain biker we continued over a newly-engineered, yellow blazed trail, winding down a steep descent off what would turn out to be Hankey Mountain to where we hoped we would reach our aid station. Nothing made sense when we reached a gravel road at the bottom that wasn't where we thought we were supposed to be. More bikers told us we still had several miles to go before we would reach our support team at Camp Todd (locally referred to as "the horse shit pit").

Opting to follow directions on gravel roads to reach the "shit pit" rather than climb another five miles over the mountain (Big Bald Knob) we finally reached our support team two hours later than expected, finally figuring out where the heck we were and where we had made a faux pas in assumptions. Many thanks back to the bikers that topped off our water resources and to a couple good old local boys that gave me a ride to Camp Todd to expedite communication with the folks at our aid station. More karma to pay forward.

After an extended break and figuring out that we had actually been running in a clockwise direction, completely contrary to our intent and belief, and figuring out that our confusion with blazing was due to rerouting on that section of trail, with 19 miles on our getaway sticks already, we opted to continue the journey for a final 10-plus miles in a clockwise direction back to the starting TH up over Little Bald Knob and down Chesnut Ridge.

After bidding thanks to our team and making our only stream crossing, we made a long sweaty afternoon ascent up Little Bald Knob, trekked awhile on the Grindstone 100M course, before beginning the long run in back down to the finish. Somewhere along the way, somehow blazes went from white to yellow, but none of us caught the transition. Probably too weary to focus, we missed a turn somewhere, so continued as we were going and eventually came out about a mile from where we had thought we'd finish. Travis hitched a ride back to his truck before returning to retrieve the rest of us for the ride back to camp where we would call it a day. A good day. An excellent day. A perfect day to get lost doing a good round-about 30-mile trail run.. Smiles all around. Time for a beer.

The evening was mellow. The weather was still perfect. Everybody chowed down, showered up, and chilled out in prep for the next day's adventure. It was a good day to make memories with the tribe. Time to unwind and reset for an encore in West Virginia.