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Rachel Carson Trail Challenge report (21 Jun 2009 at 10:20)
Yes!terday Cortney (visiting from DC) and I completed the 2009 Rachel Carson Challenge again. Rachel Carson was a smart science lady who I think invented DDT. This is advertised as a "34 mile" "hike" on the "brutal" Rachel Carson "trail". The function of my quotation marks is manifold: First, they are literal quotations from the Challenge site, now properly attributed. Second, scare quotes on 34 miles; it is actually at least 36 miles, and for us measured at 37.7 because we got a bit of coffee and stopped at the checkpoint where you have to go off the trail a bit. (Actually, maybe as much as 41; see below.) For "hike" also envision my finger-based air typography; for sure there is a lot of walking but also a lot of downhill gravel-skiing, multi-pitch mud climbing, and fell running. That's because the "trail" (again I am scratching the backs of four very small floating people) is sometimes literally a walk in the park, but also sometimes a stroll on the highway, or a schlep in the clay, or a 100ft drop over the course of 200ft of trail, immediately followed by the reverse. Some parts sometimes it's like someone took a microminiature unsharp push-mower to the Poison Ivy Kingdom and mowed a little line merely to mark where you should go.

It's good stuff. The event is not cardiovascularly hard like a long run. It is pretty leisurely and you are constantly held up by people in front of you on the trail anyway. (Some professional self-flagellators do run it. The course record is something like 6h12m, which pace would be a very slow marathon of 4h48m!) The hard part for me is just stress on the body. Blisters and chafing and other surface ailments are a given, and you just tough that out, but all the stepping on uneven ground really activates my old and new deeply internal foot and knee injuries. At the end you can barely walk and then naturally the course comes within .2 miles of the finish line but you actually have 2 miles left, oh and now you're done but j/k lol because this year they moved the finish line another third of a mile back so they can have more space for the cookout. The real metric aside from the length is the hilliness. It is preposterous. It's hard to give a really indisputable measurement for the hilliness (Even Mandelbrot, a smart science guy who I think invented the movies Jurassic Park and The Butterfly Effect, wonders How Long Is the Coast of Britain?), but a conservative estimate is our smoothed GPS trail collated with USGS data, giving 18,009 ft of total elevation change. That's 3.4 miles up and down. (I think it would be fair to describe it as more than that, since many of the important trail features surely exceed the resolution of USGS.) For comparison, the San Francisco marathon measured the same way was "just" +/- 2,000 ft. (Actually I wonder if there is any IOC standard about how you factor elevation change into the "length" of a road race? I struggle with this in my Pac Tom project overintellectualization/cartographic obsessiveness: Should I measure distance between GPS coordinates as great circle distances on the ideal sea-level earth pear? Or as points in three dimensional space? The latter seems fair but not consistent with how people seem to do it. Even distances on a "flat" surface at 1,000ft are longer per degree than at sea level, because you're really running on an arc, not a line.) Anyway point is maybe this challenge should be nominally 40+ miles. Misleadingly scaled graphic:
Rachel Carson Trail elevation chart


It could easily have been much worse. We just had a rainfall-record-setting, inch-sized hail dropping, 4-lightning-strikes per second, car-washing-away, office-closing storm in Pittsburgh two days ago, with forecasts of strong thunderstorms throughout the weekend. This kind of news is in some ways secretly welcomed by professional self-flagellators, even not just because it removed some of the plastic people from CMU's most sore eyesore, but because it might create one of those lifelong memorable suffering trenchfoot scenarios. I wore just a bathing suit, hiking boots, and backpack. It started thunderstorming as we feared/hoped on the drive out there, at 5am, and a few brief times during the hike, but most of the time it was actually sunny. Here is a representative picture of me photographing myself while Cortney is taping up her toenail casualty:

A picture of me photographing myself while Cortney is taping up her toenail casualty


See? That ain't so bad. There was lotsa mud leftovers but some people pay hundreds of dollars for mud baths, after all.
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Suzanne (c-67-171-67-109.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 06.21.09 16:57:11
This is an extremely awesome-sounding challenge! Between wanting to be able to do something like this and the offensive, self-esteem-ruining pictures from my birthday party, I think I now have the entire motivation package I need to get back in shape. I credit you and Rachel Carson. But until NPR does a show about you, I'm giving her more of the credit.
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cdinwood (p9221-ipbffx02fukuokachu.fukuoka.ocn.ne.jp) – 06.22.09 05:30:40
The infographic-obsessed person in me is pleased by your graph disclaimer.

How long did it take you to complete while not running?
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Nels (gs5048.sp.cs.cmu.edu) – 06.22.09 09:35:36
Sounds nuts.
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msiegler (63.161.156.65.customer.sprintlink.com) – 06.22.09 12:48:20
Any photos of the removed plastic people?
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chrisamaphone (c-98-219-163-211.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 06.22.09 17:58:59
hey william and i (and some other folks) did a walk on saturday too. i think i told you about how i walked to west virginia once? we tried that again this year, but william wussed out at mile 28. i think we coulda made it.

anyway, congrats. i should do the rachel carson thing some year.
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chrisamaphone (c-98-219-163-211.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 06.22.09 18:02:10
also doing that whole thing between sunup and sundown is pretty crazy. wv (about 40 miles) took us i think 17.5 hours when we did it. additionally we can follow the panhandle trail, which used to be a rail line and so is very flat. i'm kind of terrified by the RC trail's elevation changes.
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AstroEriKKKKKa (c-71-199-121-12.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 06.22.09 20:08:22
rachel carson crusaded against ddt! She was the lady who was telling everyone about how it thinned the condor's egg shells.

congrats!
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Tom 7 (h-67-100-130-109.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 06.23.09 20:37:23
Suzanne: Thx. Well, there was once allegedly a mention of my Album-a-Day project in an NPR segment about NaNoWriMo, if that gets me any points.

cdinwood: Our official time was 13h25m44s. Like I said though, there was no sense of trying to finish fast, except in the sense of trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Maybe some year I will try to run it.

msiegler: I only have a shitty iPhone pic. I heard today that this was actually "planned maintenance" to make the shaft shine like never before. Fishy.

chris'phone: William is always wussing out, like to go to Disney World or something. I think if you can walk to WV you can handle the RCT no problem.

KKKKK: You are not the only one to think I was serious, but for the record, I do know who Rachel Carson and Mandelbrot are. :)

It occurs to me that my notion that I could just add the 4 vertical miles to the 37 mile total is clearly false; of course we were traveling along diagonals so the distance would be more Pythagorean than Manhattan. Also I realized that there's a natural way to measure the elevation change, which is that each foot makes a step, of course, so if you were to just perfectly measure the elevation of each foot as it hits the ground you'd have an accurate and justifiable discretization of the terrain, which is easy to measure the total elevation change of. (Though, it would be different for each person.)
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Scott (ip70-179-94-234.dc.dc.cox.net) – 06.29.09 01:18:56
Hey Tom, I've always assumed Cortney was your girlfriend, but is it so? You see, I have a friend who, like you, grew up in Connecticut and is a vegetarian, obsessed with Guided by Voices, and into running. And she wants to know if you're single. I said I didn't think so based on the aforementioned assumption.
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Tom 7 (mobile-166-137-132-015.mycingular.net) – 06.29.09 12:08:02
Well, we dated for many years but split up when she moved away. Still good friends. I am 100% single so send all intriguing ladies my way!
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Hock (ppp-71-139-30-52.dsl.snfc21.pacbell.net) – 06.29.09 13:57:59
Did you do ICFP this year?
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Tom 7 (63.161.156.66.customer.sprintlink.com) – 06.29.09 16:54:29
Sure did. I'll write a report soon.
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Anonymous (70.72.202.201) – 11.02.10 21:20:11
hi i need a report on Rachel Carson for kid in grade 5
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Tom 7 (67.186.6.86) – 11.02.10 23:37:59
OMG where are the promised intriguing ladies??
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