Friday, October 4, 2013

Ice Age Trail Northern Kettle Moraine Forest Out & Back Attempt

The idea of doing an out and back run on the Ice Age Trail through the Northern Kettle Moraine Forest was born about 6 months ago when Jeff mentioned it while we were out there. At the time that added up to about 63 miles (31.5 X 2). Since we planned to run the Marquette 50 in August and I was doing the Glacial Trail 50 in October we decided to squeeze this adventure in mid-September. In late August an additional 9 miles (4.5 X 2) was connected to the southern part of the IAT Northern Kettle segment which pushed our total mileage up to 72. For both of us our previous longest distance was 50 miles so we knew we were going to be challenged but just planned to take it easy with the only goal being to cover the distance before it got dark.

The initial plan was to simply run an out and back route from the Hwy H trailhead in the south to the Hwy P trailhead in the north then turn around and run back to Hwy H ("H2P2H"). After the new segment was connected in the south we modified the plan a bit to head south first for an out and back on the newly extended part of the trail for a total of 9 miles and then come back to do the rest for another 63 miles. We would have a car parked with supplies at Butler Lake 17 miles from the Hwy H trailhead about halfway to and from the turnaround point at Hwy P.

On Saturday, September 14, we got to the Hwy H trailhead at 4:00am. The run started really, really well. The weather was perfect - cool and clear. The stars were beautiful and bright in the clear early morning sky. There were no bugs! In fact, we didn't have to deal with mosquitoes or deer flies the entire day. Their season must finally be over. Since we were going to be running 72 miles we took it real slow from the beginning. We hiked the uphills, jogged the flats, and ran the downhills. Usually I need to eat something before the 2 hour mark but our pace was so easy that I didn't take a gel until after 2 hours. 3 gels total gave me enough energy for another 2.5 hours which is when I switched to eating a chomp energy chew every 15 minutes. I couldn't believe it when I realized we’d been going 5 hours as my legs were really fresh and Jeff was feeling good too.

The turnaround point on the new segment south of Sunburst Ski Area

Jeff cruising

Happy to be out there

Sun coming up

Jeff obstructing the lookout spot near New Fane
Jeff cruising
This steep hill had a river flowing down it during the Glacial Trail 50 last year - thankfully not today
We made it 25 miles to Butler Lake at 10AM, 6 hours into the trek. This is where we had the car parked with supplies: change of socks/shoes/clothes, food, soda, water, bug spray, first aid, stuff like that. I still felt pretty good but definitely needed a boost from a bit of food and some Coke. I changed my socks which were wet from the dewy grass, ate a banana, drank some Coke and was ready to go. We spent a good 15 minutes at this first pit stop, not wanting to push too hard since we had a long day ahead of us. But then it was back to the trail and on to the turnaround at the Hwy P trailhead.

The car at Butler Lake

The stairs at Butler Lake
I started feeling a little more tired and cranky after another 5 miles but I ate a cookie at mile 32 and that got me going again. The chomp every 15 minutes was giving me enough energy to keep moving but just barely and they were starting to taste bad so having something different like a cookie or banana gave me a nice jolt to both my energy and my mental state.

At the halfway point (mile 36) we were on pace for an 18 hour finish which was a little disappointing because it meant we would have to keep pushing with less hiking and more hard running and shorter pit stops. An 18 hour finish meant we’d be done at 10PM and we really didn't want to be out there later than that since we had to be up for Church the next morning. I ate a half a banana at mile 38 to give myself a little more pep as we pushed towards the Hwy P trailhead at mile 40. I struggled getting to that point and drank much of the Coke I had brought along from Butler Lake in the last quarter of a mile as I walked. Once we got to the turnaround I drank what was left of my Coke, ate half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, took a picture and, well, turned around.

Hwy P turnaround
Now 15 miles back to Butler Lake with just water and chomps. This was not going to be fun at all! I was really getting sick of the chomps and my water was dwindling with no chance for a refill until mile 47. So this was a pretty dark spot.

But then I had an idea. Kelly had been planning to meet us at Butler Lake where the car was but had really wanted to meet us somewhere that we didn't have supplies so she would be more helpful. So I called her and asked her if she could meet us at the Greenbush Group Camp at mile 47 with Mountain Dew (Jeff’s favorite and it sounded pretty good to me as well) and water. I was so much more hopeful now. We ran hard pushing our fastest pace of the day on the most technical part of the trail and got to the meeting spot just seconds before Kelly.

The Mountain Dew tasted great and though my legs were really sore at this point they now had some energy back. Jeff didn't look too good as he lay down to drink his. I thought maybe we pushed too hard to meet up with Kelly. He had seemed strong before this point but now not so much. Was our day about to end prematurely? I asked him if he was feeling well enough to keep going and he said yes. So Kelly snapped a picture of us and Jeff got a picture of me with Kelly and the kids. I thanked her and said goodbye and we continued on.

They came bearing Mountain Dew
Jeff walked on ahead to let the Mountain Dew settle while I said goodbye to Kelly and the kids. I thought that was a good idea and he seemed to be moving ok so I was pretty hopeful. I walked fast (I also had to let my stomach settle) to catch up with Jeff and as I came around the corner I saw him laying down on the trail struggling with nausea. He said he could walk a bit but if he pushed it too hard and tried to run he felt sick. Not good. This was like the end of the Marquette 50. If he couldn’t get over this we’d be done for the day. He tried to get over it. He kept telling me to go on ahead, that he’d walk it off and then run and catch up but he never did. I’d go on ahead but then get worried about him and either stop and wait or turn around and look for him. I’d usually find him puking.

Jeff’s sister Leah was going to meet us at Mauthe Lake to run the last 10 miles with us. After Jeff’s stomach issues started he called her and told her to meet us at Butler Lake instead. The revised plan was to run 7 more from Butler Lake and quit so we could at least call it a 100K. Kelly was going to join us for this as well. But after Jeff continued to get worse and worse he eventually just had Leah pick us up shortly after Parnell Tower on Hwy U. Our day was done. I wasn’t disappointed at all at the time. After running 52 miles I was feeling pretty crappy myself. My stomach was fine but I was very tired, my legs were sore, and I had taken a fall jumping over a fallen tree that left the rest of my body pretty sore as well.

So we stopped after 52 miles, 20 short of the goal. It had taken us 12 hours to get to mile 47 where things went bad and another 2 hours after that to crawl (I mean that literally in Jeff's case) those last 5 miles to get to the point where we finished. Total time was 14 hours. We didn't accomplish the goal but I know we will do it next time. I learned a great deal from the experience, especially about what and how much to eat and drink when going that long.

I’m also now feeling extremely confident for the Glacial Trail 50 in a month. My plan is to take it as easy for the first 25 miles, at the turnaround turn up the intensity just a bit, and then run as hard as I can after Mauthe Lake for the last 20 miles. I finished in 11 hours last year so I'd like to get close to 10 hours this time. We’ll see what happens.


  1. "They came bearing Mountain Dew." CLASSIC!

    Way to go, guys...I hope I can join in the fun next time!

    1. Thanks. I'm sure we'll give it another try though no idea when at this point.

  2. Great read Matt.

    I see you made your goal at Glacial......... awesome!

    1. Thanks. Yep, Glacial went very well. Congrats on your quick finish as well Barefoot Tony.