Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rock the Ridge

I'm lucky to train almost every day on the beautiful trails of the Shawangunk Mountains, a small but arresting cliff-face that rises abruptly from the farmland of the Wallkill Valley.  The Gunks, home to the best rock climbing on the East Coast, is also repository of hundreds of miles of well-maintained carriage roads and single-track hiking trails.  The carriage roads date to the late 19th century, built by the owners of luxury resorts that offered a "return to nature" for wealthy city dwellers who would venture up from Manhattan.  The Mohonk Mountain House still rests atop the Shawangunk ridge.

Outside of the Mountain House, most of the open space on the ridge is maintained either by the New York State Parks system, in the Minnewaska State Park, or by the Mohonk Preserve, a private land trust.  The Preserve encompasses over 7000 acres of open space and is visited by 150,000 people a year.  As a non-profit, they depend on access fees, memberships, donations, and fundraisers to maintain their swath of the Gunks.

One new fundraiser for this year which is generating alot of excitement locally is the Rock the Ridge 50, which is a twist on the modern ultramarathon.  Rock the Ridge takes its inspiration from the endurance challenges popular in the 1950s and '60s, when President Kennedy challenged his military officers and, later, the general population, to maintain and improve their physical fitness by engaging in prolonged hikes.  (It was out of this movement that the JFK 50, now the nation's largest ultramarathon, was born.)  In the spirit of this movement comes Rock the Ridge, which is aimed at both ultrarunners and "weekend warriors" looking for an extreme challenge.  The course will show off the best the Gunks have to offer, and to encourage people to try something new, will have a 24-hour time limit, which will allow for hikers and walkers to complete the course with support from the aid stations.  There will also be team and relay divisions, which will allow teams of four to complete the course either in sequence (relay format, each person covering 10-15 miles) or all together (team division).

The event organizers are requiring a $250 per person fundraising commitment--the entirety of which will be donated to the Preserve--in addition to the $150 entry fee, so yes, it's pretty steep.  But the response has been encouraging, and many of the race's 100+ entrants have already met their fundraising requirement.  If you're looking for a new challenge this spring, take a look at Rock the Ridge.  It looks to be a very well-organized event in a unique part of the country, and you'll get to experience what my training partners and I do every day.  And if not, please consider donating to someone else who is running or walking and support the effort to conserve one of nature's last great places.

My across-the-street neighbor will be hiking it.  He is pretty goofy, so here is his fundraising video.   Check it out and if it makes you laugh, throw a few bucks his way.