Sometimes you seek out adventures and sometimes they seek you out. The Brandywine End to End was definitely the latter, and it turned into quite the memorable experience! Several months ago, a friend mentioned the event and invited me along. Frank had run the 36 miles on several previous locations and spoke very highly of the event itself, so it didn’t take much convincing. I’m always up for a new event, especially when I get a chance to join a friend for some quality trail miles. Mother Nature might not have been feeling charitable on this particular morning, but it was still a blast!
The Wilmington Trail Club has been organizing the Brandywine End to End 36-Mile hike for 55 years, so there is no shortage of history associated with this event. For most folks, this is an all-day event and a chance for a rather long day-hike from the north in PA down along the Brandywine Creek to the state park in Delaware. I’m not sure how long folks have also been running the course but I’m guessing there have been a few intrepid souls tackling it at a bit of a faster clip for some years. The fee was quite low, and the group provided t-shirts and aid stations, so it had all the makings of an inexpensive ultra race and a pleasant morning. The forecast had been predicting rain and snow all week, but the percentages kept fluctuating, so I was hopeful that the storm system might miss us a bit. Alas, it did not.
My 3:30 alarm caused some brief disorientation, as it always does on race days, but I managed to get myself up and quietly moving pretty quickly. I packed my Solomon pack the night before, and actually managed to lay out my clothes, so getting ready involved minimal mental effort. We had to be at Brandywine Creek State Park by 5:00AM at the latest in order to catch a bus to the start. I made it in plenty of time, checked in and grabbed my number and a map/list of directions before climbing onto the bus. The hour drive was mostly in the dark at this point, so I never really had a good sense of where we were going, but then again, I’d be running back on foot so it didn’t really matter! We arrived at the start, otherwise known as a random dirt road, around 6:00AM, and everyone piled out of the bus and lingered for a bit before we unceremoniously began our journey.
Aside from Frank and I, I noticed two other runners jumping out to the front of the pack. We ran alongside another woman for a few minutes before our pace found us ahead of her. The other runner was already out of sight and he was clearly on his own mission! This wasn’t a race by any means, and we were treating it much more as an adventure, with aid stations every 10-12 miles or so. The first few miles were mainly on side roads until we hopped onto the Brandywine Trail and began following the white blazes. The temps were cool and in the high 30s, and we had yet to feel the impending precipitation, but it was only a matter of time. We enjoyed some nice single-track for a bit as we ran through Marsh Creek State Park and along the reservoir. From there, we picked up the Struble Trail, which runs along the Brandywine Trail, and served as a nicely paved bike trail. We began to feel some slight precipitation, but nothing significant, and I began to naively hope that was all we’d experience. We hit the first aid station around mile 13, just north of town, and they were happy to see us. We learned we were about 20 minutes back of the speedster we saw at the start, not that we had any notion of trying to catch him.
We headed out after a quick fuel-up, and this paved section led us into Downingtown, PA and we picked up some more single-track south of town as we continued our journey. The trail itself is by no means technical, and with 2218 ft of gain, and a net downhill, we were free to enjoy ourselves. That’s not so say that we didn’t find some steep climbs, however, and they served to break up our pace and routine nicely. We made our way south, continuing to make sure we didn’t miss the white blazes (by “we”, I mean me, of course!), and eventually hit the Stroud Preserve, which offered some nice trails and more open landscape. We had been running for around 3 hours at this point, and that’s when the rain/sleet/snow began to rear its ugly head. The winds were calm, but the temps were just warm enough that it became a constant fluctuation between rain, sleet, and snow. I was starting to get a bit chilled, but happy I decided to opt for tights instead of shorts. We arrived at the second aid station (mile 23) and they had strategically set up shop under a small bridge, which offered some welcome cover. We topped off on fluid, enjoyed a few Oreos and were on our way before we got too cold standing around. I pulled out my waterproof mittens at this point, although I probably should have done so sooner since my gloves were pretty darn wet by this point.
We hopped back on the trail and were treated to a nice climb up a ridge line, which afforded us some decent views of the surrounding area. This transitioned to some more road-running, which was made all the more uncomfortable by the oncoming traffic and wet weather. By this time, the snow was coming down in wet clumps and I was brushing it off of myself every few minutes to prevent it from soaking in at least a little bit. We made our way to Chadds Ford, PA and hopped back onto trails that were familiar to me as Frank had led us out on a longer run along this section a few weeks prior. It was nice to see some familiar scenery and have a sense of where we were and how far we had to go. We crossed the state line on the normally nice single track trails, which were now a sloppy, muddy, slushy mess and headed for the last aid station. We stayed even more briefly as it became clear that moving to stay warm was the name of the game. I have to hand it to the volunteers that toughed it out at these aid stations- it couldn’t have been a comfortable experience, especially considering we were a few hours ahead of the closest hikers at this point. Major props for their effort and organization!
The final section led back into the north end of Brandywine Creek State Park, and the trails were messy but familiar. We came up on a few hikers, but most folks had enough sense not to bother spending any time out in this weather! We reached the damn and headed onto the last mile of single-track leading up to the park shelter and it brought yet another smile to my face. We stomped and slopped our way up the final hill where a few folks were waiting for us under one of the park shelters, and took a deep breath. The conditions had been far from ideal, our feet were soaked and cold, and the rest of us wasn’t much better, but there was still plenty of reason to smile for a great morning of challenging trail running. I couldn’t have been more happy that Frank had invited me along, and the experience definitely embodied what #chasing42 is all about. We paused briefly to take a few pictures, thank the volunteers, grab and snack, and then we eagerly headed to our cars to turn on the heat and begin thawing. I’m pretty sure it took my feet the rest of the afternoon to warm up, but it’s all part of the adventure!