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Cape Cod Traverse FKT

by | May 23, 2023 | Reports & Stories

Cape Cod Traverse

Location: Massachusetts
Distance: 64.66 miles
Elevation gain: 1650 feet

Rachel Bambrick’s first FKT went mostly to plan, but what happened after she finished is a solid reminder that your route is more than just where you finish.

On Saturday 5/14/2022, I took on the Cape Cod Traverse Route. This is a point to point route starting at the Sagamore Bridge and ending at the Long Point Light Station in Provincetown, roughly 65 miles in length. While this is an established fastest known time (FKT) route, it did not have a recorded female time. I wanted to be that first female time, putting it on the map. By nightfall on 5/14 I had done just that.

This project began out of boredom in the middle of a snowstorm in Philly last winter. I was stuck at home and just scrolling through the internet. This led me to the FKT website and I began researching routes. I found the Cape Cod Traverse. It spoke to me for a few reasons: 1. The final route map is iconic. 2. I grew up in Plymouth, the last town before crossing the Sagamore Bridge into Cape Cod. And 3. There was no female recorded time yet. After a conversation with my coach, we decided I would go for it!

After a few months of planning, checking my route, making DIY aid station plans, etc, I was ready to start. Given the length of the route, I felt a very early morning start would be best. That way I could finish in daylight and make the ending easier on myself (so I naïvely thought). At 3:45AM I took off from the Sagamore Bridge. I had my partner, Kyle biking alongside me and my parents prepared to meet us at designated “aid stations” throughout the route.

The day started nice and cool with a little bit of fog. As the sun started to rise (beautifully I might add), cars began to flock to the roads and the heat began to set in. The majority of this route is along Route 6A (with a section on the Cape Cod Rail Trail and another on Route 6). While there are some sections of sidewalk along 6A, most of my running took place along the rather narrow shoulder of the road. Luckily, most cars were incredibly courteous and gave me plenty of room, but I still really needed to keep my wits about me for the entire run.

I checked off a few “aid stations”, moving at a pretty decent pace. I actually surprised myself with my pace over the second section. However, then the sun really hit its peak. The stretch from Yarmouth to Orleans (through both Dennis and Brewster) was rough. Noon sunlight and heat really hit me hard, and the scenery really dwindled in this section. I FINALLY made it to Orleans and found my parents waiting for me in a Shaws parking lot. ICE ICE BABY!! I doused myself and filled my bucket hat, and got moving again. I do think in retrospect, I made my DIY aid stations a bit farther apart than I should have (10-13 miles), especially given the heat. It was roughly 10 degrees warmer on Saturday than I had run in so far this year! Plus, a good bit of humidity. This was definitely a learning lesson for me.

The stretch down the Cape Cod Rail Trail was next, I was finally off major roads and there was some shade and most importantly a BREEZE! Wind honestly had never felt so good. Kyle was still by my side, and at this point had decided he might as well bike/walk the whole route too! (This turned out to be a literal life saver at the end). I also knew my next “aid station” was at a Cumberland Farms and I was absolutely dreaming of a slushie. I realized said dream, and it was magical. I sucked down a cherry slushie, a coke, and some twizzlers. Real solid food was becoming difficult at this point with the heat, so this (plus all the Tailwind I’d been having throughout the day) was perfect. I made the call to adjust my “aid stations” a bit to allow for a shorter stretch in between, and continued on.

The next section held a ton of rolling hills. This allowed me to pick up my pace a bit by walking the uphills and absolutely bombing down the downhills. It felt good to open up my stride. Town by town, I was finally nearing my final destination, Provincetown. I could not have been happier to see that Welcome sign! I opted to take my route down Commerical Street (the main street of P-Town). As I kid, I loved visiting P-Town, but hadn’t been back in years. What a way to be welcomed back! On the final leg of my trek! I even got a compliment on my running outfit from a drag queen, which made my day.

I finally reached Pilgrim’s First Landing Park, the last stop before crossing to the beach to the lighthouse. I knew this section involved crossing a rock causeway and some beach, but BOY did I underestimate how difficult this would be. Due to the heat slowing down my pace throughout the day, I knew I was chasing daylight and would likely reach the lighthouse at the sun was setting. However, Kyle and I had headlamps and knew we would just take it slow. What I did not realize was how tough this section would be. The causeway was comprised of uneven rocks crossing over the water, which on good legs might not be bad, but on my 63ish miles in trashed legs, this was tough. I reverted to some butt scooting at points to make sure I didn’t fall. After about a mile of walking across the causeway, we made it to the beach. Loose sand, brambles, and seagrass stood in the way of me and the lighthouse.

I trekked ahead, following the blinking green light of the lighthouse. About halfway through the 2 mile beach stretch, night officially fell. It was pitch black. With headlamps providing some light, we were able to finally, FINALLY navigate ourselves to the lighthouse. The official ending of the route. I had done it. Much slower than anticipated, but despite the heat and the difficulty of the final section, I was just so happy to be done. We snapped a few pictures, I sat on the edge of the lighthouse for a few minutes, and then stood as quickly as I could muster because we needed to walk the 3 miles of beach and rock all the way back to arrive in mainland P-Town. This was difficult to wrap my head around. “How on earth can I do this?” “I’m already done, now I need to go back and do the hardest section all over again?!” “I can’t!” I don’t think I fully realized how demoralizing this last section would feel. But eventually I realized there was nowhere to go but back.

We walked on, and thought we had found an easier and more direct route back to the causeway rocks. I was starting to feel my spirits lift. That is until we realized the tide was coming in and we had walked ourselves onto a little peninsula with no way off except to backtrack. I tried to convince Kyle to just go through the water, but thankfully he was the voice of reason to my exhausted, short circuiting brain, and he took my hand and led me back, refusing to let me in the water. We circled back, but with so little light on the beach, ended up in a thicket of brambles. They started small and manageable, I was scraping the crap out of my legs, but I didn’t care, I just needed to get back to the causeway. Then the small and manageable brambles grew and grew and turned into the size of trees. We needed to go back AGAIN. Finally, scratched, with ticks crawling up our legs, cold, exhausted, and drained, we found the causeway rocks. I have never been so happy to see a pile of rocks in my life.

We took a minute to sit and then began the slow journey back across the rocks. The tide was significantly higher than when we crossed before, but not high enough to splash across the rocks, so we continued on. That is until the rising tide flooded over a section of rocks and effectively stranded us and cut us off from mainland. We knew we needed to turn around, and fast. We had no idea if the entire causeway would go under, or if we would get stuck on one lone high rock. Thankfully we quickly traversed the rocks back to the beach without issue. We sat down, and it sank in. We needed to be rescued.

We huddled under a rock, shivering, and somehow even more exhausted than I thought possible. A thick fog began to roll in when we got a call from the harbormaster, he was on his way to find us but needed to move fast. The fog was making visibility very difficult. We shone our headlamps and phone lights in the direction of his boat, and he was able to navigate over to us. We hopped on the boat and sped back to shore.

After multiple apologies from us, a lot of “omg you guys are crazy” from them, and some really funny interactions with a wonderful but computer challenged women in the harbormaster office, we were done. 65 miles, 17ish hours. The Cape Cod Traverse FKT complete and I was safe, sound, and not stranded.

Women CAN and SHOULD FKT. These are our spaces too and we can really take up some room and make a big splash.

I cannot thank the harbormaster enough for his help and grace. I also cannot thank my support team: Kyle and my parents for EVERYTHING on such a wild day. I had no idea that the tides could cut me off from mainland, otherwise I would not have taken such a risk. It was also the night before the “super blood moon lunar eclipse” so perhaps that just happened to coincide perfectly with this FKT attempt and create some unprecedented high tides. I may never know. I learned so much through this attempt, and also have so much more respect for race directors, because planning this all on your own is a whole other animal. Regardless, I am proud, I am humbled, and I am excited to see what I can do next. Women CAN and SHOULD FKT. These are our spaces too and we can really take up some room and make a big splash. I can’t wait to see who can dethrone me on this route.

Rachel B

Rachel is an ultrarunner and run leader from Philadelphia, and she is a member of the Women Who FKT leadership team. Read more about her running adventures at Rachel Runs On.

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