Adventures in Pisgah

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

2018 Pisgah Running Adventure Race Report

Most running races are straightforward affairs. There is a set course that you follow and aid stations along the way. You know exactly how far you are going to run and how much elevation gain there will be. The only variables are weather and your personal fitness. The Pisgah Running Adventure Race is nothing like that. There is no set course and you only have a vague idea of how far you may run and how long it will take you. At the start, you are given a passport that has the rules for the race, which can vary by year and the checkpoint locations. The checkpoints are specific places in the forest you must go in order to finish the race. Usually, there are five checkpoints, one of which is mandatory, and you must reach four out of the five. If you reach all five you are given a time bonus and the shortest time wins, not the most checkpoints. There is nothing on course except for a tent at each checkpoint. You must carry mandatory gear and all the food and anything else you may need. Of course, given the variable nature of the race, all that is subject to change and the truth is you really have no idea what the race is going to be like until you get your passport at the start. For the five years the race has been running each year it has been completely different.

After getting a wooden nickel of sorts at the start of PMBAR  the day before I knew surprises were in the air for PRAR once again. After riding 65 miles with 11000' of climbing the day before I felt shockingly good at the start of the running race. Eric gave his speech and then we got our passports. I took a quick scan and then we headed up towards the Black Mountain trail. With two checkpoints in the Avery Creek area and three over by the Fish Hatchery we thought we would start with Black and finish with the Art Loeb but as we read the passport while we ran we realized nothing was off limits. Usually, most roads, especially highway 276, cannot be used in the race but this is a race where you should never assume anything and this year our surprise was that the roads were open.

With that in mind, we quickly turned around and headed up highway 276. Our potential mistake would have made us add miles as well as 1700' of unnecessary climbing! This year was to be the road year and by the time we turned right onto Buckhorn Gap trail three miles into the race I had already run more pavement and gravel than I had all year. It was going to be a long and somewhat flat day. Our first checkpoint took us a couple of minutes to locate and then at the second one came easy enough but the timing equipment was missing from it. I sent a quick text to Eric the race director and assured the racers we would get credit for being there. Smiles abounded with everyone enjoying the race.

Another unique aspect of the race is that it is a team event, not an individual race. Teams of two must stay together and reach the checkpoints as a team. That adds to the communal aspect of the race and also ensures runners' safety. It also means you get to know other teams as you try and decipher your own way to the checkpoints and back to the finish. You will see a team and run with them for a bit and then one team will take a different route and you will find yourselves leapfrogging with another team and all the while you'll see teams taking completely different routes and directions. That makes it challenging to know exactly where you stand in the race but PRAR really isn't the type of race that is about the finish - it is more about the journey to get to that destination.

Our journey had us going back out to the highway after checkpoint #2 and then over to the Fish Hatchery and Cove Creek Falls for CP#3.


Leaving the checkpoint we met a co-ed team who had made the mistake of assuming the road would be faster than the Davidson River trail and then made a second mistake of taking a fisherman's trail instead of Davidson River trail despite my warnings. The game was afoot!

Back the Fish Hatchery where we stopped to make use of clean water as well as the vending machines (pro-tip: carry some dollar bills) before heading up to John Rock where our mandatory CP awaited.


The road part of the day was over and from the Fish Hatchery on we would be on good old Pisgah single track. John Rock came easy enough and then it was out and back on the Art Loeb to CP#5 at Butter Gap. This would be the crux of the race. The extra checkpoint meant a two hour time bonus but getting to it and back would be very close to two hours on the slow stretch of the Art Loeb where it wraps around Butter Gap. We hit the marathon mark for the day just about at the checkpoint and celebrated our personal success of the weekend with a little moonshine.


It was essentially all Downhill From There (except where it wasn't, of course) and when we got back to Cat Gap it had taken us 1:40 to get the extra CP so our work meant twenty free minutes. The return trip on the Art Loeb was perfect. The weather couldn't have been better and it was as if we had the entire forest to ourselves - the perfect end to yet another perfect Pisgah weekend. All the miles and mountains from the weekend were making us feel it but neither of us had any sort of issues - just the sort of fatigue you would expect from almost 100 miles, 18,000' of climbing and 18.5 hours of Pisgah.

Back at the finish cold beer, burritos and smiles abounded with all the racers eager to share their stories from the trail. We finished in eight and a half hours after running 33 miles and climbing nearly 6,000' - not bad for a 'flat road year'!

If you are looking for a different sort of race and challenge look no further. And get in while you can - while it is now still a small local affair the mountain bike edition sells out immediately and has hundreds of racers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Standing Indian

The Appalachian Trail forms a horseshoe around the Standing Indian area of Nantahala National Forest. This allows for a good 24 Mile Loop that has been on my to-do list for quite time and the time finally came 2 weeks ago.

After a long week I drove out to Nantahala ready for some peace and quiet  camping by myself. I had been planning on staying at the Standing Indian campground but when I arrived it was jam-packed with a thousand RVs in 10,000 people running in every direction possible - the exact opposite of the peace and quiet I was looking for. So, I drove up Forest Road 67 and found a perfect little camping spot by the river that would give me the solace I needed.

I had a tickle in my throat driving out on Friday and after a great night of sleep Friday night I woke up feeling quite poor Saturday morning. I was camped a mile up the road and was intending on running a full Marathon but found myself not leaving for the run until almost noon. Based on the math I would be finishing at dark or just after dark but I was intent on the route and headed out anyway.

The route started with a long time up Left Ridge Trail which would take me to very near the top of Standing Indian Mountain. As I work my way up the mountain it was clear I was not feeling well and in fact was likely quite sick. By the time I got to the top I was literally crawling.


Undeterred, I went out and back to the top of the namesake mountain and then continued on the AT, intent on finishing my route.


I'd been hoping that once I was on top of the ridge I would feel better and be making better time but was still moving just too slow. After a mile or two I reached Beech Gap and knew it was time for me to abandon the marathon and head back down. It just wasn't going to be happening that day.

I took my time on the descent and just enjoyed the solitude that the mountains afforded me. It was early spring in Nantahala with the first buds appearing in the blanket of green slowly working its way into the land of the Noonday Sun. Somewhere along the way I discovered some inconsistencies with my map and the way the trails were on the ground but all I had to do is head down hill. The trail finally spit me out on FR 67 although much further up than I had anticipated. A very long and slow several miles on the road brought my run to a close at just 16 miles.
As I ate lunch back at Camp I pondered my fate. The smart thing to do would have been to pack up and drive home Lynn as there was no doubt I was sick but instead I decided I might as well go for a bike ride since I brought the bike all that way. I crawled in my tent to change into biking clothes and quickly fell asleep. I never nap, which should have been a sign, and after I awoke I changed and headed out on the bike. I want back up the gravel road I had just run down and checked out a couple of waterfalls that were on the map. Nothing too special but I was glad I at least peddled a little bit. 




Back at Camp once again I debated driving home for the second time of the day but reminded myself I had nothing better to do and might as well just stay. I ate dinner and then enjoyed a fire for a little bit while looking up at the sky wondering if it might rain. Sleep came easy once again in them and I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of the storm and rain on my tent. I felt a little drip at one point but decided it couldn't be much and went back to sleep. I woke for the final time around 8 to my book floating pass my head and an inch of standing water in the tent.

I quickly through all the wet stuff into the truck and drove straight to Franklin where I bought a cup of coffee and got a three-legged Buffalo nickel as change for my dollar. I took that as a sign of good things were to come that day and decided to drive and check out Wayah Bald as long as I was in the area. You can drive all the way to the top and I was relieved as the rain did not let up.  Once of the top I was greeted by horizontal rain sleet and snow. I was soaked as soon as I stepped out of the truck. There wasn't much to see except for the fire ravenged landscape and a very nice Fire Tower. Soaked to the core and undeniably sick I drove straight home where I slept for the next 2 days.

The Standing Indian Marathon will have to wait for another day.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Seven Sisters 25k


For not being much of a racer I found myself doing races two weekend's back-to-back in  March. The weekend after BlackRock was the Seven Sisters 25k put on by Tanawha Adventures and Brandon Thrower. I've run the course several times before and when I saw that it was becoming an official race I was excited to participate and support the inaugural event.
There had been a buckle dangling in front of me like a carrot at BlackRock and but there was no such temptation with Seven Sisters so I was treating it as a training run. During the week leading up to the event, the big question was the weather. March in the mountains can mean anything and the forecast was looking like a cold rain for the run - far from ideal conditions.
I woke to the sound of rain on Saturday morning and headed out to the start vowing to make the best of it regardless of the weather. Rain Is a good thing and nothing is wrong with smiling on a cloudy day. When I got to Montreat the cold rain gave way to a light snow and I was excited for what was to come. Now the question was on if they would stick to the full route or due to the weather alter the course.
Just before the start, Brandon announced that there was only a half an inch of snow at the top of Greybeard and with little more precipitation expected as of then we would be sticking to the full route. How about the crowd erupted with excitement. It was a large group of runners I was happy to see so many people coming out to run in questionable conditions.
The race started with the first notes from Brandon's banjo and we all took off in the falling snow. I say I'd run the course several times before but never really looked at the route too closely and we started up some streets that I'd never really run before. I didn't want to get stuck in traffic on the steep single-back climbs so I pushed a little bit to stay near the front quarter of the pack.
Although we weren't expecting much more precipitation the snow just kept falling and I was having a great time. There is something about snow that opens up a childlike wonder and unabashed joy that couples perfectly with the pureness of trail running. There was no place I would have rather been at that moment than running trails in the mountains in the snow. Springtime in Pisgah and nothing could be finer.
I played leap frog with several little groups of runners as we rolled up and down the various hills. and gaps until we got to the Greybeard Trail. As much as I love its namesake mountain it is probably my least favorite trail in Montreat as it is the epitome of a false flat.
Nothing was going to keep me down this day though and I just trudged on letting runners go by as I figured I would reel them in on the West Ridge Trail. The snow had still been steadily falling the half inch we were told was at the top was now several inches and we weren't to the top yet.
Just as I started to wonder if they would alter the course and send us back down Greybeard the answer came with the lead runner passing me on his way down. As much as not doing West Ridge seems like it would have been, it really wasn't. Things were slippery enough on Greybeard and hundreds of people didn't need to be going down West Ridge in those conditions. So, I fully supported the race directors decision and went on up to Walker's Knob where we would turn around.
They had a bottle of whiskey at the top and were a little surprised when I took a shot. I really wasn't racing and at that point, it was all over anyway so why not? The descent down Greybeard was indeed slippery and I wasn't taking any chances like I had done the week before at BlackRock. Brandon was hanging out at the turn from Trestle on to Greybeard and I was very surprised to see the race director on course. But like he said someone had to be there to make sure racers knew a new way down. I thought about volunteering to hang out with him but realized I would be getting cold very fast so I continued my descent.
The snow had stopped and was melting quickly and it looked like it was going to be a gorgeous afternoon in Western North Carolina. I slipped and slide my way down to the road and then trotted into the Finish or a warm bowl of chili, a cold Pisgah Greybeard and plenty of smiling faces were waiting to greet me.
Even though we did not go on West Ridge Trail which is the crux of the route it was still an excellent event and I would encourage everyone to run it next year. Many thanks to Tanawha Adventures for my best run of the year thus far! If it wasn't for them I would have never gotten out of bed early would have missed the joy of running in that snow.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Assault on BlackRock


Terri signed up to hike the Assault on BlackRock and although I'm not much of a racer when I saw that the course went straight up a high mountain and then straight back down it sparked my interest. The fact that it was a mountain I've never been on and the entry fee was low combined with the promise of a  belt buckle if you could finish a hundred in one minute sealed the deal and I signed up.
In preparation I did the unthinkable and actually did a few training runs for it. Without knowing the course I figured my best bet was just running my old favorite, Black Mountain Trail. 101 minutes to go 7 miles with a 3000 foot ascent and descent is no easy task. Black Mountain to Turkey Pen Gap trail is similar turn my attempts to run that out and back within a hundred and one minutes fell short each attempt. So, leading up to the race I was not hopeful of hitting a buckle and was well-prepared to miss a hundred and one minutes by a good chunk. After all this was going to be just a fun run with my eye on the Main Event in May.
The weather was doing it's uncertain thing leading up to the race and it wasn't clear if it was going to rain the whole time or not. I packed almost all my running gear in the car in preparation for anything. In the end I decided to travel as light as possible but with still enough to be comfortable if things got bad up high. Shorts, t-shirt and arm warmers, hat and gloves, emergency jacket and 4 oz of water tucked in a pocket.
The start finish area was laid back and low-key, just my style. I poked around a bit and it looked like the trail was going to be steep and rocky but plenty wide. We all lined up at the gate and waited for the 9 a.m. start time. The horn went off and we all took off with me enjoying the first few seconds in third place. That wouldn't last as a dozen or so people streamed by me over the next half mile. I was red dining just from the start but with only 7 miles to go I didn't feel the need to save anything. If I wanted that buckle there would be no time to spare.
The first two miles were steep as promised but I found myself right at the required 14:41 pace that it would take to get my buckle.  After that there was a bit of flat which side to the final third mile of trail that would climb 600 feet to the summit of BlackRock itself. I found myself running with the lead woman and we were both wondering when the leaders would pass us on the out and back but they didn't until we were nearing the top. That had to be a good sign.
Quick turn of the top to get our numbers marked that we made it and then down we went. Third of a mile slowed me down and in order to make it back down in the time required I had 32 minutes to descend 3 miles. That would be very fast for me. Luckily the trail was wide open and very runnable. I turned my music up loud and gave it everything I had. As much as I wanted to not look at my watch I keep finding myself looking at my watch doing the math. Would I make it? I had a chance, that was for sure.
When you're at the bottom I realize that if it was really only seven and a quarter miles I would make it. If it was closer to 8 I would not. Within a mile of the Finish there was an unmarked turn off to the left and I wondered if that was the way. There were no runners around me and no signs. I stayed on the road more traveled and hoped it was right. As I near the finish I fully expected to be told I was finishing off course. I was resigned to be with happy with whatever happened. My watch had me at 97 minutes or so and it appeared a buckle was mine.
The descent had been pounding and I finished in a daze. I wandered around a bit and talk to a few runners as I waited for my coveted buckle. I still had a while longer to wait for Terri to finish and talked to more runners including Sean who I had exchanged emails with about running from his reading this blog (hi Sean! Good to meet you.). I made a couple more friends until Terri finished and we headed off to downtown Sylva for much deserved beer and food.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Half a Tank of Gasoline

Last weekend I got away to the Linville Gorge area for a fun little overnight excursion.


I walked a short distance into the Wilderness on Saturday afternoon and set up camp at the base of Hawk's Bill Mountain.


From there I did a quick little run up to the top of Hawk's Bill where a fantastic view awaited me. Table Rock was the dominant feature in a landscape full of dominant features. Its presence was so great that I could not help but run over to it to take in the sunset.


As close as it looked the run overtook a little longer than expected and I had the frozen trails all to myself. My solitude ended at the top of the iconic mountain where a group of revelers was awaiting the sunset. I snapped a quick picture and then retreated back to the solace of the trail and enjoyed the sunset over my shoulder as I made my way back to camp.



It was a cold night but morning broke with clear skies and a bright warm sun and once again I felt the pull of Hawk's Bill and ran to the top to enjoy the morning. I had the peak all to myself and spent some time enjoying the view.



After breaking down camp and taking the long way back to the truck I stopped and checked out a waterfall for a future canyoneering route.


From there it was back out to the highway and off to check out Lower Steels Creek Trail #238.  I had been eyeing this trail for awhile and had asked Brandon T. about it at the Wilson Creek Sweatfest but couldn't remember exactly what he said about it. I knew he said it wasn't worth doing but couldn't remember the reason why. I thought he said it had been logged. Whatever the reason I needed to see it for myself.

It took a few trips up and down the highway for me to confirm the start of the 'trail'  due to some marked private property right where the trail was supposed to be. Once I was certain of the location I began the adventure. I never like poaching private property so I decided I would follow the property boundary which was also exactly where the trail was supposed to be according to my maps. It was easy enough to follow the boundary as it was marked like always by red paint. I was admiring how well of a job they did marking it as I made my way through the brush.


At one point I noticed what sure looked like fresh red paint dripping off a couple of leaves and thought "That has to be blood," so I reluctantly touched it and confirmed that is was indeed wet paint.


That meant that someone was in front of me marking the boundary. I found it to be an interesting coincidence that the day I picked to check out this seldom traveled trail would be the same day someone was out marking the property boundary. Undeterred, I continued on wondering if I would see whoever was in front of me. Eventually, the private property ended and I found the actual Lower Steels Creek trail but it was so overgrown that it was pretty much just a bushwack. I was determined to do the trail but after many creek crossings and impossibly slow going, I realized I needed to find a way to move faster. I consulted my map and decided to leave the creek and bushwack up to FR210A. I was gambling that the map was accurate and was quite relieved when the road was exactly where it was supposed to be. I could actually run again and followed the road back to the creek where it joined the trail I had been on. It was still very lightly traveled but there were signs of previous use from a forgotten time.


The excursion was taking a lot longer than anticipated and I was pushing day light so I was tempted to do another bushwack to speed things up but decided not to press my luck and stayed on the road instead. I eventually made it out to highway 181 and ran the final few miles as the sunset behind Table Rock bringing the weekend to a close.