Adventures in Pisgah

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wilson Creek SWEaTfest

Last weekend found me in Wilson Creek with Pisgah Nation for the annual SWEaTfest fun run. I did the run last year and really enjoyed the route as well as the company and have been looking forward to doing it again ever since. This year things would take an unexpected but interesting turn just a few miles in.

Just after crossing over Yellow Buck Mtn. I arrived at a trail junction I didn't remember from last year where another runner, Vince, was pondering the options. One trail was blocked by dead fall and the other one was clear but a trail sign seemed to be indicating that the dead fall trail was the way to the road where we were headed so that is the trail we picked. We started descending rapidly with lots more dead fall and I had a strong hunch it was the wrong way. I tried yelling for Vince but he had pulled way ahead and couldn't hear me so I just kept going. After a mile or so I arrived at a creek and the tell tale white circle blazes told me what I already knew - we had gone the wrong way and were at Harper Creek. What I couldn't figure out was where was Vince. I thought for sure he would have stopped at the creek to plot his next move but he was not there.  I ran a quarter mile upstream and then a quarter mile downstream hoping to find him but he was nowhere to be found. I decided he must have realized our mistake and picked an alternate route to run. I pulled out my map and did the same.

Instead of reversing course and finishing the route I opted to do a different route altogether that would have me on some new to me trails. I decided to go up Persimmon Ridge to the road and then down South Harper Creek before rejoining the route near the end. I figured Persimmon Ridge was bound to be the least used trail in the area and from the start the trail looked faint and indeed little used. It climbed steadily and steeply and I resigned myself to not worry about the time or where Vince might have gone and to instead just enjoy my day in the woods.

I stopped about three quarters of the way to the top to stretch my hip flexors and was enjoying a nice break when suddenly Vince appeared coming up the trail behind me. I wasn't expecting to see anyone on that trail, especially not Vince behind me. He quickly told me he figured out we were off course when he got to Bard Falls on Harper Creek and was reversing course so that he could finish the route. It took me a second to process what he was saying and I had to ask if he knew where he was.

"Not really," he said, "but once I get to the top where we missed the turn I will."

That didn't make sense either and it took a little more back and forth before I realized he thought he was on the same stretch of trail we had come down which was on the other side of the creek. I explained how he was nowhere near there and I had intentionally left the course after our wrong turn to do a different route. He was eager to finish the course so I gave him my map and went over what he needed to do to get back on course several times. I took a picture of the map in case I needed it and I wished him well before we went our separate ways.

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A short while later the forest opened up into a grand stand of old growth trees so spectacular I had to yell aloud in amazement and wonder.

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From there it was a short way up to the road and then a short stretch of gravel before descending the South Harper Creek trail. After a couple of miles on the trail a waterfall appeared and the run couldn't have gotten any better already. While not the biggest of waterfalls it was a nice spot and I pulled out my fishing pole to play around a bit. I didn't catch anything or even get a bite but that wasn't the point of the exercise.

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Back out on the trail and low and behold a short distance later another waterfall appeared. This one was much bigger, much more intriguing, and ripe for canyoning.

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From there it was a long distance across an overgrown trail covered in downed trees and littered with creek crossings. There was little running going on and I was getting concerned that other runners might be getting concerned about where I was so I did my best to push on as fast as I could.

After a seeming eternity I finally arrived at the final waterfall - Harper Creek Falls.

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I wasn't going to stop there but it was just too inviting so I decided to take a quick dip before running the final mile back to the trail head. I went up to the big pothole in the middle of the waterfall and swam around while I watched some young men demonstrate the power of team work to free a tangled rope.

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Then much to my relief I saw some other Pisgah Nation runners sliding down the falls and followed suite so I could talk to them as I was eager to know if they had seen Vince. They had not and I gave them the short version before they headed back to the beer. I hung out a little bit longer before making my own beer run.

Back at the trail head we hung out in Wilson Creek where the big question was "Where is Vince?". Hours passed and we started to get concerned but with no clue where he was there was nothing we could do but wait. He finally popped out of the woods with a smile on his face and told us about how his adventure had continued after I last saw him with more wrong turns but in the end he finished the route with an extra ten miles or so.

As for myself, Persimmon Ridge was the best wrong turn I have ever taken!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chattooga River Trail

A few weeks ago Yuri and I got out for a fun outing around the Chattooga River. At first we were headed for Panthertown but then decided to check out the trails in and around the northern part of  the Chattooga river instead since it was a place where neither of us had been before.

The trail alongside the river was great with many highlights, my favorite of which was going for my first swim of the year, but the best part of the run came just a few miles from the finish when we stumbled across a city of granite. This was a unique place with many nooks and crannies to explore. Like the rest of the run it was unexpected and unknown and as such we were unprepared. A rope, or at least a headlamp, would have been quite useful.  It is just seconds off the road and there isn't a whole lot in there but it makes a very nice addition to an outing in the area.  Find it if you need it.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Burning Down the Mountain - PRAR 2017

Sunrise Sunday morning and the storm was gone. The day broke bright with still cool temperatures but no rain in sight. At Smoker's Cove there were a few mountain biker type stragglers from the previous day's insanity hanging around the fringes as the runners prepared for their day. Our plan to take it easy on the bike so we could run strong on Sunday seemed to have worked as both Yuri and I were feeling good and ready to run.

The passports revealed that both mandatory checkpoints from Saturday were the same for Sunday. Everyone would be going to both Wagon Rd. Gap at South Mills River as well as Saddle Gap. The other three checkpoints were Wolf Ford, Barnett at Pink Beds and Club Gap. This would be the most difficult Pisgah Running Adventure Race  yet with everyone running an ultra marathon in order to finish. It only took us a brief glance at the passport to decide to go to Turkey Pen first and we headed up Black Mtn. trail just over twelve hours since we had last come down it. It was a glorious day and I put The Allman Brother's Band's Eat a Peach Album on and decided we weren't wasting time no more.

Slow and steady up Black was once again the game plan. We got passed by two fast teams right out of the gate and then were by ourselves for most of Black Mtn. until we were caught by three teams just before the turn onto Turkey Pen Gap. I chatted with them as we did the final little climb and then they all stopped at the intersection as Yuri and I rolled right on through. Turkey Pen Gap was still nice and fresh on our minds from the day before but was actually much more enjoyable on foot early in the day rather than pushing a bike up it at the end of the day. The other three teams quickly caught up to us again as we rolled up and down the gaps and I decided to hit the gas a little on one of the climbs to see what they had in their tanks. They stayed right with us and then passed us and I knew that was the last we would see of them.

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We made it down to the first checkpoint where some lady slippers were standing a silent vigil and then quickly headed on towards Wolf Ford via Horse Cove and Squirrel Gap trails. Cantrell and Horse Cove were wet messes as expected and I kept looking for other foot prints as I was curious what routes the teams in front of us would take. Would they be fooled by the flat South Mills River trail or would they know to do the extra climbing instead? A group of backpackers were at the intersection of Horse Cove and Squirrel and said at least three teams were twenty or minutes in front of us. That meant two teams could have taken South Mills River and the race was on.

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Wolf Ford came surprisingly easy and on the long circuitous climb back out we discussed our plan from there. Would we go to Pink Beds and hit all the checkpoints or would we settle for four? Yuri wanted to get all five so that we would clear the course both days but I was more concerned with trying to race smart and do what would result in the best finish. That made the question how long would it take to get the Pink Beds CP? I figured it was close to two hours and then once you figured in the extra time and mileage we could drastically slow down from there. Yuri agreed and it was pretty much decided we would settle for four and hope for the best.

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Two teams who had taken South Mills River passed us on the climb up to Buckhorn Gap
and when I saw them stopped at the gap I decided it was time to finish strong and burn the mountain down. I have worn a hole in Black Mtn. and the other trails in the Avery Creek drainage this year and was ready to make some time. With a couple of shouts as we made the turn onto Black Yuri commented that he would have just quietly slipped by but that is just not my style and I wante to make our presence known. We took our poles out and began to work our way up and down to Club Gap. Since we had decided to skip Pink Beds I figured it was time to put it all on the line and see what sort of damage we could do for the final stanza. I took the lead in an attempt to gap the teams behind us. We hit Barnett Branch in really good time, so good that I paused briefly and considered suggesting we go out and back to number five real fast, but Yuri was right behind me with a team on his heels and I just kept straight on Black without giving it another thought.

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We were making good time on the downhills as well as the uphills and were pulling out of  Club Gap just as the next team was pulling in. From there the trail tends downhill until you reach Avery Creek and we kept it rolling with Yuri in the lead pulling us across the flats. We had it on cruise control but the race was far from over with the difficult Pressley Cove climb before the final Black Mtn. descent. We discussed our water plans and final strategy just before slipping past our final checkpoint at Saddle Gap. Yuri kept the lead until just a few feet up Pressley Cove when he motioned for me to go by.

I run Pressley Cove frequently and am confident I know it better than anyone. I knew all I had to do was run that stretch of trail like I was fresh and before I knew it the race would be over and I would be sipping on a cold beer. So I dug in deep and declared aloud that we would be burning this mountain down. I gave it everything I had and while we didn't make record time up to the gap we did make good time and the end was actually in sight. Normally Yuri would go right by me on the downhills but I was determined to leave Black Mtn. little more than a smoldering pile of embers and kept the lead.

We ran that stretch of Black Mtn. faster than we have ever ran it before. Perhaps even faster than we had ridden it the day before. It was little more than a painful blur with my feet moving from memory as much as anything else. At the final turn at the intersection with Thrift Cove there were some mountain bikers stopped and I came down at full speed, screaming nonsense at the top of my lungs, and took a hurtling leap off the third waterbar up and that was enough for me. I switched it over to cruise control and let Yuri set the pace as we sent it on home.

We finished just minutes behind the first two other teams but I knew that wouldn't hold and sure enough two teams came in with five checkpoints and knocked us back to fifth. It is hard to say what would have happened it we had been smart enough to go out and back to Pink Beds but I have to think that we would not have been able to have our own little fireworks show at the end like we did.

Until the next time....

Monday, May 15, 2017

PMBAR 2017

This year was my twelfth consecutive PMBAR. That is a long time and over the years I have done the race in any number of styles. I've been on a full suspension little wheeled bike just trying to survive, I've done it singlespeed more times than I can remember, fully rigid a few times, I've raced to win, gotten all the checkpoints regardless of the result, I've made more than a few ugly mistakes and have even gotten lucky a time or two and for the last four years have been more concerned with the running race the next day. Going into the race this year I was more prepared for both the bike and the run than I have been in years but knew riding around 70 miles one day and then running around 30 miles the next day would be no easy feat.

After a quick look at the passport at the start Yuri and I knew we would be getting all five checkpoints for the first time since PRAR started four years ago and our only question was which direction we wanted to go. With cold temperatures and the very real threat of rain Yuri voted that we start with Bennet Gap trail and save the frigid Bradley Creek trail and the final checkpoint on South Mills River for the end of the day when the rain would arrive and we would be cold and wet anyway. For whatever reason I seriously misjudged the best way to get out of Turkey Pen and agreed with him.

 Our two day pace had us walking long sections of Black Mtn. before we hit Pressley Gap and coasted down the road towards our first checkpoint at Saddle Gap. A short way up Bennet Gap a singlespeed team caught up to us and asked if I knew what we were doing. I reassured them that I did. It was some sort of bike race I said, but beyond that I didn't know much. Then Yuri snagged some thorns that snapped back and slapped me in the face before tangling around my wheels. On up Bennet under gorgeous blue skies with ominous high wind gusts that suggested the weather was changing.

Saddle Gap was an easy enough checkpoint but I knew things were bound to get harder. On out too the highway and then the start of a long and casual trip across Yellow Gap Rd. The Slate Rock CP was just a quick blip until I started to have air pressure problems. My front tire went low on the way up and we did the fools move of just adding air which worked until it went low again on the way down which then caused me to pinch flat. Yuri was just ever so slightly in front of me so I just ran down the trail with my bike until we regrouped and did what we should have done the first time and switched out the tube. A careful examination of the tire revealed a thorn - a likely souvenir  from Bennet Gap.

Back out to Yellow Gap Rd. and on to North Mills River. On the way up to Bear Branch another racer noted that the skies were about to open up and it was going to pour. He appeared to be right but I assured him rain was a good thing. Bear Branch out and back with just a few drops of rain and then on to the Spencer Gap checkpoint. Up at the gap it was very windy and the rain finally came and we began a long cycle of trying to regulate our body temperatures by taking our rain jackets on and off in a time sucking manner.

On the climb back out of North Mills River the rain stopped only to start again in earnest as we reached the crux of the race - Bradley Creek Trail. I cannot imagine a trail that is anymore beautiful than Bradley Creek but on this day that beauty was to be countered by equally unimaginable pain and suffering. The creek crossings were very high and not easy to navigate with a bike. It was raining hard and we were heading into the bowels of the forest. At the old Hendersonville Reservoir the flood gauge was completely submerged and so were we it seemed.

It was somewhere along there that we began to discuss our end game and I realized we had taken the Fool's Gambit for the second year in a row and would be pushing Turkey Pen Gap to get out of our predicament. I had actually trained a little bit this year and was prepared to put it all on the line out on Maxwell Cove Rd. but there would be none of that. Instead we would crawl our way across the two mountains and seven gaps on Turkey Pen before finally plunging down Black Mtn. back to the finish.

It was five o' clock before we hit our final checkpoint where Dennis was waiting in the rain for us stragglers. We told him our plan and he agreed it was our best option and should be able to finish before dark. Yuri surprised me by doing a full wardrobe change before we finally started on the final leg of the journey. The rain stopped and Turkey Pen Gap wasn't bad. I run it frequently and know it well but it still stung to know we were going the wrong direction. At Deep Gap Horse Knob hangs just in front of you and you would think it was Black Mtn. but it isn't and there is still another gap to cross and another ridge to push but we still made it to the top in just under two hours.

Downhill from there straight back to the finish. Hickory Knob hardly even registered and we passed a rather haggard looking team before the final downhill run. Black was just a blur with me only wanting to be done. We made it back to the finish in less than three hours after leaving Dennis only to be faced with impending darkness and a over pumped keg of beer. There would be no hanging out to watch everyone finish this year as in just twelve hours we would be heading straight back up Black towards Turkey Pen and South Mills River.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Clingman's Dome

Although I had run to the top of  Clingman's Dome before that run was only a few miles long and didn't seem like it should count so a proper run to the top of the iconic peak had been on my To Do List for awhile. For my attempt I picked the shortest route possible: a marathon out and back from Lake Fontana via Noland Creek Trail.

Without knowing the trails I didn't know what to expect. Obviously there would be plenty of climbing along the way (and then later descending) but I had no clue what sort of trail conditions I might encounter. Starting out by myself I was relieved to see that the first four miles of trail up Noland Creek was a gravel road. While roads are not my prefered running surface the grade was gentle, the footing good, and I knew that many hours later as I made my way back down the mountain an easy final four miles could be exactly what I needed.

It was early and I had the trail all to myself. I slipped by some silent tents as I made the turn up Springhouse Branch and then trail turned from gravel to singletrack as I continued up the mountain. There was a smattering of backpackers just past the turn onto Forney Ridge but they quickly faded behind me as I plodded along. The grade was gradual and other than some fading bench cut was in great shape and the ascent seemed almost easy.

Once I got to Andrew's Bald it was clear I was near the top. Not because of the view - which was amazing, of course - but because of all the people. So many people that there was no question that this was a mountain with a road to the top. I felt like a sucker for running all the way up there when there was a perfectly good road and a perfectly good truck that could have taken me there. But I had already come along way so I just carried on to the top. It was an endless sidewalk of day hikers and tourists and I had to utter a thousand excuse me's and hello's as I squeezed my way through. There was nothing up there I hadn't seen before so stopping at the top wasn't necessary and I just did a quick turn before heading straight back down through the throngs of sightseers.

Back at the bald I bid hello again to the backpackers I had passed on my way up and then was returned to solitude as I entered the tree line again. The trip down was as uneventful as the trip up but the miles kept steadily adding up as I started to slowly slow down. By the time I hit Sprinhouse Branch again my trusty watch was dead and I took the time to explore some of the not so ancient ruins along the way before making my way back down to Noland Creek.

Those final four miles were the perfect end to the run. While the last two miles to the summit had been plagued by hordes of people the begining and end of the run were just me, alone, in a seemingly endless expanse of woods running alongside a pristine mountain stream.

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clingman's dome

Wednesday, April 12, 2017