Adventures in Pisgah

Sunday, May 12, 2019

2019 Pisgah Running Adventure Race Report

As I laid in bed late Saturday night listening to the sound of the thunder with the rain pouring down, I recalled the bike race from the day before and wondered what the morning would bring. I'm not sure how much I slept as memory mixed with desire and my body yearned for comfort as I tossed and turned through the night. Eventually, I had no choice but to surrender to the day and I got up and got dressed and prepared for another round of Pisgah in the rain.

Evidently, I am a bad counter as this was to be my 6th Pisgah Running Adventure Race, not my 5th as I had previously stated.  When I arrived at the start it was still raining and I felt surprisingly good and ready for the race. You never know what to expect from a race like this and Pisgah Productions once again completely changed the course. As we stood at the start listening to Eric's pre-race speech the minutes ticked by and everyone was wondering when we get the passports. With just seconds until the 8am start, Eric broke the news that we would receive our passports at Pressley Gap on the Black Mtn. trail. And just like that, the game was on!

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In years past we had usually been the first team out but this year as everyone headed up Black Mtn. trail at the same time we quickly fell into our spot which was to be somewhere near the middle of the field. After our fourth time on Black for the weekend, we made it to Pressley Gap, got our passports and continued on to our first checkpoint at the overlook near Clawhammer Mtn.

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Much like my Big Nasty run from a few weeks back the storm had cleared as we reached the top but unlike that run it appeared the rain was done for the day and from there on out it would be clear as we began the long out and back to the mandatory checkpoint at Copperas Rock on South Mills River trail. For a race full of surprises this was a big surprise. Copperas Rock is not easy to get to and is the last place you would expect a mandatory checkpoint unless you are smart enough to expect the unexpected.

Buckhorn Gap trail was a river of mud and silt but was nothing compared to what South Mills River trail had in store once we reached Wolf Ford. Two miles of mud through a tangle of dog hobble with three serious river fords.

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Before we got to that stretch of trail Yuri said he didn't think it was going to be bad but by the time we were halfway through the nightmare he had changed his mind. It was a slow slog but extremely beautiful and the river felt good on my aching calves. A quick stop for a picture at the rock and then it was right back out the same way we had come through the mud and muck.

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As we started the climb back up to Buckhorn Gap I realized I was tired and the bike race and our heroics on Maxwell Cove the day before were catching up to me so I put music on and just focused on keeping moving forward. The mud made it hard to run and I finally resolved to just hike through those sections. From Buckhorn Gap, it was all downhill from there but as soon as we started the descent I realized my quads were trashed and there would be no fast downhill running, just a slow painful forward movement towards the finish.

We easily hit the next two checkpoints and started the final climb up what is perhaps my favorite trail in the district - Pressley  Cove. I took the lead and tried to run it but by the time we got to the stream I was pretty much done running and the grind to the finish continued. I'd been hoping that Pressley would revigorate me and I'd be able to run fast down Black but that was not the case and my quads were having none of that. There was still one checkpoint remaining at Sycamore Cove and hwy 276 and at the bottom of Black we were faced with a tough decision: go for it and clear all the checkpoints for the weekend or settle for 4 and head back to the finish. The checkpoint was just a half mile on the road from the finish but 6-7 miles on the trail. I was barely moving and there was no way we were walking those six miles in under two hours so we, or perhaps I, made the decision to do the smart thing and skip it and finish as strong as we could.

Minutes later we were at the finish after running right at a marathon. Smiles and stories from the day abounded as teams finished over the next several hours. A burrito and a few beers and the insanity of the storms the day before and the memory of waking that morning in the rain to do it all over again were quickly diminished as the good vibes kept flowing. Once again, Pisgah Productions had provided more fun than should be possible!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

2019 PMBAR Race Report

Sleep came late Saturday night. My body was tired but my mind was still racing with thoughts and memories of the bike race that had occupied my day. It was after midnight when I finally drifted off and I woke shortly thereafter to the sound of rain. Just a few sprinkles at first and then a steady driving rain that made for a fitful sleep as I recalled the events of the day and wondered what the morning might bring.

The first half of my 14th PMBAR  had gone as expected, or maybe even better than expected. For the first time in years, Yuri and I had actually been smart and picked the shortest and most logical route with all the key trails in the 'right' direction. Instead of being silly and climbing Turkey Pen Gap trail to end the day we started with it and made good time across it and to the river for our first checkpoint. We knew it was going to rain and our hope was to be out of Turkey Pen and off Slate Rock before it came down. It was hot as we pushed up Horse Cove but the heat would quickly subside as the rain came as soon as we reached the Slate Rock checkpoint. We took our one break of the day under the volunteer's tarp as I ate a burrito and mentally prepared for the second half of the race which was going to be in the rain.

Back out on the gravel the rain came and went. Sometimes it was pounding and we could hardly see in front of us and then it would just stop. By the time we reached Bennett Gap the trail was somehow dry. That didn't last and on the road out and back to Daniel Ridge it was once again quite heavy and drenching. That final mandatory checkpoint was a slog like no other with the trail a treacherous slip and slide of wet rocks and roots just begging to slap you down. Yuri added a layer in the tent while I sat in the mud on the side of the trail eating what was left of my burrito as we prepared for the home stretch.

All that was left was Maxwell > Black and at the base of the climb the rain stopped and we took off our rain jackets. I wanted to just walk up the steep pitches but I found myself still able to turn my cranks so I couldn't get what I wanted and stayed on the bike. We were passing other teams the whole way up and it felt good to be riding however haggard I was. There was another team stopped at the top of Hickory Knob and we just rolled through. I am not a fast technical descender by any means and was fully expecting several teams to catch and pass us as I dismounted for the most challenging moves but nobody ever did.

After ten and half hours of Pisgah, we rolled across the finish line with all the checkpoints and managed to snag the last spot on the whiteboard. Not bad for two old guys who were taking it easy with hopes of surviving the running race the next day!



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Monday, April 29, 2019

Don't Call it a Tuba

Saturday will be my 14th PMBAR and Sunday my 5th PRAR. They have become routine and I feel stagnant. I think about the Why and What For all the time. Why am I doing this? How much longer am I doing this? What is it all about? Where do I go from here? Question after question after question. And then I daydream about other challenges I can explore. The thing about those daydreams is eventually you have to act on them or abandon them, and so I did the former. I've signed up for more races than I have done in many years with a singular goal in mind: the Hellbender100 next year. First I will have to qualify and for that I have picked the Cloudsplitter100k in October. I don't know what will happen or where I will go from here  but I am going to go for it.

Here are some recent pictures:

Lookout Rock:

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Point Lookout:

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Lost along the way:

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Stuck inside of Turkey Pen:

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With the Pisgah blues again:

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Buckets of Rain

Another Sunday and once again I am sitting in my truck at Smoker's Cove getting ready to run. It is pouring rain and the radar shows a solid line of storms pounding the region. Running in heavy rain and storms doesn't sound fun and I'd rather still be in bed but Sunday's are my run days and I don't have the option of getting in a long run any other day. If I am going to run far this week it will be in the rain. As I sort out my gear I stoke myself up. It will be fun. Nobody else will be out there. It sure beats the heat or cold. I tell myself these things and almost believe them. 

Given the weather, I have picked a favorite route I call The Big Nasty. It starts with all of the Black Mtn. trail and then stays on the ridgeline across Buckwheat Knob and Bennett Gap trails before descending down to Avery Creek Rd. and then up Pressley Cove and back to Black Mtn and the finish. Fifteen and a half miles that feels like much more. I think about changing my route and doing something easier but those thoughts are fleeting as I tell myself  You got this.

The rain stops as I start up Black and things are quite pleasant. Maybe the rain is over, I think, but I know it isn't. As I pass through the first gap it starts back up again - a torrential downpour with a howling wind. This is what you came for, I remind myself and vow to have fun. As I near Turkey Pen I am singing in the rain at the top of my lungs and splashing through the puddles like a kid. The storm stops again as I cross the top of the trail's namesake mountain and I proclaim loudly "Look, the storm is gone!" but there is nobody to hear me. If this was a sunny Sunday a never-ending procession of mountain bikers would be marching across these trails but for today this part of Pisgah is all mine and mine alone. By the next gap, it is dumping again and I run right through, committed to the course. 


After that, it is more of the same: running and singing in the rain. Moving forward. The mental game is in full effect. You can always bail out at the road and run back on the highway. Skip the final stretch on Black. No need to push it. But when I get down to Avery Creek Rd. I don't listen to that voice in my head and head up Pressley Cove instead. It is storming really hard and I am having a blast. This is what I came for. This is what it is all about. 

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Mackey Mountain

I don't think I told you about the last time I went to Mackey Mountain. That run ended with me very close to hypothermia. I found myself sitting on the side of the trail and looking at my map and not wanting to move until the rain stopped. It was October and the overgrown trail combined with the cold rain took its toll on me and I just kept sitting and looking at my map for no reason. I realized what was happening and realized I had to warm up and keep moving. I took inventory of everything in my running vest and for the first time ever pulled out my emergency blanket, wrapped it around myself and vowed not to stop or sit until I got back to my truck.

You would think I would have learned my lesson and would be smart enough not to go back to that trail but I had been heading to the Laurel Fork trail, which is one of a very few trails in the area I have not done when the cold rain forced me to turn around. Not wanting to leave business and a trail undone I headed back two weeks ago to attempt the loop again.

I knew it was going to be overgrown and slow moving for the first four miles but after those initial miles, I was expecting to be on the firebreak road from the fires a few years ago where I had been shortly after the fires the first time I did the trail. The first part of my expectations was right with a very overgrown trail and although I was moving slow I kept reminding myself that soon enough the trail would open up and I would actually be running. But when I got to the firebreak my hopes were immediately extinguished when I saw that the road they had cut through the trail to stop the fire had been covered with downed trees to prevent erosion.

I worked my way up it a little bit but there was no reason to pretend I would be finishing my intended loop. Running through the tangle of limbs was impossible and just attempting to walk through it was dangerous. I had no choice but to turn around and work my way back through the brush. I tried to make the most of it and stopped at one of the little views to enjoy the solitude.

As I was preparing to leave it started raining. I still had miles to go and the rain weighted down the branches making the trail even more difficult to negotiate. I kept moving and as it kept raining I started to get cold and saw my hands and arms were turning blue. With flashbacks from two years ago, I put on my jacket, hat, and gloves and wrestled my way across the remaining miles and back to Curtis Creek Rd.

Laurel Fork trail remains undone and the more I look at my map the more I start to wonder if it is even there at all.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2019 Assault on BlackRock Race Report

Going into this year's Assault on BlackRock I had done nothing to prepare specifically for the event. Last year I had purposely done speed work in my quest for the coveted belt buckle but this year I had been more focused on making sure I was strengthening my hip and staying injury free with my main focus being on PMBAR and PRAR in May and BlackRock would be just another training run along the way with really no intention or hope of making the 101 minute challenge cut off and getting a buckle. Even with preparation last year I only managed to get a buckle with just over a minute to spare and repeating such a feat seemed nearly impossible and for whatever reason, I couldn't quite remember what the course had been like. I recalled a steep rocky climb up some double track and then a long false flat before the final steep climb to the summit and then a long and pounding descent but it didn't seem to me like there had really been 2800' of climbing. That is a lot and going up that far and then back down in 101 minutes didn't seem like something I could possibly have done and if I had it did not seem like something I would be capable of repeating this year.

With little intention of pushing too hard, I lined up towards the middle of the pack at the start whereas last year I had made sure to be in the front as I didn't want to waste a single second. It was cold but clear at the start and as we started up the trail I found myself trapped in a pack of people power hiking from the start and had to work my way through traffic before I was able to start really running. As I started up the mountain last year's race started to come back to me and  I remembered that it really was that steep and really did have that much climbing. I was still not pushing too hard but as I realized my body felt good I decided to dig a little bit and see how fast I could make it to the top. Once out of traffic I found myself yo-yoing with a group of guys who were power hiking the steep stuff and running the more managable stretches. I would pass them as they hiked and they would then pass me once they were running again. I knew that once we started down I would never see them again as they bombed the descent and would be getting buckles but was still unsure as to my fate. It was going to be close and my guess was I was going to be on the losing side of close but that was okay to me.

After a couple of miles the trail flattens out and flat is not my strong suit but I pushed as hard as I could until we made the sharp left back onto singletrack and up the final steep pitch to the top. The trail was very steep and technical and I gave it all I had and tried my best to acttually run it. I made it to the top right at the sixty minute mark and even though it was literally Downhill from There I did not think I would be able to do the 3.5 mile descent in 41 minutes to get a buckle but vowed to myself to try my hardest and gave it all I had.

The descent was steep and pounding and not technical at all except a few tricky sections with downed trees. I couldn't resist looking at my watch a few times - would I make it? It started to seem like I had a real chance and I dug deeper and pushed harder. The closer I got the closer the time got. It was going to be close. I looked at my watch again. If the course was seven miles according to my watch I was going to make it but if it was any longer I would not. A half mile from the finish and I was down to five minutes. A quarter mile and two minutes remaining. Then I fell. Shit! The seconds were ticking away. I made the final turn and saw some hikers coming up - "Am I close?", I yelled. "It is right there," one of them offered back. No time left to steal a glance at my watch, nothing left to do but run, run, run.

And then there was the gate and the finish. I was running harder than I've ever ran before and didn't know if I had made it or not. I hit stop on my watch and looked - 1:40:42. That meant I made the 101 minute challenge and got the last belt buckle of the day with 18 seconds to spare. Ouch!


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