Adventures in Pisgah

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Everything's Right

It is a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in November and I'm trying to deny that I am sick. This is the sort of Sunday you dream about and I should be out running mountains and basking in the sunshine but instead, I'm pulled into a parking spot at the Ranger Station and am just waking up from an unexpected nap. Ladybugs cover my truck windows and I watch through my dreary eyes as they do their ladybug crawl. After Cloudsplitter there is nothing left to train for, at least not for now, so I am content to watch the ladybugs. But I still feel like a junkie in search of an angry fix. I was first going to chase that dragon by heading to Panthertown for a 13 miler but then changed course for the Fish Hatchery and my Cedar Rock Loop, and then again for Pink Beds. And now here I sit at the Ranger Station. Definitely not sick. Just a cold. Better than shingles, cancer, death or any number of other ailments. Running can wait for another weekend.


As the leaves fall and the ladybugs do their ladybug thing, I think about all the times I have been sitting right here and all that has been and all that will ever be. I wonder where I will go from here. Change is in the air and tomorrow begins a new chapter in my life. I don't know what I am going for but know that I am going for it, for sure. I won't spend this winter freezing, at least not outside. I think about Whitman and Thoreau and Eliot with his dried tubers and know that I will be okay. My eye and my mind return to the ladybugs. Is this is for them? One last hurrah? Or are they only beginning? Where do they go from here? As for myself, I am going to take it one step at a time, right foot, left foot, when I get to the bottom I go back to the top, through pain and suffering, beauty and wonder. I don't know what I am going for, but know that I am going for it, for sure. For now, it is Andy Cove and Exercise Trail, we'll see what tomorrow may bring.

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Cloudsplitter 100k Race Report

It has been over two weeks since the Cloudsplitter and things are just now getting back to normal. There are still some physical pains - my right Achilles and left big toe are today's main complaints -  and my mind is still playing tricks on me, but for the most part the race is behind me and I am looking forward. I learned a lot and am eager to continue to build and eventually go further.

We got to Norton, VA early on Friday, checked into the hotel and headed to the pre-race dinner and meeting before returning to the hotel to attempt to sort out my gear and make a plan for Terri to serve as my crew. This was my first experience at a 100 mile race (I was registered for the 100k, not the 100 mile) as well as my first experience at a supported Ultra of any sort and I really didn't know what to put in drop bags  but we got it figured out and I attempted to sleep before the 8am start with me finally drifting into a deep sleep just before the alarm clock went off.

The race started in downtown Norton inside the farmer's market with all distances starting at 8am. A heavy fog hung over the town and anxious energy resonated through the crowd. A musket shot signaled the start of the race and off we went. I was hoping for somewhere around a 24-hour finish and knew the key to that would be to be disciplined by walking the initial 7-mile climb and just keeping moving throughout the day and night. As we all walked and shuffled up the mountain the heavy fog remained and threatened to start spitting rain at any moment. On the way up to the first aid station at High Knob, we all fell into our own rhythms and pace and friends were made as we slowly worked our way up the mountain. The trail was very steep at times and it had me wondering what it would be like when I was finally coming back down.

The rain held off but when I got to High Knob I was pretty cold and had a really hard time refilling my water because my hands were too cold and I had to get a volunteer to help me. I had rocks in my shoes and started to try and get them out but my hands were not cooperating and I just kept moving forward instead. From High Knob, there was a long descent down to Edith Gap with the trail becoming very technical and slow at times. I led a congo line through the worst of the rocky miles and somewhere along the way it started raining lightly and I kept my mind focused on moving forward. At the Edith Gap aid they were cooking up hot breakfast burritos that were super yummy and did a great job of warming up my body and spirits.

On to Bark Camp Lake aid on some fabulous and scenic single track where Terri was waiting. I sat for a few minutes and we changed my socks and resupplied my vest and pockets and I picked up my poles for the out and back to Little Stony aid. This stretch of trail was a rocky nightmare with countless dry creek crossings across slippery rocks that were just begging for injury. I did a quick turn at the aid station and started back to Bark Camp Lake. It was somewhere in here that my knee started hurting and I went from 3-4mph down to 2mph and started to get really sleepy. It was way too early in the day and race for that so I took a caffeine gel and tried to get my mind back on track. I met a 100-mile racer named Randy who was running his 18th 100 (with 13 finishes) who stayed with me all the way to the aid station and told me about his life experiences of beating cancer, turning to a plant-based diet, and becoming a 100-mile ultra racer. He was wearing sandals and was just a great guy.

From Bark Camp Lake we had to go back up to High Knob before we would have any resupply other than the Edith Gap aid which meant it would be dark by then so Bark Camp was the time to get lights and night gear ready as there was a long way to go. The stretch back up Edith Gap took way too long with my body complaining about a variety of issues. I paused at the aid and tried to roll out my IT bands and had another amazing breakfast burrito. I have to say that all the volunteers on the course were amazing and cooked up some great food and kept spirits high.

As great as the volunteers were as I started back up and through the long rocky nightmare to High Knob my body and mind were not doing well. My right knee was refusing to run at all and my Achilles didn't even want to walk. Somewhere along the way, the clouds split for the first time of the day and the sun came out briefly before giving way to night. The full moon rose and the stars shined bright in the sky above. It was perfect and there was no place I would rather have been but I was barely moving. I had passed the 50k mark and was closing in on 40 miles but still had 30 to go. For the first half of the day, I had been beating my target times but the return trip up to High Knob shattered all that and I was hours behind schedule before I finally hobbled in.

Terri was waiting for me and I sat in a chair and covered myself with my sleeping bag as my mind kept telling me I was heading into the Devil's Bathtub where I seal my fate and DNF. The race offers the opportunity to drop down in distance at any aid station and after much thought, I informed the race officials I would be dropping down the 50k. That was not an easy decision to make but I really did not see myself going 30 more miles, and if I did it would not have been pretty. I had wanted to actually be able to run, not slog it out for 40 hours, so there at mile 41, I dropped to the 50k. I still had to run the 8 miles back down into town so I stuffed food into my pockets and told Terri I would see her back in town in three hours.

The descent back into town was bittersweet, to say the least. On one hand I was glad to be finishing the race, even if not the distance I had signed up for, as well as running my first 50 miler and beating my previous longest run by 12 miles but on the other hand I was extremely disappointed I would not be running all night and would not be finishing the 100k (which is actually 70 miles). For most of the race I had been around other racers but on that descent, I was all alone and I got a lot of thinking done in those three hours.

I hobbled back into the Farmer's Market right around 1am after 17 hours on the course and got my 50k finisher's medal. You would think that would have been good enough for DFL but another 50k racer slept on course and came in over 25 hours and another 100k racer dropped to the 50k at the Devil's Bathtub Gate and came in after 30 hours on course.

It was a great event and I really learned a lot. In hindsight, I did not train nearly enough and was not ready for such a difficult event and had seriously underestimated just how technical the course was. I also should have at least had a pacer from the second time at High Knob to the finish if not from Bark Camp Lake. But the race left me itching has left me itching to go longer and I was already browsing ultra signup on the drive home.

Where do I go from here?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Flattop Mountain to Andrew's Glacier

For my final big run while I was in Colorado I camped at Glacier Basin campground and did a really fun 15-mile run that really showed me the diversity of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was going to tell you all about it: the long, gradual climb up Flattop, the slow and rocky slog across the Continental Divide and Hallet and Otis Peaks, and then the decision to turn around at the Sharkstooth on my way to Taylor Peak. And that is not to even mention the steep, deep rush through amazing day down Andrew's Glacier, past the Loch and hordes of people and back to the trailhead.

I'd love to tell you all about that but that was over a month ago and I don't have any idea where the time goes. But I do know where the time is going - to the Cloudsplitter - for which I have just days left to prepare and have done nothing. So, please enjoy these pictures and write your own story. 


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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Longs Peak

I flew out to Colorado for the annual Phish shows over Labor Day weekend and while I was there I got in a few really good runs. The first was Longs Peak. This iconic mountain is the highest in Rocky Mountain National Park and is not necessarily an easy mountain to climb which sounded just about perfect to me. I figured if I was going to do it I needed to make my attempt before the Phish concerts as three nights of Phish can be an ultra-endurance event itself and after the shows, there could be no telling how I might feel. Before the trip I got all sorts of different advice: several people really warned me about the altitude and strongly suggested I wait until after the shows to try it while others said I'd have no problems. I think I watched every youtube video on Longs Peak as well which also run the full gauntlet from making it appear to be the most dangerous mountain in the world where one slight misstep would surely end in a grisly death to an easily runnable mountain trail. I memorized the features I'd encounter along the way: the Boulder Field, The Keyhole, The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows and finally The Homestretch. I had no clue how I would do and waivered from apprehensive to confident.

After landing in Denver I stopped for a few necessities and then drove straight to Longs Peak trailhead and campground. The research I had done had most people saying there is no chance of getting a spot in the campground and no chance of getting a parking spot at the trailhead after 3 am. I figured someone had to be able to get a campsite and when I pulled up at 4 pm the campground was only half full so I had my pick of sites and later noticed the campground never filled up with people still getting sites well after dark. My first day of vacation saw me going to bed early for a 4 am wake-up and 5 am start.  Most people start this 16 mile out and back from 1-3 am but I didn't want to start too early and find myself already to the Boulder Field and start of the technical climbing while it was still dark. I also took the thunderstorm warnings seriously and didn't want to start too late and risk the chance of being too high after noon when the risk of lightning could force me to turn around.

4 am comes early and I hit snooze a few times before finally relenting and getting up. I sipped on some Coca tea smuggled back from Peru as I broke camp and was finally starting up the mountain around 5:30 am after easily getting a parking spot at the trailhead. The campground was at just below ten thousand feet and I was feeling the altitude as soon as I started running. I reminded myself there was no reason I couldn't run this mountain and trudged my way up. I didn't feel fresh and fast and was probably at around 75% of my normal capacity but it was early morning and I was on a mountain and there was no place I'd rather be.


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I passed several groups in the darkness and although I wasn't as fast as I hoped I was making solid progress and the trail was very runnable.

Sunrise greeted me right as I hit the tree line and with the light, I started to feel better and was moving a little faster.

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With the trees gone and the sun out all of Colorado opened up before me and there were views everywhere but the first glimpse of Longs Peak itself really invigorated me and as the trail began to wrap around the mountain towards the Keyhole I found myself actually running fast for the first time of the morning.

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There were a long mile or two in the there but eventually, the trail ended and I was faced with The Boulderfield and the Keyhole looming at the top of it.

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By this time I had caught and passed a lot of the 2-3 am start hikers and although I could feel the altitude I still felt strong. From here to the top and then back to the Boulder Field there would be no running and instead I just focused on power hiking and trying to find the route.

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I stopped in the shelter at the top of the Boulder Field to stow my light, put on my jacket and gloves and eat something. The wind was ripping through the Keyhole at 50mph and it was hard to talk over the noise but I got the sense of some drama going on with one of the groups of hikers and didn't feel the need to linger too long and headed straight out as soon as I could.

Crossing through the Keyhole was a singular event. I couldn't see where I needed to go, just a tangled pile of ragged boulders that have been polished to a treacherous sheen and the wind was so strong it was threatening to rip my jacket off me and me off the mountain but I hadn't come this far to not try. Two women who had started through the Keyhole as I was entering the shelter had only made it a few feet and a man freed himself from the drama and came out to follow me. I reminded myself again that I could climb this mountain and confidently worked my way through the wind and boulders.

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The Keyhole opens a door to a whole other world with brand new views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the rest of Colorado.

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Thankfully the wind subsided after the Keyhole and I was able to focus on the technical terrain ahead and the game of looking for the bullseye blazes that would lead the way. 

First, there were the Ledges to negotiate. This section of the mountain had perhaps the most technical and exposed move but I was able to do it without a problem and realized then I would likely make it to the top of my first 14er that morning.

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The two women and solo man that had started out of the Keyhole with me were following my lead but I was making good time and wished them well and trudged on up to the Trough alone. This was a long and steep gully of boulders but it was not exposed and rockfall was the only real hazard but the altitude really seemed to be wearing on people and the number turning around continued to increase at every technical move.

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There was a single tough move at the top of Trough that led straight into the Narrows.

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I'd been wondering how narrow the Narrows would really be and was relieved when it was always several feet wide with no real hazards.

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This was some great trail but I had already been on the technical part of the mountain for an hour and was ready for the Homestretch to the top.

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Continuing with the trend, the Narrows ended with a challenging move and I powered right up the Homestretch and onto the top.

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Views, views, and views for as far as I could see.

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I wasn't in a hurry but didn't linger too long as I knew the trip was only half over.

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As I headed down the Homestretch the masses were heading up and we had to figure out how to get around each other on the polished rocks but spirits were as high as the mountain as everyone realized they were making it to the top.


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I'd been curious as to how hard the tricky moves would be coming back down but they were all easier than on the way up and before I knew it I was crossing through the Keyhole again.

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I got back down the Boulder Field and back onto runnable terrain after a long time up high and wasn't feeling it. I don't know if it was the altitude or running hard for a few hours and then hours on the technical terrain and then trying to run again but I didn't feel well and had to walk some of the rockiest stretches. Everything passes and I was able to eat some candy and was feeling good again by the time I got back to the treeline.  From there it was an easy run back down to the trailhead.

When I popped out into the parking lot and a ranger was there to greet me with a friendly "Welcome back."

The perfect end to a good first day ever in Colorado!



Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Grandfurther Mountain Run

At 25k the Grandfurther Mountain Run was a quarter of the distance I plan to cover at the Cloudsplitter and was nearly 20 miles shorter than how far my training plan said I was supposed to run last Saturday. But the race sells out in mere minutes and is on some of the most challenging and scenic trails WNC has to offer so I considered myself lucky to be able to run it.

The first mile or two of the course are rolling machine cut trail and provided an opportunity for the field to spread out and for the runners to find their place in the pecking order. A dense fog lingered at the start and gave way to a steady rain just after the start. That first mile was supposed to be easy but the rain made even that stretch slippery and slower than it should be.

After the introductory stretch the Profile Trail quickly gets steep and rocky and since this wad to be just a short training run for me I made the foolish rookie move and dug deep on the first climb and tried to see how much of it I could run which was more than most of of the smarter people around me but I was resigned to walking a lot of it. The trail was in essence either just one big boulder field or a tangle of gnarly roots and the rain made both options a slippery and treacherous mess. In other words, it was just about perfect.

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The rain stopped but the fog remained and the trail offered brief respite from the rocks and roots in the form of a game of shoots and ladders. There would be no views this morning but the mountains still offered up plenty of beauty to justify the pain.

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It would be all downhill from here with all the people who were smarter than me blowing by me as I carefully picked my way down the other side of the mountain.

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I did a quick turn at the halfway aid station and once again decided to push hard on the climb and bury myself. I knew the descent down through the nightmare rock garden was going to be brutal and potentially dangerous so instead of letting loose on that I opted to see how much I had on the climb. I was thinking the ladders and top were at the ten mile mark and worked hard to get there but at ten miles there were no ladders and I was quickly running out of steam and was reduced to hiking once again just short of the top.

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It was Downhill From Here and any effort I had been making to go fast or push hard was quickly abandoned with my focus instead being on saving whatever might have been left of my quads and not getting hurt. The big rock descent was predictably brutal with way more technical scrambling and downclimbing than anything resembling running and I was content to go as slow as necessary.

After the super technical section there was the rolling final mile or two and the running resumed but I just hit cruise control and tried to shake out my legs a little. After 14 hard miles that final mile seemed to go on forever but eventually the finish appeared and the race was over.

I was very impressed with just how hard the course is as well as how well it was run and reccommend that everyone give it a try. But be sure and be on it as it sells out in mere minutes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Great Big Creek Marathon

If you are looking for a good marathon route in Great Smoky National Park here is a good one:
Great Big Creek Marathon
Just please don't be disappointed when it is only 25 miles. If you are disappointed, just run a half-mile up and down the road, or whatever... But with really only two climbs and two descents for a total of  6800' of climbing over those 25 miles this route has a lot to offer.

I chose to do the loop counter-clockwise this time. By heading up Chestnut Branch and to the top of Mt. Cammerer first I hoped to get a lot of the technical trail out of the way early so as to be able to make better time on the backend but when you are running a solo marathon deep in the mountains you never know what might happen.

In this case, nothing much happened. It was a great, long, hard run.

It is a long way up to the top of Mt. Cammerer but a quite pleasant one and I enjoyed it quite a bit


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And then you get to the top.

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And a very scenic fire lookout.

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It is all Downhill From There and there were quite a few fellow trail runners on that stretch of the AT as well as several interesting trees. 

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Every downhill has to end and this one does at a really Big Creek.

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And like I said there are really only two climbs and two descents on this route to the tune of 6800' vertical gain, so after that Big Creek there was a big climb ahead. I paused and ate some food, put some music on and mentally prepared for the last half of this not-quite-a-marathon marathon. Earlier in the day, it had looked like it was going to storm at any point and was definitely storming on Mt. Sterling where I was headed but for now, everything was clear. There would be no storms. This finish would be between me and my mind.

So, I hit play and started up Swallow Fork. I had my head down and was just trying to focus on the task ahead - three thousand feet up a mountain, and then more than that down the other side. Thirteen miles. Simple. Listen to the music play. 

And then I hear a noise. Is that some new Phish effect? NO! THATISARATTLESNAKE!


If this guy had wanted to hurt me I'd be dead. What amazing creatures!

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And then a slog to the top. It really is thousands of vertical feet. The reward is that you are literally as deep in the mountains as you can get and when you think it couldn't possibly hurt anymore it does and then when you think it could't possibly go on any longer it does and then when you've resigned yourself to whatever it is that lies ahead, - there it is.

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Literally downhill from here. Like seven miles of downhill from here. Think about that - seven miles, straight downhill.... Yep, better do that half mile out and backat the finish to make it a legit marathon!

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If that isn't easy enough you can always just stay on the ridge all the way to tri-corner knob. That will kick the mileage up past the 50k mark or so. I plan on doing this on 9/14. Come join me.
Big Creek 50k