Adventures in Pisgah

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


And then you get to the top.


And a very scenic fire lookout.


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. 



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


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!


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.


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!


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

Monday, July 29, 2019

Back to Naked Ground

I headed back to Joyce Kilmer a few weeks ago for some running and playing on the lake. That isn't quite true, actually I headed to Tsali for those things but when I got to the campground it was a human zoo and although there were campsites still available I kept driving as I was more interested in solitude over convienence.

I was hoping to get one of the free roadside sites on Lake Santeelah but as I drove my way around they were all taken until I got to number 13 - a scruffy little site close to the road that didn't look very good.


But after I got out of the truck and poked around a bit I found there was a trail that led ro the river just a short ways away where there was a very nice fire ring, a couple of swimming holes and no sign of people. Perfect.


I had been planning on setting up camp quickly and then going to the lake but the spot was so nice instead I just relaxed by the river and watched the day turn to night.




My plan for Saturday was to run a big out and back up Naked Ground to the ridge where I would continue on for another five miles before turning around. Things started easy enough up Naked Ground - a trail I now know well.


One thing that struck and amazed me were the wildflowers. The rich coves were full of Carolina Lillys and other flowers.



As I approached the top of the ridge the thunderstorms that had been threatening finally gave way and unleashed on top of me. I was still a mile from the ridgetop and thought running uphill would keep me warm but quickly became cold and when I started shivering I pulled out the emergency poncho I'd stuffed in my sack at the last moment. It worked surprisingly well!


I had also thought the storm would pass quickly but it did not. I went right at Naked Ground instead of my planned left  and as I approached Rattlesnake Rock lightning was striking all over and I quickly retreated.

Back at Naked Ground the clouds parted briefly but I continued my descent. I'd been moving slow on the climb and was looking forward to running fast downhill. That worked great for the first two miles but at one of the little stream crossings I slipped and landed hard on my left glute. I hopped up, determined to run it off, but the pain was too bad so I sat down in the creek. After a few minutes I got up and managed to keep running but going fast was over and instead I jogged and hobbled my way back down as my butt turned black and blue. 

 I got back to the trailhead without further incident where the solitude I'd been experiencing was shattered by throngs of people looking for the big trees. No worries, straight back to lucky number 13 for some lunch and relaxing before heading to the lake to SUP and swim. Gray clouds still tumbled over my head but that wasn't going to stop me from ruining the fun - a pattern that would roll over into Sunday morning.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

you don't get a refund if you overtrain

The middle of July and once again I am having a hard time keeping up with this blog. June has come and gone and with it went my first month of training for the Cloudsplitter 100k. I have never been much for formal training, instead, I just run and bike for fun and try and listen to my body but at my wife's urging, and with her assistance, I have a formal training plan and June was spent making an attempt at following it. Normally I spend the summer relaxing near or on the water and not biking or running much and so far this summer I have managed to avoid biking but last month I ran more than I have ever run before and didn't spend nearly enough time near the water. The training plan is ambitious and I've been rather loose with how closely I am following it. For one thing, it has rest days which are not something I do so I have modified them to 'active rest days'. It also doesn't take into consideration important life events like Phish concerts so there have been some modifications there as well.

For the most part, my routine has been active rest on Monday and then running all other days with long runs on Saturdays and shorter recovery runs on Sundays. In the past, I have almost exclusively run on trails with lots of climbing but I have started to due the unthinkable and are running gravel roads as well now. My Sunday routine has been to run out and backs, mainly on gravel, stopping halfway to fish for a few minutes. We'll see how long I can keep that up.

June highlights include running The Big Nasty with Yuri on a stormy Saturday.


Then there was another Saturday where the training plan said I needed to run 18 miles so I thought out and back on the Art Loeb to Cold Mtn. would be flat and easy. I guess I forgot how challenging that section of trail was because although Black Balsam, Tennent, and Flower Knob were easy enough but by the time I got to Cold Mtn. I was tired and coming undone.



After the return trip across the Narrows, I bailed and opted to take the flatter and easier Ivestor Gap trail instead.




A late start meant I got to enjoy a perfect sunset from the parkway.


And then there were the Phish concerts. The Head Honcho at Pisgah Productions has become my show buddy and we took his van to the Charlotte show where we were rewarded with a very hot show featuring Tweezer which would appear multiple times out of seemingly nowhere. Then it was on up to Merriwether Post Pavillion for both of our first times at the classic venue. The Saturday night crowd was out in full force and there was going to be no topping the Charlotte Tweezer Fest but it was still fun, and quite an adventure.


After driving most of the night and morning to get back home, Sunday afternoon I was back out in Pisgah, parked at the bottom of Avery Creek road and running my way to the first waterfall where I would get in my fishing fix.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Summer Sequence

Noon on the first of June in Pisgah and the fish hatchery's parking lot is full but quiet. It has been hot already this spring but today it is a little cooler. There is not a cloud in the sky and just a slight hint of a breeze. Everything seems about perfect and it feels like summer is starting to settle in.
According to the binder that holds my training plan for Cloudsplitter and beyond, today I am supposed to run 14 miles but that sounds excessive and time-consuming. Cedar and John Rock's hang just above me and at just ten miles they sound like a better idea. Somehow I won't see another person on the trail until I get to the top of Cedar Rock. Up Cat Gap, nobody. Up Butter and still nobody, not even at the waterfall. And then nobody up the scramble to the top of Cedar Rock. And then, at the top, are a dozen or more hikers enjoying a relaxing snack as they enjoyed the view. No doubt they came from the other direction and were surprised to see some deranged runner climbing up the cliff they were sitting on. I offered a simple, friendly greeting and kept running. I've sat on that rock plenty and left it for them to enjoy and instead found myself another rock just past the top of Cedar Rock where I paused and enjoyed the view and solitude.


From there it would be on to John Rock where I would pause again to look out over at Looking Glass Rock before my final descent back to the Fish Hatchery.
One more Saturday night and it was off to Pisgah Brewing for a little Papadosio.


With the show still ringing in my head on Sunday morning and I was in Pisgah again and heading up Pressley Cove trail once again. I decided to mix it up and skip Black Mtn. and instead headed down the gravel and then up Clawhammer before taking Buckhorn Gap down to Avery Creek where I stopped to fish at the waterfall. I was got lots of strikes but was unable to land anything and was reminded that is why it is called fishing and not catching.

Get what you can now, summer is on. 

2019 Quest for the Crest 10k Race Report

Like so many things I do, I signed up for the Quest for the Crest Vertical k on a whim. It was late one night and I was browsing ultrasignup and saw that there was one spot left and took it. While the mileage is short it is on trails I do not make it to often enough and with over 3000' of climbing it promised to not be easy and I like to climb so I decided to go for it.
It was hot at the start and as I waited for the shuttle to the start I went back and forth about what wear and what to bring with me. Wear a shirt? Are those storm clouds? Maybe I should carry a jacket? The weather can quickly change up on the Crest trail, better be prepared. By the time the bus came, I had decided on a shirt, no jacket, a few sips of water and a gel. After we got to the start we had a little more waiting before the race started and I noticed it was getting even hotter so I decided to ditch the shirt. There had been ominous looking clouds high on Cielo Knob as we took the bus to the start and if it did rain I would have nothing more than a hat for warmth but with the race only seven miles it couldn't take more than a few hours so I was content to take the gamble and willing to suffer if I must.
The race goes 3100' straight up Woody Ridge trail to the Black Mtn. Crest trail where you get a little bit of flat before plunging straight back down the mountain on some double track. I've only been on Woody Ridge once before and couldn't recall the specifics of the trail but knew it was going to be steep and I would need to be near the front before we got to the more technical sections if I didn't want to be stuck in traffic and since my only goal was to see how fast I could get to the top I knew I needed to be near the front. I was hoping to be able to finish in under two hours but also was not looking to destroy myself on the descent like I had done at Blackrock so I was content to take it easy and see what happened.

I didn't start quite close enough to the start and had to negotiate my way through a large crowd of walkers but we had a short stretch on the gravel road before we reached the trail that allowed everyone to find their place in the order. As we started up Woody Ridge I was about twenty runners back and slowly passed about half of them over the first mile. The trail was really steep but surprisingly not overly technical and I dug deep and tried my hardest to run it all. I managed to keep up my slow running shuffle until about halfway up the trail until my legs and lungs finally said no more and I began hiking like the rest of the runners around me. We were near the front and everyone was all business and not saying anything as the mountain took its toll on all of us. I was expecting some very technical sections that required scrambling where I could perhaps pass a few more people but they never came. There were a few nice rocky outcroppings where I paused to glance at the view but most of the trail was just a steep ribbon of singletrack that passed through several climate zones and plant communities before we finally topped out on the Black Mtn. Crest trail.

The Crest is probably my favorite trail and I don't make it up there enough so after spending an hour dragging my weary shit ass up Woody Ridge I hit crusie control on the Crest and took it easy and took in the views. I had been 10th to the top and that was good enough for me and as such there would be no more racing for me. Over the course of the pounding four mile descent to Bowlen's Creek I would be passed by more than a dozen racers but I was not looking to chase anyone and just let them all cruise by. I still couldn't help but check my watch a few times on the way down as I wondered just how long it would take and right under two hours I heard cheering and saw the creek crossing that marked the finish and next thing I knew the race director was giving me a high five and it was over. A nice spread of fresh fruit and food as well as cold water and gatoraide that we all desperatly needed awaited us.

The race is billed as 'the hardest and most scenic 10k in North America' and that sounds about right. Beauty comes with a price. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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!


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.


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.


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.


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!