Adventures in Pisgah

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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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Woods Mountain

I was only a few miles into my ride on Saturday when everything started to seem wrong. I had ridden the loop twice before and had a good idea what to expect and what I was seeing was not it. The entire loop has been blazed and I had just been following the blazes but suddenly found myself pushing my bike for long stretches and nothing around me seemed familiar. I started to think that perhaps the trail had been re-routed but that still did not make sense as I was still seeing dots for the mountains to sea trail which was wrong. I could also see Lake Tahoma down in the distance and that seemed wrong as well. Everything just seemed wrong. Wrong wrong. Then, suddenly it dawned on me that I was going up Betsy Ridge and was doing the loop in the wrong direction! It all suddenly made sense. - I had gone left when I should have gone right and was two-thirds of the way up what was supposed to be the big downhill at the end of the ride!

 I took a few minutes to consider my options. I could either turn around and fix my mistake and do the loop in my intended direction or continue pushing up and see what it was like going the other way. I decided to just keep going up. There was still plenty more pushing but it wasn't too bad and then I got to descend the very steep stretch from the top down to Bad Fork. From there it was just putzing around on the gravel before taking the Harris Creek Horse Trail back to the start. Somewhere after Harris Creek, things didn't seem quite right again and I somehow missed the turn back onto the MST but quickly corrected my error and made it back to the trailhead where my truck was still the only vehicle. 

27 miles of Pisgah without seeing anyone else on the trail. Perfect!

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Sunday found me running one of my favorite routes. The Little Nasty - Pressley Cove > Black Mtn. > Buckwheat Knob > Bennett Gap. The weather was perfect and it was a day of bumping into friends. Kellie on Black and then David and David on Bennett.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Wildcat Rock

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From the top of wildcat rock I can hear church bells in the distance. I check my watch - noon on Sunday. An old oak stands guard, its branches entwined around the rock in an ancient symbiotic struggle. I somehow missed the trail to the top of the trail's namesake rock on the way up, a 90 degree hard left with a sign and rock steps. My head must have been down, focused on not slipping on the wet rocks as I tried my best to run on the technical terrain, as I worked my way up to the top of Little Bearwallow Mountain.

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The trail has been a pleasant surprise. After starting along the edge of an orchard you cross a creek and then the trail starts going up and has been recently built.  It is steep and full of locust water bars and steps that quickly give way to lots of rock steps with sections of machine cut sidehill tread where you can actually run before the rocks start up again. The trail work is impressive - while it is a far cry from the Inca Trail, great care and lots of time and muscle have been used to build the many steps.

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I had briefly gotten off the trail at the waterfall but quickly realized my mistake and backtracked back to the trail. The carsonite trail sign lists it as hardcore and while that may a bit hyperbolic it is most definitely a challenging trail that leads to the top of Little Bearwallow Mountain. Eventually, it will connect with the Trombatore Trail and the top of Bearwallow Mtn. itself but for now the field at the end of the trail is the perfect spot for a snack before heading back down the rock steps.

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The mountains are still cloaked in fog and as I listen to the church bells in the valley below there is a sense of a view just beyond the fog and I know I will be back one day to see what is out there.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Wrangling Horses and Hogs

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Sunday and I've stopped at the North face trailhead again. I have been here once a week all month. Last week I sat and watched as two climbers negotiated a tricky pitch - two specs in puffy jackets on the wall high above me with a bright yellow haul bag hanging below them. Today the rain has stopped and a warm wind has blown in. There are no climbers to watch but earlier I added Davidson River trail to my normal loop and stopped and watched a quintet of creek boaters enjoying the high water. It is still February but the dandelions are in bloom and the forsythia will soon follow.  March is near. It will be spring soon.

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