Adventures in Pisgah

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.

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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.
 
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One more Saturday night and it was off to Pisgah Brewing for a little Papadosio.

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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!

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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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