Adventures in Pisgah

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Week 7

I've really never had a training plan before. I guess I had one for the Cloudsplitter but I barely followed. My style is much more to just run and bike for fun and listen to my body and go from there. That lack of planning and discipline has worked for me so far, with some exceptions, of course, but running a hundred miles is a whole other beast than anything I have done before so I got a training plan and put it in a binder to make it all official:

Last week was week 11 and as I looked at the plan and the progress I had, or maybe had not, made with it, I realized it was not for me and scrapped the whole thing and decided on a completely different plan and suddenly went from week 11 to week 7. The new plan suits my style better and I might stand a chance of sticking to it. The old plan had me running ten plus miles after work several days a week and moderate long runs on the weekends. I tend to go long and hard on the weekend and then do shorter runs most other days of the week and the new plan reflects that and allows for more flexibility and improvisation.

Week 7 went like this:

Monday - dusted off the mountain bike for a 15 mile ride
Tuesday - four mile run with the dog
Wednesday - six mile run with the dog
Thursday - three mile dog run
Friday - three mile dog run
Saturday - 18 miles solo
Sunday - 10 dog miles

A total of 44 miles which is right in line with my new and improved plan. Sunday's run hurt, but I guess that is the point.

Yesterday was a rest day and today will be six miles and I am back on track.

I haven't posted much because there isn't much to post about. I haven't really felt like driving far and going on adventures. Back when most of the forest was shut down I spent a lot of time wearing holes on the Black Mtn. trail and now that the forest is crawling with people again I've been wearing holes on other favorite trails. Pink Beds and Fletcher Creek are getting lots of use as I try and climb less to prepare for rolling Pinhoti course. Saturday's run was an out and back to Slate Rock on the closed Yellow Gap Rd. - a lot of gravel but it was nice to have the rock all to myself in the middle of summer.

Everything is strange right now and I just don't feel like doing much. It is weird preparing for a race knowing there is a real chance it will not happen. But at least I know that is a possibility now which is much easier than all the people that had spring races and got the word they were cancelled or postponed just weeks before they were scheduled.

Anyway, here I am on Week 8, a third of the way there.

I haven't felt like taking many pictures but here are a few. Maybe I'll schedule an adventure soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

clearing my head

Pisgah is alive again with the lush green of spring and explosions of white and pink. The mountain laurel is in bloom while the world has gone mad. Most of May found me wearing a hole in the Black Mtn. trail every chance I found but as the forest opens back up I find myself branching out once again. Last weekend I played games around Cove Creek all weekend. First an easy and fast run and then a little old fashioned waterfall rappelling and then a hike with the dog and wife on Sunday. As the news rains down you'll find me at the waterfall, clearing my head.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sam Knob

With the road and trail closures in place in Pisgah you have to get creative with your routes so Akira and I ran some trails on Saturday that I usually pass on either because of crowds, the length of the drive or for better options. It was a freezing start to the day but by midafternoon the sun was shining bright and warm making for perfect conditions. The route was all above 5000' with the big views and unique ecosystem that comes at that elevation. It was a little wierd seeing no people or cars where there would have normally been hundreds but both the dog and I enjoyed the solitude.

Friday, May 8, 2020

South Mills River

It is the first Saturday in May and I find myself at Wolf Ford with a decision to make: do we continue on up to Black Mtn and on across Turkey Pen Gap or do we take South Mills River all the way back? It is unseasonably hot out and I am worried about Akira and the lack of water up on the ridge but at the same time South Mill's River with its 11 crossings and five miles of downed trees, tangles of dog hobble, mud and muck is not an easy trail regardless of how flat it is. I've faced similar decisions many times on this same day over the last 15 years during PMBAR but today there is no bike race and much of the forest is shut down forcing everyone on to a few trails. For that reason I am not interested in going back up Squirrel to Horse Cove where scores of mountain bikers will be heading for the newly built Cantrell Creek flow trail - an out of place experience I want no part of. 

We, or I should say I, decide on South Mills River and make our way to the first crossing. It is deep and moving fast but we negotiate it without trouble. On the other side I notice that the trail has seen some triming since I was on it last a year ago. As we continue on the trail begins to show its sordid and sinister side. The dog hobble appears, the mud takes over and the fords get deeper, swifter and harder. Akira starts showing unamusement at all of it but we trudge on. Somewhere in between crossing eight and nine I notice she is dragging a little bit and I detect a faint limp. We stop for a rest and I check her paws and legs for signs of an injury but there are none. She is limping but because of the mud I can't tell which leg is the complaint. We trudge on, even slower now. The river crossings are now waist deep on me so I carry Akira across. One misstep could be a disaster so I move delibreratly and slowly. When we reach Cantrell Creek she is clearly limping so we rest again. I assure her it will be easier from here but we still have five miles to go. We run slowly on and make it back to the trailhead without incident, just a faint limp, but when we get back to the house she is no longer limping and instead is hopping on three legs. That troubles me. Did I break my new dog? We had been running daily and doing atleast half marathons on the weekend so I don't understand it.

On Sunday she is still hopping around on three legs so we force her to rest. I worry. Monday morning and she is still limping. I worry more all day at work. But when I get home she is ready to go and doesn't understand why we can't go run. By Tuesday she is fine. On Wednesday we run up Black.

All I can figure is she got tangled in some dog hobble and got a bruise or strain. Another case of tragedy narrowly adverted!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Middle Prong Madness

If you are looking to get good and lost look no further than Middle Prong Wilderness. It was on my first trip there I had my compass reverse polarity in low visibility conditions and spent several hours walking in circles trying to figure out where to go before I finally decided my compass had to be wrong and only then found the trail. Since then I have been back several times but last Saturday's trip would prove to be as eventful as that first excursion.

I planned on doing a nice 14 or so mile route starting from the top of highway 215: the MST to Buckeye Gap to Haywood Gap and then back to the MST to close the lollipop. Unlike Shining Rock Wilderness, I need a map for Middle Prong and made sure I had it with me. Other than that I had my usual minimal gear. Enough for a run, but only an emergency blanket, poncho, light, and knife if things ever got bad to the point of spending a night.

Things started innocently enough with slower and more technical running across the flattish MST section as I worked my way toward Green Mtn. trail. As you approach the 6000' Mt. Hardy summit and Green Mtn the trail is rather braided in several places with social trails and Akira and I got turned around briefly and headed towards the top of Mt. Hardy before we realized our error and reversed course. Another case of tragedy narrowly averted.

Most of the run was above 5000' where the ecosystem is much different than most of the southern Appalachians. This is one of my favorite environments and it was a perfect day to be enjoying such splendor.

After our initial detour around Mt. Hardy, I was extra cautious and made sure I was confident of every turn. I located Green Mtn. trail easy enough and then Buckeye Gap was as prominent as ever.  The top half of Buckeye Gap follows old logging grades and passes though some significant remains from the logging days and is very buff and runnable singletrack. For this early spring trip, it was also blanketed in wildflowers making for a perfect segment after the initial frustration on the MST.
After a mile and a half or so it makes a sharp turn off the ridge and becomes true singletrack and plunges sharply downhill to the Middle Fork of the Pigeon River.  From there we went up Haywood Gap which climbs steadily but is incredibly scenic the whole way up.
This too is old logging grade and has plenty of relics including a long stretch of old trellis.
After Haywood Gap, we made the left turn onto the MST and started heading the five miles back to the truck. I had been planning on being home around 5 so I could get some stuff done and we paused briefly as I pondered running the Blue Ridge Parkway back instead of the trail. I decided to finish the route and we continued on the trail.

I was paying extra careful attention to every possible turn and after passing Buckeye Gap trail suddenly found myself off the MST and headed for the summit of Mt. Hardy, or so I thought. Since I have never been to the actual top of Mt. Hardy (the benchmark, where I have been, is not the top) I decided to go the short distance to the top. I used my altimeter and compass to confirm my location and then continued on a social trail to the northeast.

This trail should have led to either the MST, hwy215 or the BRP. There are really no other options. We were still running at a good pace and I was trying to not be too late getting home. But the trail just wasn't doing what it should have. I became aware that I was not hearing traffic on either of the roads and according to my map it should have been a short distance to anywhere. But it wasn't. And the trail stopped looking like a social trail and more like an official trail. And then I realized I was going to be really late getting home. So, I kept going until I found I spot where I had a phone signal so I could text my wife not to worry.

As I waited for the text to go through I looked at my map and pondered what might have gone wrong and where I was. I wasn't really worried - I could always reverse course - but was concerned. And I just didn't understand. Then I spotted Sam Knob behind me and I knew where I was - Green Mountain! And halfway down it taboot! All wrong! Way out of my way! It made no sense as I would have had to have crossed the MST but I knew that is where I was.

I tried calling my wife to discuss my options (i.e. - ask if she wanted to pick us up at Sunburst) but it wouldn't go through. So I texted again where we were and where we were headed and reversed course.

From there it was pure gravy. Sure, we were hours out of food and water but there would be water on the MST and it isn't often you get to enjoy Green Mountain in the early evening. And once realizing where I was - which still makes no sense -  I knew navigation would no longer be an issue. My only concerns were Akira and how she would do with the added mileage and the quickly fading daylight.

Akira did great. Once we got back to the MST she knew where she was and set a fast pace for us. It was still further than we wanted and took longer than it should have and we got back to the truck just at dark after having been on most of the trail within Middle Prong Wilderness to the tune of 22.5 miles.

A true Adventure in Pisgah.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Shining Rock Wilderness Half Marathon

Before I even leave the truck I realize I had forgotten my shirt and as soon as I start up the trail I realize I forgot my map as well. I haven't been on this stretch of trail in a few months and I notice they added new signs reminding hikers to have all the things I forgot. Welcome to Shining Rock.

Akira and I have set out to do my classic Shining Rock Wilderness Half Marathon loop. Starting from Big East Fork Trailhead we will climb Shining Creek trail to the Art Loeb and then descend Greasy Cove to Big East Fork. A true mountain run that will test both the dog and myself. The forest and trailhead are crawling with people looking to escape their isolation and as we start up the trail we have to negotiate plenty of clueless masses who do not expect someone to be running but I know that once we start the big climb the herds will have thinned out and by the time we reach Greasy Cove we will have the woods all to ourselves.

It is unseasonably hot and the trees have not leafed out yet leaving us exposed and sweltering as we work our way up the trail. Akira quickly shows her intelligence by laying down in the first little bit of running water we encounter. I help her cool down by spraying her with water from my bottle and then refill it and purify the water with bleach. It seems so simple. Water and bleach. But nothing is that simple anymore and bleach itself seems like a luxury and necessity. But I came here to get away from those thoughts and so up the mountain we go.

Shining Creek Trail is always harder than I imagine it is. I've had some epics on this trail including getting hypothermia and literally hugging trees to try and get warm but today it is not cold or epic. It is just hot and exposed but we have no reason to go fast or to worry. There is plenty of worry waiting for us back out in the real world. We take it easy and stop for water at every opportunity. This cove is a place of enormous beauty and today we have it all to ourselves.

After two miles more of rocks than there should have been, we finally hit the Art Loeb and while things flattened out some the rocks didn't end. We also started to encounter people again and one group of hikers we encountered ensured me Greasy Cove was in the other direction but I knew better and we continued on up and over Flower Knob towards Ivestor Gap.

It is still really hot out and we are completely exposed and although I am not missing my shirt I know I am getting sunburnt and it is time to start getting down the mountain. Akira, meanwhile, continues to cool down at every opportunity.

By the time we hit Ivestor I am starting to second guess myself as to where exactly Greasy Cove trail is and was wishing I have my map but know I don't need it and we run right through the gap.

I have to imagine I know Greasy Cove as well as anyone. I have hiked it, ran it, fished it and canyoneered it many times. It is one of the most remote and least used trails in the district and one of the most special. From the ridge up high to the creek down low it is a place of immense beauty. Akira and I manage to make quick work of it compared to the trip up Shining Creek and before we know it we are at the confluence.

Big East Fork means the hoards of people reappear but the end is near. Big East Fork is indeed big both in terms of size and volumes as well as beauty. By this time we have passed the ten-mile mark but Akira is still running strong. The closer we get to the trailhead the more and more people there are. On we run and manage to finish the route feeling strong but quite sunburnt!