Monday, May 22, 2017

Burning Down the Mountain - PRAR 2017

Sunrise Sunday morning and the storm was gone. The day broke bright with still cool temperatures but no rain in sight. At Smoker's Cove there were a few mountain biker type stragglers from the previous day's insanity hanging around the fringes as the runners prepared for their day. Our plan to take it easy on the bike so we could run strong on Sunday seemed to have worked as both Yuri and I were feeling good and ready to run.

The passports revealed that both mandatory checkpoints from Saturday were the same for Sunday. Everyone would be going to both Wagon Rd. Gap at South Mills River as well as Saddle Gap. The other three checkpoints were Wolf Ford, Barnett at Pink Beds and Club Gap. This would be the most difficult Pisgah Running Adventure Race  yet with everyone running an ultra marathon in order to finish. It only took us a brief glance at the passport to decide to go to Turkey Pen first and we headed up Black Mtn. trail just over twelve hours since we had last come down it. It was a glorious day and I put The Allman Brother's Band's Eat a Peach Album on and decided we weren't wasting time no more.

Slow and steady up Black was once again the game plan. We got passed by two fast teams right out of the gate and then were by ourselves for most of Black Mtn. until we were caught by three teams just before the turn onto Turkey Pen Gap. I chatted with them as we did the final little climb and then they all stopped at the intersection as Yuri and I rolled right on through. Turkey Pen Gap was still nice and fresh on our minds from the day before but was actually much more enjoyable on foot early in the day rather than pushing a bike up it at the end of the day. The other three teams quickly caught up to us again as we rolled up and down the gaps and I decided to hit the gas a little on one of the climbs to see what they had in their tanks. They stayed right with us and then passed us and I knew that was the last we would see of them.


We made it down to the first checkpoint where some lady slippers were standing a silent vigil and then quickly headed on towards Wolf Ford via Horse Cove and Squirrel Gap trails. Cantrell and Horse Cove were wet messes as expected and I kept looking for other foot prints as I was curious what routes the teams in front of us would take. Would they be fooled by the flat South Mills River trail or would they know to do the extra climbing instead? A group of backpackers were at the intersection of Horse Cove and Squirrel and said at least three teams were twenty or minutes in front of us. That meant two teams could have taken South Mills River and the race was on.

Wolf Ford came surprisingly easy and on the long circuitous climb back out we discussed our plan from there. Would we go to Pink Beds and hit all the checkpoints or would we settle for four? Yuri wanted to get all five so that we would clear the course both days but I was more concerned with trying to race smart and do what would result in the best finish. That made the question how long would it take to get the Pink Beds CP? I figured it was close to two hours and then once you figured in the extra time and mileage we could drastically slow down from there. Yuri agreed and it was pretty much decided we would settle for four and hope for the best.


Two teams who had taken South Mills River passed us on the climb up to Buckhorn Gap
and when I saw them stopped at the gap I decided it was time to finish strong and burn the mountain down. I have worn a hole in Black Mtn. and the other trails in the Avery Creek drainage this year and was ready to make some time. With a couple of shouts as we made the turn onto Black Yuri commented that he would have just quietly slipped by but that is just not my style and I wante to make our presence known. We took our poles out and began to work our way up and down to Club Gap. Since we had decided to skip Pink Beds I figured it was time to put it all on the line and see what sort of damage we could do for the final stanza. I took the lead in an attempt to gap the teams behind us. We hit Barnett Branch in really good time, so good that I paused briefly and considered suggesting we go out and back to number five real fast, but Yuri was right behind me with a team on his heels and I just kept straight on Black without giving it another thought.


We were making good time on the downhills as well as the uphills and were pulling out of  Club Gap just as the next team was pulling in. From there the trail tends downhill until you reach Avery Creek and we kept it rolling with Yuri in the lead pulling us across the flats. We had it on cruise control but the race was far from over with the difficult Pressley Cove climb before the final Black Mtn. descent. We discussed our water plans and final strategy just before slipping past our final checkpoint at Saddle Gap. Yuri kept the lead until just a few feet up Pressley Cove when he motioned for me to go by.

I run Pressley Cove frequently and am confident I know it better than anyone. I knew all I had to do was run that stretch of trail like I was fresh and before I knew it the race would be over and I would be sipping on a cold beer. So I dug in deep and declared aloud that we would be burning this mountain down. I gave it everything I had and while we didn't make record time up to the gap we did make good time and the end was actually in sight. Normally Yuri would go right by me on the downhills but I was determined to leave Black Mtn. little more than a smoldering pile of embers and kept the lead.

We ran that stretch of Black Mtn. faster than we have ever ran it before. Perhaps even faster than we had ridden it the day before. It was little more than a painful blur with my feet moving from memory as much as anything else. At the final turn at the intersection with Thrift Cove there were some mountain bikers stopped and I came down at full speed, screaming nonsense at the top of my lungs, and took a hurtling leap off the third waterbar up and that was enough for me. I switched it over to cruise control and let Yuri set the pace as we sent it on home.

We finished just minutes behind the first two other teams but I knew that wouldn't hold and sure enough two teams came in with five checkpoints and knocked us back to fifth. It is hard to say what would have happened it we had been smart enough to go out and back to Pink Beds but I have to think that we would not have been able to have our own little fireworks show at the end like we did.

Until the next time....

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