Friday, December 9, 2011

Backyard Adventures in the 'Rock- Part I

I live in an astonishingly beautiful and cool place - Chimney Rock, NC. It's only 25 miles south and east of Asheville, but what a difference 25 miles makes. I'm smack in the middle of some incredible country- Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure, and Rumbling Bald Mountain are all within a mile of me. In fact, my house sits at the base of Round Top Mountain and the view of this beauty from my kitchen window is amazing.

A word about Round Top Mountain...First, and you can almost see it from the picture above, I have direct access to it from my yard via a trail that connects to Silver City Road. Silver City Road takes you right up to the base of it, where the picture below was taken. Another very cool thing about this mountain: it was featured heavily in "Last of the Mohicans" as the Indian Village.

Like I said, there is a trail just 25 feet from my back door that leads to Silver City Road, which then accesses trails that dart in and out of State Park and Private Property. No driving necessary. It's really incredible.

I've already spoken with the Ranger who said I'm fine to be back there because my property accesses the State Park property directly. Although, he said, I may encounter problems with the owners of the private property. Which I did, one day. Said owner indeed has a lot of issues, but apparently none with me. I finally had to ask him, straight out, "So, are you going to be upset if I run back here?" to which he said, "Hell, No! I don't care if you're back here!!" (He's a real character). So, case closed. In my mind, I'm free to make the entire gorge my playground.

Recently, I've had two really good adventures "exploring" my backyard. This is the first adventure...

I went home early on the Wednesday before Pinhoti to get a run in and explore the trails behind my house. I wanted to see where one particular trail led, because the last time I was back there, it seemed to literally just "end", and I am finding that this is true of these trails- there's no defined trail system, per se, just a bunch of interconnected trails that locals and hunters (and rock climbers) know and use. Often, they just "end".

So, I left the house at 4:00 p.m., completely unaware I was in for one of the best adventures EVER and would not be home until after 11:00 that night.

It took 45 minutes to get to the point where the trail appeared to dead end. You go in between these two amazing rocks and are kind of dumped into a rock garden and the trail disappears.

I explored the possibility that the trail went up the side of a mountain here, and I spent a good 30 minutes hiking/ bush whacking up the mountain and eventually concluded there was no way that was a real trail. It terminated at a junction where you had to traverse a sheer drop-off that I was far too scared to even attempt.

As I was climbing down the mountain, I gave Charles a call because I'd learned that reception was good here. I told him about what I was doing, to which he said. "Just don't get lost, honey." Of course, I said I was insulted that he would say such a thing, and then assured him I'd be really careful.

Then I made a stupid mistake. I went back to the spot where there was clear trail and explored the possibility it crossed a small creek and took up again on this hillside. There was no real trail to follow, and all I was going to do was to bush whack around a big rock outcropping and see if the trail appeared anywhere on the other side. When I got around the other side, I saw that clearly there was no trail there and Idecided to head back and call it a day as it was now close to 6:00 p.m. and I would soon be losing the light.

Well, the big rock outcropping that was so recognizable on way over was not nearly as recognizable coming from the other direction. In fact, I suddenly didn't recognize anything and even though I had come only about 100 feet, I began to fear I wouldn't make it back before I lost the light. I suddenly felt stupid for laughing at Charles' request for me to not get lost.

It was getting darker, and I was where I thought the creek HAD to be, but instead of a little creek crossing, I came to a giant granite drop off and had to retrace my steps back, which was even more disorienting. I tried to think. It seemed logical to head down, as eventually I would have to come out somewhere near or on Memorial Highway. So down I headed, and I went quite a ways only to come to another giant granite dropoff. I now head my head lamp on, and decided I was done trying to find my way down. With all the leaves, I couldn't see where sure footing was, and it just seemed far more dangerous to climb down than to climb up. Plus, I had talked to David about this area, and he said that if you climb up you will intersect a road at some point.

Honestly, I didn't know what to do, and I was on the verge of panicking. Instead, I just decided to make a decision and stick with it. I was going to climb up, and I picked a line to follow and hoped I would intersect a road. It was completely dark now, and I was bush whacking up the side of a mountain, going up, over and around granite rock outcroppings.

This picture is from adventure #2, but is an example of the rock structures I had to the night!

At one point, I climbed up a large rock structure that brought me to the saddle of the mountain. I went down the saddle, only to discover I had to climb some more if I had any hope of accessing a jeep road or any road at all. This last climb was so densely forested that I was climbing on my belly in spots so that I could go under the branches of trees because they were too thick to get through any other way. The branches had snagged my pack and opened it and I lost my jacket, gloves, and water bottle. Now I was really thirsty and I had no water.

Hours went by and I kept bush whacking...just straight up- hoping for...I don't know what. When road! I had intersected what was clearly a jeep road. Hooray!! I called Charles and told him, and I decided to follow the road to the right as it went slightly down hill. After about 200 feet, it became more and more over grown, and finally it was clear that the road just ended there. Damn!

I turned around and went the other way, and the road at least did continue. It became a more and more pronounced road, and after climbing a bit, started a descent. It seemed like I went about 2 miles or so, and then I saw lights of a house. That was comforting. Suddenly about 1/2 mile later, the road dumped out onto a paved road, and all of a sudden I knew exactly where I was. I was at the top of Old Schumont Mountain Road!! Amazing. What a relief to know where I was! David lives about 2 miles away and I texted him to see if he was home. He was, so I asked if he could come get me and give me aride home, which he did.

Even though I know it was stupid to get myself in to that situation, I have to say that bush whacking up Schumont Mountain in the dark, and then suddenly popping out onto the road and knowing where I was...was thrilling. I was proud of myself for keeping my wits about me and not panicking. Right or wrong, I made a decision and stuck with it- and it just happened to work out well for me.

To be continued...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Foothills Trail: Sub 27:00 and First Female Double Finisher- Say WHAT?

Usually, after a “significant” run like FHT I find that it takes me for freaking ever to gather my thoughts in any kind of cohesive way and write a race report. By the time I’ve processed the experience emotionally, I find the details of the race have already begun to fade from my memory, which makes writing it up that much more difficult.

Not this time. No emotional processing necessary. Honey Badger just!

So, here goes.

First, attempting the FHT over Thanksgiving weekend was a last minute decision. Originally, I passed on this organized attempt, thinking it too close to the Bartram 100’s on December 10. But then... I noticed Naresh was signed up for Bartram and was also attempting FHT...So, yes. To answer your question, if my friends jump off a cliff I will follow them.

The week leading up to FHT was a whirlwind of ADD-induced planning. For the first time, I found myself attempting FHT sans Charles and I was suddenly in the position of being the “experienced one” on the trail. Stop laughing. Stop it now.

The logistics of an FHT attempt are always daunting. It’s a point to point run, so you’re dealing with shuttling people and cars and aid between Table Rock and Oconee State Parks. Any logistical challenges like multiple start times only serve to amplify these challenges.

Also, you’re not allowed to be on the trails after 30 minutes before dark, so you have to commit to camping at one or both State Parks. And you can’t just book one night at a site, there’s a 2-night minimum at either of the State Parks. Then there’s cell phone reception/ coverage issues. What a nightmare! Cell reception is just plain crappy. You’re lucky if you can send a text, and if you’re able to, you may never know if the person you sent it to received it. More than anything, lack of cell phone coverage has caused a comedy of errors to play out again and again. This attempt would turn out to be no different in that respect.

The adventure begins....Thanksgiving Day.

Mimi was kind enough to get a site at Oconee for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. As I drove to Oconee State Park to meet Mimi and Naresh, my excitement began to build. Whereas up until that point, I had been preoccupied with planning a “finish”, I suddenly started to consider going for a 24-hour finish. I went as far as leaving a message on Naresh’s phone, saying something like “I hope you don’t get this- I’m losing my mind with excitement and actually thinking about going for the 24 hour finish. Please slap these thoughts out of my head when you see me.”

In my mind, I had no business thinking sub-24. I was going into this run after a 75 mile week culminating in a hard Saturday run on trails at Jones Gap State Park and a double SSSR (Seven Sisters Summit Run) on Sunday. But the little voice in my head reminded me that I recovered very well from the weekend, and my legs had felt downright bouncy on my recovery run on Tuesday. I was also thinking a Foothills Trail finish would go a long way in healing the wounds of not one but TWO Pitchell DNF's in October.

Thanksgiving At Oconee State Park - Cool
Soon after arriving at Oconee and finding the campsite, I met Scott Chapman for the first time - what a cool guy. His plans were to run from Table Rock to Laurel Valley entrance and then be available to run, crew and assist at various points on the trail.

Thanksgiving dinner was a wonderful meal of Tandoori chicken and Naan, courtesy of Naresh. Did I say it was wonderful? It was soooo yummy! As we stood around the campfire talking and drinking beer, the temperature began to drop- finally to the point it drove us in to our tents for the night around 9:30 p.m.

The next morning, Mimi, Naresh and I set about finalizing our drop bags and talking about the trail in general. I had made us all some navigation notes that highlighted some of the trickier parts of the trail.

We made a short trip over to the WWF overlook platform, which was jam packed full 'o tourists, and we hiked down to the bridge so they could get a feel for the climb over the rocks as you begin your ascent out of WWF.

We headed back to the campsite around 3:00 to meet Lester Farmer. Soon, Chad and Mark rolled up and shortly thereafter we all left Oconee and stopped along the way to drop a few aid bags, drop off vehicles, etc. Finally, we arrived at Table Rock around 7:30 pm.

It was incredibly cold! I ate some boiled peanuts and could not get warm around the fire, so I opted to get a couple of hours of sleep in the back of Naresh's car. At about 11:00 p.m., I went up to the restroom to change and to text Charles. When I returned to the car, I saw that Scott Hadukavich had arrived. Somehow, it just ain't a FHT run if Scott isn't there.

Last minute preparations, and before I knew it, we were moving silently as a group down to the Trailhead start point with our headlamps off. Memories of previous runs filled my head, where the fear of waking the ranger seemed far more intense than it did this time. As usual, we took a couple of group photos before someone called the official start time (12:04 a.m.) and off we went, climbing up, up, up, towards Pinnacle and Sassafrass Mountain.

Table Rock to Laurel Valley Entrance (14 miles)
12:04 - 4:35

I felt exhilarated at the start as I took in the beauty of the trail. Even at night, this trail is simply gorgeous. We all stayed pretty close to one another for the first few miles, as clothes and gear were adjusted, and everyone got used to the trail. I was a little worried about Mimi as she was apparently already having some issues with her headlamp.

I realized pretty quickly that I felt good. It's a good 9-mile hike up to Sassafrass, with tons of elevation gain, but I was handling it really well and my legs somehow felt fresh.

Near Pinnacle Mtn., I made a note of where Charles had broken his arm in February, and I found myself missing him. The run didn't feel quite the same without him. I love the way he's always ppointing out what's coming up next on the trail, and how we run together so comfortably.

Right about then, I turned to Naresh and said, "No offense, Naresh, but I miss Charles." Almost immediately after that, we came up on what I thought was a left-over Halloween joke. Someone had hung a skeleton on the trail! So weird...

A few minutes later we popped out of the trail at Sassafrass and started crossing the road to where Chad would be waiting for us with water. At first, nothing unusual registered with me. There were several cars parked here, but I assumed Big Easy and/ or Scott H. were there as well. Suddenly I see the "FARTHER" license plate and I realize Charles was there! He had totally tricked me and come up a day early to surprise me! In fact, he had to have already been on the road when I texted him right before the start. I love it!

After quick hello's to Charles' doggies, a water refill, and some food, we all took off for the LV entrance. I know that Naresh really enjoyed the nice downhill descent to Laurel Valley. He's an amazing downhill runner and when I caught up with him at Rocky Bottom he told me he'd turned off his headlamp and cruised down the trail. Sweet! I checked my watch at the Hwy 178
crossing and noted that we cam e in at 4:16 a.m.

We walked up to the Laurel Valley entrance parking lot and were treated to another awesome aid station. However, it got cold really fast when you weren't moving, so I tried my best to get what I needed and move out of there. I know Naresh was freezing, and I thought he headed back out a couple of minutes ahead of me. I noted that I left the parking lot at 4:34, and headed up the stairs to Laurel Valley. I remember hearing Chad tell Mark to take it slow and and to not try and “crush” it. Those two made a good team, I thought.

Laurel Valley To White Water Falls (34 Miles)
4:35 a.m. - 3:42 p.m

The Laurel Valley section is probably the most well-known section of the FHT, as it has it's very own race - the Laurel Valley Ultra. It's a beast of a section, but this time I had a very different experience running through here. I found it to be way more runnable than I ever remembered, and with few exceptions I had no difficulty staying on trail. I made it my main goal to run every runnable part of trail, and I found that I ran a lot more of this section than I ever have before.

Lester and I traded positions for a few miles, and eventually we caught up to Mark. This in itself was a big surprise, as I thought Naresh was ahead of me. I asked Mark if he'd seen Naresh, and he said no. I told Lester I was worried Naresh had maybe gone off trail, but I didn't know what we could do about it at this point.

I kept moving, but as Canebrake and Heartbreak Ridge closed in, I was so ready to be see humans again. I remember Charles saying he'd see me at 8:30 at Canebreak, and I think I ended up arriving around 9:00. As planned, Charles and Scott had hiked in to Cane Brake and set up a mini aid station of awesomeness, and when I finally heard some hollering, I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was. I immediately went off trail and had to correct!

I asked them if they'd seen Naresh, and that's when Charles told me Naresh had taken the road at the LV parking lot instead of the stairs but had corrected himself after a few minutes. But instead of being a couple minutes ahead of me like I thought, he was a couple minutes behind me- I just didn't know it.

I got some food and Gatorade, and was eager to keep moving as I suspected I was making good time so far, and with no navigation problems, I was becoming increasingly confident I was having a good run. Plus, I really wanted to get in to WWF in under 12 hours.

At one point I began to overheat with two shirts on, so I had to take the long sleeve shirt off I was wearing underneath my shirt and tie it around my waist. This is when I noticed my watch band had broken and my watch had fallen off. I got my phone out of my pack to see what time it was, and I don't know if it was just me having nearly 50 miles on my brain and body, but I would swear that the clock that's usually on my phone display was no longer there! I went into my phone menu to try to find the clock, but...seriously? I can't do this shit on a normal Tuesday without Leopold's help. There was no way in hell I was gonna figure out how to display the time on my phone under these conditions.

As I got closer to reaching the WWF bridge, the not knowing what time it was started messing with me. Then the climb out of WWF started messing with me more. OK, there's no better way to say this than how Mark put it:

"The two mile trek up to the parking lot was, as I said about a hundred times on the way up, retarded. Many people quit at this point, and I totally get it; those last two miles were hell."

I was about to start yelling, to see if I got any yells back- good lord! Surely I had to be close enough for people to hear me by NOW? As I was about to scream, "CLIMBING OUT OF WWF SUUUUUCKS!!!", I heard music. Then, I see Scott Chapman at the top of thill, looking down at me and playing his accordion. Well, that's a first. Awesome!

God, it was so good to sit down! I desperately wanted to change my clothes, get a beer, and then get out before I had too much time to think. I asked Charles what time it was, and I was so surprised to hear it was 3:42. I made it through LV almost 45 minutes faster than planned!

Charles tended to my every need, and even moved the car strategically so I could change my clothes. I felt bad that I was cranky and tired and just didn't have the energy or inclination to show him how much I appreciated him being there. After 20 minutes, Charles put me back on trail, showering me with compliments and encouragement. To all you future crew members, I cannot tell you how much compliments help! Even when you know they are bold faced lies!!

White Water Falls To Sloan Bridge (4.7 Miles)
4:05 p.m. - ?

This section was a good confidence booster. As I began the initial climb, beer in hand, I remembered the last time I was here. Rob Rivas was pacing me and Charles, and I had not gotten enough food through WWF. Everything I ate and drank at WWF did not stay down, and I was puking before the first climb ended. Essentially, my last attempt ended right here. In contrast, I felt super good this time, and I was working on faster leg turnover up the hills and running anything resembling flat or downhill.

I remembered that this section ended where you would hear cars and so I just kept listening.
Knowing that Charles would be at every point between here and the end was extremely reassuring. Also helpful- the way he would focus me on just the next section as he sent me off each time. He'd say things like, "This next section is just 3.9 miles. Remember how it's technical at first, then it gets more runnable?"

Sloan Bridge to Fish Hatchery (3.3 Miles)
? - 6:50 p.m.
I don't like this section.

Fish Hatchery To Burrell's Ford (3.9 Miles)
6:50 p.m. - Where is everybody?

Best...section....ever! After the technical torturefest that was the last section, the trail suddenly seemed very runnable. Runnable, and somehow downhill, too! There were some narrow ridges here, and some technical spots, but overall I was able to get into a really nice groove through this section.

I came up on Mark and Chad and hesitated to pass because in all likelihood they'd just be passing me back. But pass I did, and I remember Chad saying I was on my way to a PR, which totally fueled my fire, and I could not WAIT to get to Burrell's Ford to share my excitement with Charles. When I thought I surely had to be getting close to where he could hear me, I started yelling out. I did this several times, and eventually I figured he was inside his car and couldn't hear me.
The next thing that happened freaked me out. I fully expected to run into the parking lot from the trail. I know when we drop aid there, the trail leads directly to the parking lot (right?). So, when suddenly I was dumped onto paved road and not in to parking lot, I panicked. Did I get off trail somehow? WTF?

Burrell’s Ford To Cheohee Road (10.4 Miles)
? - 11:52 p.m.

I probably made a mistake in not spending more time trying to find Charles. I'd only taken 1 hand-held with me for this last section because it was so short, so I was out of water completely, although I did still have food in my pack. More important than the water situation, was the anxiety produced by missing the aid station. I didn't know if I had gone off trail or not. I didn't know if Charles was waiting for me or not. I had a lot of miles to dwell on this and it was a big distraction.

It's a testament to my state of mind that it never occurred to me that Chad and Mark were right behind me and they would tell Charles what happened.

At least going in to this section I knew I was on trail. It was anybody's guess for a lot of those miles. And I've heard this before, but this section is just plain freaky. You go by the Chattooga River for a lot of the miles, and I kept wondering how the freaking river could be on my right one minute and then my left the next. Does the river wind UNDER the trail somehow? Am I running in circles? Am I hallucinating?

At one point, I was worried I was going in circles, so I saved the last bite of my KitKat and placed it on a rock on the trail. I told myself to remember that the side with the bite on it is the direction I was going. WTF? Things were getting weird, alright.

I scared off two large animals in this section, although I never saw them- one was a deer for sure, but the other seemed much bigger. Most likely a bear.

I refilled my water at the river as I took the trail that goes all the way to the river instead of the "high tide" alternate trail. I was definitely dehydrated as I had plenty of food but couldn't eat it because my mouth was so dry I couldn't swallow. I was starting to get really tired through here, and all I wanted to do was get to the part of the trail where I stopped hearing the river- then I'd know I was almost to Cheohee Road.

Several hundred hours later, I thought I might be getting close and I started yelling out. No deal. Crap!

I came to a series of trail markers that confused the hell out of me. I think these are new, and they mark the FHT East, Chattooga River South, and some other shit. I wandered around these signs for quite a long time trying to figure out which way to go. Finally, it occurred to me that I didn't want ANY of these other trials, so I should just keep following the white blazes like I was doing. Shit! How stupid did I feel that it took me that long to figure that out! < When I got close to Charles and Scott's campfire, and they started yelling. What a relief!!! I tried not to stay too long, but when I got up from my chair I was so stiff I could barely walk. When Charles sent me off, I'm sure he thought it would take me several hours to cover the last 6 miles. I was moving like the Halloween lady I saw on the trail earlier.

Cheohee Road to Finish (6 Miles my ass)
11:52 p.m. - 2:55 a.m.

I started out walking so slowly I wondered if I would start hearing the river again. Then it just changed- just like that. I was like, "You have six miles left and you've been doing great. Is this how you're going to finish? You don't even hurt that bad. You can totally run the flats and walk everything else." So I started running, and it really wasn't that bad. Although I kept remembering that this section was long, so it was hard to get in to that, "I smell the barn" mode.

At this point, I had absolutely no sense of time. But I knew I was getting close because I saw the white triangular markers for Hidden Falls (the detour I took last time). Then I saw two triangular markers, one for FHT and one for Hidden Falls. I think this means that they both share the FHT for a portion of trail.

Then I saw a third triangular marker for Tamassee Knob Trail, and I'm like, Jesus, who else is gonna join in on this?

The next thing I know, I'm back on a ridgeline, then on trail that seemed to keep dropping, then rising, and then back on ridgeline, then winding around a hillside. It was my first bad feeling that something was wrong. But I didn't see how I could have done anything other than what I was doing, so I remained calm. I came up to a sign marking State Park property- and this, too, was unfamiliar. Unfamiliar is bad.

Next, I'm on a saddle where I looked down on either side of the trail...and then I started this vicious climb that literally brought me to my knees. To reference a private joke between Naresh and I, I knew I was fucked. I turned around, and headed back the way I'd come. I was so incredibly tired and a little bit scared, and a LOT wanting to be finished.

Eventually, I walked right in to the trail marking with a double white blaze indicating I'd gone down Tamassee Knob Trail. It was so clearly marked, I couldn't believe it. I took the FHT trail, and finished not long after that, thankful for the slight downhill.

There was no one at the Oconee sign, and I figured everyone had come in already and Charles probably had to take Chad back to his car. I sat there for a minute, then thought to get my phone to see what time it was. I turned the phone on, and the clock display was still missing, but if I hit the side button, it showed the time. Did my phone always do that?

Finish time: 2:55 a.m. (26:51)

I sat down on the ground and used my pack as a makeshift pillow. The next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes, and I was laying flat on the ground in the leaves. I had completely fallen asleep - for 45 minutes! I had to laugh at the image of a car driving by and seeing me. Surely, I looked like a dead body.

I walked back to the campsite and put my pack in the tent so Charles would know I was there. I headed for the showers, and in the middle of my shower, Charles knocks on the door and everything was alright again.

I learned that he had gone down the trail to meet everyone, but of course by then I had taken Tamassee Knob. It turned out no one had finished before me, AND I had broken 27 hours. With bonus miles. It took a while to sink in, but I realized I was the first female double finisher.

I am crying as I finish writing this- I have no words to describe how freaking cool this run was and how happy I am.

P.S. A few "Thank You's"

Charles, Scott H, Scott C -
Thank you for the aid stations of awesomeness and your support. I wouldn't have finished without you guys.

Chad -You just ROCK. I want you as a pacer next time!

Lester, Naresh, and Mimi -
We didn’t share too much time on the trail, but it was enough to know you were out there. Glad you are all safe.

Naresh and Mark- Wow. I am so inspired by you both and Naresh, I am so happy to be your friend.

And, always, always, to Jason Sullivan - Thank you for bringing this trail to my attention and for all the work you do promoting these FHT runs.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011 Pitchell 100K +

The Pitchell.....what an epic adventure! Birthed by the mind of Mad A (Adam Hill) in 2004, this run starts at midnight on the summit of Mt. Pisgah and you run, hike, and crawl 67 miles (all on the Mtns. to Sea trail) to the finish on the summit of Mt. Mitchell! With its midnight start time and the finicky October weather, this is a beast of a run, and one that's gotten under my skin.

The Pitchell cannot be fully explained by words - it's one of those runs you have to experience (not unlike Sweetwater 50K in that respect). To me, this run represents the perfect storm of difficult trail elements - you've got extremely technical single track trail combined with unholy leaf coverage, unpredictable weather, night running, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and weather changes, and let's not forget the roughly 30,000 feet of elevation change. Even when you're prepared for each of these elements individually, it's easy to underestiamte their impact as a whole.

I think everybody who attempts the Pitchell 100K+ must come in to the Folk Art Center (FAC) thinking, "How'd THAT happen? Why doI feel like I've been hit by a truck after running the slowest 50K I've ever run?" Then, of course, it hits them: They realize the hardest (or at least slowest/ most unrunnable) 50K they may ever encounter is still ahead of them. See, that's the kicker- this run gets progressively more difficult. The last 20 miles is an ode to denial. It kicks your butt, and even as its happening, you simply can't believe it's that hard- surely you're just having a bad day, or the conditions aren't right, or you didn't get enough long runs in or get enough sleep...

Need I even say this? Very few people have completed this run. It's kind of like The Foothills Trail that way- hard to finish, but in a different way. Since its inception in 2004, the "all time finishers list" includes just 8 names.

Pitchell 100K+ All Time Finishers List
This does not include people who ran but modified the run to make it easier. (For a complete list, go here.)

Adam Hill 16:30, 17:30, 15:06!, 15:33
Kevin Lane 15:18
Charlie Roberts 18:11
Mike Mason 16:48
Brian Beduhn 19:50
Brad Kee 17:47
Sean Blanton 19:20*
Eric Loffland 19:20*

Fast forward to Friday, October 14th, 2011**

Well, This Sucks
The day of the race dawned beautiful and temperate and it seemed as if everything were aligning itself to enhance the runners' chances of finishing this beast. There was just one problem- me. I found myself at the tail end of a difficult week, feeling overwhelmed and under prepared. I'd spent the last few weeks moving truck loads of stuff to the new house after working all day, and then working late into the night trying to get some cleaning and painting done. As a result, my running had been erratic at best lately, which only fueled my distemper.

Everyone knows moving is a huge adjustment, but for those of you who know about the new developments in my life, this is just one of several huge life adjustments I'm smack in the middle of. So its not surprising that my dealings with Duke Power and AT & T earlier in the week were enough to send me careening over the edge. I was ready to pick up the phone and dial 1-800-HONEYBADGERNEEDSTHERAPY.

After being so stoked about this run for months, on the way over to Mad A's house on Friday I found myself saying to Charles, "I don't even want to run this race. I wish it could be on some other day because I just cannot get my head in to it right now."

Nice, huh?

The Usual Suspects Roundup
As planned, the runners began arriving at Mad A's house around 5:00 p.m. Several Georgians were joining the hunt for the illusive finish, including Charles Raffensperger, Sean Blanton, and Eric Loffland. Charles has run most of the individual sections of the Pitchell course already, but Sean "Run Bum" Blanton and Eric Loffland had never been on this trail before. Considering the outcome, this says a lot about both of them.

2011 Runners:
Adam Hill
Dave Pryor (early start)
Psyche Wimberly
Charles Raffensperger
Mike Mason
Terry Foxworth (early start)
Sean "Run Bum" Blanton
Eric Loffland
Brian Beduhn (early start)
Brian Kistner
Sultan (early start)
Brad Kee

In addition, many of the usual suspects were running the FAC 50K, which begins at 6:00 a.m. the next morning and goes from the Folk Art Center to Mitchell summit.

Whip My Hair!
For me, the evening at Mad A's was the absolute highlight of this year's Pitchell. Pre-run get togethers are always fun, but hanging out with the likes of Matt Kirk, Adam Hill, and Crimson Cheetah...well, that just takes things to a whole other level. I'm not ashamed to say I still get a little star struck amidst their company.

Awesome Group Photo. From Top Left: Brian Kistner, Eric Loffland, Adam Hill, Me, Charles, Mike Mason, Matt Kirk, Isaiah Mosteller, Sean "Run Bum" Blanton

Adam's parents and Suzanne are entertained by Jon Harrison and Sean Blanton (and Luna)

Adam Hill impersonating Neil Young singing Willow Smith's, "Whip Your Hair"

Most special bonus- Meeting Ava for the first time!

It's the PITCHELL, Baby!
Things move fast. Before I knew it, we were at the top of Mt. Pisgah and it was just before midnight. I was happy that Charles got to experience this part of the run- the midnight start really is very special.

From Left: Crimson Cheetah, Brad Kee, Adam Hill, Eric Loffland, Charles, Me, Run Bum

In my humble opinion, all super badass runs need to start at midnight with a sip of Moonshine and a howl at the moon...

Well, this is where this post becomes painfully anti-climatic. I'd like to say that everything turned around for me, I started feeling great, I had an awesome run, and I finished in an amazing time. Sadly, no. From the moment we began, I felt as if I just didn't want to be there. In fact, it's fair to say that I was simply waiting for Charles to give the tiniest hint that he wasn't in to the run, either, and I'd be all over that shit, saying I could totally quit and be fine with it.

Unfortunately I had a 43-mile wait for that to happen. We decided to end our quest at Craven's Gap, knowing we would not summit until well into the dark. We'd had enough, time to call it a day.

Some highlights of those 43 miles include:

Climbing away from the FAC, you get a terrific view of Pisgah and you see how far you've come

Right before FAC, the trail takes you under a freeway pass, but you're running through a pasture, complete with cows. It's surreal. Especially after running all night.

Just completed a 11 hour 50K, took a 45-min. rest, shared a 22 oz. IPA from Green Flash brewery with Charles, and chatted with Jeremy Hargroves before taking off again. No wonder I'm smiling!

So, we're done.

We started running down the BRP back to my car, and suddenly we hear someone yelling something from a moving car. The car pulls over to the side of the Parkway and at first, I think its just another of theose insane leaf lookers. They are CRAZY and will slam on their brakes at the first sign of a brightly colored leaf. But I turn around, and there's Terry Foxworth, standing on the Parkway railing, yelling, "PITCHELL SUUUUUUUUCKS!!!"

Aaaaagh...!!! A kindred spirit! What a wonderful and welcome sight!

We yell back, "PITCHELLL SUUUUCKS!!!!" ....Hahhaha!

Terry explained that he and Dave were both simply not in to it from the beginning, but they decided to finish a 50K and stop at FAC. Hearing this made me feel infinitely better about my day. By way of an update, Terry said that Adam was going strong but had run into a rough patch and was slowing down. Still, it was 3:00 in the afternoon, and he was approaching Mitchell. Beast!!

As far as the other runners, Brad Kee was not far behind Adam and B-Rex was still going strong, although he may have taken an alternate route. I heard something about Sultan taking a nap, and then dropping later. Cheetah had dropped at a nice even 40 miles. However, Terry said that no one had seen or heard anything from Sean and Eric, and this kind of concerned me because they had never been on this trail.

So, Nicole and Terry gave Charles a ride back to my car and Charles came back and picked me up. We drove up to the Mitchell summit to see if there were any finishers and any news on Eric and Sean.

Beginnings of a beautiful sunset atop Mitchell. ..Trying to not be worried about our boys.

So we wait...and wait...and wait. Still, no one has heard or seen from Eric or Sean. Charles and I were both worried and we stayed up at Mitchell, watching and waiting. At about 7:30, with dark approaching, and the winds picking up speed, we thought we better contact the Ranger and let him know the situation (becauae Rangers love hearing that runners are out there lost on the trail, and we like to make them happy). They close the gate at 8:00, so if Sean and Eric were to make it up there to the parking lot, they'd have no way to get to their car. Not knowing what shape they'd be in, we decided to wait it out.

We kept driving down Hwy 128 to see if we could find them lower on the trail, then we'd go back up to the summit parking lot. Back and forth, back and forth...where ARE these guys?

To my amazement, Charles can perfectly imitate Run Bum's voice, and we spent some time cracking up at the expense of our spirited young friend. That's just how we roll, baby.

We were actually laughing so hard we were crying quite worried, and when FINALLY the Ranger came around and told us our friends were in the Ranger's bathroom getting warm, we immediately wondered if we'd find them in some compromising position were so very relieved!! We headed over and Charles rounded the boys up and put them in the car and gave them some food.

We heard their story (complete with how they "held up" some tourists for food), and were simply amazed and inspired by their journey to Mitchell. They are both amazing and talented runners, and it was an honor to be a part of their journey on that day.

Charles, Eric and Run Bum (in ski mask) hamming it up- We're so happy they're safe!

To get the full low-down on their journey to Mitchell, go here: Run Bum's Pitchell Report

And you MUST check THIS out:

In conclusion, the Pitchell EPIC ADVENTURE. It's not for everyone, and there is definitely an element of danger. But after this day, I want to complete the run from Pisgah to Mitchell more than ever. In my future, I want to be able to say I ran from here to there...Yes, I'm one of "those" people.


* Missed summit, but ended run at Stepps Gap at Ranger Station for safety reasons

** This year's date for the "real" Pitchell- as opposed to a PussyKitty Cat Pitchell whereby you start early. However, this year's attempt made it very clear to me just how dangerous it can be to end up at Mitchell after dark. The weather conditions change on a drop of a hat. For that reason, I think a midnight start is out of the question for me in the future, since you need to be sub-20 hr. in order to finish in daylight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bloody 11W 100

Wherein I experience all the highs and lows of running 100 miles and stamp "CONFIRMED" on my desire to run a self supported Vol State (500K) in July.

I know this report is a long time coming, but I ran 100 miles!!! if I had written this post any sooner it would have merely consisted of a bunch of run-on sentences interspersed with fragmented statements aimed at processing the experience. And of course, "bloody this" and "bloody that" would've been thrown in there with wild abandon. Thank bloody god that didn't happen.

Now, after more than 2 weeks post event, I do feel like I've processed the experience of the run for the most part. I've simply just not had enough bloody time or bloody energy to capture the memories of this story like I want to- and there are lots of good memories. I truly do want to record it, so I'll just do the best I can. I may invite Charles to fill in the good stuff I miss, plus add some stuff of his own. You can thank me – and him - later.

So, here goes:

Introduction, Please!
The Bloody 11W 100-Mile Run is a point to point 100-mile run on a famous highway with a history, and the latest brain child of Gary Cantrell (Laz). The story goes something like this: Laz has already run the entirety of State Road 11E. During the beginning of 2011,and inspired by the Mother Road, Laz was looking at another highway with history and proposed to have a race along the State Road 11W. This highway is the most haunted road in the U.S. and was once known as "Bloody 11W" because of the frequency of fatal accidents along the route.

Early organization of the race consisted of Gary e-mailing his idea to the ultra list serve. Interested runners could provide their email address, and race details would be furnished as the day grew closer.

An excerpt from Laz's Bloody 11W email:

"The gas giant race, geared towards the over-the-hill crowd, with a gas giant division for the elderly & infirm leading the way and an able bodied division for the youngsters and speedsters will be held during Labor Day weekend. This is a fat-ass style event. The runner takes care of themselves. However, with a 72 hour limit for 100 miles, this is a chance for the old, slow, or disabled folks to log a legitimate 100 miler and with probably a dozen or less runners someone will get a chance to win a race.

As a side note- since the race finishes at the Virginia state line in Bristol, the total distance is more like 109 -114 miles. The only cutoff is 72 hours for the 100 mile split."

I'm not sure how many runners were originally interested in this run, but at the last minute Gary had to cancel the run due to an employment conflict. I'm sure many of the runners let it go at that. However, Charles and I both were thinking about going ahead anyway, when I received a message from Naresh Kumar, asking me if Charles and I still wanted to go ahead. If so, he was also in. Now things are interesting…

All told, and to their credit, six idiots eventually showed up in Knoxville, TN ready to spend Labor Day weekend running all through the day and night (and day again) on a haunted highway:

Official List of Idiots: Inaugural "Bloody 11W 100"
Charles Raffensperger
Psyche Wimberly
Abi Meadows
Janet Duncan
Mimi Hughes
Naresh Kumar

Bloody Hell Those Logistics
Logistics for a hundred mile run of any kind are a nightmare, but especially a point to point run and especially a run where everyone is really just doing their own thing. What "planning" came down to was a bunch of e-mails between us all, with a frenzied rush to "figure it out" a few days before the run.

However, thanks to Charles, Abi, and Naresh, we had a very cool Google map of the course (C-Raff)....

Look how freaking FAR 100 miles look on this map!!!

A turn sheet of awesomeness (Abi)...

And a cool-ass race website (Naresh) complete with a bloody awesome Bloody 11W logo and banner.

Go visit the website. Do it now.

Since Charles, Naresh, and I were running straight through, we decided to leave one of our cars at the start, one at the finish, and one at the mid-way point. Charles and I arrived in Knoxville on Friday afternoon, greeted by record high temps and humidity, and at 4:00 p.m. we set off for Bristol in separate cars in order to leave Charles' car at the finish.

The heat was unbearable. The outside temperature gauge in my car was 116 degrees when I was parked, and never went below 101 degrees on the entire drive!

Warning: Running in temps higher than 100 degrees makes my Check Engine light come on

After 4 hours of driving, we barely made it back to Knoxville for the inaugural Bloody 11W "last supper". Did you catch that? 4 hours of driving to cover the course twice. That's 2 freaking hours to drive the distance we were about to run....

All smiles at this point. From left: Me, Mimi, Janet, naresh, Abi, Charles

As always, it's great to be reunited with fellow runners (Naresh and Abi). This time, we were also privileged to meet two new fellow runners- Janet Duncan and Mimi Hughes. We got to know them each a little bit over a relaxed meal, where we discovered Mimi is an incredible long-distance swimmer who has swum the Bering Strait, and the lengths of the Ohio, Tennessee, Danube, Drava, and Mura Rivers. Not only that, she dedicates her swims to a variety of causes: understanding between nations, environmental awareness, and lifeskills' training and education for women and girls.

Holy cow! She's a beast for goodness!! What an honor to meet her.

The Adventure Begins...
At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, after scouring the area to figure out where to park our car (this area is a little on the seedy side), we all met at Shoney's once again, but this time we took a short walk down the street to the junction where 11W and 11E split- this is the "official starting line!

Group photo of start (minus Mimi)

The first couple of miles of 11W has absolutely no shoulder, so we all ran single file for awhile while watching the first of what would be two very beautiful sunrises.

Gorgeous sunrise #1

Bright runners, big city

The First Bloody 9 Hours - Bloody Hell!
In long races like this, I tend to start out badly and come on strong later. But seriously. From the very first mile, I did not feel quite right. I was having issues with my stomach that are hard to explain. Mostly, I felt like I had eaten too many different foods together at Shoney's the night before. I felt like the food I had eaten last night needed to finish working its way through my system, and then perhaps I'd feel normal again. My stomach felt empty and full at the same time, and sometimes it just hurt. This went on (and on) for... nine... freaking... hours.

For the most part, what I remember about the first daylight hours of the run was the heat and how I felt like I just had to get this part of the run out of the way and hope for things to change - if I had any chance at all of finishing. Although we were running with Janet and Mimi and having some good laughs, I was also feeling kind of withdrawn in to my own world, just trying to cope with the building heat and the anxiety of being uncomfortable.

So, this is the first point where I'd like to have Charles fill in the details he remembers - from the start of the run to our approach in to Bean Station. But first, I have to tell you this great story about Mimi:

As we were heading into Bean Station, I was walking with Mimi and we were talking. At one point, she asked me what our plans were, and so assuming she meant Charles and I, I launched into our whole story...beginning to end....really, really too much information!!! And Mimi is just so cool. She listened, and listened some more, and then after what must have felt like an eternity to her, she listened some more and finally said, "Not to take anything away from your disclosure, but when I asked what your plans were, I was talking about your plans for Rodgersville." Hahahaha!! I about died laughing... I will always remember that!

Right after a beautiful rainbow appeared..I started to feel good- finally!

....Now, take it away, baby!

{Written by Charles Raffensperger}…

The early part of the run was nice and for the first couple of miles we all stayed together as a group, talking and enjoying the only halfway cool part of the day. The humidity was high though as we alternated between running and walking and traded places back and forth along the shoulder that had by now broadened quite a bit.

Mimi at one point crossed over to the right side of the road (running with traffic) and I wondered if she just wanted to be alone for awhile, until I realized that she was seeking out the shade on the Eastern side of the road – the only smart one in the bunch. We all followed suit as soon as we made this obvious connection! The theme then set in for the day – run when you can, walk when you wanted to cool down, and stop in every damn gas station or oasis along the way.

Mimi and Charles and the ever present bag 'o ice at every stop!

Ice cream shop of awesomeness

Around the 16 mile mark we found a neat little ice cream shop and stopped in to cool down and enjoy the ice cream and shakes. Then on down the road to the next gas station…the road winds all the way up through a valley between 2 mountain ridges and is quite scenic. After another good stretch of roadway we saw the Rutledge city limit sign and eagerly anticipated the next stopping point – but in an evil twist they planted the city limits waaaaaaaayyyyyy out from the town because it seemed like several more miles before we hit civilization again!

Psyche was struggling quite a bit through here and all I could do was slow down and be patient – from past experience I knew she would come out of it sometime but really hated that she had to endure her discomfort. In retrospect forcing me to slow down here probably saved me. With air temps edging up to 98 and an even hotter road surface the shade was disappearing – since nearly all of our runs are on trails these days it was a tough reminder of just how difficult it can be to run on an exposed/paved surface…the cant of the road wasn’t bad but the motion of being on a flat surface can produce soreness in your legs, hips, and feet that no trail can.

The other striking memory of this 1st section of the road is the people we encountered at every gas station or stop. I know we seemed like aliens to the good country folk along the way – and although I’ve lived in Georgia nearly all of my life I found it nearly impossible to understand the strong accents of the people in this valley. It surely seemed like many people here have simply never been out of this valley! The typical conversation went something like this: “How far ya’ll hikin?”…”To Bristol”…”Wuh, how miny days will at take?” “We’re hoping to finish sometime tomorrow afternoon”…then they’d scratch their heads and walk away.

Asking for directions or information on the next town, restaurant, or gas station was an adventure in itself…”Are there any restaurants, fast food places, or any other places to eat on the bypass around town?”…”Naw, they’re ain’t nothing here, this is jus a hick town”….”How far is it to the road that cuts through town?”…”Maybe 1 mile, or 4, you go down there and you’ll see a road on the left, not the first road, maybe the 3rd, or fifth, and after you see that road, turn in and then go down a little ways and you’ll see the IGA…but if you see the IGA first you’ve gone too far, then back track to that other road, take a left, nah, make that a right, then go another 5 miles, and then you’ll be on the otha side a town, and it’s 7 or 12 miles to Rogersville from there…..”….(side note: there IS a nice Subway and a pizza place on the bypass around town!).

Getting directions from the locals...

In this way we made a track through Rutledge and Bean Station (and our apologies to the folks in “Bean Station” as we butchered the name as “Bean Town” on conversations with the locals!). Bean Station is where the worst traffic accident in Tennessee history took place along the Bloody 11W but we saw no markers to commemorate the site. It was here that Janet and Mimi went on ahead of Psyche and I (Naresh and Abi had long since left us – but at every stop we gathered information about our relative distance behind them). A stop at Subway around 9:45 was just what I needed in terms of food and foot care and off again we went into the darkness toward Rogersville and our aid drop at the Comfort Inn.

Since the middle of the afternoon Psyche had been feeling much better and we had a good time covering those miles. But the stretch from Bean Station to Rogersville was deceptively long (18 miles I think) and without any stores open it became very tough to keep going. It was still very humid and every time we tried to run I began to sweat uncontrollably. It also seemed like the road went steadily uphill the whole way but that was just our crazy perception at night – in reality much of this section is fairly level. Quite a few cars honked their horns at us and one drunk carload screamed out to try and startle us. I know Janet and Mimi were getting worried as we all tried to keep in phone contact for safety. At 1 in the morning we stopped at a small gas station that had just closed (damn, I really wanted a Coke!) but had a small bench out front. The dehydration was getting to me and I soon got sick. My feet were killing me also and I knew it was another 8 miles or so to the hotel.

We found out from the women that they had arranged for Naresh to back track in his car from the hotel when he got there and pick all of us up. With my vomiting I knew it wouldn’t be prudent to continue so I decided to ride back – Psyche wanted to continue but running alone along the road with a bunch of drunks wasn’t a good idea so I convinced her to ride back. We rode back with Naresh and all 5 of us crashed in a room Janet has reserved. Abi was in another room with plans to rest a little while and continue on after a little rest.

Naresh and Psyche got back up and continued on – the next morning Janet, Mimi, and I drove on up to drop me at my car and check on everyone.
Sunday was an incredible adventure as I alternated between checking on the remaining 3 runners, Abi, Naresh, and Psyche. The heat and distance were taking their toll on all 3 but they continued on…Abi toughed it out for the full 111 miles! I determined where the 100 mile distance was respectively for both Naresh and Psyche and was amazed at their perserverence at covering that distance despite the conditions!!! Psyche, watching you run down that final hill was simply unforgettable!!!

Now the story has gotten a little muddled but here is the rest of Psyche’s report….

Day Two
At the hotel, I discovered that I did a bloody poor job of packing my drop bag. I had no shorts or shirt to bloody change into. I had not thought of the possibility of Charles not bloody continuing on with me, so I had no bloody money and not enough bloody fluids (ewwww) for the remainder of the run.

But runners are awesome - Mimi gave me a shirt to wear, and I washed out my shorts and sports bra and dried them on the heater in the room. Charles gave me some cash to buy drinks and food with, and Janet offered up her blister kit to both Naresh and I.

Our plan was this: Naresh and I would get a little bit of sleep, and head out together at about 4:00 a.m. We would finish, and if we still wanted to complete the entire highway, Charles would take us back to the convenience market to run the 8-mile stretch to the hotel.

Naresh was able to sleep, but I merely rested for an hour or two. I was up and getting my stuff ready at 3:30. I woke Naresh up around 3:45 and told him I'd meet him in the lobby. We officially hit the Bloody 11W road again at 5:00 a.m.

Since I had not run much with Naresh yesterday, I didn't realize he was fairly hobbled by giant blisters, and he was easing in to the morning's run. With the ever-present twinkle in his eye, Naresh regaled me with more stories of Vol State*and we laughed... a lot. We enjoyed the second beautiful sunset in a row and eventually, about an hour later, I told Naresh I wanted to move ahead and see what I felt like.

I was so surprised to find that I felt very good, and was actually running at a decent pace.

Sometime around 10:00 a.m. Charles and I touched base and he informed me that Janet was taking him to his car, and then he would be crewing me, Naresh and Abi for the rest of the run.

Thank god for this! At one point, I left my phone in a restroom at a Mobil Station and he had to go back and find it for me. In addition, he continually brought me ice for my hand helds, and I truly believe that if I did not have that as the heat of the day came on, the heat would have forced me to drop.

I really wanted to finish 100 miles, and without Charles there to measure where the actual 100-mile point was for me (since I didn't run the 8 miles from the convenience store to the hotel) I would have had to finish the whole route just to be safe. I am so grateful I didn't have to run more than 100 miles!!!

The toughest miles were indeed from about mile 82 to the finish. There were times where I felt I was moving really well, but then Charles would come by in the car and I'd find out I'd only gone a mile or 2. I wanted to cry I was so discouraged.

The heat became unbearable around 2:00 p.m. I stopped in every place I could to cool off and get something to drink. I started living for the next Dr. Pepper I could get. I remember I walked in to a Walgreen's and was opening the soda and downing it as I was paying for it. It never even occurred to me what I must have looked like to them!

That was also the store where I called Charles to let him know I stopped in a "WalMart" and then as I was talking to him, I forgot why I thought he needed to know that. Awkward silence, and then I think I just hung up the phone. THEN I remembered it was so he wouldn't miss me when he went by. Then I forgot to call him back. Wild.

At one point, I had a truck full of rednecks play chicken with me, tryying to scare me and drive me off the road. Shortly after that, I had to take my contacts out because they were so dry I couldn't see anything anyways.

And my feet hurt so bad, well, there are just no words for how bad they hurt. Eventually, after Naresh finished his 100-mile run, he was with Charles when I was about to finish mine. As I stopped to talk to them, Naresh told me to put all my weight forward on my feet to keep the blood from running into them- it would hurt less. I remember thinking, "How f**ked up is that?" And then laughing.

Just moments later, I was actually finishing a.... awesomeness, friendship, and adventure.

Abigail Meadows : 35:29 (Ran the whole 111 miles)
Naresh Kumar : 34:04 (100 Miles)
Psyche Wimberly : 35:25 (100 Miles)

In conclusion, this run was an unforgettable experience to me for so many reasons, and I'm honored to have been a part of the legacy of the inaugural Bloody 11W.

This run embodied everything an ultrarunning challenge should hold true to...namely that of solely internal motivation, planning, and execution without the help of a paid entry fee where many of the worries and logistics are left to that of RD and crew. It was all that, and more. According to Naresh and Abi, it was very much like a mini-Vol State, in which case my desire to run THAT race just grew about a hundred fold (get it? A HUNDRED fold!)

* The "text conversation" I had with Charles after reading Naresh's race report for Vol State went something like this: : I hate to tell you this, sweetie, but I'm gonna need to take 10 days off from work in July to run Vol State. Charles: WHAT?? Are you shitting me? Me: No, I'm dead serious. Charles: You are amazing, and I love you so much. Me: : )))))

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dupont Forest Waterfall Bonanza 2011

This weekend was the 7th running of Adam Hill's Dupont Waterfall Bonanza. This year, Charles was here to run with me and as a bonus, we got a little Pitchell training run in the night before.

...Because like you, the first thing we think after signing up for a 22-mile adventure run is, "What would Carl Laniak do?" “Man, how can we make this even MORE adventure-y?”

OK, I admit, you might not actually think that way. But I know at least 8 people who DO, and that makes me a very lucky girl.

PART I: Friday Night Pitchell Preview/ Reverse Shut In Night Run

For those of you who don't know what the Pitchell is, it's yet another awesome annual run hosted by Mad A, usually in October, whereby you start at midnight on the summit of Mt. Pisgah and run, hike, and crawl 67 miles to the finish on the summit of Mt. Mitchell.

It's a fire breathing B....E.....A...S....T.

Having run about 50 miles of the 67 mile course last year, I've made the Pitchell one of 2011's very few focused race attempts. To say I am STOKED about this run is a complete understatement.

Now, if you don't know what the Shut In Trail is, then you shouldn't be reading this blog go here.

On Friday night, 8 of us met at the French Broad River Bridge, and discussed various scenarios of shuttling cars up and down the trail. Charles and I decided to run from the Pisgah parking lot to Beaver Dam Gap with Dave Pryor and his dog, Pepper, while everyone else was in for the full 18, and Mohammed was in for additional bonus miles (and bonus POINTS for driving up from Charlotte just for Pitchell training).

For Charles, a Reverse Shut In run would serve as both his first (is that right?) look at the Pitchell course and his first time on the Shut In Trail. What a cool introduction, huh? On the way up the BRP to Mt. Pisgah, I really enjoyed watching him take in the beauty of the Parkway and the mountains. I feel so lucky to live in such a special place.

This was a really cool night training run (but then, any run that includes good friends, dogs, and moonshine is bound to be cool).

PART II : Waterfall Bonanza 2011

Fresh from both hours of sleep, we arrived at the Hooker Falls parking lot the next morning in plenty of time to catch up with old friends, even if just for a minute. It was fantastic to see Jon and Melissa Harrison again- and their awesome dog Luna. They have had an amazing summer, and I was really looking forward to catching up on their adventures in Spain.

Adam arrived about 9 a.m., passed out maps of the route to everyone, and after a couple of group pictures, we all took off from the parking lot and ran up the paved road for the first mile or so.

I do remember hating the first paved mile or so of this run from last year, and I decided to walk some of it with Gail Leedy. What I failed to remember from last year was how much of the early miles are uphill, and how it seems like you will never arrive at the first falls.

We ran with Lily and Jon and Melissa for most of this first part, diligently retrieving the pretty pink trail flags and giving them to Luna.

About 8 very long miles later, we arrived at Bridal Veils Falls. Awesome!

After Bridal Veil Falls, we followed the trail for about 1/2 mile to the spot where the 10-mile folks turned in a different direction to head back. We were following the 22-mile route, so we ran another 10 miles before we finally hit Wintergreen Falls.

This section was tough. The humidity was getting to me, and I was starving, and after a while I was just done. But I have to admit, this section was quite beautiful, and included a very cool lake (of which I did not get a picture) and a very, very unusual tree.

The remainder of the run was a death march, and I couldn't wait for it to end so we could go to the post run get together at the Foxworth's. We een by-passed a couple of the last waterfalls since we had just visited them a month or so ago.

In summary, this is a really lame race report this is a really cool run and a great way to see all 6 waterfalls in Dupont State Forest. If you're in it for the waterfalls, I recommend the 10-mile loop. Last year, I ran the 10-mile loop twice. With less mileage and more waterfalls, it was the way to go.

I hate that I just was not feeling it out there, but we had an absolute blast at the Foxworth's house afterward. I'm still laughing at the impromptu "calf off"shenanigans!!

Thanks for the awesome run, Adam, and thanks for a great post-run gathering Terry and Nicole. See ya next year!