Early (as in waaay too early) Saturday, I drove out to the Tsali (SAH-lee) Trail system. Tsali is a beautiful set of single tracks that follow the shore of Fontana Lake, with the Smokey Mountains providing a beautiful panorama in the background. A far drive (from Asheville), but a must-run to be sure.
The day before, I googled the Trail, and printed out a nice play-by-play description of the Right and Left Loops from a Mountain Bike site. I love these descriptions, especially when they provide mile markers. As I further researched, I came across more than one description saying, "the Tsali Trail is well marked, so navigation should not be a problem." (May I point out the obvious foreshadowing at this juncture?).
So, I was not too upset when I arrived at the parking lot to find I had left the trail instructions at home. I grabbed the map they provide at the trail head, and off I went.
My thoughts at the time: "I mean, it's a loop. How hard can it be to stay on trail? There's mile marker posts every half mile. A total idiot could do this." Hmm. Perhaps I am psychic after all...
I brought one Mojo bar, my 20 oz. hand-held Amphipod, and a trail map that soon disintigrated from sweat in my back pocket. It was humid, humid, humid, and I was drenched in sweat not 5 minutes up the trail. No problem, I thought, it's a loop- remember? I'll be back at the car to water up again in no time. "No time" turned out to be 18.5 miles, and 3 hours 40 minutes later.
As it often is with getting lost, I don't exactly know what happened. I came across a marker that said "Right Loop Alt." I kept going. Since it was a loop, I figured taking any turns off the Right Loop Trail was not the thing to do.
Then I came to an intersection that ended in a choice of turning right or left. The Right Loop/ Left Loop markers pointed back where I came from. Huh? Another arrow pointed towards the lake and said, Overlook. The last arrow pointed left and said Trail Head. I consulted my map, and went left, having no idea if this was correct.
A while later, I panicked when the next marker said "County Line Road". WTF? Where am I? I then turned around and tried to orient myself to where I thought the water was. As I back-tracked, I tried to remain calm. But I was so thirsty! This was quickly turning into a disaster.
I finally came up to the 6 mile marker on the Right Loop. I hoped against hope that the next marker would say 5.5, not 6.5. My feet were feeling tender, and I was feeling very dehydrated. I was slowing down noticeably. The first 13 miles were ran at a pace of about 12:40, and now I was in the 14:00 -15:00 zone. And walking more and more.
Finally, the marker! 5.5 mi. Yes! Just 5 more miles and I'm back to water. It was a tough 5 miles, and I'm not ashamed to say that when I finally made it out, I sucked the water out of the Bike Wash hose like a $5 hooker. A very tired and happy $5 hooker.
Laurel Valley 35 Mile this Saturday.