Monday, May 17, 2010

Tsali Trail Fail

To say I'm a little bit excited about trail running is an understatement. The word anticipation comes to mind. Anticipation of all the good things to come in the next weeks and months. It's trail running season, baby. It's here, it's now and it's exciting. I got things to do and places to go. I got adventures in the works. I got...lost.

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.

Next adventure:
Laurel Valley 35 Mile this Saturday.


  1. Tired and happy $5 hooker on a trail... I'm getting all nostalgic! Making wrong turns is common in trail running; you just try to minimize the damage by not stubbornly running when you're pretty sure you're wrong and not try to make up for lost time.

    Sounds like you're hooked on the dirt!

  2. How scary. a $5 hooker is one of my favorite comparisons!! I was so glad to see another person use it.

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog.
    What a beautiful area to get lost in. :)
    I think without my Garmin my face would be certainly on a missing persons' list somewhere. Hey, I even got lost once in my neighborhood; so OK, it was 4:30am, foggy, dark and I was deep in my thoughts but how embarrassing.

  4. This is why I will never be much of a "trail runner" getting lost and the mud. I do enjoy trails if I'm with someone, but solo, well...I'm chicken. Glad you are safe.

    I about 80% sure I will be running Rocket City marathon. Woo Hoo - maybe a blogger meet up?

  5. See...this is why I tell the cub scouts to bring a buddy on a hike or they to will end up like a $5 hooker on a Saturday night, tired and lost. To which, they reply, "Like Kris'tal on the corner?" And I say, "Yes...just like Kris'tal."

  6. I know this must have been scary, but you once again managed to make me laugh :) ...Glad you made it out and found water!

  7. You always flipping crack me up...God, I wish you lived closer! I am glad that you are digging the trail running! You will inspire me to give it a try:)

  8. Come run Mystery Mountain with GUTS on 10/10!!! It'll knock your socks off.

  9. Just catching up on blogs, a HUGE congrats on your 40 mile race! What an awesome time! I love the pic of your in all of your race dirt glory. :)

    Yes, it is trail running season and I LOVE it! Can't wait to get out and soak up some peace and quiet in the woods.

  10. I sucked the water out of the Bike Wash hose like a $5 hooker. A very tired and happy $5 hooker.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! This is the best ending to a running blog post I have read in a looooong time! Dare I say, a happy ending? Hahahahaha!

    I would also like to point out that the $5 hooker SteveQ is talking about was a beaver. No, the other kind of beaver. The one with the big teeth. No, the other kind with the big teeth. AN ACTUAL GODDAM BEAVER is what I mean!1!

    Also, you're part of the reason my blog's current title pic sez "Shut Up, You're Gross because You Stole Something While Running in a Speedo" because SteveQ (who - have you heard? - is into beavers) said yours was one of the funniest titles. He also said "Shut Up And Run" was. And "Steve in a Speedo? Gross!"

    Since I stole aspects of all three, it stands to reason that mine is now. Even tho SteveQ said it wasn't. But that's just cos he's a beaver-f*cker.

    I owe you nothing for this, though, because I spelled "something" differently. Good luck trying to litigate.

  11. If it was me, I'd still be running...or walking...or dead! Glad you found your way back, because I never would have. So, guess I shouldn't ever become a trail runner. I bow to you....

  12. This was terrifying. I have nightmares about such events. In fact, I may not sleep tonight at all, so thanks for that.

    But I'm glad you made it out alive. Seriously.

  13. Just wondering how you knew how far and how fast you were running. Were you wearing a Garmin? If so, I think it could have gotten you back.

  14. Mmmmm hose water. Hopefully you don't have the runs or something now.

    Adventures like this are what make running on vacation the best!!! My wife and I had a VERY similar hike in St Thomas. We totally had to back track and then hitch hike back home.