Monday, May 20, 2013

trans-smokies birthday adventure



Some characteristics of my favorite adventures:

1) good topography.
running around a lake, or up and over a mountain is way better than a less defined route.

2) good views.
being able to see something far away that you either ran from, or are running to provides alot of satisfaction.

3) good distance.
going far enough that driving the same way would take a while is a plus, crossing county or state lines is superb.

4) serendipitous occurrences.
finding trail magic, or a super side trail, or the clouds parting at just the right time, or anything of that ilk is just plain mood boosting.

5) lucky timing.
crossing paths with someone/thing that you had no idea was even a potentiality is cool.

6) additional modes of transportation. 
a run is great, but mixing in some biking or sledding, or even an amusement park TRAM is even better.

7) making it fit into others' schedule.
getting picked up or dropped off by loving family members is great, but "making it fit" with their previously made plans is more fun.

and of course, if you can fit all of these into one adventure....it's gonna be a GREAT one!

So, Saturday Kim and Anna dropped me off at an I-40 exit west of Asheville on their way to Tennessee for the weekend. I'd re-unite with them just 10 hours later, after linking up all of the previously mentioned adventure highlights!

James was begging for some time in the woods, so I spied a route that would (almost) traverse the Great Smoky Mountain National Park from east to west, making James' drive convenient from Asheville, and letting me finish in Pigeon Forge, where the family would be all day.

James picked me up at the exit, and we got a quick breakfast, filled our bags with granola bars, and headed to Cherokee, NC. We parked at the Smokemont pull off from HWY 441, and headed through the campground and up the Bradley Fork and Sluice Gap trails for the mighty ridge atop the smokies.

video


The weather was super humid, and pretty warm. We were in the clouds and misty rain for the entire 4,000' ascent. Bradley Fork is a well groomed bridle path, which came as a pleasant surprise, but the Sluice Gap trail was a sloppy, muddy singletrack through the weeds (more our style). Getting close to our intersection with the AT, James made the call to turn around for the car, he was under a bit of a time crunch, and since the potential views from Charlie's Bunion and the Jumpoff were likely to be hidden in the dense clouds, he opted to return early. I wished him a safe (and slippery and fast) return, and we parted ways. 


10 minutes later I hit the AT and made my way south towards the Bunion. All that could be seen was the rock within about 30 feet me. Everything else was invisible due to the fog. It was less inspiring than the incredible views to be had on a clear day, but special because I was the only one there to enjoy it today. I continued on, looking forward to the side trail to the Jumpoff, which I've never explored.

Well, it was a little bit of a trek over to the Jumpoff, but wow....the name fits. Since everything was fogged in, I didn't get any previews of where I was headed until I took a step, and looked to my right to find....nothing at all! I single step through the bushes here would surely deposit you 100 feet or more (the fog was too dense to tell) lower without touching anything at all. A bit surreal to look over a precipice like that in the fog.

I tramped back to the AT, and boarded the Boulevard trail towards the sixth highest peak in the east, which promised dropping temperatures and still more rain and fog...Mt. Le Conte.

So far I'd only seen 2 people, aside from James, on the entire hike, and the Boulevard trail continued the trend of solitude. The stony path up was wet and alone on this day, which was fine by me. However, when I reached the top of the mountain, I was greeted by a bustling metropolis in the high altitude wilderness...

I had been atop Le Conte once before, in the late fall many years ago. On that day James and I had seen the cabins and lodge poised on the mountaintop, but today there were a number of people present. I tried the door to the dining room and found it  open. Inside, I entered a setting much like the huts in the White Mountains where Kim and I spent our honeymoon. Apparently they serve lunch to day hikers, although I had missed that by an hour...

serendipitous snackage


Luckily, they still had a barrel of chocolate chip cookies for sale, and I indulged in 3 of them. I still had some granola and crackers, but what you don't have sometimes seems much more desirable than what you've been munching on all day....ya know?

Heading back out into the fog, having let the blood flow slow down, I was chilled for a bit, but it wasn't to last. Upon choosing the Bull Head trail to descend towards Gatlinburg, the weather soon shifted. I picked this trail because it looked from the topo map to be the gentlest (and therefore easiest to run) of the routes. I was ready to actually run at this point, since most of the distance thus far had been covered by walking and slow shuffling. A steep rocky trail is fun, but in wet weather prudence forces one to slow down in such terrain. 

Bull Head turned out to be a great decision. After only 20 minutes, the fog showed signs of clearing, and by the time I turned north around Balsam Point, I could see all the way down to the valley. What a great trail! Dense greenery, broken at times by distant views of places yet to come, along with sights back up to the weather system still hanging around the upper reaches of the ridge.

around balsam point the sun came out

views towards the valley

the weather back on the ridge

flower petal trail next to rock walls


I made it down to Cherokee Orchard, and hit pavement for a few brief moments before  grabbing the Twin Creeks trail and making my way past some rustic historical cabins, and out of the park. I encountered a couple of turkeys and a deer on this stretch, all of whom had minimal worry about my presence, and I was able to get within 15 feet of the turkeys and 10 feet of the deer before moving on. So many visitors to this area where they are protected means they've lost much of their fear for humans.

video


As I left the park, I plunged into the hectic tourist trap of Gatlinburg. I was still surprised at all the odd looks I got, wearing my small pack and being wet and a bit muddy. *I* was the one who belonged here, at the base of the mountains that are riddled with great hiking trails....*they* are the ones out of place, in their flip-flops and make-up.

Oh well, I walked thru town, hoping to snag a trolley car towards Pigeon Forge, yet 7 miles up the highway. As soon as I left town a park ranger pulled over and inquired about my intentions. I told him I was headed to Dollywood to meet my family, and he strongly suggested that I not traverse this road on foot, due to the curves and small shoulders. I told him that if he was headed that way I would gladly ride in his car rather than hoof it! I had only an hour to make my 8pm meeting time with the family, and I was already sure I'd miss it by a little bit.

He declined my request, and then promptly drove off in that direction. I guess maybe they have a "policy" against helping park-goers, such is life....

Anyway, I decided that having the family drive a few extra miles to save me a harrowing trip on that mountain road wasn't the worst thing, so I walked a few hundred yards back to town. Then, after a few minutes, I decided to try for a ride. I accosted a nice family in their super-duty Ford truck at a stop light, asking as pleasantly as possible whether they were headed to Pigeon Forge and might give me a lift.

Turns out they were from Alcoa, TN (right up the road from my in-laws) and had been planning to go to Dollywood that day just like my family, but had decided against it due to the weather....After thinking pretty hard about it for a minute, they let me in the truck and we enjoyed 10 minutes of chatting before they dropped me off on the square in Pigeon Forge.

Happily I was now 20 minutes ahead of schedule instead of 20 minutes behind, and I'd saved myself the moderately dangerous traverse of a tight portion of the highway. I trekked up Dollywood Lane and a mile and half later, as it began to get dark, I found myself at the back entrance to the park. I asked a worker whether I could get to the parking lot this way, and after confirming that I could walk through, I graciously thanked him....."I'm so glad you didn't say, "you can't get there from here!""

I called Kim and they were waiting in line for a tram ride to their parking lot, so I hurried on up the access road, and found myself at the park exit. Calling Kim again, I found they were almost back to the car, so I stuck my butt on that next tram along with a bunch of screaming kids and happy tired adults, and rode my Dollywood ride for the day....the 1 mile Tram ride to the car!

Sure enough, the fam had just loaded up in the car, and I hopped in. A sandwich and a storytelling session ensued. They'd had a great day at the park, with some rain but also good temperatures and plenty of snacks and fun had by everyone.

All was right with the world.

The trans-smokies adventure was about 30 miles with 8,000' of climbing, and plenty of enjoyment for me on this saturday before my thirty second birthday :) 

Monday, October 15, 2012

honeymooners

kim and i got married last sunday, october 7.
after goodbyes and thank yous with loved ones,
we headed north, to get an early preview on winter....
we hiked for 4 days in the white mountains of new hampshire.
it was a new locale for both of us, and it proved to be equal parts adventure and romantic honeymoon.
at the summit of mt guyot on thursday, the temp was in the teens and the wind chill was said to be nearly -20!
here's to starting things off on the right foot!

 galehead hut - heading out on day 2 into the chill

up up up to...

 south twin summit, our first new england 4,000er

little frosty traversing to mt. guyot

excited to be a new, awesome place



 nearing guyot summit



zealand mountain....the summit?! or some mud in the middle of ice?

white mountain trails are steep


view from zeacliff - wow.

 SE from zeacliff



hiking down

from winter back into fall 1000' below. 





zealand falls



in front of zealand hut, heading out on morning 3



boggy spot



looking up the trail

love this one

that's mt washington in the clouds (from mt tom)




looking back up at mt tom from near crawford notch

Thursday, September 27, 2012

BPSCAR-debrief


scott drove me all the way to fontana dam tuesday afternoon.
i was excited and nervous, plans for a 70 mile bachelor "party" had been dancing in my head....
i was mildly dreading the physical trauma of this trek, but was hopeful that my life/running experience up to this point in time would make the trauma manageable and the appreciation of the journey the lasting memory.


heading up to the ridge line as the sun sank in the sky, i felt very grateful.
that my life so far has been so great, with so much opportunity and joy,
and that my future on the horizon looks to be just as joyful (even with some trauma always mixed in).


less than 2 hours in i had my only bear encounter of the trek (3rd encounter this week) - but it was the first time i've ever had a bear do anything but notice me and immediately book it in the opposite direction.
he was ~100 feet away, and when we noticed each other he was 5 feet off the trail. he gave me a look, and then came slightly towards me and onto the trail. i was surprised, so i said, "hey bear," as i pulled out my camera - thinking i might get a shot of this one...
but then it pulled surprise number 2, it lifted its front paws and slammed them on the ground in my direction. in retrospect i guess he was just seeing if he could intimidate me into leaving him be....but at the time it gave me a moment of concern.
after two-point-two seconds of consideration, i raised my arms up high to look bigger, and growled back at him. he only thought about that for a second before i guess he decided it was a fight he didn't want, so he turned and took a couple steps off the trail, then looked at me again. i gave him another display of size and told him to go on....this repeated several more times, him stopping to make sure i was still coming, and me reminding him that i am big, until he was at least 40-50 feet off trail and i made my way past.
i contemplated an encounter like this happening late at night, and hoped that wouldn't occur, the sun was setting.


all night i walked over the backbone of the appalachians. the air got cold, and the clouds blew up from the valleys and diffused the light from my headlamp. at 4am i stopped to fill my water bottles for the second time, and it took long enough that i put on my long sleeve shirt and jacket. i removed the jacket quickly, but i was very happy to have the extra shirt.
as the sun got close to showing itself, i reached clingman's and i took a trip up the tower, but decided it would be a bit too long to linger in the cold blustery morning for the view to come, so i moved on. by the time i reached the mt. collins overlook the sun was fully in the sky, and i had introduced a little shuffling to my (now downhill) repertoire. 


arriving at newfound gap around 10 in the morning was quite a contrast to the night. the tour buses full of people eager to take a look at the view and pee in the public restroom were a far cry from the solitude and beauty that spends all its time just a few miles from paved roads.
when i arrived at charlie's bunion i felt exhilarated and was very happy to find my body and mind in good repair. i wasn't uncomfortably sleepy anymore (there had been some discomfort between 5 and 8am), and i was getting my first real views from this absolutely spectacular ridge line. a part of me wished i'd done the trek over two days, in order to see it all in daylight....but i was content in knowing that the trail isn't going anywhere, and next time (there is usually a next time, right?) i can go in the opposite direction and see what i missed.



the above happy shot epitomizes the last third of the run. a huge grin on my face as i enjoy the experience of moving through space and time in an intrinsically motivating way. the euphoria lasted for hours.


the traverse took 25:50, which was at least a couple hours slower than i arbitrarily hoped, but really, with the first 13 hours being all walking, and my current fitness on a slow incline, i'm not surprised. i'm thankful to have finished happy and healthy and looking forward to returning (maybe for a faster run, maybe for a week's backpacking with kim, hopefully both).

the trail was rocky, and i had to sprint down from mt. cammerer to meet scott at the appointed time, but the day was fantastic, this route is absolutely inspiring, and i will be back. i indulged in something i really enjoy, and contemplated the next phase of life, with kim, that's coming up. i am so fortunate to be where i am.

what a great route/trip. just fantastic. the euphoria is still here.





Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"BP" SCAR



BPSCAR <---this is a link to a map, check it later.

i've yet to pack and leave greenville, but the plan is to start at fontana dam tonight before sundown and run 71 miles to I-40 and davenport gap on the other side of the smokies by nightfall wednesday.
it'll be quite a party.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

strolling jim

the strolling jim race report that i posted to the ultralist...




RD Mike gets us ready for SJ '12




Strolling Jim started off with thoughts of the hot hours to come.
Little did we know that it would be cold before it got hot.
Just a mile into the race, foreboding clouds swept through, and by the first water drop, water was dropping.
I wondered if anyone was going to wish they'd started with a jacket. And I kept my eyes open for barns and houses just in case we got hit with some hail.
(it turns out some did, but not bad enough to injure anyone).

at 5 miles I was behind the large second pack due to a pit stop, and hit that mark in just under 41 minutes.
last year, running my PR in my 10th Jim, I'd managed to cover every 5 mile split +/- 1 minute from 8 minute/mile pace.
This year I was doubtful of my determination and my fitness. A pathetic barkley attempt after a winter of hard training left my motivation severely wanting.

This rain was a glimmer of hope though!
If the temperature stayed reasonable I thought I might still salvage a SUB 6, and go home mildly satisfied.

Well, for the first 3 hours the temperatures were downright reasonable, even if the humidity was ridiculous.
I carried 8 packets of gatorade powder, and mixed those once in a while with the water from the race water drops.
Hitting the halfway mark in 2:59:59, I was pretty sure that as the sun came out things would slow down a bit, but even with the already strong discomfort in my feet and legs, I knew that a constant effort might yield a surprise negative split...it's happened before.

I reported to myself the good news and the bad news....
Good news: My legs aren't going to feel any worse than this all the way to the finish!
Bad News: My legs are probably going to feel this bad all the way to the finish!

Experience reminds us that even when the race is not half done, we may already be feeling as bad as we are going to feel.
It probably won't get much worse, so if I can handle this...I can handle the rest!
Comforting thoughts with just 20 miles left to run.

When the sun came out, somewhere on Hilltop Rd for me, it didn't feel so bad. There was water every few miles to pour over myself, and there was even a slight breeze to help with evaporation and cooling. I began to pass people. I knew the relatively inexperienced would be starting to hurt now, at the marathon mark, and the upcoming exposed section in the sun would be demoralizing to those whose enjoyment of the course was already waning. If I could hold steady until the blessed shade in the walls, maybe I could rack up a few more passes and finish with a decent place?
Well, I did hold on until the walls, passing a handful of people while "running in the sun", 
and passing no less than 3 other runners before the top of the first "gentle grade" in the walls.
Unfortunately, the mental images I'd been dreaming up, of me pressing the accelerator through the walls, did not play out as I'd hoped.
I soon realized that my legs were not putting the stamp of approval on running the steepest parts of this section. I pushed and pushed, but on 5 or 6 of them my slow jog deteriorated into a calf-quivering walk to get over their humps. 
Dang, I thought, SUB 6 ain't happening. 
What's the fallback goal to keep me motivated?
sub 6:20 seemed possible, but wasn't really very motivating...I've run that fast in all but 2 of my Jim's...been there done that, and it's not even a really appealing round number!

I generally am only concerned with how I do compared to my potential on the day, but these are RACES, and when my own time performance goals have gone out the window, I still need something to stay motivated and get to the finish line as quickly as possible. I switched from Time Trail mode to RACE MODE. I was gonna catch as many of these other punks as I could before we got to Wartrace!

Coming out of the walls I ran with Beth from atlanta for a couple minutes, she had pulled out of sight ahead of me near halfway, and my thought had been..."hmm, there goes the last one with a chance at 6 hours?"
Turns out she doesn't think she's fast enough, but I just told her, "we'll see." (i think we'll see her under that 6 hour mark sooner than later).

Coming into sight of the 35 mile aid station, I saw the red-shorted body builder. I had run next to him for a few hundred yards early in the day, before he took off near Normandy.
At that time I had thought to myself, "ain't no way that guy can carry all that muscle to Wartrace faster than me." 
Not catching him in the walls had me thinking that I might just be wrong....but now he was in sight.
If you haven't seen someone for a long time, and catch a glimpse of them after the walls....you CAN run them down.

Passing by the aid station and filling my water bottle, I noticed he was walking the next hill. I was determined to pass with authority and roll on to my next victim, there were still more than 5 miles to go! I caught him at the top of the hill, and kept jogging at a fair clip. Half a mile later, when I figured the gap would be demoralizing to him and energizing to me, I took a peek backwards....SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS!! he was just 10 feet behind me!
I didn't want it to be this hard! But I wasn't going to back down. I pushed harder, and rolled out. Passing Spyder's resting spot, and then the graffitti bridge, I dared to look back again....nothing in the rear view!

At pig manure central (aka the huge fields that were being fertilized at 3.5 miles to go) I kept hammering. More in fear of someone catching me up than in hopes of catching someone else....I looked back at the 5k to go point, and couldn't see anyone! wow, in a short time I had put some serious distance. I think you can see at least 1/4 mile back at that point. Cool. Now keep hammering.

Only, that little rise at 5k to go had other plans. I went from strong jog to deadlegs again!
"Oh No!" I thought....all my experience and cockiness thinking I was going to roll until the finish and here I have grossly overestimated my ability to hang on.
The discomfort in my legs was non-trivial. I walked up the slight incline with purpose, but I couldn't shake the crap out of my legs. I even thought for a second that I might have to walk all the way in. "No, don't be silly, you've got to walk to regain your legs for a little bit, but they will come back. You might not lose ALL the places you've gained."

So I walked. For about 350 yards. I couldn't believe my legs had dropped off so badly and I hadn't even seen it coming. Damn!
I looked back and saw an aid car, and 2 runners just 200 yards in arrears! unbelievable! How could I have judged so poorly? And now to suffer the indignity of getting passed so close to the end....

But wait...maybe I can mount another counter attack?!?
I slurped the last of my gatorade and lurched into a jog again.
with 2.5 miles to go I knew that someone gaining on me would have to have an epic surge to pass me...if I could just hang on.

It felt like I was having to lift the dead weight of my legs all on my own, but I lumbered on, up Cannon Rd.

I knew that if I could get over the first rise on the highway before these two pursuers saw me, I might have a chance. I chugged and tried to lengthen my stride, but things were still binding up. I poured cool water over my head at the last water drop, and pounded my feet into submission to gain that last rise. I didn't peek, just to make sure I kept pushing even if they weren't in sight.
I caught another struggling runner on the highway, but he was obviously dealing with severe cramping, stopping every few yards to stretch his legs.
I cranked and cranked. Sometimes I get frustrated when I have to push so hard at the end of a race (thanks John Price....)
It seems an injustice that you can push and push and push all day (or for more than one day!), and then at the end someone can still come by and crush your dreams.
But Saturday I had a smile on my face...it is, after all, more fun to beat people than to be beaten.

I derive no happiness from others' disappointment, but I do feel outright joyful when I know that, even for just a few minutes, I've summoned everything I've got.

As I hit the town limit sign, I looked back and saw that I had a very safe margin over the 2 pursuers, and there was no one else ahead to gain on. I walked. I smiled.
I jogged the last 100 yards.
6:25.
my 3rd slowest in 11 Jims...but a fun day in the woods.

Oh God, did I pay a price! The ensuing post-race party and next day took me back to how I felt after races in my first few years of ultrarunning. So stiff that I didn't want to get up to go pee, even though I needed to really badly. That piece of chicken looked so good, but it was 9 feet away. Oh god, not worth it!

Glad to see everyone, and glad to share the roads again.

Monday, April 30, 2012

the perfection

ok, so i'll post about it....

I proposed to Kim yesterday, at Fernandina Beach, FL.

She said yes.

This pic is a few years old, but the people and the location are the same.

pretty excited. (understatement).


Monday, April 23, 2012

moving on...

barkley went poorly.

i've been through a few different versions in my mind of what went wrong.
heat causing stomach issues?
wrong mental make up?
weak mind?
but the more i think about it, the less i am certain of what i should have done differently.
maybe it was just a really "off" day?

no matter the reason, it's a huge bummer.

i've been floundering, with no real purpose to exercising since then.

i've got a few ideas for how to build back the fitness/determination/positive outlook, but i haven't really zeroed in and decided anything.

i guess it's going to be like this for a while, while the disappointment works its way out of my system.

lucky me, everything else in my life is pretty much perfect (an understatement), so in general i'm great!

hopefully i'll have some cool outdoor adventures before too long, and have something neat to share.