the year started with a couple bicycle rides, one with ashley in greenville, on a cold clear day, and one in athens, in nasty wet cold - if not for frozen toes, this one would have been extra enjoyable too...
late friday night i got the urge to visit the AT. my old standby weekend run during college was from Woody Gap to Neels Gap and back, a 22.6 mile round trip that offered two trips over Blood Mountain, Georgia's second highest peak.
sitting in my room at 11pm, i decided i might want to do this run tomorrow, so i pulled out my ipod, only to find that this was my old ipod that had been fried a year or two ago in the rain. I'd held on to it, hoping it might dry out and be ok, but after a few months i gave up hope. well holy craziness, i plugged it in and it worked! even more craziness, the songs on there were the ones i used to listen to on this section of the AT, and i've since lost the CD's. I knew i was meant to head back north of dahlonega and run.
in the morning, i stopped for some breakfast and grabbed 3 snickers bars at a gas station. I started the run with an empty water bottle and some iodine tablets. the fog and mist were dense. views from big cedar mountain were limited to the 50 foot sight distance into the fog. the upside to this was that there was no excuse to slow down.
i believe the fastest i've run this route is 4:05, and since i've been running less with a heel injury for the past month, i was really just hoping to feel ok and maybe run around 4:30. I took off down big cedar and a couple miles later filled up my water bottle from a spring. i enjoyed remembering all the landmarks on the run. remembering which slight hills were usually runnable and which ones were too steep or tough to be worth powering through. heading up blood mountain the first time i passed a few hikers, feeling for them with their heavy packs. i figure some of them must switch to trail running after seeing us zoom by?
at the top the fog was still all encompassing, and several groups of hikers were chilling out (literally) on the rocks. i can remember the first time nick and i attempted to hike the GA section of the AT alone (when we were 14) and spent a FROZEN WINDY HELLACIOUS night in the stone cabin at the top of Blood Mountain.
Heading down towards neels gap i started to pass all the day hikers who use neels gap as the trailhead for a hike up and down blood mountain. a few times i was slowed for large groups, including one boy scout or church group that must have had 30 people. i guess they didn't know that groups in wilderness areas are recommended to be 10 or less!? oh well. the kids were hilarious, you had the annoying one who kept repeating "i am robert LOJA" in a crazy voice, and you had the annoyable one who was yelling at the other one to "shut up!" it was straight up bret barkelew versus glenn matthews from my boy scouting days. i got a great chuckle out of them. i have no doubt the annoyable one burst in to tears later in the hike.
this downhill, on the east side of blood mountain was easily the highlight of the speed session from the day. I was flying down the slick muddy and rocky trail, thoroughly enjoying the concentration and speed. man i love trails like this! it helped that i had some sweet techno/dance music playing in the background.
when i reached neels gap i ate a snickers and finished off my first water bottle, i went inside the walisi-yi center and tried to get some water, but the sinks were turned off for the winter. oh well, i would just have to wait. there were a bunch of hikers and cyclists resting in the parking lot, so i turned around and left them to do the resting....
i chugged up the initial climb to flat rock gap, and then really turned uphill again. I smoked this uphill section for quite a while. i repassed the scout/church group, and heard one kid telling the other that it's illegal in new york city, on tuesday's to eat a chocolate ice cream cone, and that in florida it's illegal to leave your pet crocodile tied to a fire hydrant, but alligators are ok. cracked me up again.
i sped up the mountain, running as much as possible. i passed the spot on the granite where i once happened across a rattle snake on a cool overcast day. i remember thinking he must be dead, because he wasn't moving when i got close, but when i touched his tail he got upset. it was such a cool day that i knew he didn't have much motion in him.
over the top again, and started cruising down the other side. passing even more hikers and enjoying the techinical downhill again. when i finally got to the base, i ate another snickers, filled up my water bottle again (long overdue) and decided to wait for a specific gap before i drank it, early enough that i would keep from getting really dehydrated, but late enough that it would give the iodine time to disinfect the water. i held it together for 15-20 minutes, and then took a chug. I was still feeling good, and hoping to keep to the sub 4:30 plan. of course i don't look at my watch, but i was just hopeful.
another few miles and i passed a father/son out hiking, they asked how far i was going, so i told them 22 miles and wished them a happy day in the fog.
getting the water back in me i was feeling a little better and new i could keep this pace to the end. i refilled my bottle one more time at the spring about 4 miles from the end, and ate the last snickers bar. up over big cedar mountain again, i was ready for the speed descent.
i used to seriously rip up this descent to woody gap. i have no doubt that i've put in a 5 minute mile on this rough section of trail. i absolutely love the feeling that i am simultaneously moving my legs as fast as i am capable, and finding the series of foot placements that's going to allow me to stay upright.
south side of big cedar mountain, north side of blood mountain, south side of blue mountain, panther creek boulder field, sidewinder trail in boise....these are the spots of pure, anadulterated speed and joy.
as i cruised into the trailhead, i checked my watch and found a total time of 4:08. this was very pleasing, especially since the lap times showed that i ran to neels gap in 2:01, stopped for 4 minutes, and then ran back in 2:03.
i stopped by the zaxby's in dahlonega (a tradition for me, and for james and shamus and donald, who have all been up for AT running at times in the past) and then cruised on back to athens, well satisfied with my day in the woods.
rekindling old flames in the woods and on the trails. life is good. might have to go up there next week and bring it sub 4 style? certainly doable.