after a good february of long stuff, last weekend i bailed on my double GAAT adventure, i was intimidated by the distance and the terrain and the weather, and i just wasn't excited enough to go after the experience.
i still needed a last long training excursion however, so this weekend i took a shot. all week i was trying to create an adventure that was inspiring and tough.
after an initial crazy idea of a 4 day hike from springer to NC and back while fasting, i decided i would need a shorter, more intense trek, because there is fun exciting shop work calling.
dad offered to pick me up if i went one way.
saturday i went to atlanta and fixed a machine issue for a friend, that took all day, and i drove up to amicalola falls state park.
amicalola to dicks creek gap is 76 miles and both ends are on paved roads.
springer to NC is 76 miles and both ends require extensive forest road travel, much of which is covered in ice right now.
the decision to shift the run 9 miles south and start at amicalola was easy.
arriving after dark, i climbed into the back of the van and packed my backpack with various food items, wind pants, two headlamps, body glide, lighter, balaclava, a couple chemical hand warmers, two water bottles, and a space blanket.
it was a calm clear night in comparison to some of the frigid tundra nights we've seen recently, so i started in a longsleeve shirt (with sleeves long enough to pull over my hands), and short sleeve shirt, my wind shirt, and my woodsman shorts (a couple good pockets, ultralight material). also, i decided to wear the new balance trail 100's, since my other flats didn't have any tread on them, this was a gamble that ended up paying off very well i think.
the approach trail from the visitor center has been rerouted since my last visit, so it took a minute of wandering to figure out where the trail was, but soon enough i was climbing the 400+ stairs to the top of the falls.
the 8.8 miles to springer felt like a little "pre-late-night" prologue. i reminded myself that even though it was night time, i shouldn't be tired because if i was at home, i would not even be thinking about bed yet.
after flurries in athens on tuesday, this week featured a few relatively warm days, so i was assuming that even after the horrific ice storms that demolished the mountains last month, the trails would be nice and clear......i was wrong. south facing slopes were generally very nice, one would think it was normal late winter / early spring conditions, a little frozen mud but generally great trail. north and west facing slopes however were generally pretty bad. with all the thru hikers starting out, at least there was no post holing for me (which would have been rough through some of the 4-5 foot drifts!). however the thru hikers also meant that the deeper snow was packed down, melted in the warmer days, and refrozen into slick patches during the evening. the crusty stuff gripped ok on the shoes, but there was plenty of slick stuff, and this, combined with the sidehill nature of some of the trail, meant that the going was sketchy in many places.
the 30 miles from springer to blood mountain were the balance of the first night miles. and they treated me really well. i was in the early stages of the adventure, naive about what was ahead, and overly enthusiastic about my own toughness. i was daydreaming about potentially adding 20+ miles to the trek and having dad pick me well inside NC, making it a 100+ miler.
that enthusiasm would wane later.
machine shop stuff was playing a major role in my mind as well, mentally i was designing some tools and generally trying to be creative about shop plans. fun.
interestingly, during the witching hours of 2-4 a.m. i passed 3 (count them, 3!) campsites where people had fires going. wha!? who was up tending fire all night (?), it's not like there were groups of people partying. just one or two tents and a roaring fire. i only noticed a single person at each site (and they were miles apart). still unsure about this one, although my best guess is that since there are alot of fresh thru hikers on the trail right now, perhaps they are not yet accustomed to life in the dark woods, and they find it comforting to keep the fire up all night?
i also passed one campsite where i was "greeted" by a couple of snarling dogs. if they were thru hikers, i'm sure they'll become more accustomed to random folks walking by "their" territory at night.
as the sun emerged i was near the side trail to dockery lake, and i marveled at the high rock bluffs to my left. great barkley training there, but i had a destination. i started mixing in good jogging throughout this section, as my legs were begging for some real use. all the 10-14 hour training hike have paid off.
it is a travesty that i left the camera in the van, as the views from blood mountain (and green clifftop and blue mountain and tray mountain) were very special.
arriving at neels gap, and the mountain crossings store, i was hopeful to find a hot breakfast and supplement my foodstuffs. while i didn't sit down to bacon and eggs, i did manage a hot sandwich, a coke, snickers, banana, and oatmeal cream pie. the 10 minutes i took there were well worth it, as i remembered the lifegiving "meal" i received a couple weeks ago at the heartbreak 100k.
the 6.5 miles to hogpen gap laid the groundwork for the day. i was more than halfway done, but the miles were to come much harder now. the sluchy snow and rock were less conducive to easy motion, especially the skiing descent to tesnatee gap and the slick trail up wildcat mountain.
the next section, 14 miles to unicoi gap featured both the best running of the trek, and the lowest mental state. i was still far from done (almost 10 hours to go!), but i was also getting sufficiently tired that eating was less enjoyable, and the snowier sections took alot more concentration. the treacherousness of the trail was obvious, shown by the number of footprints i avoided where someone else had already slipped off the sidehilled trail.
it was early in this section that i re-committed to the full 76. i had been daydreaming about changing the rendezvous point to mile 60 rather than 76, but i knew that the mental training was crucial here. i adopted the just do it attitude. my legs were sore and i was tired. the response to these complaints was to keep going. no need to indulge in the wimpy thoughts.
reaching unicoi gap meant i was set for the longest climb of the trek, and the impending evening.
i struggled up rocky mountain and tray mountain, seeing the deepest drifts, and navigating some slippery refreezing slowmelt. atop tray mountain the views were again amazing, so i lingered to snack and take them in.
the north side of tray mountain was hit hard by the ice stroms, so reroutes were the name of the game on this descent. soon enough the sun slipped below the horizon and i was in my own world again. the normally very runnable (mostly) descent from tray to dicks creek gap was made uber treacherous at times by the ice. i ate it fully once, and went down to all fours on numerous occasions.
i knew if the conditions were good i had a shot at sub 24 hours, but throughout this section the necessary ambitious pace was negated by ice and limbs. the next goal became 25:20, which would mean a pace of "exactly" 3mph. unfortunately the final descent was the worst ice and snow of the entire trek, and i meandered down to hwy 76 at 9:45pm, for 25:30 elapsed.
i was spent pretty good, but with a good meal and a little nap i could have gone on, which is exactly what i will have to do in a few weeks!
the mt100's were actually awesome for the crusty ice, as the rock plate kept the bottoms of my feet relatively happy, and thank goodness i didn't take the 152s with no tread, i'd still be out there.