Thursday, July 8, 2010
I want be a Southern Highlander when I grow up
So I finally got to run across Georgia this past weekend.
The route I came up with is about 200 miles, and travels from the South Carolina border at the Chattooga river, to Castle Rock, GA – also the finish for the Vol State, which I finished several years ago (on my 3rd attempt).
In between the river and the rock, I chose miles that included US highway, State highway, rural county roads, gravel forest service roads, mountain trails, and even a powerline cut that was labeled as a road by google maps when I was doing my route research.
Last Friday, July 2, I drove to the Cohutta Wilderness - near Blue Ridge, GA – and left some provisions, a tent, sleeping bag, two jugs of water, some food and Gatorade off in the woods. This would be around 100 miles into the trek, and there were no services or motels within satisfactory distance in either direction. I then drove to the base of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain, and set out another similar buffet, this time just including a sleeping bag and bivy – this was about 42 miles in to the route. Then I drove on to the Chattooga river bridge, parked on the South Carolina side, and curled up for a night in the back of the van.
Around 1am, I was jarred awake by yelling, “LAW ENFORCEMENT – SIR, PLEASE STEP OUT OF THERE!!”
Seems sleeping in your vehicle at this trailhead is illegal. I complied with the officer’s request that I vacate the premises, drove 2 miles east and parked 200 yards down the first gravel road I came to. After first light, I woke up and rolled around, still tired, and not particularly excited to start the day just yet. At 8am I drove back to the trailhead, pulled on my waist pack, and locked the van door.
Crossing the bridge was a little daunting, would I have a rough day and wimp out from the challenge, hitch-hiking back to the car only to be disappointed? 200 miles is a long way. I decided I needed to come at this one with NO STRESS, letting the miles come as easily as possible, without any pressure for distance or speed.
I walked several miles up from the river, given the early morning, pack and full water bottles, and a tight Achilles, there was no reason to start running immediately. The mountains are beautiful and the clouds were cooperating by shielding me from the sun at least half of the time.
Cruising in to Clayton, GA on US HWY 76 – 8 miles in to the run, my mind and body were warming up for the task, and I realized I was getting off on the right foot by dissociating from the major task, and just letting the miles come. I had a biscuit at a small diner, and bought a little pocket knife at the local ACE hardware. Heading out of town I was looking forward to crossing over Lake Burton, and getting the first dunk in cool mountain water of the trek.
Hills were definitely the order of the morning, with each rise taking up to a few miles, and being followed by an equally long descent. Along the stretch between Clayton and the lake, I noticed that I was catching up to nearly stopped traffic in the west bound lane. When you’re on a multiday journey run, abnormalities like catching up to traffic on a big highway are some of the highlights of your day. I didn’t noticeably increase my pace, but my curiosity was piqued. I hoped that if I kept chugging along, I would catch those slow moving cars, and eventually get the payoff of learning what the heck was going on up there!?!?!!
Well, sure enough, a mile or so, and several bends in the road, later, I saw the culprit. There on the highway was a horse drawn wagon, with another rider on horseback just ahead of it. Finding out that I was sharing the road with other foot traffic made the diversion that much more interesting. I slightly increased the pace, looking forward to the interaction that the riders and I might share. While impatient duallies and other traffic took their chances speeding past the wagon when there was room, I diligently made my way down the road, finally drawing even with these folks, and asking, “How far y’all headed?” Well, they were surprised enough to see someone on foot out there, and we all broke in to a laugh. The man at the reigns issued a nice offer of a ride, but I declined. Later that afternoon I wished I hopped on for a bit, as I haven’t been in a horse drawn wagon since I was a kid…but at the time I was just thinking about my “unsupported” run.
I slowly pulled away from these fine folks, although they almost caught me when I entered a country store several miles down the road.
The next thing to look forward to was crossing over Lake Burton, and going for a swim. The temperature was rising, and the coolest mountain lake in Georgia was a welcome pit stop. I climbed down under the bridge and swam for a few minutes. Dropping the core temperature on a hot day gives some serious relief.
Climbing back out of this valley, I was really enjoying the trek. I realized that I have finally figured out how to journey run. It occurred to me that “this is the way it’s supposed to be.” Ever since I started solo intercity running, I’ve struggled with the difficulty of doing long runs of this nature. Usually the troubles were mostly due to a combination of trying to go far and fast, and not having the maturity to deal with disappointment and exhaustion. This run felt different. I was walking when I needed to, apportioning my energy, and really enjoying the moment. And I was also looking forward to a rendezvous I had set up. My buddy James was going to meet me at Dick’s Creek Gap, where my route turned from the highway onto the Appalachian Trail, and provide me some food and company for a few miles.
I was really blissful heading up to the gap, I sang aloud, and enjoyed the unpopulated National Forest that surrounded me. It was a very happy time.
When I arrived at the junction, I actually ended up waiting almost an hour for James, since he’d been caught in traffic leaving Atlanta, on his way up to meet me and then spend the weekend on the lake with his fiancé and family. I made it a point to not stress about the lost time. Stress wouldn’t help, and I was in the middle of a marathon stretch without a store, so I absolutely had to wait for him, whether I felt like resting or not. Just when I started to worry, James arrived, with 3 pbj’s, a half gallon of Gatorade and some fruit. Unfortunately since he was running so late, he wouldn’t be able to join me on the trail, but on a positive note, the meeting (Lauren and her mom were there too) boosted my spirits, and I was ready for the next section of the trip. I had one marathon down, and 7 more to go.
I hiked up the trail at a brisk pace, not running since my stomach was completely full with all three sandwiches and at least 48oz of Gatorade, and also because the trail climbs fairly continuously up from the gap for several miles. The shade of the trail was welcome, although the steeper pitch actually brought me closer to overheating than anything else all day. After 5.5 miles I reached Addis Gap, and turned west on a FS road, that cuts down across the valley towards Brasstown Bald. I ran most of this long descent, and came out on Miller Creek Road, travelling through a mix of second mountain homes and run down farm houses. Reaching highway 75, I could see Brasstown’s silhouette looming huge in front of me. Across the highway the road changed names to Owl Creek, and I settled in for some enjoyable valley miles. Since I was down around 2000 feet now, and Brasstown’s 4700’ visage was to the west, I was comfortably out of direct sun for the day. Quite nice.
Crossing the valley I decided that 42 miles to the base of Brasstown would not be enough for the day. There’s a motel on the other side of the mountain, in Young Harris, but that would cost money, something my caches were intended to save me from spending. After the first major pitch of the climb, I arrived at my stash and used to the two jugs of water to pour over my head and clean the road grime and drop my core temperature. I decided I would just have to carry my sleeping bag and bivy until I was ready to sleep. Added encouragement for continuing was that I knew when I reached the top of the mountain I’d have an exceptional vantage point for the July 3rd fireworks that would be shot off all over north Georgia tonight (conservative folks up here prefer the fireworks not occur on Sundays).
With the added bag of gear and food, I pushed hard up the remaining 3 steep miles of the climb, and arrived at the parking lot near the summit at sunset. I met a few other revelers with my same intentions, and joined Ben and Reba Fowler, from Gwinnett for the remaining half mile hike to the summit tower. I was all too happy to share some time with these folks, as I had hardly had any company all day. Atop Brasstown the temperature was fair, but the winds picked up and my damp clothing (from the water jugs) betrayed me – I got cold and sat down in a somewhat sheltered spot. At 9:35 the fireworks in both Blue Ridge and Hiawassee started, and it was pretty neat to see some big fireworks, and be looking down on them. The chill made the joy short lived however, as I had dropped my sleeping bag back at the parking lot. I made my way back down, and decided to hike down to Young Harris before looking for a place to rest.
The Wagon Train Trail down to Young Harris is 6 miles of almost unrelenting downhill, so I shuffled my way down, hoping to find a hose at the college campus at the bottom, so that I could clean off and fall asleep. Around midnight I popped out of the woods, and within a few minutes, found a closet behind the cafeteria that wasn’t locked, and happened to have a hose with cold AND HOT water…..lady luck smiles! I was carrying a tiny packet of soap, so I went inside, and took a clandestine shower, of course hoping that no one had heard me and the campus patrol wasn’t going to come knocking (or not knocking….)
Cleaned up and finished with the day’s 52 miles, I dried off and walked another mile or so in the early morning hours before finding Old Union Cemetary. Next to an old rock wall, I laid out my bedding and used the wall as a pillow.
I slept like crap. Oh well, the shower and bed were free!
I awoke Sunday at 5:45, and packed up my stuff, the sleeping bag had some dew on it, so I decided to carry it down the road for a while and let it dry before I stashed it somewhere. I hadn’t had any dinner, and breakfast was two pop tarts, since there wasn’t anything open at this hour. After an hour or so I stashed my bag and bivy in an abandoned barn, and went along my way. After 8-9 miles I reached Blairsville, and excitedly entered the first establishment, Wendy’s, to order a couple biscuits and get the fuel gauge off of “E.”
As I sat, I turned on my cell phone and found that one of my old college professors Dr. Sparling, had called and planned to visit me for a bit on the road today. Aha! Something external to look forward to, one of the great motivators on the lonely road. I had already knocked out a small chunk of mileage for the day, and after knocking out one more chunk, I would have company for a couple hours….great news! It will always put a little pep in your step.
Leaving Blairsville, I was on exposed HWY 76 once again, and today promised to be significantly hotter than yesterday. 5-6 miles later, Dr. Sparling pulled up, and offered me coke and chilled fruit. If you’ve never been running in the heat and had someone offer you ice cold watermelon, YOU HAVE NOT YET LIVED!
I highly recommend any and all melons out in the heat, water, canta, or honeydew. All are unbelievably satisfying. Dr. Sparling then drove ahead and parked, running back to me, and joined me for several miles.
Unfortunately, as we caught up and enjoyed conversation, I found that I was too fatigued to really jog, dodge traffic, and converse at the same time. For 90% of the distance that I had company, I was walking. Luckily I didn’t let this stress me out (I was still just letting the miles come to me) and we enjoyed catching up about Dr. Sparling’s recent travels to Europe and Down Under.
After dunking myself in a creek, and a few more stories, Dr. Sparling turned back to his vehicle, for one more rendevous, and I continued on down the road, which was now (thanks to Dr. Sparling’s suggestion) Old Hwy 2, paralleling the highway, but with much more scenery and a bit of shade. The next time I met Dr. Sparling I downed some more cool fruit and coke, and he promised to leave the remaining snacks on down the road, since there were at least 10 miles further to the next town, Morganton, GA.
I bid Dr. Sparling farewell, and thanked him both for the nourishment and the encouragement. It certainly made the day more fun, and it always boosts morale to have someone in your corner, wishing you success. Half way to Morganton I came upon the fruit stash Dr. Sparling had left, and it certainly saved the day from turning tough.
Nearing Morganton, I came across a small Guatemalan dude, pushing a wheelbarrow across the road. I stuck up a conversation and although he didn’t speak English I asked him how he could wear blue jeans out in the sun on such a hot day. He said he was just used to it, and we enjoyed a few minutes of conversation about how I knew Spanish and where he was from. He told me it was but 20 minutes further to find the gas station in town, and only another 10 minutes past there to reach the mountain waters of Lake Blue Ridge. I made my way in to town, and due to the heat, zipped inside the only store available. I got a jug of cold water, and various drinks and snacks, then headed out back to cool off and again catch up on calories.
Entering into the afternoon, I was definitely feeling the heat, from the gas station to the Lake was only 2 miles, but I was reduced to a walk before I got there. When I finally saw the water I only too happily removed my shoes and jumped in, immediately feeling some relief. Climbing back to the road, I ran over the dam, under the watchful eye of a policeman, who was watching me closely the whole way through town.….I must have terrified the locals with my terroristic dress?
At the edge of the dam, there was a map board, with a diagram of the entire Tennessee River Watershed. I was fascinated. Describing the series of dams and locks along the river, and the other feeder dams (including this one on Lake Blue Ridge), this board gave me something new to marvel at as I meandered on towards Blue Ridge, GA.
Arriving in town, I took a seat in another Wendy’s and really gulped down some calories. The sweet tea was flowing, and the rest of the meal was all much needed. From here I would have a 15 mile trek to my second tent, with just one gas station on the way.
I stopped at the one available resupply, before the mountain road towards the Cohutta Wilderness, and bought a couple salty items, some Pringles and some sunflower seeds, because it had occurred to me that my cache up ahead didn’t have enough salt for the planned full day without resupply tomorrow. After my tent, it would be around 30 miles tomorrow before I exited the woods and had the opportunity to get new fuel.
Turning on onto Old Hwy 2 again, I was really uncomfortable. It was dusk on July 4th, and this road is extremely curvy, with many sections where the kudzu comes up to the edge of the road. I decided I would not run this section now. Drunk July 4th partiers driving on country roads where I didn’t even have a ditch to jump into was not my idea of a good adventure, so I stuck my thumb out and the very first car that came by grabbed me up. My chauffer was a true mountain lady, on her way home from her horse’s stables. She yapped the whole way down the road, telling me about the area and her day. When the road turned to gravel I hopped out and thanked her profusely for saving me 6 dangerous miles. Sometime I’ll head back up there on a weekday, and finish those miles when the traffic is less heavy and intoxicated.
(as a commentary for vol state runners, this would not fly if you want to be creditedwith a finish, since it's a race, everyone has to cover the same miles, in order. If it was a race, i would have either risked traversing the road, or waited until morning when i felt the road was safe)
As I walked up the road several miles, I found an old rope in the ditch, and grabbed it. I wanted to hang my pack in a tree while I slept, so as to keep animals from searching me for food. I was glad to have found the rope, and continued uphill into the Cohutta. Soon I was at the road junction where I’d cached my second night’s dinner and camp. I trudged into the woods and found the stuff. I was wrankled though, because something wasn’t right. One of my two gallons of water was half empty. As I looked closer I realized that it looked as though there was a bullet hole in the jug. NERVOUS. I didn’t want any trouble with anyone, and I wasn’t positive about this being public land, so this was a bit unnerving. Then I realized that the Tupperware with my food was missing all together. I looked closer and realized that the jug was not shot, it was bitten…by something big enough to get it’s mouth around a gallon jug. Aha! A bear has been here, and despite my assumption that granola bars and tuna fish in a Tupperware would be undetectable to a bear, this was not the case. I looked around and in the distance found my food stuffs……completely annihilated….damn!
I decided I didn’t want to remain in this spot, so I used the remaining water and my soap to wash off, and then as darkness fell I repacked the tent and made my way on to the Benton Mackaye Trail. A half mile up the trail I crested the ridge and set up the tent again. Without dinner I didn’t have much to do, and it was already pitch dark out, so I strung my pack up in a tree, and hit the lights.
Again I slept pretty poorly, but arose before first light and found that my hung food was in tact. I bundled up the gear I intended to take, and assessed my fueling situation. I hadn’t had dinner, and here I was with just some Pringles and sunflower seeds to make it across the Cohutta Wilderness. Not exactly setting myself up for comfort!
I trekked along the BMT, thinking of our organized run last year, when Matt Kirk set a phenomenal time of under 6 days for the 288 mile trail. I was moving at a similar pace, but wasn’t carrying all my gear, and really had significantly less elevation to deal with. Anyway, these were two different treks, with two different trekkers, so I was happy to just keep Matt in my mind as I headed towards the south fork trail. When I arrived at the next junction I was surprised to find another coincidence of this route….a sign marking the northern terminus of the Pinhoti trail. Many southern runners will already know that Rob Youngren ran this trail a few weeks ago, and set quite an impressive time as well.
As I turned right, I was on the Pinhoti for a few miles, and ruminated about Rob’s trek. Reaching Three Forks, I turned onto Very Old Route 2, this path is reserved for foot traffic now, but I believe up until the 1950’s it was actually a vehicular road. Going back even further it was the Cherokee trade route through the area. I had selected it as a neat historical addition to the trek, and was glad to find myself upon it.
The ridgeline was beautiful and lush, and I soon came upon some other wildlife enjoying the morning. A young Boar scampered through the brush in front of me, and scrambled over a downed tree as he tried desperately to avoid me. It was pretty wild, this little guy was very distressed about having my company on the ridge, he squealed and complained down the mountainside for at least 10 minutes as I continued on. I never heard any other boar, however. When I reached the junction with the Panther Creek Trail I hooked left and left the ridge, eager to reach the cool waters of the creek and enjoy the view from Panther Creek Falls. As the trail circled back, I ran into the young Boar again, and distressed him to no end. This time he ran UP the mountain squealing and complaining for another 5-10 minutes.
After surveying the largest Wilderness in Georgia from atop the falls, I made my way down into the Conasauga River Valley. When I arrived there I hooked left onto the Conasauga River Trail. I followed this trail for a couple hours, removing my shoes for any streams crossings I couldn’t rock-hop across. Normally I don’t mind soaking my shoes, but I’ve had trouble in multiday runs with blisters, so I decided to err on the side of caution. The cold water felt fantastic, and was almost a good substitute for calories. Each time I dunked myself I felt like a new man.
As I began to think I must be nearing my next turn, I pulled out my compass and was confused to find the river running north instead of south. I guessed I must have stopped paying attention and was in a little curly-q in the river. 300 yards later I got an interesting update. I arrived at the Chesnut Lead Trail. DOH! I just went 4-5 miles in the wrong direction. I couldn’t believe it, but the sign was right there, and I knew what I had done. Ok, I sat down to analyze the situation. I was basically out of food, and had just done a particularly rugged 4-5 miles in the wrong direction. I could backtrack, but my goal for the day was Ringgold, GA, and when I planned the route I knew it was a stretch to think I could get there by midnight. Adding in to the equation that I’d had no dinner or breakfast, and now needed to add 9 miles to the day, I was not excited about “staying the course.”
A small part of me argued that I should stay on course, but the sane part of my brain said that a death march that pulled me in to Ringgold at lunch time tomorrow was not going to be a good thing. I checked my maps and saw that I could re-route and get to Chatsworth in 25 miles, significantly better than the 35+ miles to Ringgold. The downside is that Chatsworth is 35 miles south of Ringgold, so I’d be adding distance to the trip.
As I climbed Chestnut Lead, I just kept my mind right and enjoyed the views. I soaked my shirt and filled my bottles at the last point where I had the chance, I’d be reaching the FS road along the ridge soon, and I needed to stay hydrated as long as possible for this long trek out of the woods. Once on the FS road, my spirits dropped. It was hot up here, and the gravel on the road was the kind that really hurts your feet. I wished I wasn’t wearing my worn out racing flats. I really started to wonder if I wanted to do this under such conditions. The sorry-for-myself started to creep in. Since it was a holiday (the Monday after the 4th) there was a little traffic up here, folks visiting Lake Conasauga, and other day hikers and campers. Each time a car passed going in my direction I resisted the urge to throw out my thumb. This lasted a few hours, while I tried to hold things together mentally and physically. When I reached a sign that said “HWY 411, 16 miles” I felt rough. But I knew I could make it, so I shoved the feelings away and trudged on down the road. Down, Down, Down, I came out of the mountains. Beer drinking rednecks and suburban soccer moms rolled past me, kicking up loads of debris from the very dusty road. When the road finally turned to pavement, I knew this trek was a success, I was over half way done, and there was no way I was going to fail to finish my trip across Georgia. However, just a mile later I came out of the tree cover and entered the late afternoon oven. I was very depleted, not having eaten or drank anything for several hours. And when I reached the highway, there was no convenience store! How inconvenient!!
Luckily, just a mile south I found a gas station and went inside. I quickly gulped 2-3 cokes from the fountain, and got some ice cream from the freezer. Interestingly, after rehydrating for a few minutes, I suddenly felt light headed. I held it together by leaning on the freezer for a minute, and the feeling passed. Can’t explain that one, but perhaps it was my body complaining about the rough afternoon.
I left the store and headed south towards Chatsworth. Only a few miles later I came to a Mexican restaurant, as I hit the outskirts of Eton. I went inside and decided that since I was only a few miles from Chatsworth, I might as well keep refueling, and eat some more. I enjoyed the meal, and especially enjoyed the time in that A/C. I called my brother and he googled to give me the phone number of a hotel in Chatsworth, which I called and found the rate to be $44, much better than the $79 reservation I had had in Ringgold. Score one for wrong turns! I also called Rich Schick, my first real life ultra mentor, and told him about the goings on, since he and I had discussed a cross Georgia run many years earlier. Rich was excited and encouraging.
I got back on the road as the sun was dropping below the horizon, and chugged along the “old federal road” that used to be one of the white man’s only trade routes through the Cherokee nation. I got in to a really good mood through here, and as a train passed next to me, I turned up the speed, and began to recite Bob Dylan’s Song, Hezekiah Jones.
Here are the lyrics:
This is the story of Hezekiah Jones...
Hezekiah Jones lived in a place... in Arkansas.
He never had too much, except he had some land,
An' he had a couple of hogs and things like that.
He never had much money
But he'd spend what he did make as fast as he made it,
So it never really mattered that he had much money.
But in a cupboard there, He kept in the cupboard... he kept in the cupboard books,
He called the books his "rainy season."
The white folks around the county there talked about Hezekiah...
They... said, "Well... old Hezekiah, he's harmless enough,
but the way I see it he better put down them goddam books,
Readin' ain't no good, for an ignorant nigger."
One day the white man's preacher came around
Knockin' on doors, knockin' on all the doors in the county,
He knocked on Hezekiah's door.
He says, "Hezekiah, you believe in the Lord?"
Hezekiah says, "Well, I don't know, I never really SEEN the Lord,
I can't say, yes, I do..."
He says, "Hezekiah, you believe in the Church?"
Hezekiah says, "Well, the Church is divided, ain't they,
And... they can't make up their minds.
I'm just like them, I can't make up mine either."
He says, "Hezekiah, you believe that if a man is good Heaven is his last reward?"
Hezekiah says, "I'm good... good as my neighbor."
"You don't believe in nothin'," said the white man's preacher,
You don't believe in nothin'!"
"Oh yes, I do," says Hezekiah,
"I believe that a man should be indebted to his neighbors
Not for the reward of Heaven or fear of hellfire."
"But you don't understand," said the white man's preacher,
"There's a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked..."
Then they hung Hezekiah high as a pigeon.
White folks around there said, "Well... he had it comin'
'Cause the son-of-a-bitch never had no religion!"
It is unbelievable to me that people have to live with this type of hatred and oppression. Human nature can be an ugle thing. Reminding myself how important it is to stay clear of hate is the reason I appreciate and enjoy this song. I yelled the lyrics under the noise of the loud train passing, and felt energized.
After belting out the lyrics, the train finished passing me, and I trotted on towards the Key West Inn.
Reaching Chatsworth and the intersection with Hwy 76, I got some more ice cream and headed in to my motel. I was more than happy to take a real shower and enjoy a soft bed for the first time in 4 days. I fell asleep after watching some comedy show. I was well satisfied with the day, and looking forward to the next one. I set my watch and phone alarms for 4am, so I could get an early start in the cool morning.
My body had other plans. I slept through both my alarms, something I never do. I think the poor sleep and exhaustion caught up to me and my body mandated the extra sleep. Awakening at the late hour of 9am, I hurriedly left my room and started down the wide open road towards Dalton.
This morning, with nearly 150 miles under my belt, was not very comfortable. I chugged along, and felt like I was progressing quite well, but the miles were coming slowly. I passed a bank sign proclaiming that it was 101 degrees out, before noon! I’m sure it wasn’t quite that hot, but it was definitely getting up there. I called Dr. Sparling to say hello and give him an update. Again, it was good to have someone “in my corner.” Both my parents were traveling abroad, so despite their support, I really didn’t have anyone else “worried” about me.
Crossing the Conasauga Rover again was a treat, although looking down from the bridge and seeing that the beautiful mountain stream I had swum in yesterday was so much dirtier out here where people could trash it was not very inspiring. I did see a beaver swimming across into the reeds, which was a neat treat.
After lunch in Dalton I continued on up the highway, as it shrank for a while, down to just two lanes. I reached a really small convenience store and went inside to inquire about some ice. The lady said she only had big bags, but I should just go one more mile up the road and I’d get to the interstate crossing where there were plenty of places that would have coke fountains. I enjoyed a few minutes of conversation and air conditioning but then hit the heat again, looking forward to more ice soon. I hadn’t realized how close I was to the interstate.
The interstate crossing south of Ringgold brought a little more ice and relief, but the afternoon heat was in the high 90’s, so all the ice was gone in no time. The beautiful views of the Cohutta were lost in the past, and I was just trying to make it to evening. Round about 7pm I stopped for dinner at another Mexican restaurant just north of Ringgold. I immediately ordered a “Dos Equis Mas Grande, Por Favor!” – this meal and drink really hit the spot. It was glorious to walk out of that place with an exploding gullet, knowing that I could go without eating for the rest of the day and I still wouldn’t wake up feeling depleted. I ran on to The Tennessee line, and the town of East Ridge, just south east of Chattanooga.
During this stretch I called and said hello to the Laz family. It was good to check in with my adoptive ultra parents, and be reminded that “after Chattanooga you only have 30 miles left, right?”
I also started finalizing my plans for returning home. My mom was to fly into Atlanta from Munich the next afternoon, and my brother was set to come pick her up, so I intended to find a ride from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and carpool the rest of the way. I found a shuttle service and reserved a spot on the 1pm van, which would get me to Atlanta in time.
As the sun set I ran and walked the last few miles in to East Ridge, and got to the interstate crossing where there were plenty of motels. Just as I was about to enter the Motel 6, I saw a neon sign a little further off my route advertising $29.99 rooms. I turned and went the 300-400 yards to this other place and went inside to secure a room. After filling out some paperwork the guy told me my total was $42. I protested immediately that I had seen the sign outside and was looking for the 29.99 rate. He said he had no more of those rooms, to which I responded that I thought he should change his sign outside, and that I’d be happy to pay the 29.99 rate for any room he did have. After a back and forth volley of unnecessary argument, and him telling me what an upgrade the rooms he had left were, I told him I’d rather give my business to someone who wasn’t going to lure me in with a false add. He promptly yelled at me to “Leave this place!”
Now, I realize this is a marketing technique that most businesses use, and we are all used to it – and on other occasions I have let it slide, but what the hell, man!?? It was fun to get worked up and tell the guy how I really felt. I walked next door and into the motel 6. I checked on the rate, and the guy showed me the sign on the wall, $36. I happily paid him and told him the story from next door. We both smiled knowingly and he wished me a pleasant evening, inquiring about my lack of a vehicle, he reminded me to “get some rest, man!”
So now I had 10 hours until the end of the 4th day of the trek, and I wanted to finish before that mark, so I set my alarm for 4 am, and racked out.
The alarm worked this time and I was on the road by 4:15. I left a stash of some items in a bush by the motel. Things like sunscreen and my toothbrush, my soap and a few other small items I wouldn’t need again (I’ll retrieve these on my way up to the vol state next week).
Running through the predawn in East Ridge, and through the tunnel into Chattanooga was nice. I had some strength in my legs and was able to pretty much continuously run for 6+ miles. In Chattanooga, restaurants were finally opening and I got some food at Bojangles, enjoying every bite and sip.
I trudged on, and over to hwy 11 around moccasin point. It would be absolutely crazy to attempt this when there’s any traffic, because there are stone walls on one side of this road, and a bluff on the other. I criss-crossed the road trying to be visible to the early morning drivers, the sun had come up and I did just fine. Around the other side of this curve at the base of Lookout Mountain, I turned south on the pike, and headed down the hwy to my finish point at the first exit of Interstate 59.
A year or so ago I had run from Castle Rock down over Sand Mountain on my way to a friend’s party on Lookout Mountain, so I intended to use that run as the connector for this route to the Vol State.
I soon realized I wasn’t quite going to be able to guarantee making my shuttle if I continued all the way to my intended finish. I had about 12 miles to go, and really only an hour to spare, so I decided to cut things a bit short and make sure I caught my ride.
I thumbed back to the interstate, washed off in a hotel pool, got picked up by the Nashville->Chattanooga shuttle, and was deposited at the shuttle depot back in East Ridge. Just like that I was off the road. I walked a mile to a thrift store and bought a shirt and some shorts for $7, and weakly ambled back to the depot, where I had about 15 minutes before I got in the van and we headed off to Atlanta. I got there in plenty of time to welcome mom back from a month in Europe, and my brother showed up at the terminal not 5 minutes after we had collected her bags.
Riding home my legs hurt! But I was pretty happy. A good adventure and another dream realized. The trek was nearly 200 miles in just under 96 hours. right at 50 miles a day for 4 days. Basically the same mileage I managed when I ran the vol state with a crew a couple years ago. I attribute this to increased maturity, experience, and the fact that it didn't break 100 degrees every day this time!!!
So I have a couple short stretches to go finish up, and then I’ll have connected over 500 miles of journey running from Missouri to South Carolina. Next up is the trek to the Atlantic!