Tour de Appalachia
Thursday, August 09 2007 @ 05:26 AM PDT
Contributed by: mday
How woud you like to spend a week running and hiking some of the most scenic single track in the Eastern US? At the end of each day you arrive at a comfortable camp and enjoy a big meal sit around a campfire with friends. That's exactly what seven ultrarunners did during the first week of August.
Thanks to organizer Eric Grossman I was fortunate to join Eric, Kevin Townsend, Roger Sutton, Doug Blackford, Byron Backer, and Neal Jamison on a six-day stage run starting near Irwin, TN and finishing at Grayson Highlands state park in Virginia. Each day's stage was between 15 and 39 miles, which made for some long days on the trail. Eric, Byron, Doug, and Kevin each completed the entire 160 mile run (Byron was short on the last stage by a few miles), while Roger, Neal, and I finished some but not all stages.
Each day's stage was self-supported. While we were on the trail, our crews took down camp and set it up at the next stopping place. Eric designed the stages so that we would end near a nice campground. As the run progressed the crews and runners developed freindships and enjoyed the camraderie of a shared experience. The run couldn't have happened without the crews: Robin Grossman, Irene Backer, Anne Townsend, and Melinda Day.
The stage run was not all fun and games. Each day the runners suffered blisters, black toenails, sore muscles, and exhuastion. The worst part of the entire run was when I was stranded in the woods without a flashlight at dark on the longest stage. I had to bivouac seven miles from the end of the stage. My crew and the entire group suffered a night of uncertainty until I emerged from the woods the next morning. This was undoubtedly the one aspect of stage run we could do without. It was due to a stupid mistake (forgetting to pack a flashlight) and totally preventable.
The first stage began at Indian Grave Gap and went over Roan Mountain to Carver's Gap, for 27 miles. Roan is a 6,000 foot peak. The campground featured a cold mountain stream that was perfect for soothing sore legs. The second stage started at Carvers and ended at Dennis Cove. This stage was the longest at 39 miles, and I took almost 24 hours to finish it (due to the aforementioned bivouac). The third stage was from Dennis Cove to Low Gap. I sat this stage out. The crew was able to meet the runners at Watagua and enjoy swimming in the cool water. The fourth stage was a 15-mile jaunt from Low Gap to Damascus. In Damascus we all had lunch together and then went our separate ways until the next morning. The Grossmans live in Damascus, and the Townsends live nearby. We stayed at a Holiday Inn. Between the Holiday Inn, the Grossmans and the Townsends everyone had a bed and the crew enjoyed a break from setting up camp.
The fifth stage was ~35 miles from Damascus to Grayson Highlands. This stage featured the climb up White Top and the beautiful high country around Mt Rogers and Wilburn Ridge. While we were running and hiking, the crews rented bicycles and road the Virginia Creeper trail from White Top to Damascus. That night we camped at a group site in Grayson Highlands state park. The last stage was a relaxed 15 mile loop along Wilburn Ridge. I layed out that stage and went with the crews to meet the runners at Rhododendren Gap. We all hiked back to Massie gap together.
The Tour de Appalachia was simply the best running adventure I've been able to enjoy. Eric Grossman deserves special thanks for organizing the run, and the crews deserve even more thanks, because the stage run could not have happened without their help. Each day I was amazed to see Eric, Doug, Byron, and Kevin limp around camp and then go knock off another stage. I was able to get in more than 100 miles, and even better was not bothered by my left achilles heel. Neal and Roger both had circumstances that prevented them from completing all the stages. For Roger is was multiple injuries, and for Neal it was work.
Here are some photos, mostly taken by Melinda, that show what the crew was up to during the run.