I've Got A Hankerin' for some Double Mint Gum
Saturday, May 16 2009 @ 12:04 PM PDT
Contributed by: mday
By Adam Hill
The weekend of May 2nd I had the pleasure of spending two (really three) days on the trail in what turned out to be some stellar running! I have done the "double" workout before, but this brought it to a whole new level for me. On May 1st, my good running friend, Mike Day, and I jumped in a car with his wife and three of his kids, and took off for the mountains! Our plan...to run for 24 hours on the AT starting at Wayah Bald heading south. Our goal...have fun and see just how far our legs and the trail would allow us to go!?!
We had planned on starting at 6 pm on Friday from Wayah Bald, then run until 6 pm Saturday. We arrived at the summit parking lot at 5:30 and after a few minutes of tossing the football around with Mike's son's (Thomas, Kevin, and Sam) I started getting my things together. My crew person was to be another running friend coming in from Knoxville, Andrew Moore. Andrew was to meet Mike's wife, Melinda, at Winding Stair Gap 10 miles in, so that he could gather my things together as he was about to follow me through the night on my journey into Georgia. Sure enough, we cranked up our running at 6 pm on a cloudy evening and began our descent off of this beautiful bald. The wildflowers were everywhere, and even though there were still no leaves on the trees, the forest floor was quite lush. I was pumped to see the large flowered trillium in bloom, along with Mayapples, crested dwarf irises, and countless others that I didn't know the names of.
I felt great and was cruising along at a good pace running almost every hill as I approached the side of Siler's Bald. I came around the corner and was somewhat startled to see Andrew sitting at the corner of the field! He had come up the trail to run with me into the first aid stop! We had a great time running, and the weather was perfect, even though some storms were looming overhead.
I didn't spend too long at Winding Stair Gap, and was quickly off on the trail again. I rounded a few corners on my climb out of there and started to smell the fresh soil. I absolutely love the smell of the mountains, but this fresh smell of soil was quite potent, and I couldn't figure out why until I rounded the next bend and saw over a dozen wild hogs running along the slopes below me! They stopped and snorted a bit, but did not act agressive, so I just softly spoke to them as I cruised on by.
I was still feeling really good but was becoming slightly worried about my caloric intake as my stomach had been sloshin' around since Siler's Bald, and I couldn't figure out what was up. I ran up to Rock Gap just before dark, and made quick work of the aid stop there before taking off to head up Albert Mountain. This was an absolute blast, and even though it started raining fairly steadily, I was in good spirits, although still a little concerned about my stomach issues. I navigated the rocky descent from Albert quite carefully, given the wet surface, and came up on Mooney Gap where Andrew had a sweet set up for me with a tarp strung up for me to get dry (he rocked the house!!)! I spent a little bit more time here, as I knew had a longer stretch coming up along with a tough climb up Standing Indian Mountain.
The rain grew more steady along this stretch, and although it was a bit foggy, I was still moving fairly consistently. After a brief bathroom pit stop near the summit of Standing Indian, I again bumped into Andrew on the trail! It was great to have him to run with off of the mountain, and before I knew it his car emerged from the mist and fog at Deep Gap.
Andrew was going to drop aid at Dick's Creek Gap, then drive to camp out and get some shut-eye on the other side of Tray Mountain at Tray Gap, so I left out of Deep Gap with my Ultimate Directions running pack filled with drink and goodies. I couldn't believe how technical the trail was after leaving Deep Gap, and my pace seemed to slow considerably given this tough climb through a virtual boulder field of a trail. Again with some stomach sloshiness, but laughing all the way as I was still having loads of fun! I was looking forward to my first step into Georgia. After that first technical mile or two, the rest of North Carolina was great and the roller coaster was a little more smooth.
There was no mistaking the gnarled tree at Bly Gap, and I high-fived the NC/GA sign as I cruised on by! I arrived at Dick's Creek Gap pretty high on life, but pretty low on calories! My stomach sloshiness was finally fading, but the muscles in my quads were starting to feel a little beat up considering the amount of trail that had been forced to cover with very little fuel entering my system...as by now the thought of another gel or chew made me want to gag. It was 6:30 in the morning as I headed up the next big climb.
I marveled in the plethora of wildflowers that were presenting themselves in the morning light. I crossed my arms around behind my back and just started to enjoy this stroll through the woods. After a couple of hours, the climb was over, and I started to run some more, but my knees were having none of it, so I slowed to a hike again. I would repeat this pattern thousands of times over the next 7 miles or so, and it became increasingly frustrating. I soaked up the views when I finally arrived at the summit of Tray Mountain, being thrilled to be there, but I figured in my mind that this may be the last view of the day.
I thudded with each step off of it's rocky summit letting out audible noises of pain with each footstrike. I saw Andrew at his car in the gap and ran the few switchbacks feigning comfort and confidence, but I knew that my adventure on the AT was over...17 hours and 62.4 miles from where it began! (Thanks to Matthew Johnson, who had also been enlisted aid help, for the ride home!)
Fastforward to Sunday afternoon, and I was enjoying sippin' on some of Asheville's finest brews while kicking my feet up in one of our deck chairs. As I listened to the wind blow through the leaves and some tunes reverberate through the speakers, I began to feel an aching in my legs. This, however, was not the type of aching that I would have expected, as the soreness had pretty much already subsided for the most part and I was feeling like I had recovered quickly from the 100k effort from a day ago. As I sat there, I began a self assessment as to what madness was creeping through my veins, and decided that it was the siren call of our mighty mountains! Alas, I longed to creep out into the forested night again and was already formulating another adventure in my mind. As I then walked along barefooted in the backyard with my dog, Duke, I also began to assess just how my body might handle another adventure on the trail. Everything appeared to be in good working order after having a "systems failure" on the AT. I had spent 17 hours sockless in my Asics Hyperspeeds on some pretty technical trail, so I also checked in on the "dogs" to see what their input might be...all good...well, we'll see!?!
At 4:30 a.m., I stepped out of my front door, again sockless, but this time in one of my all-time favorite shoes...my NB 152's. I put on some music and began down the road while This Might Destroy You's album, Young Mountain, was just cranking up...wow, that seemed pretty appropriate. It is only a mile from my house to the Mountains to Sea Trail, and then about 10 miles from there to the French Broad River, where I would begin up the infamous 18 mile Shut In Ridge Trail. The night air and the dirt underfoot felt great...yep, I was loving being back out on the trails! I was hoping to make it all the way to Mount Pisgah before my wife, Suzanne, would come and pick me up.
It took a couple of hours to get in the groove, but shortly after that, I found myself heading through the rhododendren tunnel just off of Hwy 191 as I entered the beginning of the Shut In! I was hoping to make good time on the Shut In, and my legs were now feeling up to the task, so I muscled up the 20% grade in earnest. By this time more appropriate music was entering into the stratosphere between my ears...ah, Explosions In the Sky. Up we go!!
The clouds were parting, the threat of rain receded, and I continued to run stronger. I was having a blast, then just before getting to Bent Creek Gap, I got a call from Suzanne (yes, I had to carry my cell phone on this adventure...oh well). Urgency set in, as the clock was now ticking, and I had some really tough miles to cover as she was getting ready to get in the car to come and get me. Fortunately she had a few errands to run before heading up the Parkway. I was doubtful at this point that I would make it to the Shut In "finish" before she would get me, and we had a busy day ahead of us (which would make it tough for me to convince her to continue following me up the trail).
My left knee was starting to hurt a little bit on the downhills as well, but fortunately my journey was mostly uphill on my quest to Mt. Pisgah! I was still feeling refreshed to be out on the trail and couldn't believe that I was eating up the trail so quickly (considering that my legs were not "fresh" by any means). As I made my way through the rocky, serpentine-like trail between Mills River Overlook and Hwy 151, I began to think about the last "infamous" two miles of the Shut In. I called Suzanne just before approaching the Parkway crossing to find out that she was indeed heading towards the Parkway and would be "nose up" on the road in search for me in a matter of minutes! "I'll race ya" I said! I hung up the phone, threw a bunch of sport beans into my mouth, put my head down, and started cranking up the trail just past 151.
I switched back to This Might Destroy You, which again seemed accurate, as this stretch of the trail is known to eat it's young, then spit them back out on the other side battered and bruised with tear stained cheeks! I just couldn't believe how good I felt, but made it hurt by giving it my all! Just before I began up the last super steep incline, this song came through the headphones and as the climax of the song crept closer, I crested the top of Little Pisgah and began my final descent! Oh the rush of leaping off of those final steps into the parking lot and letting out a cry of joy and exhaustion! 27 minutes for that last stretch! I was pumped!! I didn't see Suzanne (YES! I had outkicked the Odyssey), so I ran to Buck Creek Gap on the other side of the parking area and sprawled out in the grass with a big grin on my face!
As my wonderful wife pulled into the parking space behind me, I was sitting there soaking up the views and wondering about this fascinating Creation that we have so little time to marvel in...that of these wonderful mountains, hills, and valleys...and that of the human body! Here's to the shedding off of those worldly limitations, and here's to taking a chance with everything that you've got!