Chasing Adventure on the Appalachain Trail
Sunday, May 17 2009 @ 07:38 PM PDT
Contributed by: mday
When I heard that Adam Hill was planning to run 24 hours on the Appalachian Trail the first weekend of May I knew that I wanted to be part of that adventure. Springtime in the Southern Appalachians is especially pleasant, and Adam's run was on a section of the AT that was new to me. I arranged for my professional crew (Melinda and the Boys) to help out, booked a vacation day at work, and started to get excited.
We left Cary on Friday morning, drove to Asheville and met Adam at his home, then off to the Nantahalla Outdoor Center for last minute supplies, and finally to the Wesser Bald Tower, where we started our run at 6 PM.
The Nantahala section of the Appalachian Trail heads south from Nantahala Gorge and takes a winding path toward Georgia. Looking South-east from Wesser Bald you can see a chain of 5000-foot mountain ridges and peaks that seems to go on forever. Knowing that these peaks were the same ground that we would be running on made the view all the more impressive.
My goal for the 24-hour run was 60 miles. This goal was uninformed by experience with that section of trail itself, but was a good goal for me nevertheless because I've run on adjacent sections more than once. I also read several reports on the southern section of the Appalachain. Much of the appeal of the run for me was seeing new trail. Anyone who has tried running or speed hiking on the Appalachian Trail knows that you can never move as fast as you think you should be moving. Rocks, steep climbs and descents, excursions to fiind water, and pauses to take in the views chip away at your miles-per-hour. On the positive side, there is the beauty of the southern appalachians and, in this case, a designated wilderness area.
As Adam and I took off South at 6pm I knew we would be having separate adventures. Two runners, two crews. As Adam took off down the mountain I was able to keep him in sight for more than a mile, but we were each running into the night alone.
At Wayah gap, just a couple of miles into the run I encountered a female backpacker sitting in the middle of the road smoking a ciggarette. She said her ankle hurt and she couldn't go any farther. I told her she should try walking up the road to Wayah bald instead of the trail, and then continued on. Less than four miles later I rolled my right ankle hard on an easy section of trail, which I thought was slightly ironic. As I worked the pain out of the ankle I wondered how well it would hold up through the night. (It turns out it held up well).
Soon after encountering the female backpacker sitting in the middle of the road, I looked up and Saw Eric Fogleman backpacking with his wife. I saw Eric only 6 days earlier at the Promise Land 50k. What are the chances of such an encounter?
Darkness and rain came around the same time. Running this section of the trail in the dark is enjoyable. Every few minutes I caught glimpses of Franklin, NC to my left in the distance. The sensation was not unlike seeing city lights from an Airplane window. Not too long after 10 pm I started to get very sleepy and had to fight to keep my eyes open. After the run I attributed my sleepiness to the zyrtec I was taking for allergies, and also to the mistake I made of putting too much maltodextrin in my water, which prevented my stomach from emptying and thus deprived me of blood sugar.
I arrived at Mooney gap at Midnight wet, tired, and glad to see my crew. I told Melinda I was going to take a short nap. The rain stopped and I spread my sleeping bag out on the ground, crawled in, and went to sleep. I soon awakened shivering and determined that my wet running clothes were making me cold. I climbed out of my bag and took off all my clothes to the point that I was only wearing a heart monitor. I mentioned to Melinda that I was totally nude at Mooney gap, which I thought was very funny.
My short nap turned out to be more than three hours. Napping only six hours into a 24-hour run is not necessarily a good strategy. I had no regrets because I minimized the nighttime hours of solo running, and my nap also gave my crew a chance to nap. A major bonus of the nap was the sight of the sun coming up right when I climbed up to the summit of Standing Indian mountain.
The abbreviated nighttime run was not without some of the special charms of moving through the woods in the dark. I saw several pairs of eyes reflecting my headlamp's light back at me, and one of the pairs looked like it was from a big head. I saw many salamanders squiggling across the trail in front of me. There must be trillions of salamanders in the Southern Appalachians. And the distant city lights shimmering from the lower elevations were pleasant.
I met Melinda and the boys a deep gap and spent some relaxing time there refueling and enjoying some banter with the boys. For some reason I thought that the high elevations were done now that I had descended from Standing Indian mountain. Yet soon after climbing Chunky Gal mountain my GPS displayed 4700 feet - almost 5000.
During the run I had been using my iPhone to update Melinda of my forward progress using text messaging. I was also texting my Twitter account. Somewhere up on Chunky Gal mountain I noticed that I had a couple of phone messages from Adam. I called Adam and learned that he had just ended his run at 64+ miles. My next meeting point with my Crew was Dicks Creek Gap, 52 miles. I was feeling good and moving along well to my satisfaction but was fearing the long 12 mile section from Dicks Creek to Unicoi gap. I told Adam I would be done with my run at Dicks Creek and we could get together there and hang out with our crews.
I enjoyed the last miles of the run, from Chunky Gal mountain to Dicks Creek Gap immensely. A lot of the enjoyment came from knowing that I was almost finished. Yet this is also a runnable section with excellent views and a couple of beautiful gurgling springs that I drank from directly. I rolled into Dicks Creek Gap around 1pm, 52 miles on the AT, satisfied that I was making good time when I wasn't napping, and generally feeling pretty good.
My ankle did end up swollen and ugly but did not cause my any pain or instability during the run, and now has healed up well. Unfortunately we never met up with Adam and his crew, because the sky broke loose with thundering rain as soon as I arrived and we left to escape the deluge. Melinda, the boys, and I enjoyed a fun evening in Murphy and a nice leisurely drive home Sunday morning. All in all an excellent adventure with some priceless trail memories.