Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Sunday, June 15, 2008

15 Hours on Appalachian Trail

What a great (but difficult) three days! 15 hours of running on the Appalachian Trail. I was planning on going up to the mountains Friday & just run the section from Carvers Gap to 19, but at the last minute, decided to go up two days early to get more running in. On Wednesday & Thursday, I ran on the AT from TN Hwy 19E to Dennis Cove & back. Wasn’t crazy about having to go out & back, but that was my only option. Wednesday, I started at Hwy 19 & ran about 11 miles out and 11 back. It was tough and 80 degrees. Long climb for the first couple of miles. I didn’t know much about this section, as I just decided to run it the day before. I thought it was flatter and less wooded than it was. I thought I read you go along roads and through farmland for much of it. There were a couple of old pastures, but those provided nice views. I didn’t eat enough, I was out there longer than anticipated because of the terrain and heat, and ran out of water for 30 minutes. I had been drinking sparingly as it was and when my hair & neck got dry, I knew I would soon be in trouble. Had it not been for a church spigot I passed at Buck Mountain Rd. with 5K to go, I would’ve been hurtin’.

The next day, I started at Dennis Cove and ran about 13 out & 13 back. Harder & warmer (82) than Wednesday, with a long four mile 2000’ climb coming out of Dennis Cove. The first ¾ mile had four distinct ecosystems as you went up in elevation, including a band of hemlocks and a larger section that looked like a temperate rainforest. Lots of ferns, moss, rocks & mud. All other parts of the trail were dry. A couple of nice rocky overlooks. Talked to some hikers for a few minutes at Moreland Gap Shelter. Below the shelter was about the only water source of the day, and it was a tiny trickle. Drought conditions throughout the region must make it tough on thru-hikers. The waterfalls Wednesday were nearly dry- not anything like pictures I’ve seen. Passed a place called Hardcore Cascades, but very little water there too. Not that hardcore. I drank and ate a lot more Thursday and felt better. It’s funny, though. 7 hours to finish a marathon! …and my PR is 3:22. Lotta difference between running on a flat road, a rolling trail, and rocky mountain singletrack. 16:00 pace can easily max out your heartrate & feel like 7:00 effort!

I was pleasantly surprised by the other sections, but the highlight of the trip was the third run- Carvers Gap to Hwy 19. I ran part of this section around Roan Mountain this past winter in 60 mph wind with sleet and rain trying to peel my skin off and poke my eyes out. J Couldn’t see more than 50’ ahead of me, so I missed the spectacular views. Many people say this is the most beautiful part of the entire 2,100 miles of the AT. The history of the balds is a little cloudy, but most experts agree that they were once forested, but cleared and burned on a consistent basis by Native Americans, and were farmed to keep them treeless. Today, trees would grow back if they the grass and brush weren’t grazed or hand cut on occasion. There are dozens of rare & endangered species on the balds and tons of birds.

I wanted to take the family out to see the rhododendrons in bloom & apparently everyone else had the same idea. It really was beautiful (Wren’s new word- apparently, everything is beeeeuuuuuutiful now.)! Catawba Rhododendrons and Flame Azaleas in bloom in huge clumps all over the balds. Views from the balds were incredible. …but it was crowded. Over a hundred people out there. Cleared out a little after Round Bald, more by Jane Bald, and by Grassy Ridge, the day hikers were gone.

When I started, it was 65 degrees, sunny and breezy. 45 minutes later, I was caught in a huge thunderstorm. The rain doesn’t bother me, but being on exposed balds in lightning was a little scary. When the bottom dropped out, I ran ¼ mile back to Stan Murray Shelter and waited it out for 30 minutes. Read the shelter journal. Left when it let up a little, but was still raining and thundering. Trail was like a river. Didn’t see anymore lightning for awhile. When I came out of the woods around Overmountain Shelter, the rain stopped and the clouds swirled through the valleys. Great view of Hump Mountain from Little Hump Mountain. Can’t get over how little these mountains look like NC/TN.

At Bradley Gap, between the Humps, I turned around & it was like a cloud completely gobbled me up! More rain, thunder & lightning. It was like the lightning was right on top of me. No bolts or anything- just flashes of light. Frightening lightning! To get off of the open bald, I ran more than I would have up the steep upper part of Hump Mountain, and fast down the other side. The trail over some of the balds is barely wider than the width of my foot, and sort of a 6” ditch filled with water. If you click onto the picture to the left, you can see the trail going all the way up to the top of Hump Mt. The north side of Hump Mt. barely had a trail- more like ruts and rocks through grass. In the fenced section you go through, there were longhorn cattle and horses. Four mile descent down to Hwy 19. Many sections of slippery rock- nothing but rocks with the occasional root, but no dirt. I took more chances than usual, slipping all over the place, but I never fell. Halfway down, there were several sections of quick slight downhill and sidehill trails. This is my favorite terrain- relatively smooth singletrack with a log or rock to hurdle every 15 steps and long views downhill.

I was ready for the run to be over, but it did seem short after the longer ones this week. I have two other Appalachian Trail runs planned for this summer, and I can’t wait! Pooped now though! Long days, lotsa rocks, 12,000' of climbing, but the most fun I’ve had in months.


Chris said...

Great photos! The runs sound spectacular!

martin said...

I'd be in the bed for a week after that but it sounds like a wonderful trip.

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous!