Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Search of Spring

Kadra and I headed south this past week in search of spring and to spend some time with family and friends. . . and a little running on the Appalachian Trail. We started out in Asheville, NC visiting friends and got to meet their beautiful newborn son; squeezed in a few hours running on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail; then got to hang out downtown- very cool place. Next stop was Chattanooga, TN to visit some family before heading down to Springer Mountain for three days of running on the AT. Here's how the running went down:

3/17: Met up with Horton and the rest of the crew running (Jeremy, Ryan, Frank, Scott, and Jeff) at Neels Gap late in the day. We departed with our three vehicles pointed toward Springer Mountain to set up camp for the night after indulging in Mexican cuisine. Racing sunset on the forest service road, the higher we climbed, the muddier it got. We were bringing up the rear in our little two-wheel drive Caliber, pushing mud up to the frame in many spots. After some fancy driving and lots of praying, all of us white-knuckled folks finally made it to the parking area. I'll admit, my heart was still beating a little fast as I tried to sleep that night. I thought for sure we were going to be calling a tow truck. My fears quickly turned into excitement for the impending adventure the next morning.

3/18: (Day 1) Springer Mountain to Hogpen Gap- 37.1 miles

The six of us running, plus David and Kadra, made the hike up to the top of Springer Mtn in the cool misty fog before daylight. We paused for some ceremonial pictures before starting our run from the AT's southern terminus. This is a very special place. So many dreams have been started and ended here. You can almost feel the life changing gravity of the site.

We all ran together for the most part and enjoyed a beautiful AT sunrise while we cruised along, stopping only to talk with the many thru-hikers whom had in most cases started their journeys days or weeks earlier. I enjoyed stopping to talk to the hikers. I even met a nice fellow from Arkansas that knew some of the ultrarunners that I've met from down there. It's a small world when you actually take the time to talk to people. I was mostly amazed by the size of the packs that some were carrying. Some would jokingly ask to trade packs. There's no way I would make it very far with a 50 lb pack! Folks are out there on the Trail from many different walks of life, stages of life, and for many different reasons. I had to wonder how many would actually make it to Maine? I respect them all immensely for simply having the gumption to try, but one just had to wonder which ones would have what it takes to make it to Katahdin.

Jeremy and Me: Blood Mountain

The highlight of the day was Blood Mountain. We were blessed with a clear sky and the views were spectacular. Jeremy was lucky enough to spot some wild boars earlier in the run, but I saw no wildlife all day. The run ended for me in 9 hrs 20 min for 38 cumulative miles (counting the backtracking to summit Springer). There was plenty of climbing (supposedly 9K+), but we had frequent crew access making things lighter and ultimately a bit easier. We had a good evening pigging out on Italian food then camping at Vogel State Park outside Blairsville.

Ryan, Jeremy, Frank, and Me (not pictured are Scott and Jeff- two Liberty students who chose to spend their Spring Break on the AT instead of Florida like most college students- great guys.)

3/19: (Day 2) Hogpen Gap to Dicks Creek Gap- 30.4 Miles

We started at 6 a.m. by the light of our headlamps for a planned mileage of 46.2 miles. This was going to be a much tougher section and with far less crew access. Our first section was around 14 miles and it was great again to watch to sun come up on the AT. I was amazed by how few hikers were stirring early in the morning. Some were still sacked out at 10 am! We all cruised into the first crew spot and Horton let us know that the gate was closed at the spot where we planned to end the day; we would have to run 3 additional miles to get to the gate where we would set up camp for the night. It was an absolutely blue-bird day, but soon the nearly 70 deg temperatures made things feel a little hot to our winterized bodies. After a shorter 4/5 mile section, we had a longer unaided section of around 13 tough miles during the heat of the day to ponder the last planned miles. Jeremy and I ran this section together. We had a great time talking and just enjoying the Trail. We both decided pretty quickly that we would be satisfied with a "sissy day" of only 30 miles. The prospect of 19 miles unaided at the end of the day simply didn't sound like fun. After all I thought, "I'm on vacation", no need to push the envelope.

Our day ended after 8 hrs 8 min. Ryan was the only tough guy to continue on and the rest of us hung out at Dicks Creek at the trail head eating and talking to hikers. Frank even gave a thru-hiker his trail name, Chewy. Kadra and I drove into Franklin to pick up pizza and then met everyone else at Deep Gap to set up camp for the night above 4,000 feet.

Trail Beauty

3/20: (Day 3) Deep Gap to Rock Gap- 23.7 miles

Day 3 was another early start and we started our 3 mile climb behind the gated FS road to the AT at 5:45 am. We were so incredibly fortunate with the weather and got to enjoy yet another beautiful sunrise. Today's scheduled mileage was 43.8 to Tellico Gap, but actual total mileage of around 46.8 counting the road up to the AT. I knew very early on that my body was not going to cooperate with that plan. About 5/6 miles into the initial 23.7 mile section with no crew access (FS roads were still gated b/c of snow and ice) my right shin started hurting. I knew immediately that it was my old enemy instep tendinitis and that the tibialis anterior muscle and my lack of prophylactic icing was to blame. I would have stopped earlier, but I had to trudge on to Rock Gap; finally getting there 6 hrs 15 min later. I'm glad that I had to go on though. I would not have wanted to miss Albert Mountain. The view was awesome from the tower.

Albert Mountain

The miles of trail off of Albert Mountain were tough. It was awesome trail that was downhill for 6 miles, but it was killing my shin to run it. I ultimately resorted to using some sticks as poles to help take some of the pressure off of the shin. I was bummed to cut my last day on the AT short, but I wasn't willing to risk any further injury. The rest of the guys went on to do one more day and ended up at Fontana. Would have been great to end up at the southern end of the Smokies.

Snow above 5,000 ft

I had a great time on the AT those few days. After some ice and ibuprofen my shin was almost 100% the next day. The AT is a special place to be anytime, but extra special this time of year with all the thru-hikers starting and signs of Spring. I can't wait to get back. . .


  1. Adam, What an adventure. I am so happy that you and Kadra had a wonderful vacation. Life is wonderful and it sounds like you were able to spend your vacation with a wonderful group of friends. Hate to hear about the shin rearing its ugly head again, but it sounds like you escaped without too much of an issue. Thanks for sharing a wonderful recap of your trip. Rick

  2. It was great spending some time with you guys. It's wonderful to hear that the leg is healing up nicely. See you at PL50K.

  3. Thanks for the concern about the shin guys. Feels fine; just did a tough 13M this morning with no issues. Have fun at Terrapin this weekend.