We spent an awesome weekend in the North Georgia mountains--what a treat! In the mid 90s I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 146 days, an adventure I still consider to be THE single best, most epiphanous experience of my life so far. Unlike most aspiring thru-hikers who begin their treks at Amicalola Falls State Park, my own hike began by doing an out 'n back to Springer Mtn., the southern terminus, sans backpack, from the nearest forest service road... and suffered much good-natured ribbing by the other thru-hikers by not taking the standard route. (Me: "It's not the AT; it's BLUE blazed!")
Now, 16 years later, I finally got the opportunity to do the AT Approach Trail! We started at the Visitors Center, oohing and aahing our way up the 600+ stairs next to the waterfalls. The tread was smooth and runnable, with spring blooms and carpets of lovely Mayapples flanking the trail.. On top of Springer we encountered the summit volunteer, an amazing 78-year-old gentleman who thru-hiked the Colorado Trail last year! We also met "Three Dollar Rob" from Minnesota just setting off on his GA-ME adventure. (He found $3 on the trail earlier in the day, so we gave him a trail name.) The route Chris and I took totalled about 19 miles, returning from Springer Mtn. via the Hike Inn, where the caretakers kindly let us take a warm & dry break next to their woodstove. Except for the first hour, it rained steadily the entire time so we were thankful for the breather.
The next morning at Woody Gap, we joined running buddy Scott, along with Liz and Phil, for the Appalachian - Benton MacKaye - Duncan Ridge loop, the so-called "toughest backpack in Georgia." All told, we did about 54 miles, climbed close to 18,000 feet, and spent just over 16 hours playing in the woods. On the 23-mile DRT alone I counted 17 individual climbs and descents, including Akin Peak and Payne Knob (ha). Unlike many southern trails, the DRT went straight up and straight down--one guidebook refers to "kamikaze descents"--with only a couple of switchbacks on the entire trail. None of the climbs was particularly long; there were just a lot of them! Except for one tiny streamlet from which we refilled bottles and bladders, there was no water on the ridge; however, there are also a few off-ridge water sources marked by "W" signs. The Appalachian and Benton MacKaye sections were much mellower with plenty of water sources. Chris generously crewed us while getting in a good number of miles himself. Thanks Chris!! :) In contrast to the day before, Sunday's weather was blissfully perfect! We had a great time--this loop ROCKS and I highly recommend running it if you get the chance.
I also learned something new after our runs this weekend: Waffle House is open 24 hours!!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Before the weekend's adventures, I wanted to post a quick shout out--and huge thank you--to Gwinnett County, Georgia's Yellow River Park trails. Chris is working outside Atlanta this week and next. Frankly, we weren't hopeful of finding good trail running this close to the city. Happily, we were wrong! The fine folks at Tri Your Best steered us 3 miles down the road to some of the most enjoyable single- and doubletrack on which we've ever run. The trails are not particularly technically or aerobically challenging, with just a few little rollers, but they are just lovely, zigging and zagging through a forest of mostly open hardwoods and southern pine. The spring flowers are in full bloom, the birdies are singing merrily, and there's been hardly anyone else on the trails when we've been out there--really a total pleasant surprise. :) We've seen deer there on most every outing, and one morning I spotted 3 piliated woodpeckers at once!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Looking great and oh-so-stylish all day and almost an hour faster than last year - I'm so proud of him!!
I had utterly no desire to run the race myself so spent the day crewing and getting in almost 22 quality miles on my own, running from aid station 3 to 2 and back, then from 3 to 5 and back. This section of the PCT is mostly smooth singletrack and very runable.
Garbonzo contemplating the final 8 miles...
And coming around the final curve to the finish line!
It was also awesome to reconnect with some faces of the past and meet a few new ones. You know who you are, Cool People! ;-) We had driven directly to Palmdale after a week in Las Vegas. Post-race, we drove ~90 min. back to Oxnard, were home for approximately 6 hours, then zipped down to LAX to catch a plane to Atlanta. Have I ever mentioned that life with this man is never boring?! Not-Boring-Guy at Gate 51, really early Sunday morning:
Oh yeah, Vegas... I RODE THE ROLLER COASTER!! It was fun albeit way too short at only a couple of minutes. We ran trails at Bootleg, Cottonwood, and Redrock Canyons, and lower elevation trails in the Mt. Charleston area but couldn't do the peak because of too much snow. We also had dinner atop the Stratosphere which was pretty cool. Dessert--a chocolate turtle flanked by two different types of creme brulee--was sinfully yummy but surpassed the following night by tiramisu at Sergio's Italian Gardens...
Monday, April 12, 2010
(Photos by Ken Hughes)
Recovery post-W48 has gone nicely, and I've run 60'ish miles for each of the past couple of weeks--rather on the high side for me. More importantly, each and every run was a joy, the weather has been great for it, and I got to check out some new-to-me trailrunning areas.
Chris had a short work gig in San Diego the week of the 29th, so I made my way over to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park about 45 minutes east of the city for a spectacular, runable yet challenging 12 miler. With about 100 miles of singletrack, doubletrack, and fire road, there's a lot more to explore there so I'll definitely be back. The YMCA was literally a one-minute walk from our hotel, so I got in a couple days of back-to-back yoga classes--a first for me--four different instructors/four completely different classes. Fun!
We did a nice, almost 20-mile loop on the Ojai Ridge on Easter Sunday: Cozy Dell to Gridley bottom to Gridley top and down Pratt. It was a near perfect day for running--cool but quite breezy on the ridgetop. We cracked up at the now hardened C2M runners' skid marks on lower Cozy Dell; if you were there, you know what I'm talking about!
This past Saturday the group pictured below did 40 "on-the-epic-side" miles in the Santa Barbara backcountry to celebrate Sandee's 40th birthday. The views and wildflowers were lovely, and we experienced quite a bit more "adventure" than I think any of us had anticipated, but that just means we had more fun. Sandwiched between nicely groomed, sissy trail, the middle section of "trail" existed only in the cartographer's imagination. To spice things up further, we waded through jungles of poison oak and mean spiny/prickly plants (the legs are just now starting to itch). Such is trailrunning through burnt areas, in this case the 2007 Zaca Fire. With all the route finding and slow going, it took us nearly 12 hours to go 40 miles! I told everyone it would've been good training for Barkley. :)
(Me, H'ard, Ken, Sandee, Maria, & Gretchen at the finish)
This week we are in Sin City, both working and playing... but not the kind of playing one usually associates with Vegas. There is great trail running here!, and we intend to revisit Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Red Rock Canyon, Blue Diamond, and possibly still snow-covered Mt. Charleston. And, okay, I'll admit it: I'm an overgrown 12 year old and do intend to ride the New York New York roller coaster this time!! :-)
Thursday, April 1, 2010
(The merry trio at the start of the last day)
I always dread the inevitable letdown once a big adventure, race, vacation, or what-have-you is over. It's the same feeling a child experiences the day after Christmas. Now what? Having been there many, many times, I know what to expect and know that the post-race blahs will soon dissipate as plans are formulated for the next big adventure. That said, this week was a teeny bit of a downer, but I found myself smiling with contented happiness--and sometimes outright laughter--when reflecting upon the W48 journey and came up with a W48 Top Ten list, in no particular order:
1. Unplugging and focusing. I got online just once or twice in 8 days and then for just a couple of minutes to check weather and trail conditions. As well, most of the time my phone didn't work in the wilds of Northern NH. Some people would likely panic at the mere thought of being unable to log into Facebook, email, etc.--the lack of connection with the outside world. I loved it. As one who is rather multi-task challenged, the ability to relax and focus with minimal distraction equaled nirvana. What happened in the rest of the world during that week? Who cared?
2. Reclimbing old, familiar mountains. The White Mountains of NH are where I first hit the trail, where I first got hooked on peakbagging, where confidence and comfort in the outdoors first took root. To say, I cut my eyeteeth in the Whites. I have done each of these mountains in every month of the year, some approaching 50 ascents. These mountains are really, really special to me! Some of them I had not climbed since 2004. To do them all again rocked.
3. Muscle memory. It's a wonderful thing. As mentioned in the previous post, I did no special training for this little snowshoe adventure, so I can attribute the relative ease and lack of suffering to the phenomenon of "muscle memory."
4. Having fun. I think I did not articulate well enough in the last post exactly how much freaking FUN this whole thing was. Except for climbing Tecumseh in the rain and dragging the "cement blocks" across the Sleepers and Twinway, it never felt like toil because we were having such a good time. :)
5. Playing in the snow but not living in it. Snowshoeing, skiing, sledding are fun. Living in snow/cold day to day, week to week, month to month--shoveling, layering up, freezing one's arse off October to May--to me, is not. I know this because I lived in Vermont x 30 years.
6. Seeing stars in the night sky. You realize how incredibly cool this is when you no longer have easy, quick access to it.
7. Making new friends. The adventure/event/trail is the great equalizer; the diversity of backgrounds loses much meaning once on the trail. Goals are common, differences obscured. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with Ryan and Jason. They are super cool people. ;-)
8. Dunkin Donuts. I love their coffee and egg 'n cheese bagel sandwiches, and there aren't any in California!! One appreciates what one cannot have...
9. Returning to California. There's something decadant about spending all that time in the snow, then flying into a land of palm trees, sunshine, and 75 degrees. Such is winter in southern California.
10. Yoga after 3 weeks off. It felt really, really goooood. :)
(Atop Mt. Liberty, peak #46, in the wee hours of the morning)