Chris Brown took this pic the morning before Pitchell
I've attempted Adam Hill’s Pitchell 100K+ three times now, but have yet to complete the challenge. It’s hard to explain. Certainly it isn’t the hardest traverse. Is it possible that I haven't taken this adventure seriously enough? Well, this year, I was definitely focused on finishing, but a whole slew of odds were stacked against us.
The week leading up to Pitchell was tough. Lily and I inevitably swapped germs. I had a low-grade fever, congestion and sore throat on Wednesday and Thursday during a conference in Chapel Hill. My plan of running Pitchell in reverse on Saturday was scrapped due to my slow recovery from illness. Meanwhile, schoolwork was starting to bog me down. I found myself considering whether to run at all.
On Friday, Byron wrote: “I got the weekend pass to play.” Recreate and reconnect with something real, the sane thing to do. Wait, Pitchell sane? A renewed urgency to run was born upon a profound frustration with an artificial world around me: apathetic and ignorant people of all ages; materialism, greed, shopping malls; a passive and detached status quo…
At 10:30PM Saturday night, eight of us reluctantly left the warmth of Brad’s van to start a 3+ mile approach to the summit of Mt. Pisgah from Hwy 151. The parkway was closed due to landslides and bad weather conditions. The wind howled and the flurries flew. We passed through tunnels that were like wind chambers. Near the end of the last tunnel, the crunch of ice underfoot reverberated loudly off the walls.
We walked briskly. Conversation among kindred spirits refreshed me. Soon, however, the silence of awe set in. We had entered a true winter wonderland in mid-October. Everything was covered in snow 1000’ below the summit of Pisgah.
We climbed forever in the snow. The ice crystals reflected our lights, illuminating the overburdened rhododendron ahead of us. Finally, a red cloud (eerily illuminated by tower lights) swallowed us onto the summit and into distant memory. The run officially started at 11:50PM on Saturday.
I’m usually not accustomed to bringing up the rear, but for some reason on Pitchell, it’s par for the course. Dying batteries in my headlamp could partly be to blame this time. Fortunately, there were some extras in the van. My body didn’t feel all that fresh and I was certainly sleepy, but I did keep on my projected 4mph pace to the French Broad River. It was here about 20 miles in that I decided to bag the run and catch a ride back to the Folk Art Center.
We had a strong group of eight runners this year, and certainly Byron Backer and Brad Kee would have finished if not for the crazy weather. Arctic conditions in the higher elevations with 1-3” of snow/ice and gusty winds caused the parkway up to Mt. Mitchell including the park itself to close down. This was the ultimate deathblow for those who made it as far as Craggy Gardens.
I’m thankful to have given Pitchell another shot and very grateful for all those who helped out. An adventure like this one may seem crazy to most, but really this type of play keeps some of us sane…
I haven’t run many “official” ultras in recent years, but I did have a blast at the NRT50K. This is the fastest 50K course I know of in one of the most scenic venues. Annette and George are just awesome people, so this race comes highly recommended.
My folks joined us in the VW camper. We camped along the river in Fries Friday night with intentions of moving the party downstream with some canoeing, biking and more camping and running action at the Blue Cat Saturday night through Sunday.
Dad and I joined the other runners at the starting line Saturday morning. Lily made her way to Blue Cat via bike shortly after the race got started while mom and Uwharrie walked.
Due to my lack of training and also my plan of doubling with a long run on the NRT the next day, I had no intention of racing the 50K. But as Annette counted down to “blast-off” and no toes had yet touched the line, I decided to ante up. This would be my fitness test.
Settling in behind the lead runners for the first 8 miles, I felt comfortably disengaged from racing. Iron Mountain Man Nick Whited politely ushered me into his conversation with Tim Driscoll. I told these strong runners that they could duke it out themselves and I’d pick up the scraps.
This plan didn’t last too long… Shortly after the turn-around, it got lonely with no one in sight. I found myself in second place with the wind leaving my sails.
Realizing that if I slowed down to the finish, my legs would still be toast, I thought why not treat the remainder of this run as an exercise in mental fortitude? The last 10 miles slowly ticked by as I struggled to maintain my pace.
Bonked out and clunky, I crossed the finish line in 3:35, about four minutes off my PR, which is ridiculous. I’m happy with this time. However, the true sign of fitness is not how you throw down, but rather how you pick up. My legs are still stiff from this effort.
Despite generous leg soaking in the river, I would not have been able to comfortably double today or yesterday. But as it turns out, our vacation in Virginia had to come to an early end anyway… Lily and I couldn’t quite escape school without getting sick. My folks and I found her at Blue Cat Saturday afternoon with a fever.
On the plus side, Lily and I have an easy week ahead of us: out of school and at conference in Chapel Hill until Friday… Also, we have some fresh baked bread and three bottles of cabernet sauvignon as prize earnings to aid in our recovery. Thanks Annette!
Lily, Uwharrie and I drove to the mountains of South Carolina on Friday to celebrate the marriage of Ashley and Elliot. They had themselves a laid back wedding: a wonderful outdoor ceremony overlooking Table Rock followed by a jovial reception with a live bluegrass band and delicious vegan/vegetarian supper. We were impressed and honored to attend.
After reconnecting with our old Mountain Bridge friends, we bedded down at our campsite in Table Rock State Park. We awoke on Saturday and drove to Jones Gap State Park to tour our old 11,000+ acre backyard. Lily hiked up Rainbow Falls while Uwharrie and I ran the Mountain Bridge Marathon loop around the perimeter of the park.
We started the 20-something mile loop at noon in a clockwise direction. The initial warm climb up Pinnacle Mountain had me worried about the remainder of the day, but after leveling out and cooling off in the creeks, I felt better. The wilderness trails can be quite technical in places. This route has somewhere around 5500’ of climbing. Needless to say, it isn’t fast.
I think my fastest time is slightly under five hours. We finished in just over five hours this time around. But for us, it wasn’t about the speed: we were on a stroll down memory lane. Our senses tingled, reconnecting the past step by step: the Carolina hemlock atop Pinnacle, the smell of muscadine, frigid water mixed with hot sunny outcrops, the cool of the Dismal…
This was a much needed long workout to burn off the wine and rich food from the night before. Trail running seems to be a rare and precious luxury for us these days. Today, I caught myself daydreaming not only about an earlier time, but also about adventures yet to come!