On the wall, a checklist reads: gone for a run today? Planks? Push-ups? Pull-ups? My goal is to check off everyday between this Monday and the end of May. So far, so good.
Carl's garmin is on loan for the upcoming adventure. I had a chance to familiarize myself with the unit on a sweet half-marathon loop over Woods Mountain on Tuesday. From the summit, Uwharrie and I made it almost all the way to Toms Creek Falls in an hour, which is over 8 miles on trail, not all downhill and not all smooth.
The end of the school year will be crazy, but training must continue.
Circling up as a school outside, passing around a giant globe, hearing students brainstorm on a megaphone about how to lessen our ecological footprint, cheering for our favorites, handing out wildflowers and compact fluorescent bulbs. These are baby steps, but I’m glad we did something on Earth Day, Thursday.
On Friday, Lily and I took some students on a hiking trip after school to the summit of Shortoff. We munched on some fresh growth of catbriers and refreshing teaberries. We marveled at the early rhododendron blooms. When it came time to go, I thought we’d have a mutiny on our hands. It’s wonderful to see young people so enthralled by nature.
Lily thinning the garden
It's been a while since writing. Work/school has consumed much of my energy and time these last couple weeks. It's been discouraging as I try to gear up for the overwhelming challenge of the SB6K. But life has been good. As spring sets in, we have a garden that's taking off.
On Saturday, after frying my brain in Boone with two PRAXIS exams, Lily Uwharrie and I grabbed lunch and stocked up with some exotic brew at Peabody's before rolling to the parkway for a short run along the Tanawha Trail. Uwharrie and I saw some incredibly large trout lillies blooming. After dinner at home, it was time to go be chaperone at the school prom...
Running errands around town
Neal reminds me it's time to mobilize on two wheels. I've been commuting some on the bike, However, most alternative transportation has lately been on foot. Time is in short supply, but since most everything (school, grocery, bank, library etc.) is within a few miles of home, running still makes sense and allows me to sneak in some short workouts. Plus I've found a use for all those old flats that c.laniak would argue have thousands of miles left on them: commuter shoes.
Haphazardly, preparation continues. Running around in flashy shoes, thrift shop threads and a man-purse. It's a wonder I haven't yet been shot.
On Wednesday morning, I drove an hour and a half to Wolf Laurel Gap (BRPMP 458) to begin a 75-mile fastpack loop in the Smokies. This circuit included 55 of the first 63 miles of the northbound SB6K route and tagged ten of the twelve summits in the Smokies:
1.) Mt. Kephart
2.) Mt. Le Conte
3.) Mt. Sequoya
4.) Mt. Chapman
5.) Mt. Guyot
6.) Old Black
7.) Mark's Knob
8.) Mt. Yonaguska
9.) Luftee Knob
10.) Big Cataloochee
The forecast called for the warm sunny weather to deteriorate to rain on Thursday. I packed accordingly. When I hoisted my pack, it felt like a ton. Really, it was probably well under twenty pounds with water and 2.5 days worth of food. It just felt heavy with all these "extras" (including wool hat and tights)... This heat wave must've really rotted my brain.
I started at 10:30 AM headed towards the Oconaluftee River on the MST, which for this section is mostly a roadwalk along the BRP. The pack felt comfortable for trotting and I made quick progress to Mingus Mill before 1 PM. I then decided to try my luck at hitching to Newfound Gap to maximize my time on the actual SB6K route. Without a writing utensil, I strapped an impromptu sign to the back of my pack.
Dozens of cars flew by as I walked along US-441. No one seemed to like my sign. I was a ways past Smokemont when two girls from Vale, NC picked me up. They got me to the AT before 3 PM. I hiked quickly from the crowded gap to the Boulevard Junction. After summiting Kephart, I detached my waistbelt and hid the rest of my pack at the Jumpoff Junction. I carried just my hipbelt for the 10-mile out-and-back to Le Conte through the snow.
Comparing my 5.3 mile split between the summits of Kephart and Le Conte with Cave Dog's 2003 split, I logged a 1:11 to Cave Dog's 1:13. But I was pushing much faster than what seemed to be a reasonable pace for the SB6K challenge. I refilled from Icewater Spring and bypassed the crowded shelter. A thru-hiker joined me as I finished off a sunset dinner from Charlies Bunion. Together, we found a stealth camp a mile past the Bunion (about 35 miles total for the day).
The wind picked up overnight, we wondered when the precipitation would start. The cuben fiber poncho/tarp handled the wind surprisingly well- not bad for a four ounce shelter. I awoke before dawn hoping to make some progress before the cloudy skies dumped rain. I refilled at Pecks Corner, brewed up coffee and downed some oatmeal before pushing on to Sequoyah and Chapman. It started raining, the wind picked up and the temperature began to drop.
Ducking in from out of the rain at Tricorner Knob Shelter, I detached my hipbelt for the 5 mile roundtrip to Guyot and Old Black. Other backpackers were looking miserable. I knew this was a rare opportunity to scout some remote peaks, so I sucked it up. After donning my wool hat, I felt like a new man. I charged up Guyot and was amazed by the downed spruce obstacle course near the top. These bushwhacks were trickier than I thought they'd be.
As I raced back to Tricorner, the camera started acting up due to wetness. I stuck it in a pair of socks with a hand warmer deep inside my pack. There are a few more pictures of my second day in the Smokies on the SB6K training album. Needless to say, I became less interested with documentation as I clawed my way through thick spruce in hypothermic conditions. When on trail, I was in a creek. All my splits were discouragingly slow.
Initially, I decided to skip Big Cataloochee to save as much dwindling daylight for a 20+ mile push to the car and safety. It was supposed to get down to freezing. I was soaked and knew my BMT poncho/quilt just wasn't going to cut it. When I arrived to the Laurel Gap Shelter after 4 PM, I ducked in from out of the rain and noticed two dads and four teenage boys already hunkered down. I just stood there soaking wet in a daze until realizing I was in trouble.
I put on my tights and quilt. I started eating and got out my fire kit. The shelter's small fireplace was crammed full of wet paper and wood from failed attempts. I cleaned it out and started anew. The fire began to catch. One dad offered me a bowl of lipton soup. I sipped it while tending the fire. Everyone was quiet. As the fire grew and the rain tapered off, we cheered up. Feeling good about having fire, I decided to go tag Big Cataloochee (about 3 miles roundtrip) before dark.
When I returned from the excursion with a load of wood, I had decided to stay at the shelter rather than night hike out. The skies eventually cleared and the temperature bottomed out. I layed down away from the fire from about 10 PM - 3:30 AM. I was not warm at all. When I could no longer tolerate the cold, I reawakened the coals and started the fire for Friday breakfast and packing up. I worked quietly while the other occupants snored away.
I began the 20-mile hike out to Wolf Laurel Gap at 4:30 AM. I used my tiny pen light for the first hour and a half. When I arrived to the Balsam Mtn. Gap Road, I turned off the light. The views along this stretch were incredible. My pace accelerated, but I still kept all my clothes on as my body's core temperature felt low. The road seemed to go on and on. In the coves, ramps grew in abundance. I savored some of these fresh mountain delicacies.
The Flat Creek Trail was a joy to run in the daylight. My body finally began to warm up. I arrived to the gap and car at about 10:30 AM after exploring some alternate descent routes. These 48 hours in the Smokies were quite fun. But next time, I may pack some warmer gear. As of this writing, I'm just a couple summits away from climbing all of the forty Southeastern Sixers.
The first several days of spring break have been very enjoyable and productive recon for the upcoming SB6K bid. Lily, Uwharrie and I camped along the Blue Ridge Parkway Friday and Saturday nights and explored the routes up the following peaks:
1.) Mt. Hardy
2.) Chestnut Bald
3.) Richland Balsam
4.) Reinhart Knob
5.) Yellow Face
6.) Waterrock Knob
7.) Mount Lyn Lowery
8.) Plott Balsam
Upon learning of the unfortunate outcome of Scott’s BMT attempt, we decided to roll on through Highlands and into SC to visit Ashley and Elliot in Jones Gap on Sunday.
Elliot took us on a wonderful paddle across Lake Jocassee on Monday. The full glory of spring has arrived in the lower elevations. On the highest summits, the snow lingers.
Lily is off to FL to be with her mom, Uwharrie is hanging with friends in the Mountain Bridge. Starting tomorrow, I’m off to the Smokies for a 70+ mile fastpack exploring ten more peaks. The break away continues…
On cue for the warm sunny days away from work this coming week (spring break):
Lily, Uwharrie and I will be roadtripping in WNC. We'll be doing some recon for the SB6K, visiting friends and cheering on Scott Brockmeier as he attempts to set a new speed record on the BMT. Updates streaming here: