Two weeks since our wedding, the married life is treating us very well. However, it’s been hard to get back into a groove at the toughest job that either one of us has ever had. Having managed to sneak in only a few runs amid endless planning and grading, I haven’t felt very fit.
Come Saturday, the challenge of a sub-3 hour Double Kitsuma looms. Mom, dad, Lily, Uwharrie and I break camp along Curtis Creek in the chill early autumn morn. The camper cruises its way to Old Fort Picnic Area, the site of the Kitsuma Klimb time trial and post-run Kookout. Undaunted by trail closure signs and a rapidly warming day, Charlie, Adam, dad and I toe the line at 9 AM.
It’s no secret that Adam and I intend to double up on this out-and-back with hopes of a high noon finish. So the pace up and out of the cove is stout. Upon reaching Youngs Ridge, the reason for the neon green closure signs becomes readily apparent: a ditch witch has plowed its way for miles along what used to be some sweet single track. Stimulus funds may eventually restore this tread, but for now it’s an unpleasant obstacle course of upturned roots, rocks and loose dirt.
All this doesn’t bode well for a sub-3, but we keep cranking with a constant eye on the unpredictable footing. We pass Gail, who was clever enough to start earlier. Before I know it, I’m winding my way up toward the summit of Kitsuma and I realize there may be some advantages to this torn-up trail: it’s distracting me from seeking out known landmarks, so the checkpoints seem to arrive sooner.
Bombing down the other side to 40, I begin to wonder if the loose dirt will actually help soften some of the jarring descents. Suddenly, my left foot plunges calf-deep into soft berm. There’s now a pound of pebbles inside my shoe. I reach the turn-around in forty-five minutes and take a minute to dump the dirt from my shoes before setting off on the return.
Adam passes me with a high five about a minute back. I soon pass Charlie coming down the switchbacks from Kitsuma. I run all the way up and over the summit where I pass dad. On the long descent back to the picnic area, I cross paths with Ashley and Brandon. Mom and Uwharrie have hiked up the trail and cheer me as I pass. It’s starting to get hot, so I’m eager to don my “murse” (conceptual hydration pack) for the second lap.
Adam is still about a minute back as I start climbing out of the cove at 1:25. The second lap is all about survival. I’ve got a five-minute buffer, but given my diminished pace, I know it’s only worth a few walking breaks. So I cash in early to down a gel and guzzle some water. The climb to the top of Youngs Ridge seems to go on and on and I have to stop and walk a couple more times.
Adam catches me at the top of Kitsuma. We run together down to the turn-around at 2:16. In a brief conversation, we recount our respective journeys thus far on the pain train. He gets ahead as I stop (for the third time) to empty my shoes of unwanted debris. I know I won’t catch Adam. It’s now a race against the clock. I’ve got just under 43 minutes. I’m walking up the switchbacks to Kitsuma feeling a cramp building in my left quad and wondering how I’ll manage to drag myself to the finish in less than 3 hours.
Somewhere along the way, I pass Ryan. In a daze, I start down Youngs Ridge for the final time listening to the distant and incessant drone of interstate traffic. Sunlight dances on the leaves and the heat throbs in my head. I realize I’m bonking, I pull the last gel out of my pack and down it as quickly as I can. All hope seems lost: I slog up a slight hill with no pep left in my step…
If there was a shortcut back to the finish, I would take it at this moment, but the shortest way home is straight ahead on the trail. I begin to shuffle, then jog, then run on the downhill. Soon I’m practically sprinting with my candle flickering, yet somehow still lit. I begin to descend into the cove with just five minutes until high noon. I’ve never run this stretch as fast as I have to now, but I just go for it… and it pays off: 2:59:38!
The (18+ mile w/ mile+ climb) run is fun, but the ensuing Kookout is what makes such gatherings so special. Everybody is ready for some creek soakage, local brew and the luckiest of potlucks. A little music, soccer and bocce ball thrown in for good measure and that’s what this beautiful afternoon shapes itself into for the 16 or so in attendance. See you at the next one…
This past Labor Day weekend, Lily and I tied the knot. Our wedding was everything we hoped for and much more. We're very thankful to have had the chance to share it with many of you. For those we missed, we hope to see you soon! We're in the process of putting together a picasa album of the big day. Thanks again to everyone!