Monday, April 09, 2012

bartram trail thru-run

Quick summary: At sunset, Saturday, April 7th, I successfully completed the 110-mile Bartram Trail in a southbound direction in 31h55m. Many thanks to Lily, Denise, Alan, Tracy and Tony for helping me along the way!

Gearing up for the approach to Cheoah
At 6:30AM on Friday morning, April 6th, Lily, Uwharrie and I hopped in the car and made our way to the Bartram trailhead in the Nantahala Gorge to start this adventure. We had three hours to leisurely climb 5 miles and 3000 ft. to the summit of Cheoah Bald. From here at high noon, Uwharrie and I set off towards Georgia.



The weather was ideal, the day started cool and mostly cloudy. The trail was in better shape than I anticipated coming off a recent burn and more recent heavy rain. Our descent to the car passed quickly and I took the extra time to take off my shoes, feed the dog, lube my feet, chug some water, eat some calories and grab a bottle of juice before continuing on down the trail.

My goal for this trek was to finish in 30 hours. Given my fitness, this seemed like a reasonable expectation, but I still wanted to be cautious and keep it nice and relaxed for as long as possible. Conversations with Adam and Carl had led me to believe that pain would be inevitable along this journey. Perhaps I could prolong the inevitable. I chose to walk, eat and drink a lot early on, but still clicked off checkpoints ahead of schedule.

Near Appletree, Uwharrie and I bumped into Denise Davis running down the trail to cheer me on. For those who don’t know: Denise is the thru-runner pioneer of the Bartram. Having persevered through illness and injury, she finished her inspiring traverse on Veteran’s Day, 2010. Now she was providing caloric and moral support for my attempt, truly a class act. After a quick break, Uwharrie and I continued on to the lake while Denise made plans to meet us closer to Franklin.

View from Wayah
Lily welcomed us to the Lakeside Camp Store and promptly helped me gear up for the climb to Wayah Bald. For this next stretch I chose to go with hiking poles and let Uwharrie rest. I grabbed some protein-fortified juice and downed it on the go. Lily and Uwharrie met me near the summit and fed me a delicious hummus wrap, which was money in the bank. In the first 30 miles to Wayah, I consumed approximately 3000 calories.




Leaving the summit by sunset (8PM), I began the rollercoaster descent to Franklin aided by hiking poles and Carl’s powerful headlamps. The full moonrise was a sight to behold! Denise and Tony surprised me by meeting me half way down the ridge. I enjoyed our fleeting conversation before continuing on solo. Lily and Uwharrie hiked in a bit to welcome me to Wallace Branch at 10:45PM where I took a 15 minute break, ate pizza, switched shoes and socks and packed for the overnight stretch.

Alan Buckner and Tracy Taro ran the 14-mile road section with me out of Franklin while Denise provided vehicular support behind us the whole way. I am truly humbled and indebted to their tremendous kindness for helping me safely reach Buckeye Branch by 2AM. Thank you! Meanwhile, Lily and Uwharrie drove to Osage Mtn. Overlook to sleep and await my early morning arrival.

Halfway through the Bartram and an hour ahead of schedule, I felt great, but Denise cautioned me that I had hardly had anything to eat or drink in the last 3 hours. Denise, Alan and Tracy offered up any of the food items they had on hand. Realizing that I had forgotten to pack my instant coffee, I helped myself to Denise’s stash of caffeinated gels. After quick farewells, I set off alone up Wolf Rock…

Here is where the inevitable caught me: on a long climb through the middle of the night, I could no longer keep my eyes open and my legs moving forward. Never before has sleepiness struck me with such a force. Over the next 15 miles, I plopped down at least half a dozen times on the side of the trail. Forward progress simply seemed impossible when fully immersed in one of these waves of drowsiness. And the waves just kept on coming.

I reached the summit of Scaly by dawn. The sun rose and moon set as I paused to take in the immense beauty of fog-enshrouded peaks rising out of frosty valleys below. Although the latter part of the night had taken a toll, my spirits were still lifted and I felt encouraged by the new day. I arrived at Osage a little before 8AM, one hour behind schedule. I quickly prepped for the 22-mile push to Warwoman Dell before getting too chilled, or too comfortable.

Much to my dismay, the sunshine did not relieve my drowsiness. On the contrary, the rising temperatures seemed to lull me to sleep. The stretch over Rabun Bald passed in a zombie-like blur and the descent to Warwoman seemed never ending due to several impromptu “naps.” I eventually learned to splash cold creek water on my face and the back of my neck whenever I could.

Toasted in Georgia
Although I tried to keep up with fueling and hydration, I definitely slacked off in Georgia. Lily and Uwharrie met and fed me at Warwoman Dell around 2PM. With sub-30-hours out of the question, my goal was now to finish before dark. Uwharrie paced me to the finish from this point and Lily managed to find an access road to meet us halfway through the 18-mile homestretch. By the time we reached the bank of the Chattooga, I knew we could finish before dark. And so we did!

Kissing the rock at the southern terminus
I again thank Lily, Denise, Tony, Alan, Tracy for their awesome support and also Carl (for the use of some awesome headlamps). Looking back, I’m quite happy with my trek, especially with my conservative approach, which after just a couple of days has left me healthy and almost fully recovered. As a relative newbie to non-stop triple-digit traverses, this adventure has served as a tremendous learning experience.

18 comments:

Ben Simon said...

Wow, what an amazing accomplishment. I'm tired just reading it! Thanks for sharing.

Mark Lundblad said...

Congrats Matt! That is an awesome accomplishment on a very tough trail. Sweet!

Casseday said...

Great job Matt. What an awesome adventure. Another one for the memory bank!

phyllis neriah said...

Incredible feat, Matt! Wow. You know it's long journey when the "home stretch" is 18 miles.

Caleb Boyle said...

Matt, impressive effort and accomplishment! Glad to hear that recovery is happening so quickly and easily!

Is there a verdict on the new 110's? I still have one and a half pairs of 101's that need to be worn out before I can test drive a pair. :(

mkirk said...

Thanks guys!

Caleb, I like the 110s a lot more than the 101s for sure.

eminnick said...

Great Job Matt!

Andrew Moore said...

Nice!!! Inspiring stuff Matt. Thanks for sharing.

Dave Worth said...

Good stuff matt, congratlutations!

Dave Worth said...

Good stuff Matt, congratulations

Scott Brockmeier said...

Another great run, Matt! Congrats and thanks for the nice writeup.

Jon Harrison said...

What a day, what a day! Incredible job, Matt. Hope you're feeling healthy and rested.

Denise Davis said...

Congrats Matt! So glad you knocked it out! So....has it been long enough to ask this question...what do you think about a northbound traverse this winter???

mkirk said...

Guys, thanks again. Appreciate the comments. Denise, ouch! It hasn't quite been long enough yet, although going NOBO sometime in the future would certainly be "fun". What about self-supported (utilizing the amenities in Franklin and the Lake Store)? We can think of all sorts of ways to torture our bodies and minds, can't we?

Brandon Thrower said...

Congrats Matt! I knew you were going to complete that beast! Hate that I wasn't able to provide any support. Stellar man, just stellar!

Anne Riddle Lundblad said...

Fantastic, Matt! You are one tough dude. Sorry that Mark and I were too lame to come out and help you in the wee morning hours...but glad that you were in good hands with Lily, Denise, et al.

RunSueRun said...

Congrats Matt! Funny, I was thinking of you Saturday night and Sunday as I did the AT thru Shenandoah Ntl. Park. :)

All the best,
Sue J.

Andrew Telker said...

Good Run ~ Inspiring, candid, and well written! I can't help but feel I am running with you!
cheers