Sunday, April 01, 2012


Early rhododendron blooms on Bald Knob
3.31: 3.5h, 4000’ Bald w/ Brandon
(∑tc. etc.) = 0(ish)

Another easy week leading up to a big adventure, which has finally been dialed in for April: a third attempt at the Bartram Trail. On November 11th, 2010, Denise Davis inspired many of us with her unprecedented non-stop traverse of this 110-mile trail. This past week, Adam Hill made a valiant attempt, but had to bail near Franklin. I know all about bailing on this trail.

A little personal history with the Bartram Trail:

On March 12th, 2005 I attempted to run the trail southbound in one push a week after running the Foothills Trail in 16:52. Much was learned from this ill-fated attempt, which began with a bang... Almost.

After enduring whiteout blizzard conditions en route to Robbinsville Friday night, we bedded down for an early morning departure to Locust Cove Gap Trail 5 miles from town. This trail offered a 4-mile shortcut approach to Cheoah Bald, but was near impossible to find in the pre-dawn darkness.

After driving up and down a gravel road alongside private property, we decided to get out on foot and hunt for the trail... “Click-click!” We heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun. After yelling at me for a spell, the figure holding the gun eventually told us where to go to find the trail. Nice enough guy, not to shoot us anyway.

We proceeded up the trail in three inches of fresh snow towards Cheoah and sunrise. On top by 7:30AM, I was an anxious wreck for the first 22 miles hoping to see my crew at Nantahala Lake. The weather was perfect, and I got ahead of my ambitious pace by 38 minutes arriving at the Lakeside Camp Store to find the truck. What a relief!

I grunted up Wayah Bald, a tough climb and tough mental hurtle. Suddenly there was a pang of despair looming in the approaching 12+ hours of dark. I pushed on from the summit. The next 13 miles of trail wrung the last bit of focus and momentum from me. 44 miles in (48 including the approach) and I bagged it.

Uwharrie and me on Cheoah, 2005
Flash forward three years…

On March 23rd, 2008 there was a spur of the moment decision to set out for a non-stop traverse of the trail. Conditions seemed ideal: the Sunday/Monday forecast showed no signs of precipitation; the near-full moon was set to rise at 10 PM, perfect for a noon start of the southbound journey.

The trail was fresh in my mind from a four-day stage run back on New Year’s (w/ Brian, Mohammed and Uwharrie). That adventure whetted my appetite for another attempt at a non-stop traverse (possibly as an encore to Umstead). With my fitness peaking and my post-Umstead plans far from Bartram, it occurred to me that the time to try was now.

Lily, Uwharrie and I drove down from Black Mountain on Sunday to begin the four-mile approach to Cheoah Bald from Locust Cove at 10 AM. We greeted several northbound thru-hikers along the AT. Uwharrie ran the first 30 miles with me; Lily returned to the car to meet us at Wayah Bald. Along the way, she left a cache of food and water at 23 miles.

We reached Wayah in six hours and seven minutes. After refueling, I set out solo into the evening headed toward Franklin. Along Trimont, I startled a herd of wild pigs and piglets (literally running right through them). There were also several deer spotted. The animals seemed to be enjoying the end to this beautiful day. I met Lily and Uwharrie at the ranger station in town (43.5 miles) in 8:58. She had picked up two large veggie pizzas (still hot!), and they were delicious.

I caught a ride with Lily to Buckeye Creek TH, omitting an 11-mile road stretch. It was 10:20 PM when I began the long, dark climb up over the Fishhawks. I was well fed and running strong. If I could maintain a 4 mph pace through the night, it seemed very likely that I could finish this 100 mile traverse in less than 24 hours.

The moon rose to greet me on the ridge. The sky was clear, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was plummeting. I focused on my footing and my pacing. Although my hands were cold, I seemed to be warm enough moving. Atop a rocky outcrop, I saw a brilliant shooting star plunging into the western sky. A beautiful night! I had no idea just how good the conditions were going to be…

This is what plagues me the most when I think back on my decision to quit at Osage overlook. It wasn’t easy. But the longer I sat in the warm car debating it, the easier quitting became. Go figure.

Everything seemed ideal to complete this traverse. Although I was tired, my body felt good. There’s no doubt I could’ve kept going. I decided that I shouldn’t: the remaining 41 miles would’ve taken an irreparable toll on my Umstead performance.

Lily and me on Wayah, 2008 (w/the fearsome Fishhawks visible beyond)
 Flash forward four years…

After ten years, I’ve yet to figure out the best taper strategy. Leading up to this attempt, I’ve decided to err on the side of caution and take it easy for over two weeks. Both of my previous attempts had me just one week removed from a full 76-mile Foothills Trail traverse. Not so this year. The batteries should be fully charged, but there are a lot of other variables. Given my track record, I’m far from confident about this one…


Caleb Boyle said...

Good luck! It seems like you've chosen the perfect time of the year to do it!

Casseday said...

I bet this year will be different. Enjoy it Matt and good luck!

Scott Brockmeier said...

Sometimes it's good to have low expectations. Get out on the trail and don't force it. It'll happen! Third time IS the charm! Good luck, Matt.