24 February 2014

I'm a runner again!

It's been 2 years, 3 months & 28 days, 10 pounds & another knee surgery since I last ran a marathon. Not that I am counting.

Last full marathon was the (former) Ridge to Bridge in NC. One of my absolute favorite runs, but I had a bad day due to back & hip problems. After my 3rd knee surgery in November 2012 I was determined to get back into running distance. It's my therapy & such a part of me. I made one failed attempt at the Virginia Creeper marathon in March of 2013 - only made 18 miles. Partially due to weather as it was sleeting & I was miserably cold, but mostly because I was undertrained & knew I would be walking most of the last 8 miles. I just could not face the thought of it.

Fast forward to now. I had signed up for another one of my favorites, the Black Mtn marathon. The marathon begins in Black Mtn, NC , runs through Montreat & ascends the Toll Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway before returning to town. The Challenge continues to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the east, before returning.  I have completed the marathon two times & the 40 mile Challenge four times & I just love the course, the aid station volunteers & the swag.  Hell, I figured if nothing else I could hike it as I am perfectly capable of 20+ mile dayhikes & the last half is almost all downhill!

I was a little better trained this time & also had the benefit of having a few friends along for support: Amanda & her husband Mike, Kirk & Tom. I showed up early race day & was a complete bundle of nerves. I couldn't decide if I was gonna pass out or puke. It's been quite a while since I have felt that nervous before a run!

First few miles ticked off pretty quickly, as you are mostly on paved roads through town. Then it was time to hit the trail! There is always a police officer at the turnoff & I always try to have my photo taken with them after I thank them for being out there.

Despite the recent winter weather, there was not alot of snow or ice  the trails. In fact, the warm days had turned it into a muddy mess. Melting snow was running down the trail like a creek! These sloppy conditions made for slow going, but that worked well for me as my strength for uphill is hiking rather than running.

 We finally made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway & the turnaround. While my time was not great, I knew the best part - DOWNHILL- was coming next! This was where I truly felt my best. I was able to hop-skip-jump & successfully navigate the rocks while maintaining a good pace. I was surprised how quickly I regained my trail legs. 

Eventually we came to my favorite aid station only a few miles from the finish. What's good about it? They always have beer! This year it was Oskar Blues. Yummy!

The rest of the race went by fairly quickly, although there were some really steep descents into Montreat. After a couple more miles running along the edge of Black Mtn, I hit the last few hills before you get to the finish at Lake Tomahawk. It's a little cruel to run you so close to the finish line when you still have to run around the lake, but it is a beautiful place! 

I was pretty happy with my marathon time: The first time I ran it in 2004 I finished in 5:58. The last time I ran it in 2009 I finished in 7:03. This year I split the difference for a finish of 6:39. Next year I am going to the summit.

I'm back!

03 February 2014

Drivin' that Train!

For more than a year I have been hearing about the abandoned steam engine in Injun Creek on the Grapeyard Trail in the Greenbrier area of the Smokies. I even came fairly close when we had a backpack planned for Kephart Shelter that got shut down due to snow - as a substitute we ended up hiking an off trail up to campsite #32 & back down. I did not realize how close I was to the train! But finally we had another snowy weekend that was just perfect for a low elevation backpack. So we tentatively made a plan to shuttle hike Baskins Creek & Grapeyard ~ 10.3 miles.

In keeping with our last-minute planning, we didn't even reserve a couple of sites at Campsite#34 until 9 AM on Saturday. As I was on my way to meet Brian at Greenier, he called to say the gate was closed. Thinking he meant the gate at the Greenbrier Ranger Station, I replied "Well, so we will have a little bit of a road walk tomorrow". To which he replied, "No, the gate is closed at Hwy 321 - we will have a helluva road walk out!" Turns out the entire length of Greenbrier was a solid sheet of ice & the Park Rangers were saying it would likely not be open soon. Hmmm....Well, what's a couple more miles? It's all good!

We parked at the trailhead for Rainbow Falls but soon figured out there was so much ice & snow & slush that it would be better to road walk Roaring Fork than struggle over Baskins. Even though it felt like most of the time I was skiiing more than hiking, we found after the Trillium trailhead there were few "human" tracks & instead found ourselves following wandering turkey tracks.....

Eventually we caught up with this big gobbler & his harem of hens:

Once they saw us they quickly took off up the hill. But I still enjoyed following their tracks.

Eventually we made it to the Jim Bales cabin at the start of the Grapeyard Ridge trail. Pretty neat cabin & I got some nice shots in the snow, but it is not original to the site - only the barn & the crib truly are.

The hike was really nice once we got past the rocky horse trail section at the beginning.  It was fun to go in & out the snow! I quickly warmed up & zipped my legs off. Asked Brian to get a picture of me to prove I was wearing shorts in the snow. This is what I got:

Interesting perspective. Did I mention that Brian is really tall?

By the time we got to #34 it had cooled back down & I was forced to add layers back. We were somewhat taken aback to turn the corner to find the campsite full of people & tents! Apparently there were some other last minute backpackers scrolling the GSMNP reservations site this morning as well. I guess I should not have been surprised though - this is one of the most accessible sites if you take the off trail up from the Ranger Station. We looked around a little & luckily found a small flat spot down by the creek that even already had a fire ring. Perfect!

Next morning we got a fairly early start as I was impatient to find the engine. After a steep knee pounding descent to Injun Creek, I got my wish. It is so cool! I apologize in advance for all the photos I took of it, but I could have spent all day in the creek......

And my absolute favorite:

So the story goes, it was a Nichols-Shepherd self propelled tractor used  for powering sawmills & had been used at a sawmill on  Rhododendron Creek to cut timbers for a school in Greenbrier. Around the year 1920, as it was being driven home the driver came too close to the edge of the creek & rolled it over the bank. Some of the wreckage was salvaged but the boiler, wheels & other components such as gears were left behind.

The rest of the trail was rather anticlimatic after the steam engine, although we did cross several old homestites - mostly just old rock walls & such.
 Trouble ahead....trouble behind....

Eventually we found ourselves on the still ice-encased Greenbrier Road. 

Nothing like a several mile road walk to end a nice backpack trip, but with the road closed we at least did not have to worry about traffic!