|On the Art Loeb trail in the Pisquah National Forest area|
Now it was my buddy Woody's turn again. In 2008, Woody and I drove up to northeast Georgia and ran 29 miles from War Woman Dell to the top of Rabun's Bald, the third highest point in Georgia, and back. Even though it was December, we were lucky enough to enjoy very mild temperatures at the time. Although at one point, it seemed like we ran through a monsoon, it was raining so heavily.
Fast forward to a few days ago and we were set back by inclement weather for this, his 31st birthday run. When we marked the day on our calendar, little did we know that we would have record low temperatures in our part of the country.
|Woody in action.|
We left Atlanta and headed up to North Carolina at 4:00 am and it took us over three hours to arrive at the trail head. Once we arrived, we knew we were in trouble due to the very cold temperatures. We got out of the car to get ready, but within minutes, all of us sat back in the car and got our wits about us. It was freaking cold! There was a light snow covering everywhere, but we would soon learn the trail was frozen over too.
After a few minutes and also the mandatory photos, we finally hit the trail at about 9:00am. It was slow going. The week before had seen alot of rain and now this water was frozen over on the trail. There were long segments of it that were completely frozen over with 2-4 inches of ice. On top of that, the first two or so miles of trail from the car to the top of the ridge was a hefty climb. We would be going from around 4,500 feet to the mid 5,000 feet and eventually topping 6,000 feet of elevation. All the while, minding the ice underfoot.
We realized in the first hour that we had only covered about three miles of trail. Granted, we had stopped a few times, but this was slow progress and it wouldn't take a genius to realize that covering the desired 31 miles in this terrain would be a bit ambitious. Still we carried on along the Mountains to Sea Trail until it connected with the Art Loeb trail. We could tell that it was probably some wonderful single track, but not in these conditions. Along the way, we did manage to find a couple of overlooks where we enjoyed some wonderful scenery. At one point, we had a clear view of Looking glass Rock, a large rock outcropping in the middle of the wilderness.
We stayed within the treeline until we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and made our way towards Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet) and Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet). on the approach of these two summits, we were out in the open and facing an incredibly bitter wind from the North. It was a complete catch-22 situation. here we were in this incredibly beautiful setting for trail running with majestic views, but it was too damn cold and windy to fully appreciate it all. We did what we could to trudge through it and manage to get to the south side of Tennent Mountain and out of the wind. We reached the bottom of the trail on the opposite side and had a chance to regroup.
As the day went on and the sun made its way across the sky, temperatures did manage to improve. We ran down a water soaked trail and after a steep climb and momentarily getting off the path, we made our way back to the point where we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway. A short while later, we were back on the Mountains to Sea trail. The original plan was to continue along some ridge lines that were off shoots of the Art Loeb trail, but we adjusted our route and decided to cut it short. If we stayed out there, we were putting ourselves in unnecessary peril. This was supposed to be a fun run and we wanted to keep it that way. So, we made our way back down the trail towards the car. At one point, we found an overlook we missed on the way out. The wind here was nonexistent and we were rewarded with an amazing view towards the south of the rest of the valley and other Appalachian scenery. it was spectacular. The photos here do not make it justice. We took a break, ate something and took in the view. After a while, we got back on the trail and finished up the run.
I had brought a bottle of champagne, which I popped open and poured out some for everyone. After toasting, we changed into dry, warm clothes and headed down to Waynesville for some burgers and beer. Woody would make up his 30 miles a few days later, but we had a good time trying to do it in North Carolina. I hope to see that part of the country soon enough.