|At the top looking down into Cloudland Canyon.|
I received an email from Randy Whorton a couple of months ago forwarded by my friend, Roxanne, that described a Fat Ass-style race that was planned for April in Chattanooga. Many of the people addressed in the email are the who's who of ultra running in this area, so it immediately peaked my interest. Randy's the mastermind behind many of the Rock Creek races in Chattanooga and after having personally enjoyed Rock Creek events like the Stump Jump 50K and the Lookout Mountain 50-Miler, I figured I had to check this out. Of course, it didn't hurt when my usual running buddies, Woody and Doug, were also thinking of participating. So we all contacted Randy through Rox and got our names on the list. It's been in ink on my calendar since then.
I love the low-key nature of Fat Ass races and knowing that there were only going to be a handful of runners participating in this run, I was really excited about it. The course was set to start in Cloudland Canyon, a beautiful bluff area in Northwest Georgia, and was to end on the East side of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga at Randy's house.
|Bus ride to start.|
If you ever get a chance to visit Cloudland Canyon near Trenton, Georgia, you should take advantage of it. This gorge area is cut out by the Sitton Gulch Creek and it is spectacular. The state park covers a huge area and the Waterfalls Trail that we would hit to start the race, takes you from the bottom of the gorge along Daniels Creek and by two major waterfalls up to the top.
|Great group of runners at start.|
|Getting ready for creek crossing.|
|A little blood.|
|More killer views.|
Lookout Scenic Highway
We figured out that we were on Highway 189 and it didn't dawn on any of us that Kris and Randy had made no mention of following a road. We ran on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic and did it out in the open sun. Needless to say, this was my least favorite part of the day, but it didn't occur to any of us to check where we were until we had gone about two miles or so down the road. We kept expecting to see some marker telling us to turn into the woods at any moment. Another phone call to Randy, this time he told us that we should have gone straight across the road and that there were five flour markings showing the way. Somehow we had missed it and it was our bad. I didn't really want to run back the two miles and I was sharing the bad news with Woody when one of the Huntsville runners suggested that we stay on the road because it was going to eventually hit Covenant College and we could hop on the Lookout Mountain Trail and pick up Randy's course from there. All good, but the college was another five or six miles further up the road. Our day of trail running immediately had gained a few miles of asphalt running. Not such a bad thing, but it was clear skies, the sun was out and we were going to miss any water that had been put out for us on the original course. Plus, I was looking forward to revisiting parts of the course from the Lookout Mountain 50-Miler I had done a few months ago which included Nickajack and Lula Lake. Bummer!
|View from hangglider launch pad.|
Other than that, there's not much to write about for this road running section. We started stringing apart. I ended up running most of the road section with my buddy, Kirk. The girl runner we had picked up earlier at the last detour was picked up by two other runners that had called it a day and hitch hiked back to the college where they had parked there cars and met the bus earlier that morning. Woody and the three Huntsville guys were up ahead and arrived at the college before me and Kirk. We came into the main parking lot at the college, topped off our water bottles and anxiously headed out to find the trailhead for the Lookout Mountain trail.
|Woody on Lookout Mtn Trail|
Woody and I pulled ahead from Kirk and the Huntsville guys a little bit. The trail along the side of Lookout Mountain is a well traveled single track but it can be a little technical in some spots with plenty of rocks and sharp, sheer drop offs to the left at a couple of spots. We kept running by these huge rock formations and big cliffs with limestone layers on our right. It wasn't long before we started seeing ropes and rock climbing equipment at spots and all we had to do was look up to see climbers enjoying their sport.
|Coming down the mountain!|
We crossed the road per Randy's instructions and this is where it finally dawned on me that when he says, "It's fairly straight forward from there." What he actually means is, "You are going to bush whack like crazy or make your way through some heavy duty briars or poison ivy." Ha, ha! Man, I think he has a little Dave Horton or Laz in him. Anyway, we ran down what you could barely consider a trail through a bunch of poison ivy until we came upon a slightly more obvious single track, the Glen Falls trail. Once on here, progress was steady again and we came across a really cool waterfall and pool. Woody and I decided to take a break and we took off our shoes and dipped our feet into the greatly alleviating cool water. After a few minutes, we got our shoes back on and continued down the trail. We came out onto a gasline cut out, picked up another trail and finished up the last couple of miles of trail before coming out onto a street that would turn out to be the one that their house was on. Somewhere in that last mile, Woody's Garmin finally died showing 30.6 miles. We figured by the time we got back to the house, we had our 50K in the bag. It took us over seven hours to get it done.
Kris and some of the other runners welcomed us back. We were surprised to see Kirk showered and relaxed, but that's when we found out that the route they took from where we had last seen them was slightly shorter and easier than the way Woody and I had taken. We cracked open some celebratory beers and exchanged some stories with everyone there. We learned that Randy and another runner were still out on the original course and that just about everyone had either taken the road detour by mistake or had cut it short at the college. Kris was super nice to let us use their shower and we hung out for some time on their porch. We were hoping to see Randy return, but we had to get back to Atlanta and had to leave.
All in all, it was a great day of running even though we had that road segment and missed out on a big chunk of trail. We later received an email from Randy explaining that he recalculated the distance and realized that it would have actually been more like a 60K than a 50K, if we had all run the intended route. Oh well, Woody and I were happy with our 31 miles. We'll be back next year to get it done right.
My most sincere gratitude to our wonderful hosts, Randy and Kris. Randy's "straight forward" trail marking and race course were anything, but boring. I also have to put in a nod to our Huntsville running friends, Eric, Rob and Blake, and of course, my running mates, Woody and Kirk. I'm looking forward to doing it again.
Randy Whorton is also the Executive Director of Wild Trails, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to promote the use, protection and expansion of trails in greater Chattanooga. If you'd like to learn more about Wild Trails and how you can support this great cause, check out: www.wildtrails.org.