The route began with muddy, wide and flat trails. The footing was soft and wide open as I wound around and through creek side camping settlements. This being the last weekend for many before school gets into full swing. The smell of campfire was permeating through the southern, wet forest.
Reaching the day's first climb, I ambled up through some 'rooty' areas and the first few climbs were over quickly. Some areas of the trail were very technical with jagged, exposed rock protruding upward. Some of these areas were skirted around river bends in gorge-like areas. Very intimate natural settings... with the rush of water just below. What a great setting to ease into a long effort out in the wilderness.
Another mile or so later (after several bridge crossings), the foliage opened up for a base-of-the-waterfall view of Laurel Falls. I paused here for a few moments and then made the left turn up the rocky staircase. The steps here were a little higher and steeper than was comfortable for easy running but... it made for some good power training as I ran each step in turn; feeling the heart rate climb and climb and I am sure was eventually very close to maximum. The arms and legs were pumping, outside of the comfort zone. I was happy to flatten out at the top of this section. Great strength measured here in a couple of moments when the thought to slow down crept in. My thinking in these situations is to decide whether I can sustain this effort for the length of this one climb... in this case I thought I could, so I did. Recovery was soon to follow.
At the pinnacle, the trail now wound in and out of several small canyon-like carved/blasted out areas. Rocks were piled at these cliff bases, like in a primitive highway settingand soon enough the trail flattened out and I reached Dennis Cove Trail head at the Kincora Hostel site on the AT.
Now began the longest climb of the day. Over the next 10-15 minutes the trail was fairly aggressive; winding up through a small creek bed eventually turning to the left near the top of the hollar and then creeping up to run along the ridge line. Now the climb really paid off visually with some stunning vistas of the landscape below and beyond. This is what I had been running through for the last hour or so. Not often do we get such a feedback to our path to our current standing. Most often our current situation is more of an isolated setting and we lose the big picture concept. Well, here it was all laid out before me. The past, the present and too, the future; in the short term at least.
In the photo above you can see Roan Mountain in the distance. Off screen to the right somewhere is Watauga Lake. There were several lookout points out here to take in these types of scenes which are generally rare in the southeast with all of our abundant life forms, trees mainly.
I also found a Geo cache in this general area. It had been ransacked thoroughly and not even a pen remained, just some old wet notebook paper. Oh well, still a discovery, if only a small one.
The ridge run continued on and brought me to a sign post, either straight on the AT or... down an aggressive descent toward Coon Den Falls. I chose to take in another waterfall before heading back for this day. One spot in particular was extremely steep and required running with my hands for a couple of strides on the return's ascent. Because of the grade here, the in/out split for this section of trail was remarkably even, not that I was really pushing too hard in either case.
The waterfall was small beautiful and I took a moment here as well to refuel and enjoy the area. I like to stare and visually memorize what the water is doing so that I can describe it to myself. This is a technique my brother and I frist started using when we visited the Magic Kingdon without a camera. We had to resort to snapping mental images of standing idly in front of Cindarella's Castle. But you know what, I can still see him standing there for 5 minutes on a warm February afternoon.
Back to the car I headed. The swooping run back to Dennis Cove was great and soon I was back to some flat footing. I became complacent though and took a nasty fall on my left side, skidding across some sharp rocks somehow unable to roll out of the fall as is customary. I threw down my bottles (and stopped my watch of course...) and groaned a bit. When I was certain nothing was broken I resumed the run. No more than 3 minutes had passed when I replayed the scene catching my right foot on another stone. This time the blood really began boiling in frustration and from several sites of laceration. My left elbow, left hip and most of my back was scraped and bloodied and muddied up.
File this under "it could've been worse..."
Well, 200m later I again caught the right foot on a small rock. This time I did not fall but the force nearly launched my bottle from its holder. The bottle was in fact 1/2 way dislodged from its carrier. The same carrier I usually have to use a pair of pliers to remove the bottle from. This illustrates how much momentum we all are really carrying over with us on each stride as we cover the trail; even on these long 'easy' efforts. A reminder too, that safety is no accident!
After a detour or two (intended) on the return to see some off-chutes of the trail, I was soon back at the car in 2:25 for another solid training run which really taxed and tested my strength and patience. All in all, after the morning's non-events, this day turned out to be a wonderful confidence builder and stress reliever as well.