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Monday, March 7, 2011

Epic Weekend of High Country Running

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I step out of my vehicle at Wilson's Creek at 2000ft elevation and dodge a steady rain as I decide what to wear... and where to go. I step out in a new direction for me and follow the round white blazes away from my normal route in this area. The river is high and normally difficult to traverse so my thought was to go high away from the big water arteries. The white blazes follow Forest Rd. 192 as it climbs away from the river below. The grade is fairly gentle but constant as I pass by deserted camp sites and dodge growing puddles of mud.

This run is beginning like all the great ones- I don't know where I am or where I am going but I am looking forward to it with a sub-tempo gear in mind. Soon I cross a few flooded creeks washing over the road and stop at about 3 miles up to take care of the morning business and stretch out some- enjoying the sounds of falling rain, dripping leaves and rushing creeks cascading down the hillsides.

Single-track Thoughts
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5 minutes later the white blazes turn left off from FR 192 and I am introduced to my first single track of the day on the Mountains to Seas Trail (proper). After the roughness of the forest road which was better to run than to drive I am sure, the single track is cozy and welcoming with vegetations brushing by and the line of progress clearly set out before my eyes. The trail climbed steeply for 1/2 a mile or so and then I was on the backside of a ridge... and in a new world.

Bryophyte Bonanza
Suddenly I was plopped in thick forest, lush with mosses and ferns- a Bryophyte Bonanza!!! The trail began undulating and twisting as I picked footfalls instinctively. This IS trail running. My goal for the day was 12-13 miles but with this kind of scene and cool temps I decided to just run on. The trail seemed to be approaching a ridge at 50 minutes in so the decision was made to run to the top, or to 60 minutes whichever came first.

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Reaching the Climax
As I moved upward I could sense the elevation in the spaciousness around me and though closed in my rain and fog and clouds the higher the ridge ran, the more open I felt in the air. At 55 minutes I thought I could hear vehicles on a small road. I figured it was either the road I drove in on... or the Blue Ridge Parkway. I knew whatever road it was had to be just above me over the ridge. This place looked so unspoiled that it was really difficult to BELIEVE that I had heard vehicles but within 3 minutes I came out of the trail and into the Beacon Heights parking area on the BRP at an elevation of 4200ft.

The return trip was mostly under control but I did let loose in some sections allowing the mind to free itself in the moment and the legs and feet to react with the brain. I was soon back at the car with a solid 17 miles in the books and really excited to get out for a double longish run on Sunday.

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Sunday- Snow Day
Overnight the weather turned cold with still plenty of moisture around. Major rivers were at the edge of their banks, flooding low water bridges and small streams and creeks were overflowing, gushing.

I set out for 80 minutes of trail running which began as a windy, snow blown and cold run until I entered a thick forest section. This was about 20 miles east on the Mountains to Seas Trail for Saturday. Once in the forest I had a good 10 minutes of peaceful, dry, snowy scened single track. It was not to be the norm for the day.

The trails soon took on tributaries and I was running down 4 inches of snow melt and winter rain which kept my feet soaked and chilled. At the same time, the rhododendron was heavy with moisture and I was running hunched over and hoping the trail would open up. In a mile it did and I found myself on the bank of the Boone Fork Creek just across from a normal training loop of mine: note for the future. With the river impassible I turned and went down 2 other similar trail sections each time running into more water.

I decided to return to the car and run the Mountain to Seas Trail in the opposite direction. Turning east I was soon at the car about 45 minutes into my 80 minutes for the day and soaked to the sole. Little did I know where I was headed now.

A Wintry Summit
Nice day Rich Mtn:
As blizzard like as it was at the parking area I was soon about to head into truly nasty weather. The winds whipped enough to stand me upright and in place during gusts and the snow was already ankle deep. Any rain that had fallen was icing where it stood and those wet shoes from the earlier part of the run were now frozen. Fortunately my Smartwool running socks were keeping me toasty along with my Marmot windproof jacket and Mountain Hardwear Tights. I really was pretty cozy in the bone chilling cold.

After a 10 minute climb of 20% grade I landed on a road bed which is part of the Moses Cone Manor. This is a training haven for runners in the area and is often used by ZAP Elite for staple training sessions on its gravel horse paths. I was on the approach to Rich Mtn, well near the top of it by now and figured I could take the 10 minutes to summit and return to the car just about right at 80 minutes.

The round bald of Rich Mountain is beautiful on a pleasant day and deadly on a harsh day if you were to be trapped there. My circumstances were not dire and I followed the brave steps of a running who seemed to be about my size and speed who had been there and gone about an hour before me. As I matched his easy strides I made my way to the summit and paused to admire the ice casings enclosing the weather worn trees and rocks at the summit. I placed a stone on the pile and headed back to the car finishing the day in 82 minutes and totaling 28 miles for my two days on the trails.

I hope your running weekend was as exciting as mine and that you are out finding new routes to explore and keeping your mind as limber as your legs!!

Happy Running!!!


  1. You must be way up on Wilson Creek--I've that area (west of Lenoir) and have also kayaked it back in the 80s. Somewhere in my archives, I have posted about hiking into Harper Creek Falls area of Wilson Creek wilderness area.

  2. Wow--epic adventures for you! Sounds and looks wonderful.

  3. Beautifully written! I love the Moses Cone area, but I've never run any of the trails up there. Maybe this summer...

  4. Yes, i agree with misszippy! sounds and looks wonderful!!!


  5. That's SOME running! Sounds wonderful though :-)

  6. That really is awesome running! i'm going to have to check out this zap fitness place...very kewl :-)

  7. Beautiful scenery! Makes the run enjoyable! Thanks for sharing. I'm a new follower!


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