|Along the route on Mt. Rogers|
I had not seen a step of running since Chattooga- which is pretty normal for me the week after a "big race" but this time it was different. Following my first DNF I just got away from running and did other things. I painted the house (started), cleaned up the yard, and simply spent time with my family. And it was great- I didn't even think much about running. If I did it was, "I wonder if I will ever run again?"
That question was answered with a boisterous "HELL YES" on Monday morning with the Iron Mountain Trail Runners on the Elk Garden Trail in Grayson Highlands. To celebrate our nation's independence Beth organized this group trail run on an amazing trail- simply beautiful. The Elk Garden Trail and the subsequent loop course we ran was the perfect setting to fall in love with running all over again. Combined with the great company of the IMTR folks (and a couple of guests like me) the scene was perfect for a leisurely morning of steps and smiles.
From Elk Garden Trail
We all drove into Whitetop and dragged our eager (but sleepy) legs from our conveyance about 7am with the idea to complete a 12 mile loop and maybe add on in a spot or two along the way. We took a quick group photo and off we went up the grassy bald along the Appalachian Trail northbound. Soon enough we were under the canopy of hardwoods and moving steadily in single file. Folks began cheerfully chirping away with stories of past running adventures and we were all getting to know each other a bit better- or maybe they were testing us newbies??
Mt. Rogers Trail
After a short time we came to a cross roads and stopped to be sure of where the trail was suppose to be headed. Some cracks were made concerning where the "double blazed" trail along the AT was... and then we were off again getting into some heavily mossed areas which was ripe with fresh fungus and spongy footing! The smells were amazing along the trail and many times someone said, "it smells sooo good." In fact, you'd think there was a bakery out there!
|Halfway? through!! Group Photo #2|
We joined a "well-used" horse trail and slopped our way upward in the some wonderfully shitty conditions.. literally. Such a wide trail but for the sake of sanitation we were single file as we moved up up up!! The grade never got too severe really, just gentle elevation gain over time. It was such a quiet and still morning and we continued to chatter about all things running and non-running with interspersed silence.
After some time we came out of the woods and into the grasslands surrounding the Mt Rogers summit area. We opted to take the shaded route upward rather than the exposed horse trail and then met up with the other half of our group where we took the opportunity to snap a second group photo! Serendipity!
|Entering the Spring Corral|
We spoke with a few more hikers and then off to the spring we headed to fill up our emptying bottles. this brought a bit of a detour and allowed us views toward North Carolina in the distance. The sunshine was warm, not hot, the air was still but had a stir of cool breeze and then we spotted our first pony of the day... he stared at us in the spring's corral and probably cussed us for getting dirt stirred in his spring. Well, we're just visiting.
After JJ brought us expertly through the woods to rejoin the trail we had the choice of climbing to the summit about a mile up, or heading back to the cars... no choice here and UP we went to run out of the open views and into the densest trees of the day!
Mt. Rogers Summit
For those in love with expansive summit views, Mt. Rogers in NOT for you. For all that work along the way you had better have enjoyed the views along the journey up here because the highest point in Virginia gives you a view of... well, trees. A thick evergreen forest to be exact and, to me, a great lesson in savoring the journey.
During this stretch we came upon this field and if you look closely you will spot 6 or 7 ponies eating a snack to the left of the big boulder. We watched them for a few minutes hoping to delay the inevitable... the end of our trail time for the day.
Our fun was not all over, we still had some technical rocky sections of rolling and downhill terrain to explore before completing our loop and rejoining with the initial portion of trail we had began on 4 hours earlier. Not to fear though- the trail is always changing and the perspective of AT southbound is always much different than northbound, true of any trail. We took the opportunity to let the legs go a bit, to enjoy the fatigue of the hours and soak in our playtime for the day before going back to our "real" lives.
From strangers and handshakes in the morning, to great friends and hugs by lunch- now, that is trail running!