Watch the video footage and view photos from the run!
Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was, on Friday night; restlessly resting my body as my mind was running way ahead. Next thing I knew it was 4:00 AM and I was eating breakfast and putting myself in my Saturday morning's finest: running tights, shoes, and something to keep the ears warm.
Only six days prior the plan had come into being(thanks Asheville Brewing Company!), and here we were at the Davidson River Campground poised for a 6:00 AM start on what would prove to be a day-long run of the 30+ mile 9000+ elevation gain route that is the Art Loeb Trail. Hayley, Damien, Lindsey, Tim, Rob, a couple of dogs, Kirra and Luna, and myself took off at 6:00 on the dot. Melissa gave us encouraging beeps of the horn as she drove away from Pisgah National Forest after dropping us off.
We followed closely the glow of our headlamps as we wound our way up the initial climbs and descents while taking the time to glance down at the lights of the buildings and cars that looked like reflections of the stars that shined so pretty and bright that night... Then it was daytime...
The warmth of the sun came and went as we wrapped around from the east to the west of varying peaks and bobbed along ridges. During the first 18 miles of the run we would be knocking out the vast majority of the climbing for the day. After the burly climb up Pilot Mountain, which resulted in a beautiful view allowing us to really relish in the fantastic weather we'd been blessed with, and the ascent to the parkway we were ready to rest a bit.
Rob and I had biked in on the Blue Ridge Parkway the day prior and dropped off a few gallons of water and some snacks, which we graciously indulged in upon arrival. After a 20 minute or so break we took off again, legs and bodies feeling mostly rejuvenated. A short and steep ~500 ft climb immediately following the break humbled us immediately. Fortunately the flat stretches that followed enabled us to stretch out the legs and find a rhythm for a while.
The ascent up the balds (Black Balsam and Tenant Mountain among them) led to awe-inspiring views. After a brief stint of bushwacking after taking the wrong trail out of a confusing intersection I found myself mentally and physically drained. Hopping down the wildly technical trail from rock to rock wore heavily on my feet, which were scarcely protected by the minimalist Nike Zoom Streak XCs I'd elected to wear, and I felt an inkling of a stone bruise beginning to form on my right forefoot. I continued pushing forward with Rob for a couple or three miles through an overpowering desire to curl up and take a nap (we'd been on our feet for over 6 and a half hours at this point).
Rob was moving strong despite having legs decorated with cuts from the bushwacking excursion and it was in his best interest to move ahead of me while his energy was still at a high.
The next 5 or 6 miles were grueling and technical, most notably the stretch through the Narrows. At last I arrived to Deep Gap along the side of Cold Mountain. From here I knew it was about 3.5 miles downhill to the terminus and surely I could run it strong(I had been looking forward to it for hours). But, alas, a combination of 8 hours of hard work and continual pounding of the stonebruise I'd worked up made managing even 12 minute miles a daunting task.
Slowly but surely, I made it down the exquisitely beautiful trail, which was consistently cut by chattering streams and wonderful waterfalls, to arrive at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp in a time of 8 hours and 45ish minutes. Rob and Luna had been there for about 15 minutes and, within an hour or so, the rest of the crew arrived and we enjoyed some Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing Company at the base of the namesake mountain.
Some things I learned on this endeavor:
1) Last minute adventure runs are a good idea
2) There is nothing that helps recovery from a long day like good food and laughter with a group of great friends
3) Luna is a more incredible runner than I will ever be
4) Wearing racing flats on a mountainous ultramarathon does not serve my feet well in the long run(no pun intended)