Monday, July 13, 2015

Dirt Lines And Blood

There is a wanderlust spirit hovering inside me. The organized, rational, and methodical person overrides her grandiose ideas. And I like air conditioning a lot. But sometimes I feel that bubbling spirit when careening through woods and I can't help but feel attune to moment. Creature comforts seem to be an easy trade when the world is dripping with green and humans are sparse.

I'm falling a bit harder and faster for trails these days. It's really a perfect storm. Ultra training requires more miles and the tediousness of the same spot was wearing even on me. Ultra training also requires more practice on uphills, downhills, on dirt, and over rocks and roots. Summer has me seeking the shadiest paths in the closest 5 counties, despite actually rising early to avoid the midday heat. And lastly, I have trail lust while firmly entrenched in Cheryl Strayed's Wild. The verdict is still out on the piece of literature itself, but it's incredibly easy to fantasize about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) for months at a time.

So I scour Google Maps in my down time. A lot. Looking for new and interesting places to get my trail fix. I prefer closer, longer, and beautiful. Obviously. Last week, after feeling delightfully and oddly great after 39.3 miles on Friday, I racked up a few more miles early in the week. 4.1 miles Monday, 7.3 Tuesday, and 7.5 on Wednesday. Deciding my body was oddly feeling up to the challenge of a longer run, I found the Appalachian Approach Trail was just about an hour's drive from my house.

I packed up my wares early Friday morning and scooted out as the sun was rising. A quick stop for gas and cash, I watched the buildings of suburbia become replaced by the winding forested roads of North Georgia. As I pulled into the Amicalola Falls Park, I realized I had beaten the attendant taking money for parking. Needing change for my $20 to use the "on your honor" pay envelopes, I drove to the top of the falls in hopes that there would be someone at the Inn that could help me.

I put on my pack and wandered into the Inn where a hostess happily obliged to change out my $20. I stopped briefly at the visitor's desk to situate my money and looked around for a trail map. A backpacker beginning a 2-week journey was talking to a ranger nearby and the 3 of us started chatting. The ranger provided us trail maps and told us to be on the lookout for bears and copperheads. I instinctively touched my new knife tucked away in my shoulder pocket hoping that Murphy's law meant that I would have no use for it.

The backpacker (who looked like more-svelte Santa Claus) and I chatted a bit more as I explained I was just going up to Springer Mountain and heading back. He said he'd look for me on the way back as he was going at a much slower pace. I started for my car to put my extra cash away, but then I decided to just stick it in my pack and hit the trail. As I was walking down the stairs just outside of the Inn, I tripped over nothing and tumbled down the stairs.

Bleeding and I haven't even turned on my Garmin. Great....

I shake myself like a dog to get the bad voodoo away and carry on.

The first section is a nice little downhill on a gravel road and I feel the weight of my pack as I shuffle into trail running mode. Once reaching the crossroads and getting onto the real trail, I decide to just see how the day shakes out. I will walk when I'm tired or it's steep and run when I feel good. I leave my Garmin running unless I am completely stopped. Snacks, selfies, etc.

I knew I'd be climbing for a good portion of the first half. There were some descents and a few flatter sections that made me feel like I was progressing, but I watched the miles tick off in practically twice as much time as my road miles. Which was actually okay. I was enjoying the views, the silence, and the ease of the morning.

I had hydrated so well that I made a pit stop just off the trail around mile 3. I was very relieved that no one came bounding around the trail during that time. As the day moved on, I saw more and more people out hiking and backpacking.

I stuck an extra water bottle in between the bottles on my pack with a bungee cord. But it kept slipping down and I eventually took off my pack to rearrange it.

After a few removals, I finally wizened up and turned the stupid bottle upside down. Duuuuh. With the squirt top facing down, the bungee actually had something to grasp. Feeling royally dumb and yet smug at the same time, I bounded down the trail to the final descent before the last big climb.
At was at Nimblewill Gap that I noticed my FitBit was no longer on my wrist. I frantically looked around when I realized it and then it dawned on me that it could be anywhere along the trail in the previous 6 miles I had just covered. Ugggghhh! I knew it wasn't going to do me any good to fret about it and so I carried on, deciding to keep an eye out on my way back.

The climb to the top was rocky and full of steep sections, but I was still full of energy and climbed with relative ease.

Scrambling over the rocks was actually kind of fun and I held on to nearby trees as I swung myself around the switchbacks. Without any time goals, it really was just playing in the woods.

As I approached the top of Springer Mountain, the trail started to spread out a bit and was full of huge rocks. I noticed a few trails that led off to campsites, but the main trail went right up to the lookout and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.

On a cooler day and less hazy day, the visibility would have provided an even more beautiful picture. I soaked in the view for a few minutes before running a short towards the shelter area. I was in between 7 and 7.5 miles and decided to start heading back once I got to 7.5 miles.

A trio of backpackers headed to North Carolina stopped me at the top once again and asked if I could take their picture. I stood around for a few minutes talking to them about their journey and ate a package of Fig Newtons. Though I didn't really want to make the trek back to reality, I eventually tucked my trash in my pocket and went back the way I came.

Going down was almost as tough as going up. Though I wanted to fly, the roots and rocks made getting footing rather difficult and so I just kept at a pace that would prevent me from drawing any more blood.

Once I reached the area where I realized my FitBit was gone, I started to look for it when I could. It was hard to key my eyes on the trail looking for both foot placement and searching for a small wristband. I kind of started to give up thinking that it seemed funny to lose a step tracker while on 15 mile run. I probably was going to get my steps in for the day.

The trail started to fill with more and more day hikers and though I tried my best to make noise as I approached from behind, I scared most people as I came running up behind them. One girl, laughing, said she didn't really expect anyone to be running out here. Apparently, I'm a nut everywhere I go...

As I got past the 11th mile, I came up to the same backpacker I saw at the Inn that morning. I stopped my Garmin to say hi and ask how his hike was so far. He told me I had made great time and asked if I had lost something earlier. Curious, I told him I had lost my FitBit. He told me he saw me fall on the stairs from the upper part of the parking lot and when he saw me brush myself off, he decided I was okay. However, when he went by the same section to go out on the trail, he saw where my FitBit had come off and put it in his pocket hoping he'd see me coming back.


I was so excited that I smiled for a near half mile after we parted ways with well wishes. Trail magic! It definitely made the next few miles much easier and I patted my wrist over and over to make sure it was still there.

As I neared mile 15 and the start of my journey, I looked around for the sign that I remember seeing on the way out.
Beating the suggested one-way time by two hours made me feel a little better about my 15 minute miles. And then when I checked out the elevation profile, I felt even better.

Before I headed back to the car, I decided it would be really dumb of me to drive to Amicalola Falls and not actually look at the waterfall. So I walked to the top of the Falls, half-drunk with happy exhaustion. I was covered in dirt, blood, and probably smelled like I had just run 4 hours in the woods. But the other tourists nearby didn't flinch when I stepped close to the rail to take a few photos. So that's a win.

After I got back to my car, I checked out the damage.

Dirt lines and blood are surely the mark of a memorable trail run. I left them intact as I drove back towards civilization. They would fade eventually like the wanderlust. But that excited feeling of returning to a few uninterrupted amongst the trees will be back.

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