It was near 10 p.m. on Friday night and I was lying awake thinking about how odd and wonderful it was to know 4 other people who were within 20 feet of me willing to take on the same challenge as me in the morning. Doing a big adventure run solo is always an option, but sharing in the beauty, the suffering, and the entirety of the experience is always better with friends.
I rented a campsite at Table Rock State Park over a month ago as the spots were filling up and I snagged the last one. Unfortunately, I thought it was a spot that you could pull into with a car and have restrooms nearby and not a primitive campsite that you had to hike into. That led to a bit of a snafu Friday evening as I couldn’t find the campsite when we arrived at dusk and ended up pitching my tent in grass next to the parking lot.
Aaron and David were sleeping in Aaron’s truck bed tent. Cassy and Jared brought a tent, but decided to car camp instead. Which all worked out okayish except for when the park ranger drove through at 10 p.m. and shone a flashlight on my tent asking why I was set up in the parking lot and not at my campsite. Luckily, she was okay with me keeping my tent there for another few hours as we were headed out early and even gave me a hiking pass that we neglected to secure the day before.
I didn’t sleep well which is unusual for me, but I think I was just nervously excited to go suffer. I had my alarm set for 3:30 a.m., but woke up at 3:20 a.m. and started to get ready. Once everyone broke down their camps, changed, and loaded up their gear, we drove over to the trailhead. It wasn’t a race and we thought we’d miss the sunrise (re: rain) at the summit, but we did want to make sure we got going fairly early. At 4:49 a.m. we left Table Rock State Park and began our journey.
There were some nice, runnable sections before the final ascent to Sassafras Mountain and though it had started raining, it was just a drizzle and we were all in good spirits. We laughed at our terrible luck of running with good views on mountain summits as we straddled the South Carolina/North Carolina border.
There was a nice long descent into Laurel Valley and we were making good time. Though the goal was to get it done and not linger too long in the rain, I never felt as though we rushed nor lingered unnecessarily at any point. We stopped to filter water at mile 14 or so and then kept it going. I was warm enough as long as we were moving and had on multiple layers including a vented rain jacket. It wasn’t too bad for a few hours, but by the time we reached midday and the rain never really let up, we were starting to crumble a bit mentally.
Naturally, I said something about how I was pleasantly surprised that the trails weren’t too riverlike right before the skies truly opened up. When we were at some of the lowest elevation points, the trails were incredibly sloppy and it was almost like just running through a creek for miles at a time. The only saving grace would be when the trail would sporadically veer straight up from the water source for a few hundred feet with slippery 6x6 blocks offering climbing support.
Jared was doing a spirit check on everyone and it was hard to not be in a negative state of mind when the conditions were just ugly. There was no cell service, the rain was unrelenting, and our next closest chance for dry clothes and bailout was in the early evening. I was trying to appreciate the fact that while I was not happy with the weather conditions, I felt good otherwise, was eating well, and hydrating enough that I had to pee (a rarity for me on a super long run). The trail was actually quite beautiful as well. Ferns were popping up, wildflowers were in bloom, red salamanders and slugs were hanging out in the rain, and holy waterfalls Batman, this trail had all the water sources.
We filtered a couple more times in this section, each of us motivated to keep our stops quick so as to not drop our body temperatures even more. There were a few campsites with tents along the way and a few groups at forest service roads hovered under 10x10 canopies, trying to stay dry. But we saw only 5 other moving people on the trail for the entire 76ish mile route, 4 hikers and 1 runner.
It seemed counterintuitive that there was a short downhill section for a few hundred feet and we feared that somehow we’d missed a sign or intersection that would bring us to the aid station. Jared climbed all the way to the top parking lot and saw no one so we continued on to what we hoped was the correct spot. There was never a more joyous noise than hearing kids shrieking as we came into earshot of the car.
Katherine handed me the best grilled cheese of my life and I sat down on the gravel, soaked to the bone and shivered while I ate. I knew I needed to get out of my wet clothes quickly and grabbed my dry gear bag. At this point, I was still erring on the side of stopping, but something inside me told me just to change into my dry running clothes and not my done clothes. The liner in my shorts had been wet for 10+ hours from the rain and while it wasn’t bothering me during the run, I was all of a sudden in a ton of pain once I switched to capris. My Squirrel’s Nut Butter was too stiff to spread, but Cassy came in clutch with her tri-glide and saved me from additional pain.
The trail was much easier by comparison in this section and though we weren’t moving fast, it was very runnable. That is, until we started to head down towards the Chattooga River. The river was raging from all the rain and we could hear it as we descended down to the banks. While the trail was no more wet than what we had been dealing with all day, it was super technical with slippery rocks, sections of sand, and constant up and down. I was feeling very defeated at this point because we could not even keep a steady walk.
There wasn't much to look at in the complete darkness and so we only stopped a few times in the last 30 miles for gear shifting and a couple of times to just collect ourselves.
Once the final few climbs came into view on the map, I started to feel a sense of relief that we were going to get it done. I power-hiked ahead a bit on the climbs, knowing that Aaron would catch me on the downs. We had all become more quiet as the night wore on, but when we got to around the 10k left to go mark, there was a bit of excitement that we’d be done soon enough.
As soon as the asphalt and trailhead sign came into view, I could feel the sense of relief wash over me. We were done.
Katherine took a few pics of Aaron and I near a few of the signs.
Then the 3 of us made the additional trek to the RV from the trailhead. At that point, I was happy to walk on unobstructed pavement and that picnic bench was minutes away.
The gang all came out to check in on us and I was feeling even more grateful for this crazy group and their support. I took a shower, powered through a giant muffin, and passed out on the sofa in the RV for one of the best naps I’ve ever had. David, Jared, and Cassy went back to Table Rock to get Aaron’s truck and allowed us to sleep for a couple of hours. Then, it was time for hugs and good jobs and we were headed back to the real world with tired legs and full hearts.
Random gear tidbits: Hot Hands don’t work very well in the rain, trucker hats absorb too much water, peppermint Tums and ginger candies are game-changers, loosening my shoelaces make the bottoms of my feet hurt less, KT tape across the sport bra line = zero chafing, Squirrel’s Nut Butter does not work well in cool temperatures, venting my rain jacket was super smart, a tight base layer is clutch, and a variety of snacks kept me from getting snack fatigue too early on.
Snack situation: Various GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Nature’s Bakery fig bars, cheddar Goldfish, peanut butter pretzel bites, Uncrustables, Rice Krispy Treats, fruit snacks, and oatmeal raisin bars. I drank a mini Coke and a Starbucks double shot pre-run and the caffeine definitely helped. The grilled cheese and ramen at the aid station were PERFECTION. I only wish I had enough brain power to remember to drink another Coke.
Trail tidbits: Plenty of water along the trail to filter nearly the entire way, very well-marked and following Trail Run Project in airplane mode all day confirmed we were headed the correct way, hardly any foot traffic on a yucky day (I would imagine it to be very crowded near trailheads on nice weather days because it was very, very beautiful), and potentially lots of places to crew on FS roads.
Thankful for this weird group of people. Thankful for a body healthy enough to do these things. Thankful for saying yes when it sometimes feels really scary.
(Shoutout to Jared & Katherine for most of these amazing pics!!)