Warning: the following words and images will allow you to vicariously see the world with the eyes of Sultan. Read at your own risk. The name Sultan has many meanings, but derives from the peak Sultan Mountain in Silverton, CO!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Trot Thru Hot Springs – Devils Fork to Davenport – 70 Miles on the AT

Matt and I left Marion at 4:30am. After all the logistics panned out there were 5 of us on the AT at Devils Fork Gap just after 8am, and we were off. Adam Hill was gracious enough to take the car back down to Ash-vegas so on the return we would have to drive all the way back to Devils Fork. The 5 of us were about to embark on a journey together for the next 70 miles, running, hiking, essentially trotting all the way to Hot Springs, NC and then to Max Patch and finally back to our final destination Davenport Gap. Matt dubbed the trail run “Trot Thru Hot.”

Day 1: Devils Fork Gap to Hot Springs, NC – 35 Miles

At first my 20lb pack felt awkward but after a few miles I was coasting. I had the following in my pack: Sleeping bag, pad, tarp, cooking gear and food for the entire trail. All five of us, Matt, Kevin, Liz, Scott, and I ran together for the first 10 or so miles. We then began to spread out a bit. With warmer temperatures as the weather forecasted a high of 78 in Hot Springs! It was only last week that runners were pulled off the Mt. Mitchell Challenge course for hypothermia. If that race was on this weekend, some runners would have been pulled for heat exhaustion. Remnants of the wintery snow storm that passed thru last weekend were evident. Traces of snow and ice laced the mountains despite the higher temperatures.

I was carrying weight to simulate some of the same experiences on the Marathon Des Sable. The heat was a plus for me, and a wakeup call, on what to expect in the Sahara Desert. I was filling my water bottles up at ever stream and every small spring that trickled any water source. I was also downing NUUN electrolyte supplements and salt tabs. This is to ensure that I replace my electrolytes during such heat, otherwise face the inevitable; Hyponatrima. This is not a good scenario while atop some back country mountain in Tennessee! There was one section on the trail where I ran out of water for 2 miles or so. This forced me to slow down a bit until I was able to refuel near a shelter and hydrate my system.
I was consistently hiking up the hills, and running the flat and downhill sections of trail. My goal was to average 3+ mph. Running downhill with heavy weight can be tricky. Your body becomes top heavy and you just have to become used to such balance. Thankfully we won’t have huge mountains to climb in the Sahara, but a few sand dunes!

It wasn’t long and I was on the trail alone. The sun was blasting heat and I was soaked in sweat. Every now and then I would fill up my bottle in a cool stream and soak my head and cool off. Refreshing. Liz and Scott had planned a hotel in Hot Springs and packed light, so they took off. Matt and Kevin were ahead of me, and I knew it would be a long two days, so I was in no hurry. I descended to the French Broad at 6:30 pm exactly, and made it into Hot Springs 15 minutes before 7pm.

I was searching for Matt and Kevin, and knew that they had to be chowing down on some food right about now. They weren’t anywhere in sight, so I began to walk up the sidewalk in Hot Springs that was blazed with the AT and saw a showered Liz and Scott flagging me down. They told me that we all had planned to eat at the Iron Horse Station. By this point I was getting a little cold because my entire body and cloths were soaked in sweat and cool spring water. I was starving.

We sat down and waited for Matt and Kevin, and after waiting for a while decided to order. I had no idea where they were at this point. After a great meal that was over priced I decided to wus out and get a room, shower, clean up, and get a good night rest. I did test out my sleeping bag in the room which worked fabulous. Scott, Liz, and I had planned to wake up the next morning at 8am (we lost an hour due to day light savings). While eating breakfast at the dinner I learned from a thru hiker that Matt and Kevin were at this very same diner last night scarfing down a pizza around 7pm. They had hiked South on the AT and found a place to camp for the night.

Day 2: Hot Springs, NC to Davenport Gap – 35 Miles

The three of us together started Day 2 just after 8am again. On any given stage run/hike, Day 2 is always the worst. Your body has not fully recovered from Day 1, and psychologically you mind tells you to stop and rest. If you can over come Day 2 then you can do multi day stage running in my opinion. Of course I have limited experience with this other than the Bartram Trail last year. I was ascending the steep climbs at a rate of 40 feet per minute which is moving with a pack on your back. Later in the day I noticed my ascent rate to be closer to 30/25 feet per minute as I slowed down during the later part of the day. The morning sun shined on the trail and gave me energy to push harder. The first few hours felt great as a perfect breeze cooled my skin. Later that day the hot humid air filled my lungs and made traveling at a faster rate more difficult. I paced myself.

Apparently between Hot Springs and Max Patch there is a bold bear that has been stealing food from hikers and backpackers on this section of the AT as I saw several warning signs about this one bear.

It seemed like forever, but eventually I reached Max Patch which had a large snow patch on the side of the mountain. The sun warmed this 4,600 foot mountain as people enjoyed the day at the summit. I stopped for a moment and asked someone to take a photo while at the summit.

Then I descended down Max Patch. I have done this section from Davenport Gap to Hot Springs, so I was familiar with the climbs still ahead. Several steep climbs came and went, and I was now heading up Snowbird Mountain. It was here that I laid on the trail for two 10 minute breaks waiting for Scott and Liz, and cooling my over heated engine. “Could it be that they had already passed me?” I questioned myself. I would have seen them. A few false summit of Snowbird kept emerging and finally a grassy treeless patch is at the top with a homing tower. This is how you know you have made it to the true summit.
The descent is a 2,500 foot drop to a gravel road that leads into Davenport Gap. I ran where I could and even began to hike downhill as the mileage and heat had taken a toll on my body. When I reached the gravel road I instinctively turned left and ran/hiked down the last mile to the car. It was here I saw the entire crew waiting for me with an iced coke. I was happy to have finished successfully this long distance speed hike. My combined time for both days covering all 70 miles is 21:30.

Work it!

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