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!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

98 Miles on the Mountains to Sea trail – 23,300 feet of gain

Day 1 – 26.6 miles – 8,500 feet (Marion to Summit of Mt. Mitchell)

The adventure started just before noon on Friday and lead me up the hills of Woods Mountain. The last time I was here these lands were frozen and fireworks flashed in the darkness over new years. Today the contrast was huge. The heat was challenging and the vegetation grew exponentially. The nettles broke skin multiple times as I ascended high into the Black Mountains of North Carolina. It was that irritating stinging sensation that was more of a nuisance than a sharp pain. After reaching highway 80 and the parkway a slight breeze was a sigh of relief, but little water trickled down the streams which only accelerated the dehydration process. I passed a long black snake, one of three I would see this weekend. When I approached the Black Mountain Campgrounds I was able to refill water and made a popsicle purchase from the ranger. This was especially tasty, and helped cool me down.

I continued my ascent, pushing to make it up to the summit before the restaurant closes at 8pm. I stood on the summit of Mt. Mitchell at 7:36pm, drenched in sweat, and yelled out a coyote howl which I learned in Ojai, California! Success, I was there. A mountain dance was in order. After a few minutes I realized that I needed to eat, and I had little time before the restaurant would close. I hiked down to the parking lot and did not see Greg. The restaurant was at least a mile or so away, so I ran down hwy 128 when Greg’s truck rolled up and we both made it to the restaurant minutes before 8pm. I warmed my wet shivering body with a bowl of warm vegetable soup, and ate some good ole country cooking. We then camped out at the summit campgrounds and fell asleep under the stars along with several others camping at the top. Day one was completed, I was in good shape and in high spirits, a great weekend was starting.

Day 2 – 38 miles – 7,000 feet (Mt. Mitchell Summit to Asheville)

Me and Greg awoke by the sounds of a Mt. Mitchell State Park ranger. His name was Matt, and he is a cool fellow whom we met last night as we pulled into the campground. It was 5am and he had his rifle out, holly crap what was going on. The sun was still an hour away. “Mohammed and Greg, I have bad news for you.” Surly this could wait until the sun came up, I still have another 71 miles to go yo! That was my initial thought. “A bear broke into your truck and ate all of your food” the ranger said in a calm tone. Whoooooaa!!! We grabbed our headlamps and hiked down to the car which is where we met Jerry, a man who slept in his car and who had wet his pants as an eye witness to the 350 lbs 7 foot black bear that robbed us of our breakfast. The trucks window was busted, and bear paw prints littered the car. All the food was gone, including running bottles, and all! We managed to find some Gu that he did not eat, and our packs unharmed. He did leave one running bottle, but not before he sunk his teeth into it making it useless for us!

This was not in the plan! What to do now? We gathered our thoughts and decided to make due with what we had, which was little. We both still had our bladders, so we could scrap by with what water we had. Matt the ranger was a very nice guy, an aspiring marathoner, helped us tape up Greg’s truck, allowed us to park it somewhere safe, and gave us coffee before we departed from the summit of Mitchell. Both me and Greg were shaken up a little by the situation, but decided that life takes many turns, some you never expect. Who would have thought this would be part of our journey?

We pushed on downhill and continued down the Mountains to Sea trial. This section is very rocky and technical. I had a few left over chips from yesterdays running and a banana for breakfast. My body was craving food and all I could think of at this point was the food that David would be bringing at Beetree gap, I could eat anything at this point. I must have eaten seven flies, unintentionally, and they didn’t fill me up. We criss crossed the parkway and went thru Balsam Gap, Glassmine Falls, and Greybeard Mountain. We finally reached the Craggy Gardens and saw the rhododendron in full bloom, a fine pink shrub. We skirted over the Craggy Gardens parking lot and poped out at a road with no sign and kept going. Of coarse, memories of the 2007 Pitchell flashed in my mind instantaneously. I remember thinking silently, had we passed Beetree Gap? David would have been there if we did, so we kept pushing on. A mile or so later we crossed the parking lot again, and we called David. He met us on the parkway just as we were about to start the climb up Lane Pinnacle and fresh turkey sandwiches and sun chips replenished my body with much needed calories. I ate 3/4th of a foot long and several ounces of chips with additional salt. David and John decided to join in the rest of the day, we still had 20 miles to go. The climb up Lane Pinnacle was steep by not as steep as the opposite direction, and I ran past a large slab of rock where me, Adam, and Stu once stood during the Pitchell run. We continued, following the white dot towards Asheville. We ran thru streams, hiking up the hills, running downhill, and just going with the flow and having a great time. If it felt like it was too much work, I backed off and speed hiked. My legs felt good, and we were on our way to the Folk Art Center. From there we called Adam who later met us on the trail and guided us to his abode. Day 2 was drawing to an end, but not before some monster burritos and late night stories on the patio!
Mamacitas hit the spot!

Day 3 – 33 miles – 7,800 feet (Asheville to Mt. Pisgah summit)
I woke up a little cramped, dehydrated, and slightly wobbly. We decided to skip breakfast and hit up the Starbucks along the way on Hendersonville Road. This isn’t a race, its an adventure, and a spinach and egg wrap was totally in order. We took off from Adams at 7:36am and ran for over an hour before reaching the Starbucks. We went off trail for a half a mile or so and spent the next two minutes sipping coffee, and downing some calories. I had a large frappachino to go for the trail! It was going to be a hot day, why not down the cold stuff? We pushed on. I was running with John at this point, and David was helping with the water/crew situation. Greg left for home earlier that day. We again criss crossed the parkway several times, and lost the trail once because the vegetation was very overgrown. Just before reaching the French Broad River, John and I ran into the trio: Anne, Rebekah, and Jenny. These ladies made our adventure look like a walk in the park. While I ran thru some nettles that scraped my thighs and calves, they bushwhacked 15 mountains which clearly did a number on their legs. Their goal: summit all 40 North Carolina peaks over 6,000 feet in a week. This would mean averaging 42 strenuous miles per day. I was struggling to average 32 miles a day, with no bushwhacking! We chatted for a few minutes and exchanged hellos, and were off crossing the French Broad River.
The heat of the day began to slow us both down, and we both took in water conservatively, calculating when we would see David again. I knew I could sweat really well, but John is the first man that I have met who sweats more than me! We met up with David at Sleep Gap, and refueled the water and calories and kept pushing along. David mentioned that it was 87 degrees. We pushed thru Sleepy Gap and saw another long black snake. We then made our way to Beaver Dam Gap, Big Ridge, and then for our last water stop Elk Pastor overlook.

From Elk Pastor, the three of us made the push up Little Pisgah. We all knew this would be a climb and it took some time to ascend Little Pisgah and then the final push to the summit of Mt. Pisgah. I felt a sense of joy that I was nearing the finish so I pushed harder and run some of the sections uphill! I stood on top of Mt. Pisgah at 4:36pm, exactly 9 hours from when I started. After snapping a summit photo my camera battery died, and I was not able to get in a Mt. Pisgah mountain dance!

I laid on the summit, catching my breath, and just thinking about where I started 96.5 miles ago off of Hwy 221 in Marion, I still had to descend off of Mt. Pisgah, another 1.5 miles down. I made a few phone calls and waited for David and John to catch up. After David made it to the summit he told me that John was not feeling so well, and might struggle to make it to the top. I had faith in John, and decided to just soak up the views from the top and wait for him. It was here a revelation came to me. A messenger appeared atop Pisgah and called out “Are you the one they call Mohammed?” I replied back “Yes, I am Mohammed, the descendent of the prophet Abraham, what news do you bear?” The messenger replied with a shortness of breath “Your disciple John sends a message that he will not make it to the summit, and will wait for you at the base of the mountain.”

John must have decided not to go onto the summit. I began my descent. Within minutes I saw John hiking uphill in good spirits. Whoa? He changed his mind and made it to the top of Pisgah. We all drove back to Asheville for some of Marco’s Pizza which hit the spot.

All in all, great weekend, with great friends, and lots of elevation gain. This certainly will help me set the tone for Hardrock in a few weeks! I want to thank Greg, Adam, David, and John who helped me finish this small journey from Marion to Mt. Pisgah. The total mileage on the Mountains to Sea Trail was 92.1 miles, with 2.5 miles on asphalt getting to and from Adams house and making a small detour to Starbucks. Running up Mt. Pisgah and back down was an additional 3 miles for a grand total of 97.6 miles! Why didn’t I just run a quick 2.4 miles to complete a 100? I'm saving it for Hardrock!

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