The 67 mile journey is all on mountains to sea trail, so you just have to follow the white dot. Easy right? Every year I have run this, it seems I go off trail. The midnight start always guarantees a drowsy sleep walking runner who might not have all cognitive and sensory abilities at normal levels. This year I opted to start earlier, at 6:30pm with Brian, Terry, and Dave P. I missed out on the Friday night festivities, and the midnight start, coupled with longer night running time, but was something I considered as an advantage for me. I needed time on my side, and wanted to finish this years Pitchell.
April, Dave’s wife, was gracious enough to give us the ride up to Pisgah. We all held our breath when we went thru any tunnels, and made it to the Pisgah parking lot just after 6pm. Terry and I lead the hike up to Pisgah. Once we reached the summit, we all looked at each other and pointed at Mitchell. Godspeed.
My watch read 6:33pm. We took off. I was planning to pace myself thru the night and give myself the best chance for a Mitchell summit the next day. Running down Pisgah as the sun began to set and filtered thru the trees on a cool crisp fall day gave me positive energy which I knew would last thru the entire night.
Earlier this day I was up early for a business meeting. I had not slept enough, nor did I put enough sleep time in the bank. Sleeping over 7 hours a night for several night prior to these types of coyote runs (all nighters) builds a reserve. I knew my reserves would be low, so bought a few starbucks coffee drinks to drop on the trail and help keep my eyelids from shutting.
I turned my headlamp on, I was carrying two, and my fenix light after a few miles. The fenix light I knew would be a life saver here, as the technical tree covered trails makes for a tricky slow descent without the proper output of lumens. In 2009 and 2010 I went off trail before reaching the French Broad river, ultimately leading to a DNF at the FOLK Art Center, this year I was determined to stay on trail.
My pace was slow and steady downhill, just what I wanted. I needed to leave some reserve for the last half of this run. I felt stronger than anticipated and mentally my momentum was building. I reached the FAC at 2:18am, in 7:15 from the summit of Pisgah. This in no way is a fast time, but what I was looking for. I was on target, and feeling good. I was cold however, and needed to add more layers for the next part of this journey. I made rookie mistakes here, I fumbled thru gear and food. I left my car discouraged as I could not find my arm warmers, which I considered to be a critical piece of gear considering conditions. I walked past the FOC and ran back to my car to pillage thru my stuff again, still could not find them. I had wasted more than 40 minutes here looking for gear, changing cloths, hydrating and eating.
Onward I told myself. I did not want to stall here again for a third year. I was tired and and sleepy, and my mindset was easily convinced of how ridiculous this adventure really was. I knew Greg Paige would be around on the parkway this morning, and felt comfortable to push on. My pace slowed as I slept walked parts of the trail when my body would refuse to wake up, all while speed hiking. I somehow went off trail here and ended up at someone’s home or cabin. I realized this when I heard loud barking and saw lights on. I turned around and within 10 minutes found the white dot. When I found the trail, in my state of somniacness I was not sure which was to go as the trail was in the middle of a bend. I turned left which at the time seemed to be the best choice. I later learned of my mistake when I saw the road I crossed just passed the FOC. I cursed gently, and turned around again and found my way back to where I originally made my mistake. More than one hour was lost here. I know had I been fully awake, this would not have happened. I have been on this trail many times before.
I kept pushing onward. I pushed past Cravens Gap, and still in a sleep walk state, saw the gallons of water on the trail. Refilled, and kept hiking. I was out of it, and cold. In the darkness and cold, all while in the sleep deprived state I knew finishing this monster would be hard. Just before I reached Bull Gap as I was crossing a road, I saw an suv with lights on. It was 5 or so in the morning, still dark, who would be out here? I walked over and saw Greg roll down the window with a big smile. I knew getting in the car would be a bad idea, but my body just opened the door and I sat in and blasted the heat. I ate a little, caught up on life with Greg for a few minutes and then passed out. It was well over an hour and half later that I woke up…”whhhaaaaat?” I thought to myself.
I thanked Greg, and mustered up the energy to get out of the car in 41 degree temps. As I got back on the trail to my surprise I see MadA crossing the road. He was a bit out of it. We hiked together, and told him a few jokes hoping this would bring up his spirits. I was having a hard time keeping up with him even after resting for almost two hours. I was cold immediately, and never really was able to get my core to warm up properly. As the grade got steeper up Lane Pinnacle, MadA disappeared in the distance. Moments later Uwharrie pulled up besides me. I have run many miles with Uwharrie and it was good to know some of the other fellas were on my tail, perhaps I would move faster with them. The Grand Kirk and Brian K rolled in and we chatted for 4.7 milliseconds. I reached the summit of Lane Pinnacle, which is incredible this early in the morning. The sunshine made the body of water visible from here glisten like the glaciers of the Central Alaskan Range did. I kept moving. Peircy, and Andrew rolled up behind me and passed. I knew I was toast, and would drop out at the next possible chance.
I crawled into the car at Bee Tree Gap, 51 miles away from the summit of Mt. Pisgah and got a ride back to my car. All in all a great adventure, and one day will have to wrap my mind around this one and make it to the summit of Mitchell.
A huge thanks to Greg for helping out here, to April who gave us the ride, Adam who uncountably works hard to pull all the strings together to make this run happen, and to all the volunteers pre and post run whom without this adventure would be exponentially more difficult.