My response was, "Only four times in over 250 miles, which is better than I
do at home."
I met this man and his son as I was running down the smooth trail north of
Bluff Mountain, the third mountain I climbed today. Ironically, this is the type
of trail I'm most likely to fall on, when I'm going faster and not paying as
close attention to trail hazards.
Like other hikers who I tell about my plan to run to Maine, they were very
interested and had very good questions.
I saw only two other hikers in the nearly seven hours I was on the Trail
today, but spoke with five volunteers from Asheville's Carolina Mountain Club
who were building a new shelter on this section of Trail. I enjoyed talking with
this group of active retired folks with a sense of humor. One of them had placed
a large plastic spider next to the lunch box of another member of the group. I
don't know if the "victim" had spotted the spider yet.
And here's "It's a Small World #3" - one of the guys building the shelter had
on a Rocket City Marathon (Huntsville, AL) t-shirt, so of course I had to talk
to him! He and the woman in the photo above were the first ones who came over to
talk to me when I ran the short distance down to the building site. I guess he
came over because I was a runner, too.
His name is Alan Frank. He's a retired dentist and a former ultra marathoner.
He ran Mountain Masochist, Strolling Jim, JFK 50, and other ultras several years
ago, so he knows some folks I know in the ultra world, including Gary
Cantrell and David Horton.
Horton, is there anyone who doesn't know you??? (Just kidding.)
DREAM ULTRA COURSE
This section of the AT is a trail runners' dream course: like
yesterday, the Trail was mostly smooth and runnable except for stream crossings,
blow-downs, and a few rocks and roots. For a clumsy runner like me, it was
perfect. I ran about 60% of the distance. Folks who are stronger uphill (and
more rested than me) could run nearly every step of the way. The ascents and
descents were more gradual than any other twenty miles of the AT I've been on so
Now that my quads/knee problem seems to be resolved, I love the downhills.
This was a great net-downhill section. The total elevation gain was only about
2,000 feet, and the loss was a whopping 5,800 feet. That would have been
impossible for me to run or walk comfortably last week, but today it was
just plain fun!
In addition, there were great views from Max Patch, beautiful lush hardwood
forests, enough flowers to satisfy wildflower enthusiasts (although not nearly
as many as yesterday's section), and many noisy streams along the way. It had
about everything I could ever want in a race or training run.
So why did it take me nearly seven hours to do 20.2 miles? Because I like to
smell the roses along the way! I talked with several people, took photos, wrote
notes, took a couple breaks to let Cody cool down, and let him play in every
creek. I could have blasted through the section in under six hours, but I
wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did.
Max Patch Mountain was purchased in 1982 by the US Forest Service for
protection of the AT. From the broad, grassy summit (elev. 4,629 feet) the views
of the surrounding mountains are magnificent, with the highest peaks in the East
visible today (Mt. Mitchell and many peaks in the Smokies).
Before the USFS purchased the mountain, the bald summit was used as a landing
strip for small planes and a pasture for sheep and cattle (hopefully, not at the
Jim and Cody walked up the mountain with me this morning, half a mile from my starting
point on Max Patch Road. We spent about 15 minutes enjoying the countryside at
the summit and trying to make phone calls, since there is no signal down in Hot
Springs where we're camping now.
Cody and I went on alone from there, thoroughly enjoying the sunshine, cool
breezes, and temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Jim ran back down the mountain and
on Max Patch Road for a while.
Today's third mountain, Bluff Mountain, had a peaceful summit with
hardwood trees (near the current "leaf line" at 4,686 feet), grasses and
flowers, huge rock formations, and more views of surrounding mountains and
It seemed to take forever to get down to the town of Hot Springs at the end.
The descent was more gradual than expected, then suddenly we were spit out of
the peaceful forest onto a little parking lot and city street. Hikers have to
walk (or run) right through the middle of this little town, known for its
hiker-friendly attitude. It is one of only a few places where the AT goes right
through the middle of town (some others are Damascus, VA, Harper's Ferry, WV, and Boiling
Jim met us when we got to town and we walked a few blocks to the outfitter's
store to check out their wares. Then we went to our campground a couple blocks
away. Cool - he didn't have to drive 30 miles on winding forest service roads to
get me today, and I just leave from the campground tomorrow morning!
FAREWELL TO TREAD WELL
Dave from Atlanta, AKA Tread Well, camped on top of Max Patch last night. He
told me yesterday he wouldn't be starting to hike until about 9 this morning, so
I spent all day trying to catch him. He just knew I was going to run up on him
at any time, so he went faster trying to keep ahead!
Turns out, he started earlier than expected and I didn't start till 10 AM. So
I didn't "catch" him until Jim and I were walking through Hot Springs as I ended
my run. Dave was all cleaned up and talking on a pay phone. We weren't sure it
was him. You know the joke about runners looking so different when they're in
other clothing; same thing with hikers.
Dave saw us and waved and we decided to have dinner together this evening. We
were all disappointed that the great pasta and pizza restaurant he so highly
recommended was closed, so we ate at the pub next door. Jim and I thoroughly
enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Dave for 1 1/2 hours about all sorts of
thing like our mutual love of the outdoors, hiking and running, future plans,
traveling, careers, people we know, our families, etc.
We may never see Dave again, but we're glad we got to know him this week.
It's people like him who make the Trail experience so worthwhile.
And I'm happy to report that Jim had a much better day today! He didn't
indulge in the local hot springs as I'd hoped, but his day was more relaxed and