Every Adventure has a Story
Every Adventure has a Story
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It's always a surprise when I stumble across the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This summer I will have lived in North Carolina for twenty years and through this whole time the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has been like an old friend who keeps popping up again - someone I knew and liked throughout my life but never got to know intimately even though we share interests and keep rubbing elbows over the years.
My post on Wednesday was originally intended to provide information about long distance trails - specifically the Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail - as an introduction for those unfamiliar to long-distance hiking, but a post just vomiting facts and metrics is no fun. Hence, the post on Wednesday turned into a passionate romanticization of long-distance trails. But as much as I wax poetic about the outdoors, I also feel a bit of guilt: I wonder if romanticizing the outdoors does it a disservice - that I am dismissing the dangers of the wilderness, downplaying the difficulty of the trail, or even encouraging others to find these beautiful spaces and disrespect or even defile them - intentionally or not - with cairns, graffiti, trash, or even just a proliferation of tourists with selfie sticks. An influx of people chasing selfies in exotic places for the sake of social media likes frequently brings up the debate regarding sharing the location of scenic spots - do you share the secret and risk it being overrun, or do you risk being a snob and keep your favorite places hidden?
I don't know when I first heard about the Appalachian Trail. It seems like I've always known about it, like it was some seed of knowledge that was embedded deep in my psyche before I was even born, but I must have learned about it at some point. Most likely I was just exposed to bits and pieces of information about the trail and so I learned about it piecemeal. Even the first time I set foot on the trail - on a day hike in Virginia with one of my best friends from college - I hadn't quite grasped the true meaning of the trail. I understood it existed and I understood you could hike it. I even understood that you could thru-hike it if you were crazy enough to love mountains and pain and you disliked showers and soft beds, but I certainly didn't grasp that there was an entire culture of people who lived and breathed the trail.
You all know I L-O-V-E a good goal or challenge, from running streak challenges, writing streak challenges, year-long goals, monthly goals, and everything in between. My pea-sized attention span needs something to latch onto and tackle to prevent me from jumping around from one shiny thing to the next (oooh shiny!) And while the challenges I tackle tend to be oriented around a personal goal - be a better writer/runner/hiker/biker/climber/person/etc. - I can enjoy watching a good fad challenge like the next person who is bored at work (I mean...stuck in traffic. No no I mean waiting in line at the coffeeshop! That's the one.) Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Or the Mannequin Challenge? Or even the Harlem Shake Challenge? Ah, good times. But I do draw the line at certain challenges - like the recent Tide Pod Challenge. Here are my votes on challenges to avoid and challenges to tackle (spoiler: they involve the outdoors, shocking!)
I am still trying to catch up on sleep after this weekend. I always strive to be the type of person who gets up early in the morning and is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to tackle the world, but in reality I'm at my best energy levels sometime after 8pm and before 5am. I have a friend who is the same way and she calls us "morning owls" - fighting our natural circadian rhythms just to get a little more mileage into our days. So with that in mind, Saturday morning was an eeeeearly morning for me. I woke up at 5am and had to force myself out of bed, all groggy and groaning and rubbing crusty sleep from my eyes. I'd already woken up early the day before for a pre-work climbing session, so two early mornings in a row was hella hard. But the mountains were calling, and I had a date with a meet-up group.
This recent snow from the "bomb cyclone" or whatever cute name we're supposed to call it calls to mind the trip McCrae and I made to Bullhead Mountain a few weeks ago. It had snowed a few days before we drove up to a small town outside Boone to stay at a mountain cabin owned by McCrae's uncle and aunt, and in the morning when we pulled on our warmest hats and coats the drifts lay deep in the mountain shadows.
I was going through the backlog of hikes I planned on posting on the blog, and I was shocked to discover that I did this Durant Nature Preserve hike in September! I am seriously that behind on posts, and I'm also amazed at how quickly this fall has disappeared.I met my dad early one morning in September for a Sunday stroll in Durant Nature Preserve in north Raleigh. I'd seen signs for it off Capital Boulevard every time I went to to the WRAL soccer park complex, and finally curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check it out.
If you're thinking of hiking up Slickrock Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, I have some advice for you: don't do it.
I'm pretty sure that hike was the most miserable hike of my life. I'm also pretty sure I'm going to have scars from that hike. The trail was completely overgrown with rhododendron and blackberries and briars and my legs looked like they were the loser in a fight with some barbed wire. My arms weren't much better and I think my feet will never forgive me for that day.
When was the last time I'd backpacked alone? And I mean really and truly alone - no Ryder pup, not even other hikers nearby. I was out there in the wilderness and I felt completely alone. I was acutely aware of every noise in the forest around me and I realized I was never this worried before about venturing into the wilderness. I wasn't sure if it was because everyone else's fears of the wilderness was seeping into me, or if it was because my general anxiety about the world was increasing, or if it was just that I was venturing into wilder and more remote places and, honestly, that's scary. But I had to take this leap of faith. I had to prove to myself that I could be alone in the wilderness and that it would be alright.
Awkward and anticlimatic. That's pretty much how that weekend went. Work hard, go someplace new on your own, try not to freak out about the new place or people or being on your own, and still things just play out really awkwardly anyways. Sounds about right for me. And so I ran away to the mountains where Ryder was a jerk and the sky was cloudy and obscured the meteor shower and my tripod lost its handle and I totally missed Shining Rock.
16.59 miles. This is officially my longest run to date. I've been following the Fleet Feet Carrboro/Durham full marathon training program, inching past the half marathon training distance with an additional mile each week on the long run. 14 miles was an iffy distance for a long distance PR - there has been the occasional half marathon race or training run that tracked a little long and flirted with fourteen. Fifteen miles was a definite distance PR but it didn't feel that substantial. But 16.59? When the watched screen popped up "New PR! Longest distance!" I grinned - indubitably, yes, that's my longest distance and I just crushed it.
Sometimes when running with the training group I get this desire to sweep the pack. There's something about being at the back, chasing after everyone else ahead. Maybe I've always loved to chase things: to chase after butterflies, to chase the dogs as they sprinted through the woods like a pack of wolves, to chase a soccer ball up and down a grassy field, to chase after goals and dreams. There's something about the chase - of realizing there's something there ahead of you, to aspire to, to chase down and become. We all need that vision. We all need that something to chase.
If you love running and you love reading there's a good chance that eventually you'll end up reading books about running. There is so much to say about running - from the poetic to the scientific to the sometimes dry litany of training tips - and it's no surprise that running literature, while not a huge niche, at least has a deep bench. I started reading books about running by way of audiobooks. There's not much that will hype you up more about running on mile 8 of a long run than listening to all the benefits of running or all the love elite runners have for the sport. Check out my favorite running books I've read and the books I want to read!
My friend Kelly (an excellent mentor captain for Fleet Feet running group, Fresh Air Fitness coach and organizer, the awesome gift organizer for Duke Children's Hospital, and the founder of First Pages) is doing something epic this summer: she's running the Bryce Canyon ultra-marathon. She's tackling the 50K course, a rough trail race covering 31 miles in the national park. I am super excited for her and a little envious - I have such a love for running and for hiking, so combining the two and doing trail running just makes sense, so I eagerly volunteered to accompany her on some trail runs. To help her train we've come up with a bucket list of local trails to run.
The gear-changing workout is all about listening to your body - knowing when to push it and what you need to do to recover. It's knowing your limiting factor. Your limiting factor may be a variety of variables, but if you can identify that limiting factor you can train mindfully and effectively.
Well, I have officially blown my running streak. The goal was to run a mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, but something about the Holiday Mile did me in. The concept is simple: 1 mile, 4 cookies, 4 glasses of milk. You start the race by gobbling down a glass of milk and a cookie, and then you run a quarter mile. Stop, eat a cook and drink a glass of milk, run a quarter mile, repeat until the mile is done. The holiday mile will either make you or break you...and it definitely broke me!
Two miles. Uphill. In the snow. Both directions. Okay, so that was a more accurate description of my hike this weekend rather than my run, but it's pretty close. This weekend McCrae and I escaped to his aunt and uncle's mountain cabin outside Sparta, NC. We had an...adventurous...time getting up to the cabin via the Blue Ridge Parkway (which was closed) and private roads (which were gated and locked) and icy vertical drives (which apparently popped one of our tires), but we made it and we spent 4 days in the cabin together and didn't want to kill each other (#romancegoals) Of course, mountain cabin vacation or not I had a running streak to maintain! So I did an out-and-back down the private gravel road to the cabin.
Possibly the hardest blog post is the one that comes after a period of silence. Was it writer's block? I'd argue no because I still have been writing *something* but just not posting. I'm not the type of person who forces herself to write if I'm not ready, but usually just staring at a blank page with a pen in my hand is sufficient enough inspiration, although what I write about may not be exactly relevant. And so, derailed and uninspired, I have been struggling with guilt and inertia.
I have officially completed a full marathon event! Well, with a little help from my teammates. I met up with my NC Oiselle Volee teammates on Sunday morning for the City of Oaks marathon relay in Raleigh, with 26.2 miles split across four runners. We had five teams running so it was quite a crowd, with plenty of snacks and selfies.
On Saturday night as we drove to the next big exchange point after what was supposed to be a quick bite at Wendy's I sat in the back seat of the van with my legs kicked up and my Richmond half marathon blanket draped over my sore legs and watched brown-gold fields chase the sunset. Some fields were cotton - half-harvested or brow-beaten with white balls - the closest to snow that ever settles on those furrowed fields. Some fields contained soybeans - either thin from recent harvest or heavy with dry or moldy bean shells for crop rotation, already longing to burrow and return to the soil and elude the dull grey winter that in this Indian summer seemed impossibly far away. But the crops knew that winter is coming. Brown naked stalks of tobacco stood sentinel in some fields, though there were much fewer fields than there were twenty years ago or even ten years ago. As we drove east I looked behind us at the shrinking fields and watched the sky purple into twilight, a soft nostalgic smile curling at my lip corners. Tuna Run 200 this year was very different from last year - check out the full race report!