Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas weekend at Max Patch and Sunrise Lookout

This year Linds and I decided to do something different for Christmas. Although we both absolutely love our families and love spending the holidays with them, we decided to spend this year's Christmas away from the lights of the city and not get caught up in all the complexities of a consumer Christmas. The goal was to escape to a cabin and spend the weekend without television and other worldly distractions. We would spend our time playing in the sunshine and outdoors exploring new sections of the A.T. and surrounding areas. Immersed in the wild with plenty of sunshine for the weekend we spent Christmas Eve day enjoying the wonders of Max Patch. An expansive bald at 4700' with 360 degree views of the Black Mountains, the Smokies and many other mountains. With so many wonderful sights we ran in circles for a bit just enjoying the beautiful views. Eventually we descended the backside of the bald with the Appalachian Trail all to ourselves we ran through some very vegetation rich draws as we followed the stream to Lemon Gap. We passed a couple shelters and enjoyed many other great views.
Looking back now I can say how much better it was being on a trail in the woods together and alone then driving some road as people honk and yell at each other in the name of Christmas trying to get that last ham, or that last video game they procrastinated about buying their child for months on end. Yet while we were on the trail from Max Patch to Yellow Gap without another soul in sight I can honestly say I thought not once about the land of the lost below. I just ran, with Kirra on a personal mission to smell every tree in the woods and Linds by my side we just ran. We talked as we always do but on this day we especially enjoyed being with each other. No more holidays away and across oceans from each other. This one was special and we decided to spend it in the sunshine.
After a great run we spent the evening relaxing and of course eating great food. Christmas day we ate more great food and spent a majority of the day again out in the woods hiking. We embarked to find a lookout tower. Though we never made it there, seems it looked closer than it was which may have been the binoculars, we had a great time again enjoying the solemn quiet woods. There is something truly peaceful about being in the woods not being able to hear passing cars or honking or anything other than the natural sounds of the wild. It was an amazing hike.
After dinner Linds and I decided why not catch the sunset on Max Patch. At 458pm we jumped in the car and drove much much faster than we should have but arrived at the parking area at 515 just as the sun was setting. We jumped from the car and ran like a couple of kids in the wild for the first time. With a very unforgiving hill ahead of us we were instantly reminded of our run the day before. Kirra of course had a blast being back on the bald. With hundreds of yards of grass in all directions, though only 4700', Kirra felt as if she was in heaven, doggy heaven! We made the top to be greeted by a windchill which brought the temp to about 10-15degrees but were welcomed with the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen .
There on the top of Max Patch as the sun set across the Smokies and Tennessee beyond it was hard if not impossible to not gasp in the awesome beauty we stood before. As I stood hand in hand with the only woman I have ever loved and the greatest wife ever, Linds and I shared a special moment. As the sun sank away the sky filled itself with streaks of pink, yellow, orange, purple and many other colors which can all be summed as beautiful!
Was it a traditional Christmas...No. Was it the best Christmas I can ever remember, yes. To spend time in the wild and in the sunshine is to be free. And this past weekend I gained a whole new appreciation for a phrase I have heard a few times. To love is to live in dreams awake! I love the outdoors and I absolutely adore my gorgeous wife. This weekend was a dream yet even though I am awake it has yet to fade.....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Life's three simple lessons and the freedom of running.....

This weekend the plan was to keep it simple. After a long week of work and many weekends of epic runs and adventures the goal was simple, do some relaxing. But as the world always does it seems to throw a twist and turn in the road when you least expect.

Running in and of itself has always been a form of escape for myself. A way to clear my head and refresh my mood and energy. Trail running offers that and more. The opportunity to get in a great workout, clear my head, and ultimately relax as my body gets into a rhythmic stride where I feel as if i am no longer consciously moving my legs, but rather they seem to just swing forward as excited as I am to see whats around the next bend. This weekend Linds and I were going to keep it simple. We started out Saturday with an hour on the Mountains To Sea Trail. Getting an early start we ran as most of the country slept. It is a good feeling being out on the trail in the woods all by yourself. With Linds up front setting the pace and Kirra running around as if she owned the place, I found instant relief from a long busy week. With Christmas fast approaching, the world seems to focus on one thing, shopping, money this and money that. Sales are down, Sales are up. Its an emotional roller coaster trying to live in this world. Out on the trail things are different. The biggest hill could be ahead of you, trees could be blocking the path, but no matter what I always seem to have fun. The diversity and surprises the trail and woods offer are more than welcomed. These are the intricacies that make the journey worth taking.

After our brief but more than needed trot through the woods, we headed to north Asheville. Linds had training and i would drop her off and return to the trail for more relaxation. On the way there we were greeted by yet another of lifes great surpises. Unlike the trail these surprises aren't always welcomed. Today's great gift was a rock or a bolt, either or doesn't really matter, what does it the fact it smacked our windshield hard enough to break it! Yes, what a day it was now. No one was hurt, nothing bad really happened but it was enough to send me into a spiral of worldly chaos. I started thinking about the $500 it costs to replace and why the heck it had to happen, but a great lesson was due to be learned. Life isn't about broken windshields, life isn't about how much money is in the bank, life isn't about a lot of things we seems to get caught up in! This lesson of course didn't sit in right away.

I dropped Linds of at training, not in a good mood of course, and on I drove back to the trail. Today's first lesson came at the hands, or should I say the hills, of Kitsuma. Kirra and I went out for another run. I seemed to run the entire way out and most of the way back before it truly set in how truly UNimportant a broken windshield is. I glanced through the trees and saw yet another gorgeous view. I could see north, south and east and what I saw was truly humbling. There are things greater, much greater than me feeling sorry for myself and that dumb windshield. I had the world, the wild, and the trail at my feet. In that moment I realized how chaotic life can be when you get caught up in worldly things. Yes, we need jobs to make money and money to life, so they saw, but life today was free and what a blessing it was. I returned from the trail refreshed and calmed.

The second lesson came when I pulled in and saw my gorgeous bride. I am truly a blessed man. Not only do I have a truly wonderful and amazing wife, but she is crazy and, thank God brave enough, to travel this road of life with me. I not only get to enjoy the beauty and mystery of the woods and trail but i get to do it with the most amazing and inspiring woman i have ever met. I am a blessed man.

Sunday we decided to take another 'easy' trot through the woods. Today was the third lesson. A trail on a map can, may and will look much easier than when you run it. Today's run would be Turkey Pen Gap trail from the trail head to Black Mountain. A mere 5.5 miles each way showed the map. What I failed to spend time looking at was the contour and the many, many close elevation lines stacked on after the other. The trail was great. Back to the trail where surprised though painful at times always return the favor. Though the parking lot was filled, everyone else seemed to know how tiring this trail was and chose other routes. But yet again, we had the trail, the woods, and what feels like the world to ourselves. In this third run of the weekend I couldn't help but recap the previous two lessons. Life can be chaotic. Without a doubt life never goes the way you want it to. It is easy to get caught up in the plethora of things that do not matter. But in the woods, on the trail, it is easy to remember how simple life truly is and what a majestic world we truly have. There are things bigger than ourselves out there and how selfish of us to ever forget this. The other thing i thought about and what seems to always occupy most of my thoughts if how amazing my wife is. Again, strong enough, brave enough, and just as wild as me she chose to follow me on yet another journey through the woods. With her on my mind, our hearts beating as one, and the trail, woods and world at our feet, what a wonderful journey its going to be....

Sunday, December 11, 2011

GrayBeard Mountain Running

If you haven't ever taken the time to take a step back and look at the mountains in the winter, I recommend you do so. After the leaves have fallen and nothing remains but the bare bones of a mountain you are able to see the mountain for what it really is. Steep, rocky, odd shaped, rugged.... the list goes on as each mountain is different. Well, today the mountain was Graybeard. From the distance Graybeard seemed to display all the rugged characteristics of a well defined mountain quietly holding an amazing view waiting to be seen from the top. The great thing about a good mountain is you are forced to work in order to reach the top yet you are handsomly rewarded with a majestic view. Today, Graybeard did just that. With a couple miles of rugged trail to begin the route soon turned to a gradual grade and smooth switchbacks offering the ability to really push yourself as you ascend the mountain and withdraw further and further from civilization below. The last stretch had a few fallen trees and rocks along with a nice climb but finished on a small rock bluff giving you just enough of a boost to provide a complete 360 view of the world around.

It is amazing how you can fall, get scratched and bruised as you climb a mountain yet the moment you reach the top any and every thought of discomfort and pain seems to escape as your thoughts are filled with a euphoric pleasure of having accomplished yet another mountain run.

In the shadow of Adam Hill we then started the decent. Although the route to the top was a great run we felt the punishment was not enough. We decided to take the West Ridge Trail back to the start. The decent was rather something of a 'love-hate' relationship, being torn between slowing your pace for comfort, well not comfort, but safety and actually running but risking many falls accompanied by scraps and bruises. Though some may disagree we did all eventually make it down safely and were rewarded with another section of great trail as we ascending back of the hillside on Big Piney Trail to capture one last view of Montreat and all else below before the run finally came to an end.

I learned a few things this weekend. We are truly blessed with a number of really great friends and genuinely good people and when you mix that with a good quality mountain you are bound to have an amazing time. I also learned something else. Though I have known it now for a while it is seeming to grow more and more prevalent that without a doubt......I LOVE MOUNTAIN RUNNING!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art Loeb and Perry's Palooza Palace!!

It all started on a fateful evening at the Asheville Brewing Company. With good company, great pizza and beer the conversation undoubtedly turned to trail running. Jon spoke of his desire to run the Art Loeb having yet to run the entire 30 some miles if you don't get lost. I, of course, said, "Hey, me too!" and then it all began. In a few short sentences it turned out we were going to be running the Art Loeb in 6 days that couldn't go by fast enough.

The goal was to meet at the start and run the entire trail ending at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp where delicious food would be cooked around a fire in a nice warm cabin. The only thing standing in the way was a lovely 31 miles and 9500' feet of vertical elevation gain.

The air was nice and crisp in the morning, but with a beautiful day and perfect weather forecasted we knew this run would more than suffice the deep burning desire to be on the trail this weekend. We donned the headlamps, let the dogs free and off we went. It seems our legs weren't even warm before we hit the first hill climb but we knew once the sun rose we would already have a view.

Mile after mile we continued on enjoying the gorgeous views, solitude from the chaotic life below and the great company along for the journey. Though the run was gorgeous we did complain plenty with a trail covered in ice and cut from erosion but our spirits remained high knowing we had the trail mostly to ourselves.

Roughly 9 hours later, we happily stood in the shadow of Cold Mountain as we enjoyed the delicious warmth a cold, crisp Cold Mountain Winter Ale offered as we recapped the epic journey.

Thanks to Melissa for the shuttle and everyone for joining in on the great weekend journey. See you on the next one!