Day #3: The Asheville Base Camp

Highway40_3

I’m sitting in my tent, nestled in the Hard Times loop of the Lake Powahatan Recreational Area. The campground itself is just a small part of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest project on the edges of Asheville, North Carolina.

The drive east along Interstate 40 and then south along Interstate 26 was breathtaking. I kept shooting pictures, looking at them on the digital screen, and deleting them. There was simply no way to capture the majestic sky-scape, the amazing hills, and the lush mountains. I captured a few images, but the best will be burned only on my hard drive to be lost like "tears in rain."

(The best: a spiral cloud that looks like a tornado of marshmallow, spread across the sky and reaching down to earth. I took photo after photo and the only image that appeared was a small, globby mix of blue and white. I was so saddened, I deleted the pictures and pretended as though I didn’t see it.)

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Day #3: The Percy Warner Summit

I had the opportunity to do two runs while I was in Nashville, both at Percy Warner. I realized when I’d completed the first day that I’d neglected two important particulars: take a picture of the awesome Stone Gate entryway into the park and run the last .3 of a mile to the top of the park.

On day two, I took care of both of those:

PercyWarner_StoneGate

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Day #2: The Percy Warner Ascent

Night falls early at base camp. The sun goes down, the human noise begins to subside, and the night sounds begin to creep.

After a long day of running, rain assembly, and general insanity I climbed into my tent at 9:10 p.m. in order to prepare for the Percy Warner Ascent on Monday. (If you’re wondering why I was a bit concerned, here’s a good description of the run.)

The park is located about 25 miles from the Nashville KOA, giving me just enough time to digest breakfast, drink a coffee and arrive at the starting point ready to go. I awoke at 5:30 a.m., chatted with my friend in London, and emerged from my tent around 7 a.m ready to go.

PercyWarner

I reached the Stone Gate, the entrance to the park, and took off. It’s a brutal run, with about 1,100 meters of ascent and descent during the 11-mile run. There are several 10-12 percent grades, including one in the first three miles.

What makes this run so special, though, is the view you’re afforded if you can push through.

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Day #1: Lexington to Nashville

LegacyTrail

After months of planning, I finally launched Brad’s U.S. Trail Adventure.

I awoke at 6:30 a.m., grabbed my gear, had a quick bite of breakfast with the Mom and Dad, and his the road. I had a 2-hour drive to Lexington, Kentucky where I was slated to run 6-8 miles on the Legacy Trail, a paved trail that begins at the YMCA and winds it way to the Kentucky Horse Park.

I didn’t quite get out as early as I’d hoped, a bad sign for things to come. There’s a heat wave rolling across the Midwest and South, and along with that heat comes a series of thunderous storms.

I reached the Legacy Trail head at 9:23. Much of the trail winds along the roads, hardly an interesting run. I asked some cyclists if there was a different trail head. There was, in fact, but they forgot one important direction and I chickened out after 15 minutes of searching.

I circled back to the YMCA and took off just as temperatures reached 90 degrees.

 

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Trail Failing

I sent an email to a friend of mine today explaining why I’m embarking on this 11 state, 7 park running/camping trip. She’s become rather important in my life recently, and I find myself sharing not only the events of life but also the reasons behind those events.

That’s not easy to do. It’s hard to summarize the subtleties of why this is important  because it requires understanding bits and pieces of the minutia of my life across 39 years. Let’s be honest: nobody is that interested. Added to my own inability to condense the importance of this trip is the reality that she and I have different frames of reference. There are no easy outs. Finding the right words to explain this to her takes patience and time (which, I’ll say, has finally helped me understand the “patience and time” lyrics to the George Harrison song, “I Got My Mind Set On You”).

As it turns out, taking the time and finding the patience is the easiest part of the whole endeavor because we enjoy the conversations. That’s a rather new-found part of sobriety: the ability to be still and calm. I’m not always great with it, but she’s helping me find the joy in it.

Through these conversations – many of which take place through email – I’ve boiled down much of what this trip, and this year, seems to be about for me. It’s about Failure. This is what I told her:

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Socially Networking the Trails: Lexington, Nashville, and Asheville

I spent the day booking my reservations, which has only made my desire to hit the road even more pronounced than it is now. (I say this with one exception: Alabama. The park I was trying to book has only one phone line and no website. I started calling when the park opened, and 8 hours later I finally got through.)

Next on the agenda is tracking down runners throughout the areas I’ll be traveling. It’s easy for me to disappear into the World of Brad.

It’s a fun place, filled with stories and laughter and solitude. I’ve lived there for many years.

But I spend time there every day. This trip is as much about finding Running Self along the trails of America as it is my little Travels with Charlie, a wonderful book by John Steinbeck written near the end of his life. I have a long, strange history with this book, one that isn’t right for here. Suffice it to say, everything that exists in my life today does so because of that book. (This is not, as it turns out, hyperbole.)

I digress. The point here is to highlight the groups I’m trying to connect with along the way. I have no idea who these folks are. I’ve done a mix of Twitter, MeetUp, Facebook, and Google searching to track down running groups.

Thus far, I’ve emailed folks in my first three stops. If you have any other recommendations, please let me know. Without further ado:

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Brad’s US Trails Adventure: The Itinerary

After weeks of kicking around itineraries, I’ve finally settled upon the course for the southern part of Brad’s US Trail Adventure. (You can see the whole map here, including the places I won’t be going). Many of these trails are in Runner’s World’s “25 Best Trail Runs in America” series that I stumbled upon several weeks ago when I was looking for summer running gear.

All told, the trip will cover 11 states, take me to 6 parks, involve 112 miles of running, and take 2 weeks. I’ve already arranged to see a few old friends, meet a few socially-networked friends, and spend time hanging out in area REIs stalking fellow adventurers.

My next steps: make reservations at all the parks, search Meetup for local running groups, and get my house in order for the big goodbye.

That’s for me, though. For now, here’s the summer running plan:

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The Trails and Gear

For years, I prided myself on my ability to pick up and leave without a second’s thought. My life was set up in such a way that I could be out the door and gone without leaving a trace in about an hour.

There were many reasons for it —  youth, drinking, the exploration bug – but it’s fair to say that I’ve mostly left those days behind me. Which isn’t to say that I don’t still pick up and leave without much planning, because I do. I’ve simply become better at organizing my escapes.

This summer is no different. I’ve gone from zero to hiker in about 3 weeks. I’ve spend hours researching gear, reading reviews, reading magazines, making lists, and imagining the types of experiences I want to have. I’ve created wish lists of gear, bargain shopped, and as of yesterday made my last set of major purchases before I head out.

When I leave in a few weeks, I’ll be taking:

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Trail Run, U.S.A., and My New Pseudo 90-in-90

I’m sitting in at my living room desk, gear surrounding my feet, a binder of information sitting next to me, and Brad’s U.S. Trail Running Adventure Google Map open behind my blog.

In less than two weeks, I’ll leave Muncie behind for the summer and set about my journey to Austin, Texas, where I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my house in order to finally place it on the market. When it finally sells, the last remnants of my drinking life will finally be behind me.

Brad@40 will be in full swing. More importantly, I’ve finally figured out what I want the next few years of my life to look like.

***

I grew up camping with my family. Not the primitive, backpacker camping where you disappear for days on end. We went in big groups with family friends, exploring the Appalachian region (without my parents ever really telling us that’s what we were doing) and getting away from the house.

I was frightfully bored as a kid when we’d do that. I had no idea how to keep myself interested most of the time. There wasn’t anything but woods, water, and paths.

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I Ran in Denver, or A Lesson in Failure

5280 feet above sea level. One mile high, according to the football stadium. Everyone warned me that running in Denver was going to be challenging.

“Drink lots of water,” I was told.

“Expect to run 1-2 minutes slower,” I was told.

“Make sure you let me know how you feel after,” one person asked, laughing.

These are not the kinds of things you want to hear as a runner. It was clear I’d gotten myself into something here that couldn’t be quantified by my friends. I’d just have to experience it.

Still, I came prepared as I could: I’d packed my trail running gear. A water bottle, an empty hydration pack for storing food and extra water, goo and Cliff’s bars (neither of which I ever use), and my chilly weather gear.

The rest would be up to nature.

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The Running Road to Appalachia

Blue ridge mountains

In 67 days, I shall line up on the track at Appalachian State University with several hundred runners and begin a grueling 26.2 mile run through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina as part of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.

I’m anxious about this race. We only have 5 1/2 hours to finish as our event coincides with the start of the Scottish Highland Games, and we will climb approximately 1,000 feet throughout the run. In other words, there are very few relaxing portions of this run.

Maybe I’ve over-thinking this particular exercise, though, as The Country Music Marathon (CMM) covered 1,000 feet of elevation as well. There’s something about running in the mountains, though, that feels intimidating. Of course, this is one of the main reasons I’m running this race. I never doubted I’d finish the CMM, but I have no idea how this race will break.

There’s something about the uncertainty of it that excites me.

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In Which I Run The Country Music Marathon, and Find a Piece of Me

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine

After 13 weeks of training, I ran The Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee in 3:52:49.

It’s the best time I’ve ever run, but 7 minutes, 50 seconds slower than I needed to qualify for the Pike’s Peak Ascent, the insanely crazy race up the side of a mountain than ends with a 3-mile run above the tree line.

I desperately want to qualify for this, and I desperately want to run it. Today was not that day, though.

Instead, I found something I hadn’t expected to find.

***

My alarm went off at 3:30 this morning. To be completely accurate, 5 alarms went off at varying times between 3:20 and 3:35 this morning.

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