Running or other strenuous activity done in temperatures greater than 90 degrees can lead to heat stroke, brain damage, or death.
That’s the sign at the Palo Doro trail head. Next to that: a huge thermometer that read 110 degrees when I arrived on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. I made the decision right then if I was going to run the Canyon, I was going to need to hit the trail by no later than 6 a.m.
I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, and began the long, slow process of waking up. I was trying to time the run so that I wouldn’t be on the trail in the dark, and yet still have enough pre-sun time to make serious headway on the run.
I reached the trail a bit later than I wanted – about 6:15 a.m. – but the sun wasn’t up yet. I hoped to reach The Lighthouse, an amazing dual rock structure that sits about 500 feet above the canyon floor that’s a destination for trail runners.
I’m set up for tomorrow’s training run: an 5.5 mile out-and-back along a trail I’m told is amazingly beautiful, ending out the “Lighthouse” rock. I expect to bring back pictures.
The Givens, Spicer, and Lowery Trail is 1/2 of the Palo Duro Trail Run ultra-marathon that takes place here in October. I’m planning on coming back next year to do the 50K so this is a warm up of sorts. I’ll have more on the day after I’ve run, but this is the the Canyon.
When I first entered the park, I was snapping pictures from the car window.
Editor’s Note: I wrote this piece before my 9-mile run this morning, a quick out-and-back over most of the trail I was supposed to run yesterday.
After Monday’s brutality, there’s little chance my body will allow anything like that to happen today. Instead, I’ve made the executive decision to push as close to Canyon, Texas as possible, which means a 10-hour drive to Oklahoma City.
It also means I’ll be abandoning one of my camping destinations in Arkansas; however, it was a one-night stop in a primitive location and after 12 days of traveling – including 10 in campgrounds – it seemed prudent to spring for one relatively comfort-filled night.
That means, in no particular order:
- air conditioning
- clean shower
- a working toilet
This is not about air conditioning and toilet and televisions, though.
I’ve read this advice repeatedly as I prepared for this trip. I’m not a trail runner, at least not yet. I’m not a camper, at least not yet. I’ve tried to take each learning experience in small steps, reading and learning as much as I could before proceeding.
Until today, I’ve been doing well in no small part because I’ve staggered my runs (and base camps). I’ve intentionally started off in very basic places, giving me the ability to correct any mistakes without too much trouble. My campsites have been in well-trafficked places and my runs have largely been in well-traveled public spaces (minus the Shut-In trail in Asheville, which I approached with supreme caution.)
The Double Oak Mountain trail didn’t have the same intimidation level. It’s in the middle of a State Park, one with a beautiful lake beach, horse stables, a golf course, and scads of families in the campground. There are mileage markers ever .1 of a mile. There’s camping on the trail.
It had just enough fun attached to get me in trouble. Which I did.
I’ll have more about this 19-mile after I recover a bit more. It was not a good day on the trail mostly because I decided to add 9 miles to the run after I’d started. I was ill-prepared – a first on this trip. Fortunately, I had some mountain bikers watching over me. A great reminder of so many things today.
For now, here’s what I ran. (Miles 16-19 were less running and more not running):
My body is beat up.
Despite running just 44 miles this week, my legs feel like iron anchors. I’ve climbed several miles on trails, which I haven’t done much before this trip. Still, I wake up every morning and drag myself out. It’s helpful that I’ve brought nothing else to do.
Once I pull myself out of the tent, however, I find myself anxious to run – despite the fatigue – to see what the day has to offer. Without delving too deeply into this, I can feel a stirring inside me with every step I take on the trails. My state of mind has been altered. I’m not sure where this is going just yet, but I’m very excited to see what – if anything – grows from this experience.
Today I set about running a short 8 miles through Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park. Yesterday, I ran the mountain. As I made my way through the park, I felt spry (after I shook off some of the soreness). When I reached the Illinois Monument, 5.2 miles from the Visitor Center, I came across the sign for Kolb Farm (3 miles), the southern-most part of the park.
“I’ve come this far”, I thought. “What’s 5k more?”
After the brutal 13.1 mile ascent on Shut-In Mountain yesterday, I decided to let my body rest a bit before heading off to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park for today’s run. Functionally, I still awoke at 6:20 a.m., but I leisurely got started around 8 a.m. After a brief stop at McDonald’s to send email and post some writing, I headed to the park.
This is a runner’s haven, apparently. There were scores of people running along the paved bike path (this is the Mountain Trail, I came to realize too late, and not the path into the park). I changed in the woods – it was a dicey affair as the trees are sparse and the parking is along the road – and headed the Visitor’s Center to retrieve my map.
Unlike Asheville trails, this mapped network is less clear.
When I first read the Runner’s World issue with the best trail runs in the United States, I latched on to the Shut-In Trail for two reasons: it was near Asheville, North Carolina – a city I’d longed to visit, and it ran from the base of a forest 18.9 miles into the mountains.
These kinds of runs are cathartic in a way that only distance runners can understand. Of course, I never intended to run the entire distance (although I told my dad some day I am going to have someone drop me off at the starting point and pick me up at the top of Mt. Pisgah). I’d hoped to get in 16 miles.
I was optimistic.
I hadn’t really checked out the ascent, which I normally do. Instead, I strapped on my Vibrams – and oh boy did my feet take a pounding – and headed out at 8:30 a.m.
There are 27 trails within the Bent Creek system in the Pisgah National Forest Southern Research Station.
I know this because when I checked into the park, I was handed a map. The reason for the organization: Bent Creek is a research forest, which means scientists are here conducting all manners of research around conservation. Much of what they do here (if I understand) is find out how nature bounces back from ecological disasters such as fires. As such, they have experiments happening across the forest. If you step outside the designated paths, you’re liable to mess up somebody’s experiment.
I’ve been around scientists for too much of my life to take that casually. When I set out to hike, I dutifully grabbed my map, my phone, water, trail food, and my camera. Unfortunately, I also grabbed my very old hiking shoes, but we’ll get to that later.
Wednesdays are my off days, which in Muncie means I spend most of my time lounging around my town home doing a whole lot of nothing. I’d like to say I’m motivated to get out and do activities in my town of residence but there’s not a culture of activity there.
Here in Asheville – at least in the Lake Powhatan Recreational area – everybody is going.
I saved my hike for the evening because I wanted to avoid the blistering 93 degree heat. No sense in sapping my strength before tomorrow’s Shut-In Trail run. Instead, I drove to downtown Asheville, a place I’d been wanting to see for some time.
The downtown is broken up into 5 distinct areas (according to the map downtown); I only had time to hang out in downtown proper.
The first place I stopped: Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar
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.)