“Unfiltered, Unsupported, Unfinished”

A $20 a night campground brings a certain level of charm… like people loudly coming and going at all hours of the night… a random 5am guitar serenade in 29° weather and conversations with a Harley driving New Yorker in the community showers… (for the record… Ed from NY is a good dude).

Per usual, Matty Fierce and I made the long 5.5hrs drive up from Birmingham to what has grown to be one of our favorite campgrounds in the Smokies. We arrived right before midnight. MF popped the rooftop tent while I sat in the backseat packing my bag.

We were only gonna have 2-3hrs of sleep and I sure as hell didn’t wanna be groggy tryna pack my bag in the morning. It was a good call. We were woke by a car pulling into their camp site at 2:55am. I guess they decided to kick it in their warm car instead of crawling into their iced over tent. Can’t blame them but it was weird enough that they pulled in at 3am… even weirder they just kept the lights on as we crawled down from our tent.

It was bitter outside. I slept cozily. MF stayed cold the first night but after a fuzzy pants purchase at the Dollar General… he also reached a level of hibernation coziness the 2nd night.

MF had sent a last minute SOS on one of the Smoky hikers pages as a last ditch effort for a shuttle. By the Grace of God, a guy named Chris responded and agreed to meet us at 4am. This dude drove 2hrs from West Knox and was waiting at the trailhead when we arrived at 330am. I know what you’re thinking… but percentages man, percentages. The percentages of some random guy publicly answering on the internets then driving 2hrs to an obscure location in the middle of the woods with no cell service at an ungodly hour of the morning to pick up 2 guys just to kill them… well… the chances are low… never zero… but very low.

Thankfully me and MF didn’t have to whip out our cool ninja skills. As you can see from his halo in the picture below, Chris turned out to be a very sweet trail angel.

We all chatted until we reached Rainbow Falls trailhead. Since Chris didn’t accept any $ for the shuttle, MF was thoughtful enough to bring him a new Alabama Outdoors hat.

The start was brisk, but we stayed warm moving under the full moon. Though my legs felt fresh, I was moving ssssslllllooooooowwwwww. Relatively, I’m out of shape. Im still in “let’s go to the mountains and run all day” shape but I’m definitely out of “let’s throw down some hard, fast, racey type miles” shape. When we topped out on Trillium… I had already climbed more than I have in the past 6 weeks combined.

I’ve not had much motivation since the Arkansas Traveller 100 . At first the lack of motivation bummed me out, but I quickly accepted it and let it run its course… which it’s still running. My buddy Ryne Anderson made a post the other day about lacking in motivation in his own running as well as seeing it in some of the athletes he coaches. It’s always good to have some reassurance that other athletes you highly respect go through the same type of issues. In one of our chats he said, “It’s tough. But both of us have been pretty consistent for several years. So probably healthy to hit a lull in motivation for some balance.” That statement really resonated with me. Sometimes I feel like I always have to be “on” my game… but as we know… there are exceptions to those always and never statements and it truly is ok to simply exist in certain areas and pursue other avenues for a while.

The tiredness in my legs disappeared once we hit the glow on Myrtle.

“Watching the sunrise at Myrtle Point through morning dew…”

What a majestic time of day to be on my favorite mountain with one of my favorite humans.

To beat the chill, we didn’t stay long and continued down the Boulevard…

MF quickly dropped me after the scar and waited at the top of one of the climbs.

“You ok?”

I think he thought I must have been injured or hurting since I was moving so slowly. Unfortunately, I had no good excuse. Nothing was wrong… I was just moving slow.

I ate a Snickers at Newfound Gap (mile 20ish) and felt better for a few minutes.

Since we only had one car, we had to be creative in how we got to the next trailhead… so we ran like idiots for +4 miles down the busy, winding, horn blowing, tunnel filled roads of 441. The only win about this section was that I FINALLY got to meet one of my favorite Smokies IG accounts, Kristi Parsons! Per usual, she was out making the Smokies a better place picking up trash with Save Our Smokies!

We arrived at the Alum trailhead after 25 or so miles. Since the weather was chilly, we’d each only packed 2 flasks with intentions of filtering water from Alum Cave Creek. Of course our filters were frozen. I was getting water regardless…

“F*ck it. I’m drinking from the source and taking my chances with Giardia.”

*** Spoiler: I didn’t get Beaver Fever ***

By this point, MF was feeling the mountain miles as well.

The trip up Alum was our slowest to date, but there’s something to be said about moving slow up Alum. That trail is still one of the best bang for your buck trails in the entire park. It’s beautiful from start to finish and it was nice taking in some of the smaller details you tend to miss when scampering upwards quickly.

Ahhhh…. the magical turn to the top…

We stopped by the lodge for some small talk and to get purified water. This was the last weekend of the season for the Lodge and store to be open so the grounds were bustling. Of course… I needed to swing by and take a #6593 pic.

We kicked it up on Cliff Tops for a bit before leaving the top.

We decided a warm shower, a cold beer and a hot meal were reasons enough to bail on Rainbow~Bullhead loop. The fact of the matter was that we were moving slow and it was getting to that “this isn’t fun anymore” stage so we slowly made our way down Brushy Mtn to our car at Porters Creek.

We didn’t finish the Tour we set out to do but still ended our day with 38 miles / 8,000ft of climbing and some much needed time on my mountain.

Now that I’ve let my body fully recover and have had ample relaxation time since Arkansas Traveller 100… I suppose it’s time to get back to the grindstone. I was giving myself till after Thanksgiving… so I suppose I’ll cozy up for one more day before settling into a Winter training routine and setting my eye on a Spring goal.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

“Family”

The sun was setting over Hickory Heights as we started picking teams.

I’ll take Art.”

We’d strung together 2 goals and placed them on opposite ends of the driveway. We’d carefully and colorfully lined off the free throw line and the 3 point perimeter.

“Aight cool… I’ll take… Nathan.”

The flood lights flipped on. Almost game time.

“I’ll take Alex.”

Nate starts dribbling the ball towards the middle of the court and looks back at me.

I rolled my eyes and said “I guess we got Jess.”

My lil sister Jessica cheerfully bounded over to my side and snuck me a low five. She knew my eye roll was for show.

The tip off didn’t go our way and they quickly scored. Jess passed in the ball and I slowly started dribbling down the driveway. I cut my eyes towards Jess. She knows what’s coming next. A quick AI cross over and I’m launching towards the basket.

*no look pass out to the perimeter*

Jess catches the ball and smoothly releases a shot from just beyond the 3 point line.

I don’t even bother watching her shot and start jogging towards the other end of the court.

*swish*

Money. Nothing new. Jess is typically lights out.

The game carries on and Jess and I seamlessly display an array of baller behavior… everything from no look passes to pick and roll alley oops. We’d played and practiced so much together that we almost instinctively knew what the other’s next move would be.

Art’s mother flashed the flood lights. Time to call it a night. Everyone exchanged high fives and Jess and I strolled back to the house under street lights dissecting the game we love.

Since day one, Jess and I have always been close.

We were always playing together and quickly developed a close knit, lifelong friendship. We’ve always joked around about yin and yang… how she’s the “Golden Child” and I’m the “Black Sheep” of the family. While this may ring true in a lot of ways and we may filter the world through a different set of lenses… most of our core values remain the same.

Even though we were born into the same family and we’ve got the same blood flowing through our veins… blood doesn’t always make you family. Family is who you choose to make a life with. Family are those that bring you joy and happiness… ones that will challenge and hold you accountable… ones that have your back when everything goes to Hell and will stand by your side as you claw your way back from the depths.

Jess has always been a die hard competitor.

Her love of the game has brought her from the made up team names in rec league basketball…

To starting point guard as a Tiger for Hartselle High School…

To playing college ball as a Lion at Wallace State…

To currently COACHING the women’s basketball team at Wallace State.

Jess is one of the hardest working and most dedicated individuals I’ve ever known. She’s worked tirelessly to build a specific culture at WSCC. She’s developed a culture not only dedicated to playing the game of basketball at a high level through passion and work ethic, but also a culture of compassion, loyalty and perseverance… one that feels more like a family than a ball team.

Sure, team sports teach you a great deal about consistency, team work and what it takes to be a successful player…

But Jess’s scope has always been sighted further than the painted lines on the court.

She’s setting an example and showing these girls what it means to be an exceptional human. She’s showing these girls what it takes to make a difference in their community…

She’s given them opportunity, encouragement and the tools needed to be successful OFF the court.

She celebrates their wins, stands hand in hand with them in their defeats and prays for them when they’re not around. She’s showing them the real definition of family.

I’m proud as hell that I can claim Jess as a part of my family. I know the impact she’s made on my life and have seen the impact she’s made in countless lives of others. It’s always been bigger than basketball for her.

Happy birthday Jess. Know that you’re an amazing human and are doing great things in this world. I love you. Stay Golden 😉