Gravity

The orange in Matty Fierce’s shorts popped like the autumn leaves as he moved with ease along the single track pushing towards the top. I stopped to remove my long sleeves. I paused momentarily to feel the contrast of the warm sun and cool breeze on my skin.

This was my first trip back to the Smokies since December and movement (especially uphill) did not come easy. Camus’ words flooded the space in my head…

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

I tucked my shirt away, lowered my head and continued the march towards the heights…

I had missed this feeling… feeling small… feeling ancient… feeling connected to something much, much bigger than myself.

No matter how long I stay away from the mountains, they are always waiting with arms wide open.

But what drives us to push towards the heights? What pushes us to race the setting sun…

In hopes of watching the sun drop below the horizon?

At what point does the night no longer feel threatening and we become comfortable in the darkness?

When do we become content with discomfort because we know the beauty it may yield?

I believe a few of us have come to truly understand these things are momentary. These moments… this life… it’s all fleeting… but the beautiful part is the fact the we have the opportunity to choose how we spend these precious moments.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

We have the power of choice and we actively make choices each day. Bad things happen. Good things happen. That’s the ebb and flow of life. We can choose to embrace the feeling… the discomfort… the happiness… the sadness… or… we can let those circumstances define us and choose to take no action. Inaction is a choice.

The truth is… we’re all going to die. Momento Mori. I can honestly say a day doesn’t pass where I don’t think about death and the essence of existence. The point of this daily reminder isn’t to be morbid… the point is to inspire, motivate and clarify life and it’s purpose.

But for me… I’m reminded of the haunting words from Maynard Keenan that are etched in sun-faded ink under my skin…

“I am surrendering to the gravity and the unknown.
Catch me, heal me, lift me back up to the sun
I choose to liv
e.”

I choose to live.

In Bloom

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

The plan after wrapping up the final Make a Wish event in June was to get back into shape, but I felt lost as far as what “in shape” looked like to me. “In shape” used to look like being able to go out and run a 30-50 mile outing at the drop of the hat, but my heart still wasn’t longing for those types of distances. I continued to feel guilty for not wanting to cover long distances.

Our final Make a Wish hike event (Trailblaze 2.0) for 2022 was in South Carolina. My primary job function at 2.0 was napping…

Kidding kidding… it was volunteering and making sure hikers had a splendid time along their 28 mile journey.

After all the songs had been sung and all the drinks had been drank… it was time to head back to Bama. The BFD crew I rode up to SC with was staying an extra day so I had to score a ride back with someone else.

It’s been said, “one good conversation can shift the direction of change forever…”

Janey was kind enough to let me bum a 5-6hr ride back to Alabama, but more so, was kind enough to share some of her own struggles and how she persevered. She helped me simplify my problem into smaller, manageable goals. It’s funny because in my therapeutic practice… I do this daily for other people… but alas… it’s often tough to make changes and manage our own issues independently.

Like Janey and I discussed… I started small. I started running a few miles 3 days a week and started getting in the gym 2 days a week. And ya know what? It sucked. It sucked real, real bad. I felt like a SLOB. But I knew consistency would be the key and I desperately needed a short term goal to keep me on track… so I signed up for a trail 5k our company sponsored.

I also joined Ellison Fitness Innovations because I felt weak, frail and out of shape. I missed being an all-around athlete and this lil adorable trainer was determined to get me back into shape.

Over the course of the last 3 months… I’ve fallen back in love with being an athlete… not just a runner. I’m finally in a rhythm and have found a new routine! I’m in the gym by 5am 4 days a week and participate in a men’s workout group (F3) 1x a week. I’ve gained some weight (sitting at 145-150lbs compared to the usual 125-133lbs) and feel healthier than I’ve felt in years.

I’m still running 20-30 miles a week and it’s feels like the perfect amount. Despite a favorable outcome of a struggle bus effort at the local trail 5k… my speed is no where near where it was last year…

But that’s alright. The important thang thang is… I’m excited about this new transition into a more well-rounded type of fitness.

Now that my groin issue has dissipated… I’ve finally got a few adventures planned, some quality mountain time, a few shorter trail races… and perhaps a trip out West in the spring.

Wrapping up the end of a long short week at the office… I’ve been reminded how small talks can be impactful and lead to big changes.

“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!

Cyclic

I haven’t been running much in the past few weeks. If I’m being honest, I haven’t had much motivation in the running department and it’s felt more like a chore than something of enjoyment. Often when I start focusing more on numbers, time or a long race… I experience a little burn out and that initial inspiration starts to dwindle. Truthfully, not running as much really hasn’t bothered me. The good thing about not solely basing your identity in one area is that you don’t create unnecessary, unhealthy pressure on yourself to have to live up to a certain expectation. I’ve found it better in some ways to be a chameleon.

Dedication is strange because dedication is where you get good at shit and get to experience things the undedicated don’t get to experience, but dedication can also lead to emptiness in other avenues of one’s life. Take running a 100 miles for example…. despite what Weed Goat has to say, a 100 miles is a long freakin’ way. Whether you run, walk, crawl or even DNF… the simple act of training for such a distance requires persistence and sacrifice in other areas of your life. Maybe you’re sacrificing time away from your family and friends, maybe you’re sacrificing other entertainment avenues such as drinking, partying or hitting the bar… maybe it’s sleep. Whatever it may be… dedication leads to sacrifice in some way to pursue a specific goal. I highly respect anyone that committed to pursuing a specific goal.

I’ve really enjoyed training for the “shorter” ultras (specifically 50 milers) in the past year or so. It’s a great distance that allows harder efforts and doesn’t take up an entire 24hrs. Plus, the training doesn’t have to be as intensive. I’ve found a lot of balance in that type of training and it’s been mostly lighthearted and fun. Ive gotten the opportunity to focus on multiple areas of life without having the main focus be running.

I think part of the lack of inspiration, dedication and motivation I’ve felt lately stems from signing up for another 100 miler. It’s been 2 years since I’ve covered the distance and just haven’t been able find that deep rooted desire to put forth the training to perform the way I would like to perform in that specific distance. Training has kinda been redundant and boring. Perhaps it’s running the same repetitive run around my neighborhood or the same ole drony long run at Red Mtn, but whatever the core of it’s cause… it doesn’t really matter.

Part of covering different distances in this sport is figuring out what you enjoy the most. Ive been dabbling in this sport for 10 years now and still learning what I enjoy the most. I think at the top of it all… I like the simple art of moving your body through a beautiful environment and the connection it brings with nature.

Chimney Tops from the off trail manway in GSMNP

In the past few months, my focus, time and energy has shifted more towards music and crafting my therapeutic practice in the work setting rather than running. Those 2 areas are where I’m feeling most inspired and motivated so naturally, they’ve been receiving the bulk of my thoughts and time.

I’ve been writing a ton songs and it’s been hella fun and a great outlet for me. On the work front, I’ve been exploring other avenues of the mental health world such as after hours crisis, probate/court psych evals. It’s been a fun process discovering what area of therapy speaks to me most.

The older I get, the more I’m starting to recognize my own cycles/patterns of behaviors. More importantly, I’ve started to honor those aspects of my intuition. I’ve found that I don’t always have to be inspired or be on fire to run… and when these cycles happen… it’s important to recognize that it’s natural and I shouldn’t throw too much emphasis on trying to figure out the “why” behind it. That fire is always there… it just sometimes presents as a slow burning simmer instead of a raging flame.

I went out yesterday with Matty Fierce to nail down the Thrift Store Half Marathon route.

The cool crisp of the approaching Fall in the air and being back on some good ole fashion single track produced a sense of excitement for Fall/Winter trail running. I’m looking forward to getting back to some fun and relaxed running without being so goal focused here in the next month or so.

Does anyone else have patterns in their own lives they’ve recognized?

“We all just live in cycles. We all belong to the stars. Our souls long for revival. Be true to who you are.”

It Ain’t That Deep

It’s been a minute since I’ve been up to the Smokies… and by minute… I mean it’s just been since May. Typically I try and get up there once a month, but I’ve found myself dialing back my visits lately. Perhaps it’s settling into a new job… or maybe it’s that I’ve been shittily training for a race that’s not so mountainous… or maybe it’s just that life is better than it’s ever been and I’m not needing that escape. Who knows really, but at the moment, I’m content with my visits to my favorite place.

Life is a little more demanding lately so it’s harder to jet out early on a Friday and sneak up to the Smokies for a Friday evening/night, but I almost feel as though it’s less stressful not rushing to get up to the mountains. Lately, most of my trips up have seemed less stressed and less forced.

We woke up as the sun came up (no alarms or early sunrise departure), grabbed some coffee and breakfast in Bryson City, and made our way over to Deep Creek where were going to camp for the night. Luckily, we were able to switch camping tags so that we could go ahead and set up camp before our run.

Smoky Mtn running is a ton of fun with Matty Fierce. He’s not so locked into the highlight trails and h honestly helps get me out to see different areas of the park. We set out of the campsite and made our way to the beginning of Deep Creek Trail.

It was easy crushed gravel running parallel to the creek for the first little bit, passing a few waterfalls and some early morning hikers. Eventually the trail would narrow and we found ourselves in that good ole deep green and log bridges of the Appalachia.

Deep Creek had some evidence of some flash flooding and wash out and required us to use some of our trail ninja skills to navigate a few areas.

About 8 miles in, we were moving along a thick, grassy, exposed area when Matty Fierce yelled and quickly and backtracked down the trail. My initial instinct was “bear.” Instead… it was a beautiful rattler curled up right beside the trail. Man… the camouflage was gorgeous. Not that ya ever wanna get tagged by a rattler… but ya definitely don’t wanna get tagged by a rattler 8 miles into the backcountry with no service… that could quickly turn into a life and death situation.

We took our time, found some longer sticks and gently persuaded the snaky snake to slither on its merry way into the thicket.

After the snake, I took the lead for a bit while we continued along Deep Creek. This section of the trail and park was insanely beautiful.

We eventually got out of the low lands and started climbing upwards. At about the 14-15 mile mark, we popped out on 441.

We had a little over a mile of road running to connect to the next trail. I’ve grown fond of connecting long efforts via roadways and keeping things pure in the Smokies. 441 provided the only views we got all day along the trail. The views you get on these types of routes are less focused on the horizons and more focused on the deep beauty of the forest.

We took a lil snack break at the Thomas Divide TH.

About 2 miles into Thomas Divide, MF wasn’t feeling the heat and humidity, so he decided to drop the 3 miles down Kanati Trail and thumb a ride down into Cherokee. For a second I thought about joining, but truly needed some longer miles on my legs. From MF’s report… Im kinda glad I didn’t take Kanati and not sure I’m looking forward to having to cover it at some point for the map’s sake.

Thomas Divide was a bit overgrown on the ridge.. see the trail? Yea… same.

The trail dialed back the growth a bit once I started descending and turned into some good old fashioned single track. The last few miles of the 30 mile effort was a double wide trail followed by a beautiful forest service road.

The park rangers were setting a big steel bear trap about 50 yards from our tent site. Apparently some kids left some food out the night before and a bear came through a ravaged some of the area. I took a quick dip in the river to wash off the mountain mucky muck, hung up my clothes and set off to rescue MF from the perils of being stranded at a brewery. MF got cleaned up in the back seat and we made our way back to Bryson City for some colbeer, pizza and live music.

The next morning we set out for a trailhead in the same general area. Typically day 2 of these adventures would bring a summit of 6593, but it was nice changing things up a bit. I’ll get back to my mountain this Fall.

We tried our best to get to this trailhead… but after a few wrong turns and pull ins to… how do I say this kindly… some sketch ass looking properties… we took our L (mainly for safety reasons) and headed to Wesser.

It was a bit rainy as we started up the AT for the familiar out and back… but the moody weather made for some beautiful scenery!

We were socked in at the Jump Ups…

But we were hoping the clouds would burn off by the time we reached the fire tower. Things were bleak up top for a few minutes…

But the clouds began to part and we had an absolutely beautiful trip down.

It was nice getting down to the bottom and not feeling rushed to leave immediately. We soaked in the icy cold Nantahala, basked in the gorge’s sunshine and sipped on a few local colbeers.

Life is good. I’m finding myself beyond blessed for the people in my life and the opportunity to cover ground on this incredible planet.

Time to focus in on some long, droned efforts for the next month and then hopefully can get back to planning something fabulously rugged and Appalactic for the Fall.

You Can Always Find Me Where The Skies Are Blue

A certain intimacy lies in grand adventures and travel. There’s just something that bonds people when seeing beautiful places or doing hard shit together.

Perhaps it’s the collective feeling of awe and amazement when staring out into the High Country in Colorado from 14,000ft.

Kyle ~ 2016 on El Diente

Or that feeling of smallness when gazing upon something as majestic as the Tetons…

Wifey ~ Jenny Lake , WY

Or that feeling of a cold beer and pizza after spending 5 days camping in the Wyoming backcountry…

Angle Mtn, Wyoming

Or a quick weekend trip up to Appalachia to break up the monotony of every day life…

Da bois ~ Nantahala , NC

Whatever it may be… I feel like you instinctively grow closer with people in which you spend this type of intentional time.

Trail running has blessed me beyond belief. Over the course of the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to be an ambassador and sponsored by several amazing companies. From travel to gear, I’ve received much more than I feel like I deserve. No matter how much hard work you put in and how much passion you have for something, the cold hard truth is… you don’t always get to reap the benefits and rewards.

About 6 years ago, I remember coming to the realization of like, “damn, this is pretty amazing. I wish I could somehow give back and connect people to the outdoors.”

So I started opening up heart and mind to that idea. I started putting those intentions into the universe through thought, prayer and moving meditation. I feel like it’s one thing to put intentions out there, however, if you’re not actively observing and paying attention, you may miss something the universe is trying to show you.

A few weeks passed and I received a random email from a women I’d never met before. She explained that she was going to start a new program in Alabama based around a program in North Carolina that she recently went and observed and volunteered. We agreed to meet up for drinks to discuss the event in a but more detail. I think I was halfway through my first beer when I was like… “Yea… I’m in.”

That random ass woman… well her name is Valerie.

And we’ve been bringing sexy back to the trails and training Make a Wish hikers since 2017.

This past weekend I got the opportunity to spend time with Val and 2 other high quality humans that I’ve known for years but haven’t really got to spend much intentional time.

I got into Denver just in time to drop my bags at the hotel and catch a super late dinner with Val, Beebs and Trevor. The next thing I knew… it was 2:30am and we were headed off to Colorado’s Trailblaze Challenge event.

When we got to the trailhead, I strapped on a headlamp, grabbed a handheld and set off into the dark abyss to scope out the 23.8 miles of the Colorado Trail that CO MAW utilizes for their hike.

The trail was gorgeous. I moved along the well groomed western single track as I watched the morning sun illuminate the sky.

I passed through where aid station one was to eventually be set up and began through an exposed section of trail. The sun finally popped it’s head over the ridge line to allow sight in the beautiful valley.

I passed through mile 10 aid station and said hello to the CO volunteers. Since the air was cool, I didn’t need anything other than a squirt of water to top of my handheld. The trail continued as a forest service road for a bit until it turned back into the groomed single track. The BIGGEST difference between the CO and AL route is that AL route on the Pinhoti is waaaaaaaaaay more technical.

I eventually linked up with my MAW crew at mile 23. They had just finished setting up Wish Mile and we all 4 hiked back to the finish together. We made a quick pit stop in Bailey, CO to grab some food. OMG… Bailey is the cutest town. The shops were cute but the town folk were cuter. AND… it had a Sasquatch Museum!

After some hot dogs, we headed back to a few of the aid stations to volunteer with the Colorado chapter. Typically on hike weekends in Alabama, I’m preoccupied with taking care of hikers on the trail by either sweeping, scouting, or spot checking. It was nice to not have that obligation and to be able to work an aid station and chat with the CO volunteers and their hikers! I even met a hiker in CO that was from Athens, AL!

You don’t really get the understanding and scope of how bad ass your own program is until you witness another. AL’s Trailblaze is so much bigger in terms of participant and volunteer size… and honestly… I think it has everything to do with the passion and hard work the AL team brings to the table. Though it takes a village to find this type of success, these 2 women right here are 2 of the most inspiringly hardworking individuals I’ve ever met.

Val & Beebs

They care a hell of a whole lot and it shows in the success the AL Trailblaze chapter has seen. The AL Trailblaze Challenge almost raised $1,000,000 last year… yes… Dr. Evil… close to a million.

It’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch this grass roots event turn into a magnificent production that’s impacting so many lives.

The one thing I love about these small group trips is the lack of conflict when it comes to deciding what to do next. Y’all wanna grab a drink and go cool off in the cold ass river? “Im down.”

bros in boxers drinking beers

Y’all hungry? “Let’s stop and eat at the next place we come to…”

Y’all wanna wake up super early again and hike a 14er? “In.”

Sunday morning, we’d decided to yet again wake up at an ungodly hour and make our way to a trailhead before the sun.

We collectively marched through the darkness with our sights set on Mt Bierstadt. As we trudged through the darkness, the sky was slowly lightening.

I don’t suppose watching the sun come up from a mountain will ever get old…

We eventually made our way to the tippy top and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the beautiful sights from Bierstadt!

I love the fact that the people that push and expect hard effort from the hikers of Trailblaze don’t just talk the talk… but litrully walk the walk.

They say “you’re known by the company you keep” and the older I get… the more thankful I am for keeping good company.

✌🏼 out Colorado. Hope to see your blue skies again soon.

6593

“What’s the numbers on your chest represent? A phone number? Social security number? A specific date?”

Actually, it’s the elevation of my favorite mountain.

I never expect anyone to understand. Sure, there’s a few that truly understand the feeling of having your soul and heart attached to a certain place, but for the most part, people just shrug and move on as they do with most tattoo questions.

Mount LeConte has held a special place in my heart since the moment I turned the corner at Inspiration Point and my heart fluttered with excitement at the site of the distant Anakeesta ridge.

First trip up LeConte: 2013

LeConte has been a critical part of cultivating so many amazing friendships…

It’s been the home of some wild and crazy solo adventures like The Great Ascension (a 78 mile link up of an out and back of every trail connected to LeConte)

GatlinDome… a +40 mile loop from my hotel in downtown Gatlinburg up and over Clingmans and back…

And some non solo adventures like… Fav 2 Fav… a +40 mile point to point that linked LeConte and Rocky Top…

And the sunset after an off trail free climb of Charlie’s Bunion

Everything from hot summer runs with cool downs in Pigeon River…

Beautiful, crystal clear skies…

Classic Smoky Mtns…

Foggy, enchanting tunnels into the magic forest…

Cold, snowy, freezing weather….

Solo midnight summits…

After hours stargazes and a lot of good, clean fun…

The mountain has even inspired a lot of great songs found on my Huggins Hell EP and The Mountains Are Calling

To say the least, LeConte is a staple in my life.

A few weeks ago, Matty Fierce and I went up to celebrate my graduation. When I received my undergrad degree in kinesiology, I went through the entire process of walking across stage and taking ALL the pictures, but wanted something a lil more intimate and special for my graduate degree.

When me and MF head to the Smokies, we typically try and slide in some newer trails as to slowly check em off the map. We spent the previous day running a 25 mile route on a few trails we’d never been on that lead us to familiar spots.

But I really really wanted to be on my mountain for graduation. So we bounced up Alum and hit the usual spots like the Lodge and the summit…

And Myrtle Point…

As we started making our way over to Cliff Top, I came across a stick that resembled the shape of a diploma.

I’ve got an idea for a graduation picture…”

The rocks were empty when we arrived…

But soon enough, a hiker came up and offered to take a picture.

It was perfect. I’ve had a lot of cool photos with a lot of amazing people on LeConte, but this photo will always hold a significant spot in my heart. It means so much more than I’m willing and able to express through text.

After the trip, I posted the pic on one of the Smokies Facebook pages. I had always enjoyed seeing others’ pictures and experiences that get posted there and just thought maybe others would like to share in this one. It was well received.

It even got pushed around enough that Abby Kousouris of WVLT in Knoxville reached out for an interview!

After that, Tandra Smith of Al.com reached out for an interview!

At this point in my life, I’m feeling extremely grateful. Grateful for a body that allows me to move across mountainous terrain to see the wonders of the world… grateful for the love and support I’ve received and have in my life… grateful for all the people and experiences… simply put… I just feel grateful. I’d even go as far as saying #grateful.

If you know me at all… you probably know that I’ve painted my body with the places, experiences and people that I love the most. I don’t ragret any marking I’ve ever made… (not even one single letter) and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so until I make the passage to the next life…

That reminds me… I need to check to see when Justin of Sanctum Tattoos & Comics is free…

Until then… peace, love and 6593.

Enjoy the Silence

Why are we so afraid of silence? Is it because we’ve clouded our world with perpetual noise and the moment we catch a break in the clatter, we slip into an uncomfortable silence and are forced to confront the thoughts rattling around inside our heads? I think yes.

We’ve created such a world that silence is the enemy. It’s the terrifying demon that lives under the bed that we’re too afraid to confront. We’ve been conditioned in such a way where we have to be consistently stimulated and in depth conversation or something is “wrong.”

Over the years I’ve grown fond of silence. I’ll intentionally set out on a +8hr adventure or take a weekend trip alone to the mountains so that I can spend some time with me. I’ve found it to be very therapeutic to get that alone time and for me personally, physical pursuits in the mountains often resolve (or at least help) any internal struggles. The mountains bring a sense of simplicity and clarity. I believe in the same way psychological issues can directly turn into and/or effect physiological issues, the roles can be reversed.

Typically solo mountain weekends are planned and I prepare myself mentally for the silence. Sometimes they’re not. This past weekend was supposed to be our annual winter edition of Mountains Girls Weekend that we’ve all grown to love, however, a few things popped up and it got canceled last minute. C’est la vie.

This weekend was the last time I’d get an opportunity to get up to the Smokies until March/April, so I needed to make the most of it.

I slowly allowed my body to warm during the half mile gravel jaunt to the Bullhead trailhead before pushing up the mountain. Each time I take Bullhead, it always seems to have a different feel and has turned into one of the prettiest routes up/down LeConte.

The mountain offered no views, so there was no escape from my thoughts. No matter how hard I tried to shake some annoying internal dialogue, I couldn’t seem to suppress it enough to enjoy the joys of the mountain. I finally found some mental reprieve by the time I hit the ridge.

Matty Fierce and I had been up the month prior and encountered a good bit of snow on LeConte, but there was a good 2-4in more this trip! I’d never seen my mountain encased in such beautiful splendor!

Even though Cliff Tops would bring no view, I decided to climb it anyways to see if the heavens would allow for a partial view of the blanketed trees below.

I took a few deeps breaths of the fresh mountain air and stole a moment to stare into the grey abyss before 3 guys approached. I chatted with the 3 college guys for a few minutes before heading over to Myrtle.

Myrtle was even more peaceful than Cliff Tops. I deducted from the perfectly blanketed summit that I was the first person to set foot on its grounds for the day. My thoughts quickly shifted to 2 of my best friends. They just brought in 2 new lil baby boys to the world and I felt compelled to build a tiny lil snowman and say a prayer for each of them. I’m so excited to see their family grow and stoked to see what kind of ridiculousness those 2 future adventurers will pursue!

I was captivated by the haunting beauty of the Smoky Mountains as I made my way back towards the Lodge.

I popped by the lodge to see if the winter caretaker was home. I sent Pnut a quick message but he was off the mountain for the weekend. Still made him a lil snowman though.

Since I’ve never seen this much snow up on LeConte, I took some time and roamed the grounds around the lodge.

6593 for lyfe!!

By the time I left the Lodge I felt that serene, inner peace that the mountains often bring, but the further I descended down Rainbow, the more clouded my head became. I got to Rainbow Falls and had all but decided to just get in my car and go home. I drove out to Pigeon Forge and sat in my warm car wrestling with my next move. Since Mtn Girls Weekend got canceled, I didn’t have a place to stay. I could’ve slept in the back of my car for another night, but was prepared for a warm shower and bed… and a cold sub freezing night in the back of the Element sounded… unpleasant.

I like counseling for a lot of reasons and think it is and could be beneficial for every one. One of the main functions of counseling is to have another person take the clouded or scattered thoughts in your head and reconfigure and present them in a simple way so that you can come to your own conclusion. Counseling aside, it’s important to have those types of people in your life. I’m extremely thankful for the open and honest communication I have with my wife Kati. She helps me sort the cloudiness in my dome piece and simplifies my thoughts more than I can explain.

“Enjoy yourself! Go get a yummy meal and a beer! Watch tv and take a hot shower! Enjoy your life!” ~ Kati

“Are you gonna feel better in the mountains or suck ass Alabama?” ~ Matty Fierce

Between the Dark Princess and MF’s words of encouragement, I decided to go grab a shit ton of chicken nuggies, a few burgers, some beer and booked a cheap hotel next to the river.

Since all the forecasts suggested drizzly, cold rain in the valley and snow flurries and cloud coverage in the higher elevations, I decided to sleep in and enjoy a lazy morning in a warm hotel bed. Of course… the one day I decided to NOT strap on a headlamp and push up a mountain is the one day there’s an epic snowy sunrise on Leconte! My friend Adam Williamson (a local photographer me and MF met over the summer on Cammerer) posted this unreal shot from LeConte!

The good thing about social media is that it allows us to share some of our most beautiful moments with each other. If social media didn’t exist, I would never have gotten to see this gorgeous sunrise!

I checked the local road situation before packing my bags and heading out the door. I had planned to do some recon work early the day before for some Spring off trail adventures, but access to the area was closed off. Since 441 was still shut down, I decided to head up Sugarland Mtn to see if I could recon from a different angle, plus, I needed to finish the bottom half of the trail anyways.

The climb up was peaceful. I passed 2 hikers a mile or so in, but after that, I had the mountain to myself. Sugarland had a bunch of under brush and low hanging branches along the trail which had me annoyingly brushing off snow from my clothes. It was apparent by the time I got to the Rough Creek turn, that I would get no chance at any sort of visual reconnaissance so I made the decision to go ahead and descend back down the mountain.

The first mile or so along Rough Creek was much like Sugarland, but quickly settled into a fun and runnable trail. The fog paired with the snowy environment was breathtaking.

I carefully rock hopped a few creeks and playfully followed animal tracks along the trail.

I transitioned into a steady tempo run when I hit Little River Trail. Even though this trail was more like a jeep road, I thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful movement next to the rushing water.

To keep the purity of the route, I decided not to take Husky back over to reconnect with Sugarland. Instead, I made my way to Elkmont campground. I made a quick stop to see some of the sites, like the old staircase to the Wonderland Hotel:

The snow was so beautiful that I didn’t even mind the few miles along the road back to the trailhead.

I quickly stripped down, changed into warm, dry clothes and cracked open a colbeer when I got back to my car.

I enjoyed the silence the mountain brought that day. My voice stayed quiet, my mind wasn’t cluttered, and my heart didn’t feel heavy. Sometimes it’s best to stay silent and let the world unfold around you.

I’m thankful to have gotten the chance to get up to the Smokys one more time to play in the snow. Team Andrews has got some big goals this year. Between wrapping up my final semester and internship of grad school, Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge, and my regular job at the thrift store, these types of mountain adventures will be few and far between. The next 5 months will be mental chaos but I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store. If it’s anything like last year, it’ll be another year of hard, hard growth.

Snow Day

When you’re sleeping in the back of a car, a vehicle pulling into a gravel parking lot is one of the most unmistakable sounds you’ll ever know. Your brain immediately launches into over analyzing everything.

Is this where they tap on the window? What do I tell them? Maybe this is NOT a ranger but a criminal! Are they gonna try and break into my car?

We popped our heads out of our warm sleeping bags and watched as they unlocked the gate to the stables. The sky was barely lit, but we decided to go ahead a pull into the picnic parking area and start getting ready for the day.

For breakfast, we monched on the Chick Fil A sandwiches we bought the night before. We did a quick gear check and started out onto the cold, bone dry trail for a long day in the snowy mountains.

Once we got onto Russell Field Trail, our world quickly became shrouded in a white substance that is Alabamians hardly ever get a chance to see. The little snow we get in Bama is hardly ever enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the < 1 inch dusting or maybe it’s the holy hell there could be snow so let’s go out and buy up all the bread and milk panic. Either way… snow is rarely enjoyed in my state.

The week before, I made my way over to the Walsh’s household where me and Ash did our annual No Views Christmas Run… and like previous years… the tradition held true. We linked 27 miles in the Standing Indian area with approximately ZERO views…

Luckily, my favorite days in the mountains are the foggy, gloomy days. Don’t get me wrong, the views are a spectacular benefit from running beautiful mountain terrain, but there’s something hauntingly mesmerizing about moving through foggy woods.

We eventually made our way up to the Appalachian Trail and chatted with a few overnight hikers from Texas at the shelter before leaving out NOBO.

The AT in white is a site to behold!

We made our way across Spence Field and dipped down in between Spence and Rocky Top. Our intentions were to do the long out and back on the remote Jenkins Ridge Trail.

Jenkins Ridge is just one of those trails that’s hard to access. There’s no easy buy-in and it’s just a long one way trail. It took us approximately 8 miles to actually get started on the 18 mile out and back.

The trail itself doesn’t offer any spectacular views but does have some steep descents (ascents depending on the direction), a few little creek crossings and a few good sections of fun single track. The biggest draw to this trail is its remoteness.

After 6 or so miles of snowy trail, we popped down onto wider double track and made our way to the trailhead near Hazel Creek (mile 17). MF did a quick flask fill and we started back up the trail monchin four Chick Fil A sandwiches.

The climb back up proved to be just as uneventful as the trip down (which is a good thing). A few of the climbs rivaled the steepness of DRT and the slick snow covered leaves added extra challenge to the effort.

The AT welcomed us back with socked in views and silence. Thankfully the last 5 miles were all downhill and we could just slide into a mindless rhythm. We took Bote down to Anthony and was met by a stubborn ass deer about a mile from the trailhead. Homeboy just refused to move so we had march off trail around it. As soon as we started back running a small black bear bolted from the trail and disappeared up the ridge.

The temps stayed in the lower > mid 20s all day, so after 31 miles of coldness, we were looking forward to a hot shower and a warm place to lay our heads. Don’t get me wrong… the back of the car sleeping bag was cozy… but the cheap hotel room and a heater was priceless (well kinda… priceless as in $41). After a huge beer and a huge bacon burger from the brewery, we dozed off into slumber.

We woke up the next morning and grabbed breakfast at the hotel. Originally, we had planned on just taking Alum Cave up to the top and back. We figured a light out and back would be a good way to wrap up the trip and wouldn’t put us home too late. 441 was still closed by the time we finished breakfast so we decided in the classic Rainbow > Bullhead loop.

It was a solid choice because Matt got to visit his tree.

There were a few hikers in between the trailhead sand Rainbow Falls, but after that, the trail became vacant. The mountains were a literal winter wonderland!!

The trail was an icy/snowy mix all the way up, but had some nice, soft powder sections as well. We didn’t have to throw on the spikes until the approach up to the lodge.

We popped down to the lodge to see if Pnut was home (he was out running Alum) before heading up to Cliff Top.

The air is so fresh and so clean clean at 6593ft

After soaking in the warmth of the sun for a few minutes, we made our way over to Myrtle to scope out another view.

We chatted with Hunter from Maryville over Cliff Bars before we started the trip down Bullhead. Upper Bullhead was snow packed which made for some soft running!

Once we dropped down a few miles, we removed the gloves, spokes and beanies. The sun had melted a good bit of the snow and we trudged through a sloppy, muddy mix.

I absolutely loooooove this section of Bullhead. There’s no better feeling than running along a wrapping trail with expansive views!

It was nice to finally run and loosen up the legs some after a long day of hike-crunching through the snow.

Trips like these are pleasant reminders of how lucky I am to have the type of people in my lyfe that are willingly to tackle uncomfortableness for the sake of adventure, fun and beauty.

I didn’t really plan on running 3 ultra distances 3 weeks in a row (50 miles > 27 miles > 31 miles) but I do PLAN on having a few light recovery weeks before hopping back into training. Though 2020 was a shitshow of a year… it was one of the best shitshows of my lyfe. Cheers to big things in 2021. Stay wild!

Working the Angle

Monday: Change of Plans

“Call me real quick. I just had something come up and may need to make an adjustment but not sure if you’re flexible enough to do it.”

The way the work week had been going, I half expected something to malfunction for the upcoming vacation.

“Maaaaan I’m so frickin’ pissed right now!”

It’s 1:50pm on Monday… we are supposed to be leaving for Wyoming Wednesday evening for 10 days… now… I found myself clocking out of work, rushing home to pack to leave immediately. My brother in law, Michael, was scheduled to take his AL State Trooper’s Captain Test on Wednesday, but due to the hurricanes on the horizon, it got pushed back to the following Wednesday.

“Aight man, give me a few minutes to get my shifts covered and we’ll make it work.”

I was packed but wasn’t packed. I had most of my gear laid out, but had intentions of having a night or 2 to get everything sorted and packed how I wanted before leaving. I basically packed like I would for the Smokies… grabbed a bunch of snacks, my camping gear and threw a bunch of clothes in the duffel bag.

I hauled up ass up to Cullman to my sister’s house, shoveled down some chicken fingers and loaded up the truck.

Monday: 6:20pm

In no time, we were out of Alabama and passing through Nashville. I decided to crawl into the back of the truck to take the first nap a little after midnight. Since I didn’t think I’d be traveling across the country on a Monday night… I had gotten up at 4am to run so that I could have the already postponed birthday dinner Monday night with Kati.

Tuesday: 26hrs Straight Thru

Tuesday: 12:20am

At 2:30am we swapped and Michael conked out in the back. Ooooooof! The 2:30-6:30am sunrise shift was tougher than any 2:30-sunrise section of a 100 miler… but somehow I got it done!

Tuesday: 6:30am – Missouri

We both perked up and caught our second wind when the sun came up but that was short lived as we started our trek across the lonely, boring abyss that is Nebraska. Blarg. Nebraska took forever!

Nebraska. Bland. Vanilla.

We stopped for a few sandwiches and to stretch out the legs.

Still in Nebraska.

We eventually made it to Wyoming and made a quick stop at Walmart so that Michael could pick up a bear tag. The last 4 hours crept by. We were both starting to feel the drive and lack of sleep. We had wrestled with trying to decide if we should go ahead and make the trip up the mountain when we got to the trail head or just wait till the morning. We arrived just after sunset and decided to check out an old cabin at the beginning of Holmes Cave Trail.

The lack of sleep and tightness from driving 26hrs straight made the decision to head up the mountain in the morning pretty easy. Michael took the backseat and I laid my sleeping pad and curled up in my sleeping bag in the bed of the truck. The stars shined incredibly as I shut my eyes and drifted to sleep.

Wednesday: Camp Angle

“Sorry if the light woke you.”

I crawled out from under the tarp covering the truck bed and stretched. It was cooooooold. We were met with 27° temps as we loaded our packs and started up the mountain. We each had +50lb packs so we were slow moving up the trail in the dark. We followed Holmes Cave Trail for 3/4 of a mile before veering off on a semi-worn outfitters trail. It was a steep mile climb to get to our camp site below Angle Mountain. The sky started to lighten as we made our final push up to Dry Pond.

We arrived at Dry Pond, dropped our packs and searched for a place to pitch our tents. We found a nice little spot at 10,000ft tucked away in the trees. We climbed the hill above our site to hang our food and got a great view of the sun over the North Breccia Cliffs.

Since we were in the heart of grizzly country… we took extra precaution with our food and our tent site (a lil electric fence with some jingle bells) and made sure we kept bear spray and a pistol on us at all times around camp.

Once we got settled, Michael went scouting for hunting spots and I went exploring the surrounding mountains!

We were hunting in the Bridger-Teton National Forest but less than a mile away from the Bridger-Teton Wilderness area. Outside of Holmes Cave Trail that we came in on, there were no trails. It was more of a “choose your own adventure” type of area. I studied the area before coming and saw that there were a ton of nameless peaks so my intentions were simple: strap on a pack with enough calories to spend 4-5hrs exploring from the camp site and don’t get eaten by a grizzly.

I mostly followed the ridge lines tagging peaks.

When I decided I wanted to go hit another one, I’d just drop down in the valley and run in the open fields until I found an approach I wanted to take.

It was surreal being alone in the high country. It’s just vast, wild openness that is itching to be explored. I found it hard to comprehend that when I looked North, it was just wild national forest all the way to Yellowstone.

The lack of sleep and dehydration from the drive finally caught up to me. I was struggle busing during the final climb back up to camp but what an incredibly rewarding 5hrs of moving through the wilderness exploring and peak bagging.

Home at 10,000ft

After a quick nap, Michael came back from his evening hunt. We had a water source a half a mile or so from camp, but it would’ve taken forever to filter the amount of water we needed. So instead, I bounced down the 2 miles to the truck with an empty pack, loaded up 16 water bottles, a few beers and hiked back up under a hazy, blood red sun.

This kinda muling was half the reason I was here! If Michael were to kill a deer or bear, I was gonna make the multiple trips (if necessary) to help haul the meat off the mountain.

Thursday: What Up Holmes?

Michael had gotten up early again to hunt, but I kinda just slept in (6am) and watched the sun rise while enjoying breakfast. I packed my vest and left out from Camp Angle to explore the Holmes Cave area. I had connected another part of Holmes Cave Trail the previous day in order to link another off trail peak, but since it was the only actual trail in the area I thought it would be nice to atleast see what it was all about.

I came across 2 rugged looking ladies on horseback…

“You out here by yourself?”

“Yep. Just out exploring a bit.”

“Brave soul. What part of Wyoming are you from?”

“I’m not. I’m from Alabama.”

“ALABAMA?! You’re a long way from home son. Be careful out here. It’s grizzly country.”

Apparently… it’s grizzly country. Michael’s brother actually got charged by a grizzly up on Angle Mountain a few years ago when he was guiding a hunt! Thankfully I’d not seen a bear… had seen a good bit of bear poop… but no actual bear. I continued down Holmes and it eventually opened into a beautiful field with a steady stream running through the middle. I dipped my hands into the ice cold water and splashed the back of my neck and face. Other than a wet wipe whore bath, I hadn’t showered in 3 days.

The trail ended at the Cave. It was not too turrrble impressive… just a hole where water dove into the ground. I’m sure the Cave itself is cool, but on the surface it didn’t hold my attention. I followed a barely visible outfitters trail out past Holmes and climbed a short peak up above it. I soaked in the view of Simpson’s Peak and Smokestack Mountain.

After wondering around an alpine lake a bit, I went back down and reconnected with Holmes.

The North Breccia Cliffs is a staggering wall of rock that was constantly in our site. I thought it would be cool to climb em, but couldn’t find any beta on routes up. From Holmes, I ventured off trail to connect 2 peaks that appeared to be leading to a saddle that could potentially connect me to Breccia.

I climbed both and traversed the small spine on one of the no named peaks.

I cliffed out but saw where I could drop down to connect Breccia. Breccia looked like way more trouble (and probably out of my skill range) than it was worth and I didn’t pack enough calories to make the trek up. I hung out on the rocky spine a bit and soaked in the landscape before making my way off trail back towards Camp Angle.

I just still couldn’t get over the vastness that this place brings… its awe inspiring to say the least. I get the appeal and draw to this type of terrain.

Before wrapping up another 4hr outing and heading back to camp, I decided to dive down into the bowl Michael had been hunting and take a outfitters trail that overlooked our camp.

We ate dinner together then I tagged along on an evening hunt.

As you can tell from my backwards hat and $.99 sunglasses that had “I love dolphins” sketched in sharpie along the side that I found on the side of the road near the Pinhoti back in Alabama, I’m obviously a #pro hunter.

We didn’t see a single animal so we retired back to Camp Angle for some late night coffee.

Friday: Disappointment Peak

I think Michael’s alarm sounded at 4:30am, but I didn’t budge until 4:42am. The original trip itinerary had us leaving out on Wednesday the 16th and not returning until Saturday the 26th. We were gonna hunt for 5 days and then Michael got us a room at Togwatee Lodge for 3 nights so we could relax after 5 nights in the backcountry. During one of those days, I had planned to do the 39 mile Teton Crest Trail. Since it’s point to point, I figured it would be the perfect time to see it without having to find a shuttle. But alas, best laid plans right? Things change and we adapt. So instead of a 10-12hr run across the park, I needed something quicker but still exhilarating… Disappoint Peak.

Around 5am, we shared a cup of coffee, I packed some trash in my pack and I started the 2 mile descent back to the truck at the trailhead. 4 hunters on horseback were heading in for a morning hunt and gave me a confused look at the bottom.

“You coming down the mountain at this hour? Usually folks heading up!”

It was about a 30 minute drive to the GTNP from the trailhead in Bridger-Teton. When I finally got service an array of text messages came through. I spent the drive responding to a few and checking in on anything I’d missed, but it was nice being disconnected for a bit.

Typically, when you hit the long stretch of road, the Tetons become these towering entities in the skyline, but because of the wildfire haze, you could barely make out their silhouette. Thankfully it cleared up a bit when I got to Lupine Meadows.

The parking lot was already filling as I popped the tailgate down and started packing my vest. There was a healthy mix of people in lawn chairs listening to the elk bugle in the valley, hikers and those who look to be heading out to climb. I forced on a light jacket since it was hovering around 32° but knew it would only last a mile or so. I quickly warmed up by the time I hit the switchbacks.

I’d only been up this trail once before but felt like I knew it well. After 2 miles, I arrived at the Garnet Canyon / Amphitheater Lake junction.

A few years ago I had taken the trail up to Garnet Canyon and linked the Middle and South Teton when me and Beau had come out for the Rut 50k, but this time I took the trail towards the lakes. The first lake I came to was Surprise Lake (9540ft). The glassy water was breathtaking! It’s hard to believe the reflection!

After a few minutes at Surprise, I started up towards Amphitheater. Instead of going straight there, I ventured up the hill a bit and got a good look at the canyon, Disappointment Peak and the Grand before I ran down to Amphitheater Lake to bask in its splendor.

I knew the route I needed to take was to the left of the lake, but wanted to venture around the right side since I wouldn’t be back for a bit. I eventually made my way back down to the lake and started the steep climb up towards the Lake Ledges.

I couldn’t find much beta on the route for Disappointment, so I knew it may take some route finding. There was a lil chute where I could see places where it was obvious that roped climbers took. I started up and got to a move that was out of my comfort zone. I feel like if I was roped or not 15-20 feet up, I would’ve made an attempt on the slight launch, but being a mountain athlete has learned me a few things: (1) never fight the mountain, the mountain has nothing personal against you and treats everyone the same, (2) never be too prideful to turn back (3) light is fast, fast is safe, (4) someone is waiting for your safe return (5) don’t die.

Frustrated, or should I say… Disappointed (I’m hilarious I know)… I down climbed and reassessed. I found another route that seemed to grant access to the Lake Ledges.

I slowly picked my way up and around a few heart pounding exposed areas, but eventually made it to the small coulior. It flatted out a bit before the final push / scramble up to the 11,617 summit.

Hands down, Disappointment Peak has to be the BEST and most REWARDING view of the Teton range.

The Grand is right in your face and you get a panoramic view of Nez Perce, Cloudveil, South. Middle, Grand, Owen and Teewinot.

I spent a little time at the top feeling small and thankful before heading down the mountain.

Since I now knew the route, the trip down was quick and hiccup free. I got down from the summit to Amphitheater Lake in about 30 minutes and spent the next hour dodging hikers on the quick descent back to the truck. The mid morning crowds were so heavy, it felt like I was dodging folks on Alum Cave dropping down LeConte!

I got back to the car around noon and headed to find a place to chill for a few hours. Dornan’s Pizza didn’t open until 2p and I had promised Michael we’d have a delicious meal for our last night on the mountain.

“Dornan’s Pizza this is Gracie.”

“Hey Gracie! I want to place an order for a large pizza… preferably one that has the most meat on it.”

It was so dang hard not to sneak a piece, but I didn’t want to ruin our civilized, family dinner. I swung by a lil gas station to grab a six pack before loading up the pack and hiking the 2 miles back up to camp.

We sat around and swapped the days adventures over beer and pizza before retiring early to our tents.

Saturday: Down, Down, Down

Michael started getting his hunting gear prepared right at 5am, but I didn’t roll out of bed until closer to 6am. All I had to do today was have breakfast, drink some coffee and break down camp.

I hiked up to get our food bag and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee. The temps had been really nice. Typically, it would be 30s in the morning but by noon it was in the 60s. I spent most of my days comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt, but this morning was cold. The wind had picked up and it was overcast. I went back to start slowly breaking down camp but kept my tent up to have some reprieve from the cold wind.

Unfortunately, Michael came back empty handed but just in time… the snow was rolling in and it was already sleeting as we started breaking down camp.

We bid farewell to Camp Angle and started down the mountain for the final time.

It was raining and cold by the time we got the bottom. Michael’s brother Randy surprised us and got us a room at Lava Mountain Lodge. We sat down at the bar and had a big, thick cheeseburger and colbeer.

It felt damn good to take a hot shower after 5 days without one. We decided to head back towards Moran to see Michael’s brother and family before they set out on their hunt. They’d planned to elk hunt up on the same mountain as we did, but they were packing in horses. The whole hunting thing and culture is so fascinating and sooooo far from anything I’ve ever known. It was cool to get a glimpse into that world.

After we saw them off, we went down to Dubois for dinner with Brent (one of Michael’s hunting buddies from Texas) and his family before retiring back to the lodge.

Sunday: Back 2 Bama

We woke up before the sun to go scope out some property in Debois that Michael had been eying. For the record… I wouldn’t be upset if he got said property and I could spend a month or so out in the big mountains every summer…

We got a text from Randy while we were eating a delicious breakfast at Cowboy Cafe…

“White out snow last night. Had to beat snow off tent. Lightning popped all night.”

Looked like we got off the mountain at the right time!

Now I’m here… in Nebraska… watching dust devils sweep across the non mountainous terrain… debating whether or not we are gonna push through the night and try and tackle our 26hr Bama-Teton record.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s a vibe… but it’s not my vibe. If I lived in Nebraska… I’d probably just end up changing my name to Izach and leading a clan of deranged children…

I’m beyond thankful to have gotten the opportunity to go on this trip. Not only did I get to spend time in some of the most beautiful backcountry in America…

And visit one of the most awe-inspiring mountain ranges again…

I got to spend some quality time with an incredible human. I litrully can’t wait to do this again.

Till next time Wyoming… I’ll be thinking of your wild, remote spaces till we meet again.