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 live.”
“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.
This time last year I was in some of the best run shape of my life racing at the Cruel Jewel 56 miler. I was light, nimble and fast. I was putting down solid weekly mileage and enjoying the process.
This year… life looks different. I’m lucky to get 5-10 miles in a week and probably haven’t glazed over 100 miles in the entire year. Other people seem to be more concerned with my lack of running than I am. I’ve had to reassure many folx that I’m not depressed and wilting away. It’s just my passion and priorities have changed a bit for the time being.
To be honest, fitness and being able to run long distances has been so far off the priority list at the moment…. and honestly… I’ve been ok with it. For the past 10-12 years I’ve been pounding out long efforts and heavy mileage. Running had been a top tier priority, but now, my priority isn’t fitness focused but instead… intellectual and career focused. My body probably deserved a lil break.
Some of the issue has been a nagging groin injury but mostly, I was tired of the internal AND external pressure of feeling the need to have to maintain a certain level of fitness year round. Running got to feeling like a second job. I was in desperate need of setting some boundaries to hopefully change my mood/mindset. Running just wasn’t fun anymore… so I stopped.
But the philosopher says… “No pressure, no diamonds.” He ain’t wrong. Pressure can be good. Pressure can be healthy. Pressure can inspire and motivate us to aim higher and reach lofty goals. Pressure can also be devastating and disastrous. Pressure can be binding and keep us from success. Like all things in this world… it’s about balance.
I had to reevaluate. What types of diamonds were important to me at the moment? Running didn’t make the list.
💎 #1: My career. I just passed the 1 year mark as a clinical therapist with Central Alabama Wellness. I love my job. Its something I’m passionate about and want to make into a lifelong career. Like most careers and ya know… things like… running… they take a lot of effort, training and study to do well.
💎 #2: Leisure time. I’m bad bad at resting and relaxing. Leisure time is something my wife has harped on and encouraged me to do for years but something I have failed at time and time again. Leisure time can improve overall cognitive wellbeing, physical health, and quality of life. This concept really didn’t sink in until this year. I’ve always felt the need to keep pushing, but sometimes we need rest and lighter moments. It’s something I still struggle with but is getting better.
💎 #3: SpecV. In high school I was obsessed with cars but I let that passion die. A year or so ago I sold the trusty ole Honda Element when it surpassed 300k miles and bought an older manual Sentra SpecV. I absolutely love this car. It’s fun as hell to drive and has been a blast getting back into the car scene.
After a 5 month break from almost all exercise, I’m back running some short miles and working out. My running is labored, hard and HOT but the consistency is slowly coming back. I don’t suspect any 100 mile races in the near future. Mainly, I’ve missed the mountains and running with my friends and need to be in good enough shape to play with them again. I did somehow manage to Couch to 26.3 mile run/hike the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge a few weeks ago so I know the longer distances are still buried deep within my soul…
But I suppose… This is my life and its ending one moment at a time… so I reckon it’s time for me to shed the winter coat and start working towards that Tyler Durden sculpted Fight Club body… ooof… I may need to call upon Ellison Fitness to get me there 😅
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.
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.
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.
“You know what we were doing last night at 7pm? Walking down a dark road at mile 57 with lightning flashing above us.”
I wanted to quit. I was standing ankle deep in a mud puddle in a downpour mile 25. I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t tired. I was just… uninspired.
When I signed up for the Arkansas Traveller 100 mile race I was stoked. My life schedule had simplified and I had months to train and prepare. I had high hopes. I had never trained with intent for a 100 miler before and was looking forward to doing so, but somewhere along the way… I lost interest. I just didn’t feel like pushing and training in that way. I was solid for a bit in the beginning of the training block… but eventually I fell off and started to redirect my focus onto work and music. The 5 or so weeks leading up to the race were subpar at best and felt like I was just doing enough to get by. Meh… these kinda cycles happen and sometimes ya just need to roll with them. Nevertheless, I figured things would change when we got to Arkansas.
I drove up to OJG’s house Friday morning and we made our way towards the great state of Arkansas. We didn’t want to feel rushed so we left out early and took our time on the trip.
We scooted into the start/finish area a little after 4pm to grab our hoodies and drop off our drop bags. This was a solo mission (no crew or pacers) so we were reliant on them.
After discovering the closest town to the starting line was dry… we hunted down Octoberfest and pizza at the Red Moon Tavern.
The race provided free camping in the group camping site about a mile or so down from the race so we took advantage of the proximity. Since it was set to rain all night, we canceled the tent plan and threw our sleeping pads in the back of OJG’s 4Runner, popped the hatch and drifted into slumber.
We awoke around 4:30am and eased our way up to the starting line. When we got to race headquarters, we grabbed our psych ward looking wrist band, our bibs and a cup of coffee. We sat outside listening to the excitement of all the runners… but I just couldn’t shake the feeling of emptiness and apathy I felt. I honestly thought that spark of excitement would ignite as it got closer to race time but it just didn’t happen.
At 6am, the gun blasted and we headed off into the morning darkness. I slid into an easy rhythm about 10 folks deep and just coasted through the first couple of aid stations. Physically, I was moving fine… legs felt good… body felt good… movement felt easy… but emotionally… I was hollow.
After the the Electronic Tower aid station (mile 24.6), a heavy rain storm set in. I found myself just apathetically walking through the ankle deep puddles. I just wasn’t having any fun. At one point… I kinda just stopped and stood in the rain for a bit. I had all but made up my mind to drop at mile 31 and crew OJG for the rest of the race when the Legend himself came splashing down the trail.
“What ya doing?”
I started slogging through the puddles with him.
“Listen, I’m gonna drop at mile 31 and just crew you the rest of the race. My heart just ain’t in this dude.”
OJG simply said, “Nah. Just run with me till mile 50.”
He knew as well as I did that if I got to mile 50 and started the back half I’d have to finish.
At times we held conversation and at other times we were silent. Having a running partner that you can just simply be present with in any aspect is priceless. It all felt organic… no forced conversation… no bullshit pep talks… just 2 souls knowing what needed to happen to get it done. I’m real real thankful for OJG and he’s 100% the reason I finished.
We flipped on our headlamps as we approached the Turnaround (mile 57). OJG opted for a Desitin foot bath and I sat and watched the spectacle as I ate a mashed potato and bacon burrito (it was litrully one of the finest foods I’ve ever consumed at an aid station).
We left out of the Turnaround with lightning flashing above our heads. We figured it was gonna rain again at some point but hoped it would be a mild drizzle and not a storm.
Because of the amount and proximity of the aid stations, the race can easily be covered with just a handheld and a small waist pack. That was both our initial go-to’s for the first 68 miles but we both decided to slide on our vests for the overnight. We didn’t have a crew or anything and didn’t want to chance not having a backup headlamp or comfort items throughout the night.
The night miles were steamy. Typically, you’ll get a lil chilly on the overnight portion of almost any 100 miler… but I stayed drenched pretty much all day. Thankfully I stayed on top of lubing and didn’t experience any chafing. I couldn’t bare the thought of a repeat of the horrendous chafing of 2018 Cruel Jewel 100!
The most exciting part of the overnight was the amount of SNAKES we saw. We saw a shit ton of baby copperheads, a full grown copperhead and one pesky rat snake that coiled at OJG. I bet I saw more snakes in the overnight portion than I have all summer here in Alabama.
The sleepiness had set in by the time we got to Lake Winona (mile 85). We could’ve easily taken a quick nap in the chair but opted to down a Red Bull and start walking into the darkness.
The last 15 miles were slow. My right achilles had gone to shit and I was having to do this weird shuffle thing to keep up with OJG’s power walk. By the time the sun came up, we were both ready to be done with the race.
The last 2 miles were a long downhill on a gravel road. With the exception of about 8 miles of rolling single track… the race was comprised of either forest service roads with gravel or rutted ATV type forest service roads. The race course itself won’t go down as a favorite, but the aid stations, volunteers and overall experience is top notch and professional.
Once we hit the main pavement, we had a short climb up a hill to Camp Ouchita. Since we were in no rush… we stopped by the car, dropped our vests and picked up our flip flops before crossing the finish line at the 26hr30min mark.
After a quick and unsuccessful 30min nap at a Walmart parking lot…
We carried on to our boujee spot in Memphis.
The Peabody is probably the fanciest place I’ve ever stayed! I felt a lil out of place in shorts and flips flop, covered in mud, limping through the lobby of a fancy smancy hotel… but… I felt super comfortable fine dining in the room in a cozy robe…
You learn something new every time you cover this type of distance. My biggest take away from this past weekend is more of a reminder than anything… a reminder that sometimes hard things can and should be done even when your heart isn’t into it.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
Or that feeling of smallness when gazing upon something as majestic as the Tetons…
Or that feeling of a cold beer and pizza after spending 5 days camping in the Wyoming backcountry…
Or a quick weekend trip up to Appalachia to break up the monotony of every day life…
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.
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.”
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.
Distance doesn’t make the runner. We’ve all heard the “you’re a runner whether you run 1 mile or 100 miles” saying and I whole heartedly stand by that. You’re no less a runner if you’re doing 5ks and your friends are doing 50ks. It’s all about personally preference and insight.
I remember starting my own venture into the trail world. The forest adventure side of me began as a kid and stayed with me through college. Despite an unbeknownst passion for wanting to run wildly through the woods for no good reason, I never got to pursue trail running in college.
“I’m paying you to throw a baseball… not to run.”
For NCAA and clarification reasons… this “payment” was in reference to scholarships, not actually money…. so don’t get yourself into a legal tizzy.
After I got married in June 2010, I signed up for my first 50k in February. Over the course of the 6 months, I fell in love with the extended time I was spending in the woods. My first race at Black Warrior 50k destroyed me. It hurt so bad. Cramps, blisters… all the good stuff associated with ultras happened to me along that muddy ass course… but I finished.
I’ve seen a lot of folks go straight for 100 milers. They’ll complete a 50k and just go big. More power to those people, but that just wasn’t me. Maybe I’m old school and don’t need that instant gratification. I’ve always enjoyed the process and the build up.
It took yeeeeeeaaaaaarrrrssss and countless shorter races before I attempted my first 100 miler. Along the way I knew I had the ability to go out and finish the distance, but I wanted to be able to enjoy the process and the experience on race day.
The trail / ultra world especially, falls prey to the “you’re not a real ultra runner unless you’ve done a 100 miler.”
Blah blah blah. I mean if we’re technically speaking… anything over 26.2 miles is considered an ultra. Personally, I love the 50 mile distance. I feel it gives ya errrrythang that’s great about ultra running. It’s a distance where you can push fairly hard, spend the majority of the day in the woods/mountains and still experience those lovely highs and lows without being completely wrecked for days/weeks post race.
But there’s a few things that distance may not always give you… like overnight running.
Everyone has different feels about being in the woods at night. I freakin love it. I don’t know if there’s a more exciting feeling than watching the sun set over the mountains knowing you’re about to embark on an all night push. Something about being in the middle of nowhere at 3am doing an activity very few folks do, really puts me at peace and helps me feel connected to the universe. Maybe it’s because most people in the surrounding area are fast asleep and there’s a little less clustered thoughts in the world. Maybe the veil is thinner during those moments and it’s easier to access the heavens.
It’s been a long time since I’ve gone that long. The last time I covered the 100 mile distance was 2 years ago at the Hellbender 100.
I had just started grad school so I had yet to be demolished by the whole “you’ve sold your soul and time to this program and must give an absurd amount of your energy and life to accomplishing this goal” lifestyle.
I couldn’t fathom training for such distance while in grad school, so I stuck to shorter distances. I was able to sneak in a 78 miler, but that was more of a relaxed, fun, solo outing to reconnect with my mountain and to feel alive again.
Now that I’m done with school and starting to settle into only working life, I can start back into a running routine again. Honestly, I’ve felt like a nomad for the last couple of weeks trying to figure out what and where exactly I’ll be working, but I’ve finally settled into an outpatient mental illness therapist position working with both adults and adolescents. Hell, I’ll even have an actual office come Monday 🤘🏼. I’m stoked to have this routine structure back in my life… so stoked that I’ve already started scheduling long runs and hopped into a new training plan for a 100 in the Fall. I’m excited about getting back on that grind and looking forward to an adventurous, hot ass summer in the woods!
I’ve always disliked the idea of giving gifts when it was expected… ie: for birthdays or Christmas. It just has always felt… forced? It also puts a lot of unneeded pressure and anxiety on people to feel like they have to give something. We might as well all just be out here swapping $20 bills from our wallets and calling it a Christmas gift exchange.
Real gift giving is different though. Ya know… when ya just randomly stumble across something that reminds you of someone or a crafty idea pops in your head and ya make something for a friend. I adore that type of gift giving and outside of words and time… it’s one of my favorite love languages.
I remember we kinda went all out the first Christmas Kati and I spent together in our first apartment. We got a tree, decorated and bought all kinds of gifts for each other to open on Christmas morning. Don’t get me wrong… it was fun… but afterwards we were like… “what was the point of that?”
It just felt off for some reason. So we decided to STOP exchanging gifts for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. Outside of a lil black Christmas tree, we’ve really stopped decorating for Christmas altogether. Now, we simply give gifts when the opportunity presents itself and honestly… it’s been wonderful. Before ya come for my head… I’m NOT bashing gift givers or anyone that follows traditions… I’m just saying that we’ve taken a different approach and doing things our way.
I’ve received a lot of wonderful gifts in my day, but one of my favorite gift memories was our first anniversary. We got married in 2010…
and shortly after “I do” I started trail running. I bought my first pair of Salomon XT 2 Wings and my love affair with Salomon products hasn’t stopped since…
I LOVED THIS SHOE. I litrully had ever color. My wife wishes that was an exaggeration… but it’s fact. I then stepped into the S/LAB series and have been hooked ever since…
I remember watching Kilian sport a new style vest during his 2009 UTMB race. No one had ever seen that type of pack before. It was shirt-like and had just enough cargo space for the mandatory gear…
I pined after that pack. I wanted it so badly but it was ASPENSIVE! I talked and talked and talked about that pack, but it was more of a pipe dream. As newly weds, the last thing we needed to spend money on was some frivolous shit like a fancy euro boi vest so that I could go prance around the woods.
June 5, 2011 rolled around and we had been married a whole entire year!
Kati pulls out a box and slides it my way…
She freakin got me the vest. I was blown away. I wore that pack EVERYWHERE…
To the beach…
To the lake…
To the Dragon…
I litrully became… a EURO BOI.
That vest was such a special gift to me. It felt more like a gift of freedom and adventure than a physical vest.
Fast forward 11yrs later… we’re a lil older… I’ve greyed a bit (or perhaps a lot)… but we’ve still got that same young fire.
Yesterday I pulled into Cedar Creek Nursery, walked straight inside, grabbed something off the shelf and went to the counter.
“You came through that door like a man on a mission. You must have known exactly what ya wanted to buy.”
I pretty much did. The previous weekend we had swung into the nursery to pick up some flowers and plants for the house. After picking a few out, we went into the gift shop to look around. Per usual, Kati stopped at the sight of candles and wafted her way through the shelf. You can always tell when she finds one she really loves. She takes a deep inhale, smiles a lil happy smile and then excitedly turns to me to get my thoughts. I love those little moments.
Kati placed the candle back on the shelf…
“I can’t buy this right now. We can’t spend money on a silly candle.”
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize certain pieces that seem to be consistent components in the success and happiness of marriage. For one, the better the communication, the better the relationship. We openly and safely provide a space to express our feelings, concerns and joys. We share stories and our crazy thoughts with each other. I feel this type of communication builds a strong relationship.
I believe one of the most important components is simply recognizing and enjoying the little things and moments. I know the bigger moments and trips are the ones that stick out the most and are the easiest to recall…
But it’s the little things that count. Like a random Saturday where we wake up, have coffee together, go smell some candles, go for a hike and go stick our hands in the creek.
Today marks 11 years with my Dark Princess. Tonight we’ll get our traditional Chick Fil A anniversary dinner, pop in a horror movie, paint our toe nails, monch some popcorn and enjoy a bottle of wine. We may even light a special lil candle…
Moments and gifts don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to have special meaning. Sometimes it’s just the little things.