Monday, October 11, 2010

Happenings: Luke's B-Day; Fiery Gizzard Trail Run

Not atypical, plenty of goings on at Casa de Kennedy, and no ER visits or hospitalizations in recent weeks (knock on wood). Luke celebrated his 6th birthday, getting his Spiderman costume (Halloween) a few weeks early and actually eating (vs destroying his chocolate birthday). Then we took the whole crew to Southern Adventures and spent a slightly ridiculous amount of money entertaining three boys. We all played mini golf, rode bumper cars, drove go-karts, etc. I am pleased to report that all Kennedy males slept extremely well that night (me included).

BTW, note to all parents out there: buying Halloween costumes early may be a good bet, since our younger boys have insisted on wearing them nearly every day so far this month. Get your money's worth!

We had Fall Break this past week, but decided not to venture anywhere. Oma and Opa arrived Wed evening on their Autumn pilgrimage from NYC to Florida, staying for a week; anymore than that will require them at least 2-3 days of concentrated rest/recovery before engaging the boys again. But we're more than happy to let to do baths, story time, etc. Weekend was highlighted by Kirsten setting setting up her display and sales table of hand-made mosaic pieces at Saturday on the Square in downtown Huntsville.

Columbus Day is a most excellent Federal holiday, with the boys typically and me only tethered to work by my BlackBerry. Haven't logged any long adventure runs in a few months, so on the suggestion of Rob Youngren, went up the South Cumberland Rec Area and ran the Fiery Gizzard Trail. A truly great piece stretch of trail, starting at the south end at Foster Falls and winding north about 13mi to the Grundy Forest State Natural Area. Very runnable stretches and great Fall colors up on the plateau with stunning views over the gorge's edge, juxtaposed with gnarly, technical, ankle-rolling descents into the Gizzard along the veritable rock farm at the bottom. (Rolled my right ankle not once, but twice within the first two hours, slowing down progress somewhat.

Alas, I haven't gone that far since early July when some sort of knee injury brought my training to a halt for a while. So by mid-afternoon my legs were starting to get a little wobbly. So popped a squat on one of the magnificent overhangs, chewed on a Hammer nutrition bar and drank more water, let those calories work into my system. I was close to the parking lot, but wanted to take a final excursion back into the gorge and bottom of Foster Falls. Luckily, reward with a great wading pool and lots of cold water to soak my legs a bit before climbing the half-mile out of there and back to my XTerra.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Various Weekend Activities

Haven't posted up much in a while. Running adventures took a hiatus once my training for Leadville Trail 100 was derailed by knee pain. But an interesting and productive weekend at Casa De Kennedy.

Saturday morning was the Running of the Bulls 5k at nearby Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve, so I took the boys over there to volunteer at the race as part of my Fleet Free Racing Team duties. We got the water station set up, and Matthew worked that part wiht other volunteers while Andy and I played traffic cop up the street where the greenway crossed the road. FF Team members Donald Bowman and Dana Overton won the respective overall titles, while Eric Charette raced then put down 16min total of the day. Incidentally, othjer FFRT members were up at the Lean Horse 100 in South Dakota, where the early word is that Blake Thompson raced to an unbelievable 17:45, Eric Fritz completed his first 100, and Rob Youngren racked up yet abother 100M finish.

In the afternoon I took Matthew to his karate test at Alexander’s Martial Arts, going for Brown 2 this time. But this these tests can last 3+ hours (this one went 3½ hrs), I went over to Crossfit-Huntsville and took the excellent POSE Method running workshop for an hour, then back to Matthew’s test until it wrapped up. Meanwhile, Kirsten was at Southern Adventures waterslides with Andy and Luke, nice afternoon for it. I pulled the CF WOD for the day at home, then Matthew and I mowed and edged the lawn, along with other general yard work. I tell you, 1-2 more years and having three boys will become an advantage as I train my slave labor force to take care of the yard, clean the dishes, and more! After all that I grilled some homemade burgers from our stock of grass-finished beef.

Sunday has been relatively chill. After church in the morning, I put in a workout, then Kirsten and Matthew went to a birthday party at the Redstone bowling alley on post. Me and Andy did some homework, read books, then cooked dinner for the crew. (And I managed to write a blog post!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence Day Weekend for Clan Kennedy

An enjoyable weekend in the Kennedy household over the long 4th of July weekend, though of course keeping three boys tied up over the summer is always a challenge! We managed a decent of free time for Kirsten (because she sho’ as heck don’t get much during the week), activities with the boys, and lo’ and behold, Kirsten and I even managed an hour-long conversation with only minor interruptions from the same-said boys!

Friday afternoon I managed to peel out of the office around 1400 and head for Elkmont, AL to put in a long run on the Richard Martin Trail, a rails-to-trail conversion and newly-designated National Recreation Trail. I had been meaning to explore it and log some miles, but the loss is mine, for it is a great piece of trail. I got started in mid-afternoon, parking at the railway depot right in Elkmont and using that as my personal aid station. The north section is about 4.6mi one-way, south section about 5.6mi one-way (10.2 mi total), with mileage markers every ½ mile in the path. The surface is fairly smooth crushed gravel the whole way, very run-able as I cranked out 8:30/mile pace most of the training session. Though I started in road shoes (NB904), got a few too many small, sharp stones in my foot, so flipped to a pair of Sportiva Wildcats after 90min and was comfortable rest of the evening. I managed to log about 33 miles, pushing the final few miles in the dark among the fireflies and night sounds.

Alas, I rarely sleep well after such an effort, so suffered a restless ‘night’ of sleep and gave up around 0530 on Saturday morning. So made a light breakfast and some coffee, read the newspaper and caught up on a little email, all before Matthew (my oldest) rose at 0615. After getting him a little breakfast, we drove up to north Huntsville and explored some of the Land Trust’s Wade Mountain Preserve for a few hours. After wearing him down somewhat, treated him to a special breakfast at IHOP back in central Huntsville, watching him scarf pancakes and getting a preview of what my monthly food bill will look like when all three of our boys are teenagers, i.e. probably higher than our mortgage! The kind waitress simply placed a full carafe of coffee on the table to help me out.

Matthew and I got home around 1100, and for a moment it was looking like I might take a little nap before digging into afternoon chores. But then Andy (our middle son) asks, “Daddy, can you take us to the waterslides at Southern Adventures?” So how can Dad possibly say no? So Kirsten and I quickly got all three boys into swim trunks and packed some snacks/towels and headed out. The season passes for this place are worth every dime! Luckily the park has a shady area for parents to sit and keep an eye on their progeny, so I parked there with a big bottle of iced green tea in an uncomfortable chair. And despite said tea, I dozed off after 45min, only to be awakened a few minutes (or was it an hour?) by a dripping child needing to go to the bathroom. So after a few hours there, the boys were sufficiently bored with the slides for one day and we went home. Once there, Kirsten was in her studio working on some new pieces. Matt and I mowed the front lawn and took care of other yard work before finally settling down late afternoon to prepare dinner and sit on my arse for a little bit.

Sunday morning was church time, and I got in a solid 90min tempo run in the early afternoon. Once home, I helped Matthew mow the back yard, then did math workbooks with the boys until dinner. We celebrated the 4th with a bunch of fireworks out in the street once the sun went down, managed to get the boys wound down and into bed around 2300.

Monday was a Federal holiday, so basically an extra Saturday for me! Got the boys up around 0700 and went to breakfast at Bruegger’s followed by our typical exercise routine at the local YMCA, plus a chance to practice headstands. Our you noticing the trend of wearing these boys down?! Did a little grocery shopping to help Kirsten, got Matthew a much needed summer haircut, and home late morning. I changed up a got in my first full class at Crossfit-Huntsville (this place is going to be kicking my tail for many months to come). Got home early afternoon and prepped the evening’s dinner before taking in a much-needed massage with Kim Susor to work on trashed muscles from many miles of running. Cooked dinner for my crew, let the boys watch a movie so Kirsten and I could take (how else do you think we could manage the feat of a 1-hr conversation?) and managed to get the boys to sleep around 2200.

Don’t even ask me what’s going on next weekend, I ain’t got that far yet!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Recovery' Hike on 14ers, 20 Jun 2010

Q: Hey Josh: you just completed the grueling San Juan Solstice Run yesterday, 50mi of high altitude running in southern Colorado that kicked your tail pretty good. What are you gonna do next?
A: Heck, I'm gonna take a 'recovery' hike on nearby 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine, that's what!

And so the day after a successful finish at SJS50, I found myself riding shotgun (with the intrepid Rob Youngren driving) in a Jeep Wrangler south of Lake City, CO enroute to the the trailhead for Redcloud Peak (14,034') and Sunshine Peak (14,001'). And we enjoyed a perfect weather day to boot, sunny blue skies, mild temps, just gusting winds; no storms or black clouds in sight.

Having not slept all that great after the race and still hungry, woke up early and got a big breakfast from the Tic-Toc Diner before heading over the race's awards ceremony at 0830. Joined by several other runners, including Joe Prusaitis and John Sharp, at the diner trying to refuel body stores with omelettes and pancakes! Starting at 0830, the race directors, like the race itself, put on a great awards ceremony with finishing prizes for all and tons of raffled items (which means, of course, I didn't get my name pulled for a prize!)

Afterwards, a group of runners caravan'ed down to the trailhead, including me, Rob, Kathy Youngren, Tony Gonzales, Perry Sebastian, Sally Brookings, Marty Coleman, Janice Anderson, and Vikena Yutz. We left the trailhead with perfect weather about 1100 and began the hike up to Redcloud. With several breaks on the 4.5mi route, we made the summit about 1400 and proceeded to take plenty of photos (view here at my Picasa account).

Since the afternoon weather was good, despite the 50-60mph wind gusts, we traversed the saddle going south for 1.5mi and quickly gained the top of Sunshine Peak.

Not content to simply reverse course back to Redcloud and head down, fearless adventurer Rob lead us down a SW finger off Sunshine through a crazy scree slope on the western face of the mountain. About 1300' below we took a break near a patch of snow before making our way down a chute in the rock formations. The chute took us a while, but culminated in several folks (Marty, Tony) getting long buttslides down snowpacks [very cool]. We traversed about another miles of rocks before coming into a long creekbed and draw in the mountain and down to the main trail. Then another 2mi downhill hike to the parking lot and trailhead, arriving just past 1900.

Thanks to Kathy's parent (Arthur and Mary Ann Faulkner) for treating us to a great dinner back at their cabin. We jawboned away another hour and watched the dogs make mischief for a while, experimenting with several beers from the New Belgium Brewing Co.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

San Juan Solstice 50-Mile, Lake City, CO (19 Jun 2010)

So I went to Lake City, CO for the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run. Got a burr up my rear end to see the Colorado mountains on two feet after listening to tales from Rob/Kathy Youngren and Joe Prusaitis. The SJS50 is the first of two races this summer, with a return trip in August for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. So I was stoked to be there, putting mind and body to the test on one of the toughest ultra courses in the country.

But let us clear up a small misnomer now; 50-Mile Run is a stretch, for no one can run major portions of this high altitude event. The course makes major climbs into the San Juan Mtns and spends considerable time above 12,000 ft elevation, including a 12mi stretch on the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide (about 3mi above 13,000’). So smile folks, you get light-headed just trying to walk or jog slow up there, much less actually run.

The race started at 0500 from Town Park in Lake City, with the first 2.7mi heading out CR-20 towards Engineer Pass. From there we turned south and climbed up into Alpine Gulch and the Williams Creek Trail, topping out about 12,700’ on the first major climb. I got my first taste of what the climb and altitude can do to when I squeezed some Perpetuem paste into my mouth and tried to mix it up with a little water (i.e. just breathing through my nose); my heart rate jumped way up and my head started to swim immediately. For the rest of the day, I could only put down calories while walking on flat stretches or during the easy descents!

Absolutely awesome views up top, looking over a string of 14er peaks just a few miles away. My legs were feeling the first long climb (topped out at about 13,200’), and the subsequent long descent to the Williams Creek aid station (15.7mi) was about the longest I’ve ever pulled so my legs, even after years of training, were in new territory!

I rolled into the Williams Creek aid station just before 9am, grabbed some more fuel from my drop bag, and moved out of there (no sitting down!). The course wound up Cinnamon Pass Road (CR-30) for about 2.5mi, very runnable, before turning south up Wager Gulch Rd and the second major climb to the Carson ghost town site. So you may be thinking “just run up the jeep road” but I tell you that I had to power-walk nearly the entire 3000’ climb over 3mi to the next aid station. I’d get my arms swinging and get aggressive on the climb, but couldn’t push too hard or get light-headed from the effort and altitude. It was like I wanted to press, but instead the mountains were pressing me instead!

It was about 11am by the time I made the Carson a/s at about 12,200’. Rob and Kathy rolled in right behind me and took some aid while I pressed ahead. The jeep road was work-able, a steady climb that never got crazy, but I couldn’t push it too hard. We continued on up past Carson to the Continental Divide around 13,000 then turned left on the Colorado Trail and made for Coney Peak at 13,344’. Rob and Kathy reeled me back in during the secondary climb, and we began to traverse the Divide for a few miles. Unparalled scenery in all directions, with high mountain meadows to the east and a view of 14ers to the west. The trail is runnable, so I’m taking it about a 1/4mi at a time, then a walk break once my heart rate starts to get out of control and I get light-headed; legs are a bit wobbly as well and I’ve got a minor nose-bleed mixed in with the ever-present snot running out of my nostrils!

The 9.5mi stretch from Carson to the Divide aid station is a truly stunning piece of terrain, challenging as hell with a narrow single-track trail out guiding you along the upper reaches of the Lower 48. It took me 3 hours to make that segment, running a little, walking a lot, and letting gravity do its job on me during the downhill stretches. Some pieces were obnoxiously difficult with snowpacks (mercifully few of those) or scree-filled slopes, and I was just hanging in there, grinding out the miles one at a time not letting my breathing and heart rate get out of control.

Around 1400 the trail emerged from a tree grove and onto the Divide aid station. Some great folks there at the 31mi (50k) point, nice as can be. The altitude is kicking my tail but I’m rolling with it. When asked of my home and the volunteers hear Alabama, I get the incredulous look and a “what the f%$^ are you doing up here?” It’s kind of funny, because there is no way those of us from down low can prepare for the altitude of this race, so all can do I just grab my sack and go to it!

The next 9mi stretch from the Divide to Slumgullion doesn't prove much easier, but more sections where I can pick up a slow run and grind down the miles a tad faster. It’s mostly jeep trail and rolling hills along the Divide and Colorado Trail to mile 35, which we leave upon entering Rambouillet Park. Up to here I can run some of the flats on-off mixed in with walk breaks, but walk any incline. After the park, the course begins a long descent (3mi) towards Slumgullion a/s on CO Hwy 149. Though my legs are getting tired, this is actually a good section for me. While the altitude and mountains press on me and limit my climb to where I can breath, during the long descents I can keep engaging these legs and I’m the one pushing instead.

I rolled into Slumgullion a little before 1600, way ahead of the cut-off and feeling OK and in a good mood. The a/s volunteers invite me to sit down several times, but I know better; stay on your feet, get some more water and calories, and keep moving! After a mile descent past the a/s, the course turns up once more. At this time it is one right nasty ascent; about 1700’ gain in about 1.5mi. And so I go back to work, grinding that sucker out one step at a time, but don’t believe I ran more than 10 steps in the entire ascent. Rob and Kathy caught up to me near the top of it, offered some words of encouragement, and then dropped me like dirty laundry. I crested out the climb, then walked a little more until my legs settled down, finally picking up a run-walk cycle across the top of the Vickers Ranch property over the final aid station.

Once again, the folks there remarked (kindly) on the insanity of an Alabama resident coming up to this race, but we had a good laugh of it. They told me it was a nice 3mi downhill back to Lake City, but I’m not really sure that was selling point this far into the race! After some more rolling hills, the course dropped off down the Waterdog Trail, so once again I let gravity do its job on me, mustered these mighty quads and make them work for me.

A long, tough descent into town but the finish line is growing near. Once down off the trail, I took up a 1min walk/1min jog cycle in the final segment, crossing over the Gunnison River, turning left on Silver St, seeing the finish line, stripping off my hydration pack, and thank you Lord, IT IS OVER! 13hr 52min.

The Youngren’s and Faulkner’s are at the finish area, Rob/Kathy got in around 13hr28min, good to see them. Made a call to Kirsten to let her know I was alive, swallowed down some Recoverite, and walked around a little to keep my legs somewhat loose.

Shared pizza with Youngren/Faulkner clan down at Poker Alice, my thanks to them for letting me tag along. Got back to the motel around 2130, cleaned up, and watched a movie for a bit. Alas, sleep was quite elusive and fitful when it did finally come around 2am.

I tell you, as great as the scenery was, and the people out there, I am hard-pressed to say I enjoyed myself. This was a truly difficult event, the toughest I’ve ever gone through. As crazy as it may sound, mile for mile, this was tougher than any of the 100s I’ve run, tougher than the double mountain mist stunt, etc. After the first hour as we climbed out of Alpine Gulch past the first aid station, I was pressed nearly every minute of the race. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did it, glad I could be part of the history, glad I sucked it up, grabbed my sack, and brought it all the way to the finish. But I was pushed tremendously hard on the climbs, was forced to really make my legs work me during the long descents, and was sucking for oxygen the entire time up on the Divide and the upper reaches of the course.

So why am I writing this down, why doing the soul-searching? Well, I’m gonna be at Leadville in August. So first and foremost, I am a little leery of what the altitude is going to do me, and just how hard I am going to have to push. My memories of Arkansas Traveller and success there are very fresh, and it is tough to imagine another 100 going better than that.The more difficult challenge at Leadville may very well kick my ass! But that's OK, I'm still gonna enjoy the experience and the challenge. Secondly, assuming I get through Leadville, then I am qualified for Hardrock in 2011. Do I toss my name in that for the penultimate? (Barkley being the ultimate). I got a good taste today of what Hardrock could be like, and how hard it will push me. Do I want to try it on for size? And just as importantly, do I have any hope of enjoying it? Thoughts to ponder in the coming weeks and months….

Going to take a zero-week (no miles), then put together a 6-week training cycle to prep for Leadville. Tune back for more....

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run

Besides work, my lovely wife, and crazy boys, what have I been up to lately?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Exploring the Pinhoti Trail – Rebecca Mtn / Flagg Mtn

Today’s adventure on the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail was all about seeing how we can up and over the planned Rebecca Mtn portion of the trail, hopefully slicing off a section of the road walk outside of Sylacauga. In addition, I got a chance to drive the entire current road walk section backward to Weogufka and Flagg Mtn before calling it a day and heading home. The bottom line is that on a gorgeous sunny day, I ran up out of Bulls Gap, along the spine of Rebecca Mtn being treated to great trail before descending to its SW base and onto FS603A/FS603…then turned around and got to do it all again! So part exploration, part training, and part recon for the upcoming Pinhoti FKT attempt.

Woke 0500, poured a thermos of coffee and made some breakfast, loaded up my gear and heading out about 0540. Drove down US-431 over Sand Mtn and through Talladega before arriving at the Bulls Gap TH parking area about 0830. Pulled on my gear, made some last-minute adjustments, and got moving about 0845. Just as Todd Henderson had described, the stairs up to the Rebecca Mtn were right across the road, so up I climbed and found some good, well-blazed trail and off I went. Of course, there is no published map of this section, so I let the blazes be my guide….at least for a while, then had to let common sense take over.

The trail swings around the eastern and southern slopes of the Hill 1523 before heading SW and generally getting onto the spine of Rebecca Mtn. It climbs up the Hill 1408 on the map, but from there the blazes go away and the Sweco-carved trails goes onto the right side of the spine for about a ½ mile. It turns left and then heads back up to the spine and intersects an old, abandoned 4WD trail that climbs to the northern radio tower on the mountain. But about a 1/4mi after getting onto the spine, with the old 4WD trail straight ahead (hell, ain’t no one gonna get anything up on two wheels anymore, this is all 2-footed trail now), the blazes for the Pinhoti suddenly veer off to the right and down onto one of the lower contours of the hill! WTF! I checked it out for about 300-400m, but there was no trail carved at all, just blue blazes every 20-25m. I had to bash through trees, leaves, and rocks; very little if any running. So while I’ll give folks credit for a well-marked ‘desired’ (or planned) path for the Pinhoti, screw that, I headed back up to the spine for some damn fine running.

The trail continues SW along the spine with great views back towards Horn Mtn and into the watershed basin outside of Sylacauga and to the south. After passing over several minor knolls and saddles, it passes right by the first radio tower on Hill 1523 and then makes a steep descent down the concrete driveway that allows maintenance crews. Down in the saddle you can see the blue blazes come back from the right, cross the saddle and then head into the woods with no trail, but the old, nasty, steep pig trail climbs right back up the spine so that’s where I’m going. After about a 1/2mi of tough climbing, you can see the blazes reappear again from the right, cross over the trail, and then head to the left side and into nowhere. (During the return trip I tracked them back a ways but seem to just die out after a ½mi). I just kept climbing and the ridgeline got relatively level for the next 20min or so, with steady, pleasant running. I passed over another knoll at 1523’ elevation, a few more rollers on the spine until coming to a gate and seeing a poor jeep trail off to the right. I explored down it for 10min or so, just to see if I could spot the blue trail blazes, but found nothing. Back past the gate, another concrete road comes up from the south and climbs up to the southern communications towers on Hill 1429. Past one more knoll at Hill 1525, then on the approach to Hill 1485 the old 4WD trail begins to veer off the spine to the right (north) and starts to look like a Sweco-cleared trail. Then after a 1/2mi or so into the stead, oblique descent, the blue blazes reappear and we are back on the Pinhoti once again! The trail makes two long switchbacks, winds around a bit and drops out FS675.

Turning south along the dirt road for about 1km, I was thinking it would follow some old forest service roads back to the Trammel Motorway (FS603). Instead, at the south end of FS675 the road just runs out, and the trail makes a hard left turn back into the woods with a healthy little climb. From there there is simply no trail at all, but a whole lot of blue trail blazes. So just follow the blazes and follow then no-trail, right? Well, I’ll again give the volunteers credit, for it is marked extremely well, never more than 10-15sec of running between blazes. But the darn trail meanders around like a drunken sailor for about the next 20min; I really had to pay attention as the directions changed and keep an eye on the blazes. Then all of the sudden the last blazes dropped me out on other dirt road…and I can’t find anymore. Am I at the south end? Having no earthly idea just how close I actually was to FS603A/FS603 (the intersection I wanted was about 1km away, and I was already standing on FS603A!). I searched around the woods another full ½ hour, a fruitless search for the blazes. Finally I just headed down the dirt road, and it improved a bit, turned a corner, then dropped out on FS603!

Took a solid break break, called Kirsten, talked with Rob Youngren (cell phone reception is good!), drained some fluids and a gel. After that, only one thing left to do on a sunny day during an out-and-back run…and that is to head back! I got going about 1300 and steadily re-traced my route. The first part went a bit faster since I now knew what to expect and soon popped out on FS675, turned north for a bit, then turned right and began the climb back up the trail to the ridgeline. The breeze was up a bit, and could see clouds of pollen blowing off trees. One check of my legs showed a growing coat of yellow pollen over the dirt, no idea how much I was breathing in.

I stopped to take more photos of the communications towers, send them out, and farting around some looking at the views. Running was pleasant and steady heading NE along the spine. As mentioned earlier I did peel off about 2/3 of the way back to see of the trail markings south off the ridge went anywhere, but no trail as before and just wasted my time thrashing around in the woods on the slope. Once I got past the northern communications tower and began heading down the old 4WD trail again, things got interesting for a bit. I picked up the blazed trail as it comes off the slope from the north side, continued down the old jeep trail, watched it head off the spine to the right just as on the map, and blue blue blazes guiding me straight down the finger. But the dang trail just died out! I crashed through a bunch of deadfall, sure that it wasn’t there as I climbed up that morning. A few minutes later I came out on a cleared trail again; where the heck did that come from? I re-traced it back up the hill to the spine, and sure enough, I somehow blew right past it coming down the finger; know when to trust the blazes and when not to! I took 15min to set up some logs and rock cairns as a half-assed markers to guide others to the left and onto the real trail, before looking at my watch and realizing I needed to wrap this up.

So got on the run again, grinding out the final few miles and getting back to my XTerra around 1630. Took a few minutes to completely rinse off, change my clothes, get a recovery drink prepped. This photo doesn’t quite do it justice, but my lower legs were far more yellow in color from pollen than brown from dirt (or even red from blood).

After climbing back in the truck, I spent the next hour going southbound along the official road-walk directions from Bulls Gap to Flagg Mtn. No issues following the route, it’s even relatively pleasant in the lowlands (minus the dogs that will inevitably chase runners and hikers). I passed through Weogufka, found the unmarked entrance to Flagg Mtn and headed up. Thank goodness for a 4WD XTerra, because I needed it in several places where the road had very deep ruts filled with mud; a car would have gotten stuck for sure. I ahd to stop at the gate near the top, but walked the final 200m and took some photos of the tower on the peak, and took in some wonderful panoramic views of east-central Alabama on a clear day.

And now it’s nearly 1800 and I’ve got a long drive back! Got back down Flagg Mtn, put the truck back in 2WD and headed for Sylacauga. Grabbed some Quizno’s for the road, blasted some rock-n-roll, and headed for home in the fading sunset. Got to the house about 2120 where the boys were coming down from attending an evening birthday party at Pump It Up! So brushed their teeth, tucked ‘em into bed, cleaned myself up, and read a book until past midnight when my body finally settled down and let me sleep. Heckuva fine day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Explorations of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail (Feb 2010)

Continuing report in a series as I explore various section of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail...

Indian Mountain Tract across into Georgia, 15 Feb 2010

Woke 0500, made some breakfast, headed out 0530. Drive went a little slower due to icy roads and winter weather, heading across Sand Mtn was particularly icy and slow. But made it through Piedmont uneventfully and to the High Point Trailhead on US-278 about 0750. Got my gear prepped and leaded north on the Pinhoti Trail 0810. Sun was out, cold and breezy weather all day, starting about 30-35deg windchill.

I made the climb to Davis Mtn Shelter with no problems, stopped there to take a picture and strip off the light pullover jacket, starting to sweat into the layers, which is not good in this weather. Made steady progress over some great trail to Hurricane Creek and the bridge over it, and up into Hawkins Hollow and the swimming hole there. The trail actually has a 10ft ladder to let you down the bank of the hollow before picking up the path again and climbing up the creek bed.

From there the trail makes a steady climb up to the 1700ft overlook and finally up and over Flagpole Mtn. The upper reaches had a thin blanket of 3-4” of snow, but not too bad, nothing a pair of smartwool socks could not need off. What was worse was the 2mi long rock field across and down the ridge that made running difficult, hard to find a rhythm on it. Great views to the south and east into Georgia though. Never could located the Dr. Tom McGhee Memorial marked on the map, but crossed the state line going the ridge, made a phone call to Kirsten for an update, and kept moving since the wind was quite cold.

Ran another 2.4mi into Georgia before coming out onto Jackson Chapel Rd where the first of the road-walks begins. Bloody rolled my right ankle just before the turn-around, took me about 15-20min of walking for the blood to get flowing. Changed socks at the turns, down a pair of GU packets, grabbed another flask of Perpetuem, and began the trip back. Took me 3hr50min to go outbound, about 3hr30min to return.

The climb back up past the state line and onto Flagpole Mtn was a bit rough with the ankle not fully cooperating, but made it well enough. About half of the snow had melted off the summit, but still plenty crisp and breezy on top. Steadily made my way back past 1700ft Overlook and the shallow descents towards Hawkins Hollow. Was frankly starting to get a little tired and bored with it after about 6hrs on the move, and the grinding, power-walk climb out of Hurricane Creek didn’t help any. But got out of that fine and headed for Davis Mtn Shelter. I was very glad to see the shelter, for it meant a mere 2mi left to go to the trailhead. Last portions were fine, ran back through an area known as The Pitts, which is pretty cool, before popping out on the road and 300m down the pavement to the trailhead at 3:30pm.

I had planned to fully rinse off and change clothes, but I wasn’t that wet and too cold outside to be stripping down and scrubbing down with cold water poured into a towel. So just cleaned up my upper body and head, changed into a clean t-shirt, cleaned off my legs, but kept the shoes on for now. Headed out 3:45pm, driving back through Centre, AL for a change of scenery. More snow flurries started as I crossed Sand Mountain, and was a full-on storm as I passed through Guntersville and back up US-431 towards home. Driving was slow as I crossed over icy bridges on the Paint Rock and Flint Rivers. But got in safe and sound around 6:15pm to a warm, cozy house where Kirsten was making waffles for dinner and the request of the boys. Twist my arm! We got the call about 7:30pm that all schools closed tomorrow. So the boys got to play a little longer....

Talladega Mtns Ridgeline and Cheaha Wilderness, 26 Feb 2010

This was Day 1 in back-to-back training session, with the following day being the Mt Cheaha 50k. I woke 0615 with the boys and got everyone off to school. Then headed out myself, on 2.5hr drive to Mt Cheaha State Park. I parked the XTerra at Bald Rock Lodge and got to running about 1030.

Heading out of the park resort area, I stopped to chat with some other folks at the camp store about the race tomorrow, and then headed south on AL-281 (Talladega Skyway), down the road to Adams Gap Trailhead by 11:45 or so. Took a few minutes to jawbone with another fellow hiking from Adams Gap, then turned left and headed up into the Cheaha Wilderness and the Pinhoti Trail.

And this approximately 13.5mi of trail northward toward Blue Mtn is some rough, nasty, gorgeous, scenic and ultimately rewarding running (or hiking). The first mile is a nice climb to get you halfway up the Talladega Mtn ridge and follows the contours for a while before turning into the Stairway to Heaven and a right tough climb into what is called Heaven. This spot is a tree-shrouded boulder formation on top that marks where the trail get on top of the ridge line (well, at least mostly on the ridge, the trail eschews it for a cant 50m down the slope to the left most of the way!). It was pretty cool to keep checking my watch altimeter and see it constantly staying in a band between 2100-2200’ most of the way as I moved northward along the trail for the next two hours. And I was treated to some great views to the north on a sunny, cool day.

The trail on top is fairly rough and challenging, with plenty of rocks and loose footing, lots of leftward cant, tree roots. Ain’t nothing fast about running up there for us mid-packers! I swung past the small bog on Little Caney Head Mtn, took a photo at the intersection of the Cave Creek Trail, and headed for MacDill Point overlook. There I took the 1/4mi detour down to the overlook for a great view to the south along the ridgeline I had been running along. From there I climbed up to Hernandez Peak, saw the trail memorial marker, and then made the descent down towards Hwy 281. But not before I darn near screwed myself. Once you come off Hernandez Peak, the Pinhoti markers have you make a very sharp left-hand turn, which I completely missed and was sucked down another unmarked trail going downhill. About 200m and 100’ elevation down, I realized something wasn’t right. I should be heading mostly north right at Mt Cheaha, but that was on my left and I was going away from it. So turned on my digital watch compass, and sho’ nuf, this decoy trail I had entered was going downhill due east! So realizing my near-mistake, hiked my ass back out there to the top, saw where I had missed the Pinhoti markers, and proceeded to get back on track.

The descent to AL-281 was nice, crossing over the highway about 300m up from the trailhead parking lot. I had the option here of just turning left a and making a short back up to the state park. But I was still feeling decent, and wanted to continue exploring, so went across and was promptly rewarded with 2mi of some damn tough trail on the way to the Blue Mtn shelter. 3-4 slippery spring and streak crossings later, with several short but high-angle climbs/descents, finally made the left turn and began the climb back towards Bald Rock. This is where the Pinhoti 100 course splits off from the actual Pinhoti Trail, so all-too-familiar with this section. It’s a tough, steady climb up to Bald Rock, where I was again rewarded with a great view to the north down into the valley on a clear/sunny day. Ran the last 1/4mi up the boardwalk trail and back into the truck, about 5½ hours on the move and 25mi of running.

While at Bald Rock, hopped inside the lodge and picked up my race packet. Chatted with Todd and Jamie Henderson for a bit, then headed down into Oxford. Checked into my hotel, got some dinner (IHOP, big steak omelet and some nut/grain pancakes). Went back up at the lodge about 6:30pm for the race brief. Sitting with the Huntsville crowd, enjoyed the company very much after a day on the trails solo.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Delano 12-Hour, March 2010

Seeking an alternate recipe for good-times ultrarunning that doesn't involve gnarly mountain trails, rocks, and carrying 10lbs of gear between aid stations, but still is well-supported with lots of good folks? Then one way to go is the annual Delano 12-Hr in Decatur, AL. Race Directors Eric Schotz and Jon Elmore put on an outstanding event, accurately-timed, varying aid station menus all day long, combined with a certified 1.00-mile loop and and options for a 50mi event and relay teams. All proceeds from the event go to the Centers for Developmentally Disabled - North Central Alabama (CDD NCA).

Many local runners put in outstanding performances despite the mentally-tough conditions. Eric Charette went 2d OA in the 50mi race, enroute to a full weekend of training prep for the upcoming Pinhoti FKT adventure. Eric Fritz cranked out 67mi enroute to winning the Masters division (he's probably freaking out a little bit just to realize he's actually in that category now!). Marcus Farris, former Grissom HS standout and current Auburn student and ROTC cadet, goes 3d OA and sets an age-group state record for 50miles while he's at it. Watching that young man smoothly crank out miles through the midday was both maddening and inspiring! Several other from the Fleet Fleet Huntsville Racing team had solid days, plus relay teams. But perhaps the story of the weekend was crazy John Nevels in his 24 Hours of Delano, starting at 6pm on Friday evening, and running for pledges in support of National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases where he raised about $1000 for the group. John put down 62mi (100km) overnight before the official race start in the morning, finishing with an even 100mi in 19hr40min (a personal best for him).

The weather here is always interesting (2009 was torrential rains all morning, 2008 started in a snow storm), and this year did not disappoint. It drizzled and rained in steady 15-20min increments throughout the morning, clearing off and kicking up the wind for a 1/2 hour and promising hope, only to bring more showers (even hail) just about the time you were drying out!

We got going at 6am, armed with chip timing to ease the hassle of counting laps. The was water on the dirt/gravel/cinder path most of the day, creating some slushy and mushy spots along the route. I ran many of the early miles with Blake, Eric Fritz, and Joey Butler, getting lapped with Eric Charette more than I care to admit! Despite the loop course where I thought I would go nuts, I actually began to enjoy the rhythm and the no-guessing aspect of understanding how to deal with every curve, corner, climb/descent (such as they were), etc. I cranked through the first 50k in around 5hr30min, faster than I wanted but OK.

My general goal for the 12-hr event was to move steady all day, ran as well in the afternoon as the morning, then save some juice to crank it up in the final hour. I only sat down twice all day, and that was 5min each at 10am and 2pm to change my socks. Big lesson learned from all my previous ultra and 100s is to never lose momentum in the chair; I sat on a bench to change socks!

The middle of the day was a tough period for me, from the 50k point until about 3pm. We would go from dry and cool to wet-cold as rain storms passed through, a little maddening to watch the black clouds roll in and know what was about to happen. But that is a great aspect of this event, as it provides another opportunity for mental toughness, both in dealing with the weather as well as the seeming-monotony of the loop course; you cannot let your mind wander about too much, but rather force yourself to concentrate and keep rolling, keep drinking, keep fueling, and keep concentrating on your body and what it is telling you.

Blake had a resurgence in the afternoon, which I was glad to see. He's still hurting a bit after a great run at the recent Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas, and he was not looking real keen through the morning. But we cranked some miles starting around 1:30pm, remarking we were due for one more wave of rain soon. And since Mother Nature probably laughed at our half-assed weather prognosticating skills, she promptly sent a darn hail storm on us around 2:15pm! Yes, that sucked, so I had to take a deep breath, force a smile, and keep moving steadily through it.

Around 4pm the daylight began to wane under the cloud cover, but the course was also drying out in places. By 5pm the Cafe Latte Perpetuem from Hammer Nutrition was kicking in (same stuff that fueled my final hours at the AT100), and I cranked up the pace some. Doing the course math in my head, I figured I could squeeze in 4mi in the final hour to make an even 60mi for the day. But as the adrenaline started to flow and the end of the day came into view, I was able to take mile times down from ~13min (including the forced walk breaks) down to 9min (no walk breaks). So the plan worked as I pushed hard through the last hours, actually conserving enough time to crank out a 61st mile. I crossed the timing mats on final time at 11hr54min and called it day from there; no way I was going to make another loop. Hand shakes and congrats all around with the die-hards who had stuck it out all day long.

I got over to the XTerra and poured a jug of water over my legs to wash the mud off (there was plenty), and started to shiver pretty bad despite still riding high on an adrenaline surge. Then my teeth started to clatter as I dried off and tried to get a jacket on; holy cow that was an interesting few minutes. We had a very nice post-race meal at the nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church and watched the awards ceremony. I made my way home by 8pm, took a shower, and read books with the boys for a while (Dr. Seuss never fails). Then it was time for minor surgery on the nasty blisters that had developed on both pinky toes; I'll spare you the photos of that!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mt Cheaha 50K - Feb 2010

Another date with likely the toughest trail race in Alabama, along with with the toughest little climb in the state (aka BLUE HELL). And you couldn't ask for a much better race, good folks to race with, and good weather to race in! Todd Henderson and his lovely wife Jamie put on a stellar event, replete with a well-marked course, great aid stations, smiling volunteers, and enough rocks on the trail to make a saint curse!

So this year's Cheaha 50k was actually day #2 of trail running weekend for me, having put in 25mi exploring the Pinhoti Trail in the Cheaha Wilderness the day before...but that little adventure is for another blog post. The day started at 0530from the Hampton Inn in nearby Oxford. Got my gear together, ate some breakfast, caught a ride with the Nevels clan to the starting line. Morning was cold (~30deg) and a little humid, but not bad overall. Weather turned into sunny skies by late morning with winds from north, which made for some great views though some chills as the breeze whipped through cold clothes.

The race started on time 0730 to the playing of "Sweet Home Alabama" as usual. We headed up and over the first section no problems, my legs and knees/ankles feeling surprisingly OK considering yesterday’s mileage. No issues as I went through A/S #1 at Chandler Springs. Tough running in and out of the hollows heading for A/S #2 at Clairmont Gap, but a section on the motorway eased the course a bit.

At A/S #2 I held a minute or two for Eric Fritz and Joey Butler, and ended up running the next 20mi with the good Mr. Fritz. Some challenging, but mostly fun, trail miles as we ground it out to Adams Gap and beyond. Eric was great, keep me move steadier and stronger than I would have done alone, right on my tail nearly the whole way. Caught up with Steve Carter out of Adams Gap, splashed through the first creek crossing together (that sucker was cold!) and pressed ourselves to A/S #4 and then down into the Chinnabee Lake aid station. Another relatively shallow crossing there before A/S #5 and turning for the Silent Trail.

We were dragging a bit in the next 3.5mi, taking a few more walk breaks during the climbs and wading through another creek crossing before popping out on FS Road 600-3. Don’t know why it was there, but we slowed right back to a walk for the next ½ mile after pressing steadily for 25+ on the trails. Finally got to running again, turned right on Cheaha Rd and headed for the final A/S at Cheaha Lake. Given the sunny day and clear skies, we got a whopper view of the Cheaha Massif just a mile away (but a 1000’ climb above us). Going upstairs baby!

We got through the last aid station (one runner downed a bottle of MGD while there!) and got a slow run going before the climb set in. Alas, Eric was having none of it, but I gotta let these thunder-quads of mine earn their keep, so up I went in earnest. Love that climb; he/she who has got the stones can really make some time there, and I managed to roll past 5 other runners on the way up. After emerging onto Bunker Hill Loop Rd on top, got a slow run going again and began to grind out the climb past the observation tower and down onto the last mile of trail.

By now we’ve got a full-on, sun-shiny day, the PA system is cranking some good tunes that can be heard all over the mountain top, so I am actually enjoying these last hurtful miles somewhat. Rounded the corner for the Bald Rock Lodge and cruised into the finish chute around ~6:24 or something like that. Eric Charette (long-since finished and showered) snaps a photo, grabbed my finisher shirt, jabbered with Christian Griffith for a bit (who himself had a stellar day on the course).

The Huntsville/Decatur racing crew had a darn good showing, with DeWayne Satterfield going #2, Eric and Dink also among the top finishers. John Nevels and Marcus Farris turned in some great times as well. I eventually managed to mooch a shower from Fritz/Charette’s lodge room, ate a lot of pizza and jaw-boned in the lodge for another hour or two. Finally caught a ride with the Nevels clan back into Oxford around 1700, got a big cup of Starbucks in Oxford, and made the 2hr drive home to Huntsville. Made a couple of phone calls organizing my 20-year high school class reunion on the way, always enjoyable talking to some of those folks. And sho’ enough, tired or no, my boys were all revved up when I walked through the door so wrestled with them a while and fought off the cramps that were threatening my legs! Good to be a Dad…

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dad's Retirement Party

So after 30 years as the elected Treasurer-Tax Collector of Yuba County, Calif (total of 42 years service in local county governments across Northern California) my old man finally decide to hang it up and retire! A long and distinguished career of public service at the local level, including dealing with effects of California's Prop 13 in the early 80s, and the near meltdown of the local gov't financial markets in the wake of the Orange County fiasco. He was President of the California Association of Treasurer-Tax Collectors, voted as the Outstanding County Treasurer of the United States in 1996, and the list of local accolades is far too long to list (moving all of the plaques out of the office made my back sore).

But my old man can be a stubborn S.O.B. at times, and for years threatened he would not show to any retirement ceremony if one was put together. "I don't want any f***ing speeches, any plaques, any damned proclamations, or other B.S. I'll skip the whole damn thing!" But the man deserves to have something after 42 years of service, right. So his wife and good friends finally cajoled him into an "open house" event at the local Peachtree Country Club. Accordingly, this invitation went out, a parody on the property tax bill that has come from local county courthouse under his name for the past three decades.

And the old man had no idea I was coming. So after some collusion with his best friend (Dave Brown, Yuba County Assessor) and former assistant (now succeeding him in the job), I flew out to Sacramento on Friday morning, and managed to catch him and Dave at the China Moon in Marysville. Completely surprised, he was weeping in chow mein when I plopped down next to him in the restaurant. After holding an initial coordination for my 20-year high school reunion that evening, I crashed down after 22 hours on the move!

But a great party on Saturday afternoon: no speeches, no plagues, no proclamations, just 250+ dropping by a nice location to shake hands, chat a while, eat some food and drink some booze. Even our local Congressman, Wally Herger (the guy who nominated me for USMA 20 years ago), came by for about 90min to 'be among the people'. A great afternoon for my Dad. Many photos were taken, these are among my favorites: my Dad is in the blue-checked shirt, the gentleman in the tie/blazer is the Honorable Wally Herger of Calif's 2d Congressional District, and the woman is my Dad's wife, Wendy.

To conclude the whirlwind of a weekend, I flew right back home on Sunday!

Christmas Holidays 2009

I had been meaning to post of some photos from our Christmas Holidays. Oma and Opa were in town for 10 days of the school vacation, which was great and they enjoyed themselves. Alas, I had to pull what is known as a "Christmas Special" most of the time, working late most nights through the 2-week holidays; Uncle Sam can be a tough task master when some staffer n the Pentagon wants "it" (whatever that might be) right after the new year!

I did manage to make the evening kid's service at our church on Christmas Eve, where Matt was in the play. We spent Christmas Day at home with Oma/Opa, though Kirsten and I try to keep the number of gifts under control so the boys don't get warped ideas about Christmas generosity; lots of pajamas, clothes, socks, etc. and even a few toys. Once the Christmas morning commotion of three boys settled down, I went for a snowy trail run over at McMullen Cove, great trail system over there for those looking to explore some.

Andy celebrated his 7th Birthday on the 26th, so we took the crew to Chattanooga for the weekend. Kids were fairly content with a hotel room stay, indoor pool, trips to the Creative Discovery Museum next door to the hotel, even the great Aquarium there.

I took Monday off from work (let my analysts alone for a day to keep hammering and me not bothering them!) and Kirsten and I went for a great day trip to theBankhead Nat'l Forest, Black Warrior WMA, and the Sipsey Wilderness to explore some and hike.

The rest of the week was crazy busy, working 12+ hours a day well into the evening on the Christmas Special. A notable end to the new year was the NYE Toga Party at the Charette Coliseum (more photos to follow).

Exploring the Pinhoti Trail, January 2010

I had been wanting to explore some of northern reaches of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, the ones above the start of the Pinhoti 100 race, and made it my mission to do a chunk of it during the early months of the new year. This is due partly to sheer curiosity on my part; but also a desire to check out portions of the trail ahead of our upcoming trip in May, where the Pinhoti Adventure Team will attempt to set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) entire 325mi trail in Alabama and Georgia. But more to follow on that later!

So after a great New Year's Eve party at Coliseum Charette, I decided to put a long adventure run on the first day of 2010. The out-and-back stretch I pulled on New Year's Day was a long, tiring day but well worth it to cover a solid section of the trail.

Borrowing from the Parkay Maps site, I started from the Burns Trailhead on Calhoun County Rd 55 outside Jacksonville and Piedmont. Heading south past the Choccolocco Creek Watershed to Coleman Lake, and then all the way to the Pine Glen Campground:

I left the house about 0530, heading south on US-431 to Gadsden, east on US-278 to Piedmont, south on AL-9, over Kings Gap Mtn Rd to the trailhead on Cnty Rd 55 between Rabbittown and Burn. The weather was cold and overcast to start, but runnable. Heading south on the trail, I passed several hunters in the early miles before crossing over the Choccolocco Watershed. The trail get a bit technical from there as it's carved out of the hillsides, mayber 18" across and on a cant. Passing through multiple creek crossing, it took 2hrs total to reach the Coleman Lake trailhead. I was feeling pretty good, sun was coming out, so I continued to head south south past the Shoal Creek Church historical site and all the way to Pine Glen Campground (start of Pinhoti 100). Sat down around noon to change socks, call Kirsten, eat an energy bar, etc.

I had seen plenty of trail, so I opted to head back north along FS500 (Motorway) instead. That turned out to be an interesting choice, for while the trail stayed along creekbed and was fairly level, the roadway climbed and turned and climbed some more; it was harded to run than the trail! Once I got back near the Shoal Creek church around 1345, I re-entered Pinhoti Trail and headed for Coleman Lake. Took a detour there around the lake’s recreation area just to explore a bit, finally got back on the trail back at the Coleman Lake trailhead and turned north again. The section north of Coleman Lake is a red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, and I actually saw one; first time after living in the protected areas of the South for 15 years! The stretch back to the watershed is some tough running, with 7-8 creek crossings, lots of running on the cant of steep slopes (trail just carved out of the side of the hill), with sun going down. Once I got back to the Choccolocco watershed around 1545, was pretty tired but still upbeat. Pushed through the final 2 mi for the Burns trailhead by 1610.

About 8 hours on the move for approx. 34-35mi. Great day of solid trail exploration! Headed back through Jacksonville, grabbed something to eat there, and was home by 1900.

Having seen south the of the Burns Trailhead, I spent the federal holiday on MLK Day to do further exploring to the north. That day's route was through the Dugger Mountain Wilderness. I left the house and my sleeping children about 0530 and headed south via US-431 to Gadsden, then turned on US-278 to Piedmont, south on AL-9 thrugh Nance's Creek and to the trailhead near Rabbittown and Burns.

Here the route maps, again graciously borrowed from the Parkay Maps site. First one covers from the Burns Trailhead on Calhoun County Rd 55 going north into the Dugger Mountain Wilderness:

The second map covers the final climb over Dugger Mtn and the descent down to the Dugger Mtn Shelter just off FS500:

I met several Pinhoti Trail Alliance volunteers in the parking lot. They were quite pleasant, offered me good tips on the trail, and thought I was nuts for running over the Wilderness! The weather was cold and foggy as I started the run around 0800 out of the trailhead. First few miles were fine, getting a rhythm and playing around with my new Casio watch (combo altimeter, compass, barometer, thermometer, plus the usual stopwatch and alarms). The section through Laurel Passage was quite pleasant, with a rushing creek below and to my right. Alas, couldn't see much due to the fog. Around 1000 the sun finally started to burn through, just as I was passing the Dugger Mtn peak on the left; the trail runs about 200-300m and 100' elevation down the slope. I kept looking for the observation tower on the topo map, but turns out the tower has long since been torn down.

Once past the peak, the trail descend 1000' over the next 1.8 miles; no switchbacks at all, just a long, steady descent. Ran into more Trail volunteers crossing over the creek at the bottoom, chatted with them a few minutes before pressing to FS500. Crossed over the dirt road and ran up the trail another 1/2mi to the Dugger Mtn Shelter. There I found two more volunteers clearing and improving the shelter area, so stopped and jawboned with them for 15min or so; good folks with lots of local trail knowledge.

By now the sun was fully out and it was turning into a very pleasant day! The climb back up Dugger Mtn is not too bad and moves obliquely up the contours, bur runnable if you take a steady pace. As I got near the peak, I turned off the trail and clambered up the slope and through the briars to where the old tower stood. Great view down into the Piedmont area and Chief Ladiga Trail. Gave Kirsten a call to let her know I was alright and enjoying the day, then worked back down the slope to the trail, slashing my shins on more briars for good measure!

Began the long descent down the southern side of the wilderness area and ran into two more trail volunteers clearing debris (met a total of 8 during the days, all working under the Pinhoti Trail Alliance). They advised me to take an alternate route down to the trailhead via the old Jones Branch Rd. Turned out to be great advice, and picked up that old 4WD road (just a trail now), and took the last 2.5mi back that way. It follows a creek down to Cnty Rd 55 and winds through a lovely little narrow canyon at the bottom. A shallow descent most of the trail made a great way to finish the day's run. Approx 20mi in just shy of 5 hours (including breaks and jawboning with the volunteers).

Stopped in Jacksonville for some Quizno's before heading. Drove past this place just outside of town and had to stop and take a photo. Good place to get rid of some old crap from my cadet days?

Keel Mountain Climbs

Given that I usually dedicate my Saturday to hanging out with my boys and giving Kirsten some free time, I usually try to leave the office on Friday afternoon to put in my long training runs. However, the impending freezing rain storm we saw in North Alabama on Friday afternoon and Saturday, prompted me to bolt for the long run on Thursday afternoon to beat the weather (luckily, Thursday afternoon was flexible).

So I got my employees settled in with tasks to keep 'em busy for the next 2-3 working days and took off about 1400 on Thursday. I had already spent to pre-dawn morning in the weight room, so a long hard run this afternoon could get interesting.

At home I quickly pulled my gear, water, and fuel together and to Keel Mountain for some serious climbing and descents!

Got started about 1515 and took about 20min to get a rhythm going, just as the first monster climb started. The road is very steep, winding my up through several properties with barking dogs for the first hour. One pair of dogs was actually a touch scary for a minute or so, the pair came right up to me barking like crazy and had the look of being ready to sink some teeth into. One was an old bitch with at least 8 sagging nipples from producing who-knows how many pups, the other was one of her grown male pups. I was about 10-15sec from having to take the offensive, for they were not backing off. Luckily, the toothless redneck owner emerged from his trailer and called them back. With a wave and a smile I continued on.

Once on Keel Mtn plateau, I turned south on the main road and got a decent tempo rhythm going. The running was quite pleasant, even some friendly looks from the folks who live on the rural mountain community. I took a short detour on Angel Bluff Rd and was rewarded with a wonderful view east down into the Paint Rock River valley. From there I continued south on the main road and down the gnarly descent off the south end of Keel (quad busting hell). Got to the bottom in about 2hr 5min, put down some fuel and electrolytes, then turned around and went back up! The southern end of Keel climbs about 900' with a pair of switchback at 19% grade, making for grunts and taunt calves.

Once back on top of the mountain, I got a decent tempo rhythm back up and turned on my flashlight. The dogs are less of a problem at night, owners have them indoors over the winter. Took another view over Angel Bluff with the rural lights on below, but steadily knocked down the miles before turning left and working through the more wnding portion of the mountain. After about 3:30 on the move, dropped over the edge on the descent, 25% (+) grade in several places on the way down, gotta love it! Once past the dogs and in the final mile, I could afford to tune out a bit, so turned on my mp3 player, listening to the Mission to Mars soundtrack. I especially like the finale music, which made the last mile sail by as I was able to shake off the long, hard descent and pick up a steady 8min/mile pace to finish out the run around 1930.

4 hrs 5min on the move for about 24.5 miles. A great route to keep preparing for hard climbs and descents this summer in Colorado. A little stiff in my knees and hips in the office on Friday, but not too bad. As predicted, the freezing rain and snow storms rolled in Friday afternoon, shutting down schools early and leaving icicles over the trees on Monte Sano, Huntsville, and Green Mountains. The boys even played in the very brief snow flurries on Saturday afternoon!