Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Journey to the Archaic Hills of Uwharrie

For the past few years, I've made it a tradition to head out to the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area in the Uwharrie National Forest for a Thanksgiving morning run on one of the more challenging 7 mile trail routes that the Piedmont has to offer. Today would be no different, even though it is the middle of hunting season and the Uwharrie's are the Mecca of deer hunting in North Carolina.

The Uwharrie's are a string of ancient and most definitely dormant volcanoes that stretch through most of Montgomery and Randolph counties. They are believed to be the oldest mountain range in North America and it shows, since they have been whittled down over millions of years to mere 700 - 1000' stumps. These "mountains" are still pretty darn steep and offer some climbs of 500' or more, so it is the closest thing to actual mountain running you are going to get in the Piedmont. Actually, there is an annual 40-mile ultra held in these "mountains" that boasts a good 7,000 ft of vertical gain! That is pretty impressive.

Well, lets get on to the run. I arrived at the Robins Branch Trailhead and there were already 5 cars and trucks there. Along with one of the trucks, was a freshly cleaned deer hanging on a tree! I had thought while driving out there, "there are probably going to be some hunters," but I would have never imagined this greeting. Undeterred by the sight that laid before me, I laced up my MT 101's and took of down Hannah's Creek Trail. Not even a minute into the run I heard two gun shots of in the distance. Thoughts went racing through my head; "Am I the one being hunted", "Should I run faster", "I'm wearing orange, that should keep me safe right?" Not but a few minutes after the gun shots, I saw some bright pink ribbon tied to a branch and immediately thought, "That must be the ribbon that the hunter is using to help him find his way back to the trail." I was right, because as soon as that thought left my head, I saw the camoed, orange caped hunter stepping out of the woods. I said a quick "How ya doin'", with a cold non-response from the hunter, and headed on my way. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, because that might have "scarred away" the deer?

Anyway, after the early barrage of all things hunting, things settled down and I felt that I was deep enough in the woods that no hunter would be out this far. My logic being that it must be pretty difficult to drag a deer 3 miles out of the woods. With this sudden feeling of safety, came the hills. On all of my previous runs on this loop, I had to walk up the two big climbs of about 300 ft each. This time that would not be the case, I mean I've been running up actual mountains this fall! These big hills are dwarfs in comparison. It paid off in my time as well. I had never ran this loop in under 1:05 before, but today I ran it in 56:36. I can definitely tell that my training is paying off. I'm becoming a much stronger runner. Not necessarily faster, but definitely stronger. Well, after passing by camp sites, old homesteads, and many minor creek crossings, I was finished. Here is the Garmin data: Birkhead Moutain Loop

I really cherish this loop, because it was the first serious hike that I ever went on and it paved the way to me doing what I do now. I'm glad that when I do return back to my hometown, that I have this rugged slice of North Carolina to keep me honest in my running. I really miss the mountains though, and I'm looking forward to frolicking around in the Bent Creek area this Saturday with the good people from WNC Trailrunner! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and lets remember to be thankful for places like Uwharrie and other nature playgrounds that we get to enjoy. Gobble, Gobble!!!

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