Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stone Mountain State Park to Devil's Garden Overlook via MST

Wow! This week has been pretty intense for me even though my mileage and vertical gain was minuscule (50m & 7k ft). Lets just say that I want be doing 3 tempo runs in one week again. But the week did end really good even though my body wasn't feeling that great. I met up with some friends from Winston-Salem (everyone from the Hanging Rock snow run plus some new faces) and we headed up to Stone Mountain State Park to charge up the the Mountains-to-Sea trail (a.k.a. MST) from the park to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Devil's Garden Overlook and then hammer the trail back down to the cars. It would be 6 miles up and then 6 miles down.

After an hour drive and some good conversation with John, we arrived at the starting point for our 12 mile adventure. We all piled out of our cars and made final preparations with our gear and then took off. The first mile of the trail was a wide gravel road that criss-crossed a stream until you turned off the gravel and onto dirt double-track. This also marks the brutal climbing that lay before us and the first mile of it is the worse! Abran had told me last night that most of the climbing was around a 10% grade. He was right other than this first hill which was more like 25%!!! Needless to say, I was walking this section even though Abran and John kept pushing through it somehow. After the first initial climb though it was at or just above 10% the rest of the way and I was able to run the rest of the climb. I really enjoyed this climb because it was almost entirely soft double-track dirt. It helped cushion a lot of impact on the short down hill sections, which were hurting me less after Friday's blasting down Moore's Knob at Hanging Rock State Park. I could definitely tell after the first initial climb that my body still hadn't recovered from that day and it showed as Abran and John blazed by me. I was still having a great time though and the weather was perfect. After about each mile, Abran would wait up for me to catch up and then blaze on up the trail ahead of me again, which he pretty much repeated the entire day. It was fine with me because it helped me stay on the trail and have someone to run with for a little while, even if it was only about 30 seconds. Haha. With about a mile to go to the turn around, I finally mustered up enough strength to keep Abran behind and captured the moment with this picture to the left. This would be the only time today that I was taking the lead. After about two-thirds of a mile of gentle climbing we took a right onto the single-track trail that would lead us to Devil's Garden Overlook. We cruised down the trail and made it to the turn around in 1:11. But when we arrived there, we didn't see John who had been in front of us almost the entire climb. He must have missed the turn and went straight. On the way back up, we ran into the rest of the group and asked if they had seen John or Derrien. They said that they hadn't so Abran and I decided that we would make a short look for them. After about half a mile of going down the suspected trail they were on, we decided that we would go ahead and turn back to go to the car. We were sure that they would realize there mistake and would make it back ok.

The steep descent back to the car wasn't to bad because of the soft footing, but my body still did not want to respond to the demand I was placing on it so the going was quite slow. I passed a few hikers out on this beautiful day and said a quick "hello" and went on my way. All I could think about was that last hard descent down to the gravel road and how bad it was going to hurt. It didn't end up being that bad and I met Abran at the bottom and we both started waiting for everyone else to come in. Sure enough, less than 5 minutes later John came cruising down the hill. We asked him what happened and sure enough he missed the turn, came back up, met Derrien, went back down the wrong trail, and then him and Derrien decided to turn around and take it home minus Devil's Garden Overlook. I think Abran's face in this picture says it all regarding our reaction to this quite humorous story.

Everyone eventually showed up and we took it back to the cars. Everyone's day was finished except mine and I contemplated not running any more. I wanted to try and get in around 22 miles today but I just didn't know if my body could take it. After about 20 minutes of eating and conversing in the parking lot I decided that I would at least go up to Wolf Rock and check it out. Apparently, Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock warranted pretty good views of the surrounding peaks and Stone Mountain. This would add about another 4.5 miles on the day for a total of 18.1. Definitely not 22 miles, but more than 13.1. So, I said my goodbye's to everyone and drove to the Wolf Rock trailhead, because it would have been another two miles of pavement otherwise.

My energy on the climb up to Wolf Rock was solid after eating quite a bit at the parking area, but the residual soreness in my legs was still there. So again, more slow going. As I reached Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock I was awarded with great views represented in these two pictures. I'm glad I decided to tack on these few extra miles. The views were worth it! Stone Mountain is so unique and the views of the Blue Ridge were outstanding.

Well, after dragging my body back to the car it was time to head back to Boone for the school year. But before school starts, I've got one more big run. The Tanawha Marathon, Half, & 50k! This is a fun run I am throwing with the WNC Trail Runner group, so if you haven't checked it out do so now and send me and RSVP if you want to join!

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