Friday, November 21, 2008

'Oh my God! We shut the mountain down thirty minutes ago!"

Not since 1968 has Boone reported such terrible weather before Thanksgiving. Living in the high country definitely has its perks. The great views, wonderful running trails, biking routes and rock climbing just to name a few but all of these are well and good when you are able to get outside and enjoy them.

With that said, last Sunday marked my first day of training for my upcoming 100k ultra. Since I was unable to get my birthday 42mi run in on Nov. 3 thanks in large part to the fifteen hour drive to Clearwater, I prolonged it to the first Sunday available.

As usual I woke up and ate my normal oatmeal smorgasbord, topped off my water bottles, filled my backpack with varying food items and emerged from my apartment only to be greeted to gail force winds (alright a steady 25mph wind) and about three inches of snow on the ground. I had to put on my yacktracks (if you gotta ask you don't have to know) and slid down the hill to the main road. I then ran the three miles to the trail head which would take me out to the BlueRidge Parkway. Since the trail was covered in snow and ice, it took a little bit longer than normal to get out to the Parkway but none the less once I managed to slug my way out and over downed trees and frozen creek beds, I arrived at Julian Price Park at the base of Grandfather Mountain. At this point I was roughly 15 or 16mi into my journey and the weather was starting to turn. Never a good sign when I planned to ascend Grandfather Mtn which is a little over a mile high (~6000ft). I started out up the mountain having to run on the side of the road due to the amount of ice. About half-way up , the wind started to pick up stirring up the snow drifts and creating white out conditions. Wonderful! Not only was this great but since it was a balmy 19degreesF (with the windchill it was probably close to hum...Everest), my waterbottles were frozen solid. I am managed to suffer through the blizzard and mild-dehydration to reach the ranger station at the top of Grandfather. Normally, on my bike rides I fill my water bottles up at the fountain outside the station but today the fountain was frozen over...go figure...and I had to go inside. I entered through the door and was greeted by two wide-eyed rangers, who responded, "Oh my god, we didn't think anyone was on the mountain. We shut down the mountain thirty minutes ago." That was reassuring...I simply asked where the bathroom was and went in to dethaw my waterbottles so I could make it back to Linville. I descended off Grandfather and into Linville where I should have stopped and picked up some calories at the gas station. Instead, I shedded some clothing figuring I could make the eight miles to Banner Elk before I needed to refuel. How wrong was I! The great part about running from Linville to Banner Elk is that it is on the side of a major highway 105 and slightly uphill. About four miles into the trek, the weather started to turn again on me with the wind picking up, making the temperature plummet. At this point the calorie deficit started to take its toll on me and my pace slowed to what could best be described as a death march. About two miles from Banner Elk I realized I was not going to be able to make the fifteen plus miles back home in this kind of weather. I made the call for help and collapsed into the gas station at Banner Elk where I set in on all the chicken broth I could purchase with the three dollars I had on me. As I was standing in line, I was getting really weird looks from a group of teenage kids. They were jeering at me and I was delirious so I turned to them and said, "Do you guys have a problem." My wind burnt face and skinny shivering body must have been extremely intimidating to them bc they all looked startled and apologized. My roommate came to pick me up thirty minutes later. Three hot cinnamon buns followed.

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