July 8, 2009: Running South Mountain
If one were to lift Maryland up in two hands and break it over a knee, it would likely snap right along South Mountain. This grand, old Appalachian ridge runs largely north-south, spanning the junction where the state's handle attaches to the broad aspect of its rough frying pan shape. The Appalachian Trail (AT), in turn, runs along South Mountain's backbone as if painted on like a racing stripe. As luck would have it, my sister's cozy home is nestled on the west side of this mountain. A quarter mile or so up the densely wooded slope lay opportunity. Time for a run...
My course was pretty simple on paper - access the AT on South Mountain's southern end, at a trail head near the Potomac River, run up and along the ridge line approximately 10 or 11 miles to a point above my sister's house, drop down the side of the mountain via a handy shelter spur, then follow an informal trail (more so a suggestion of a trail) along a creek the remaining distance to home.
On Saturday morning I was pumped and ready to go as I entered the woods near Weverton, MD. The profile on the AT section map indicated I was to ascend 1000' in elevation in approximately the first mile and a half. A good, stiff climb to be certain, but manageable. I set off at a measured trot... only to stop about 200 meters up the trail. Approaching me was another runner, coming down the trail – walking slowly and limping noticeably, bearing some obvious contusions. Seeing me in like running garb, he offered an understated, "Hope yours goes better than mine..." and chuckled a bit. Battered and bruised, but in good spirits, he waved me on. I nodded, gulped, and moved on up the trail, perhaps measuring my trot a bit more closely.
The hill climb was a technical gem; steep inclines, switchbacks, rocks of all shapes and sizes, and erosion breaks consisting of logs large enough to require a slight hurdling motion to get up and over. About a mile in, the slope relented, but the rocks apparently felt no need to do likewise. I soldiered on, forced to continue the "rock runner shuffle", bouncing laterally to and fro as I sought any relatively horizontal surface in what looked like a field of bowling balls. The rocks varied from rounded, to pointy, to something like plates driven into the ground on their edges. It was great fun, but I have to admit that two miles in I was a bit concerned that the entertainment value would certainly dissipate should this last, say, another 10 miles. Thankfully, it did not.
|Smooth sailin'...||Not so much...|
A bit further along, the trail relaxed into a nice hard-packed dirt path, and my legs took off like a thief released from prison. The rock fields would come and go over the miles, keeping me honest, but they were mixed well with the hiking super-highway that composed much of this stretch of the AT. Many hikers were out and about; by my count I encountered approximately 20, a mix of hard-core and day trippers and a few were accompanied by (well-behaved) dogs. To my enjoyment, I also met 4 other trail runners, none of which were nearly as bruised as the first. In that regard, I also made it through generally unscathed – only one good digger. Ironically, this was on a relatively flat, open section of trail in which I got a bit complacent – and managed to trip over probably the only rock I had seen in a quarter mile. C'est la vie...
Taking stock at the spur I was to take down the mountainside, I realized that my legs felt great and I was rather enjoying the whole experience. So, I skipped the spur and continued on to the next trail head, which emerged at Fox Gap a couple miles further on. I could wind my way back to my sister's house on the county roads.
In the end, the Appalachian Trail run was a good half-marathon worth, leaving a mere 2162 miles of the AT left to run. Looks like I'm going to have to plan some more trips...
What a fun run! Thanks for bringing a camera along and sharing this with all of us!
Some of my best memories from trips are the trail runs in a whole new area. You learn a lot about the local culture that way (ask me about huddling in a rain/hail storm next to a large rock while three people sat snug in their cars in Montana - a shock to this Minnesota native).
Did you see any Hillbillies or black snakes? When I ran on the AT in Virginia I encountered both...one scared the heck out of me and one was entertaining!
Sounds like a great trip! Glad you survived the trail without injury! Are you coming back for the Voyager?
Nice Report Ron,
now for a body count: whos going to toe the line saturday at 6am????
Ill start by saying im hoping to finish by taking it really easy and not doing anything stupid (well..........;-)
I plan to run Half Voyageur!!
Keep up the fun stories Ron, do you really come up with the illiteration and such on your own?
I'll be on the starting line on Saturday. The ankle has come back together quite well and felt really good on the AT. So, I believe I am in good order for 26.2. See you all there!
Eve - No hillbillies to speak of... Everyone had all their teeth, even that first runner.
Leslie - A lifetime of "Word of the Day" calendars are finally paying off... ;-)
Me too - running that is.
See a liberal education and being well-read do pay off in the long run ;->
And rather a bit dry than gaining 10 lbs in the powerlines due to clay accumulation on your shoes!
Wow Ron you missed out on the Hillbillies! As we were hiking several people said the same thing to us..."they seem harmless"...as we continued, our curiousity grew...We came upon some Hillbillies that had driven in on a fireroad...huge tires on the trucks...all had a Dr. Pepper bottle with moonshine in it...that was our assumption..smoking.....lots of swearing by the adults and kids, out of control bonfire...and the list goes on! It was amusing!
Powerlines as they are right now is loose clay that will be dusty and just like running down a mt in AZ with no hope of traction on the grassless parts...just a very slight moisture would make a world of difference and not clump!
Good luck everyone!