This year's Mancation ended up in the middle of Thanksgiving week. I left my Target job the week before the Black Friday madness and my new job didn't have me starting until December 2. Since Kati had to work, it was the perfect opportunity for a Mancation. I immediately started searching for a cheap getaway. I found a $28/night motel downtown Gatlinburg that I booked for 3 nights. The game plan was simple.
1. Wake up with NO alarm - run down from my motel for donuts and coffee.
2. Run the mountains all day
3. Shower up and walk downtown for dinner and drinks
Sunday: day life
I kissed the half awake wifey goodbye, poured some coffee, and was off. I got up to Gatlinburg with a few daylight hours to spare. I quickly checked into the Motel 6, threw my bags on the bed, changed into some shorts, grabbed my jacket and headed to the trail head. I wanted to tag the Chimney Tops summit since it was closed all summer and Ashley (http://ashruns100s.com/) has spoken highly of the tough/quick out and back. Of course the temps were in the low 20s when I got to the trail head, but it was still the normal shorts and layered top for me. I crossed the newly constructed bridge and immediately saw 2 black bears up in a tree. Good start. My legs felt fresh since I didn't run on Saturday, so I pushed up the mountain harder than normal. I think I was just really excited to be back running mountains again! As I got closer to the top I came up on my first site of snow and ice. It's been sooooo long since I've seen this stuff!
I slowly climbed down from the summit and headed back down the mountain. I had hit the summit a little quicker than I thought I would, so I peeled off and headed up the Road Prong Trail up to the AT to add a few miles. It was a nice little section that climbed up along the river. After about 2.5 miles I got to the AT and ran for a few minutes. I decided to head back since I didn't pack my headlamp and the forest was beginning to darken.
Sunday: night life
I got back to the motel and cleaned up before walking down to grab some food. After dinner I hit an Irish pub for a few drinks. I was alone at the bar with the exception of the two Ukraine bartenders and Jason. Jason was a wild one from Louisiana. We got to talking baseball and then the next thing I knew... we had thrown back 2 grape vodka/ Red Bull shots. Why this combination? I have no clue. I just rolled with it. His phone died and he couldn't for the life of him figure out how his wife miraculously showed up (she later informed me that he had already told her where he was). They left and I finished off my last brew and headed into the cold night back to my motel.
Monday: day life
I woke up, strapped on my Salomons, and headed downtown for coffee and donuts. After a quick stop at DD, I grabbed my vest from the motel, and headed to the Alum Trail. I freaking love this trail. It's just a fun fun fun trail with great views and great single track. It was another cold day, but it was clear. After the first mile, I hit my first sheet of ice. LOTS of the trail was completely iced over. It was basically me holding onto the cable and sliding across the ice until it became ground again. It was slow moving in some parts due to the ice, but there was still a good portion of the trail that could be ran. After passing through the Alum Cave Bluff, the hiker population decreased dramastically (yes.. I said "dramastically"... it is one of my dad's fabricated words that I LOVE to use). It felt good to be alone with nothing but quiet mountain air surrounding me. I got to the top of the Alum Trail where it begins to flatten out and took a side trail up to one of my favorite spots. It's a little off the beaten path, but it offers a great overlook and solitude.
After relaxing for a few minutes, I headed back down to the main trail and made my way to the Mt. LeConte Lodge.
From what I understood, the lodge was about to be shut down for the season and they were preparing the last meal for the workers, so there was not a lot of traffic on top. I started the climb up to the High Tops and discovered that the trail was basically a solid sheet of ice. It wasn't too bad making my way to the top, because you could just work around the actual trail. I got to the top and soaked in the freezing view.
On the way down... I decided to take a different approach to my descent. I literally sat down on my bum and slid all the way to the bottom of the approach trail that leads up to the High Tops. It was a blast!!!! Yea... my bum was frozen for the next few miles... but it was soooooooooooo worth it. Name another time you'll get to have a nature made slip-n-slide to play on at 6600ft... exactly. Gotta live in the moment...
I ran the descent hard. I felt fabulous and wanted to feel my thighs burn. Since it was an out and back, I knew where I needed to slow down for the ice. It felt great to just let go. Complete freedom. Hammering down LeConte. I got to my car and was completely out of breath. I sat on my tailgate, popped open an almost frozen beer, and smiled. Yes... I fell. I had fallen more times in the past 3hrs than I had in the past year, but that's what keeps it interesting. This was an adventure. It's supposed to hurt... it's supposed to be fun... it's supposed to be dangerous... it's supposed to make you smile... it's supposed to make you feel alive.
Monday: night life
I decided I wanted something good to eat for the night so I went down to an Italian restaurant. I was seated by the hostess... and after 20mins of waiting for someone to come get my drink order... I walked out. At this point I was starving so I just walked into the first place I saw... "Dick's Last Resort" just happened to be that place. THE MOST ANNOYING PLACE ON EARTH. It was full of over acting, high school/college class clowns that wore Dora the Explorer backpacks, Ninja Turtle hats, and danced around to "What Does the Fox Say?"... over and over... and over. Luckily their steak was amazing and no one bothered me at the bar. The moment I finished my steak I walked out. It was still early so I explored some local shops and did the whiskey taste test at Davy Crockett's. The best local bar they say is "Puckers"... they said it's the happening spot... its the place to be downtown... they lied. I walked into a world of sloppy rednecks dancing around with Bud Light and Budweiser pitchers clenched tightly in their hands. I saw two gentleman at the bar with dark beer in their glasses, so I went to make friends. They didn't talk. I ordered a drink, turned around to assess the situation, and my attention was drawn to the woman missing most of her teeth and rocking an Ohio State sweatshirt. She was in the center of 5 NASCAR wearing, barbed wire tatted men (all holding Bud Light pitchers)... and she was dropping it like it was hot to Eminem's Berzerk. Train wreck. I couldn't look away. After tweeting my current situation, a local coffee shop tweeted and told me to get out quickly and head to the brewery. CHECK PLEASE! I walked to the brewery and they greeted me with "Hey, are you that guy from twitter?" I smiled and sat down to a delicious beer.
Tuesday: day life
100% chance of rain. Wonderful. Freezing temps and cold rain. I woke up early and laid in my warm bed watching a good terrible Sci-Fi movie about some monster on a mountain eating all the climbers. All this people eating had me hungry for donuts. I laced up and ventured out into the freezing rain. The trip was worth the deliciousness the Donut Fryer had to offer.
I got back to the room and I honestly had ZERO motivation to get back out in that weather, so I laid down for another people eating mountain monster. As the credits rolled, maybe just one more? NO! One more leads to an all day Sci-Fi marathon and I came up here to run mountains. Gathering up my vest and supplies, I headed up to Newfound Gap.
Not a soul in the parking lot. Who could blame them? It was absolutely miserable outside. The rain kept a steady fall, the temperatures were cold enough where Newfound Gap Road was to be closed this evening due to ice... what was I thinking? I started the climb on a completely water covered trail. Not even 20 steps into the climb and my feet were completely soaked. Ugh. At the mile mark I almost turned around. This was just terrible. This is not fun. Why am I out here? I'm in the clouds, there will not be a view anywhere, and the only thing I'm going to have to show for this run is probably a runny nose and a cold. Misery loves company... and I wanted company... and if I had company we would have probably turned around. But regardless of the conditions... the AT is a beautiful, beautiful trail...
I carried on. Sloshing through freezing water, navigating the ice, trying my best to enjoy this. Other than my feet, I was warm. I really just wanted to hit Charlie's Bunion and head back... but when I got to the junction I decided to make a quick trip up to the Jump Offs. Windy, cold, and view less at the top. I didn't even bother taking a picture here because I didn't want to remove my hands from my gloves. Back on the trail I took a quick stop at a shelter along the AT.
I was half hoping someone would be there... just someone... another soul to share in my misery. Alone. The smell of smoldering ashes... but no fire. A mile left to Charlie's Bunion. More ice... more rain... more soaked trail. Blah. I got to Charlie's Bunion to see the spectacular view...
I quickly turned around and had myself convinced that I was having fun. This was worth the trip. It was fun splashing around AT in the freezing rain... this of course was a terrible lie... but it worked... until tragedy struck. I slipped on some ice... I fell into a cold, icy puddle of water. My gloves were completely submerged... and now... the only dry spot on my body was a little cubic inch in the center of my sternum. "I WANT OFF THIS MOUNTAIN!!" I screamed into nothingness. I picked myself up and just started running. Running as hard as I could back to the trail head. I hit every puddle and every water covered limb. My feet literally felt like blocks of ice. They were numb and hurt with every single step. *fast forward to parking lot* I got to my car. The only vehicle in the parking lot was that of a park ranger... who was in the front seat shaking his head in disapproval... or maybe approval? I open my hatch to reveal... my bag of warm clothes wasn't there. I burst into laughter. Of course it wasn't there... I stripped down to my compression shorts, wrapped up in a towel, and hopped in the Element. HEAT FULL BLAST! After I got the feeling back in my body I climbed into the back of my car and searched for anything to change into. I found a pair of boxers and a fleece tucked away in a corner. I got back to my motel and in boxers, an oversized fleece... I walked barefoot across the cold, wet parking lot. A family of 4 threw some concerned glances my way as I walked into my room. We will call this a success. The crazy ones will inherit the earth.
Tuesday: night life
The cold makes me hungry. I was taking no chances. I went straight to Five Guys and had a double bacon cheeseburger and a huge bag of fries. Luckily the rain had stopped so I got a chance to walk around downtown. I hit the moonshine distillery for a taste test and some Christmas shopping. On my way to pick up a bottle of salty caramel whiskey for Kati, I made a quick stop for a salty pretzel and milkshake. Fatty-MacFatterson. I dropped the gifts back at the motel and headed straight to the brewery for a few drinks before calling it a night.
Wednesday: final day
I woke up to a winter wonderland. I haven't seen actual snow in a long time so I quickly laced up my shoes and headed out.
After a quick cup of coffee and a sausage biscuit I headed to the trail right behind my motel. I didn't have time to grab a summit before heading home, so I did a quick out and back to the Sugarland's visitor center. Running down the path under the snow covered trees... the river rushing next to me... I was at peace.
I started back home, but after a few hours I got tired of sitting in the car. I was coming up on Chattanooga... and how could I possibly drive through this city and not stop for a quick spin on Lookout Mt? I parked, dug through a bag to find a pair of shorts, and headed out into the cold. I ran up to Sunset Rock for an amazingly chilly view... only thing missing... my sunset.
Sometimes you need a Mancation to escape reality for a moment... to help with a transition between jobs... to revive your soul. It's ok to spend time alone. It's important to have this time to yourself. You will always be there for YOU. You have to put up with YOU for your entire life... if you can't enjoy being with YOU... how can you expect anyone else to want to put up with you?