Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mancation - Smoky Mts

"Mancation" is defined as "an adventurous trip taken alone in order to cleanse the soul." Once a year I usually get the opportunity to go on one of these wonderful trips. Last year my wife had her cousins from Spain fly into the States to visit family. She got the chance to house them for a "girls weekend" so I got a pass to venture out on my own. I ended up camping/night trail running down in Wetumpka on Thursday, Friday I kayaked the Coosa, drove down and set up camp on the beach, Saturday I won a 21k trail race in Pensacola and came back home Saturday night due to a terrible storm.

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 ( 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!

 The Chimney Tops is an easily accessed trail, so there were a lot more people out and about than I thought there would be. I got to a sign that said to reach the summit you need to climb the rock face. I approached the rock facing and just thought to myself... "there's just no way." Ugh. Of course I had to get to the top. So after CAREFUL navigation of the icy rocks, I slowly climbed to the summit. Crystal clear. Silent. Cold. Peaceful. I sat on top of the cold, rocky summit until the body heat that I had worked so hard for was gone.

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?

Till tomorrow...

Friday, November 15, 2013


"When my blood runs warm with an old red wine..."

I adore red wine. The taste, the color, the warmth... ahhh. Some of the best nights of my life have started with a bottle of wine... and I'm not only talking about the long drunken stupor nights...

I'm talking about passing the bottle around the table during a family game of Scribblish at my parent's house... sitting on the balcony of our old apartment watching a crappy meteor shower with one of my wife's best friends... hopping the pool fence for a midnight swim with one of my best friends and his now wife... picking up a new Incubus cd and listening to it over and over again into the wee morning hours... a 4th of July festival at a north Georgia vineyard... THOSE kinda nights.

My love affair with wine started back in college with cheap gas station white zinfandel and late nights on a sorority hall. From there it grew into the Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs... then came the Cabs, Pinot Noirs, Malbecs, and Merlots... and now it is almost strictly limited to reds.

Last night, I really wanted wine. I had reached my limit of Sam Adams Octoberfest for the season and lately it's been cold enough to bring out the whiskey... but last night I had a hankering for Merlot. It had been a long week. A lot of changes are happening. I just took a new job... so I will be leaving some people that I have grown extremely close to... and it hasn't been the easiest to come to terms with... so with that being said... we will stop that discussion until further notice. Now... back to me wanting wine...

Work wiped me out, so I took a nap when I got home. I awoke to a chilly afternoon and a setting sun. I felt like running but didn't want to travel to the state park this late in the evening... plus... I was still trying to shake off a run from earlier in the week where I ran up on two coyotes after sunset at Oak Mt. I've ran up on bears, been stalked by some species of wild cat... but these two wild dogs got the best of me. Meh. I'll be over it by the weekend... anyways... I grabbed my GoLite pack hanging on the garage wall (mainly because the place where the hydration bladder is located provides a perfect placement for stable transportation of a bottle of wine), my headlamp, debit card, ID, and headed into the setting sun.

I had a quick chat with some neighbors on my way out of the neighborhood and then I cut across an open field until I hit the access road to the dirt roads. The "dirt roads" are simply a wide open field with a jeep road winding through the center... it's roughly 2 miles in length from end to end. It's nothing spectacular, but it keeps me off the hard pavement and it's an easy 5 mile fix from my doorstep when I don't feel like traveling to run.

I ran the dirt roads and then cut up through a neighborhood. The neighborhood was occupied with mom's and strollers. I continued until I hit a county road and followed that to the gas station. The gas station was packed. The Shell is one of the first stops off the interstate and I just happened to be in the mix of after-work traffic. I turned off my headlamp and headed inside. I grabbed a bottle of cheap Merlot and a bag of AirHead candies (they're new and amazing... oh... if you haven't figured it out by now... I am a candy addict). You would think I had a big red clown nose the way I caught stares. Yes. I'm in shorts and it's freezing outside. Yes. I have a light on my head. Yes. I just paid for a bottle of wine and put it in my backpack.

I walked outside and sat on the curb to enjoy my candies. The sun had disappeared and was replaced by an extremely bright moon. I guess I looked out of place since I was offered a ride home. I simply smiled and declined the offer. I finished up the last of my candy goodness and took to the road. The return trip was a bit shorter. I ran down the side of the busy county road until I peeled off into a neighborhood. I finally got to the open field behind my house. I sat down and shut my light off...

After a few minutes, my eyes started to adjust to the darkness and one by one... I watched the stars pop into focus. I sat staring into the night sky until my hands became cold and numb. I picked myself up off of the cold ground and headed towards the house to enjoy the warm wine tucked away in my pack.

It has been a long, lazy, cold, and rainy Friday... so after work, I decided to take a nap, watch 3 movies and write an entry... absolutely anything to keep my mind busy. Now it's time to throw on some music and finish off the bottle of Merlot from last night...

Till tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Awake My Soul

5am wake up call... time to awake my soul.

I suppose it's better than my normal 2am. As of now, Wednesday is my non work day. I usually awake from my slumber at 2am, take a quick shower, pour a to-go coffee and head off to slave away for the "man." But not today... no no... 3 extra hours of sleep! Whoop whoop!

I got to the state park a little early. The last time I tried to get in early I was turned away and ended up with waaaaaaaaaay too much MacDonalds coffee in my system. The man behind the booth kept looking down at his watch, but I got lucky this time. A little small talk about the time change had me racing to the trail head 20mins before the park opened.

The sun was already lighting the world when I hit the trails, so I didn't need a headlamp. With each passing minute, the Fall colored trees started to pop into view. (Ahhh... I love this time of year. It's so beautiful). I made my way up to the top of the connector and took a peek out over the overlook to Shackleford. Ugh... overcast. I guess there will be no view from King's Chair today. I felt good... so I continued the upbeat pace. I hit the top of the ridge and started up to King's Chair. When the horizon came into view... still overcast. Blah.

I finally made it up to King's Chair. It was cool and windy on the lookout, so I sat down and curled up against a rock. I love to go up to King's Chair (especially when I know I'm alone in the woods) and drift into my normal King's Chair day dream. After a few minutes I opened my eyes. The sun was trying to break through the clouds while two eagles soured past the lookout. Finally... sunlight. I drifted back into the day dream...

Snap back to reality...

I headed home to continue this perfect morning. Coffee, toast, and cozy coach time... I had missed this. I couldn't be happier :)

It's funny how you can be motivated by the slightest things. I have not been inside a gym in weeks. There has been ZERO motivation to be indoors. I have enjoyed running waaaaay to much to coop myself up inside a cold gym. I was feeling great about my gym experience until... I saw... a guy... on the dreadmill... with a Starbucks cup... labeled... PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE. Guys... I have noooo problem with the Pumpkin Spice Latte. It's delicious. Not my cup of Joe... but delicious nonetheless. However... it DOES NOT BELONG IN A GYM!!!!! I shall now cancel my membership... maybe a new gym... maybe a garage gym... we shall see.

Kati had an interview with the University of Montevallo today. I rode down with her and decided to catch a few quick miles while she was interviewing. I ran the normal trail I take when I am in the area...

I got back home and grabbed my last remaining Octoberfest from the fridge. There it is. October is officially over. No more Octoberfest... no more October. Simple as that. Now on to the next variety of seasonal beers! I spent the last bit of October with one of the few ladies in my life that still loves me in my post run nastiness... Catalina.

Well... I'm almost finished with my whiskey drink and winding down for the night. A long day of work awaits in the morning... but with the promise of a single track escape tomorrow afternoon... I can grin and bear it.

Till tomorrow...

Saturday, November 2, 2013


This year I decided to create my very own "Runtober." I decided to put in a ton of trail miles and do something adventurous every weekend of my favorite month. Somehow, (still not sure how I pulled it off), I got vacation time approved for every weekend in October. So I started creating plans!

1st Weekend - StumpJump 50k in Chattanooga
2nd Weekend - RidgeCrusher 21k in Bham
3rd Weekend - Pitchell 100k Fun Run in Asheville
4th Weekend - TBA (Team Magic - 3.5m off road race in Pell City)

Weekend 1 - success. I had a rough race at StumpJump but I had a ton of fun. I got the chance to see a lot of people that I hadn't seen in a while, run some great single track, and camp.

Weekend 2 - success. I ran the RidgeCrusher 21k in Bham with a great group of people and then headed out to Oak Mt. to tag on an additional 14 miles.

Weekend 3 - success. Pitchell. (one word kinda sums that one up.)

After Pitchell my thighs were thrashed, but I had to get out and about for a birthday run. I did an easy out and back to one of my favorite spots: King's Chair. I sat around for a long while getting lost in my normal King's Chair day dream...

I finally snapped out of the fantasy and headed home... where I was greeted with a cookie cake and a shot of Irish whiskey (the real deal - from Kati's grandmother's trip to Ireland)! And then it was off for a round of margaritas!

I didn't have anything planned for the last weekend in October so I started to look around. The local ultra trail running group (BUTS) had a group run and cookout planned for that Saturday. I did a short, chilly loop with the group and we enjoyed some cold beers and burgers afterwards... it's always a good time with this group.

One of my best friend's dad shot me an email earlier that week saying he had a free race entry for a 3.5 mile off road course on Sunday morning. Ronnie will randomly shoot me emails with free entries every now and then. Last year we (Ronnie and his son Zac) did the RocketMan Triathlon Relay together in Huntsville, AL. Ronnie and I also did a fun mud run together! Oh.. and his dog.. has probably ran just as many 5ks as anyone in Alabama! Walker the Wonder Dog enters almost every race that Ronnie enters!

I ended up 1st overall in the run and walked away with a big bottle of Heed. Not too shabby :)


I finished up Runtober with a fun Halloween run... "What's your favorite scary movie?"
Overall... Runtober was amazing! I met a ton of amazing new people and got the chance to catch some quality trail time!

Now... it's on to No Shave November :)

Till tomorrow...