Sunday, February 28, 2016

Runners of the Wild - Kings Chair Sunrise Run


Pic by: Joel Maxwell

“We wish to spend our time running on a mountain or forest trail, sitting around a campfire, living close to nature and seeking what is wild and free.”

If I were to scratch out the 2 pronouns in the above statement and replace them with “I” and “my”… it would represent me perfectly. Over the years… my view on trail running has transformed from being a hobby/sport into a lifestyle. I now need nature like I need bread and water. I feel most at peace and connected with the universe when I’m moving through the woods under my own accord. The self-propelled freedom that trail running offers has completely changed my outlook on life. It’s truly made me step back and sincerely appreciate not only the beauty of God’s creation… but to also appreciate the relationships, hardships and the little moments that make life so uniquely beautiful. 
As simple and pure as trail running can be… I feel as though it oftentimes gets tainted. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the race scene and to get tunnel vision with your training. I am no different. I often find myself focusing on the next big event and veering towards a more competitive mindset. Thankfully… I’ve learned to realize when I get to this point and it is now easier for me to reel myself back in and get back to my roots. Though racing is a blast… I more enjoy the daily routine of getting into nature for a run. Some of my favorite moments have come when I’m alone or with close friends on an adventure in the mountains… no race... no competition... just moving freely exploring wild places...


I’ve been blessed beyond belief to have the opportunity to be an ambassador for a handful of companies. I can’t even begin to explain how much the FARM has done for me. The FARM has been incredibly supportive of my goals and ambitions and has helped me become an all-around better mountain athlete. Beau and Sloan are 2 of the most passionate people I’ve ever met and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting or working with them… their love for their profession and love for their patient's well being shines through.


I’m a firm believer in supporting companies and products that I truly believe, trust and/or use. Much like the FARM… Territory Run Co is another company that I stand behind 100%. 

 
 
Pic by: Territory Run Co
Territory Run Co is an independent trail running apparel brand based out of Portland, Oregon that was created to empower the wild hearted. Back when Territory first started up… the owner (Brett) contacted me to see if I had any interest in helping spread the word of his company in the South. Today... I am fortunate enough to be an actual ambassador for the company. Don’t get me wrong… Territory has a ton of rad clothing and gear… but that’s not the main reason I love this company. The main reason I love this company is for what they stand for and the culture/lifestyle they promote…

“We wish to spend our time running on a mountain or forest trail, sitting around a campfire, living close to nature and seeking what is wild and free.”



 Pic by: Territory Run Co

I dig their mission statement because it’s basically my mission statement. Territory is not geared towards ultra distances. It’s not geared towards the elite fast runners. It’s geared towards anyone that has a passion for getting outdoors, being active and striving to be closer to nature.

Pic by: Territory Run Co
I think sometimes people get the misconception that trail running is just for those who want to run long distances. I for one adore covering long distances, traversing mountain ranges and pushing my limits through the more harsh and rugged terrain… and I will continue exploring these boundaries until I am no longer capable. But you don’t have to cover long distances or run fast to be a trail runner or to enjoy the trails. Trail running is what YOU make it… what YOU want to get out of your time in nature. You don’t have to prove or explain yourself to anyone.  Every single person sees the world differently. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the trails. If you don't feel comfortable running... then walk. If you don't have time or don't have the desire to spend hours upon hours wandering the woods... then simply walk outside of your office for 10 minutes and enjoy the fresh air. Some of my favorite and most meaningful runs have been less the 4 miles… less than an hour… to one of my favorite spots… King’s Chair.
 


Pic by: Varina Hart

Kings Chair is a popular hiking destination nestled at the north end of Oak Mountain State Park. In my opinion… King’s Chair overlook provides the best view in the whole park!


Its rocky cliff side provides the perfect spot to soak in the beauty of Alabama.



The route primarily used starts at the North Trail Head and follows the Blue Trail for roughly 2 miles. For such a short distance… it is one of the harder routes in the park (right under 1000ft gain for the 4m round trip). The trail is filled with rocks, roots and climbs...

Pic by: Varina Hart
 
There is honestly no telling how many times I’ve made the trek to Kings Chair in the last 5yrs I’ve been running. But no matter how many times I run the route… it always seems different. Like each sunrise… no 2 runs have been the same.


I’ve spent countless hours alone on this cliff side…  day dreaming...

Pic by: Varina Hart

Relaxing...



Being weird…

Praying...



Countless hours with close friends…

Pic by: Sunny Workman
 



Even spent some hours clinking bottles in celebration of new jobs, birthdays and other achievements…



Pic by: Chulwon Parks
 
 

**Disclaimer: I ALWAYS PACK MY TRASH IN and PACK IT OUT! EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. ALWAYS. You should too! ALWAYS.**

**Do NOT litter the trails. The trails gods are always watching.**

One of my favorite things is when I get the chance to play trail guide to people that have never been to Kings Chair. I get so many messages from people asking directions… or asking if I will take them to the overlook. There’s nothing more enjoyable than showing someone a beautiful place for the first time.


Though there is no guarantee that you will always get a spectacular view…


The trip up is ALWAYS worth it.

 Pic by: Varina Hart

But out of all the time I’ve spent up at Kings Chair… the most magical moments have been at sunrise…

video
 
There is something ridiculously satisfying about flipping on a headlamp and setting out through the woods on a run in the pre-dawn darkness. Maybe it’s the idea that the world for the most part is still asleep… and it is as if the world is my own personal playground.


Pushing up a mountain in the dark… watching the sky start to slowly gain color through the canopy… and finally settling in on a summit/overlook to wait for the universe to display its glory by eloquently painting the sky with the most vivid colors…


Well… if you can't tell... it excites me like nothing else.

Pic by: Ryan James

Over the years… God has blessed me with plenty of breathtaking sunrises from Kings Chair!



 
Since Kings Chair is on the north end of the park and the only gate that opens at 6am is the south gate… it is extremely difficult to get up to Kings Chair before sun up. It usually takes a speedy effort and a certain season of the year to get up to the overlook with enough time to see the sun actually rise above the horizon.

When the Territory Run Co ambassador crew started hosting Runners of the Wild Sunrise Runs… I got excited and knew immediately that I wanted to plan one for Kings Chair. I figured most of the trail runners in the area would love the opportunity to get into the park early for a sunrise... but I didn't want to strictly limit it to a "running" event. Instead... I wanted to promote it as more of a run/hike/just come out an enjoy the woods kind of event. I figured if there was a shorter and set route with the premise of it being a "group" outing... it would attract a more diverse group. I thought the "group" outing would give the people that were nervous about being in the woods in the dark... or the ones not familiar with the trails... a chance to safely and confidently experience a trip to King's Chair. Though I figured most of the group would be trail runners... I really wanted to give an opportunity to ANYONE (road runners, hikers, non runners, etc) who had an interest in the event. 

I’ve had the pleasure of directing the inaugural running of Race to the Lake that took place last summer and worked closely with the park to set the event up… so I shot an email over to the park’s events coordinator to pitch the idea.  Anna quickly responded with an excited approval. I have to say… this girl is nothing short of amazing! Anna has been extremely helpful and incredibly supportive of the trial running community! I’m so thankful we have someone so passionate about the park and the outdoors in the events coordinator position at OMSP!

After a quick back and forth… we worked out the details with the park. They were going to allow us to gain entry at 5am. A 5am entry would give everyone plenty of time to drive out to the north trail head and get ready to set out on a run by 530am. I want to extend a huge thank you to Anna and Oak Mountain State Park for allowing me to put on the event! I truly appreciate the support and yall’s willingness to make experiences like this happen!

Runners of the Wild – Kings Chair Sunrise Run
 
I pulled into the North Trail Head parking lot around 510am and sat on my tailgate sipping coffee. When I first set up the event... I had honestly expected no more than 15-20 people to commit to the run. I had promoted the event via Facebook and Instagram... and thanks to the BUTS Facebook page, Oak Mt's, Buy Local's, Hike Alabama's and other various Instagram reposts...it had spread around Birmingham pretty quickly. And boy was I wrong about the numbers... within a matter of minutes... the entire North Trail Head parking lot was completely filled! I was blown away with the size of the turnout. Over 40 people showed up!
A few minutes before 530am... I gathered everyone together and spoke briefly about the outing.
"A quick show of hands... how many people have NEVER been to King's Chair before?"
I got really excited when over half the group raised their hands because I knew they were in for a treat.

Beau Beard and David Corrie hopped out front to lead the group onto the trail (I appreciate that guys... not sure if I told yall!) while I stayed back to wait a few minutes for any late arrivals. Once the parking lot went dark and was no longer filled with the light of headlamps... I started out on the Red Trail. Selfishly I wanted to take an alternate path to see if I could catch sight of the line of lights marching through the darkness... and to be honest... those few moments I spent running up the Red/Blue Connector alone... were hands down my favorite part of the morning. Why? I think Stacy Williams nailed it when she said...
 "it seemed so surreal when we looked up ahead and behind us on the way up and saw a line of headlamps winding up the mountain."
Pic by: Abby Cahill
Knowing that most of the people that formed the line of lights that was bouncing along the trail in the dark of morning were doing something completely out of their routine and possibly out of their comfort zone... was incredibly inspiring.

I didn't want anyone to miss a turn... so I ran up ahead of the group a little to get to the top of the ridge to direct people out to King's Chair.

I loved watching the line of lights making their way between the ridges...

The sun was set to rise at 620am... so I waited till 610am at the turn before heading up to join the rest of the group...

When I arrived at King's Chair... I really couldn't believe how many people were there!

Those that got up before the sun caught some pretty sweet views of the moon...
Pic by: Russell Williams
Pic by: Karen Mcdonald 
It was great seeing so many familiar faces...

And smiles on faces of people that I've never even seen before...
Pic by: Julie Davis Pearce

It never ceases to amaze me how something as simple as watching the sun rise... can bring people together in such happiness...
Pic by: James Enders

Pic by: Mark Ingle

Pic by: Mark Ingle

Pic by: Kelli Hood

Pic by: Karen Mcdonald

Pic by: Ladd Davis
The King's Chair crowd finally dispersed. Some went on their separate ways and continued their morning on the trails to see the other sights in the park... 
Pic by: Hunter Lane
Others made their way back down to the parking lot. Unfortunately the package of Territory Run Co stickers and water bottles that I was going to pass out post run was lost in transit earlier in the week... so to make up for it...I bought a few dozen donuts.

Being his awesome self... Brett let me raffle off 2 shirts from the sign in list! I gave everyone who signed the notebook a number and then through a random online number generator drew 2 names to receive a Territory Run Co shirt!
In my brief time on this planet... I've found reason to believe that nature is the universal language. Nature doesn't judge you for your beliefs... doesn't care which religion you practice... doesn't look at you any differently because of your ethnicity. I honestly feel that nature is one of the few things we all have in common and can enjoy harmoniously together.
Pic by: Beau Beard
I hope to continue doing these types of events. Events that make people get out of their normal routine and allows a chance to slow down and experience the beauty of nature with other like minded people. Thanks again to Territory Run Co and Oak Mountain State Park for making this event possible. I hope each of you received a blessing from the gorgeous Sunday morning. Stay wild.

"Run long, run wild and howl loudly!"