IN 3 PARTS…
Beginning early Friday evening & eventually petering out somewhere around Saturday afternoon, a healthy dumping of fresh snow blanketed most of Tennessee. Minus a few dustings peppered throughout December & January, this snowfall was the 2nd significant whiting of the new year. This winter has definitely been the coldest & longest fall season of the 5 years I’ve lived here… or perhaps I’m just noticing the inclement weather more because of all the trailrunning & outdoor workouts…???…
It was Saturday afternoon and I was already beginning to get a little jumpy. I needed to hit the trails, but instead of trying to get my car running, up the frozen driveway and out to KingsCrown, I decided to stay close and hit my snowed-in neighborhood. I made up my own course, cutting through the all-white backyards, empty streets & scattered wooded lots. In the end, I ran about 4 miles, mixing in short sprints, a series of uphill high-stepping and, of ultimately, a straight-lined mile of some hardcore pavement pounding.
The simple surface lesson (if there is a lesson to be taken away from all of this) is to run or exercise, regardless of all the fantastically viable excuses your mind tends to feed your brain… even if you don’t want to… even if you’re tired… Too many people don’t do anything. These people are perfectly happy not doing anything physically challenging… they don’t see the need in moving… couple that sick habit with an unhealhty vice of eating and/or drinking and you’ve got yourself a dangerous health crisis! Don’t be a party to that pudgy, slow-death population. Yes, even if the gym’s closed or your car’s stuck at the bottom of a frozen driveway, or you don’t have 2 hours to dedicate to a solid workout… Make something else up that will work for the moment. Check out YouTube. Type in “Home Core Training” & commit to whatever pops up. Try 4 sets of alternating push-ups & sit-ups, run a quarter or half of what you would normally run. Run around the block.
Sidenote.1: In a year’s time, your neighbors should easily identify you as one of the few people who run around the block. If a random sampling of residents don’t readily identify you as one of the “health nuts” who, at times, has been spotted jogging around the subdivision, then you’re not running nearly enough… or you’re running at midnight & no one can see you… minus the freaky neighborhood night owl.
So, it’s important to do something for your cardio and strength training, especially in the winter months when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. The cold, darker times of the year are when people tend to get fat, tired, and injured. Healthy sunlight exposure is extremely limited in most areas of the globe, natural vitamin-intake is depleted, energy levels are decreased… these are the reasons why you have to generate the intrinsic motivation needed to get up off the couch, push aside the numerous weak excuses, and routinely break a sweat.
Stretch your whole body out, take your time, then follow-up with an exercise or two to get your heart rate up. Break a sweat, stretch out again, take a warm shower, & then (if you must!) retire back to the bed or sofa. Trust me, you’ll feel much better about things, both mentally and physically. Do this regularly until beautiful spring comes back & warms everything & everyone back up.
Sidenote.2: I personally can’t wait for spring. I feel so small and tired, and weak! While my exercising & activities have remained a constant throughout the year, they have definitely dropped off in both intensity & duration. Yes… oh’ how I’m so looking forward to the return of spring and training in the sweet warmth of the afternoon sun…
So… Sunday I took my time getting up & moving around. I had breakfast, went through all the wonderful familial movements & then, as noon slowly crept by & the house began to slow down again, I started preparing for the weekend’s main run.
I tried to enlist a couple of friends to run HawRidge with me, to seek out & tackle the famed “RollerCoaster” trail. As previous Wanderer posts reveal, I’ve run the area twice before, but came up short both times when attempting to locate the trail in question. From the name alone, I was dying to experience it… even in 5 inches of snow! One friend backed out immediately with some horrible excuse about “fixing up the Man Cave”, and another was in Georgia, having just finished running a half marathon –definitely NOT a weak excuse!
Sidenote.3: The IC King Park half of the King’sCrown run has an “expert” trail leg that my friend Chris (see above “horrible excuse”) calls the “RollerCoasters.” It’s a brief, but really fun series of steep up’s & down’s which zig-zag all over one of the park’s more rigged valley systems.
So, with the driveway properly melted & adventure car running, I pulled out of my neighborhood & solo-started the 20 minute drive north to HawRidge Park in search of the real RollerCoaster.
I grabbed 1 of the provided maps of Haw Ridge from the info board in the parking lot & headed straight into the meaty network of the snow-covered trails.
With a plan to photograph a triumphant Wanderer beaming proud beside the famed “Rollercoaster” entrance sign, I decided to bring my fanny pack & keep my camera with me. Typically, I hate running with anything other than the essentials, like shoes & shorts… even holding onto my car keys is a No-No. But I figured, with the snowfall as impressive as it was that morning, I’d surely find some cool images worth capturing on camera…
So after some thorough stretching against the railings of the 1st little bridge you come up on just after entering into the ridge, I slowly jogged along one of the small initial trails leading up to Lake Road Trail. I found Lake Road easily and picked up speed for the next half mile, until Middle Road Trail came up, and then I split off onto that one.
The ground conditions were messy. It was a mix between snow, slush, & mud, but since both Lake & Middle Road are pretty much straight, even trails (at that particular point in the park), I was able to just heavy-foot it through the cold mix & not worry about a serious slippage.
I was pretty familiar (or at least as familiar as my 2 prior runs could warrant) with only a small leg of Middle Road and according to the trailmap I checked repeatedly & kept stuffed in my pant’s zippered pocket, my targeted goal was about a half mile up on the left.
It was about 3o degrees with the February sun high up above the ridgeline. Under my sweats and hooded sweatshirt I was wearing WinterSilk longjohns & a long-sleeved shirt my father had sent me a few days before. WinterSilk is great because it doesn’t allow sweat to bleed through the initial layer of clothing, keeping the body extremely warm throughout most extreme weather-related activities. It sort of acts like a surfer’s wetsuit, but for runners, by keeping your warm moisture locked in & up against the body.
After passing a few random, unnamed trails on the left & right I finally came to the RollerCoaster trailhead. Propping my camera up on my fanny pack & setting the timer, I was able to capture my planned shot.
All along Lake & Middle Road Trail I was able to follow the tracks of other runners, lone or coupled hikers, hikers & their dogs, & mountain bikers. It was obvious that Lake Road had been pretty well traveled through the late morning & early afternoon. These tracks continued up into RollerCoaster & I found this comforting, for the snowfall had covered everything trail-related &, without the telltale markings of human traffic, I couldn’t confidently judge where I was supposed to run, or not run.
Sometimes, even without tire treads or shoeprints to follow, it was obvious where the trail led, but on other occasions, if it weren’t for the long winding lines of bike treads & shoeprints of previous hikers, I had no clear idea of where the trail ran.
As expected, the RollerCoaster was a series of fun up’s & down’s & and, according to the trail map, was a little over half a mile of alternating peaks & valleys. About 1/3 of the way into Rollercoaster, 2 different trailheads merged off. Saddle Trail & Low Gap Trail led the adventurer somewhere up & to the left. And it was at that point where the bikers & hikers who had earlier in the day traversed the trail (whose tracks I was confidently following) split off onto both of these trails. I was by suddenly myself… There were no tracks to follow so I used intuition & logic & found, what I thought, was the continuation of RollerCoaster. Jogging now, I cautiously cruised along virgin snowfall for about 20 meters until a new set of much smaller tracks appeared in front of me. It took me a moment to figure out that they were deer tracks.
It made sense in my head that a deer would want to run along a known path, but I had no basis for this assumption. I was just hoping this made sense, I guess. So, following the path of a deer long gone, I continued to run along what I was hoping was still the RollerCoaster trail.
At times the lone deer I was following split off the trail onto a path that was obviously NOT the trail, leaving me to guess (& second-guess) where to run next. A couple of times I chose incorrectly & ended up in the middle of some wicked briars or at the edge of a cliff. Backtracking my fresh prints in the snow, I’d take another crack at where I thought the trail was & would continue running. Then more deer tracks would reappear, & momentary relief would sweep through my mind. It was false hope & I realized it. The trail was a single set at times, & then out of nowhere I’d come upon a complicated mess of multiple deer tracks.
And so I ran along these possible red herrings of a trail marker and hoped for the best. For some reason, I thought it would be wise if I stayed to the right… that the trailhead was somewhere off to the right… now about 3 miles away.
Sidenote.4: It should be known that, historically, I have a horrible sense of direction, but at the same time, some pretty good luck. And for 34 years those 2 traits have functioned relatively well together…
However, it was pretty obvious by the 3rd briar patch & 2nd cliff that I was pretty much lost in HawRidge… & the sun, in my mind at least, was starting to set.
As I begrudgingly begin Part 3 of this epic tale of nothing, I find myself out of steam & unmotivated to continue any further with this story. As all of this took place 2 long weekends past, I am more than ready to move on to another post. But alas, I must finish this unraveled yarn of trailrunning, deer tracks, & sensible winter wear…
So… I didn’t know where I was and a slight concern was beginning to mount. My main concern were the roads icing over. Worse case scenario had me running around HawRidge aimlessly for another hour or two while the sun quickly slipped away behind the mountains to the west. Once the sun set, it would only be a matter of time before the slushy mud/ice/snow I parked my car in would turn to ice, thus trapping both myself & the sad blue Fuckus in the parking lot until the next morning.
Past the pine trees high above, I saw powerlines poking through the branches and decided to run to them. My map was useless at this point. as it was, at that point, crumpled and desperate looking, spotted with wet holes from snow and sweat. I ran along the path of the lines until I found another road/trail cutting out to the right… and right still seemed right in my head so I turned onto it and continued running. That road ended being Lake Road Trail and after running up and down its hilled back I re-discovered Milton Hill Lake, figured out where I was, and finally began to relax.
There are several points to be made after this run… all of which I don’t feel like mentioning except for one: it’s important not to panic in situations like this. I could have easily freaked out and wasted valuable energy, but I didn’t. I went the other route and stayed in control the whole run. From a passive observer’s point of view from above, there were (hopefully) no indications of panic… they wouldn’t have been able to tell that anything was wrong… So, in times of concern and severity, stay cool, stay in control, stay strong… that’s what our training’s all about.