AT RunVenture Project Segment No.3
May 1-2, 2021 Davenport Gap to Devils Fork Gap Miles 238.9-311.1
We were ready for more. After a short two week gap we had decided to throw in an extra weekend. Once we’d completed the Georgia section of the AT and we knew that in order to truly enjoy our AT RunVenture we’d need to significantly reduce our daily mileage from FKT (Fastest Known Time) level (55-65miles per day) to a good hard day (a mere 40-50 miles per day). This mileage decrease would allow us to move more comfortably, carry less calories and enjoy the evening company of hikers and the sitting around the campfire aspect of hiking and, lets not forget how great sleep is. So, with the goal of getting to Damascus for Trail Days, we decided to throw in an “easy” weekend of 70 miles.
Celia was still on the mend from the niggles/ mild injuries that SCAR left her with, but she was also feeling fresh and excited coming off two weeks without running at all. I had decided to “train” a bit the week leading up. I was able to get a 30 mile week with some tempo work in before our weekend in hopes of making some training gains from our B2B (back to back) weekend. It would hopefully slow me down enough to take some pressure off of Celia too. We are still figuring out how to pace together comfortably.
I flew in Friday afternoon after work and Celia picked me up from the airport and we drove all the way to Standing Bear Hostel where the owner had agreed to shuttle us, for $15, at 10:00pm to the Davenport gap to do the 2.6 miles between the two locations so that we could safely leave Celia’s car at the hostel, for just $5 and plan to sleep comfortably at the hostel for $25/ ea before our start.
We arrived at Davenport gap just about 11:00 PM and planned to just hike and we did. It was essentially flat and easy. We arrived back at Standing Bear and were ready and in our bunks by 12:00AM. We slept decently until my wristwatch alarm went off at 3:55AM. I climbed up Celia’s bunk, as we were both on top bunks, and nudged her feet awkwardly trying not to scare her or disturb anyone else that was sleeping. We packed up quickly and went to her car to get ourselves fed, dressed and packed for the weekend.
At 4:20AM Saturday May 1, 2021 we started out. We always enjoy not worrying about pace in the dark and we just hiked. We moved very well and I could feel the week’s miles on my legs as Celia pulled ahead up every climb. I was nervous internally, I felt quite tired and the climbs were flaring every part of my hips and hamstrings. Nothing felt extreme so, based on experience, it would work itself out but you always get a bit nervous.
Daylight arrived and we had covered a lot of the day's big climbs already. We were approaching the climb to Max Patch which we’d heard from hikers was a memorable climb. We thought it was pretty hikable and we enjoyed it. There had even been some very nice runnable downhills that we took advantage of. This portion of the trail seemed to lack all roots and rocks, it felt odd that we were on the AT as it was so smooth.
At the top of Max Patch we took a minute for a video, photos and food break. It was absolutely gorgeous in every direction. Sunny blue skies and a crisp May morning made it seem dream like. Then we moved on, which was a long runnable downhill. My body was tired, only 14 miles into the day’s 32 and I was really digging in to keep up with Celia who looked like she felt so good. My experience also told me that I could push it a bit this weekend and it’d be ok, so I allowed myself to have to work that little bit harder to keep up. We had begun passing thru hikers and enjoyed their brief companionship.
The forest was a vision of art that morning. Flowers lie endless on both sides of the trail, grasses full, leaves green and plenty of fresh water flowing. We drank and refreshed as needed. We were absolutely getting warm and it was a great feeling. By now I had caved in my exhaustion and indulged in some caffeine, probably about 110mg and I was moving free and happy. This is where it’s always interesting. Celia and I use different caffeine sources and doses and the impact on us is profound. I believe she took in 90mg from a Muir energy gel and was feeling well, but not nearly as great as I was now. I had taken the lead on the downhills of which there was SO much as the descent into Hot Springs is about 14 miles net down hill. We were way ahead of schedule.
Next thing I knew Celia was flying downhill “going easy” at a sub 8 min mile pace! We pounded down knowing there would be some cost to it later but it was well worth the joy in the moment.
Only a few minutes later we could see the hostel at the base of the trail and we flew… The phrase “We're coming in Hot to Hot Springs NC!” running through my mind. Then, just before 1pm we arrived. We'd put in an easy 32 miles in 8 hours and 15 minutes and now had nothing to do until 7:45 that evening.
We paid for a room and took off all of our excess clothing and went outside to sit in the warm sun and eat some snacks. Celia found a can of sweet potatoes and polished that off as well as fairly absurd portion of sunflower butter. I ate some twizzler bites I'd carried and eventually found some pita chips in the kitchen.
Here we sat for at least an hour chit chatting with the local folks that ran the hostel. By 2 pm we were ready to walk to town, about 0.6 mi away. Once we walked there we stopped at Dollar General. Celia bought some canned fish and I bought some oatmeal cookies. Then we wandered into downtown, a 3-4 block area of restaurants and shops.
We headed straight for the Outfitters shop and got ourselves some resupply. Celia decided on her dinner and after deliberating for a while I decided I'd rather get a sit down meal. Celia's allergies limit her quite a bit. She's very well adapted to them and eating potato chips and packaged fish is totally ok and even normal for her. Me, I wanted pizza!
We went next door and I ordered and enjoyed most of a Flatbread pizza all on my own. Celia crunching down on her newly reinstated love for potato chips. Then, with a few (4.5 hrs) to waste until our reservation in the hot springs that evening we walked the latter 0.4 mi to the resort to see if we could move up our reservation. They said no, as they were fully booked up, so slightly disappointed in our planning we headed out to the grass to sit and “relax.”
We worked hard to waste time, I mean, relax. By We, I likely mean me. Celia was getting a kick out of my forced rest period. An hour passed and we decided we'd snooze. Celia really didn't want to Walk the mile back to the hostel just to have to add 2 more miles on later so, obviously that made sense and we snoozed for almost another hour. Finally it was a little after 5pm and we walked back to town for a nice cup of decaf and this little shop had ice cream too. I splurged on a cup of maple bacon ice cream. The maple was delicious but the bacon was a bit much, nonetheless it was perfect. Sipping coffee and eating ice cream we laughed at how ridiculous we looked. We'd been walking around town all day in our running clothes of course (they're all we had) and despite being a town very used to hikers we looked a bit like we got lost on our way to a big city marathon. We laughed and enjoyed. I called my family and saw my boys. My dear husband clearly stressed in the moment, it was a brief but perfect call.
Finally, we had relaxed long enough to head back to the resort for our reservation. We were excited but the thrill had been lost in the wait and thank goodness it had. The Hot Springs in Hot Springs NC are not in a natural flowing water but rather a private hot tub in between fences that has apparently been filled with the mineral water. This was not exactly what we were thinking our $50 reservation was for but we got in and soaked for as long as we could, enjoying the view and watching the sun begin to set.
We'd both had enough of our long day and we were relaxed and at least slightly cleaner than we had been. We got out and walked the 1 mile back to the hostel to prep for bed and to hang out by the fire.
Back at the hostel we hung our wet swim suits in hopes they'd dry by morning. I headed out to the fire first and quietly took a seat. It wasn't long before Celia was out there too and the conversations slowly went from random chit chat to focused conversation with us about our runventure, about ultrarunning, about what we carry and how we are headed back home after big trail days to be with our family and work our full time jobs. It's great to spend this time sharing our story but sometimes it's hard for me, too feel like the center of attention when I'd much rather hear about their journey
Soon it was 9:30 and time for bed. I prepped the coffee pot at the hostel just like I would at home. I felt very spoiled. We climbed into our big bed with clean sheets and blankets and fell asleep quickly.
Celia woke up first and then I was ready too. We took the time to enjoy getting prepped with electricity, plumbing and four warm walls. I made whipped cream lattes for myself shoving as much whipped cream into each cup of coffee as humanly possible to add calories to my breakfast and because I was and am, totally “that Kid”. I ate my pop tart and mixed my Nuun tab into my orange Gatorade and got my pack together. Celia ate a large bowl of oatmeal and drank coffee and prepped herself for the day as well.
Roughly the same time as the prior day, we left out of the hostel into the dark chilly morning at 4:10 that Sunday morning. We walked back through town and after walking a bit passed the drop off the side of the bridge that is the AT we stared aimlessly at the sides of the road for white markers until I got Guthook fired up and then we were back in track. We followed the river for a mile or so and then a series of switch backs take you up and away from civilization. At least we were finally getting warm.
Based on the map we had a lot of climbing this morning which was wonderful. Despite all the rest we'd had and plentiful food we both had some soreness from the downhill running. We are always happy to hike up.
The morning passed with steady ease. We had to pull out the map a few more times in that 14 mile section as there were a few intersections that were difficult in the dark. We tacked on an extra 0.4 mi finding the trail, often realizing we were parallel to the foot path and the backtracking was really unnecessary.
Daylight came and it was another perfect day with long climbable climbs and soft runnable downhills. Today I started my watch on my “Avg pace” screen and it wasn't until well into the morning that I shared with Celia that I was playing for 3.0 mph average. We were fairly well above at 3.2 for all the climbing we'd been doing. Celia was skeptical about us holding it and not so into the pressure of the game. I explained that it was solely for the mental game itself, this was the longest I've been able to play it in our first 300 miles and should we hit enough climbs that we drop to 2.9, then the game ends, it surely doesn't matter in the least. So onward we hiked.
Miles came and went, my memories for this section seem short. Eventually we had a change in terrain and we climbed some boulders to a beautiful view, and then of course descended some boulders. On one hand this was hard and hardly delightful 20 miles into day 2 but on the other… We were hiking the AT and how vastly different the trail could be was fully enthralling. I dug into that joy, I was amazed by how the trees grow and the roots working themselves around the rocks. I felt grateful for the opportunity to be bouldering around on a mountain like a child. I took this joy with me all the way to the 300 mile marker on the trail and then straight up Big Butt because, really, how can you not be excited for a climb up a mountain named Big Butt.
I ran a fair amount of this next 4-5 miles, even the slight uphills I was happy to be feeling well and wanted to finish tired. After Big Butt it'd be over again, essentially downhill until Devils Fork gap. Keith, our friend and current ride back to Celia's car would be hiking in to meet us so I knew I'd run into him soon. Celia continued to be right on my tail, just far enough back that we enjoyed moving at our own paces.
I ran into Keith first as planned and we turned around and started to hike back towards Celia. It must have been 3-4 minutes and there she was moving swiftly smiling of course. Together the 3 of us hiked the last 2.7 miles chatting and smiling and arrived at the gap to find trail magic waiting for us.
We were surrounded by 3 young girls eager to feed us, seat us and question us. We always explain who we are and what we're doing as we're not thru hikers. We are a hybrid of ultrarunner/hiker and thru hiker “wanna be”and thus far that seems to qualify us for trail magic and we are eternally grateful.
We drove the 90 minutes back to Standing Bear hostel with Keith who treated us to coffee and a breakfast sandwich. From there Celia drove the 3.5 hours back to her home and we chatted and recapped the weekend and dove into the logistics for section 4 only 9 days away and absurdly more complex.
We finally got back to her house and we both did what we needed to. I packed my pack for the next section while Celia ate more food and prepped for the early morning trip to the airport. We both showered, slept and woke up at 3AM to get me home.
We were so blessed to have some time on this segment with Keith who has dedicated his energy to us to help share our story.