Roan Mountain Adventure 09/30/16

Roan Mountain Adventure 09/30/16

On Friday, September 30th, Hope and I drove up to Roan Mountain, TN, to run/hike the Roan Highlands section of the Appalachian Trail. I had been on that section once before, and it is probably the most breathtaking stretch of trail I’ve been on. I hadn’t been up there in 2 years, and I was itching to get on the trail there before it got too chilly up on the mountain. This stretch of trail is a series of “balds,” meaning mountain peaks without trees. This makes it possible to see 360-degree views in some areas, but it can also be very windy up on top since there are no trees to shelter you from the wind. So this is a great stretch of trail to run/hike in the warmer months.

The last time I ran this stretch of trail it was June, and the rhododendrons and flame azaleas were in full bloom. I can’t tell you how breathtaking that was, but June is also a time when the trail is the most crowded. The last time I was up there Craig and I camped at Roan Mountain State Park for the weekend and had a wonderful relaxing stay there. I kind of didn’t feel like camping this time, and I knew about Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast from my prior visit and also from my friend, Tim Moe’s, blog. Tim has been section hiking the AT for several years and writes an excellent blog about his experiences on the trail. (See Tim’s blog here: http://tbmmoe.blogspot.com/). Mountain Harbour has a hiker hostel in addition to their B&B rooms. I had never stayed in a hiker hostel, but I was willing to try it out and see how it went.

When I started planning this little trip, I knew I had a select few friends who would be willing and able to enjoy an overnight trip like this. My friend, Hope, and I have enjoyed many trail adventures together, but we haven’t been able to do so in recent years. I was busy with all my medical issues, and Hope has been joyfully raising 2 precious little boys. I was missing our time together, and so she was the first person I reached out to. I had a few backups I planned to call if she couldn’t make it, but thankfully she said YES immediately when I asked her! I think she was craving being out on the trail in the mountains, and we were only gone for 1 night, so she didn’t have to be gone from her sweet family for too long.

We drove up on Friday afternoon after Hope got out of school, stopped in Morganton, and picked up a bag dinner we could eat at the hostel later. We then drove up the mountain on Hwy 181 and stopped at the Brown Mountain Overlook for just a few minutes to take pictures.

We arrived at Mountain Harbour B&B before 7 P.M. and checked in with Shannon and Dave, the owners/innkeepers. I had scheduled a shuttle for us on Saturday morning to Carvers Gap, where we were going to begin our run/hike. Total cost for each of us for hostel bed and shuttle was $35 each. Bargain!

After checking in, we went back to the hostel, found our room, and parked our stuff there. The hostel was full for the night, and we met the other hikers who were staying there. Gas Can from Pennsylvania was in the middle of a 2-week section hike. There were also 4 ladies from Columbia, SC, who were staying the night before heading out on a 2-day hike from Hughes Gap back to 19E. We went out on the nice porch of the hostel to eat our bag dinner and enjoy a few beers. We were joined by the 2 hostel kitties, whose job was to keep the mice out the of the hostel, I presume. They did a pretty good job as I saw nary a mouse while I was there!

When it got too cool to stay on the porch, we came inside and sat on the sofa with Gas Can for a while. The hostel had a TV with only videos (no cable), and he was watching Meet the Parents. We talked for a while with him, and he was a really nice guy!

We went to bed and slept great in our cozy little room. It got a little chilly during the night, 46 degrees in the morning. We had declined the breakfast Shannon and Dave offered and opted to eat bagels and bananas we had brought with us in the hostel as we felt like something lighter before the day of running/hiking. (Later we heard how good the breakfast was, so on our next visit we are going to make time to enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour!) At 9 a.m. we met Shannon for our shuttle to Carvers Gap, and we were joined by 2 other women from the Concord, NC, area who had driven up that morning and were going to do the same hike we were doing in 2 days instead of 1.

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Our room in the Hiker Hostel.

Shannon dropped us off at Carvers Gap, and we knew already it was going to be a beautiful day. We posed for pictures out by the big Carvers Gap sign, taking pics of each other. As we were doing so, this very nice young couple came off the trail and walked right over to us, offering to take our pic together. We talked with them for a few minutes, and they had been backpacking for a few nights on the trail together and were just coming off the trail to go home. It was obvious they were experienced backpackers, and they were so friendly to talk to. This set the tone for the rest of our day, as we spent a lot of time talking to people on the trail all day long.

When you start a run/hike at Carvers Gap, the payoff is pretty immediate there. Before you get to the 1-mile mark you reach Round Bald, and the views are already phenomenal. Keep going to Jane Bald, and the views are at least 180-degree if not more. We were blessed with a beautiful clear sunny day, and we could see for miles and miles. Around Jane Bald, we ran into a group of guys who had camped the night before in a beautiful spot. They were cooking on a campfire. I can’t remember who called out to who first, but I remember asking if they had coffee, and one of the guys said, “Sure! Come on and have some!” We went over and talked to all 4 of them and enjoyed visiting for a while. One of the guys offered me his coffee, and, yes, I drank right out of his camp cup! They introduced themselves: Jesus, Doc Holliday, Zeke, and Gadget. They were so friendly and invited us to join them at the Overmountain Shelter that night as there was a party going on there! We had to decline the party invitation, but they told us about how beautiful the area around the shelter was, so we decided then that we would take the spur trail in order to see the shelter on our way through.

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We ran on and then stopped to talk to Mike and Ashley, who were out doing an out-and-back run/hike together. They were from Greenville, SC, and were missing their little baby daughter but thankful to have some time together also. We took the spur trail over to Grassy Ridge and enjoyed the view there. Hope scouted out some potential camping sites for her and Jose in the future!

We headed back to the AT and then began a section of trail that came off the balds and went back into the woods. I had already noticed a lot of flowers and berries growing along the trail and had taken pics along the way, but when we went into the woods we saw so many things blooming. It’s always amazing to see the different wildflowers that bloom practically all year long. I’m glad that I can now slow down and enjoy them!

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We reached the trail intersection with the Overmountain Victory Trail and the spur trail to Overmountain Shelter. Since the guys had told us earlier about how nice the Overmountain Shelter was, we took the spur trail down there to check it out. It is nice, as far as shelters go, and there was a very nice grassy meadow next to it where hikers could set up their tents. There was a beautiful view off the front of the shelter. I can see why there is a hiker party there every Saturday night!

We headed back up to the trail and then headed on to Little Hump Mountain. Here we stopped and sat on a rock while we had a snack and enjoyed the view. We then had an even greater climb up to Hump Mountain, and, boy, my legs were on fire by this time! Hope was a trooper and stuck by me the whole way. By this time I wasn’t doing much running, mostly hiking with a little jog mixed in from time to time.

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Hiking up Hump Mountain.

There is a nice memorial to Stan Murray at the top of Hump Mountain, and we tried to soak in the views all the way down the backside until we hit the forest. We then had about a 5-mile run/hike through woods to get back to 19E, which would take us back to the hostel. This was a very pleasant trail through the woods, and it was downhill the whole way, which proved to be a challenge for me with my sore legs and knees. We stopped at Doll Flats, sat on a log for a few minutes, and had a snack. I then “sucked it up, buttercup” and got my butt back to 19E! Hope was sweet and stuck with me the whole way. We ended up with 17 miles total, 14 miles on the AT plus an additional 3 miles on the spur trails and the hike up 19E back to the hostel.

Once we were back at my car at the hostel, we changed into some dry clothes, had something to eat and drink, got back in the car, and drove back down the mountain to Morganton! We stopped in Morganton at Jake’s Burgers and got a burger and fries, boy were they good. We took a little stroll through downtown Morganton looking for a bakery to get something sweet, no luck. By the way, I always think downtown Morganton is so cute, I would like to check out more of the restaurants and breweries there!

We were back home about 8 P.M. It’s amazing the wonderful things I can do in just an overnight trip from my house!

Hope and I are already planning a return trip, and we are thinking we want to invite some girlfriends and rent out the whole hostel for a weekend. We could do the same hike/run we did on Saturday, enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour on Sunday morning, and then plan a shorter hike for Sunday on the way back home. I can’t wait!

I am very blessed in my life with wonderful friends, and Hope is one of those wonderful people. We haven’t been able to spend much time together recently since we’ve both had different things going on in our lives, but I was glad to reconnect with her. She is a kindred spirit, and I love the way she thinks. She very much marches to her own drum, and I like to think that I do the same, so it’s great to spend time and talk with her about staying true to ourselves, doing what we think is right for us and our families regardless of what people around us are doing, and disregarding the crap the world tries to tell us to do or be.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

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Back to running and racing: Springmaid Splash, Iron Mountain, Run for Green, and Wild Vine

Since chemo was finished for me the second week of March, I’ve been gradually increasing my running mileage. By the time of my last chemo treatment I had been reduced to pretty much just walking. I understand why they only give you a 6-treatment cycle of that stuff. My body had about had all it could take by the time I got to the last treatment.

About a month after chemo was finished I started feeling better and gradually returned to running, mixing in a lot of walking and just walking/running until I could run more and more. Now I’m running almost as much as I was pre-cancer. I’m running a little less total mileage, and my longest run is usually about 10 miles or so. I’m still taking it very easy on my runs and walking when necessary. I’m still on Herceptin, and I know my body is still recovering from chemo even though I feel pretty well. So I’m not pushing it and am just enjoying getting out and moving.

I never stopped lifting some weights and doing strength work all during chemo, but, again, by the time I got to the end my muscles were achy and weak. All that chest surgery messed with my pectoralis muscles, and they feel kinda weird still, but I’m getting my strength back with pushups, pullups, etc. I’m not pushing it really, just doing what I can, and I feel stronger. A lot of women have trouble with flexibility in their arms after mastectomy, and I definitely had some difficulty with this. But once I had healed up well and starting gently stretching things a bit, my flexibility started to return, and I would say I have about 95% of my flexibility back, and that’s pretty good.

I ran a few races in recent weeks, and it was good to get back to participating in some events again. I ran the Springmaid Splash 10K back in August and really enjoyed it. This was a challenging course that took you through the Toe River 4 times. Craig and I enjoyed camping at Springmaid Mountain the night before.

I ran the 16-mile race at the Iron Mountain Trail Run in Damascus, VA, on Labor Day weekend. I knew 16 miles was going to be a bit of a stretch for me with my current level of fitness, but I figured I could hike out of the woods if I got really tired. There was also a 30-mile and 50-mile race going on, so I wouldn’t have to worry about a time limit. As it turned out, I had a good day and felt good the whole race. I did hike a lot and just went on feel, hiking/walking when needed. I enjoyed this race and would go back again. It was a nice mix of surfaces with the first 5 miles being totally flat and smooth on the Virginia Creeper Trail. We then took a rocky single track up the mountain about a mile to connect with the Iron Mountain Trail, running this trail to the turnaround point. On the Iron Mountain Trail we ran along the ridge with some more gentle ups and downs. You could get some nice running in along the ridge. On the return we continued on Iron Mountain Trail as it drops a couple miles back into Damascus. I’m not a good downhill runner and was somewhat careful on this stretch as it was rocky and steep downhill in some sections. All in all, it was a nice mix of trail that didn’t allow for boredom or that tired feeling when you are on some tedious trail for too long.

Don and I stayed with our friends, Beth and Dan, for the weekend, and we were so glad that Phyllis got to drive over from DC to spend a couple of nights with us. It was so good to see her. The day after Iron Mountain, Beth took us up to hike at The Channels. This was a great 7-mile recovery hike with a good view at the top and some interesting huge rock formations with “channels” between. Click here for more information on The Channels.

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A couple of weeks later I drove up to Davidson and ran in the Run for Green Half Marathon. I enjoyed this road half. The course was nice with a nice mix of some paved greenway and very nice neighborhood roads. I had not run a half marathon in ages, and I really had no idea what kind of time I could run. I sort of had it in the back of my mind that maybe I would aim for about a 2:00 half and just see how it goes, and about halfway through the race I realized that time was going to be completely attainable. I ended up finished about 1:57 and some change, and I was completely happy with that effort. Praise the Lord that my body can run like that despite everything I’ve been through! I’m so blessed.

I had never been to Davidson before. What a neat little town! I enjoyed walking around the town area looking at the shops, drinking some Summit Coffee, and checking out the Saturday Farmer’s Market that was going on. I also enjoyed a stroll through Davidson College on my way back to the car.

This weekend I ran in the Wild Vine Trail Half Marathon at the Whitewater Center. I haven’t participated in any races at the WWC in recent years since I ran a trail series there back a few years ago that was a fundraiser for Outward Bound. I enjoy the trails out there, but I thought these races were pretty expensive for what you got in return. So I have been hesitant in recent years to do events out there. This event wasn’t cheap, but I thought it was fair for what I got. The course was great, very challenging and well marked. The finisher’s medal was very nice, and I really liked the design of the shirt. Whoever is doing their graphic design for these events is doing a good job, because I really liked the logo design. There was plenty of aid on the course with 5 water stops and plenty of the usual post-race food. They were having a wine tasting festival afterward, so that would be a nice draw for some folks. I think I was a little overconfident after my good performance last weekend at the road race, so I went out a little too fast at the first of this race. I paid for that later as the last 2 miles were a death march. But I made it!

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In recent years I haven’t participated in a lot of the local races in the Charlotte area very much, and I really haven’t done much road racing at all since I’ve focused more on trails. It’s been fun to participate in a few local events and also get back to a road race. Reminds me how great it is that there are so many events and different types of events available to participate in right in our own backyard. Sometimes I think it’s crazy how many events there are, but I guess it’s a nice problem to have from the participant’s perspective. Maybe not so much for all the race directors out there who are competing for the runners!

Although I may try to squeeze something in in October, the next definite on my calendar is Richmond Half Marathon in November. I’ve run the marathon there twice and really enjoyed the event and the course. I’m looking forward to enjoying the weekend with some friends who are going up with me. Once again, I’m glad that I’m feeling well enough to get back to running and racing again. I have a lot to be thankful for!

New experiences and feeling beautiful……..

I just got home from another awesome weekend in the mountains. Grandfather Mountain Marathon was this past weekend up in Boone, and I wanted to go up and see all my friends there despite the fact that I am not in marathon shape and did not want to run the marathon. I decided I would run the last 10 miles of the course, and Paige agreed to run with me since she just ran a full marathon 2 weeks ago and is still recovering from that. We ended up running a little bit with Dennis and a little bit with Don and most of the last 10 miles with Doug. This was such a fun time for me because I got to spend some extended time with Doug, one of my favorite people in the whole world. Doug and his wife, Martha, have been a huge support for me throughout my cancer adventure. They were always willing to talk about what I was going through and weren’t afraid to ask hard questions. They had also both read Emperor of All Maladies, and we could talk about that. I don’t know too many people who would tackle that book if they didn’t have cancer themselves. Once when I was in between surgeries I drove up to Blowing Rock and met both of them at Moses Cone, and Doug and I had a long 15-mile run in the rain together and did a lot of talking. Afterward we had coffee at Stick Boy and talked some more. Long story short, these two are special friends to me and I value and treasure their friendship. 

I was disappointed that I couldn’t run the marathon this year. I have run it the last 4 years in a row, and it’s probably my favorite marathon. However, I had just as much fun running those last 10 miles with my friends and participating in all the before and after festivities. It goes to show you that even when you can’t do the things you love there are other new things to do.

Along this same sentiment, I had a few discussions with friends this weekend about burnout and getting tired of doing the same things all the time and the desire to branch out and do new things. A lot of us in this group have been doing some hard-core stuff for a long time, ultra runs, marathons, Ironmans, etc. When I was diagnosed with cancer I had spent the previous six months running seven marathons or ultras. I was having a blast at the time, but now that I’m recovering from my cancer treatment I feel no desire to rush back into doing all that really long-distance stuff. In fact, I’m enjoying not having all that running and training time take up so much of my life. I still have to get some exercise almost every day. I just feel better if I do. But an hour or so a day is plenty. And I don’t have to get out there on Saturday and spend most of the day doing a long run. I’ll run a little longer, maybe a few hours, but that is enough. Mentally I just don’t have the desire right now to do more.

And you know, that’s okay.

On Sunday we carried on our postrace tradition of hiking after a marathon, and Don organized a hike of some of the peaks at Grandfather Mountain for us. This was a 5-mile strenuous hike, the most difficult hike I’ve done. We started at the Profile Trailhead and hiked up the mountain over Attic Window and McRae’s Peak and on to the Swinging Bridge. Don arranged a taxi to pick us up so we would not have to hike back to our cars. We had an awesome time and spent some great time with friends.

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Several of us took some great pics of the hike, and as I was looking at the pics I found myself thinking the same thoughts I’ve had for a while now when I see pics of myself. I wonder who that person is in the pic. I don’t look like myself to me. I’ve been bald, and now I have very little hair. What hair I do have is totally gray unless I color it. I’ve had a hard time keeping any makeup on during and after cancer treatment because of the dry eye I’ve had as a side effect of chemo, not that I wore that much makeup before anyway. But I just look older and different than I did before. I have more wrinkles. I think things like, wow, I bet when my old friends from high school and college see these pics they will think, “Terri looks old!” And I feel myself getting a little self conscious about that.

And then I think about how well I feel now that chemo is over. I really do feel physically well and healthy, and I feel great when running even though I can’t run as fast as I could before. I think about the fact that I can run as much as I do at all, and the fact that my body is healthy and strong enough despite cancer treatment that I could hike up that mountain yesterday.

And I look at that face with the wrinkles and no makeup, and I think that is a beautiful face. I am beautiful. Life is good. Yes, I’m 52 and I’ve had cancer and I look older than I used to, but I’m happy. I have a wonderful family who loves me. My husband loves me and takes good care of me. I have given birth to three wonderful kids, who make me proud every day. They are so grown up and mature and are just great kids. I have family who love and care about me, and I have wonderful friends with whom I’m able to spend time doing great things like that mountain hike.

So that 52-year-old wrinkled face is a beautiful face. It’s a happy face. I refuse to let the world dictate to me what is beautiful. We women have to get comfortable in our own skin and quit letting the world tell us what is beautiful.

When I start feeling those worldly thoughts creep in about how old and wrinkled I look, I think about the fact that I’ve had cancer, and that life needs to be enjoyed, wherever you are in the process. The world’s viewpoint a lot of the time is not fact and not truth. I don’t need to waste a single moment worrying about the fact that maybe I don’t match up to what the world thinks is beautiful. I am beautiful and my life is beautiful, and I’m grateful. I really don’t care what the world thinks.

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Thanks to all my friends and family for reading and listening! 🙂 And many thanks once again to my friend, Dr. Beth Frye, professor at App State, for encouraging me to write. She’s the one who really encouraged me to bite the bullet and start this blog, and she took a few moments this past weekend to encourage me to continue. I appreciate you and all your love and support, Beth!