Back home on the AT with Wankles: The Grayson Highlands

It took all of about three minutes to convince myself that I needed to take a trip back to the AT, specifically the Grayson Highlands in Virginia this past week. For whatever reason, I was feeling much more anxious to be back on trail than normal, and with a short stint of weather in the 50's, I knew I had to take advantage of it, especially in January. I looked at my gear, compiled a list, packed up, and headed out from Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday the 24th. Prior to me leaving, my good friend Wankles had messaged me with hopes of having some time to come out on the weekend, and within an hour, he texted me back committing to hiking a couple days with me. 

I guess you should know if you already don't, that both myself and Wankles thru hiked the Appalachian Trail back in 2016, and although we had never hiked much together during our separate thru's, we've become extremely close friends over the last couple of years. Both being photographers who document their times in the backcountry, we have a lot in common and click really well on trail. I'm beginning to realize that a lot of my good friends are directly linked to the AT, which is something that makes me incredibly happy. 

Wankles on Mt. Rogers, the highpoint in VA.

Wankles on Mt. Rogers, the highpoint in VA.

As the morning quickly turned to afternoon, I found myself that much closer to Damascus, VA, the coveted trail town that hosts Trail Days. On a thru hike, Damascus is the holy grail of towns for NoBo's as they make their way through the Southern States. "After Damascus, we can send our winter clothes home!" say all of the Northbounders, as they pack up their goose feather filled coats, extra socks, and layers. Little do they, or did I know, that the Grayson Highlands get cold, and that's immediately right after Damascus. I arrived into town around 2:30 P.M with an overwhelming sense of both joy, and anxiousness deep in my chest. I hadn't been on the AT in quite some time, almost a year to be exact, but also, anytime I leave to go hike alone, I always have a bit of hesitancy to begin. I parked my car at the public parking behind the old Dollar General, grabbed a few things from the store, shoved them into my pack, and started walking down the street. The white blazes began to make themselves apparent as vivid memories of my time in Damascus started to flash in front of me. The beers we drank there! The socks I bought at that store! The green polka doted shorts shorts that I bought from the thrift store. It all started coming back. I turned right at the Marathon Gas Station, followed the blazes onto the Virginia Creeper Trail, walked the gravel towpath style trail until it split with the AT, and I was off. 

I was greeted with a frozen trail, a gradual incline, and more rhododendron then I could have ever tried to remember. I began to feel the burn in my calves that I had forgot about. The hunger that begins to appear after a mere 6 miles took hold, and soon enough I was shoving handfuls of chips into my gullet as fast as I could. White blaze after white blaze passed by as my softened feet carried me around bends, over bridges and to my first campsite of the section hike. The temperature was dropping quickly below freezing as my frigid hands fumbled with my tent and sleeping bad. Eventually, I settled in after a nice dinner of cold ramen, yum! Darkness had set in, my mind was racing, and low and behold, it was 7:00 P.M. I thought briefly to myself, "How the hell am I going to sit in this tent for the next 12 hours?". That I did though. I awoke at 6:15 or so, took a stroll to the bushes to pee, stretched a little bit, and immediately rushed back into my tent. The sun wasn't set to rise for another hour or so, and as the air passed over the river right next to my camp, I could feel the bitterness enter my bones. It was cold, I'm not much of a morning person, and I was tired because I had slept too long, so what the hell, what was another hour? I hopped back in my quilt, went back to sleep, and woke up with first light. It wasn't much warmer, but at least there was a sign of hope. I packed my backpack up, shoved a pop tart into my pocket, and started walking. 

White Blaze near the Highlands

White Blaze near the Highlands

Being back home, I think that's what I miss most about the trail. The tendency and way of life that is moving as soon as you wake. Using your physical body from sun up to sun down. Constantly being in motion. Being driven and motivated enough to literally walk towards something each and every day, even if you're not sure of what you're walking towards. 

I knew I would be eventually traversing up to Buzzard Rock, an incredibly beautiful area near Whitetop Mountain, but I had honestly kind of forgotten what was between Damascus and Whitetop. The day went as if I was on a thru hike of my own again. I hiked at a moderate pace, thinking of old friends, trying to remember everything from my '16 thru hike, and putting miles in as if I was on my way to Maine. All of a sudden, 7 miles had gone by without much notice. I decided I would stop for a nice break at an upcoming water source. The brisk air that filled the atmosphere the day prior had shifted to a much more comfortable 45 degrees, allowing me to hike without much perspiration while staying warm on the inclines. To my unexpected surprise, I didn't remember almost a damn thing from the 15 miles between where I camped and Whitetop. Up until about the last three miles, everything seemed to be new to me. Sure, I felt a connection to it, not only because I've already hiked it, but because it's the AT, but also it felt as if I had never been there. Odd would be an understatement. 

As I rounded the last bend before I started ascending to Buzzard Rock, I could see that the tops of the tree's on the summit were completely frozen. I hurried along the narrow trail, all of a sudden rejuvenated with energy. I raced to the top, stopping every once in awhile to enjoy the view behind me as it showed the entire range behind me crystal clear. Soon enough, snow began to fall from the trees as if it was snowing, but as I took notice to the trees, the snow was just melting from the tops. I broke through tree line, and in front of me was the summit of Buzzard Rock, with what do ya know? Birds flying around everywhere. What a sight to see. The entire landscape was frozen in time with nothing but the wind howling as it ripped through the frozen brush and the sporadic call of a bird from afar. 

Looking North from Buzzard Rock

Looking North from Buzzard Rock

With no phone service for the prior 24 hours or so, I was still assuming that I was meeting Wankles at Elk Garden, a road crossing roughly 3 miles from the summit of Whitetop. As I filled my bottles at the piped spring on the summit, something I was anticipating, I turned my phone on, and to my pleasant surprise this time around, Wankles was going to be at the road just ahead a few hours from then! I was planning on taking a nice break then heading down to the other road crossing, but it seemed as if my day was over. I found a nice flat spot on the summit, set up, got cozy, and waited for the sunset. With about an hour to spare, I got my dinner rolling, enjoyed a cigarette at the top, and just thought to myself, "How does it get any better than this?" That was something that I asked myself a lot on my thru hike, and my question was always answered. Deep in my thoughts, all of a sudden the sun was almost down. I grabbed my camera, snapped a few photos, and settled in as I awaited Wankles' arrival.

Sunset at Whitetop Mountain Looking West

Sunset at Whitetop Mountain Looking West

A few hours passed as I watched a couple of downloaded movies on my phone, and the next thing I knew, I heard a whistle, saw a couple of lights pull up, and I headed down to the parking lot. None other than Wankles was standing outside of his car, packing up and getting ready for what would be an amazing weekend ahead. 

It had been well over a few months since we had seen each other, and it couldn't have been better to reunite back on our home turf, our favorite place, the AT. Like I mentioned above, Wankles and I had thru hiked the same year, and as photographers, we both fell in love with capturing the AT and everything that encompasses the trail. It was well past dark when Wankles arrived, so we got his shelter set up, had a small safety meeting, and headed to bed, anxious as could be to get a full day on trail the next day, but also...ponies. We were a mere 8 or so miles out from entering the Grayson Highlands.

The sun eclipsed over the layers of mountains as Wankles started running around the tents, trying to get the best angle and light. I slept in a little bit as I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep the night prior. I laid in the tent, watched the sun rise, started packing up, and soon enough, our feet began moving. Both of us had some sort of intensity about us that day. We were entirely too stoked on hiking, but also, the anxiousness and nervousness was beginning to fade away and dissipate into something more relaxing. Something...comfortable. 

We passed by Elk Garden, through the gate, up and into the Pines, and on our way to the Highlands. It's a fairly rocky and rooty section of trail, something I so ignorantly forgot about. Wankles and I talked extensively about the AT, especially during our thru hikes. We discussed how it's changed via social media, the preconceived notions of the trail, and so on. We rambled about stories from the White's, our time spent in Maine, and of course all of the breakfasts we ate in the South. Somehow though, all of the little bits of the AT were forgotten. Memories that were once so vivid, sharp, and seemingly unforgettable, all of a sudden weren't anywhere to be found. Repressed, filed away, and buried under two years worth of travel, family and friends, I eventually found them. "A lot has changed in two years...." I thought to myself as we made our way to the entrance to the highlands.

Entering the Highlands

Entering the Highlands

The landscape drastically began to change, the pines began to be more visible, the light began to refract through the branches and trees, and all of a sudden we arrived at the entrance. Our excitement level was through the roof, and as we began to navigate the rutted, deep, narrow trench of a trail through the highlands, I think we both realized how perfect of a setting the highlands actually were. The Grayson Highlands is a state park in Virginia, home to hikers of all status and length, a mesmerizing landscape reminiscent of something from Lord of the Rings, and lets not forget, small, graceful, quite beautiful, ponies. The Highlands could very well be the most anticipated section of trail in the South because of the ponies. Stories and rumors surface about the ponies well in advance of arriving to them on a thru hike, but Wankles and I both knew what was coming. 

Here are some views and ponies from the Highlands:

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Pony!

Pony!

We took our time meandering through the highlands this time around, making damn sure we fully experience the beauty that lay within. We stopped a few times for a snack and safety meeting, played with multiple herds of ponies, and eventually made our way through the Highlands and into our camp that night, a nice flat spot on the side of the ridge, well clear of the wind that was gusting atop. We lit our first fire of the trip, ate our usual dinner, took some night shots, and headed to bed. By the time our fire wore down, it was almost 10 o'clock, and a much needed rest was in order. We had a big day ahead of us, little did we know.

Getting the fire going.

Getting the fire going.

We woke up with plans of hiking 17 miles to Trimpi shelter, and as our day sped on, we got word that the forecast wasn't in our favor anymore. What once was going to be a sunny, warm day, had all of a sudden turned into a predicted rain, tempted to start around 7:00 P.M. Both Wankles and I didn't want to get soaked, especially on a section hike. Sure, if we were thru hiking, things would be different, but hell, who wants to get wet when they're out for only a few days?

Now let me interrupt this section by saying that I had been trying a new pair of shoes on trail. I had picked up a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, a minimalist, zero drop shoe, with essentially NO cushioning. Seriously, they have nothing. My feet had been a little more beaten up than normal over the last couple of days, but the real problem lay in my tendon on my right foot. I could feel it under duress, but didn't really have much of an option other than to hike on and to get to Marion so I could start the resting process. 

Just a beautiful section of trail.

Just a beautiful section of trail.

Wankles cruising along.

Wankles cruising along.

Back to the trail. We decided to turn on the jets, and try and beat the rain. Instead of a 17 mile day, we decided to try and get to Marion that night. A 26.7 mile hike from our campsite to the town would provide salvation from the impending rain, well, freezing rain for that matter. As the miles passed by, the pain in my right foot intensified. Soon enough, we arrived to our original destination, Trimpi Shelter, and at 3:00 or so, we had plenty of time to kill, so I took some time to decide if I should hike on or not. I arrived at the decision that I would rather have a foot in pain than be wet and still have that same foot in pain. We enjoyed our brief break, and with around 10 or so miles to go, we set off into the evening, trying to push miles before it got dark. As we climbed out of the shelter and back onto the trail, the pain in my foot became nearly unbearable as a couple more miles disappeared beneath my feet. I couldn't possibly hike anymore, my feet were telling me. The shoes had essentially failed me two days prior, and I had been trying to fix a broken record ever since. The pain began to shoot through my foot as if there was no end, and eventually I came to the conclusion that if something didn't change, I was going to be wet the morning after as I would be hiking in the rain. Wankles looked at me and offered to literally switch me shoes so I could make it to Marion. Luckily, he was wearing Altra Timps, and if you're not familiar, they basically look like moon shoes. All the cushion in the world. Honestly, I was dreaming about those shoes the entire time anyways, I couldn't help but think about how alllllll that cushion would help my foot tremendously. Just like that, I had his shoes on. We swapped, and we were on our way. To be truthful, we both were kind of interested in trying each others' shoes anyways, we had never hiked in the models we each had on, so it has a benefit to him anyways. I couldn't get over the fact that I was wearing his shoes though, it made me chuckle as my foot all of a sudden stopped getting worse.

Beautiful Blaze.

Beautiful Blaze.

No cushion, extremely minimalist, zero drop shoe = intense tendon pain in the foot if you're not ready for it. I thought I had prepared enough to use them on a longer hike, but I was severely wrong. 

8 miles to go. We hiked on as the sun began to set. 7 miles to go. "We've got this dude, it feels so good to be getting a marathon in STRAIGHT OFF THE COUCH.", we yelped as we trotted down trail. 6 miles remaining. 5 miles. It's dark now. We clicked our headlamps on as we traversed down the ridge back into the valley. 4 miles. 3 miles. 2 miles. 1 mile. Boom, Partnership Shelter appeared out of the thick, black forest and into our eyesight. We made it. We had successfully hiked 26.7 miles, 8 of which were in the opposite persons' shoes. 26.7 miles through Virginia. Over ridges, through valleys, over streams, and up mountains. Straight off the couch. Somehow, our weak, once powerful and determined legs had carried us a full marathon to our destination. It began to rain as we pulled into the visitor center and called a trail angel to give us a ride into town. We had beat the rain, pushed our physical limits at the time, and had a blast doing it. 

Sparks, the trail angel, was set to arrive in about 20 minutes, so we sat down under and awning, took our packs off, and kicked back and relaxed finally. Our thighs and calves screamed in agony, my foot throbbed as the blood rushed into it, and the goosebumps on my legs began to rise as the cold rain soaked into my skin. Sparks arrived just as he said he would with his wife. The heater kicked on, we warmed up, shared stories of our thru hikes, talked trail, and arrived to the Econolodge. They happily agreed to pick us up in the morning and take us back to Wankles' car on top of Whitetop. What kind, generous people Sparks and his wife are. They wished us a good night and we hobbled into the hotel lobby to get a room.

Moments later, our hunger stricken stomachs led us to the mexican joint against our painstakingly throbbing legs' wants and needs. We ordered a 32oz beer each, feasted on chips and salsa, burritos, and more, and just kind of basked in the glory that is hiking along the AT for a moment. Both of us were kind of in awe from the days events, and although our hunger for food dissipated into our stomachs, the hunger for more hiking never wavered. We talked about what we would do if we just decided to keep going. Go to Maine again, summit Katahdin, and maybe come back for the rest of the south. We joked about starting another thru hike, as if it was out of the question, but I think both of us had a little bit of truth in what we were saying. We both yearned to be back on the trail for another thru hike. The call of the AT is strong, especially around the spring time as it is when we started back in '16. 

Alas, we laughed it off as if it was a joke. "It would be pretty fun to do it again, but I think I'll do it in another stage of my life.", Wankles pondered. Myself? I'm not so sure. I could leave tomorrow for another thru hike of the AT and be completely content with my decision. I love that trail and everything that encapsulates it. Everything the trail touches turns to gold. 

We hobbled back 'home' to our room, and within minutes we were both passed out. A long day was behind us, indeed. 

Our morning started with a breakfast from Bojangles, a pleasant ride up to our car from Sparks and his wife, and more trail talk than we could handle. Sparks has been shuttling hikers since '14 when his son thru hiked, and we were grateful to hear all the stories from his talkative wife. They were both more than elated to help us, and I couldn't have asked for more of a genuine interaction. What wonderful people. 

We got to the car, headed towards Damascus, recounted the awesome and wonderful time we had the last couple days, and went our separate ways. I hopped in my car, taken back by the sudden entrance back to society, got my bearings, stopped to get gas, and headed home. 

The small trip that felt like a lifetime was over. I wasn't thru hiking the AT, contrary to what my brain was telling me. I had to go home, but how could I do that when I felt most at home on the AT?

If you prefer videos over reading, or if you like both, here is the video!

From Thru Hiker to Ultra Runner

When I got back from the AT last year in early October, I started looking for something to do in my free time. Something that would challenge me as much as hiking did. Something that would push my mental limits and utilize the condition my body was in after hiking 2,189 miles. I figured running was probably as good as anything, but I knew I didn't enjoy running on road, so I started going to my local Metro Parks here in Columbus to get some miles on the trails. The feeling of running with dirt, roots and rocks beneath my feet rather than asphalt or concrete reminded me of hiking, in turn flipping the switch for my love of running. 

Prior to getting home from the AT, I had never run more than a 5k and definitely didn't enjoy it. Sure, I sometimes ran on the treadmill to get cardio in or something like that, but by no means was it something I wanted to do. I had done a few 30+ mile days, plenty of 25+ mile days, and sustained those miles for days on end, so I figured if I could hike that at 3mph+, I could probably run those distances with some hiking mixed in at a much faster pace. I started looking into some Ultra Marathons (anything over 26.2 miles) in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park area and settled on the Run for Regis 50k that was taking place in early February.

I had around 14 or so weeks to train, so I signed up for it. My motivation went through the roof right off the bat. I picked up a pair of Hoka Challenger ATR 3's, an Ultimate Direction SJ 3.0 running vest, and hit the trails pretty hard for the first few weeks. I put in the work and by the end of December, I had ran my first 10+ mile stretch without any walking. Not only that, but it was at a respectable pace of around 10 min/mi on trail. Not too bad, eh? 

After the honey moon phase wore off and I realized that I was going to be running 31 miles, I began to lose a bit of interest and dialed back my training. Actually, to be quite honest, I went into complete shut down and stopped training all together.

About 3 weeks of absolutely no running led me to the starting line of my first 50k. My brother and his girlfriend drove me up to the Park because honestly I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to use my legs afterwords. We got there in the early part of the morning pre sunrise. The ice formed a layer across the grass and the breath emitted by mouth seemed to linger in the cold air for longer than normal. I went in to get my race packet and jacket and waited. I didn't know a single person that was racing, so I kind of just made small talk with some people that were waiting. 

Going into the race, I felt fairly confident even with my lack of training, but arriving to the starting line and hearing everyone talk about their past races, I immediately felt inexperienced, and truthfully, a little out of my element. 

I chatted with my brother a little bit before they called us to the start, and I can vividly remember him being completely and utterly astonished that I was about to run the race. It was frigidly cold, 31 miles was a long distance, and the thought of running for 7 hours was pretty ridiculous both to him and I, but clearly I couldn't back out at this point. An air horn went off in the distance and that was my signal to head to the starting line. 

As I walked to the start, I wanted to make sure I was in the middle of the pack to get a sense of pace and how the race would go. Again, I had never raced in general, let alone this distance. The first 3 or so miles I ran middle pack, alone with my headphones in. Around that time though the course opened up to a field and the next thing I knew there were a few guys running the same pace as me and we kind of struck up a small conversation. The guys I began talking to were Jeff and Matt, two seasoned Ultra runners who were quick, determined, and out there for the pure joy of it. They both love running and participate pretty heavily in the Ultra Community. We got to talking and I explained to them that this was my first race ever and that I had recently just finished the AT. They both snickered and laughed. It was ironic that I never ran before, but had just hiked the AT. They were as impressed as I was confused about the race up to that point. The next thing I knew, we had arrived at the first aid station, pressed on to the second, and the third. I had spent the last few hours of the race completely lost in thought, conversation, and grit. I was feeling good, fueling even better, and surprising myself with my endurance. Up to that point, my longest run had been the 10 miler that I did. I couldn't believe that I was already 2/3 of the way done with my first ultra. 

Then I hit mile 23. The mile that I couldn't run. The mile that I hiked at a 3mph pace. The mile that Jeff and Matt stuck with me to push me into the next aid station. I was exhausted, sore, ready to be done, and not prepared for the last stretch. I didn't have a specific pain or ache or anything. I was just exhausted and tired. I had never run that far before. I had never pushed my body to that extent. Even on the 30 mile days I pulled on the AT, I was able to rest and take breaks as needed. I was only walking, and let me tell ya, running is much, much different from walking.

I got to the aid station at mile 27? and was prepared to stop. With only one loop left, I had done more than a marathon and was satisfied with my effort. I told Jeff and Matt that I didn't want to continue, and they didn't leave until I got up and started running again. 

The community within Ultras is overwhelming. Everyone sticks together and motivates each other. It's a family. I picked up my feet, determined to finish at that point, and crushed the last loop, finishing in just under 7 hours and accomplishing my goal of not only finishing, but finishing sub 7hrs. What a feeling of success and excitement as I crossed that finish line. My brother was waiting for me when I got there, and I honestly couldn't control my emotions. I was exhausted and for the first time since the AT felt content with myself and my effort. Joy, pain, and pure uncontrollable bliss filled my heart and I lost it. That was the closest I've come to feeling the same way as I did when I stood on top of Katahdin. Pure, unadulterated bliss. 

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I was hooked.

Onto the CDT:

From the time I finished my first 50k to when I left for the CDT this year, I ran frequently, but didn't follow any specific training plans as I wasn't prepping for a race. I was doing everything I could to get in shape for the CDT, as big mile days are pretty much needed right out of the gate. I went vegan as far as my diet was concerned. I picked up rock climbing to do on my off days of running, and by the beginning of June, I was feeling pretty ready for big mile days and what the CDT had to offer. 

Fast forward to July 7th of this year. I began my hike in Glacier National Park at the Chief Mtn. Border Crossing area with Lavender and Sonic, two friends I had met through the AT. We had permits for 6 nights in Glacier, and being a National Park, you have to play by their rules. We kept our pace pretty moderate for the first week as we got back into the routine of hiking everyday. By the end of the first full week, we were consistently pulling 20 mile days. Some turned into 25+ mile days, while some even clipped the 30 mile marker. I was in much better shape at the start of this trail than I was last year on the AT, and I immediately recognized that. 

One month and 757 miles later, my average daily mileage was just below a marathon per day. 

The more I hiked this year on the CDT, the more I began to think about actually pursuing some longer distance races in the off season. A lot of the time on trail, I would maintain a 3.5-4mph pace with a bit of jogging here and there, especially on the downhills and flats. The idea of running a 50 mile race, or a 100k for that matter began to probe my thoughts. I wanted to see how far and long I could push my body in the right conditions. Thru Hiking by no means equates to the right conditions to do those giant, sustained mile days, but I figured I'd give it a shot at some point during the hike. 

After we went through the Winds and I recovered from giardia, Mayor and I decided it was time to try a 24 hour push, with a goal of pumping out at least 60+ miles in that time frame. We left town at around 6:30 A.M and hit the trail around 7:00 or so and set off on what would be my longest day on trail, and in general. I wasn't sure what to expect once I passed mile 35, as that was my biggest day up to that point, but I was as ready as I was going to get. 

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From dusk till dark felt like a normal day on trail. We crushed as we normally did, stopping every few hours to rest, eat, and drink as much as possible. I was feeling quite good physically and even better mentally. We hit a water cache that had gatorade in it at mile 35, and continued to press on until around mile 37 when we set up for dinner and to watch the sunset. 

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From mile 37-47 of our push through the Great Basin of Wyoming, things continued as normal. I busted out my headlamp, and stayed pretty steady as far as pace was concerned. Mayor was a bit behind me that stretch and as I came to the next water source, I waited and watched Mayor stroll in with his headlamp illuminating the trail in front of him. When he arrived to the source, we filled up and sat down; our biggest mistake during that night. We immediately began playing out scenarios that involved sleeping and hiking significantly less miles than we wanted. As the plans started to be put into effect, we both realized what was happening and began to hike again. We didn't want to sit still for too long, but we were exhausted at that point. 

From mile 47 to 63, when we finally called it a day and slept for 3 hours, exhaustion, hallucinations, and just pure insanity took hold. We meandered on throughout the night, no longer needing our headlamps due to the full moon that was overhead lighting up the trail in front of us. We heard coyotes and wolves howling. We stumbled upon a heard of cows that frightened us beyond belief, and hit our last water source of the night at mile 55. The spring was located within a wooden fenced in area, and as we approached we could see our buddy Mousetrap sound asleep in his tent right next to the source. I immediately began to fantasize about sleeping, and before I knew it, I was sitting down with my pack on, in my shorts and rain jacket, slowly dozing off into a deep slumber. With Mayor sitting next to me, he realized that I had literally fallen asleep for a few seconds and somehow managed to motivate me enough to get up and continue on. 

The last 8 miles actually flew by. We ended up passing a power plant in the desert that had a fence around it with horses running wild beyond the fence itself. As we rounded the corner and hit our goal of 63 miles in under 24 hours, we both knew that sleep was around the corner. We found the first flat spot, set up, and fell into a deep slumber. 

3 hours later I was awake, roasting in my tent from the desert heat. My legs worked, but hardly. I was sore, tense, and extremely dehydrated. We gathered our things, packed up, and got to the next water source.  A spring hidden in a pile of cow shit with cows gathered around isn't the most eye catching source, but nonetheless, we filled up, drank, signed the log book that was next to the Batchi Ball set and kept hiking. Over the next day and a half, we hiked another 37 miles with a full nights sleep in the middle. 

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As we pushed into Rawlins the following morning, we were both in disbelief that we had just hiked through the basin in essentially 2 days. 

My thoughts were running wild with anticipation of running another ultra when I got home. Not only was I ecstatic to compete again, I was looking to step up my game and enter a race that was maybe a little out of my league.

Next step:

Enter the Georgia Death Race; probably my most idiotic move to date. I signed up for the lottery, got in, and all of a sudden I had a 68 mile race with 40k of elevation change waiting for me at the end of March 2018. I couldn't believe that I had gotten into the race itself, but also that I was going to attempt such a thing. Sure, I did 63 miles in one go in the desert with a pack on, but the elevation was minuscule compared to the GDR that I was now going to be participating in. 

Along with the GDR, I'll be running the Winter Buckeye 50k here in Ohio at the end of January, the Run for Regis 50k in Feb, and tons of training runs in between. 

My confidence level is far beyond what I initially thought it would be when I started this endeavor a year and a half ago. Personally, I think thru hiking can translate quite well to trail running, and Ultras specifically. The mileage is important, but time on your feet is more important. Thru hiking teaches people to be patient. To listen to your body. To fuel your body as needed. To push your mental, physical, and overall limitations that are probably arbitrary to begin with.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts:

If you can hike 20 miles in a day, you can probably hike 30 miles in a day. If you can hike 30 miles in a day, there is a very HIGH chance that you can run a 50k. 

Think about it, no heavy backpack weighing you down. An aid station that provides drinks and food every 6-10 miles. Other people cheering you on and motivating you to continue. Really, running a 50k which is 31 miles, can be easier than hiking a 31 mile day because of those reasons. I think a lot of people doubt their ability to run because they don't enjoy it. I found joy from running because it was the only thing I felt that pushed me like thru hiking did. It was and still is the only form of exercise that can be attained at home that is as fulfilling as thru hiking. 

I like covering big distances. I like pushing my limits and finding where my boundaries are. I love being on trail, covered in dirt, sweat and grime, and embracing it. I absolutely love being at my breaking point and pushing past it.

For anyone reading this wondering if they can run an ultra, or should, do it. You can and will accomplish your goals if you put the time and effort into it. Thru hiking has led me to places I never thought I'd end up, and at the finish line of a 50k is most certainly one of those places.

Fuel your body correctly, train if you feel the need or want to, but pick up your trail runners, hit your local trails, and hike or run. It's all about being outside and enjoying what nature has to offer anyways, so why not right?

Honestly, I want people to pursue their passions and find other ways to enjoy trails other than thru hiking them. I want people to get motivated. I personally need to be motivated, and reading and writing my own thoughts and progressions helps with that. Ultra running is truthfully not much different from a huge day on trail during a thru hike. Like I said, if you want it, you can get it. You are capable.