I’m not sure where this adventure best begins. Perhaps a chronological history is most useful. You see - many, many years ago I used to be a cycling enthusiast. So enthusiastic that over the years I have ridden a bicycle across 47 states. Do the math – and you can see that three states are missing; they are Tennessee, Arkansas & Oklahoma.
This winter I decided I would like to like to make the claim that I have cycled across ALL 50 states. Fast-forward to this past weekend, where I had plans to ride across Tennessee. Several months ago I was invited to speak at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. As soon as I received the invitation, I knew this was the opportunity to extend the trip into a long weekend and scratch Tennessee off the list.
I had what I considered to be a most spectacular plan. Fly into Memphis and take Amtrak to Fulton, Kentucky. Day 1 - Ride to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Day 2 - Trail run. Day 3 - Ride south across the state returning to Memphis. However, sometimes the best-laid plans can go awry.
Two weeks ago I took a spill climbing in Zion. While my daughter described my fall as “ninja-like,” it did leave me with a hurt shoulder. To add insult to the injury, the following week I took a nice digger at the Pocatello 50 that resulted in a hard impact to the shoulder and bruised ribs. Desirous to be able to rollover in bed, wipe my ass, and be able to shift gears in my car again, I went to see my doctor.
Diagnosis – torn rotator cuff. Remedy – a cortisone shot and hopefully no surgery. And, absolutely no bike riding for 4 weeks… So, with just a couple of days before my departure to Memphis, I needed a new scheme. “Plan B” quickly took form – running the North/South trail through Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
Click here for map of the north trail.
Click here for map of the south trail.
The trail seemed perfect. Fifty-eight miles of point-to-point trail traversing ridge tops, bottomlands, and the shores of Kentucky Lake. This was going to be fun!
I popped up early on the day of my adventure and was at the south trailhead at 6:00am sharp. I had aspirations of maintaining a moderately quick pace and completing the run in less than 11 hours. Yet, almost immediately my head became fixated on little irritations that prevented me from releasing my mind and getting into a rhythm; the endless cobwebs across the trail, the annoying tug of my shirt as sweat adhered it to my arms and shoulders, the buzz of mosquitoes in my ears, the drip of perspiration into my glasses, the weight of my waist pack due to the kit required for an 11 hour run, the Pop Tarts I regretted eating for breakfast (hey – this is KY – the options were limited). When I reached mile 14 after 2:45 minutes of plodding through a mental malaise, I knew I would be hard pressed to cover the entire trail that day in pleasurable form. By mile 20 I had decided that the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and ticks could prevail, and I would be content calling it a day at 28 miles where the trail crosses the main road. This was much less fun than I had anticipated.
When I reached the road I proceeded to try and hitch a ride back to the car. My instincts were that getting a lift would be easy. I was certain that a combination of empathy for a runner, coupled with my strikingly attractive Armani shirt and cute face (at least in my opinion) made me a highly desirable catch. Yet, 30 minutes went by with nothing. Then 60 minutes. I kept repeating to myself as I slowly dehydrated and baked in the sun, “It only takes one! It only takes one!” After 90 minutes I began to lose hope and self-esteem. What was wrong with these people? My patience was wearing thin. Anger and resentment surfaced when the Calvary Baptist Church van proclaiming in large Tahoma font emblazoned across the side that “Jesus Saves” passed me by. Yeah, Jesus may ‘save’, but how come he don’t pick-up no hitchhikers??
I was discouraged and became concerned night would fall and I could be still standing on the side of the road. I decided that if at 2 hours I had not caught a ride, I would begin running along the road back to my car trying to hitch as I ran. My thinking was that worse case I could run the 21 miles back to the car, and best case I was just a few minutes away from a ride. To make a game of this, I would count the cars that refused to pick me up.
After 11 miles and 106 CARS I said “f*ck this!” My shoulder hurt from having raised my right arm to extend my thumb several hundred times that day. I was sunburned and dehydrated. Evidence suggested that I must at some point deal with my false sense of attractiveness and appeal. And, some little son-of-bitch tick had already dug its head into my skin under the edge of my sock. An emergency response was required. I downed the Red Bull I had carried this far for such a moment. I peeled off the Armani shirt that perhaps was a contributor to my misfortune. I began to run hard. Oddly, the legs felt great. I timed myself with several mile-markers to find that I was running under nine minute miles. I felt good. I felt strong. Was this the same person that at 28 miles felt they had no gas left? I contemplated the paradoxes of ultra-running. How quickly we can transition from the lows to the highs – and back again. How there is always more in us when we know where to find it. The power of the mind over the legs. Finally, after six hours I had released my mind and was in a Zen place that I had been seeking earlier in the day. Before I knew it, I was back at the car after completing a 28-mile trail run, 2-hour hitchhiking effort, and a 21-mile road run. A diverse mix to say the least.
So for those of you who can get into your Zen place or are looking for a great trail in Northern Tennessee/Southern Kentucky give the North/South trail a go. Unless you love heat and humidity, this is a trail for spring or fall. The trail is well marked with white blazes, water is available at several points (from south to north at approximately 12, 28, 43 miles). Bug juice is recommended as the ticks and mosquitoes are ferocious. The trail is in good condition and super-speedy, and is just begging for a FKT attempt. Any takers?