I get excited about some ultras and then there is Laurel Valley. I'm not quiet sure what it is about this 33+ mile stretch of trail, but it always calls me back for more. Then when I'm about 20 miles into it I swear it off forever. Then I'm back a few months later and the cycle continues.
I had thoughts of doing a 26 miler (In-Out) over the weekend, then Weezy talks some of us into doing Laurel Valley at night. Oh yeah, and backwards. I knew I was on board with him as soon as he mentioned it and before long I was standing in front of the sign with my gear on ready to go!
Christian, Lester, Weezy, and I were the runners this time. Our plan was to run from the gravel parking lot at Whitewater Falls all night and finish at the Laurel Valley parking lot as sunrise.
We were off and running the technical / downhill stretch to Bad Creek at 8:30 PM sharp. I felt that we could make it through this first four mile stretch in the final hour of daylight and we did.
We were all covered with humidity & fog within three minutes of running. I've never felt the air this soupy in the mountains. At times visibility was reduced to 3 feet during the night due to fog and moisture. I even had to hold my headlamp down to the ground to see through some of the valleys.
The first 6 miles heading towards Thompson River went by quick. It was hard to believe how easy this run was, when this is normally the "beat down" spot coming from the other direction.
I was shocked when we made it to Horse Pasture River in 2:57! It has taken me 4-5 hours to cover this section going the opposite direction. Ok, so 2:57 for 11.7 miles is not very fast, but these are FHT miles at night.
I was running behind Weezy just after Horsepasture when he missed a 3 foot long Copper Head by about 1 inch. I watched it quickly slither away into the ferns and I don't think he even believed me when I told him what happened.
The first real climb didn't take a toll on any of us up from the river and we were making great time running through Bear Creek.
I enjoyed running this one lighter. Both physically and with my gear. I decided to leave my pack at home and carry two handheld bottles with a waistpack. I was a little nervous trying this for the first time, but I'm really glad I tried it. It was much cooler and easier to run with. I must have dumped cold water on my head two dozen times through the night.
The waist pack was always easy to work with and I think it helped me run better.
Christian pulled way ahead through this section and the three of us continued to run well. We were even able to run some of the slight uphills which felt nice for a change.
I'm thinking that we ran down to the Canebrake Boat Access sign by 1:30 AM. About five hours into the run. This marks the halfway point in the run.
We took a 10 minute sit down break here. As we all turned our headlights off I couldn't believe how dark it was. Lester was eating a sandwich as Weezy dropped his batteries and light. They almost landed in the lake, but it didn't matter because it was broken anyway. Thank goodness that we had a backup light and he was able to use it.
We all new that the trail was about to get very tough. With the Heartbreak Ridge climb coming and the forest service road heading up from Jocassee.
There were a few quiet campers asleep in their tents as we ran around the perimeter of the lake heading toward the steps. We had met up with Christian at the Toxaway Bridge as he had gotten off course a few times and wanted to be sure he was back on track.
The steps were not as hard for me going this direction, but they still beat us down. Then came the access road climb.....
Christian goes way off course here and meets up with a bobcat just off the trail. He said that it had no intentions of retreating and just kept coming towards him. He frantically started calling out for the rest of us and we could hear him about a quarter mile up the mountain. We yelled back for him and he was able to quickly backtrack and get back on course with us.
This section took the wind out of all of our sails....
I knew that we still had about 11.5 miles to go and that were probably going to get tougher as time went on.
The running gets much easier after you make the climb out of Jocassee. We were able to put together some decent miles along the fire roads heading to Laurel Falls. We got there around 4:00 AM and still had 7.7 miles to go.
Most of these miles would be a gradual uphill with a few steep sets of stairs thrown in for fun.
We were all nearly delirious from sleep deprivation through here. Christian was running all over the place. The guy must have ran down about every spur trail that he found. It's a great time for a tough training run, but after working all week and staying up on Friday these runs become very difficult towards the end.
Christian and Lester moved ahead of Wayne and I as we settled into a quiet rhythm beside Laurel Fork Creek. This section is so beautiful and lush. Thousands of ferns and a tropical river flowing right through the middle of it. You cross about 10-12 bridges through here that wind you through a maze of thick vegetation and small waterfalls.
After getting up at 6:00 AM on Friday morning, working all day, driving two hours to run, running 8 hours, and being awake for 22 hours straight my mind decided to "check out" for a while.
I began to believe that I was a early settler roaming the mountainsides for gold. Were there Indians out here looking for me? Who had the rites to this land? If I found the gold, how in the world would I even be able to get it out of here?!
It was a LOT to think about when suddenly I saw ***STARS****!
BAM - I ran directly into a downed tree that was hanging at forehead level across the trail. It knocked me to my knees and back to reality. I screamed out something and Weezy stopped to look back at me. He had the look of a deer who just heard a human in the forest.
I did have a little lump on my head, but not much blood and I was fine.
4.7 miles to go from Virginia Hawkins falls and we just wanted it to be over now.
Laurel Valley always stretches itself out at the end of the run. It doesen't matter which direction you go.
2 miles = 4 miles.
4 miles = 10 miles.
Plain and simple.
We looked like zombies trying to climb up some more stairs and the trail began to climb. I shoved a few more shots of gel down in hopes of getting some energy, but it really didn't even do me a bit of good that I could tell.
I was tired of running, sweating, thinking, walking, climbing, eating, and moving. I just wanted to sit.
I wanted it to be over so badly. I kept telling myself and Weezy that we were so close to finishing. Then another turn would come and it just kept going on and on and on and.........
Finally after what seemed like forever we came to the wooden stairs that would take us down to my car in the Laurel Valley Parking lot. It was excellent to see Christian and Lester there waiting for us with a cooler full of food and drinks.
Weezy and I finished in 10:20 and Christiand and Lester finished around 10:05. This was one of the best runs that I've ever had. Yes, it was tough, but that is what we were looking for.
I enjoyed running with these fellas and enjoyed sharing this experience with them.
I've walked away with a lot of confidence going into my 77 mile run on 7/30.
I feel sick to even say it, but..
"Can't wait to run Laurel Valley again!"