Saturday, May 23, 2020

Run-cation - Day 4 – South Mountains State Park

For day 4 of my run-cation, I headed for South Mountains State Park.

When I started this little adventure, I knew that I wanted to run at least one place that I had never visited. I explored several possible locations, and I finally settled on South Mountains State Park. The next thing that I did was pull up park map and looked to see what the possible trails were. I noticed a couple of high points nearing 3k in evaluation. I marked both as places that I wanted to visit during this run. Because I was running a 20 miler, I decided that I would run on the perimeter trails.

South Mountains State Park is about 80 minutes from Charlotte along some beautiful country roads. But it is in the middle of a no cell service zone. As I pulled in to the park, my phone immediately went in to its no service mode. It never returned until I left the park. May be they have a cell phone jammer. Who knows?

I parked in the Equestrian parking lot. Since the trail that I expected to return on ended here. The moment that I stepped out my car, I noticed something different. The air was filled with two scents: wood smoke and Spruce Pine. In fact, I can still smell the Spruce Pine scent on me now.

Being totally unfamiliar with these trails I must have looked lost. I was smart enough to print out a map of the trails and have it with me. This was a huge help because while the trails are marked, they are marked for that location only. There is no map at the junctions to help orient the runner. Often I pulled out my map to affirm that I was still going in the right direction.

From the parking lot, I followed the Turkey Ridge Trail. This was tough because I started climbing almost immediately. I switched over to the Little River Trail which led me back downhill to the Hemlock Nature Trail. I was snaking my way along these interior trails because I wanted to run the Chestnut Knob Trail. This trail leads to the Chestnut Know Trail overlook at 2,291 ft. This trail was the most rugged of all of the trails. Rocks steps, roots, stumps, super narrow off camber trails, and numerous switchbacks were the norm the entire way to the top.

I made a brief stop at the overlook to take in the view. Several people were coming and going so I decided to not linger very long.

From Chestnut Knob, I picked up Sawtooth Trail. Along this trail is where I took this panoramic picture shown above. 

The climb up is a tough but once I was on top, I was mainly running on old washed out fire roads along the ridgeline. I would climb up and down a few hundred feet. Some of the climbs and descents were gentle but others were steep in both directions.

From Sawtooth, I picked up the Upper CCC trail which transitioned to Horse Ridge Trail, then to the Lower CCC trail, to Bern Knob Trail. I was basically running the perimeter of the park at this point. Somewhere along the Bern Knob trail, I passed over the 2,894 ft mark. However, I never saw anything noting this.

In fact, I didn’t even realize that I had transitioned from the Bern Knob trail to the Raven Rock Trail. 

I simply saw a sign saying Raven Rock. This part of the trail is strange. I say strange because I am running along on this old fire road and then, I step out on a paved road about 8 feet wide with a dashed yellow line down the middle. For a moment, I thought I had missed a turn but upon checking my map, I could only conclude that this was part of the trail. Definitely, this section of pavement see no traffic since grass was growing up in the cracks.

This was the hottest section of the entire run. With the trees cut back, I was in total sunlight.

This road must have run for a couple of miles with ugly climbs and nasty downhills. Eventually, the road ended, and I saw a sign saying the Raven Rock Trail. It was all very confusing, and this was another good reason for me having my map.

My plan had been to follow the Raven Rock Trail to Saddleback Trail which led back to where I parked. Unfortunately, this trail was closed which meant I would be taking the long way back to my car. Thus, I followed Raven Rock back to Little River Trail. A long the way, I met several horseback riders. Each time, I slowed to give them plenty of room and not spook the horses.

Once along the Little River Trail, I could feel the coolness of the water. I was hot, tired, and sweaty, and I was ready to be finished.

In time, I made it back to my car. I had run further than expected - 22+ miles in 4 hours and 11 minutes but it was worth it. I got see to see some new sights, and I got to cover some new trails.

After I finished, I walked over to the stream and set down in the cold mountain water. At first, my legs stung from the cold, but once the sensation went away, oh, did it feel good. I just laid there for about 20 minutes. I wish that I could finish every run with a dip in cold mountain stream. 

The South Mountains trails are definitely on my to-do list for going back. There are probably another 20 or so miles of trails that I never got to see. I want to do them too. 

Next time, however, I will have a better idea of where I am running. I suspect that I will still need a map, however.

PS, today’s miles were recorded by my iPhone. When I pulled out of my driveway, something in the back of my mind told me that I was forgetting something. Half way to the park, I realized what it was – my Garmin. I assume that my phone was roughly accurate. I included the screen shot above. Tomorrow, I will be back on my Garmin.

The Cool Down Runner    

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