The Slant of a Place

Short Fiction by Shana Thornton

Author’s Note: Recently, I found a copy of my first published short story, ”The Slant of a Place.” While none of these characters has yet to appear in the Family Medicine Wheel series (Poke Sallet series), this story is set in Granville and these characters are part of the town. This Granville is a fictional place in Tennessee, though it probably bears resemblances to many small towns across the state. I wrote it in tribute to my great grandmother, but it is fiction. I want to share it here on my blog because I do see the formations of the novels I would eventually write. I also appreciate my growth as a writer, and since those back issues when it was originally published are no longer available, I want to reprint it here. (And who knows…maybe in the future one of these characters will find her way into the novels in the series.)

First published in The Smoking Poet, 2008. First reading at the Clarksville Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, 2008.

The Slant of a Place

So, the state finally took Hattie’s house back today and all the birds are gone.  

​Hattie Wheeler was born here in Granville and raised on the north side of the river known as Craggy Hope Ridge.  We call the south side of our town The Knobs.  Neither side seems different from the other one except for the trailer park located on the backside of The Knobs.  Otherwise, both sides of Granville always shared hollows, steep bluffs, winding roads, and cow pastures.  ​

​Hattie lived on a crooked road known as Shake-rag to folks on the Ridge.  The biggest curvy patch on Shake-rag is called Devil’s elbow, and that’s where Hattie’s property meets the road.  Her house sat back on a hill above the road like all the homes on Shake-rag, which cut into the land and lined up the mailboxes for Adler Flatt.  He was the postman on the Ridge for forty-two years and said that in all those days of delivering mail, Hattie always walked down her gravel driveway to meet him at the mailbox.

​“I’ve never even looked inside Hattie’s mailbox,” Adler said while a group played dominoes in front of the drugstore.  “I don’t know if it opens.”

​Bob Loftis slapped down a domino and looked up.  “That mailbox works just fine,” he told us.  “Me and Bobby Jr. leave the squirrels we shoot in there for Ms. Wheeler.  We wrap them up so they don’t mess up her mailbox.  She trades us for the preserves and soup she makes.  We take the jars she leaves in the mailbox, replace them with squirrels, and put the flag up.”

​Bob wasn’t the only one in town trading for Hattie’s food.  She had an old canning cellar and stocked it full every year.  That’s the way she survived and made a living for her and Albert, her son.  She traded and sold her jars of food to people on the Ridge.  Eventually, the news of Hattie’s canning spread to neighboring counties.  Most people didn’t spend time canning anymore; that was for the old-timers, but everybody ate Hattie’s food and wanted more.  Her canning cellar brightened when the door to the outside swung open.  Light bounced off colorful jars stacked on the dusty, plank shelves around the room.  The jars looked like antique science fiction with swollen, bulbous vegetables, some floating with fibrous tentacles, others smeared against the glass sides, some sloshing when the door banged against the shelf.  The jars were filled with slimy pickled okra, snapping turtle cucumbers with a hot pepper catch, punished beets beneath swollen tomatoes, celery tangy vegetable soup, sticky apple butter beside seedy blackberries, and the smart dull blueberry jam. 

​Junior Wheeler, Hattie’s husband, died of tuberculosis when Albert was young.  Hattie inherited what was once his family’s land.  When Junior died, the family lived in a narrow house on the hill above Devil’s Elbow.  The house was red with a tilted porch stretching across the front.  Its shiny, reflective roof was sheltered by an oak and a maple on either side.  While the Wheeler family had electricity, they didn’t have running water.  Instead, they used a well and an outhouse.  

​As a young boy, Albert roamed the town, learning to play banjos and pianos from anyone willing to teach him.  In exchange, he repaired doors, plastered walls, and painted barns.  Most folks think Albert retreated to music after Junior died.  In actuality, we know his inspiration came from the birds.      

​The most enchanting thing about Hattie’s place has been the birds.  In a field behind the house, Hattie used the old Wheeler tobacco barn to raise chickens and guineas.  The peacocks pranced across the grass among smaller wooden coops.  Wild turkeys usually crossed her land twice a day.  Hawks, cardinals, grackle, and chickadees claimed the woodlands that bordered her property.  Even further back, ducks ruled an old pond.  She learned to raise fowl from her mother, who had a talent for taming even the wild feathers.  Hattie’s mother imitated mating calls, chirps, and songs.  They say she was such a birdbrain, her daughter turned out to look like one.  Hattie was a skinny, white chicken with piercing blue-black eyes and snowy shoulder-length hair.  She kept the sides of her thin hair pulled up in little plastic barrettes.  When she smiled, her two front teeth were slightly bucked.  Her pointed nose and lips led her body forward when she walked.

​Hattie kept their place looking nice.  She whizzed the grass shorter by swinging a metal blade into the sun.  Her flowers, fluffed in yellows, pinks, and reds, bordered the small house so it wore ruffled petticoats of daffodils, hollyhocks, marigolds, and zinnias throughout the spring and summer months.  When we went to her house to buy preserves and vegetables, Hattie always met us in the yard and asked us to follow her into the house.  Even though it was little more than a shack, she insisted on inviting her customers inside to share a coke cola.  Of course, Hattie didn’t call anybody a customer.  We were guests in a house with numerous floors on what should have been one.  Albert patched holes with odd planks and boards through the decades.  Hattie didn’t act like she cared or noticed.  But to us, everything was tilted.  The small television leaned into the corner.  One foot of the couch dangled above the floorboard, while the other was grounded solidly.  We became dominoes if too many crowded onto the couch.  The floor creaked beneath our weight.  Only the corner with the radio and record player was level.  Hattie kept the radio tuned in to Acuff’s WSM radio show and the needle spinning Bill Monroe all day and well into the evening. 

​After the coke cola, we followed her out back through the screen door to the canning cellar.  There, we filled our arms and bags.  Before leaving, everyone stood with their arms full of Hattie’s jars.  She held the baby on her hip if you had one.  We gazed out over the field at the peacocks, hoping to glimpse their fans.  The mating call of those peacocks sent chills tingling up our spines and across our skulls—a big laughter escaped from a deep and unknown place, as if the birds were giving an omen.  The guineas, who Hattie said are cousins to penguins, waddled speedily around the peacocks.  Hens paced in the opening of the barn loft.  Some pecked at the dusty ground with the chicks.  It was hard to make out a nesting order.

​Hattie walked to church every Sunday morning with the intent of a guinea.  Her white hair fluffed into a feathery point from the wind.  We saw her winding the road from our car windows.  It didn’t matter if anybody offered her a ride; she only took it if there was a storm approaching.  With Albert by the hand, Hattie crossed the land of their neighbors on the way to Philadelphia.  That was the church on the Ridge.  The folks in The Knobs went to FreeWill.  

​Now, there are twenty or more churches in Granville.  Seems like when we got fast food a little over ten years ago, our town got all kinds of religion, too.  The town square is eighteen miles from the interstate on the outskirts of the county line.  That interstate has become its own town and brought all sorts of businesses, including churches, our way.  But back then, everybody went to either Philadelphia or FreeWill.

​“How-dy,” Hattie said when she walked into the church.  She gazed around the pews, smiling at everyone.  The young folks thought she was trying to copy Minnie Pearl until Brother Turner, our preacher, set them straight.

​“Hattie’s been saying that her whole life,” he said.  “When she was just a little thing, her momma brought her into town for the fair.  Her momma always won the talent shows because she could imitate any bird.  And, Hattie introduced her with that famous, ‘Howdy.’  We all think that Ms. Pearl must have visited Granville for one of our fairs.”

​Hattie sat with her three oldest friends on the back pew.  Philadelphia was a small church, only ten pews deep on both sides of the aisle.  The congregation filled a little, red brick building with white wooden trim that made a point above the doors.  The church sat on a hill that met Shake-rag and was covered in pink phlox.  ​

​Hattie sat next to the aisle.  She kept her pocket book and her dish for dinner under the pew in front of her.  At Philadelphia, we had a dinner on the ground nearly every Sunday.  After Hattie settled in and addressed her friends, she would bite off a plug of tobacco.  Hattie’s father stripped tobacco all over the Ridge, so she had a liking for that plant her whole life.  Even during the Sunday service, Hattie chewed twists of King B.  She carried two handkerchiefs.  One covered a small, metal can; after she spit the plant’s brown juice into it, she wiped her mouth with the other one.  While everybody else sang during the service, Hattie tapped a beat with her foot and chewed tobacco.  

​It seemed like out of nowhere the state had made a visit to the Wheeler property and condemned the house as unfit to live in.  They bulldozed the little tilted shack with a crackling shove and set a doublewide on top of a decent foundation.  Of course, they made an overall reform of her property and filled in the old cellar.  The only thing they left on the Wheeler land that belonged there was the tobacco barn and the birds.  Hattie would have never changed things if someone hadn’t called the state.  No one could understand why someone had complained.  It was a shame since Hattie was over eighty by then, and no one ever cared before.  

​Some suspected Albert had called the state on his own mother.  They said that he must be worried about her getting so old and using that wood stove through the winter.  Plus, he was fighting the first of his cancer at the time.  Somebody had heard Albert say his cancer was preventing him from patching the floors and toting water over to the house in the winter.  But, that seemed like a rumor and most of us knew Albert wouldn’t turn on Hattie.  Everybody on the Ridge knew he had offered to build her a new house or buy her a trailer.  She never went for those deals.  She made it plain to him and everybody else that she liked her place, running water or not, just the way Junior left it. 

​Hattie lived five years in the new doublewide with an indoor bathroom before she slipped on the kitchen linoleum a few months back and broke her hip.  Albert passed two years ago.  After the cancer spread to his liver, he couldn’t fight through another round of chemotherapy treatments.  When Hattie broke her hip, it was up to us to tell her she had to go from the hospital to the nursing home.  We knew that modular home had been too level for Hattie.  Every time she showed up at Philadelphia, she had another bruise somewhere.  But, she always laughed about it, saying she would get used to walking the straight and narrow.

Gifts: All Offerings & Fixes

Gifts: They’ve been given as surprises, remedies, offerings, “think-nothing-of-its”, unintentional helpmates, and quick fixes. They’ve shown up the past month more than usual and it’s not my birthday. First, I haven’t written about the gifts during and from the No Business. As we left our house, I asked Terry, “Did you pick up my running shoes from the stoop? I didn’t see them.” He said, “Yes, I’m looking at two pair.” When we got there, Terry unloaded the vehicle and realized, we didn’t have my running shoes. We had the old pair with busted out toes, an in case of an emergency pair, and his shoes. But not my shoes. Total panic. He said that he would drive back & meet my dad to get the shoes. Oh no, I didn’t want anyone driving around that much and then trying to crew me the next day. I had a flash! The Hoka representative was there at the runner check-in, and they were sponsoring the race. If they had my shoes…

She said that many runners were having alarms. No bivvy, no headlamp, but shoes….they did have my size! “Put them under the tent after the race,” she said. Hugs and happy dancing. I borrowed those shoes and gave them back as instructed. 

During the run, I covered nearly 40 miles and got the messages I needed for my novel. This book has been in progress for over a year, since I began a major rewrite. So, I’ve been cranking out the ending since I got back from the No Business, nearly a month now, and I’m dreaming about the characters and places. Part of my next book, Ripe for the Pickin’, takes place out in Big South Fork territory, and the run couldn’t have been more perfect for giving me exactly what I needed to finish it. This book is a sequel to my favorite book that I’ve written, Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel

I also ran with Coasty, a physician and a fun trail partner, during the run, and he gave me a great pep talk about a book. I’m ready to head toward that one. I hadn’t thought about it until he suggested the idea, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Something different. 

My mom brought this plumeria flower to me and it stayed lovely and fragrant through the day


A couple of weeks after the run, I returned to a place that has been pivotal for inspiration during my writing—Mound Bottom and Mace Bluff at Harpeth River State Park. I had planned a field trip for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clarksville. Growing up, I was fortunate to attend many field trips through school to places all over middle Tennessee, from the Hermitage to Shiloh and many places in between. I’ve noticed that schools don’t take field trips anymore so I’ve tried to take my children and youth I work with to historical locations. In all of the field trips I took, I never learned about Mound Bottom and Mace Bluff, though I lived there from ages 10-20. The State of TN didn’t purchase the land until more recently, so I couldn’t have visited as a young girl. 

Thankfully, you can sign up for a visit. Mound Bottom is gated and only available for tours with a guide. We were fortunate to have Aaron Deter-Wolf as our guide. He is the TN State Archaeologist in Prehistory and the co-author of Mastodons to Mississippians: Adventures in Nashville’s Deep Past (Vanderbilt University Press, 2021). When I asked about his book, he gave me a copy. I read it within two days and was fascinated by all that I learned about middle Tennessee history that I didn’t know. 

I felt everything coming together so that I could finally finish this book—a book that readers have been asking for me to deliver. Last year, I thought that I had it, but Rita, my hardest editor, said, “No, this is not it.” I had to rewrite almost the whole book. It has been over seven years since Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel, and I will be thrilled when readers know if there’s a treasure or not on the Ballard farm. 

Rita has read the latest draft and given her approval—“this is it,” she said. She is happy, and I am relieved.

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what I wrote about the No Business after the race on my social media:

STARSTRUCK—Ohhhh, I love Big South Fork even more. I will see it again. I’m smitten. I was before, but now I’m fully in love. I’ve been bit & will be going back to the No Business 100. 

The course is beautiful—creek crossings, gorgeous rock formations, bear shit dotted trails, mossy stones, slippery roots, small waterfalls, fall flowers blooming red, yellow, white, pale purple mushroom, bright orange spongy fungi, fern fronds to hold birds…

I loved the conversations with other runners. I was impressed by people who have completed it multiple times. I was equally impressed with learning that this was the third & fourth attempt of some runners to actually complete the course, & I understood just how challenging the course & timing are in combination. The No Business follows mostly single track trails, riddled (filled to the brim on some stretches) with the usual obstacles of the forest. I saw several people fall and catch some air, and all sprang back up and kept going. “Fall seven times; stand up eight.”—motto of all trail travelers & an ancient Chinese proverb.  

I did manage to stay upright, & I made it just over 39 miles, completing the Blue Heron loop, & then I made the decision to Drop. It was dark on the trail. I couldn’t eat and didn’t want to be unwise traveling through the night unable to eat. Earlier in the day, the 80 degree heat & 89% humidity got me all of the sudden, & I vomited a few times. After that, I felt good & continued for a few hours, but my throat and mouth were chaffed from the vomit. When I tried to eat, everything set my mouth & throat on fire. 

My legs & feet, the rest of my body, felt great when I dropped. I wanted to be smart. Maybe my head overthought it, but eventually I was bound to run out of energy if I didn’t eat & kept going. 

The next day, Terry & I went out on a difficult hike, pummeled more elevation, & I could eat. I recounted the run & started to plan for next year. I evaluated what I can do better & how I can better prepare my mind for the aid stations of this specific course. 

I have been sad the past couple of days because I just wanted to continue the journey. I’m not a collector of medals or buckles. I’m a collector of stories from the trail, & I was so looking forward to all of those during the night of the No Business. I’ve been sad that I have to wait until next year to try again, but I will. 

I looked into the stars at the top of Blue Heron before going down into the Cracks in the Rocks. The sun had set a reddish pink as we climbed the hill there & tiny piercings of stars shown on the other side of the sky when I turned to look backward at one of the “tops” & I had an answer that I was seeking. I felt satisfied that I would be returning. 

STOP & Bask in the Completion of Any Miles

I kept going. I told myself that was enough downtime. I told myself this was less training, much less at thirty miles per week. After all, I had run over 100km in twenty-seven hours on a mountain, a feat that I never thought this short human could achieve. I was stunned, probably. Nothing sank or stopped. I told myself, “what’s next is…” There was no question of “what’s next?” I told myself to stick with the plan. The month after the ultra, I published a book, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (November 2019) and planned a book launch. Friends, family, strangers, dogs…we laughed and played trivia about health, dogs, yoga, and books. I made up the game. There were prizes.


And then, I drafted a chunk of another book, about 40,000 words in the month of November. And, carried on with my life—family, school pick up and drop off, sports, teaching yoga, teaching Religious Exploration, other projects, accepting submissions for volume three of the yoga book, attending awards ceremonies….


Around this time, I went outside by the vitex plants for meditation. I had become increasingly infatuated with vitex after writing a short and strange fairytale, “Where Bees Sleep”, in which the plants offer a portal to another world. It’s in a bonus section, “The Changeling Stories”, in the back of The Adventures to Pawnassus. I was mesmerized by the peacefulness under the plants where hundreds of bees hung upside down while sleeping on the purple flower blooms. Dew covered the plants and the bees. Even if I blew a breath into the eyes of the bees, they slept on, as if they were bats, dangling from each stalk’s tiny blossoms and facing the rising sun. I tried to go out early in the morning before daybreak truly warmed them. The ripe moments enthralled me, and I was convinced that I was increasingly onto them. The frost crystals and sunrise invited me outside to continue.


So, of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready to teach yoga at the Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra and run the 50km. About seven weeks had passed since the Cloudsplitter. I felt great teaching yoga the night before the race. I stayed close by at my parents’ house. The next morning gave us perfect early winter conditions. Not too cold, no snow, a little mud and fog. I was exuberant. I ran with pure joy and waved to my parents through checkpoints. I felt alive and happy, and I tripped. No problem. I trip often. Something felt tingling, almost burning through my body, as I carried on and focused on each step forward. I tried to shake it off. I snagged my toes on a few places but managed to stay off the ground, lurching suddenly forward sometimes. I walked for a few minutes and grounded until everything felt steady and ready to go again. Slowly, I trotted, faster, a little pickup, until it was alright. I settled into my stride, then I tripped and fell. I fell hard. My chest barreled into a tree branch. I was up and going, but I couldn’t seem to breathe any life into my legs with momentum. I tripped again and the pulse sent a shock of heat and fear through my face. My feet kept tripping on everything. I walked. I walked, trying not to ask too many questions, staving off the, “Why so many falls?” concern of my inner wisdom. I trotted again, passed a Santa Claus in the forest, and that made me laugh. High five, running. I regained my confidence, knowing I was headed out of this section soon. I made it to an aid station, distance from the mountain bike trails, and I was refocused.


Okay, I was going to be fine. I refueled, talked to some people at the aid station, saw my parents, and headed out, taking my time. I was going through the motions but instead of recovering as I usually could while going slowly through the process, I felt more and more depleted. I stumbled and fell a few more times, just while walking and once while taking a picture. I tried all of the checklist–I was hydrated, I was fueled, I had electrolytes, and I tried my usual program in a pinch–gum, music, that tree up there, lucky to be in motion, gratitude list, counting breaths, taking pictures. Usually, one in that list will fix everything and the bliss of running can resume for a while. This time, the unexpected happened: Chills. Shaking. “No!” That’s the worst anytime, but nothing worked to make them stop. I ran to get warm and fell again, sprawled out around by the lake. “It doesn’t make sense when it isn’t even that cold, and I haven’t even gone very far compared,” I told myself these things, teeth rattling. By this time, my frustration was at a high, but beyond that, I also knew that I was mostly frustrated because I knew that I needed to stop. I knew that I shouldn’t have run this far in a race without more time between ultras. I knew this truth suddenly was within me, and I was giving in to it. The chills and shakes made it harder for me to focus, challenging for me to keep good footing even while walking. As soon as I saw my parents at a road crossing, I got in the SUV. I called it and let the race director know that I was dropping out and going quickly to warmth. I couldn’t stop shaking and told my dad to pull over so I could throw up.


I slept for a few days and weeks, really. I mourned the loss of the second half of the Bell Ringer and my love of the trails that I wanted to run so much. I yelled at myself, but went back to sleep. I was bruised, hobbling, and sore from falling so often. I completely paused my running and writing. I slept until 1 pm. My husband picked up the pieces that I had to sit down for a while.
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I allowed the exhaustion to take over, but it made me sad. Sweating is inspiration for me, and running influences my mind and that determines how and when I write. “I have an addiction,” I told my husband. “I need to sweat and I’m an endorphin junkie for it, and I don’t know how to get through this. I feel so much happier after I’ve been active.” I didn’t enjoy the plunge of rest, the deep ravine that came after the mountain. I had expected the Cloudsplitter 100km (actually 69 miles) to crush me while I was there, but it was like a hungry ghost in waiting, pausing, lingering, and unexpectedly, I was hit with the weight and depth of it. I suppose that you can’t go into places like that without coming out of them a little torn for the wear, but I thought maybe I’d made it, been given a lucky pass that had allowed me to do just that.

This assumption wasn’t correct. I learned an important lesson in my own training, and that’s the length of total rest and relaxation that I need between big moments of exertion. My body’s chemistry was all mixed up, and I hadn’t recognized that the moment was ripe for rest. My hormones, my vitamin and mineral levels, everything needed time to replenish. Finishing a book and drafting a new one are mentally draining and that also depletes the resources of the body as well as feelings of vitality and peak performance. I didn’t feel typical feelings of failure because I know better than that. Yet, I still felt plagued by my lack of discernment to realize what I was asking from my body, but I also felt satisfied at allowing myself to go through the process naturally, with the plan that I thought was good for me, especially since it was my first ultra of this caliber at the same time as the growth of my writing practice.

Without trying the other ultra so close to the previous finish, I wouldn’t have known what I needed regarding a deeper level of rest. I would have wondered “what if?” had I not pushed myself with all of the activities at that time.

The process led me here, to the decision that I don’t want to repeat that learning experience, and I will give myself adequate rest between action. After over a month of rest and relaxation, which included walks and mild core exercises, I am finally recharged inside. I picked up my cross training, something recommended to help my running by G who I met during the Cloudsplitter. I started biking about ten hours a week, and I love it. I’m back running on the trails, too, but with less mileage right now. I took my running to the treadmill so that I can evaluate it. It works like sensory deprivation therapy for me–running inside on a treadmill facing a block wall, but when I turn the treadmill, there’s a window where I can see the vitex, a reminder to rest. I can focus on my body without any of the distractions of the trail for some of my training.

Before this happened, I continued to increase my trail running mileage and writing output in order to achieve more goals. I would make it to a milestone and plan for the next one, then keep moving. I didn’t stop to truly celebrate. I didn’t stop to soak in the rewards on a deeper level, one that’s rejuvenating for the whole body. In my evaluations, I also realized that happened around the time when I stopped drinking alcohol. While not drinking is wonderful for my training and focus, I didn’t realize how much celebratory events truly are intertwined with alcohol. When the drinks got pitched from my experience, my celebrations no longer included the rest that often came with time off for drinks.

So, I started going through the list of what provided me with rest and inspiration, as well as what made me feel celebratory—-being in the presence of my family and strolling along without a task, laughing with my husband, watching and experiencing dance, music, and art performances, simply observing in nature for no reason, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating cake, building bonfires, dancing, and playing on playgrounds. I’ve been enjoying all of those, and the awareness that it is satisfying to stop and bask in completion without looking forward, simply being tired and happy at the end of rewarding work.

Note: The Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra 50km is a beautiful and fun race that I have completed in the past. Here’s a blog about that experience.

Splitting Clouds on Stone Mountain with the Devil’s Bathtub in the Mix: Cloudsplitter 100km

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During school, I was one of the last people chosen to be on a sports team. I didn’t enjoy group sports at all, but I liked to walk or run, sometimes with someone else and sometimes alone. I am not a born athlete. I have to work hard physically to complete an ultramarathon, but mentally I am at home in the woods.

For the Cloudsplitter 100km, we traveled to Norton, Virginia, a town that the mayor called “the smallest town in Virginia” during our pre-race meeting the night before our 8 am start. The race started and finished at the Farmer’s Market in Norton. The course went through the streets of Norton for just over a mile. Then, we entered trails at the base of Stone Mountain whose peak, High Knob, is just over 4,000 feet up in elevation. The trails up to High Knob are steep and go between giant rock formations, not far from Flag Rock overlook where there’s a statue of the Wood Booger, what the locals call the Sasquatch or Big Foot legend. We didn’t see the statue on our summit to High Knob, but that didn’t mean the Wood Booger wasn’t out there.
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Runners chose between four race distances (25 km, 50 km, 100 km, and 100 miles). Interestingly, the 100 km distance was actually longer and measured 113 km from start to finish. The other race distances were exactly what they said they were. Only the 100km distance was more. Of course, I was running the 100 km distance.
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I chose the Cloudsplitter after completing the Dark Sky 50 at Big South Fork in May of this year. I loved the Dark Sky race and was ready to go a step farther toward my race dream goal, which I’m not ready to share just yet. I was looking for an ultramarathon that was 90%+ trails. I don’t enjoy running on pavement very much at all. I avoid it if possible and make only a few exceptions. I also needed to know if I could handle the elevation of mountain ultras. I live in middle TN which is like a big bowl, and the elevation is no comparison to the mountains. I also wanted to go past 50 miles so that I would know if the distance through the night was something I could accomplish and would enjoy. The Cloudsplitter fit my needs, and I messaged my friend Bryan to find out if he wanted to try it out with me.

Bryan and I had met at the Bell Ringer 50kmlast December, and we ran most of that race together. We tried to meet again for the Dark Sky 50 miler but never saw one another.


This time, B and I met at the race start. My family was with me. B’s girlfriend and his race pacer, Alex, accompanied him. Everyone was all a-buzz with the news that KM, the world record holder in 100 mile race wins was there to run the 100 miler. Everyone wondered if KM, at 51-years old, would break the course record, set the previous year by a 22-year old. (Note: I was completely clueless about KM, as I don’t follow the news or watch tv. I would have had no idea who they were talking about if my husband hadn’t told me the day before. I didn’t even know the race was a Mont Blanc qualifier until B told me that it was. I didn’t even know what Mont Blanc was until after May of this year. I really purely run because I think the trails seem cool to experience😂).

The race contained two out and back portions with the central hub located at High Knob. We ran through the town, up to High Knob on trails, then into Jefferson National Forest to Edith Gap, on to Bark Camp Lake, through to Little Stony parking area, where we turned around at an aid station there and took the same trails back to High Knob. The second out and back went from High Knob to Sentry Road on to Devil’s Fork Gate to Devil’s Fork Loop and back to High Knob via the same route. My first goal was to make it back to High Knob aid station by 10 pm, when I would refuel, change clothes, and then head back out for the second out and back of the course which I hoped to complete by dawn or early morning. Finally, the last leg was from High Knob back down the mountain to Norton, which I hoped to complete by noon the next day.

Here’s what happened: We headed out of Norton at 8 am on Saturday morning. B and I caught up on his recent events, which included a trip to Disney that he and his girlfriend took that week. They drove from Orlando, picked up his pacer on the way, and made it to Norton the night before. B’s radio blasted out Fusion as we ran through the streets and took to the trails up the mountain. We talked to the other runners along the way up to High Knob.


I met R, a 100-mile runner in sandals. He told us about some of his epic adventures. I liked him immediately, but somewhere along the way, we got separated. I didn’t plug in my earbuds or play music until we passed through the High Knob aid station, though I did try but they kept falling out or the phone wasn’t actually playing the music. It took me awhile to get the music and earbud working together (I never really got both of them going, and I finally gave up on the earbuds altogether and left my phone playing music quietly in the front pocket of my vest…of course, this was much later in the middle of the night…I turned it up sometimes when alone and needed.)

Since my husband was with our daughters, I told him not to worry about meeting me at the aid stations where crews were allowed. The week before our trip, we had all watched BIG STONE GAP, and Norton was only about 20 minutes or so from the town of Big Stone Gap. I encouraged Terry to take our girls to see the town where the movie was filmed. I wasn’t expecting to see them during the race, as I was hopeful that they’d go sightseeing. When we reached High Knob, Terry and the girls were waiting for me. Terry refilled my camel pack and water bottle. B’s girlfriend A and A pacer met him there, too. (😂 Team A&A for B).


Then, B and I took off again, but instead of following the race course, we took a small detour and ran up the High Knob tower to see the view, and I was glad that we did. The clouds blanketed Norton that morning and fluffed up to and around us. The views weren’t typically breathtaking, but they were layered and soul satisfying. After a brief video and photos, we went back out on the trail which dropped off the mountain and tumbled into the gorges. I loved this section through fern beds, mossy rocks, and into rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets. The trees changed and the light filtered into the forest to us. We both admired the beauty. We talked about our wonder with nature and how it felt like another world.

Eventually, after hurrying through a section with bees buzzing around us and other runners, we got into a small pack of runners. We ran with the group up to Edith Gap aid station and maybe beyond it. The forest began to change with trails that contained mossy rocks and stones. We walked across some of them. Most everyone used trekking poles from the start of the trails at the beginning. This was the first time I used trekking poles in a race, but I was glad to have them for stabilizing myself. Sometimes, I placed them in one hand and ran, and other times I used them to trek quickly along rocks that I called rocking chairs. At Edith Gap, I refilled my camel pack and filled up my handheld water bottle with Vitargo. I took a Saltstick capsule, and Bryan ate potatoes and a sampling of other foods. There was a big variety of foods and a nice fire at Edith Gap.


We headed for Bark Camp Lake along the Chief Benge Scout Trail. Creeks ran alongside the trail, more thickets, and trails with rock gardens. The wildlife expert said to “stop and smell the roses,” but to me, he meant “stop and smell the rocks,” and some mountains bloom rocks, covered in moss, shiny black, knocking, rocking chair rocks. Oh, the music on the trail. Finally, somewhere along this trail, I plugged in an earbud and DECIBEL by Analog Affair reminded me “From midnight comes the dawn” so I would remember my plan. I chose “chill” music, in its various forms… the main reason is that I knew that I would be taking my time on this ultra and still feel pushed. I really wanted to practice seeing, noticing, photographing, talking, and moving forward on a mountain, and see all of those trail spaces on it within 40 hours or whatever I could stand.

B and I stopped someone from going the wrong way at a fork in the trail. Somewhere in all that KM passed us and we realized it was him after he went by. At Bark Camp, our crews greeted us, along with volunteers. The fire was warm. Refill and change shirts for me. Take advantage of a bathroom at the picnic area.

We were off again on a mainly level trail that was littered with rocks and creek crossings. I was grateful that it had been a dry summer, so the creeks weren’t as slippery as they could have been. We were pretty sure that KM passed us again. I guessed that we crossed over 10 creeks, of varying widths and depths, with rocks of varying sizes up to the size of a large four-wheeler (some people said we crossed over 20 creeks by then, but I didn’t officially count them). People passed us in both directions now, and the shorter two distances were already gone. Everyone on the trail was a 100km or a 100mile runner. “Make them wheels roll,” someone said as we passed. B kept losing half of one of his trekking poles. It would get stuck in the rocks, roots, creek, everywhere. When we reached Little Stony, we refilled, ate, turned around and came back the same way toward Bark Camp Lake. Crossed the same creeks.

“Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good To You,” and yes, I thanked the mountain creeks and rocks for being kind to me.


Back at Bark Camp Lake aid station, Terry insisted that I change shirts again. I questioned him but ultimately, I agreed that as it became dark, I would be colder. B asked Terry for some pliers and he fixed his trekking pole. We refilled, took advantage of the bathroom one more time, and took off. This time, B’s pacer, A, accompanied us. Maybe two miles out of Bark Camp, I was stung suddenly by a bee that I never saw. I cursed the bee but kept going. My inner thigh throbbed about halfway up, where the bee stung me. I was certain that I saw the stinger fall out when I stopped to go to the bathroom.

At Edith Gap aid station, they updated us on who had dropped out, where KM was, the difficulty of the trails as nightfall blanketed us, and more. We took off again, and B gave one of his trekking poles to A somewhere along the way. They led the way, and I drifted back as I ran out of water and then the liquid food in my handheld bottle. It became dark, so B and I turned on our headlamps. I chewed a Saltstick, and that perked me up for a little while. I noticed a headlamp approaching me from below in the creek, but it wasn’t on the correct trail. It was well below the trail that everyone was supposed to be on. Already KM had passed us again, we thought. That was the third time, we thought. He was almost finished with two sections of what we hadn’t even completed once. I shouted down to the headlamp in the creek. She shouted back to me that she was lost. I directed her until she reached us on the higher trail.

We followed B and A until we couldn’t find a marker in a deserted and abandoned parking lot. We noticed lights from what looked like a log house. We all said that we hadn’t noticed a house earlier. The woman runner was positive there wasn’t a house. I remembered the abandoned parking area, but not a house. We split up and searched for a marker. After a couple of minutes, I found a streamer hanging from a tree and then a reflective marker. I shouted for everyone and we took off again, B and A led the way on the climb back to High Knob, and we were passed by several 100 mile runners headed back down the trail for their second out and back.

There, at High Knob, my family ran toward me, happily greeting me. I refilled, climbed in our car to get warm in the heat and changed clothes. I had already decided that I would eat chicken noodle soup in the night. I haven’t eaten land animals in about two and a half years. I do eat seafood, fish, eggs, and dairy products on a regular basis. I knew the choices of warm soup foods would be potato soup or chicken broth/soup, and I had already made up my mind to make an exception. Sugars usually bother my stomach when I run, and potatoes especially feel like a chunk of coal in my belly. I was ready for the chicken soup, and I ate about four cups of it. I was warm and felt replenished.

B texted me and said that he and A were going to sleep for a little while in his girlfriend A’s car. He didn’t know if he would continue or not, but he was going to sleep first.

I decided to go forward. If I stopped or slept, I would get stiff. When I fall asleep, I usually do so for a long time. I don’t like short naps. I was hesitant about continuing. I considered dropping down to 50km and just heading back down the mountain to the finish in Norton, but I reasoned that I was already over 50km and I might as well take my time and hike the remainder even if I used the full forty hour time limit. My daughter Zoe begged me to continue. I couldn’t believe that she was so encouraging. Both of my daughters told me that I could do it. Terry said that I could do it.

I went to the aid station and asked about the trail ahead, refilled everything, kissed Terry and our daughters, and took off. First, I headed down a paved road listening to WILD NIGHT by Van Morrison, “wild night is calling” then onto a gravel road, Sentry Road. Light sticks lined one side of the road and were dropped every thirty to fifty feet or so.


The sky was incredibly magical. Expansive as I ploughed over the ridgeline, hiking, not running, listening and giving music to the night of the forest. The mountain falling away to either side. Trees rotating up and away from the ridgeline, pointed forms, limbs reaching as webbings while holding the webbing of spiders and nests. My own form striding across to the sounds of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE “Covered with heaven above. Just you and I beneath the stars, wrapped in the the arms of sweet romance, the night is ours.” I loved being in the night on the trail, with the forest, knowing that so many people were out here, sprinkled into the landscape with me that I was just fine to enjoy it. KM passed me again, and he was headed to the last aid station before the finish. Or at least I thought it was him.

I was enthralled with the forest itself, as if it is a being all its own, so “I’ll always always keep the memory of…” THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. “We may never meet again on the bumpy road…” I strode on toward Devil’s Fork Loop that contained The Devil’s Bathtub.

Before that though, I had to find the turn off Sentry Road. The full moon continuously looked like the lights of an aid station in the distance. It kept fooling me. I texted B and told him about the roads, feeling certain that he would continue if he knew the conditions ahead. He texted back that he was waking up A and they were heading out in about five minutes.

I felt the chicken noodle soup wearing thin, and the wind whipped across the peaks. I saw red beady eyes in the forest and made noises. Woo woo!! I passed a few runners. More red beady eyes with silhouettes that resembled bear?😂 I made noise, woo woo! Then, I thought that I saw something that truly scared me to the point that I ran—a skunk! I slowed down to a hike and turned up the music again, “Waitin for the bus all day…” and I was feeling pretty good that I hadn’t been sprayed by a skunk by the time I asked for broth at Sentry Road aid station.

The fire as we approached each aid station was a beacon. I waited to smell it every time, knowing we were close. I needed those moments to recharge. Taking four and five cups of broth, sometimes standing by the fire, then saying thank you and taking off again.

Aid station moments were when I turned off my music and talked to people, asked them about the trail, told them about my experience, listened to aid station volunteers tell their own stories about other runners or the trail. This is the stuff of a great story. A book, I thought, and headed out again, hiking. Everyone was wondering if KM was going set the course record. I knew more stories about him were coming along the trail.

I walked again, down an old logging road that I described later as “quite nice” but I was slow and sluggish, wondering what was coming next.

Approaching the Devil’s Fork Loop, of course SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL was on my mind, and I found myself sounding it out, woo woo! just like being at the concert and hearing fans catcall the Devil all the way out of the stadium. I passed runners coming out of the Devil’s section.

My music picked up and carried me a little faster as I got to the Fork. I started to see a headlamp ahead and was happy about it. The stories about the bathtub had a rhythm that made you want to pair up with someone. Nightmares on Wax mixed up some DEEP DOWN as I partnered with another runner and made the fork into the loop. I met T and followed him as the loop went round and round and round and across and across and across giant rock gardens in every part that we thought might be the Devil’s Bathtub. I felt as if I was going down the drain at one point, only to climb a little ways out of it. We climbed over plenty of trees in the dark and balanced on the edge of the tub, in the dark, in the deepest gorge on the race, in the dark. My cell service was out and I couldn’t warn B about the state of the bathtub. I worried about it. T said that B was going to be pissed with me and laughed. We crossed many many creeks. I moved the music up and down, really relying on the music when we didn’t have the light to help us and appreciate the nature around us. Yes, we wore headlamps. For both of us, it was our first ultramarathon through the night on the trail. For both of us, it was our first run past 50 miles and the highest elevation ranges and fluctuations. Needless to say, it was an experience beyond what either of us was expecting as we both discussed while trying to navigate the trail, find the direction, and not fall onto a rock and break an ankle, or leg. We got truly lost off the course only once and not very far. We returned and were careful not to lose sight of the markers.

T sounded perplexed by the trail. “How would they even get someone out of here if they broke their leg?” I suggested that paramedics could drop down on lines from a helicopter if a life and death situation were to occur. I’m not sure T took comfort in that scenario. We both took comfort in the fact that the creeks were mostly dry. T asked something like, “How do we even explain to someone what this is like?” And then he continued, “I couldn’t bring my kids on this hike. I don’t even think I would do this hike with my wife. It’s that difficult.” I agreed. I wouldn’t do this Devil’s Fork Loop hike with my family even if they parked at the parking area, which T and I both thought we would see at any. moment.

However, the Devil’s Loop still felt never ending and slow slow slow until we finally! heard the generator from the aid station at Devil’s Fork Parking lot. I happily said, “I smell exhaust.” We both thought it was funny that I was happy over the smell of exhaust when we signed up for this nature experience. Down the stairs to the aid station. Still going down.

More broth! Hit me again with the broth! That’s what I felt like at the aid station. I got my second headlamp out of my drop bag as my first had begun to dim in the last mile. T decided to steal away and get a ride with his friends. He told the aid station volunteer that he was dropping out. I got the scoop on the trail ahead and was also informed about KM when he came through the Devil’s Gate earlier. Even though I never asked about him, everyone told me about him. Led Zeppelin’s HOW MANY MORE TIMES rocked me on out of the Devil’s Fork aid station, where I had been warned about the steep grade on the climb out that would go on for about two miles, maybe two and a half.

And of course a trip around the Devil’s place wouldn’t be complete without The Stones again on the way out, “I’m the man on the mountain that says, ‘Come on up,’” and I had a fresh water bottle of food, a full camelback and LOVING CUP was perfect as I climbed up, up, up. “What a beautiful buzz,” and I laughed thinking about being stung so early and continuing. “Nitty. Gritty.”

I had to dig in to get up and out of there, Gramatik TALK THAT SLANG clapped and I kept up my mantra, hiking and forward. Moving with rhythm. Moving. Noticing. Red beady eyes. Bear? Could I be sure? “Ohh” “wooo,” “woowoo!” scurrying to one side and the other. Shit! Who’s there? I jumped to the side. Really? No one answered, but I could swear that was a person. MFer. Nightmares on Wax FLIP YA LID just making me wonder a little bit, and shake my head, go forward. Whistle. Whistle. Head bob. Whistle and head bob. The forest is beautiful. Head on and don’t even think about Wood Boogers.

I was listening to MUY TRANQUILO when I saw two red beady eyes and a definite bear form very close to the trail in front of me. A big bear. The only one I’m certain about, but they seem to appear for me and have quite often this year (I saw 4 in one day this summer, really, in broad daylight, and one was licking bark on trees, probably eating bugs and/or sap, and trying to get away from me…bear show up for me). I made disco owl noises again and the bear sprinted across the trail and down into the forest. Definitely one bear😉.

I was waiting for the aid station when the moon started playing tricks on me in the distance again, but I knew that I was getting close after I passed the fork in the loop. Straight ahead I made it back to Sentry Road.

I drank broth. They told me that KM had finished. A 100miler and his pacer who were sitting at the fire asked me about the state of the bathtub. I told them that the daylight would be better for them because it was a challenge in the dark. I refilled everything, took a Saltstick, drank more broth, and felt amazing as I headed back to High Knob as dawn approached.

I passed 100 mile runners coming my way, ready for the Devil’s Fork. They asked me how it was, how far was the next aid station, and I encouraged them all and let them know what to expect. Good things: the aid station was close, the road was nice, the loop was tough but dry and light when they got there.


About halfway up Sentry Road, I turned off my headlamp. I soaked in the beauty, the spaciousness, the feeling of being alive in that moment in that place and it was sublime. I passed R who I’d met early on and his feet still looked good in the sandals. I wished him well.

Up one of the last hills on Sentry Rd, G caught up to me. I met him at a few aid stations and at least once on the trail, but it was those times when I was either talking to someone else or leaving or being in my own headspace as happens, so we finally talked as we approached High Knob. I learned that G was a born athlete and had been a runner since high school. I thought he was probably 60 years old. We didn’t discuss age though. We talked about who we are, little bits of information telling stories that were in our hearts. G was a great companion up to High Knob. He gave me plenty of useful advice by talking about his own life from his experience. It wasn’t an intentional, let me give you advice type of conversation. It was by being present that I learned from his stories.

At High Knob, G’s wife met him. Terry drove up just as we were approaching the aid station. I told G that I’d see him at the end or rather, “Good luck” and “nice to have met you” because I knew that G would beat me in to the finish. He was an experienced 100 miler and was ready to finish this run. I was in the newness of the experience and I both wanted to play it safe and savor it. And, that’s what I did.


I ate again, took advantage of the portajohn, hugged Terry, and then headed out for the final leg of the trek. I messaged my best friend Jennie, my friend Lisa, and my mom.
I turned up the music and took my time. By then, my IT band was hurting on a leg that I had hurt during a fall about two weeks previously. Of course, the leg wasn’t ever injured to the point of needing medical help. I ran a half marathon and 10 milers almost daily for weeks after the fall, but the elevation coupled with the length of the race inflamed it. I focused on one step at a time and the music. TRANQUILO by Gramatik was playing so I allowed myself to be a kid skipping down the mountain at times in the loops, down stone stairs, “Jumping off the porch like Mom’s not home…” threading along the mountain, “run with the feeling of being alive” and enjoying KINGS OF SUMMER by ayokay and Quinn XCII.

This descent was tangible inside every part of me and I thought about the footfalls, the miles before, the books I was writing, how I wasn’t even hungry, how I was still cold, the many footfalls before my own on the mountain, the power of earth to create, and how I love to create. I wanted to ride bikes across the Netherlands with Terry. I wanted to do that very soon. “LOVE IS HERE TO STAY not for a year but ever and a day…” again Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong serenaded me and sang the feelings of my heart.

That IT band kept telling me to take it slow so I did. I thought that I was close to the base of the mountain only to have another layer reveal itself. Layer upon layer down, over a dam, and down down down again. Two runners passed me and one said, “when does this race ever end?” Down, down, down, and still going. Big Mama was even singing BALL AND CHAIN. “My Love holds on like a ball chain.” I was talking to the mountain by then. I was so ready to go. 99 PROBLEMS by Hugo was reminding me to keep it going, “make the Devil change his mind,” and I was definitely happy that I wasn’t at the Devil’s Bathtub right then, and then there it was, the road! Pavement to lead me back in to Norton.


I passed flowers and stopped to take a picture. Walking, I enjoyed the sun warming me. I soaked in those last few minutes and walked into Norton. As I crossed the bridge, I decided to run. As cheesy as it seemed on one level, and very appropriate on another, Voodoo Child played right on cue, and I laughed at the synchronicity of life as I turned the last corner. I laughed looking to my right toward the mountains. I saluted them and continued running until I saw my family waiting for me at the turn off the road and into the parking lot of the farmer’s market. I crossed the finish line at 11:17 on Sunday and got my medal, hugged my family.
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I took off the tracking strips that were pinned to my pants and gave them to the race director. A woman was talking with two other runners. She said that a local experienced hiker had died in the Devil’s Bathtub back in the spring, that he had fallen, lost his footing, and broken his neck instantly. I was glad that I didn’t know that before my trek through the bathtub, but I shivered thinking that I had sort of known it and had gone slowly through it.

My family and I took pictures, communicated with family and friends, and headed back to the hotel.

I worried immediately about B. I texted him and found out that he was at the last aid station back at High Knob. He was going to finish. A was still pacing him.

I didn’t have one blister. I made it to the finish before my goal of noon on Sunday. I had one tiny chafed place on my lower back from the last pair of pants I wore. I was proud that my training, nutrition, and gear worked perfectly for my goals in particular and that I didn’t get sidetracked by any other goals. I planned my book and know where I’m headed. I was sore and stiff, but I could walk and climb stairs. B texted that he made it. We were both proud of finishing a tough distance and elevation gain.

My legs did swell for a short time as we traveled back and the next day. I took a walk the next day and the day after that. I only had one muscle cramp that really hurt. I taught my yoga class three days later and it felt great.

I know this moment in my life will inform much more in the future. For now, I am writing, resting, practicing yoga, and planning new adventures. I am also feeling immense gratitude for the race organizers, the community of Norton, the volunteers, my family as my crew and cheerleaders, my friends who cheered, the people I met along the way, B and his crew A&A, and the mountain itself.
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Partial Playlist (set to shuffle):
“Decibel” by Analog Affair
“Make Them Wheels Roll” by Safia
“Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Wild Night” by Van Morrison
“Under a Blanket of Blue” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Waitin’ for the Bus” by ZZ Top
“Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones
“Deep Down” by Nightmares on Wax
“How Many More Times” by Led Zeppelin
“Loving Cup” by The Rolling Stones
“Talk That Slang” by Gramatik
“Flip Ya Lid” by Nightmares on Wax
“Muy Tranquilo” by Gramatik
“Tranquilo” by Gramatik
“Kings of Summer” by ayokay and Quinn XCII
“Love is Here to Stay” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Ball and Chain” by Big Mama Thornton
“99 Problems” by Hugo
“Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix

I’m definitely not a sponsored runner, but for what it’s worth, these are products that worked for me: Altra Trail shoes, Saltstick Caps Plus and Saltstick Chews for electrolytes and vitamins about 10-15 total, Squirrel Nut Butter anti-chafe stick applied liberally all over feet to neck pretty much, CEP compression socks worn through many runs, Swiftwick socks with holes and worn through many runs, Nathan bladder and tubing for my camelback, Vitargo fruit punch vegan muscle food, Black Diamond trekking poles, Northface gloves, various ball caps, cheap stretchy gloves with the thumb and pointer finger cut out, old Underarmor clothes I’ve worn through a lot of runs. I always carry a small Mojo bag, and this one was gifted by my Terry, and among other things contained a small rose quartz angel, a couple of small wild turkey feathers, a rock with a flower-shaped fossil creating an opening in the center….

**Notes: Series of events and who said what is to the best of my memory. I do read newspapers every day, so though tv is not in my life on a regular basis, I am informed about my world (it’s possible to skip tv and be more informed). Placement on course descriptions is approximate. Definitely edited for clarification a dozen times.