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.

Dark Sky 50 Miler: Layers of Trail Beauty

2228EEBC-590E-45DF-ACF8-04E16C7C7C5B.jpegDark Sky 50 miler for May the Fourth, 2019, in Pickett State Park and Big South Fork Forests.
Layers and textures of forest: My words want to tumble forward, pressing out and growing in green and lush drippings of fern fronds and pink bulbous lady slipper flowers hanging on tiny stems, my thoughts want to surge out with a force of stone scarred and scratched, etched and oozing with thousands, millions, of years of changing. My heart still beats wildly with memories of the yellow trillium, the monkshood and hundreds of tiny unnameable flowers and fungi, the rocks with colored ooze, and stones home to universes of moss and sandwort and all manner of wort. All hues of green and brown swayed together so they turn kaleidoscopic as we plunged into the forest and rose up out again and again.

First, up before the dawn, the whippoorwill sang. I haven’t heard one since my grandmother sold the family farm, where the whippoorwills’ home was at the fork in the road and it sang daily. I lost myself in listening to the whippoorwill, my memories, and preparing for the race, mixing the sports drink for my pack; before I realized, it was almost 6 am, the start of the race. I threw my Stormtrooper shirt on and the backpack. A quick run downhill and I was at the lodge. B4FC7F25-089B-458D-AE81-003D86241078
I couldn’t find my friend, my running partner from my last race in December. I thought it would be easy with only 108 registered runners. He thought it would be easy. We would just meet at the race start. But, I was skimming into the race start that morning, checking in, making sure I had what I needed, and taking a bathroom break.

Suddenly, the race was on, and we were all moving in a herd and I hadn’t found B anywhere. My playlist started with Jimi (a lot of Jimi for this one), “Let Me Move You” was the first to move me.
D8AC11B3-9350-40F7-B39E-8B1DAF3D4F9F.jpegBecause we were so far out in the forest, I didn’t have cell service since the day before when we exited the interstate, which was about an hour away from the park entrance. B, my running partner who I met at my last race, was staying at Charit Creek Lodge (camp) in Big South Fork, and my husband and I stayed at Pickett State Park, where the race started and ended. The parks are on the line of the time zones, so part of the time my phone said CST and part of the time, it said EST, but it wouldn’t communicate via text or phone to anyone. This became a mental challenge as I couldn’t keep track of my time properly, not to mention I was mesmerized by the beauty of the forest. First realization, I should have worn a regular old watch. Next time. And, I reached out to the trees, traced fingertips across bark as I passed by.
A985584C-78A6-41E1-A7B4-4CE9AAD0F9B7.jpegTerry, my husband, was my one-man crew, so even though I didn’t see B, I knew that Terry would be at some of the aid stations, and that would help bolster me along. This was my first 50 mile race, and while I felt prepared as I could be, I just didn’t know if my body would agree to push past 31.069 miles (50km), my farthest distance until the 50 miler.

The race began with a quick jaunt through the trails around the lodge/rec center at Pickett State Park, and someone said it best in front of me, “Great, it’s the obligatory first walk of the trail run.” Yes, once you run a few trail runs, you soon realize that if you don’t angle yourself to get toward the front of the pack (regardless of if you are a fast finisher or not—remember, the finish is far far away, so it’s not about that), then you will be stuck on a single track in a long line of trail runners who are forced to walk due to the middle group. The middle group does the run/walk early. The front runners keep running for a while to create distance and walk later, much later, and some probably don’t walk much at all. I do walk in the middle and at the end, but in the beginning, I just want to get going. If you get stuck at the beginning, you walk, and if you are like me, this creates a lot of anxiety because I am stuck in a pack like a road run, and that’s why I don’t do road races; I don’t want to be in a crowd of any sort. I like to join with one or two runners, but if that can’t happen, I prefer flying solo. I know how I like to run and when I am forced into a condition, then the anxiety rises up. I choose runs with less people so that the crowd isn’t a factor. I get such bad anxiety in big road races that I have vomited for miles and once the anxiety gets started, it’s difficult for me to turn it off. This is both unhealthy and embarrassing. So, I will never set my sights on a Boston Marathon. I love the forest and running in it beyond anything, and it doesn’t cause me to vomit even after 50 miles. I can’t imagine hitting the pavement anymore than we had to in this Dark Sky 50 miler just to get from the trails at Pickett State Park over to Big South Fork trails. We ran about three miles, at the most, of pavement.

That morning, when we finally got to that first little stretch of pavement, I was happy because the herd could break apart and spread out. I was actually a little panicked at that point because I needed some trail and some good space. I didn’t see B anywhere. I was trying to get toward the front a little more just to see if he was up there. At the Bell Ringer 50km which we partially ran together, he was in front of me for a long time in the beginning of the race, so I reasoned that he must be in front of me again. Still, as we neared the trail head, I hadn’t seen him.
BAF184F3-77F4-4760-B4B3-F5CC88EC4D78.jpeg “If 6 Was 9” played about this time and I was ready for the forest. When we exited the pavement and hit the trails into Big South Fork, it was beautiful. I eased into my stride, so happy to run at a peaceful pace. The views around the rock formations and small caves kept me going and longing for more.

About the time I was listening to “Mojo Man” and fighting with my earbuds to fit correctly in my ears, I realized that I had been traveling behind two guys for a while. I would get closer to them and then back off again, giving them space. They asked if I wanted to pass.
“No way,” I said. “I appreciate you letting me cruise behind you guys.”

I knew that riding their wave was great, and I didn’t want to move. J started the introductions, and he was our trail leader. He was adept, and I felt confident being on their path. J was experienced with some impressive runs on his resume, but he didn’t tell me that. P told me. P is training for a 100-miler, and he has some 50s under his belt. He said that he had met J and kept running farther and farther. I was so relieved, and knew I was with the right guys, especially when J gave the trail a good cussing when his hat fell down a ravine into a waterfall as we rounded and rounded and rounded.

“Little Wing” was there and I felt as if I was walking through the clouds, in a fairytale, but I was in the forest. I felt like a kid with my cousins slashing our way through the saw briars and following cow paths into a “holler” on our grandparents’ farm, not that far away (maybe one hour west) from where we were running as the crow flies. Trombone Shorty was playing by this time. A little “Buckjump” and a little “Hurricane Season” went great with all the hopping.

J and P were the best trail leaders. I knew that they would get me to B if he was up there. We crossed many streams, creeks, and I swear one of them was a river, gushing, and we used the rope because they told us “Don’t be rockstars. It’s slippery.” It was indeed slippery. We clawed up banks. I was hearing Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings by then, and was “Settling In” as she reminded me to “Be Easy” Baby. We hopped trees, straddled trees (I bear hugged because I am short), slid off stones, navigated jagged points of rock, slid down leafy trails, turned, and bounced around giant rock formations, creeks and streams, tiny waterfalls, slick bridges, and slanted bridges, slatted bridges, ladders, and rock paths, rock ledges.

And we were at 13.something. A bunch of crew and volunteers suddenly cheered. There was a giant pickle asking me questions. Huh?
“Do you need anything?”
No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s all I felt, gratitude for everyone there. Nashville Running Company presented the race and the volunteers were all wonderful.

Terry was there. “You’re doing great! You have good time. Do you feel okay?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful in there,” I said, even though we were still in the forest; we were just crossing a dirt road at that point, but I meant the trails; it felt like being enfolded into the trails.

“You have us way the fuck out here in the sticks!” he said. “Whoa, these Jeep roads. I almost got the little car stuck.” He was so nervous that he couldn’t refill my pack at first, and he was fumbling with it while talking to me. We finally got it in and I ditched the storm trooper shirt. I was already soaking wet. The humidity started to rise. My fingers swelled as I left the aid station, telling Terry that I love him.

My playlist had reached The Rolling Stones, Dance Pt. 1, who said to “Get up, get out, get into something new. It’s got me moving, ya’ll.” I headed down the trail to find a good spot for a bathroom pit stop. I noted that I had already drank a 2liter of Vitargo. My fingers swelled and I realized that I forgot to get the handheld bottle with plain water. I was happy to have a fresh 2 liter in my hydration pack, but I really wanted plain water more and more and was irritated with myself for forgetting it.

I lost J and P somewhere in all that, too. The beauty kept coming but so did the challenges. I had to follow the white flags on my own, as my own leader, and sometimes I got a little panicked when I couldn’t find a flag, but eventually, I grooved with it and found the rhythm.

Alicia Keys sang what my heart thought, “I keep on fallin in and out of love with you,” to the trail. I climbed rock stairs, wooden stairs, tiny wooden stairs with a leg span for men 6 feet tall. I am 5 feet tall, but I leaned into them and bounded down, hooked around the switchbacks. “The Weight” by The Band played and I felt it lift me up a little lighter, a little easier.

Yoga came in handy. I felt as if I was playing trail “Chutes and Ladders” at times. I stretched, lunged, walk skip or jump your feet up from plank, yep, got that covered on the Sheltowee Trail. Left an eka pada rajakapotasana back by the creek, malasana under a medium sized waterfall, hanumanasana! between two trees to the limit! “Message to Love” from Jimi played and that’s what I felt. Great love and respect for the forest. Gulping it in. Slip on down and breathe, breathe.

I would catch sight of runners ahead and behind me sometimes. No B. J and P were long gone. I was following footsteps of other runners sometimes. We passed each other sometimes and everyone was encouraging, everyone cheered each other on, everyone was kind. “Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat reminded that “the water tastes like wine” and that we could “jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.” I definitely felt groovy without any need for alcohol. The John Muir trail dipped into dark forest winding, and I was thinking of all the footfalls that had traversed the trails, thinking of timelessness, and sometimes the dream state held me. 240EC778-657D-4484-A8F1-C67E96D0D02D.jpegI was looking into the valley from the top of a rock perch with a bee hive buzzing all around me and then I was down in the ravine with big boulders, crows cawing out warnings, and then it started to rain, to pour down, and a full on gulley-washer waylaid me, as I was headed for the aid station at mile 20-something.

I got little paper cups of water and drank a lot of it. The rain poured down. I was so happy. Again, I was incredibly thankful for the volunteers who hiked out there with water and sat in the rain for us. My fingers went back to normal, and I settled into a run and then a walk and a run and then a walk.

I didn’t see Terry at the aid station, and I worried about him trying to hike in to it and missing me. He broke his foot a little over a year ago, a bad break, and these wild, single-track obstacle-ridden trails could be treacherous for someone like him. Still, I had to go on. I had no way to contact him. My phone didn’t have service. I stopped taking pictures because everything was wet.

I zipped the phone up and didn’t listen to music either. Trumpet flower blooms littered the trails which were lined with foam flowers. Some rhododendrons bloomed their pink tongues out toward the rain. The trail turned to slush, and mud holes that got deeper and deeper as we ran alongside the river. I stepped in mud up to my knees and I plunged forward trying to navigate through slippery mud dirt, sloshing mud like thin concrete with holes that threatened to swallow me. The creeks and streams poured through the trail toward the river that sang beside me. Slushy, sloshing between rocks, the trail became a creek and a stream. I thought that I was running up the river at one point.

I sat in a waterfall and felt my skin sting and burn from chaffing. The cold water soothed it. I counted to twenty seconds and ran again. I ran and ran, saw the sliding footprints of other runners as they had tried to navigate the trail. I sat in another stream and counted to twenty. “Cold, cold water.” And, I ran again. Moving onward, the trail finally pulled up and up, still holding mud holes and dirt slicks and running streams, but moving up nonetheless, until finally I reached the split to Charit Creek.

Terry was there! Hallelujahs! And they were playing Jimi. I was “Home” for a few minutes.
“Have you seen B?” I asked.
“No, I haven’t seen him anywhere,” he said.

I took out my earbuds and moved around my phone, discovering a peppermint stick I had put in that morning. I couldn’t eat anything, but I left it in the pack and gave the pack to Terry to refill. I took the handheld water bottle, thanked the volunteers and headed out on the small loop at Charit Creek toward the Twin Arches. I was so happy to be relieved of my pack for a short loop. And, I was waiting for this part. I wanted to see this more than anything else on the run.

My hands smelled like peppermint and a song started to play in my head, “a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. A holiday season. Loopdeloop. He’ll be coming down the chimney down.” All mixed up and playing in my head. “Peppermint stick. Loopdeloop…down the chimney down…” I realized after I had already traversed the wooden plank horizontal stilt bridges over the swampy area and was climbing into rock formation territory that I had forgotten my phone to change the music in my head and to take pictures. It was still in my pack. That deflated me. I was down, “he’ll be coming down the chimney down” my legs were sad, and I almost cried as I passed gorgeous rock formation after rock formation.

“Loopdeloop. Leave a peppermint stick.” I thought about dropping out and getting my phone and coming back around, taking pictures of this loop, and then just walking out with Terry. I was tired anyway. I had already ran farther than ever before in my life. I had felt love and gratitude all morning. I was immersed in the beauty of the earth and the human spirit. “Peppermint stick for ole Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. Holiday season!Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop. Coming down the chimney down…merry bells keep ringing. Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop…”

Ugh, I laughed and tried to shake off the loopdeloop happening in my brain. I looked up to the majestic stones, the rocks towering, sheltering, snuggling together. Then, I came to the Twin Arches and met C. He was standing underneath it. I had been following him for a little while at some distance back. He said, “wow, it’s incredible!” Or something like that. I was so taken aback by the beauty of it, that scene, that it didn’t matter how he phrased it, I felt the same sense of wonder.

We headed back down the trail and C led the way. He introduced himself and told me that it was his second year to run the race. I told him that it was my first 50-miler and he said, “you’re doing great, much better than I did last year.” He explained that it was hot the previous year and he dehydrated, barely finishing the race. This year, the rain made it challenging, and as far as I was at that point, he said that I should definitely keep going. Walk, see how far you can get, that was his advice. We made it back to the Charit Creek aid station again. I took a bathroom break, picked up my pack from Terry, telling him I’d see him at the end, and headed up to Gobbler’s Knob, the big hill many had warned me about.

Mush! Climb! Push! I kept going and met up with C again around one of the bends. We reached Gobbler’s Knob together. My time was all messed up at that point. They said to keep going, so after some water, I headed off down a double track Jeep-like trail. C stayed behind at Gobbler’s Knob for a rest in a chair for a moment. If I sat down, I wouldn’t get up, so I kept moving.

This was one of my least favorite parts of the course. Miles of Jeep road. Gravel. I didn’t enjoy the views as much, but I knew that it was a way to get from trail to trail at times. I turned the music on again and it was Jimi’s “Wild Thing” which definitely helped me along. Finally, after another aid station, I plunged back onto a single track into the forest to Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It met up with a trail we had been on that morning. I put away the music again and crossed the creek(river) that I had crossed with J and P. I held the rope and swayed into the water as it poured through the banks from the earlier rain.

I made it to the second creek(river) crossing and the bank was a slick mud slide down. A woman was scooting down on her butt. A couple of other runners were headed up the other side. Three volunteers were waiting for everyone to cross. They were clearing the trails, checking to be sure that everyone was going to be on time because it was getting late at this point. Once it got dark, it would be difficult to see in the deep forest even with a headlamp. I held some trees and started to descend the bank toward the creek(river) crossing. “I’m sorry that I’m in your way,” the woman said. She was almost in the water by then.
“Oh, you’re not at all. I’m fine to wait here,” I said.
The volunteers told me about the rope about the same time that I saw it in the mud. I grabbed it and started down the bank. The woman had reached the water. I took about three steps when the rope came undone and I slid until my ankle slammed into a rock. I was worried. It popped hard against the rock. This was about the fifth or twenty-fifth time I’d fallen depending on how you count them. I sat there for a few minutes. The volunteers came to help.
“Put it in the cold water,” one suggested.
“Just sit as long as you need to,” another said. “You’re almost there.”
“Yes, yes,” I said. Another helped me slide the rest of the way into the water.
“I can bear weight,” I said. “It’s okay. Just popped the shit out of it.” I held the rope and started across the creek(river) surge. The current knocked my legs out and I slid on the rocks. The rope swayed out with me. “Just hold on and sit there for a minute,” one of them said. “You can just take a bath,” one of them said.
“Okay, I’m up,” I said. And then the current knocked me down again and the rope swayed. My legs were simply tired, and I couldn’t get my footing. I held on and sat with the water again. “I think I will sit here for a while,” I said. Finally, I made it across.
“Just walk the rest of the way if you need to,” one of them yelled after me.
“I will,” I said.

After a little walking, I ran again and turned on the music for a final round. Big Mama Thornton wailed “I’m Feelin’ Alright” and then “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, Baby, because I feel it in my bones.” All along the creek and up through the forest. It was the same way we entered that morning. I ran my hands along the flower petals and moss. I was past 40 miles at that point.

I took some pictures because I knew the Jeep road and then the pavement would be at the end, not many more great views, just getting home. I turned off the music after Rusted Root played “Drum Trip” and I was nearing a runner who I wanted to ask about the end of the course. She told me that we were at the final 5.4 miles to the finish. She had ran some previous 50s and maybe longer, I can’t recall exactly what she said because I was tired at that point. She told me that I had definitely earned this first 50 miles of mine, as the pouring rain had made the course really tough. Many people had dropped at the aid stations due to injuries, she said. I hadn’t noticed, but I wondered if B was one of them. I was hoping to see him at the finish, already having completed the race. About the time I was going to ask her name, she took off for a bathroom break. “So don’t forget to hang up your socks cause just exactly at twelve o’clock, he’ll be coming down the chimney down.” I realized that the “loopdeloop” and “coming down the chimney, down!” were spinning in my head again.

The Jeep road and pavement were uneventful. How I loathed them both but I had to admit that I was happy to be out of the mud. My clothes were drying out a little. I had plenty to drink. I kept moving forward. The woman passed me again once we reached the pavement and I followed her from the group camp and ranger residence out the road. As we climbed up the final hill toward the Pickett State Park turn into the lodge/rec center, two boys about eleven years old cheered from a trail where they had laid their bikes down.
“We got up when the race started and we’ve been waiting for everyone to come in all day,” one of them said to the woman up ahead of me.
I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was kind, and they talked some more to her. I told them thank you as I passed by them. Behind me, they debated together on which way to go.

Finally, we crested the hill and were in the home stretch. The boys passed me on their bikes, cheering, telling me that I was almost there and doing great! I could hear the cheers as the woman in front of me crossed the finish. Then, I could hear the cheers for me. I saw Terry. I was both calm and overwhelmed as I crossed the finish line and received my Finisher’s Medal. P was there, congratulating me. He said that he and J were looking for me to finish anytime. I thanked him for running with me for a while that morning. Terry and I talked for a moment and he took pictures.

I saw J, who had went to change clothes, and we congratulated one another, too. Terry didn’t see B anywhere. The next day, when I finally had cell service, I found out that B was behind me a little ways, and he didn’t make the Gobbler’s Knob cut off.

It poured down rain about thirty minutes after I finished. I put my stinky black running clothes out in the rain and joked that a skunk would show up to mate with them since they were speaking skunk language. It poured and poured rain for much of the night. Terry and I stayed in a rustic cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, young men who were out of work in the 1930s. The park contains a small museum that tells the story of how the men of the CCC constructed cabins, the lodge, and miles and miles of road and trails and more.

It was all possible because of their work. Terry and I talked about them, how we each had thought about those men throughout the day, how we could understand why they loved it there and wanted to build something beautiful. I would stay and build something beautiful there, be in that forest. Terry built a fire and we ate pizzas that he made. I drank vegetable broth, coffee, and tea, and iced my legs.

The rain stopped by the next morning and the whippoorwills sang again. Terry and I went out on the trail before leaving the next day. We took a very short hike to a waterfall and sat among the rocks beside the glowing green sandwort. We reached our hands out into the water falling from the forest above us.

Partial Playlist:
“Let Me Move You” Jimi Hendrix
“Mojo Man” Jimi Hendrix
“If 6 Was 9” Jimi Hendrix
“Little Wing” Jimi Hendrix
“Buckjump” Trombone Shorty
“Hurricane Season” Trombone Shorty
“Settling In” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Be Easy” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Rock Me, Baby” (Live) The Rolling Stones
“Dance, Pt. 1” The Rolling Stones
“Fallin’” Alicia Keys
“The Weight” The Band
“Message to Love” Jimi Hendrix
“Strawberry Swing” Coldplay
“Goin’ Up to the Country” Canned Heat
“We Gotta Live Together” (Home) Jimi Hendrix
“Happy Holidays” Andy Williams
“Wild Thing” Jimi Hendrix
“Over the Hills and Far Away” Led Zeppelin
“I’m Feelin’ Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Drum Trip” Rusted Root

Nashville Running Company’s Dark Sky 50 miler

On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.

Mobile Risks: Unplugging Part Two

How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence? Counting twenty people who were looking at their phones and/or texting and/or scrolling while driving in a two mile stretch. They were not stopped. Their cars were moving, in motion, in front of a school on a busy five-lane highway, past businesses, parking lots, bus stops, etc. Those were only the people who were holding up their phones so that I could see them. I even saw someone looking at a laptop computer. I don’t know if I am more astounded by the people doing it, or that they have so little space in their lives that they feel a need to drive and actually look at a screen/use the screen. The people drove all types of vehicles. I have no idea how many vehicles I passed going both directions and moving in, out, and through the various parking lots along the route. There were hundreds of vehicles in that stretch.

Yet, there weren’t any bicycles. I’ve been thinking about transportation more lately. I used to consider it frequently when I was in my twenties. Visiting Europe and later, very briefly living there, I discovered public transportation and felt a freedom to explore that I had never experienced in middle Tennessee in that way. My ability to get around in TN has mostly consisted of cars, though once out-and-about, the wide-open spaces in nature offer an exploration I have always loved. When I was growing up, we visited relatives with plenty of land, forests and fields, creeks and rivers, to roam. Traveling in an urban environment felt confining by comparison, since there are dilemmas with traffic and parking.

Voilà! European cities–trains, subways, trams, buses, and bicycles. I suddenly had many choices for getting to and from the cities and enjoying them. Traveling by public transport offered an amenity that anyone values who has experienced public transportation regularly–hands-free time when someone else could do the driving and I could relax, read a book, peruse any shopping I had done, chat with friends, and more. Riding a bike brought me down to the sidewalks and streets, the bike lanes, and corners, through neighborhoods and enchanting spaces. Many European cities make travel easy in this way, but the Dutch have the best system I’ve ever experienced with all of these alternatives.

By comparison, here in my home city of Clarksville (similar to many U.S. cities), the last train for commuting left decades ago and all the commuter rail possibilities went with it. I am constantly frustrated and riddled with anxiety as I watch pedestrians strive to cross a five-lane highway without a crosswalk or a stoplight from the shopping center to the bus stop. It is along the two-mile stretch I mentioned earlier. In fact, there are a few of these places where bus stops are across the five-lane highway from the businesses where people work. Pedestrians cross without a walkway or traffic light. AND, the bus stop is nothing, NOTHING, more than a sign that says BUS STOP beside the road. There are no sidewalks, no benches, no covered awnings, nothing–not even a bus schedule. All day, people risk their lives to run across the highway from their jobs to the bus stop, and there are dump trucks, semis, delivery trucks, big trucks with heavy machinery in trailers, and all manner of vehicles speeding down the highway. Some of the people I watch are disabled and/or elderly trying to get across the street. They seem scared, but they don’t have options since we have no other methods of public transportation–no trains, subways, trams, etc. I have definitely witnessed some close calls.

The majority of bike lanes in our city consist of the image of a rudimentary bike with a couple of arrows painted onto the far right side of the street/highway without any extra space. This bike lane painting within the regular traffic lane is on a major industrial highway. I see maybe two people a month risk their lives to ride a bike to and from work in this city. The people who ride those leisurely tourist bikes downtown don’t go very far and so don’t experience these problems–they stick with the sidewalks in a tiny quarter-mile radius of Public Hall and the Downtown Commons. As soon as you move out into New Providence or St. Bethlehem, even down Madison Street proper, you cannot find adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, or bike lanes. Pedestrians are in danger in most of this city.

I was a pedestrian when my husband and I first moved back here about fifteen years ago. We chose to live close to the university so that I didn’t have far to walk to class. He worked in Nashville, and we only owned one car after coming back from Europe. Often, here in Clarksville, I was afraid as a pedestrian that I would be struck by a vehicle. The sidewalks didn’t exist in certain sections; they just ended at a ditch. Tennessee is full of hills, rolling along, so oftentimes, it’s difficult to have a clear line of sight for very far. In fifteen years, plenty of businesses and shopping centers have opened, but not much has changed regarding pedestrian-friendly incentives and modes of public transport. Shouldn’t these businesses contribute to the overall lifestyle of this city? Shouldn’t they link up to a sidewalk, bike lane, crosswalk system, and maintain their own sidewalks/bike lanes/etc?

Daily, I watch those pedestrians playing “Frogger” with their lives, and my heart beats faster, I shiver, and sometimes, I hold my breath…a few times, I’ve had the opportunity to hold the line for them, braking in my car and holding back the traffic to allow them to cross one side of the road in peace while the other vehicles wait behind me. Most of the time, the other drivers don’t care anyway–they use it as an opportunity to check their phones and send texts. Then, they get annoyed and beep at me if I let too many pedestrians get out of the middle of the road at once. Usually, the on-coming traffic won’t stop at all.
This question!: How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence?