DOUBLE TOP 100K, Chatsworth, GA 3,3
Elevation Gain: 10,000+'; High Point: 4163'
March 3, 2012 - This was a proper adventure from start to finish.  My son
Keith and I headed south a couple days early - he to visit his brother and me
to race.  Heading through Tennessee we were hard pressed to stay
ahead of a line of tornadoes and mean thunderstorms that had swept across
Alabama, wrecking havoc throughout the central US.  Following local
forecasts and those of the National Weather Service on the radio it was a
real-life action drama that kept Keith transfixed.  By the time we crossed
the Georgia line they were recommending people traveling on I-75 to 
exit the highway and their cars to find safety in commercial structures
along the way. Tornadoes ripped across the interstate less than an hour after we had passed. As it was, being ahead of the storm, we only experienced strong winds and a few raindrops as we sped beyond the forlorning skies behind us. The aftermath of this powerful system would leave three dozen people dead and immeasurable damage in its wake. Before taking Keith to Alpharetta to his brother's place I stopped at Fort Mountain State Park at race headquarters to pick up my race number and get oriented with where I needed to be the next day. The stormy weather persisted after visiting with my son Matthew for a couple of hours. More tornadoes were closing in on the city of Atlanta early in the evening, so I headed out at 7 p.m. amid an incredible light show at dusk to drive up to the mountains where I would sleep in my car to await the start of the race early the next morning. With golf ball sized hail threatening I wanted to get my car out of harm's way. Tornadoes generally don't travel into the mountains, so I felt it would be a better place to weather the storm, and it was. The night proved stormy, with wind and hard rain pounding the ridge top in the park, but I slept through it and arose early, rested and ready to race. The rain and wind were past, with the temperature at 45 degrees. A small group of perhaps fifty racers started casually to wind its way around the lake on rolling park roads before hitting single track, taking a connector trail that would lead us over to the Pinhoti Trail. I started very conservatively, without any hurry, running very relaxed and walking a lot more on the hills. I had no concern over time for this one. The sun was coming up and it looked like we had a beautiful sunny day ahead in the mountains. Northern Georgia's mountains are like most mountains up and down the Appalachian chain - forever winding trails through deciduous forests, with lots of cool overlook views and enough variety to keep things interesting. Unlike many other Appalachian trails, however, this one was not very rooty or rocky, so
presented little technical challenge. Wading through calf-deep streams caused my socks to wad up a bit, making my toes sore, but I didn't sense any bothersome hot spots, so was able to keep rolling with just one fall - smashing one finger and bloodying one knee, but nothing to interfere with my momentum. The pace was easy enough that conversation was comfortable. Time checks at the aid stations showed we were still averaging 5 mph, despite a fair amount of climbing. I chatted with a fellow who needed a pacer at Leadville - Brett Malone - I told him I might be available and would be in touch about that. Lots of other interesting conversations with nice people. I rolled into the 21-mile aid station in 4 hours, where I reloaded from my drop bag. I had been running with a woman from Chattanooga named Dreama Campbell, attempting to talk her out of dropping out because of a sore calf. Catching up with her after the aid station we socialized as we rolled over the next four miles or so of the Pinoti Trail, just enjoying the beauty of the woods and nice weather. A mountain biker rode up the trail in a bit of anxiety and told us we were way off the course, that he had already turned around five other people ahead of us also going the wrong way. Going off course by four and a half miles is upsetting, to say the least. Running another hour to get back on course was down right demotivating. While I may have made progress in talking Dreama into continuing the race to its conclusion, our misdirection was a deal-killer. Now she was certain she would drop and I was not too excited about continuing either, especially since the course headed straight uphill on a gravel road for several miles. I can run trails all day long and never get tired of it, but running roads during a trail race is more than anti-climactic. One of the aid station people drove down to where we had gotten off course to provide water for those who had run the wrong way. I was grateful as I had nearly exhausted my supply. As it turned out, nearly a fourth of the field went the wrong way. While we ran an extra 8 to 9 miles, some people ahead of us put in up to an extra 12 miles. Before making the wrong turn I was told I was in 12th place. That meant at least five other people were among the leaders of the race. As things played out it was apparent that some of the dozen other runners who wasted a lot of time on the wrong trail were "pissed", to put it mildly. Dreama and I didn't have an issue with it. It was our fault, even though it was clear that the race organizers were partly culpable. We were enjoying our day and weren't going to let it impact our attitude, but it was pretty clear that instead of me convincing her to continue, I bought into her plan to stop, even though I had no issues other than mild hypothermia after walking up the road awhile. We ran when the road was level, but finally resolved to just walk as the road wound ever upward at a mentally discouraging rate. Dreama didn't know where her husband Trey was, but when she found him she was going to abandon. Given the lack of traffic and general support this far back into the mountains it could have presented a problem getting out for someone who actually had to drop. When her husband drove up the road behind us, we didn't get into the car, but had him continue up the road to scout for the aid station. After two and a half miles he turned around without
finding an end to the climb, so we hopped into the car and called it a day after about 32 miles and seven hours. I didn't want to dnf, and I really didn't need to stop; all systems were go. As the course went we were still about seven miles from the turnaround at 50K, straggling at the back of the pack. I had lost my motivation, but had made a friend. It had been a great day on beautiful trails, one I will remember for a long time. Walking another three miles up a dusty gravel road just didn't excite me. It wasn't worth a slow time in the books and a momento. So, we rode back to retrieve my drop bag, then back to our cars at the start, and left the scene early, satisfied with the day's accomplishment, all things considered. With four other dnf's at ultras in the past year, all for better reasons than this one, maybe I'm losing my desire. Having to run slower for injury and age has softened my resolve. I love to adventure, but maybe have less patience to see some of these to the end. I'm sensing my ultra days are drawing to a close, mostly. The hunger for adventure is always there. I may have to adjust my tactics and do more hiking and climbing, as well as shorter races to accomplish the same thrill. For a few minutes when we learned we had gone off course, Dreama and I talked about maybe not turning around. The trail was fantastic; we'd have no support, but we'd still end up at the same place that the race course would take us. Maybe it's time to get off the course I've been following in my own life and continue forward without the support of organized racing !!!!! Hmmm!