Cruel Jewel 56.85M, Blue Ridge, Georgia 5,3

Elevation Gain: 17,000'

May 16-17, 2014 - A formidable event was this one.  Nonetheless, I didn't approach it
with any degree of real seriousness.  Being an Eastern race I entered mostly out of
curiosity and proximity, rather than as an endurance challenge.  It was a good place
to test evolving theories and try new things.  Carrying ten pounds of extra gear and
supplies in back and waist packs this would be a good test of fastpacking, working
toward the day when I can carry everything I need on my back for multiple days of
covering ground and overnight bivouacing.

After a shuttle ride via deluxe bus from the finish at Vogel State Park to the start near
Blue Ridge in Georgia, the sky cleared and the sun came out after some threatening
showers while in transit.  Temps were a bit cool, but I dressed down to a short sleeve
tech shirt for the 4 p.m. start.  The route would follow roads for 2.7 miles with a good
climb before we would finally hit single track trail after the first Aid Station.  I was in
no hurry with my extra weight as I watched as racers and even most middle of the
pack runners moved away from me.  Despite purposefully lagging behind I was still
able to move up the first hill, passing several others as we gained about 500 feet in
a mile. It generally takes about seven miles to get comfortable; today would be no 

It was refreshing to enter the woods on the smooth single track of the Flat Creek Trail
as it wrapped around the undulating watershed on its gradual climb up Davenport
Mountain.  With the initial climbing other runners continued to come back to me 
without much effort.  I still prefer to run uphill with short intermittent walking, easily
catching and passing those that opt to walk more and run less.


The first five hours of the event would be more of the same, with lots of climbing and
long, mild descents. I chose to work at the climbs and nurse the down hills, opposite
the strategy of most others who often passed me in good stride on the descents.
Finally on the renowned Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) we crossed over Rich and Rocky
Mountains, halting at the gaps for aid before the next climb.  After a nearly five-mile
stretch of gravel and paved road, on which we crossed the Toccoa River on an old
single lane steel bridge, I finally donned my headlamp at about nine o'clock, covering
the first 24 miles in 5 hours, feeling comfortable and satisfied with the effort.

Temps dropped at dusk and into the darkness, but I stuck with just a short sleeve
tech shirt and I was comfortable, but not chilled, despite being able to see my breath
along the river.  After another mile or so I rolled into the fifth aid station where I
enjoyed seeing a running friend who was working as a volunteer there - Kris Cargile.
All systems were good as I headed back out on the BMT to go the next six miles over
three mountains - Garland, Brawley, and Tipton - to reach the 50K point at which I
could access my one and only drop bag.  Six hours and forty minutes comfortably on
this hilly course showed me I was prepared for what lay ahead.

I finally put on long sleeves and a vest to retain body heat.  Temps were heading
toward the high thirties, but I was comfortable and had not been sweating very much
since the sun went down.  The next seven-mile section to the aid station at mile 38 at
Skeenah Gap was clear sailing despite the continued mild undulations over Wilscot
and Deadennen Mountains.  If only the rest of the course was as mild as this, but I
knew everything was about to change after the aid station.

Taking a ten-minute break with the fun volunteers at Skeenah, I enjoyed some bacon
and ripe avocado, washed down with some Fat Tire.  That's my kind of comfort food
on the trail.  After pressing on I realized temps must be getting down there now
that it was past midnight.  Standing around just those ten minutes gave me a chill
before I proceeded up into the heart of the beast - the nine-hundred-foot climb up to
the Duncan Ridge to the beginning of the Dragon's Spine.  Up over Rhodes Mountain
it was finally game on!

I became lost a couple of times during this section, losing most of an hour to re-orient
and continue.  The course markings in the dark were less than obvious in some places.
I wasn't the only one who had to stop and try to figure it out.  After going knob to
knob to knob I finally arrived at Fish Gap after twelve hours of exercise at 0400.
Somewhere in this section I ran out of water (with the delay of getting lost) and was
beginning to run out of enthusiasm.  Twisting my only good Achilles heel on a mis-step
in the rocks I began to have sharp pain with each step, especially up hills, and there
were a lot of those.  Fearing the potential for completely blowing my Achilles like I had
done before with the left, I decided to end my day at Fish Gap rather than risk getting
caught out with a potentially catastrophic injury climbing somewhere in the middle of
the next 7.5-mile section.  Another ruptured Achilles would be devastating, but pale
in comparison to the hypothermia I would likely suffer before being able to get out.

I should be disappointed, except that I was not highly invested in this race to begin 
with.  I was glad for the experience of climbing in these northern Georgia hills, and
really learned a lot from my various tests that I will now be able to apply to upcoming
events that will be far more challenging.  These are some great hills; a little too easy 
on the feet and legs, but demanding nonetheless.  The only residual effect of my
effort yesterday is a sore back from humping all those hills with a pack.  The legs 
are good and I believe I saved my heel early enough that it will have time to recover
before the next big challenge in a month.

Super volunteers and race organization.  I don't think I would enjoy doing one
hundred miles on an out-and-back of this course, but I do look forward to two future
events that are staged here this fall and next spring.