Monday, December 6, 2010

lung distance logs ii. georgia blue ridge.

november 29th 2010. clarkesville georgia. chattahoochee forest national park, panther creek trail.  lung distance logs ii. Knee is healthy and the mountains are in my window.

I barely had time to find the beastie boys cd and drink a half-cup of coffee on the nine minute drive to the trailhead of panther creek trail. the route was well-marked, making a trailhead in the middle of nat’l forest georgia easy to find. Three dollars for a parking permit, a stop at the rustic but private facilities, and across the highway, i began the run and pushed into the depth of forest which is the chattahoochee forest. just wonderful.

Panther creek trail is a ~7 mile out-and-back run on mostly packed red clay with plenty of ankle-grappling, foot-contorting rocks knotted with gnarled roots and varying x-slope, grinding the legs at every click. The trail follows the panther creek, making harsh cuts through the woods, climbing juts of stone and jaggedrock cliffs, crossing the water four times (twice on rock and twice on foot bridges) and then pushing up burley root-steps and limestone slopes to eventually bomb into a flat area at the base of the panther creek falls. The trail has some fast sections, but mostly it is technical and makes for a pleasurable pace to absorb the many smells, images, and the interesting landscapes.

across seven miles, my footfalls were flat a total of one mile, maybe, and the rest was rock-kicks, root-juts, contortionist ankles and leg tweaks. iron and wine was in my head (from great heights, the slow release) when I relaxed from focusing on the ten feet of trail before me. thick with autumn smells, the morning was a cool 41 degrees with spritely air in the nose. . . . occasional animal smells provoked a higher attentiveness, but never a visual on any animal, neither bear nor bobcat nor panther nor dogs. . . a few birds flitted along, and I remember thinking they seemed very small. The trail was entirely void of human beings, adding another dimension of appreciation for this trail. . .

December 2nd. Tallulah falls state park, ga. I quickly filed my paperwork for a backcountry permit at the state park offices, paid a five dollar parking fee, (parking is free at ga state parks on wednesdays, the one day I didn’t run) mixed a watery g2 mixture and started the stoneplace trail. The trail is a 10 mile out-and-back route that cuts through the mountains surrounding tallulah gorge & falls, emptying out into a lake at the bottom of a strange mountain cradle. The trail is entirely primitive, with softball-sized and larger rocks ALL across the trail. I mostly followed the narrow path in the middle of the trail, cut by the torrential rains of Wednesday, a single-track rough the heavy layers of leaves and exposing the rocks and roots.

At about mile two, I’d found a gravel road (via a wrong turn-- blaze markings are sparse on stoneplace trail), venturing into a strange community of stacked multiplexes. Sliding down the valley’s slopes like archaic condominiums were six or seven “residences” composed of trailers and wooden structures, a hunting cabin with a cooking shelter ten feet to the left, and one smoking chimney of an unknown structure– maybe a still. Truck campers were roughly balanced on wheel barrow boxes, and two old pop-top campers butted against rustic wooden shacks. Rebel flags hung high beside rusted drums, and one unseen dog barked. An old chevrolet, a 70's sedan, was stuffed with fake flowers across the front seat and the back seat, probably in the trunk too. I knew hunting lands bordered the trail, and while I was wearing orange and yellow attire, I didn’t want to risk totally losing the trail. So I backtracked and found a blaze and kicked it back up the red clay. (While I don’t want to sound like a stereotyping asshole, the film Deliverance was filmed here, and I was totally alone and a touch nervous for a minute. That is confessional and non-PC, so take it as you will.)
The beauty of stoneplace trail is well-preserved, is ungroomed and natural, but it is not postcard vistas. The smells are of red clay, decaying leaves (molasses and distant smoke), wisps of pine, wet stone, and fermenting cedar. It is rough mountain growth with massive trees decaying in the spot where they fell years ago. Steep descents allow a creek to babble up here and there, but there are few water features except at the turn-around point. There, a lake sleeps, tranquil and dark, fed by a few small creeks webbing in. An unpaved road snakes in from the west, blue-n-gray gravel, steep, gouged by sliding car tires. The lake is a recreational center I suppose, unremarkable but for the juxtapose of a lake cradled by mountains. The run back was acrobatic and fun, with fairly visible blazes on trees, and one open-face wooden shelter for camping. The trail strikes me as a very masculine energy, a powerful space to force one's self through.  Moments of joyful work accompanied me, and this was another wholly solo run.

December 3rd. Panther creek trail remix. Wednesday's massive rains eroded and resculpted much of the trail, also causing slippery crossings on limestone faces. But I was confident in my feet and legs, loose, if a bit tired initially, and had a a tight run. One terrifying image haunted the first mile, a strange tyler-durden-splice of a figure in wet black trenchcoat, an older male face, deep dark eyes, classic horror face staring down the trail as I ascended the ledge. I swallowed my heart, stopped (entirely baffled), breathed again and resumed the run through the apparition’s vapor. Strange. 

The bulk of the run, the middle section, was the same as before, but with a more heightened sense of terrain variations.  Nuanced dips where water pushed around rock and root brought concave spoons of mud, loose ropes of hemlock root grabbed for toeboxes, and at least two more fallen trees crossed the trail.  The smells were primal. The water was rushing and loud as water can be.  It was a wholesome experience. 

Towards the finish, I found some deep (but not huge) paw tracks, with claws, directly under the 441 bridge at around ½ mile point. I smelled nothing, but six miles into the run and nearly done, my pace was certainly boosted.

this trail is cleansing and focusing. pay the three dollar parking fee and run yr fucking heart out. The good work puts you in a state of glowing ecstacy. And its unpopulated status (on my two trips) makes a superior experience. It is not a long run, but it is aerobic and quick-footed as well as quick-minded, and leaves you energized and lucid, the reason for it all.

December 5th. mud and muck and miles. A cold wind seemed to face-off against me every step of a ten mile run, home again, Sunday, and thick in the post-vacation decompression. Weaving through the traffic of three major wilmington/ wb churches as they let out, I craved the mud and smells of the georgia foothills. Someone honked and yelled from a while tahoe. Mayfaire mobs collected at intersections like alligators waiting for a parade of chickens. I was back home. I bowed my head and kept running.