Mortimer Year three…Team HRB
The Hill Running Bitches were back at it again this year. Year one was 12,000 feet of elevation gain. Year two was 13,000 feet. This year was 14,000 feet. You get the idea. It gets harder each year.
Last year Short Sale was a fill in for Whoopee, and Radar was a fill in for YHC due to injury. YHC drove last year and with Team HRB healthy Short Sale wanted to drive this year and run in case one of our PAX went down due to injury.
Whoopee, JJ, Breaker Breaker, Stroganoff, Defib, and YHC were the runners and each was mentally sharp and ready to go. The hardest part about Q’ing this event is figuring out which position to place the runners. The legs switch each year and YHC tried not to have the same PAX run the same legs year over year. JJ’s attitude was “put me in wherever”, thereby guaranteeing him getting the hardest rated legs. Defib got runner two because he is a stud. YHC took runner three because this had the now infamous “LEG 8”. Whoopee’s leg was the #4 hardest, (keep in mind he got the 24 mile total legs) including some trail running. Breaker and Stroganoff rounded out the last two. There were no “easy legs” this year.
The second hardest part about Q’ing this is making sure you can find a high top Sprinter van. While doing CSAUP’s, it is important to find luxury where you can.
Enterprise came through after disappointing us for the Dam to Dam in February with a crappy Chevy. Short Sale and I picked up our High Top Sprinter on Friday afternoon and YHC took it home to prep it out. Unfortunately, only some of the seats could be removed but thanks to YouTube, zip ties, and a pair of pliers, YHC was able to remove the seats we didn’t need to create a practical space for our team.
We met at GSM International HQ and arrived at Tator Hole at least an hour early. It was cold so we stayed in the van for a while and watched all the other vehicles roll in. Trucks, Minivans, Suburbans, and another Sprinter! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
We had a nice Nameorama and Prayer. The team from Omaha was there representing. Another team from Winston Salem was made up of three FNG’s. This is a brutal way to introduce yourself to F3! Whoopee started the race to the sweet sounds of “Dueling Banjo’s” played by Kodak on the banjo and I believe there was a smoke bomb lit as well. Epic stuff.
Whoopee came in with a good pace and YHC took off next and ran to Hibriten Mountain Baptist Church and tagged in JJ. Leg three is an up and back and apparently there was a Billy Goat Gruff local who didn’t like PAX running up his hill. After a confrontation between this local and a runner, the runner returned to the church and called the police. The police arrived and there was talk of a warrant out for Cousin Eddie for trespass or something for planning a race at midnight that runs up a mountain. Anyway, JJ HTFU’d and ran up and back and tagged in Breaker who had a 5 miler. This took us to downtown Lenoir where we found a porta jon that got a lot of work while we waited for Breaker. Stroganoff went out next and ran to the country church where the dogs run wild. Totally sketchy area. When Stroganoff finally appeared and grabbed his water bottle from his teammates that were waiting to greet him, he yelled out his patented saying, “SHIT” or something similar. It is as predictable as the word “Terrific” on his Gaston’s Great podcast.
Defib took off as runner six and beasted that leg per the usual. He got many kills on this leg before reaching the next park EZ for Whoopee who had a grueling 10.3 mile leg, the longest of the race. The EZ between leg 7 and 8 is along the creek and YHC cracked the window of the Sprinter so we could hear the “sleep noises” emanating from the flowing creek. Everyone in the van had some level of shut eye during this stop, but too many were awoken by the various doors opening so the PAX could take a whiz.
At last, Whoopee connected with YHC at the base of Harper’s Creek trailhead, like a confluence of rivers. YHC began to run up the infamous leg 8 with a vow that it would be completed within two hours. This leg got a reputation last year as both Quiche and Radar got lost. Quiche eventually conquered it and Radar had several failed attempts but eventually hitchhiked to Bessie’s Store and met the Rottweiler that was later killed in a significant story for the region.
The first rule of leg 8 is don’t get lost. The first 100 yards is probably 40,000 yards directly uphill or at least it felt like it.
At the top of one of many inclines, YHC saw the marker, a piece of red and green tape tied to a tree limb, signaling the direction of the path YHC should take. With firm resolve that it was the right path, YHC took off in this direction and immediately questioned if this was the right path. The “trail” was narrow and basically an erosion ditch covered with leaves and briers and tree limbs covering portions of it. Not the pristine “Rocky Branch” or “Backside Trail” paths that YHC had trained on. Also, it is hard to “run” when the elevation is 20% or more. The good news is it was getting brighter and YHC put the flashlight away by mile two. The occasional open ground was basically sprinted, followed by additional climbs of narrow paths. At the “top” of the trail, YHC paused for a couple of sunrise pictures. The wind began to howl at this point, but fortunately you could only hear it and not feel it…yet. Also, it was at this point that YHC thought he saw…..snowflakes?
There were some beautiful scenes along this leg but YHC just wanted to make it to Pineola Road to confirm he was on the right path. Before that happened YHC startled a PAX from another team and confirmation was received as YHC ran past this guy. Finding Pineola Road was a relief and YHC took a left at the road and welcomed the fairly flat gravel run for a few miles before taking a hard right onto Huntfish Falls. The descent began.
This was a beautiful leg and would be an epic hike if I wasn’t trying to run and pass the baton to my TEAM HRB mates. It would have been great to enjoy the countless waterfalls (on a spring day) but instead it was getting colder and still snowing with high winds. While watching my steps on a particularly sketchy downhill section YHC heard the crumbling of branches behind me and a maniac runner was crashing down at full speed like Rambo running away from Sheriff Teasle. I barely moved out of the way in time and just like that the runner was gone. I fully expected to see a younger man with broken ankles at some point on the rest of the leg but that never happened. Amazing.
At some point YHC looked at his phone and had been on the trail for an hour and a half. A few creek crossings went well aside from cold feet but then YHC had a phone save, switching hands from left to right to avoid putting it into the freezing cold creek. However, the left hand struck a rock to keep the balance with such force that may have caused whiplash and definitely messed up the left shoulder. In any event, the phone later took a quick dip and other than two photos that must have miraculously been uploaded to the cloud the rest were not recovered. One much younger PAX passed YHC and then started walking so it was game on for a while and after a few passes back and forth, including a veteran move when we got lost together briefly, he passed for the last time while proclaiming, “we must be almost there”. YHC eventually appeared at the EZ after a disappointing 2:15 hours. Dang….but it was so worth it. What an adventure. HTFU
While YHC was recovering from the shock of Leg 8, JJ had an equally terrible hill climb on leg 9 into Linville. We arrived at the convenience store by the post office and guys went in for coffee and snacks. When JJ arrived at the EZ, the wind was blowing like crazy. Gusts up to 40 mph is what the weather report said and if you were there you would believe it. There was also snow on the ground in spots. Breaker took the torch while the rest of us stayed bundled in the van. We headed up towards Grandfather Mountain for the next EZ.
Stroganoff and YHC waited outside the van for Breaker in the blistery conditions until Breaker arrived and passed the torch to Stroganoff for the quad punishing downhill 7 miler. YHC missed the turn and went down Pilot Ridge Road in reverse and the steepness of that monster could be appreciated even more as we crossed our fingers the brakes wouldn’t go out. Stroganoff handed off to Defib who had the brutal task of running Leg 12, the Pilot Ridge massacre where lesser men have had that leg go “balls deep”.
In what YHC had predicted, Defib averaged a 10 minute pace. I can’t imagine a more impressive stat to date. Defib claimed he was losing a step due to “age catching up”, but you couldn’t tell on this feat of strength! Seriously, a ten minute pace is ridiculous. Beast mode!
We got to the top of the order again and we decided to take liberties with the rules (voluntary DQ) and let Whoopee start running leg 13 before Defib appeared at the EZ. Other teams reacted incredulously while we watched their reactions and smirked in the van. When Defib arrived we headed to the EZ between Leg’s 13 and 14 but what we really craved were porta jons so we detoured Price Park and while there, several lost runners emerged from the Boone Fork Trail and weren’t sure where to turn. We pointed them in the right direction and then headed to Trout Lake.
YHC convinced Short Sale to run leg 14 with me. We took off before Whoopee got back and headed to the top of Rich Mountain. It was cold and unbelievably windy. We reached the summit and headed back down but our mileage was already off. It was supposed to be an easy 3.8 mile up and back but we were already over 2 miles before reaching the top. On the way down, YHC saw the green and red tape beside an A-frame that went over the top of a barbed wire fence. “This must be the way”
Down a steep trail we emerged on a paved road where a Suburban full of F3 guys called out to us, looking for one of their lost PAX. “We haven’t seen him. “Where is Trout Lake?” we asked.
“Half a mile that way” they said.
We started running again and soon realized it wasn’t a half mile but miles back to where we should be. After running closer to 5 miles, we hitched a ride to emerge at Trout Lake where we spotted our rental being driven by UNAUTHORIZED DRIVERS! YHC kicked Breaker out of the driver’s seat. Apparently they had received an “I’m lost…Price Park” text from Whoopee. We drove back to pick him up at Price Park and hit the porta jon’s there for a second time. YHC expected to drive back to Trout Lake and let JJ out to start leg 15 but it was apparent that the mental fortitude of the team had been compromised by the thoughts of Blowing Rock, beer, and pizza. Since YHC’s phone was dead, a text was sent by someone else to Cousin Eddie letting him know we were calling it a day and we went to Mellow Mushroom and had three of the most delicious pizzas ever eaten.
Now you F3 Gashouse PAX are probably thinking we are soft for not touching the rock this year. Fair enough, but the training and effort put into this beast is worth more than finishing. YHC can say this was at least as fun as year one or two. Doing difficult things with your brothers is the best! The thrill and risk of getting lost or injured has benefits, reminding PAX of their youth where cell phones weren’t a thing and you had to rely on yourself to get out of trouble.
Further validation came from the Race Committee. Upon asking for feedback, the initial AAR was that they may shorten the race and instead of starting at Tater Hole, perhaps start somewhere closer to Lenoir to end the race at a decent hour on Saturday. Next, they said they would work on better directions for leg 13 (where Whoopee got lost) and Leg 14, (where Shortsale and I got lost). Clearly, this is a definite CSAUP and the cold, wind, and snow made this a most memorable experience.
If you are in F3 and haven’t completed CSAUP’s, don’t wait. They are good for your mind and body and the bonds created between brothers who push the rock are solid.
Always a pleasure to lead,