Ironman 70.3 North Carolina 2017 (Beach to Battleship)

27 10 2017

My last race of the 2017 season is officially in the books! Ironman 70.3 North Carolina has been on my calendar for MONTHS, and it’s finally come and gone. It was my first time doing this race, formerly known as Beach to Battleship, and I’d say it was a good one!

Two days out from race day (Thursday): 


I drove up to Wilmington from Tampa with two carloads of friends on Thursday for the Saturday race. It was a long drive, but I guess it beats packing/unpacking and flying with a bike? Jury is still out on which is preferable…We arrived at our rental home around 6pm, dropped our things, and then walked over to Ironman Village to pick up our packets. We were staying less than half a mile from the finish line/Ironman Village, so we had plenty of time to get checked in and buy some swag before they wrapped up for the night at 7pm. Once checked in, we walked home, finished unloading and then ordered some pizza for dinner. A few of us in the group (including me) have a tradition of pizza two nights before a race, so this was perfect! We ate our pizza and watched some tv before heading to bed. It’s the night before the night before- the most important night for a good night’s sleep!

One day out from race day (Friday):

I woke up around 7/7:30 (no alarm) and went to the Brooklyn cafe next door for breakfast. The day before, I had seen their advertisement for homemade beignets, so I was immediately sold on going there for breakfast. Beignets weren’t the healthiest breakfast option, but I figured, carbs! I ordered beignets, a homemade banana bread muffin, and a latte. The cafe has only been opened a month and a half and it is owned by this super sweet couple. The wife bakes all the muffins and cookies in house (she even brought me a fresh peanut butter cookie while I was eating my doughnuts!) and her husband fries up the beignets as you order them. While I was waiting for the beignets, another customer walked in, and I noticed that he had left his puppy outside.

IMG_2890It was a husky puppy and probably one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen. Immediately I asked the owner if I could go pet her, and he said of course. Luna was super sweet and when I sat next to her, she climbed right onto my lap. I texted one of my friends to tell her she needed to come out immediately to see this dog. Seriously, this dog was adorable. After some puppy snuggles, I enjoyed my doughnuts – super delish by the way- and chatted with my friend Brad before heading back to our place to get ready for pre-race workouts.

We drove over to Wrightsville Beach, where the swim start would be, and parked at the unofficial TriMarni HQ for this event. This race had a handful of TriMarnis racing, and though I wasn’t staying in their house, they let us use their place as a landing pad for our pre-race workout and then on race morning, it was our staging area. THANK YOU JIM!!


Since the bay was getting a bit busy with boat traffic, we opted to do our swim in the ocean. You guys, the water was PERFECT- water temp was in the 70s, there were small, clean swells coming in, and the water was super clear. If I hadn’t had a race the next day, I would have spent the entire day in the water catching waves. But alas, I didn’t want to wear myself out, so I did my usual pre-race swim before catching a wave in and then heading to get in a bike workout. My girl Justine joined us and it was so nice to see her! She’s my TriMarni teammate and we both push each other to be better athletes.  After our ride, we went back to our house. I was going to do a bit more riding, but it was starting to get late and I wasn’t entirely sure how safe it was to ride in the downtown area, so I scrapped it and got my gear bags ready.


This race takes a bit more planing, because it’s a two transition race. T1 (swim to bike) was over by Wrightsville beach, and we needed to drop our bikes and bike gear bag there before 5pm on Friday. T2 (bike to run) was in a different location, close to the finish line (but not at it!), and we needed to drop our run gear bag by 4pm. We had to use gear bags at the World Championships, but logistics were a tiny bit different for this race. At T1, though they said we needed to drop our bags with our bike, it ended up not being mandatory. Since there was talk of ants on the ground there, and we could access our bikes in the morning, I opted to take all my bike stuff with me (except for my bike, obviously) rather than leaving it. However, we DID need to bring the bike gear bag back in the morning to leave with the bike- that would be the bag all your swim stuff would go into when you were done the swim (so that you could get it after the race in the finishing area). The Run Gear bag was a mandatory drop off, and you left it by/on your numbered spot on the bike rack. On race day, you’d finish the ride, rack your bike at the place where your run gear bag was, and put on the run gear from the bag. My friends actually dropped my run gear bag off for me because I was hoping to make an athlete meeting. Unfortunately, I misread the information about the time of the meeting, so I totally missed it. Whoops. Thankfully the RD was still there and told me a few highlights. Once all that logistical stuff was settled, we ran to Whole Foods for breakfast and post-race supplies, and then had a yummy dinner at a sushi place downtown. I had a bento box with teriyaki tofu and a tempura shrimp roll. After dinner it was early to bed for all of us- tomorrow would be an EARLY day!

Race day! (Saturday):

My alarm went off at 4:15am, and I was up and gearing up to leave the house by 5:00am. I checked the weather and it looked like it was going to be a darn near perfect day. It was currently 55, but highs would get up into the high 70s/low 80s. Not gonna lie, I was pretty pumped about FINALLY having a run course that wasn’t going to be miserably hot!


Me and Shannon

We weren’t entirely sure how bad traffic would be on race morning, so we left plenty of time to account for that. Our fearless sherpa, Chris woke up with us and drove us to T1. (They did have shuttles from the Hilton downtown if you didn’t have a ride to T1.) Traffic ended up not being bad at all, so we were all in transition and mostly set up by 5:30. I put my Garmin on my bike, put my bike shoes on the pedals, filled up my bladder, placed two bottles on my back cages, and laid out my helmet between my handle bars with my Skratch chews and sunglasses. I hung my empty gear bag on the front of my aero bars so it would be ready to fill with my swim gear. Chris pumped our tires (he was allowed in to transition because he was registered but decided not to race), we took a pic, said goodbye to Chris and then headed towards the shuttle busses to the swim start.


The gang

We had to wait in a decently long line, but thankfully, there were plenty of busses/trolleys so it moved fast. Once over at the starting line, we walked several houses down to the TriMarni house. It was so, so, so nice to have a warm house with real bathrooms to wait the hour+ until go time. If you have race sherpas, I would highly recommend a house at the start, especially because weather at that time of year can be a bit iffy, and the waiting area for athletes is an unprotected parking lot, with no where to sit but on the cold ground.

Justine and I went for a short warm up jog, and we stopped by the course where she gave me some pointers that another one of our teammates with experience doing this race, told her. We ran back, got on our wetsuits, and headed to the start line.


Tri Marnis!!


Women 30-34 were in the third wave, 7:26am. It was a wetsuit legal swim (water just above 70 degrees) so I was wearing my long sleeved Xterra wetsuit. After walking down a super slippery ramp (the rubber mat they had on it was too small, and had already started slipping away from where it would have been most useful),  we waded into the water for our floating start. Right before we started, one of the safety boats came up to the start line, and someone in there was wearing and ACBP sweatshirt. I recognized the sweatshirt immediately, being an ACBP alum myself, and then I realized I knew who was wearing it! I yelled hello, and then put on my goggles just in time for the 10 second count down. I was totally expecting the cannon to go off or to hear a horn, but I didn’t hear anything indicating a start, I just saw the girls in my wave starting to go! GAH! I joined in with the thrashing and took off. There was a bit of a craze right at the beginning, as with any group start, but I finally broke away and found someone’s feet. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel completely prepared for this swim; not fitness-wise, but in my understanding of the course. I probably should have done a bit more recon, studied the map more, and gone to check out the swim finish before I ever jumped in that water, but it ended up working out okay.

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.12.47 PM

I swam with some girl in my wave for a little bit and then I think I dropped her. I kept the buoys to my left and tried to sight pretty frequently. The sun was rising to my right, so I breathed mostly to my left. At some point on this first straight part of the swim, I started catching the people in the waves in front of me. I also spotted another girl from my wave, and tried to stay with her. At the first turn buoy, it got a little hectic, but I just kept swimming. Sorry to those I swam over! Shortly after that first turn buoy, I felt my wristband fall off. For half a second I was like, oh, I should try to grab that, but then I realized how dumb that was and I kept swimming. As long as my timing chip stayed on, I was good. Soon, the next turn buoy was upon me. I made the right turn, and in my head I was like, I’m swimming straight to the finish now. But then I came upon another turn buoy, and we needed to turn left to head into the finish. See, should have paid a little closer attention to the map! I wasn’t sure how much longer I had to swim, but I had felt my watch buzz every 500 meters, so I knew I had to be getting closer. All of the sudden I looked up to sight, and saw people ahead of me at about 2 o’clock, climbing out of the water onto a dock. I totally thought I was going to be swimming to straight to a ramp that I’d walk out of the water. Nope, it was a dock with a ladder off to my right. Again, should have studied the swim course/checked out the swim exit! I quickly cut to the right and aimed for the third or fourth ladder in. I climbed up, and after starting my run towards my bike, I remembered to lap my watch. I looked down and saw 25:XX and was like WHOA, that was fast. I knew it was a with current swim, but wasn’t expecting that much help!

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.35.51 PM

what I actually swam

Official time: 00:24:38


The run to the bike was long. The nice thing was that a) there were wetsuit strippers b) they had fresh water sprinklers we could run through which were WARM! and c) the volunteers were awesome. The cold, hard concrete hurt my feet while I ran to my bike, but eventually, I made it to my bike. I threw on wetsuit, cap, and goggles into my bike gear bag, left it on the ground, threw on my bike gear and headed out. Just as I was leaving my rack, I heard “GO STEPH”- I looked up and saw Justine heading in to transition. I knew she had a solid swim and she’d be hunting me down on the bike. Though I knew I needed to race my own race, I wanted to hold her off for as long as possible.




I got my bike out of transition, carefully stepped off the curb with my bike, mounted at the line, and started to ride. I have a tendency to start racing right from the beginning of the ride (see Wisconsin 70.3) which is really not what I need to be doing. So, the nice thing about the start of this ride (for me) is that it starts with a short section with some speed bumps and turns, which force you to slow down. Then, about a mile in, you’re forced to slow down again, to go over the drawbridge with metal grates. When I got there, volunteers were emphatically telling everyone to slow down and be careful over the grates, which were a little wet from the morning dew. As I neared the top of the bridge, there was a car stopped, in the lane where we were supposed to be biking. I thought to myself, “What the heck, get out of my lane!”, as I carefully went to the outside of the coned off lane, into stopped traffic, to get around the stopped car. Riding on those grates was definitely sketchy- I have ridden metal grates before, but this was the first time I legit was nervous and thought I might lose control and fall over. As I made it over the top, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what I thought to be a cyclist down. OH, THAT’S why the car was blocking my lane. I later learned that the downed cyclist had been my SOAS teammate Shannon. She’s okay now, but the fall ended her race. SUCH a bummer.

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.41.27 PM

The course is what I’ll call a lollipop- a long straightaway (stick), with a small loop (the pop) and then back down the stick. After this first part with turns and the bridge, we eventually made it to the stick , a long stretch of flat, flat, flat road. During this part of the ride, I remember feeling cold- I was wet from the swim, it was still early in the morning, and the ride had some shaded parts. I was wishing for the sun to be higher in the sky so that I would warm up!

Around mile 20, my friend Maria passed me, along with another girl in our age group. Maria is super strong on the bike, so I was happy that I had held her off for that long. She was playing leap frog with that other girl, and at mile 25, I ended up catching them, thanks to some legal drafting. It didn’t last long, and the two of them picked it up and took off. I kept them in my sight for a little while, but eventually they left me in their dust.

Throughout the ride I kept telling myself to ride my own race. Marni had reminded me that I should always feel like I have one extra gear in my toolbox; after all, I have a 13 mile run after this ride! I lap my watch every 20 minutes, so, I focused on being present for 20 minute chunks of time, staying up on my nutrition, and always having that one extra gear. To be honest, this ride was BORING. Sure, all my training rides are on a boring trail, but for some reason, I wasn’t really enjoying the course. Maybe it was because my last race was so epic?

At several points along the course there were large packs of men who flew right past me, in a draft pack. It was pretty frustrating because not once did I see any of them get caught. At one point, near the end of the course, a girl had passed me, and then I just watched as this group of men essentially swallowed her up. She hung with them for a little, pulled even further away from me, but it was clear that she had gotten stuck in this pack of cheaters. That was my biggest complaint about this race: the blatant drafting that went seemingly unnoticed.

When we made the turn back on to the stick, I told myself I could turn it on a little more. This is also the part where historically the wind has been a tail. The wind wasn’t blowing super strong today, but I do think we had a little bit of a tail on this stretch, based on the fact that my speed went up even though my power went down! On this stretch, maybe 5 miles from the end of the bike, I noticed a male cyclist in front of me, coasting. We were on a flat so I was like what is he doing? As I got closer, water droplets started to fly. OOOOH. I know what he’s doing! I quickly got out of his draft, made my pass, and jokingly yelled, “A little warning would have been nice!” GROSS! Eventually, he passed me after he was all finished and he apologized, and we both had a laugh.

We rode over one last drawbridge (total on this course is 2 bridges; one bridge you ride over once and the other you ride over twice, for a total of three crossings), and finally we were in to transition. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but the bike was a little long (almost a mile). Even so, I was pleased with the way I rode. It wasn’t a PR, but I finished with legs that were ready to run!


Riding isn’t always glamorous

Official time: 02:42:54


It was a long-ish run with my bike to get into the transition area, but I was the third rack in, which was super quick to get to. I accidentally ran right past my spot on the rack, and had to backtrack and pay a little closer attention to the numbers. Once I got to my spot, I untied my bag (it was tied around the rack) and it dropped to the ground. I put my bike on the rack and started to take out my running stuff. Shoes and socks on, and then I took my race belt, hydration belt and visor as I made my way to transition exit and put each on one.



When I left transition I felt surprisingly good. I reminded myself not to go out too fast, but to run strong and run with good form. I did many runs this season at HIM effort, so I needed to find that effort and stay there.

Not too long after leaving transition, you get a fun little incline- it’s super short (1 block) but kinda steep. On this little incline I started to feel a little tightness in my left hamstring, but by the time I was back on flat ground, it went away. The run is an out and back, the first two miles or so are through the city and then you get into this nice neighborhood, along a lake, with plenty of trees for shade. The temperature was also quite nice. I’m not entirely sure what the temp was, but for this Florida girl who’s used to running in hot and humid conditions, it was glorious to have little humidity and cooler temps.

I had figured out how to make my watch only show my HR, which is exactly what I wanted. My plan had been to start the run controlled, below HR 160, and keep it there for a few miles before finding my stride and seeing what I could do. My watch was also on auto lap every mile, so I could see what I was holding pace-wise, but only if I looked at it when it beeped, which I tried not to do a ton, since I didn’t want to get in my head about pace. However, on that first mile, I couldn’t resist- it ticked off at 8:11- WHOA Steph, slow down! I backed off my pace and monitored my effort.

The first few miles went by pretty quickly, and I started to see people on their 2nd half of the run. I saw the lead men, and they also had a cyclist with the lead woman (or at least the woman who was physically in the lead, not sure if she was technically the leader at that point by time).  By mile 3, I was already above my 160 HR target, but I felt good and decided to maintain this effort. I was wondering where my friends Maria and Shannon were, who I knew would be ahead of me (at the time, I didn’t realize Shannon had gone down). Surprisingly I didn’t see either of them; I must have been zoned out or something when Maria passed me! At the turn around, I saw my friend Chris and Maria’s husband cheering me on! It was a nice mental boost to see friendly faces!


Maybe a quarter mile after the turnaround, I saw Justine, running towards the turnaround. She wasn’t that far behind me! I turned it on just a little bit more, but reminded myself to race my own race. The second half of the run seemed to almost be a little bit of a downhill, but I think that was in my head. It really was a lovely course- probably one of my favorite runs I’ve done in a half!

By miles 9 and 10 I was starting to feel myself getting tired. I took a coke at mile 9, mostly for the sugar. I had been keeping up on my Skratch (in my fuel belt), I had taken a few shot blocks over the course of the run, and I was drinking water at the aid stations as well. I felt like my nutrition was pretty darn good for this run. Finally, at mile 11, Justine caught me! I was pretty proud that I had held her off for as long as I did; she is one tough cookie! We ran together for a very short time before I told her to go get em! I watched her slowly put distance between us, which I was totally okay with. Justine is an amazing competitor and one of my dear friends, so I was super happy to see her having a great race (she ended up with a PR!).

Shortly after Justine passed me, there was a slight, short uphill. I ran up it, but my heart was pounding, so I walked for 30 seconds to bring it back down. There was an aid station up ahead so I ran to it and yelled “Coke!” Some kids were working this one, and I got a response, “I have Pepsi?” and in the heat of the moment I frustratingly said, “Ugh, yes, that’s what I want. Just give me the cola.” I feel a little bad about that now. Whoops.

The last two miles were down the main street in downtown. You could almost see the finish line from pretty far out, except that there was a cruel slight uphill and the finish line was on the other side. Soon, I was in the chute and on the red carpet. Throughout the run, I had seen a few of my splits come in, and they were in the high 8’s. I was fairly confident I had broken 2:00 on the run, and as I came in, I started to get joyful tears in my eyes. I think I did it!

One of the first things I did after crossing was obviously to check my Garmin for my run split. I nearly burst into an ugly cry (but didn’t; I held it together) when my watch showed 1:55.9 (actual time 1:56:37). In 9 Half Ironmans over the course of 5 years, I had finally, finally put together a sub 2 hour run. I was so preoccupied with that goal that I didn’t even realize that I had gone 5:11. Five hours and eleven minutes!!! My previous best time was a 5:24, which I did at Florida earlier this year! Wow, just wow!

After I got my chip off, I saw Justine, who told me we were 9th and 10th in our age group. OMG I finally made it to the top ten at an IM race! I was super pleased with the race I put together, I finally have figured out how to put together a solid performance at this distance.

Official Run time: 01:56:18

Official Overall Time: 05:11:37

And just like that, my 2017 triathlon season is over. It was a long one, but it sure did end sweetly!


No Use Crying Over Spilled Grits

12 06 2015

Day 5: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek trail

Planned Itinerary: Hike the last 1.2 miles to catch up to the narrative; then complete the 5.5 “burly” miles as described on Day 5, which requires fording six major creeks, including the ones around site 69 which the ranger had warned us of when I got our permits. Then, complete the last 5 miles back to Clingman’s dome.

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek MapIt rained during the night, but thankfully we didn’t experience any leaks. We also were prepared for prepping our breakfast in the morning, having already collected fuel for our stove and kept it out of the rain over night. #Winning!

We got to our usual morning chores again- Bill getting the bear bag and starting the fire for our stove, and I packed up our sleeping kits. Since it was (hopefully) going to be our last night, we didn’t bother walking over to the “eating area” part of the camp; we just made the fire right outside the front of our tent.

We looked at our food options: oatmeal, grits, dehydrated eggs, quick-boil Pho, some Laughing Cow cheese triangles, and the last of our GORP. Just enough food to get us through the day, and if we needed to, breakfast tomorrow. We opted for the grits, with the last of our Laughing Cow cheese for extra calories. As I was packing up one of our sleeping pads, I heard Bill say something in a frustrated tone. I looked over and there was a pile of dry grits on the ground. When trying to get the last of the grits out of the packet, Bill had accidentally knocked over the pot, causing our breakfast to end up in the dirt. Bill is generally even-keeled, so he carefully salvaged what he could and then tried again, this time with the eggs. Thankfully, there were no spills this time. We added a bit too much water, so the eggs were soupy and grit-y (pun intended), but they gave us the calories we needed to make our ascent and plow through challenging river crossings.

We only had a little over a mile to get to site 70, at which we needed to make a decision: continue our planned route which would include fording streams that had thigh-high, rushing water, or take the longer, but likely less dangerous, route via Jonas Creek Trail, which would likely add another night. 

That entire first mile Bill and I weighed the pros and cons of taking each path. When we arrived at our crossroads, there was a bridge crossing over Forney Creek towards the Jonas Creek trail. You could take the bridge, or, just north of it, it seemed like you could cross without the bridge, if the water was low enough. When we were there, the creek was about 15 feet wide and running pretty hard. It looked like the deepest part was about thigh deep for me. Bill decided that we’d use this one as a little trial run, because likely, the water wouldn’t be as deep the higher up the mountain we went. Bill walked out to the center of the stream as I watched anxiously. He got to the center (which, for him, was definitely less than thigh deep), stood for a few seconds and then came back out to me with a smile on his face. We’d be just fine he assured me. So, on we went, north on Forney Creek trail towards the ominous river crossings that awaited us.


Soon, we came to crossing number one. It was definitely bigger than any we had encountered so far, but it was totally passable by an amateur like me. We crossed the next few as well, and yes they were more challenging than the others we had seen on Day 1, but with my Lunas, trekking poles, and some maneuvering around, I was pretty darn stable. In a few places the water was up to my lower thigh, but I didn’t mind getting wet, which I think is a key to success. If you try to avoid getting wet and instead you’re hopping from one slightly exposed rock to another, you’re way more likely to slip than if you always have three points of contact, and you actually put your foot on solid ground that you’ve poked at with your trekking pole. There were also a few places where I relied on a big boulder rather than my trekking pole for balance, but if you take it slowly and are methodical about your next steps, you will find success.

We came upon site 69, where we met two young men who had spent a few nights out there fishing. They asked if we planned to hike out today, to which we responded “We hope so!” They too planned to hike out today, and hearing that gave me confidence that we would definitely be able to make it out today.

We kept moving, knowing that this was the area where the ranger had said the high waters were. We had just crossed the 4th or 5th one, when off to my left I heard a loud sigh/grunt and a soft rustle of leaves. Immediately I picked up my pace and sternly told Bill “Keep. Moving.” Confused, he turned around and I walked right past him as he asked what was going on. I told him what I had heard and we moved a few more quick paces away and then stopped and looked back. Nothing. I told Bill I didn’t want to stick around to find out if there was something back there, so we kept moving ahead and Bill began his barking again.

When we successfully made it through the sixth major crossing, I squealed with delight. We made it! It certainly didn’t mean we were home free, but we were through what was likely the most dangerous part of the hike. We actually had one more major crossing after my celebration, which makes me think I counted one that wasn’t so major, but whatever; we were through! Bonus: we hadn’t heard any more sounds of bears (or hogs for that matter)!

Between crossings we gained some pretty serious elevation. We stopped several times to take a break. This was tough! Finally, we made it to site 68! Had I planned appropriately, we would have been done for the day (what a novel idea- finish hiking early in the day, so you can enjoy your campsite!), but because of my mistake, we’d need to continue on. Since we had plenty of daylight left for the rest of our journey (it was barely noon at this time), we decided to stop and enjoy our instant Pho. It was nice to take a leisurely lunch, refill water, and actually enjoy our surroundings, knowing we were nearly home.

Fueled up, we got back on the trail. We were barely out of camp when we saw three hikers coming down the trail. They were coming from Clingman’s, which gave me further confidence that we’d be out before the end of the day. We were headed home!

Unfortunately, the trail got TOUGH from this point on. The gain in elevation was no joke, and at some points, the trail was super narrow that a slight miscalculation in footing could cause a long and painful fall. Just put one foot in front of the other I told myself.

IMG_9898I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we came upon our next crossroads, where we had the option of hiking to Andrew’s Bald before coming back to this spot and hiking out, or just heading straight out. Stopped at this intersection we met another couple who, with their enormous backpacks and clunky hiking boots told us that they had spent the night at 68, and had been planning to spend a few nights there before coming back up. But, they were throwing in the towel early, humbled by the tough climb. At this intersection, we also saw a few other day hikers either coming down to go to Andrew’s bald, or coming back up from there. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We opted to just head directly out; we could nearly taste the success of being back at our car. What was even better was that, because of the popularity of this day hike between Clingman’s and Andrew’s bald, the trail was well maintained and even included a mini boardwalk at certain points. I nearly skipped, my feet were so happy!

Up, up, up we went, and we stopped at an overlook to take some pictures. We were so close!

almost there


A bit more elevation and then finally, we made it! That sweet feeling of success washed over me as I gazed out into the valley from where we had just come. Gosh, it was beautiful up here! We were lucky enough to experience a clear day- drastically different from when we started our journey 5 days earlier.  We posed for some pictures to commemorate the day before the clouds rolled in. Bill and I had done it. Together. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to tackle this challenge with me.

clingman's dome

We got into the car for our next mission: Food. And a warm shower (or ten).

jumbo burrito

Mission Accomplished.


I would highly recommend this hike, particularly if you want to get away from it all- including other people! For us, it was a bit challenging, and I don’t feel like I got to really enjoy the experience as much as I could have. I was always focused on the big miles we had ahead of us and the moment we got to camp we needed to get fuel, make food, and get camp ready before the sun went down. With the exception of Day 3, we never really got to enjoy being in camp for an extended period of time. I also spent a majority of the time yapping so that we’d warn bears of our presence. Next time, I’ll get a bear bell so that we can just walk in relative silence every once in awhile.

This hike reignited our desire to do more backpacking, so we’re looking for some fall options (our Grand Canyon request was denied (sad face)). We live in such an amazing world, so we need to get out there an enjoy it!

Always Read the Directions

9 06 2015

Before I dive in to my recap from day four, I have to share this article that my cousin sent me and this update that I found. Basically, while I sat and typed my Day 3 post on Sunday night, a teenage boy who was camping on the SAME TRAIL that Bill and I were on (Hazel Creek) was attacked by a bear, while sleeping in his hammock! (Insert jaw dropped emoticon here.) Um, SCARY! It could have just as easily been us who were attacked, I’m thanking my lucky stars and praying for a speedy recovery for him!

Day 4: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Loop

Planned Itinerary: 12.5 miles along the Lakeshore trail to the Forney Creek trail, where we should “spend the bulk” of our day at campsite 70. (How to spend most of the day at a site that is 12.5 miles away is beyond me…)

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Map

We woke up after a restless night, thankful we had not had an encounter with a wild animal. As we packed up camp, we planned our attack for catching up. Bill’s foot was feeling better and my body was less achy than it had been, so we were going to do our best to make it to site 70, which by my estimate, was probably about 16.5 miles away, and where we were scheduled to spend the night. I got out the map and read the narrative for the last part today’s journey, and I read ahead for tomorrow, our hike out. As I compared the map to the narrative, “Day five is only 5.5 miles…” I realized that I had made a big mistake. Five and a half miles from site 70 would NOT put us back at Clingman’s. It would put us at site 68, where, had I read the narrative more carefully, I would have told the ranger that we were spending 5 nights on the trail, not 4! Oh, and we would have packed food for a 5 night, 6 day trip rather than a 4 night, 5 day trip. Oh crap. 

We were fairly confident that we’d have enough food if we needed to stay for the 5th night, but we decided to try our best to stick to our original plan. Yeah, the plan that had us doing a 5 night hike for experienced hikers in 4 nights.

I have this problem of not reading recipes to the end before starting the recipe…Apparently, for me, that carries over into hiking as well…

The reality of being barely halfway back and only having a day and a half to do it was certainly motivation for us to finish packing up camp quickly and get on the trail.

The last four miles to get to site 76 felt long, but not painful. Today we decided that we’d stop more frequently for shorter amounts of time, rather than pushing on until we were pretty beat, taking a longer break, and then rebooting for the next part. So, we stopped at site 76, put our packs up in the bear rigs, and went down to the water for a quick snack and to refill our water. The water was cool and refreshing, and as soon as we stuck our feet in, a few fish started swimming near us. Off to our left was a small fishing boat, where two women were fishing. I presumed it was a mother-daughter pair, which I just thought was pretty cool. Fishing is not just a man’s sport!

Bill and I snacked on some GORP (trail mix) and joked about how we had no idea where we were right now, other than on the shores of Fontana Lake. What state were we in? We hadn’t a clue. (We were in North Carolina.) It didn’t matter. We were just taking in the beautiful lake in front of us, enjoying out time together outdoors. Soon the silence broke when one of the women said “Look! Snake!” Sure enough, about halfway between us and them was a snake slithering on the surface of the water. It disappeared into the marsh, so we decided (and so did the women) that it was time to go. We walked back to our packs and started hiking again.

dragon fly

Bill made a friend 😉

We came to a fork shortly after leaving camp, and we followed the path that was closest to the water. It didn’t last long, and quickly dead ended into the lake. The water was crystal clear, and the massive lake was just sprawled out in front of us, calling our names to come and swim. It was hot out, and the cool water would feel so refreshing…So, I did what any hiker would do and jumped (more like waded) in! This was the swimming hole tour after all! I dipped my head under and floated around for a few minutes before I started getting a little chilly and got out. As I put my pack back on, Bill noticed that I had a rash on my lower back. It didn’t itch, so we were pretty sure it was heat rash that had been aggravated by my pack sitting on my back. Hopefully it wouldn’t get worse!

We continued on our journey, rejuvenated by our little dip, and eventually made it to the next site, 98, where a wooden bridge crossed over a rushing stream. We laid out Bill’s poncho and did legs up a wall for some recovery while we munched on a granola bar.

feet up the wall


As we packed up, I spotted what I believed was an inchworm. I had never seen one in real life, so of course I took a video. They’re such neat creatures!

At this point, I figured we had at least 6 miles to get to the next site, and about 4 more after that if we were to make it to site 70. Yikes. It was already early afternoon at this point. We decided to get to site 74 and then evaluate when we arrived.

It was a hot afternoon, and we were both keeping up on our hydration, so somewhere on the way Bill ran out. Of course it happened to be on one of the driest sections of the trail, so when we happened upon a trickling of water a little off the trail, Bill gingerly climbed up to the source to fill up one of our liter bottles. We figured that we would soon enough come across more (we did) where we could fill up all the way.

Shortly after filling our packs, we were chatting about how tired we were and how we couldn’t imaging running right now, when off to our right about 25 yards or so, down by a stream, we saw a flash of movement and realized that we had startled two wild hogs. They ran lightning fast away from us, but judging by the curve in the trail ahead, they had just ran towards where we would be walking shortly. Bill started his barking again, and I was talking loudly. As we approached a blind turn, we heard another rustle and I saw one of the hogs barely 15 feet in front of us. I promptly turned around and started to run. Its amazing what a little adrenaline will do! I didn’t go very far, just enough to get out of the immediate area. Bill was right behind me, and we stopped to evaluate the situation. The boars had run back down the mountain, away from where we needed to walk, so we decided to continue on our journey on high alert. Bill barked (now and then, he asked me to clarify that he wasn’t barking non stop like a crazy man), I talked. That’s pretty much how it went for the majority of the next 30 minutes.

Finally, we made it to site 74. By this point it was close to 6. We sat down on the bridge and did legs up the wall again and talked about our options for the evening: We could stop and spend the night here, leaving us still 4 miles behind schedule, or we could go another 3 miles to get to site 71, leaving us only a little over a mile behind schedule. Knowing that the big river crossings would happen tomorrow, and if they were bad and we needed to reroute, adding on even more mileage, we figured it was in our best interest to continue on to site 71. As we walked on the outskirts of the camp, we noticed a few others who had set up camp for the night. We briefly asked these two college kids where they had come from, and I’m pretty sure they said they drove there. I was confused until I saw the sign indicating the trailhead was only a short hike away. It didn’t hit me until later that night, but had things been terrible, that probably would have been our out.

I was so glad that we decided to keep moving on. Maybe it was because we knew we only had 3 miles to go, but those three miles were some of the best on the trail (to us). The terrain was not challenging, so we plowed through those three miles in about an hour and 15 minutes. I don’t think that was a good gauge for our overall pace, but that’s what we can do when we’re motivated!

Camp 71 was huge, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. We made camp in plenty of time to eat before the sun set. We even were proactive and gathered fuel for our stove for tomorrow’s breakfast, just in case of rain.


We went to bed that night exhausted but proud that we had covered so much ground and were nearly caught up. Tomorrow, we hike out!