The plan was simple. Mike would follow me out to Uwharrie where we would get to check out the mountain bike trails. After a late lunch, he would head home as I went for a run at Morrow Mountain State Park. Then I would check in at the Uwharrie 100-miler, set up camp, and work an aid station from midnight to 8 AM on Sunday. This simple plan did not stand a chance.
Starting out, Mike got injured during a Thursday evening ride. Not one to waste a trip to Uwharrie, I decided to forge ahead with my plan and ride it alone. While I was a bit nervous about going it alone on a new trail, I knew that there would be enough riders and people around if something catastrophic happened to me. As I become a more proficient rider, I know that I’ll get more comfortable with riding alone. Especially in places with limited cell phone reception.
Before I left, I remembered that I knew a runner from Wilmington who was planning on running the 100-miler. I reached out to another Wilmington runner, Mailyn, to ask her about it. She told me that Milt would be running and his wife Diane would be volunteering at the same aid station as me, just an earlier shift. She then decided that she and Rina would bring their kids for a first time camping experience.
I got a later start than I planned, which helped to shape the way the day would go. I got to the trailhead, which was also the start/finish line for the Uwharrie 100, got my bike out, and pedaled up a road to the mountain bike trails.
I first started on Wood Run, a short easy trail that served as a singletrack access to Wood Run Camp. I struggled to find a flow and did not enjoy it. While the climbing was slight, it was burdensome and kept me moving slowly. I got to the camp and turned onto the Keyauwee Trail to start the Keyauwee/Supertree loop.
Again, I struggled to get into the ride and hated the slow climb. Uwharrie was the first real climbing I’ve done on my new Enduro and I felt every ounce of its weight as I pedaled. I climbed and climbed thinking about how I did not care for this trail. I wondered why people liked this loop on MTB Project. Finally, I made it to the top.
I paused for some water and started the descent. The descent was fast and introduced me to Uwharrie’s tight bermed-switchbacks. It was fun, but I felt the roughness of the trail as it shocks worked through the problems. I typically keep my rear suspension set to firm that way I experience the least amount of pedal bob. I climbed the next large climb but this time thought to loosen the rear suspension.
It was glorious! I blew through roots and rocks with ease because my 170mm’s of travel just absorbed everything. I found myself chasing sketchier lines to see what I was capable of as a rider. It was such a great confidence builder. In the end, I found myself grinning like an idiot with a fidget spinner (Isn’t a mountain bike just a fidget spinner for an outdoor enthusiast?) and excited to climb up the next hill so I could do it all again.
After the climbs and descents of Keyauwee Trail, I was on to the Supertree Trail section. Supertree is a less technical section that utilizes old Forest Service access roads. With Supertree, I could not decide on whether I wanted my suspension firm or loose. I kept switching between but ultimately decided on loose because of several small rollers that I enjoyed launching off as I bombed down the hills.
I checked in with the Race Director (RD) after returning from my ride. I checked when Mailyn and crew would be arriving and found out they were almost there. I grabbed some cold Gatorade and made my way to the Aid Station where I would be volunteering. I changed quickly and planned to do a few miles on the Uwharrie Trail and then set up camp. I took off and caught up to Mailyn, Rina, Diane, and their kids hiking in the woods. Diane was worried that Milt forgot his nutrition drink so wanted to go to the Start/Finish line to meet up with him.
I volunteered to drive and we headed back there. Diane met up with Jennifer, who was going to be one of Milt’s pacers. She was nervous because Milt had not been looking so good and thought he might want a pacer sooner. She was not trained up to pace more than 20-miles though. Knowing how important pacers and crews are in a 100-miler, I volunteered to get him up to the Kelly’s Kitchen Aid Station where I was supposed to be volunteering tonight. It was just under 12-miles there but I knew it would eat up a lot of my sleeping time.
I threw some Clif Bars into my pack, filled my water bottles, and packed what I thought would be vital for the night at the aid station into another bag since my truck would be left at the start line.
When Milt was ready, we took off up Dutchman’s Creek Trail. Dutchman’s Creek winds its way through Uwharrie National Forest, ultimately creating a figure eight with the Uwharrie Trail. It starts out easily enough with some rolling climbs and descents. It is the second half that the trail hits you with the most technical portions.
Uwharrie pretty low key when it comes to elevation but it more than makes up for it with rocks. There is something about those trails that eat your feet alive. The constant stones are where a lot of runners struggle in Uwharrie. I’ve used Uwharrie several times for training runs and twice raced the Uwharrie 40-miler. Both races left my feet destroyed and me with terrible second halves of the race.
The sun had set and we found ourselves navigating the technical climbs and descents of this trail. As we summited the first hill after darkness fell, we were greeted with a chorus of coyote calls. First one coyote off to our right yipped then at least a dozen joined in in calls welcoming us to the darkness of the forest. We were in Squatch (slang for sasquatch) Country.
After darkness set in, I felt my energy begin to dwindle and wanted my portion to be over. Typically 12-miles would be nothing for me but I was feeling the fatigued from my ride earlier. I kept thinking about my 8-hour shift at Kelly’s Kitchen with only a little sleep. To be honest, I most likely would have stayed up late chatting with people if I was not running so it would have been the same result.
We came into Kelly’s Kitchen where I helped convince Rina to pace Milt back to the start line. Milt gave me a much-needed Dale’s Pale Ale and headed out. Mailyn volunteered to take me to the start line in Diane’s car so I could collect my pickup truck. Gettig my truck helped right my world for the rest of the night (my beer stash was in the truck).
After coming back, I had another beer and retreated to a random hammock to snag an hour-and-a-half of fitful sleep.
I awoke to find out that Milt had completed the final loop but decided to end his run at 100k. He and many other runners would make this choice as the 100k option was quite the honeypot to temp 100-milers away from continuing. Starting another loop is harder when you know what lays ahead.
I donned my T-rex onesie and began helping runners as they came in. My goal out there was to keep motivating runners to return to the course no matter how much they hurt. Running a 100-miler is tough and being in Uwharrie makes it a bigger challenge. If I kept one runner going to finish, I feel that I did my part.
Aside from motivating, a volunteer’s job is to cater to the runner. They come in, we offer them seats by the fire and get any food or drink they need. It’s providing a service and while also encouraging them in their endeavor. For some of these runners, they have been toiling alone in the darkness for hours and just need some friendly encouragement.
All in all, I’m glad I finally did some volunteering. I have been racing for years and always appreciated knowledgeable volunteers that understand what we are doing. It takes a lot of dedication to run an ultra and having passionate volunteers make it possible. I hope that more runners take the time to volunteer. It’s always worthwhile to give back to the sport that gives so much to us.