We chose a north bound route for our attempt, so our trip starts off about 6:20am on October 2, 2020 where the A.T. crosses Hwy 226 at Iron Mountain Gap (about 3700 feet). The temperature was 38F and it was dark as we left our support crew and headed up the trail into the woods. The first nine-mile section went by quickly, and even though it is runable we did not break into a trot until the sun came up. We knew we were making good time as we passed the overlook at Little Rock Knob and began our descent to 4000 feet at Hughes Gap to meet our crew for the first support stop. At this point, this Supported FKT took a slightly different direction compared to that of the trail heroes before us (ie, we met Luke Bollschweiler on the A.T. in the Smokies while training for his SCAR FKT, and the description of his winning diet left me a bit hungry). My wife Sharon had prepared a huge egg and grits casserole with bacon bits, cheese, onions, and green peppers, and our support crew had re-heated it right before our rendezvous (see pictures). Oh my gosh…that was good! From Hughes Gap the route quickly gains 2200 feet up Roan Mountain, passes the highest trail shelter on the entire A.T., and then drops to the popular and beautiful Carvers Gap (5512 ft). Once again, our crew had a hot meal for us…this time hot and juicy cheeseburgers and fries from Bob’s Dairyland in Roan Mountain. Perfect to send us onward for the second half. The route over the next two balds (Round and Jane) is extremely popular with day hikers, and then the solitude of the A.T. takes over again as the trail winds through the forest and down to Yellow Mountain Gap, site of the iconic Overmountain Shelter (The Barn). This was the third support rendezvous of the day, which required the crew to drive around the mountain and all the way up Roaring Creek Valley to a trailhead near Yellow Mountain Gap. They hiked the remaining 1.2 miles with dehydrated trail meals, extra drinks and a camp stove! Freeze dried food never tasted so good…and once again, a hot meal re-energized us for the final push. Departing the Barn, we climbed through the Yellow Mountains to the "humps". Little Hump and Hump Mountain are mostly balds with a vertical fall line style trail, which put us in a “head-down knees-up” attitude until we gained the last summit on Hump Mountain (5589 ft) just before 6pm. We stopped for high fives, a few selfies, and to layer back up for the descent off the windy mountain top, but we didn’t hang around to watch the sunset. We had about 2700 feet to drop over five miles…which we were hoping would be fast enough so we could beat the darkness. It all looked good through Doll Flats, but then we found the draws, switchbacks, and traverses of Wilder Mine Hollow to be very rugged, very rocky, and very slow, particularly in the fading light. We reached Hwy 19-E (2880 ft) at about 8:20pm.
We picked the first October weekend because we knew that we would start in the dark and the full moon that weekend would at least be beautiful and possibly helpful. We couldn’t have picked the weather…but, the Jet Stream delivered a high-pressure system two days before that cooled and dried out the steamy east Tennessee mountains perfectly. The NW wind still blew cold over our left shoulders as we hiked and ran eastward towards the Roan, and then continued all day long. Some folks might say cloudy weather is best for trail running, but we really enjoyed the benefit of that cold dry air all day. There was still frost on the ground at the Roan summit with wind gusts upwards of 25 mph, so we were happy to re-locate our second pit stop to the lower warmer Carvers Gap. Besides, the hamburgers had taken longer than planned. It was still cool enough later as we hiked over the exposed balds that I wore gloves all day, but the breeze died off as we dashed through the forest.
In addition to my wife’s delicious cooking, we had a dedicated trail crew. Kayle Brock, an engineer with Carrier Corp, and Paul Hinkle (Mark’s big brother), a retired maintenance technician toted all our food and redundant supplies over the hills and through the gaps all day long. They hit the timing mark almost perfectly all day long. The planning and executing of these three delicious meals was almost as challenging as the run, and certainly as much fun.
Between us we carried four (4) GPS devices…two Garmin watches, the AllTrails app on Android, and a Garmin InReach satellite device. Only the InReach performed flawlessly all day…thankfully! We had some family and friends tracking us throughout the day which was fun. We started the InReach track at 6:17am and stopped it after crossing the highway (19-E) at 8:19pm for a total elapsed time of 14:01:39.
Moving Splits (meal breaks not included):
Start: Iron Mtn Gap
Hughes Gap 2:53:18
Roan Mountain 1:42:00
+ Carvers Gap 2:44:35 (incl 10-15 mins waiting)
The Barn 2:11:36
Hump Mountain 1:36:48
End: 19-E 2:14:41
We live about 3 hours from Roan Mountain, so we did a lot of lower elevation training…mostly speed hiking and trail running with some road running, and also some mountain biking. Our first official training run was 7 miles with a second loop on the bikes (14 total) on March 29, 2020. Morrow Mountain State Park in Stanly County was a regular Saturday morning thing, and all told we tallied up over 250 miles in the run-up to the big day, with a maximum of 22 miles up and down the smaller mountains in the state park on the Saturday two weeks prior followed by a taper period where the road runs consisted of 3-5 miles and a few hill-repeats for cardio.
We know that our FKT will be beat, maybe even quite soon. But we thought the route deserved to be “on the list” and are proud that we could occupy the top spot briefly. To the amazing athletes that come after us…we will be proud bring up the bottom of that list…please just be gentle on us. YouTube video will be added later in Comments.
The success of this entire endeavor was totally dependent on my fellow adventurer, friend, training partner, and colleague...Mark O. Hinkle. Without his willingness to consider this fantasy in the first place, train with me every step of the way, assist with planning, and cajol his brother Paul to come along as a crew member, it probably would still be just that...a fantasy in the back of my mind.
I submitted Mark as a fellow athlete for this FKT...not sure how that is supposed to work...so since he isn't listed I wanted to make sure he was recognized. My friends and family know that I carried a 50 year-old stainless trail (train) whistle on this trip for the express purpose of signalling Mark that he was too far ahead...he always has had, and I expect always will have, a half-step advantage on me pace-wise, and so it's been a familiar site to look ahead and see him disappearing over the hill or around the corner. On this trip we finished together...I won't say if or how many times I blew that whistle :-)
By the way, since the categories above don't include one for "Old Men", I thought you might enjoy knowing that we were 63 and 64 when we did this route.
Incredible work men!