Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Segment 10 (unsupported)
Wow, what a day! The MST Segment 10 has been my “white whale” for several years now, with repeated unsuccessful attempts:
- Attempt 1 (10/14/20): Felled at mile 59 due to a combination of blisters and a bum knee (and inexperience at this distance…)
- Attempt 2 (5/2/21): Felt bad from the beginning and threw in the towel at mile 42.
- Attempt 3 (6/16/21): Again felt bad from the beginning and quit by mile 36.
- Attempt 4 (5/12/23): Unbeknownst to me, I had picked up a stomach bug before I started which had me puking at mile 7 and off the trail by mile 15.
I’ll admit, the downward trend of distance (59 -> 42 -> 36 -> 15) had left my quite disheartened. But I had to try at least one more time before the summer really took hold. With a lot of experience on this trail at my disposal, and a magical June weather day for NC (59 -> 73 degrees, "reasonable" humidity, overcast, and a light breeze) I gave it another go.
Going unsupported is my preferred (and pretty much only) style I try for FKTs, but I’ll admit that 78 miles makes that pretty tough. Carrying enough nutrition for that distance (and water for the long stretches between water access) makes the pack get a bit heavy. My pack included 16 gels, 8 packs of Tailwind, 4 Honey Stinger waffles, gummy bears, 4 water bottles (0.5L), a BeFree filter/bottle, 2 pairs of socks, and assorted first aid/body glide/wipes/etc. I supplemented my carrying capacity with a Naked running band.
I really don’t like running in the dark, so I always try to balance weather/temperature with hours of daylight available, so May/June is my preferred time. With 14:29 of daylight available (and a “planned” 15 hour finish time), I decided to leave before dawn to get the darkness out of the way (and take advantage of the cooler weather!). I left from the Pleasant Green Eno River access parking lot at 4:41 AM and headed off into the darkness! I was intent on finishing, but not trying to eek out every bit of time, so I set a goal of walking pretty much all of the uphills and stopping at 25/50 miles to change socks, lube up my toes/body, and otherwise take a small sit break. It turned out to be a great idea.
I started off with only 1L of water, as I didn’t want to carry excess weight between stops (my pack was already heavy enough at somewhere between 8 and 10 lbs). The section in Eno River State Park is first (and the most beautiful), but was tricky in the dark with all the elevation, roots, and rocks. At mile 10 (1:41) I made my first stop in the West Point on the Eno park, filling up all 4 of my water bottles (heavy!) at the amphitheater (it’s not until mile 41 that there is another public tap). It was also at this time that the daylight was bright enough to lose my headlamp.
Penny’s Bend came at mile 15 (2:37) and is where the “race” really begins. It is here you start moving away from the Eno River and onto the Falls Lake section. There is also a large, foreboding sign that says it’s 60 miles until Falls Lake Dam (and it actually closer to 62/32 miles). Talk about a reality check! It’s pretty nondescript trail running until mile 26 (4:28) where you pass underneath I-85, then a rural airport, and then come to the Hickory Hill Boat Ramp. I kept going for a bit, stopping again at the Redwood hiker campsite at mile 28 (4:48) to sit down, change socks, and lube up. I stopped again at mile 29 (5:13) to filter water at the start of new 2 mile section off of Hereford Rd (the road washed out when a culvert failed and it was never fixed).
The next big stop is the “halfway” point at the Rolling View campground (41 miles, 7:16). I didn’t spend much time here though, just sitting for a bit and getting some fresh water. No more lake water for me! Next came the Shinleaf campground (56 miles, 10:10) where I spent the most time, changing socks again, lubing up, and otherwise getting my gear settled. Oh, and more water! It was here that I started to get a bit nervous, since in my first attempt, it wasn’t soon after Shinleaf that my body just gave up on me. And I didn’t want it to happen again.
But unlike the last time I left Shinleaf, this time I was still running! And when mile 59 (11:04) passed, I was in uncharted territory. Both in this course, and in all time distance for me. I made my last water stop at Blue Jay Point County Park (64 miles, 12:01), and I was now in the homestretch! I begin the countdown from 15 miles to go, slowly (oh so slowly) incrementing down. It was somewhere around 10 miles left that I realized that I could maybe get under 15 hours if I just kept pace. And I did just that! Unfortunately, at mile 75 (14:23) my body forced to to use “nature’s toilet”, and I lost some time.
Once I entered the trails around Falls Lake Dam, I finally left myself have a little joy in my impending finish. With my additional detours for water, I finished at 7:46pm (15:04:49) for a total of 79.4 miles and 5,262 ft of elevation gain. What a day! My nutrition was solid all day (with only a little bit of a locked up tummy around 70 miles), and I managed my water carry almost perfectly, with very little excess carried. Being unsupported cost me a bunch of time (with the weight of carrying all of my supplies and the detours for water), but I can’t imagine doing it any other way (self-supported is totally doable but would be so much working placing and then removing all of the caches). And I will say, I expected more people to be out on the trail on a nice Sunday. It was a very solitary experience pretty much the entire time. I think I talked to more snakes/owls/deer/squirrels than people.
What will my next adventure hold?