FKT: Luke Bollschweiler - S.C.A.R. (TN, NC) - 2019-03-30

Gender category
Male
Route variation
S.C.A.R.
Style
Supported
Finish date
Total time
14h 28m 33s
Report

Start: 5:30AM, Fontana Dam (Southern edge where we judged the dam begins) [Note: Luke's time starts on the far side of the dam - actually the east side, since the dam runs W-E. Running across the dam adds about 3 min, and is not required since the National Park is on the west side, and the point of S.C.A.R. is to run across the National Park.]

End: 7:58PM, Davenport Gap (where the park boundary meets the AT)

Weather: As good as a trail runner can hope for! Partly cloudy start to the day at 54 degrees, dropping down as the elevation gained for the first 7 hours to about the mid 40’s, with only a slight level of discomfort at Clingman’s Dome where it was about 40 degrees for the 40 minutes to climb and descend the backside down to the ascent to Mt. Collins. The temperature climbed up to 60 by mid afternoon as I left Charlie’s Bunion and ascended some of the exposed climbs up this remote section of the AT--Laurel Top, Eagle Rocks, Mt. Sequioa, Mt. Chapman, and then began to cool as the sun began to lower on the horizon as I crested Mt. Guyot, which had a bit of snow and ice to cool the air. The temperature warmed a bit from that point as I descended out of the 6’s back down to the bottom but with the setting sun cooling everything off finished out at Davenport Gap at about 50 degrees.

Aid: I am so grateful to the many people that supported me! Thank you! I could not have done it without each of your contributions. I supplied each of my backcountry aid supporters with a similar set of food and drink: Water and Gatorade, a few cookie options, a Larabar, a self-made Japanese rice ball “O-nigiri”, and a banana. Each of them went to extreme measures to get to the backcountry site to support me--Awesome Friends!

Mile 14 (Russell Field)--Eric Olsen--who had to hike in about 5.5 miles with a pack and spend the night with a bunch of Thru hikers--the southern section of the Smokies was crowded (I think they must have all decided to start on the same day from Georgia)

Mile 22.5 (Derrick Knob)--Josh and Liz Amburn --who had the longest hike of anyone--8.5 miles one way and had to be on the trail at 5:30AM to get there in time.

Mile 32, 35.5, 38, 40--Chris Larsen & Chris Twiner--who leap-frogged me on my way down the mountain to Newfound Gap

Mile 40--My family and Mick Mashino--who came to wish me moral support at Newfound Gap.

Mile 44--Chris Walker and his family Amy and Shane, and Andy Bickel-- who hiked in 4 to Charlie’s Bunion to give some critical aid before my long unassisted haul over to Inadu Knob.

Mile 59--Dave Smith--who hiked in a steep 6 miles to Inadu Knob to provide a critical backstop after a long solo experience.

Mile 65--Rob Tingle and his brother-in-law--who hiked in 4.6 miles to give me that last critical aid and cognitive check “what day is today and who are you” and make sure my headlamp was operating correctly before sending me on my way down the hill to the finish.

Mile 71.4 (Finish Line)--My family, Chris Larsen, Josh Amburn-- who’s support pushed me through to the end!

I’d also like to thank the film crew, Derek, Spencer, Nate, who although were ‘doing their job’ of documenting the event for the documentary movie, were also very supportive and never wavered in their belief of me and continuous encouragement. The movie should be premiered soon--Ultraman Luke Bollschweiler, and then released in some format.

Special thanks goes to Chris Larsen, who’s been with me every step of the way on this saga and never ceases to encourage and praise me. I’m sure his family gets tired of saying, “Again?”--So I want to thank them too for sharing their husband and dad with me.

The event breakdown: Here is my recollection of the run as much as I can remember. (This is where you should ask yourself if you have time to read several pages of running mile-by-mile drama)

The evening before I chose to camp at the Dam AT Shelter, but although I was expecting some usage, I was surprised to see how many people had already begun their trek. There was enough room for us, but I felt bad after arriving at 9PM to make noise as we set up so we chose to sleep in our vehicles in the parking lot. Actually, Chris, Spencer, and Derek slept in their trucks and I chose to sleep on a cot carefully hidden behind a rock wall--I know, kinda sneaky. But technically the parking lot does not have a no camping sign on it. The only downside to this was that a family showed up at 12:30AM thinking the same thing and took about 45 minutes to figure out their situation and kept us awake. But the evening was cool but not cold and we enjoyed the beautiful setting as the glow coming over the Smokies from the civilization beyond reflected off the lake.

I woke up at 4:45AM and quickly started getting ready and eating my breakfast of cold oatmeal and 12 oz of gatorade (not a combination I would recommend for home), and changed into my running clothes. After 10 minutes of initial prep we drove the ½ mile down the dam, used the amazing restroom at the dam and finished all the prep. At 5:25AM I was toeing the line (the rubber strip in the road that separates the concrete dam from the asphalt road.

At 5:30AM exactly Chris yelled go and I was off. The lights along the dam were a beautiful start to a beautiful day. The light breeze off the lake died as I rounded the corner and headed north up the road. At the trailhead Chris gave me my running vest with 2 bottles of gatorade and my trekking poles and I was off up the hill to tackle first of many climbs--this time Shuckstack. With the excitement of the day I charge up the hill, finishing my 4.5 mile way point (the side trail to Shuckstack) 3 minutes ahead of schedule at 51 minutes.

I felt good and strong as I descended the short steep trail down the gap and then trucked up to Doe Knob, and although I wasn’t sure what my time to Doe Knob was supposed to be I was pretty sure I was ahead of my goal pace so I focused on running smooth and efficient as I head down into Ekaneetlee Gap and back up to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter, my second way point. I came through the shelter area just as day broke to greet the many AT thru hikers preparing breakfast, about 10 minutes ahead of goal pace, at 1:58. Feeling great I continued to basically hold this controlled pace down into Old Abrams Gap and back up to Russell Field where I met up with Eric and got restocked my 18 oz vest bottles with gatorade, downed a bottled water, grabbed a cookie, O-nigiri, and Lara bar for the road, and set off to summit Mt. Squires and on to Spence Field. At the Jenkins Ridge Trail head I hit my next way point, 2:58, and I judged I was still about 10 minutes ahead of goal pace. In retrospect, these first 17 miles are the best, most runnable miles along the entire course, and there’s a fair argument to basing a North-to-South attempt on these runnable miles. Although there’s still a high amount of vertical change, it’s by far the best quality of trail along the entire stretch, and it’s basically that good for the entire 17 miles.

HOWEVER, the next section of trail is in my opinion the hardest along the entire AT thru the Smokies, and is basically a continuous ascent/descent zigzag of 10%+ grade. Along the South-to-North direction I chose, these descents are equal to any course I’ve ever run. Brutal with a pack. Dangerous to try to run fast. A toe stub could send you supermanning 15 feet down the trail.

Luckily for me, this is the closest accessible AT section to my home, and I routinely worked it into my weekend runs so it was the nemesis I knew well-- and I was really looking forward to putting it to the test. Having run it so many times, I focused on running in control and remaining beneath my burn phase. I think I’ve been blessed with good ‘rock sense’ from my boyhood, and coupled with my super cushioned Hoka Mafate Speed 2 shoes that I bought specifically for this event, and my Black Diamond Carbon Z trekking poles, I was able to cruise my way over to my next way point at Derrick Knob (22.5 miles in) about 5 minutes ahead of pace at about 4:13. There I met my second aid station trekkers, Josh and Liz, where I resupplied with basically the same essentials as before (seemed to be working so why mess with it). Although I feel like I was relying on the gatorade for my main calories, I was basically eating every 30 minutes and this seemed to regulate the stomach. I didn’t have any stomach problems until late in the day (which I think was due to dehydration).

Getting past this point was a major milestone, because I chose to run mostly on feeling and not focus on goal times and pace. But from this point I started to play an effort vs pace math game that I continued for the rest of the run. I knew I was a few minutes ahead of my goal pace but I also knew I didn’t have it in me today to go faster than my pace, so I slowed my climbs up a bit and focused on cruising the descents (which although weren’t as hard as the past segment, still continued to challenge me) and managed to dial the effort so that I reached Clingman’s Dome summit exactly 1 minute ahead of goal pace, at 6:29 (32 miles in). I was really gratified to see that I was able to estimate so well the margin on the pace I needed to take on the final 2 miles up to Clingman’s (pretty tough ascent) and still hit my goal pace. On a side note, one of the things you realize as you hike the AT is the people who set the course were NOT seeking the easiest elevation profile. So many times I’ve thought to myself, you know, that little summit was not worth seeing--should have gone around that one! But I then wonder if maybe back in the 1930’s the mountain tops looked different and they were prioritizing grandeur of the course over minimizing vertical change. Or maybe they just thought, “Let’s make this trail hard!” Either way, the course is the course, and that’s what makes the SCAR the challenge that it is--it’s totally not the distance! Almost 19K ft over 72 miles puts this as one of America’s hardest vert / mile ultras. And then you add to that the technicality….

After Chris Larsen and Derek Hinckley climbed the final 0.5 mile up Clingman’s with me, we met up with my other aid station friend Chris Twiner, and the filmer Spencer Hinckley. Chris and Chris quickly aided me with some food and water, I dropped my running vest (it felt great to take it off), and armed only with my trekking poles (which I LOVE) set off for another technical descent down to Collins Gap. Added to this section’s normal summer-time technicality was the ice and snow on this north face--it made for a few opportunities for dangerous descents but I’ve got to give a shout out to my Hokas-- a great shoe for technical terrain.  Keeping up the mental math of current pace (and effort) vs goal time I was really pleased that I managed to hit Newfound Gap 3 minutes ahead of goal time at 7:57. Along the way the Cingman’s crew aided me and got footage at Fork Trail junction and Road Prong Gap. Even with some tough descents, I was really happy that my legs felt refreshed after the punishing climbs on the way to Clingman’s. Buoyed up by the friends and family at Newfound (Sarah, and my kids, and Mick Mashino came out to cheer me), and my aid/film crew, Chris Larsen and I set out up the trail to Mt. Kephart. Knowing I was ahead of pace gave me high confidence that I was on my way to breaking the FKT, even though I knew there was suffering ahead of me. Chris accompanied me for the first 1.2 miles but due to a bit lack of recent running had to pull out as he red-lined. I was so grateful for his company, even for just a few minutes. Even though I do most of my running by myself, it makes a huge difference to have a partner when you’re suffering. I managed to summit Mt. Kephart and cruise on down to Charlie’s Bunion, only 1 minute behind schedule. I intentionally backed off on the pace a bit because of the increased temps, and knowing what the perfectly clear day had in store for the next 15 miles. I took the side trail to the Bunion and took in the view for 1 second, and met up with my crew, who hiked in 4 miles to support me. This was another critical resupply because I knew I had to go 15 miles before I’d meet my next crew at Inadu Knob. Chris Walker (yes another Chris), his wife Amy and his son Shane, and another friend Andy Bickel, quickly refilled my bottles with gatorade and I chugged 10 oz of water, grabbed some food and I was on my way. I had to weave through the throngs at the Bunion (one of the top 5 destination views in the Smokies but also one of the most accessible), but was quickly off on my way down the trail.

This next section was the hardest mentally. In the next 15 miles I only saw 4 people on the trail, and although the summits were not as hard as the many I’d already completed, the sun exposure was high, and it seemed that the descents frequently had high technicality--but this may have been more my fatigue than anything. For anyone reading this that plans to attempt a South-to-North SCAR, I recommend a pacer for the final 31 miles--having someone along to take your mind off your suffering can make a huge difference. Not having that I kept playing games to keep my mind engaged--I was figuring what time I had left, and what pace I would have to average to break the FKT. Every mile that passed I would try to recalculate in my head to my best estimation. It gratifying that throughout this section I was slowly able to whittle this down, gaining increased confidence. However the long pulls up Mt. Sequoia and Mt. Chapman started me worrying. I was out of gatorade, it was hot enough for me to feel hot, and my pace was not strong on the hills, about 16:00. But I kept focusing on cruising the down-hills, and applying my mantra to “Always run a flat or down-hill, even if you’re only doing 12:00 pace.” By this point I was no longer focusing on my goal pace--instead only doing the math for what had to be done. As cramping came and went (mostly it was my quads this time, but the calves and hamstrings also joined the game) I knew I had to take my mind off it. My go-to was imagining Forrest Gump running scenes, and singing the theme music over and over (since it’s only instrumental it comes out as “Duh, Duh, Duh,...” repeated over and over for hours). I’m sure if people saw me they would think I was hallucinogenic, but this my trick. I got mildly light headed a few times on the ascents, but it abated as I topped out and cruised the descents. I made it down safely to Tricorner Knob shelter where I quickly refilled my bottle from the spring, chugged it down and continued on my way. In retrospect I should have filled up again, because I was thirsty again 0.5 miles later on my ascent of Mt. Guyot.

Coming over Mt. Guyot was a huge moment because I knew it was my last time above 6K. And, I received a huge gift of cooler weather as I rounded to the North side. Although it also meant I had ice and snow to deal with. The temp suddenly dropped to about 40 degrees, I was able to pick up the pace, and I had renewed energy and spirits. Coming in to Inadu Knob, I was so grateful to see Dave Smith, who quickly gave me gatorade, water, and cookie. With only 12 miles to go I now knew I only had to average 15:00 pace to set the new FKT, and I was pumped. But I was still cautious because my suffering had been intense and my stomach was reeling from the dehydration miles. So I cruised the downhills and patiently ascended the climbs down to Low Gap, where with only 7.3 miles to go, I knew I had it in the bag. The final ascent up to Mt. Cammerer once again tested my cardio and my mental resolve, but I made it to the final cut-off down the mountain where Rob Tingle gave me water (I couldn’t stomach anything more), double checked my headlamp (he had 2 extra in case I needed one), and sent me on my way. Knowing I didn’t have to bust it hard down the trail was a really good feeling, since the first 2.5 miles are super technical. So I cruised it down in 53 minutes, gradually increasing my pace at the end where the trail becomes really runnable.

With about 0.5 miles to go Derek Hinckley met up with me with a radio to let the finish line crew know I was coming. Derek paced me to the end, and it was great to hear my friends shout their encouragement over the radio. I came in to the finish just as it was getting dark, broke through the finish line tape that my girls had held up for me, and sat down on a rock, exhausted but triumphant! My 11 month long goal was complete!

 

Splits:

Luke's SCAR FKT Split Times

3/30/2019

         
 

Accum Miles

Seg-ment Miles

Segment Elevation Gain

Segment Elevation Net Gain / Loss

Accum Time

Accum Pace

Fontana Dam (South End)

0

0

0

0

0

0

Shuckstack Side Trail

4.5

4.5

2800

2300

0:50:00

0:11:07

Mollies Ridge Shelter

10.7

6.2

2700

800

1:57:00

0:10:56

Jenkins Ridge Side Trail

16.7

6

1800

150

2:58:00

0:10:40

Derrick Knob Shelter

22.2

5.5

2600

-100

4:13:00

0:11:24

Silers Bald Shelter

28

5.8

2200

500

5:29:00

0:11:45

Clingman's Dome (crew)

32.4

4.4

2100

1200

6:29:00

0:12:00

Newfound Gap (crew)

40.3

7.9

1400

-1500

7:57:00

0:11:50

Charlie's Bunion

44.3

4

1700

350

8:55:00

0:12:05

Peck's Corner Shelter

50.6

6.3

3000

100

10:10:00

0:12:03

Tricorner Knob Shelter

55.8

5.2

1800

300

11:21:00

0:12:12

Cosby Knob Shelter

63.3

7.5

2100

-1100

12:51:00

0:12:11

Davenport Gap

71.3

8

1900

-2800

14:28:33

0:12:11