FKT: Tyler Johnson - Duncan Ridge Trail (GA) - 2013-06-26

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Finish date
Total time
6h 17m 29s

Less than 24 hours after Eli set the DRT FKT, I broke it, with support from Eli at a couple spots. It was pretty much the best run I've ever had. Here's my report.

Total time: 6h17m29s
Start time: 6:40 AM June 26th, 2013
Trail Length: 34.5 miles
Vertical Gain: ~9,700'
Vertical Loss: ~11,100'
Garmin GPS Data

Wolfpen Gap (3.0 mi) - 0:25
Whiteoak Stomp (6.1 mi) - 0:55
Buckeye Gap (8.8 mi) - 1:22
Mulky Gap (11.4 mi) - in 1:47 out 1:57
Fish Gap (14.9 mi) - 2:30
BMT (18.6 mi) - 3:15
Hwy 60 (23.5 mi) - 4:04
Toccoa River (27.0 mi) - 4:43
Bryson Gap (29.8 mi) - 5:23
The Bald (33.3 mi) - 6:07
Finish (34.5 mi) - 6:17

First off, the mileages we have come from the most official source I know of, "Benton MacKaye Trail Thru-Hikers' Guide" by Ernst B. Engman. Highly recommended for any BMT or DRT adventures. It is especially beneficial for any unsupported DRT adventures because it details some water sources that most people seem to be unaware of. The vertical gain and loss figures are estimates based on the semi-detailed elevation profiles of the BMT guide. It is unsurprising to me that my GPS data is off on the expected trail length and elevation data; it's typically under the well established mileages of the Appalachian Trail by 5-10%.

After I watched Eli run a lot faster than either of us had expected (I think), I was encouraged to run more aggressively than I'd originally planned. I was bit a worried though; Eli's a much stronger downhill runner than I am and there is a ton of downhill on the route (however, I'll smoke him on pretty much any runnable uphill - I'm sure he'd attest to it :)). So though I was hopeful, I was a bit nervous the night before.

The minor ankle sprain that delayed the attempts probably actually benefited me - it effectively forced a two week taper, and I began the run with fresher legs than I've had in a long time. Despite slick trails from some rain late the afternoon before, I hit the first aid spot, Mulky Gap, a full 22 minutes before Eli had the day prior. Unfortunately, Eli got lost on the way there from Lake Winfield Scott (where the car was parked while we camped up at Slaughter Creek), so I just sat, ate a gel, popped a caffeine pill, and waited for about 9 minutes. No matter though.

There's a bit of trail after Mulky Gap that is really overgrown (like, 5 foot tall leafy vegetation, entirely obscuring the trail for a few feet at a time) because it appears there's been a fire that cleared out the tree cover. Rather than more responsibly push the brush aside and hike this section, I just barreled straight through at full speed, which worked pretty well until my shin discovered a downed tree hidden in the brush. A near front flip and a few expletives ensued. The overgrowth doesn't last for too long, but there are a lot more downed trees in this section that I had a good time vaulting over.

After running into the BMT at Rhodes Mountain, I felt like a sub-6 hour run was within my grasp. But between here and GA-60, I realized I'd lost my edge and was having a hard time pushing myself on the downhills. Meeting Eli for some gels, water, and gatorade at 60 I headed to the Toccoa River pretty beat up but still in a good place mentally. However, soon after I reached the low point of my run: I noticed some mud and leaves stuck to my shoe, absent-mindedly reached down to scrape it off, and discovered instead that is was some animal's fresh droppings. Yuck.

I hit the Toccoa River and washed off my hand, still with a sliver of a hope of sub-6. However, the extended ~1,000' climb over a bit under 3 miles from the Toccoa River pretty much broke me. After rallying myself to keep pushing at least five separate times, I finally met Eli at the gap before the bald. I gave the climb up to the bald everything I had, which didn't really leave much for the 1.2 miles downhill to the finish. My body was ready to quit. I don't know that I've ever run myself to the exhaustion I felt at this point. I expected to collapse at any minute. Without Eli right behind me, yelling that he expected sub-6:15 out of me, I probably would have just walked, maybe even sat. But I didn't. I started shouting a paraphrase of a Roger Bannister quote ("No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed."). And ran my freakin' heart out. And set a fastest known time, on what I believe to be the toughest trail in Georgia. Which is pretty cool, for me at least.

I ate maybe 15 gels, popped two 200mg caffeine pills (one at the start, one at Mulky Gap), drank a bunch of gatorade (~80 oz), and carried everything in my (awesome) UD AK vest. The weather was pretty much ideal for June in Georgia; overcast for most of the morning, some light sprinkles of rain around noon. Really hot though. Aside from Eli, I didn't see a single person the entire run, until we finished at Long Creek Falls. Startled a grouse and almost stepped on one of Eli's precious salamander friends, though.

mile 3.0: water from a stash
mile 11.4: gatorade, water, and gels from Eli
mile 23.5: gatorade, water, and gels from Eli
mile 27.0: water from a creek running into the Toccoa River
mile 32.8: water from Eli

Full support isn't really necessary for this run; it was a nice convenience though. For a self-supported run, water stashes at Wolfpen Gap, GA-60, and Mulky Gap will probably be enough. For an unsupported run, there's water 0.1-0.3 miles off trail (not always on marked paths) at miles 6.1 (Whiteoak Stomp), 11.4 (Mulky Gap), 16.0 (Sarvis Gap), 19.3 (campsite between Rhodes and Licklog Mtns), 29.8 (Bryson Gap), and 32.8 (gap before the Bald). There's also water basically on the trail at miles 27.0 (Toccoa River), 33.1 (on the way up to the Bald), and 34.1 (on the way down from the Bald). Be wary of the creek at GA-60; it is downstream of a chicken coop. Not a recommended water source, even with water treatment. For the fastest time, I'd recommend running in fall or early spring, since the overgrowth won't be such an issue then, and also more obviously it will be cooler.

Under 6 hours is certainly possible, even for a runner of my very non-elite caliber. I didn't pace myself super well (I wanted to give the run everything I had so I started too fast, should've saved a bit for the climbs after the Toccoa River), lost 9 min at Mulky Gap, and had to deal with the overgrowth. Not making excuses - I just want to convince someone to go do it!