“Muphy To Manteo 600″ is a 600 mile run across the state of North Carolina to help support and bring awareness to the work of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (www.fallenheroesfund.org), helping wounded veterans returning from conflict. I will be attempting an uninterrupted West to East crossing of the state of North Carolina, on foot and totally self supported, following the “Murphy to Manteo” route. This route strictly follows US Rt 64 from where it crosses the Tennessee/North Carolina border, all the way to Manteo, NC in the east. This will be an attempt to set a Guinness World Record and also an FKT (fastest known time) for this route. I am planning on finishing in 12 days, which will require running an average of 50 miles per day. Along the way, I am hoping to be able to run some segments with veterans and first responders. I also hope that local media outlets along the route, will help me publicize the great work that IFHF is doing, and make veterans in the state, aware of the programs that are available to help them, in their time of need!
The number one question I get from everyone is WHY? Why in the world would anyone in his right mind, want to run all the way from one side of North Carolina to the other? What would drive a person to want to waste 2 weeks of vacation and a lot of money, just so he can run, mostly alone, for over 650 miles straight, while fighting the sun, the rain and the distracted drivers of on-coming 60 MPH traffic? Well, for me and those who really know me, the answer is easy. Most would say that I’m a little crazy. And maybe that’s so, but I do love a good challenge, and especially when it’s for a good cause. For those that don’t know me, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Dave Cockman and I AM a runner. I’m one of those running fanatics you see driving down the road with all the 26.2, 50, 100 and 2175 mile stickers all over the back of his car! I’ve been a runner most all of my life, ever since I had to run from the bullies at the bus stop when I was 6 years old. I’ve done a bit of running off and on throughout my adult life, completing a number of 5Ks and 10Ks like many sane individuals. But in 2010 something life-changing happened. That was the year that I became a hardcore runner and started running true long distance events, at the ripe old age of 52. That was the year I ran my first marathon and then my first 50 mile race. I got the bug so bad that by the very next year I was running 100 mile races and soon started following a new set of idols, like Marshall Ulrich and Dean Karnazes and Micah True (Caballo Blanco). These guys were doing things that most people, including me, could hardly believe was possible.
Dean Karnazes and I at 2013 Badwater 135
Dean ran 350 miles in 80 hours in 2005.
Marshall Ulrich -Photo courtesy of corunninghalloffame.com
In the fall of 2008, Marshall completed a 3,063.2-mile run from San Francisco to New York in 52.5 days, equal to 117 marathons, or two marathons plus a 10K each day.
Micah True, was the subject of a very popular running book titled Born To Run.
So me, wanting to emulate my heroes, and having already done a few 100 mile races, started thinking about attempting something much, much bigger. I wanted to run Badwater 135 – a 135 mile foot race through the desert of Death Valley, CA. This race is run in July every year, when the temperatures can reach 130 degrees, which is why it’s billed as the “World’s Toughest Foot Race”. Not only is it an extremely difficult race, but it’s also very hard to get in to, due to the limited number of people allowed to run it every year, and the qualifications needed to convince the race director that you have what it takes to complete the race. You have to have completed at least 3 100 mile races in order to qualify, but I read that one of the things that might improve your odds of getting chosen to run the race, would be if you had completed some extreme distance runs beyond 100 miles. This was when the thought of running all the way across the state of North Carolina first crossed my mind.
In 2013, I signed up for, and started 14 100 mile races. I did not finish 4 of those races, but did finish 10 of them, along with quite a few other marathons and 50 mile races during the year. By the end of 2013, I had done things that I in no way ever dreamed I’d be able to accomplish as a runner. I believe that most people would have been happy with that accomplishment, but not me. No, I decided that it was time to see if I could push my body beyond the 100 mile limit and started searching for a 200 mile race to run. The only thing I could come up with was a 200 mile relay race, here in North Carolina, called the Tuna 200, that would fit my time and money budget. Normally these relay races are run by a group of 6 or 12 people, in tag-team fashion, with each person running 3 to 10 mile sections. I contacted the race director for the Tuna 200 and asked him if he would allow me to run the entire 200 mile race as a one man team. He had never had anyone request to run it solo, and it took some convincing, but he finally agreed. If I was ever going to run across the entire state, then I needed to see how my body would react to running high mileage days, multiple days in a row, with minimum sleep and this would provide the best environment to test myself. These 200 mile relay teams start at 7 am on Friday morning and are given 36 hours to finish the distance, with the race ending late Saturday afternoon. But there’s no way I could do 200 miles in 36 hours all by myself. So the race director and I both came up with a plan that would allow me to start the race by myself on Wednesday evening (after getting off work from my day job) and I’d have 72 hours to finish the run. Since I would be starting the Tuna 200 run 2 days earlier than everyone else, I would be running all alone for a few days, with nothing but the views of the country side and the thoughts in my head. This would also be good practice for dealing with the extreme boredom of running for 12 plus hours, day after day. I learned a lot about myself during that run. In 100 mile races, you start and run as long as 36 hours, until you finish, usually without taking any long breaks. But in a 200 mile run, I knew I’d have to get a few hours sleep each night to re-energize and let my mind regain focus (after all, I’m not Dean Karnazes). It took me 3 days to complete, for a total of 70 hours 35 minutes from the start to the finish of the 208 mile course. The first 2 days of that run were very tough. During my second day on the course, I was having a very rough time and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish. But, what was most amazing to me, was that by the third day, I got stronger and my average pace for the last 30 miles was faster than I had
At the Finish Line of the 2013 Tuna 200
run during the first 175. Also, in 100 milers, I usually have digestion issues and can’t hold food down, but by sleeping a few hours each night, my stomach had a chance to settle down and send my muscles much needed energy supplies while I slept. I had read others’ stories of how their bodies would eventually settle and adjust to the conditions, on these multi-day runs, and I was glad that mine seemed to follow that same line. After finishing that run with no injuries and no residual after-effects, my mind was made up and (quietly) I put the wheels in motion for the planning of the “Murphy To Manteo 600″. Which I thought, would be my next big adventure – Ha!
My original idea was to run it in the Fall of 2014, and call it the “Murphy To Manteo 650″ but the best laid plans oft go astray. One other big undertaking that had been on my bucket list since I completed my first hundred miler, was the opportunity to race in the Grand Slam Of Ultra-running. This is a series of 4 of the oldest (and toughest) 100 mile races in the country, all run within a 4 month period. Getting accepted into this race series is tough, because you first have to win the lottery to get into the very first race of the series, The Western States 100. I know people who have been trying to get into Western States for 6 years and still haven’t been chosen. You enter the lottery each year for Western States and if you are one of the lucky 369 runners who is chosen out of the 5700 that apply, then you are also given the opportunity to sign up for the other 3 races in the series and the series itself. The other races consist of the Vermont 100, the Leadville 100 and the Wasatch 100. THEN, you have to complete each race in succession, until all four races are finished. If you fail to complete any of the four, then you are out of the running (pun intended 😉 ). Well, as luck would have it, not only did I get chosen in the Western States lottery, but I also got into the other three races and finished them all. It was the most grueling competition I had ever been a part of and it took every bit of mental toughness that I could muster. I came in 14th place (last place) in the series standings, but I still finished, AND earned my self this coveted trophy, that only 267 people have ever owned. I know pride can be a bad thing, but damn I was proud of that thing. It was THE highest physical accomplishment I had ever achieved!
By the time I finished the Grand Slam at the end of 2014, I was out of money and out of vacation time. Therefore, my run across the state would have to wait. In many ways this was actually to my benefit. First of all, the plan was to do the run in November, which was after Daylight Savings Time was over and I would have fewer hours of daylight each day to run. Also, I would have to deal with the colder temperatures in the mountains in late Fall. The second benefit I realized out of delaying the start of the run to 2015, was the additional time I had to organize the fund-raising aspect of the project. I had never done a large fund-raising campaign, other than the small requests I had made in the past for Multiple Sclerosis and Childhood Cancer organizations. And those charity organizations did all of the behind the scenes administrative work that is required. So all I had to do was raise a little money and send it to the charity. But, for “Murphy To Manteo 600″ I had already decided that it would be a fund-raising effort for wounded veterans, an effort that I felt was lacking in this country. I had never guessed how much work has to be done behind the scenes in fund-raising efforts. First you have to do the research on your charity of choice. Charity organizations in this country have become a billion dollar business and there are PLENTY of people out there that are willing to feed off of your good intentions for the betterment of their own bank accounts. I first turned to the big wounded warriors charity that every one knows about and wanted to discuss the idea of fund raising for them. I can’t believe how hard it was to even get them to reply, even though I was hoping to raise thousands of dollars for them and give them a lot of publicity. After 4 weeks of constantly trying to get someone to talk to me, all I ever got, was an email stating “here is our address, send us the money when you are done”. They had become just too big, and I decided it was time to go find a charity that wanted to work WITH me. I had been quite familiar with the great work that Gary Sinise (of Forrest Gump fame) had been doing for wounded vets, through his Gary Sinise Foundation and
Photo courtesy of www.garysinisefoundation.org
the Lt Dan Band. Looking at the organizations that his foundation had partnered with over the years, I discovered the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund was established in 2000 to provide financial support for the dependents of United States military personnel lost in performance of their duty. This continued an effort begun in 1982 by the late Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, founders of the Fisher House Foundation. For many years, the Fishers had made very generous personal contributions to families of military personnel lost in performance of their duty. The Fund, as I will call them, has been doing great things for vets returning from combat. I hope that anyone reading this, will go out to their website and look at all the services they are providing (with your help) to our men and women in the various armed services. They are a small organization, but have done HUGE things, and with very minimal overhead and administration costs. Since my run was going to be North Carolina centric, I also wanted the charity to be as North Carolina centric as possible so that people donating, would be able to know their money was supporting local causes. When I discovered that The Fund was helping build a new healthcare center at Ft Bragg, NC, that specialized in Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress issues, I knew then and there, that I had found THE charity that I would raise money for. When I contacted them, they were so helpful in promoting my endeavor amongst all of their existing followers and seemed seriously excited about what I was doing for their organization. In the end, all of the work to organize and bring the charity on board, took a solid three months to finalize.
Next came the choosing of the crowd funding site that I could use to both handle the online donations for the charity and also use to solicit sponsorship to help pay for expenses. All of the other charities I have fund-raised for before, always had their own websites for people to donate to, but Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is such a small organization and doesn’t have anything like that setup. All of the crowd funding sites charge a fee, so I wanted to find the one that would do the best job and charge the smallest surcharge. After doing my research, it seemed that Crowdrise.com was my best choice. They would handle all of the transactions on the web for anyone wanting to donate that way, and send the money directly to the charity, after taking their admin fees off the top. They also do a great job of producing reports for me, so I can keep track of who donated and help me get Thank-You’s back to those folks. Crowdrise.com also allowed me to setup a separate page for sponsorship contributions, and would directly transfer those monies to me, to pay for my expenses.
SO, now that I knew who I would be raising funds for, I had to get the rest of this little run planned and organized. From the beginning, I had already decided that this would be a self-supported effort. This meant that I would NOT have a support crew or anyone following me along the way. I would run solo for most of the time as I traversed the state, carrying everything I needed in a backpack. I would get food at restaurants and convenience stores, and for sleeping and showers, stay at predetermined hotels along the way. This was all in an effort to cut down on the total expense of the run. I made a statement that “once I started running, I would not get in a car until I got to the finish line in Nags Head, NC”. In my planning, I figured my only expenses for the run were going to be: running shoes and clothes; food; and lodging (hotels or private homes) along the route. Doing the math, I estimated that it would cost me approximately $3000 to pull this off and I would have to take 2 weeks vacation from work. My hope was to run an average of 50 miles a day for 12 or 13 days, in order to complete the 600 plus miles. I would have 16 days from the day I started, to the day I had to go back to work. This would give me a few days buffer, in case something happened and it took a few extra days to finish. If I didn’t finish in 16 days, I just wouldn’t be able to finish. One nice little perk I get from the great company I work for, Itron Inc., is that they offer all employees 32 hours paid leave each year, to go do charity work, such as working on Habitat For Humanity sites or cleaning up trash on the highways. Since my entire run was going to be a fund-raising effort, the company agreed to allow me to use this 32 hours of paid leave during my run, and this meant that I would be able to save 3 days of my regular vacation time, for emergencies. Also, for any Itron employees that donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, the company would match their donation 100%, adding an additional source of funding for the charity, through my run. I am very fortunate to work for a company and have management that is very understanding and socially conscious.
With the “time off work” issue resolved, I still needed to figure out where I was going to come up with the funding to pay for this endeavor. I knew that if I really wanted to do it, I might have to just pay for it out of pocket. But I certainly didn’t have the money at the time, and would have to delay the start till I could save up enough extra cash to pay for expenses. Well, sometimes the stars and planets all align and everything works out, and for me, once again this was one of those times. As an ultra-runner, I had been associated with a great company called Chafex for the past 2 years. They had come out with a new product in 2013 that solved one of the big problems that long distance runners all experience, and that is blisters and chafing. When they were in the product development stage, I was contacted by a good friend of mine, Gail, in Boston, to see if I would be interested in helping them test the product during my 100 mile races. Since chafing and blisters had been a big issue for me, I was more than excited about trying something that promised to help reduce the occurrence. I will NOT put my name behind anything that I don’t believe in, so you can be assured that if I suggest something, then I truly believe in it. Over the 2 years that I have been using Chafex, chafing and blisters have become a thing of the past. It just works! I could not imagine running 650 miles and having to deal with blisters or chafing, so of course I would be carrying multiple tubes of Chafex with me for the entire journey. When I contacted one of the owners of the company, Joe Sweeney, about getting a supply for my trip, I explained what I was about to undertake and that Chafex would be with me the whole way. Without hesitating, Joe asked me how his company could help and before the call was over, “Murphy To Manteo 600″, had a title sponsor. Irregardless of whether or not I could raise additional funding, the run at least had a fighting chance of happening now. And besides, what better product confirmation could you ask for? If it could keep the blisters and chafing away for a 13 day run, then it would work for anyone on any type of run or long hike. In addition to Chafex, over the next couple of months, I was able to raise additional sources of funding as well. The local running club that I belong to, The Nog Run Club, is always funding great charity efforts around the greater Raleigh area. I was totally blown away when I found out that the run club’s board of directors had quietly gotten together and decided to also become a major sponsor of “Murphy To Manteo 600″. Elizabeth, Rick, Wendi, Susan and Pete had decided that my run, and what I was doing for the veterans, was worth funding and they infused another major sum of cash into the run’s bank account. Along with a multitude of great friends and family who also contributed sponsorship money to the bank account and prepay for some of my hotel stays, I finally had enough money to pay for the entire run. In addition to the financial support I also was able to have major shoe and sock sponsors come on board. 2 of the biggest items that every runner needs are good running shoes and good running socks. I knew that my feet and knees were going to take a lot of beating during 50 miles of running, day in and day out, for 13 days straight. And I needed every bit of protection I could acquire. Once again, I got lucky and a good friend of mine, Tim Kirk, got me associated with Altra Running and Feetures Running Socks. Altra makes shoe models, in my case the Olympus 1.5, that have an extreme amount of padding on the bottom of the shoe, which provides more than ample shock protection, every time the shoe hits the ground. Also, I would need socks that could stand up to the extreme friction and not wear out quickly. The representatives from Altra Running and Feetures Socks, both agreed to get involved with the run, and provide me with shoes and socks that I was more than confident could stand up to the torture that I was about to apply to them. Everything that I needed for the run, from a funding point of view, was now in place. Now I needed to get busy with some serious training and make sure that my legs (and the rest of me) had a fighting chance of pulling this thing off, from both a physical AND mental standpoint. Let the final stage of training begin!!!!
By the end of 2014, I was still in pretty good physical shape after finishing up the Grand Slam and also 3 more full marathons (City Of Oaks, Outer Banks and Richmond). I continued the effort into the new year by running multiple full marathons and a few 50 mile races over the first three months. These races were good because they kept my competitive spirit alive and they helped keep my training mileage up. The plan was to run up to 15 miles every day prior to the April 4th start date of the run across the state. However, we had a very hard February and March here in North Carolina and all of the snow made it hard to get out and do any serious training on a daily basis. I needed these long runs in order to get my system used to the daily beating it was going to take. But no matter how hard the effort, I just wasn’t getting in the training I felt was needed and it really started making me nervous. Starting at the beginning of March (just one month before the start) I ran a race every weekend. On the weekend of 3/21 and 3/22 I had two races scheduled that I felt would tell me if I was physically ready (or not) to attempt a run of this magnitude. I had a 50 mile race (on beach sand) on Saturday 3/21 and the next day I was to run a marathon. For the Sunday race I was actually slated to be a pacer and had committed to run it in 4 hours 30 minutes. I felt that if I could be strong enough to run 4:30 the day after running a 50 miler, then I was ready. I ended up coming in at 4 hours 28 minutes! My confidence was solid but I still had one final race before Murphy To Manteo 600, and that was to be the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. Yes, I planned a 100 mile race the week before my run across the state, even though a lot of friends were telling me it was a bad idea. I truly didn’t feel that running a tough race one week prior would hinder me, providing I didn’t get injured. I guess we would see! On that Saturday morning I started the Umstead 100 feeling strong and was more than ready to go the full distance. As the day progressed into the afternoon, I got really cold and hungry and was craving spaghetti and meatballs from the previous night’s dinner. At the 50 mile mark, I decided to stop at the aid station to see if they had any leftovers. While I sat there waiting for them to warm me up something to eat, the strangest feeling came over me. It was the first time that had ever worried in the slightest that I might not be able to pull off this 600 plus mile run across the state that I had planned. I was cold and tired and just kept asking myself if I really needed to be out here taking the chance of injuring myself. The more I thought about it, the stronger my good common sense seemed to get. So with that, my final training race was over. I went home and got a warm shower and slept in my nice warm bed, while all of my other friends stuck it out through a brutally cold night. It was now time for me to get everything washed and packed for the big adventure.
So, fast forward 3 days. Today it’s Wednesday April 1st and all of my planning and organizing is behind me. In just 3 short days, I hope to finally get a chance to start something that I have been working on for the better part of 2 years. I’m all packed and my final preparations are finished. Work has been hectic, because I need to make sure everything is under control and any open issues are handed off to co-workers. I’ve been a little stressed out with making sure that all the bills are paid and there’s no other personal issues I need to take care of. Once I start running on Saturday, I need to be able to concentrate ONLY on putting one foot in front of the other, and keep repeating that effort for 650 miles, till I reach the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, and to do my best to not get hit by some distracted driver.
I mean WOW! If you had asked me 2 weeks ago how I expected my first day on the run to turn out, there is no way I could have guessed it would unfold the way it has. It’s certainly been way more than I imagined. What I truly can say, is that the people in the towns of Murphy and Hayesville and Brasstown, NC have gone out of their ways to make me feel welcomed and gave me a great sendoff on my journey across the state. It’s been a long and challenging day, and I am mentally and physically exhausted. But after 2 years of planning, it’s quite fulfilling to have finally started the “Running” phase of this journey. Day 1 is in the books!
So before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up a few days and talk about what’s transpired to get me where I am tonight. The past week has been quite frantic and it was good to have friends like Teri Saylor and Mark and Esther Dill and my girlfriend Olga who have all gone out of their ways to help me get the final preparations wrapped up. Esther and Teri and Mark helped with public relations and contacting all of the news media and did a great job of making sure that everyone knew what I was about to undertake. They put together my press release and the great looking business cards that I’ve been handing out to everyone along the way for fund-raising purposes. And Olga has done a great job of getting me packed and organized so I didn’t forget anything. Yesterday (Friday) was a busy day at the office, but I was able to get everything wrapped up, and by noon I had said my goodbyes to all of my co-workers and headed towards the house to pick up Olga for the long 6 hour drive to the town of Murphy, NC. Just 20 miles west of Murphy (at the Tennessee border) is where I would start this little adventure. The car was already packed and we got out of Raleigh shortly after 1:00 pm. The next time I would see Raleigh, it would be on foot, somewhere around 400 miles into the run!
The drive was long and my thoughts were steadily transitioning from normal everyday life in civilization, to the thoughts of my long boring days ahead on foot. On our way into the town of Murphy, Olga and I first had to stop in Hayesville, NC, about 35 miles east, to pick up a special little package.
Bob Bond from Hayesville VFW presenting me with the flag that I would carry across the state!
Some of the VFW’s and American Legion members along my planned route, had been contacting me to see how they could help and asking what kind of support they could offer, as I made my way across the state. These were individuals like Alan Champney from VFW Post 10222 and Glendon Gale from American Legion Post 96 in Murphy and Phil Paige and Bob Bond from Hayesville VFW Post 6812 and others from American Legion Post 532 and also Ray Pavlick from VFW Post 7313 in Pittsboro, NC. They had made it their mission that I would have every thing I could possibly need to make my way safely through their counties. During one of my conversations with Bob Bond, I had mentioned that I would be carrying (and prominently displaying) an American Flag on my backpack, all the way across the state, in honor of the veterans I was supporting. Bob mentioned that he would like to present me with THE flag, courtesy of the VFW, that would accompany me from the start to the finish, and I graciously accepted his offer. So, I had arranged to meet Bob on the side of the highway in Hayesville, to pick up the flag, on our drive into Murphy last night. After all the phone conversations we’d had over the last few weeks, it was good to finally meet him in person.
After meeting up with Bob, we hurried on towards Murphy but by the time we arrived in town last night, it was already dark. We were supposed to have met up with the one of my oldest and best friends, Chris Germano and his wife Darlene at the Holiday Inn, but they had already left the hotel and made their way to downtown Murphy for dinner. So we quickly unloaded the car and headed out to join them at The Parsons Pub, a place the manager of the Holiday Inn had suggested.
Chris and I at the end of The Appalachian Trail in 2006
Chris has been right along side me during a lot of my crazy adventures over the last 30 years. When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006, from Georgia to Maine, Chris was right beside me for the first 6 days and there with me for the last 8 days and the finish. Whenever I ran my very first marathon, Chris toed the starting line with me. The 2 of us have quite a few funny stories about the crazy situations we’ve gotten our selves into through the years. From the night we spent a cramped and wet night camping in a cave with 6 other people in the middle of the wilderness, to the night Chris got attacked by rats, when we were camping in an Appalachian Trail shelter. The stories go on and on. So to say I was looking forward to him being there at the start of yet another grand adventure, would be a huge understatement. The plan was that we would start together and he would run the first 20 miles with me from the Tennessee border into downtown Murphy, NC, where I would continue on alone.
So, once Olga and I reached the pub and met up with Chris and Darlene last night, the four of us had a great dinner and I even drank a beer (something I don’t normally do the night before a big race) to celebrate the upcoming event. There was a lot of talk about what lay in store for me in the coming days and I definitely felt myself getting quite nervous. Up to a few days prior to this point, I had been consumed with all the logistics and the planning of this run and now it was finally hitting me, how big of an undertaking it was going to be. I kept thinking “What if I get 2 days into this thing and can’t continue any further … with all of the planning and publicity I’ve given this, I’ll look like a fool”. No matter what, there was no turning back now and it was time to just see if I was physically capable of doing what I said I would do. After dinner (and a lot of reminiscing about old times) we headed directly back to the hotel. I needed to get in bed as early as possible since today was going to be an important day and I wanted to be well rested.
This morning I woke up at 5:30 feeling pretty excited and anxious over what was about to unfold. It didn’t take Olga and I long to get ready and out of the room, and we met Chris and Darlene downstairs, to get the day started. The four of us all rode together to the Waffle King in Murphy, where we met up with the members of VFW Post 10222 and American Legion Post 96. These guys had been instrumental in organizing a breakfast gathering there at 6:30 am, so I could meet everyone and get pictures with their members before the run. It was a very friendly atmosphere and they all made me feel right at home. We talked and chatted about what I was about to do and they thanked me for my fundraising efforts for the veterans. They also wanted to discuss the reception they had planned for when Chris and I made our way back into the town square, hopefully around lunchtime. Once we had all finished a pretty big breakfast, Olga, Darlene, Chris and I left the others at the restaurant and headed out for our 20 mile drive to the Tennessee border.
On the way, Darlene was paying attention to the surroundings as we were leaving town and as we passed by the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center she noticed that there was a billboard with my name lit up in lights. We were all pretty surprised and decided to turn the car around and go get some pictures. I figured I’d never see anything like that again in my lifetime. I certainly had not expected the kind of reception I was getting from the whole town of Murphy and have to admit it was a little overwhelming at first but also quite gratifying. I mean to me, I never thought anyone would make a big deal out of my crazy idea to run across the state, but to everyone here in this beautiful little town, it WAS a big deal. For all of them, it was a chance to be part of something, and this is where it would all begin. They had run a story in the local newspaper with me on the front page and like I said, the VFW and all the veterans and even the mayor had things planned for us. You’d never get anything like this from the town of Raleigh!
We jumped back in the car and continued our drive to the border and finally arrived a little after 7:30. There was a small business there and we parked in their parking lot. Waiting for us, was the crew from the Wolf Creek Fire Department with their fire truck and a small “gator” like vehicle with emergency lights on it, that they normally use for forest fires. I at first thought they were there to just give us a good send off, but after we talked they explained that they would be providing us with a fire truck escort, all the way into Murphy, to ensure a safe journey into town. Once again I was totally overwhelmed, because I hadn’t expected this kind of attention and care.
After taking a lot of pictures at the start line, it was finally time to get the show on the road (literally) and at exactly 7:59 on April 4th, 2015, the grand adventure was underway!
The first thing I noticed as we started running was how heavy my pack felt and how it seemed to be rubbing on my back. By the end of the first mile it was noticeably tugging on my shoulders. Even though I felt that my training was adequate, I hadn’t trained a single mile with that pack on, because it didn’t arrive in the mail until late last week from the manufacturer. I only packed what I was absolutely certain I would need on the journey but it still weighed about 20 pounds. Chris tried to talk me into leaving more items behind, before the start this morning, but I was adamant that I needed everything that I was carrying. I’ll admit I may have had second thoughts about that by the end of the day! Other than that little annoyance however, the run started off without any major stumbling blocks. The sky was beautifully blue with some light clouds and the air was crisp, with no hint of rain. It was just cool enough that I needed a long sleeve shirt and gloves. Chris hadn’t dressed warm enough at the start so I loaned him the light jacket I had in my backpack, but before we had even run 5 miles, we both had to stop and take off the long sleeves and jackets because it had warmed quite quickly. We ran eastward into the rising sun, with our American Flags waving prominently behind us in the trailing wind.
Running along on the right side of this four lane highway, we had the fire truck behind us flashing its emergency lights and keeping us safe from the cars passing by to our left. I think both of us were enjoying the opportunity to run on a flat highway and not have to worry in the least about all the cars around us. People were honking and waving as they passed in both directions. A lot of folks knew about us from the local news coverage the run had received. The conversation between us covered a wide range of topics including all the wild things we’ve done together in the past, but it always came back to just how crazy the idea was to run over 600 miles across the state on a busy highway. I took the time to just soak up the moment and realize that some day in the future we would reflect back on this as another of our crazy adventures.
It wasn’t long before we passed by the first roadkill of the run. I KNEW before I reached the ocean there would be plenty more and so I decided at least to memorialize this poor fellow in pictures since he was the first. Chris thought it was a dumb idea, but I made him go back and get the picture anyway. RIP little fellow, rest in peace. I’m hoping I don’t end up the way you did before this journey is over!!
We whiled away the time, talking and taking pictures of the surrounding countryside and all the “interesting” examples of Americana! It’s amazing the things that you will notice when traveling by foot that you might totally miss as you whiz right by in a car.
Eventually we came to the edge of the Wolf Creek Fire District and they had to hand us off to the guys from the Ranger Fire Dept.
And then again some miles down the road, before we reached the Murphy City Limits, we were handed off to the Murphy Fire Department as our final escort into town.
We were keeping a pretty steady pace, averaging somewhere around 12 minute miles and before we knew it, our little 20 mile morning run through the countryside was over and we were coming back into the town of Murphy. I had to stop for one more picture in front of that billboard with my name in lights, as we entered the city limits.
As we approached the main intersection in town, I noticed a policeman directing traffic and I thought that maybe the traffic light was out or something big was going on. When I saw him motion me on through the intersection and another police car pull in front of me with the lights on, I realized the something big was Chris and I. They actually had all the traffic stopped and were giving us a police escort into the square in the center of town. I was speechless and truly didn’t know how to act other than to thank the officers and wave back to all the cars and the people who were waving and clapping for us as we ran by. It was at this point that I told Chris that I felt like some hometown hero returning from war. I had never received this much attention before. I had never had what seemed like an entire town come out to greet me. This town cemented it’s way into my life’s history book and I will never forget how honored I felt.
As Chris and I made our way towards the center of town, we first passed by the Murphy Fire Station and they had their big ladder truck raised with an American Flag waving from the top. I had to stop by and shake their hands and thank them for the reception and for keeping us safe. Right next to the fire station was the Hiwassee River which we would cross over for the first of many times time today. Spanning the river here in town was the “W Frank Forsyth Bridge”, named after North Carolina Senator William Frank Forsyth of Cherokee County. Forsyth, affectionately known as “Cochese”, was evidently a beloved figure in these parts because of all his tireless effort for the betterment of the area, right up until his death in 1970.
As soon as we crossed the bridge we could see all the people lined up along the street, waiting for us at the Veteran’s Memorial in the town square.
There to greet us was the Mayor of Murphy (Mr Bill Hughes) and members of the VFW and American Legion and many, many others. We spent quite a bit of time shaking hands with everyone and getting pictures. There were a whole lot of pictures taken there because every single person wanted their picture with us. Once the picture taking was done at the memorial, we headed across the street to a little restaurant called Shoe Booties Cafe for more introductions and pictures and where they had lunch planned for us. If there’s one thing I love more than running, it’s eating and I love good food. I had discovered Shoe Booties Cafe quite some time before the run, when I was doing research on places to eat. Some students from Elon College had written a blog about travels along North Carolina Highway 64 and they had included a review of this restaurant in their posts, that made it seem outstanding. So I was really happy that that was the place the members of the town had decided to take us. I know I was hungry and that could have tainted my review, but the food there was excellent irregardless. I had a bowl of soup and some Chicken Alfredo over Linguini that was to die for. Not to mention a great big glass of iced tea. As hungry as I was, I devoured it fairly quickly.
George Kerber and I in front of Shoebooties Cafe
I definitely have to give this place 2 thumbs up and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great meal near Murphy. I was quite intrigued with where the name came from and discovered from their website that it had come from an episode of “All In The Family” where Archie was telling Meathead that his nickname when he was a child was “Shoebootie”, because they were so poor that he had to wear one shoe and one boot. Definitely a unique name for a restaurant. George Kerber, the owner , was very gracious and provided room for us in the back so we could all sit together and made sure the staff got our meals out to us quickly, because I needed to get back out on the road and run another 20 miles before the day was over. After we finished eating and taking more pictures with all of the staff, it was way past time for me to get back on the road and get my butt headed towards Hayesville. I still had a long ways to go and there were a lot more people waiting for me there, who were planning yet another big reception and dinner. I definitely wanted to get into the hotel before sundown. At this point it was time to say “Goodbye Murphy…it’s been great”. And as Arnold would say “I’ll be back”!
At this point and for most of the rest of the journey, I would be running alone. It was time for Chris to leave me since he and Darlene had to get back to Raleigh. It was great having him there to help get me started, and it seemed strange when I went back out and started running alone. Olga, took my car and headed on towards Hayesville, as she planned on meeting me at the hotel tonight. As I left out of town, the Murphy Fire Dept once again became my escort and stayed with me all the way until I reached the eastern end of the city limits. There, they let me know that was as far as they could escort me, so I thanked them for all their help and we said our goodbyes. Now I was totally on my own as I headed east towards Hayesville.
It was just me and all of those hundreds of cars that were whizzing right past me. It was at this point that I went over to the left hand side of the road and started running against traffic, so I could keep an eye on the oncoming cars and trucks. This is the side of the road I would be on for the next 600 plus miles. It was also the point where I started waving to every single car that passed me. It felt strange at first and I did get some strange looks from some folks, but most everyone waved back. I waved for 2 reasons. One was just to be friendly and the other was to make sure that people actually saw me. I quickly got into the routine and made myself pay very close attention to EVERY vehicle. What I was doing was definitely dangerous and the only chance I had, was to pay close attention and be ready to jump out of the way of any car that got too close. There were many drivers who would see me and start to stare and not even realize that they were unintentionally veering straight for me. Even though it felt strange, I quickly grew to enjoy my new routine of running and waving at everyone who passed by. Sometimes the waves back would be just one finger lifted from the edge of the steering wheel, sometimes it would be a finger lifted from the edge of the cell phone that they were not going to move away from their ear, but most times it would be a full fledged whole hand wave from a genuinely friendly driver. The ones I loved the most though, were the ones from the kids, when they would pass by and (obviously) recognize me from the newspaper articles, and they would get all excited and just go crazy waving back. Those really lifted my spirits every single time.
About 3 miles out of town, after I crossed the Hiwassee River for the third, fourth and fifth times, I came to the intersection with Old US Hwy 64, where I would temporarily leave the main route, and take a side trip to Brasstown, NC. Since I was in his neck of the woods, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to head just a few miles off my main course and meet a local legend in person, down at Clays Corner in Brasstown.
For a number of years now, a local gentleman by the name of Clay Logan has been holding what is called The Possum Drop. The annual event at Clay’s Corner convenience store is organized by proprietors Clay and Judy Logan. At midnight on New Years Eve, instead of dropping an inanimate object, a plexiglass pyramid containing a live opossum is lowered from the roof of the store.
Clay and His Possum – Photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com
The animal is lowered carefully to prevent the occurrence of injury. The opossum is not actually “dropped;” as with most events of it’s kind, it is lowered in the same manner as a time ball. Federal and state animal permits are obtained in advance and the opossum is released afterwards. The festivities include a contest with local men dressed as women to compete for the title “Miss Possum Queen” as well as bluegrass music, snacks and beverages, and souvenir merchandise. Clay received international attention in 2004 after the Possum Drop was featured in a New York Times article. The Possum Drop became the subject of criticism and protest from PETA, an organization that considers the drop a form of animal cruelty. PETA successfully sued to stop the 2013 Brasstown Possum Drop but the North Carolina legislature passed a law late in the year to expressly allow the state wildlife commission to issue Clay a permit, and the Brasstown event resumed in 2014. Everyone who knows me can tell you I am a passionate animal lover and wouldn’t promote any thing where I believed animals were being harmed. But I have to truly believe this is where PETA makes a bad name for itself. In the end, all they did was help Clay promote his event, because it now draws huge crowds from all around the country.
Anyways, as luck would have it, Clay was out of town today and I didn’t get to meet him. His lovely wife Judy was there though, and she was a wonderful tour guide as we chatted for a bit and I took a few pictures around the place.
Judy Logan and I at Clay’s Corner
And of course, before I left, she made sure that I got some nice cold “Possum Water” to keep me refreshed on the continuation of my afternoon’s journey!
It was 3:30 when I left out of Brasstown and with the afternoon getting short and still 15 miles to go, I put a little giddy up in my go and hightailed it back towards Hwy 64.
I made it back out to US Hwy 64 and turned right towards Hayesville. I crossed back over the Hiwassee River (again) and got a few good pictures of the river and the “Sister L John Meehan Bridge”. Have you ever crossed a bridge or driven on a highway that was named for someone and wondered who that person was and what made them so special as to get a bridge or road named after them? I have wondered that often, so I made it my mission before this run even started, that I would take pictures of these facilities and structures along my route, and research who these people were. Well, Sister Loretto John Meehan was a Catholic nun from the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers, NY. As a registered nurse, Sister Loretto John dedicated much of her professional time to the residents of North Carolina, first as a nurse at Glenmary Nursing Home and then at Good Shepherd Home Health Agency, both in Hayesville. Sister Loretto received numerous honors for her nearly 30 years in North Carolina, including being named Nurse of the Year in 1997 and Citizen of the Year in 1994. In 1997, the Smokey Mountain Sentinel named her one of the “Heroic Women of the Southern Highlands.” So, in April 2000, this span over the Hiwassee River in North Carolina was named the “Sister L. John Meehan Bridge” in honor of all her good deeds. And now you know!
As I crossed that bridge, I also crossed over my very first county line of the trip. I had gone all the way through Cherokee County and was now entering Clay County. According to Wikipedia, In the Fall of 1860, George Hayes, who was running for Representative from Cherokee County, promised his southeastern constituents to introduce legislation to form a new county. In February 1861 the legislation was introduced and passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and thus Clay County was born. It was formed primarily from Cherokee County, North Carolina, however a small area was taken from Macon County, North Carolina. In honor of Mr. Hayes, the then new county’s seat was appointed Hayesville and the newly formed county was named in honor of Henry Clay, famous American statesman and member of the United States Senate from Kentucky. 1 county down and ONLY 22 more to go!
8 miles into Clay county, I finally reached the city limits of Hayesville, NC somewhere around 6 PM. I still had about 4 miles to go to reach the hotel, but it felt good knowing that I would soon be reaching my final destination and be able to get this pack off of my back and take my shoes off. Coming into town, I didn’t have all the big fanfare that I had received in Murphy.
But people were still honking and waving and I was even greeted by a lady who had driven out and displayed a big American Flag as I ran by!
But the coolest thing, was that my new escort through town was going to be Jesus. I know it’s hard to see, but the license plate on that motorcycle says “Jesus”. This gentleman, Bob LeKites, let me know he was going to ride up ahead of me and make sure I made it the rest of the way safely. I believe in signs and with a sign like that, I was feeling pretty safe. He would stop up ahead of me every so often and keep know just how much further it was to the hotel. At one point he told me we had less than a mile to go and that the hotel was around the next corner. I was a little disheartened when I rounded that curve and it wasn’t there. He drove up ahead and then came back and apologized for misleading me and said I had yet “another” mile to go!
When the hotel finally did come in sight, I could pick Olga out of the crowd because of her red sweatshirt. I finished with a mad sprint up the hill to the hotel and to the crowd of people there waiting for me. The Deerfield Inn in Hayesville, NC was the ending point of the day’s run. When I turned off my GPS, I had logged 43.3 miles, but somehow it felt like more.
Members from the George Lee American Legion, Allison-Bristol VFW Post 6812 and Legion Auxiliary who met me at the Deerfield Inn, the last leg of my run on the first day. From left, are Bob Bond, Eddie Worley, Marie Leduc, George Leduc, Earlene Van Der Osten, Phil Cantley, Susan Hyzer, Elizabeth Rhoades, Shirley Epperson, Me, Bob Van Der Osten, Bob Epperson, Lesko Leskanic, Walt Hyzer, Linda Bond, Teresa McClure and Dwight McClure. – Photo courtesy of Linda Hagberg and The Clay County Progress
As in the town square of Murphy, I was greeted by another big contingent of VFW and American Legion members as well as many general well wishers. I was tired and more than glad that I was done running for the day, but no matter how tired, I wanted to show my appreciation to everyone who came out to meet me. And also as before, everyone wanted to take their picture with me as if I was some sort of big celebrity.
With Shirley and Bob Epperson
With Earlene and Bob Van Der Osten. Bob is a WWII veteran.
Maria and I
It was great finally meeting Maria, (the proprietor of the Deerfield Inn) and all the others I had been talking with during the planning stage. Once we were done taking pictures and sharing stories, Linda Hagberg from the Clay County Progress (the local newspaper) asked for some time to get an interview. I spent a little time with her talking about my day and why I was supporting the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and then afterwards I headed in to get a shower and in to clean clothes.
From the beginning, way back when the idea for this run was first hatched, I had always planned and stated that it would be a “self-supported” run. According to the FKT website, Self-supported means that you don’t carry everything you need from the start, but you don’t have dedicated, pre-arranged people helping you. This is commonly done a couple different ways: You might put out stashes of supplies for yourself prior to the trip, or you might just use what’s out there, such as stores, begging from other trail users, etc. Also I had said that I wouldn’t get in a car from the time I started the run until the moment I finished in Nags Head. So now was the time that I had to make a management decision. All of the folks that had come out to greet me, really wanted to take me out to dinner as a token of appreciation for my efforts. They had made all of the plans for dinner, but in order for me to be part of it, I’d have to run back to the restaurant, 4 miles away, or else I’d have to ride with someone (in a car), and let’s just say I was done running for the day! As important as this all seemed to them, I finally made the decision that I would join everyone for dinner in downtown Hayesville. And with that, this “self-supported” run became a “supported” run. The connections and friendships I was forming with these folks was a lot more important than some label.
Once I got cleaned up and dressed for dinner, Olga and I rode with Bob Bond and his wife Linda, down to a place called Marias Hayesville Family Restaurant where met up with everyone else. I was pretty hungry and had been looking forward to a big steak all afternoon, but they all talked me into ordering the BBQ Ribs instead, since it was Rib Night. It was a decision I did not regret. As hungry as I was I would imagine just about anything was going to taste great. I had a pretty big appetite after a long day on the road and I managed to get my fill of this Maria’s fantastic cooking. When we were done eating, everyone wanted me to autograph their copies of the local newspaper that had my story on the front page. I was especially taken aback by how excited all the kids were to get my autograph. I even had one exclaim that he had “never met anyone famous before”! Ha! It was great getting a chance to spend a little more time with everyone after I had a chance to get cleaned up and get some food in me and I especially enjoyed talking with Bob Van Der Osten and his wife. Bob is a 92 year old World War II veteran and I loved hearing his stories. I could have sat there for hours asking him questions. He’s written a book about his experiences during the war and I hope to get a copy of it since history is something that really intrigues me and especially WWII history. There aren’t many WWII vets still around to share their stories and I feel honored to have had the time with Bob.
My view from my room at The Deerfield Inn
We finished dinner and headed back here to the Deerfield Inn so I can get in bed and get ready for “Day 2″, tomorrow. In my early days of planning, I figured Hayesville was where I would probably spend my first night due to the distance from the start of the run at the Tennessee border. There aren’t a lot of places to stay here in town, but when I looked at the info for The Deerfield Inn, I was pretty sure this was where I wanted to stay. The Inn sits way up on a hill and looks right out over Lake Chatuge. All I could envision was how nice and restful it would be to look out over the lake after a long day on the road. And as you can see from the picture, I was not wrong. The place is so clean, quaint and charming, that I know I’ve found my overnight destination for future visits to Hayesville and Lake Chatuge. I would highly recommend this place to everyone for a relaxing weekend getaway to the mountains.
A few weeks ago, when it was time to book the room, I sent out an Email regarding my run and my interest in staying here and this was the reply I received:
“Hi Mr. Cockman,
Thank you for your interest in lodging at Deerfield Inn while on your possible stop over in Hayesville NC.
The owner is a Korean War Veteran and would be happy to offer you a complimentary night stay to support your wonderful cause.
Keep us informed as to your exact date.
The first time I talked with Maria on the phone, there was this instant connection and feeling of friendliness. Meeting her in person just confirmed my suspicion that she would go out of her way to make us feel at home. So, what a nice surprise it was when we opened the door tonight after dinner and found that Maria had washed and folded all of my clothes and had them laid out ready for me, for tomorrow’s run. If you can’t read that note attached, that first line says “Ready for another “50””. Yep, I’ve got another 50 miles or more ahead of me tomorrow and then the day after that and the day after that and, well you know the story.
So that’s how my day has unfolded….the first full day of my run across the state of North Carolina. I hope you’ll come back and read about the rest of my journey as it unfolds. As I said at the beginning, it’s been a long and challenging day. And with that I’ll just say “Good Night John Boy”!
I’ll tell ya where. About 480 million years ago, (give or take a million years) something got the Earth all riled up and a big shift in the Earth’s tectonic plates started. There was a whole lot of smoke in the air and the ground was shaking and it was just not a nice place to be, unless you were some sort of single celled micro-organism. Little did we know at the time, but this marked the first of several mountain-building plate collisions that would culminate in the construction of the super-continent Pangaea. And after about 250 million more years when all the smoke had settled, right there in the middle of everything, were the two mountains I had to run over today. Because North America and Africa were once connected on this super-continent, the Appalachian Mountain Range was actually part of the same mountain chain as the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria. Just think, if I had started my run 481 million years ago, I might have had no mountains to run over and the run would be called the “Murphy To Algeria 2000″ instead (my feet hurt just thinking about it). As old as these mountain ranges are and with the massive forces that were in play at the time, they likely once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains. Thankfully though, the wind and the water have conspired over the last couple million years, to erode them down to their current day heights. The reason I am SO thankful is because otherwise, my 2000 foot climb up over Winding Stair Gap today, might have been a whole lot tougher. And I’m here to tell you that today’s run was tough enough!
It was another long and challenging day out there today with 2 long and steep mountain climbs and a 20 mile section in the middle of the day, where there were no businesses that I could stop at to buy water or food. And yes I am really tired and beat, but it was a very fruitful day with some beautiful scenery along the way.
I rose early this morning after a great night’s sleep. We got ready quickly and headed over to the office at 6:15 to meet up with Bob and Linda Bond who were coming over to have breakfast with us. Maria had risen early and prepared this great breakfast for everyone. I ate plenty knowing that I needed a lot of fuel for today’s run and I hoped I could get on the road early. It was still dark out when we started breakfast but by the time we were done eating it had already started getting light outside. It’s Easter Sunday and when I came outside I could see a lot of cars at the church across the street, I assume for sunrise services. It was kind of cool seeing the moon still up in the sky over the church and Lake Chatuge, just to the left, was very calm and serene with the first hints of daylight shining from behind the mountains on the lake’s edge.
It was very peaceful and quiet outside and that helped set my mind at ease about the major task I had before me today. Of course, the fact that it was Easter may have had something to do with it as well. I knew it would be my longest and toughest day of the whole trip. I had two large climbs today. The first would be a roughly 2000 foot climb over a 5 mile stretch during the hottest part of the day, with no place to get more water. And then, I would be ending the day with another 2000 foot climb over a 10 mile stretch on my way into Highlands.
The Elevation Chart for Today’s Run
I had hoped to get on the road by 7:00 am and get some of the tough stuff out of the way before it got too hot, but Olga wasn’t feeling well and I waited till 8:25 before I finally got underway. I took 3 water bottles with me and planned on drinking as sparingly as possible. Bob Bond stated that he was going to follow me for a while and make sure I was OK out there on the road, even though I assured him I’d be OK and didn’t need support. Little did I know that I might be eating those words later on! The going was rather easy for the first 6 miles. The sun was out with hardly a cloud in the sky and I was running at about a 12 minute pace, trying to conserve energy for the upcoming climb that I could see off in the distance. It warmed up quickly as the morning progressed. Once I started the climb, I also started to overheat and had to roll my sleeves up. But every time I went around a curve and back into the shadows, there was still a chill in the air and I would have to roll them back down . My pace over the next six miles slowed considerably to 17 minutes per mile as I made it up to the top.
Bob had continued to crew me all morning, even though I assured him I would be OK. I hated the fact that I was taking him away from his family on Easter Sunday. He would drive up about a half mile ahead of me and park and then when I would run by he would ask if I needed anything. I would say no and keep going and then he would drive up another half mile ahead and wait again until I came by. This continued on until I finally reached the top at 11:00 and I stopped to take a picture, looking back to where I had just climbed up from. I still had about 8 miles of rolling hills across the top of the ridge, but the worst of the climb was done and out of the way (at least for the morning).
At around noon, I finished up my second county of the journey, by passing out of Clay and into Macon County. According to Wikipedia, the county was formed in 1828 from the western part of Haywood County. It was named for Nathaniel Macon, who represented North Carolina as a United States Congressman and United States Senator from 1791 to 1828 (serving as Speaker of the House from 1801 to 1807). In 1839, the Cherokee Indians were forced by Andrew Jackson to give up their lands east of the Mississippi River (though some resisted and stayed) and then they were forced by armed soldiers to march to Oklahoma over 1000 miles on the Trail Of Tears. Much of the western part of Macon County was then split off and became Cherokee County. In 1851 parts of Macon County and Haywood County were combined to form Jackson County and left Macon County as we know it today. Macon County is especially famous for it’s beautiful waterfalls, including Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (which I would pass by later in the day) and also for the Nantahala River. Checking off the counties has now become something I find myself looking forward to and if my math is right, I have 21 more to go!
4 hours and 16 miles into today’s run, somewhere around Black Gap Road, I was starting to run low on water and I hadn’t eaten anything solid since breakfast. Bob was still with me and I had, up to this point, refused any food and water he had offered. But finally, no matter how stubborn I wanted to be, I had to give in and accept his assistance. It was hot and I was running out of energy fast, so when he offered me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some cold water at this point, I accepted and decided it was time for a break. We sat down by some little trail head and talked while I ate. That was one damned great tasting PB&J! I had to just sit for about 25 minutes and regain my strength. I couldn’t stay too much longer than that because I kept worrying about still having another 35 miles to go today.
About an hour after I crossed the county line and while I was still up on top of the mountain, I crossed over a very special spot that I last visited a little over 9 years ago. That was the point where the Appalachian Trail crosses US Hwy 64, just outside of Franklin, NC. Each year approximately 2000 people start the Appalachian Trail and only about 10% of those actually finish it. In 2006, I (Dave “Hightech” Cockman) was one of those who finished, walking the entire 2175 miles of the trail, all the way from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt Katahdin in Maine.
Me in 2006 during My Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail
I of course, had to stop and get a picture of the sign. I only wish I had gotten one today with me in it, so I could do a side by side comparison of what I looked like back them. At the ripe old age of 49, that was the first big long distance adventure that I ever undertook and I can definitely trace my love of ultra-running back to that excursion which took me 6 months to complete from start to finish. The day that I and the rest of my “Trail Family” finished the AT (Friday October 13th, 2006) on the top of Mt Katahdin, was a day that my life changed forever. The places I visited, the things I saw and the people I met on that journey, will last in my mind forever. And I made a few lifelong friends that I still regularly stay in touch with. That was my stepping stone into some of the awesome adventures I’ve undertaken since then, including this one.
It was at this point where the road finally started heading downhill off of the mountain. 3 miles later at the bottom of the hill, the road split into a 4 lane divided highway again. Just prior to the split, a car rolled up next to me and slowed and the next thing I hear is “Are you Dave Cockman” in a deep voice. It scared the crap out of me when I looked over and saw it was a Macon County Sheriffs Deputy rolling along beside me. My first thought was that I was in trouble for being out on the road or something, but then I realized who it was and I calmed down. Deputy Josh Taylor of the Macon County Sheriffs Department had called me 2 days ago, on Friday, to talk to me about my plan to run on the 15 mile, 2 lane winding road from Franklin, NC up into Highlands. The way he had put it on the phone was that they “were not going to let me run by myself on that road”. So I at first thought that “they weren’t going to let me run on that road” and I panicked. I mean Hell, what was I gonna do know. It was a little late to be changing my route. But finally I realized what he had been saying all along. He was just telling me that he was going to be my escort up that road. I didn’t ask for an escort and certainly hadn’t expected it but evidently the word got out that I would be running alone, and the sheriff and the powers that be, decided it would be very unsafe for me to run on that road without some sort of safety vehicle following behind. I would come to appreciate this later in the day, when I saw the blind curves and how fast drivers tended to drive up there. Sometimes it pays to listen to someone who truly knows what they are talking about. So now Josh was going to get to spend his entire Easter Sunday afternoon riding behind some crazy runner (Me) up a fifteen mile stretch of winding mountain road, at a 3 MPH pace! Oh Joy for him! Right now though, I still had about 5 miles before I reached the town of Franklin, where I planned to stop and get something to eat, so I told him I was OK for now and would meet him on up in town. It was finally time to say goodbye to Bob Bond as well. He felt I’d be safe on my own now that I was getting back into civilization. So we stopped for one last shot of me with the mountains I had just crossed in the background. I thanked him for everything he had done for me and bid him a fond adieu! Thank you Linda for letting me take up so much of your husband’s time today!
I finally rolled into the town of Franklin at around 4:00 and met up with Josh and his partner, at the Wendy’s there in town. We all stopped in the parking lot and made formal introductions. Compared to me, Josh was much taller and bigger. Definitely the kind of guy you want to say “Yes Sir” and “No Sir” to, when he stops you for driving 20 MPH over the speed limit. But he has this young look to him and a very reassuring smile that makes you feel right at ease (at least right after he get’s through writing you that speeding ticket ). I was really starving, so after we got a few pictures, Josh and I went in and got a quick bite to eat. It felt good to get inside and cool off and just get off my feet for a bit. Also, I got myself a large sweet iced tea, which made everything ALL better! We sat there for about thirty minutes and talked about the run and just life in general, while we ate. I told him I felt bad for dragging him out here on Easter Sunday to babysit me. I also told
My police escort by the Macon County Sheriff’s Department up the mountain today!
him this was going to be about the most boring assignment he possibly could have gotten on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when he could be home spending it with his family. He just laughed and said it really didn’t bother him a bit. We finished up and headed outside so I could get back to running.
Making my way up the road to Highlands
As we made the turn off of the 4 lane highway onto the road that would lead me up to Highlands, Josh rolled in behind me with his flashers going and kept any approaching cars behind him. We had a routine planned where he’d let a few cars queue up and every so often he’d come over the loudspeaker to let me know to get off to the side, so we could let the cars roll past us. I really felt bad for him and everyone else behind, because it was tough for me to do much more than 18 minute miles running up that climb with my pack on. And they were all back there “speeding” along at a whopping 3 MPH! There were also a lot of places where there just wasn’t any place to get over. It was either rock walls to my left or a dropoff to my right with no curb to get up on. I was pushing as fast as I could go and eventually I had Josh put my pack in his car so as to lighten my load, in hopes of speeding me up. We kept pushing and pushing and I got quite excited when I saw the 9 miles to go sign.
Crow Creek Falls
Just around the corner started the Cullasaja River Gorge and over the next 7 miles I would pass by some really beautiful waterfalls. First of all I ran by Crow Creek Falls and then Quarry Falls and then before I made it into town (and before it got dark out) I finally got to Dry Falls. There, a couple members of the local Highlands RoadRunners Club, Morris Williams and Brian McClellan, came out to greet me and run with me on my final stretch to the city limits.
When we got to the city limits, we were met by the Mayor of Highlands, the Honorable Patrick Taylor, Highlands Police officer Ronnie Castle and reporter Kim Lewicki of the Highlands Newspaper. Kim got a quick interview with me and some pictures and then officer Castle followed along behind us (with police car flashers flashing) during the last 2 mile stretch into the town square.
But none of this before I got one last picture together with my guardian angel Josh in front his squad car. I thanked him for getting me here safe and for wasting a perfectly good Sunday afternoon on my behalf. Thanks buddy!
When we finally got into the city center, it was around 9:00 and getting late for this small town. Most of the businesses were closing up, but Mayor Taylor had arranged for us to head on over to the Ugly Dog Pub, to grab some dinner before they closed. I would have loved to get a shower and put on some clean clothes before I ate, but like I said it was getting late, so we ate first. I didn’t realize just how beat I was until I took my pack off and sat down at the table for dinner. Not to mention that I really didn’t smell too good to be going into a nice restaurant. My stomach and my mind told me I was very hungry and I ordered a pretty large meal, but once it got to the table, I was so beat that I was only able to eat a small portion of what they had brought. I think the impact of two 50 mile days, back to back, had really gotten to my system. The food was exceptionally good and tasty but my stomach just wouldn’t accept a lot of it, so I brought the rest here to the hotel with me tonight. It was great sitting around listening to Mayor Taylor and Morris and Brian’s stories and getting to know a little about these guys. Some of them were pretty big time runners and had run some big time races. I noticed that the other guys liked to pick on Mayor Taylor and razz him a lot in a joking manner.
After we finished eating, it was finally time for me to get to my hotel room so I could get cleaned up and get some sleep. I said goodbye to Brian and Morris and then Mayor Taylor escorted me here to the Old Edwards Inn, where I’m staying tonight. So, can I say OMG without sounding too much like a teenage girl, who has just been asked to the High School prom by the varsity quarterback? This place is beautiful and the utmost in comfort! It’s a 5 star luxury hotel that was named TripAdvisor’s #5 Top Hotel in the entire U.S. in 2015. And I am staying here completely free, compliments of this wonderful town and the Inn. I’ll just say thank you on behalf of the veterans that I am running for. I am so tired that I can’t truly appreciate it and experience all the amenities it offers, but I’ll bet you I’m gonna sleep well tonight. I kind of feel out of place, because I’m so dirty and smelly after a long day on the road and all of the staff is dressed really nice and professional. But they are treating me like a VIP all the same.
It’s gonna be nice when I get done with this run and get a chance to come back on vacation and stay again at (and really get to enjoy) some of these places. I’m definitely taking good notes.
So day 2 is finally in the books. Today, I ended up running another 50.3 miles according to my Garmin GPS which puts me at a total of 93.6 miles so far on the trip. That hot shower felt great and I was actually able to eat most of the rest of my hamburger from dinner, so at least I’ll go to sleep with a full stomach. It is now time to lay my tired and worn out body down on this soft and comfortable bed and let my mind drift off to the deep regions of another world. I await the dreams of the coming adventures that lay ahead of me, on this crazy run across the state.
Seriously, the Mayor of Highlands, North Carolina literally ran me out of town today. Did I do something wrong? Did I smell bad or did they just not like the way I look. Well maybe so, but as it turns out, the Mayor is an avid runner and just decided to join me for a few miles, as I made my way out of town this morning. So you can just ignore that police car that’s behind us with it’s flashers on! He’s just there to provide us a safe escort to the city limits during the busy morning traffic, and NOT in hot pursuit! Let me say now I am truly sorry for any inconvenience I brought to those morning commuters behind him, and for all the grief he’s going to hear from them for making them late to work!
I may have had a 5 star hotel room and a very comfortable bed last night, but I had a horrible night’s sleep. About an hour after I got in bed, this shooting pain started in the calf muscle of my left leg. I tossed and turned trying to find a position where the pain would go away, but it never subsided, and I was awake most of the night. I’m not sure what to make of it yet, because it only hurts when I am laying down. When I am up and walking around on it, it feels fine. Even though I had not slept well, and was still pretty tired, I went ahead and got out of bed around 7 am this morning because of the busy day I had ahead of me. I needed to find a place for breakfast and I had promised the mayor that I would be at his office by 9 am for a presentation he wanted to do for me.
Image courtesy of the Highlands Historical Society, Inc.
Old Edwards Inn in Highlands is a rather large complex that cascades across several blocks of the downtown area. It was Highlands’ earliest boarding house, known then as Central House. A gentleman by the name of John Norton paid $60 for four lots on the southeast corner of 4th and Main Streets and constructed the two-and-a-half story frame structure with a gabled roof and a two-tier front porch in 1878. In 1889, another granite stone building was constructed right next door, which soon became known as the “Rock Store”, where general merchandise was sold. By 1925, the town’s police chief, Joe Edwards and his wife Minnie, had acquired the property and they expanded Central House, by adding two more stories and dormers to it. And then a few years later, using the old Rock Store next door as the foundation and lobby, Minnie Edwards had an entirely new hotel constructed that was enhanced with a new brick edifice. It was opened as The Hotel Edwards in 1935. In 1982, Pat and Rip Benton bought the properties and remodeled both The Hotel Edwards and The Central House into what appears today, with The Central House being converted to a fantastic 4 star restaurant. In 2001, Art and Angela Williams of Palm Beach, FL bought the restaurant and Inn and enlarged the compound by adding the former Kelsey Hutchinson Lodge to the property. Over the years additional properties have been added including 26 new guestroom cottages, (with outdoor heated mineral pool, a whirlpool and freestanding outdoor fireplace) and two new guest estates, to turn the complex into an expansive yet quiet country inn and spa that has few rivals where luxury is concerned.
The Inn had put me up in one of these quiet (and might I add luxurious) guest cottages at the back part of the property. At 7:30, when I walked over to the office for the guest cottages looking for breakfast, it was still closed, so I walked down the block to the main lobby of the Inn. There I got a look at the inside of this cool old historical building and asked if there was a good place in town to eat at this time of the morning. The man at the front desk was really friendly and suggested a couple of places that I might like. As I was leaving, I was greeted by a gentleman there in the lobby by the name of Jason Smith, who had overheard my conversation with the manager when I mentioned I was running across the state. He seemed pretty interested in my run, so I enjoyed spending the time to explain what it was all about and gave him one of my business cards. I’m fielding a lot more questions these days about the run and it makes me feel good that people are taking interest.
Walk out onto Main Street in the downtown area of Highlands and you are immediately surrounded with great small town charm. At 7:30 am there’s not a lot of people out and about, and it’s so quiet and calm that you could hear a pin drop. I walked just down the street to a place called the Sports Page Sandwich Shop to see what it looked like. It was open so I went in and walked right by the only other customer in the place on my way to the counter, where I ordered up a big breakfast of pancakes and eggs and bacon and coffee. I may not have slept well, but I did have a big appetite when I woke up, which was a good thing. I was going to need these calories to get me through the mornings run. When I finished eating, I went out and strolled around downtown to get a few pictures while there were still relatively few people out and about. The air was cool and just crisp enough that I needed to wear a light jacket. Most all that I saw at this time of the morning was a few ladies out walking their dogs, a couple of morning runners and few of what appeared to be construction workers and landscapers. The town has a very unique parking situation on Main Street where there are actually parking spots in the middle of the street, and I have been in this town many times during the Summer and Fall, when every single one of them are taken. But, as I alluded to above, they were practically all empty at this time of morning.
Morris Williams, Mayor Patrick Taylor, Myself, Officer Jonathan Phillips
Once I got back to my room at the Inn, I quickly got ready, checked out and headed over to the mayor’s office. Mayor Taylor had organized a gathering with a reporter and photographer and a few people from his office, to witness the town proclamation he was going to sign in my presence, honoring my run and the fund raising I was doing for wounded veterans. With Morris Williams of the Highlands Roadrunners Club, myself and Highlands Police Officer Jonathan Phillips looking on, the mayor made his announcement, signed the document and we all took pictures there in his office. Not long thereafter we headed out to the road and started our run out of town, with officer Phillips following along behind, to make sure we were safe from the busy morning traffic out on US 64. About two miles out, we reached the town limits where we said our goodbyes and parted ways. He wished me good luck and then returned to his office to do the towns bidding, while I headed east down the winding two lane mountain road out of town. After my tough day yesterday, I was looking forward to a much easier day on the road today or at least THAT was what I was expecting!
My thanks go out to Mayor Taylor and The Town of Highlands and the folks at the Old Edwards Inn for all your hospitality and goodwill in regards to my run across the state. And thank you Chief Bill Harrell of The Highlands Police Department (along with all of your staff) for keeping me safe, as I made it through your beautiful town. I look forward to my return visit to your town and a chance to run there again, when I am not in such a big hurry.
The mayor and I got started on our run just before 9:00 am and after he left me I was running once again by myself with no safety escort. It was now back to running on the left side of the road and waving to everyone to make sure they saw me. The road was very narrow and when a car would come, many times I literally had to step down in to the ditch, because there was no shoulder on which to escape. It was also very winding and I was constantly coming to blind curves that I couldn’t see around. On these occasions, when no cars were coming in the other direction, I had to go over to the right side of the road, in order to not get hit by an oncoming car. I was constantly walking from one side of the road to the other for many miles and it was mentally tiring, but I had to stay vigilant.
Right at six miles and one and a half hours after I started today, I crossed off another county and headed in to Jackson County, NC. The county was organized in 1851 from parts of Haywood and Macon counties and it was named for Andrew Jackson, President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. This area was all part of the Cherokee Nation when the Europeans first arrived. Today only a very small part of the Cherokee Nation remains and is in an area known as the Qualla Boundary, which extends into the northern part of Jackson County. The Qualla Boundary is not a reservation, but rather their own historical land that they actually had to purchase. This is the base for the Federally recognized tribe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. More than 10% of the entire population of Jackson County is Native American. In 1861 parts of Jackson and Henderson counties were combined to form Transylvania County. In 1871 parts of Jackson and Macon counties were combined to form Swain County, leaving Jackson County as we know it today. It was at this point that the road started dropping quickly in altitude. Over the next 5 miles, it dropped from 4175 feet down to 3486 feet when I got to the village limits of Cashiers, NC.
By the time I got into Cashiers, it was lunch time and I was needing to eat. There was a place called the Carolina Smokehouse right there on the main route through town, which was emanating wood smoke and some great smells. The place looked like an old shack but the parking lot was full, which I knew was a good sign, so I headed in and ordered lunch. As I’ve said before, being really hungry might taint my reviews, but irregardless, the barbeque WAS great and there was nothing left on my plate when I was finished. I asked a few people there in the restaurant and later in town if they knew who the town of Cashiers was named after, but no one I asked seemed to know. As it turns out, there is no official version of where the name came from but I found out later that there are two very popular theories. One good guess is that because it was a crossroads where gemstone miners would come in to cash out the stones that they had mined, then they just started calling the area “Cashiers”. But the one I found more interesting and intriguing (though maybe a little more mythical) goes as follows: The James McKinney family, from Pickens, South Carolina came to the area in 1835 and bought 600 acres. They kept cattle and horses on the mountain land through the summer and fall, then they moved the cattle and horses to South Carolina during the winter. James McKinney had a white stallion, which he had paid quite a handsome sum for so he named it ‘Cash’. Fall was approaching and it was time to herd the horses and cattle south for the winter, but Cash was nowhere to be found so they made the trip south without him. The following spring, Cash showed up quite alive and healthy. Apparently he had wandered south and found a good place in the valley to eat and get shelter from the elements. So the McKinney’s started calling the area “Cash’s Valley”. Cashiers is an upscale little resort town that is actually “unincorporated” and survives mainly off of tourism these days. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls and some great hiking trails. There’s also a number of eclectic little shops that I would have loved to stick around and browse through, but I had a schedule to keep and after lunch it was time to get going again.
Six miles out of Cashiers, I checked the second county of the day off my list, by crossing over the Jackson/Transylvania county line. For as long as I’ve lived in North Carolina, I’ve always been intrigued by Transylvania County. Not only because of it’s mountains and beauty, but because it’s name reminds me of some old-time horror movie. I always wonder when some vampire that looks suspiciously like Bela Lugosi will jump out of the dark. It was around 3 pm when I crossed the county line and the rain clouds that had been threatening all day, finally opened up and I was presented with a cold wet drizzle that just made it down right miserable to run. I stopped and put on my rain jacket, but it only delayed the inevitable and eventually I was soaked through and through. A number of people who saw me and felt sorry for me, stopped and offered a ride. I always politely refused their offers and explained what I was doing, and they’d be on their way. And I’m sure they were shaking their heads and thinking I was crazy!
Roughly six miles past the county line I got to the point where the Bill McNeely, Jr Bridge crosses the Toxaway River, just below Lake Toxaway. The river and the lake are named after the great Cherokee Chief Toxawah or Toxaway (which means “red bird”) who is rumored to be buried on Indian Grave Ridge, overlooking the present day falls. In 1895 a group of men from Pittsburgh started buying land along the Toxaway River hoping to mine the rich mineral deposits know to exist in the area. Soon thereafter they started building a summer resort in the area and in 1902 they started construction on one of the most ambitious projects of the day. They dammed the Toxaway River in order to create the largest man-made lake in the Appalachian Mountains. When completed, the earthen dam was 60 feet tall and 500 feet wide. The resulting Lake Toxaway was 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a shoreline of 14 miles.
Photo courtesy The Lake Toxaway Company
On the shores of the new lake, they built the five-story Toxaway Inn, which had more than one hundred rooms and the most modern conveniences of the time, including central heat and private indoor plumbing, long-distance telephones, elevators, a billiard parlor and bowling alley, and a gazebo for outdoor concerts. Over a 14 year period many prominent people stayed at the Inn, including the Fords, the Firestones, Thomas Edison, R.J. Reynolds, and the Vanderbilts, amongst others. Many visitors liked the area so much that they purchased land to build private homes around the lake. One of the residences, built in 1915, eventually became the world famous Greystone Inn, still in existence today. In 1916 after 3 hurricanes in a one month period and a drenching 24 inches of rain in a 24 hour period, the Lake Toxaway dam burst and 5.3 billion gallons of water rushed downstream at over 50 MPH into South Carolina. The massive release of water rushed down the Toxaway Falls below the dam, as well as the gorge beyond, stripping away all vegetation and leaving nothing but the bedrock. This is the reason the falls have their unique barren look to them today. No one died in the bursting of the dam, but it practically destroyed the bridge over the Keowee River in South Carolina, 25 miles away. The Toxaway Inn survived the flood, but without the lake the area lost most of its visitors and the inn never reopened. In the late 1940s it was sold, its contents were auctioned off, and the building was torn down. Most of the land and lake bed remained unchanged until the 1960s when a group of investors formed the Lake Toxaway Company, bought 9,000 acres of property around the old lake bed and rebuilt the dam, and restored the lake to its original level. Today it’s the largest privately held lake in North Carolina. The Bill McNeely Jr Bridge that crosses over the river, is named after a member of the NcNeely family. The McNeely Family has owned hardware and general stores and quarries in the Lake Toxaway area for almost 100 years.
Leaving the lake, I ran along in the miserable weather. I hadn’t passed a single place to get anything to eat since I had left Cashiers and the cold rain was really zapping my energy. So when I came across a convenience store about five miles later, I stopped in to get out of the rain and get a quick snack. Luckily they had some indoor tables where I sat and ate a couple of hotdogs and drank a coke for some quick energy. I felt bad walking in there because I was drenched and certainly didn’t smell too good, but they were just going to have to put up with me if they wanted my business. When I went to leave, I picked up my pack and to my dismay, the flag that Bob Bond had given me to carry across the state, got caught on the seat and the flagpole broke. I was bummed, but I didn’t have time to let it bother me, because I was way behind schedule and still had over 15 miles to go and it was already 6:30. I really didn’t want to be running all night long in this rain. It was dangerous enough in the daylight.
I tried to speed it up as I headed on towards Brevard, rolling on through the tiny community of Rossman. Here at it’s source, I crossed both the West Fork and the North Fork of the “ancient” French Broad River. This gave me a chance to clear up yet another misconception I’ve had ever since I first moved to North Carolina back in 1985. In my travels, I’ve crossed over the Broad River many times over the years and had seen it presented as the “Broad” and the “French Broad” which always puzzled me. Turns out (through some investigation) that these are actually two separate rivers. The French Broad River was named by white settlers centuries ago because it was one of the two broad rivers in western North Carolina. The one which flowed into land claimed by France at that time was named the “French Broad River”, whereas the other, which stayed in land claimed by England was named the “English Broad River”. The English Broad River was later renamed to just “Broad River”. A few miles after crossing the river, the road widened into a divided highway, where I actually had a shoulder to run on. Unfortunately though, it was getting dark and the rain kept coming and going, making it very difficult to watch out for the oncoming traffic through my fogged up glasses. It was especially dangerous when you’d get some crazy drivers that didn’t have their headlights on and they sure weren’t expecting someone to be out there on the the road, on foot. Sometimes they’d see me at the last minute and swerve drastically towards the other lane. It was 9:30 by the time I finally got to the outskirts of Brevard. It was late and in a small town like this I certainly didn’t expect to find any restaurants still open. I kept dreaming of pasta or pizza, but when I saw a Subway that was still open, I didn’t pass it up. When I walked in, they where cleaning up in preparation of closing at 10:00 pm. I was really wet and nasty, so I took all of my gear off and left it near the door, hoping not to make as big of a mess. I apologized for my condition, but they didn’t seem to be too upset. I ate a sub and some chips and drank a big sweet tea which took about another 30 minutes out of my schedule. I knew I still had quite a few miles to go to get all the way through the town of Brevard and to the hotel which was over in a community called Pisgah Forest. Unfortunately, soon after I left the Subway, the sky really opened up and it started raining hard. All the little gulleys along the curbs of the road had become tiny raging rivers and I was walking in water above my ankles, in places. It really sucked and I was very miserable but I knew I had to keep my chin up and keep on trudging along. When I finally got here to the Hampton Inn tonight, it was 11:30. I don’t know if ever been more happy to see a hotel! Luckily I had been able to get something to eat earlier, so all I had to do once I got here was get checked in, get a hot shower and get horizontal right here in this comfortable bed.
When I finally stopped my Garmin, I had run a total of 44.5 miles, which puts me at 138.1 miles over the last 3 days. Today was a lot harder that I expected and I TOTALLY underestimated what was in store for me. I am beat! It could be the cold rain. It could be the zig-zagging I had to do across that winding road coming out of the mountains. It could be the lack of enough calories and it could be that it’s my third 45 mile plus day in a row. All I know is the combination of elements has me totally exhausted and right now I am ready to meet my dreams on the other side of consciousness. Good Night!