Monday, August 19, 2013

Bluff Trail

One of the things that I said I would definitely do more once we moved back to Chattanooga is get out on the trails. I've heard it said (though never verified) that we have 54 trail heads within 30 minutes of downtown Chattanooga. I do know that there are enough around here to make a 50 mile trail race possible (and a 100 miler in the works). In any case, some of the trails we have are converted rail trails, wide enough for a car and paved with gravel, some are less than a mile in the middle of the woods and more suitable for hiking, and some are anywhere in between.

I've fallen in with a group of runners in the neighborhood (dudes like me with kids and day jobs). We run three times a week, and pretty much stick to the roads.
It starts out nice and easy...
It's good to be running with other folks again, and it has really been good for boosting my mileage. However, I caught a serious itch to run a trail on Saturday. Maybe it was the amazing coolish snap we've had the past couple weeks after I complained about the heat. In any case, I laced up in my Trail Gloves, and headed out the door. Thinking that I might see some sights worth preserving in pictures (and just in case I ran into an issue on the back side of a mountain all by myself), I brought along my iPhone.

The trail that runs down to Cravens House is a little over two miles from our house. I seriously hate driving to the start of a workout, so it's a good thing that there are plenty of options like this nearby. I'd seen the trail head plenty of times driving up and down the mountain, but I'd never run it. It turns out that it's wide, well kept, bright, and paved with gravel. It even takes you up under the Incline Railroad tracks.

It's at this point that I should probably stop for a minute and comment on my shoe choice. The Trail Glove has a rock plate on the forefoot to help with surfaces such as a gravel road.
...but eventually turns to this.
The Merrell Barefoot line (like all good minimalist shoes) is known for having a wide toe box. I love the toe box on all my Merrell Barefoot shoes, but the thing is, I have long, skinny feet which don't even come close to filling that bad boy out. While this is great for toe splay, it also allows rocks to push the rock plate to the side if you land just right, causing you to realize just how minimal the shoe actually is. There is no rock plate under the heel either. I don't care how proud you are of your super efficient, running nerd, forefoot strike: sometimes there is a pointy rock that happens to be protruding just behind where you planted that forefoot strike, and it will catch your heel. You're not going to get a puncture wound or anything, but it is something of a jolt to be cruising along (and believe me, you absolutely can cruise along in these lightweight, low profile shoes) worry free, then land with a pointy rock towards the outside of your foot. The low profile also translates into basically no ankle support. As the shoes have a small base, the leverage against your ankle is never as big as something with a larger platform. I don't have sore ankles today, but if you are looking for roll protection, you won't find it in these shoes.

After about a mile, the trail abruptly ended into the Cravens House parking lot. I had heard that there were more trails around Cravens House, so I just kept running, and before long, I came across another one, albeit a wooded, single track.
One of the many rock faces along the way.
This was what I was looking for when I set out this morning. The trail started up and winding with a couple rolls on a mixture of dirt and rock. It got steep enough to make me walk a few steps here and there. Sometimes, there were rock steps. Sometimes, it was just dirt. At one point, I passed a group of three women and their huge dog (seriously, Great Dane huge) coming the other way. After a while though, the trail (mercifully) leveled out, and I began to sort of recognize where I was.

I was on what I now know as the "Bluff Trail." It runs around the western edge of Lookout Mountain. As the trail winds along, you run up next to rock faces, underneath rock overhangs, and cross what may even be the start of a mountain stream or two. The rocks get bigger and smaller, more dense and less dense as you go. Every once in a while, the trail turns out from the mountain and there's a break in the trees, giving you a pretty sweet view of the valley below. It's beautiful. It's also terrain and settings like this where the Trail Glove does its best work. Yes, you still have the issue of rocks sneaking around the rock plate, but the treads are great for gripping on dirt, and the ground feel means you can really plant your foot with conviction.
This is really someone's back yard.
I felt like I knew exactly what to do and exactly what I was doing with my feet the whole time.

I soon saw signs for Sunset Rock, a spot that I hiked to a few times when we lived here before. The thought crossed my mind that even though you can't see civilization at all out there, and I was technically in the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, I wasn't too far from someone's back yard. I do love how quickly you can get seemingly into the middle of nowhere in Chattanooga, and how quickly you can slip back when needed. As I rounded the base of Sunset Rock, I saw repelling ropes hanging from the cliffs above. Glancing up to make sure that a repeller wasn't about to sit on me, I rounded the corner and saw a couple of repellers who had just finished their decent. The girl was in the process of changing her shorts. No, I have no idea why. Yes, it was slightly awkward. All I could think to do was say "Howdy," and scamper on by. "Be careful of bees down that way," she said. "Bees. Got it. Thanks!" I replied.

From then on, the trail got thinner, as in undergrowth was starting to slap against my legs. I came upon a couple of other runners coming the other way.
You wouldn't know it, but there's a trail in there.
They looked way more like they knew what they were doing than me (Camelbaks and Salomons on the both of them), so I yielded and let them by. At one point the trail was completely blocked by a felled tree, and I had to nearly crawl under it. Eventually, I came to a fork, took the high road, and ended up back on a road that I recognized, at the trail head for the Ochs Gateway. A couple of less than thrilling road miles later, and I was back home with 11 new to me miles in my Garmin and little mud in the treads.

Not that you should take my word for it as I definitely haven't run in anywhere near enough trail shoes to have a completely informed opinion, but I like the Trail Gloves. They scratch my itch for lightweight, low profile, flexible and good ground feel in a shoe while still letting me cut loose a bit on varied terrain. Having made the mistake of running a trail or two in my Road Gloves and once (only once) in my Vibram FiveFinger Speeds, I can tell you that the rock plate does make a difference. As for the Bluff Trail, I hope to make it out there again soon. With so many other trails to run, it may be a while, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself out there. I'd be interested to see how much faster I run it when I'm not messing with my iPhone too.

No comments:

Post a Comment