For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon.
Two years ago we published five trails that we found to be especially speed-friendly, in large part because of their generally rockless and rootless treat. Today, we double the list, adding five more that we feel fit the bill.read more
It started as a mellow saunter, progressed to an up-tempo hike, then, on a modest downhill, evolved into a trot. It was one of my first hikes at the Triangle Land Conservancy’s new Brumley Forest property near Hillsborough, and the absence of rocks and tree roots coupled with the gentle flow reminded me of my bygone days of being able to run a 10-minute mile on trail.
For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while, you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon. Here are five trails/trail networks where speeding is understandable and should be tolerated.
1. Brumley Forest
There are about 15 miles of trail at Brumley Forest, half of which are open to mountain biking and have the best runner mojo. Wood Duck Way is a nice warm-up, connecting to the lengthy — 4.2 miles (more if you aren’t paying attention) — Springhouse Loop. You’ll find a few, brief rocky spots, engineered for the enjoyment of mountain bikers, but they break up the run with some focused tip-toeing. Throw in the whoop-de-doing Buckeye Loop and you’ve got 7.5 miles of fast, foot-friendly fun.
Two reasons to run this loop. First, it eschews the crowds that frequent the top of Pilot Mountain, where you can wait 30 minutes for a parking spot, and once you’re on the trail, you’re constantly dodging hikers. (You can begin this loop from the lonely Surry Line Road Access.) Second, it has it’s challenging moments (read: climbs) but none are severe and none last long. Plus, you’ll be spending your time in a nicely shaded hardwood forest, especially important on a summer run.
To indicate how threat-free most of this trail is, it’s one of the most popular cross-country courses in the region. It’s noted for its passing lanes, its push-me-but-don’t-break-me climbs, and its overall flow. As for the half mile or so that’s not part of the course, if you start from the gravel lot just inside the front gate and run clockwise, you’ll get it out of the way first, while you’re still fresh.
This multi-use network is shared by runners and mountain bikers, but the wide trails (in most spots) make it work for both. A traditional rating system for the mountain bikers makes it easy to see whether a trail is easy, intermediate, or holy-cow-how-did-I-wind-up-here? hard. Designed with mountain bikers in mind, the trail has good flow, and the compacted surface minimizes slippage. One caveat: while you don’t have to pay the Whitewater Center admission fee to run, you do have to pay to park: $5 a day, $40 a year.
The true joy of this hike isn’t the smooth running surface, or the absence of elevation. Rather, it’s the ever-changing scenery that makes this 5 miles fly by. You’ll run through a swamp, amid the longleafs of a pine savannah, along the lake, past a disc golf course — you’ll even catch a glimpse of the nuclear reactor over yonder. That smooth trail surface lets you enjoy the views and allows your endorphin-energized brain to emphasize the pure enjoyment of the run.
As of 9 a.m. on Friday, the prospects for cross-country skiing were grim in the Triangle: the nearly six inches of snow forecast the night before — the minimum amount creating a sufficient base on some trails — had taken more the form of ice, a surface good for little more than hockey and busting your keister. But hey, it’s still early in this weather event dubbed Jonas.
So we’ll go ahead and optimistically resurrect our list of places to cross-country ski in the Triangle. And we’ve updated it to include spots in the Triad and Charlotte, where the prospect for Nordic skiing were more promising. Again, this is an update of a piece that originally ran on Jan. 28, 2014, and can now be found on our cross-country skiing site on our home page.
It’s days like today that I pat myself on the back for a decision made 13 years ago.
I’d just finished a gorgeous day on the groomed trails at the White Grass ski touring center in West Virginia and was returning my rental equipment.
“How was it?” asked the ski rental guy.
“Incredible!” I oozed. “I can’t wait to go again.”
“You know,” he said, “Our rental skis are for sale.” At a price, it turned out, that was more than I could afford but too good to refuse. I’ve used them a dozen times since; I’m hoping to make it a baker’s dozen tomorrow.
As Winter Storm Leon (sheesh) makes its way up the coast, the prospects are good for cross-country conditions, from the Triangle into the coastal plain. As of this morning, parts of the Triangle were expected to get up to six inches of snow — with points east forecast to get 10 inches or more.
On the right kind of trail, six inches is all it takes to make or decent cross-country conditions. Where might one find the right kind of trail?
Glad you asked.
Natural surface trails
Because of the rocks and roots found on most trails in the Triangle, you need a substantial amount of snow — 10 inches minimum — to ski. There are some exceptions, however:
Umstead State Park
The 13 miles of bike and bridle trail here offer the perfect base for six-inch conditions. A finely crushed gravel, the surface is devoid of the rocks and roots common on most trails hereabouts, thus, fewer imperfections to cover up. If you’re not comfortable with downhills, pick up the trail via the neighborhood entrance off Old Reedy Creek Road from Lake Crabtree. There, you’ll find more than two miles of flat trail before the rollers begin.
More info here.
Durham, Orange and Alamance counties.
The fire roads here aren’t quite as surface-friendly as at Umstead, but they’re close. And there are lots of ‘em: the seven individual tracts making up the forest contain 7,020 acres and are accessed via 45 entrances. Learn more about the forest and where you can find helpful maps, by going here.
Al Buehler Cross Country Trail
The 3.1-mile Al Buehler Trail has a foot-friendly natural surface similar to that at Umstead. It’s also got some rollers, making for some nice downhill action and some heart-pumping climbs.
More info here.
So much of running — of becoming a runner in the first place — is psychological. Saturday, you’ll find three races statewide that offer the types of incentives that will advance you from aspiring runner to actual — and who knows, possibly avid — runner.
Two thoughts for you aspiring runners out there. First, you need a goal, which in the case of running is typically a race. You needn’t shoot for a finishing time, simply finishing is admirable for your first race.
Goal Two pertains to Goal One, and actually precedes it: go watch a race. There’s an energy and an excitement to a well-organized race that provides great incentive to start training and to keep training. It’s a supportive environment, and you’ll quickly see that not everyone, not even the majority, are fitness buffs out for a PR. Most simply like the camaraderie, the atmosphere and the sense of accomplishment.
To that end, we recommend Saturday’s 33rd Annual Tri-Span 10K and 5K in Wilmington. The race starts and ends downtown, crosses Memorial Bridge (the 10K crosses two more bridges, hence the “Tri-Span”), runs by the Battleship USS North Carolina and has generally great scenery. Runners recover with local watermelon, cantaloup and cold beverages.
A great race to run, a great race to watch.
Logistics: Saturday, July 11, 7 a.m., downtown Willmington. $30 in advance, $35 day of race. More info and registration here.
Looking ahead: On July 31, Halyburton Park in Wilmington holds a Blue Moon Kayaking Adventure — a sunset paddle from River Road Park to Shark Tooth Island. $35-$45. More info here or by calling 910.341.0075
In this world of ever-expanding 5Ks, it can be hard for one race to distinguish itself from another. Not a problem with Saturday’s Moonlight Bootlegger 5K.
First, it’s at night, starting right about sunset (8:50 p.m.). Why at night? It’s cooler, for one. But the race organizers have a better reason: “Just like our bootleggin’ ancestors, see if you can make it through the moonlit woods to get to the stompin’ grounds, where you can enjoy handcrafted moonshine and flatfoot it to live music.”
Second, in addition to the traditional race t-shirt, runners get a commemorative moonshine Mason jar. And after the race, in the dark of the woods, the post-race party includes live bluegrass and old timey music, and food and beverage, including “two moonshine drink tickets for those over the age of 21.” Plus, the race is at Hagan Stone Park in Pleasant Garden (the Triad), home to one of the state’s most popular 5K courses.
Logistics: Saturday, July 11, 8:50 p.m., Hagan Stone Park, Pleasant Garden. $45. For more info and to register, go here.
Looking ahead: Saturday, July 18, 10 a.m., Nature Art and Journaling, Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, Charlotte. Free. More info by calling 704.432.6460.
Until March 10, 2009, the mountain town of Spruce Pine was dry. On the 10th, local residents decided enough of that, and voted to go wet. Every year since, they’ve celebrate their libation emancipation with the Prohibition 4K.
The event this year is Saturday at 6 p.m. It begins with the race — entry fee includes a festive race bib, a pint glass, liquid to fill the pint glass, and BBQ — and continues with a celebration of what the end of prohibition has meant to Spruce Pine’s prosperity.
Another note to you aspiring runners: that full pint glass and BBQ plate at the finish? Another one of the incentives that keeps folks on the run.
Logistics: Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m., Spruce Pine. $30 ($2.50 if you sign up online). More info and to register, go here.
Looking ahead: Lake Logan Multi-Sport Festival, Aug. 8-9, Lake Logan Episcopal Center, Canton. Includes the Lake Logan Half Tri (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), international race (1500m swim, 24 mile bike, 10K run), and the Lake Logan Sprint (500m swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run). More info here.
* * *
Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of coastal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.
Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).
This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).
Blue Ridge Outdoors
Searchable calendar lets you extend your reach to events throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (or you can just limit it to North Carolina). Also lets you search a boatload of categories, ranging from Hiking, Mountain Biking and Climbing to Trail Running, Triathlon and Road Walking.