Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Guide To Navigating The Wild Azalea Trail

I know there may be a few "out of towners" coming to run the Wild Azalea Challenge next week, and even some locals who are not so familiar with the trail, so since I am a Wild Azalea Veteran, so to speak, I decided to do a little blog on some of the things to look out for while on the trail.  Wild Azalea is a great trail.  It is 24 miles long and runs from Valentine Lake to Woodworth.  Although the trail has been recently cleared of most fallen trees and has been freshly marked, there are a few areas of concern that you should be aware of.

First off, the trail is marked throughout with yellow dots on the trees.  Two dots indicates a straightaway and 4 dots indicates a hard turn.  There are also mile markers every half mile.

You are on the trail.
Hard Turn.

This one area has a lot of blue markings.  Just ignore them.  There are yellow markings as well.  You are still on course.

We will be running the trail in reverse, from Woodworth to Valentine Lake, so the mile markers will go from mile 24 to mile 0.

The first area of concern is just past the mile 19 marker.  There is a steep downhill and you will see this.

Just past Mile Marker 19.

When you get to this scene, you will see a creek to your left, and you first perception will be to go forward, past the marker and eventually cross the creek.  You have to pay attention here b/c that is incorrect.  The right route is to take a hard right turn.  There is a tree with 4 dots there, telling you to turn, but it is easy to miss.  This will take you through on of the "jungles" of Wild Azalea.  These are the low lying areas that have a lot of natural springs and is wet all the time.  I call them jungles b/c during the summer the vegetation in these areas is far greater than anywhere else.  Unfortunately, this half mile stretch after the turn is probably the most poorly marked area of the trail.  Just continue to go forward, take your time and look for the marks.  They are there.

Somewhere around mile marker 17.5 there is a creek crossing.  The markers will try to take you across the creek.  Keep in mind, there is only ONE creek crossing to navigate over, and it is very small.  If you get to an area that you think you should cross a creek, STOP and look for a bridge.  With the exception of one area, there will be a bridge to cross.  Anyway, when you get to this spot, it will seem like it wants you to cross the creek.  This is kind of right, because there used to be a bridge there, but it was damaged and recently removed.  It was replaced by a nice, new bridge that you can see from that area, but it is new and the trail has not really been cut well to get to it.

Where the bridge was.

New bridge in the background, visible from the old bridge area.

When you get near the mile 17 marker, there will be a lot of downed trees and you will have to make a hard right to stay on the trail.  You will have to go through a few fallen trees, but the sign is visible before you turn.  Again, you have to just stop and look.

You must run through these trees to stay on the trail.

Same scene.  Mile marker in background.

As I said, there is only one creek crossing that you have to jump over and it is very small.  Here it is.

Somewhere around mile 16.

Just as I do, most of you will use the mile markers as "confidence markers".  One that is difficult to see is the elusive mile 15 marker.  The reason is because you will get to a point between mile 15.5 and mile 15 where the trail will split.  It is marked going both left and right.  Don't be alarmed by this!!!!  Either trail will take you where you need to go.  If you go left, which is the original path on the trail, you will pass the mile 15 marker.  If you go right, you will still pass the mile 15 marker, but it will be high and to your left.  You probably will not see it.  As I said, it doesn't matter which one you take.  The split is only for a few tenths and they both join back with the trail.

About one 10th further, you will come to the mile 14.5 marker.  It is right at the edge of a hard right turn and is driven low in the ground.  I don't know how it got there, but just know you will run for another nine 10ths before getting to the mile 14 marker.

Mile 14.5 will be low to the ground and out of place on the trail.

After mile 14, it is pretty much smooth sailing.  Right past the mile 11 marker you will come out to an opening, with a parking lot on the left.  This is the exchange point for the relay.  If you run the first leg, you will cover 13.1 miles.  The second leg is 10.9 miles.  There is a major highway near the parking lot which is Twin Bridges Road (or Hwy 488).  To continue, you have to cross this road.  This begins the second leg of the relay, or for those running the whole trail, mile 13.1.

Right after mile marker 11.  Parking lot on left.  Relay exchange point.

Run to the stop sign and cross Twin Bridges Road.  The trail will be on the right, when you cross.

After this, the next major landmark will be Evangeline Camp.  You will come to it between mile markers 9 and 8.5.  You will come out to Messina Road, which will be a wide, dirt road.  Watch for the marks.  They will take you to the left and down the road for a few 10ths.  You will see Evangeline Camp on the right.  This is by far the most clearly marked area of the trail.  It is often used by runners and mountain bikers, so it gets a little more attention than the rest.  From this point on, it is smooth sailing.

Evangeline Camp.  Right before mile 8.5.  There are also vault toilets at this point.

When you see the Gardner Fire Tower, you are 1/2 mile from victory.

After this tower, when you are about two 10ths from the finish, you will see the road and the parking area of Valentine Lake.  The trail head will be on the right, and you are done.

I ran the entire length of the trail on 12/29, so I could see what type of condition is was in.  Although, there are a few areas to pay close attention too, the trail is in the best shape it's been in years.  Remember, this is a large and long trail.  It is pretty rustic in some areas.  There are a few fallen trees and a little brush to run through at certain points.  Remember the markings.  Stay on the yellow dots.  If you go more than a 10th and no longer see any dots, STOP and look around.  If you don't see them, you may have gone off trail and need to back track.  If you you take your time and pay attention to your surroundings, you should have no problems, even if you've never run there.

If you are running the relay, the first leg is 13.1 miles, and the second leg is 10.9 miles.  Although the 13.1 mile leg is longer, there are less hills and climbs.  The first 5 miles are pretty flat.  The hills don't start until mile marker 19.  On the second leg, you get less mileage, but more hills and difficult climbs.  So although one leg is longer than the other, the distribution of hill work kind of balances both legs out.  I don't think one leg is any easier than the other.

If you are running the whole trail, the last 8 miles are the most difficult.  By that point your calves and hamstrings will be on fire.

I'm not trying to spook anyone.  I just wanted to give those who have never run, or have rarely run this trail an idea of what to expect.  There will be many experienced Wild Azalea runners to tag along with if you have doubts.  Also cell service is available in most areas of the trail, but there are a few dead spots.  The trail is a full 24 miles.  It is not short and the mile markers are spot on.  During this time of year, a gps device is very accurate b/c there is not tree cover.  When I ran the trail, I logged 24.1 miles, and that is only because I dropped a pair of gloves and ran back to get them, and forgot to stop my watch.

Here is the Garmin Connect profile of the trail:

See you guys in a week.

Run on friends,