Georgia Jewel 100 Mile | Georgia | September 27, 2014
Georgia On My Mind
By Gary Dudney
The Georgia Jewel 100 Mile follows an out and back course through the Chattahoochee National Forest of northern Georgia. It begins in Dalton near the Dug Gap Battle Park and follows the pristine Pinhoti Trail over several mountains and rugged ridges through 16,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Fifty and thirty-five mile races are run simultaneously. The thirty-five milers catch the hundred milers and say things like, “Well done, Hundred. I’m a thirty-five.”
Graciousness is certainly part of the experience at the Georgia Jewel. Race Director Karen Pearson’s statement that it was “all my heart’s desire” to see everyone finish was as sincere a wish in that respect as I’ve ever heard. And her “crack volunteers” did indeed dole out all the support one could ask for along with pizza, coffee, humus wraps, breakfast fare, and three choices of soup. Even the host hotel discounted the rooms and dinner the night before the race and topped that off with a complimentary breakfast ready at three in the morning on race day.
It was not a bad idea to load up on pancakes to get through the memorable start of this race. First, there was a two mile climb up an asphalt road and then a jeep road to the trailhead at the top of Dug Mountain. Then you ventured out on a long ridgeline that was three miles of difficult rock garden with ribs of rock slashing across the trail making the running a real labor. Add in the dark from the five o’clock start and the Georgia Jewel started to seem like it might be the Georgia Nightmare.
But the Pinhoti Trail (“Pinhoti” is Creek for turkey’s home) turned out to be an ever varying adventure with mostly good footing and plenty of great scenery. Constantly changing, the trail traveled through heavily wooded forests, over numerous creek crossings, including two river crossings, across lofty ridgelines, up steep rock staircases, along paved roads, and down sections of jeep road. The last gasp of trail before the turnaround was three ups and downs of a super steep powerline cut on a mountainside that punctuated reaching halfway with a kick in the butt.
The day was overcast, keeping the temperatures below eighty, and breezes in open areas helped in dealing with the humidity. Through the long night, the forest was full of crashing noises. I was ready to turn around and see an elephant chasing me, but except for birds and bats flashing before my eyes, there was never anything there. My flashlight would occasionally light up an enormous spider web or shine off the tiny green eyes of spiders along the trail. Thankfully, the course was well flagged with signs at critical junctures, and there were blazes on the trees and little turkey track markers for the Pinhoti Trail that were infinitely reassuring.
Of course, the two miles of downhill, much of it on smooth asphalt, made the finish a joy, especially after the long sojourn on “Rock Garden Ridge” getting to the final downhill. It gave you time to savor the victory, reflect on what the Pinhoti had done to you, but hadn’t stopped you, and anticipate that glorious moment just beyond the finish line when you could bend over and put your hands on your knees and not have to straighten up and keep going anymore.
The Georgia Jewel is part of the newly established Pinhoti Trail Slam which includes the Double Top 100, also in Georgia, and the Pinhoti Trail 100 in Alabama. Successful completion of all three races in one calendar year earns you a Pinhoti Trail Slam buckle. It’s hard to imagine, though, that you’d wear the slam buckle since to do so you’d have to pass up wearing the elegant, weighty, and fabulous Georgia Jewel buckle.
The Georgia Jewel is a first class race in every respect, well worth the trip down south. Shoot, just the buckle is worth the trip, but you’ll be overwhelmed by the level of support, the night-time forest, and the majestic, ever-intriguing Pinhoti Trail.