The Dark Ridge

A mountain-top farm along my long run route.

There’s a slight coolness to the morning air, and the pumpkins have already been harvested from the farm along my long run route. I first used this route for every long run four years ago when we moved back home from Ecuador. In four years it has never changed. The first 8 miles are sheer bliss, and one mile further is just torture.

My husband can calculate to the minute how long it will take me to finish the long run. Once we have done the math and agreed on a time to meet at Lulu’s for lunch, I head to the top of the mountain.

Granted, the down side of a point-to-point run and an agreed upon meeting time (and the fact that I don’t run with a phone) is that there’s no dilly-dallying. I keep a constant check on my pace, and no matter what goes wrong, I keep myself moving for fear I don’t finish on time, give or take a few minutes, and my husband goes into a lunatic-worry over what has happened to me.


Beginning at the Balsam Community Center, this run takes me past the historic Balsam Mountain Inn, local fly-fishing spots, and the Moonshine Creek Campground.

The creek rushes down the mountain 30+ feet below the road on my left while the rock face extends 30+ feet up to my right. Houses are scattered here and there, a train pokes along its track high above the creek, the wooden planks of one-lane bridges crackle under my feet, and farms glisten in the bright sunshine near the four-lane highway where Dark Ridge Road meets Skyland Drive, and the sheer torture side of this run soon begins.

Last week when my calendar turned up an 18-mile run, I had the idea to extend the blissful part of the run by as many miles as I could piece together. I don’t particularly like running new routes, lord only knows how many free-range dogs live on these roads, but it didn’t take long before I came on a new road that would add two miles to the blissful side of the run.


So, I’d like to say I have a proven theory on why this happens, but if I’m going to need a potty break during a run (of any length really), this becomes apparent very early in the run. It was barely a half mile into this 18-mile run that I knew I would need to find an early potty break, and all the unfamiliar sights and sounds of this new route were lost due to the endless search for a good potty spot.

There’s the 30 foot drop on the left that intimidates me, and even in the few places where I could walk over and put my toe in the creek, my Outdoor Leadership training kicks in and I wouldn’t dare “go” within 20 feet of the water. So I keep searching.

There were the two rocks I used a few weeks ago to drop down below road level and back up again, but adding the 2-miles to the early part of the run skewed my memory of exactly where those two rocks were. Every time I thought I’d be brave and just duck behind a tree. . . a car came along.

By mile 5 the situation had become urgent and I walked for a moment to compose myself. I knew there was a bridge overhead just ahead, and although it would not be nearly as private as I would have hoped for, I vowed I would stop behind the big concrete foundation of that bridge. A few minutes later, I turned the corner and could finally see the concrete footings of the bridge. . .

There was no warning trickle, and it took a few seconds to actually accept what had happened. There was the briefest “What now?” I thought of my mother and how we would have laughed so hard about my predicament that she’d claim she had wet her britches too.

Many years ago I read a hilarious account of a brave runner who described his not-so-fortunate “accident.” It somehow helps to know that you’re not the only runner that has suddenly lost their bladder. In fact, as my husband and I would later say to each other, it could have been much worse.

My accident happened just after mile 6. There were 12 miles to go. It was too far into the run to go back up the mountain to the safety of my Jeep, and the clock was ticking – my husband would be waiting for me. There was nowhere to go but forward.

Maybe that’s the point. . . sometimes, no matter what has happened, there is nowhere to go but forward. Maybe now we know why it’s called the Dark Ridge. 😬

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