At the 2019 Eastern Divide Ultra and 8-miler, our trail running community lost one of its own. Graham Zollman passed away on the trail while running the 8 mile race. I was not personal friends with him, but he was one of those people you would know if you were part of the local trail running community. Graham was kind and always had a ready smile. Although this year’s Eastern Divide had to cancel due to COVID, many still did an honor run in his memory.
The fine folks at TrailAdventure marked the 8 mile course on the trails at Mountain Lake. I don’t know those trails well, so I was really grateful for the extra help in navigating the course. On a gorgeous and unseasonably cool sunny morning, Cathy and I met up to run the course.
One of my favorite features of the Mountain Lake trails are the ferns, and we got a taste of that right away as we headed down the trail.
The trails were very overgrown and the tall grass made it hard to see the uneven terrain below. It made for a slower than usual run, but that gave us more time for photos and to enjoy the picturesque scenery. The overgrown nature of the trails made them hard to follow at times, but eventually we figured out that the best course of action was to follow the tall grass.
About two miles in, we arrived at Grahams memorial. Cathy and I paused here and had a moment of silence in his honor.
From there, we continued along the trail. Normally, when the shooting range at Mountain Lake is open, I don’t think you would be able to run the true course (hence the trail signs). Luckily, the shooting range wasn’t opening until July, so we were able to run the course.
I always forget how tough this loop is. But as we made our way towards the meadow, we hit the one hill that vividly stands out in my memory from running the race in 2016. It is tough and it’s part of the big spike on the elevation profile.
But the climb is worth it. As we made our way around the meadow, we arrived at the view from the Old Clubhouse.
After taking a short breather and enjoying the view, we continued uphill for about a half mile to the high point on the course around 4200 feet. As I had mentioned, the course was marked. But it was only lightly marked- nothing like what you would have on race day. However, as long as we stayed on trail the markings were plenty. Except for one spot.
Cathy and I ran right past one turn we were supposed to make onto a trail. But the reason was those two large rock piles, which were not there when TrailAdventure marked the course! As you can see, the ribbon would have been clearly visible had it not been for those giant rock piles. But we didn’t get too lost and quickly found our way back onto the course.
Once again we were running through trails that were barely there. But I think it all looked kind of magical- like a place where fairies would live or something.
Along the course, we saw lots of neat stuff including a couple of snails, pretty wildflowers, and some cool looking mushrooms. And it was cool to see even more water back in the lake, which we ran by with a little over a mile to go.
The last stretch of trail before the finish is pretty gnarly, and we hiked almost all of it. But we did get a little postcard view of the Mountain Lake Lodge – which, if you didn’t know, is where they filmed Dirty Dancing!
We had one last mean little uphill and then made our way back around to where we had started our loop at TreeTop Adventures. Upon finishing, I found that the overgrown trails had my legs looking like I had just completed a loop at Barkley. If you don’t know what that means, check out the Amazon Prime documentary “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.”
Overall, it was a great day to enjoy the trails with great company. I’m glad Cathy and I were able to run the actual course in honor of Graham, one of our own.