GSMNP Day 1 – Jake’s Creek Trail / Meig’s Creek Trail

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Great Smokey Mountains NP

Last week, I got to spend four full days (and parts of two more) in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. So beautiful! It wasn’t quite peak foliage, but we still got some amazing colors.

Having grown up in the West, I’ve always been biased towards the number and quality of the western national parks — and while I expect any national park to be beautiful, I have to admit that GSM was the first to really convince me that the East can be on the same level as the West in terms of natural beauty!

The broad extent of the mountains in all directions; the lush vegetation and seemingly endless forests starting to show their autumn color; the abundance of water — innumerable streams, rivers, cascades, and falls, along with the trademark fog and steamy morning mists; and the diversity of terrain all made the park level up from the expectation of “probably good” to a genuine “wow this is awesome.”

My friend Laura and I spent October 13th in the northwest quadrant of the park, starting with a 4.25-mile trail run on Jake’s Creek Trail (near our campsite in Elkmont Campground) and part of Meig’s Mountain Trail. After lunch, we hiked Meig’s Creek Trail near The Sinks, where we counted 20 stream crossings!

[All photographs are copyright 2020 Nalin A. Ratnayake. They are free to use and share for any non-commercial purpose, with attribution and a link to the original post on, without modification, and provided that this text is also included.]

Photos posted here were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the EF 28-105mm 1/3.5-4.5 II USM lens. Images were compressed to 1/4 resolution and 85% image quality for easier upload and sharing.

Ran a Marathon!

I finally get the 26.2 sticker!

I had been signed up for the OBX Marathon, which was somehow still not coronacancelled… I think because it’s generally a smaller race (300 ish people in a typical year) perhaps they were banking on figuring something out… alas, no.

When I found out the race was going to be “virtual”, I immediately started thinking about options… three months into a four-month training plan, did I really want to maintain that level of work another month, for a virtual race?

I knew the experience (and my performance) would be compromised anyway. A virtual race, even if it is scoped out to the same distance, is missing the aid stations, the nutrition and hydration support every two miles, a closed and controlled course, and the psychological hype of a major event with tons of spectators and friends cheering you on…. it’s just not the same.

Further, training for a marathon has been a LOT of time… running five days a week and an additional day of light strength and yoga. I was looking at heading up to the Great Smokey Mountains next week, for example, worrying about maintaining a training plan while camping in the mountains. Doable, but not desirable.

Early Autumn in the swamp! Taken from the Jamestown HS connector trail, just before it reaches the VCT proper.

In the end it was an easy decision: truncate the plan, forget any time goal, focus on recovery from the previous week, go simply for completion without injury, and look forward to the next time I can run a real race.

I ran 13.1 miles from Jamestown HS up the Virginia Capital Trail, where my friend Richard was parked, warmed-up, and ready to go. He resupplied me and we ran it back together to hit 26.2! For most of the way, it was a really pleasant run… nice fall weather and a light, cool rain sprinkling down to keep things refreshing and open up the scents of the forest.

My time of 4:49:04 includes all stretch, pee, hydration, and refuel stops. It’s slower than I had been originally aiming for, but again, goals were rescoped and I was also trying to be pretty conservative for the first 18 miles or so… Too many stories of first-time marathoners coming out too strong and bonking at 22!

Now that I’ve done one, I’m super pleased! It’s a big milestone in my running and now I have a baseline to build off of. Here’s hoping for real races in 2021…