Getting There Is Half the Fun

AJW writes about taking a boat… to a trail race?!

By on February 14, 2020 | 4 comments

AJW's TaproomAt around 5:30 p.m. last Friday, a text popped up on my phone: “This sounds absurd, but I have a friend who is here with me helping at the race and he has his boat. He says he would gladly grab you from the river bank and haul you across the river.”

The text was from Baker McCool who, in addition to having the best name in ultrarunning, is also the race director of the Fort Pillow Trail Races in Tennessee, about an hour north of Memphis on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Fort Pillow State Park is a two-hour drive from my house but as the crow flies it’s about five miles away. It’s just that the river is in the way.

Apparently, Baker and his buddies Hunter Bennett, Joshua Tilford, and Nathan Judd were hanging around the campfire enjoying a couple beers when the idea was hatched, “We can just head over there on my skiff and pick him up. It’ll be fun.”

A few moments later, another text popped up.

“Be at Sans Souci Landing at 8:45. Hunter, Josh, and Nathan will be picking you up. Twenty-minute boat ride.”

I texted back, “Sounds like fun. The inaugural voyage of the Fort Pillow Ferry!”

The next morning, while I waited on the western shore of the mighty Mississippi watching massive barges pass two and fro, a small, 15-foot motorboat came bounding across the whitecaps. Hunter was at the helm, Joshua was snapping photos, and Hunter’s two pups were scanning the water for flotsam and jetsam. I was going to take a boat to a race for the first time in over 30 years of running!

What followed was a joyful day of fun and frolicking. In addition to the eventfulness of my arrival and departure, the race itself was fantastic as was the party afterward complete with thoughtful prizes, food from a phenomenal food truck, kegs of cold beer from a local brewery, and gracious state-park hosts, all on a sun-drenched afternoon in a beautiful forest.

So many of us who have found our home in trail running talk about how much the community means to us and how important it is that we feel part of something larger than ourselves. Many times when we sign up for races, we are not just offering ourselves to the physical challenge but we are also seeking an experience that transcends the event. I certainly found one of those transcendent experiences at last weekend’s Fort Pillow Trail Races. I am already looking forward to next year!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from High Cotton Brewing Company in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the sponsors of the Fort Pillow Trail Races, High Cotton produces a Scottish Ale that is simply outstanding. High Cotton Scottish Ale has a rich and malty blend of flavors and is surprisingly refreshing for such a dark beer. In addition, at a relatively calm 5.5 ABV, it’s a nice sipping beer that goes great with lots of different food. Well worth a try the next time you’re in the area.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • So, what’s your wildest or most unique race-logistics story?
  • What kind of plane, train, automobile… or boat have you found yourself using to travel to a running adventure?

AJW is about to… ride a boat to a trail race. Photo: Joshua Tilford/Lavender Roots Photography

Hunter Bennett at the helm. Photo: Joshua Tilford/Lavender Roots Photography

AJW after his boat pick-up. Photo: Joshua Tilford/Lavender Roots Photography

The mighty Mississippi River. Photo: Joshua Tilford/Lavender Roots Photography

AJW and Fort Pillow Race Director Baker McCool. Photo: Joshua Tilford/Lavender Roots Photography

Andy Jones-Wilkins
Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.