Running to the Country Store

AJW's TaproomLast weekend, a friend and I got out on a classic local Virginia test piece to gauge our fitness and grab a little vertical. The run started, as many of the toughest runs around these parts do, at the Tye River Crossing of the Appalachian Trail. It is here, at the low point between the two ancient mountain massifs of Three Ridges and the Priest, that numerous East Coast ultrarunners go to test themselves and harden their souls for Western mountain adventures later in the summer.

The run started innocently enough with the requisite power hike up The Priest; 3000 feet in 3.8 miles. No way to fake that. Then, the run gets fun, rolling down the AT and, then, a gnarly dirt road to a smooth gravel road that finally gives way to pavement before emerging into the little mountain hamlet of Montebello and the Montebello Store.

There, in a little idyllic spot in the heart of the Appalachians, is a classic southern country store. We stopped in and perused the shelves. 16 miles and 4 hours into our run we were hungry, so 8 sweaty dollar bills and a bunch of banter later we were out of there and firmly ensconced in the sun eating ice cream sandwiches, potato chips, oatmeal cream pies and washing it all down with an ice cold Mountain Dew. It was the classic country store aid station.

I can think of two other such places in my running experience that have brought together similar feelings of endorphins and euphoria on a training run: the Brighton Ski Lodge in Utah and the Foresthill Store in California.

Brighton Ski Lodge sits at the 75-mile mark of the Wasatch 100 course and provides a welcome respite on race day. But in the months preceding the race it provides local runners logging miles on the course with one of the best greasy burgers and fresh cut fries they’ve ever had. And, if you’re in the middle of a 40-mile training run and about to climb up 10,600-foot Catherine’s Pass you’ll need all the caloric help you can get.

The Foresthill Store, in Foresthill, CA, sits precisely at mile 62 of the Western States course. And it is here, for over 40 years, that runners training in “the canyons” have slaked their thirst and fueled their bodies for the final 38 miles of the iconic run from Squaw Valley to Auburn. It’s an amazing place in spite of the fact that the owners and employees likely don’t even know the impact they’ve had on the experience of those passing through on foot.

What the Montebello Store, Brighton Lodge, and Foresthill Store have in common is that they represent a lifeline. Not only a lifeline for a runner’s sustenance and survival, but a lifeline reminder to us about what makes life worth living. We all live lives searching for a sense of purpose and sense of belonging and even, at times, a sense of ownership. But often, what we need the most, are those most simple things, especially when our running strips us bare. Even if those most basic things are Pringles, a Coke, and a bag of beef jerky.

How awesome is it that random country stores and grills in the middle of Anywhere, USA can give our lives meaning…and, possibly, in the process, make us more human.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Hill Farmstead BreweryThis weekend my wife Shelly and son Logan are in the great beer state of Vermont for the Killington Stage Race and so it is only fitting that I throw another Vermont beer into the mix as it is, to me, contrary to what folks in Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, and California think, the best beer state in the union, and the Hill Farmstead Brewery, along with Alchemist and Lawson’s are the cream of a very high end crop.

Hill Farmstead’s Conduct of Life is a classic American Pale Ale that is so simple it’s scary. In fact, if the Shaker’s made beer this would be it. Try it after your next run. If you can get it…

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

What’s your favorite mid-run refueling stop?

What meaning does it hold for you?

There are 3 comments

  1. Amanda

    Holy cow- I haven’t thought about that trail in 10 years. I grew up in Maryland and I may have fallen in love with climbing hills on a 3 Ridges hike in the winter… such good memories. I’m still in awe of people who can live (and run!) in the humidity of the east coast though (I lack that piece of DNA apparently)- but when I go back I’ll have to give it a go. Thanks for the memory!

  2. Jer

    Growing up on Ohio, the Old Man and I would do a weekend 9mi long run all winter long. It included a stop mid way at the local Burger King for hot chocolate. Thanks AJW for stirring that memory.

  3. Steve Pero

    Deb and I have a run we call the General Store run. It’s a 21+/- loop on the rolling dirt roads in the Monadnock Region of NH, where we live. The run starts at the Dublin GS, where we have a cup of coffee and a homemade muffin, still warm from the GS’s oven. We then run to the Hancock GS, where we will grab a Coke and some chips. From there we run around the shores Lake Skatutakee, to the Harrisville GS, where we will sit down and have some of their homemade soup or chili for lunch and with full bellies, we run uphill all the way back to Dublin, the 2nd highest village in NH. Yeah, the loop takes us awhile to do, but it’s a perfect ultra training run.

  4. Andy M

    I’m envious. It’s ironic that up here in southern New England — practically a megalopolis — our great network of trails skirts close to civilization but never passes close enough to make a country store trip worth the extra miles of pavement. The best aid station option for long training runs is the car parked somewhere in the middle of a figure eight course. The chips and soda from the cooler are OK, but the burgers, fries, and ice cream are just not the same ;)

  5. Rob Sargeant

    My early morning long runs along the east coast of Vancouver Island usually include a stop at the Union Bay variety store for a candy bar or fresh baked carrot cake, and Gatorade. This is a coastal village with crab boats anchored offshore, and as it faces the east it is blessed with beautiful views of the sunrise. I like to time my arrival so that the sun is still crawling low upon the horizon.

  6. Delia

    I love this – thanks for the reminder of the central Virginia powerhiking and country store goodness. The closest I’ve come to that experience recently was in Vermont, when I crossed paths with a northbound AT/LT hiker who told me about a diner called Q’s Whistle Stop, only a half mile of pavement away at the next road crossing. I wasn’t in need of a lifeline at that moment but that place definitely could have been one – the waitress sat me at a table next to a power outlet because she assumed I’d want to charge my phone. I sure enjoyed that greasy burger (with an egg on it) and milkshake.
    Lately I’ve been a huge fan of the candy shop in Cold Spring that makes homemade popsicles – the perfect treat after a day of Hudson Highland running/hiking/scrambling.
    In my city life, I like to do a long run covering all of the (runnable) NYC bridges, and there’s a coffee shop that’s about 8 miles in where I love to sit for a moment with a pastry and the newspaper. Nothing like running to the country store, but such a sweet lifeline sometimes.

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