The Bear Run
By Will McElwee
Well, I officially
ran “The Bear” last night. At least, I ran all but about 200 feet where
it was so doggoned steep that I had to stop and walk. In case you don’t
know, the Bear is a run that starts in Linville,
NC, at the Hwy 105 and US 221 intersection.
From there the course goes five miles, all uphill, along a gravel road for the
first 2 - 3 miles, then crosses over into Grandfather
Mountain property and climbs to the
top of Grandfather Mountain.
The finish line is at the Swinging Bridge
parking area. The reason I’m writing about this is to tell you what a
really unique experience it was.
The Bear Run is
part of the Highland Festival that they hold up there in July each year.
The course went right through the middle of this Highland Festival, which is an
annual Scottish heritage festival they hold for folks of Scotch - Irish
descent. I had no idea how big this thing was. It was almost MerleFest
size. There were thousands of people - no kidding. Right after I
got off the dirt road and crossed into the park, I could hear the sounds of
bagpipes belching and squawking out various tunes in the fields ahead of
me. Suddenly we crossed over into a huge encampment of Scots (or wannabe
Scots) making music and drinking and generally having a raucous time. It
reminded me of Braveheart.
Anyway. There were crowds of literally thousands of
kilted people lined up to cheer on the runners…screaming, cheering and urging
us on…many offering water and cool rags and others offering refreshments that
you probably don’t want to drink in the middle of a 5 mile torture test
run. I have never experienced anything quite like this before.
Yelling, whooping, cheering, bagpipes blasting – I was overwhelmed.
I looked for my
fellow kinsmen, Clan Ross, but they were all just a blur as I went whizzing by
(yeah right!!). Actually, it did appear that all of the various clans
were camped together with their banners and tartans flying high. But to be honest, I don’t even know what the
Clan Ross tartan looks like. To call this a motivating experience is an
I could tell I was
running out of gas around mile 3 when I crossed into this place. As I left I was totally pumped up and ready
to grind out those last two miles even if my knees, and common sense, were
begging me to stop. After leaving the land of the Scots, we got onto the
main road leading to the top of Grandfather. We climbed moderately for
about ¾ of a mile, and then we could see the monster ahead of us. 500 feet straight up a road that switched
back 4 - 5 times over the length of about a mile going to the top. Talk about a steep incline! I have trained by running in the Brushy
Mountains, and this hill made Lithia
Springs Road seem like a speed bump.
as that view was, low and behold, there were even more people along the road
cheering, screaming and urging us on. “You can do it! You’re almost there! Don’t stop now!
The finish line is right there (as he pointed straight up)!” With that
encouragement, I resolved to just focus my eyes on the ground, throw one foot
in front of the other, and plow forward until the task was done. Now, I
can’t say that I ran that entire 500 feet. Some of those switchbacks were
as steep and nasty as anything I’ve ever seen, at least east of the Mississippi
River. But each time I would stop and walk through a steep
curve I would hear the bagpipes and the cheering and I would start chugging
Before too long, I
could see that finish line and then there was no doubt. I was not going to walk across that line!
With the last bit of energy I could muster, I literally dragged myself up that
last 100 feet and ran across the line.
I’m telling you
guys, this is something you should experience even if you don’t run. It’s
an annual event and you’re all welcome to join me next year. In fact, I
hope to take my wife and kids and participate in the Highland Festival next