The Bear Run

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 understatement. 

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 1/2 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 disheartening 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 forward again. 

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 year.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.