The Many Faces of Bloody 11W

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This is a post from the ultralist by Laz about the inspiration behind the idea of a 100 mile race, Bloody 11W, from Knoxville in Tennessee to the Virginia State line in Bristol. The inaugural running of the race takes place September the first 2012.

The Many Faces of Bloody 11W

i have always enjoyed the courses which have some history behind them. something about knowing in whose footsteps i tread lends a sort of magic to the runs. of all the runs i have ever done, none has the kind of history the course of bloody 11-w has.

the story of the bloody 11-w course begins about 300 million years ago, when the plates of what are now africa and north america were grinding together. the surface of what is now north america buckled up under the stress, like the wrinkles that form when you push a rug together from the sides.

the largest "wrinkles" formed a chain of mountains as high as today's rockies out west. today we call them the southern appalachians. the continental plates of north america, europe, and africa had already been bumping and grinding for about 180 million years, shaping and reshaping the land around their boundaries, but that last big push, the event that created the formations that would define our race course, began about 300 million years ago.

about 50 miles west of the growing appalachians, the immense pressures of a continental collision found their outlet in an immense split in the ground. to get an idea how clinch mountain formed, put your hands flat in front of you with your fingertips touching. then push them together, allowing the fingertips to slide up until your hands form an inverted "V" with the very tips of one hand's fingers overriding the other's.

that is the shape of clinch mountain. a single razor-edged ridge running for more than 140 miles, parallel to the appalachian mountains some 50 miles away. for some 60 million years, the two sides of the immense valley pushed into the sky. we dont know exactly how high they reached, but the appalachians, still topping 6,000 feet were thought to once be as high as the rockies. and clinch mountain itself still tops 4,000 feet in places. down the center of the valley the holston river formed, its headwaters in the high mountains of the central appalachians (formed by a separate geological process) the holston joining the french broad river at the end of the valley to form the tennessee river. around 240 million years ago, thru processeses that we do not understand, the continents changed directions. europ, africa, and north america began to go their separate ways. the atlantic ocean began to form in the growing rift between them, and the mountains that enclose the 11-W course stopped growing.

and so the course of the bloody 11-w race is old. time immemorial old. the holston river valley was in place when the courses of the western states and mont du-blanc races were still flat ground, the atlantic ocean did not exist, amphibians were the dominant land animals, and forests of cycads and conifers covered the land.

the "canyon" down which race runs dwarfs the grand canyon in volume. thousands of feet deep, 50 miles wide, more than 140 miles long, the only thing that keeps it from being recognized as a natural wonder is that it can only be seen in its entirety from space.

eons passed, and the age of dinosaurs came. the geological processes going on in the 11-W valley are not conducive to the formation of fossils. it has been eroding away for 240 million years. only a single dinosaur fossil has been found, but that was a hadrosaur (duck-bill)... a herd dinosaur. it is a safe bet that herds of dinosaurs migrated along the natural pathways down the holston valley. the natural pathways, like the rest of the valley, were formed during that long ago time of upheaval. smaller pressure ridges lie all along the valley floor, all running parallel to the mountins on either side, forming natural corridors between them.

as the time became more recent, a larger number of fossils remain to be found today. the discovery of gray's fossil bed near kingsport gives us a picture of life in the holston valley during the early days of the age of mammals. herds of shovel-tusked elephants, camels, and rhinoceros migrated along the same pathways once followed by the dinosaurs. short faced bear and saber tooth tigers hunted the forests, giant beaver inhabited the streams, and red panda lived among the hills.

lasting across the ages, the valley saw every imaginable flora; the forests of cycads and conifers, swamps and tropical jungles, even arctic tundra during the ice ages. herds of mastodons and bison followed our route, and later the first humans followed them.

when europeans arrived, they found an established trail millions of years old, through hardwood forests between the holston river and clinch mountain, serving as a major thoroughfare for the cherokees who inhabited the valley.

after the indian removal, in 1825 the trail was converted to a stagecoach road from virginia to a new city named knoxville, buit just past the terminus of clinch mountain, where the holston and the french broad rivers merge. for the new inhabitants, just like their 240 million years of predecessors, clinch mountain and the appalachian mountains shaped their paths of settlement, and their destiny.

in 1925 came the lee highway. running from washington dc to san diego, it was the first federal attempt to establish a land route across the entire country. the topography of the land demanded that it travel down the holston valley, along the old stagecoach road, the indian trail, the migratory route of buffalo, mastodons, and camels... the trail first blazed by dinosaurs.

later, when the system of numbered federal highways came into existence, us 11 was among the first. splitting in knoxville, into 11e and 11w, half of it went up each half of the valley, on either side of the holston. 11w was the one that followed the historic route.

in the age of automobiles, the ancient route was no longer adequate. the many winds and twists between the hills as it moved between the natural corridors were perfect for animal powered transportation, seeking the easiest path. at highway speeds, with diesel trucks and buses it was a deathtrap. before long it had become the legendary bloody 11-w, one of the most deadly stretches of highway in the US.

today 11-w is no longer the legendary highway to hell. widened, straightened and with wide shoulders, it is the picture of a modern automotive artery. displaced by the new interstate as the natural track from north to south, it has minimal truck traffic. but its history is still visible as you will cross, recross, and often parallel roads with names like; "old 11-W," "stagecoach road," and "lee highway" we will walk in the footsteps of history. not just those who lost their lives on bloody 11-w, or the turn of the century travellers taking the lee highway, the immigrants riding the stagecoach, or the settlers driving their wagons along the old indian trail.

no, we will follow in the tracks of the first humans to explore north america, where mastodons were hunted by sabertooth tigers and camels by short faced bear. we will travel the same trails as 3 toed horses, and see the same mountains as the very first mammals. we will walk thru the history of a continent.

i am sure looking forward to the trip.


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