Pilot Mountain Challenge” Make it to the top

pilot 1PILOT MOUNTAIN — The steep, curvy road that winds its way up to Pilot Knob is tough enough in a vehicle, but Saturday morning about 100 people made the grueling trek as fast as their legs could carry them.

Lured by the opportunity to test their physical limitations through an event billed as the “Pilot Make it Up the Mountain Challenge,” participants representing varying ages and athletic abilities braved late-June heat to complete the two-mile stretch.

And while the course was timed and an official winner recognized, there was little or no emphasis on competition or speed. Everyone who completed the course could truthfully say they finished at the top — specifically the summit of Pilot Mountain State Park.

“We just wanted to open the door for anyone to come out and do this,” explained Leanne Wilkins, fitness director of Armfield Civic and Recreation Center in Pilot Mountain, who coordinated the event with the help of a fitness committee and other volunteers.

Wilkins said the idea was to “walk, run, hike — however you can make it up the mountain.”

Another goal was to use the ever-imposing presence of Pilot Knob to promote fitness as well as bring more visitors to the park that has been a venue for bike racing, but not organized runs or walks.

Though many “serious runners” did come out Saturday to take on the area landmark as they would any other road race, the participants also included ordinary folks just trying to prove to themselves that they could do it, Wilkins said.

While gazing toward the imposing summit and its equalizing slopes before the event got under way, she added, “Nobody really has an advantage.”

The participants included one person from Seattle, Wilkins said.

Closer to home, Carol Hall of Winston-Salem said she was there “for the challenge, for one thing.”

“Plus, this is the first time it’s ever been done,” Hall, 56, said of the chance “just to do something different.” With previous road racing experience under her belt, she was among those choosing to run up the steep grade rather than walk.

The Rev. Bob Josey, 72, the president of the Greater Mount Airy Ministerial Association, also couldn’t resist the allure of the first-ever mountain jaunt, but he was somewhat more prepared for the task than the average senior citizen. “I’ve been doing it 25 years,” Josey said of a running hobby that involves regular runs from Cana, Va., up U.S. 52 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Josey said he also previously ran up the road to Pilot Knob, “just for fun.”

Before the participants bunched up at the starting line around 8:15 a.m., Josey seemed a little concerned about Saturday’s run, however. “I’ve got a bad knee,” he reported.

But 29 minutes and 37 seconds later, a winded but smiling Josey crossed the finish line at the top, greeted by cheers from bystanders.

Andy Hull of Mount Airy proved to be the person reaching the overlook parking lot ahead of everyone else.

“It was hell!” a heavily perspiring Hull said immediately after completing the event in 18 minutes and 39 seconds.

“The first mile and a half was probably the worst, and this last little hill when you’re pushing toward the end,” added Hull, who is in his early 30s and works as an engineer with Surry Telephone Membership Corp. His wife Kelly ran the course as well.

“We ran this mountain four times to prepare for it,” said Hull, who is a member of the Mount Airy Road Runners, a recently formed running club in Mount Airy. He believes the key to meeting the “challenge” of the mountain is not burning oneself out early in the course in order to save something for the end.

Once at the top, the Hulls and other participants were rewarded with a cool mountain breeze in addition to liquid refreshments. A shuttle service was available to transport the runners/hikers back down the mountain to their vehicles, but some chose to go back the way they came: on foot.

Water stations were positioned at strategic points up the mountain for the runners, with rescue vehicles standing by just in case. Halfway up the mountain road, Angela Stroup of Mount Airy waited at a sign informing runners and walkers that they had reached the one-mile mark.

Along with testing the mettle of runners, walkers and hikers, the “Pilot Make it Up the Mountain Challenge” raised between $2,000 and $2,500, Wilkins said. The proceeds will be used for fitness programs and health and wellness activities at Armfield Civic and Recreation Center.

Wilkins seemed to best sum up the overall theme of the “Pilot Make it Up the Mountain Challenge” when she told participants as they waited at the starting line, “Until you push yourself to try something new, you will never grow.”

Contact Tom Joyce at tjoyce@mtairynews.com or at 719-1924.

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