The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (#NERR) Postscript: Red Mill Rd. to Penny’s Bend

Readers might recall that Joanna and I ran 50 miles last December in our self-supported quest to complete the Falls Lake section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We ran 3.5 miles on Friday, 32.1 miles on Saturday, and 14.4 miles on Sunday to finish 50 miles. Saturday’s weather was awful, and looking back, I can’t believe we finished that run with Jon in the dark after hours of pouring rain.


This was the December route. See the red part, to the left of FINISH? That was the start of this run.

We had taken our time and felt pretty good. But we were worn out by Sunday afternoon. I was exhausted. Even so, all day Monday, I waited for my phone to ring. It didn’t. Joanna said she was going to relax by taking in a double feature, and that’s exactly what she did. And I was secretly relieved, but I also felt a tiny bit of a letdown.

Why? Because, you see, the Falls Lake section of the MST is actually 60 miles. We had run a long way, and we had run exactly what we planned, but we had not run the whole section. With different races on our calendars, discussion of “unfinished business” lingered the rest of winter and through the spring.

Mother's Day MST RunAfter some back-and-forth calendar checking, we eventually settled on Mother’s Day as the day to run the last ~10-mile stretch of the MST, from Red Mill Rd. to Penny’s Bend. That prevented most of our friends from joining, but it worked for us and for our friend Suzette, and we found ourselves at the usual Starbucks early before caravanning to Durham to run a shuttle.

It was supposed to be hot, so we decided to wear our 2013 MST Challenge shirts. Matching is funny, especially if you know either of us.

Ready to go at Red Mill Rd.

Ready to go at Red Mill Rd.

This section starts along Ellerbe Creek and was quite pretty. We saw some nice wildflowers and a lot of poison ivy. By mid-summer, this section of trail will be seriously overgrown with poison ivy. We all scrubbed as soon as we got home and didn’t get any.

There are quite a few open powerline easements along this stretch, and the character of Falls Lake is much different when we could see it, with shallow water and lazy coves. As we re-entered the woods along the lake, we startled a large, heavy bird with a broad brown tail that had been on the ground—all evidence pointed to it being a wild turkey.

In another easement, Joanna stopped short. “Snake.” Suzette and I peered around her shoulder. It was a black rat snake that was pretending to be a rattlesnake, vibrating its tail in the leaves to try to fool us into thinking it was a poisonous rattlesnake. We watched it for a few minutes, then it turned around 180 degrees and slunk off into the bushes, as if to say “I was planning to go this way anyway…I don’t want any trouble.”

NERR collage

Other discoveries included Atamasco lilies, a huge crayfish chimney, a trailside campsite, and finally coming out on Snow Hill Road to cross the Eno River at Penny’s Bend. Penny’s Bend hikers asked us if we’d seen the snake on the trail, and we explained that we’d hiked the MST, pointing over our shoulders to show them where we’d come out. This section is new and relatively unknown, so hopefully hikers will discover it soon.

Penny's Bend

Penny’s Bend, the end of the Falls Lake section.

We celebrated with lunch at Chow—burgers and beer, as per tradition—for completing all 60 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, from Falls Lake Dam to Penny’s Bend. But I hear the next section is progressing rapidly, and that soon we’ll be able to run from Penny’s Bend to Eno River State Park. Another adventure in the making—stay tuned!

60 miles. BOOYAH!

60 miles. BOOYAH!

2 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (#NERR) Postscript: Red Mill Rd. to Penny’s Bend

    • I think you must mean Joanna’s vest, since mine is a Nathan (and was overkill for this distance). She’s @jpomilio on Twitter. Maybe she will comment and tell you about it.

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