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    With more than 100 categories, the eighth annual Best of the Blue Ridge Awards are bigger and better than ever. Thousands of readers cast their votes for their favorite people, places, events, food + drink, and businesses in the region. What’s this year’s weirdest event? Who is this year’s Adventurer of the Year? Find some of your favorites on this list and be inspired for your next adventure.

    Destinations


    Hiking Trail

    Tinker Cliffs (Troutville, VA)

    Once you make it up this leg of the Virginia Triple Crown, Tinker Cliffs offers a stunning view of the Roanoke Valley to the south. This moderately strenuous hike is around 7 miles round trip and climbs almost 2,000 feet in elevation.

    Finalists

    Jackrabbit (Hayesville, N.C.)

    Long Point (Summersville, W. Va.)


    A.T. Section

    McAfee Knob (Catawba, Va.)

    Visitors from around the world come to hike the famous McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed spots on the A.T. Sunrise, sunset, or middle of the day, leave plenty of time to soak up the scenery at the top.

    Finalists

    Max Patch (Hot Springs, N.C.)

    Dragon’s Tooth (Catawba, Va.)


    Spot Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

    Peaks of Otter (Va.)

    In the middle of the Jefferson National Forest, this spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gateway to adventure. Fish in Abbott Lake, hike one of the six trails in the area, or camp at the base of Sharp Top Mountain.

    Finalists

    Mount Mitchell (N.C.)

    Linville Cove Viaduct (N.C.)


    Waterfall

    Blackwater Falls (Davis W. Va.)

    With multiple viewing platforms, this five-story waterfall is easily accessible in every season. The “black” water, tinted by tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles, runs through an eight-mile gorge.

    Finalists

    Cascades (Pembroke, Va.)

    Linville Falls (Linville, N.C.)


    Swimming Hole

    Paul’s Creek (Nellysford, Va.)

    Slide down the natural waterslide into Paul’s Creek, the perfect way to cool off after a hike through the woods.

    Finalists

    Big Rock (Deep Creek, N.C.)

    Midnight Hole (Smokies, N.C.)


    Paddling River

    New River (W. Va.)

    One of the oldest rivers in the world, the New River flows north into West Virginia from North Carolina. This river has something for every paddler, from smooth flatwater to class V rapids in the spring.

    Finalists

    Gauley River (Summersville, W. Va.)

    Green River (N.C.)


    SUP Spot

    Summersville Lake (Summersville, W. Va.)

    At 28,000 acres, with more than 60 miles of undeveloped shoreline, Summersville Lake is the perfect secluded spot to get your SUP on.

    Finalists

    Pembroke Pond on New River (Pembroke, Va.)

    Finger Lake (Fontana Lake, N.C.)


    Flat Water

    Summersville Lake (Summersville, W. Va.)

    The towering sandstone cliffs create the perfect backdrop for the largest lake in West Virginia. It is also the site of the PsicoRoc deep-water solo competition, the only time this type of climbing is technically legal at the lake.

    Finalists

    Carvins Cove (Roanoke, Va.)

    Fontana Lake (Bryson City, N.C.)


    Fishing Spot

    New River (Fayetteville, W. Va.)

    Head out to the New River in the spring or fall for the best opportunity to catch bass, walleye, muskellunge, crappie, bluegill, carp, and catfish.

    Finalists

    South River (Waynesboro, Va.)

    Tuckasegee River (Bryson City, N.C.)


    Climbing Crag

    Seneca Rocks (W. Va.)

    With more than 350 mapped climbing routes, climbers of all abilities are welcome to test their multi-pitch climbing and trad skills at Seneca Rocks. It’s impossible to miss the towering crags as you drive in
    to the Monongahela National Forest.

    Finalists

    New River Gorge (W. Va.)

    Rumbling Bald (N.C.)


    Running Trail 

    Greenbrier River Trail (W. Va.)

    Cross over 35 bridges, under two tunnels, and through several West Virginian towns on this 78-mile former railroad trail. Disconnect from the world on this secluded trail, including a section within a National Radio Quiet Zone where cell phones do not work.

    Finalists

    Mountains to Sea Trail (N.C.)

    Jackrabbit Trail (N.C.)


    Biking Trail

    Mill Creek (Narrows, Va.)

    At 145 acres, Mill Creek Nature Park offers a variety
    of mountain bike trails for all skill levels. Trails extend into the Jefferson National Forest for further riding.

    Finalists

    Great Allegheny Passage (Penn. to Md.)

    Tsali (Bryson City, N.C.)


    Urban Park/Greenway

    Roanoke River Greenway (Roanoke, Va.)

    This paved pathway weaves through the heart of Roanoke, passing through busy shopping districts and residential areas. The trail will be 25 miles long when finished, connecting the towns of Roanoke and Salem.

    Finalists

    James River Park (Richmond, Va.)

    Falls Park (Greenville, S.C.)


    Ski Run

    Cupp Run (Snowshoe Mountain Resort, W. Va.)

    Designed by the prolific skier Jean-Claude Killy, Cupp Run features one of the longest vertical drops in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Take a stab at the annual Cupp Run Challenge in February, a tradition at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. 

    Finalists

    Shay’s Revenge (Snowshoe Mountain Resort, W.Va.)

    Oz (Beech Mountain Resort, N.C.)


    Terrain Park

    Wintergreen (Va.)

    Visit again and again as Wintergreen frequently changes the layout of the more than 40 features in its terrain park, from tabletops and fun boxes to rainbow rails and battleships.

    Finalists

    Snowshoe (W. Va.)

    Beech Mountain (N.C.)


    Campsite

    Davidson River (Pisgah National Forest, N.C.)

    Spend the night at one of the 144 campsites near the river for easy access to fishing, hiking, and swimming, with easy access to Brevard and Asheville.

    Finalists

    Kairos (Glen Lyn, Va.)

    Rocky Gap State Park (Flintstone, Md.)


    Wilderness Area

    Dolly Sods Wilderness (W. Va.)

    At one point, these 17,371 acres in the Monongahela National Forest were almost completely clear-cut, leading to soil erosion and frequent wildfires. As this unique ecosystem has rebounded thanks to its protected status, it now boasts life forms usually found in southern Canada and awe-inspiring views.

    Finalists

    Priest Wilderness (Va.)

    Shining Rock Wilderness (N.C.)


    National Park

    Blue Ridge Parkway (N.C./Va.)

    From the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers hundreds of miles of winding roads and mountain vistas.

    Finalists

    Shenandoah National Park (Va.)

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park (N.C./Tenn.)


    State Park

    Grayson Highlands (Va.)

    Grayson Highlands State Park is home to Virginia’s highest peak and more than 100 wild ponies. The Appalachian Trail and Virginia Highlands Horse Trail are easily accessible from the moss-covered forests and mountain meadows.

    Finalists

    Blackwater Falls (W. Va.)

    Natural Bridge State Resort Park (Ky.)


    National Forest

    Monongahela National Forest (W. Va.)

    Established in 1920, this National Forest protects almost a million acres of mountainous landscape in eastern West Virginia, including Seneca Rocks, Spruce Knob, and the falls of Hills Creek.

    Finalists

    Jefferson National (Va.)

    Pisgah National Forest  (N.C.)


    Luxury Destination/Resort/Bed and Breakfast

    Pilot Cove (Brevard, N.C.)

    With 10 cabins that blend into the scenery, Pilot Cove is the perfect mix of luxury lodging with easy access to outdoor adventure on the border of Pisgah National Forest.

    Finalists

    Mountain Lake Lodge (Pembroke, Va.)

    Primland (Meadows of Dan, Va.)


    Kid-Friendly Adventure

    Wintergreen (Va.)

    This four-season resort has something for the whole family, from skiing and tubing in the winter to ziplining and archery in the warmer months.

    Finalists

    Ace Resort (W. Va.)

    Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education (N.C.)


    Pet-Friendly Adventure

    Rivanna Trail (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Walk or run with your furry loved one on this wilderness trail around the city of Charlottesville. The easy to moderate terrain is a great place to escape from the noise and enjoy the sounds of nature.

    Finalists

    Gatlinburg Trail (Gatlinburg, Tenn.)

    Mill Creek Nature Park (Narrows, Va.)


    Place to Play Hooky From Work

    winding down after a day on the slopes at snowshoe mountain resort / Photo By chris mclennan

    Snowshoe (Snowshoe, W. Va.)

    Make the most out of a day “off” at this four season resort. Spend all day and into the night on the ski slopes or relax in the spa and reserve a backcountry adventure dining experience.

    Finalists

    Bent Creek (Asheville, N.C.)

    Virginia’s Mountain Playground (Giles County, Va.)


    Place to Engage in Illicit and Nefarious Activities

    Not Telling

    Finding your own secret spot is always more fun than co-opting someone else’s.

    Finalists

    Blue Ridge Parkway overlook after sunset

    Any music festival in the Southeast


    Place for Outdoor Singles to Live

    Asheville, N.C.

    As one of the go-to adventure towns on the East Coast, Asheville has exploded with places to eat, things to do, and resources for adventure. You’re bound to run into someone who shares similar interests in this town.

    Finalists

    Roanoke, Va.

    Bryson City, N.C.


    Place to Raise an Outdoor Family

    Roanoke, Va.

    Introduce your kids to the outdoors on one of Roanoke’s many greenways and river accesses before moving them up to more challenging adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

    Finalists

    Bryson City, N.C.

    Johnson City, Tenn.


    State in the Southeast/Mid-Atlantic for Outdoor Activities

    Virginia

    From the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, step into Virginia’s backyard for hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, and more. Take advantage of all four seasons, whether you’re on the A.T., Blue Ridge Parkway, or one of the many ski runs.

    Finalists

    North Carolina

    West Virginia

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    Events


    Costumed Event

    Asheville Superhero 5K/ Super Villain 10k
    (Asheville, N.C.)

    “It’s like Comic Con,” said Leslie Grotenhuis, one of the organizers of the event. “Even if it’s just as simple as a superhero t-shirt or socks, I would say almost everybody is wearing something superhero-themed. In the last five years that we’ve been doing this, superheroes have only gotten bigger.”

         Since Grotenhuis and Greg Duff took over as managers of the Asheville Superhero 5K, the race has grown into an entire weekend of events. The Asheville Running Experience is a partnership between Grotenhuis’ and Duff’s separate companies, Kick It Event Management and
    Glory Hound Events.

    The weekend now includes a kick-off event at the Salvage Station, a trail race, and a team scavenger hunt. Younger kids can show off their skills at the Super Sidekick Training Camp obstacle course.

    “The goal for us is to keep getting more and more people involved and getting more active,” said Duff. “If they can dress up and have a lot of fun with it at the same time, I think it’s a double win.”

    Finalists

    Zombie Run (Wytheville, Va.)

    Surf-n-Santa (Virginia Beach, Va.)


    Toughest Race

    Blue Ridge Marathon (Roanoke, Va.)

    Start and end this grueling 26.2-mile race in downtown Roanoke. Prepare for more than 7,430 feet of elevation change as runners climb and descend Mill Mountain and Roanoke Mountain.
    Finalists

    Get Outside Mountain Relay (Glade Valley, N.C.)

    Smoky Mountain Relay (Western N.C.)


    Rowdiest Festival

    FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)

    Five days of endless music, dancing, and craft beer
    is sure to make for a wild and rockin’ crowd.
    Organizers have already announced a monster lineup for this year’s festival, including Phil Lesh, Brandi Carlile, and String Cheese Incident.

    Finalists

    Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (Manchester, Tenn.)

    Gauley Fest (Summersville, W. Va.)


    Weirdest Festival

    RoadKill Cook-off (Marlinton, W. Va.)

    It’s a cook-off like no other. Started in the early 90s to celebrate the roots of wild game in Appalachian food culture, the West Virginia RoadKill Cook-off features dishes like bear chili, alligator gumbo, and spicy deer meat with apple chutney. At least 25 percent of the dish must contain meat that is commonly found dead along the road, such as groundhog, squirrel, snake, and wild board. A panel of judges chooses the winners based on taste, originality, showmanship, and presentation.

    The last two years, Pendleton Community Bank has won the people’s choice award with their Bambi’s Revenge and Fender Fried Fawn Smothered in Vulture Vomit, both made with deer meat. Kendall Beverage, head cook for the PCB Buck Busters, said the bank closed this year so that more employees could participate.

    “You cook a small portion at home and then when you have to multiply that in order to serve 2,000 people, that can be a little nerve wracking,” Beverage said. “We always try to run three or four test runs, tweaking it where we can, having blind tastings with family and friends to get ideas.”

    Finalists

    FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)

    Tri-State Wing Off (Cumberland, Md.)


    Music Festival

    FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)
    Set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, FloydFest features an eclectic mix of musicians, from up and coming hard rockers to bluegrass artists who know how to draw a crowd. Finalists

    LOCKN’ Festival (Arrington, Va.)

    DelFest (Cumberland, Md.)


    Family-Friendly Festival

    Front Porch Fest (Stuart, Va.)

    Kids of all ages are welcome at the Front Porch Fest, a weekend of music, art and fun started by a group of family and friends. Proceeds are donated to community organizations such as the Caring Hearts Free Clinic and the One Family Productions Education Fund.
    Finalists

    FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)

    DelFest (Cumberland, Md.)


    Mud Run/Adventure Race

    Get Outside Mountain Relay (Glade Valley, N.C.)

    Grab a group of friends and head out for this 208-mile relay. Shuttles take runners to and from hubs, meaning you don’t have to rent your own van.Finalists

    Marine Mud Run (Salem, Va.)

    The Grizzly (Big Stone Gap, Va.)


    Triathlon

    King of the James (Richmond, Va.)

    This twist on the traditional triathlon calls for experienced trail runners, mountain bikers, and whitewater kayakers to compete in downtown Richmond.
    Finalists

    Captain Thurmond’s Challenge (Fayetteville, W. Va.)
    Ironman Chattanooga (Chattanooga, Tenn.)


    Running Event Under 13.1 Miles

    Grayson Highlands Half Marathon (Grayson Highlands State Park, Va.)

    Be prepared for rocky terrain and steep elevation change during this trail run through Virginia’s highest state park.

    Finalists

    Oskar Blues 4 Miler (Brevard, N.C.)

    Hot Chocolate 10K (Asheville, N.C.)


    Running Event Over 13.1 Miles

    Blue Ridge Marathon (Roanoke, Va.)

    Take in the views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Roanoke Valley as you run through the mountains. Register early as spots for this marathon fill up quickly.

    Finalists

    The Great Allegheny Relay (Cumberland, Md. to Pittsburgh, Penn.)

    Get Outside Mountain Relay (Glade Valley, N.C.)


    Climbing Event

    Craggin’ Classic (The New, W. Va.)

    Climbers from around the world gather for three days of climbing and skill clinics. This festival travels around the country to other climbing destinations, like Shelf Road, Colo. and Moab, Utah.
    Finalists

    Hound Ears (Boone, N.C.)

    The Rumble (Raleigh, N.C.)


    Paddling Event

    Kanawha Falls Festival (Gauley Bridge, W. Va.)

    The organizers of Kanawha Falls Fest found the perfect location for a paddling event, with world-class rapids, a waterfall for freestyle moves, and easy access for spectators. In 2017, 56 paddlers competed in the inaugural event. Although it was cancelled in 2018 due to high water, organizers are excited to continue growing the festival as an event leading up to Gauley Fest.

    Corey Lilly, the man behind the idea, said he hopes the event will inspire more people to get out
    and try kayaking. One such individual stumbled upon the competition by accident.

    “He was there fishing and, unknowingly, fishing on the same day as Kanawha Falls Festival,” Lilly said. “So all of these people show up and are having such a good time. He showed up at the kayak shop in Fayetteville a few weeks later and ended up purchasing an entire paddling setup and now he’s a kayaker.”

    Finalists

    Battle of the Broad (Skyland, N.C.)

    Green River Race (Saluda, N.C.)


    Fly Fishing Event

    Virginia Fly Fishing Festival (Doswell, Va.)

    Fly anglers of all ages and abilities are welcome at this two-day festival, focusing on sport fly fishing and conservation issues in Virginia.

    Finalists

    Rumble in the Rhododendron (Cherokee, N.C.)

    Casting for Hope (Asheville, N.C.)


    Bike Race

    Shenandoah Mountain 100 (Stokesville, Va.)

    As the name implies, riders climb thousands of feet through the George Washington National Forest in
    this 100-mile ultra-endurance mountain bike race.

    Finalists

    Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (Pisgah, N.C.)

    Mountains of Misery (Southwest Va.)


    Retreat  

    YogaJam (Floyd, Va.)

    Try various types of yoga, from meditation-based yoga to acro yoga. Go beyond the physical practice with classes on live painting, creating space for social change, and yoga slackline.

    Finalists

    Summersville Lake Retreat and Lighthouse (Mount Nebo, W. Va.)

    Mountain Retreat and Learning Center (Highlands, N.C.)


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    Food & Drink


    Brewery/Brewhouse

    Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

    All of Blue Mountain Brewery’s lagers and ales are brewed and prepared for distribution in Nelson County, Va. Enjoy classics like Full Nelson or try Native Species, a seasonal beer available January through March.

    Finalists

    Devils Backbone (Roseland, Va.)

    1812 Brewery (Cumberland, Md.)


    Vineyard/Winery

    Readers voted blue mountain brewery as their favorite in 2019. Photo By tom daly

    Toasted Goat Winery (Frostburg, Md.)

    The Toasted Goat is still fairly new to the winery scene, having just celebrated their two-year anniversary, but has already built up a collection of boutique wines, including their Petite Sirah and Chocolate Covered Raspberries.

    Finalists

    King Family (Crozet, Va.)

    Afton Mountain (Afton, Va.)


    Distillery

    Silverback Distillery (Afton, Va.)

    Christine and Lauren Riggleman, the mother-daughter team of distillers at Silverback, come from a long line of strong women who get stuff done. They create their spirits through a geothermal process to reduce energy costs and dependence on fossil fuels.

    Finalists

    Charis Winery & Distillery (Cumberland, Md.)

    Smooth Ambler (Lewisburg, W. Va.)


    Cider

    Bold Rock (Afton, Va.)

    All of the apples used in Bold Rock Hard Cider are picked within 35 miles of their two cideries, maximizing the freshness of the product. All of the ciders are naturally gluten free. 

    Finalists

    Blue Toad (Roseland, Va.)

    Urban orchard (Asheville, N.C.)


    Beer/ Wine/ Spirits Trail

    Brew Ridge Trail (Va.)

    Make your way through Nelson and Albemarle County, stopping for beer, food, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the way. The six craft breweries are all within an hour of each other.

    Finalists

    Asheville Ale Trail (Asheville, N.C.)

    The Bourbon Trail (Ky.)


    Blue Ridge Booze

    Climax Moonshine (Culpeper, Va.)

    Mix this 90 proof moonshine with sweet tea or drink it straight. Tim Smith, the man behind the operation, was featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners.”

    Finalists

    Five Mile Mountain (Floyd, Va.)

    Ole Smoky Moonshine (Gatlinburg, Tenn.)


    Local Non-Alcoholic Beverage

    Blue Ridge Bucha (Waynesboro, Va.)

    Owners Ethan and Kate Zuckerman are committed to the idea of a sustainable business, one that does not rely on plastic bottles to sell its products. Customers purchase a reusable bottle to fill up with kombucha on draft, bringing it back again and again.

    Finalists

    Snowing in Space (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Elvis Shake Chinquapin’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar (Hayesville, N.C.)


    Post-Adventure Hangout

    Devils Backbone (Roseland, Va.)

    Kick back and drink a cold one at Devil’s Backbone after a long day of hiking, biking, paddling, or skiing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visit again for live music, s’mores, and trivia.

    Finalists

    Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

    Salvage Station (Asheville, N.C.)


    Farmers’ Market

    Nelson County Farmers Market (Nellysford, Va.)

    Since the mid-90s, the Nelson County Farmers Market has been a gathering place for people, produce, and fine crafts. On Saturdays from May to October, you can find dozens of vendors selling everything from fresh cheese to jewelry.
    Finalists

    Charlottesville Farmers Market (Charlottesville, Va.)

    North Asheville (Asheville, N.C.)


    Restaurant 

    Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

    From their loaded nachos and stacked burgers to mouth-watering desserts, fill up at Blue Mountain.
    Start your Sunday off with a brunch that changes
    week to week.

    Finalists

    Copper Door (Hayesville, N.C.)

    Hank’s Grille and Bar (McGaheysville, Va.)


    Farm-to-table Restaurant

    Wild Wolf Brewing Company (Nellysford, Va.)

    This restaurant works hard to source its produce and meat from sustainable farms within a 50-mile radius, helping to cut down on fuel needed for transportation.

    Finalists

    The Station (Fayetteville, W. Va.) 

    Zynandoah (Staunton, Va.)


    Coffee Shop

    Farmhaus Coffee Co. (Waynesboro, Va.)

    Whether you drink your coffee black or prefer tea instead, Farmhaus’ cozy atmosphere invites everyone to come inside and enjoy this specialty coffee shop.Finalists

    Shenandoah Joe (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Trager Brothers (Afton, Va.)


    Breakfast

    Beer Run (Charlottesville, Va.)

    You wouldn’t expect it based on the name, but breakfast from Beer Run is a great way to start the day. Try one of their loaded breakfast tacos on Saturday morning or a full breakfast platter at Sunday morning brunch.

    Finalists

    Over Easy (Asheville, N.C.)

    Cathedral Cafe (Fayetteville, Va.)


    Lunch 

    Secret Sandwich Society (Fayetteville, W. Va.)
    The secret is out; it’s all about the sandwiches at this Fayetteville lunch spot. Operations at the Society are 100% wind powered, so you can feel good about the delicious food you’re eating.

    Finalists

    Blue Mountain (Afton, Va.)

    Early Girl Eatery (Asheville, N.C.)


    Late Night Eats

    South Street Brewery (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Whether you’re looking for another drink or something to soak up the alcohol, South Street has you covered till midnight on the weekends.

    Finalists

    C&O (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Texas Tavern (Roanoke, Va.)


    Burrito/Tacos

    Hellbender Burritos (Davis, W. Va.)

    Don’t expect a traditional burrito at this West Virginia “Burreatery.” They take classics, like cheesesteaks and barbecue, and turn them into uniquely stuffed burritos.

    Finalists

    Brazos (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Alex’s Taco Truck (Waynesboro, Va.)


    Burger 

    Jack Brown’s (Multiple Locations)

    The idea behind Jack Brown’s winning formula is simple: burgers and beer. And don’t forget about the fried Oreos.
    Finalists

    Farm Burger (Asheville, N.C.)

    TIE Black Dog Tavern  (Hayesville, N.C.) and Citizen Burger (Charlottesville Va.)


    Barbecue

    Blue Ridge Pig (Nellysford, Va.)

    No one does the classics better than this unassuming stop on Rockfish Valley Highway, especially their renowned potato salad.

    Finalists

    Zeb’s Barbeque (Ridgeley, W. Va.)

    12 Bones (Asheville, N.C.)


    Pizza 

    Pies and Pints (Fayetteville, W. Va.)

    You can’t go wrong with a pizza at this pie shop. Adventure outside of the traditional pepperoni for a slice, or two, of chicken gouda or sriracha shrimp.

    Finalists

    Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

    Ciro’s (Va.)


    Restaurant with Vegetarian Options

    Local Roots (Roanoke, Va.)

    The menu may change depending on the season and what is available, but the quality of food is always top notch at Local Roots. Try their heirloom pea hummus with fried lavash or vegetable sandwich with sweet potatoes and apples.

    Finalists

    Mountain City Coffeehouse (Frostburg, Md.)
    Laughing Seed (Asheville, N.C.)


    Food Truck

    Hank’s Fly’n Pig (McGaheysville, Va.)

    The owners of Hank’s Grille and Bar decided to expand two years ago, adding a food truck to their arsenal. Now you can find their food at breweries, festivals, and weddings. You won’t believe the barbecue you’re eating came out of a truck. Finalists

    Blue Mountain (Afton, Va.)

    Los Tacotes (Asheville, N.C.)


    Festival Food 

    Blue Ridge Pizza (Charlottesville, Va.)

    The quintessential festival food should help keep you rocking all night long. From LOCKN’ and Festy to Cville Pride Day and Cider Fest, the folks at Blue Ridge Pizza have you covered.

    Finalists

    Goatocado (Richmond, Va.)

    Sunshine Sammies (Asheville, N.C.)


    Ice Cream

    Kline’s (Waynesboro, Va.)

    Since 1943, Kline’s has been serving up the best in frozen dairy treats. With a new flavor to try almost every week, pick up a flavor card to keep track of when your favorites will be in stock.

    Finalists

    The Frostburg Freeze (Frostburg, Md.)

    Blue Cow (Roanoke, Va.)

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    Businesses


    blue ridge mountain guides were voted best guides in 2019. / photo by Travis Xander

    Fly Fishing Outfitter

    Fly Fishing the Smokies (Whittier, N.C.)

    From experienced anglers to young beginners, this group of experienced guides can take you to the best rivers and streams in the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond. The outfitter recently opened a private trout stream, Brook Haven, and is in the process of adding lodging to the property for a unique fly-fishing experience.

    Finalists

    Mossy Creek (Harrisonburg, Va.)

    Hunter Banks (Asheville, N.C.)


    Climbing Guide Company

    Blue Ridge Mountain Guides (Nellysford, Va.)

    Whether you want to learn how to trad lead or try ice climbing for the first time, Blue Ridge Mountains Guides have a course for you. Attempt your first ascent in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, or New Hampshire.

    Finalists

    Climbmax Mountain Guides (Asheville, N.C.)

    Wild Guyde (Harrisonburg, Va.)


    Climbing Gym

    Peak Experience (Richmond, Va.)

    With over 20,000 square feet of climbing terrain and bouldering options, there is plenty of room to get your climb on at this new, state of the art facility. Take advantage of instruction classes, youth programs, and fitness classes.

    Finalists

    Smoky Mountain Adventure Center (Asheville, N.C.)

    River Rock (Roanoke, Va.)


    Running Shop

    Ragged Mountain Running Shop
    (Charlottesville, Va.)

    The staff at Ragged Mountain will help you find the perfect shop to fit your unique foot and gait. Donate your old running shoes to the Shoes for the Shoeless program, which distributes more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to the community every year.

    Finalists

    Jus’ Running (Asheville, N.C.)

    TIE Fleet Feet (Multiple Locations) and Foot Rx (Asheville, N.C.)


    blue ridge cyclery was voted best bike shop in 2019. / photo courtesy blue ridge cyclery

    Bike Shop

    Blue Ridge Cyclery (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Road, mountain, gravel, BMX, cruiser. Whatever your style, Blue Ridge Cyclery has a bike to fit your speed. They’ll even come to you if your bike breaks down while on the road.

    Finalists

    The Hub and Pisgah Tavern (Brevard, N.C.)

    Tsali Cycles (Bryson City, N.C.)


    Outdoor Store

    Wander North Georgia (Clayton, Ga.)

    In three years, what started as a blog and Instagram account has grown into a fully stocked outdoor retail store and recognizable brand. The Browns and the Scotts, a group of friends who decided to take on this endeavor together, donate one percent of sales each month to a local non-profit.

    Finalists

    Walkabout Outfitter (Va.)

    Diamond Brand Outdoors (Asheville, N.C.)


    Outfitter/Guide Service

    Blue Ridge Mountain Guides (Nellysford, Va.)
    Take on dozens of mountain adventures with these guides, from climbing and backcountry skiing to avalanche education and self-rescue courses. Finalists

    Mountain River Guides (Erwin, Tenn.)

    Roanoke Mountain Adventures (Roanoke, Va.)


    Yoga Studio 

    Namaste in Nature (Asheville, N.C.)

    This is not a traditional yoga studio. Teachers lead students on a 2-3 mile hike and set up mats at the top of a mountain or base of a waterfall for a meditative experience in nature.

    Finalists

    Now Yoga (Charlottesville, Va.)

    In Balance Yoga (Blacksburg, Va.)


    Outdoor Start-Up 

    UOU Outdoors (Richmond, Va.)

    At UOU Outdoors, the goal is to provide the resources, skills, and services needed to enjoy the outdoors safely. From their resource map of the best places to buy gear and beer around the country to guided adventures and courses, the people at UOU know where to direct you for any information you may need for your next adventure. In conjunction with SOLO Wilderness Medicine School, they are launching a wilderness first responder course in module format, helping people work around their busy schedules to get certified.

    Finalists

    Namaste in Nature (Asheville, N.C.)

    Adventure Kids WNC (Asheville, N.C.)


    Outdoor Club

    Champion Run Club (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Separated by a single vote, the top two winners in the club category are both running clubs. These group runs welcome runners of all ages and abilities, and partnerships with local breweries add to the community atmosphere.

    With the Champion Run Club, runners can participate in the weekly Wednesday run and get discounted beer at the Champion Brewing Co. afterward for a one-time fee of five dollars. James Walsh, the organizer and mileage tracker, said they have up to 120 runners a week if the weather is right.

    “It has completely transformed Wednesday night at the brewery,” Walsh said. “The brewery is as busy as it is on the busiest weekend night. It is bananas how many people are there and how energized the place is.”

    In second place, the Asheville Running Collective started out as a team for the Blue Ridge Relay. Now the collective boasts around two dozen members and is registered as a non-profit. They compete in three or four major events a year and put on a 10K in May.

    Additionally, the collective leads a group run from Wedge Brewing Company every Thursday that is free and open to anyone who shows up. Frankie Adkins, one of the founders and current president of the club, said the run goes on no matter what the weather is like, “whether it’s snowing, raining, or whatever.”

    These running clubs offer a great way to work out with other people at a fraction of a gym membership.Finalists

    Asheville Running Collective (Asheville, N.C.)
    American Whitewater (Asheville, N.C.)


    Environmental Organization

    Southern Environmental Law Center (Charlottesville, Va.)

    The more than 80 lawyers at the SELC are fighting to preserve the waterways and mountains we play on, the air we breathe, and the wildlife we share this planet with to ensure they are there for future generations to enjoy.

    Finalists

    MountainTrue (Asheville, N.C.)

    James River Association (Richmond, Va.)


    App for the Outdoors

    Mountain Hub 

    The Mountain Hub app combines all of the tools you might need when planning your next adventure. Download maps for offline use, track your route, check weather conditions, and share your adventures with the rest of the Mountain Hub community for free. The elevation profiles will help you visualize your journey ahead of time.

    Finalists

    Strava
    Guthook Appalachian Trail


    Outdoor Job

    Park Ranger

    Rangers play many different roles in our parks, from law enforcement and search and rescue to providing tours and educational programs. They study the science, geology, and cultural history of the parks and help ensure the safety of visitors.

    Autumn Bennett works as an Interpretive and Environmental Educator Ranger at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, the longest known cave system in the world. She leads tours of the park for visitors and school groups, teaching the ecology, geology, and history of the cave. In the 15 years she has been working at the national park, she said she still discovers something new every day.

    “People from all over the world, all walks of life, come here and I get to share a place that I love with them,” Bennett said. “There’s just so many stories inside Mammoth Cave and we don’t know the vast majority of them because we haven’t found the end of it yet.”

    Finalists

    Raft Guide

    Climbing Guide


    Outdoor Company to Work For 

    Blue Ridge Mountain Guides (Nellysford, Va.)

    Who wouldn’t want to travel around the Mid-Atlantic, showing clients some of the best climbing on the East Coast? Dakota Robarge, who started leading rock climbing trips for Blue Ridge Mountain Guides in April, said he didn’t get into rock climbing until college and wants to help others find the sport.

         “I’ve been told to do something you love or try to pursue a passion,” Robarge said. “Ultimately, the reason why I’m pursuing guiding professionally is because I really enjoy sharing that experience with people who are just now breaking into doing things in the outdoors, recreating on our public lands.”

    Finalists

    Navitat (Multiple Locations)

    River Rock Outfitter (Fredericksburg, Va.)


    Locally Made Gear

    ENO (Asheville, N.C.)

    You probably know ENO for their lightweight and easy to use hammocks, but they also make hiking packs, camp lights, and shelter systems that will help you prepare for any adventure outdoors.

    Finalists

    Astral (Asheville, N.C.)

    King Technical (North Garden, Va.)


    Adventure Vehicle 

    Subaru Outback

    The Outback is built to take you off road, to even the most remote locations. The new 2019 model comes with X-MODE to help maximize performance on uneven surfaces and steep inclines. The roof rails were designed to carry bikes, kayaks, or camping
    equipment so you can make the most out of your adventure.

    Finalists

    Jeep

    Toyota 4Runner


    Educational Outdoor Rec Program

    Muddy Sneakers (Brevard, N.C.)

    Muddy Sneakers works with over 2,700 fifth graders in 38 public schools across the Carolinas on experience-based science education. Students participate in multiple expeditions throughout the school year, exploring the natural world around them.

    Finalists

    Blue Sky Fund (Richmond, Va.)

    Emory and Henry Outdoor Program (Emory, Va.)


    Summer Camp/Program

    Camp Muddy Sneakers (Brevard, N.C.)

    This summer camp will introduce your elementary and middle school kids to the wonders of nature and science through hands-on learning in the many ecosystems of Western North Carolina.

    Finalists

    Blue Sky Fund (Richmond, Va.)

    Greenstone Adventures (Charlottesville, Va.)


    Zip Line 

    The Gorge Zip Line (Saluda, N.C.)

    Sail over the Green River Gorge on zip lines, sky-bridges, and free-fall rappels, dropping 1,100 feet in elevation. From the treetop platforms, you’ll be able
    to see for miles around.

    Finalists

    Navitat (Multiple Locations)

    Tree Tops Adventures Mountain Lake Lodge (Pembroke, Va.)


    Raft Guide Company

    French Broad Adventures (Asheville, N.C.)

    Barrel down class II-IV rapids with the largest
    outfitter on the French Broad River as these guides take you on a journey through Western North Carolina.

    Finalists

    ACE (Oak Hill, W. Va.)

    Blue Heron Whitewater (Marshall, N.C.)


    Ski Resort

    Snowshoe (Snowshoe, W. Va.)

    Spend all day exploring the 60 slopes, five terrain parks, and four glade areas at this winter resort with the most skiable terrain, highest vertical drop, and most natural snow in the Mid-Atlantic.

    Finalists

    Wintergreen (Wintergreen, Va.)

    Cataloochee (Maggie Valley, N.C.)

    [nextpage title=”People”]

    People


    Outdoor Legend

    Sue Haywood (Canaan Valley, W. Va.)

    Professional mountain biker Sue Haywood has been tearing up the trails with a fearless attitude and expert skill since she got her start in the mountains of West Virginia. Although she is retired from the World Cup circuit, Haywood still competes in some of the toughest East Coast races and against herself. Now, she’s passing on her knowledge to young bikers through clinics and private lessons, building confidence and community among the next generation of riders.

    Finalists

    John Grace (Asheville, N.C.)

    Jimmy Holcomb (Nantahala Outdoor Center, N.C.)


    Regional Athlete

    Ben King (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Since he turned pro in 2008, cyclist Ben King has racked up major wins at the Shenandoah 100, Tour of California, and U.S. National Road Race Championships. For the last two years, he has raced for the South African team Dimension Data and won his first two Grand Tour stages in the 2018 Vuelta a España.

    Finalists

    Aaron Saft (Asheville, N.C.)

    Pat Keller (Chattanooga, Tenn.)


    A.T. Thru Hiker

    Landen “Frick” and Garrett “Frack” Napier at the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.they were readers’ favorite A.T. Thru-hikers.

    Landen “Frick” & Garrett “Frack” Napier (W. Va.)
    After two years of nursing school, twin brothers Landen and Garrett Napier, 21, decided to take a break from college and hike the Appalachian Trail.  They prepared for the journey by watching YouTube videos and reading blogs of those who went before them. Each brother considers the other his best friend, and both agreed there is no one else they would rather do this with. They shared a tent on the trail to help cut down on weight.

    “Everybody was like how have you not killed each other yet?” said Landen Napier. “Our answer was always the same. We spent nine months in a womb together, our tent has much more room for activities.”

    The twins dealt with what seemed like constant snow and rain in the spring to a sweltering heat wave when they reached New York.

    “It was just like one extreme to another, like extreme snow, extreme rain, and then all of a sudden it was like 100 degrees,” Landen said. “We were literally crawling up the trail.”

    While the brothers prepare and train to hike the Pacific Crest Trail next year, they are working on an ambulance together as EMTs and enjoying being back at home for a little bit.

    “On the trail, we had to lead a little more of a minimalist lifestyle. We were only carrying the essentials on our backs,” said Garrett Napier. “Once we got off the A.T., it was nice to be able to go to the refrigerator and get a glass of water or having fresh fruit and not just eating ramen noodles. It just made us appreciate the little things at our house so much more. Like being able to shower or sleep in a real bed.”

    Finalists

    Daniel White (N.C.)

    Allegra Torres (N.C.)


    Fly Fishing Guide

    Eugene Shuler (Fly Fishing the Smokies, N.C.)

    From the time he was nine years old, Eugene Shuler knew he wanted to be a fly fishing guide like his father and grandfather before him. In 1999, he set off to establish his own outfitter in what is now the second largest fly fishing market. “Some folks may say I wasted 43 years of a life out there in the middle of a trout stream, but I sure had a lot of fun doing it,” Shuler said.

    Finalists

    Jessica Callihan (Project Healing Waters, Tenn.)
    Brian Trow (Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, Va.)


    Raft Guide

    Patrick “Patty Cakes” Mannion (Wahoo’s Adventures, N.C.)

    As a college student at Appalachian State, Patrick Mannion started working as a raft guide in the summers. “Nineteen years later, I somehow figured out a semi-nomadic seasonal existence,” he said. While many aspects of his job haven’t changed, Mannion still gets excited about what wild cards each day will bring, from the guests to the wildlife on each trip.

    Finalists

    Stacey Carroll (Cantrell Ultimate Rafting, W. Va.)
    Nugget Parsons (Rivermen, W. Va.)


    Environmentalist (TIE)

    Lauren Bowman Clontz (Southwest Va.) 

    Growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Lauren Bowman Clontz says her childhood roaming the mountains led her to pursue a degree in wildlife science. She turned her interest into action, occupying a tree platform for two months to protest the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the extractive nature of fossil fuel production.

    Kelly Martin (Sierra Club, N.C.)

    For years, Kelly Martin was a leader in Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign that has helped shutter more than 280 coal-fired power plants nationwide, including the Duke Energy coal plant in Asheville. Her successes led her to a new position as director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Initiative, which is working to push back against the construction of fracked gas pipelines and a dirty fossil fuel infrastructure that will lock the country into decades of climate-polluting more oil and gas production.

    Finalists

    Josh Kelly (MountainTrue, N.C.)

    No one knows the forests of Southern Appalachia better than Josh Kelly, a native of Western North Carolina, world-class botanist, and public lands biologist for MountainTrue. Kelly surveyed nearly all of the old-growth forests of Western North Carolina and has trekked to the wildest and most remote spots in Southern Appalachia, noting rare and endangered species along the way. At MountainTrue, Kelly has spearheaded efforts to protect the most beautiful and biologically diverse places in the 1.1-million-acre Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest.

    Ben Prater (Defenders of Wildlife (N.C.)

    For over two decades, Ben Prater has been a leading voice of the wild. As the Southeast Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife, Prater has fought to protect the endangered red wolves of North Carolina—the last red wolves in the wild. He is also working to protect Florida panthers, manatees, freshwater mussels, whales, and hellbenders—the giant salamanders of Southern Appalachia.


    Environmental Educator

    Emily Satterwhite (Virginia Tech, Va.)

    Dr. Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor of Appalachian studies at Virginia Tech, said she would not have described herself as an environmental educator.

    “But, as an educator, I have been motivated by a commitment to fairness by a belief that all of us deserve security and dignity,” she said. “More and more right now, the biggest threats to security and dignity are the threats to land, water, biodiversity, and climate threats to functioning ecosystems.”

    Knowing the history of fossil fuels in Appalachia, Satterwhite knew she had to do something when she learned the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be coming through her county. When opponents were unsuccessful fighting the decision through the legal and regulatory process, she started by supporting the tree sitters that went up to block construction.

    “I felt like I needed to be a teacher in the sense of modeling for others… I think what it means to be a teacher is more urgent these days,” she said.

    In June 2018, Satterwhite locked herself to an excavator at a pipeline construction site with handcuffs and pipe. For 14 hours, she sat chained to the equipment 20 feet in the air before police cut her free and brought her back down to the ground. Satterwhite said that while being a mother was certainly a part of her protest, she was fighting for the people who could not.

    “My daughter has resources to cope with the climate devastation we’re experiencing,” she said. “I’m up here for the people who are vulnerable and suffering all over the world.”

    Satterwhite was inspired by and learned a lot from the indigenous people at Standing Rock.

    “A lot of what we’re fighting for right now seems very abstract and distant,” she said. “Climbing up on the excavator and stopping work that day was a way to take a concrete step in my own backyard. And I think we can feel overwhelmed if we keep waiting for someone else to save us.”

    Finalists

    Robert Dye (Brevard College, N.C.)

    Patti Evans (Isaac Dickson Elementary, N.C.)


    Physical Therapist

    Wesley Miller (Asheville, N.C.)

    At Anti-Fragile Physical Therapy, Wesley Miller works to diagnose the “why” behind each patient’s hurt, working to strengthen the body’s response to stress factors rather than just fixing the superficial injury. Miller goes running with patients, visits their office to look at their desk chair, and fits their bikes to help prevent future injuries and “improve their experience as a human, not just the pain in their knee.”

    Finalists

    Mike Piercy (Asheville, N.C.)

    Lauren Tiger (Hiawasee, Ga.)


    Sports Doctor

    Mark Miller (Charlottesville, Va.)

    Dr. Mark Miller can relate to many of his patients, having suffered a knee injury of his own in college. Miller, an orthopedic surgeon and head of sports medicine at the University of Virginia, primarily focuses on knee and shoulder injuries in athletes.

    Finalists

    Aaron Vaughn (Asheville, N.C.)

    Jay Jansen (Asheville, N.C.)


    Bike Mechanic

    Ben Wyse (Wyse Cycles, Va.)

    Pulling his mobile shop behind him, mechanic Ben Wyse can meet you where you are.

    “If someone rode their bike to work every day, they show up at their workplace and while they’re at work I fix their bike,” he said. “When they come out, it’s ready for them to ride home.”

    Heading into his tenth year of owning his own business, Wyse makes house calls, sets up on Eastern Mennonite University’s campus every Wednesday, and takes appointments in his shop. Within the last year, he has started spending a portion of his Monday doing volunteer bike mechanic work in a community space for people who might otherwise not be able to afford his services.

    “One of the things that is so beautiful about the bicycle is that it’s a really fun tool for reaction and it’s a really useful tool for transportation,” Wyse said. “And it’s a useful tool to respond to the environmental crisis that we’re facing as a community.”

    Finalists

    Randy Collete (The Hub, N.C.)

    Adam Ritter (Bluestone Bike and Run, Va.)


    Coach

    coach Andrea dvorak leads the miller school albemarle’s cycling team on a training ride on the blue ridge parkway.

    Andrea Dvorak (Albemarle, Va.)

    Since retiring from the professional cycling circuit, Andrea Dvorak has learned that coaching is about more than the training.

    “Yes, the training is very important, but especially with these younger athletes, teenagers, it’s important to keep a good balance…making sure they’re still being high school kids, going to prom, things like that,” she said.

    Dvorak works as a coach for the Miller School of Albemarle’s internationally recognized cycling team and the director for the Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League. She also coaches private riders, including Eddie Anderson, a UVA student racing with the U23 national team in Europe this summer.

    “I feel their anxiety, I feel their nerves because I was there,” Dvorak said. “I was literally at that race, very nervous, just as they are now. I knew what helped me, and I do my best to do that for them. I’m just so happy I can help a younger generation.”

    Finalists

    Bill Baldwin (Pisgah, N.C.)

    Collin Izzard (Brevard, N.C.)


    Brewmaster/Distiller/Winemaker

    Graham Norris (Lazy Hiker Brewing Company, N.C.)
    While in the seminary, Graham Norris started brewing beer at home as a way to take his mind off of his studies. When he heard about plans to open the first brewery in his hometown of Franklin, he took samples of his brews to the people in charge. Within a year of opening, Norris was promoted to head brewer of Lazy Hiker, an establishment with an outdoor focus and passion for beer.

    Finalists

    Christine Riggleman (Silverback Distillery, Va.)
    Cory McCagh (1812 Brewery, Md.)


    Food Personality

    Neil Ravenna (Everett Hotel Bistro, N.C.)

    When the owners of the Everett Hotel gave Neil Ravenna a blank slate to redesign the restaurant, he added a Southern component to the menu. “As long as I’ve been in the South, food is a thread that is woven through every portion of life, whether it’s a birth, death, celebration, food gets thrown in there somewhere,” he said. The menu changes frequently, depending on the season and the chef’s mood.

    Finalists

    Bill Whipple (Buncombe Fruit and Nut Club, N.C.)

    Ali Casparian (Bounty & Soul, N.C.)


    Photographer/Videographer

    Molly Wolff (Scarbro, W. Va.)

    Photographer Molly Wolff does a little bit of everything, from weddings and family portraits to breathtaking scenes of West Virginia’s beauty, focusing on active and authentic adventure lifestyle. Her Instagram, @mollywolffphotography, is a fun mix of landscapes, surfers on the Gauley, and adventures with her family

    molly wolf was readers’ favorite blue ridge photogapher / photo by molly wolf

    Finalists

    Steve Yocom (Western N.C.)

    Madison Hye (Cherokee, N.C.)


    Best Regional Instagram Account

    @blueridgemtnguides

    From rad photos of climbers scaling rocks and ice to information on gear and techniques, Blue Ridge Mountain Guide’s Instagram account showcases some of the best outdoor adventure this region has to offer.

    Finalists

    @appalachiantrail 

    @flyfishingthesmokies

    [nextpage title=”Adventurer “]

    Adventurer of the Year

    Pete Ripmaster (Asheville, N.C.)

    In 2018, Pete Ripmaster won the Iditarod Trail Invitational on foot. Pulling a 40-pound sled behind him, Ripmaster covered 1,000 miles in 26 days, 13 hours, and 44 minutes. This was his third attempt to finish one of the toughest ultra-marathons on the planet.

    “Winning the Iditarod will always be one of the coolest things that’s ever happened in my life, but I say with resolve that finishing was the most important thing to me after all these years and years of going back and getting close,” Ripmaster said. “I will never be able to explain the emotions. It wasn’t just all these great feelings, it was all those failures and all those times that I’ve made mistakes and all those times I had to clap for other people.”

    Growing up, Ripmaster immersed himself in adventure books about mushers,

    adventurer of the year peter ripmaster. / photo by jennifer cole rodriguez

    dreaming of running his own team of dogs in the Iditarod one day.

    In 2001, a year after his mother died from cancer, Ripmaster moved to Alaska to train as a musher. It wasn’t long before he started to question his decision.

    “I just found it overwhelming taking care of that many dogs and that many moving parts,” he said. “I’m just one of those people who can barely take care of themselves. So for me to have 16 beating hearts that were all needing my attention, it was too much for the way I’m wired.”

    Knowing he wasn’t cut out for that kind of work, he left Alaska. “I moved back to the lower 48 and kind of decided that probably wasn’t going to be in the cards for me to do in my life, although I thought it was a huge dream of mine,” Ripmaster said. “I kind of gave up on that dream for a while.”

    Fast forward a few years, Ripmaster started running marathons to raise money in memory of his mother. Over four and a half years, he completed a marathon in all 50 states and raised $62,000.

    By the time he finished the fiftieth race, he found the marathons weren’t challenging enough. So he moved on to ultra marathons. It was then he learned about the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

    From Anchorage to Nome, the race follows the famous dog sled trail over the difficult Alaskan terrain. Racers set off a week before the dogs, choosing between distances of 150 miles, 350 miles, and the full 1,000 miles.

    Only a handful of participants are invited to compete each year on bikes, skis, and foot. Even fewer actually make it to the finish line. Since 2000, only 17 people have completed the full 1,000-mile race on foot.

    The race directors make sure the participants know what they are getting themselves into before issuing invitations.

    To gain the attention of the selection committee, Ripmaster said he wrote “the cheesiest and impassioned letter… it is so bad. It’s so romantic about how I was born to come up and do this race.” However cheesy it was, it worked. In 2014, he had his invitation to compete in the 350-mile race.

    “I was in over my head when they invited me up,” Ripmaster said. He bought a fancy GPS to help him navigate but didn’t actually know how to use it. By the first night of the race, he was already 13 miles off course and had no idea how to get back to the trail.

    “I was at a place that year where I was like should I just really be trying to find my way back to the start to fly my ass back to North Carolina?” Ripmaster said.

    After he made it back onto the trail, things didn’t get much better.

    “I blistered my feet from toe to heel, both feet, the second day,” Ripmaster said. “My snowshoes were so tight that it pushed all the spike pins through my insoles and into the bottom of my feet. I was walking on my heels for 300 miles because that was the only relief I had to not put pressure on my feet.”

    He came in last that year, a full two days behind the previous finisher. “I brought 92 pounds of stuff in my sled,” Ripmaster said. “The guy that won that year, his sled weighed 16 pounds. They say you bring all of your insecurities with you your first year on the trail. It was an education for me.”

    He took what he learned and applied it to his training. Ripmaster improved exponentially the next year, taking third place in the 350-mile foot category. He decided to take the next step and go for the full 1,000 miles in 2016.

    Once again, things did not go exactly how Ripmaster planned. He came across the Tatina River about 197 miles into the race, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous stretches of the entire trail. Halfway across the river, the ice disappeared from under him.

    “Next thing I knew, I was underwater. I had fallen in fully,” Ripmaster said. “I had gotten one last breath of air before I went under. And then I surfaced and there was all kinds of adrenaline going on. I started trying to swim out but every time I’d try to get out, I would fracture that ice and be back right where I was.”

    Hypothermic, he finally pulled himself out of the water and made it another 300 miles before calling it quits.

    “It was a close call and a near-death experience,” he said. “It made me question everything, especially since I am a husband and a father.”

    But there was something about the trail that kept pulling at him.

    In 2017, temperatures dipped to below -60 degrees on the trail. No one, including Ripmaster, made it more than 350 miles on foot that year.

    “You’re staying warm while you’re running. It’s the second you stop that you find how cold it is,” he said. “There’s been a handful of times I’ve been on the trail when I’ve known that if I stop and try to sleep in the weather that I’m in, there’s a darn good chance I don’t wake up.”

    Once again, Ripmaster returned home to North Carolina without accomplishing his goal.

    But in his third attempt at 1,000-miles, 2018 would prove to be his year. Six competitors started the race on foot, only two would finish.

    As he neared the end of the race on his way to winning, Ripmaster thought back to those stories that first set him on this long and humbling journey.

    “My favorite part about all these Iditarod stories was when all these mushers get to this place about 990 miles into the race where they see the lights of Nome for the first time,” Ripmaster said. “They talk about how they feel about this. Some have said they wanted to turn back toward the trail because they had gotten to such a beautiful place in their mind. They’ve been really efficient with their gear and they’re confident with what they’re doing. And now, here it is, that this is going to end.”

    Ripmaster pictured the emotional response he thought he would have finally making it across that finish line on his third attempt. But it was nothing like what he thought it would be.

    “Honestly, I had nothing in me,” he said. “I had no emotion, I was so dead on my feet. If I cried, tears wouldn’t come out. It was this epic feeling of just like I couldn’t have given anything more to the race this year.”

    He dropped 50 pounds during the three and a half weeks it took him to finish. But after years of dreaming and training and learning from his mistakes, Ripmaster left it all out on the trail. 

    Finalists

    Jo-Beth Stamm (Fayetteville, W. Va.)

    Rick Dejarnette (Richmond, Va.)

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