Hell Hole Gator Trot 10K Jamestown, SC
The renown of Hell Hole Swamp dates back to the Revolutionary War. In a letter to King George, General Cornwallis called the swamp—from which Francis Marion (Mel Gibson’s character in "The Patriot") and his band of guerrillas mounted their attacks and then vanished—"one hell of a hole of a swamp." Now, the legendary swamp is home to the oldest 10K in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and one of the most entertaining races anywhere. The Hell Hole Gator Trot, as it is formally called (though aptly and lovingly referred to as the Red Neck Run), is part of the "World Famous" Hell Hole Swamp Festival held annually the first week of May in Jamestown, SC, a tiny speed trap on the edge of Francis Marion National Forest. Wedged between a horseshoe pitching tournament and a tobacco spitting contest, the back-woods charm of the race is undeniable—due in no small part to the shotgun start, when "an old coot in overalls waddles to the start line with the gun he used to kill last night’s supper." The Confederate flag-waving locals, despite having watched the race for the last 28 years, still marvel as to why anyone would run if they weren’t being chased. Water station volunteers can be heard saying "Look at that one there. He’s done near tuckered out," and not sound strange. The experience culminates at the award ceremony, where race founder Michael Lake crowns the winners with laurel wreaths made by his mother and recites a commemorative poem he frantically pens while the race is in progress. Anyone brave enough to stick around can sample the results of the moonshine brewing contest and join the evening’s good ol’ fashioned country dance. Of the perfectly flat course, only the first and last mile is paved. The rest is run on crushed-rock logging roads that, depending on rainfall the days before the race, can range anywhere between hard and dusty to shoe-swallowing mush. Without a drop of rain in days, the course this year was dry and hard. Towering pines shade the course with a canopy one hundred feet overhead, keeping things cool for runners. The thick underbrush that engulfs the narrow course is home to all kinds of creepy-crawlies, including wild turkey, boars, snakes, alligators, and bugs the size of small cars. This year, the muggy 80-degree morning kept most of the critters hidden, but several snakes and a couple of turkeys were spotted. "I didn’t see any alligators, but I think there were some bugs that could have carried me off," said Melissa Berkey, a New Jersey native who recently moved to Santee, SC. Berkey was one of many new runners, from as far away as Colorado, who along with the core of 20 diehards that have been running the race since its inception, were drawn to the swamp to see if the legends are true.