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Map from the Colorado Trail Foundation's poster.






Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Memories are the most beautiful pictures our minds can paint,
and nothing can ever erase them ." - unknown


So many wonderful memories from this summer . . . and so many pictures in our minds and on the computer! Some stupid computer glitch may someday erase the digital photos, but the memories that Jim and I have will last the rest of our lives.

There are several ways we'll preserve the photos:

  • Jim has copied them to CDs and a second internal hard drive.

  • I'll put more of the photos on ourPicasa pages (link at left) so viewers who weren't able to easily see the photos in the journal entries (because I put so many in this year) can more readily see the "thumbnails" and enlarge the ones they'd like to see. I can also put more photos there that I haven't included in the journal. First, however, I need to put my Appalachian Trail photos on Picasa.

  • Eventually I'll get around to printing out dozens of the photos and including them in memory albums. Again, I need to do that first with last year's AT photos and journal, and that will take a while. I can't wait to immerse myself in that creative process again. I started the AT albums in the spring but didn't take any supplies with us this summer. I prefer to play with "real" papers and embellishments in my albums, as opposed to doing digital scrapbooking.

This journal entry will be a little bit nostalgia, a little bit summary, and a little bit looking ahead to the future. I intend for it to be my last entry in this year's journal, unless something else occurs that seems relevant enough to warrant an addendum.


"For travel to be delightful, one must have a good place to leave and return to."   - Frederick B. Wilcox

It was a sad day when Jim and I left Kenosha Pass after running Segment 5 of the Colorado Trail, the last section I had time to do this summer. I wasn't sad about not finishing the CT this year; I can do that next time we're in Colorado.

What was sad was leaving behind the mountains and friends we enjoy so much and the opportunity to make MORE wonderful memories.

Sometimes you just don't know that you're making a memory. This summer we knew we were making unforgettable memories almost every day, and it was hard to say good-bye to the carefree lifestyle and big mountains and go back home.

Don't get me wrong. We love our home in Virginia - our "tree" house, our woods and yard, our neighbors and friends, our nearby city of Roanoke, and our own beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and trails. But when we're home, there's always something that "has" to be done. More responsibilities, less permission to goof off.- even though we're retired, for Pete's sake! On vacation we are better able to let our Inner Child play.

But I think the biggest reason I didn't want to go home was that I'd miss the grand adventures I had all summer! It was so doggone much fun to explore beautiful new trails, meet new people, observe nature at its finest, soak up history, and feel like I was on top of the world every time I got above tree line in the Rockies. Where will I find such adventure for the next eight months??

Ah, that is the current challenge: learning how to greet each morning at home with as much anticipation and enthusiasm as we did on our trip.

We had a good trip home, although we dreaded the much higher heat and humidity that we encountered as soon as we came down from Kenosha Pass. We were used to high temps in the 60s, maybe low 70s, and overnight in the 40s. Suddenly we were thrust into 80s and 90s, with the humidity increasing exponentially the farther east we drove. Even after three weeks, we're still adjusting to both the heat and humidity at home.

We spent about a week getting home, stopping in Illinois and Ohio to visit relatives. This is a photo of Jim and his five siblings, the first time all six have been together in several years:

Compared to all the photos I took in Wyoming and Colorado, I took very few once we started home. Consequently, I have no shots of funny roadside signs, interesting views, or my brother and his wife (there are some of them in last year's journal).

Thankfully, there were no flat tires going east!! (If you remember, we blew out two camper tires in May as we headed west.) No more rattlesnake bites, either. Other than our crappy race results, those were the two worst memories of our summer. (Obviously, memories aren't just always pleasant.)


"There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart's controls. There is advantage to the wisdom won from pain."  Ęschylus

There is some good news regarding Jim's memorable rattlesnake bite and subsequent anti-venom reaction, which were covered in the June 6 and June 17 entries.

Our first concern was that Jim was healthy and wouldn't have any more reactions to the serum. He was and he didn't. Except for his bad memories of the event, two little tooth marks on his ankle, and some healthy paranoia (both of us!) about rattlesnakes, he hasn't had any further problems from the bite and we've pretty much forgotten about it. 

It does make for interesting stories, and we can laugh about it now. Our Utah buddy, Brent Craven, gave us a funny "card" when he saw us at Leadville in August. He took one of the yellow rattlesnake warning cards that was in everyone's packet at the Big Horn races, cut out a circle, and adhered a photo of Jim. He also added what he says is a rattlesnake tooth at the side of Jim's mouth!! (Brent originally had two teeth but lost one of them.) We got a kick out of his little joke:

Our second concern was the financial cost. We heard horror stories about how expensive the anti-venom serum is, and two hospital emergency room visits and an overnight stay aren't exactly cheap, either. We sat back and "waited for the other shoe to drop," as the saying goes. How would Jim's insurance carrier respond? How far into our savings would we have to dig to pay for this emergency??

Since we were getting our mail sent to us only every three to four weeks, it took a while to receive all the insurance EOBs and medical bills. We didn't know the bottom line until we got home at the end of August - the total bill was over $22,000. Yikes!! All we can say is thank goodness for good health insurance. Jim's carrier paid well and the final bills didn't put us in the Poor House. It could have been much worse.


"We do not remember days, we remember moments." - Ceasare Pavese

I found pretty much what I expected on the Colorado Trail. If anything, the views and the wildflowers were even better than what I expected! I highly recommend this trail for hikers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians. It's a national treasure, just like the Appalachian Trail. Thank goodness there are still wilderness areas where we can go to find such solitude and beauty.

I described the Colorado Trail in my June 24 entry and made numerous comparisons on June 28 between the Appalachian Trail and the Colorado Trail, even before I'd seen much of the latter. After running and walking over three-quarters of it now, I can't think of much to change in that comparison.

The two trails are very different in many respects. As a runner, I found the CT much easier to run despite the high altitude. A higher proportion of the CT is smooth enough for a rock-challenged (i.e., clumsy!) person like me, there are no rock walls or huge boulders to climb, the ascents and descents are more gradual, there are more long-distance views above tree line, it is more isolated, and there are fewer creeks and rivers to ford.

The widest river without a bridge is the Rio Grande, shown below, and by next year hikers probably won't have to ford it on the Reservoir Road. The trail in Segments 23 and 24 is being re-routed to more closely follow the Continental Divide. There will be many more miles above the tundra when the trail is completed. The new trailhead should be near Stony Pass, above the headwaters of the Rio Grande. I'd love to do those two segments over again next year, whether the new trail is done or not.

In some ways, the weather is more predictable along the CT than the AT, at least in the summer. You pretty much know there will be rain in the early afternoon in the mountains, but the morning and evening will probably be clear. The CT was rarely muddy, despite the near-daily afternoon showers. The sky is more clear (such intense blue skies!) with much less humidity and haze. The temperatures are cooler and there are more breezes. I've found summer running and hiking much more comfortable in the Rockies than in the East, where I've lived 52 of my 57 years.

The two photos below are both from Segments 22-23, showing the bright blue skies I enjoyed in the morning and the intense storm that blew in soon after when I was on Coney Summit, the highest point on the CT.

I expected to get drenched that day because I'd hit the summit area around noon:

Day hikes (and bike rides) with a crew are generally more difficult on the CT except for a few segments where the trailheads are readily accessible. If you're staying in a motel or have a medium to large camper, it can take up to two hours to get to some of the trailheads on challenging forest service roads. If you're using a vehicle for crewing, It would be a real advantage (on either trail, actually) to have a small RV, a van, or a truck with camper top so you can sleep at the  trailheads. The trailheads on the AT are closer together and more accessible except in the Smokies and the state of Maine.

I think thru-hikers that are back-packing would find the AT easier than the CT in regards to re-supplying their provisions and finding shelter other than their tents. The AT goes through or close to towns much more frequently (again, the main exception is Maine). The CT travels through more remote wilderness than the AT - and that's one reason it appealed to me so much. There are few shelters near the CT. I haven't seen any so far like those on the AT.

Our new GPS unit came in quite handy on some of the CT segments. Jim taught me how to use the basic functions I needed to ensure I was on the right track each day. The CT isn't like the AT, with its frequent white blazes. In most places, it's nearly impossible to get lost on the AT. On the CT, it's quite likely you will get lost on some of the segments if you don't have good written directions and/or a GPS to guide you. I'm proud this "techno-phobe" (me) learned enough about the GPS to not get lost this summer.

One surprise to me was the lack of equestrians I saw on the CT. I was hoping to see more of them. Horses are allowed on the entire trail, but I saw them only one day (near Leadville, where there are some outfitters). However, I saw evidence of horse traffic on many of the segments, so they are out there.

I saw cyclists on about six segments, such as the section above near Silverton. Since they have to detour wilderness areas, cyclists can't ride the entire trail. Kamikaze bike riders were a problem for me only near Breckenridge. Otherwise, the ones I met were courteous.


"We cam do anything we want if we stick to it long enough." - Helen Keller

This summer I was able to complete 370 of the 483 miles of the CT. I still have seven of the twenty-eight segments to finish (#s 3, 4, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19), plus six miles of an adjoining segment (#14), a total of 113 miles more.

I plan to do the seven segments in four runs by combining #3 and 4 (29.3 miles at elevations of 7,420 to 10,920 feet), #16 and 17 (35.6 miles between 9,605 to 11,700 feet), and #18 and 19 (27.5 miles at elevations from 9,340 to 10,355 feet). I'll also combine the last six miles of Segment 14 with Segment 15.

Combining segments will eliminate a lot of time accessing trailheads, especially in the area between Marshall Pass and Eddiesville (Segments 16 to19). The distances aren't formidable because there isn't a lot of elevation change; none of the sections has killer climbs. If the trail surfaces are as nice as in the other segments, these ultra distances shouldn't be a problem for me to run in daylight.

I didn't "quit" the Colorado Trail because of injuries or going too slowly. I don't consider it a DNF. I stopped short because of the long distances to trailheads and the other priorities we had - the need to get to Silverton well before Hardrock, to Leadville for Jim to train on the LT100 course, and back to Illinois for Jim's sibling reunion soon after LT100. Although I originally intended to do all of the CT this summer, it became more important to be flexible and enjoy all the other things we were doing without getting too stressed out. We were juggling several different goals this summer and I'm amazed we accomplished as much as we did.

I'm really looking forward to finishing the remaining segments on the CT next year and going back to some of our favorite sections again. Such a visual treat! We lucked out this year in both the Big Horns and the San Juans because spring arrived earlier than usual and we got to enjoy the fantastic wildflower displays that we would have missed in a "normal" year. Next year we might encounter more snow. That would be scenic, too, as long as we can navigate the trails.

We also have "unfinished business" regarding the 100-milers we DNFd. Neither of us finished Big Horn and Jim got pulled at 60+ miles at Leadville. Both races were disappointing to us. Jim currently has more "drive" than me to do more hundred-milers. He's already considering which one(s) he might want to do next year, as we talk about our 2007 plans. I think it's time for me to give 100s up. I'll certainly have to be more enthusiastic about training for one than I am right now!

I haven't done a lot of running since my last two Colorado Trail segments three weeks ago. There weren't many opportunities to run on the way home, and once we got here, we were very busy unloading the camper and getting our home, yard, and life re-organized after being gone all summer. I usually take a one-month break from my normal running schedule each winter anyway. Right now is a good time for me to rest up, get back into doing weight machines and other forms of cross-training, and then resumet running with fresh legs and an eager mind in October.

We're still trying to adjust to the heat and humidity . . . I think it was easier adjusting to high altitude! Even though Jim has entered the challenging Mountain Masochist 50+ mile race nearby on Nov. 4, he's not much more motivated to get out and run right now than I am. He's getting in more miles than I am, though.

I have no racing goals this fall or winter and I'm not ready to even think about races next year. I'm not nearly as tired as I was last year when I got off the AT (boy, was I exhausted then) but I'm happy doing more walking on trails than running right now. I have a lot of strength built up and can run up hills much better than I could in the spring. In another couple weeks I'll begin ramping up my mileage again and try to maintain that hill strength through the winter. We sure have enough mountains around Roanoke to do that! We've got some longer, steeper climbs here than on the Colorado Trail, such as getting up to Tinker Cliffs from the Catawba Valley, shown below:

We both have GOT to do more speed work before spring. This year I had trouble finishing a 50K and 50-miler, not just the Big Horn 100. If I plan to do any more ultra races - of any distance - I have to put in the necessary speed training so I'm not always pushing the cut-offs. Maybe I should become an ultra walker and only enter races with very generous time limits!

The only thing we know about next summer's plans is this: we want to spend several weeks in the Silverton and Leadville areas again because they are so beautiful, our friends are there training for Hardrock and LT100, and camping is free. There are other race venues where we could hang out and enjoy our friends and beautiful trails, but the camping is more expensive. Cost is a major factor in our decision, especially if diesel fuel prices remain high. Fuel was our biggest expense on this year's trip.

We have plenty of time to decide which other races we'll attend and/or run next summer. I'll probably do another journal then because I enjoy recording our experiences and sharing photos and other information with our readers. We're still getting nice e-mails from runners and hikers who have found the AT journal to be very helpful, and I'm hoping my CT impressions will be useful to folks, too.


"Risk assessment is one of the toughest challenges we face. What most of us on this list [the internet ultra list] understand -- and most people do 
not -- is the very real cost of never taking any risks." -
Mark Swanson

Being adventuresome souls, Jim and I recently took a risk that we are glad we took.

A young man from Maine started corresponding with us last November after finding our Appalachian Trail journal. Since he has to work and can't take the necessary time off for a thru-hike, Eric has been section-hiking the AT on his vacations the past two years and doing day hikes on the Trail on weekends in New Hampshire and Maine. He has already completed 821 miles, 38% of the Trail, by doggedly pursuing his goals of finishing the AT and climbing all the mountains over 4,000 feet in the New England states.

He's clicking off the miles and the mountains so quickly that he jokes his "10-Year Plan" is becoming a "5-Year Plan." At the rate he's going, I predict he'll finish both goals even before that.

Like me, Eric has physical reasons for being unable to back-pack and stay out on the trail overnight. So he does point-to-point or loop day hikes. One of the reasons Eric was particularly interested in our journal is that his wife, Lynn, generously crews for him like Jim does for me. The information we provided about AT trailheads and trail conditions has been helpful as Eric plans his hiking segments. Lynn usually hikes in with him about a mile, returns to the car, drives to the rendezvous point, and hikes in again to meet Eric at the end.

Eric was inspired to begin writing his own hiking journal (www.ericexplores.com) to describe his AT hikes and mountain climbing. Jim and I have enjoyed reading his engaging entries and corresponding with him the last ten months. He seemed like a sincere guy and we started to feel like friends, not just internet acquaintances. I have learned over the years to trust my intuition.

In his first letter, Eric mentioned that during his vacations this year he planned to hike south from Harper's Ferry through as much of Virginia as possible. He's already completed West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. 

Before we left for Wyoming in May, we realized that Eric and Lynn might be getting close to Roanoke during his two-week hike in northern Virginia in early  September. We offered to let them stay at our house for a night or two if we were back in time from our trip and if they got down as far as the Roanoke area.

We did get back in time. Eric hiked steadily for two weeks through northern Virginia and down to the Tye River at The Priest. Although he didn't reach Roanoke, the couple was motivated enough to meet us that Eric skipped about a hundred miles of the AT to drive on down to our area for his last hike of this trip so we could hike it together. (He'll do the section between here and there on his next trip.)

That was the risky part - inviting someone into our home that we'd never met in person, only over the internet. I got paranoid early in my AT trek last year when a man who was reading our journal got overly eager to meet us. I won't go into details, but I felt like he was stalking me. I was concerned all summer that he'd show up unexpectedly. But my intuition told me Eric wasn't like this. We didn't get any negative "vibes" from him, so we invited him and his wife to stay with us.

I'm glad I trusted my instincts. Eric and Lynn are genuinely nice people and we had a good visit. We've even invited them back again in November, when Eric is using two more weeks of vacation time to hike in Virginia. (I think I'll introduce him to Dragon's Tooth then! It involves rock climbing.)

Eric amused me when he wrote that he had begun to RUN some on his hikes in the Shenandoah Mountains before he came to Roanoke. He said he could cover more ground that way, but I suspected it was also to prepare for his hike with me because he thought I'd be bored just walking. Not so. I tried to reassure him it wasn't necessary to run. He walks faster than me and I know he had to slow down so I could keep up with him. We did run down some of the hills after he said he'd like to run them.

Do we have a new trail runner in the making?? Guess I'm a bad influence on him!

The AT section we chose to hike includes Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob, one of the most recognizable landmarks on the entire Trail. Eric got ten new AT miles on our hike (in just two weeks, he hiked 9% of the Trail) and three bonus miles on the Andy Layne Trail. Lynn did the first mile and the last two with us. She walks mighty fast, too! Jim and Cody ran the opposite direction so they could go faster and we met them between the two mountains.

This is a photo of Eric standing under a boulder in this section of the AT:

I'm afraid I've been a bad influence on Eric in another way, too. After reading our journal this summer, he's added "Colorado Trail" to his list of long trails to hike!


"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."   - unknown

That's it for our 2006 journal. Unless I think of something else to say about this summer's adventures, this will be my last entry for several months. I hope the information we've shared about the Colorado Trail, the Big Horns, Silverton, Leadville, and other places we visited will be helpful to some folks, or at least entertaining or educational. Thanks for your comments and feedback; we appreciate your letters.

Don't forget to get out there and have lots of your own adventures! You don't have to journey very far from home to find new and interesting things to do and see. Go make some great memories!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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