I ran today's section backwards through the rocks and roots and ups and
You're thinking, "Is this woman nuts?? How could she do that??"
Well, yes, I'm a little nuts for even being out here doing this trek, but no,
I don't mean "retro-running," if that's what you're thinking.
Literally running backwards is hard enough on pavement (although some folks
perhaps more nuts than me have run entire marathons backwards). It would have
been impossible on today's section of the AT - or any section of the AT.
Although back on Monday, when it was excruciating to walk downhill with Lynn,
let alone run, I did walk backwards a few times on smooth trail to
relieve the quad pain. Seriously - ask her!
What I did today was run SOBO (southbound) on the Trail instead of NOBO. And
it was plenty weird. It would have been much more exciting to be heading
toward Fontana Dam and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than away
But as I explained at the end of yesterday's entry, if I'd done the section
from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam northbound today, I'd have a five-mile section
of downhill at the end. And that could have really strained my sore knee/quad(s).
So I sucked it up and did another day of excessive uphill, and it seems to
have worked. I didn't have any knee pain for the first time in several days. Now
I'm psyched to get into the Smokies.
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of thru-hikers in any given year have
dropped out by now, so I'm in an exclusive minority right now, even if I'm going
slower than I had planned.
To avoid some of the predicted heat, and prepare myself for a very
early start on Friday, Jim and I forced ourselves to get up at 6 AM and I was on
the Trail at 7:30, my earliest start so far. It didn't look like there would be
much water along the way for Cody, so we gave him the day off.
I soon discovered one big disadvantage of hiking southbound,
against the main traffic, this early in the morning. I was the first one out
there. And every trail runner knows what that means on a warm
spring morning in a lush forest:
I got to clear all the spider webs for everyone else!!!
Although I don't usually carry a trekking pole when I train or do ultra
races, it has come in mighty handy on this little run in the woods. And I found
another use for it today - clearing spider webs before my face hit them.
Trekking poles are about as versatile as duct tape.
CHARACTER OF THE TRAIL
There was mist all over Fontana Lake when I started, but the Trail was clear.
I started at about 1,710 feet and had an ascent of 2,310 feet to the crest of
Yellow Creek Mountain in the first five miles. Some of the Trail was gradual,
some was steep and without benefit of switchbacks.
Although I still had plenty of elevation gain and loss and continual ups and
downs along the ridge tops, I didn't get over 4,000 feet today. It was an easier
day than yesterday, even going the harder direction (south). I was able to run
35 to 40% of the distance today, more than the previous section.
I didn't get above the new deciduous leaf line all day, so there was a little
more shade than yesterday. The flowers only reached to about 3,500 feet and were
most profuse under 3,000 feet. I saw bright fire pink for the first time near
the Nantahala River yesterday (the first really red flower this season) and a
new type of trillium today with a yellow flower.
As usual, some of the Trail today was smooth and runnable and some was very
rocky. Even a mountain goat couldn't run on some of these slanted boulders. I
had to pick my way through them carefully.
I ran into (well, not literally!) more blow-downs and huge uprooted trees in
this section than in any other so far. The Trail had to be re-routed around some
of them. Probably more damage from last summer's hurricane remnants.
Between Cody Gap and Hogback Gap I could hear a chainsaw. I'd been alone for
several miles, and visions of "B" grade movies danced through my head. I could
picture some thieves cutting down wood illegally and needing to eliminate the
But instead I found a little dog and two kindly gentlemen from the Smoky
Mountains Hiking Club, the local AT maintaining club, clearing the Trail. One
played the role of comic, one the straight man. I enjoyed about ten minutes of
conversation with them, thanked them for all their hard work, and ran on.
The comic's solution for my sore knee? Stop running, of course! (Or was
that the serious one??)
OTHER CHARACTERS ON THE TRAIL
One of the disconcerting things about going south instead of north was that
the mountains that were on my right side yesterday (the Smokies) were on my
right today! And instead of being on the left, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest,
dedicated to the author of the poem, "Trees," was on the "wrong" side, too.
But there was a nice advantage to going "against the traffic" today, and it
illustrates why I haven't seen very many hikers when I'm going north. The
majority of us are going north, starting different times and places each day,
and it's so much easier to see them when you're going the opposite way than it
is to catch up to (or be caught) going the same direction.
That was crystal clear, right?
Two hours into my run this morning I saw Big Foot coming toward me. He
appreciated the spider-web removal job I did for him so his remaining hike down
to the dam would be more pleasurable. He'd done the same for me, but only for
the next mile to the shelter where he'd spent the night. Then I had to watch for
spider webs again.
Big Foot was ending his section hike today and going home to Knoxville, but
may be back out on the AT in a couple weeks to find his new thru-hiking friends
farther up the Trail. We spent about ten minutes talking before moving on in
At the end of the next long downhill, I found myself ten feet from the rear
of the Cable Gap shelter, which was practically sitting on the Trail. I knew
from Big Foot that there were three male thru-hikers there, so I yelled to see
if everyone was decent. They were.
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA
I spent the next twenty minutes chatting with Santa (Jim from Pennsylvania),
Cheese Factory (Andrew), and Dillinger. I had forgotten to get a photo of Santa
yesterday, and hadn't met the two young men before, so I took pictures of all
three. I should be seeing all of them again.
Cheese Factory is the young man with the full head of hair (see photo above)
and lip ring that my Jim gave a cold Pepsi to yesterday. He was still
grateful. There was a very long dry section before the hikers got to the shelter
with a stream running out front, and it helped "Cheese" get there. He'd wanted
to get to Fontana Dam yesterday, but the heat and lack of water delayed his
progress. He was eagerly looking forward to the cookies he hoped to receive in a
mail drop in Fontana.
I asked Cheese Factory the story behind his name. He looked at Dillinger and
turned a little red. I said, "Maybe I don't want to know. Wouldn't have anything
to do with the phrase, 'cutting the cheese,' would it?" They both laughed
and said yes.
I'll try not to get behind him on the Trail!
Cheese says he gave Dillinger his Trail name because he's so diligent and
plans out each day so carefully, not because he's handy with guns.
The last thru-hiker I saw was Dave Kelly, who Jim and I met at Winding Stairs
several days ago. I called Jim about two miles from the end of today's section
to let him know my progress, and Dave ("Capt. Morgan") was at the truck then.
Jim gave him a gallon of water, which he'll need for that dry section. When Dave
reached me on the Trail a few minutes later, we also talked about ten minutes.
So today's not-quite fifteen-mile section took me about six hours, but almost
an hour of that was talking to folks. I actually made better time than yesterday
because I could run more.
And I had no knee pain!!
View of the Smokies from
Wauchecha Bald in North Carolina. 5-12-05
My choices for tomorrow boil down to this:
1. Take three rest days (drive home Friday, stopping in Damascus to check out
Trail Days, do what needs to be done at home, and return to this area on Sunday
night after stopping briefly in Damascus on the way back). Then start the
70-mile, three-day Smokies section on Monday. I've never been to Trail Days, the
annual thru-hikers' get-together. Folks say it's a lot of fun.
2. Go ahead and run/walk the longest, hardest roadless section of the entire
AT, the 32-mile stretch between Fontana Dam and the Clingman's Dome parking lot,
with a knee that may give out after 15 or 20 miles. Oh, yeah, Clingman's Dome is
also the highest point on the AT. Do an 8-mile section on Saturday, and the
second long stretch of 30 miles on Sunday.
Guess which one I chose?? (I've made my decision already.)
Check back here tomorrow or Saturday to find out!