What a nice guy! Dave ended up being my Trail Angel today. More about him as
the saga unfolds.
After all the grandeur of the Smokies, I didn't have great expectations about
today's run. I knew Max Patch Mountain is supposed to have some nice views of
the surrounding mountains, but I was stopping at the road access 1/2 mile below
The AT guidebook gives details about turns and water sources and such, but
doesn't tell you this 15-mile section is like the Garden of Eden! No, I had to
discover that myself.
Good thing, because I was dwelling on how beautiful a day it was - sunny,
cooler, nice breeze - and wishing I'd run the Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap
section today so I could have enjoyed all those marvelous views in the Smokies.
I was bummed about the hindsight-foresight thing.
Today's run was designed to be a restful day so my mind and body could
recover from the rigors of yesterday's long run. I estimated it would take me
six hours because it was a net elevation gain taking me from a low of 1,400 feet
at the Pigeon River Gorge to a high of about 4,400 feet where I ended near the
top of Max Patch (with the usual ups and downs in between).
I also planned to go slowly - even slower than usual. I ended up one minute
faster than planned, the closest I've guessed so far.
Half a mile from the start of today's section I was drawn into a cool,
shady green haven along a beautiful creek named State Line Branch because it is
on the NC/TN state line. The AT has been following the state line very closely
The Trail crossed this creek several times on rocks so I didn't have to get
wet. The Trail and the creek both descended quickly, giving me views of many
little cascades. One with about five different levels was higher than any I've
seen so far along the AT.
It was a nice "good morning" from the Trail to a tired runner who needed a
pick-me-up. By the time I got to the ugly road section, I was in great spirits.
The Trail was still wet from yesterday's rain and I was slipping around, but
most of the rest of this section was dry and very runnable, smooth Trail.
Now that was bliss compared to all the rocks and roots yesterday!
MEETING TREAD WELL
Within a mile and a half the Trail came out on a little road with a bridge
over the Pigeon River. I followed the white AT blazes, which were painted on
posts, the guardrails, and the supports for I-40, the first interstate I've had
to cross. The left turn to the underpass was not clear, but Jim and I had looked
for the route yesterday so I knew where to go.
I got a little scared when I saw a white pick-up truck stop on the other
side, next to the gravel road I had to use to get to the trail head going up
Snowbird Mountain. A middle-aged man in overalls got out and just stared at me.
I dug out my cell phone and pretended to make a phone call as I neared the
truck, not knowing what to expect.
Then I relaxed as I saw a young man get out of the passenger side and get his
back-pack out of the bed of the pick-up. No problem! He's probably the hiker's
But the older man gave me the creeps when he started asking me questions
about how far I was going, why was my pack so small, etc. So I focused on the
younger man and gave vague answers in front of the older fella, who could have
been just a friendly redneck - or the local rapist. I have to go by instinct and
intuition out here. He's the first guy who's given me the creeps on this trek.
The younger man, who I thought was in his 30s, said he was section-hiking to
Hot Springs. I allowed as to how I was going in that direction, too. I told him
I was a trail runner being crewed by my husband, explaining the small pack.
Dave, the younger man, said he was a fast-packer and had just been to Trail Days
in Damascus, where he talked with his friend, Brian Robinson (of 2001 Triple
Crown fame) and had the pleasure to meet another long-trail runner, David
IT'S A SMALL WORLD #2
This is the second guy I've met in three days who actually knows ultra
runners I know! Dave AKA "Tread Well" said he was very impressed with David's
accomplishments and manner, and later told me he's inspired by folks like us in
our mid-50s who are such active athletes. We were mutually surprised at each
other's ages. I guessed him to be in his 30s, but he's 43.
About that time we noticed another NOBO hiker who missed the turn to go under
the freeway. If he'd kept going on the entrance ramp to I-40, he wouldn't be too
happy. So we yelled and waved and he came toward us. Before he got
there, I said good-bye to Dave and began the three-mile ascent to Snowbird
Mountain. The other hiker put his pack in the truck and left with the older man.
Tread Well soon caught up to me. He's very fast uphill! We chatted for a bit
before he went on ahead of me. I didn't expect to ever see him again. I learned
that he's from Atlanta, where I used to live, and the older man was a stranger
who gave him a ride from town this morning. Tread Well agreed that I should be
cautious of strangers at trail heads because some may be up to no good when they
see a woman hiking alone.
I saw a total of eight hikers today. Only one other man was a thru-hiker. He
goes by his real first name, Laszlo. I was a bit surprised when he said he was
thru-hiking because he was going south and Katahdin only recently opened to
hikers (such as Andrew Thompson, who left yesterday on his quest to set a new AT
speed record). Laszlo lives in PA. He began there, is going to GA, then
flip-flopping to ME and will end in PA. That's a different kind of flip-flop
than I've heard before.
Laszlo gave me an update on Warren Doyle's crewed group of nine hikers. They
are getting to Hot Springs today, so they're just one day ahead of me now. Hope
to catch them this week before we go home for a couple days.
Well, not immediately. First I had to get away from the noise of busy I-40.
The switchbacks up Snowbird wound up and up forever, but always on the west and
south side of the mountain, above the freeway. I tried to focus on the visual
delights of beautiful wildflowers and noisy creeks, but couldn't drown out the
road noise completely until I was an hour into the climb.
I've truly been spoiled by the solitude and remoteness of most of the first 235
miles of this adventure run.
The hike up Snowbird was pleasant otherwise. There were several places where the
switchbacks leveled off or even went downhill slightly, giving my legs a break
so I could run and use different muscles. The uphill muscles are still tired
from all this elevation change - and the high mileage (for me). I ran/walked 123
miles for the week ending yesterday, the most I have ever done in one
week, even when I've finished a 100-mile race.
The Trail was so smooth today that I ran about 40% of it. The rest was
uphill. I still managed to turn my right ankle twice. Once I caught my balance
with my trekking pole (it has broken several falls the last two weeks). The
other time I fell backwards onto a log and dirt "step" going down Snowbird
Mountain. The ankle isn't swollen, and I was able to continue running.
This section was full of sensual delights: the sounds of the birds
and creeks, the visual beauty of numerous flowers. I saw more flowers in the
last seven miles today, especially on the climb up Max Patch, than I've seen
anywhere else on this adventure run. I'm talking whole hillsides of trilliums,
spiderworts, and violets. There were also fire pinks, blue irises, flame
azaleas, mountain laurels, and other gorgeous yellow, white, and blue flowers
all along the way.
There were several steep pitches going up Max Patch from Brown Gap. Mother
Nature thoughtfully provided several well-placed downed tree trunks and large
rocks that made nice "benches" next to the Trail. They were worn enough from
previous hikers' bottoms that I knew I wasn't the first to sit down on the way
up that mountain to catch my breath and admire the flowers a little closer up .
On this ascent I noticed thousands of little grasshopper-type insects that
would hop crazily as I walked by. It sounded like large rain drops hitting the
dry, dead leaves on the forest floor. When I would stop, so would they. The
become silent again. It was hard to see the little insects, but they amused me.
TODAY'S TRAIL ANGEL
I was pleased to get to my rendezvous point, Max Patch Road, one minute
before my estimated time. Uh, oh, Jim's not here! We always have to consider
there might be a locked gate somewhere, as happened back near Standing Indian,
but several vehicles passed by so that wasn't a problem.
I found a shady spot to sit and wait. I was able to leave a message for Jim
on his cell phone, but he was obviously in a spot with no service or he'd have
answered. When I got chilly, I put on my Marmot pants and jacket.
Soon Dave, AKA Tread Well, came by. I assumed he was well ahead of me, already
at his campsite on Max Patch. But he'd stopped at the shelter we passed for
lunch, and I by-passed it because I had no need to go 4/10 of a mile out of my
way. It was good to see him again.
Dave was determined to wait until Jim came, so we had a pleasant conversation
for 45 minutes about the major lifestyle changes he and his wife are making
(getting out of the corporate rat race and stressful city of Atlanta). He also
told me about his interest in light packs and fast-packing. He sometimes writes
for a hiking magazine about nutritious, tasty lightweight food and trail
medicine. He knows folks in the business of making lightweight hiking gear, one
of his reasons for going to Trail Days. We talked more about Horton and
Robinson, fast-packers/ runners he admires.
When Jim and the dogs arrived around 5:15, Jim gave Dave some much-needed
water and the guys tried to figure out another way for us to go home to avoid
the accident which caused Jim's delay. Then it was time for us to head home and
for Dave to hike the rest of the way up Max Patch to find a campsite.
Thanks, Dave, for staying with me until Jim came. That was "over and beyond,"
but illustrates how hikers take care of each other on the Trail.
A BAD DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CREWPERSON
Crewing on a trek like this is tough. Ask Diana Shivers. She has a lot of
empathy for Jim. He has bad days just as I do, and today was one of them.
After taking me to the trailhead this morning (a drive of 30 minutes each
way from our campground at Newport, TN), Jim went to Wal-Mart to get needed
groceries and supplies. He hates shopping at big box stores, but he needed to
save time by not going to several stores for what he needed. He got diesel fuel
and went back to the campground.
After doing several loads of wash at the laundry in the campground, he got
the dogs and camper ready for the move to Hot Springs. The road was winding and
hilly. He doesn't remember any bumps or too-fast curves, but somehow the TV fell
from its cupboard 42" above the floor and landed on the table fan sitting on the
floor. Both were cracked. The TV still works, but the fan probably won't.
Then the slide-out that was giving him trouble two weeks ago wouldn't work.
The bolt fell out. He needed my help to fix it, so that didn't get done until we
got "home" at 6:30.
The final straw was the accident with the logging truck on the way to pick me
up. That delayed him over an hour. Then he almost missed Dave and me at the
trailhead parking area because the AT blazes weren't clear from the road. We
had to go a different (longer) way home to avoid the accident. It was a tortuous
mountainous dirt road north to the paved road Jim had traveled earlier in the
day, but we finally made it home.
Usually Jim helps me clean my gear and prepare for the next day's run. He
also cooks supper. Tonight I did those chores while he repaired the slide-out
and got cleaned up. I was the one in the better mood and not as tired today, so
we reversed roles. We have to be adaptable and help each other out. I'm
dependent on his help to make my AT dream come true. I'll do whatever is
necessary, even if it means slowing down even more - running fewer miles each
day, taking more time off, whatever.
Thank you, Jim, for all you're doing for me. I can't do this without you.