Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
Start: Hot Springs, NC                                        
End:  Allen Gap, NC/TN
Today's Miles:                      14.7
Cumulative Miles:             283.9
"The future does not belong to those who are content with today . . . it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason, and courage in a personal commitment."   - Robert F. Kennedy
(message on front of card my sister sent me this week)

View of Hot Springs, NC from Lover's Leap

Lady's Slipper    5-18-05

I really, really need a day or two for recovery. That was quite clear during today's run.

I use the term "run" loosely, as I was dead tired and brain-dead today. Fatigue and a rougher trail made for minimal running, only about 25% of the miles.

After looking at the elevation profile for today's section, my thought was "piece of cake." I had to get up to only 3,670 feet on two mountains, not near as high as the 5,000 and 6,000+ foot ones I've recently climbed. And the section was less than 15 miles long.

What I failed to do was read the guide book pages describing this section, with detailed directions for all the turns (as of 2001, when the book was updated last). So I had lots of surprises today, most of them unpleasant.

Every other day on the Trail, I've read the description and directions the night or morning before getting to the trailhead. Sometimes I do this in the truck as Jim's driving me there. I usually don't take the pages with the turns, however. I rely on those white blazes.


This morning I was distracted by getting things ready to take home after the run and forgot to read the guide while I was eating breakfast. And we didn't have to drive to the trailhead. Yesterday I just stepped off the official AT route on the main street going through Hot Springs and into our campground next to the French Broad River.

All I had to do this morning was walk back out to the campground entrance, and I was on the AT!

Jim and Tater, our older yellow Lab, accompanied me over the long bridge across the river (it really is a broad river) and we lost the white blazes within two minutes! If I'd read the guide, I would have known the AT goes right over the guardrail at the far end of the bridge and down a steep, rocky "trail" to the street below. Instead, we walked a couple blocks out of our way and had to ask a resident where to go.

After returning to the bridge, Jim waved goodbye, confident I was on the Trail, and within another block I lost the doggone blazes again! This didn't really surprise me, because I've read that the toughest places to follow the Trail are through towns. Another resident pointed me to the Trail where it entered the woods next to the river. (When I read the directions later, I didn't understand them, either!)

The Trail is at an elevation of about 800 feet along the French Broad River. I enjoyed walking the 4/10ths mile right next to this wide, shallow river and wondered where hikers go when it floods. The Trail was only a few feet above the water, with a wall of rock on the other side.

I tried running the flat trail here, but my stomach was too full from the large breakfast I'd just eaten. So I walked. It was the first time I'd had a flat start. Except for the downhill start at Springer Mountain on Day 1, every day has been up from gaps where I've begun each morning.


It didn't take long before I got to go up - like 1,000 feet up steep, rocky switchbacks to Lover's Leap. If I'd read the guide, I would have known this was not only a nasty climb but also a dangerous one with loose rocks on the narrow trail next to the edge of a very high drop-off.

I would not want to be going down this Trail with a full backpack or in a big hurry, or I might end up in the river several hundred feet below. Going up was strenuous on my already-tired legs, but it was safer.

As you'd expect, there's a Cherokee Indian legend surrounding this huge rock face above the river. Supposedly, a maiden of the local tribe, Mist-in-the-Mountain, threw herself from the crag after her lover was killed by a rival.

I met my first trail-character-of-the-day part way up this mountain. I could hear hikers talking loudly on the switchback above me. But only one older gentleman with a German accent came toward me. He gave me a hearty "good day!" and kept on going.

He was talking to himself. I do this some myself, but not so loudly other people can hear me! (Unless I've just fallen; my verbalizations are louder in those cases.)

I had a smile on my face as I inched toward Lover's Leap. I enjoyed the views across the river to Hot Springs and the mountains beyond from two different rock outcroppings.


My other reward for climbing to Lover's Leap Ridge was seeing my first Lady's Slipper along the Trail. I just love these delicate pink flowers. I've never seen more than one plant at a time, although my wildflower book shows a bunch in one photo.

Later on Rich Mountain I saw the first Lilies of the Valley in bloom on this trek. I've seen the distinctive leaves since Springer Mountain, but these are the first flowers I've noticed.

There were more mountain laurels flowering along this ridge and down to the Rt. 25/70 road crossing than I've seen before. The buds are pink, but the flowers are predominantly white when they open. They should peak in a few days.

I enjoyed running along the first ridge despite more rocks today than the last two days. I could hear the river roaring 1,000 feet below me as it flowed over shoals and echoed in the valley. Sure beat road noise!

I was never certain when I was in either NC or TN today. Since the Smokies, the AT has followed many ridges where the state lines meet. That's why I haven't mentioned when I hit my third state. I wasn't sure, and there was no sign Friday when the phenomenon began. In a few days, I'll leave NC for good and be in TN.

The only other hikers I saw today were in the first four miles. An older couple with backpacks was hiking south, and 17 (!) noisy teenagers with three adults hiked several miles out and back with no packs from the Mill Ridge recreational area.


One of today's nice surprises was a peaceful little pond at the top of a short hill. I could see the concrete dam and thought I was coming out onto a road. Instead, I found two inviting benches along the Trail, overlooking the pond. I sat for a couple minutes to let the tranquility soak in. I enjoyed listening to the birds and frogs.

What happened next may not have been prevented by reading my guide book; when I read it later, it didn't jive with the blazes at Mill Ridge. I think there must have been a trail relocation here.

I followed the blazes along a dirt road that was part of a wildlife habitat managed by the USFS and NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Mill Ridge is a brood area for grouse and turkeys, as well as a mountain biking area.

I failed to follow the blazes correctly down the road past the parking area for the bike trails because of double blazes at the entrance to the parking area that indicated a turn. I wasted about 50 minutes trying desperately to find the correct route. Finally some forest service workers showed up and showed me where to go.

This is an indication of how tired I was. Normally, I wouldn't follow a trail very long if there were no blazes, but I thought I was going the right way, based on the bike trails map posted in the parking lot. I was pretty frustrated and near tears until I was pointed in the right direction.


I tried to literally and figuratively "chill out" on the climb up Rich Mountain. At the first little creek in a bend in the Trail, I wet my "Cool Off" neckerchief and washed the sweat off my face, arms, and legs. The cool cloth feels good on my neck when I'm running, and it's nice to wipe off my face periodically. I felt a little better, although the 1,300-foot climb was wearing me down. As I said, I was tired before I even began this "run."

I was in "self-pity" mode.

Then it happened. As I approached the next little creek in a corner of the Trail, I spotted a BIG black bear - not just cubs! I don't know if it was male or female. I was getting a drink in the creek when it saw me. (S)he looked at me and immediately bounded up the steep hillside.

Boy, those big guys can move fast!

That broke my pity reverie. I wasn't as paranoid as last Friday after my first bear sighting, but it made me more alert. I never did see any bear scat today.

It definitely made my day to see another bear. I rationalized that if I hadn't gotten "lost" back at Mill Ridge, I never would have seen this bear.

I can rationalize just about anything!


There's a double meaning to this sub-title. Yesterday, I had loads of energy and ran well. I must have used up this week's quota, however, because I just dragged today. After getting off-track for nearly an hour, I knew I'd be very late and Jim would worry about me. I couldn't reach him by phone, but was able to leave a message from the top of Rich Mountain (he had no signal to retrieve it, though).

There were many beautiful flowers at the top of Rich Mountain and down to Hurricane Gap - trilliums and spiderworts were prolific. The pastoral views of the valleys and mountains were very calming.

Then the oddest thing occurred as I entered the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area. I started crunching dead rhododendron leaves on the Trail. I thought maybe they'd succumbed to insects or a fungus, much like the hemlock problem at Clingman's Dome.

Then I noticed there had been a FIRE here. To my left, the ground was black. There were no dead leaves on the forest floor. The tree trunks were blackened and pine needles burned up about 10 or 12 feet. Some green plants were coming through the blackened earth, however.

I took this photo of the burn area looking backwards, so right and left are reversed from how I was running through this area.

Oddly, everything was bright green to my right. Nothing was singed or burned. Dead leaves littered the forest floor as normal.

It took a few minutes for me to realize this wasn't a monumental firefighting effort on the Tennessee side of the Trail to my left. This was a controlled burn!  Duh.

Jim saw a sign at Allen Gap indicating there would be such a burn in early April. There was no sign going my direction, so I was fascinated with this burned-on-left, green-on-right phenomenon for about five miles. Amazingly, there were almost as many flowers blooming in the burn area as the unburned North Carolina woods to my right.

It was a weird sensation when my mind and body were already in "burnout" mode.

Definitely time for a little break.

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

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  2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil