On my day off, I'd like to share some miscellaneous observations about my AT
Adventure Run three weeks into the trek. I've learned a lot and know I have a
lot more to learn before I reach Mt. Katahdin.
First, this is hard! Not just the physical act of running this very
difficult trail, but all the logistics involved, like determining how far to go
each day. It's based as much on road access as how I feel or the vagaries of the
Trail (elevation gain and loss, how rocky it is, etc.).
The trek is mostly meeting my expectations. I knew it would be hard
physically because I'm not only running more mileage than I've ever done, but
the terrain is also tougher. I knew it would take me several weeks to get my "trail
legs." I'm almost there. I can feel my body adapting to the rigors of the Trail
and the daily routine.
Most mornings I'm anxious mentally to get out on the Trail, but my body wants
just one more hour of sleep! I've been staying up too late at night and not
getting up early enough in the morning. As it gets hotter and hotter, and as I
start increasing my mileage, I've got to get on the Trail earlier.
WHY BE NORMAL?
I feel like a strange hybrid of runner-hiker. This is the way I've always
envisioned doing the AT (long run each day, sleeping in camper at night). The
closest example of this mode of traveling the AT is Regis Shivers, whose wife
Diana crewed him during his successful 2003 AT thru-run. I'm fortunate to be
able to correspond with them now that Regis is feeling better. They are good
cheerleaders and full of helpful information.
I love the sheer joy of running in the wilderness every day, discovering new
places and people. I'm taking the time to savor it, too. I listen, observe,
photograph, write. I don't miss much, even when I'm running. In this way, I'm
more like a traditional thru-hiker than other runners I know who have done the
Trail. Horton, Palmer, Thompson, Robinson, and Shivers all ran much faster and
farther each day than I can.
I knew going into this that women are in the minority of thru-hikers, even
section hikers, on the AT. I've observed very few women out here, especially
older women. I'm a curiosity to other hikers, particularly when I tell them I'm
retired or give them my age (I'm proud of being 56!).
One reason I'm writing so much about this experience is so others who are
mid- to back-of-the-pack runners - male or female - can see what an average
runner can accomplish with enough desire, time, and a crew. You don't have to be
an elite runner to finish a long trail!
I'm gaining confidence I can do this, barring serious injury or crew mutiny
(Jim's got a hard job to do)! Although I've completed only 13% of the total
distance so far, I've done the most difficult part in the southern half of the
AT and I've already gone farther than 3/4 of thru-hikers in most years.
They say this is all preparation for Maine!
Progress on the AT can be measured many ways:
- days, weeks, months elapsed
- particular distances (500 miles, 1,000 miles, half way, etc.)
- significant places (Neel's Gap, Fontana Dam, Damascus, Harper's Ferry,
- new states (I'm in the third of fourteen states now)
- new map sets. AT maps and guide books come in 10 or 11 sets. I'm done with
the GA/NC set and working on the TN/NC set now.
- dot on map above left and on the big linear map of the AT in our camper to
indicate how far I've gone.
I sometimes wish there were mile markers along the AT like on the Blue Ridge
Parkway so I could watch the miles go by. (Sometimes that would be nice in trail
ultras, too.) Then I realize how obsessive that is. I'm
trying to be more mellow in my second 50 years; it's part of my grand Life Plan
Anyway, the constant trail relocations would make mile markers obsolete before they
were even erected.
I have lost two pounds since I began this adventure run. My eating habits
started changing very soon. I have to eat more fat and protein than previously,
but I've experienced no digestive problems so far. It's just hard to eat as much
as my body craves. I often wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
I'm not drinking enough water most days, although it seems like I'm
constantly sucking on my water tube. I've run out only one day. The springs and
creeks aren't always flowing or located where the maps say they are, and this
will worsen as it gets hotter this summer and sources dry up. Sometimes the
water is really gross and I won't even get it. I'm just using iodine and Aqua
Mira, which don't get all the bugs out.
My nutrition plan is working very well. I like both the Perpetuem and
Sustained Energy. I use them concentrated in a hand-held bottle and wash them
down with water from the bladder. I alternate them with Hammergel. I tried solid
foods on the two very long days in the Smokies, but it took too much time to eat
and it was hard to get them down (peanut butter sandwich, harvest muffins). I'll
take solid food only on 12-14 hour days, not shorter ones.
My feet are doing well. I used the new Blist-O-Ban bandages that I read about
in one of John Vonhof's e-newsletters several months ago, and really like them.
They are very thin and stay on two or three days if I'm careful taking my socks
off. I used them the first week on three calluses that tend to get blisters
under them. When I ran out, I used the less-effective, less-sticky current
version of Compeed blister patches, but they come off as soon as they get wet
(even with tincture of benzoin). I have a new supply of Blist-O-Bans now.
Sometimes we're not sure if the camper is an asset or a liability. We can't
camp at trail heads so sometimes there are long drives in the morning or
afternoon. It's hard to decide whether to make reservations at campgrounds.
We've already run into a full campground, and it's not even summer yet. But if
we make reservations with cancellation fees, it's harder to adjust my running
schedule. That was one part of the reason I felt pressure to run the long
Smokies section last Sunday. I'm also feeling pressure to get in more miles so
this trip is less expensive. Our biggest expenses are camping and diesel fuel.
We really enjoyed the quiet, spacious sites at the first four campgrounds we
used in state parks and national forests. The private ones we've been in
recently are much smaller and we're sitting right next to our neighbors. Can you
say "profit motive?"
Our itinerate lifestyle is interesting. Some days I leave one campground in
the morning, go run, and Jim takes me "home" to another campground in the
afternoon. It's not really disorienting, just a bit odd.
OK, heading back to Hot Springs, NC in a few minutes. I'm looking forward to
being on the Trail all day tomorrow!