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


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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Start: Roanoke, VA                                             
End:  Hot Springs, NC
Today's Miles:                           0
Cumulative Miles:             283.9


"Hey! You are faster than a snail!"
- Jim, observing a snail creeping along a rock on the way up to Clingman's Dome on Day 14

Mountain laurel on AT north of Hot Springs, NC

Sign in town that indicates it's another 1,869 miles to Katahdin.  <groan>   5-18-05

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.


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, etc.)
  • 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 since retirement. 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!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil