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


More AT Photos


Runtrails Home Page




Appalachian Trail Conference


Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club


Fueled by:





























































Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
Start: Woodsmoke CG, Unicoi, NC                      
End:  Unicoi, NC
Today's Miles:                           0
Cumulative Miles:              379.3
"PEACE.  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise,
trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst
of those things and still be calm in your heart."
- Unknown

Trail through wet grass leading to Bishop Hollow

View from top of the hill. Photos taken during yesterday's run.    5-24-05

Today's a rest day to help my sore left inner quadricep muscle heal.

I'd like to share with readers some of my thoughts about running the AT through this area near Erwin, TN because they touch on hiker safety, enjoyment of the Trail, and individual rights.

Most towns on or near the AT have reputations for being hiker-friendly. Residents gladly offer rides to town or trail heads. Hostels, motels, restaurants, and other businesses welcome hikers, sometimes offer discounts, and make them feel at home.

The town that has probably gotten the most negative publicity the last two decades has been Erwin, TN. The bad rap is partly deserved, but it makes it harder for the majority of the residents who are trying to overcome the bad image.

I've had ambivalent feelings about running the sections of Trail in this vicinity because of reports of vandalism and sabotage designed to scare hikers away. David Horton mentioned it in his book, A Quest for Adventure, and other hikers talk about it in their Trail Journal entries. The most recent copy of Appalachian Trail News has a report from March of this year regarding slashed tires, broken windshields, and burned-out vehicles parked at trail heads in the area I ran yesterday.

Some folks apparently know how to hold a grudge.

About 1990, the government/ATC purchased rights of way through several property owners' land via the law of eminent domain. Some folks didn't want to sell their property, but were forced to. Some remain resentful to this day and are hostile to hikers.

In 1990, a shelter was torched on the section of Trail that I ran yesterday. It has never been rebuilt. There have been reports of fish hooks strung at eye-level on the Trail to hurt hikers, and fishing line strung low to the ground to trip them. I asked the trail maintainers yesterday about such incidents, and they reported hearing such stories even now. They also warned me about rude or even dangerous men at trail heads and isolated road crossings.


As a woman running the Trail alone, I feel particularly vulnerable to mischief or danger from people with a grudge against AT hikers. So I have been extra vigilant the last couple days.

The deserted forest road crossings concern me the most. I stay hidden before going across, making sure there aren't any vehicles parked with  someone in them. If I hear a vehicle coming, I wait to cross until they are out of sight. (This was before the volunteers warned me about road crossings.)

The last couple days I've kept my sunglasses off so I can see any trail hazards more easily. My whistle and cell phone are within easy reach. My sharp-pointed trekking pole probes the trail in front of me. My four-legged buddy, Cody, hasn't been with me, though. He had trouble keeping up with me on a recent 20-miler, so I've hesitated to take him back out on these longer runs.

I've had two "incidents" so far that have elevated my sense of precaution.

The first was on Day 18 a few miles north of Max Patch. I was walking uphill and saw a fishing line strung across the Trail at knee height. It appeared to be strung between two trees about 20 feet off the Trail on either side that had fluorescent pink ribbons (like used in ultras to mark the trail) tied around them. I've seen other trees marked with orange or pink ribbon, but none had invisible "strings" between them.

I pulled the "string" enough that it lay on the ground. I looked around to see if anyone was near, but saw no one. It thoroughly puzzled me, because I wasn't close to Erwin yet, and a young southbound section hiker who had passed me a mile earlier hadn't mentioned it. He would have felt it when he walked by - and it wouldn't have been taut when I got there! Why didn't he mention it? Did he do it?

A mile or two later I crossed a forest service road where there were two unoccupied state vehicles parked. Did those folks have something to do with it? I had no clue what was going on, and didn't mention it in that day's journal entry.

The second incident occurred Sunday shortly after I started up the Trail from Sam's Gap. I met a section hiker from Alabama that I'd seen the day before. He asked me if I'd seen the broken glass on the Trail a little way back. He surmised it was someone partying at night, but worried it might be trail sabotage since we were heading to Erwin.

I didn't see the glass on the trail there, but was glad Cody wasn't with me that day. I have seen broken beer bottles at campsites that are near roads, and there has been a lot of trash along dirt roads the last two days. It's not hiker trash. I'm talking household appliances, fast food packages, and clothing. Some folks simply have no respect.


So am I being paranoid?

I prefer to call it the basic instinct of self-preservation.

It doesn't totally consume my thoughts or prevent me from enjoying my surroundings. But it does make me mad that I have to be concerned about such things when I "should" be able to just run and hike and be at peace.

I wrote in one of my prep pages about safety and noted that there are more dangers out here from two-legged creatures than four-legged ones. Even after seeing three black bears, I agree with that. I'd rather see a bear or rattlesnake than men who give me the creeps.

I'm more nervous the closer I get to civilization. I feel safer in the deep wilderness.


I don't often share my "political" thoughts with people, but there are some things I'd like to say about the law of eminent domain since it directly affects the part of the Trail I'm using this week.

I have pretty strong feelings about the government seizing property that someone doesn't want to sell, especially when it's for something like a big box store. I happen to like shopping at some big box stores and they may help local economies, but if someone doesn't want to sell their property, why should they be forced to?

I love the concept of preserving/conserving beautiful tracts of land for public use as national forests, wilderness areas, parks, and the Appalachian Trail so developers can't destroy it. But I don't think the government has any more "right" to seize someone's property "for the public good" than to build another Wal-Mart.

That may sound strange coming from a nature lover and person who's always wanted to do a journey run on the AT. Noble cause or not, if someone doesn't want to sell their property, even at a fair price, I don't think they should be forced to lose it.

This could have happened to my parents. Fortunately, it didn't. They bought an 80-acre farm when I was three months old and sold it when they got divorced ten years later. Soon after that, a Corps of Engineers lake/dam was built that covered the house and low-lying property. The tops of the hills still show above the water. What if they hadn't wanted to sell it? What about people whose families had owned property in that area for two centuries?


But, while I empathize with the folks in the Erwin area who were displaced years ago, or lost part of their property, they don't have the "right" to vandalize other people's property (their vehicles) or endanger their lives when they're using the Appalachian Trail just because they're still PO'd about what happened.

On the other hand, the current vandalism may just be the result of hooligans out to make trouble for the sport of it, like some drivers will harass runners just because they're there.

A really suspicious person might wonder if it's designed to bring more business to local garages who profit from repairing the damaged vehicles.

What, me paranoid?? The mind does funny things when you're alone on the Trail so long every day!

I'll be out of this area in a couple days. Our experience in and near Erwin has been positive so far, and I'm excited about running the Roan Mountain section tomorrow. The weather should be nice, and everyone says the views in this section are spectacular.

Until tomorrow,

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

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil