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: VA 311/Catawba Pass                                
End:  US 220/Daleville
Today's Miles:                      20.0
Cumulative Miles:             668.9

“Those at the top of the mountain did not fall there.”    

- Coach Will Dillard, Atlanta, GA


Into the void, above. Graham Zollman standing on McAfee Knob with fog obscuring the valley.

Later, we could see most of the Catawba Valley from Tinker Cliffs, below.  6-10-05 (more photos below)

This was a special run made even more special by the company of one of my Roanoke ultra buddies, Graham Zollman.

As noted yesterday, when Jim decided to go to Illinois for several days to see his very ill sister, several of my ultra friends graciously offered to do car shuttles with me so I could continue my adventure run. Thanks to them, I was able to do about 64 miles in three days, miles I couldn't have done without their help. 

Thanks, guys!!!

Graham was off work today and got first dibs on which section to run. There are three sections of the AT with fairly convenient trail heads, so I skipped one section farther south to make it easier on my buddies.

This twenty-mile section, which includes the popular McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, happens to be the ONLY section I'm doing on this run in which I've already covered all the miles (several times since moving here last year). I've done parts of Days 1, 2, 43, and 44, but each of those had miles I've never run.

And even this section had a couple new "relos" (relocations) before McAfee Knob that have been done since I last ran it during the winter. They're always tinkering with these trails, from Georgia to Maine!

Graham and I both drove to the end point, a Park 'N Ride lot on US 220 in Daleville, left one vehicle there, and drove to the start at Catawba Pass in the other vehicle. We hit the Trail around 8 AM and began the gradual 1,200-foot ascent over 3.5 miles to the top of McAfee Knob (3,197 feet).


Graham and I were having a fine time yakking it up as we hiked and ran up the Trail in the early morning fog. Oops, there are some hikers asleep in their tents. Hope we didn't wake them up!

When we stopped at the Catawba Mountain shelter about 9 AM, we did wake up at least one young man who was still asleep. We were talking with another fella, "Praying Mantis," who was sitting up in his sleeping bag when we got there, but we didn't even know his companion was there until his sleeping bag moved. I signed the register while Graham and PM talked, then we moved on up the Trail (and past more sleeping tenters).

Boy, I thought I liked to sleep late! That's one advantage thru-hikers have over my way of covering the miles - more sleep because they aren't spending hours every day riding to and from trail heads.

When we reached the top of McAfee Knob I asked Graham to pose for the traditional photo on the jutting rock hanging out over the Catawba Valley 2,000 feet below. Too bad we couldn't see anything in the foggy void! This is a popular spot with thru-hikers and local residents, and a section that is great for running. All the relos have made the Trail very smooth up to McAfee and beyond - about fifteen good miles before it becomes more rocky on Tinker Mountain above Carvin's Cove.


On the way to Tinker Cliffs after a descent and another 800 foot climb we met a delightful young female thru-hiker named "Sunflower" who (appropriately) had a large silk sunflower attached to the back of her pack. She didn't look like she could move as fast as she was going. It was all I could do to stay ahead of her walking uphill. She was doing more miles than usual today, planning to reach her hiking friends in Daleville by afternoon.

Graham and I sat on one of the rock slabs at Tinker Cliffs for about 15 minutes while we ate a snack and enjoyed part of the valley below. The sky was clearing and we could see most of the way to Dragon's Tooth to the South.

Sunflower, who lives in New Hampshire, caught up to us before we left. We were glad she got to see the valley since it was obscured back at McAfee. Those of us who live near Roanoke are very proud of our scenic mountains and valleys and great trails, and hate it when thru-hikers miss the views.

That's an advantage section-hikers or day-hikers have: they can better time their visits to catch good weather and blooms of particular flowers. For example, today we saw numerous mountain laurels blooming on this section. A couple weeks ago, the rhododendrons were peaking here.

Sunflower did get good views from Dragon's Tooth and had a fine meal last night at the very popular Home Place restaurant down in Catawba. Thru-hikers and locals alike crave the huge buffet meals served "home style" at long tables. Yum! If you're in the area, they are open only Thursday to Sunday. Hike by on Monday to Wednesday and you're out of luck.


As we were leaving Tinker Cliffs, Graham spotted a mama deer and her baby. Neither was afraid of us, and continued munching away on the foliage while I snapped photos of both.

Graham's got an eagle eye that caught several interesting items today: two of those little orange-red salamanders I've seen only in North Carolina, a camouflaged lizard on a rock, and a huge black snake near the end - only the second snake I've seen since I started this trek. It's been unseasonably hot and humid in this area this week so the snakes are coming out.

We caught up to two other interesting NOBO (northbound) hikers today. One was a 30-something guy-next-door kind of fella who goes by the unlikely moniker of "Get-er-Done." ("Git-R-Done" is the catch phrase for the redneck Bubba comedian called Cable Guy but this hiker prefers his own spelling of it.) I'd never heard of Cable Guy, so the hiker and Graham had to explain it to me . . .


The other hiker was Sawbuck, who I've mentioned before. He remembered me and joked that he's seen Jim more times at trail heads waiting for me than he's seen me. I've been trying to catch up to him - and to Warren Doyle's crewed group of hikers - for weeks, but I'm still several days behind them (since I've skipped two sections to do this one today).

Sawbuck mentioned that he and some of Warren's group had been ill this week - but quickly said it wasn't last night's meal at the Home Place!

I'll see Sawbuck again on up the Trail some day. That's Graham on the left and Sawbuck on the right in the photo below. Sawbuck is not crewed, and isn't officially with Warren's group, even though he crewed for the group a couple days back near Standing Indian in North Carolina, when I first met him.

Like most NOBO hikers today, Sawbuck planned to get to Daleville today. It's a popular stop for thru-hikers because of all the amenities like a motel, restaurants, grocery store, and outdoors store close to the Trail.

Somewhere along the McAfee-Tinker ridge we saw a metal box which contained candy (Trail Magic #3) and a note from a man who was doing "pay back" for all the trail magic he encountered during a previous thru-hike. Graham and I peeked inside, but didn't take anything. I hesitate to take drinks or snacks that thru-hikers might need. I always carry enough for myself each day, but they run out sometimes.


Also in this general area was a bright yellow smiley face propped up waist-high on a large rock next to a tree. Although it looked like a frisbee, it was painted onto a round piece of wood. It brightened our day, as intended.

On the other side of the rock, at the base of the tree, were the objects below, arranged like a little shrine. There was a ceramic gnome woods scene (far right rear in photo below), a china turtle, and a painted rock that said, "Follow your dreams."

When he saw me taking this photo, Graham quickly reached into his shorts pocket and pulled out "Blue Hair." I've known Graham for a year, but never met "Blue Hair" before! He's Graham's good luck charm, found in a cereal box. Graham says he carries the little stuffed doll in all his important races (Umstead 100, Massanutten 100, Bull Run Run 50, Hellgate 100K, Laurel Valley 70-miler, etc.).

He paid me a sincere compliment when he said he carried it today because he considered it a special occasion to be able to share my adventure with me. Thanks, Graham - that is sweet!

Graham is very careful where he carries Blue Hair after he fell out of his belt at the start of Laurel Valley. When Graham realized his good luck charm was missing, he worried about it the whole race. He was very relieved when Mike Day's wife found it and returned Blue Hair to him at the end of the race. Now Graham carries Blue Hair in his pocket or pack so he doesn't lose him again.

And he picked Blue Hair up right after I took this photo and put him securely back into his pocket!

Are ultra runners eccentric? You betcha! So am I, but you already know that, don't you?


The last ten miles went a bit slower because the treadway was more rocky above Carvin's Cove. We didn't have as many views as there are in the winter. That's another advantage day hikers and section hikers have: if they time their hikes well, they can get better views during the months when the leaves are down.

We stopped at the Campbell shelter to sign the register; there weren't any hikers there. I went by the Lambert Meadows shelter while Graham checked out the composting privy Jim and I helped build last year. He talked with a couple hikers at the shelter before running to catch up to me.

We got done in about 7:40 hours elapsed time, with 6:45 actual forward motion (lots of stops to talk and gawk). We could hear thunder a couple hours before we finished. It was hot enough that I was hoping for rain, but it didn't start sprinkling until we got back to our vehicle. Graham called Dru at work and she told him it had rained so hard in Roanoke, about ten miles away, that several downtown streets were flooded. Graham and I lucked out!

This was a hard run but a really great way to get to know Graham better. He enjoyed it so much, he's thinking about running with me again tomorrow!

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

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© 2005 Jim O'Neil