APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE RUN

   
       
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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DAY 5:  WEDNESDAY, MAY 4
 
Start: Dick's Creek Gap, GA                                
End:  Deep Gap, NC
Today's Miles:                      15.6
Cumulative Miles:              82.2
   

"Patience is the companion of wisdom."   - Saint Augustine


GA/NC state line sign

Chunky Gal Trail sign between Muskrat Creek shelter and Deep Gap, NC   5-4-05

One state down, thirteen to go!

A little over halfway through today's section, I crossed into North Carolina. I expected something more dramatic than the 6x12 inch mildewed-green wooden sign shown here, tacked to a tree at the side of the Trail.

Oh, well, it shows I'm making progress!

I wanted to share my first milestone with someone. Alas, I'd seen only one hiker (a woman about my age, thru-hiking to Maine) in the last three hours, and I wouldn't see anyone else for another two hours, so I checked my cell phone and voila! I had a signal.

So I called Jim. He was surprised to get a call from me three hours after I'd started my run, but happy to share my good news. He was at a store in Clayton, GA, in transit with the camper from Moccasin Creek State Park to Standing Indian campground in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. It was simply good timing for a phone call, because we don't have cell service within ten miles of our new campsite.

Today was a downer compared to yesterday. I wondered how long I'd feel so good! I used Gene Thibeault's quote yesterday because I knew the day was coming soon that I would need a break.

Last night I was so wound up that I couldn't sleep. I was tired when I got up, before I even hit the Trail. Still, the first few miles were fine - much more uphill today than yesterday, but the Trail was fairly smooth until the last two miles and I was cruising along on the downhills. I could tell it was more of a struggle uphill, though. I started to feel the accumulated fatigue of running up and down mountains for five straight days, more elevation change than I've ever done even in a 100-miler.

THE NUMBERS GAME

I'm not too obsessed with numbers on this trek. I'm most interested in mileage each day and total miles completed. It's fun to see the miles add up, and certain "mileposts" will be significant: 100 miles, 500 miles, 1,000 miles, halfway, 1,000 to go, and so on.

I'll record the time each day, but the only reasons I need to be conscious of pace are to give Jim good guestimates each day of when to pick me up and so I'll be sure Cody and I have adequate supplies. There are no mile markers out here, so I can only guess what my pace is up and down. I don't want to compulsively try to figure any of that out. I'm not even using the chrono features of my watch!

But what I'd really love to know is how much elevation gain and loss I'm doing each day. We don't have a GPS unit and we don't want to buy one. From what we've read, it doesn't sound like they're all that accurate anyway. Our ATC maps and books have pretty detailed information about elevations at various points, but they don't give totals for each section. With the constant ups and downs between the points that are listed, it's impossible to come up with an accurate elevation change. And I just don't have the time each day to do even rough math from the profiles.

All I know is, I've never done this much up and down in five days before!

WHERE AM I???

From reading hikers' journals, it sounds nearly impossible to get "lost" on the AT. The only place I've heard about hikers having trouble following the 2x6" white blazes is through some towns.

Nevertheless, today I had my first question about whether I was on the Trail or not. And I got a bonus mile finding out. (I will not count "bonus miles" in my cumulative AT mileage on each journal entry; those numbers are official AT distances on the Trail. I'll only count extra mileage in my running log.)

It didn't take me long to hike up Little Bald Knob from Dick's Creek, my starting point. The Trail was obvious, so I wasn't really looking for the blazes. My goal was to stay ahead of four male thru-hikers who got out of a Hiawassee Inn van at the gap. Even with packs on, I figured they'd catch me before the top, but they didn't.

Running down the other side of Little Bald Knob to Cowart Gap, it dawned on me that I hadn't seen any blazes for a loooong time. I slowed down and really looked hard for them, in both directions. When I was most of the way down, I decided to backtrack until I saw a blaze. Damned if I didn't have to go all the way back up until I saw a blaze in the southbound direction!

Returning down to the gap, I looked more closely for blazes and didn't see one until I was all the way down - over 1/2 mile between blazes. In my mind, the fact that there weren't any side trails doesn't matter. I think there should have been some "confidence" markers there. Farther on in this northernmost section of the AT in Georgia, some of the blazes were a mile apart.

Maybe I'm super-sensitive on the subject of course markings because of some negative experiences I've had in ultra races that were not well marked. Maybe I'm just a weenie. I don't think so. If I know a course isn't going to be marked well, I'll memorize where I'm going or take a map.

I assumed today's section would be a no-brainer. The rest of the Trail in Georgia was very well marked, and as soon as I got to the North Carolina section maintained by the Nantahala Hiking Club, it was again well marked. I took notes with me re: gap and shelter mileages and locations of springs, but that was all.

Today I learned that I need to pay close attention to the markers on this trek and take more notes about the "course." I've got far enough to travel to Maine without unnecessary bonus mileage.

End of rant. I shouldn't criticize the Georgia AT Club, because their 75-mile section of Trail was well maintained otherwise. There was no litter, there were only a few blow downs, and they've done a great job with water dams and other erosion-control devices. Hats off to those volunteers! I appreciate all their hard work.

[Addendum after the adventure run: I'm impressed with how well the Appalachian Trail IS marked, especially after running parts of the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail! This section was an anomaly, except for New Hampshire. That state is definitely in need of some cans of white paint!! Fortunately, by the time I got up there I had a lot more AT-savvy.]

HIGHER MOUNTAINS AHEAD

Running the ridges not only gives me great views on either side, it also lets me see where I've been and where I'm going. The Trail has arced around enough to allow this each day so far. What I suddenly noticed today on my left and up ahead was that the mountains were noticeably taller than where I've been. Uh, oh! I know I'm climbing higher and higher each day, but actually seeing it is different than looking on the maps.

Today I started at 2,675 feet and ended at 4,341 feet, a net gain of 1,666 feet. The high point was about 4,800 feet on the unnamed mountain above Deep Gap. The Trail was relatively smooth until the last two miles.

There's a daily pattern: since roads are built through the gaps between mountains, and I'm starting and finishing each day's run where there is road access, the pattern is an uphill each morning when I start and a downhill run at the end. Of course, in between there are numerous other ups and downs. It's not like I get up high and just stay there all day! The AT is a constant roller coaster.

I encountered my first steep inclines today without benefit of switchbacks shortly after crossing into North Carolina. After the famous twisted tree at Bly Gap (below), the Trail began a 1,000-foot ascent up Sharp Top and Courthouse Bald, with a cooling reprieve through a dense rhododendron tunnel between the two crests.

Cody and I both appreciated the refrigerator-like temperatures through about twenty of those tunnels today. They would be even more amazing when the flowers are in bloom. We were above the leaf line most of the day, which was sunny and in the 50s-60s - another perfect weather day! Even at those low temps, however, the sun is hot.

I saw numerous spring flowers again today. New ones in the NC section were bloodroot, which was blooming at home in VA a month ago, cream-colored trilliums near Sassafras Gap, white wood anemones, white bell-like cut-leaf toothworts, and large patches of yellow trout lilies near Wateroak Gap.

My wildflower book says the ancient Romans used the trout lilies as a treatment for blisters and corns. Sounds handy for thru-hikers! Fortunately, I haven't had any blisters.

WHERE ARE THE BEARS??

I stayed very alert for bears today, since some of my Atlanta friends have encountered them in the northern GA section. Alas, no bears. In fact, there hasn't been much wildlife at all. We're thinking that in these vast national forests in north GA and NC deer, bears, and other critters have no need to be near the AT. We see deer all the time at home where we run, but it's usually in protected parks with no hunting. Maybe two-legged creatures in this wilderness mean bad news and the deer and bears stay well off-trail. Cody's presence doesn't deter the deer in Roanoke, so I don't think that's a factor.

SWITCHBACKS? WHAT ARE THOSE?

My wheels came off during the steep ascent I mentioned earlier. I usually don't have any problems with my quads and I can zip down long grades (if they are smooth enough) with no quad pain. My hamstrings and calves are more likely to get sore than my quadriceps. But I pulled a muscle just above my knee on the inner thigh on this climb and it hurt up and down the remaining mountains (about seven more miles, plus bonus miles at the end of the run).

I read later in the AT book that switchbacks aren't put there for the convenience of hikers, but to prevent erosion of the Trail. Even though this trail went mostly straight up the mountain, it wasn't badly eroded. Therefore, the trail-builders saw no need for switchbacks.

The rest of run wasn't as much fun for me. It wore on me mentally, and by the end I was more than ready to be done. Unfortunately, rule #3 came into play: adaptability and flexibility.

Jim wasn't at Deep Gap.

MORE BONUS MILES

Cody and I found some shade to rest and waited. I was concerned that Jim had truck problems. I wasn't sure where we were camped since he was going to compare two public campgrounds with the national forest one. I'd already taken 25 more minutes than my estimate (6:25 today). I decided to wait until a certain time, then start walking down the six-mile forest service road to Hwy. 64. In retrospect, I should have started down the road right away and saved Jim some effort.

Isn't hindsight great??

After a 40-minute wait at Deep Gap, I saw Tater, then Jim, hiking up the dirt road. We were both real glad to see each other. The problem was a locked gate two miles down the road. I wasn't happy to have to keep going another two miles, but there was no other choice. Jim hurt his ankle running in to meet me yesterday. He wasn't thrilled to have to hike four miles on his sore ankle today, but he did what he had to do. Our cell phones didn't work in that area so we couldn't communicate with each other.

Crewing isn't any easier than running the Trail! But then, no one told us this was gonna be easy. My total bonus miles today? Three.

I'm pretty well wiped out tonight. I've accomplished a lot in the last five days, and I need to let my quad heal, so tomorrow will be an off day to catch up on sleep, rest, and plan the next week's runs. I'll write a retrospective tomorrow of some of the things I've learned so far, and share some comments from readers.

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil