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 52:  MONDAY, JUNE 20
 
Start: Humpback Rocks                                      
End:  Rockfish Gap/I-64/VA 250
Today's Miles:                      10.8
Cumulative Miles:             849.7
   
 
"My husband thinks it makes me sound like a floozy,
but I like my trail name; I earned it."  - Swingin' Jane, thru-hiker
 


Mill Creek, next to Paul Wolfe shelter 

View west from Humpback Rocks      6-20-05

I should go backwards more often. It's the best way to see the other NOBO thru-hikers!

Yesterday I decided to stop about eleven miles short of my goal of thirty miles because my progress through all the rocks on that section was so slow. I'm glad I made that decision.

Instead of taking a "zero" mileage day today, I used the shorter mileage as a rest day and thoroughly enjoyed my run with Cody. There's not much to tell about the Trail today, so I'll concentrate on the hikers I met. They made my day!

Since Jim and I are boon-docking for two days, we have to take the camper wherever we go (can't just leave it in a campground and drive around in the truck). Jim wanted to run on the Blue Ridge Parkway while I was on the AT. He liked the spacious Humpback Rocks parking area where he waited for me yesterday, so I made that my end point again today.

That meant running this short section from north to south, the opposite way I've been going.

I did this once before in North Carolina when one of my quads hurt going downhill; I chose to do that section backwards so it would be predominantly uphill - more time-consuming, but less painful. Nothing hurts this time (thank goodness!). Going south today had more gain than loss, but it wasn't significant.

HIKER BONANZA

What was significant was the number of thru-hikers I got to meet this way!

The number of thru-hikers is probably down to 25-30% of those who began at Springer Mountain this spring, if this year's stats are similar to prior years. The last two years, only 22% of the northbounders (NOBOs) finished the whole trail. Most of the folks out here now will finish, but they are spread out over several hundred miles by now. In fact, some like ultra runner Robin Kane are nearly done.

Unless a thru-hiker is walking with someone fairly consistently, s/he isn't going to see other hikers much during the day when they're going the same direction. They may end up in the same shelter or camping area, but they leave at different times in the morning, take days off periodically, go different distances, and walk at different paces. It can get lonely out there by this point in the journey.

It's a little different in my case because I'm going faster and longer than most of the hikers. I "run into" them a little more often. But there are days when I see only one or two thru-hikers. While I love the solitude of solo running/walking, I enjoy short conversations along the way with other hikers, especially the ones who are going to Katahdin.

So today was a bonanza for me, hiker-wise. I knew I had plenty of time to run the section (yes, much of it was runnable!) so I spent over an hour talking with ten thru-hikers. Eight were folks whose names I'd seen but hadn't met yet. What fun!

"SPIRIT" AND "SWINGIN' JANE"

Jim dropped Cody and me off at Rockfish Gap at the southern edge of Shenandoah National Park and we began running down the smooth trail towards Humpback Rocks. It was overcast and cool, there were lots of little creeks for Cody to play in, and we were just rocking along when we encountered our first two thru-hikers.

Spirit and Swingin' Jane met on the Trail about four weeks ago and decided to hike together as long as it was practical for them. Both are women in their 50s or 60s (I'm a terrible guess of age) who are experienced back-packers but first-time AT thru-hikers. Spirit lives in Chattanooga, TN, Jane in eastern Ohio. Jane is hiking with her five-year-old black dog named Simon the Wonder Dog.

I asked Jane about her name (I just love how some of these trail names originate!). She explained that two years ago on the Buckeye Trail she got a little wild and crazy and took a big swing on a four-inch grapevine hanging from the hillside (not over water). Unfortunately, the vine broke and she seriously damaged one knee; she said it looked like a basketball. Her doctor had to aspirate the fluid several times, but she didn't require surgery.

After that incident, her friends started calling her "Swingin' Jane," as in Tarzan and Jane. Although her husband thinks the name is questionable, "Jane" wears it with pride. It shows her sense of adventure and perseverance. My kinda gal!

Spirit needs to see a chiropractor in Waynesboro tomorrow so she's taking one or two days off. I probably won't see her again. Jane is doing twenty miles in Shenandoah NP tomorrow and will see her daughter and grandkids while she's in the park. I should see her at least once more.

"GET-ER-DONE" AND "NOONAN"

Remember Get-er-Done? Graham and I met this pleasant 30-something fella from Hendersonville, NC near McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs on Day 42. He's keeping a good pace, so hopefully I'll keep seeing him a few more times as we proceed north. He lamented the fact that he has seen so few thru-hikers on the trail, although he chowed down with several Saturday evening at the best Trail Magic event I've ever heard of.

When I met Noonan coming down The Priest on Saturday afternoon, he mentioned he was killing time on his high rock-perch-with-a-view so he could enjoy dinner down at the river. He'd heard there was some good trail magic there. We got talking about other things, and I didn't ask him to elaborate.

I should have. This is some trail magic I would have indulged in!

By the time I ran down the last three miles to the truck, I'd forgotten about the trail magic. I didn't see anything in the parking lot, so we left. It started pouring down rain about the same time.

Yesterday morning I crossed the Tye River at 7 AM and saw a note on the bridge about trail magic, pointing right. I looked, and saw what looked like a building far off in the woods. I figured it was a hostel or something, but didn't investigate because there were several hikers asleep in their tents nearby. And besides, who would be up offering trail magic at 7 AM?

Turns out, it's a previous thru-hiker who has set up a large tent for the last several weeks and serves up delicious near-gourmet food to other thrus every night! The makers of Goretex gear foot the food bill, but this guy gets and prepares the food. Get-er-Done said it was a full spread, and everyone was so full that night they all camped in their tents by the river instead of going any further.

Included on the menu were barbequed chicken, shish kebobs, hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, other veggies and fruits, and several desserts. The spread was completely free, but hikers were asked to complete a survey re: Goretex products.

That's the most elaborate "trail magic" I've heard or read about, and I'm sorry we missed it. Would have been fun to talk with other hikers more. What a win-win for both the Gore company and the hikers!

Get-er-Done also scored well with the trail magic we all found in the bags near the Maupin Field yesterday. He helped himself to a tasty blueberry muffin and one of the beers, saying it was the first time he's ever hiked while drinking!

I don't like beer, so I didn't indulge. If there had been some wine, I probably would've taken that! Maybe I wouldn't have minded the blasted rocks so much the rest of the way!

Get-er-Done also told me some funny things about how Noonan has the useful ability to blend in with any group and is a "yogi" artist. In hiker lingo, to "yogi" is to receive something nice (usually food or a ride) without actually asking for it. Noonan recently made friends with both a group of Methodists and Boy Scouts who were camping, and came back with food not only for himself but also his buddies.

Get-er-Done is quite impressed with Noonan's social skills!

"TRAMPAS" AND THE "OFC" GROUP

While I was talking with Get-er-Done, up walked "Trampas," an older gentleman from San Antonio. He enjoyed petting Cody and hearing about other hikers on the Trail today. Neither man has met Spirit or Swingin' Jane, but they were close enough to catch both women.

Cody and I spent some time at the only shelter in this short section, the well-situated (next to a large creek) Paul C. Wolfe shelter. I spent several minutes reading the shelter register to see who's ahead of me by several days. These are folks I'll soon be meeting, most likely. Warren and Terry Doyle's group is still four days ahead. They're smokin'! That's the group of crewed hikers, including "Singapore" and "Miss Wiggy." "Sawbuck" is with them now, too.

After Cody had his fill of Mill Creek, we moved on. He totally ignored a large turtle in the middle of the trail, and several of those cute little red-orange salamanders. This is the third time I've seen them. Jim told me later he saw a bunch of them on the Blue Ridge Parkway today. Unfortunately, most of them had been flattened by vehicles and were in various stages of crispness from the sun. He moved a few live ones off the roadway so they didn't meet the same fate.

As we started up Humpback Mountain in earnest we could hear a group of hikers on the switchback above us. Down came four happy hikers who introduced themselves as the "OFC" group - I'd seen their signatures in trail registers, but didn't know what the acronym meant. It's the "Over Forty Crowd." "Gumby" (male) and "Pokey" (female) are married. "Red Wolf" (male) and "Hitch" (female) are the other two members of the group. They're having as much fun as they can in this adventure. I hope I'll see them again.

"PIZZA/SUEY" AND "NATTY BUMPO"

Soon after this, I ran into one of my favorite hikers, Pizza the Hut (Josh), who I met 'way back on Day 25 in Tennessee. He's the nice young man who is a marathoner and is fast-packing the Trail in about five months. At this rate, he's going to finish in four! We were both happy to see each other again. I knew he was still in the game because he's been ahead of me and I've seen his notes in the trail registers. But he had no clue if I was still out here. The last he saw me, I was in agony with a sore quad.

(BTW, it's so much more fun to be running without any pain now. I'm finally off Celebrex and Naproxen, at least until the next injury.)

Pizza says that Noonan has another trail name for him now: "Suey." If you stretch it out real long, it sounds like the pig call. Turns out Pizza was active in 4-H when he was a teenager and won several prizes at local fairs for his hogs. He told Noonan this over several beers. I can imagine the hog-calling that was going on with a bunch of beer-drinking campers!

Natty Bumpo was with Pizza. I'd seen his name two days ago in a register and got my hopes up that it was an e-mail friend, Nat Stoddard, who goes by "Bumpo." It's not, but another 60-ish fella who's a big fan of James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, especially the book, Pathfinder. Natty Bumpo is the series hero. Natty-the-thru-hiker recited his two favorite (and lengthy) quotes from this book having to do with his passion for walking alone in the woods.

Natty is also a marathoner, trail runner, and triathlete. He and Pizza "get" why I'm doing the Trail this way.

ROCK MANIA

One of the most interesting things I got from talking with these ten hikers, besides their sense of fun and adventure and appreciation of nature, was their disdain for all the rocks in the previous section.

I'm not alone!!! Even the hikers hate the rocks!!! We're all looking forward to an easier time of it in the Shennies this week.

Most of the hikers I talked with are going into Waynesboro today. It's a convenient town for grocery shopping, eating, getting mail drops, seeing a movie, etc. before the 101-mile trek through Shenandoah National Park.

BOON-DOCKING

At the end of this AT segment, I took a short hike to Humpback Rocks and took the photo you see above looking west toward the Shenandoah Valley. Then Cody and I boogied down the 1.3-mile access trail to the Humpback Rocks parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where Jim and Tater were sitting in the grass in the shade of the camper. Too bad this isn't where we're boon-docking!

On Jim's 12-mile parkway run this morning he noticed an interesting recreated 1800s mountain farm across the road, so we walked down there after I ate lunch and took a shower. If you're interested, it's at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 6 and it's free. This is a photo of one of the barns and a rock wall similar to many I've seen along the AT:

No hikers needed a ride when we reached Rockfish Gap so we drove on back to our home-away-from-home the last two nights: the Wal-Mart parking lot in Staunton, VA! Camping fees are eating us alive, so Jim decided we'd boon-dock here to save some money.

We've stayed at Wal-Marts across the country maybe five times before. We spend a lot of money at this chain and appreciate their largesse to campers (and truckers). We always ask permission, although most of the stores allow discreet camping in their remote lots overnight.

(The ones that don't/can't tend to be in localities where owners of private campgrounds get legislation passed to prevent free parking at stores. So much for free enterprise. Sorry, another "political" comment. It shouldn't surprise you to know my favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged.)

Wal-Mart is not exactly a destination campground; travelers going from Point A to Point B, especially on freeways, are the most common campers. Last evening we were part of a group of eight rigs; tonight there are nine, plus a semi. Jim just took this photo showing some of the RVs:

What's really interesting is that the campers were all out talking to each other like in a real campground! We've never seen that in a parking lot before. Jim was out fiddling with our (quiet Honda) generator and a man came over to ask him if it runs our air conditioner. No, but Jim took it over to this guy's RV and it runs his. So he's probably going to get one before he and his wife drive on to hot Arizona.

Jim's a good trail angel and camper angel.

Next up101 miles in Shenandoah National Park. In six days, I'll be out of Virginia. In seven days, I'll be through West Virginia and into Maryland. I'm starting on a new map set, and I've done 39% of my total distance now.

Progress!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil