About four miles into my run this morning I can hear people talking at an
overlook on Skyline Drive. The AT is about 25 feet below the parking lot. I'm
running because the Trail is smooth and flat, it's sunny and I want to get to
the shade of the trees faster, and I've already seen the view that direction
(expansive, but very hazy).
When the man makes the comment above, I look up briefly and see him turn on
his video camcorder. He's recording ME, running on the Trail.
I stop because I'm laughing too hard to run. I'm thinking two things
The man's statement reminds me of one of my favorite ultra running quotes
from Stan Jensen's web site: "Look, Mabel, here comes one that's still
And I'm wondering just how excited this guy would be if he spotted a bear.
I stopped and talked for a few minutes with both couples peering down at me,
apparently fascinated that a woman would be running on the trail below them. No
need for me to be rude. They want to hear about my journey to Maine, and agree
that this is an interesting way to get there once I tell them how I'm doing it.
The younger man even offered the advice that "Maine is tough,"
based on the experience of a friend who thru-hiked the AT years ago. I told him
that hikers say "this is all just preparation for Maine."
After I said goodbye I thought for a while about how natural running a trail
(even this special trail) seems to me, while this tourist thought it
worthy of videotaping. Pity the poor blokes who get roped into watching the
vacation tape; I hope he edits me out of it before then!
Are trail runners - and ultra runners - really that unusual?? Yes, I like to
be "different" but I still consider myself pretty normal.
Most of the Trail today was runnable so I got done almost an hour before I
told Jim to pick me up (8:30 hours with numerous stops). The climbs and descents were
all gradual compared with previous ones. There was more elevation loss than
gain; the longest climbs were about 1,100 feet. A few rocky areas slowed me down
(North Marshall Mountain and the descent after I left the north end
of the Park were the worst). I could have run more the last few miles if I
wasn't so hot.
I ran out of Shenandoah National Park after about fifteen miles and
immediately dropped down into the heat. It was in the 90s in the valley below. I
could feel the temperature rise as I descended. The cooling breezes disappeared,
blocked out by thick vegetation in the valley. Despite all the fluids, energy
products, electrolytes, and water from a couple of streams splashed onto my
body, my core temperature kept rising.
It's a sign of the times to come. The "real" mountains are behind me for
several weeks and I'm not heat acclimated. I've been spoiled by the cool
mountain temperatures for almost two months.
This isn't gonna be pretty.
But I have a goal and to reach the goal I have to knuckle down and get
through the next few weeks until I reach higher territory in New York and
Connecticut. I'll try to increase my mileage so I get there faster but the heat
may prevent that. I prefer daily distances of 20 to 30 miles. Longer than that
really wears me down and takes so long I have no time for anything else.
I still think I can finish up by the end of August but breaking the current
women's "record" of 103 days is unrealistic. I'm encouraged by Robin Kane's
report this week of arriving at Katahdin in 111 days. He's the ultra runner I've
mentioned before who fast-packed the AT this year. His goal was four months and
he beat that. 'Way to go, Robin!
Since it's a weekend in a popular park I saw lots of hikers today. Most were SOBOs (south-bounders) out for a day or weekend. There were two large groups of
teenage boys and men, one large group of college-age students with notebooks in
hand, and several single hikers and couples.
I talked with two NOBO section-hikers: "Treetop" and "Beefsteak" are young
men who are doing as much of the Trail as they can in two months. One asked me
about "the red stuff," my raspberry Hammergel in a flask on one of my pack
straps. I told them about my nutrition system, which I think would be great for
hikers. My Hammergel flask has elicited questions from several hikers.
I also ran into "Fester," a young male thru-hiker I met just before reaching
Big Meadows Campground earlier in the week, and "Hitman," who came into the nice
Tom Floyd Wayside (shelter) just outside the park limits when I stopped there to
sign the register. He said he was part of a group of five young thru-hikers who
dubbed themselves "The Appalachian Mafia." Hitman has a hat that says "NY
Mafia." The names all derived from that. Looks like a nice enough fella to me!
I was impressed with the two shelters I visited today, both north of
Shenandoah. The other one, a mile from my end point, is the Jim and Dolly Denton
Shelter. I took time to read the registers at both shelters because I didn't see
any in the huts in the park. Warren Doyle's group is only three days ahead of me
now, even though I took a day off recently. One of these days I'll catch 'em!
SUE'S SUMMARY OF SHENANDOAH NP
From the standpoint of running or hiking the AT, this park is very
Most of the 101 miles of trail are runnable, although the section including
Hawksbill, Stony Man, The Pinnacle, and Mary's Rock mountains is very rocky.
Climbs and descents are fairly gradual throughout the park. It's a good place to
train for a variety of ultras.
Road access is plentiful so crewing is a dream here. You could also run with
one or more friends and have a vehicle at both ends of a point-to-point run. The
downside is less of a feeling of "wilderness" because of the road noise. I
thought the trail was well-situated most of the way to avoid road noise,
There are many other trails in the park that could be used for circuit runs
or hikes of varying distances. You could spend months in the park and not hit
There are many things for families to do in the park while you're running.
The entry fee is cheap ($10 per vehicle for one to seven days, or free
if you hike in on the AT). There are places to stay within the park
(campgrounds, lodges, shelters if you're back-packing).
COMPARISON WITH THE SMOKIES
The Smokies are more remote (minimal road access), at higher elevation (much
at 5,000 to 6,700 feet), and have tougher, longer climbs and descents. There are
also a lot of other trails in the Smokies, however, that make for shorter runs
than just staying on the AT. Also a great place for families to visit, and
entry is free.
Either place is great to run and see spectacular views. Try 'em both!