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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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"You and Jim have been a great story and a great team. That crew person is sooo important."  - Norm, an ultra running friend
"You are very lucky to have Jim, who understands and supports your dreams."     - Jenny, a reader from Ontario, Canada

Jim having fun posing with a mannequin in front of a shop in Lititz, PA on Day 71 when we played "tourist" 

Enjoying the view from Mt. Albert in North Carolina on Day 8.

Jenny and Norm hit the nail on the head.

As I mentioned previously (several times!), I could never have accomplished my dream of running the Appalachian Trail without Jim's total support. We made a good team.

Sometimes when a couple faces a large or difficult task that requires a lot of time and cooperation to accomplish - even a positive one like building a new house together - there can be so much tension and dissention under the stress that it harms the relationship, sometimes to the extent of a divorce.

I'm happy to report that didn't happen to us! This journey run, and all the teamwork it required, brought Jim and me closer together as a couple.

Yes, we both had occasional meltdowns but we were sensitive enough to each other's needs to have them on different days! That way the one who was under less stress could temporarily take over most of the responsibilities and offer enough TLC to get the distressed one through the crisis.

Fortunately, most days we were both able to handle whatever situations arose. We literally employed "Rule #3: Flexibility and Adaptability" on a daily basis, both on and off the Trail.


Jim was right about the challenges we faced. While my main concerns were staying healthy and moving on up the Trail, Jim had to deal with the myriad of tasks required to keep us going day after day, mile after mile. If you followed along in the journal you know he did a superb job despite all the problems. Who better to understand this than Diana Shivers, who crewed her husband Regis as he ran the AT in 2003:

" . . . Reg did not have to do anything except run. My duties were numerous!!!!!!!! Crew people do have a very tough job . . . "

Diana offered continued support and encouragement to both of us  throughout our adventure run. Her understanding of our challenges was important to us as we proceeded north.

In these two entries we want to give you a good idea of what crewing a journey runner/hiker entails. I don't think crews or runners can fully understand what they're getting into before they get out there and do it. We didn't, even though we've crewed for each other lots of times in 100-mile races. Those are over in a day or two. A long trail adventure is so much more complicated.

Keep in mind the way we traveled. Our trip might have been easier if we'd had a smaller camper, van, or SUV that could be parked at trail heads, like the Shivers and Andrew Thompson's crew person did. They had some different challenges than we did re: meals and showers. Although Jim faced a lot of decisions about where to camp and spent considerable time moving (on average, every other day) to new campsites and getting set up, we had our own kitchen and bathroom facilities with us.

I detailed on Day 37 a typical day for Jim (and me) from morning to night. I won't reiterate everything here. Suffice it to say, the list was daunting. I had to laugh every time a hiker would innocently ask me what Jim did all day while I was out running the Trail! Once I explained the responsibilities he had, they decided I had the better part of the deal.

I think Jim did a remarkable job considering the myriad of problems he encountered and the stress he felt to keep things moving smoothly. If you followed along on our journey, you'll remember some of these situations:

  • mechanical problems with the truck and camper (brakes, tires, camper slide, etc.)

  • some very long drives on poorly-marked roads to get to trail heads

  • late connections due to bad weather, detours, accidents, a locked forest service gate, a rotted bridge the truck sank through, and a washed-out bridge

  • waiting two hours for me to realize I'd stopped at the wrong road and hitched a ride back to him

  • traffic headaches, especially in the mid-Atlantic states

  • rarely having more than a couple days' notice re: where we'd be camping next


Not only did Jim have to be flexible regarding what time to pick me up at the end of the day (I was late more times than early), he also had to be ready to completely change plans every day based on what was happening with my run. There were several times he had to pick me up either earlier or at a completely different place than he expected.

Two of these incidents were in New York when I got injured and needed to go to a clinic, and when I ran out of water - and water sources - on a hot day. In the White Mountains in New Hampshire, I had to come down from Mt. Madison in a completely different valley because of dangerous weather on the ridges instead of meeting him on top of Mt. Washington..

Our nerves and navigational skills were tested the most on Day 141, flood day in Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness. We were extremely lucky our cell phones worked once that day so we could (eventually) rendezvous. Jim had to drive about forty miles on logging roads to meet me at a different location, hike in to find me (if you remember, he inadvertently went up the wrong river because the "trails" weren't marked), and worry himself sick when I wasn't where he thought I'd be and it was getting dark.

This was our most intense and scary day on the Trail. We tried our best to come up with "worst-case scenarios" before and during the trip and played Devil's Advocate re: what our solutions would be if they occurred. Sometimes those plans were useful, and other times we had to each think on our feet as the situation arose.


We highly recommend every runner or hiker go through this same procedure with their crew person. Think of all the possible problems you can, and come up with solutions. If you can't reach each other by cell phone, what other options do you have? If you get to a trail head and your runner (or crew) isn't there, what will you do? Etc.

Sometimes it may seem like Murphy's Law prevails, but you can do a successful journey run if you think of Plan B, C, and D, as well as Plan A.

Not only did Jim overcome all the larger problems he faced during this adventure run, he often did little things that showed how much he cared about me. One hot day in Maryland he drove out on the course with the bandana I'd forgotten (to keep sweat out of my eyes). Although he seldom met me during the day, sometimes he'd leave me sweet notes or little treats at trailheads as he passed by to the next campground or rendezvous point. One day in Virginia he even had hot soup for me three-fourths of the way through the run. He also brought me ice cream several times when he picked me up - what a wonderful treat at the end of a hot day!

These little surprises meant so much to me at the time and I marvel now that he had the where-with-all to do any of them, considering the pressure he was under. I was also amazed at some of the gorgeous campsites he located, especially in Maine. He took the time to scout out places he knew I'd love, and I really appreciate the effort he made.

Jim also played "Trail Angel" for many hikers, who began looking forward to seeing him at trail heads. He often put out drinks and snacks while he was waiting for me or at our campsites that were adjacent to the Trail in Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. He often gave rides into town to hikers, either while he was waiting for me or during the day as he did his errands. He even helped with a car accident once, putting out flares to warn other drivers until the local police and rescue squad arrived.

Jim really enjoyed doing these things and we encourage other crews to help the hikers out, too. In the photo below, Jim is assisting Dave Kelley, a thru-hiker from Maryland, on Day 9:


I was glad Jim occasionally had time to goof off, do some sight-seeing at historical and scenic places, or even just go back to the camper and sleep late some mornings. Those restful times were few and far between, however, which he pointed out in Post #20. We anticipated him having much more free time than he actually had during the trek.

Jim mentioned his regrets. I, too, have some regrets. Mainly, I wish Jim had had more time to do things he wanted to do, particularly sight-seeing and running. Here's another quote from Diana Shivers regarding the running:

" . . . Jim does have a tough job. I can vouch for that but I, too, wanted Regis to accomplish his dream. I am so glad he did. I am not a runner so it must be tough for Jim to get some running in, too, plus the crewing . . ."

Jim sacrificed most of 2005 to help me accomplish my dream. He didn't have much time for his own running (nor did he have many good places to run, since the AT was so rocky) and he couldn't attend very many races. He also had to give up his volunteer fire department work for four months, a "job" he really loves, and had to postpone the next level of training for it. Because I took longer than expected on the Trail, he missed a firefighter class that began in September.

Jim never once complained to me about these sacrifices, however, and for that I will be eternally grateful. The pressure I felt to finish ASAP was primarily my own guilt that I was "depriving" him of the things he loved to do. This is a great example of teamwork and giving up something you want to do so that your loved one can accomplish something important to him or her. Give and take is an important component of a lasting relationship.

It meant a lot to me to share the end of our successful journey together on top of Mt. Katahdin on Day 148. If you read that entry, you know that Jim almost didn't make it - and why. I cried when he arrived about fifteen minutes after me, mostly in relief that he was there to share the moment with me for which we had both worked so hard.

It was because of Jim's total support that I realized my life-long dream.

I owe my best buddy Big Time!! As I'll explain in Post 23 ("What's Next?"), Jim gets to decide what races and other adventures we'll have in 2006. I'll list some of the longer-term goals I have. You'll have to wait a few days for that entry. The next one (Post #22) will be about the mental and emotional adjustments I've had since finishing the Trail. Not only is it a difficult one for me to write, but I also wanted to wait a while to work through the initial stages of AT Withdrawal.

If you have any specific questions about crewing, please let us know. We're grateful to the hikers and runners who gave us crewing advice before and during our AT Run, and we'll be as helpful as we can to others planning similar long-trail adventures.

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil