Sue, Jim & Cody on the 14,433' summit of MT Elbert, CO - The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains


More AT Photos


Runtrails Home Page




Appalachian Trail Conference


Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club


Fueled by:


































Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
March 10
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”  

Jim following the A.T.'s white blazes up a vertical
wall to Dragon's Tooth near Roanoke, VA

From thru-hiker Jan LiteShoe’s July 31, 2003 Trail Journals entry:

“My friend Cosmo, fresh from the annual App. Trail Conference meeting, passed along a bit of Trail maintainer humor, a sign to post at trailheads. It would read:


The Appalachian Trail is a dangerous place. There are poisonous snakes, bees, bears, unpredictable weather, hazard trees, rocks, roots, bumps and humps in the Trail, thieves, murderers, drunks, vagabonds, areas that are slippery when wet, areas that will make you wet, areas that are always wet, bridges, rivers and streams without bridges, hunters with guns, hikers with guns, drop-offs, jump-ups, unmarked road crossings, unoccupied structures, untested and possibly contaminated water supplies, lightning, and many, many other situations that may cause death or permanent disability. You may become hypothermic or hyperthermic, or contract any number of diseases; you may suffer a heart attack, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and sore knees; or you may die of thirst.

However, the Trail is, according to available statistics, safer than virtually every community in America.

Sojourn at your own risk, and by your own unaided efforts."


If I made a list of everything that could go wrong on an adventure like this, especially to a solo female runner, I might be too paralyzed to even start! In fact, that is part of the draw to challenge myself in this way – an element of risk, enhanced excitement.

Yes, I have some concerns about my safety on this run, but I can’t let my fears stand in the way of my dreams.

Ultra runners as a group like to “push the envelope” of their physical and mental capacities (and I suspect it’s not just when we run). One of the reasons I retired at age 50 was to be able to experience more of the physical challenges I was unable to do when I was working full time – while I still had the physical ability to do them.

This Appalachian Trail Adventure Run is one of those challenges.

Everything I’ve read and heard about females hiking solo on the Trail indicates it is considerably safer there than wherever a woman LIVES and DRIVES in her “real life.”


People tend to think first of the human and animal threats on remote trails. Some friends have even suggested I carry a gun to protect myself.

There is probably more risk to a female hiker/runner from potential two-legged predators than the four-legged ones (or ones with fangs). Male thru-hikers themselves are usually safe, and they tend to be protective of female thru-hikers. I’ve been warned to be most careful of people who are hanging around or hiking at or near the trailheads, ones who ask too many questions or show too much interest in my itinerary, and anyone who just makes me feel creepy.

The MAIN threats to my health and safety are ones that people don’t always think of first. Fortunately, I have some control over them – severe weather (particularly lightening on exposed ridges), narrow trails next to precipitous cliffs, slippery rocks, flooded creeks, dehydration; contaminated water; bee and insect bites (e.g., Lyme disease); and probably others I haven’t even thought of yet.


Other than knowledge of the risks and how to prevent or overcome them, common sense and instinct are my two best weapons on the trail, regardless of the source of the threat.

There are times when listening to my gut will take precedence over listening to the rational side of my brain.

Because of my unusual way of traveling the AT, however, I should have less risk than women who are back-packing solo: 

  • I’m not staying in shelters or a tent along the trail.
  • I don’t have to hitch rides with strangers into towns for supplies.
  • Jim will know my exact itinerary every day, and will run with me as much as he has time to.
  • We plan to use two-way radios to communicate when we can (or cell phones), and carry phone cards, a tip from another hiker with a crew (to call a third person who can convey a message from/to us if other means of communication don’t work). We are having problems with both the radios and cell phones on local portions of the AT where we train, so we need to investigate other possibilities.
  • My male Labrador retriever will be with me many days; he’s friendly but protective – who in their right mind would mess with a muscular 80-pound dog?
  • I have access to medical care, clean clothes, hot showers, and nutritious food every day.

All of these things reduce my risk of infection, illness, and attack.


In order to protect myself from as many environmental and human hazards as possible, I’ve tried to educate myself about things that CAN happen to me and learn ways to prevent them from happening in the first place. For example, I have read the information in the ATC guidebooks and other wilderness survival articles, read quite a few thru-hikers’ trail journals, corresponded with several female AND male thru-hikers, and recently took a refresher self-defense course with the local police department.

Hikers tend to watch out for each other on the AT.  Trail registers at frequent intervals also help keep track of folks. I intend to sign every one, partly as a way of tracking my progress, and partly as a safety measure. (The trail registers are a great way for thru-hikers to keep up with each other; they’re the equivalent of a daily newspaper for folks living on the Trail for months on end.)

So I don’t exactly have my head in the sand, ignoring the risks inherent in an adventure of this sort. But I admit I am excited about overcoming these and other obstacles along the way.  Except in ultras, I don’t often get to use “survival skills” in our modern-day world, especially since I retired.

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil