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


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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“When I thru-hiked in 2002, there was a gentleman on the trail whose wife met him every 20 miles in their Slack Mobile. I will confess that you will not be so well received by the other thru-hikers if you do this, though. They will be friendly enough, but some misunderstandings are bound to result.”           (female thru hiker whose name I am withholding)

THIS is why we moved from Montana to Virginia! (snow in our back yard January, 2004)

Here’s one of the major ways my adventure run differs from the normal MO (modus operandi) of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – instead of staying in shelters, tents, hostels, B&Bs, motels, or friends’ homes along the way, we intend to use our camper the whole way. I’m not the first to do this, of course, but I’m in the minority.

And I expect to take some flak about it!

The best advice I’ve gotten re: camping along the way is from a gentleman in California whose wife crewed for him along the Trail in a van. Doug thru-hiked in 2002, and is probably the man referred to in the above quote. He’s one of many thru-hikers on the ATC correspondence list that is willing to share his experience with people embarking on their first thru-hike. He shared loads of helpful information we can use on our trek regarding camping, trailhead access, maps, dogs, communication, etc.

Ironic note, if he’s the person referred to above – Doug  carried a full pack every day except up Katahdin at the end, even though he spent only 15 nights on the trail. The other 115 nights were in his VW van. He wrote, I carried all my equipment just to say I thru hiked rather than slack packed.”  My opinion is that wouldn't have diminished his  accomplishment one bit.


Jim had a 27’ fifth-wheel camper when we got married. It was barely adequate for the two of us and one big dog for any length of time, and definitely not big enough for TWO big dogs.  It also needed major repairs.

After we got Cody – and in anticipation of traveling a lot when Jim retired – we traded up to a NuWay Hitch Hiker II fifth-wheeler in the summer of 2003. At 32’ long, it is so much more comfortable for our little tribe, even for several months at a time – been there, done that.

When Jim retired in early 2004, we sold our house in Montana and traveled and lived full time in the camper for four months until we settled in Virginia. We’d probably be divorced by now if we hadn’t been in the larger camper!

Over a span of thirteen months from July, 2003 to August, 2004 we hauled that camper 18,288 miles around the country – over 13,000 miles in 2004.  It’s fairly easy to pull with our Ford F-250 diesel truck, although fuel mileage stinks in the mountains.

It’s not a luxurious camper compared to many rigs out there, but it’s like the Hilton compared to a tent, van, or truck with a camper top. I admit we’re spoiled by “comfort camping.”

I expect to take some ribbing about it along the AT – or even outright hostility from a few minimalists who will consider my effort to get a 2,000-miler patch less honorable than theirs because they carried their shelter on their backs. I’m not broadcasting information about the camper while I’m on the Trail. The thru-hiker grapevine will find out and pass it along quickly enough.

Some folks aren’t going to like our noisy diesel truck, either. But they might change their minds when we offer to take them into town when they’re trying to hitch a ride!


There’s a popular saying on the AT:  “Hike your own hike.”  Well, this is MY hike, and I’m happy with my plans.

There are two big disadvantages to taking the Hitch Hiker: as gas and diesel prices go sky high, so will our expenses hauling the camper from Georgia to Maine. And it is too big to go into many public campsites like state parks and national forests where it’s cheaper to camp.

Selling it is NOT an option – we love it and plan to keep it several more years as we travel around the country. Also not options are staying in motels for four months or renting a smaller camper. Despite diesel and campsite costs, using our existing camper is the most cost-effective way for us to do this trek.

Our plan is to find places to camp for several days at a time. It’s impractical to move it every day and it won’t go on narrow, windy, dirt mountain roads to trailheads. We’ll try to locate it centrally for several days’ runs, then move it near the next section of trail.

We hope to find as many free or inexpensive places to camp as possible. “Boon docking” will help save us money. We aren’t dependent on hook ups at campgrounds – Jim installed solar panels (inverter, battery, etc.) as soon as we got the camper. If it rains all the time, we’ve got a problem. But we’ve also got propane and a Honda gas generator for power, and large water storage tanks.

We still need to sit down with all the maps and campground information and find tentative camping spots along the way. We plan to visit some parks and forests in GA, NC, TN, and southern VA before we leave. We can’t make reservations anywhere yet; we don’t even know exactly when we’re leaving, let alone where we’ll be in June.

Plan as we go . . . be flexible and adapt. According to multiple thru-hiker Warren Doyle, adaptability on the Trail is crucial to successfully completing it.

Runtrails’ Rule #1:  Don’t get injured.

Rule #2:  Have fun!

Rule #3:  Be flexible and adaptable.

Happy trails,

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

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil