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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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March 20

"Bumpo, you'll forget the sights and the places - it's the people you'll remember."   - "Talks A Lot," a repeat thru-hiker


Thru-hikers at Lambert's Meadow shelter in Virginia May, 2004

Although I’ll have to focus on the “job at hand” each day – getting from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time – I intend to enjoy the company I have along the way.

In reading thru-hikers’ journals, this point has been made time and time again: although many hikers looked forward to the journey itself, the scenery, and the personal growth they would experience, it was the friendships they made on the Trail that was the most memorable aspect of the trip for most of them.

“ . . . I hiked seven miles and bought new, lightweight gear. I never did get to see the world’s second largest poplar tree and probably never will. But I did get to see a couple of trail friends who I’ll probably never get to see again. I realize now that the AT is much much more about people than about places.”   - Nat “Bumpo” Stoddard, thru-hiker, on Day 12 on the Trail

The impact of the shared experience and mutual support among thru-hikers can be very powerful, resulting in lasting friendships among diverse people who never would have been friends otherwise.

This happens with AT runners, too. When David Horton ran the Trail in 1991, he became close friends with fellow competitor Maineak (Scott Grierson) despite the fact they were moving along very quickly and didn’t even spend that much time together. They had a common goal (beating the current record) and respected each other’s ability. They remain good friends today.


“It occurs to me that the "AT experience" is perhaps not about the footpath itself, but awe one finds and the people one meets along the way. Mind you, the path itself is necessary, vital - it is the framework. But there is just something gut-grabbing about the shared experience, and the tougher the experience, the better.“   - Jan “LiteShoe,” 2003 thru-hiker

I’m pretty much used to running alone for hours on end, happy to be one with the trees and mountains. There are times I will want to be alone on the AT, traveling at my own pace and enjoying the moment. But I also want to socialize with other trail users, whether they are out for a day, a section, or the whole enchilada. Even if they aren’t runners, we share a common love of physical activity and nature.

Since I plan to finish the trek two or three months faster than most of the “Class of 2005” thru-hikers, I won’t likely run into the same people week after week the way they do. So I may not be able to get to know anyone very well. But I do want to be friendly and courteous to the other trail users, and it would be a nice bonus to enlarge my circle of friends.

“My sense is that I can always revisit certain spots to appreciate once again their scenic beauty, but will never again be able to capture the magic of the relationships I will experience on the trail. Long after we have forgotten the bad parts of the hike, it is the people we hike with that will remain in our thoughts and in our hearts.”  - 2005 thru-hiker Dick “Longhaul” Calkin


I need to be careful what I say to hikers for my own safety and so I don’t alienate the traditionalists among them. I’ve been cautioned more than once not to brag about how fast I’m going or how much crew support I have.

Although many thru-hikers take advantage of “slack-packing” or “freedom hiking” a few days along the way (when they can leave their heavy back-packs at a hostel, e.g., and use a light pack for a day’s hike), the term “slacker” doesn’t have a very positive connotation. I’ll be considered a “slacker” for more than one reason  – using a light-weight pack, running when I can, wearing trail shoes and not boots, and staying in our camper at night. God forbid I set a female speed record! (not real likely)

One woman gave me this honest insight:

“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.”

Even though I had heard this attitude before, I asked her for clarification. She wrote back:

“The problems some hikers have with slack-packers, supported runners, and fast packers are:
 - bragging about mileages
 - bragging about low pack weights
 - skipping, or yellow blazing trail
 - not having the life style change a long distance hike used to imply
 - bringing the competitive, fast paced world into the "wilderness"  experience, as sort of pollution
 - taking away from the self sufficiency a long distance hiker usually experiences
 - going through the hardships, the cold, hunger, aches and pains
 - a town/camper experience on a nightly basis is wimping out

Now, Sue, I want you to know that the above feelings are those expressed towards slack packers, yellow blazers, and town hounds while I was on the trail. Personally, I think everyone should hike their own hike, but just be honest about what you are doing, without bragging, etc.  You and I have already learned that there will always be people judging and criticizing your motives. Be at peace with yourself. That’s all that really matters.”

And she wished me well.

I appreciated her candor, and promised her (and myself) that I will remember what she advised.


When other runners are planning similar treks on the Appalachian Trail, I’d advise them to also take her words to heart.

Some people may take offense and say, “Screw the purists,” but I think we should respect the time-honored traditions that have existed since early AT pioneer Earl Schaffer first “walked with spring” in 1948. (See the ATC site for the history of the AT.)  I don’t know if other long trails in this country have such a long history and similar traditions – I doubt it.

Jan “LiteShoe” Leitschuh, another thru-hiker who has THE most popular site on, eloquently expressed more tolerance toward a runner she met on the Trail in Pennsylvania in June, 2003.

I know she's referring to Regis "Buckeye" Shivers, from Ohio, who ran the AT in 2003 in just 87+ days with his wife crewing for him. He also did the Mohican 100-miler along the way:

“We are passed by a friendly fellow named Buckeye, a marathon runner. He has no pack, only a water bottle. He is running the AT in prep for his tenth marathon. (Jan corrected this the next day – Buckeye was training for a 100-miler AND running the whole AT.) His wife, Buckeye Babe, meets him at road crossings with water and sandwiches, and at night they camp near the truck. Some folks take issue with this way of hiking the Trail, but it's fine with me. There are many notes in a symphony.”

Very cool analogy!  

(“Buckeye” passed Jan again a few days after running Mohican, and she mentioned him a third time in her trail journal.)


I wanted David Horton’s perspective on this, since he also had the audacity <grin> to set a SPEED RECORD on the Trail in 1991. I figured if anyone had ever alienated the thru-hikers, it would be someone aiming for a speed record!

But if you know David, you know it’s hard to NOT like him. He’s outgoing, personable, and funny. He told me he doesn’t remember anyone being critical of or unfriendly to him on the Trail.

David’s advice to me re: how to coexist peacefully with the thru hikers was GREAT. He suggested that we act as “Trail Angels” sometimes, dispensing some “Trail Magic” like I mentioned in Prep9 – those serendipitous moments when a stranger does something nice for tired, dirty thru-hikers, like offer them a ride to town or give them a cold drink from our truck at the trail head.

I love the idea, David. That should help us blend into the community of hikers better, and it’ll be a way we can return the favor of other Trail Angels whose surprises we find on the Trail.

It’s a win-win situation.

Happy trails,

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

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