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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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                         THIS TREK?                
February 17
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”     
- Michaelangelo

Our camper tag

I think that my odds of finishing this adventure run are good for several reasons:

1.  I’m about as motivated as anyone could be – it’s been a goal of mine for 36 years.

2.  I’m not getting any younger!  I’ll be 56 when I start this adventure. The longer I wait, the harder it’s going to get.

3.  I’m an optimist. (I even got “AT RNR” on the license plate last summer when we registered our camper in our new state).

4.  I believe I can deal with the vagaries of the weather and trail. I think I will look forward to most days eagerly, even if it’s raining, because almost every day will be a new trail that I’ve never been on. How exciting is THAT to an addicted trail ultra runner and nature lover?? 

5.  By the time I start, I will be as well trained as I can be without getting injured – always a fine line for me when I’m training for an important ultra race. At my age, injuries occur more often and take longer to heal than they used to. As Jim and I occasionally remind each other (with a smile), “You know, you’re not thirty-five any more!” We’re typical ultra runners who love a challenge and think we can conquer about any obstacle we encounter deliberately or randomly.

6.  There are no time cut-offs in this “event.” I have a problem with cut-offs in tough ultras, especially 100-milers at altitude, because I’m just too slow and careful sometimes. While I don’t want to be out there forever on the AT, I have the luxury of being able to take rest days and down time if I have an injury that will heal in a few days, like an ankle strain. Since we’re retired, we don’t have to get back by any certain date. That’s a refreshing change from fighting cut-off times in races.


Folks who hike the entire length of the AT – from either direction, and in as many days or years as it takes them to walk every foot of the way – are honored as “2,000-Milers.” 

Since 1936, there have been 8,082 hike completions recorded by the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) through the end of 2004. More than 100 hikers have done the entire trail more than once (e.g., Warren Doyle has hiked it at least twelve times).

From 1939 to 1969, only 61 completions were recorded. The number has sky-rocketed since the ‘70s, fueled by several popular books by thru-hikers (pun intended).

Still, only 22% of northbound thru-hikers made it all the way to Katahdin in 2003 and 2004. “North-bounders” (NOBOs) comprise 65% of thru-hikers. The majority of NOBOs start at Springer Mountain, Georgia in March or April so they can get to Mt. Katahdin in Maine before Baxter State Park closes in October (or earlier, depending on the weather).

“South-bounders” (SOBOs) have a slightly lower “finish rate” and represent only 10% of the thru-hikers. They’re the folks who start the trek in Maine, usually around June, and hike south to Georgia.

There are two other main ways to attain thru-hiker status on the AT:

“Flip-floppers” hike with various itineraries to accommodate their schedules, the weather, what’s blooming, when the fall leaves turn color, etc. One popular variation is to start in Georgia in late spring, hike about halfway north, then drive to Maine and hike south until they reach the point where they stopped earlier. Flip-floppers account for only 5% of the reported 2,000-Milers.

“Section hikers” comprise 20% of the 2,000-Milers and can take from two trips to LOTS of trips over many years to cover the entire distance. This is one way to do the trail and “have a life” at the same time. It’s also a way for thru-hikers to compensate for a hike-ending injury; if they can’t complete the trip in one year, they can finish the rest at another time and still be honored as a 2,000-Miler (as long as they do all the miles).

The ATC has no consistent way to record the number of people who start a flip-flop or section hike in any given year, so there are no “finish” rates for those two categories. I would guess there is a higher rate for section hikers than any of the other categories because it doesn’t take a six-month chunk out of their lives. I’m glad they are able to get the “2,000-Miler” recognition, too.


I was amazed to read how soon some thru-hikers start to throw in the towel. I’ve read of folks quitting after the nine-mile approach trail to Springer Mountain in Georgia, before they even get TO the Appalachian Trail!

According to ATC stats, about 20% of the people who start at Springer drop out within a WEEK for various reasons, primarily because of wintry or rainy weather in March and April and/or inadequate preparation for the rugged terrain – they break down physically or mentally.

About 50% quit within six weeks. Wow! 

Some return another year, better prepared. Some give up and never return. (Sound like any ultras you know??)

Think of all the planning, training, and money they’ve probably already spent on gear, mail drops along the route with their provisions, etc. – not to mention putting their “real” lives on hold for several months.


These figures concern me, but they don’t WORRY me. As an ultra runner, my situation is different. Running hilly trails is something I do almost every day, and I’ve been doing it the last 25 years. I don’t think most hikers get adequate time on their feet – with heavy packs, in mountainous terrain – before they start on the AT.

You can’t say enough about event-specific training.

I will be better trained than the average thru-hiker before I start the trek. In addition, I won’t be carrying a heavy pack and I’ll have the luxury of sleeping in a decent bed in our camper every night. I can take a warm shower, prop my feet up at the end of the day, eat a good meal, and have access to ice and whatever else I need for sore muscles. That will make a world of difference in the stress my body endures the three or four months I’m out there on the Trail.

If I don’t make it to Katahdin this summer because of a serious injury or other emergency, I’ll revert to Plan B – finish the remainder another year (i.e., become a section hiker). I’d much rather do it all in one trek, however – what a great point-to-point run! It will be extremely gratifying to climb Katahdin and know I’ve reached one of my life-long dreams.

I’ll discuss my running history (i.e., long-term training) and my current training for the adventure run in Prep7 and 8.


I’m going northbound, as are the majority of the 2005 thru-hikers. Last year, 1,535 hikers reportedly started their journey at Springer Mountain, Georgia. It was nearly double that in 2000.

Since I plan to wait until late April or early May to begin, I won’t catch up to the NOBO “bubble” of thru-hikers for several weeks. Many will have already dropped out by then, and the rest will be well spread out. And I should be about two-thirds done before I start seeing many south-bounders who started in Maine.

I don’t expect to have much company out there!

Happy trails,

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

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil