Planning to run a long trail is a lot easier to do now than
it was ten years ago because of the proliferation of helpful sites on the
Iíve spent countless hours reading material on the AT
Conference site and other relevant websites, including trail journals from many
hikers. Itís also easy to research and order gear on-line (more about that in
One of the high points of planning for this adventure run
was visiting the AT Conference headquarters in Harperís Ferry, W.
Virginia, in December. Since it was sort of on the way to visit relatives for
Christmas, we stopped in to get the whole set of maps and guidebooks
instead of ordering them by mail. It was nice to meet some staffers and browse
through the books and other items for sale.
I was really psyched after getting the maps and
guidebooks! Iíve spent many hours pouring over the information, familiarizing
myself with the terrain, trying to estimate how far I might go each day in the
first few weeks, planning where to camp, etc.
We really canít make concrete plans, though. FLEXIBILITY
and ADAPTATION are the operational words for this adventure run. If Iím too
tired or need to heal an injury, Iíll take a zero day and rest whenever I need
And I donít mind running in the rain, but Iím not letting
an overcast or foggy day ruin my views through areas with spectacular scenery,
like from the ridges in the Smokies. If I have to wait a day for sunshine, I will.
Stopping by the ATC office again in June will be a high
point in my trek, as itís almost half way through the distance to Maine. Itís
traditional for thru-hikers to sign the register, get their photo taken, and
socialize with the staff. Sometimes there are groups of school kids or other
visitors present, and hikers have the chance to talk with them about their
Another type of research Iíve done is to re-read numerous
newspaper and magazine articles about hiking the AT that Iíve been saving since
the 1970s. These yellowed old articles of hikes past are very motivating.
Some hikers are folks I know, but most are strangers. All the accounts are
I still canít believe blind hiker Bill Irwin and his guide
dog, Orient, completed the Trail in 1990. I mean, how the heck did they
negotiate dangerous rocky areas like the Dragonís Tooth near Roanoke, Virginia?
Thatís hard to climb up or down with full vision, and I have to assist my
strong, agile ultra Lab(rador retriever) up and down some of the vertical rock
faces Ė since he canít use the handholds!
WHY DOES THE TRAIL KEEP GETTING LONGER?
As I re-read these articles for the umpteenth time in
twenty years, itís interesting to see how much longer the Trail has gotten as
more land has been acquired and continual relocations (ďrelosĒ) have been done
for that and other reasons like erosion control.
Back in the mid-1980s, the AT was less than 2,100 miles
long. Now itís up to 2,174.9 miles, which Iím rounding up to 2,175.
Itís actually more than that when you add either of the two
approach trails to Springer Mountain and coming back down Mt. Katahdin at the
Oh, and donít forget the inevitable side trips!
No, I donít mean to the springs and composting toilets (and
behind large trees), but to the ďcanít missĒ sights along the way that are a bit
off the trail Ė the stunning vista on the rock outcropping over there, the
gurgling brook to soak my hot feet over here, landmarks and historical sites
like the one for Audie Murphy, and other little excursions to learn and explore
and observe that will enhance my journey northward.
Itís special moments like these that I will most likely
remember twenty years from now.
TALKING WITH OTHER AT THRU-HIKERS AND RUNNERS
For several months Iíve been picking the brains of several
thru-hikers and runners by phone or e-mail. The ATC maintains correspondence lists of thru-hikers
in many categories, several of which are relevant to me Ė older hikers, females
who soloed, fast-packers, slack-packers, folks who hiked with dogs, and other
categories. The ones Iíve contacted have been very helpful and supportive.
Runners have included Triple Crowner ďFlyiní BrianĒ Robinson (famous for
being the first fast-packer to do not only the AT but also the Pacific Crest
Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in one calendar year) and David Horton,
now almost a neighbor of mine since I moved to Virginia.
For those who donít know David, heís an ultra running
legend. Heís also humble enough (yes, really!) that heíll blush when he reads this.
Not only is he an extraordinary ultra runner, heís also a terrific race director
and has mentored many new ultra runners by example and by profession Ė heís a
physiology professor who teaches a class on running. Several of his protťgťs
have gone on to ultra stardom.
David runs well Ė VERY well. He has held (and probably
still holds) records for some very difficult ultras like Hardrock and the
Barkley. He finished the TransAmerica run (on pavement Ė ouch!) in 1995.
More relevant to me right now, in 1991 he ran the AT in only 52 days,
9 hours, and 41 minutes (the Trail was 2,144 miles that year), beating the
previous record of 60 days. His record stood until Pete Palmer shaved off a few
days in 1999.
Iíve read Davidís book about those two cross-country runs,
ďA Quest for Adventure,Ē so many times itís dog-eared. You can visit his
web site at
www.extremeultrarunning.com for further inspiration.
Davidís goal this year is to set the speed record for the
Pacific Crest Trail. I hope he gets it! [Later: he did.]
David has been both supportive of my own adventure run on
the AT and generous with his time answering my questions about training,
nutrition, attitude of thru-hikers toward runners, and other issues. I really
I think the best advice he gave me was to start the trip
rested and not injured Ė and have fun! He was going so hard day after day when
he ran the AT, I donít think he had nearly as much fun as I will.
Although Iíve gotten good information from thru-hikers
(both from e-mail and from reading their detailed journals at
www.trailjournals.com), there arenít very many people to talk to that have
RUN the darn thing AND spent all or most nights off the trail like Iíll be
One couple Iíd dearly love to talk with is Regis and Diana
Shivers. Regis, also an ultra runner, completed the AT in 2003 in 87+ days with
Diane crewing for him. Unfortunately, Regis had cancer surgery in late 2004 and
I donít want to bother them with questions during this difficult time in
If anyone reading this knows a runner whoís done the AT the
way I want to run it, please ask them to e-mail me at the link below. I'd love
to get their advice and perspective on their trek.