Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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Start: Springer Mountain, GA                                
End:  Woody Gap, GA
Today's Miles:                      19.9
Cumulative Miles:               19.9
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
- Chinese proberb

Plaque marking southern terminus of the AT at Springer Mountain, GA.  4-30-05. Sue, Jim, Tater, and Cody at top; Steve Michael and Sue, bottom.

As does my journey of 2175 miles!

Today I took that first step from Springer Mountain, GA, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

I was honored to have my two favorite ultra training buddies share the moment: my husband, Jim, and my training partner when I lived in the Atlanta area, Steve Michael.

The day did not begin well. Jim and I were awakened during the night by the thunder, lightning, and driving rain that woke up thousands of north Georgia residents.

I donít mind a little rain pattering on the roof when Iím trying to go to sleep, but hard rain on a fiberglass camper roof only a few feet above my head is a different thing.

Worse, it meant a long, wet day on the Trail. Fortunately, it was in the 50s when we got up. Warm rain is not so bad for running, and the weather prognosticators said it would clear up late in the morning.

Ha! It was not only foggy all day, but we even had sleet above 3,000 feet. Still, we stayed warm in short sleeves and shorts. The weather was more comfortable for running than crewing, as often happens in ultra races.

Half a mile from the end, it started raining again. Yuck! Imagine three wet runners and two wet dogs inside one pick-up truck.


Despite the rain, I was in high spirits when we met Steve at Woody Gap. It took us over an hour to navigate the narrow, winding mountain roads to get to the AT parking lot on FSR 42, a mile below Springer (this is much shorter than the 8.8-mile, mostly uphill, approach trail from Amicalola Falls). It took 20 minutes to walk up the rocky trail to the start.

We were the only ones at the start. It was noon, later than most thru-hikers would have been starting if they stayed in the nearby shelter. (We started late, hoping the rain would end.) The atmosphere was dream-like in the fog, and I almost felt like I was in a dream. Thirty-six years Iíve waited for this moment, and it was hard to comprehend the enormity of this endeavor.

It was interesting to read the large plaques commemorating the start of the Trail. The ATC plaque includes a map of the Trail. Jim photographed it with my watch to show the time of day I began my trek, but the time doesnít show (12:10 PM). The Georgia ATC plaque reads, ďA footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.Ē

After the obligatory photo session, I officially started my AT Adventure Run as we ran the first mile back down the mountain to the parking lot. I was on my way!

Part way down I realized Jim wasnít behind me. Steve went back to find him. Turns out he saved my butt Ė none of us remembered to find the Trail register so I could sign it and be counted among the 2005 GA to ME thru-hikers! Jim remained behind for a couple minutes to take more photos of the plaque and discovered quite by accident a metal cover in the side of the rock with the ATC plaque. He opened it and found a very soggy Trail register. He signed it for me (ď4-30-05. 12:10 PM.  Runtrails is starting today. See you in Maine in August.Ē) and took a photo of the register on top of the plaque. The paper was wet, so everyoneís signatures and comments were blurry.

At the truck, Steve and I picked up our packs for the remaining nineteen miles and said goodbye to Jim. It would be almost five hours before we saw him again. Jim and the dogs drove the slow forest service road back to Woody Gap, our destination for the day.


The elevation at Springer Mountain is 3,782 feet. On the way to Woody Gap (3,150 feet) we climbed Hawk, Sassafras, and Justus Mountains. The Trail was usually going up or down, with many rushing creeks full from the overnight rains, dense rhododendron tunnels, and beautiful ghostly hardwood trees through the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The first four miles down to Three Forks were new to me. Three beautiful mountain streams converge here to form Noontootla Creek (love the name!). We kept crossing the Benton MacKaye Trail, named for the man who envisioned the Appalachian Trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.

I was surprised how runnable some of the sections were. Iíve run enough of the Trail in north Georgia and Virginia to know it is very rocky the majority of the time, so any time the Trail was relatively smooth, I ran.

Although we saw about twenty hikers today, we know of only one thru-hiker, a fella from Massachusetts who left Springer just ahead of us. I don't know his name so I won't be able to tell if he finishes. He was wearing blue jeans, which must have been very uncomfortable in the mist and rain.

Steve was very tolerant of my slow pace all day. When we used to run together in the late 1990s, we ran pretty much the same pace. Since I moved away in 1999, heís gotten considerably faster and Iíve, well, slowed down a lot. Steve stayed behind all day so I could set the pace. It was slow enough to talk quite a bit and catch up with each otherís lives. I donít want to start the adventure run too fast and get injured or burn out, so I was being very conservative.


Although we couldnít see any vistas in the heavy fog, we enjoyed the numerous creeks, wildflowers, and new green under-story plants in the forest. I could identify most of the flowers, like violets, bluets, buttercups, spring beauties, cinquefoil, Dutchman's breeches, and red columbine. We passed through numerous rhododendron tunnels with their deep green, glossy ever-green leaves. What a fine show they will  present in a few weeks!

One plant fascinated us Ė foot-high umbrella-shaped, multi-lobed plants with bright green leaves that grew only in large colonies. I identified them later as may apples. Theyíre supposed to have little waxy white flowers along the stems, but I never saw any of the flowers.

I was more familiar with the Trail after Three Forks. I used to train there when I lived in Atlanta. Although I tried to run as much as possible, we were making very slow progress. The last two hours dragged by for me. I apparently wasnít taking in enough fluids or electrolytes, because first my feet, then my calves, inner thighs, and hamstrings started to cramp off and on. I was warm enough, but not very thirsty or hungry in the cool mist and the sleet.

Jim and the dogs ran about twelve miles back and forth on the Trail from Woody Gap. We finally met up with them about four miles from the end. Total time for the 19.9 miles (it HAD to be longer than that!!!) was 6:48, plus 20 minutes on the approach trail. I was one whipped puppy.

By the time we got back to the camper, it was almost dark and I was chilled and very sleepy. It was all I could do to stay awake long enough to get cleaned up, eat supper, take care of the dogs, and get my things ready for tomorrow. It was late and I did not feel like writing this journal, so I wrote it on Day 2. If I had written it on Day 1, it would have been as dark as my mood was! I was discouraged and not sure if I could run the 17 miles planned for Day 2.

I went to sleep thinking negative thoughts, wondering how the heck I was going to run 2175 miles over these trails in four months or less.

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

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil