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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DAY 11:  Tuesday, May 10
Start: Fontana Dam near shelter                           
End:  Trailhead past Fontana Dam
Today's Miles:                        1.5
Cumulative Miles:             135.4

"Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal." 

-Luis Escobar                 

Fontana Lake before the storms rolled in (sbove). Sue on Fontana Dam (below) after her impromptu AT run. 5-10-05

Well, today wasn't a total waste.

I woke up after sleeping solidly for over nine hours and decided that even though my knee/quad felt fine, I'd better rest it today. I didn't want a repeat of yesterday's debacle.

Since I got done running yesterday, I've been icing and elevating my leg as much as possible. There is no pain today, even on steps. I can't believe it feels so good now (even last night) and was so painful less than 24 hours ago!

The weather report called for a cooler day today, which would have been nice for running. The early morning sun didn't last long. It turned into a steady rain all afternoon. I don't mind running in warm rain, but it would have been a day without views so I'm glad I rested.

We decided to drive to Fontana Dam and check out that area. It's sort of a milestone, in a way - the entrance to one of the most difficult sections of the AT, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It's also where the annual thru-hiker ranks are whittled down to only about one-third of the original "starters." Although I'm not quite to the dam yet (I still have a 28-mile section to do first), I don't plan to DNF here!

It was just starting to rain as we got to the dam. Already fog and low clouds were settling among the mountains on the north side of the lake. Some of my fondest memories of the mountains in the Smokies and along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina are before and after storms. The cloud patterns in the skies and valleys, and the contrast between light and dark, can be very dramatic.


Half a mile up the hill from the dam is the "Fontana Hilton," the last AT shelter before hikers enter the Smokies. It's the fanciest shelter I've seen along the way - beautiful cedar walls, stone foundation, benches, loft sleeping areas inside, even a water pump and fountain outside. Nice digs, as far as shelters go. I signed the register, indicating I was still two days out from here.

We drove down the paved road to the visitor center and walked around. The center was closed for renovations today, but we were able to observe the dam and walk/drive across it. I was surprised there was absolutely no security check here. I thought all dams were still closely guarded post-9/11.

I wanted to see where the Trail started back into the woods on the north end of the dam. It's up 6/10 of a mile on pavement. The Smokies park sign is just past the dam; entrance is free at all park entrances. Although dogs aren't allowed on trails in the park, some trails are designated for horses. We saw several folks preparing to ride on a nearby trail.


Jim got the bright idea for me to knock out the paved section today so I'd have a little less to run on Thursday and Friday. I readily agreed. I felt good and was champing at the bit to be out on the Trail. Although I had on my road running shoes, I was wearing cotton shorts and the nice Wayah ("wolf") T-shirt Lynn gave me yesterday - not the ideal outfit to run in the drizzle that had begun, but what the heck.

So Jim dropped me off at the trailhead above the visitor center and I ran 1.5 miles on pavement down the hill, across the long dam, and up the hill to the trailhead in the Smokies. It felt great to run nonstop and not have to watch for roots and rocks, just uneven pavement. I'm  proud of my 16-minute time, too - the best day's pace I've had on this run so far.  <grin>

The drill is this:  Thursday when I run from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam, I'll stop at the trailhead south of the dam where I started today's run. It will eliminate one mile from that day's total. On Friday, when I start the long ascent into the Smokies, I'll start just over half a mile farther in at the trailhead where I stopped today.

As long as I cover all 2,175 miles of the AT, it doesn't matter in what order or in which direction I go. I'll still earn the coveted "2,000-miler" award at the end. Many thru-hikers do this sort of thing.

Sometimes I get frustrated that I'm not as physically sturdy or mentally tough as David Horton or Regis Shivers, who have run the AT in 52 and 87 days, respectively. They didn't need rest breaks every few days, and they stayed to their schedules. I was off-schedule after five days!

I think I'm as mentally tough as the average ultra runner (who's probably tougher than most of the general population, athletically-speaking), but I'm definitely not sturdy physically. It's ironic that I've broken down in one of my strongest areas, running downhill, and not my weakest areas. I guess this is where my mental fortitude will take over. I don't give up easily, and I'm usually upbeat and optimistic.


If it wasn't for Jim's willingness and enthusiasm for crewing me, I wouldn't be doing this adventure run. I whole-heartedly thank him every day for the support he's giving me and all the things he does to make this trek happen.

Jim has a multitude of duties: helping me prepare for each day's run, preparing most of the meals, prompting me to drink more and keep icing my leg, helping me clean my gear, taking me out to trailheads and picking me up when he doesn't have a real good clue when I'll be done, meeting me out on the Trail at the end of some days, keeping the camper in working order (harder when we don't have hook-ups), moving it from campground to campground, paying our bills, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and other items, walking the dogs part of the time, etc. - and trying desperately to get in some training himself!

He has good and bad days like me. There have been problems with the camper that he's had to fix, like the brakes and slide-out. He's had challenging mountain roads to navigate with the camper. He's had to be creative when there were items we should have brought, but didn't. He's had endless waiting when I've been late, and worries about how I'm doing "out there" when we haven't had cell phone service.

Crewing is difficult, and I'm fully aware of that. I am so grateful to Jim for helping make my AT dream come true. Next time someone crews for you in a race or an adventure run, be sure to thank them appropriately and do not take their sacrifice for granted!


I have to tell one story on both of us to illustrate how "stuff" can go wrong when you're under pressure and stressed out.

Sunday while I was at the clinic, Jim was doing laundry nearby. He was in a hurry with the dryers because he knew I was about done with the doctor.

While I was putting clean clothes away later that afternoon, I was keeping out the items I wanted to wear the next day, including my favorite blue "plaid" running shorts.

They weren't there! Jim couldn't figure out where they could have gone. He knew he got everything out of the washers and dryers. He couldn't find them in the truck. He felt so bad, I consoled him and said I guess I could live without them. (I've had them about seven years, and wear them in all my ultras; they really are my favorite running shorts.)

Yesterday I prevailed upon Jim to go back to the laundromat in Franklin, about 15 miles out of his way, to see if the shorts were there. He had plenty of time while I was running 21+ miles. I encouraged him to do other shopping, like getting groceries and gas, so he wouldn't feel like he'd wasted his time.

He agreed to go, but I knew he thought it was a wild goose chase. He thought those shorts had to be in the camper somewhere!

After we got back last night, I saw a whole pile of clothes on one of the recliners in the camper, including my favorite shorts. He'd found them!! I gave him a great big hug and thanked him profusely.

He grinned sheepishly and said, "What else do you see there?"  Upon closer inspection, I saw about six more items of clothing, both his and mine - three sweatshirts, a couple of running shirts, a pair of his running shorts.

I looked at him quizzically, not fully comprehending.

I'd failed to notice all these other missing clothes from the laundry! Everything was still in the dryer Jim had been using the day before, untouched (and dry). I can't believe someone didn't take them out and rifle through them. Thank goodness for the honest citizens of Franklin, NC.

Just goes to show you how busy we've been that neither of us noticed all this stuff was missing. At least we can laugh about it since it turned out well!


I'm looking forward to hitting the Trail again tomorrow. There is a lot of uphill, so that should take some stress off my quads. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be thankful there was more uphill than down on a trail!

If you look on the AT map above left, you can see the dot indicating my progress. We'll move it as needed.

It's sunny again now at 5 PM, and the smell of the chili Jim is preparing for supper permeates the camper . . .

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil