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: Fontana Dam, s. trailhead                           
End:  Stecoah Gap, NC
Today's Miles:                      14.9
Cumulative Miles:             163.9
"Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then find the way."
- Abraham Lincoln

 L to R: Thru-hikers "Cheese Factory," "Santa," and "Dillinger" 

Crested dwarf iris     5-12-05

I ran today's section backwards through the rocks and roots and ups and downs.

You're thinking, "Is this woman nuts?? How could she do that??"

Well, yes, I'm a little nuts for even being out here doing this trek, but no, I don't mean "retro-running," if that's what you're thinking.

Literally running backwards is hard enough on pavement (although some folks perhaps more nuts than me have run entire marathons backwards). It would have been impossible on today's section of the AT - or any section of the AT.

Although back on Monday, when it was excruciating to walk downhill with Lynn, let alone run, I did walk backwards a few times on smooth trail to relieve the quad pain. Seriously - ask her!

What I did today was run SOBO (southbound) on the Trail instead of NOBO. And it was plenty weird. It would have been much more exciting to be heading toward Fontana Dam and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than away from them.

But as I explained at the end of yesterday's entry, if I'd done the section from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam northbound today, I'd have a five-mile section of downhill at the end. And that could have really strained my sore knee/quad(s).

So I sucked it up and did another day of excessive uphill, and it seems to have worked. I didn't have any knee pain for the first time in several days. Now I'm psyched to get into the Smokies.

As I mentioned earlier, the majority of thru-hikers in any given year have dropped out by now, so I'm in an exclusive minority right now, even if I'm going slower than I had planned.


To avoid some of the predicted heat, and prepare myself for a very early start on Friday, Jim and I forced ourselves to get up at 6 AM and I was on the Trail at 7:30, my earliest start so far. It didn't look like there would be much water along the way for Cody, so we gave him the day off.

I soon discovered one big disadvantage of hiking southbound, against the main traffic, this early in the morning. I was the first one out there. And every trail runner knows what that means on a warm spring morning in a lush forest

I got to clear all the spider webs for everyone else!!!

Although I don't usually carry a trekking pole when I train or do ultra races, it has come in mighty handy on this little run in the woods. And I found another use for it today - clearing spider webs before my face hit them. Trekking poles are about as versatile as duct tape.


There was mist all over Fontana Lake when I started, but the Trail was clear. I started at about 1,710 feet and had an ascent of 2,310 feet to the crest of Yellow Creek Mountain in the first five miles. Some of the Trail was gradual, some was steep and without benefit of switchbacks.

Although I still had plenty of elevation gain and loss and continual ups and downs along the ridge tops, I didn't get over 4,000 feet today. It was an easier day than yesterday, even going the harder direction (south). I was able to run 35 to 40% of the distance today, more than the previous section.

I didn't get above the new deciduous leaf line all day, so there was a little more shade than yesterday. The flowers only reached to about 3,500 feet and were most profuse under 3,000 feet. I saw bright fire pink for the first time near the Nantahala River yesterday (the first really red flower this season) and a new type of trillium today with a yellow flower.

As usual, some of the Trail today was smooth and runnable and some was very rocky. Even a mountain goat couldn't run on some of these slanted boulders. I had to pick my way through them carefully.

I ran into (well, not literally!) more blow-downs and huge uprooted trees in this section than in any other so far. The Trail had to be re-routed around some of them. Probably more damage from last summer's hurricane remnants.

Between Cody Gap and Hogback Gap I could hear a chainsaw. I'd been alone for several miles, and visions of "B" grade movies danced through my head. I could picture some thieves cutting down wood illegally and needing to eliminate the witness.

But instead I found a little dog and two kindly gentlemen from the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the local AT maintaining club, clearing the Trail. One played the role of comic, one the straight man. I enjoyed about ten minutes of conversation with them, thanked them for all their hard work, and ran on.

The comic's solution for my sore knee?  Stop running, of course! (Or was that the serious one??)


One of the disconcerting things about going south instead of north was that the mountains that were on my right side yesterday (the Smokies) were on my right today! And instead of being on the left, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, dedicated to the author of the poem, "Trees," was on the "wrong" side, too.

But there was a nice advantage to going "against the traffic" today, and it illustrates why I haven't seen very many hikers when I'm going north. The majority of us are going north, starting different times and places each day, and it's so much easier to see them when you're going the opposite way than it is to catch up to (or be caught) going the same direction.

That was crystal clear, right?

Two hours into my run this morning I saw Big Foot coming toward me. He appreciated the spider-web removal job I did for him so his remaining hike down to the dam would be more pleasurable. He'd done the same for me, but only for the next mile to the shelter where he'd spent the night. Then I had to watch for spider webs again.

Big Foot was ending his section hike today and going home to Knoxville, but may be back out on the AT in a couple weeks to find his new thru-hiking friends farther up the Trail. We spent about ten minutes talking before moving on in opposite directions.

At the end of the next long downhill, I found myself ten feet from the rear of the Cable Gap shelter, which was practically sitting on the Trail. I knew from Big Foot that there were three male thru-hikers there, so I yelled to see if everyone was decent. They were.


I spent the next twenty minutes chatting with Santa (Jim from Pennsylvania), Cheese Factory (Andrew), and Dillinger. I had forgotten to get a photo of Santa yesterday, and hadn't met the two young men before, so I took pictures of all three. I should be seeing all of them again.

Cheese Factory is the young man with the full head of hair (see photo above) and lip ring that my Jim gave a cold Pepsi to yesterday. He was still grateful. There was a very long dry section before the hikers got to the shelter with a stream running out front, and it helped "Cheese" get there. He'd wanted to get to Fontana Dam yesterday, but the heat and lack of water delayed his progress. He was eagerly looking forward to the cookies he hoped to receive in a mail drop in Fontana.

I asked Cheese Factory the story behind his name. He looked at Dillinger and turned a little red. I said, "Maybe I don't want to know. Wouldn't have anything to do with the phrase, 'cutting the cheese,' would it?"  They both laughed and said yes.

I'll try not to get behind him on the Trail!

Cheese says he gave Dillinger his Trail name because he's so diligent and plans out each day so carefully, not because he's handy with guns.

The last thru-hiker I saw was Dave Kelly, who Jim and I met at Winding Stairs several days ago. I called Jim about two miles from the end of today's section to let him know my progress, and Dave ("Capt. Morgan") was at the truck then. Jim gave him a gallon of water, which he'll need for that dry section. When Dave reached me on the Trail a few minutes later, we also talked about ten minutes.

So today's not-quite fifteen-mile section took me about six hours, but almost an hour of that was talking to folks. I actually made better time than yesterday because I could run more.

And I had no knee pain!!

      View of the Smokies from Wauchecha Bald in North Carolina.  5-12-05


My choices for tomorrow boil down to this:

1. Take three rest days (drive home Friday, stopping in Damascus to check out Trail Days, do what needs to be done at home, and return to this area on Sunday night after stopping briefly in Damascus on the way back). Then start the 70-mile, three-day Smokies section on Monday. I've never been to Trail Days, the annual thru-hikers' get-together. Folks say it's a lot of fun.


2. Go ahead and run/walk the longest, hardest roadless section of the entire AT, the 32-mile stretch between Fontana Dam and the Clingman's Dome parking lot, with a knee that may give out after 15 or 20 miles. Oh, yeah, Clingman's Dome is also the highest point on the AT. Do an 8-mile section on Saturday, and the second long stretch of 30 miles on Sunday.

Guess which one I chose??  (I've made my decision already.)

Check back here tomorrow or Saturday to find out!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil