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: Watauga Dam Rd., TN                                
End:  Low Gap/US 421, TN
Today's Miles:                       23.0
Cumulative Miles:              443.5
"Oh, you're doing it (thru-hiking the AT) the easy way."
- weekend hiker who's doing all of eight miles in two days

Rhododendrons blooming above Watauga Lake, TN

 Farm AT runs through after TN 91 road crossing (note white blaze on fence post near center of photo). 5-28

I'll do my defensive rant later re: comment above . . .

I'm sure glad I bailed out early yesterday.

I must have thought that a dozen times this morning during the first half of this run! If I'd kept going for sixteen more miles yesterday as planned, I would have been reduced to a mass of limp Jello by the time I got done. And it would have been after dark.

The first climb was that bad from Watauga Dam Road! I grumbled about it this morning even with relatively fresh legs.

Once I got on top of the ridge I ran the next sixteen miles in the Iron Mountain Range. I wasn't even rewarded with scenic views of Watauga Lake 2,000 feet below. Leaves obscure the views six months of the year, and this morning's rain and fog further eliminated them from a couple places where the trees were trimmed. I did notice some boats out on the lake soon after I started around 7 AM. (No over-sleeping this morning!)

This first section along the ridges would offer more views before the leaves come out, but there is an advantage to running it this time of the year: many beautiful light and dark purple rhododendrons and gold, orange, and red-orange flame azaleas have just started blooming a little past (north of) the Vandeventer shelter. They should peak soon.

There were a fair number and kinds of wildflowers and other flowering shrubs along the way. I saw several May apples in bloom; I've seen the plants nearly every day for the last month, but they weren't blooming yet. There are numerous berry bushes, too. Summer hikers will have to share them with the bears, though. I saw plenty of bear scat today, but no more bears, alas.


The AT guide warns hikers to wear long pants in the summer because of the stinging nettles and briars in this section. Although the Trail was overgrown in several places, the weeds mostly tickled. I did see some plants with thorns, but used my trekking pole to deflect them. Another use for a pole: sticker flicker!

The main problems I had with the overgrown sections were getting my shoes as wet as if I'd been running through a creek and the inability to see rocks on the Trail. I can't count how many times I stubbed my toes and tripped over rocks today because I couldn't see them under the weeds. I started walking these sections to avoid falling.

Not that that kept me from falling, however! I fell upwards once onto dirt and grass when I stumbled while getting an electrolyte capsule out of my pack in front as I walked. That fall didn't hurt (that's #6).

The second one did hurt. I was running downhill on one of the few smooth pieces of trail the first sixteen miles. With the momentum and farther distance down, I slid and got "road rash" on my right knee. Took me a little while to sit there and clean up the mess. I was able to continue running OK and it doesn't hurt tonight. That's #7.


I stopped at both shelters in the first section today and signed the registers. It's fun to read the comments of recent hikers, especially those I've come to know. Warren Doyle's crewed group of nine hikers is three days ahead of me. They got to Damascus Thursday and took a zero day Friday. I won't get to Damascus by foot until tomorrow (Sunday). One of these days I'll catch them again.

At the second shelter (Iron Mountain) I sat a few minutes to eat a harvest muffin and chat with two men and a teenage boy who had spent the night there. It was 11:30 AM and they hadn't left camp yet. A cat was asleep on the picnic table in front of the shelter. I joked, "How'd you get that cat up here??" They laughed and said it apparently lives at the shelter. It was there when they arrived yesterday.

Pretty good idea, a shelter cat. Sure would help with the problems that hikers have with mice getting into their food, walking over their sleeping bags, and causing hantavirus.

I was very happy to see lots of hikers today, although all of them were just out for the holiday weekend. I saw a total of ten men and twelve boys of junior high and high school age the first sixteen miles, and one older woman with four teenage girls in the second section of seven miles after TN 91. I think it's so great that all those kids were out there instead of roaming a mall or something.


The most poignant thing I saw today was a stone grave and tall stone monument to "Uncle Nick Grindstaff" about a mile after the Iron Mountain shelter. The engraving on the monument gives his birth date and death and reads, "lived alone, suffered alone, died alone."

According to the AT guide, Grindstaff was orphaned at three, then robbed and beaten on a trip out West at age 26. Disillusioned, he became a hermit and lived his remaining 45 years on Iron Mountain with only his dogs as companions. Someone had placed a small wind chime and ceramic heart on the monument as a tribute.


The day started off cool (low 50s) and rainy until about 11 AM. The rest of the day was sunny and in the 70s in the valleys, with nice breezes up high where I was (mostly 3,500 to 4,000 feet). The ridge section was cool in the shade but warmed up as I ran down to TN 91 sixteen miles into the run. There was an interesting quarter-mile swampy section just before the road, with numerous little bridges keeping hikers and runners out of the mud. Thank you!

The highlight of my day came after Hwy. 91 when I got to run right smack through a farm!

The white blazes were painted on fence posts going up a gravel road that turned out to be a driveway to some farm buildings (dunno where the house was). I could hear a tractor before I could see it. Hmm. This was a working farm. I felt like I was trespassing, but kept following the white blazes.

The farmer on the tractor was more used to this than me. He waved a cheerful hello as I walked by (I thought running would be rude). I went past the buildings, watching as he finished cutting whatever crop he was harvesting. Spring wheat, perhaps? I don't know; it's been 45 years since I left the farm. It sure smelled good, whatever it was.

The markers turned into a field that was already mowed and I followed the path through it - very weird, but not the first time I've run on the AT through someone's field. There are pastures with cows near Catawba, VA, between Dragon's Tooth and McAfee Knob, that I've run before, and it's just as weird there, too.

Some of the land through which the Appalachian Trail passes is leased from the owners, and I'm guessing that's the case here.

I also signed the register at the last shelter, Double Springs, in this short section. I hope tomorrow's section before Damascus is like this one; it was smooth and gradual, my kind of trail! The last half of today's run was so much more pleasant than the first steep, rocky one. Every day should end so well. I wasn't sore or tired, even after eight hours on the Trail.


Jim's had a hectic week. We decided to move to a national forest campground eleven miles east of Damascus before I got up this way on the Trail so we would be assured of a site during the busy Memorial Day weekend. The last three days he's driven about 200 miles a day in the truck to trailheads, running errands, etc., giving him little time to run or do any relaxing.

Today was no different. It took over an hour to get back to the Watauga Dam Road early this morning, then Jim had to get the brakes fixed on the truck. They were suddenly making a racket and we couldn't wait until Tuesday. Several places he checked in Elizabethton and Johnson City and Bristol (all in TN) were unable to do the work on a holiday Saturday. He ended up at a Ford dealer in Bristol, where the work was completed (new rotors and pads, ouch!). If we'd been at home, he could have done the work himself or found a local business to do it cheaper than on the road.

When he picked me up at US 421, he was not a happy camper. No time to run again, had to spend all day dealing with the truck and driving all over creation. Since I was not that tired, I did my best to make the rest of his day better. I had to wait for him about an hour, but I spent the time sitting in the grass in the sun, cleaning up my bloody knee, and talking on my cell phone to my sister-in-law in Cincinnati. I was still high enough up to have a better signal than Jim did in the valley.

We stopped in Damascus on the way home and ordered take-out chicken burritos at the Baja Cafe, recommended by our buddy, Tread Well. Dave, those were some of the best burritos we've ever had! Reminds me of my favorite Mexican restaurant on Ponce de Leon Ave. in Atlanta, where the burritos are as huge and delicious as these. Yum!

While waiting for the burritos-to-go, we visited one of the two outfitters' stores in town and signed the register there. The Post Office hiker register is unavailable until Tuesday, and we'll probably be moving on by then. I saw all sorts of AT memorabilia I'd like, but I want to wait until I've finished my adventure run, all the way to Katahdin, before I buy anything like that.

After enjoying our burritos in the camper we walked around the campground with the dogs and just relaxed the rest of the evening. Tomorrow's 20+ miles are fairly easy, by AT standards, so we're sleeping in until 6.

Only fourteen more miles in Tennessee!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil