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: Low Gap/US 421, TN                                
End:  Feathercamp Branch/US 58, VA
Today's Miles:                      21.6
Cumulative Miles:             465.1
"Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia."
- Warren Doyle, multiple AT thru-hiker, in register at the Abingdon Gap shelter

Gotta look hard to see the notice that you're in Virginia now!

Sue and Cody under the AT hikers' welcome sign in Damascus   5-29-05

I wonder if Warren knows about Jim, AKA "Santa," the thru-hiker from Pennsylvania who will be getting to this section soon? Santa should get a kick out of that register entry! I got a good chuckle from it, too.

Gosh, it's good to get to Virginia! Not only is this our new home state, but getting to Damascus is a big psychological boost for most hikers.

I noted on Day 21 the various ways thru-hikers measure their progress along the Trail, such as different states and certain mileage numbers. Another way is by reaching certain significant places, like Damascus.

Although Damascus is not yet a quarter of the total distance we're going (I've just done 21% so far), it feels like I'm a quarter done. I've most certainly done more than a quarter of the total elevation change, because the first and last quarters are the roughest in that regard.

Fully one-fourth of the total AT mileage is in Virginia, so it'll seem like I'm here a long time. That might get discouraging, being in the fourth state so long (I finished with my third, Tennessee, during today's run).

So I'm likely to be even happier when I see the West Virginia sign in three or four weeks than I was today to see the Virginia sign. Harper's Ferry, WV will be my next milestone in the "significant places" category - not halfway mileage-wise, but halfway psychologically.

This next week, I'll also be passing the 500-mile mark and the real quarter-of-the-distance mark, 544 miles.


This was only the second or third day where I could really run as much as I wanted. It was great! My quads don't hurt any more, and I was rested and ready to go. Funny thing was, I sometimes had to stop to get my heart rate down. I'm not used to running so much at once on the AT because of all the rocks and roots. My body's gotten used to walking a lot more than it did before, just thirty days into this adventure "run."

I'm having second thoughts about how well this is training me for the Vermont 100-miler. Massanutten with its rocks, perhaps, but Vermont with all its road miles??

Today's section had three distinctly different parts. The first was from US 421 to Damascus (14+ miles), the second was literally through the middle of town (about 1.5 miles), and the third was back into the woods east of town to the spot where the Trail crosses US 58 the second time at Feathercamp Branch/Straight Branch (5+ miles).

The long first section on the Holston Mountain ridge was another one of those runners' dream trails: gradual ups and downs, cool ridge running with some views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, and 95% smooth trail. There was nothing really memorable about this section, but it was a very pleasant shady-hardwood-forest-with-some-laurels-blooming type of trail.

I was surprised those miles went by so quickly. Funny how that works when I can actually run a large chunk of a section!


I saw bear scat almost immediately upon starting up the first climb at 7:50 AM at US 421. I see bear scat often, so it didn't concern me. Then I heard three distinct something-really-big-crashing-through-the-woods types of noises in the next mile. Deer, I told myself.

Until I frightened a white-tailed deer a few miles later and it moved almost noise-free through the woods.

Wonder if those were bears I heard? I'd sure like to see another one. Jim hates it when I say that! Sorry, honey, but the three bears I've seen are definite highlights of my trek.

Around three miles I came upon a cute little "log cabin" on McQueen's Knob. The AT folks don't count it as a real shelter. The guide says it's an old shelter "suitable as an emergency shelter." Written in the trail register by one wag was the comment, "This place is only big enough for 1 1/2 people or 3 hobbits."

I was happy to spend a few minutes sitting there. After signing the register I took the opportunity to loosen up the laces on my new Montrail Hardrocks. One of my feet was starting to go numb. I'd sort of broken the shoes in by walking around in them a little, but this was their first time on the trail. They felt fine all day once I loosened them up.

I arrived at the real shelter (Abingdon Gap) less than two miles later and signed that register, also. That's where I saw Warren Doyle's cute message quoted at the top of this journal entry.


About ten miles in, I met two Tennessee-Eastman Hiking Club members who were re-painting blazes and doing some light trimming. Their club maintains the Trail up to Damascus, even though the last three miles are in Virginia. I commended them for doing such good work on their trail sections.

Yes, I mumble to myself when I have to crawl under or over blow-downs and have trouble seeing rocks on overgrown trails, but this club has done a great job overall in the miles for which they are responsible.

Total masochists had to have been the original trail designers for the sections of trail I've run the past week. I've never seen so many straight-up-and-over-the-mountain trails in my life! It's obvious the TEHC has spent many, many hours trying to tame some of these trails by replacing them with switchbacks. The new sections are also much smoother and runnable. The relos aren't sissified, they're sensible. We still get as much elevation gain and loss in most cases - and bonus mileage!

Thanks, TEHC.

About a mile later, I found the sign marking the VA/TN state line. YES!!! The state line seemed to be an afterthought, though. The really big print was to tell me that I was entering the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. Painted below on one of the uprights was "VA/TN."

From there, it was a nice mostly-downhill three miles to Damascus, where I entered town through someone's back yard. Literally. Jim and the dogs met me about a mile up the trail, and we walked through town together.


Some historical facts amuse me, like this one. Damascus was once known as Mock's Mill, after a man named Mock settled here in 1821. He built a home and a mill and spent the rest of his life here. He married three times and had 33 children. Busy guy!

I haven't seen the Damascus phone directory, but I betcha there are still a bunch of "Mocks" around here.

Former Confederate officer John Imboden later acquired the Mock land and promoted the development of coal, iron, and timber industries in the area. Because of the abundance of iron ore, manganese, timber, water, and coal, he renamed the town for the Syrian capital famed as the source of Damascus steel, renowned since the Middle Ages for its use in sword blades.

Now Damascus, VA is best known as a popular place for AT hikers. It advertises itself as the "friendliest town on the Trail" and hosts the annual three-day Appalachian Trail Days festival in mid-May, drawing crowds of hikers from all over the country. I still regret not coming up here for a few hours two weeks ago when the festival was in progress, but perhaps it will be more meaningful to attend after I've finished the Trail.

Jim and I could have run the one-plus mile through town at noon, but it didn't seem appropriate. So we sauntered along with the dogs, who always garner attention, and followed the white blazes. We met up with "Rain" and "Dance," a young couple from Pennyslvania, I believe, who are thru-hiking with their dog. I'd seen them on Day 25, the day I "skipped ahead," and I'll probably see them again on the Trail tomorrow.

All morning I'd been thinking about those wonderful chicken burritos we had for supper last night, so when we passed close to the Baja Cafe again, I asked Jim if he'd like another one for dinner today. Of course! That was my Bright Idea for today. He ordered two to go, after seeing me off on Leg #3 of my run.


On the east side of town, the AT joins the popular "Virginia Creeper Trail," a very successful rails-to-trails project that extends 34+ miles from Abingdon, VA to Damascus, up the Whitetop Laurel Gorge, and east to the North Carolina border. On this holiday weekend, it was packed with cyclists, walkers, and runners. Equestrians also use the trail, but we didn't see any of those.

Soon after we got on the Creeper Trail, Jim noticed an ice cream and sandwich shop across busy US 58. He came up with today's Bright Idea #2: buying two big bowls of ice cream for lunch! What a great crew-person I have! I sat on the grass outside with Tater and Cody while Jim got the ice cream. We saved a smidgen for the dogs, then headed back to the Creeper Trail.

We weren't on the trail a minute until someone honked and abruptly pulled their car over to the grass between the trail and highway. It was Tread Well (Dave from Atlanta) and his wife! He'd e-mailed that they wanted to hike in the nearby Grayson Highlands or on Max Patch this weekend, but we weren't able to connect without reliable cell service here. It was sheer luck they saw us.

Dave told us where they saw the feral ponies up near Mt. Rogers and in Grayson Highlands SP, so we're hoping to see them Monday or Tuesday when we're up there. We wish we could have talked to Dave and Christine longer, but I still had five more miles to go with Cody today. Jim saw the couple a little later at Baja when he ordered dinner, and they talked some more.


"Virginia Creeper" - that's not a bad trail name for a slow Virginia runner like me! I've thought of others that might be more appropriate than "Runtrails," such as "Trail Turtle," "Trail Snail," "Trail Slug," or maybe the classier, "Escargot."

Waddya think??

Jim and Tater bid adieu for a while as Cody and I crossed US 58 to begin the long climb to Feathercamp Ridge and Cuckoo Knob (who the heck comes up with some of these ditzy names?!) The 1,400-foot climb was not steep, just long. I was glad I added it on to today's miles instead of tomorrow's, when I have to climb up to the top of Whitetop Mountain (Virginia's second-highest mountain at 5,560 feet) from the 2,200 feet where I ended today.

I'm guessing I ran about 15 miles today out of 21+, including a couple miles coming down from Feathercamp Ridge, and I could have run another 1 1/2 miles in Damascus if I'd wanted. I even ran uphill some today. I haven't been doing much of that during the adventure run because it wears me out too much.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's run/hike up to Whitetop, where the views are supposed to be great. There's a 40% chance of rain, so I might not be seeing much up there.


I've adjusted the total mileage above to reflect the correct distances through the first three states, using figures from the 2005 Appalachian Trail Data Book. I've been using old figures until a couple days ago.  Although very recent trail relocations aren't published yet, these mileage figures are close enough. I don't have time to readjust mileages for 30 days, so this will have to suffice. I'm probably the only person who cares anyway!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil