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: VA 42/Ceres                                              
End:  VA 615/Laurel Creek
Today's Miles:                      25.7
Cumulative Miles:             572.3
"(Burkes Garden) . . . has been dubbed God's Thumbprint, the Tranquility Bowl, and the Haven from Hubbub." - AT Guide to Southwest Virginia

View of Burkes Garden, VA from the Appalachian Trail.  6-3-05

I was looking forward to this section that overlooks Burkes Garden because I'd read about the scenic valley and heard other hikers talking about it.

So I wasn't real happy when it was still raining this morning when Jim and I got out of bed.

I've been very fortunate that most days since I started this adventure have been sunny. And I was fortunate again today that the sun started shining through the mist about 11 AM, in time for me to see much of the ten-mile-long agricultural haven, surrounded on all sides by mountains.

Archeological evidence suggests that Indians lived here as long as 7,000 years ago. The AT Guide to Southwest Virginia says the lush valley was an important hunting ground for the Cherokee and Shawnee. The first Euro-American, James Burke, discovered it in the 1740s. German settlers coveted the rich land and drove the Indians out.

Today, many of the landowners are direct descendants of the original settlers. Burkes Garden is inhabited by about 300 people, primarily farmers. Running on the ridge east of the valley, I could hear cattle mooing in the fields far below.

I couldn't see them though. There were few views with the leaves on the trees. To really see Burkes Garden, either run the ridge before the leaves are out or drive down VA 623 into the valley itself.


Let's say you're a runner who lives at sea level in Texas and there aren't any trails or hills nearby to train on. But you've run the Hawaiian trails where the HURT 100-miler is run, and dream of doing that race in a couple years. You're trying very hard to get back in shape and increase your mileage with that goal in mind.

Then you're on Stan Jensen's web site ( looking for information about 100-mile races and find a link to the site of a woman who's thru-running the Appalachian Trail. That sounds pretty cool! You realize she's currently running near I-81, which you're driving in a couple days on your way from Texas to Virginia Beach.

So you e-mail this woman and say you'd like to join her for a run on Thursday. She agrees.

At 7:45 AM, John Alexander and I left Rich Valley at VA 42 and started the 500-foot ascent to Brushy Mountain. We went down 700 feet to the Knot Maul shelter and Lynn Camp Creek, then up 600 feet to the top of Lynn Camp Mountain. All that got John's attention, since he's a flatlander.

But what really got his attention was the 2,100-foot climb to 4,400 foot Chestnut Ridge. He lives at sea level, remember? But he climbed up, up, up for 4 1/2 miles to the top. He enjoyed chatting with "Okie Girl," "Tony Danza," and a section-hiker with a golden retriever who were at the interesting stone Chestnut Ridge shelter, below. It is located high up and is one of very few shelters with a fourth wall and door - and a swing inside! "Tony" is on the swing:


John got to experience a varied Appalachian Trail adventure today. He got about thirteen miles of smooth trails through beautiful woods and meadows, then four miles of rocky ridges over Garden Mountain. He went past a spring-fed pond, creeks, two shelters, and cliffs with sheer drop-offs. And he got to see glimpses of Burkes Garden.

He was one tired puppy at the end of his 17 miles, but still smiling happily when I saw him later in the afternoon (I did another 8+ miles beyond that). He's determined to train harder this summer and join me again in Maine. He's been bitten by the AT bug.

John told me going up the first hill that I'm an inspiration to him.

Thanks, John. You're an inspiration to other runners, too - you are determined to get back into the shape you were in when you ran 20 marathons and a 50-miler, and I do believe you'll be an active trail ultra runner one of these days.


How lucky can a gal get?

After Jim fixed the camper brakes and ran errands this morning, he decided to meet me at the road crossing at 17.3 miles - with hot chicken noodle soup! That was yummy. He ran in on the Trail about a mile with Cody to greet me first.

Cody ran the last 8.4 miles with me. He had fun splashing in the numerous creeks in this section, which took me longer to run than anticipated. First were the rocks, then nice smooth trail for a couple miles, then four miles of the worst trail I've seen in over 500 miles out here!

The AT guide warns hikers that the Trail crosses Little Wolf Creek twelve times (had to be more than that!!) and the bridges wash out every spring so the creeks might have to be forded. No problem. Wet feet and shoes don't bother me, and Cody would have fun.

Lemme tell ya, this is the wettest, muddiest, rootiest place in the world! Progress was exceedingly slow. I was slipping all around even with grippy-soled shoes, both in the mud pits between the creek crossings and on the slick rocks in the creek.

Cody, being a Lab, was in heaven.

I kept thinking, if ever a section of the AT needs to be relocated, this is the place!!

Right before I got to the end, I saw a blue-blazed high-water trail. The joke was on me. There is the equivalent of a "relo" here, and I'd missed the other end of it. I saw it clearly on the map when I got back to the camper. Gotta pay more attention to those maps!!  (Jim has them during the day to navigate the back roads.)

And what did my crew have for me when I got done? A chocolate milkshake from Dairy Queen!! Perfect end to the day. Thanks, honey.

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil