Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
Start: Petites Gap/USFS 35                                
End:  James River/VA 501
Today's Miles:                        9.9
Cumulative Miles:             772.1
"Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see." - Jimmy Buffett

James River from the AT

Cody crossing the James on the foot bridge (scroll down for another photo of the bridge)   6-16-05

That's exactly what I do each day on the AT: I run enough to get to the rendezvous point in the time I estimate for Jim to pick me up, but I walk enough to enjoy the scenery and people along the way. I think it's an excellent compromise between traditional thru-hiking and running a long trail for a speed record!

I think about this most every day, because hikers frequently comment on the unusual way I'm covering the distance. "I've never heard of anyone running the Trail," Grasshopper noted yesterday. "Oh, you're doing it the easy way," another hiker mentioned a few weeks ago (meaning slack-packing and using a crew). Most hikers express interest in "my way." No one has voiced criticism directly to me, and it wouldn't matter to me if they did.

Hike your own hike is the AT thru-hiker's mantra.

I've found it interesting how many of the hikers I've talked to mention they are runners, often marathoners. Most have run trails as well as roads. And some of these hikers, both men and women, run downhill with their full packs on occasion! They're using gravity to their advantage. I love to see it because it makes me look like less of an anomaly.

As if I care. I'm having fun doing it my way.


Last night I realized there was no way I wanted to run my planned 31+ mile section to Hwy. 60 today. My leg really hurt from the bad fall I took yesterday. In fact, my whole body hurt, and I needed at least nine hours of sleep to make up for my deficit the night before. So I determined where and how to break up the next section into two parts.

After hundred-milers, Jim and I always feel really beaten up. The "morning after" we joke about feeling like we've been hit by a truck and whoever is feeling the pain asks, "Did you get the (license) number of that truck??"

That's how I felt last night. I thought I'd feel even worse this morning, but thanks to either Celebrex or my miraculous ability to recover from trauma to my body, I actually felt better this morning. Part of it was knowing I was going only ten miles, not thirty-one.

Jim wanted to get in a run on the Blue Ridge Parkway since Vermont is mostly on roads (those dirt roads feel like pavement after a while). His plan to run from Petites Gap down to VA 501 and back (about 14 miles) meshed perfectly with my plan to run the AT from Petites Gap to 501 at the end of the James River Foot Bridge. When he got back up to his truck, he'd drive down to the river to pick me up. It was right on the way to the campground.


Most of the ten miles I covered today were within this wilderness. The James River, estimated to be more than 160 million years old, is the largest waterway within Virginia, flowing 450 miles from the Allegheny Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. Most rivers cut through surrounding rocks, but the James did not. Instead, rocks on either side were "uplifted," according to the AT guide. Although the Trail follows the James River Gorge, it didn't look like any gorge I've seen. It was scenic, just not rocky as I expected.

The James has long been used as a natural passageway through the mountains by both people and buffalo, which lived here in large numbers until the mid-1700s when they were hunted to extinction. There is an unusually large variety of plant life in the area. The AT was originally blazed through the area in 1930 but has been relocated through the years to its present course.

The river is quite wide where the AT now crosses it on the longest pedestrian bridge(625 feet) on the entire Trail. The James River Foot Bridge was constructed in 2000 on piers left from an 1881 railroad bridge. It is dedicated, appropriately enough, in memory of Bill Foot, an AT thru-hiker who was very active with the Natural Bridge AT Club and was the driving force behind construction of the bridge.

So we have a foot bridge named after Mr. Foot. It's not just a foot bridge, it's the Foot Foot Bridge!

I took the first photo below from the south side of the river. Jim took the second photo, an interesting perspective from the north side:


In contrast to yesterday's net uphill trek, today's was mostly down. I was afraid that would unduly stress my mashed quad (since it hurt more running/walking downhill yesterday than going up), but the soreness was more tolerable today.

I was able to run probably 50% of today's section and could have run even more but I had too many things to do and see! It took me a little over three hours to cover the ten miles. Without Cody and other distractions like views and hikers (ha!), I could have run it much faster.

But that's not my objective.

As usual, there was a climb from the gap where I began. This one was only 704 feet to the top of High Cock Knob (elevation 3,073 feet). It was sunny and warm again, with a nice breeze all morning. I never got overheated, even uphill or on the exposed traverse of the mountain across from the Devil's Marbleyard.

The what??

This is a popular hikers' destination with eight acres of fractured boulders of Antietam quartzite that geologists call talus. As the mountain above was thrust upward millions of years ago, a plate of sedimentary rocks, originally at the edge of a sea, buckled and cracked. There are numerous fossils (mostly wormholes) in the rocks here.

The AT guide has a more interesting story of the Devil's Marbleyard, however. According to the early 17th-century legend, a missionary and young woman came to the valley and tried to convert to Christianity the Indians who had worshipped the Great Spirit on a high ledge under a pinnacle. An intense drought ruined crops and dispersed game, and blame was placed on the two intruders. As they were being sacrificed by burning, a terrible storm smashed the pinnacle and ledge, turning them into the boulder field. Yikes!

So, knowing how much I hate rocks and going off the Trail very far to see anything, did I go 1 miles on the intersecting Belfast Trail to see the Devil's Marbleyard this morning?

No, I didn't. But since it's not all that far from our home, I'm not ruling it out in the future. There are a lot of interesting circuit hikes on trails in this whole area that I'm curious to explore someday.


After reaching the peak of the first knob most of the remaining nine miles were downhill. There was a steep, partly rocky descent (over 700 feet in a mile) from the knob, then more runnable smooth trail the rest of the way. The Trail made a wide counter-clockwise arc around the mountain, undulating gently up and down. I was in and out of deciduous forests, thickets of mountain laurels (in bloom) and rhododendrons, and dry pine forests.

For a couple miles far above the valley below, the gravelly Trail went through a dry-looking area of sparse pines and low shrubs. I was exposed to the sun but the views were nice. It looked like the perfect habitat for rattlesnakes, but I didn't see any today. Lizards were out in force, however; Cody found them entertaining.

This section reminded me of running above the American River down to Rucky Chuck. It's interesting how various places on the AT remind me of races out West we've run.

In some places the tread way was very narrow. Of course, that's where I met an oncoming group of about fifteen teenagers and the adults accompanying them! They were hugging the hillside and I was hoping I didn't fall off the ledge side. Cody loved the attention showered upon him by the kids.

Although Jim sometimes brings Cody with him when he runs in to see me at the end of the day, I haven't taken Cody with me for quite a while. I've been up on ridges so much that there isn't adequate water for him. He requires a lot more water than I do, and between the two of us, we can't carry enough for him all day. There were more springs in the early weeks of the trek, but now it seems they're all 'way off the Trail. And he just gets tired before I do because he's lost much of his training. For his sake he hasn't been running much with me.

Today was different because I modified my run to only ten miles. I could see on the map that there were a couple creeks where he could get into water to cool off. The best was Matts Creek at eight miles, right at the Matts Creek Shelter. We followed the creek a mile to the James River. It's one of the prettiest creeks on the AT so far, with little falls and pools deep enough for Cody to swim. He was a happy puppy today.

I saw Dogbreath at the shelter. He was busy reading the trail register and didn't seem as talkative as yesterday. Not wanting to disturb him, I didn't wait to sign the register.

The only other thru-hikers I passed were Mr. Fusion and a friend. I'll probably go by him again tomorrow since I did such a short run today.


The last mile was a pleasant run along the James River. I thought it would be up on a ridge, but the Trail is pretty close to the water. I didn't see any signs of flooding as I have with some other waterways. There's no place to escape - on the other side is a mountain.

The foot bridge (er, Foot Bridge) was the "high point" of the run figuratively. It's very impressive, although not as cool as the suspension bridge I crossed a couple weeks ago. Literally, however, this is one of the lowest points on the entire Appalachian Trail. Where it crosses the river, the elevation is only 659 feet, the lowest I've been since I started in Georgia.

Betcha know what I have to do first thing tomorrow morning. Yup - climb up a mountain! Rivers are the lowest points on the elevation profiles all along the AT.

As Cody and I neared the far side of the bridge next to the parking area on VA 501, we could see Jim. I said, "There's Daddy!" and Cody took off to greet him. Our timing was perfect. Jim had just gotten parked in the shade, talked to Pizza the Hut again, and was on his way to see me on the Trail.

We both had a good day today. Jim got in a good training run, took a nap, ran errands in nearby Lexington (VA), relaxed, and walked around the fiddlers' convention in the park below the campground. I salvaged part of my planned run, felt better than yesterday, saw more views and a very cool bridge, enjoyed watching Cody swim in the creek, took a nap, and got to write.

I expect more good things for all of us tomorrow!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil