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: James River/VA 501                                   
End:  US 60/Long Mountain Wayside
Today's Miles:                      22.0
Cumulative Miles:             794.1
"Your biggest challenge isn't someone else. It's the ache in your lungs and the burning in your legs, and the voice inside you that yells 'CAN'T,' but you don't listen. You just push harder. And then you hear the voice whisper, 'can.' And you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the person you really are."       - unknown

View of the James River Valley from Big Rocky Row Overlook

Monument to Little Ottie Powell on summit of Bluff Mountain       5-17-05

This is now one of my favorite sections of the AT for running, and I can't wait to show it to Jim.

It will be a good place to train in the future, since it's not all that far from our home. In fact, Jim's going to run on part of it tomorrow when he drops me off at US 60 for the start of my next section as I proceed north.

If I say a section of the AT is runnable, you can believe it. Neither Jim nor I enjoy running over a bunch of rocks and roots. Out of today's 22 miles, maybe a total of two miles of it would be "unrunnable" to us. Other folks who like rocks would run those two miles, too.

Not only is this section great for trail running, it's also rich in panoramic vistas, water, plants, animals, and history. What a great combination!

I averaged a 22-minute pace today, but that included all my usual stops to enjoy the views, take photos, talk with hikers, read trail registers, and take notes. There was a net elevation gain going north, so someone heading south and focusing on running would go much faster. (But they'd miss a lot!)

The woods in today's section were absolutely beautiful. I'm not saying there are any ugly forests on the AT, but some are definitely more attractive than others. Even though there are very few flowers blooming in this section right now, the whole trail was pretty.


I began today's run in the most delightful of ways: following the scenic Rocky Row Run (a creek) for the first mile before the Trail hung a left and began its 2,333-foot climb to the summit of Big Rocky Row. I could have run more during the first mile along this creek, but I wanted to savor the boisterous melody of the water flowing over the rocks and shoals.

There were numerous beautiful creeks in today's section, particularly the last half. I followed the Brown Mountain Creek for two or three miles near the end of the section. Some creeks had substantial wooden bridges, including another handsome (very new) suspension bridge. The others were easy to cross on large, flat rocks.

The Trail also wound around Pedlar Lake, the scenic mountain reservoir that is the city of Lynchburg's water source. The suspension foot bridge I mentioned crosses Pedlar River, which flows into the reservoir.

And I had marvelous panoramic views of the James River Gorge and valley at Fullers Rocks on Little Rocky Row, three miles into the run, and higher up at Big Rocky Row. I could see the James River Foot Bridge I crossed yesterday afternoon and the start of today's run. It looked so far away! I just love being able to see where I've been.

The views of the river were the kind that make you stop and say "WOW!" to yourself, views that take your breath away and make a long climb so rewarding.

None of today's climbs were particularly steep or strenuous, just long. It took me over two hours to climb the five miles to Big Rocky Row at my Old Lady pace (plus admiring the views and taking photos).

After the five-mile, 2,333-foot ascent to Big Rocky Row, I followed the ridge up and down for five miles to the summit of Bluff Mountain at 3,372 feet, today's highest point. Then there was a gradual six-mile drop to the reservoir at about 1,000 feet and a six-mile, 1,145-foot ascent to US 60/Long Mountain Wayside.


Most ultra runners are familiar with David Horton's popular Mountain Masochist Trail Run, a beautiful but tough 50+++ mile ultra race that is run in this vicinity. Long Mountain Wayside at Hwy. 60 is the approximate halfway point during this race. If you've run the race, you might remember it's where the busses and drop bags are located.

During the race, runners have to beware being sucked into those busses! Some are forced to stop here if they miss the time cut-off, but others allow themselves to quit because they are tired and can't quite face the next 2,000-foot climb awaiting them beyond this aid station.

So guess what the first thing is that I get to do in the morning??

Yup, do a 2,000-foot climb up the trail that roughly parallels the dirt road runners use to get to the top of Bald Knob! I stopped at US 60 for two reasons today: one, it's a great crew point with its parking lot and grassy areas, and two, I already walked up one-third of the total 3,000+-foot climb from the reservoir to Bald Knob (elev. 4,059'). In other words, now I have "only" a 2,000+ foot climb in the morning, not a 3,000+ foot climb.


Considering it was a beautiful cool, sunny, breezy Friday, I didn't see very many hikers today. I went 300 feet down to the first shelter (Johns Hollow) but turned around about 100 feet from it because no one was up and moving around in the shelter or tents. I didn't want to disturb them, looking for the trail register. I later ran into "Dogbreath," who spent the night there but left well before I arrived at 8:15 AM.

My favorite hiker encounter today was with Laurie from Oberlin, Ohio, who has section-hiked all but about 700 miles of the AT. She has a bit more of Virginia, then New England. She started section-hiking eight years ago with her buddy, a fluffy German Shepard water dog (bred to rescue victims in frigid water) named Logan. Their trail names are "Blackfoot" (that's Laurie) and "Moocher" (guess how he got that name?!).

Laurie said she saw an adolescent black bear at a spring near the reservoir. The bear seemed oblivious to her and the dog, so she was able to observe it eating for about five minutes before she resumed her hike. That is so cool! There was only one spring on that section of trail, so I know where she meant and looked very hard for the bear but didn't see him. Rats.

The only other hikers I saw all day were a mom, dad, and teen-age boy in the virgin-forest exhibit near the reservoir. They were out for the weekend. This beautiful forest is mostly full of huge white pine and Canadian hemlock trees.


The most poignant scene today was the small memorial and grave of Little Ottie Cline Powell at the summit of Bluff Mountain. Five days shy of his fifth birthday on a cold November day in 1891, Ottie didn't return to school with the other boys who had gone looking for firewood for the stove. Hundreds of people searched for him for weeks before a group of men found his remains on top of the mountain five months later, almost four miles from his school.

As you can see in the photo above, hikers have placed various toys and other memorabilia on the monument to commemorate the child's death.


Near the end of today's section I enjoyed a local history lesson about the former freed-slave farming community of Brown Mountain Creek Valley. From 1800 to the end of the Civil War, slaves cleared and farmed the land in this narrow valley. In 1868, a former slave purchased the land and built a series of cabins, the remains of which are evident for a mile and a half along the AT. The new owner rented the cabins to freed slaves, who sharecropped the land.

According to the AT guide, there are remnants of a tobacco barn, half a dozen cabin foundations (one with a double chimney), an old walled spring, and many rock walls. I walked through most of this area and saw only long rock walls and a few crumbling foundations. I think it'd be easier to spot other remnants when the leaves are down. The valley is so narrow I can't imagine how they had room for crops there.

The US Forest Service purchased the land in 1918. I don't know if the owner(s) sold voluntarily or where they went. It was interesting to walk through this area and try to imagine how these people lived. There is a shelter here to commemorate the community, and information kiosks and benches at either end of the village.


Jim is so thoughtful!

After he dropped me off at the James River Foot Bridge parking area to start my run, he drove up to the James River Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (where the Mountain Masochist race begins) and did a ten-mile out-and-back run on the parkway. Then he drove up to milepost 51, where I'd be crossing the parkway halfway through my run, and left me a note and some cheese crackers in a baggie next to the trail sign. I usually read the notes people leave in plastic bags to their friends - enough to see if they are for me. Jim and I have left notes at several trail heads for each other. But it was a complete surprise to find the "trail magic" from him today!

This was a great day on the Trail and Jim had a fun day, too. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil