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: Tye River/VA 56                                        
End:  Humpback Rocks
Today's Miles:                      19.1
Cumulative Miles:             838.9
"Where ya goin' so fast?"
"You'll be there pretty soon at that rate."
"I wish!"
- brief conversation with day hiker who happened to see me running during
one minute out of about ten minutes that were runnable today

Vertical rock pile - follow the blazes!  6-19-05

Volunteer trail maintainers building steps and water bars, below. Both photos from Humpback Mountain.

The conversation above was pretty comical to me, since it came after eighteen miles of almost 30-minute pace walking today. I spent almost nine hours going only 19.1 miles, folks. That's gotta be the slowest I've yet done out here.

Why? Because of the unrelenting, unforgiving, unending ROCKS. Big rocks. Boulders. Slabs. Pointy rocks. Rocks at all angles, like the merciless gods hurled them down upon the Appalachian Trail in a fit of anger.

I tried, I really tried hard, to make peace with the rocks today.

I'm an optimist by nature, and try to "find the silver lining in the clouds." I've been fighting the rocks on the AT since I began this adventure run almost two months ago. I decided today that I have to stop focusing so much on the $#%&*@ rocks and focus on forward motion (no matter how slow) and the incredible beauty all around me on the Trail.


I can't dance, and I can't do the "rock ballet."

I just can't run in, on, or around rocks very well. I'm too clumsy. I don't want to sprain an ankle or fall down hard again and get some other injury like happened Wednesday.

And running in, on, and around rocks is tiring. It's even tiring walking in, on, and around rocks, but less so than running.

So as I made my slow way up the Three Ridges this morning, I tried to embrace the rocks mentally: accept that they are there and coexist peacefully with them, even as I used both hands to pull myself up and over some of the larger ones.

The Appalachian Trail was designed and built for hikers, not runners. People who walk at a leisurely place, not those who want to go a little faster. I'm an interloper in traditional hiker territory.

In Prep #4, I included this quote by Harold Allen, who articulated the original vision of the AT this way:

"Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, the trail leads not merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind, and soul of man.    

I've also learned that the AT guides assume there are rocks on the Trail. That's why they seldom mention them. When they do, as today's section noted, I now know they mean really, really rough trail ahead. I won't know ahead of time when I'm getting nice, smooth treadway, so when I do, I will be grateful and cherish it like a gift.

It's my own fault for choosing this trail for my journey run. In hindsight, I should have chosen a smoother long trail like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) if I wanted to run more than walk. But I didn't, and I'm determined to finish this one, even if it takes me longer than planned. I'm committed.

(Or should be!)

I guess I had an "epiphany" of sorts today. Appropriate, eh, considering I just emerged from the Religious Range yesterday??


I have to admit that I was feeling less kindly toward the rocks by the end of the day. I'd wanted to cover thirty miles today, but my pace was too slow to accomplish that goal. I called Jim a couple times to let him know how I was doing. There were limited options re: where the AT crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I didn't want to stop too soon.

We found a place Jim could park the camper off the Parkway (he was moving it to a new location today) near Humpback Rocks, 19+ miles into my hike. I had to walk out 1.3 miles on a side trail to get to the parking lot and do the reverse in the morning. I'll count the "bonus miles" in my running log, but not in the AT mileage.

The side trail was full of rocks, too! I was glad Jim could see what I'd been up against all day (he came in to the AT to be sure I got the right trail out, bless his heart).

Oh, and I found some mean old trail volunteers from the Old Dominion, Natural Bridge, and Roanoke AT Clubs, plus the Konnarock crew, adding even MORE rocks on a section of the Trail on Humpback Mountain! About twenty men and women were hard at work building steps and water dams to reduce erosion near Laurel Springs Gap. I chatted with each small group and thanked them for their efforts.

There were a lot of steel-blue colored shale rocks in the area, so I chose a small one to keep to remind me of my pledge to "embrace the rocks" and quit moaning and groaning about them.


Even though I can't recommend this section for running, it makes a beautiful hike any time of the year. There are many rock outcroppings that afford great views of the mountains and valleys in every direction, similar to those at McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs near Roanoke.

Another reward was seeing all the mountain laurels and rhododendrons still in bloom above 3,000 feet. The rhododendrons just plain make me smile, no matter how tough a day I'm having. I know I'm nearing the northern edge of their range and soon won't see any more. Each time I see them, I realize it may be the last this season.

There are also a lot of pink wood roses blooming in this area right now.

The first eight miles were in the Three Ridges Wilderness Area, including the South Ridge, Middle Ridge, North Ridge, Hanging Rock, and Chimney Rock. The highest point is about 4,000 feet, an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet from my start at the Tye River.

I crossed the Tye on the third beautiful suspension bridge I've seen on the AT. The first half mile up was on a smooth, gently-graded "relo" but soon got steeper and more gnarly. Although I was energetic and full of positive mental attitude when I started this morning, I was pretty well tuckered out both physically and mentally by the time I reached the third and highest ridge.

On the way up, I tried to divert my thoughts from the rocks to thoughts about the names of these peaks: South, Middle, and North Ridge. Now that's about as imaginative as naming nine mountains in Virginia "Brushy" and five "Brush."

What about some more creative names like yesterday's "Bald Friar?" Now there's a name I like! I'm not likely to ever forget that one.


The only shelter I visited was at Harpers Creek, a beautiful, peaceful setting with the creek only a few feet from the front of the shelter. No one was there. I met a group of about eighteen Boy Scouts and adult chaperones that was leaving the area and heading south to their vehicles at the Tye River. Although I saw numerous day and weekend hikers in the Three Ridges and Humpback Rocks areas, I saw no thru-hikers today.

But Jim did! When he was leaving Buena Vista with the camper around noon, he saw Rain/Dance and their dog walking downtown. We met them in Damascus. Jim stopped to talk to them and offered them a ride, but they were in town for lunch at an Italian restaurant. They're having problems finding enough water for their dog, which is smaller than Cody. I know what they mean. It's the main reason I haven't had him running with me much the last month.

Near the trail to the second shelter (Maupin Field) I found several bags of food left for thru-hikers - great Trail Magic! I've taken only one thing so far, a soft drink left at a shelter. I always have enough provisions for myself for one day, and feel guilty taking anything that a back-packer might need more.

But when I saw ripe, fresh peaches, I just had to have one! I slurped it down happily and left a thank-you note to the kind Trail Angel who left the goodies. Oh - I also took a Snickers bar for Jim. It's his favorite candy.

One more treat today was provided by a mama grouse. I got to enjoy the "grouse deception," where mama bird lures predators or other threatening beings away from her nest by feigning a broken wing or other injury. She hobbled down the trail in front of me for a least a full minute before determining her babies were safe - and then just flew off.

I didn't even see the nest.

Yes, there are many things to enjoy on the Trail if I just forget about all the rocks!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil