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: Loft Mtn. CG/Shenandoah NP                       
End:  Big Meadows CG/Shenandoah NP
Today's Miles:                      35.0
Cumulative Miles:             912.5
"You guys inspired me.... I'm training for my first marathon." - Tread Well 

One of many friendly deer in Shenandoah NP

Field of fly poison flowers     6-22-05

Remember Tread Well? Go back and read Day 17 if you missed it. There's also a photo of him there.

Tread Well (Dave) is the guy who was my Trail Angel near Max Patch the day Jim got delayed by a wreck for over an hour. Dave didn't have far to go to set up camp that evening, so he stayed with me at the trailhead until Jim arrived. He didn't have to do that, but I enjoyed his company. He was section-hiking and was a great source of information regarding gear, the trails ahead, where to eat, etc.

The next evening we had dinner with Dave in Hot Springs as he prepared to return home. We had a pleasant surprise two weeks later when he and his wife saw us on the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus when they drove up from Atlanta to hike at Mt. Rogers on Memorial weekend.

The quote above was the beginning of his e-mail to us today. He's using Jeff Galloway's plan to run his first marathon in October. Dave, you can do it! We look forward to hearing more about his training and how he does in the race.


This is my longest mileage day on the AT so far. Despite mostly runnable trail for three-quarters of the distance, it took me nearly twelve hours to complete the section. About an hour of that was for stops and two more falls (in the second and eighth miles, so I don't have fatigue to blame). That's #12 and #13. You may have noticed I'm keeping score! Although I landed on the same banged-up body parts, I didn't lose any more blood or skin today.

I enjoyed today's run. Somehow the woods seemed more beautiful than yesterday. There were more interesting rock formations and overlooks into the valleys to the east and west. Near the end of my run I could look to the west and see the southern end of the massive Massenutten Mountain, which stretches about sixty miles north to south, parallel to the Shenandoahs.

There were lots of mountain laurels at their peak on Hightop, Bearfence, and Hazeltop Mountains (the latter was today's high point at 3,816 feet). I didn't see any Catawba rhododendrons; I think I'm past their northern range now. There aren't as many wildflowers in bloom now as earlier. I saw red columbines, white galax and fly poison (a cousin of bear grass), and several kinds of yellow flowers whose identity I don't know.

Today's section had a lot more elevation gain and loss than yesterday's. Instead of several fairly flat traverses around mountains I was either going up or down today. The only "flat" part was, appropriately, on top of Flattop Mountain.

The longest climb and descent today was 1,200 feet on either side of Hightop Mountain but both grades were gradual. There were some other moderate to steep climbs and descents in the 500- to 1,000-foot range. Total gain and loss today was over 12,000 feet.

Although it was in the 80s down in the valley it was comfortable at the higher elevations where I was running. It was sunny in the early morning, then overcast, then rained briefly, then sunny, then overcast again. I was in the sun more than yesterday but there was more breeze today and I never got overheated. I was able to get water easily at Lewis Mountain campground about ten miles from the end but didn't need it.


I was hoping to see more bears today, especially early or late in the day (I was on the trail from about 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM), but alas, no bear sightings today. Only bear scat. Lots of it!

Instead, I had the pleasure of several close deer encounters. The deer in the Shenandoahs (or "Shennies," as some folks nickname the mountains) are super-friendly, both in the woods and in campgrounds. Although there are signs all over the place admonishing guests to not feed the wildlife it's obvious they have or the deer wouldn't be so bold.

Every time I heard a rustling in the leaves I'd look toward the sound, not knowing if it was a bear, a deer, a squirrel, or what. Each time it was a deer within ten or fifteen feet of the Trail. Each one looked at me imploringly, silently asking for food. When they discovered I was only interested in taking their photo, they'd return to grazing or meander off into the woods. They didn't run from fear like they have everywhere else on the Trail.

The deer come very close to our camper even though Cody and Tater are tied up outside on 20-foot cords under the trees. Cody is cool and just watches them; Tater barks at them so I have to keep telling her to be quiet.

Thursday morning (the next day) I drove up Skyline Drive to check out the next campground, Mathews Arm, and down into the valley to do some shopping in Luray. The deer were all over Skyline Drive; I'm surprised I didn't see any dead ones. People were obeying the speed limit (35 MPH) pretty well, so I guess they see the deer in time to avoid hitting them.

Right now the mountain laurels on Skyline Drive between Big Meadows and Mathews Arm are at their peak. Since I was running the last two days on the AT  I haven't seen Skyline Drive south of Big Meadows to know if the laurels are blooming there. If you live anywhere nearby this is a good time to visit Shenandoah NP if you want to see these beautiful shrubs in bloom.


Since I had so many miles to do today my MO was "relentless forward motion" or RFM, a term endurance athletes from all sports are familiar with. I didn't waste much time except to go to one hut (no register) and one locked cabin (where I fixed my feet).

I also didn't talk with hikers much. Most of the ones I saw were day hikers. At Pocosin Cabin I met "Dusty," a middle-aged woman from Muncie, Indiana, and four boys who attend her church. She was leading a week-long hike/canoe outing, which she does at least once a year. Dusty teaches religion at Ball State University.


Jim had a great day today. Although he got up at 5:30 AM to fix my breakfast, he returned to bed and slept soundly until 9:30. He had a leisurely morning, then moved the camper up to Big Meadows campground, situated about mid-way up Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and the end point of my run today.

He found the perfect spot! I thought he was going to meet me on the Trail today since I didn't know where the camper was parked. I could see on the map that I needed to go completely around Big Meadows, like I did at Loft Mountain, to reach the campground area.

I kept going and going for what seemed like forever. It was beautiful on the Big Meadows complex grounds, with interesting rock formations, overlooks, more flowers than other places, and mountain laurels that had been trimmed to look more like trees than shrubs.

Suddenly I rounded a bend and saw . . . our camper and dogs!! What a welcome sight after twelve hours on the Trail! Jim got a site on the perimeter of the campground just thirty feet off the AT. It's by far the closest we've been to a start/finish point. Bless him!

I recognized the new blue plastic bucket we recently got for the dogs - it was on the Trail, full of cold soft drinks for thru-hikers. Jim put it out there. He had fun all afternoon talking to hikers as they passed by.

He also walked about a mile to the Big Meadows Wayside grill to get me a blackberry milkshake. I'd read about them in hikers' journals and really wanted one. It was great after a long day on the Trail! What a terrific crew-person.

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil