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: Big Meadows CG/Shenandoah NP                
End:  Elkwallow Wayside/Shenandoah NP
Today's Miles:                      26.2
Cumulative Miles:             938.7
"What's your name?"
"Web Breaker."
"Web Raker?"
"No, Web Breaker. I'm usually the first one on the trail
in the morning, so I get all the spider webs."
"Oh, that's your Trail name!"
- conversation between Sue and a ridge runner today

View north from Stony Man Mountain

Balancing act        6-24-05

Well, duh, I thought he was giving me his real name!

I've read about the ridge runners who hike the Appalachian Trail to assist and educate other hikers about Leave No Trace principles, make sure they're doing OK, and help with directions and other information. "Web Breaker" was the first one I've met, however.

He was hiking south and had already talked to ten other thru-hikers before he came upon me. I don't think he's ever heard of anyone running the AT before but he asked good questions, didn't seem judgmental about how I'm covering the distance, and was interested in reading this web journal.

Web Breaker thru-hiked the Trail in 2000. I failed to ask how he got involved as a ridge runner. His job sounds ideal for someone who loves the outdoors, hiking, and helping others. He's employed by Shenandoah National Park and the Potomac AT Club.


It was wonderful to go out the camper door, walk down a little hill about thirty feet, turn right, and I was on the AT! No hour-plus drive to the start, although Jim did have to drive about three miles to pick me up at Elkwallow Wayside. Otherwise, I'd have had some unnecessary "bonus miles" to get to our new campsite at Mathews Arm, another Shenandoah NP campground (also high enough up to have cool temps and nice breezes).

I started at 7:30 AM and guessed I'd be done with my "marathon" around 5 PM. I got done at 4:30, to my delight. Nine hours is a long "marathon," but I was pleased because of all the rocks and views. This was one of those days where I spent a lot of time gawking at picturesque views and taking photos - 92 of 'em!! - of everything that interested me.

The first 63 miles of the AT in the southern Shenandoahs are quite runnable by my standards. The section from Big Meadows to Thornton Gap (Hwy. 211) is less so - numerous rocks and rock "jumbles" - but oh, the views are worth it! The last six or seven miles to Elkwallow Wayside were more smooth and I could run more comfortably there.


As proof that I'm over my griping about rocks, I confess that I really enjoyed them today. There were huge rock boulders, rocks with crusty lichens and other things growing on them, fluted rocks, hollow rocks, rock ledges, rockwork done by the CCC in the 1930s, rock crevices, rock jumbles, rocks flowing down the hillsides like lava, stacked rocks, rocks with laurels blooming on them, and rock outcrops.

The outcrops were the best, especially the 200-foot long ledge on Stony Man Mountain, formed by the erosion of layer upon layer of ancient lava flows. The views into the Shenandoah Valley and the northern part of Shenandoah National Park were breathtaking even though it was so hazy I could hardly detect the outline of Massanutten Mountain to the west.

You have to see this panorama, even if it's only during a short hike from Skyline Drive. It'll be on my top-ten list of "best views on the AT" when I'm done with this adventure run!


The views were great from all the mountains that I traversed (or "slabbed," as the AT guide calls it) on the west side of Skyline Drive today: Hawksbill, Stony Man, The Pinnacle, and Mary's Rock. On the longest descent, 1,300 feet from Mary's Rock to Thornton Gap/US 211, the continual views to the mountains and valleys helped take my mind off traffic noise below.

My "ex" used to get "mountained out" after a few days in Colorado or Montana or the Smokies, but I never tire of seeing beautiful mountains. Never.

It's a good thing - I hear there are a few more between here and Katahdin!!

I was impressed with all the rock work that was evident today. When the AT had to be re-routed in the late 1930s because Skyline Drive took over the old route, the CCC and PATC did a tremendous job of building this Trail. Most of it is original to that time. Before I hit the Shenendoahs,I could see relocations every day. Not here. These are very old trails.

There are many places in this section where rock walls were built at the cliff edge to keep the Trail from eroding away. In some places the walls are six or eight feet tall (all below the trail surface, not sticking up). They look very ancient with all the moss and lichens growing on them. Very cool, very impressive, very effective all these years.

This section is also full of mountain laurels at their peak right now. Most were the white-with-pink variety I've seen for several weeks but some today were a beautiful pink color. It's amazing to see them growing seemingly right out of huge rocks.

There were also some beautiful purple-flowering shrubs on The Pinnacle and Mary's Rock. They are pictured below.

Other flowers in profusion in this section right now are red columbines, white fly poison, pink wood roses, and tiny yellow daisy-like flowers. Ferns are lush in several areas, as are gnarled old oaks with leaves as twisted as their branches.

The only thing I didn't like about this section was being too close to Skyline Drive several times. There was more traffic today (close to the  weekend) and I could hear people talking above me at some of the overlooks. ("Oh, look, there's a hiker down there!") Overall, though, the trail designers did a good job locating the AT farther back so the feeling is still "wilderness" most of the time.

I saw more hiker-friendly deer (and rabbits!) today, but no bears. Took a photo of one HUGE pile of bear scat (at least eight inches in diameter) and hoped I didn't run into the one who left it because it was on a narrow treadway with no escape except forward or backward.

There were two large groups of men and boys (probably Boy Scouts) going southbound today, as well as several couples and an older lady, but I didn't see any northbound hikers today. None. Where did the NOBO thru-hikers go? Sucked into a vortex like Big Meadows, where it's nice to spend an extra day or two?? Hope I catch up to some of them tomorrow or the next day.

Hey, I'm almost done with Virginia!!!

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil