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: PA 645/Pine Grove                                     
End:  Port Clinton, PA
Today's Miles:                      25.6
Cumulative Miles:          1,205.9
" . . . the rocks will diminish because you cross into the glaciated country
when you cross the Delaware water gap.  Our friends the glaciers
scoured all the devil's racecourses away, leaving a somewhat different
and perhaps more trail-runner friendly landscape."
- Jeff, ultra runner and previous AT hiker

View of valley south of Fisher Overlook

Yet another "devil's racecourse"         7-11-05

I'm counting on that, Jeff! I keep reading about how much nicer the Trail will be in New Jersey and the next few states (but rockier again in northern New England).

Today's 25+ mile section was tedious and slow, with more rocks than I expected. I didn't do my usual expect-the-worst-and-maybe-it-will-be-better mental thing. Instead, I believed the AT guide that indicated there were several miles of smoother Trail mixed in with the devil's racecourses and other rocky areas.

As a consequence, I got more and more mentally bummed out as the day wore on. Either their perspective of "smooth" is much different than mine or the Trail has been substantially relocated in this section, because I'm lucky if I ran three miles today!


Much of this section runs through State Game Lands. An interesting phenomenon occurred about two-thirds of the way through: there were some "renegade" trails running adjacent to the white-blazed "real" Trail, only three to six feet away. And guess what? They were much smoother than the real Trail!! Now tell me how that can be??

Appears I'm not the only one who hates the unending rocks in Rocksylvania!

I just don't get it. You'd think each state through which the AT runs would want people to enjoy the experience enough to return - and tell their friends to hike or run there. It seems that Pennsylvania enjoys the reputation of having difficult footing. They often route the Trail through the worst rock piles on the ridges and appear to put rocks from elsewhere in the woods on the Trail itself.

Is this a macho thing? Bragging rights that you survived Pennsylvania? What?

I usually read David Horton's account of the section of Trail I'll be running next (from his book A Quest for Adventure). Although he runs on rocks much better than I do, he's no fan of them, either. In fact, he rants and raves about the state's rocks even more than I have, or at least in stronger language. Here's a quote from page 51-52:

"This was my last day in Pennsylvania. Praise the Lord! I had been anticipating leaving this state more than any other state that I had passed through. I was so tired of rocks! . . .

. . . It is rumored that the locals come out every spring with chisels and files to sharpen each and every rock. This was the infamous Rocky IV (Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap, which I - Sue - haven't hit yet), and it was a knockout. The worst yet. When I finally left Pennsylvania by crossing the Delaware River Bridge, I looked back and screamed, 'Good riddance, Pennsylvania! You can have all your rocks!' I would never have to run the A.T. in Pennsylvania again!"

My thoughts exactly, and I still have the worst ahead of me. I've got three or four more days of tedious rocks before I'm out of Pennsylvania. The only part of the Trail that I'd ever want to do again in this state is through the Cumberland Valley.


On the good side, the woods were mostly very open and pretty in this section and there were more scenic views into the valleys on either side of Blue Mountain today than yesterday. The ridge was more narrow and there were several rock ledges with nice panoramas, mostly to the south.

Although it was hot this day it wasn't too humid and the distant views weren't as hazy as they've been recently. The open woods (with mostly low "under story" plants) allowed more air to circulate. I love forests that I can "see through" more than dense woods where I feel very closed in. I'm not claustrophobic, I just like the longer views and better air movement.

There were patches of laurels and rhododendrons again today but none were in bloom here. I loved the forests through which I passed that were predominantly pine trees.

My favorite spot today was the Hertlein campsite at Shubert Gap, about six miles north of the PA 501 crossing. Mill Creek had many little tributaries through the area and the woods were just beautiful. There are several tent pads.


A trail register was in a wooden box on a tree at the campsite; it's the only one I signed today, as the two shelters were too far off the Trail for me to visit. "Gypsy Lulu" and her sister, "Touk," were here yesterday. "Pumpkin" and "Grasshopper" and several others signed today - I caught up to them a few miles later as they were eating lunch.

Since I last saw Pumpkin, the gal from Vermont who's getting married in August, she's seen her fiance and they hiked together for four days. It was good to see Grasshopper, too. She's closer to my age, and looks like she's lost a lot of weight. I first saw her near Pearisburg, VA then at Apple Orchard Falls north of Roanoke. I've taken off so many days, she's caught up to me.

They were sitting on logs with four male thru-hikers who I've seen before. I can't remember their trail names and was too embarrassed to ask! All were "slacking" 23 miles today with day packs, a great idea considering all the rocks.

I also talked with two 40-something women going south who are section-hiking the AT. They've completed everything north of here and are stopping this time at Duncannon - about half way through their quest to complete the Trail eventually.

The only historical spot today was a "headstone"-type marker indicating the site of Fort Dietrich Snyder (1755), one of a chain of forts erected as protection against Indian raids during the French and Indian War. There aren't any remnants of the fort, just the commemorative marker.

At the Auburn Overlook a couple miles from Port Clinton I came across the note below, lying on the Trail under a rock. The note reads, "Rattaler on trail." I don't know how long it had been there, but you better believe I kept my eyes wide open in that area! Guess I'm fortunate that I haven't seen any rattlers yet; I've encountered them on runs out West and have no desire to see any more.

Most of today's section was undulating along the ridge top of Blue Mountain. There were several short steep climbs; on the profile map the section looks deceivingly flat. The most difficult part was the end, and it was down.

The descent to Port Clinton began gradually for a couple miles, then dropped precipitously in the last quarter mile from 1,300 feet to 400 feet. I had read in hikers' journals about the difficulty of this steep, rocky drop but was still surprised. It was not only steep but also slick with loose rocks among the numerous rock water dams and steps. Very dangerous, especially with a full pack. I can't imagine why there aren't switchbacks here.

Once down to level ground the Trail empties out onto several railroad tracks. They aren't dangerous like the ones in Duncannon, though trains go through here much more slowly. Jim was waiting a quarter mile away at the bridge over the Schuylkill River, the beginning of the next section. Boy, was I glad to see him!

This morning Jim and Cody did an out-and-back run south on the AT from PA 645, the last part of the Trail that I did yesterday. It wasn't rocky so I encouraged him to run it. He liked that part. I'm glad he didn't follow me north from there!


I assumed too much about the hiker's death in Duncannon on Friday night/early Saturday morning (see yesterday's journal entry). The information I got was from the radio and on-line sources and it didn't indicate on which track his body was found. The only ones the AT crosses are the triple tracks at the base of Peters Mountain, after crossing the Susquehanna River going north. I assumed he got hit by one of the speeding trains in that location.

Apparently there's another track downtown, in front of the Doyle Hotel, where hikers often stay when in Duncannon. The Trail is routed two blocks over, so I didn't see that track, which is where this hiker was struck and killed. Last weekend there was a hiker gathering at the Doyle. Pumpkin's group of six hikers told me what they heard from other hikers who were present the evening of the accident. Since I heard the story third-handed, I won't put it here. (Ah, some mystery!)

I still think there should be a pedestrian bridge at the triple tracks. It's downright dangerous and I wouldn't be surprised if someone else has been killed at that location.


I was very happy to get off the Trail today after doing only 22-minute miles (including all my stops, but mainly because of the rocks). I'm not looking forward to three or four more days of this, knowing it gets worse. But I have to cover the distance.

I've been waffling about whether to do the Vermont 100-miler this weekend. Yes, I'm hiking-fit, but can I run as much as that course allows/demands? I've done no event-specific training like I always do for an ultra.

My main goal is to finish the Appalachian Trail this summer. What will running/walking one hundred miles in 28-30 hours do to my already-tired body? Will it damage my knees or feet more than the Trail has? Will another overuse injury prevent me from completing the AT?

A dnf (did not finish) at Vermont won't bother me that much if I do start the race. Vermont isn't the goal this year. Yes, I'd like a qualifier for Western States but that can wait till another year. I don't know how much resolve I'll have to continue Vermont when the inevitable pain and fatigue set in after about seventy miles . . .

. . .  because a dnf on the AT isn't acceptable to me at this point.

Jim got pretty discouraged when I told him tonight that I didn't think I should run Vermont. He's not really looking forward to it either because his training is not what he wanted. He's capable of going sub-24 on a course like this, but with the limited training he's been able to do "on the road" crewing for me it may be a struggle for him to finish under the cut-offs. He's more motivated to do well if I'm out there, too. I'm the one who talked him into doing Vermont in the first place.

So we made the decision tonight to 1) do Vermont and 2) take more rest days before it to increase my chances of a finish. (Ha! I usually do a two or three-week taper before a 100-miler.) Instead of hiking over rocks two more days in Pennsylvania we're heading to Vermont tomorrow, giving me a four-day taper (a total of six to seven days off the Trail, depending on whether I do any of the AT in Vermont while we're there - it's very close to Woodstock).

Then we'll return to Port Clinton next week and I'll resume my adventure run where I left off today. I've considered doing a flip-flop while we're in New England (going to Maine and working my way back to Pennsylvania) but I really want to end at Katahdin. It's a special place and I want to finish there.

Stay tuned for pre-race Vermont information . . .

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil