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: Mooney Gap, NC                                       
End:  Winding Stair Gap, NC
Today's Miles:                      11.3
Cumulative Miles:             106.6
"When I'm 21, I'm gonna go all the way to Maine."
- Six-year old girl hiking the AT today with her mom carrying the child's pack!

"Memorable" scramble up Albert Mountain

 Jim on rock near summit of Albert, with fire tower in upper right corner. Note the AT blazes. 5-7-05

When Jim and I arrived at Mooney Gap this morning, a young mom and her two elementary school-aged kids were just starting up the "technical" 1 1/2 mile trail to Albert Mountain. We caught up to them quickly and they let us pass. We had a brief conversation.

I made a comment to Jim, after they were out of earshot, that I thought it was great that mom was taking them for hikes while they were young because they'd learn so much from the experience (physical activity, natural beauty, etc.).

The family was just reaching the fire tower at the summit as Jim was returning to the truck with Tater. (Cody and I continued north on the Trail and missed them the second time.) Jim stopped to visit with them and the little girl piped up with the comment that she wants to hike "all the way to Maine" when she's 21. Jim smiled, encouraged her to do it, and told her that's what I'm doing now.

I love that story! A little girl with a big dream. I hope she doesn't have to wait as long as I did to make her wish come true.

I'm also impressed with those kids making it up Albert Mountain. It wasn't their first trip up, either. Mooney Gap is at about 4,700 feet. The 550-foot climb is technical but not too steep until three-tenths of a mile before the summit when the Trail becomes "memorable" (the description in the official AT Trail Guide). It's a steep, rocky scramble requiring use of the hands to haul yourself up some of the rocks.

But, oh, the view at the top is worth it! I think it was even more dramatic than the photos I used at the end of Day 7's journal page.

Jim climbed up the four flights of iron steps to the top of the fire tower but couldn't open the door to the deck. Before we knew it, Cody was halfway up, too! Little monkey. Tater and I stayed down below. I probably shouldn't have even been on the Trail today with my injured quad(s), so I avoided further stress and stayed on the rock slab below. The view was just as awesome there.

The 4,015-acre basin below the fire tower is the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Forest Service's Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, where a successful research program begun in 1933 has significantly increased the flow of pure water from the forests without causing additional erosion or flooding. A sign at the site describes how forest managers carefully use the timber and water resources while protecting the ecosystem for wildlife and recreational needs.


Last night my right knee was swollen and sore from apparent strain on one or more of my inner quad muscles. I had two Celebrex capsules. I took one in the evening and the pain was gone very quickly. Good drug! I also elevated my leg yesterday, iced it several times, and slept a good nine hours.

When I got up this morning, there was no pain as I gingerly tried out the three steps from the camper sleeping area to the kitchen. Ditto going down the steep steps out the front door. There was still some swelling, however. I elevated my leg and iced it again twice before making the decision to go ahead and try walking (NO running) the next part of the Trail. I took another Celebrex for good measure (the last one I have).

I had three good bail-out options, or I wouldn't have walked today. I could stop between one mile and the summit of Albert because the dirt forest service road is close to the Trail there; Jim could drive up to get me. Or I could drop at Rock Gap at 7.5 miles or Wallace Gap at 8.2 miles. I ended up going to Winding Stair Gap (11.3 miles).

I felt great the whole time! It took me 4 1/2 hours to walk the distance, but at least 30 minutes of that was time we spent at the top of Albert and the time it took me to write two notes to Jim at Rock and Wallace Gaps and call him twice to let him know I was going on.

The 6.6 miles from the top of Albert to Wallace Gap were so gradual up and down, and the Trail so smooth, that it was very frustrating not to run it all. But I knew that would put even more stress on my quads. I walked, but I walked pretty briskly.

Since it was a Saturday, I encountered several other hikers. The first was a male section-hiker from PA who was taking a bath (in his running shorts) with spring water from a pipe coming out of the side of Albert Mountain. I've seen several of these pipes drilled into springs. Cody likes to drink from them, too! The hiker got up to the fire tower while we were still there and we talked a bit. He's hiking from Springer to Hot Springs, NC now, and hopes to complete his thru-hike in a few years.

After Jim and Tater turned around, I met three men who were day-hiking part of the Trail. I didn't see anyone else the last eight or nine miles of Trail, which surprised me. It was another beautiful sunny day in the 60s (70s below). There are loads of trails around here, though, with plenty of room for folks to find the solitude they seek.


Somewhere on the long descent from Albert to Glassmine Gap, I was walking through a beautiful old stand of hemlocks with a creek gurgling nearby. I had this sudden deja vu feeling - it reminded me so much of the section of trail going down Hope Pass to Twin Lakes in the Leadville 100-mile race in Colorado! There have been other sections of the AT this past week that sort of reminded me of ultras I'd run here in the Eastern U.S., but not out West. Some of these towering hemlocks looked to be over two feet in diameter, pretty big for this part of the country.

There was another section of trail near the hemlock forest where hikers are routed right down the creek bed for about 100 feet. Sometimes after a hard rain you feel like you're walking in a creek bed, but this one has water all the time.

After Wallace Gap I ascended 660 feet on a narrow path to Rocky Cove Knob, walked along a hot ridge above the leaf line (no cool rhododendrons here), and dropped down 550 feet to new green-leaved trees at Winding Stairs Gap. This gap is named for the numerous wooden steps going down the slope to the parking lot.

About 2/3 of a mile up from the parking lot, I found Jim sound asleep on a hillside next to a creek. It was an idyllic setting. I hated to wake him up. Actually, I think Cody went over and put his cold nose on some exposed skin and woke him up!

As we walked the remainder of the way down to the truck, I told Jim what a nice "walk in the woods" I had today and mentioned about the sudden feeling that I'd been mentally transported to the trail in Leadville.

He looked at me with surprise and said he felt the same thing hours earlier as he descended from Albert Mountain via the forest service road (he went down that way so he could run; the steep trail we'd gone up was not runnable). That road portion reminded him of the road to the Half Moon aid station at Leadville.

I think one or both of us have ESP or something.


On the way back "home," Jim encouraged me to sit in one of the creeks near our campsite before I took a shower. I readily agreed that would do a world of good for my injured quads, even though they still didn't hurt at the end of today's hike. Besides, Cody and I had gotten pretty hot in the mid-afternoon sun on Rock Cove Knob, so cold water sounded great.

I learned this trick to soothe tired or injured muscles from three years of attending Coach Roy Benson's running camps back in the early 1990s. We'd do a road run in the morning and a trail run in the afternoon. He made sure the trail runs in the Pisgah Forest near Asheville (or Brevard), NC ended near a creek. We'd all get in and sit a few minutes. It would rejuvenate our legs and we'd be ready to do another set of double runs the next day.

I've continued doing that occasionally after a hard training run or a race, if a creek was convenient. Jim got the photo above of Cody and me today. Yeah, it was cold, but I adjusted to it quickly and had a blast with Cody in the water. I tried to get Jim in the water, but he wouldn't do it. Weenie!

Hopefully, after using ice on my legs most of the afternoon and evening the swelling will be reduced in the morning. I'll decide then whether to walk (maybe run) again tomorrow or go to the local hospital for a professional assessment of the damage.

Oh, yeah! I passed 100 miles today, my first mileage "milestone."

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil