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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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JANUARY 23, 2006
"I just wanted to say thank you for the follow-up reports you have been posting after your run.  I am enjoying reading them and they make me "itchy" for this year's spring trip.  Just a couple of friends and myself go to the AT at least twice a year. I try and squeeze in more if I can. . . reading your journal (the way you write), I felt like I was there myself. . . I enjoy breaking the sometimes monotonous days at work and read your journal, remembering the sections I have done, and dreaming about the ones I haven't."   - Rich

Charming covered bridge near Arlington, VT.

It was great to get Rich's letter recently. He's already done about 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail, doing section hikes as often as possible.

My favorite part of his letter was the post script. He wrote that his 15-year-old daughter wants to hike with him this summer. As he said, " . . . how cool is that!!  A father's dream come true . . ."

I think that's great! How many teen-age girls would be interested in doing this?

Rich has hiked part of the Trail near Roanoke twice and knows it is a good place to take his daughter for her first AT hiking trip (McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, etc.). I'm sorry we won't be in town when they are here so we can show them some Virginia hospitality - but plenty of other folks will!

I applaud parents who introduce their kids to hiking, camping, and the great outdoors when they are young. When it "sticks," it's such a win-win for everyone concerned. Those are family memories to be cherished forever and passed from generation to generation. Good job, Rich!

Now back to the topic of bridges that make life easier and safer for hikers along the Appalachian Trail . . .

The only bridges in the area mentioned above are little wooden ones over boulders on the way up to McAfee Knob. I don't think I saw "rock bridging" anywhere else on the AT. Here is a photo of one of the bridges as our local (Roanoke) AT club worked on them one day a year ago:

Folks in New England are probably rolling on the ground laughing right now about how Virginians coddle hikers!

You saw the epitome of long foot bridges in the last essay, the James River Foot Bridge, at 625 feet the longest pedestrian bridge on the Appalachian Trail.

So just how do hikers get across even wider rivers like the Delaware, or Susquehanna, or Hudson?

Well, in Maine you have to wade across them (otherwise known as "fording"). But in the other thirteen states, you use the same bridges the cars and trucks use. Most of the time you get your own little walkway. Sometimes there is a low concrete wall or a railing to separate you from the eighteen-wheelers whizzing by, sometimes not.

Doesn't sound too appealing, does it, especially if you just came off some beautiful, peaceful mountain a few minutes ago?

Fontana Lake, NC

I'm not whining. Really, I'm not! There are some definite advantages to these vehicle bridges and I appreciate them all the more after finishing Maine. If you haven't already read my journal, you'll find out why in the next photo essay, where I will regale you with stories of fording Maine's streams sans bridges.

What I enjoyed the most about these bridges were the often-magnificent river views they afforded me. I did my best to ignore the clamor of traffic and focus on the beauty surrounding me. It's a skill worth learning.

Oddly enough, I rarely RAN on these bridges to get over them more quickly. For one thing, they were hot. Concrete + no shade in the summer = hot. I also felt self-conscious running across the bridges in front of all the traffic because I seemed to attract more unwanted attention from drivers (comments, honking, etc.) than when I walked. And I wanted to enjoy the views and take pictures from the bridges. That's best done at a slower pace.


Since many of these bridges were similar in construction I'll just organize this essay from south to north, as I saw the ones I'll feature.

My first major vehicular "bridge" was not over a river but on top of a dam at Fontana Lake in North Carolina, the southern entrance of the AT to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was excited to be there! Other than crossing from Georgia into North Carolina, Fontana Dam was my first milestone on the AT.

We first saw the dam on a rest day. Once we arrived, however, Jim suggested I run the mile and a half of the AT that was on pavement so two of my long runs would be that much shorter.

Sure, why not? Jim took this photo of me going across the dam in casual wear, not running clothes, on Day 11:

I really did run most of it but stopped for Jim to take my picture (honest!). Note the headlights of a car coming behind me. There is a narrow sidewalk here for hikers on either side. Traffic doesn't go very fast over the dam, so I wasn't worried about getting run over.

Vehicles go much faster on most of the other bridges, however - including the highway through Hot Springs, NC,  below. This is the bridge over the (very broad) French Broad River. Jim took this photo of me on Day 19.just a block from where we'd camped the night before:

Again, there is a sidewalk for pedestrians but no barrier from the semis that roar up and down this road. Looks peaceful here, early in the morning.

I took this photo of the river from the bridge. I couldn't get the entire width of the water near the bridge in one shot from that angle:

It was the widest river I'd crossed to date and it impressed me even though it didn't look too deep.

You'll have to read the account on Day 19 re: our snafu finding the Trail at the end of the bridge . . . funny in hindsight, but frustrating that morning. Once I was on my way I walked on a sandy trail right next to the river for almost half a mile, then quickly ascended about 1,000 feet to Lover's Leap, where I took this shot of the river and Hot Springs:

I think the width of the river is a little more apparent in that photo!

Now here's a much smaller bridge on a deserted country road in Virginia. It's so deserted that I barely looked from side to side for traffic before crossing - one extreme to the other.

Isn't that a pretty setting? It's within eyesight of the old wooden Tilson's Mill on the North Fork of the Holston River in southern Virginia. There are other photos of this idyllic area on Day 34 and Photos 5 (the mill) and Photos 6 (flowers and fences).

I imagine this little bridge is under water after a heavy rain but the crossing would still be easier than with NO bridge.

The next major river crossing was on the Virginia-West Virginia state line at Harper's Ferry, the shallow-but-wide Shenandoah River. From the south, hikers come down a long hill in the national battlefield woods, walk under the bridge (where I took the photo below), climb some stairs to the top, and walk across the bridge to another woods trail that leads into town.

I had the pleasure of walking the bridge on Day 59 with the loquacious "Charlie Brown." I was glad to have his company because it seemed to deflect questions and comments from drivers stuck in a massive standstill from a wreck or construction. I think this curvaceous bridge has a low cement wall separating hikers from traffic.

The view to the river was refreshing. Several people were cooling off that hot afternoon by wading through the shallow water on the shoals.

The next photo shows a bridge on a less-busy highway in Pennsylvania on Day 65. There is a little different twist here: hikers first cross over the highway bridge, then drop down a little trail and go UNDER the bridge and walk or run along the lazy Conodoguin Creek, which is as wide as many rivers I crossed on the AT.

And this is the peaceful view from the bridge:

In Pennsylvania, AT hikers cross two major rivers on roads, three if you count the Delaware River on the PA-NJ state line.

The first one is the confluence of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers near Duncannon. After walking through town, going northbound on the AT, I first crossed the bridge over the smaller Juniata River. That shorter bridge, from which I took the photo below, has a narrow raised pedestrian sidewalk and no barrier from traffic:

The bridge over the Susquehanna River, shown in the background in the photo above, was so long and the traffic so fast and heavy that the crossing seemed interminable on a hot-but-thankfully-overcast summer day (Day 69).

That bridge at least has a low concrete wall separating hikers from traffic. Despite the nice river(s) view, this was probably my least favorite river crossing. Not only is it long, but at the far end is a busy road crossing and three sets of railroad tracks that are very dangerous. Finally, I escaped the cacophony and climbed up Peters Mountain, in the distance above.

The second major river crossing in Pennsylvania is over the Lehigh River near Palmerton. It's not very attractive, but also has a concrete barrier to protect pedestrians.

I much preferred this little steel bridge over a smaller river on Day 72 in Pennsylvania. It reminded me of a child's giant erector set. No need to worry about getting run over on this one!

Despite its long length and all the freeway traffic on the busy bridge over the Delaware River at Delaware Water Gap (PA-NJ border), I enjoyed the crossing. In addition to a safe walkway, the scenery was great and there were rafters to watch down on the river on sunny Day 86:

Several states along the AT are separated by rivers. Crossing over them was always motivational because I was in a new state!

I'll show you the two bridges in New York that I found the most interesting. The first is the Bear Mountain Bridge over the mighty Hudson River, below, on Day 95:

I had just come from the cute little zoo at Bear Mountain State Park and was happy to be crossing this major landmark on my way to Maine. The view below is to the left (north) from the bridge:

Early in my run on Day 97 I came to a bridge under construction. I can't remember if it spanned a river or highway, but the end where I began had no AT blaze as in the photo below.

I was initially dismayed, thinking I'd have a long road detour or something, but the friendly construction guys pointed out the narrow temporary wooden walkway shown below for the workers and hikers to use. Not a problem!

As Roseanne Rosanna Danna would have said, "It's always something." Flexibility and adaptation are always necessary on the AT.

A little nonchalance is good, too.

One of my favorite vehicular bridges crosses the Connecticut River at the Vermont-New Hampshire state line. Not only is the bridge attractive with its green railings and stone posts, but the views up and down the river are also very scenic. I loved watching a group of rowers glide under the bridge as I crossed on rainy Day 113 and entered the bustling Ivy League town of Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth college - and my 13th state. Cool!

I'll cover the bridges in Maine in the next photo essay. <smirk here>


I'm not sure how I developed a fascination with covered bridges. I'm not an expert on them or their history. I just love photographing them and walking or driving through them. They are usually in such scenic rural settings that they evoke in me a sense of timelessness and serenity that nourishes my soul. One reason I love Vermont so much is its proliferation of covered bridges.

As far as I recall, the Appalachian Trail does not go through any charming covered bridges. However, there are several reasonably close enough to the Trail for hikers with a passion for covered bridges to see them. Here are three we found.

The first is in west central Vermont near the little town of Arlington. It was fun to drive through the bright red bridge and read the historical sign. Jim found this one while I was out hiking on Day 107 and knew I'd want to see it, too.

There's another view of this bridge at the top of this journal page. The sign reads, "ONE DOLLAR FINE for driving faster than a walk on this bridge."

One of our favorite covered bridges has special significance to Jim and me because it is on the Vermont 100-mile race course. This is the Taftsville Bridge near Woodstock, a popular town with thru-hikers. I took the photo below on Day 76 when we went up to Vermont to run the race in July (I got off the Trail in Pennsylvania for a week to do this).

The Lovejoy covered bridge (below) is near Andover, Maine, another popular hiker stop-over. It was built in 1867 and is still used to carry vehicles over a creek. We took this photo on Day 130:

As you can see, there are a number of interesting ways to cross streams and roads along the Appalachian Trail. Now let's proceed to the state with the most challenges crossing creeks and rivers: Maine.

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil