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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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FEBRUARY 27, 2006
"A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes.
A philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs.
An optimist doesn't see the clouds at all - he's walking on them."
Leonard L. Levinson

Will it rain on Day 22 in North Carolina??

What a great quote!

I'd like to think I'm always an optimist, but I admit that sometimes I don't see the possibilities that obstacles and challenges present. Stormy weather is one of those challenges for me, especially when I'm running or hiking in the woods..

Nothing was harder for me on the Appalachian Trail than to get out of bed on a rainy morning. Even in warm weather, I do not particularly care to run in the rain. Walking in the rain is even more miserable. At least I can stay warmer when I run.

On the AT I never looked forward to the storm clouds that spelled r-a-i-n in my future. Storms too often also spell d-a-n-g-e-r to hikers and trail runners. When you're above tree line, as on a bald or ridge top, or you have to ford un-bridged streams, approaching bad weather takes on urgent undertones. Lightning, high winds, dense fog, heavy rain, sleet, or snow can cause hypothermia, disorientation, losing the Trail, getting totally lost, slipping off a cliff, being swept down a river, even death.

And on the AT rain meant I'd surely miss some great views. That happened several times, most notably in the Smokies. And by now you know how I love to take photos!

Nope, I was pretty much a pessimist when storm clouds approached.

But as you can see from some of the following photos, I was ever the opportunist, always on the lookout for a dramatic photo when I saw gray or angry-looking clouds on the horizon! That illustrates a bit of optimism on my part, I think.

That "silver lining," you know?

As you sit before your computer screen in your warm, dry home (or office), come along with me for a little while on the Appalachian Trail as storm clouds gather in the distance . . .


I thought it might rain on Day 14, my first day in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There were gray clouds in the distance as I ran over one of several balds early in the morning.

The Trail passed through this pretty orchard with blooming trees under threatening skies:


I was fortunate that day to not receive any rain on the thirty-one miles I ran. The sky cleared up by late morning and I could see the marvelous views for which the park is famous. I was less fortunate the next two days in the Smokies, however.

Probably my most disappointing day on the entire Appalachian Trail was Day 16 in the Smokies. I was doing a very long roadless stretch north from Clingman's Dome to Davenport Gap, a distance of over thirty-one miles across some of the highest ridges on the AT.

I had read and heard that the views in this section were spectacular - on a clear day. The day I ran it was rainy and I had only a brief thirty-minute window of opportunity to see any mountains other than the ones I was running on.

I still regret that I didn't take a rest day. The next day was gorgeous and I would have totally loved that section instead of slogging through it. But back then I still had the hope that maybe I could set a new women's speed record on the Trail, and I wasn't ready for a rest day.

Live and learn. The "silver lining" is that I got to see some very interesting cloud formations that day, ones I may never see again. And I made good forward progress. Fortunately, Jim and I live close enough to the Smokies to drive down there and do this run again on a sunny day without too much fuss or expense.

These are some of the views I was able to get before and after Charlie's Bunion when it wasn't raining:



(The last two photos above show the narrow side trail to Charlie's Bunion, where you wouldn't want to slip and fall.)



Less dramatic but just as interesting were the gray clouds between Hot Springs and Sam's Gap, North Carolina, on Day 22.

The next set of photos is around the Blackstack Cliffs area. I didn't get in any rain that day, although it looked imminent at times.




What I consider to be some of the best shots I took on the entire AT are these photos of storm clouds from Day 25, just north of Elk Park, Tennessee.



There is another dramatic photo of "the tree" in the journal that day. Again, I didn't get wet, but sure figured I would.


Virginia had about eight days with gray clouds, and others with fog or mist, but little or no rain where I was. I don't mind watching rain-laden clouds if I don't get wet!

Here are several shots from Virginia of what I'd call "gathering" storm clouds. The first is a view near Whitetop Mountain on Day 31:

Even though I had a short run on Day 34 between Groseclose and Ceres, Virginia, the section was very interesting. I wound up a hill through this lush green field, trying to stay ahead of the rain:

Soon thereafter, I followed the North Fork of the Holston River near Tilson's Mill, where I took this photo:

The next day also (35) had some interesting gray clouds hanging over the lovely valley called Burke's Garden, as shown in the next two photos:


Day 42 was on my "home turf" near Roanoke, Virginia. One of our ultra buddies, Graham Zollman, accompanied me as we climbed popular McAfee Knob . . .

. . . and Tinker Cliffs (below). We couldn't even see the long Catawba Valley from McAfee, but caught a hazy glimpse from Tinker Mountain:

Graham and I felt sorry for the thru-hikers on that section when it was so gloomy and the valley was obscured. We have seen the expansive views on clear days and know how beautiful they are, but folks passing through that day missed them and may never see them. Pity.

Dragon's Tooth also has the potential for great views of the Catawba Valley to the north and east, but again on Day 44 a blanket of clouds hid the far ridges:

Remember the James River Foot Bridge footbridge in Virginia? I found it amusing on Day 48 that the impressive footbridge, the longest on the entire AT, was named after a fella named "Foot."

There were storm clouds gathering at the end of that day, too, as I crossed the river. Fortunately, Jim and our dry truck were awaiting me on the other side so I didn't get wet. You can see this whole photo in the journal on that day.

I cropped out Cody-pup in this version so I could put the emphasis on the clouds and the bridge perspective.


Another bridge where I headed toward gray clouds was the Goodloe Byron footbridge across the Potomac River between Harper's Ferry, West Virginia and Maryland on Day 61:

Jim and I both caught some gray cloud action in New York on Day 94. He took this photo up the Hudson River from an overlook at West Point . . .

 . . . while I was climbing up puddingstone formations on the first of eight mountains in the section I ran that day. I felt like I was running "into the void" on this one:

<sigh>  I just counted the number of photos already in this essay and realize that I need to continue with the New England states in the next essay.

While you're waiting for those shots, why not go out and run or hike on a trail near you?? If it's sunny and dry, enjoy it. If it's wet and gloomy, enjoy that, too.

February rain or snow brings spring flowers, you know. Be an optimist!

Next up: storm drama in New England.

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil