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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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"Completing the entire A.T. is a significant accomplishment no matter how you do it, and I hope you find lasting satisfaction and have great memories from your Trail experience."

- e-mail from Laurie, an Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff member


The AT revisitedCody on a section of the AT near Black Horse Gap in Virginia on 11-8-05.

I do!

As I noted 'way back at the beginning of this year when I wrote my first "prep" entries, there are many ways that hikers (and runners) can enjoy the AT. My way was different than most, but I'm certainly not the first person to run the AT nor to be crewed.

I've tried both before and after my run to determine if any other women have run the entire AT. I have asked other journey runners and hikers, the ultra listserve, and the AT Conservancy. No one has come up with the names of any women who have run end to end, so maybe I am the first to do that. I'm not sure. If you know of any, please let me know because I do not want to make a false claim.

No one, even the current and previous male AT speed record holders, has run the entire AT. It's impossible. There are too many rugged places and too many steep inclines.

I did my best, despite being a rock-challenged ultra runner. I estimate I actually RAN about 25% of the distance. At least two-thirds of that was in the southern half of the course where the rocks, roots, river fords, and climbs aren't as tough and where I was stronger physically. Some days I was able to run 50% of the distance or more, depending on how much elevation gain there was. In the Whites and Mahoosucs I was lucky to run 15% some days!


The AT Conservancy estimates that three to four million visitors hike a portion of the Trail each year. Most enjoy day hikes and short backpacking trips, but each year a small fraction of those hikers (and runners) complete the entire Trail. Some do it in one "season," usually taking from four to eight months. Others do a section at a time, taking two or more years to complete the entire Trail.

Methods of thru-hiking the AT run the gamut (pun intended) from hiking the traditional way with a full back-pack and staying in shelters or a tent almost every night on the Trail to running or hiking with a light pack and sleeping off the Trail all or most nights.

In between are many variations that I observed this summer:

  • hikers who carry light packs and try to go as fast as they can (speed hikers/ultra light-packers), but sleep in shelters or tents along the Trail most nights;
  • backpackers who stay in town as often as possible and slack-pack (hike with a light pack) when someone can provide transportation to and from trail heads;
  • hikers/runners who carry only what they need each day and are crewed (like Andrew Thompson and me) or self-crewed (like Steady Eddie and Charlie Brown). These folks may sleep in tents or shelters at night (such as Warren Doyle's group usually did), in their vehicle or camper (like me), and/or in rooms in towns

Photo below:  "Tread Well" (Dave Schultz, an ultra-light hiker who walks very fast) and Jim (my crew-person extraordinaire) consult maps near Max Patch in NC on Day 17:

Hikers sometimes switch from one method to another along the way, depending on various circumstances.

For example, Charlie Brown and Steady Eddie started separately in Georgia, met up with Little John, and decided after the Shenandoahs to start crewing themselves with one vehicle so they could carry light packs and make faster headway. A couple states later, they decided to use two vehicles.

By New England, CB and SE split off because LJ was going slower than they were. LJ hooked up with another hiker his speed. Through the White Mountains and the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, where road access was limited, they all resumed carrying full packs again and slept along the Trail. They adapted the whole way, and all successfully completed the Trail this year.

I think that's pretty cool! Whatever works for you . . .


Since 1936, the ATC has recorded 8,475 hike completions. This includes thru-hikers, multiyear section hikers, and about 125 hikes by folks who have already completed the AT one or more times. All of these hikers are called "2,000-milers" - even though the length of the Trail has been longer than that for many years.

I am thrilled to be one of them now!

The ATC website (link above left*) has detailed statistics of hikers who have reported their completions. It's a good read if you like stats or are interested in doing a thru-hike.

* Click on "Hike the Trail," then "Thru-Hiker Facts and Statistics."

In brief, about 65% of hikers go northbound (NOBO), as I did. Their completion rate ranges from 15% in 2000 to 24% in 2004 (this year's stats aren't ready yet - some folks are still out there). About 15% quit by the time they get to Neel's Gap, a mere thirty miles north of Springer Mountain. In 2004, fully 44% were out by Fontana Dam, 160 miles into their hike. Wow!

The NOBO thru-hikers below should have finished this year. I took this photo of "The Honeymooners" ("Muskrat" and "Birdie"), "The Laugh Factory" ("Giggles" and "Box o' Fun"), "Patch," and Dave, a section-hiker, on Day 133 at the Piazza Rock lean-to in Maine:

Southbounders (SOBOs) represent only 10% of total completions; their finish rate is 18% to 21% in recent years. An estimated 30% drop out in the first 150 miles (by Caratunk, between the Hundred-Mile Wilderness and the Mahoosucs in Maine). Although the SOBO rate is better at that point, their final finish rate is lower than those going north.

About 5% of the hikers are "flip-floppers" who do the whole AT in one year but have an alternate itinerary (e.g., start in GA, stop in Harper's Ferry, resume in ME, and go south to Harper's Ferry). There are numerous variations here and the ATC has only the number of completions, not percentages, for this category.

Section-hikers comprise about 20% of the finishers each year. For many people, it's the only way they can do the AT. The majority of thru-hikers each year are skewed toward the early 20s and over-50 crowd, not folks who are busy with their careers or raising kids. I know several women in their 30s and 40s who would love to run the AT for the speed record if they could leave their jobs or families for two or three months, but it just isn't practical.

The number of people who have hiked the entire Trail has risen dramatically over the years. The stats on the web page are very interesting. More hike completions were reported in 2000 alone than in the first forty years (1930s to 1970s) combined! The ATC website has good suggestions for avoiding crowds on the Trail.

The numbers the ATC has for the northbounders in the Class of 2005, as of October 24, are thus:

  • 1,392 started at Springer Mountain, GA
  • 1,156 made it to Neels Gap, GA (30 miles)
  • 1,123 arrived at Fontana Dam, NC (160 miles)
  •    680 checked into Harper's Ferry, WV (1,000 miles)
  •    202 finished at Katahdin, ME

I know this last figure is too low. It will probably end up a little over 300 people, if previous statistics prevail. I was the 309th thru-hiker who registered with the rangers after summitting Katahdin on September 24. Maybe the larger figure also counts the southbounders who started there?  (I was the 476th thru-hiker to check in at Harper's Ferry.)

Women average only 25% of total hike completions reported to the ATC, and 29% of those have been since 1995. That's another indication of how the completion rate has dramatically increased in the last decade. Go, ladies!

Photo below: "Goat" and "Buffet," a young retired couple from New Hampshire, on Day 140 in Maine:


  • First national scenic trail, a unit of the National Park Service
  • 2,175 miles = total distance of the Appalachian Trail, the longest linear park in the world (gets longer every year with relocations)
  • 14 = number of states it traverses
  • 60 = number of federal, state, and local parks and forests it crosses
  • 165,000 = approximate number of white blazes along the way (I'd like to add about that many more in New Hampshire!!)
  • 5 million = approximate number of footsteps to get from one end to the other
  • 504,000 feet to one million feet  = estimates I've seen of the total elevation gain and loss over thousands of mountains and hills. (Per the ATC, "Our GIS department said it would be very time-consuming to calculate this information from our GPS data and it wouldn’t be highly accurate." Apparently GPS readings are more accurate for latitude and longitude than elevation. If I didn't have a life, I'd add up the gain and loss on all my AT maps . . . )
  • 6,625 feet = highest elevation (Clingman's Dome in NC/TN)
  • 124 feet = lowest elevation (Bear Mountain Bridge, NY)
  • nearly zero = number of bridges across rivers in Maine! If only there were some like this magnificent structure in Virginia from Day 38:



Plan A was to finish in fewer than 103 days, what the ATC told me was the fastest women's reported time to complete the Trail = 21.1 miles/day, including rest days.

Plan B was about four months (124 days from April 30 to August 31) = 17.5 miles/day, including rest days.

Plan C was to just finish this year, no matter how long it took.

Reality (Plan C) = 148 days total, with 113 days on the Trail and 35 days off-trail.

I made it to Harper's Ferry in 59 days (which was close to 17 miles/day) and realized it would be next to impossible to complete the Trail in fewer than 103 days. I'd already taken ten days off for rest, recovery from injuries, and to go home twice. After talking with Jim, I made a conscious decision  to slow down a bit and enjoy the journey more. I still hoped to finish in four months.

Well, taking off fifteen days in July blew that plan! Eight were to go to the Vermont 100 race (in retrospect, a mistake for me to try to run it), three were to go home, two were for injuries, and two were to sight-see and rest. Then it took me longer than expected to get through New Hampshire and Maine because of the difficult terrain there. <sigh>

148 days total = only 14.7 miles/day average.

113 days on the Trail = 19.25 miles/day - that looks better! And ten of those days were under ten miles each (two were less than two miles) when I ran on rest days, had to bail out on Mt. Madison, went to a doctor in North Carolina, etc.

Of the 35 days off-trail, eight were for VT100, ten were strictly rest, seven were for injury recovery/medical appointments, five were to go home, three were because of rain, and two were for sight-seeing. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken even more time to sight-see, but then we might still be out there!!

Longest day (miles) = 35.0 on Day 54 in the Shenandoah Mountains

Shortest day (miles) =  1.5 miles over Fontana Dam and up to the Smokies trail head on Day 11, a rest day

Days over 26.2 miles in distance (ultras) = 14, mostly in the first half

Days over 20 miles (including ultras, above) = 56

Mileages were really more than that, because I had "bonus" mileage nearly every day - going to shelters, springs, and overlooks off the Trail; getting off-trail a couple times; using side trails to get to the AT when road access was not available; walking around campgrounds; running at Vermont 100; etc.

Except for sleeping, I was pretty much in perpetual motion!

View from a bald in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area in VA on Day 32:

Longest week = 157 miles, the longest (by far) that I've ever done - in Virginia in June

Shortest week = 43 miles, when we went to VT100 race in July

Weeks over 100 miles = 14 (also unusually high for me - average before the AT run was about 40-50 miles/week)

Monthly AT mileages:  April = 20 (only one day), May = 500, June = 565, July = 318 (only on the Trail 16 days that month), August = 521, Sept. = 334 (in 24 days).

Again, the weekly and monthly mileages are strictly official AT miles and don't include the "bonus" miles on and off the Trail that I mentioned earlier.

Miles run and walked the first week home = 2   (I was one tired puppy!!)

Miles run and walked in October = 85.5 (considerably less than normal)

I'll write an entry soon re: "Physical Assessment," how the AT Run affected me physically during and after the trek.


I kept more detailed records in my running log and here in this journal the first half than the second half of the run.

Why? I was less obsessed with time and pace when I realized I couldn't break the existing women's speed record and I got totally frustrated with my slow pace after the Trail became more and more rocky and difficult. I went from averaging about 15 minute miles/day (including all my stops) to 30-45 minute averages when the terrain was rugged and/or I was injured and had to walk.

The single slowest mile was through the notorious Mahoosuc Notch in Maine on Day 127. I was boogey-ing and it still took about 1:25 hours! I felt proud to make it through in half the time it takes some folks.

Some readers questioned why I counted my overall time with all my stops. It was easier that way and mimicked what I do in ultra races - and it's the way speed records are kept (Plan A, remember?). I didn't want to have to remember to turn my chrono on and off every time I stopped and started running again. Even though I've done that in training for the previous 26 years, it was just too obsessive for this adventure run. So my daily averages look pathetic even when I was cranking out a decent running pace the first half of the trek.

The three longest days on the Trail time-wise were around 14 hours and included some darkness: Day 14 (first day in the Smokies), Day 125 (Wildcat-Moriah-Carter Range in New Hampshire), and Day 127 (Mahoosuc Notch/Range in Maine). None were by choice; all were due to lack of road access.


I'm not one to count calories. During the run, I ate as much as was comfortable and estimate I probably consumed about 5,000 calories per day. It may have been more.

On Day 66 I did an evaluation of my nutrition plan and listed the estimated calories per day I was getting in my concentrated energy drink (Perpetuem most days) and Hammergel. I occasionally had a food bar, muffin, or cookie on the Trail, but I got 98% of my calories "on the run" with Perp and Hammergel. That plan worked great for me. I was usually ready for something salty as we were driving back to the camper each afternoon, but that was more a craving for something different than hunger per se.

I ate as much "real food" as I could stomach for breakfast and supper and a bedtime snack. (See photo below, where I'm pigging out on Day 138 with Steady Eddie and Charlie Brown in Caratunk, Maine.) I'm a grazer, so it was hard for me to consume much in one sitting. But I learned. Otherwise, I had to get up in the middle of the night to eat something when my growling stomach woke me up!

I kept a pretty normal, healthy diet since we were in our camper and had access to good food. I didn't eat a lot of candy, ice cream, or other junk food, but I got to enjoy more empty calories than I do in "real" life. Giving up ice cream "cold turkey" after we got home was tough. I love ice cream! I finally broke down and bought some this week, six weeks after getting home. Now I just have to eat small quantities and it'll be OK . . .

My beginning weight was 143 pounds. I lost ten pounds by the end of the adventure run. I've put back on three or four pounds since I finished because I haven't been running nearly as much. Maintaining that weight is also impractical. I'm 5'9" tall and feel best around 138-140 pounds. That's a weight I can maintain with a sensible diet and exercise. I don't feel like I'm starving myself (too badly) to stay there.

Cutting my food intake by half or more has been a challenge. It was easier to suddenly increase my food intake than suddenly decrease it. It was also a lot easier to go from running mega-mileage weeks to ten-mile weeks when I got home (because I was so tired) than it was to go from all-I-could-eat to my normal food intake! But I expected that.


I needed nine or ten hours of sleep a night. I got it only on some of my 35 days off-trail. I averaged about seven hours of sleep a night on trail days even though we were usually back at our camper by 6 PM. That was not enough to restore my body adequately and after two months, I started feeling the fatigue more and more.

Fortunately, most nights I slept well. There were times when my legs twitched like they do after 100-milers and the last week my arms were so sore that I couldn't find a comfortable position to sleep (more about that in a post-run piece re: physical assessment). But I seldom had nightmares or woke up hot or cold, problems I had after I got back home.

In the evenings I had to clean up, hand-wash some of my gear, re-pack my gear for the next day, mix up my energy drink, read and write notes about the next day's section (photo below from Day 90), help Jim with supper and the dogs, ice whatever body parts were hurting (ankle, below)  . . .

. . . and THEN sit down at the computer for two or three hours to edit the photos I'd taken that day, choose the ones for the journal, and write the journal.

This was my choice, of course. No one made me do it. In fact, Jim tried his best every night to get me in bed earlier, to no avail. That's the only source of disagreement we had the whole trip. I loved doing the journal, despite being tired. It energized me and connected me to many readers who were a wonderful source of support and encouragement. I have no regrets about the time I spent working on the journal. I'm almost as proud of it as I am the run/hike itself.

I don't like to be under pressure to do things, and many times I was less than pleased with what I wrote. But to get it "perfect" would have taken even LONGER (and been impossible anyway!), and I didn't have the luxury of time to do that. Almost every entry was written the day of the run; a few were written a day or two later when I was off the Trail.

Although I've fixed some errors and typos since I got back home, I haven't added content to any of the entries I did during the trek. I think each is a pretty accurate reflection of the type of day I had, good or bad.


hundreds = deer (sighted in every state along the AT)

1 = elk sighted along the Trail (PA)

8 = black bears sighted on the Trail + one at our camper (NC, VA, NJ)

3 = moose sighted on the Trail + about ten more along the roads (VT, ME)

1 = rattlesnake (PA) + several huge black snakes in VA and lots of little snakes everywhere

numerous horses (feral horses at Mt. Rogers, VA, on Day 32, below) and cows, a few sheep and goats, a gazillion squirrels, chipmunks, frogs, lizards, rabbits, butterflies, and birds


Would you believe, about 15,000??? Wow! I told you Jim had to drive a lot to get me to and from trail heads!

The mileage would have been less if he hadn't returned to the camper each day, but there was no reason for him to stick near the course. He had numerous things to do and I didn't need him to crew for me during the day. Jim moved the camper about every other day to reduce the mileage to trail heads. Going home to Virginia three times and driving to and from Vermont (while in Pennsylvania) for the race in July also significantly increased the miles we drove.

Other folks contemplating running or hiking the AT with a crew should seriously consider using a vehicle/camper that is small enough to park at or near trail heads most of the time, like Regis and Diana Shivers did in Regis' 87-day thru-run in 2003. That will save a lot of time and gas.

The downside is not having utilities or being able to fix meals as easily as in a larger rig. Weigh what's most important to you . . . and modify the plan as needed.

Like everyone else out on the AT, we learned a lot about flexibility and adaptation on our adventure run!

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

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