Scenes from the White Mountains, New Hampshire, in early
November, 2005: Dream Lake with
Mt. Madison in the background (above)
and Webster Cliffs Trail near Rt. 302 at Crawford
Notch (below). Photos by Eric, "Moose from Maine."
Eric wrote his first letter to us about three weeks ago. He was sorry he
didn't find our journal before we were in his neck of the woods (Maine) so he could have
hiked with me some there. We hope to meet Eric and his wife when we return
to Maine in the future.
In his mid-30s, Eric is unable to hike the AT all at once but he's been gradually
chipping away at it in Maryland and Pennsylvania on his one- to three-week
vacations and on weekend forays in New Hampshire and Maine where the AT is
closer to his home. Eric is unable to sleep on the ground or in shelters because
of his bad back, so his wife has graciously offered to crew for him at
trailheads like Jim did for me. That's one reason he is so happy to have found
our journal - our MO's are similar.
Eric sent us some beautiful photos (two of them are above) along the AT in New Hampshire and Maine,
sections still in their fall splendor when I ran them in late August and early
September. They look gorgeous with snow!
Although I'm not really ready for
winter yet (I mean, where did July go???), Eric's winter wonderland
photos make me a bit wistful for the first snowfall in Roanoke so I can enjoy
the AT near our home with a blanket of soft snow, too.
A couple days this past week were downright blustery and frigid for Virginia
- 30s Fahrenheit with headwinds so strong I chose to do my main workouts indoors.
(I'm not a total weather-weenie. I lived in Montana for five years prior to moving here last year, and I ran
outside most winter days there.) As I enjoyed my nice warm indoor pool run, my thoughts strayed
to Mt. Washington and I wondered just how cold and windy it was there. I was
grateful that I saw Washington on two good-weather days that were in the 40s and
And then I remembered that our AT friend, "Tread Well" AKA Dave, recently
sent us a photo (below) of a winter hike he did on Mt. Washington. This was only
a few minutes after a clear-blue-sky photo shot next to the summit sign, proving
that the weather in the mountains can turn to crap on very short notice (true
even in the summer).
The rocks on Mt. Washington are tough to negotiate. I'm betting it was easier
to hike that day than it is when there is no snow.
Brrr!!! That photo just looks cold.
OK, back to the purpose of this entry: things we learned along the way
that we wish we'd known at the beginning of the AT Adventure Run - reflections
too late for us to use this insight on this particular trek, it may be of use to
others contemplating an AT run or hike - and we've learned some things that will
help us if I can ever talk Jim into crewing for me on another long trail.
These are the things I wish I'd known before
starting the run:
1. Just how doggone rocky the Appalachian Trail is!
If you read even a few of my daily entries on the Trail you know how
much of a challenge the rocks were for me. Despite all I'd read about the AT and
my limited experience running on the Trail in Georgia and Virginia, I was not
prepared for the extent of the rockiness - and the many variations in which
Obviously, some folks are good at running on rocks, like the men who
hold the fastest times on the Trail. I'm not one of those people.
Day 51 I "came to peace" with the rocks and
promised not to
whine about them so much. I honestly tried to understand the geology of their
formation and their beauty and uniqueness. Normally an optimistic, upbeat
person, I tried very hard to put a positive spin on the rock situation the rest
of the journey.
Because of my inability to skim over rocks easily, I had to lower my expectations of how long it would
take me to run end to end. That was frustrating for both Jim and me
because we had planned to be gone only four months, not another three weeks
I've mentioned perspective a few times since I came off the Trail.
Both Jim and I have broadened our perspective of several trail concepts since
seeing the AT north of Virginia: our concepts of "rocky" and "steep" in
particular have changed. Keep in mind that we have run on trails in about thirty
states, many of them out West in the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades. Even that
didn't prepare us for everything we encountered in New England.
What we once considered "rocky" around Roanoke is NOT, and we won't ever
complain about our local trails again. And now we know that "steep" means you
can reach out and touch the trail in front of you - without bending over! We
hadn't encountered much of that before, either.
2. That I would need bouldering and rock climbing skills in most of the
states from Virginia northward.
Again, reading other hikers' journals and books didn't adequately prepare me
for these obstacles. Nor did reading about them in the AT guides - because I'd
never experienced them to this magnitude before.
Yes, there are boulders on top
of Mt. Massive in Colorado. If you've been up there, imagine several miles
of hiking over large chunks of rock, and you've got the AT from Mt. Washington
north to Mt. Madison (see photo below from
I hope my vivid descriptions and some of the photos give readers better clues
than the ones I had. But if you haven't yet experienced boulder "rivers," over a
mile of house-sized rocks (like in Mahoosuc Notch), or vertical rock walls where
you have to use finger- and toe-holds, you just aren't going to
understand what they are like until you encounter them yourself.
If I'd realized I would literally need rock climbing skills I would have sought some
training before I began my AT Run.
3. Just how dangerous bog boards can be.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that "bridging" over
bogs and swamps and mud and fragile tundra could be so dangerous! Even if the
boards and logs were in perfect shape (which was rare), they were treacherous
Add the fact that many bog boards were either very narrow, broken, rotted, no
longer nailed down, canted to one side, or covered in moss or slime and you can
maybe begin to understand why I slid off the #%$& things numerous times. They
couldn't have been any more slick if they were covered in ice.
I'm not sure how I could have prepared myself for bog boards, since they are
basically unheard-of on trails where I'm likely to train. I rarely ran over them
since even walking was so tricky. I developed some skill as I got farther north,
but never really mastered bog-boarding.
Consider yourself warned.
4. The extent of the elevation gain and loss in GA, NC, and TN.
I looked at the profile maps for all the states before starting out. I added
up some of the elevation gain and loss in the South and thought, "Oh, my." But I
didn't realize just how much it was until I got out there. Sure, I've had
experience with long and steep mountain trails in training runs and races, but
not day after day for over four months.
This photo of North Carolina mountains was taken on
Because of my foot surgery six months before starting my journey run, I was
limited in the number of miles I could run in only four months of training
without getting injured. I couldn't ramp up the mileage too much or I would have
In retrospect, what I would do differently is to run more of those miles on
steeper trails, i.e., more elevation gain and loss in the same number of
The first over-use
injuries I had were to my quadriceps just above my knees, indicating the need
for more downhill training. After about three weeks my quads were fine the rest of
the way. Although my knees were sore from the steep downhills in NH and ME, my
quads didn't hurt.
5. How rugged New Hampshire and Maine are.
Yes, I read other hikers' accounts. I read the AT guides. I read articles and
books on the subject.
But my experience running trails all over the country didn't prepare me for
what I encountered in these last two states - the difficulty of route-finding in
New Hampshire, the cumulative effect of steepness of the climbs and descents day
after day, the huge boulder maneuvers necessary, the large roots and slick bog
boards, the long distances between road crossings, the water everywhere (bogs,
swamps, mud pits, lakes, streams), the precarious water crossings (like beaver
dams as "bridges"), the drops into oblivion if I slipped off a ledge.
The Trail was so rugged that everyone had to reduce their mileage here, even
though we were all physically fit after 2,000 miles on the AT. This photo in the
Kinsman Range on
Day 117 illustrates that if the rocks don't
trip you, the roots will:
I knew the dangers of sudden weather changes in the mountains, especially
above tree line, and I handled that part well except for
121 on Mt. Madison. I don't know how I could have trained for the
other challenges listed above without going up there before the actual Adventure
I would recommend you prepare yourself in whatever way you can before doing
that section of Trail. If you can't get up there to train before doing a
thru-hike or run, read everything you can find and talk to others who've been
there so you know mentally what to expect.
And allow more time than you think you'll need to cover any given distance.
You'll be needing it.
6. Just how many creeks and rivers I'd have to ford in Maine (and some in
other states), even when flooded.
Reading about this gave me little preparation for the real thing on
I'd already been through some knee- and thigh-high creeks and ones with very
slick rocks on the bottom, but they were easy compared to the streams I encountered in Maine.
This state just doesn't believe hikers need bridges. I don't know if they can't
afford to build them or if it's a macho thing for bragging rights. I'm guessing the
I suppose if I'd realized more clearly what I'd be facing in Maine I could
have sought out some flooded creeks and rivers nearby last spring and tried
fording them instead of using bridges (we're more civilized in the South,
building real bridges over streams and trying hard to keep them in good shape
after flooding damages them or washes them away). But I didn't think of that
until after the fact.
I recommend you force yourself to do this (with your pack on and with a
companion nearby in case there's trouble) before hiking the whole AT.
7. That I wouldn't be able to have Cody accompany me on the Trail as much
as I thought I could.
This was partly due to the difficulty of the Trail in some places (sharp
rocks in PA, vertical walls in several states, rattlesnake territory, etc.),
partly the lack of water on ridges,
partly the weather (heat in the summer), and partly my need for speed.
OK, so I wasn't going that fast!!
Regardless, almost every day I felt
self-induced pressure to hurry up and get done. In the first six weeks I
actually thought I might be able to beat the women's record on the Trail. Later,
it was a matter of cranking out the miles so I could finish in four months. Then
it was a survival shuffle to just finish in this lifetime!
I enjoyed 95% of the time I was on the Trail. Some days I wished I could be
out there longer, but most of the time I wanted to get done so I'd have more
time to relax and write and sightsee.
It was evident early on that Cody slowed me down. He didn't get tired. In
fact, he had more energy than I did. But he required more water than I did and
we couldn't carry enough for his needs. The first couple weeks there was plenty
of water from creeks and little springs along the Trail. But we soon got up on
ridges most of the day where we were above the water sources. It took time to
find him water, and got worse as water sources dried up in the summer.
I missed having Cody along. He's a lot of fun to run with. I loved seeing Jim
come in with one or both dogs at the end of my sections many days. Having my
whole crew there was motivating.
8. That finding trail heads would be such a hassle.
Jim spent many hours trying to find trail heads from Georgia to Maine. We had
the AT maps, state maps, Topo and Streets software, DeLorme atlas for Maine, and
some local maps. However, not all the roads were included on the maps, many
little roads weren't marked (especially in Maine), some detours were necessary,
and often the trail heads weren't obvious from the road.
Jim overcame these shortcomings by scouting out routes and trail heads a day
or two before we needed them so I could get on the Trail early and so he'd know
how to find me at the end of the section. We had some snafus, but most of the
time this prevented major problems. I strongly recommend that trail maintaining
clubs keep in mind that many people use trail heads to get on and off the Trail,
so please make them accessible and visible.
9. That finding campgrounds along the AT would be so difficult in some
This was a problem to us because of the size of our camper. If you're using a
small RV or large van, you can park it at many of the trail heads. If you need
real campgrounds or larger spaces to boondock, you'll often have to drive quite
a ways to trail heads.
It was most difficult for us to find campgrounds in New York and Connecticut.
You'd think a wilderness area like western Maine would be a problem, but it
wasn't. Jim found the very best spots there, often by scouting them out a day or
two in advance. This was one of his coups, in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin on
We had several sources of campground information, like Good Sam, KOA, and
other campground guides; state tourism information about camping spots;
information from Diana and Regis and Shivers, who ran and crewed the AT in a
similar manner in 2003; and internet sources.
Jim also found some good places that weren't in our books just by seeing them
along the road when he was going to and from trail heads.
The main reason we had problems finding campgrounds was that I was unable to
stick to a tight schedule. There were too many variables, from terrain to
weather to how I was feeling. It was nearly impossible for me to say, "OK, we'll
be there on such-and-such a day, so go ahead and make a reservation at a
That drove Jim a little crazy and was particularly a problem on the three
holiday weekends. On Memorial weekend and Labor Day weekend we made reservations
early enough but Jim had to drive unbelievably long distances to and from trail
heads. On Fourth of July weekend we had problems making a reservation where we
wanted, and again he had to drive many miles from the campground we got.
10. How many miles Jim would have to drive.
We put about 15,000 miles on our truck during our AT Run. One reason, of
course, was going home three times and going up to Vermont for the race while we
were on the Trail in Pennsylvania. Still, Jim had some long miles some days to
get me to and from trail heads, as noted above.
Sometimes it would have saved mileage if he had crewed me along the Trail
instead of returning to the camper each morning. But Jim would have wasted a lot
of his personal time that way. Besides, he had to move the camper every couple
days on average, do laundry, get groceries, run, etc. I really didn't need him
during the day, either, because I carried enough water and supplies for the
THINGS WE DID RIGHT
Considering we had no detailed "blueprint" to follow, only our
ideas of how we wanted to manage this trek, I think we made mostly wise choices
as we planned and executed it.
1. Timing when to start.
I always wanted to go south to north, which meant starting any
time in the spring. April 30 turned out (this year, at least) to be an
almost-ideal time to start in Georgia. We missed most of the spring rain that
discourages many hikers in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. I missed all
the snow in the Smokies. And I had great views from the ridges in the first
three states because the leaves weren't out yet.
The disadvantage of starting that late was hitting the summer
heat in northern Virginia when I came out of the mountains (cooler at higher
elevations). It remained hot until I got back up higher in New England. I was
also able to finish in Maine well before the snow started to fly. Some hikers
had to do a flip-flop to beat the winter weather, then finish up farther south
2. Selecting gear that worked well for me.
I made very few gear modifications along the way. I can't think
of anything I'd do differently gear-wise. See
Prep #10 for my gear plan and
#1 for my gear review.
Gear is very personal, of course. These products might work for
other runners, but obviously some of them wouldn't do for backpackers.
3. My choice of a nutrition plan.
Again, the products I intended to use and how I planned to use
#9) worked great with little modification (Day
Post #2). I had the steady energy I wanted, got
enough calories, and saved time with a liquid diet during the day. Because of
staying in the camper I was able to eat a more normal diet for breakfast and
dinner than if I'd been eating out of foil packets or in restaurants or
I'm very pleased with my nutrition plan and will continue using
it in ultras and any future adventure/journey runs - even if Hammer Nutrition
stops giving us a nice discount!.
4. Determining daily mileages.
Admittedly, I made this up as I went along but most days had about
the right mileage. There were so many variables to consider, including the
terrain, road access at trail heads, weather, and how I felt. It was impossible
for me to follow a strict schedule, although some people who are more
disciplined, faster, and less prone to injuries than I am have been able to do
Once I determined it was improbable I'd be able to beat the women's "speed
record" on the Trail, I deliberately slowed down and took off more time for R &
My dream scenario would be to take about six months to run the AT. That would
allow more time to sit along a beautiful stream or on a mountain summit,
socialize with other hikers, and do off-trail activities in interesting areas.
If we'd planned the trip that way from the beginning, I think both of us
would have been less stressed. That will be my MO on any possible future
5. Carrying cell phones.
We were able to use our cell phones a lot more than we expected. They came in
very handy several times, especially when I was able to let Jim know I had to
come down to a different valley the day I ran into bad weather in the
Presidential Range (Day
121) and on flood day (141)
to let him know I couldn't get across Big Wilson River and had to finish on
another road (although we didn't have a connection after that, when Jim was
looking for me on a different trail).
Many days it was just plain convenient to let Jim know about when I'd be
finishing so he could plan his afternoon better. It was also fun to announce
that I'd crossed into a new state or just saw a bear!
Two years ago we got our first cell phones and Verizon service when we sold
our house in Montana and had no idea where we'd end up living. At the time Verizon
seemed to have the largest nationwide network of service. We have our complaints about Verizon, but I think it was the best provider for the entire AT. There were
several times hikers told me they had no service, but I did.
I was able to get good connections more often than Jim. I was up higher on
mountains! He was usually down in valleys where the signals were blocked by said
mountains. I'll never forget the clear connection I had with my sister in
Philadelphia in the Smokies, but I couldn't reach Jim down in Cherokee only ten
or fifteen air miles away.
Some hikers think it's sacrilege to carry a phone while hiking the AT. They
are trying to be self-sufficient and eschew technology while in the wilderness.
Phones can also destroy the solitude if you come up on someone using them (even
though I was carrying one, it annoyed me to hear hikers talking loudly into their
phones several times).
To each his own. I respect a person's right to forego technology on the Trail
but encourage respect if others choose to use it. I did my best to use my phone
only when I was out of earshot of another hiker.
I encourage hikers/runners to carry a cell phone on the Trail for
emergencies. It saved my butt on the two occasions above, and could possibly
have saved my life in an even worse emergency.
This is true whether you're a man or woman. For example, "Kokomo" could have
saved a lot of miles and worry on Day 141 after almost drowning in the Big
Wilson if he had a working phone. His was damaged in the river. We tried mine,
but had no signal at that particular spot. Another mile along and he could have
called his crew - and saved two days' grief trying to find each other.
6. Keeping a detailed web journal.
Writing this journal every day was well worth the sleep I lost! I spent from
two to three hours each evening (or on rest days) downloading photos, choosing
the ones I wanted to use, editing them, writing the journal entries, and quickly
proof-reading them. Jim often helped with the proofing before we uploaded the
entries to the internet.
I didn't have the luxury of researching facts much or letting the text gel a
day or two. I had a daily deadline and little chance to made corrections until
after I got home (the only things I've changed are typos, formatting glitches,
some mistaken identities, and some information about the hiker who was killed by
the train in Duncannon, PA).
Writing the journal gave me a lot of pleasure. Based on the feedback we
received, I achieved my goals of helping to inspire, inform, and entertain
readers. We never dreamed so many people would find the site, and we are
grateful for everyone who passed on the information by word of mouth, through
print publications, and via web links.
Jim was probably the most surprised about the world-wide readership. When we
laid out the format in January, and as I wrote my prep pages, he would sometimes
guess at the number of people who would be interested. We figured just a few
dozen ultrarunners, friends, and relatives would occasionally tune in. We were
very wrong. Jim finally put a counter on the topics page in August and we were
blown away by the numbers and locations of readers.
We loved your letters of encouragement and support.
You were also an inspiration to us.
Jim would tease me about my "fan mail." I would constantly point out
that nearly every letter was also addressed to HIM! You guys knew I couldn't
have done the run without him crewing. I wrote back to everyone who wrote within
a few days.
After we returned home we discovered that we haven't been getting all of our
mail from AOL and some of it has been up to ten days late. I don't know if that
was a problem during our trek or not. If you wrote to us and we didn't respond,
it means we didn't get your e-mail.
7. My choice of a crew person.
Jim was a fantastic crew person and I'll expand on that in another entry
soon. I never considered doing the adventure run alone. I could not have done it
"my way" without a crew, and he was gracious enough to tackle that role.
He's known about my desire to do the AT since we met. When the time came to
"just do it," he was right there with me, literally and figuratively. He
sacrificed several months of running and volunteering and other activities to
help me realize my dream and I will be forever grateful for that.
WHAT I'D DO DIFFERENTLY
Other than what I've mentioned in the first section above, there
is only one main logistical thing I would do differently if I'd had the gift of
hindsight during this adventure run: I would have done a flip-flop like
several of the thru-hikers did.
My unwavering desire to finish on Katahdin
blinded me to the advantages of that plan until it was too late to flip.
This is the scenario that would have worked better for me:
start when I did at Springer Mountain and run to Harper's Ferry, arriving at
the ATC headquarters at the end of June, a bit before the halfway mark. Then
drive up to Maine, climb Katahdin, and head south to Harper's Ferry. The ending
wouldn't have been so dramatic, but it would have been satisfying to end at the
ATC office, pictured below:
1. I would have had cooler summer weather in New England than I
had in the mid-Atlantic states. By the time I got to the lower elevations in the mid-Atlantic states in September it should have
been more comfortable there.
2. I would have had significantly longer daylight hours in New
Hampshire and Maine, where the rugged terrain dictated shorter mileages. Two of
the three days I ended in darkness were up there. I could have done more miles
some days if I'd had more daylight in New England.
3. It would have been easier physically. I dreaded coming down
out of the Shenandoah Mountains because I knew the next several states were at
lower elevations and I'd lose my conditioning for steep terrain. I was right. It
would have made more sense to tackle the Whites, Mahoosucs, Berkshires, etc.
soon after the Shennies instead of almost two months later.
Yes, the finish wouldn't have been so dramatic and we wouldn't
have gotten our photo on the cover of Ultra Running Magazine, but our trek would
have been less "eventful," I could have probably finished earlier, and I
undoubtedly would have been stronger at the end.
Next up: the "crew view" from Jim's and my perspectives -
the difficulties, the rewards, the challenges. We hope the information will be
of use to others like Eric who want to do the AT or other long trails assisted
by a crew person.
Hoping we get the six to ten inches of snow predicted for Virginia tomorrow,