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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
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POST #25:  KUDOS: I COULDN'T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU!
 
       DECEMBER 24
 
 
"Dreams are never destroyed by circumstances. Dreams are born in the heart and mind, and only there can they ever die. Because while the difficult takes time, the impossible just takes a little longer."  - Art E. Berg
 
 


Dave Schultz  AKA "Tread Well,"  mentioned in the text below, discussing directions with Jim, AKA The World's Best Crew Person!

When I began my journey on the Appalachian Trail, I didn't know if I would make it to the end this year - or ever. But I sure wanted to attempt the feat, and I trained and researched the best I knew how in order to reach my dream.

With my inherited stubbornness, Jim's awesome crewing skills, and the support and encouragement of everyone below, we made it to Mt. Katahdin and had a wonderful overall experience.

I couldn't have done it alone.

In this entry I want to try to thank everyone who helped make my dream come true. I cannot name everyone personally who had a part in this, but if you are included in the general "thank you" category of readers, you know who you are! We've saved every e-mail we received before, during, and after the trek so we have your letter(s).

We wrote back to everyone from whom we received a message. If you didn't hear back from us, we probably didn't get your e-mail. We noticed some problems with our AOL mail after we got home but we don't know how long that's been occurring. So if you sent us a note regarding the adventure run and didn't hear back from us, please send your message again and let us know about it. We sure didn't mean to snub you.

OK, here goes. I'll try not to make this sound too much like a boring,  predictable Academy Awards acceptance speech . . . but it will be long.

WORLD'S BEST CREW

First and foremost I have to acknowledge again the fantastic job my husband Jim did crewing for me all summer. We wrote about the crewing experience in Post 20 (Jim's perspective) and Post 21 (my perspective), but I want to reiterate how critical a part he played.

I couldn't have run the Trail without him. Period.

Jim sacrificed his running and volunteer work with the fire department and rescue squad to help me reach my goal, and for that I am most grateful. He kept me going on mornings (the rainy ones!) when I didn't want to get out on the Trail. He empathized on tough days and when I got injured, and he celebrated with me on the good days (which were the majority). Thanks, Honey! You did a fantastic job.

MY FAMILY

My sister Nancy, her partner Pat, my brother Bill and his wife, Marge, and cousin Barbara all gave us their continued encouragement and support. They frequently called and wrote to us, expressed concern about all my falls/injuries and Jim's crewing misadventures, and worried if we didn't post an entry for a couple days.

We blushed when Barb recently wrote that she is "honored to know" us. Her comment is quite an honor - thank you, Barb.

We didn't blush, just laughed out loud, when Nancy wrote re: Jim and me being the November Ultra Running magazine's cover kids, "Congratulations! Now, when will you make the centerfold??! " 

Ha! Not in this lifetime!! (Nor in that magazine.)

It's great when your family believes in you and encourages you to be and do your best. I think these folks had more confidence in me than I did, at least initially. They knew I had high expectations for myself and would do my best to finish what I started. They were all thrilled when Jim and I reached the summit of Katahdin. I only wish they could have been up there to share in our joy, but they were satisfied to enjoy that last long climb vicariously.

PREVIOUS A.T. RUNNERS AND CREW

Three of our biggest non-family "cheerleaders" were David Horton, who ran the Trail in 1991 and set a speed record that lasted for eight years, and Regis Shivers ("Buckeye"), who ran it in 2003 with the able crewing assistance of his wife, Diana ("Buckeye Babe"). David and the Shivers provided all kinds of information, motivation, and support before, during, and after my adventure run.

And they did it while they were facing their own huge challenges.

David was busy as he could be getting ready for his assault on the old Pacific Crest Trail speed record, which he broke during our trek. While he was on the PCT, we sent encouraging e-mails to HIM instead of vice versa. He was out longer each day and didn't have the luxury of a couple hours each night on the computer like we did. David congratulated us publicly at the pre-race Mountain Masochist dinner in October and let Jim present a beautiful plaque to me (see Post #7). Thanks, David, and congratulations on achieving YOUR "big, hairy, audacious goal."

The photo of David above was taken by Mark Swanson near Mt. Hood. There is another photo of David near the end of this entry, and others throughout the journal.

We have not had the pleasure of meeting Diana and Regis yet, but hope to soon. After Regis completed his AT journey two years ago he was diagnosed with a form of cancer in his throat. He is still battling the aggressive disease, which has significantly affected the couple's lives. They are hopeful he can beat the cancer through continued medical treatments, his efforts to keep running and stay as fit as possible, and the good wishes and prayers of friends and family. We are very grateful for all the detailed information they provided to us, as well as frequent encouraging e-mails. They are truly gracious, selfless people and we wish them the very best.

FOLKS WHO SHARED THE TRAIL WITH ME

It was an honor to share our adventure with several folks whose schedules were flexible enough to coordinate with our very unstructured itinerary. I'm sorry several other folks weren't able to run with me because of my inability to be specific enough about my location when I was in their area.

I'm the MOST sorry that I ended the run several weeks "late," not only preventing Jim from taking a Firefighter II class in September, but rendering impossible the plan for Regis Shivers (mentioned above) to summit Mt. Katahdin with us. When he finished his AT run in 2003, it was a foggy day and he missed the great views on top. It would have been a gratifying "victory" for him to climb that mountain after all he's been through the last two years, but he had a critical medical appointment when I finally reached Baxter State Park.

Despite our erratic schedule, however, four "old" friends and two new ones joined me for one or more days along the Trail and they were some of the best days I had out there.

My previous ultra running partner in Atlanta, Steve Michael, ran the first two days in Georgia with me. Thanks for slowing down for me, Steve (he's shown below left). Since he's been training with Janice Anderson and other trail running friends after I moved away from Georgia in 1999, he's gotten faster and I've gotten considerably slower! See Day 1 and Day 2.

Jim and I made a new friend soon after we started the trek, Lynn DiFiore, who we originally "knew" from the internet ultra list. Lynn works for the Wayah Ranger District in Franklin, North Carolina, and was able to spend most of Day 10 checking out her territory and running with me several miles between Wayah Bald and the Nantahala River. Unfortunately, I was having quad problems and had to go down hills very slowly. Lynn was having some knee problems, too (and later had meniscus surgery), but she had to slow down to stay with me. As you can see in the photo below, we were both wearing knee supports that day.

Thanks so much, Lynn, for your patience, great companionship, and wealth of information about the area - the Celebrex was also a godsend (the first I'd ever tried it) and we love the shirts you gave us with the wolf ("Wayah") design.

John Alexander, a runner from Texas we'd never met, wrote to ask if he could run with me in southern Virginia when he and his wife were visiting relatives nearby in early June. Although the seventeen hilly miles he ran and hiked on Day 35 were tough for a flatlander with no hills on which to train, he said he had a lot of fun. John, we hope you meet your goal of running the HURT 100 in 2007.

Five of our ultra running friends in Roanoke deserve special accolades for their superb support and encouragement. Their enthusiasm for the area and their gracious hospitality are two of the reasons we moved here in the first place. All of them wrote to us frequently and gave us a great send-off

Jim and I stayed at home for about a week in June while I ran sections of the AT within driving distance (although Jim had some long drives to trail heads!). Just after getting home, one of Jim's sisters in Illinois became gravely ill. He needed to be with her for several days. During that time Neal Jamison, Dru Sexton, and Graham Zollman generously took the time to drive me to trail heads three days (Day 42, 43, and 44) and each ran with me two or three times. They all seemed to have fun even though they had to go slower than usual (notice a trend here??) and we all found local sections of Trail that were new to us. That's always fun!

This is a photo of Dru and Graham on Day 43:

Our other two good ultra running friends in Roanoke, Anita and Jay Finkle, weren't able to get off work to run with me that week but they were with me in spirit. Jay hopes to hike the AT the traditional way some day but Anita decided she likes "my way" with a shower and comfortable bed every evening. Atta girl, Anita!

Neal simply out-did himself. Not only did he write to us at least once a week, he and his wife Suzanne also hosted a great going-away dinner for us and he gave us valuable information post-run about the publishing business. Neal would like to run all of the AT in Virginia during vacations in 2006. Since he's much faster than I am, he should have no trouble accomplishing his goal. We hope to either accompany him part of the way or assist with crewing.

Here's Neal on Day 44 inspecting a very long black snake we chose to walk around:

Thanks so much to all five of you for your generous support and friendship!

Tim Lawhorn, newsletter editor for the Roanoke Star City Striders running club, was also very supportive of our efforts and put updates in the newsletter each month we were gone so local runners would know how we were doing. Thanks, Tim!

HUNDREDS OF READERS

This is the hardest category because I can't possibly include the names of everyone who wrote to us about our journey. As noted, we kept all your e-mails and e-cards on our computer hard drive and I will print and include them in the multi-volume scrapbook I will eventually complete. It's been fun to include excerpts from some of the letters in the opening quotes in this journal and I've got more below.

We heard from readers all around the world. Jim didn't put a counter on the journal topics page until August, so we missed a lot of numbers and locations the first three months of the trek. (Don't worry, we don't have identifying information on you!)

Readers who gave their ages ranged from the teens to the seventies. More men than women wrote, which surprised me. Many readers are runners but not necessarily ultra runners, and many are walkers and hikers. We heard from traditional backpackers as well as speed hikers/ fast packers.

We're delighted that our story inspired, entertained, and informed so many people in so many different ways. You also were a fantastic source of inspiration, encouragement, and support to Jim and me - not just on challenging days but the great ones, too. It was so much fun to read your letters at the end of the day and we are grateful to each and every one of you (you know who you are) for being there for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

READERS WHO MADE US LAUGH THE MOST

Jim and I both love humor and we appreciated some funny comments folks sent to us along the Trail or afterwards. Again, I can't possibly mention everyone here who made us laugh or smile, but here's a start:

Some of the things that amused us probably weren't meant to be funny, such as Jeff Loen's comments in early August that he was sure we already had a plan worked out to access the nearly inaccessible trail heads in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine. We didn't have a good plan at that point, and we were getting close to the area. We were laughing at ourselves, not Jeff. See my response to him on Day 101. In our stressed-out state of mind and body, we sometimes got a little silly and found humor in unlikely places. Jeff sent us several letters that we enjoyed. Thanks, Jeff!

Harry Seifert was (still is) another frequent letter-writer. One of his funniest comments was his answer to our question about what you call someone from New Hampshire ("'New Hampsters,' of course!"). He also e-mailed recently from Belgium while on a business trip so we'd "have another country" to add to our web site "hit" list. That amused us. He also reminded me of the famous line from Winston Churchill regarding ending sentences in prepositions: "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." (I had mentioned in Post 24 how awkward the proper grammar can sound.) It's been a pleasure to correspond with you, Harry.

One of the correspondents named Michelle sent several amusing letters while we were on the Trail. In her first letter (I think) on July 4 she immediately endeared herself to us when she wrote, "Wow!  I finally got up to you!  It took several days of diligent reading while my house fell apart around me but was it ever worth it.  Keep going!  Now I'm going to scrub some dishes and make some salad while waiting for your next installment."

Ya gotta love someone who flatters you like that! Three weeks later she observed how far down the Topics page she had to scroll to find the newest entries, and noted that was another way to measure our progress (an increasing number of entries = more miles completed). I thought of her comment every time I added another entry on that page.

She continued to send enthusiastic, encouraging letters. In September she wrote, "I had been running almost every day and read your journal as a reward. Then school started (for my sons).  Upheaval and chaos reigned supreme.  Then my own classes started.  Running was fast becoming a distant memory.  Fortunately, my younger two boys run cross country and that has been the impetus for a return to my own running schedule.  So, now for every lap I run (1.3 miles), I get to read a day of your journals."

I love your sense of humor, Michelle! Thanks for all the encouraging words you sent during and after our adventure.

Another Michelle wrote just after we finished the trek, "Wow . . . just . . . wow! I’ve been lurking all summer, and just wanted to de-lurk to join the chorus of congratulations on finishing the AT!  You definitely helped to keep me getting up at 5:30am to hit the gym this summer (“damn…Sue’s running ANOTHER marathon today, you can’t get your butt out of bed and run 4 miles??”).

I wrote back and told her that now (after the run was over) I was so fatigued that I'd started thinking, "Damn . . . Michelle is up early and running four miles today and I can't get my butt out of bed??"  I hope she also got a good laugh!

Mary Gorski, an ultra running friend, is another one whose humor we appreciate on the ultra list serve and in her letters to us along the Trail.

Thanks for keeping us entertained, Mary, and to all the rest of you I haven't named but whose sense of humor brightened our days.

THOSE WHO GUIDED OTHERS OUR WAY

Readers found our web journal in a number of ways including word of mouth, internet search engines, the internet ultra list and other lists, articles in running magazines and newsletters, and links on other web sites. If you were a part of "spreading the word" about our journey run to someone else, thank you very much!

We appreciate the kind words several folks wrote to the ultra list about our adventure run, including BT, Jeff Washburn, Dot Helm, Dave Littlehales, and Steve Pero, as well as Sophie Speidel's nice comments to the VHTRC list.

Steve and Deb Pero are two of our many ultra running friends who have been interested in our little adventure and wonderfully supportive. Thanks to all of you! Here's a photo of Steve (on the left), Deb, and Deb's brother, Drew, on the Hardrock 100 course in July, 2005. Steve and Deb train in the White Mountains in New Hampshire but had to work when we were there so we weren't able to share any AT miles. I couldn't find a photo of them together on the AT. This is from one of their Web Shots photo albums [now Picasa]:

We are aware of these previous or current links to our web journal from various running sites. If there are others, please let me know and I'll update this list.

In addition, we sincerely appreciate the web link and extensive coverage Don Allison gave us in the November, 2005 issue of Ultra Running magazine. (More about Don in the next section.) www.ultrarunning.com

Trail Runner magazine also included a short mention of our run in the September, 2005 issue. Thanks to that link, at least one old Atlanta running friend found out about our adventure run and wrote to us. Thank you, Garett Graubins, for the article. www.trailrunnermag.com

GENEROUS PEOPLE

Speaking of Don Allison . . . we are grateful for all the encouragement he gave us during our trek and for honoring us by putting one of our Katahdin finish photos on the November cover of his magazine, Ultra Running, which is the sport's "bible." Even though the internet affords us instant results during and after races, web sites for 95% of the ultras around the world, great photos, and more articles than you could ever read, thousands of us still eagerly await Don's fine magazine every month in our mailboxes. Like a "real" book, a "real" magazine is a work of art.

Not only did Don make us the "cover kids," he also wrote very nice things about us AND sent us sixty-six - count 'em - extra copies of the magazine to share with our family and friends!! We were willing to pay for several copies but he refused our offer and sent several dozen. Don, that's 'way above and beyond. We are very grateful. We smile and shake our heads every time we think of what you've done for us.

Thanks, too, to Janice Anderson for the excellent questions she asked about the trek for the interview published in the same issue of Ultra Running. I appreciate your kind words, Janice, and the support you gave us before, during, and after our journey. We hope you get to fulfill your own AT running dream soon.

Gary Thomas, one of our ultra friends from Montana who has hiked the AT, sent both of us comfy sheepskin slippers that his company makes. We wore them on our trek during the summer and we appreciate them even more now that it's December. Thanks, Gary. See you at Big Horn in June. www.hpsheepskin.com  This is a photo of Gary in one of the sheepskin hats he makes:

A.T. HIKERS, PAST AND PRESENT

I learned a lot about the AT from reading the on-line journals of folks who have hiked the Trail previously, particularly Jan Leitschuh AKA "Jan LiteShoe" and Nat Stoddard AKA "Bumpo," whose journals can be found at www.trailjournals.com. I corresponded a bit with Jan, Nat, and Richard Calkins AKA "Longhaul," a new retiree hiking the Trail this year. I was privileged to meet Longhaul in New Hampshire on Day 118..

We are also appreciative of all the information we received from Doug Krout AKA "ERT Man," whose wife crewed for him when he hiked the AT in 2002 with a full pack. I was pleasantly surprised after the trek to receive congratulatory messages from Doug, Jan, and Richard. I didn't know if any of them were following along until then.

Several hikers we met on the Trail this year besides Longhaul struck us as exceptional people that we would like to keep as friends: Dave Schultz AKA "Tread Well" (in photo at top of this page with Jim), Greg Townsend AKA "Kokomo" (in photo below), Diane and Scott AKA "Pokey" and "Gumby," Sue and Bill Patton AKA "Buffet" and "Goat," and Robin Miller AKA "Still Walking." Thank you, friends, for the acceptance you showed for my way of travel on the AT and for the insights you gave me.

This photo is from Day 147 at our campground in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin. Left to right:: Jim, me, Bigfoot, Kokomo, and Stumblefoot.

MEDICAL FOLKS WHO KEPT ME GOING

I had to consult several medical practitioners before, during, and after this adventure run. These are the doctors who showed the most interest in what I was doing and encouraged me to keep on going. I could not have completed my journey without them.

  • Dr. Pat, general physician (M.D.) and my sister-in-law, for her medical wisdom, personal wit, and reassurance when I had injuries about which I consulted her (usually right from the Trail, by cell phone). She also provided several much-needed Celebrex samples. Thanks, Pat!
  • Dr. Brian Slakman, chiropractor in our home town, who has been  a great "cheerleader" for both Jim and me and keeps our backs healthy. He is intrigued by our athleticism and does his best to keep us running these crazy distances. He was so interested in our trek that he followed our journal and wanted a copy of the issue of Ultra Running magazine with our photo on the cover so he could frame it and hang it in his office. Thanks for all of your support, Brian!
  • Dr. Hank Glass, chiropractor in Woodstock, VT, who I knew as a running friend in Atlanta before we both moved from there. He saw me limping at the VT100 race in July, diagnosed the significant hip misalignment causing sciatica, and helped get me on the way to recovery so I could finish the journey. He adjusted my hips and back again in August when I was on the Trail in Vermont. I'm indebted to you for figuring out that goofy injury, Hank.
  • And even though he wasn't exactly enthused about the run, I am grateful for the fine surgery done on my right foot a year ago by Dr. James Chandler, our orthopedist in Roanoke. He cracked me up with his dry wit in June when I consulted him about my sore lower leg/ankle (an overuse injury). He joked, "You know what happened to the first marathoner, don't you?" (a reference to Phidippides dying after running 26.2 miles to warn his Greek countrymen of an impending invasion). Dr. Chandler also warned that the human body isn't built to run distances like the Appalachian Trail. It was fun to see him in November when he did Jim's neuroma surgery and show him the cover of Ultra Running magazine!! OK, he wasn't exactly overtly supportive, but he knows his stuff and I didn't have a bit of trouble with that foot the whole 2,175 miles. Thanks, Doc. And thank you, Nurse Ashley, for the stash of Celebrex samples (another trend, you might have noticed).
  • While I'm at it, I need to also thank Dr. Michael Yorgason, our fine orthopedic surgeon in Billings, Montana, who patched up my two ruptured left ankle tendons four years ago. Without that surgery I couldn't have completed the Appalachian Trail. He already has previous photos of us on his office wall but we'll also send him a copy of Ultra Running. I know he'll smile and be proud of us..

OUR PRODUCT SPONSORS

1. HAMMER NUTRITION

A few weeks before the run I asked two of our ultra running friends who are sponsored by Hammer Nutrition, Steve Pero and Tom Hayes, for advice about approaching the company for a discount on their products. Jim and I had been using them for several years in ultras and training. I had a nutrition plan using the products but freaked out about the projected costs. Steve and Tom were very helpful re: who to contact and details about their own sponsorship "deals."

So I bravely contacted Steve Born, Hammer's athlete sponsorship coordinator, and waited for a polite refusal. However, he was intrigued enough with our plans to offer us a substantial discount on the products that we would need. This was seven months into the company's "sponsorship year" and we aren't elite athletes. Heck, we're not even mid-pack runners any more! (We plan to change that in 2006.)

The products worked great, as I explained on Day 66 and in Post 2, and we were able to save a lot of expense on the Perpetuem, Sustained Energy, Hammergel, Recoverite, and Endurolyte capsules we used. The company was pleased with the publicity they got/are getting on our web site and the new customers generated, so they have agreed to continue sponsoring us in 2006. That was a real surprise! Even without their sponsorship we'd still use their products for our adventures next year (Post 23). (Maybe I shouldn't say that??)

2. MONTRAIL

Montrail is a very popular company among trail runners and back-packers. Although they make a variety of hiking boots, an increasing number of hikers are wearing their trail shoes. Jim and I have worn out dozens of pairs of Montrail shoes since we began wearing Vitesse in 1998. We've worn the Leona Divides (soon to be discontinued), Hardrocks, Highlines, and Masai (also soon to be replaced). We love 'em.


Montrails drying on the deck after muddy late-winter runs

After my success asking Hammer Nutrition for sponsorship, I wrote to Krissy Moehl Sybrowski, who not only is a very fast ultra runner but is the Montrail rep at many races, and asked for a discount on the shoes I'd be wearing during the adventure run. Lo and behold, she also agreed to a substantial discount on shoes for both Jim and me. As mentioned in Post 1, the Montrail shoes worked great for me all summer (as I knew they would).

I thought the arrangement would end this month, but Krissy wrote to me recently, "I would love to stay involved with you next year, Sue.  I love your energy and dedication to this community." Another unexpected surprise! Thanks, Krissy. We hope to see you at several more races next year.

This is Krissy, below left, with David Horton at the northern end of the Pacific Crest Trail in August. Photo by John Wallace, III.

FINAL THOUGHTS . . .

I expect this to be my last text entry in this journal. In the week between Christmas and New Year's Day I plan to upload several "photo essays" with various categories of pictures from the Trail. Most of them will be new to you. In January, I plan to put several hundred of the AT photos on our Web Shots pages, probably by state from south to north.

[March, 2008: There are lots of photo essays (43 of 'em!) in this journal that I completed in early 2006,.but I still haven't finished that project. I finished uploading the "virtual AT tour" in 2007; you can view the slideshows on our Picasa photo-sharing site at the "More Photos" link above left.]

Because we've enjoyed producing this journal so much and have received encouragement from our readers to do another one, we will write a new journal of our running "adventures" in 2006. There won't be one big journey run like the AT, but we think our plans for next year are pretty cool (see Post 23). Look for the link on our home page (www.runtrails.net) some time in January, when I'll introduce that journal and start talking about our new training program.

It's been a great journey. Thanks for coming along with us!

P.S.  We hope you have a joyous holiday week and a healthy, peaceful New Year in which you reach for your dreams,

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

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil