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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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" . . . I like the way that you always took the time to enjoy the scenery, the
trail, and the people along the way.  You saw many things that Horton
and Trail Dog no doubt missed, because they were in such a hurry. 
I admire their efforts too, but in a different way."
- a journal reader who runs ultras

Two scenes from my favorite place, the Mt. Rogers/ Grayson Highlands area: "wild" ponies (above)

and a stile through a fence in a high meadow 5-31-05

Several folks have expressed this sentiment. Most readers understood that I was on the Trail for more than the time and miles, despite all the whining I did about obstacles that slowed me down!

I figured out fairly early on that I wasn't going to be able to beat the (soft) women's AT speed record, so I started focusing more on the journey than rushing toward the destination.

And whenever I compared myself unfavorably to David or Andrew, I thought about all the things I got to enjoy that they probably had no time for. I didn't miss much, even when I was running. I have over 3,000 photos to attest to that!!

One of many goals I had was to share details about the Trail itself and the areas through which I ran and hiked so others could "see" what I saw and "hear" what I heard along the way. There are numerous places to which I'd love to return to run or hike again in the future - and some where you will never see me again!

I will focus more on the positive than the negative in the next two or three entries which I have entitled "Favorite Places." I'll give a brief explanation why I chose each particular place so you'll know if it's somewhere you'd like to visit, too. Most places in each category will be listed in descending order of my preference (i.e., most favorite at the top). I'll show some photos I haven't used previously.

I'll list places that are great to run (assume that any of them are fine for hiking), hardest climbs and descents, some dangerous places to beware, best and worst rocks, and "destinations" that will keep kids and non-running family members happy, too.

There are lots of categories, but if you think of others about which you'd like my opinion, send me an e-mail.

Let's start with . . .


1. Mt. Rogers/Grayson Highlands area in southern Virginia - great views on the balds, cool rock formations like Fat Man's Squeeze, sub-alpine ecosystem, Virginia's three tallest mountains, and several feral pony herds to play with. If I had to choose one day out of 113 on the Trail that was my most enjoyable, it would be here. See Day 32. (Photos above.)

2. White Mountains, New Hampshire - about twenty miles of ridges above tree line, including Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range, with awesome views that remind me of Colorado or Montana peaks and valleys. The sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems are fascinating. Huts and side trails allow many options for time and distance. See Days 118, 119, and 120.

Yeah, yeah, I know I griped and moaned about the difficulty of these climbs, but the views are so terrific that I want to return with Jim some day. The photo below is looking north toward Mt. Lafayette:

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - all 70+ miles! Much of the AT follows the high ridges of the mountains on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. This is the longest continuous high-elevation section on the entire Trail. It is remote, peaceful, and drop-dead gorgeous in good weather. Views are spectacular and brown bears are prolific. See Days 14, 15, and 16. (I'll have tips later for those who might want to run or speed-hike this section.)

4. Other southern balds like Max Patch (NC) and the Hump Mountains (TN) - as you can see from my first three choices, I loved being up high where I could see far! The balds also have interesting shrubs and flowers in the spring. See Days 18 and 27. This is one of many views from Max Patch:


1. Damascus, VA - considered the "friendliest" town by thru-hikers for its hospitality and services (places to shop, eat, sleep, do laundry, get mail, etc.). Damascus has traditionally catered to AT hikers and cyclists/runners using the popular Virginia Creeper Trail. We highly recommend the Mexican fare at the Baja Cafe and ice cream at a store on the east end of town right across from the Creeper Trail. See Day 30.

Damascus is also close to Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands State Park. This is a busy town on a pretty weekend day, so plan accordingly if you're going to visit the area.  There are some very runnable miles before and after town. This is a photo of the Virginia Creeper Trail, which the AT follows for a little while:

2. Woodstock, VT - neat, tidy New England houses, flowers galore,  scenic horse farms, numerous stone fences, covered bridges, great shops, beautifully restored library, etc. If we were rich, we'd have a summer home here! See Days 74 to 81 and 111, 112, and 113.

3. Harper's Ferry, WV - the psychological half-way point on the Trail, location of the main AT Conservancy office, full of history and beautiful old buildings, interesting shopping, and two large rivers converge here. See Days 59, 60, and 61. Very runnable miles before and after town. This photo shows the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers:

4. Kent, CT - lots of little shops, hiker services, and lovely traditional New England houses and farms with beautiful gardens and rock walls; smaller than Woodstock but just as charming. See Day 98.

5. Boiling Springs, PA - beautiful lake and park that you follow through town and past the regional AT office; very runnable miles before and after town through lovely Cumberland Valley. See Days 64-65.


1. Pierce Pond Stream, Maine - going north, the AT follows this boisterous creek 3.7 miles down to the Kennebec River. Although the drop in elevation is only 670 feet, the stream is full of noisy cascades, chutes, rapids, and waterfalls, interspersed with quiet pools of water that barely seem to be moving - very cool. See Day 137.

This is one of the more level spots along Pierce Pond Creek near the Kennebec:

2. West Branch of the Piscataquis River, Maine - very similar to Pierce Pond Creek in its beauty and variety as it drops for six miles along the AT before it merges with the East Branch of the Piscataquis. See Day 140.

3. Sawmill Branch in Sages Ravine on the CT/MA state line - small creek with all the features of the rivers above, flowing through a tranquil half mile of gorgeous hemlock-and-fern forest. See Day 100. This is one part of verdant Sages Ravine:

4. Housatonic River in CT and MA - the AT follows this interesting river off and on through both states (see Days 98 to 102), including a pleasant five-mile "river walk" on a fairly flat, sandy trail. I saw several folks fishing, rafting, and canoeing various sections. The bisected Great Falls is upstream at Falls Village, CT. It was one of my favorite waterfalls.

5. Beaver Brook on Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire - numerous waterfalls along the very steep section on the north side of the mountain, right next to the Trail for about a mile. Awesome, especially if you're going southbound (up) - you can see it better that way. See Day 116.

6. Big Branch and Mill River, Vermont - large boulders, wild water, very nice suspension bridges (thank goodness hikers don't have to ford these rivers any longer!!). See Day 109.

7. Jones Branch above Nolichucky River, Tennessee - the AT crosses this boisterous creek several times as it ascends Unaka Mountain. The delightful sights and sounds of the creek help take the edge off the steep climb. I saw dozens of little orange salamanders on the Trail in this area. See Day 24.

8. Sherman Branch, north of North Adams, Massachusetts - lively stream with lots of cascades and little waterfalls, plus knee-deep pools for cooling off. See Day 105.

See Post #4 for best lakes, waterfalls, bogs, spring flowers, and "scenic beauty."

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil