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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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"It's been a big, long climb . . . and you deserve a mountain of praise!!"

- the perfect card (below) chosen by Jim and signed by many friends

Perfect congratulations card!

Jim has a knack for finding cards that are just right for various occasions. He admitted he had to go to several stores to find this one, pictured at left.

At the pre-race dinner last weekend for the Mountain Masochist Trail Run, he gave the unsigned card to Dru Sexton and asked her to discreetly pass it around to our friends and have them sign it. She did a great job, garnering numerous signatures with wonderful messages of congratulations. When David Horton presented me with the beautiful plaque Jim had made to honor our accomplishment, he also gave me this card.

It was hard not to cry when I read it back at our table!

Thanks, everyone, for all your good wishes. Your calls and e-mail messages throughout the adventure run helped to keep me going and the many notes of congratulations and "atta girls" afterwards have been so rewarding to receive. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, and Jim got me a beautiful card just from him, too. On the front is one of the quotes I used in the journal:

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."   Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember that, as you dream your own dreams.

Inside, the card mentions about my dream coming true and Jim wrote to express how proud he is of me. I'm not so sure I'm as "amazing" as he thinks I am, though. I hope I can live up to that! I think what Jim did to support me is even more amazing. I know I had more fun this summer than he did, but he kept providing the highest level of support that anyone could possibly muster for almost five months. One of us will write a "crew review" in another entry (he's reluctant, although he is a fine writer).


This is not just for the runners out there, but anyone who wants to know where some of the smoother and/or less mountainous parts of the Trail are located for faster or easier runs and hikes. I'll list sections again from south to north and include trailheads with road access.

There are several "caveats" to remember:

  • Keep in mind what I've said recently ( Post #7) about "perspective." I'm comparing these sections with other parts of the AT, not your local bike path or track! The sections I ran previously in GA and VA that I used to consider "rocky" are not all that rocky compared to what I found farther north. Same thing applies to the steepness of hills and mountains . . .
  • The AT is quite schizophrenic along its entirety, with lovely, smooth trail for a while and then, wham! a boulder field or gnarly roots all of a sudden. Deal with it! It's like the weather: if you don't like what it's doing right now, keep moving forward.
  • You can easily increase or decrease the distances listed by using different trail heads, doing an out-and-back, etc.
  • I quickly scanned all the journal entries to come up with this list because I've forgotten a lot of details from the first half of the AT. I don't have time to thoroughly read every entry, however, to note all the runnable places I mentioned this summer. There are other places that may be just as nice. If you're curious about another section, go back and read what I wrote that day for clues.
  • Maps are essential unless you are already familiar with a section. Please don't just go by what I say here or you might get lost - even following white blazes! We mostly used the ATC's maps for the Trail itself, but there are many other sources (topography and road software, guidebooks to various areas, other trail map sets, and state road maps). Arm yourself with good information about road access, elevation profiles, etc. before heading out into the wilderness so you don't have any nasty surprises.

1. MOST OF GEORGIA - only 75 miles here. You may be walking up hills, but many are runnable back down. There are virtually no flat places on the AT in north Georgia. The rocks and roots aren't all that bad here. Several of my Atlanta-area ultra running friends routinely train here and I did for seven years before I moved away. Remember, if I could run here, rock-challenged as I am, just about anyone can! The views are very nice when the leaves are down and the Trail is mostly shaded in the summer. See Days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The trail heads we used are listed each day.

I took this photo of Cody and the spring flowers along a nice smooth section of the AT in Georgia on Day 4:

2. QUITE A BIT OF NORTH CAROLINA AND TENNESSEE - I'm listing these two states together because the Trail so frequently winds over the state line or follows it. Like Georgia, there are some steep hills in these two states and they don't always have switchbacks. But much of the Trail is smooth enough to be runnable, even in the Smokies.

Some of the best running here is

  • from the NC line to the Nantahala River/Wesser (Days 5 through 10);
  • across Fontana Dam and through the Smokies (Days 11 and 14 to 16);
  • before and after Max Patch (shown below), Days 17 and 18;
  • from Sam's Gap to the Nolichucky River (Day 23);
  • from Elk Park to Dennis Cove (Day 25),
  • and from Low Gap through the town of Damascus, VA (Day 30).

3. MUCH OF VIRGINIA - only one really flat place here to run, but many of the hilly sections have smooth parts, ridges, gradual uphills, or downhills that you can run. Use my ultra MO - run till it's too hard, walk till it's too easy.

The flattest section is the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, a multi-use trail on an abandoned railroad bed between Abingdon and Whitetop Mountain. The AT coincides with the Creeper Trail for a mile or so as you leave Damascus going north, then drops down to it again a little further on. You can combine part of the AT with lots of miles on the Creeper Trail to walk, run, or cycle. See Days 30 and 31.

These more hilly sections are going north from southwestern VA:.

  • from about 10 miles south of Dickey Gap (Day 32) to 10 miles north of it (Day 33);
  • about 20 miles from VA 615/Laurel Creek to VA 608/ Lickskillet Hollow (Day 36);
  • about 22 miles from VA 621/Craig Creek Valley to US 220/ Daleville, excluding about five miles around Dragon's Tooth - just go slower and enjoy it! (Days 42 and 44);
  • about 47 miles between Daleville and Petites Gap/USFS 35 near the Blue Ridge Pkwy. (Days 43 and 47);
  • 10 miles from Petites Gap to the James River and 22 more miles to US 60 (Days 48 and 49);
  • most of the 101 miles through Shenandoah National Park are runnable, although there are a lot of rocks from Big Meadows to Thornton Gap. There is more road access in the Shennies than in any other section of this length on the whole AT. See Days 53 to 57 for details.

These rhododendrons were along the AT in Virginia on Day 31:

4. WEST VIRGINIA AND MARYLAND - not many miles of the AT here, and most of them are runnable from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park on the Virginia side of the Shenandoah River, across the river, through the town of Harpers Ferry, over the Potomac River to the C & O Towpath, and through several state parks and historical areas. If you want more flat miles, the C & O Towpath runs a distance of about 184 miles from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, MD. North of Maryland Hwy. 491 the Trail is rockier. See Days 59 to 62.

5. PENNSYLVANIA - oh, dear! The 229 miles in this state were my undoing. I had a terrible time with the numerous rocks in much of this state. Although I encountered much more rugged trail later on, this was my first experience with seemingly unending miles of pointy rocks which prohibited me from running. If you're less rock-challenged than me, you'll enjoy it more here.

The only sections in PA that I found truly enjoyable to run were

  • about 18 miles from PA 30/Caledonia State Park to Pine Grove Furnace State Park (Day 63);
  • most of the 19 miles from Pine Grove Furnace to Boiling Springs, Day 64 (photo below taken just south of Boiling Springs);
  • the Cumberland Valley for about 16 miles north of Boiling Springs through beautiful farmland to PA 850 (Day 65).

6. NEW JERSEY AND NEW YORK - both states had more rocks than I expected, but there were quite a few scenic, fairly runnable miles that I enjoyed. Oddly enough, some of the best "trail" from here north to Maine is on top of mountains with smooth exposed bedrock.

  • 14 miles from Millbrook Rd. to NJ 206, despite some rocky areas (Day 90);
  • 22 miles from Deckertown Tpk. to Co. Rc. 565 over a variety of terrain, most of it runnable if you're agile (Day 91);
  • 19 miles from the Pochuck Swamp in NJ over puddingstone rocks above the Greenwood Lake to NY 17A (Day 92);
  • a few miles in Harriman State Park, NY (Day 94);
  • 14 miles from Canopus Hill Rd. to Taconic State Pkwy. (Day 96);
  • 26 miles from NY 55 to the CT state line (Days 97 and 98).

7. CONNECTICUT AND MASSACHUSETTS - I found quite a few nice places to run in the 142 miles passing through these states, although the terrain got wetter and higher the farther north I went. Several sections are fairly flat and scenic along the Housatonic River.

  • 4 miles from CT 55 to Shaghticoke Mtn. along Ten Mile River and the Housatonic (Day 98);
  • a 5-mile and a 3-mile "river walk" along the Housatonic between Kent and Falls Village, CT on Day 99 (photo below);
  • much of the 25-mile section between Jug End Rd., MA to Tyringham, MA (Day 102);
  • 17 miles from Blotz Rd./Pittsfield, MA to MA 8 (Day 104).

8. VERMONT - more rocks and roots and swamp boards and elevation gain here than in southern New England = harder to run, but the woods and streams and ponds are so doggone pretty, most of the state is fun to hike, like Day 107. If you're more agile than me you'll be able to run more of it than I did. Again, there are shorter sections in almost every day's description in the journal that are easy to run between more obstacle-filled miles.

The best running trails in VT are between Gifford State Park (VT 100) and Hanover, New Hampshire, a distance of about 43 miles. There are plenty of access roads to break up the distance into shorter segments. See Days 112 and 113.

9. NEW HAMPSHIRE - gorgeous scenery here and some fairly smooth exposed rock summits, but most of the trail is steep and rugged or through bogs. Road access is very limited. There are great places to hike if you are fit and not in a big hurry. There aren't many spots to freely run except a few of the mountain summits and descents.

The easiest way to run or hike the Whites is to use side trails and do loops that include the AT. Reportedly, the side trails are more user-friendly than the AT (Valley Way, the one I used from Mount Madison, certainly was). The only AT sections where I could run several miles intermittently were

  • from Etna-Hanover Center Rd. to Lyme-Dorchester Rd., a distance of about 14 miles (Day 114), and
  • a few miles between Zealand Hut and Crawford Notch/NH 302 on Day 119.

10. MAINE - 13% of the AT is in Maine, 281.4 miles. Maybe 10% of that is decent to run! The rest has big roots, rocks, slick bog boards, mud, wide streams to ford, and/or steep mountains with rock walls and boulders. It's a challenge and it's beautiful. Go for a run or hike, but plan for plenty of time.

The photo below shows the smooth summit of Baldpate Mountain on Day 129:


Road access is quite limited in Maine so you may have to do loops with side trails or go out-and-back to avoid long distances between trail heads. Jim had to use our topo software more in Maine than anywhere else, and it's the only state for which we purchased a detailed DeLorme atlas. He still felt most comfortable driving around to find trail heads the day before I ran certain sections, to be sure he could actually get there in his four-wheel drive truck. Some dirt roads are gated, bridges sometimes wash out, etc. It all adds to the charm and challenge of Maine!

Some folks get intimidated by the "Hundred-Mile Wilderness" just before Baxter State Park, but there is a network of decent dirt logging roads through it. Get information and maps at one of the check-points in the Katahdin Ironworks/Jo-Mary Multiple Use Area.

These are the few places where it was fairly easy for me to run in Maine:

  • last half of the 10-mile section from Grafton Notch/ME 26 to East B Hill Rd./Andover (Day 129);
  • a couple miles at either end of the 19 miles from ME 27/Stratton to Long Falls Dam Rd. and more on the ridge tops through the Bigelows (Day 135), if you can keep your eyes off the scenery!
  • six miles southbound from Shirley-Blanchard Rd. near Monson along the Piscataquis River, Day 140;
  • most of the 7 miles from Kokadjo/B-Pond logging road to Jo-Mary logging road (Day 145);
  • about four miles just north of Abol Bridge and along the Penobscot River and the mile before Katahdin Stream campground in Baxter State Park (Day 148).

Despite my grousing about all the rocks on the AT, there really are a lot of nice places to run on it if you're careful. There were lots of times I could have run but chose to walk - or stop entirely - to enjoy the world in my field of vision.

Have fun finding your own favorite running spots along the AT.

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

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil