Sue, Jim & Cody on the 14,433' summit of MT Elbert, CO - The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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                        AND RUNNERS           
February 26
ďGo confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.Ē   
- Henry David Thoreau

David Horton after emerging from the lake at the
finish of the Kentucky Arches Run, Nov.2004

Planning to run a long trail is a lot easier to do now than it was ten years ago because of the proliferation of helpful sites on the internet.

Iíve spent countless hours reading material on the AT Conference site and other relevant websites, including trail journals from many hikers. Itís also easy to research and order gear on-line (more about that in Prep10).

One of the high points of planning for this adventure run was visiting the AT  Conference headquarters in Harperís Ferry, W. Virginia, in December. Since it was sort of on the way to visit relatives for Christmas, we stopped in to get the whole set of maps and guidebooks instead of ordering them by mail. It was nice to meet some staffers and browse through the books and other items for sale.

I was really psyched after getting the maps and guidebooks!  Iíve spent many hours pouring over the information, familiarizing myself with the terrain, trying to estimate how far I might go each day in the first few weeks, planning where to camp, etc.

We really canít make concrete plans, though.  FLEXIBILITY and ADAPTATION are the operational words for this adventure run. If Iím too tired or need to heal an injury, Iíll take a zero day and rest whenever I need to.

And I donít mind running in the rain, but Iím not letting an overcast or foggy day ruin my views through areas with spectacular scenery, like from the ridges in the Smokies.  If I have to wait a day for sunshine, I will.

Stopping by the ATC office again in June will be a high point in my trek, as itís almost half way through the distance to Maine. Itís traditional for thru-hikers to sign the register, get their photo taken, and socialize with the staff. Sometimes there are groups of school kids or other visitors present, and hikers have the chance to talk with them about their journey.

Another type of research Iíve done is to re-read numerous newspaper and magazine articles about hiking the AT that Iíve been saving since the 1970s. These yellowed old articles of hikes past are very motivating. Some hikers are folks I know, but most are strangers. All the accounts are interesting.

I still canít believe blind hiker Bill Irwin and his guide dog, Orient, completed the Trail in 1990. I mean, how the heck did they negotiate dangerous rocky areas like the Dragonís Tooth near Roanoke, Virginia?  Thatís hard to climb up or down with full vision, and I have to assist my strong, agile ultra Lab(rador retriever) up and down some of the vertical rock faces Ė since he canít use the handholds!


As I re-read these articles for the umpteenth time in twenty years, itís interesting to see how much longer the Trail has gotten as more land has been acquired and continual relocations (ďrelosĒ) have been done for that and other reasons like erosion control.

Back in the mid-1980s, the AT was less than 2,100 miles long. Now itís up to 2,174.9 miles, which Iím rounding up to 2,175.

Itís actually more than that when you add either of the two approach trails to Springer Mountain and coming back down Mt. Katahdin at the other end.

Oh, and donít forget the inevitable side trips!

No, I donít mean to the springs and composting toilets (and behind large trees), but to the ďcanít missĒ sights along the way that are a bit off the trail Ė the stunning vista on the rock outcropping over there, the gurgling brook to soak my hot feet over here, landmarks and historical sites like the one for Audie Murphy, and other little excursions to learn and explore and observe that will enhance my journey northward.

Itís special moments like these that I will most likely remember twenty years from now.


For several months Iíve been picking the brains of several thru-hikers and runners by phone or e-mail. The ATC maintains correspondence lists of thru-hikers in many categories, several of which are relevant to me Ė older hikers, females who soloed, fast-packers, slack-packers, folks who hiked with dogs, and other categories. The ones Iíve contacted have been very helpful and supportive.

Runners have included Triple Crowner ďFlyiní BrianĒ Robinson (famous for being the first fast-packer to do not only the AT but also the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in one calendar year) and David Horton, now almost a neighbor of mine since I moved to Virginia.

For those who donít know David, heís an ultra running legend. Heís also humble enough (yes, really!) that heíll blush when he reads this. Not only is he an extraordinary ultra runner, heís also a terrific race director and has mentored many new ultra runners by example and by profession Ė heís a physiology professor who teaches a class on running. Several of his protťgťs have gone on to ultra stardom.

David runs well Ė VERY well. He has held (and probably still holds) records for some very difficult ultras like Hardrock and the Barkley. He finished the TransAmerica run (on pavement Ė ouch!) in 1995.

More relevant to me right now, in 1991 he ran the AT in only 52 days, 9 hours, and 41 minutes (the Trail was 2,144 miles that year), beating the previous record of 60 days. His record stood until Pete Palmer shaved off a few days in 1999.

Iíve read Davidís book about those two cross-country runs, ďA Quest for Adventure,Ē so many times itís dog-eared. You can visit his web site at for further inspiration.

Davidís goal this year is to set the speed record for the Pacific Crest Trail.  I hope he gets it!  [Later: he did.]

David has been both supportive of my own adventure run on the AT and generous with his time answering my questions about training, nutrition, attitude of thru-hikers toward runners, and other issues. I really appreciate that. 

I think the best advice he gave me was to start the trip rested and not injured Ė and have fun! He was going so hard day after day when he ran the AT, I donít think he had nearly as much fun as I will.

Although Iíve gotten good information from thru-hikers (both from e-mail and from reading their detailed journals at, there arenít very many people to talk to that have RUN the darn thing AND spent all or most nights off the trail like Iíll be doing.

One couple Iíd dearly love to talk with is Regis and Diana Shivers. Regis, also an ultra runner, completed the AT in 2003 in 87+ days with Diane crewing for him. Unfortunately, Regis had cancer surgery in late 2004 and I donít want to bother them with questions during this difficult time in their lives.

If anyone reading this knows a runner whoís done the AT the way I want to run it, please ask them to e-mail me at the link below. I'd love to get their advice and perspective on their trek.

Happy trails,

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

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil