CHAPTER 4

Week 3 on the A.T.

If you run hard, there's the pain-and you've got to work your way through the pain...You know, lately it seems all you hear is "Don't over do it" and "Don't push yourself". Well, I think that's a lot of bull. If you push the human body, it will respond.

~Bob Clarke, NHL Hall of Famer

Day 15 - May 23 - 38.2 miles - 10:32 - Cum. miles 561.7

From the log - Atkins 617 to Laurel Creek 615...Ran well early...Beautiful view from Chestnut Knob Shelter...Very rocky stretch from Walker Gap to Jenkins Shelter...Got very hot in the afternoon- 85 degrees or more...Stayed at Big Walker Motel in Bland...Right shin is better but left is getting worse.

I would try to keep track of Maineak by checking the registers at the shelters. At one shelter he had left me a message reading "Hey Prof. Horton, I hear you gained five miles on me. What do you think about all the rain we've been getting? Good luck to you". It was a surprise that I had gained any ground based on the problems that I was having. Goes to prove that you never know what can happen.

The last 2.5 miles of the day proved to be interesting with 22 stream crossings. In places the streams were 40-50 feet across. However, the pleasure akin to a kid finding a mud puddle soon disappeared as the continual sloshing slowed the progress of a runner wanting to be finished.

Day 16 - May 24 - 38.5 miles - 9:56 - Cum. miles 600.2

From the log - Laurel Creek to Woodshole...Real nice trail and terrain for the first 20 miles. Nasty uphill at 20. Got real hot in the afternoon and I slowed down...nasty terrain from there on in. Right shin okay but left shin pretty sore. Ate at Pizza Hut and then stayed at Woodshole Hostel. Spirits very good. Maineak still two days ahead.

The hostel that I stayed at is near Sugar Run Gap in southwest Virginia. It is an old log homestead discovered by Roy and Tillie Wood in the 1940s. Opened to hikers in 1986, it consisted of an 1880s log home and barn converted into bunkhouses. Tillie was still running the place and told me that Maineak had been there two days prior.

It was really nice talking to other hikers and listening to their stories. However, I still felt very uncomfortable telling them about my efforts. My task still seemed impossible to accomplish.

Doug Young left and Roger Hall and Janet and Greg Comfort arrived at 2:00 am, spending the night in their truck. When I awakened my new crew, they were really glad to see me- especially since it was only 5:00 am!

 

Day 17 - May 25 - 41.6 miles - 11:30 - Cum. mile 642.0

From the log - Sugar Run Gap to USFR 156...Trashy running to Pearisburg and after Peasrisburg...Left shin hurt from the start...Felt fairly good last few miles...We ate at Country Cooking in Roanoke and slept in the back of their truck...Slept awful.

This had been one of those days that wasn’t a lot of fun. The terrain was tough but boring and I was in pain from my left leg. At day's end we tried to find a hotel without much luck. So, it was back to the trail. The Comforts and I started out by sleeping on the ground but the gypsy moth excrement was like steady drizzle on us. And it was so hot! I then tried the back of the truck but to no avail. To make the night special, a bunch of drunks drove up to our spot, stopped, and got out. Thankfully, they walked on by and caused us no real trouble.

The crew’s view:

David made his bed in the bed of the pick-up, Greg and I decided to sleep in our sleeping bags on the ground, and Roger chose to spend the rest of the night in the cab of the truck. It was a tough night for all. David didn’t sleep well because he couldn’t get comfortable on the ridges of the bedliner in the truck. The gnats and mosquitoes were so bad that Greg and I slept with pillowcases over our heads. Roger had to stand watch, with gun in hand, as a group of young men and women, seemingly in drunken stupors, parked next to the pickup to continue the party they had obviously started earlier that night. The pillowcase almost suffocating me, I stayed awake listening to the sounds of the forest at night. One of the noises in particular disturbed me. I decided to tell Greg that there was something unusual and worth investigating. But undeterred, Greg rolled over, seemingly unconcerned about the bear that I perceived was about to devour us and more concerned about the sleep of which he had been deprived. I picked up the flashlight that I had laid next to me and pointed the light in the direction of the snorting sound coming from the pitch-black night. The light penetrated the darkness and the animal snorted once again and was gone. Upon wakening at 4:30 AM, all agreed that it must have been a ferocious deer to have put such a fright in me.

David wasn’t in a great mood because he hadn’t slept much the night before. Reluctantly, he stepped onto the trail at about 5:00 AM…

Janet Comfort

 Day 18 - May 26 - 39.5 miles - 11:04 - Cum. miles 681.5

From the log - USFR 156 to 311...Tough day...lots of climbs and descents. Very hot and humid with temperature 85-90 degrees...Animal met me and ran the last 13 miles with me. That lifted my spirits. We ate at The Home Place and they talked me into driving back with them to Lynchburg to spend the night at home. I had planned on going to the Catawba shelter to cut down on the next day's mileage. Right shin is recovered.

What do I mean about tough climbs and tough descents? A tough climb and descent to me is usually 1000 feet or more. It can be less if it is very steep. The entire A.T. has a total gain of over 465,000 feet with an equal amount of descent. This figures out to be over 88 vertical miles. This would be comparable to starting out at sea level and making 16 round trips to the top of Mt. Everest.

Nancy and the kids met us for dinner and they did convince me to make the hour and a half trip to spend the night at home. Regardless of the drive back the next morning, it was nice to have all the creature comforts of home, if just for one night.

Day 19 - May 27 - 39.5 miles - 10:41 - Cum. miles 721.1

From the log - Catawba to the Peaks of Otter Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway...Shins felt fine until noon and then the left shin started hurting just a little. Right shin has crepitus but doesn't hurt. Left Achilles Tendon started hurting around 18-19 miles. Got a pretty good rain at 1:15 p.m. to cool things off. Day did pass quickly. I think I was 61 miles behind Maineak yesterday morning. Stayed at home again for the night.

Mentally, it made me feel much better to get to this familiar section of trail. McAffee Knob and Tinker Cliffs afforded some of the best views in Virginia. The Knob is a large anvil-shaped rock that juts out into space, overlooking a magnificent valley. Going by Bobblett's Gap Shelter brought back memories of Animal and I running through the snow two months earlier.

Day 20 - May 28 - 37.9 miles - 9:59 - Cum. miles 759.0

From the log - Peaks of Otter Overlook to 812...Shins did not hurt today. Right one is normal size and left shin is decreasing in swelling. Left Achilles very sore early but seemed to get a little better until Petites Gap, then it hurt all the way in, especially walking uphill. Got very hot and humid.

Just as my shin problems were going away, my Achilles starting hurting. I guess the Lord didn't want me to get too self-sufficient.

I stayed at home tonight for the last time. This was the third night in a row to sleep in the comfort and security of my own bed. It was really sad leaving home in the morning knowing that it would be another month until I was back. Nevertheless, it was not hard for me to go back to the trail. The challenge was laid out before me and I had to conquer. I was exactly on pace and the thought of quitting never entered my mind.

Day 21 - May 29 - 39.3 miles - 10:59 - Cum. miles 798.3

From the log - Crabtree 812 to 826...Tough day, lots of hills...Little Rocky Row and Long Mountain...I was worried about my Achilles but it did seem to loosen up going up Long Mt. and miraculously did not hurt the rest of the day. Last 14 miles the left shin got pretty sore...Hot and humid...Nancy and Rodney Laughon brought up chicken and we ate it at Crabtree Meadows. Stayed in a tent pitched by a babbling brook.

The hot weather continued to make progress difficult. The day before I thought both of my shin problems were behind me but I was wrong. That left shin was not doing so well.

I was delighted when my wife Nancy and Rodney brought fried chicken, all the fixings, and Breyers chocolate ice cream. I don't think I've ever tasted better food in all my life. It really hit the spot.

Nancy and I had trouble saying good-bye that night. We knew it would be a month-long separation and that there were to be many rough times ahead. It was sad and a little frightening for both of us.

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